In the past I have written several articles on the theme of evolution and Darwinism¹. Readers of these will know that I find Darwinism, specifically the neo-Darwinian synthesis, unsatisfactory. I am now going to begin a new series, Reasons to Doubt Darwinism, which will follow on from these previous articles.
These are the possible approaches to the scientific problem of life:
- the neo-Darwinian synthesis — the revised version of Darwinism following on from an understanding of genetics. Scientists on the whole prefer this because it offers a naturalistic, materialist explanation.
- Intelligent Design, which is against the neo-Darwinian synthesis, usually from a Christian perspective, although the arguments are scientific
- Creationism, based on a literal interpretation of Genesis
- attempts to reconcile Darwinism with Christianity. Two with which I am familiar are Creation and Evolution, by Alan Hayward², and Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose? by Denis Alexander³.
- milder forms of Darwinism. There is the interesting case of the eminent zoologist Sir Alister Hardy, who claimed to be a believer in the neo-Darwinian theory, yet refused to accept the materialistic, atheistic implications. He believed in the reality of spiritual experience, not specifically from a Christian perspective. This is a quote from the jacket of Darwin and the Spirit of Man⁴: “The assertion that Darwinism must lead inevitably to a materialistic interpretation of life is essentially both reductionist and unbalanced… So Sir Alister’s argument is that Darwin’s doctrine must be enlarged — added to in such a way that its significance for man’s understanding of himself must undergo a striking change. Man’s spirituality must be regarded as a real and essential part of his make-up”.
- other non-materialist, spiritual explanations not based on Christianity. In my view, they are the most credible of these alternatives.
A discussion of the above will be the inspiration for the forthcoming series. Before beginning, however, I thought it would be a good idea to make a few clarifying remarks:
The neo-Darwinian synthesis is closely allied with a materialistic philosophy and atheism. One could almost say that neo-Darwinism, with its insistence on blind forces, random genetic mutation, and lack of purpose, is atheism in disguise. Hence Richard Dawkins’s well known statement: “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist”. This is why, from my perspective, it cannot be accepted. It is possible that some genuinely scientific aspects of Darwinism may be valid, if we remove the philosophical baggage.
The word evolution is often misused. It means merely change over time, and a spiritual world-view has no problem accepting evolution in that sense. In the modern debate, however, it has become equivalent to Darwinism, or the neo-Darwinian synthesis, thus implying that to deny evolution is to accept some form of Creationism or Intelligent Design.
Creationism should not be confused with Intelligent Design. Creationism is a religious movement, whereas Intelligent Design is a scientific argument, (although its advocates tend to be Christians). Darwinian critics tend to lump the two together, saying that Intelligent Design is Creationism in disguise, in an attempt to confuse the issue and discredit ID.
Any version of Darwinism is ultimately unsatisfactory because, even though it can explain the evolution of life once it has started, it cannot explain the origin of life, nor can it explain the emergence of consciousness.
It is not clear, however, what the best alternative theory is. Let’s consider Intelligent Design. To state the obvious, it consists of two words. So the emphasis can fall on either. Advocates of ID stress the ‘design’ element. That’s fine up to a point, but the problem is that, under the influence of Christianity, this might suggest a specific supernatural deity coming up with plans, in the manner of a human creative artist, or scientific experimenter. This is possible — divine imagination is an interesting concept, depending on how you understand divinity. It should also be noted that the world we inhabit often gives that impression — even staunch Darwinians accept that organisms give an overwhelming impression of design. Many people find the idea of such a Creator hard to accept, however, and I therefore prefer to stress the ‘intelligent’ element, and put the design element onto the sidelines. There is indeed strong evidence for intelligence in nature. The question then becomes how to understand the nature of this intelligence, and how to explain the appearance of design. This is where various spiritual traditions can help.
1. For details, see under Evolution in the Blog Index.
2. Triangle, 1985 revised 1994
3. Monarch, 2008
4. Collins, 1984