Intelligent Design


Having stayed out of the evolution vs. Intelligent Design debate up to this time, I don't intend to get into it now — at least, not to the extent of pronouncing Intelligent Design correct. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. I just can't say.

My concern here, however, is that some secular reactions to this controversy suggest that Darwinism is now a sacred cow — no criticism is allowed and people who have the temerity even to raise questions deserve to be slapped down by the coercive power of the state.

Strange things have been said in the course of this argument. Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson told us that demonstrating the existence of God is a "faithless pursuit." Imagine that! St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century famously proposed five rational proofs for the existence of God. One may or may not find them persuasive, but no one has ever seriously suggested that St. Thomas was not a man of faith.

As far as the defense of Darwinism is concerned, the court decision last December in the much-discussed Dover, Pa., fight over Intelligent Design deserves close examination. According to the judge's opinion, an objective observer would be aware that teaching about "gaps" and "problems" in evolutionary theory is a "religious" strategy and is therefore not permissible in public schools.

Maybe so. Significantly, perhaps, a writer in the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, said the Dover decision was right. But the gaps and problems in Darwinism remain there just the same.

A key distinction, and one that's frequently ignored, is necessary here. Evolution and natural selection are not the same thing, even though Darwin in his Origin of Species went out of his way to link the two. Contrary to a New York Times editorial saying Intelligent Design is proposed as an alternative to evolution, it seems to me that it's not. ID is proposed as an alternative to natural selection, and that's a different issue.

Contrary to a New York Times editorial saying Intelligent Design is proposed as an alternative to evolution, it seems to me that it's not. ID is proposed as an alternative to natural selection, and that's a different issue.

Hardly any reasonable person today denies that some form of evolution occurs. I surely do not. But it is entirely reasonable to have very serious doubts about natural selection — the survival of the fittest — as the engine that drives the process.

In her authoritative study Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution, the distinguished historian of ideas Gertrude Himmelfarb subjects natural selection to a withering critique. She sums up her closely-reasoned analysis in these words: "Posing as a massive deduction from the evidence, [natural selection] ends up as an ingenious argument from ignorance."

Himmelfarb is hardly alone in that judgment. Her heavily-documented book assembles testimony against natural selection from scores of reliable critics. Interestingly enough, 12 years after the Origin of Species appeared in 1859, Darwin himself, in his Descent of Man (1871), moved away from his earlier views and argued in favor of sexual selection as the mechanism of human evolution. And natural selection? While declaring himself "far from admitting" that he'd erred in attributing "great power" to natural selection in his previous book, Darwin conceded that it was "probable" he had "exaggerated its power."

Even after a century and a half the argument about natural selection remains far from settled. What is disturbing is the apparent inability of Darwinists and their allies to tolerate criticism.

One of Darwin's early supporters, Joseph Hooker, foresaw the day when "as many converts on no principle will fall in, as there are now antagonists on no principle." Hooker was right. In the public sector ideology with an anti-religious bias now rules supreme in this debate. That's everybody's loss.




Russell Shaw. "Intelligent Design." Arlington Catholic Herald (February 2, 2006).

This article reprinted with permission of the author, Russell Shaw.


Russell Shaw is a writer and journalist in Washington and a contributing editor of Crisis magazine and Our Sunday Visitor national newspaper. His books include Personal Vocation: God Calls Everyone By Name, Catholic Laity in the Mission of the Church, Good News, Bad News: Evangelization, Conversion, and the Crisis of Faith. He is editor of Our Sunday Visitor's Encyclopedia of Catholic Doctrine.

Copyright © 2006 Russell Shaw

Subscribe to CERC's Weekly E-Letter



Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.