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For many years there has been an argument and in some countries a battle raging over the teaching of the Darwinian Theory of Evolution in schools and universities.  My purpose in this brief article is to comment on this issue.  My comments are based on my own beliefs and understandings as a committed Catholic, as a physicist and as a teacher.  My central thesis is simple.  The Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection is a well established scientific theory supported by huge quantities of evidence and capable of making testable predictions, as all scientific theories must be.  Creationism and the Theory of Intelligent Design by their very nature are religious beliefs.  They are incapable of making testable predictions and their appeal to supernatural powers to explain natural events makes them unscientific.  I stress that my purpose is not to attack or ridicule any religious belief held by any person or Religious Tradition.  My aim is to make it very clear that the teaching of Creationism and/or the Theory of Intelligent Design as alternatives to the Theory of Evolution is unacceptable in the extreme.

So, to start with, what is Creationism?  Creationism is the belief that the world, and indeed the universe, was created exactly as described in the Christian (more accurately Jewish) Book of GenesisCreation Science as it has become known over the last 80 years or so, seeks to gather scientific evidence in support of this Christian creation story.  Creation scientists claim that Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution is wrong because it explains the origins of life without mention of God.  Over the years creation scientists have carefully gathered evidence in support of their belief and ignored or explained away evidence that points to the contrary.  Clearly, by starting from a pre-conceived conclusion and selectively using evidence to back it up, Creation Science is unscientific.

It is important to state up front that the Catholic Church has NO PROBLEM with the Theory of Evolution By Natural Selection as proposed by Darwin.  Over fifty years ago, Pope Pius XII stated that the Theory of Evolution did not conflict with Catholic teachings.  In 1996, Pope John Paul II called the Theory of Evolution "more than a hypothesis", while declaring that science and Catholicism could not clash because "truth cannot contradict truth".  John Paul II believed that there should be a harmonious relationship between faith and science.  Each has its own very special role to play.  He never spoke of some sort of blending of the two.  Such a blending would only serve to weaken both theology and science.

Most Catholic Biblical Scholars would agree that the creation story in the Book of Genesis is just that - a story - incorporated into the Jewish Torah (sacred book of the Law) from earlier myths, to express faith and belief in God's creative initiative and power that hold all life in being and to emphasize the special nature of human beings - that we were made spiritually in the image of God.  The story is not meant to be taken literally.

Indeed if you attempt to take the creation story literally, you end up facing an insurmountable contradiction.  There are in Genesis, two versions of the creation story.  In Chapter 1 of Genesis, God makes the heavens and earth and all the animals and plants and finally makes man in his own image.  In Chapter 2 of Genesis, God first makes the heavens and the earth, then man and then the rest of creation.  So, which one of these is the literal truth in a scientific sense?  Neither!  They are faith stories NOT objective science reports describing actual physical events in space-time.

So, from where does this creation science phenomenon spring?  Its proponents are mainly conservative and fundamentalist Christians.  In the USA these people are very well organized with numerous well funded support groups and research foundations across the country.  In the USA creationist ideas and more recently ideas stemming from the "Theory of Intelligent Design" have a large following across many states.  A recent New Scientist article "A Battle for the Soul of Science" by Debra Mackenzie in the 9th July 2005 edition of the magazine stated that in Kansas "Proposed school standards redefine science to include supernatural explanations for natural phenomena."  This is a serious step back towards the dark ages!

Let me stress again that I am not against people holding creationism as a belief.  If people, members of the various Christian denominations or other religious sects, choose to believe that the creation of the universe happened exactly as described in Genesis, then that is their right.  In Australia and the rest of the free world, people are free to hold the religious beliefs of their choice.  What is unacceptable is when such religious beliefs are then passed off, or worse legislated, as Science.

Creationism is a religious belief not a scientific theory.  Darwinian Evolution is a scientific theory not a religious belief.  It makes no sense to compare Creationism with the Theory of Evolution.  It is like comparing the proverbial apples and oranges.  Their very nature is different.  They are different types of understandings.  On the one hand, creationism is a strongly held subjective belief that relies on carefully selected scientific evidence to support it.  On the other hand, evolution by natural selection, was developed from careful scientific observation, has survived nearly 150 years of stringent scientific scrutiny and has an excellent predictive power that has led to many other advances in science.

Over the last ten years or so, Creationism itself has undergone an evolutionary experience.  The result is the Theory of Intelligent Design (ID), not that proponents of this theory would agree that ID sprang forth from creationism.  Supporters of ID claim that we can use science to find evidence of a designer's handiwork in nature.  Cleverly, however, they omit to say just who or what this designer may be.  This effectively allows them to argue that this theory has nothing to do with creationism.

ID argues that life is too complex to have evolved without some involvement from an intelligent force.  ID accepts that natural selection does occur, for example in the development of antibiotic resistance.  However, ID states that some molecular systems, such as the one that produces and controls the bacterial flagellum (tail), cannot be broken down into smaller functioning units and therefore could not have been produced gradually by natural selection.  This idea is called "irreducible complexity".  ID also uses probability theory to suggest that certain biological structures are so unlikely to have emerged by natural processes that they must have been specifically designed all at once.  This is called "specified complexity".

ID can appear quite plausible, especially to people with little or no biological knowledge.  On close examination, however, ID is full of holes.  Both irreducible complexity and specified complexity can be shown to be flawed concepts by close examination of many complex biological systems.  Examples are given in the New Scientist article "A Sceptic's Guide to Intelligent Design" by B Holmes & J Randerson in the 9th July 2005 edition of the magazine.

ID makes no testable predictions.  It predicts that we should be able to find evidence of a designer at work in nature but says nothing about who this designer may have been or how this designer may have been at work.  So, how or where does one look to find the evidence?  ID does not say.  ID is not testable and is therefore fundamentally unscientific.

For instance, ID proponents could claim that a particular structure, say the flagellum mentioned earlier, was too complex to have been formed by natural selection and was therefore evidence of a designer at work.  Even if that example was eventually shown by biologists to have been formed by natural selection, it would not count as a failed prediction of the ID theory.  The ID proponents would simply say that their theory predicts that we should be able to find some evidence of a designer at work not that every structure has been designed.

The political trick that proponents of ID are trying in the USA at present, is to argue that schools should teach ID alongside traditional science courses on evolution so that students can be fully informed of the controversy surrounding the two theories.  How rich is this???  The fact of the matter is that there is no controversy.  Evolution is a very well accepted, predictive and useful scientific theory.  ID may well be a firmly held religious belief for many people but it is not a scientific theory.  It has never made a testable prediction.  In essence, its appeal to supernatural forces puts it way outside the realm of science.

Neither ID nor creationism should ever be taught as science.  If students ask questions in a science class about ID or creationism, science teachers have an obligation to make it very clear that they are not scientific theories.  By all means teach them as part of a philosophy or religion course but never as alternative scientific theories to the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection.  They are simply not science.

You may also like to check out the articles below:

"Evolution and the Roman Catholic Church"

"Intelligent Design: It's Not Even Wrong"

"A Catholic Professor on Evolution and Theology"

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Last updated:

Robert Emery 2002 - view the Terms of Use of this site.