A respectable man with a dangerous theory

Darwin DayThis Tuesday, February 12, marks the 199th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth. The 149th anniversary of the publication of his book The Origin of Species also occurs this year. In this book Darwin laid out his theory of natural selection which is still accepted today as an integral part of modern revolutionary theory.

The anniversary is being marked throughout the world as Darwin day – commemorating the major contribution Darwin made to science, particularly biology. The occasion is of course being celebrated by scientific organisations and activities also include discussion by the New York State Legislative Assembly of a resolution marking the day.

Charles Darwin no beard

The occasion crosses religious divides with commemorations by atheists, humanists and Christians. Richard Dawkins has written Why Darwin Matters, an introduction to a 34 page celebration in the Guardian. The Clergy letter project have organised an Evolution Weekend in the US with sermons and other church events.

These celebrations are important today because the scientific ideas of Darin, and of modern evolutionary theory, are still under attack. Of course there is the normal skepticism and debate common in all areas of science. However, with evolutionary theory the controversy occurs not among scientists but in the public arena – the law courts, education curricula and amongst newspaper op-ed writers. There is even a

concerted campaign to blame Darwin and science for all the moral ills of society, even for Hitler and the Nazis (for example the film Expelled).

Religious problems with evolutionary theory

Many Christians happily accept a theology recognising a logical, ordered, universe capable of being investigated and understood by humanity. However, others have felt threatened by the discoveries of modern science, or even the very possibility that the wonders of “creation” could be investigated and understood. They have retreated to a theology requiring interventions by a supernatural being to explain natural events and provide a purpose to life. Consequently there is a controversy within religion about evolutionary science. Even in New Zealand, where there is no major public debate on the issue, evolutionary science is still rejected by about 40% of Christians (see New Zealand supports evolution).

Creationists often present evolutionary science as being atheistic and many Christian opponents of evolution are convinced of this. The fact is, however, that many Christians accept evolutionary theory and defend it. The “controversy” around evolution is within religion, not science. For example, in the Kitzmiller v. Dover (2004-05) trial in Pennsylvania, USA, both the creationist/intelligent design defendants and the pro-evolution complainants were represented by expert witnesses who are also Christians (Michael Behe for the defendants and Ken Miller for the complainants).

Because atheism is used as a “red herring” in this debate Christian sources of information on evolutionary science can be very effective. For example, Ken Miller, a Catholic and cell biologist, provides a good understanding of evolutionary science from a Christian perspective in his book Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution (see also an Exerpt from Finding Darwins God). He covers the same ground in his lecture The Collapse of Intelligent Design (1 hr 57 min).

These issues are also discussed by Drs. Sean B. Carroll and David M. Kingsley, along with Dr. Michael Ruse and Father James A Wiseman in a discussion of Evolution and relgion during the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s 2005 Holiday Lectures in Science.

Michael Ruse gives a comprehensive description of the religious controversy around evolution in these video (Video1, Video2) from The Center for the Understanding of Origins at Kansas State University . He also explains why the creationist/intelligent design movement has gained such public support amongst US Christians.

PBS NOVA series on evolution

The First episode of the PBS NOVA series on evolution describes Darwin’s life and the development of his ideas of natural selection. Entitled “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” the two parts of this episode are given below

Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Part 1 (57 min)

Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Part 2 (59 min)

The other episodes of the PBS NOVA series on evolution describe various aspects of modern evolutionary theory
Episode 2: “Great Transformations”
Episode 3: “Extinction”
Episode 4: “The Evolutionary Arms Race.
Episode 5: “Why Sex?”
Episode 6: “The Mind’s Big Bang”
Episode 7: “What About God”

See Also:
About Darwin
Darwin Day Celebrations
Dispersal of Darwin blog
The Darwin Live musical
From So Simple a Beginning: Darwin’s Four Great Books (Voyage of the Beagle, The Origin of Species, The Descent of Man, The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals)
Statement on the Concept of ‘Intelligent Design’ from the International Society for Science and Religion

Related articles:
Dissenters from Darwinism in context
Intelligent design and scientific method
Intelligent design and the threat to Christianity
Religious opposition to “intelligent design”
Intelligent design – a war on science
New Zealand supports evolution
Intelligent design at the shopping mall
Intelligent design attacks on Christianity
Isaac Newton and intelligent design
Evolution’s threat to religion?
Intelligent design/creationism I: What is scientific knowledge?
Intelligent design/creationism II: Is it scientific?
Intelligent design/creationism III: The religious agenda
Intelligent design/creationism IV: The religion – science conflict
Intelligent design/creationism: Postscript
Should we teach creationism?

8 responses to “A respectable man with a dangerous theory

  1. Pingback: Rachel’s Musings » Happy Darwin Day!

  2. Dr Gillian Steggles

    I would like to leave my body to science when I die. Please could you tell me what arrangements I should make to ensure this happens at the appropriate time – not for a while yet, I hope! Thank you.


  3. Gillian, I have no idea – and the situation probably varies from country to country. First step I guess is one’s will. But I think it is important to let one’s family, etc., and probably medical doctor know of your wish. In fact, you physician probably knows the best procedure.


  4. Great post!
    What requires more faith? Believing in a Creator, or in the philosophy of Oops? Is “oops” the best that materialism can come up with? Is oops truly a more rational conclusion than design? It would take more faith than I could possibly muster in order for me to accept that the universe is simply a product of oops. Especially in light of modern scientific discoveries that continually point toward a supernatural explanation. While evolution is indeed a fact, Darwinism grows ever more faint. Materialists cling to the corpse of Darwin, using not science or reason to hold their position, but rather sophistry and rhetoric.
    1.Unlocking the Mysteries of Life.
    2.From Darwin to Hitler:Ideas Have Consequences


  5. “Creationists often present evolutionary science as being atheistic”

    Is it not so that the leading skeptics use Darwin to hold their position? I have no problem with science, or evolution,or Darwin for that matter; but it looks to me as if atheists use Darwin in order to disprove God. This is a great debate that covers many good points on this matter. Thank you for this post, it’s an important conversation.
    Is Religion a Force for Good or Evil?


  6. Madcap – “it looks to me as if atheists use Darwin in order to disprove God.” Why should this be a problem? People very often use great scientists and science itself to “prove” or “disprove” their gods. Don’t let that sway you – consider the evidence for yourself.

    I don’t reject science or great scientists because they have been used by theists to shore up their religious belief – that would be childish. So, why should you worry that an atheist has used Darwin’s ideas on natural selection to support their particular belief?

    One should assess theories and the contributions of great scientists on the evidence – not on the use individuals may make of them.


  7. Hi Ken,

    We are looking for a debate opponent for June 2008. William Lane Craig is a scholar with many debates under his sleeve — do you have any suggestions? Brian Edwards? Lloyd Geering? Kim Hill 🙂 Topics could range from science, historicity of the resurrection, big bang cosmology and the fine tuning of the universe as evidence for God…….




  8. CN – who is we? Where is the debate taking place? What is the format?


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