The Idler: Evolution

Without quite intending, I have just done an experiment in a little corner of the “mainstream media” that consisted of writing about evolution on four successive Wednesdays in a column for a Canadian newspaper. I was writing not as a scientist or theologian, but as a reasonably intelligent person who has long been interested in general science. And I have long been frankly skeptical that Darwinian natural selection, in its sophisticated contemporary forms (let alone the primitive original), could adequately explain much.

As I made clear early on, my vested interest in denying Darwinism is more apparent than real. This is because I acquired my skepticism before I ever became a Christian—way back when, as a young man, I also had more time to study and think about it. Moreover, as I spelled out once the fireworks had properly begun, “It would be no skin off my nose if every aspect of Darwinism were by some miracle demonstrated to be true. I would then have to accept it as a genuine insight into ‘how’ God works. I am agnostic on that point at the moment; my Christian faith is not in the ‘how,’ but in He Who Hows.”

I did not advance any alternative explanation of how species (to say nothing of phyla) came to be. I did explicitly say that I considered “creation science” to be an even sillier attempt to override scientific observations with prior assumptions about what they must mean. Pressed on the point, I called creationism “a crock.”

Perhaps this was too ambiguous. I take it for granted that life on earth has a history of many hundreds of millions of years, and that geological stratification makes such a conclusion unavoidable. I take no issue with the received evidence of the succession of species over this long time. I don’t think it at all likely that fossil men will appear in the same strata as fossil dinosaurs. I am comfortable with human paleontology.

 

And finally, I took care not to write anything that would be scientifically naïve, for all the mischief with which I worded a couple of propositions. For in my experience, modern scientific observations are truly “falsifiable” in Karl Popper’s strictest sense. Each important discovery will be elaborately checked and confirmed.

Not so general theories, however. Yet I do not object to Darwinism so much on the grounds that it is unfalsifiable—and the assumptions are indeed too vague to ever be falsified—as on the grounds that it is implausible. Everything I know about the universe, not only from natural history but from physics and chemistry and everyday life, tells me that a “blind watchmaker” is not a good analogy to the forces obviously at work.

It follows, I suppose, that I, like not a few other human beings, intuit some kind of intelligent design. And my understanding is that, for example, anyone who is passing aware of the biochemical revolution in the study of the cell over the last half-century or so will find evidence of intelligent design in spades. This remains, in the face of current evolutionary theory, an entirely defensible outlook on things. You’d think, anyway, that people could handle it.

You should have seen my mail. Not even for my “obnoxiously conservative” political views did I ever get so much abuse. And almost all either declaring or implying that I was selling the “young earth theory.” And from people unmistakably scandalized and outraged that I could doubt “modern evolutionary theory.”

Conclusion: Evolution has grown into a rival religion with which not only Christians and other religious, but even agnostics must now contend. For the Inquisitors in Spain were never so touchy as Evolution’s guardians and high priests.

David Warren

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David Warren is a Canadian journalist who writes mostly on international affairs. His Web site is www.davidwarrenonline.com.

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