Recently, I had a conversation with a person who held skeptical views of evolution. In fact, the reason I am posting this is not just because of her skepticism (I have become quite accustomed to hearing peoples’ skepticism of evolution) but because she proclaimed that a man at her church gave a sermon disproving evolution! Usually, I would respond with a subtle grin and go about my business. This time, though, I intended to press her on this issue. After only a few minutes, it became clear that she had no basic understanding of evolutionary theory at all.
I am unaware of who this prophetic individual is, but I am quite confident that his or her arguments stemmed from Michael Behe, William Dembski, Stephen Meyer, Phillip Johnson, Jonathan Wells, and other leading members from the Discovery Institute based in Seattle, Washington. These men differ on several issues; for instance, Behe only sees Darwinian evolution problematic at the micro scale. Others, such as Johnson, see evolution as a direct threat to religious belief and moral responsibility.
In 2008, a documentary inspired from the Discovery Institute and hosted by Ben Stein was released, which promoted “Intelligent Design.” ID is the claim “…that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection” (Discovery Institute 1990). It may be a shock that a significant amount of high school biology teachers support this view, about 1 in 4 (Miller 2005). That said, I intend to briefly address the points in the documentary, which I am sure the person I chatted with endorses and for that matter a significant portion of the US population .
I will list the main points made in Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (much of the points I will make stems from an article written by Dr. Rakita of the UNF Anthropology department).
1. Evolution assumes that all change is random. This position is clearly seen with the latter part of the sentence above stating “…an undirected process such as natural selection.” Anti-evolutionists often argue that building an organism is like a tornado building an airplane in a junkyard. In other words, it is highly unlikely (in fact mathematically improbable) that an organism can be built by ‘chance’. Post-modernists have a similar argument that states that cultures do not randomly change. That this is problematic becomes clear with a basic understanding of evolutionary theory; natural selection is not a random process at all; it is a very precise filtering process.
2. Evolution does not explain everything. Why this is even argument is absurd to me. Critics of evolution argue that Darwinian evolution cannot provide an adequate explanation for everything. Post-modernists often argue that evolution cannot explain human behavior often ridiculing it as being reductionist. This is prevalent in many social science departments. According to this logic, because gravity cannot provide us with an applicable approach to studying economics, then we should give it up. Further, the reply to the post-modernist is simply that genetic reductionism makes probabilistic claims, not factual ones.
3. Evolution is Social Darwinism, leads to immorality, and denies human uniqueness. This last point can be summarized together. Expelled focused heavily on Social Darwinism arguing that evolutionary sciences will inevitably lead to Social Darwinism. This idea is not derived from Darwin and in my opinion the humble and socially liberal Darwin would be critical of anything of the sort. For instance, Darwin was a stern critic of slavery. Next, biblical literalists, who believe that God is the source of moral authority, often argue that evolution, leads to immorality. Because biblical literalists believe the Earth is less than 10,000 years old, which evolution (along with other natural and life sciences) falsifies, they maintain that evolution cannot possible allow room for God. No God equals no morality. Post-modernism have a similar argument. They contend that if something is natural (such as mating frequently), then it is good or right, which might lead to something like Social Darwinism. This is obviously a silly fallacy. The last point here is that evolution denies human uniqueness; this is apparent in creationists and post-modern humanists. Creationists see evolution as a direct threat to their salvation and post-modernists assert that evolution denies human agency. Whatever the case, both camps see evolution as a direct threat to human uniqueness.
Though this is a brief reiteration of some general points made by anti-evolutionists and some replies to them, it is my hope that these issues become more apparent to the general public. Perhaps if they are, the person I talked with may become more knowledgeable about evolution. The arguments from creationists, Intelligent Designers, etc. and some post-modern thinkers are, to put it bluntly, just plain bad. Rather than stand on the shoulders of giants, these anti-evolutionists would see to the “deconstruction” of them.
I will conclude that there is a much more subtle threat coming from the evolutionary sciences as well. Darwinian natural selection has often been argued to be wrong or no longer the primary mechanism of evolution (see for instance Jerry Fodor’s What Darwin God Wrong and the not nearly as controversial Anarchy Evolution by Greg Graffin). In short, I believe they are wrong; individual natural selection continues to be the primary mechanism of evolution, but that discussion will be saved for another post.