What Would Darwin Say?

What would Darwin have said about the growing intelligent design controversy in Ohio? We can't ask him, of course. He's been dead for 120 years. But there are tantalizing hints in Darwin's writings that he might just have surprised, even shocked, his present-day followers. Darwin was a lot friendlier to intellectual freedom than many neo-Darwinists have been.   Fellows of the Discovery Institute made national headlines this week when they argued in open hearings before the Ohio state board of education for teaching intelligent design alongside evolution. Intelligent design is the scientific theory that natural objects, like organisms, display the hallmarks of a purposeful, deliberate cause -- an intelligent agent -- capable of effects that no natural law or chance process could produce.   The response in much of the press against the intelligent design proponents and the board members who favor it has been vicious. Editorial columns of most Ohio newspapers cried, "Nonsense!" "A dangerous and unwise move," warned worried scientists in Ohio and elsewhere. "There's no place in the science classroom even to discuss proposals such as intelligent design, which depart from the strict naturalism of modern science" -- or so the alarmed editorials have claimed.   What's fascinating is that not all media observers react so hysterically. Commenting in TIME magazine, for instance, science writer Robert Wright noted that intelligent design advocates "have raised productive doubts -- and, in science, being productively wrong is nearly as valuable as being right." Going further, Wright notes that "no one knows how DNA began to replicate or how the universe got built in such a way that replication was possible. It's not crazy to think that such initial conditions were set by some intelligence for an overarching purpose that is still unfolding."   Could an Ohio high school biology student bring this TIME magazine article into her science classroom for discussion? More to the point, could she bring in Darwin's classic, the Origin of Species itself?   And here's where one can't help but wonder what Darwin would have said about the Ohio controversy. Not many people have read more than a few pages of the Origin of Species, if they've opened the book at all. But on the last page, Darwin says that life itself was "first breathed by the Creator" -- a phrase that would today give fits to civil liberties lawyers.   And there are other passages in the Origin that should worry the Ohio opponents of intelligent design. In fact, the passage I'm about to read should be posted on the wall of every science classroom in the nation, as a motto upholding the principles of intellectual freedom in science. "For I am well aware," Darwin wrote, "that scarcely a single point is discussed in this volume on which facts cannot be adduced, often apparently leading to conclusions directly opposite to those at which I have arrived. A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question."   Now that's intellectual fairness: fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of the question. That's what many citizens in Ohio are struggling for -- and what, if he were around today, Darwin himself would tell the school board to do -- sounds good to me.         For further reading and information:   Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey, Developing a Christian Worldview of Science and Evolution (Tyndale House, 1999).   Robert Wright, "Darwinian Struggle," TIME, 11 March 2002.   BreakPoint Commentary No. 020214, "Students and Intellectual Freedom."   BreakPoint Commentary No. 020213, "Darwin's God."   Learn more about the Ohio State Board of Education Science Standards here.   Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection, Or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.   Visit the Discovery Institute's website to learn more about Intelligent Design theory.   The Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness Center (IDEA) fosters conversation about intelligent design among students, educators, and other interested parties.


Chuck Colson


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