Nov. 4, 2006 — -- For centuries, Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution have been hotly debated.
According to author Philip Kitcher, that trend is set to continue into the future, unless we can resolve the clash between religious faith and the discoveries of modern science.
In "Living with Darwin," Kitcher provides an informed, intelligent chronicle of Darwin's theory and the controversy surrounding it.
In 1882, when Charles Darwin died, his family planned tobury him in the churchyard of the village of Down in Kent,where, in his retreat from the bustle of scientific debate, hehad spent the last 40 years of his life. Their private plans wereoverridden by a public campaign, orchestrated by those whohad championed Darwin's ideas, and it was decided quicklythat he should be interred in Westminster Abbey, amongthe other luminaries of British science. Whatever doubts theymay have harbored, leading figures of the church declaredtheir satisfaction that "properly understood," the evolutionaryideas that had seemed so inflammatory in the 1860s, wereperfectly compatible with Christian doctrine. Darwin's ownagnosticism, well concealed by his cautious attempts to avoidalienating potential readers -- as well as to ensure that the religioussensibilities of his wife Emma (née Wedgwood ) were notoffended by his expression of his ideas -- went unmentioned.
Instead, the many tributes from the pulpit heralded him asan old-fashioned Deist, perhaps even as an interpreter of God'sBook of Nature. As one of the eulogies put it, "This man, onwhom years of bigotry and ignorance poured out their scorn,has been called a materialist. I do not see in all his writings onetrace of materialism. I read in every line the healthy, noble,well-balanced wonder of a spirit profoundly reverent, kindledinto deepest admiration for the works of God." With wordslike these, Darwin was laid in his place of honor beneath themonument to Newton. It seemed as though the church hadmade its peace with him.
Peace would not last, of course. Almost exactly a centuryafter Darwin was acclaimed as a "spirit profoundly reverent," hisdetractors petitioned in American courts to protect innocentschoolchildren from the corrosive influence of his theory. Inmany parts of the world, Scandinavia, Australia, Korea, theNetherlands, the years since 1882 have been punctuated byperiodic attempts to disinter Darwin, to repudiate the soothingrhetoric that accompanied his burial, and to expose him as aruthless enemy of right religion. Nowhere have these effortsbeen more strenuous than in the United States, where defendersof evangelical Christianity have campaigned in the1920s, in the 1970s and 1980s, and again today, to remove his ideasfrom science classrooms or to "balance" them with theoriesmore friendly to faith. Current discussions renew many of thearguments that were traded in the Tennessee courtroomwhere, in the summer of 1925, John Scopes was arraigned forteaching the "monkey theory." These arguments were joined withless flair in 1982, when Darwinism was again called to the barin neighboring Arkansas. Through all these episodes, leaders ofthe anti-evolutionary movement have been consistently clearthat Darwin has had a dreadful influence on subsequent culture.
"Evolution is the root of atheism, of communism, Nazism,behaviorism, racism, economic imperialism, militarism, libertinism,anarchism, and all manner of anti-Christian systemsof belief and practice."2 Initially, when the question "whichnineteenth-century thinker has had the most damaging effecton twentieth-century thought and practice?" is posed, it seemsthat there are several good candidates -- Nietzsche, perhaps,with his declaration of the death of God, or Marx, whofamously characterized religion as the opium of the people.Evangelical Christians are perfectly sincere, however, whenthey answer that it is Darwin, chosen by the Anglican churchto lie beneath the great, and, in his unorthodox way, devoutNewton, who is the real culprit.
From the perspective of almost the entire communityof natural scientists world-wide, this continued resistanceto Darwin is absurd. Biologists confidently proclaim thatDarwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is as wellestablished as any of the major theories in contemporary science,as the atomic chemistry that schoolchildren learn or themolecular genetics that is emerging from a great scientificrevolution still in process. Perhaps with a modest amount ofoverstatement, they echo Theodosius Dobzhansky's famousline, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light ofevolution."3 Religious scientists, often endorsing the ecumenicalattitudes that accompanied Darwin's burial, express regretthat their more militant fellow believers conjure an oppositionthat does not exist. Yet the issue will not go away. Detailedreplies elaborated in one generation may inaugurate a periodof calm, while resentment of Darwin and the establishmentthat defends him smolders sullenly. But the antipathy toDarwinian evolution runs so deep that sooner or later theresponses will be forgotten, ignored, or evaded, and the controversywill erupt anew.
Why is this? The question has two parts. First, how can theallegedly massive evidence in favor of Darwin's central claimsbe overlooked? How, if facts reflect what confident scientistssay, is even the illusion of a serious debate created? Darwin'sdetractors cling to the belief that the "massive evidence" isoverblown, and that the enthronement of Darwinism amongthe genuinely established sciences is the triumph of atheisticmaterialism. They believe that this atheistic materialism hascunningly co-opted religious scientists who don't even realizethey have been tricked. Like all comprehensive scientific theories,evolutionary theory has unresolved questions thatchallenge biologists. In order to address these challenges andthose of Darwinism's detractors, a clear presentation of theevidential situation, a delineation of the grounds on whichDarwinism rests, of the problems it faces and to which itsopponents point, and an appraisal of the merits of potentiallyopposing viewpoints must be provided.
The second part of the question concerns the source of thevehement opposition. Why is it that this particular piece of scienceprovokes such passions, requires such continual scrutiny,demands such constant reenactment of old battles? Again,those who would disinter Darwin have a favorite explanation.The sepulcher in Westminster is a screen and the enthusiasmfor Darwin's "reverence" a whitewash. From the militant evangelicalperspective, foolish Anglican churchmen were caughtup in popular enthusiasm, and signed on to "life without God."
They thought, of course, that they were only eliminatingGod from any direct role in the long history of life on ourplanet, operating in the venerable tradition that saw theCreator's action as remote, as a wise institution of initial conditionsfrom which the universe, and life within it, could unfoldby well-designed natural processes. In fact, however, theywere accepting "life without God" in a far more dangeroussense, blindly overlooking the subversive implications of thisparticular conception of life's history, the denial of all purpose,all providence, and all spirituality. The second issue,then, revolves around the implications of Darwinism. How doesit affect our understanding of ourselves, our place in the universe,our religious beliefs and aspirations?
In what follows, I hope to address both issues.
I write at a time when opposition to Darwin has a new face.Intelligent design, it is claimed, is not a religious perspective atall, but a genuine scientific alternative to Darwinian orthodoxy,something that could be taught alongside evolutionary theoryin the high-school biology curriculum without raising anyanxieties about teaching religion, and that could even provideschoolchildren with an "exciting event" on their "educationaljourney."4 Those who support this proposal, and who wish tosee it enacted as law, can be divided, for my purposes, into twomain groups. There are the architects of intelligent designtheory, the "intelligent design-ers" as I shall call them, and thecitizens whose support they enlist. In appraising the ideas andadvertisements of the intelligent design-ers, I do not mean tocriticize the sincere and worried people who rally to theircause. Only in the final chapter of this essay shall I consider thesources of their concern.
Advertising intelligent design as independent of religiousdoctrine is accurate in one important sense. To claim thatsome kinds of organisms are products of intelligent designdoes not logically entail any conclusion about the existence ofa deity, let alone any specific articles of Christian faith. Froma legal perspective, however, what matters is whether theremight be genuinely nonreligious reasons for advancing aproposed law. If nobody would support the law except on thebasis of religious beliefs, then, in the pertinent sense, the lawcannot be independent of religion.5 On this score, there areample reasons for worrying about measures intended tointroduce intelligent design into the biology curriculum.
In the first place, the style of argument that permeatesclaims of intelligent design traces back to William Paley'sNatural Theology -- required reading for Cambridge undergraduateswhen Darwin was a student and explicitly intendedas a response to the "atheistic" arguments of David Hume'sposthumous Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.6 Second,studies of explicitly Christian writings about Darwinism haveshown that as the fortunes of "scientific creationism" -- thefavored alternative of the 1970s and the 1980s -- have waned,references to "creation science" have given way to citations of"intelligent design" without other perturbations of the prose.7Third, as the recent trial in Dover, Pennsylvania made clear, thesupport for teaching intelligent design in the local high schoolcame from religious people who felt the need to campaign foran alternative to Darwinism that accorded with their faith.Finally, in the wake of the rebuke administered by the votersin the local elections, who replaced the members of theDover School Board who had agitated for the inclusion of intelligentdesign in the curriculum, Pat Robertson himself issueda warning that this apparent repudiation of God would undermineany appeal to the Deity should some catastrophe strike thecommunity.
Although there are grounds for suspicion, I shall treatintelligent design as its leaders characterize it, as a hypothesisput forward to identify and account for certain natural phenomena.The sociological fact that the hypothesis is welcomedby a significant number of Christians, and by some religiouspeople of other faiths, does not make it an intrinsically religiousdoctrine. A proposal about the natural world need haveno specifically religious content to be more compatible withparticular religious ideas than its equally naturalistic rivals.When Galileo made his case for the motion of the earth aroundthe sun, and his opponents argued that the earth is at rest, thealternative hypotheses concerned natural processes; neverthelesssome Catholics, committed to a literal interpretation ofthe biblical passage in which Joshua successfully commanded thesun to stand still,8 believed that the earth-centered accountwas more sympathetic to the articles of their faith.
The core of intelligent design, understood as a rival to currentideas in biology and the earth sciences,9 consists of twomajor claims. The negative thesis is that some aspects of lifeand its history cannot be understood in terms of naturalselection, conceived as Darwinian orthodoxy supposes. Thepositive thesis is that these aspects of life must be understoodas effects of an alternative causal agency, one that is properlycharacterized as "intelligent." (It is simplest to refer to thisalternative agency as "Intelligence," so long as we don't engagein illegitimate personification -- Intelligence is simply somecausal power that deserves to be thought of as, in some sense,intelligent.) You could easily expand these two claims to abigger package, adding the explicit identification that Intelligenceis a creative deity, a providential creative deity, or eventhe God of the Christian scriptures. Outside the biology classroom,the expansion is permissible. Inside, it is not. The goal ofthe current movement to install intelligent design as an alternativeto Darwinian evolution, is to reform the curriculumso that the two-part hypothesis is explained by the biologyteacher, something that can be done without suspicion ofreligious indoctrination. It is, of course, a convenient fact thatthe local preacher can add elements of the larger package whenhe instructs the uncorrupted youth on Sundays.
Because the advocates of the intelligent design theory also insiston the further claim that the two-part hypothesis is genuinelyscientific -- the "status claim," as I shall call it -- they invite astrategy for response. It would appear that their legal argumentscould be undercut easily by rebutting the status claim,by showing that their favored two-part hypothesis isn'tscience. My own approach will proceed differently. I shall viewintelligent design as "dead science," a doctrine that once hadits day in scientific inquiry and discussion, but that has rightlybeen discarded.
It is easy to understand why many scientists (and the journaliststo whom they give interviews) find the "not science" strategyattractive. After all, it is a quick way of dismissing the opposition,one that shortcuts the tedious work of analyzing theproliferating texts the opponents produce. But I think it canonly succeed when the central issues are blurred. If the substanceof the charge is that intelligent design is not sciencebecause it is religion, then the acquitting response should be,first, that the position can be formulated without making anyreligious claim (intelligent design is the two-part thesis justdistinguished). Second, for much of the history of inquirygreat scientists have advanced specifically religious hypothesesand theories. On the other hand, if we suppose that the two-partthesis doesn't have the characteristics required of "genuinescience," then it is appropriate to ask just what these characteristicsare. True, the architects of intelligent design don'tspend a great deal of time performing experiments -- but thenneither do many astronomers, theoretical physicists, oceanographers,or students of animal behavior. Science has roomfor field observers, mathematical modelers, as well as experimentalists.Social criteria for genuine science, such as publishingarticles in "peer-reviewed journals," are easy to mimic. Anygroup that aspires to the title can institute the pertinentprocedures. Hence those procedures no longer function todistinguish science from everything else. So, what is left?
Many scientists believe that there is a magic formula, anincantation they can utter to dispel the claims of intelligentdesign. Indeed, intoning the mantra "science is testable," in thepublic press or even in the courtroom can produce strikingeffects. This, however, is only because of an overly simpleunderstanding of testability. When the proponent of intelligentdesign points to some collection of natural phenomena,declaring that these could not be products of Darwiniannatural selection but must instead be the effects of a rival causalagent, Intelligence, it isn't directly obvious how to test thehypothesis advanced. Unfortunately, that is the nature ofthe core hypotheses of many important scientific theories. Thesame could have been said for the hypothesis that chemicalreactions involve the breaking and forming of bonds betweenmolecules, or for the hypothesis that the genetic material isDNA (or, in the case of some viruses, RNA), or any numberof sweeping assertions about things remote from everydayobservation, when those hypotheses were first introduced.
When such core hypotheses are tested, they are supplementedwith other principles that explain the relationship betweenthe core hypothesis and the processes to which we can gainobservational access. To test the hypothesis that the geneticmaterial is DNA, the pioneering molecular biologists ofthe 1940s needed a host of assumptions about just what wasbeing transferred into the modified bacteria on which theyperformed their experiments. And it took several years' ofingenious laboratory work to show that those assumptionswere justified. Thanks to their pioneering efforts, their successorswere equipped with refined methods of detecting theobservationally remote entities that figure in the hypothesesof molecular biology. More generally, the development of waysof detecting things that we cannot immediately see or handleis part of the creative work of science, work that expands ourconception of what is observable. At many stages in the historyof science, inquirers conceive of promising hypothesesthat are hard to connect with observational or experimentalfindings. They and their successors must work to formulateauxiliary assumptions that will make the needed connections,assumptions that are often controversial, and that must beprobed for their own soundness.10
Invocation of the magic formula thus faces a dilemma. Ifcore hypotheses, taken in isolation, must be subjected to arequirement of testability to be taken seriously, then the greatestideas in contemporary science will crumble along withintelligent design. If, on the other hand, all that is required isto supplement a core hypothesis with some auxiliary principlesthat allow for testing, then the spell fails to exorcise anything.
Unless it is shown that intelligent design, unlike the coreprinciples of atomic chemistry and molecular genetics, cannotbe equipped with auxiliary principles that allow it to be tested,then the charge of untestability will not stick. Moreover,demonstrating that intelligent design is not equipped withauxiliary principles requires detailed study of what the intelligentdesign-ers propose -- that is, coming to terms with theirconfident positive claims that the operation of Intelligence canbe detected in the history of life. In fact, when we do thedetailed work of scrutinizing their claims, we shall discoverwhy it is so tempting to dismiss them as "not doing science."It turns out to be difficult to connect the central theses ofintelligent design with the observable evidence we have bydeploying any principles that can be independently justified.But any right to dismissal cannot be assumed at the outset -- instead, it must be earned.11
Fans of the mantra of testability will surely protest thatmy response to the friends of intelligent design is a cheat -- and I sympathize with them. Simply crying "Foul!" howevershouldn't convince a good referee. We must explain whichrule of proper science has been broken, and how it has beenbroken. But pinpointing this explanation leads into thickets ofphilosophy from which no clear resolution has yet emerged.For the past half century, philosophers have tried and failed toproduce a precise account of the distinction between science andpseudoscience. We cannot seem to articulate that essential lineof demarcation.
There is, however, a deeper problem with the strategyof dismissing intelligent design as "not science." Intelligentdesign has deep roots in the history of cosmology, and of theearth and life sciences. Generations of brilliant and devoutinvestigators firmly believed that their researches were supplementsto the word of the Creator as revealed in sacred scripture,that they were disclosing that word by deciphering the Bookof Nature. From Newton's speculations about the meaningof his "system of the world" to the country parsons who wroteabout the fauna and flora in the parish precincts, there isa large body of work in "natural philosophy" -- what wecall "science", although the term was not then used in thissense -- directed by the hypothesis of intelligent design, notin the modest two-part version, but in a theologically far richerpackage. If intelligent design is no longer science, it once was,and many scientific achievements we acknowledge build uponwork that it inspired. Indeed, the status of intelligent design asa piece of mid-nineteenth-century science is confirmed by themany references in the Origin to "the theory of independentcreation."12
Appreciation of the historical entanglement of science andreligious doctrine should, I believe, incline us to the strategyI proposed above for responding to intelligent design. There isno place for intelligent design in the biology classroom becauseit is discarded science, dead science. From the perspective ofreasonable educational policy, dead science only belongs in thecurriculum in cases where a review of it is valuable for understandinglive science. We study classical Newtonian mechanicsbecause doing so is a necessary prelude to understand eventhe rudiments of quantum mechanics and relativity theory.The mere absence of a pedagogical need, however, providesno legal basis for exclusion. To show that intelligent designdoesn't belong in the biology classroom would require arguingthat the sole motivation for introducing this particularpiece of dead science is a religious one.13
If some oddly motivated group were to campaign forteaching alchemy alongside modern chemistry, or the theory thatheat is a "subtle fluid" in conjunction with thermodynamics,the right counter would not be to declare that these doctrinesare intrinsically religious, or are pseudosciences. Instead wewould explain that, although they once figured in science andwere actively pursued by learned people, we have since discoveredthat they are incorrect, and that, if they belong in thecurriculum, it should be in the history of science course, notin the chemistry or physics class.
Pursue the fantasy a little further, and imagine that theearnest activists disagree with the judgment that their pettheories are dead science. How would we try to persuadethem? Surely we would do so by showing them the evidencethat originally led to the rejection of alchemy and of "subtlefluid" ideas about heat. That wouldn't be enough, however.
If our interlocutors were astute, they would remind us thathypotheses once abandoned can make a comeback. Afterall, Copernicus revived ancient views of the motion of theearth, and nineteenth-century physicists resurrected the doctrine,periodically fashionable since the dawn of science, thatheat is the motion of the minute parts of matter. So we alsowould need to show how the further development of thesciences, after the activists' favorite ideas were given up, hasreinforced that original judgment, how the evidence in favorof the orthodoxy that triumphed has continued to increase,how the issue looks from the perspective of the present.If an appropriate response to advocates of discarded theoriesinvolves adjudicating an old debate from the vantage pointof newer, even up-to-the-minute knowledge, can we managewithout the history entirely? Would it be enough to ignore theconsiderations that initially led to discarding pre-Darwinianideas, and simply explain how things now look? I think not. Thereshould be no suspicion that the original decision was unreasonable,that it's just a fluke that things have gone well for a theorythat gained an undeserved victory. Darwin's defenders don'tsuppose that previous attempts to reevaluate evolutionary ideaswere wrongly dismissed, that it's only now, when scientificorthodoxy has a plausible tale to tell, that the orthodox canafford to come clean.
Hence, if we meet the challenge to Darwinian ideas, it willbe necessary to understand how the central ideas of Darwinianevolutionary theory came to be accepted, and how they have faredin light of an increasing body of knowledge about the detailsof life on our planet. We need a historical perspective thatleads us from the period during which the ideas espoused bythe intelligent design-ers were widely accepted, through theepisodes in which they were discarded in favor of Darwinianprinciples, to our present situation. We need, in short, tounderstand why intelligent design and other alternatives toDarwinism died, and why, despite the energetic efforts of theresurrection men, they have stayed dead.
Recertifying the demise of the allegedly live alternatives toDarwinism is more complicated than I have so far made itappear, because current opposition to Darwin involves threedifferent debates. As we shall see, the most sophisticated ofDarwin's detractors profit by intertwining them. "Darwinism"is not a monolithic whole, and one of the ideas that anti-Darwinians attack is by no means original with Darwin. Ifthe biology curriculum is to be made thoroughly safe forChristianity, as the most vocal would-be reformers (but by nomeans all Christians) understand their religion, then there arethree major principles that must be banned, or for which"balancing" rivals must be found.
The first of these principles is the idea of an ancient earth,a planet on which life has existed for almost four billion yearsand that has been populated at different periods by a largenumber of different kinds of organisms, the overwhelmingmajority of which are now extinct. Many of the animals andplants we know, including the birds and the flowers in ourgardens, the wild counterparts of the living things we havedomesticated, and our own species, are very recent arrivals inthe history of life. Taken by itself, this first thesis leaves open thepossibility that the history of life is one in which creationoccurs in successive stages.
That possibility is explicitly denied by the second majorprinciple, one that, unlike the first, was proposed and defendedby Darwin. There is just one tree of life. All the living thingsthat have ever existed on our planet are linked by processes of"descent with modification," so that even the organisms thatseem least similar -- an eagle and a seaweed, say -- are derivedfrom a common ancestor that lived at some point in theremote past.14
The last important idea, also central to Darwin's thought, concernsthe causal processes that have given rise to the diversityof life. The principal agent of evolution, the chief cause of themodified descendants is natural selection. For any kind oforganism, there will be variation in the descendants producedin each generation. Some of these variants will better enableorganisms to survive the challenges of the environment, tomature, and to produce offspring. If the new characteristicsthat underlie their success are heritable, their descendantswill enjoy the same good fortune, and the characteristics willspread. So, over a sequence of generations, a trait that was oncerare may become prevalent.15
It's important to distinguish these three principles,because there are more or less ambitious ways of attacking"Darwinism." The most sweeping is to deny all three, toadvance an alternative view according to which the earth isrelatively young and has been populated, from the beginning,by the major kinds of plants and animals, includinghuman beings, all created distinctly. Because this denial wouldallow for the narrative of Genesis to stand as the literal truthabout the history of life, I shall refer to the position as "Genesiscreationism."
A more modest conception, one that concedes that partsof the Bible's first book need not be read literally, would acceptthe ancient age of the earth but challenge the relatedness ofall living things and the power of natural selection, at least inthe most important events in the history of life. This kind ofopposition to Darwin might well allow that plenty of organismsare related to one another by descent with modification,and that natural selection does sometimes, even normally,play a role in such processes. But it would insist on momentsin the history of life where something else, something distinctlydifferent happens, where new forms are created. Ineffect, the opponent supposes that there are breaks in thetree of life, alleged evolutionary transitions involving creativeactivity that generates something entirely novel -- perhaps,for example, when multicellular organisms are produced, orwhen land-dwelling animals emerge, or when human beingsoriginate. Since the fundamental idea is that the major noveltiesin the history of life are the products of creation, I'll call thisapproach "novelty creationism."
Contemporary versions of Darwinism conceive of life ashaving a single origin, from which living things split intodistinct forms, called species, in events of speciation. Theseare the moments where the tree of life branches, sometimesidentified when naturalists perceive differences they take tobe significant, sometimes viewed in terms of interruptionsof free interbreeding among the descendants of organismswho had previously mated quite happily with one another.16Novelty creationists today typically allow that there are (many)cases in which a species splits into two new ones, confiningtheir attention to those changes that strike them as reallysignificant.
Darwin thought in terms of a graceful tree of life, withrelatively few branches. His modern descendants conceive ofsomething bushier, a dense tree with large numbers of stubbybranches representing dead ends, life's many failures. At aminimum, Novelty Creationism envisages the "broken tree oflife," in which the gaps are bridged by some new act of creation(or, to speak unofficially, by the hand of the Creator). Thisvision can easily glide into that of a "garden of life," a scenarioin which, while the earth is old, there are many separate acts ofcreation, many different, variously broken, trees. Or it can evenbecome that of the "shrubbery of life," where, not so very longago, a number of separate plantings were made at much thesame time -- a view that can endorse the narrative accuracyof Genesis.
Finally, the least ambitious of the challenges to"Darwinism" adopts both the thesis of an ancient earth andthe thesis of the relatedness of all living things, the singlebushy tree of life, while denying that natural selection has thepower to bring about the major transitions in the history oflife. Proponents of this idea point to the same episodes in life'shistory that serve their novelty creationist brethren as pointsof departure, the episodes in which something genuinely newseems to happen, something so complex that it couldn't, so thestory goes, be the product of a blind and clumsy process likenatural selection. Unlike novelty creationists, they allow that thecomplex forms that emerge are descendants of significantlyless complex ancestors, denying only that natural selectioncould have been responsible for the change. In a sense, there isstill room for something like "creative activity" but the productsof that activity are new traits, organs, or structures in thedescendants of ancestors who lacked such characteristics,rather than newly created whole organisms. This is the core ofthe official position of leading champions of intelligent design,and I shall call it "anti-selectionism."17
Marching under the banner of anti-selectionism gives onean air of respectability, because anti-selectionism has beenvigorously championed by prominent evolutionary biologistsin the past and is explored by some contemporary scientistswhose (nontraditional) proposals engage the serious attentionof their theoretically inclined colleagues. To wonder if a proposedcause is adequate to produce particular effects shouldn'tearn excommunication from the scientific community. Indeed,if Darwin's detractors were merely to ask for some brief classroomdiscussion of currently unsolved problems in applyingnatural selection to the history of life, or even a simplifiedpresentation of some alternative ideas about the origins ofnatural variations, thoughtful scientists and educators mightwelcome the suggestion. In general, and not simply in the caseof evolutionary theory, it might be sound educational policy toidentify places where there is further scientific work to bedone. That is very different from taking seriously the thoughtthat currently unsolved problems are doomed to remainunsolvable, and that there is a serious possibility that the entireframework of Darwinism should be discarded. The obviousand uncontroversial ways of presenting alternatives, or supplements,to natural selection would not do what Darwin'sopponents want though, for they would make no mention ofeither intelligence or design.
So, while anti-selectionism might be central to the intelligentdesign movement,18 at least in its conversations with thehitherto unconverted, it doesn't offer much to the faithful, forwhom Darwin is still the bogeyman. What is necessary is adistinctive way of addressing those evolutionary transitionsthat so far nobody has explained by appealing to naturalselection -- a causal agency at work that genuinely deservesthe label "Intelligence." This agency bestows on descendantstraits, organs, and structures that were lacking in their ancestors.Merely applying some other natural process that complements,or substitutes for, natural selection in the problematicinstances won't yield a rival vision that will be friendlier to faiththan the current Darwinian orthodoxy. What many troubledChristians would like is some indication of planning, purpose,design, at work in the history of life, a providential hand thatreaches in and produces the truly important changes.
As the case for intelligent design is elaborated, therefore, theposition slides away from bare anti-selectionism toward thereligiously more evocative position of novelty creationism.Instead of simply supposing that the great transitions inevolution -- like the conquest of land, or the arrival of Homosapiens -- require something more than (or different from)Darwinian natural selection, there's a tendency not to seethese as evolutionary transitions at all, but as episodes in whicha genuinely creative Intelligence is active. The label, "intelligentdesign," is a brilliant cover for the oscillating target thatso frustrates the scientists who rise to Darwin's defense,inspiring them to charge that intelligent design is not science.Although the label can stand for those special momentswhere the Creator's hand reaches in, it can also be divestedof religious content, explained as merely a commitment toanti-selectionism.
In differentiating various positions for Darwin's detractors,I aim to bring clarity to a debate too often confusedby their oscillations. There are three types of positions tobe considered: first, anti-selectionism, that only opposes thesufficiency of natural selection to produce the major transitionsin the history of life; second, novelty creationism, thattakes some alleged transitions to be episodes in which organismswith new complex forms are created; and third, Genesiscreationism, that hopes to make biology and geology safe forthe literal truth of the Genesis narrative. Intelligent designpresses toward novelty creationism when it can, retreating toanti-selectionism when the accusations of mixing religionwith science roll in.
For many of those who want an alternative to Darwin,however, novelty creationism is not enough. They wouldremain shocked by a science curriculum that implied that any(nonpoetic) part of the Bible cannot be taken as literal truth.19If they clearly understood what the intelligent design movementwould achieve, were it successful, these people wouldonly be partly satisfied. Nevertheless, they might welcome theerosion of Darwinism in hopes that it could eventually leadto the triumph of Genesis creationism.
At different stages in the history of inquiry, each of the threepositions had its day as part of scientific orthodoxy. Eighteenthcenturydiscussions of the earth and its history typically tookit for granted that the natural processes that had occurredwould conform to the history related in the early chaptersof Genesis. Only at the end of the century were there nascentsuspicions that biblical chronology might be radically mistaken.In the first decades of the nineteenth century, however,those doubts multiplied, and by the early 1830s the claim thathuman beings had been present on earth ever since the dawn oflife had become indefensible.
For the next decades, something like novelty creationismheld sway, as the prevalent view maintained that the history oflife on earth was a sequence of periods in which new life formswere first specially created, flourished for a while, and thenwent extinct. The culmination of the sequence was the mostrecent creation in which our own species was generated. In1859, the publication of the Origin of Species began the vigorousdebate in which novelty creationism was overthrown,and by the early 1870s, in the English-speaking world as wellas in Germany and Russia, most researchers had acceptedDarwin's conception of a single tree of life in which organismsare linked by processes of descent with modification.
Natural selection, however, remained controversial. Withouta developed account of the mechanism of inheritance, itwas quite unclear whether selection could give rise to significantlymodified descendants. There were worries that thetimescale for the history of life was too short for the observeddiversity to evolve under natural selection, as well as perplexitiesabout the power of selection to produce varioustypes of traits and structures. Eventually, in the 1920s andthe 1930s, biologists would produce the "modern synthesis,"integrating Darwin's ideas about selection with the new geneticsdescending from Mendel's neglected work. Between 1870and 1920, however, anti-selectionism was widely accepted, asbiologists struggled to identify alternative mechanisms thatwould propel evolutionary change.
Around 1830, 1870, and 1930, respectively, Genesis creationism,novelty creationism, and anti-selectionism werediscarded, consigned to the large vault of dead science. Areany of them ripe for resurrection? No. But the efforts of theresurrection men demand a rewrite of the obituaries, onethat will expose clearly what happened and why the originalverdicts have been sustained by the subsequent course ofinquiry, or, in the case of anti-selectionism, why current worriesabout the power of natural selection hold no comfort for ideasof intelligent design. I shall try to show how contemporaryevolutionary biology has come to its prevailing orthodoxies,and why there are no reasons to amend them in ways thatwould be welcomed by those who wish to disinter Darwin.
Yet the zeal of the resurrection men, and of the citizens whosupport them, also needs explanation. What threat, what realdanger, does the acceptance of Darwinism pose? Even aftera review of the evidence has shown that we are stuck withDarwin, we still need to decide whether or not his "profoundlyreverent spirit" leaves central religious doctrines and cherishedbeliefs about ourselves unperturbed -- whether, in short, thatmemorial in the Abbey undermines the institution and thevalues the site represents, whether, in the interests of accuraterepresentation, Darwin really should be disinterred.
In the closing chapter of this essay, I shall argue that thethoughtful and concerned people who welcome the proposalsof the intelligent design-ers have seen something important,that they fear, quite understandably, that they cannot live withDarwin. I shall try to show how evolutionary ideas combinewith other bodies of knowledge to yield serious consequencesfor the future of faith -- and how also a brusque strategy ofdismissing superstition cannot be adequate. In the end, evenafter we have seen all the failures of the resurrection men,we cannot be content either with the well-intentioned accommodationsof Darwin's Anglican eulogists or with the militantcampaign to replace religion by erecting statues of the Sage ofDown in every public square.