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.
Read an excerpt from "Living with Darwin" below:
In 1882, when Charles Darwin died, his family planned to bury him in the churchyard of the village of Down in Kent, where, in his retreat from the bustle of scientific debate, he had spent the last 40 years of his life. Their private plans were overridden by a public campaign, orchestrated by those who had championed Darwin's ideas, and it was decided quickly that he should be interred in Westminster Abbey, among the other luminaries of British science. Whatever doubts they may have harbored, leading figures of the church declared their satisfaction that "properly understood," the evolutionary ideas that had seemed so inflammatory in the 1860s, were perfectly compatible with Christian doctrine. Darwin's own agnosticism, well concealed by his cautious attempts to avoid alienating potential readers -- as well as to ensure that the religious sensibilities of his wife Emma (née Wedgwood ) were not offended by his expression of his ideas -- went unmentioned.
Instead, the many tributes from the pulpit heralded him as an old-fashioned Deist, perhaps even as an interpreter of God's Book of Nature. As one of the eulogies put it, "This man, on whom years of bigotry and ignorance poured out their scorn, has been called a materialist. I do not see in all his writings one trace of materialism. I read in every line the healthy, noble, well-balanced wonder of a spirit profoundly reverent, kindled into deepest admiration for the works of God." With words like these, Darwin was laid in his place of honor beneath the monument to Newton. It seemed as though the church had made its peace with him.
Peace would not last, of course. Almost exactly a century after Darwin was acclaimed as a "spirit profoundly reverent," his detractors petitioned in American courts to protect innocent schoolchildren from the corrosive influence of his theory. In many parts of the world, Scandinavia, Australia, Korea, the Netherlands, the years since 1882 have been punctuated by periodic attempts to disinter Darwin, to repudiate the soothing rhetoric that accompanied his burial, and to expose him as a ruthless enemy of right religion. Nowhere have these efforts been more strenuous than in the United States, where defenders of evangelical Christianity have campaigned in the 1920s, in the 1970s and 1980s, and again today, to remove his ideas from science classrooms or to "balance" them with theories more friendly to faith. Current discussions renew many of the arguments that were traded in the Tennessee courtroom where, in the summer of 1925, John Scopes was arraigned for teaching the "monkey theory." These arguments were joined with less flair in 1982, when Darwinism was again called to the bar in neighboring Arkansas. Through all these episodes, leaders of the anti-evolutionary movement have been consistently clear that 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 systems of belief and practice."2 Initially, when the question "which nineteenth-century thinker has had the most damaging effect on twentieth-century thought and practice?" is posed, it seems that there are several good candidates -- Nietzsche, perhaps, with his declaration of the death of God, or Marx, who famously characterized religion as the opium of the people. Evangelical Christians are perfectly sincere, however, when they answer that it is Darwin, chosen by the Anglican church to lie beneath the great, and, in his unorthodox way, devout Newton, who is the real culprit.
From the perspective of almost the entire community of natural scientists world-wide, this continued resistance to Darwin is absurd. Biologists confidently proclaim that Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is as well established as any of the major theories in contemporary science, as the atomic chemistry that schoolchildren learn or the molecular genetics that is emerging from a great scientific revolution still in process. Perhaps with a modest amount of overstatement, they echo Theodosius Dobzhansky's famous line, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution."3 Religious scientists, often endorsing the ecumenical attitudes that accompanied Darwin's burial, express regret that their more militant fellow believers conjure an opposition that does not exist. Yet the issue will not go away. Detailed replies elaborated in one generation may inaugurate a period of calm, while resentment of Darwin and the establishment that defends him smolders sullenly. But the antipathy to Darwinian evolution runs so deep that sooner or later the responses will be forgotten, ignored, or evaded, and the controversy will erupt anew.
Why is this? The question has two parts. First, how can the allegedly massive evidence in favor of Darwin's central claims be overlooked? How, if facts reflect what confident scientists say, is even the illusion of a serious debate created? Darwin's detractors cling to the belief that the "massive evidence" is overblown, and that the enthronement of Darwinism among the genuinely established sciences is the triumph of atheistic materialism. They believe that this atheistic materialism has cunningly co-opted religious scientists who don't even realize they have been tricked. Like all comprehensive scientific theories, evolutionary theory has unresolved questions that challenge biologists. In order to address these challenges and those of Darwinism's detractors, a clear presentation of the evidential situation, a delineation of the grounds on which Darwinism rests, of the problems it faces and to which its opponents point, and an appraisal of the merits of potentially opposing viewpoints must be provided.
The second part of the question concerns the source of the vehement opposition. Why is it that this particular piece of science provokes 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 enthusiasm for Darwin's "reverence" a whitewash. From the militant evangelical perspective, foolish Anglican churchmen were caught up in popular enthusiasm, and signed on to "life without God."
They thought, of course, that they were only eliminating God from any direct role in the long history of life on our planet, operating in the venerable tradition that saw the Creator's action as remote, as a wise institution of initial conditions from which the universe, and life within it, could unfold by well-designed natural processes. In fact, however, they were accepting "life without God" in a far more dangerous sense, blindly overlooking the subversive implications of this particular 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 does it 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 at all, but a genuine scientific alternative to Darwinian orthodoxy, something that could be taught alongside evolutionary theory in the high-school biology curriculum without raising any anxieties about teaching religion, and that could even provide schoolchildren with an "exciting event" on their "educational journey."4 Those who support this proposal, and who wish to see it enacted as law, can be divided, for my purposes, into two main groups. There are the architects of intelligent design theory, the "intelligent design-ers" as I shall call them, and the citizens whose support they enlist. In appraising the ideas and advertisements of the intelligent design-ers, I do not mean to criticize the sincere and worried people who rally to their cause. Only in the final chapter of this essay shall I consider the sources of their concern.
Advertising intelligent design as independent of religious doctrine is accurate in one important sense. To claim that some kinds of organisms are products of intelligent design does not logically entail any conclusion about the existence of a deity, let alone any specific articles of Christian faith. From a legal perspective, however, what matters is whether there might be genuinely nonreligious reasons for advancing a proposed law. If nobody would support the law except on the basis of religious beliefs, then, in the pertinent sense, the law cannot be independent of religion.5 On this score, there are ample reasons for worrying about measures intended to introduce intelligent design into the biology curriculum.
In the first place, the style of argument that permeates claims of intelligent design traces back to William Paley's Natural Theology -- required reading for Cambridge undergraduates when Darwin was a student and explicitly intended as a response to the "atheistic" arguments of David Hume's posthumous Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.6 Second, studies of explicitly Christian writings about Darwinism have shown that as the fortunes of "scientific creationism" -- the favored 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.7 Third, as the recent trial in Dover, Pennsylvania made clear, the support for teaching intelligent design in the local high school came from religious people who felt the need to campaign for an alternative to Darwinism that accorded with their faith. Finally, in the wake of the rebuke administered by the voters in the local elections, who replaced the members of the Dover School Board who had agitated for the inclusion of intelligent design in the curriculum, Pat Robertson himself issued a warning that this apparent repudiation of God would undermine any appeal to the Deity should some catastrophe strike the community.
Although there are grounds for suspicion, I shall treat intelligent design as its leaders characterize it, as a hypothesis put forward to identify and account for certain natural phenomena. The sociological fact that the hypothesis is welcomed by a significant number of Christians, and by some religious people of other faiths, does not make it an intrinsically religious doctrine. A proposal about the natural world need have no specifically religious content to be more compatible with particular religious ideas than its equally naturalistic rivals. When Galileo made his case for the motion of the earth around the sun, and his opponents argued that the earth is at rest, the alternative hypotheses concerned natural processes; nevertheless some Catholics, committed to a literal interpretation of the biblical passage in which Joshua successfully commanded the sun to stand still,8 believed that the earth-centered account was more sympathetic to the articles of their faith.
The core of intelligent design, understood as a rival to current ideas in biology and the earth sciences,9 consists of two major claims. The negative thesis is that some aspects of life and its history cannot be understood in terms of natural selection, conceived as Darwinian orthodoxy supposes. The positive thesis is that these aspects of life must be understood as effects of an alternative causal agency, one that is properly characterized as "intelligent." (It is simplest to refer to this alternative agency as "Intelligence," so long as we don't engage in illegitimate personification -- Intelligence is simply some causal power that deserves to be thought of as, in some sense, intelligent.) You could easily expand these two claims to a bigger package, adding the explicit identification that Intelligence is a creative deity, a providential creative deity, or even the God of the Christian scriptures. Outside the biology classroom, the expansion is permissible. Inside, it is not. The goal of the current movement to install intelligent design as an alternative to Darwinian evolution, is to reform the curriculum so that the two-part hypothesis is explained by the biology teacher, something that can be done without suspicion of religious indoctrination. It is, of course, a convenient fact that the local preacher can add elements of the larger package when he instructs the uncorrupted youth on Sundays.
Because the advocates of the intelligent design theory also insist on the further claim that the two-part hypothesis is genuinely scientific -- the "status claim," as I shall call it -- they invite a strategy for response. It would appear that their legal arguments could be undercut easily by rebutting the status claim, by showing that their favored two-part hypothesis isn't science. My own approach will proceed differently. I shall view intelligent design as "dead science," a doctrine that once had its day in scientific inquiry and discussion, but that has rightly been discarded.
It is easy to understand why many scientists (and the journalists to whom they give interviews) find the "not science" strategy attractive. After all, it is a quick way of dismissing the opposition, one that shortcuts the tedious work of analyzing the proliferating texts the opponents produce. But I think it can only succeed when the central issues are blurred. If the substance of the charge is that intelligent design is not science because it is religion, then the acquitting response should be, first, that the position can be formulated without making any religious claim (intelligent design is the two-part thesis just distinguished). Second, for much of the history of inquiry great scientists have advanced specifically religious hypotheses and theories. On the other hand, if we suppose that the two-part thesis doesn't have the characteristics required of "genuine science," then it is appropriate to ask just what these characteristics are. True, the architects of intelligent design don't spend a great deal of time performing experiments -- but then neither do many astronomers, theoretical physicists, oceanographers, or students of animal behavior. Science has room for field observers, mathematical modelers, as well as experimentalists. Social criteria for genuine science, such as publishing articles in "peer-reviewed journals," are easy to mimic. Any group that aspires to the title can institute the pertinent procedures. Hence those procedures no longer function to distinguish science from everything else. So, what is left?
Many scientists believe that there is a magic formula, an incantation they can utter to dispel the claims of intelligent design. Indeed, intoning the mantra "science is testable," in the public press or even in the courtroom can produce striking effects. This, however, is only because of an overly simple understanding of testability. When the proponent of intelligent design points to some collection of natural phenomena, declaring that these could not be products of Darwinian natural selection but must instead be the effects of a rival causal agent, Intelligence, it isn't directly obvious how to test the hypothesis advanced. Unfortunately, that is the nature of the core hypotheses of many important scientific theories. The same could have been said for the hypothesis that chemical reactions involve the breaking and forming of bonds between molecules, or for the hypothesis that the genetic material is DNA (or, in the case of some viruses, RNA), or any number of sweeping assertions about things remote from everyday observation, when those hypotheses were first introduced.
When such core hypotheses are tested, they are supplemented with other principles that explain the relationship between the core hypothesis and the processes to which we can gain observational access. To test the hypothesis that the genetic material is DNA, the pioneering molecular biologists of the 1940s needed a host of assumptions about just what was being transferred into the modified bacteria on which they performed their experiments. And it took several years' of ingenious laboratory work to show that those assumptions were justified. Thanks to their pioneering efforts, their successors were equipped with refined methods of detecting the observationally remote entities that figure in the hypotheses of molecular biology. More generally, the development of ways of detecting things that we cannot immediately see or handle is part of the creative work of science, work that expands our conception of what is observable. At many stages in the history of science, inquirers conceive of promising hypotheses that are hard to connect with observational or experimental findings. They and their successors must work to formulate auxiliary assumptions that will make the needed connections, assumptions that are often controversial, and that must be probed for their own soundness.10
Invocation of the magic formula thus faces a dilemma. If core hypotheses, taken in isolation, must be subjected to a requirement of testability to be taken seriously, then the greatest ideas in contemporary science will crumble along with intelligent design. If, on the other hand, all that is required is to supplement a core hypothesis with some auxiliary principles that allow for testing, then the spell fails to exorcise anything.
Unless it is shown that intelligent design, unlike the core principles of atomic chemistry and molecular genetics, cannot be 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 with auxiliary principles requires detailed study of what the intelligent design-ers propose -- that is, coming to terms with their confident positive claims that the operation of Intelligence can be detected in the history of life. In fact, when we do the detailed work of scrutinizing their claims, we shall discover why it is so tempting to dismiss them as "not doing science." It turns out to be difficult to connect the central theses of intelligent design with the observable evidence we have by deploying 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 that my response to the friends of intelligent design is a cheat -- and I sympathize with them. Simply crying "Foul!" however shouldn't convince a good referee. We must explain which rule of proper science has been broken, and how it has been broken. But pinpointing this explanation leads into thickets of philosophy from which no clear resolution has yet emerged. For the past half century, philosophers have tried and failed to produce a precise account of the distinction between science and pseudoscience. We cannot seem to articulate that essential line of demarcation.
There is, however, a deeper problem with the strategy of dismissing intelligent design as "not science." Intelligent design has deep roots in the history of cosmology, and of the earth and life sciences. Generations of brilliant and devout investigators firmly believed that their researches were supplements to the word of the Creator as revealed in sacred scripture, that they were disclosing that word by deciphering the Book of Nature. From Newton's speculations about the meaning of his "system of the world" to the country parsons who wrote about the fauna and flora in the parish precincts, there is a large body of work in "natural philosophy" -- what we call "science", although the term was not then used in this sense -- directed by the hypothesis of intelligent design, not in the modest two-part version, but in a theologically far richer package. If intelligent design is no longer science, it once was, and many scientific achievements we acknowledge build upon work that it inspired. Indeed, the status of intelligent design as a piece of mid-nineteenth-century science is confirmed by the many references in the Origin to "the theory of independent creation."12
Appreciation of the historical entanglement of science and religious doctrine should, I believe, incline us to the strategy I proposed above for responding to intelligent design. There is no place for intelligent design in the biology classroom because it is discarded science, dead science. From the perspective of reasonable educational policy, dead science only belongs in the curriculum in cases where a review of it is valuable for understanding live science. We study classical Newtonian mechanics because doing so is a necessary prelude to understand even the rudiments of quantum mechanics and relativity theory. The mere absence of a pedagogical need, however, provides no legal basis for exclusion. To show that intelligent design doesn't belong in the biology classroom would require arguing that the sole motivation for introducing this particular piece of dead science is a religious one.13
If some oddly motivated group were to campaign for teaching alchemy alongside modern chemistry, or the theory that heat is a "subtle fluid" in conjunction with thermodynamics, the right counter would not be to declare that these doctrines are intrinsically religious, or are pseudosciences. Instead we would explain that, although they once figured in science and were actively pursued by learned people, we have since discovered that they are incorrect, and that, if they belong in the curriculum, it should be in the history of science course, not in the chemistry or physics class.
Pursue the fantasy a little further, and imagine that the earnest activists disagree with the judgment that their pet theories are dead science. How would we try to persuade them? Surely we would do so by showing them the evidence that originally led to the rejection of alchemy and of "subtle fluid" ideas about heat. That wouldn't be enough, however.
If our interlocutors were astute, they would remind us that hypotheses once abandoned can make a comeback. After all, Copernicus revived ancient views of the motion of the earth, and nineteenth-century physicists resurrected the doctrine, periodically fashionable since the dawn of science, that heat is the motion of the minute parts of matter. So we also would need to show how the further development of the sciences, after the activists' favorite ideas were given up, has reinforced that original judgment, how the evidence in favor of 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 theories involves adjudicating an old debate from the vantage point of newer, even up-to-the-minute knowledge, can we manage without the history entirely? Would it be enough to ignore the considerations that initially led to discarding pre-Darwinian ideas, and simply explain how things now look? I think not. There should be no suspicion that the original decision was unreasonable, that it's just a fluke that things have gone well for a theory that gained an undeserved victory. Darwin's defenders don't suppose that previous attempts to reevaluate evolutionary ideas were wrongly dismissed, that it's only now, when scientific orthodoxy has a plausible tale to tell, that the orthodox can afford to come clean.
Hence, if we meet the challenge to Darwinian ideas, it will be necessary to understand how the central ideas of Darwinian evolutionary theory came to be accepted, and how they have fared in light of an increasing body of knowledge about the details of life on our planet. We need a historical perspective that leads us from the period during which the ideas espoused by the intelligent design-ers were widely accepted, through the episodes in which they were discarded in favor of Darwinian principles, to our present situation. We need, in short, to understand why intelligent design and other alternatives to Darwinism died, and why, despite the energetic efforts of the resurrection men, they have stayed dead.
Recertifying the demise of the allegedly live alternatives to Darwinism is more complicated than I have so far made it appear, because current opposition to Darwin involves three different debates. As we shall see, the most sophisticated of Darwin'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. If the biology curriculum is to be made thoroughly safe for Christianity, as the most vocal would-be reformers (but by no means all Christians) understand their religion, then there are three 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 years and that has been populated at different periods by a large number of different kinds of organisms, the overwhelming majority of which are now extinct. Many of the animals and plants we know, including the birds and the flowers in our gardens, the wild counterparts of the living things we have domesticated, and our own species, are very recent arrivals in the history of life. Taken by itself, this first thesis leaves open the possibility that the history of life is one in which creation occurs in successive stages.
That possibility is explicitly denied by the second major principle, one that, unlike the first, was proposed and defended by Darwin. There is just one tree of life. All the living things that have ever existed on our planet are linked by processes of "descent with modification," so that even the organisms that seem least similar -- an eagle and a seaweed, say -- are derived from a common ancestor that lived at some point in the remote past.14
The last important idea, also central to Darwin's thought, concerns the causal processes that have given rise to the diversity of life. The principal agent of evolution, the chief cause of the modified descendants is natural selection. For any kind of organism, there will be variation in the descendants produced in each generation. Some of these variants will better enable organisms to survive the challenges of the environment, to mature, and to produce offspring. If the new characteristics that underlie their success are heritable, their descendants will enjoy the same good fortune, and the characteristics will spread. So, over a sequence of generations, a trait that was once rare 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, to advance an alternative view according to which the earth is relatively young and has been populated, from the beginning, by the major kinds of plants and animals, including human beings, all created distinctly. Because this denial would allow for the narrative of Genesis to stand as the literal truth about the history of life, I shall refer to the position as "Genesis creationism."
A more modest conception, one that concedes that parts of the Bible's first book need not be read literally, would accept the ancient age of the earth but challenge the relatedness of all living things and the power of natural selection, at least in the most important events in the history of life. This kind of opposition to Darwin might well allow that plenty of organisms are 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 moments in the history of life where something else, something distinctly different happens, where new forms are created. In effect, the opponent supposes that there are breaks in the tree of life, alleged evolutionary transitions involving creative activity that generates something entirely novel -- perhaps, for example, when multicellular organisms are produced, or when land-dwelling animals emerge, or when human beings originate. Since the fundamental idea is that the major novelties in the history of life are the products of creation, I'll call this approach "novelty creationism."
Contemporary versions of Darwinism conceive of life as having a single origin, from which living things split into distinct forms, called species, in events of speciation. These are the moments where the tree of life branches, sometimes identified when naturalists perceive differences they take to be significant, sometimes viewed in terms of interruptions of free interbreeding among the descendants of organisms who had previously mated quite happily with one another.16 Novelty creationists today typically allow that there are (many) cases in which a species splits into two new ones, confining their attention to those changes that strike them as really significant.
Darwin thought in terms of a graceful tree of life, with relatively few branches. His modern descendants conceive of something bushier, a dense tree with large numbers of stubby branches representing dead ends, life's many failures. At a minimum, Novelty Creationism envisages the "broken tree of life," in which the gaps are bridged by some new act of creation (or, to speak unofficially, by the hand of the Creator). This vision can easily glide into that of a "garden of life," a scenario in which, while the earth is old, there are many separate acts of creation, many different, variously broken, trees. Or it can even become that of the "shrubbery of life," where, not so very long ago, a number of separate plantings were made at much the same time -- a view that can endorse the narrative accuracy of Genesis.
Finally, the least ambitious of the challenges to "Darwinism" adopts both the thesis of an ancient earth and the thesis of the relatedness of all living things, the single bushy tree of life, while denying that natural selection has the power to bring about the major transitions in the history of life. Proponents of this idea point to the same episodes in life's history that serve their novelty creationist brethren as points of departure, the episodes in which something genuinely new seems to happen, something so complex that it couldn't, so the story goes, be the product of a blind and clumsy process like natural selection. Unlike novelty creationists, they allow that the complex forms that emerge are descendants of significantly less complex ancestors, denying only that natural selection could have been responsible for the change. In a sense, there is still room for something like "creative activity" but the products of that activity are new traits, organs, or structures in the descendants of ancestors who lacked such characteristics, rather than newly created whole organisms. This is the core of the official position of leading champions of intelligent design, and I shall call it "anti-selectionism."17
Marching under the banner of anti-selectionism gives one an air of respectability, because anti-selectionism has been vigorously championed by prominent evolutionary biologists in the past and is explored by some contemporary scientists whose (nontraditional) proposals engage the serious attention of their theoretically inclined colleagues. To wonder if a proposed cause is adequate to produce particular effects shouldn't earn excommunication from the scientific community. Indeed, if Darwin's detractors were merely to ask for some brief classroom discussion of currently unsolved problems in applying natural selection to the history of life, or even a simplified presentation of some alternative ideas about the origins of natural variations, thoughtful scientists and educators might welcome the suggestion. In general, and not simply in the case of evolutionary theory, it might be sound educational policy to identify places where there is further scientific work to be done. That is very different from taking seriously the thought that currently unsolved problems are doomed to remain unsolvable, and that there is a serious possibility that the entire framework of Darwinism should be discarded. The obvious and uncontroversial ways of presenting alternatives, or supplements, to natural selection would not do what Darwin's opponents want though, for they would make no mention of either intelligence or design.
So, while anti-selectionism might be central to the intelligent design movement,18 at least in its conversations with the hitherto unconverted, it doesn't offer much to the faithful, for whom Darwin is still the bogeyman. What is necessary is a distinctive way of addressing those evolutionary transitions that so far nobody has explained by appealing to natural selection -- a causal agency at work that genuinely deserves the label "Intelligence." This agency bestows on descendants traits, organs, and structures that were lacking in their ancestors. Merely applying some other natural process that complements, or substitutes for, natural selection in the problematic instances won't yield a rival vision that will be friendlier to faith than the current Darwinian orthodoxy. What many troubled Christians would like is some indication of planning, purpose, design, at work in the history of life, a providential hand that reaches in and produces the truly important changes.
As the case for intelligent design is elaborated, therefore, the position slides away from bare anti-selectionism toward the religiously more evocative position of novelty creationism. Instead of simply supposing that the great transitions in evolution -- like the conquest of land, or the arrival of Homo sapiens -- require something more than (or different from) Darwinian natural selection, there's a tendency not to see these as evolutionary transitions at all, but as episodes in which a genuinely creative Intelligence is active. The label, "intelligent design," is a brilliant cover for the oscillating target that so 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 moments where the Creator's hand reaches in, it can also be divested of religious content, explained as merely a commitment to anti-selectionism.
In differentiating various positions for Darwin's detractors, I aim to bring clarity to a debate too often confused by their oscillations. There are three types of positions to be considered: first, anti-selectionism, that only opposes the sufficiency of natural selection to produce the major transitions in the history of life; second, novelty creationism, that takes some alleged transitions to be episodes in which organisms with new complex forms are created; and third, Genesis creationism, that hopes to make biology and geology safe for the literal truth of the Genesis narrative. Intelligent design presses toward novelty creationism when it can, retreating to anti-selectionism when the accusations of mixing religion with science roll in.
For many of those who want an alternative to Darwin, however, novelty creationism is not enough. They would remain shocked by a science curriculum that implied that any (nonpoetic) part of the Bible cannot be taken as literal truth.19 If they clearly understood what the intelligent design movement would achieve, were it successful, these people would only be partly satisfied. Nevertheless, they might welcome the erosion of Darwinism in hopes that it could eventually lead to the triumph of Genesis creationism.
At different stages in the history of inquiry, each of the three positions had its day as part of scientific orthodoxy. Eighteenthcentury discussions of the earth and its history typically took it for granted that the natural processes that had occurred would conform to the history related in the early chapters of Genesis. Only at the end of the century were there nascent suspicions 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 that human beings had been present on earth ever since the dawn of life had become indefensible.
For the next decades, something like novelty creationism held sway, as the prevalent view maintained that the history of life on earth was a sequence of periods in which new life forms were first specially created, flourished for a while, and then went extinct. The culmination of the sequence was the most recent creation in which our own species was generated. In 1859, the publication of the Origin of Species began the vigorous debate in which novelty creationism was overthrown, and by the early 1870s, in the English-speaking world as well as in Germany and Russia, most researchers had accepted Darwin's conception of a single tree of life in which organisms are linked by processes of descent with modification.
Natural selection, however, remained controversial. Without a developed account of the mechanism of inheritance, it was quite unclear whether selection could give rise to significantly modified descendants. There were worries that the timescale for the history of life was too short for the observed diversity to evolve under natural selection, as well as perplexities about the power of selection to produce various types of traits and structures. Eventually, in the 1920s and the 1930s, biologists would produce the "modern synthesis," integrating Darwin's ideas about selection with the new genetics descending from Mendel's neglected work. Between 1870 and 1920, however, anti-selectionism was widely accepted, as biologists struggled to identify alternative mechanisms that would propel evolutionary change.
Around 1830, 1870, and 1930, respectively, Genesis creationism, novelty creationism, and anti-selectionism were discarded, consigned to the large vault of dead science. Are any of them ripe for resurrection? No. But the efforts of the resurrection men demand a rewrite of the obituaries, one that will expose clearly what happened and why the original verdicts have been sustained by the subsequent course of inquiry, or, in the case of anti-selectionism, why current worries about the power of natural selection hold no comfort for ideas of intelligent design. I shall try to show how contemporary evolutionary biology has come to its prevailing orthodoxies, and why there are no reasons to amend them in ways that would be welcomed by those who wish to disinter Darwin.
Yet the zeal of the resurrection men, and of the citizens who support them, also needs explanation. What threat, what real danger, does the acceptance of Darwinism pose? Even after a review of the evidence has shown that we are stuck with Darwin, we still need to decide whether or not his "profoundly reverent spirit" leaves central religious doctrines and cherished beliefs about ourselves unperturbed -- whether, in short, that memorial in the Abbey undermines the institution and the values the site represents, whether, in the interests of accurate representation, Darwin really should be disinterred.
In the closing chapter of this essay, I shall argue that the thoughtful and concerned people who welcome the proposals of the intelligent design-ers have seen something important, that they fear, quite understandably, that they cannot live with Darwin. I shall try to show how evolutionary ideas combine with other bodies of knowledge to yield serious consequences for the future of faith -- and how also a brusque strategy of dismissing superstition cannot be adequate. In the end, even after we have seen all the failures of the resurrection men, we cannot be content either with the well-intentioned accommodations of Darwin's Anglican eulogists or with the militant campaign to replace religion by erecting statues of the Sage of Down in every public square.