It’s God or Darwin

Competing designs Original Article

Tuesday’s ruling by a federal judge in Pennsylvania, disparaging intelligent design as a religion-based and therefore false science, raises an important question: If ID is bogus because many of its theorists have religious beliefs to which the controversial critique of Darwinism lends support, then what should we say about Darwinism itself? After all, many proponents of Darwinian evolution have philosophical beliefs to which Darwin lends support.

“We conclude that the religious nature of Intelligent Design would be readily apparent to an objective observer, adult or child,” wrote Judge John E. Jones III in his decision, Kitzmiller v. Dover, which rules that disparaging Darwin’s theory in biology class is unconstitutional. Is it really true that only Darwinism, in contrast to ID, represents a disinterested search for the truth, unmotivated by ideology?

Judge Jones was especially impressed by the testimony of philosophy professor Barbara Forrest of Southeastern Louisiana University, author of Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design. Professor Forrest has definite beliefs about religion, evident from the fact that she serves on the board of directors of the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association, which is “an affiliate of American Atheists, and [a] member of the Atheist Alliance International,” according to the group’s website. Of course, she’s entitled to believe what she likes, but it’s worth noting.

Religion and Smallpox

Other leading Darwinian advocates not only reject religion but profess disgust for it and frankly admit a wish to see it suppressed. Lately I’ve been collecting published thoughts on religion from pro-Darwin partisans. Professional scholars, they have remarkable things to say especially about Christianity. Let these disinterested seekers of the truth speak for themselves.

My favorite is Tufts University’s Daniel C. Dennett. In his highly regarded Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, he tells why it might be necessary to confine conservative Christians in zoos. It’s because Bible-believing Baptists, in particular, may tolerate “the deliberate misinforming of children about the natural world.” In other words, they may doubt Darwin. This cannot stand! “Safety demands that religion be put in cages,” explains Dennett, “when absolutely necessary….The message is clear: those who will not accommodate, who will not temper, who insist on keeping only the purest and wildest strains of their heritage alive, we will be obliged, reluctantly, to cage or disarm, and we will do our best to disable the memes they fight for.”

In an essay, “Is Science a Religion?“, Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins is frank enough. Perhaps the leading figure on the Darwin side, he forthrightly states that “faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate.” He equates God with an “imaginary friend” and baptism with child abuse. In his book The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design, Dawkins observed that Darwin “made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”

There is Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg, of the University of Texas, who defended Darwinism before the Texas State Board of Education in 2003. In accepting an award from the Freedom From Religion Foundation,Weinberg didn’t hide his own feelings about how science must deliver the fatal blow to religious faith: “I personally feel that the teaching of modern science is corrosive of religious belief, and I’m all for that! One of the things that in fact has driven me in my life, is the feeling that this is one of the great social functions of science–to free people from superstition.” When Weinberg’s idea of science triumphs, then “this progression of priests and ministers and rabbis and ulamas and imams and bonzes and bodhisattvas will come to an end, [and] we’ll see no more of them. I hope that this is something to which science can contribute and if it is, then I think it may be the most important contribution that we can make.”

There is University of Minnesota biologist P. Z. Myers, a prominent combatant in the Darwin wars being fought in an archipelago of websites. He links his own site (recently plugged in the prestigious journal Nature) to a “humorous” web film depicting Jesus’ flagellation and crucifixion, a speeded-up version of Mel Gibson’s Passion, to the accompaniment of the Benny Hill theme music “Yakety Sax,” complete with cartoonish sound effects. “Never let it be said that I lack a sense of reverence or an appreciation of Christian mythology,” commented this teacher at a state university. In another blog posting, Myers daydreamed about having a time machine that would allow him to go back and eliminate the Biblical patriarch Abraham. Some might argue for using the machine to assassinate other notorious figures of history, but not Myers: “I wouldn’t do anything as trivial as using it to take out Hitler.”

Then there is the Darwinist chairman of the religious studies department at the University of Kansas, Paul Mirecki. He emerged from obscurity recently when his startlingly crude anti-Christian writings came to light. Mirecki’s bright idea had been to teach a course about “mythologies,” including intelligent design. Things got interesting when it came out that he followed up his announcement by crowing in an e-mail to a list-serve: “The fundies [Christian fundamentalists] want [ID] taught in a science class, but this will be a nice slap in their big fat face by teaching it as a religious studies class under the category ‘mythology.’”

Mirecki had previously posted a list-serve message responding to somebody’s joke about Pope John Paul II being “a corpse in a funny hat wearing a dress.” Mirecki wrote back, “I love it! I refer to him as J2P2 (John Paul II), like the Star Wars robot R2D2.”

Administration officials at KU confirmed that the e-mails had come from Mirecki, who also wrote: “I had my first Catholic ‘holy communion’ when I was a kid in Chicago, and when I took the bread-wafer the first time, it stuck to the roof of my mouth, and as I was secretly trying to pry it off with my tongue as I was walking back to my pew with white clothes and with my hands folded, all I could think was that it was Jesus’ skin, and I started to puke, but I sucked it in and drank my own puke. That’s a big part of the Catholic experience.”

Prudently, the university canceled Mirecki’s proposed “mythologies” class and ousted him as department chairman.

I’ve already reported on NRO about the views expressed by Darwinist staff scientists at the Smithsonian Institution. The nation’s museum was roiled last year when the editor of a Smithsonian-affiliated biology journal published a peer-reviewed article favoring intelligent design. His fellow staffers composed emails venting their fury. One e-mailer, figuring the editor must be an ID advocate and therefore (obviously!) a fundamentalist Christian (he is neither), allowed that, “Scientists have been perfectly willing to let these people alone in their churches.” Another museum scientist noted how, after “spending 4.5 years in the Bible Belt,” he knew all about Christians. He reminisced about the “fun we had” when “my son refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance because of the ‘under dog’ [meaning ‘under God’] part.”

God and Darwin

Admittedly, there are those in the Darwin community who argue that Darwinism is compatible with religion. Judge Jones himself, in the Kitzmiller decision, writes that 

many of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general. Repeatedly in this trial, plaintiffs’ scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator.

Some advocates go further, seeing Darwin as a friend to faith. When I was in New York recently I spent an enjoyable hour at the new Darwin show at the American Museum of Natural History. In the last few yards of exhibit space, before you hit the inevitable gift shop, the museum addresses intelligent design. There’s a short film with scientists talking about Darwin and religion, seeking to show that Darwinism actually has religion’s best interests in mind. Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome project and a self-identified Christian, says that ID can “potentially [do] great harm to people’s faiths.” How so? Says Collins: by “putting God in the gaps”–by discovering God’s creative powers at the junctures in life’s history that science can’t so far explain. When science at last finds mechanistic explanations for every presumed miracle, where will that leave God?

Never mind that his view, in which God can be assumed not to operate in the natural world, makes Collins a funny kind of Christian.

Never mind, also, that he inaccurately characterizes ID. The argument for design, whatever merit it may possess, is based on positive evidence, hallmarks of a designer’s work. For example, the sudden infusion of genetic information 530 million years, when most of today’s animal body plans appeared in the earth’s ancient seas.

It should be clear by now that Darwinism makes an unlikely defender of religion’s best interests. On the contrary, the ranks of the Darwinistas are replete with opponents of religion.

Does this delegitimize Darwinism as science? Obviously not–no more than ID is delegitimized by the fact that many Christians, Jews, and Muslims are attracted to its interpretation of nature’s evidence. Of course, some avowed agnostics also doubt Darwin (e.g. evolutionary biologist Stanley Salthe, molecular biologist Michael Denton, and mathematician David Berlinski who says his only religious principle is “to have a good time all the time”). But there is irony in the way the media generally follow Barbara Forrest’s line in portraying ID as a “Trojan Horse” for theism. It would be equally accurate to call Darwin a trojan horse for atheism.

In fact, both Darwin and design have metaphysical implications and are expressions of a certain kind of faith. ID theorists are not willing to submit to the assumption that material stuff is the only reality. Darwinism takes the opposite view, materialism, which assumes there can never be a supernatural reality.

In this it only follows Charles Darwin, who wrote the Origin of Species as an exercise in seeking to explain how life could have got to be the way it is without recourse to divine creative activity. In a pious mode intended to disarm critics, he concluded his book by writing of “laws impressed on matter by the Creator.” However readers immediately saw the barely concealed point of the work: to demonstrate there was no need for “laws impressed on matter” by a Creator.

In short, with apologies to Judge Jones, there is no coherent reconciliation between God and Darwin. Attempts to show how we can have both faith in a spiritual reality (religion) and faith in pure materialism (Darwin) always end up vacuuming the essential meaning out of either God or Darwin.

And this, I think, is why some Darwin advocates dislike religion. It’s why they fight it with such passion: Because negating religion is the reason behind their belief system. To their credit, they recognize a truth that others prefer not to see. That is: One may choose Darwin or one may choose God.

David Klinghoffer, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and a columnist for the Jewish Forward. His most recent book is Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History. His website is

David Klinghoffer

Senior Fellow and Editor, Evolution News
David Klinghoffer is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute and the editor of Evolution News & Science Today, the daily voice of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, reporting on intelligent design, evolution, and the intersection of science and culture. Klinghoffer is also the author of six books, a former senior editor and literary editor at National Review magazine, and has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Seattle Times, Commentary, and other publications. Born in Santa Monica, California, he graduated from Brown University in 1987 with an A.B. magna cum laude in comparative literature and religious studies. David lives near Seattle, Washington, with his wife and children.