My Brother Asks: Do You "Believe" in Evolution?
Recently one of my brothers asked me something I've heard before over the years: "Do you believe in evolution?" I find that a very odd way to put the question, with its connotations of religious belief, about a thesis that is supposed to be purely scientific. Odd -- but telling.
As Richard Dawkins so eloquently put it in The Blind Watchmaker: "It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that)." Notice the term he uses: "believe in evolution" -- again, curious for what is supposed to be a scientific idea.
But proponents of Darwinian evolution seem stuck with it. A current post at Panda's Thumb by Matt Young is headlined, "Half of Americans will not admit to evolution," referring to a new poll by the National Science Foundation. The word "admit" is interesting. It's evidently an attempt to switch the focus from "belief" to something that sounds more factual. "Admitting" has problems of its own, though. You only "admit" things that are negative, even shameful. In the context of Darwinian advocacy, I don't see much of a future for Matt Young's formulation.
At the Discovery Institute's Center for Science & Culture, we don't reject "belief" in evolution. Rather, we challenge Darwinian theory on evidentiary grounds. We find it wanting as an explanation for specific observations in biology, such as the origin of biological information, or irreducibly complex biological systems. All in all, Darwinian evolution is less convincing than a scientific inference to design.
Stephen Meyer's recent bestselling book Darwin's Doubt shows in great detail how and why Darwinian evolution fails as an adequate account of the origin of the complex, specified information we see arising in life in the Cambrian explosion. Seventeen years ago, CSC Senior Fellow Dr. Michael Behe released his bestselling book Darwin's Black Boxwhich described a feature of biological systems he termed "irreducibly complexity," seen in the bacterial flagellum and elsewhere. Neither Meyer nor Behe nor anyone else I know who proposes intelligent design as an alternative explanation says they reject "belief" in evolution; rather they reject Darwinian theory as an adequate scientific explanation.
Which brings me back to the question my brother asked. It's revealing that so many think of evolution as something one either "believes" in or not. As Darwinian evolution is discussed, presented, taught and defended by its proponents, the idea does indeed share characteristics with religious and dogmatic views on other, non-science subjects: "Darwin said, I believe it, that settles it!"
We have, as readers will know, recently recognized our 2014 "Censor of the Year." The winner, Jerry Coyne, revels in the title. Reasonable people, though, understand that censorship is normally associated with defending and imposing dogmatic religious beliefs rather than with how science is normally conducted. So my brother's choice of words was apt.