Darwin and Design: The Flawed Origins of a Critique

I agree with Frederick Turner on what he writes about creationists in his article “Darwin and Design: The Evolution of a Flawed Debate”. However, his critique on evolutionists seems rather unfair. My impression is that his opinions were built on several myths and false assumptions. Since most “evolutionists” are scientists, or at least science supporters, and since most scientists are atheists (Larson J. E. & Witham L. 1999), these myths and assumptions can be characterized as follows:

Scientists are dull people who lack imagination and creativity.

Turner writes:

The evolutionists’ sin, as I see it, is even greater, because it is three sins rolled into one.
The first is a profound failure of the imagination, which comes from a certain laziness and complacency.

I can’t think of anybody with less imagination than those who believe that God is the ultimate answer to every question. Scientific discovery is largely based on creativity and imagination. From Einstein’s thought experiments and Crick and Watson’s beautiful double helix structure to Edison’s technological innovations, science is full of inspiration and inventiveness.

If someone can be accused of laziness and complacency it is in fact those who believe only what they are told to believe or those who think they already know the answer to all the mysteries of the universe. Scientists are constantly questioning their assumptions and challenging their own findings. Religious fundamentalists, on the other hand, can only survive in a question-free environment. So, the real couch potatoes are those who claim to have the truth but don’t bother to go out there, do the research, and find some real evidence to support their claims. These people tend to be satisfied with what they already know “in their hearts” and will never experience the kind of restlessness, anguish, excitement and joy that comes along with scientific quest.

Science takes the meaning and the value out of things. Scientists can’t appreciate beauty.

Somehow people, who should, because of their studies in biology, have been brought to a state of profound wonder and awe at the astonishing beauty and intricacy and generosity of nature, can think of nothing better to say than to gloomily pronounce it all meaningless and valueless.(F.T.)

Somehow, artists and religious people think they have a monopoly on beauty and meaning. I can’t think of any biologist who feels that nature is meaningless and valueless. Even if they say that it all comes down to matter that doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is worthless or empty. There’s a lot of poetry within science. In fact, some of the most profound and evocative lines that I’ve read about nature come from biologists, not poets. Where we see an annoying mosquito they see a fascinating creature full of complexity; where we see a simple rock they see the footprints of time; while we are wondering why Brad and Jennifer broke up they are wondering what consciousness is all about.

Hence, it can be said that scientists tend to be curious people who spend their lives precisely doing that: wondering about nature’s most intricate mysteries. That’s what they do for a living. Unless they have no respect for their own time and work I don’t see how they could treat their subject matter as insignificant. It doesn’t matter if they believe in God or not. In fact, those who don’t, have repeatedly claimed that their disbelief is precisely what makes them find nature and life so meaningful and worth living. If there isn’t an afterlife or a soul, if what you’ve got is all there is, then you tend to value it all the more.

So, in short, you don’t have to believe in God to appreciate the splendor of nature. Empirical knowledge, facts and evidence don’t automatically make scientists insensible. But, of course, their admiration for nature doesn’t necessarily make them blind.

Scientists are ungrateful and arrogant.

The second sin is a profound moral failure — the failure of gratitude. (…) Our lives and experiences are surely worth more than a billion dollars to us, and yet we did not earn them and we owe it to someone or something to give thanks. And to despise and ridicule those who rightly or wrongly do want to give thanks and identify their benefactor as “God” is to compound the sin.”(F.T.)

I think the despising is not directed towards those who want to thank God for their existence, but towards those who want us to believe that this kind of gratitude is grounded in scientific fact. Anyway, making fun of somebody who is grateful doesn’t mean that you are ungrateful yourself. In fact, it can be argued that only by acknowledging what tiny and improbable creatures we are, as science reveals, we can fully appreciate (and even feel grateful about) how lucky we are for being alive.

On the other hand, although it is true that for many of us our own life is worth a billion dollars, for most people in the world, like the children who live with less than a dollar per day or have to watch every member of their family die from AIDS, life may not seem indeed that worthy. They should be looking for someone to blame, not to thank. Those who can really make a difference to improve their existence are scientists. And if they do, we should remember to thank them for that.

Now yes, some scientist can be very arrogant, especially when they know they are right about something. However, how will you call someone who believes that we are made in a perfect being’s image? Or somebody who thinks we are the center of the universe or God’s special creatures?

There’s no morality without religion.

If there is no God, what authority, if any, guarantees the moral law of humankind? (F.T.)

(…)some evolutionary partisans cannot be trusted because they would use a general social acceptance of the truth of evolution as a way to set in place a system of helpless moral license in the population and an intellectual elite to take care of them.(F.T.)

There are Christian murderers and decent atheists. Not believing in God has nothing to do with not knowing the difference between right or wrong, good and evil. In fact, it appears that it is religion which sometimes fails to make this distinction. Horrible massacres and crimes are frequently committed in the name of God. Questioning the need to have a God in order to be moral creatures isn’t necessarily “an unworthy purpose”. Taking morality out of the realm of religion has really helped us agree on universal values and design a set of basic human rights free from the relativistic principles of each faith. God and religion don’t guarantee “the moral law of human kind”. Remember it was Allah who “guided” the planes into the Twin Towers.

Evolutionists want to replace religious authority with state authority. The State discriminates against believers.

The controversy over intelligent design and evolution is, like many current quarrels, largely artificial, a proxy fight between atheists and biblical literalists over the existence and nature of a divine authority and the desirability of state authority as a replacement for it.(F.T.)

…laws must be not for religious believers alone, they must also be not for unbelievers alone either (F.T.)

The controversy is not artificial at all. It is so real that Intelligent Design is now being taught in several U.S. schools. I don’t think that evolutionists want to replace religious authority with state authority, they just want the former out of the science classroom. I’m sure catechists would also protest if they were forced to teach genetics along with the Old Testament. In fact, the problem is not the teaching of “rival theories” in addition to Darwinism, but the demand to treat them as if they were true scientifically speaking. That is equivalent to lying. Moreover, while evolution doesn’t necessarily rule out the existence of God, Intelligent Design does preclude Darwinism.

The way to decide between rival theories is to examine the evidence. And the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of evolution. Thus, it’s not just the fact that Intelligent Design is taught as if it were science (or evolution as if it were only a “story” or a religion), but also that it claims to be the one that is right. The issue here is that if you’re not going to pay attention to the evidence, then why not give the same treatment to every possible “rival theory” in order “to avoid discrimination”. That will include, along with Intelligent Design, Lamarckism, the creation myths of Native Americans or Amazon Indians, and a theory that claims we are the product not of intelligent design but of the clumsy experimentations of aliens. Pick the one you like: if evidence doesn’t count in science then they are all “equally valid”. That’s why you need an impartial authority (such as the State) that can guarantee some of objectivity on this respect. The best way to avoid discrimination is precisely by learning to discriminate between facts and fiction.


Larson J. E. & Witham L. 1999, ‘Scientists and Religion in America,’ Scientific American Digital www.sciamdigital.com

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