Evolution book takes aim at “Intelligent Design”

April 22, 2009

Among the new crop of books with themes that would resonate with readers of this blog, one that caught my eye is Jerry A. Coyne’s recently published “Why Evolution is True”. I rushed out, bought it and read it.


The title says it all and is clearly aimed at an American audience. America’s reluctance to embrace evolution — which is the foundation of modern biology and stems from Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection — sets it apart from almost all other countries in the developed world. Polls generally show that only around 40 percent of Americans believe evolution is true while in most European countries the figure is closer to 80 percent.

A Harris poll in 2007 for example found that only 42 percent of Americans accepted evolution while 62 percent believed in the devil.

Most commentators attribute this to America’s high rates of religiosity. Evangelical Protestants in particular are suspicious of evolution with many accepting the biblical story of creation as they see it as the literal word of God.


There have been various high profile battles over whether or not to teach “alternatives” to evolution in the classroom. “Intelligent design” theory, which has scientific pretensions, is the latest attempt to bring a creationist alternative to evolution into the classroom. In a nutshell, it maintains that the complexity of life can only be explained by an “intelligent designer.”

(Photo: A primate’s skull is displayed in Charles Darwin’s former home Down House, in Kent, southern England February 12, 2009. REUTERS/Tal Cohen (BRITAIN)

Coyne, a professor at the University of Chicago in the department of Ecology and Evolution, is having none of this and he confronts the intelligent design crowd loaded for bear.

Evolution is more than a theory, Coyne points out. It is a fact and is supported — contrary to the claims of proponents of intelligent design — by a wealth of overwhelming evidence. It also makes verifiable predictions. This is why virtually every serious scientist accepts it. (And there are no serious alternative theories to it in scientific circles, another claim made by some of evolution’s opponents. Coyne notes that this does not mean that data or evidence might some day emerge which show Darwinism to be wrong. The point to be made is that none has to date).

Coyne provides many examples to make his case. The fossil record is of course incomplete. But fossils that are found turn up where we would expect to find them (no Precambrian rabbits have been found ). A progression can clearly be seen in the fossil record from simpler to more complex forms of life. The first mammals appear 250 million years ago, arising from reptilian ancestors. This is followed by the first birds and so on. As Coyne notes: “No theory of special creation, or any theory other than evolution, can explain these patterns.”

Much of the discomfort with evolution stems from the fact that many people simply don’t like the idea that humans are related to apes. But the evidence that we are is overwhelming and wishful thinking cannot make it go away. Coyne points out that Darwin himself had conjectured that our species had arisen in Africa because our closest relatives the chimpanzee and the gorilla are found there. Subsequent fossil finds in Africa have indeed shown this to be the case, while DNA testing shows just how close our kinship is to these great apes.

In short, a prediction which was verified.

Critics of evolution also say that there is no “proof” as we have not seen species evolve before our eyes. But what about bacterial strains that evolve — repeat, evolve — to resist drugs? New strains of the tuberculosis bacteria have evolved resistance to all drugs that have been used against them. As Coyne notes, “this is natural selection, pure and simple.”

Biogeography provides some of the strongest evidence for evolution and Coyne notes that it is territory intelligent designers do not even venture into. It is one of the things that got Darwin thinking about evolution in the first place as he noticed that birds on neighboring islands were related but not precisely the same species — a scenario that fits neatly with the idea that they had evolved their different traits in isolation from one another.

Most oceanic islands for example show a similar pattern that evolution eloquently explains but does not make much sense if one is an intelligent designer: they often have an abundance of endemic birds, insects and plants but lack mammals, amphibians and perhaps most tellingly of all freshwater fish. The reasons are clear: such islands arose bereft of life from the sea floor and the animals and plants that made it to them would be mobile (birds and insects fly and the former often have plant seeds in their droppings). Evidence for evolution on them can be seen in the fact that many of the bird species which inhabit them are flightless (flying takes up energy and is not needed if there are no local predators). Freshwater fish don’t show up because they can’t swim in the ocean to get there.

This is just the tip of Coyne’s iceberg and his book has many more examples. (Why can some people still wiggle their ears? Because it seems to be a remnant from when our ancestors needed to move their ears around to help them localize sounds). It is one of many books that will appear this year to mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” as well as his 200th birthday. It will certainly raise a few eyebrows in certain circles — and I wonder now if our ability to do so doesn’t have some unknown roots?


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When will evolutionists realize there is a difference between ID and Creationism?

The reason they lump the two together is that the creationists get a different result from the same evidence. Creationists have been using natural selection to support their view, seeing as the term was coined 20 years before Darwin in support of creationism. The resistance of bacteria, the populations seen on islands all fit the creationist model.

The creationist model also makes verifiable predictions. The work of Pasteur, Newton, Francis Bacon (inventor of the scientific method), Kepler, Galileo, and Dr Damadian (inventor of the MRI). To name a few people whose creationist work has been verified and accepted today as fact. But this is why you never hear evolutionists asking about what creationism has done for us.

The truth is that the evolutionist community is afraid that more people will see that the creationists have a better model. They are also afraid that then they will be held responsible for their actions when they die for if the science of the Bible is correct then the rest of it is as well.

If you really want to know what creationist think go to www.answersingenesis.org and see what they really believe.

Posted by j | Report as abusive

ID and creationism are completely the same. In the sense that neither are scientific theories, and should not be taught as such.

These theories base their logic on a supernatural cause, which has no basis in scientific thought.

Neither theory can be tested by the scientific method.

Nor are these theories based on the scientific principle of observation. They merely take the evidence (Complexity) and attribute it to a cause (Deity) without any actual evidence of causal connection.

And no, the Bible is not evidence. Because it was written by man, making it the theological version of hearsay.

But these theories do something much worse. They try to dress up religion as a form of credible science. Have things gotten so bad that religion must resort to such deception?

Religion is based on faith. If a person has a true faith in their religion, they must simply dismiss any science to the contrary. Such behaviour may not be logical or rational, but that is what faith has always demanded.

Posted by John | Report as abusive

this is less science vs religion than clash of religious worldviews (theistic vs atheistic); that most scientists embrace evolution is as significant to the discussion as how many people embrace one religion or another. neither worldview rejects observation of empirically derived data, but each interprets those data according to its own paradigm. neither id nor creationist supporters deny microevolution (change within a kind), but see the genome project and other discoveries as either failing to support or outrightly disproving macroevolution (“molecules to man”). atheistic scientists reject as epiphenomena anything contradicting their religious belief, hence are dismissive of dr behe’s discussions of irreducible complexity. the secularists also hold the power in academia and government, and so get to play the grand inquisitor – just as they accuse the church of having done with galileo.

Posted by jd | Report as abusive


It was Karl Popper, as I recall, who observed that *no* fundamental assumptions can be proven. *All* of them must be accepted on faith.

Surely, religion is based upon faith. And the religionists are willing to accept that.

But the scientific method, too, is based upon a faith in certain metaphysical assumptions (for example, the metaphysical duality; the existence of a ‘thinker\'; the uni-directionality of time, etc. etc.); which, also, cannot be proven. But the scientists are unwilling to accept that any of these things are matters of faith. On the contrary, they assert such things as being “facts” rather than “beliefs”.

In any case, neither the scientists nor the religionists are willing to seriously examine the question of human consciousness itself. Science has not yet come to an understanding of what consciousness is; while the religionists do not yet recognize that the consciousness Created ‘by and in the image of God’ (Genesis 1:27) is *not* the consciousness of the ‘thinker\'; but, rather, that the consciousness of the ‘thinker’ is, itself, a consequence of ‘the Fall’ in the first place.

Only when the implications of both science and Revelation upon the question of human consciousness are examined in detail will there be any hope of resolving the conflict between science and Revelation.

Michael Cecil

http://science-of-consciousness.blogspot .com/

Posted by Michael Cecil | Report as abusive

jd, john, and j. “Neither theory can be tested by the scientific method.”

I think that should read ‘ID theory cannot be tested by the scientific method.’

Cheese and rice, no wonder our science education in this country is so far behind other nations.

Posted by Mark Stevens | Report as abusive

I despise most or all religion, but I agree with JD that the scientific, rational, atheist perspective can degenerate into religion. This should be discouraged. Science is a precious, fragile thing. Religionists use it constantly in their lives, but have no respect for it, like a child playing with an expensive camera in a sandbox. (Many people who have earned the pro forma title of “scientist” also have no respect for it, like these people who live on grants to prove that unhealthy foods and beverages are slightly healthy, or the people who churn our antidrug research featuring invalid analysis.)

Re my handle, “satan” is an ordinary Hebrew word meaning something like “adversary” or “accuser”. It isn’t a proper noun in Hebrew; that was a Christian development.

Posted by Satan | Report as abusive

Faith, when confronted with science, has attempted many things to survive.

First it tried to ignore science. And eventually, this denial ended up harming their own social dominance.

So then it tried to take the rationality of science, and use it a mask for religion to hide. We ended up with Intelligent Design and Creationism. And by doing so, religion became a target of ridicule.

So now, religion attempts to take its own irrationality, and try to tar science with the same brush.

“Science is irrational, because it makes assumptions” they say, “so it is OK to possess an irrational faith”.

The last refuge of any apologist. When you can’t beat the other side, you try to pull them down to your own level. Or create this impression to your supporters.

Posted by Anon | Report as abusive

Anon, you have your history wrong at least when applied to ID, Creationism, and Christianity.

First Christianity has long embraced science, as you can see by the very short list of scientists i posted earlier. Also, when the Catholic church attacked Galileo it was because they had taken the predominant scientific view of a geocentric universe and had added it to their religion. So they where following science when they went against Galileo.

by the time when Darwin came out with his work the Catholic church was teaching the unbiblical doctrine of the Fixity of the Species or that God created them where they are and how you see them today. The Protestant churches at that time, however, where teaching that all creatures we see today were descendant from those that went with Noah on the ark and therefore where not created how/where they are seen today. this is in line with the writings of the scientist Edward Blyth, who coined the term Natural Selection years before Darwin used it. This is why the Catholic church today partly supports Darwin and the Protestant churches do not.

Now, concerning the differences between ID, Creationism, and Evolutionism. All three make some base assumptions in order to interpret what they find.
ID starts with the idea that there may be an intelligent interference in evolution, but who that is we don’t/can’t know (an agnostic view).

Posted by j | Report as abusive

Creationism, however starts with the assumption that the Bible is the word of an all knowing God who does not lie, who also made everything and therefore knows how/when it was made. They also believe that when the evidence is interpreted on this foundation it is a better model. It explains why there is death, suffering, where did we come from, and who are we/what is our purpose. It is inseparable from Christianity.

Evolutionism starts with the assumption that there are only naturalistic explanations for everything (the atheist view). That there is no room or possibility for any intelligent or divine interference in science or history. However, there is no evidence supporting this. This view also teaches that there is no value to human life, that only the fit survive, and that right is only that which helps you.

Now i hope Anon i have shown you that all three sides make assumptions that cannot be tested by the scientific method (a creationist invention). This means that all three require a belief/faith that any one is true. This is why i call them all -ism for they are all religions with their own value systems and beliefs about creation, the after-life, value of life, purpose, and many others.

Religion has always been a target of ridicule and persecution and the followers realize that. It has nothing to do with science vs religion but everything to do with sin and the worlds hate of God. This debate is just used as a way to rationalize that hate and not recognize it for what it is.

Posted by j | Report as abusive