How to Talk About “Evolution”

by Tom Bethell

An email correspondent says that criticizing Darwinian “evolution” and “evolutionists” is wrong-headed; not because he is a Darwinist himself — in fact, he is sympathetic to intelligent design — but because the public generally understands the word “evolution,” multivalent and ambiguous as it is, to represent a scientific fact. Casting the debate in terms of “evolution” is likely to get you dismissed immediately as a crank. Instead, we should frame our case exclusively in terms of design in nature against “accidental mutation/natural selection.” Or so my email friend argues.

Is he right? How, in fact, should we talk about evolution in a public context?

First, I don’t think there is any general opinion about evolution. It is misleading to think about this topic in terms of a “general population” or an “average person.”

Better to think of opinion as sharply divided. The professors, their students and many university-educated people believe one thing (evolution is a fact) and most everyone else is suspicious. They won’t believe in evolution if you tell them what the professors believe — that life in all its complexity assembled itself as a result of a series of lucky hits; that we live in a world of random changes that sometimes “coincide” with the environment (natural selection); and that’s how we got here.

To believe that, we first have to be blinded by antagonism to the normal, automatic recognition of purpose and design in nature. And for most people, this blindness has to be inculcated; by teachers, by the academy, by the culture.

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As to the possibility of our reaching the professor group, the trouble with my correspondent’s design versus “accidental mutation/natural selection” formula is not that it is too wordy but that the professoriate have learned to accept that accidental mutation and natural selection can explain everything under the sun.

I have often wondered: What would it take for a biology professor to see some living organism, study it and then clap his hand to his forehead and say: “Wow, natural selection couldn’t possibly have done THAT!”

Answer: Nothing. They are locked into a materialist worldview, and they think that anything outside it is unscientific. They have already accepted Lewontin’s Law about the necessity of a “prior commitment to materialism.” They will look at any strange organism you may show them and say: “Well, it exists doesn’t it? How else did it get here, if not by gradual stages, bit by bit, starting with molecules in motion, finally building up to what we see in front of us? What other choice is there?”

In such a dogmatic environment dissenters wisely keep their mouths shut…


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