January 26, 2006
In 1859, Darwin published his work "
The Origin of Species.” More than 3 billion years ago, life began on earth. Change took place through a process called natural selection. This happened ever so gradually - not just over years or centuries but over thousands of millions of years. From that single original life form, the millions of species alive today evolved. Many take Darwin’s theory as scientific fact. But not everyone.
Forty-two percent of Americans reject Darwin’s theory. Instead they espouse creationism, i.e. the theory that humans and other living things have existed in their present form from the beginning. Twenty-six percent say life evolved through natural selection. And another eighteen percent see some intelligence, not blind forces, guiding evolution. On July 7, 2005, Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna wrote an op-ed for
The New York Times. He said, "Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense - an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection - is not."
Recently, parents in Pennsylvania sued a Dover school board because a ninth grade curriculum included the teaching of the theory intelligent design. This theory holds that there is design and purpose in life forms and this is the result of intelligence. Intelligent design is a challenge to Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Almost at the very same time that the Pennsylvania court was ruling against intelligent design, the Kansas Board of Education put into place new standards for teaching science. Not only did the Board endorse a critical analysis of evolution, but it recommended that schools teach certain points that ultimately undermine the primacy of Darwin’s theory in the science classroom and open the students’ mind to the possibility of an unnamed intelligence behind all life forms.
On December 19, 2005, the federal judge in the Dover case said that intelligent design was a religious teaching. He considered it merely a thinly disguised form of creationism. And so to teach it in the science class violates the First Amendment of the Constitution. That a court would come down on the side of a secular, materialistic teaching is certainly no surprise. But the judge went further. He prohibited the disparagement of Darwin’s theory of evolution. Such a prohibition is unwarranted and ultimately anti-intellectual.
Examining and questioning Darwin’s theory of evolution in a classroom is a good way to teach our young to think critically about the world. There are at least two unresolved aspects of Darwin’s theory. First, even if one accepts the theory that there has been a succession of life-forms from the beginning, a problem remains. How could the natural selection of those forms of life that survive lead from simpler to more complex forms of life? Second, the many transitional forms from the simple to the more complex have not been discovered, but only postulated. In fact, even if paleontologists were to unearth these transitional forms, the question would remain how and why these forms developed at all.
Science has its method to arrive at truth. Science deals with observable phenomena: what can be seen, touched, measured, and observed. By its very nature, science cannot espouse creationism, i.e. the belief that God created all the vast variety of life from the first moment of time. That would require a leap beyond the material. It would be beyond the limits of scientific enquiry. Yet, at the same time, science cannot rule out a divine "superior design" to creation (Dr. Facchini,
L’Osservatore Romano, January 6, 2006).
Scientific examination of life can demonstrate an order and the design within the world. We can observe the brain, the heart, the stomach, and, by the use of reason, see the intelligent design of the human body. We can look at the eye and see how it is put together and how it functions and therein notice as well an order or design. We can even study a single cell and be amazed at the design in its DNA.
Where order and design are detected in the physical order, logic questions whether or not there is intelligence behind this order. But this question is not in and of itself a religious question. It is philosophy. In his work "
Physics," the Greek philosopher Aristotle espouses the truth that "Whatever exists for a useful purpose must be the work of an intelligence."
Here is reason coming to grips with the wonder and mystery of life. Perhaps, our materialistic society has lost the sense of wonder and awe that is at the heart of philosophy. And so, instead of allowing students to learn to philosophize, our society labels the questions about design and order, purpose and end as theology and thus banishes them from the public school. Aristotle would have made a poor student in our secular classrooms.