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Story of Evolution, Evolution of Stories
Bryn Mawr College, Spring 2004
First Web Paper
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Can Neo-Creationism Stand up to Evolution by Natural Selection?

Student Contributor

I do not consider myself a religious person and do not look to Genesis for an explanation of how the world came into being. Yet our discussion of Darwinian evolution over the past few weeks has led me to believe that there is little room for spirituality of any kind in a truly rigorous scientific theory of the origin of life. This is disconcerting, to say the least. Obviously we have outgrown a strictly creationist lens, but has religion become completely obsolete? Does spirituality have a real place amongst the scientific tenets of evolutionary theory, or is it merely a crutch that we lean on? Can God and Darwin co-exist?

The constantly mounting collection of evidence for evolution by natural selection is almost impossible to ignore. However, there is a neo-creationist school of thought, called "intelligent design," attempting to modernize the concept of a God to fit the challenge presented by a Darwinian explanation of life. Proponents of this theory, such as Michael Behe, claim that the cellular structures and pathways in living organisms possess "irreducible complexity," meaning that minus any one component, they become functionless. This implies that these components could not have evolved in a step-by-step process, but would all have to be present simultaneously. Cilia and blood-clotting are commonly cited examples. Taken a step further, irreducible complexity can also be applied to complex organs, such as the eye, and complex behaviors, such as flying. How could they have evolved in gradual increments, with each one providing an adaptive advantage? Evolutionary theory according to Darwin is certainly not a complete and irrefutable account of the origin of life. In many instances, the door has been left open and the explanation remains unresolved. Additionally, the claims of Behe, and other natural theologists, are not just religious superstition anymore. Their interpretations of many trends can be supported scientifically.

Naturally, Behe's hypothesis of irreducible complexity provoked a reaction from evolutionary scientists. Are the gaps in our knowledge of the origin of species large enough to allow for intelligent design? Despite several inconsistencies, the facts seem inescapably stacked in favor of natural selection. The fossil record is a good example. Though it is incomplete, the various geographic strata contain a wealth of extinct organisms which exhibit distinct evolutionary trends. These include morphological similarities between older species and those that exist today, in both adult and embryo forms.

The implications of this analysis of the fossil record are not good for creationism. The species that exist today were not simply placed on Earth in their current condition, but have come to be over hundreds of millions of years of adaptation. Ernst Mayr states that "embryonic similarities, recapitulation, and vestigial structures raise insurmountable difficulties for a creationist explanation, but are fully compatible with an evolutionary explanation based on common descent, variation, and selection." (31) Mayr is unrelenting in his support of evolution by natural selection, as are the majority of scientists and anthropologists.

Critics of intelligent design argue that any creationist explanation cannot be purely scientific because it is necessary to consider the likelihood of the existence of a higher Intelligence. In other words, until it is proven that there is a God, these theories leave something to be desired. Intelligent design provides one explanation for an evolutionary anomaly, but it is not necessarily the most elegant or practical solution.

Since the publication of The Origin of Species, evolutionists and creationists have been embroiled in one of the most legendary debates in scientific history. A consensus may never be established between them, as it is impossible to prove or disprove the existence of God. From a scientific perspective, it seems ludicrous to attribute every natural phenomenon to some unknown higher power when there are explanations to be found here on Earth. However, Darwin's theory alone seems to be an inadequate interpretation of the entire scope of life.

My thoughts on religion changed significantly as I researched the creationist perspective on evolution. I am not at all convinced by the intelligent design hypothesis, despite the fact that natural theology has become a great deal more sophisticated since Genesis. In a way, I agree with evolutionists who claim that until the existence of God can be proven, no creationist theory will hold water against Darwin. It's frightening to abandon the idea of a higher power, but after reading several creationist texts, I question His place in the scientific community.

1.) Mayr, Ernst. What Evolution Is. New York: Basic Books, 2001.

2.) Pennock, Robert T. "Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics." Endeavour 26 (2002): 118-119.

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