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An Honest Assessment of Why Darwinism Is Popular


High school and college biology texts almost uniformly present Darwinian evolution as a theory that is now as well established as any other theory in science, and almost uniformly refuse to acknowledge that any serious scientists have doubts that the struggle for survival could produce human brains and human consciousness.

James Madison University mathematician Jason Rosenhouse has written a post criticizing a post, "Mathematicians Are Trained to Value Simplicity," that I wrote at Uncommon Descent. The main point of my article was that if you don't believe in intelligent design, you must believe that a few fundamental, unintelligent forces of physics alone can rearrange the basic particles of physics into (for example) Apple iPhones and nuclear reactors. I linked to a video, embedded below, which makes this point in a little more "scientific" manner.

My first thought on reading the response from Rosenhouse was, wouldn't it be nice if high school biology texts presented as honest an assessment of the real reasons most scientists accept Darwinism as Jason Rosenhouse does. He writes:

Personally, I find it incredible that the four fundamental forces of physics, operating from the moment after the Big Bang, could rearrange matter into everything that we see today. That unintelligent causes can ultimately lead to the creation of intelligent creatures, who can then rearrange matter and energy in clever ways, is, I entirely agree, hard to believe. And Darwinian evolution strains credulity as well. I am very sympathetic to the view that natural forces do not construct delicate, biomolecular machines.

But he concludes:

However superficially implausible they seem, the only alternative on offer is much harder to believe.

Sewell urges us to look for the simple explanation. But there is nothing simple in the idea of an omnipotent magic man who lives in the clouds. Whatever mysteries you think you have found in the naturalistic view of life pale in comparison to what happens when you try to comprehend an entity with the attributes God is said to have...

Young children are content with magical, supernatural explanations for things. But as we grow up most of us come to realize that invocations of God never really explain much of anything. They just create big mysteries where only small ones existed before.

Actually, I didn't say "God" was a simple explanation. I didn't even mention God. I just said that there was a very simple argument against any naturalistic explanation. Of course I do understand why many people find invocations of "God" difficult to accept. All explanations of how we got here are difficult to believe. Yet here we are.

But telling high school students that no good scientists doubt that the survival of the fittest can account for all the magnificent species in the living world, and pretending to be surprised that anyone would find this idea surprising, is not the only alternative to attributing it to a "magic man who lives in the clouds." There is always the alternative of honestly admitting that we don't know how life began or evolved, and that some scientists think these problems are fundamentally harder than others solved by science.

How about acknowledging, as Rosenhouse does, that "Darwinian evolution strains credulity," and that it remains popular with scientists primarily because they see it as the only alternative to intelligent design? Then maybe we could let students wrestle for themselves with the philosophical question of whether it seems more reasonable to believe that intelligence came first and created the unintelligent forces of nature, or that these unintelligent forces created intelligence.

Now if biology textbooks would start presenting evolution as candidly as Jason Rosenhouse does, I would be quite satisfied.

Dr. Sewell is professor of mathematics at the University of Texas El Paso, and author of a recent Discovery Institute Press book, In the Beginning and Other Essays on Intelligent Design, 2nd edition.

Image credit: Michael Jastremski (legacy.openphoto.net) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.