Evolution (Part 1) Intelligent Design and Darwinism

The Fresh Perspective Podcast - Episode 16

How’s it going everyone? I’m Nick and you are listening to the Fresh Perspective Podcast.

I can remember when I was first taught about evolution as a teenager. In my Salt Lake City High school Biology class, my science teacher was openly religious and was dismissive of Charles Darwin’s revolutionary idea. He presented a flaccid depiction of the evidence for the theory, and was quick to mention that there are alternative theories such as “Intelligent Design.” The all too common “But you should study all the ideas out and then decide what you believe” came up a few times. This was in 2004, and soon, the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial would take place across the country. Is Intelligent Design just as valid a theory as Evolution? Is Evolution just “Darwinism,” a cult-like belief in one man’s ideas? Is Evolution, in fact, just an anti-God theory or an atheistic conspiracy? In this episode, we will answer those questions in Part 1 of our new series: “Misconceptions about Evolution.”

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I was 23 years old when I first really learned about evolution, and it was actually an emotional experience for me. My whole life, I had thought that Evolution was a flimsy, weak, and unsubstantiated guess that very few scientists took seriously. Thanks to the internet, documentaries, library books, and college education, I finally realized that I had been dismissive of what is perhaps the most groundbreaking and powerful idea of all time. But only about half of Americans take this scientific theory seriously and believe that it accurately describes the history of life on Earth. When reality itself is so criminally misrepresented by educators and so casually dismissed by the masses, it takes everyday people like us to make things right. Join me, as we look at three common misconceptions about the theory of Evolution:

1. Is Evolution is an Anti-God Theory or an Atheistic Conspiracy?

No, it isn’t, and it never was. I hear this argument against evolution all the time and it is a deeply disingenuous one. Pedaled by fear-mongers, it is meant to fill religiously indoctrinated children with doubt and distrust when it comes to modern science. People who poison a child’s ability to learn well-established facts later in life are, in my opinion, committing a heinous and immoral act. Conspiratory thinking can rob our trust in experts and in society itself, so it is important that we turn to the facts. What do we know about the actual people behind the origins of this theory?

The first scientist who proposed Evolution through Natural Selection was Charles Darwin. Darwin - who happened to be born on the same day, in the same month, and in the same year as Abraham Lincoln, by the way - was a theist, not an atheist. His wife Emma was also religious. His childhood family was Unitarian, and he was baptized into the Church of England. He wrote about his belief in the Bible and even went to school to become an Anglican Clergymen. Darwin’s early studies of naturalism were attached to this religious pursuit. Much later in life, he began to doubt that the Bible was an accurate historical account of creation, but he continued to believe that God was still the ultimate source of all morality. In 1879 he wrote, "I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God.”

Another early evolutionary scientist was Alfred Russel Wallace, who once said, “I am thankful I can see much to admire in all religions.” He wasn’t a Christian, but he was spiritual and believed in spiritualism and the afterlife.

Obviously, these men and other geologists and biologists at the time were not atheists. Atheism, as we understand it today, is actually a relatively modern movement. Around the time of the American Civil war and prior, non-believers in conventional Christianity were more likely to be “deists,” or people who believed that there was a god who set everything in motion, but that god remained largely absent. This is in stark contrast to the personal prayer-answering God in which most theists believe, but it is far from atheism.

Evolution is obviously not an anti-God theory or an atheistic conspiracy. In fact, a plurality of evolutionary scientists, biologists, geologists, paleontologists, microbiologists, embryologists, and other scientists today are indeed, religious, and believers in a personal god. If this really was a sham designed to sow doubt or disbelief in god, then it has failed miserably, and can’t be seriously considered to be a threat by any theist today.

Moreover, several mainstream churches such as the Catholic Church accept the science of evolution, saying (for example) that it was the “soul” of man that is divinely created, rather than his body. Other spiritual traditions claim that it was God who started the processes that got evolution started in the first place. When many religious leaders are asked about the conflict between science and religion, it has become common for them to reply something like, “What conflict? I don’t really see a conflict at all.”

Evolution is real and valid science, based on the rock-solid foundation of empirical evidence that survives the strictest of scientific scrutiny. It is a scientific fact, born of curiosity, and is the best explanation we have for the complexity and variety of life so far. It is most certainly not a crafty atheist’s invention.

2. Isn’t Evolution just “Darwinism,” a cult-like following of one man’s ideas?

No, Evolution is not a belief system. It is not a religion, and it is not a cult. If you watch a lot of anti-evolution, creationist, or intelligent design vides, you may be surprised how often you hear the word, “Darwinism.” "Darwinism" isn’t a thing. Scientists don’t use this term at all. The term is a shady back-handed attempt to paint the multiple sciences that study evolution as all one silly group of people obsessed with one crazy man’s idea. But let’s go a little deeper. Is evolution only based on Charles Darwin?

No, it’s not. Charles Darwin’s book “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life” was published in 1859, some 160 years ago! Do you think that science has not adjusted or improved on this theory in 160 years? Here is a better question, why don’t you think that in 160 years, no human being on earth has been able to disprove or discredit this theory? Is it because no one has tried? That is nonsense, scientists are trying to disprove established science every single day. That is exactly how you earn a Nobel Prize, by the way. Why has an entire planet of experts failed to replace this theory with a better one? I have an answer: because it’s true. Evolution is a scientific fact.

Evolution has moved far beyond Charles Darwin’s original discoveries and ideas. Think about this - Charles Darwin didn’t even know about DNA. When the structure and purpose of DNA were discovered, how easy would it have been to dethrone Evolution? Well, surprise - surprise, everything we know about DNA only reinforces, supports, and expands the Theory of Evolution. Thousands and millions of researchers study evolution around the world every single day. Are all of them beholden to a civil-war era British naturalist? Of course not!

In fact, not to guild the lily too much, modern science has proven many of Darwin’s initial ideas wrong. One of his early ideas is that the different races of humanity all must have evolved from different species of apes. Well, he was wrong about that, and every biologist on earth is comfortable in saying that. Human beings of all races, in fact, all belong the same species. All of us, no matter our shape or skin color, came from the same ape-like ancestor. Charles Darwin was wrong about a lot of things, and that is ok. That is how science works. We don’t follow charismatic leaders with blind faith. We don’t hold scientific writings as sacred. The opposite is true. Science history is filled with competitive researchers slandering one another, trying to discredit one another, and ruthlessly taking apart each other’s publications, claim by claim.

We don’t call gravity “Newtonism” or germ theory “Pasteurism.” We don’t call the heliocentric model of the solar system “Copernicusism,” so why in the world would we ever call evolution “Darwinism?” “Darwinism” is not a thing, and the next time you hear someone use the phrase, you will hopefully now better understand that they are coming from a place of ignorance concerning how science actually works.

3. Isn’t Intelligent Design Just as Valid a Theory as Evolution?

Absolutely not. The idea that Intelligent Design is scientific at all is completely untrue. “Intelligent Design” as promoted by the Discovery Institute and other similar religious organizations is not a valid scientific theory. It is a thinly-veiled theological argument that has been demonstrated in the court of law to be a religiously-motivated pseudoscience!

Yes, you heard me right. Intelligent Design was developed by the Discovery Institute. The same organization that produced the creationist textbook “Of Pandas and People.” This is the same organization responsible for the Creationist Museum in which people can see animatronic dinosaurs in a theme-park version of the garden of Eden. The Discovery Institute is the same group behind the “Ark Encounter.” You heard me right. The same group of religious leadership that teaches children about Adam and Eve, and Noah and his Ark, is claiming to author a scientific theory as viable as Evolution.

Intelligent Design is a fraud, and its dishonest tactics, shady motivations, and unscientific basis was laid out in unflattering detail before a Pennsylvania District Court Judge in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case in 2005. In that court case, a school district, which tried to teach Intelligent Design in public schools, was being sued by parents who saw this as a violation of their children’s first amendment rights. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” It is your legal right as an American to live in a free country in which your government will not promote or require any religion. And every single time a public school teacher in a classroom expresses their personal religious views, in front of a room of children who trust them to tell them the truth, they are violating that right. In my years of teaching elementary school children, I saw this sort of underhanded preaching all of the time, and it’s wrong. It shouldn’t happen, but that is a discussion for a different day.

In the Kitzmiller v. Dover case, every so-called “expert” on Intelligent Design was called to testify and make their case before a judge that their proposal was, in fact, a scientific theory. Yet day after day, they failed to do so. The reporters were not impressed. The public was not impressed. The judge, who is a conservative Christian, had no choice but to side with the real science presented by the experts on evolution in that courtroom!

Intelligent Design has failed in the eyes of the scientific community. Intelligent Design has failed in the court of law. This idea should have been buried a long time ago. The fact that we still hear about it from time to time, even after it has been so thoroughly debunked, shows just how unscientific it really is. However, no matter how badly it is battered by reason, logic, evidence, and the facts, it will live on as a belief in the hearts of many.

Because that is all it is, a belief. But the problem is that most people don’t know that. Its premises have been debunked so many times. But in the quest to follow the facts, wherever they may lead, and defend the actual and objective truth, I am not about to let Intelligent Design continue to slip under our radar. In future episodes, I will continue to debunk common misconceptions about Evolution, and I hope you will join me.

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That is all I have for you today, but the conversation continues across social media and in the comment sections below. Do you agree with today’s message? Am I mistaken about some detail? How can I better elaborate on this topic in the future? Feel free to share your perspective!


Written By Nicholas Burk, Executive Board Member © 2019 Free Thought Initiative