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Evolution Vs. Intelligent Design

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The Evolution of the Creation Controversy in Twentieth Century America

"The fact of evolution is the backbone of biology, and biology is thus in the peculiar position of being a science founded on an improved theory, is it then a science or faith?" Charles Darwin

"The empirical detectability of intelligent causes renders intelligent design a fully scientific theory." William Dembski


Questions on the origin of life and of the universe must have permeated human thought since the very beginning of the thought process itself. Philosophers, natural scientists, and theologians have long historical records of dealing with the explanations of mankind's origin, function, purpose, and ultimate destiny1. In a seemingly never-ending process of debate and debunk, the scientific community has clung fast to evolutionary theory as a matter of proven fact. Those opposing this view have, over the course of the twentieth century, morphed the creationistic view into something more, along the way gaining the support of a small portion of the scientific community. In the process, Americans have found themselves being tested along both logical and value based beliefs. This paper will not so much discuss the scientific approach to the controversy. The arguments defending evolution are well documented. What will be discussed is the change in the presentation of creationism to a more scientific theory which is, though still hotly debated, gaining the support of some of science's elite, and what has brought it to this new level of examination and criticism. In order to understand the recent change in the letter of creationism law, it is necessary to first explain, briefly, the difference between creationism and evolution.

In Darwinian terms, evolution refers to changes accumulated by natural selection in living things, especially regarding species formation. Darwin's theory is based on the fact that natural selection is the cause of evolution5. The action of natural selection, operating over a long period of time, would cause a species to become better adapted to its environment and hence change10. Darwin believed that the environment was slowly changing and as a species modified to this change it eventually became a new species - the alternative was extinction. Some of these variations increase an individual's chance of survival and hence leave more offspring. Since their offspring inherit most of their parents' features, they too have an increased chance of survival. The evolutionists say is that all living things have arisen by naturalistic, mechanistic process from a single primeval all, which in turn had arisen by similar processes from a dead inanimate world - many hundreds of millions of year's ago5.

The creationists refer to the theory that the universe and all life forms came into existence by the direct creative acts of a Creator external to and independent of the natural universe which accounted for all of life's processes. The creation/evolution controversy centers on five main issues2:

1. the origin of the universe was divinely created, or has it always existed, or did it come into existence without any supernatural causes;

2. the age of the universe and of the earth - thousands or billions of years old;

3. origin of life - created out of nothing, or from chemical processes;

4. biological evolution - modification of species;

5. human origins - evolve from other life-forms or distinctly created.

Scientists deal with the "what" and "how" of origins, where as the religious creationists deal with "who" and "why". If a scientist discovers a natural phenomenon that contradicts the literal interpretation of the Bible, fundamental creationists have long insisted that they are wrong1.

A Brief History

Before Charles Darwin's publication of Origin of Species in 1859, biologists based their science on theological assumptions. Science was rooted in religion and its purpose was to prove the existence of God using as evidence the design and purpose in nature. In 1800, Archbishop James Ussher established the year of origin as 4004 B.C.9. However, scientists began to find evidence that refuted much of the doctrines that the theologians proclaimed to be the history of creation. In 1796, James Hutton, geologist, chemist, and naturalist, proposed a theory stating that geological features were the result of physical causes referring to a continuum of change during all parts of history. In The 1830's, Charles Lyell, considered by many to be the father of modern geology, developed the theory that the earth developed over many ages.7

Darwin introduced an explanation of biological change that excluded the necessity of supernatural intervention and incorporated elements of chance and indeterminacy. Darwin saw evolution as an occurrence of random variation in which a mechanism of heredity transmits similar organic forms and struggles for existence. Natural selection and survival of the fittest were key parts in his theory6.

By the turn into the 20th century, both scientists and theologians were increasingly inclined to accept Darwinism as revealing God's purpose and some elaborate theories attempted to reconcile geology and Genesis. Years later, Catholic theologians would reconcile science and religion as two different approaches to reality, distinct in their methods of thought. Both were concerned with the search for an orderly, harmonious universe, but neither excluded the other. By a sort of truce, it was assumed that religion provided a vision of a world beyond nature, while science was grounded in reality3.

Fundamentalism was an American movement that developed around the turn of the century as a defensive response to the threatening social changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution, and to the cultural diversity brought about by increasing immigration. Many southerners felt that the industrial north was part of the problem of the emergence of evolution. In the 1920's, the conflict became a public issue. Religious traditionalists accused Darwin of "limiting God's glory in creation and of attempting to dethrone God"3.

By the 1920's, the idea of evolution divided Protestant churches. Fundamentalists denied the validity of evolution and modernists tried to reconcile faith and science. Control over educational institutions was arena for the battle. Books published throughout the 1920's ignored evolutionary biology.



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