Cover Story

The evolution backlash: Debunking Darwin

"The evolution backlash: Debunking Darwin" Continued...

Issue: "Evolution Counter-Revolution," March 1, 1997

Mr. Johnson's goal is to break the deadlock between creationists and theistic evolutionists. &quotIf you set out to promote a particular, detailed position, you end up becoming defensive, fragmented, and fighting each other," Mr. Johnson said. &quotDesign is not a position, it's a metaphysical platform that creates space for rational discussion." John Mark Reynolds, professor of philosophy at Biola, portrays design as the common ground uniting all Christians, and the counterpart in science to C.S. Lewis's notion of &quotmere Christianity." Trading on that phrase, the Biola conference was titled &quotMere Creation." The design paradigm shows potential for becoming the central organizing point for debate about origins among a wide range of Christians.

Design theory is also redefining the public-school debate. At issue is not the details of evolution versus the details of Genesis; it's the stark, fundamental claim that life is the product of impersonal forces over against the claim that it is the creation of an intelligent agent.

Consider these quotations: &quotYou are an animal, and share a common heritage with earthworms... ," proclaims the Holt, Rinehart, and Winston textbook Biology: Visualizing Life. &quotEvolution is random and undirected ... without either plan or purpose," declares Prentice Hall's Biology. American public schools are supposed to be neutral with regard to religion, but these statements are clearly antagonistic to all theistic religions. They go far beyond any empirical evidence and are more philosophical than scientific. In the words of John Wiester, chairman of the Science Education Commission of the American Scientific Affiliation, &quotDarwinism is naturalistic philosophy masquerading as science."

If Mr. Johnson is the organizing mind of the design movement, Mr. Wiester is its heart. With his broad face and intense smile, Mr. Wiester radiates warmth. He teaches in the biology department of Westmont College while operating a cattle ranch. He's likely to sign e-mail notes saying, &quotI'm off to de-horn steers today."

Mr. Wiester sinks his teeth like a bulldog into a recent statement by the National Association of Biology Teachers, which asserts that all life arose by an &quotunsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable, and natural process." This is nothing less than &quotDarwinian fundamentalism," Mr. Wiester declares. Does that mean schools should teach creation? &quotOur goal is not to teach creation," Mr. Wiester explains, &quotit's to teach science honestly: to teach not only the confirming examples but the disconfirming examples, the anomalies and unsolved questions of evolution."

Take, for example, the Cambrian &quotexplosion," when all the major blueprints for life burst into existence. Darwinism assumes that major divides in the living world emerged over time through minor differentiation. But the Cambrian fossils show precisely the opposite pattern: The major patterns of life appear in a shotgun blast of radically different forms, and only then begin to diversify. Such negative evidence rarely appears in public-school textbooks.

In Alabama, Norris Anderson spearheaded a successful campaign to paste an insert on the inside front cover of biology textbooks listing some of the anomalies and ambiguities in evolutionary theory. In Education or Indoctrination?, Mr. Anderson has collected examples of dogmatic presentations of Darwinism: &quotDarwin gave biology a sound scientific basis by attributing the diversity of life to natural causes rather than supernatural creation" (Addison-Wesley's Biology). &quotToday, the evidence for evolution is overwhelming.... Evolution is no longer merely a theory" (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston's Biology). The same textbook takes a preemptive strike against troublesome critics: &quotThere have always been those who resisted the appeal of evolution and every now and then declare 'Darwin was wrong,' in the hope of some profitable publicity, usually revealing that they do not understand Darwinism."

Ironically, Mr. Anderson understands Darwinism better than most. Formerly a textbook writer, he helped to prepare the infamous BSCS series (Biological Sciences Curriculum Study), which inaugurated the current dogmatic approach to teaching evolution. &quotI was practically an evangelist for evolution," Mr. Anderson says wryly. His turnabout was sparked when a colleague told him baldly, &quotDon't get me wrong, I believe human evolution happened, but there's absolutely no evidence for it." Mr. Anderson suggested that the textbooks be rewritten to reflect the real state of the evidence, but his proposal was vehemently rejected. &quotThat's when my idealism began to crumble," Mr. Anderson says. &quotI saw that scientists close ranks to present a false image of scientific certainty."

What gives the Darwin debate such gravity, of course, is that much more than science is involved. In the Stanford debate, Mr. Provine outlines unflinchingly what Darwinism means for human values. To make sure no one misses it, he flashes a list on an overhead projector: Consistent Darwinism implies: &quotNo life after death; No ultimate foundation for ethics; No ultimate meaning for life; No free will." The only reason for insisting on free will, Mr. Provine adds, is a cruel desire to blame people for their actions and lock them up.

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