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Darwin or Design?
William S. Harris, PhD
Kansas City Star, January 13, 2000.


Most casual readers of the Kansas City Star over the last six months would probably conclude that the evolution-creation debate is fundamentally about science vs. religion, fact vs. faith. But the perceptive reader will recognize that the actual conflict is about chance vs. design. Chance advocates generally embrace Darwin’s theory of evolution (random variations acted upon by natural selection eventually produced humans from bacteria). Those holding the latter view ascribe to the theory of intelligent design which asserts that design (purpose, planning) is empirically detectable in nature, and that only intelligence can account for it. From my perspective as a scientist with 20 years of research experience, the latter is more consistent with the scientific data and, importantly, is not driven by any prior philosophical commitments.

Is intelligent design "thickly veiled" religion? Is Darwinism a front for atheism? All theories of origins have unavoidable philosophical or religious implications. Who we are and how we should live cannot be divorced from the question of where we came from. Just as intelligent design theory is harmonious with theism (i.e., consistent with the existence of a deity), Darwinism, in asserting that nature created itself, is harmonious with atheism. Darwin himself wrote that if his theory of natural selection required a "guiding hand," then he would reject it as "rubbish." In contrast, intelligent design theory proposes that there was indeed a guiding intelligence, and despite the fact that we cannot know from the physical evidence who or what did the guiding, when it occurred, how it was accomplished, or for what purpose, we can still be confident that life, at its core, was the product of a designer. But adherents to intelligent design are no more compelled to embrace a specific deity than Darwinists are to deny one.

Intelligent design theory and Darwinism often agree on the scientific evidence but differ in their interpretation of it. For example, they agree that small, adaptive changes occur within species in response to environmental forces, but they differ markedly in the extent to which they extrapolate from these data. Darwinism claims that there is no limit to what variation can produce, whereas intelligent design acknowledges (based on what I consider solid experimental evidence) that there are in fact limits. Dogs can be bred to produce Chihuahuas and Great Danes, but not cats. In addition, the grand claims for both (i.e., the actual appearance of "new" types of animals with novel, complex biochemical systems) have never been directly observed. Indeed, the simplest life form contains a minimum of 300 specific proteins, and to "create" it in the lab would require years of work by a team of brilliant scientists; the blind forces of nature cannot assemble even one, simple protein.

Darwinism is founded squarely on a philosophy called naturalism, the belief that there are no realities beyond the forces of physics, matter and energy. Thus all phenomena must, by definition, be explained by natural processes regardless of the data. Professor Richard Lewontin declares that science makes a "prior commitment to materialism," and it does so, not because the data permit no other conclusion, but because science "cannot allow a Divine foot in the door." In contradistinction, intelligent design theory sets no a priori boundaries to the possible explanations for the existence of life and the universe. All leads should be open to investigation, and students should be allowed to critically evaluate them all. Until the twin dogmas of religion on the one hand and naturalistic philosophy on the other can be removed from the origins debate, there is little hope that the "creation vs. evolution" controversy will soon be resolved.


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