Can policymakers use Darwin’s insights? New twist on old debate

December 26, 2008

The latest issue of The Economist has a provocative essay on Darwinism asking if Charles Darwin’s insights can be used profitably by policymakers. You can read it online here.

America … executes around 40 people a year for murder. Yet it still has a high murder rate. Why do people murder each other when they are almost always caught and may, in America at least, be killed themselves as a result?” it asks.

It goes on to ask why men still earn more than women 40 years after the feminist revolution and why racism persists.

Traditionally, the answers to such questions, and many others about modern life, have been sought in philosophy, sociology, even religion. But the answers that have come back are generally unsatisfying. They describe, rather than explain. They do not get to the nitty-gritty of what it truly is to be human. Policy based on them does not work. This is because they ignore the forces that made people what they are: the forces of evolution.” it says.

The essay is not proposing some new theory of eugenics or related nonsense — it just lays out interesting areas where human behavior may be explained by evolution and asks if this could help inform public policy.

What is of particular interest to readers of this blog is the waves that Darwin’s theory of natural selection — more popularly referred to as his theory of evolution — has stirred among many of the world’s religious faithful. And as 2009 will mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of “On The Origin of Species,” one can expect a flood of Darwin-related debates and publications in the coming months.

The late American historian Richard Hofstadter wrote on the 100th anniversary of Darwin’s seminal work that “… mankind has lived so long under the brilliant light of evolutionary science that we tend to take its insights for granted.”

Fifty years later, in Hofstadter’s America, many evangelical Christians dispute the claim that Darwin’s theory provides “insights.” They argue that the Bible is the literal word of God and any theory that suggests organisms evolved over hundreds of millions of years or that we are related to the Great Apes cannot be true.

Proponents of “Intelligent Design” maintain that life is so complex that it must have had a creator. Critics say this is biblical creationism under a different name and that its claims to use scientific methods are absurd.

Darwin’s theory has long been the foundation of modern biological inquiry. Its supporters,  nearly all of the scientific community, draw on an abundance of evidence to support their view, including the diversity of life on islands, even those in close proximity to each other.

This highlights how isolation appears to spur evolution in different directions, which is what got Darwin going in the first place.

We have written and blogged at length on Darwin’s reception among various religious groups. The Vatican believes the theory of natural selection is compatible with the Bible; within the Islamic world there is a growing creationist movement.

Darwin is certain to stir up more fiery debates in 2009.

2 comments

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Darwinism is as unscientific , weird as any other religious theories are…in the making of a neo-religion, self-styled rationalists…

Posted by Anup | Report as abusive

Actually, Darwin’s theory is based on scientific observation and research. The Bible has been altered, edited, reformed, and rewritten to fit the needs of those in charge of the church at various points in history. In fact the current King James Bible is vastly different than the version commissioned by Constantine in 331. The first printed version was not produced until the 1500′s, before that it was hand copied. Ever here of the telephone game? Darwin may not have been perfect in his ideas but considering the time in which he formed his theory, the tools at his disposal and opposition he faced I think he was pretty close.
I have a question for the creationists that read this. What about the dinosaurs? I don’t remember Job being beset with velociraptors on the road to Damascus or Noah trying to get a T-Rex on the ark. Yes I’ve read the Bible, many times. There are good themes and messages in the Bible just like there are in all religious texts. However to accept the Bible as absolute truth while denying the science that exists around you every day is folly.

Posted by Eric Hopkins | Report as abusive