What Is Darwinism?

Why Science Clings to a Fractured Paradigm Published by CRI, Statement DE-382


The debate between creationism and Darwinism is often depicted as a dispute between naive biblical literalists, who ignore the overwhelming evidence for evolution, and scientifically enlightened intellectuals. But this is a caricature that serves the purpose of helping to perpetuate a world view hostile to Christian faith: atheistic naturalism. The debate hinges on five key terms: creationism, evolution, science, religion, and truth. Instead of trying to Christianize evolution we ought instead to challenge the assumption that atheistic naturalism is true.

The popular television game show Jeopardy reverses the usual order of things. Instead of being asked a question to which they must supply the answer, contestants are given the answer and asked to provide the appropriate question. This format suggests an insight that is applicable to law, to science, and indeed to just about everything. More important than knowing all the answers is knowing what question is being asked.

That insight is the starting point for my inquiry into Darwinian evolution and its relationship to creation, because Darwinism is the answer to two very different kinds of questions. First, Darwinian theory tells us how a certain amount of diversity in life forms can develop once we have various types of complex living organisms already in existence. If a small population of birds happens to migrate to an isolated island, for example, a combination of inbreeding, mutation, and natural selection may cause this isolated population to develop different characteristics from those possessed by the ancestral population on the mainland. When the theory is understood in this limited sense, Darwinian evolution is uncontroversial and has no important philosophical or theological implications.

Evolutionary biologists are not content merely to explain how variation occurs within limits. They aspire to answer a much broader question — how complex organisms like birds, flowers, and human beings came to exist at all. The Darwinian answer to this second question is that the creative force that produced complex plants and animals is essentially the same as the mechanism producing variations in flowers, insects, and domestic animals before our very eyes. In the words of Ernst Mayr, the dean of living Darwinists, "Transspecific evolution [i.e., macroevolution] is nothing but an extrapolation and magnification of the events that take place within populations and species."

Neo-Darwinian evolution in this broad sense is a philosophical doctrine so lacking in empirical support that Mayr’s successor at Harvard, Stephen Jay Gould, in a reckless moment once pronounced it "effectively dead." Yet neo- Darwinism is far from dead. On the contrary, it is continually proclaimed in textbooks and the media as unchallengeable fact. How does it happen that so many scientists and intellectuals, who pride themselves on their empiricism and open-mindedness, continue to accept an unempirical theory as scientific fact?

Defining the Issues

The answer to that question lies in the definition of five key terms — creationism, evolution, science, religion, and truth. Once we understand how these words are used in evolutionary discourse, the continued ascendancy of neo-Darwinism will be no mystery, and we need no longer be deceived by claims that the theory is supported by "overwhelming evidence." As we shall see, there are powerful vested interests in this area that thrive in the midst of ambiguity and confusion. Those who insist on defining terms precisely and using them consistently may find themselves regarded with suspicion and hostility, and even accused of being enemies of science.

Continue Reading at CRI, Statement DE-382