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TIME Looks at “The Evolution Wars”

TIME magazine is out this week with a big cover story on the latest controversy over the theory of evolution — a controversy sparked anew by President George W. Bush’s statement about the theory known as “Intelligent Design.” In “The Evolution Wars,” TIME reports: As far as many Americans are concerned, however, the President was probably preaching to the choir. In a Harris poll conducted in June, 55% of 1,000 adults surveyed said children should be taught creationism and intelligent design along with evolution in public schools. The same poll found that 54% did not believe humans had developed from an earlier species–up from 45% with that view in 1994–although other polls have not detected this rise. Around the U.S., the prevalence of such beliefs and the growing organization and clout of the intelligent-design movement are beginning to alter the way that most fundamental tenets of biology are presented in public schools.
In “Can You Believe in God and Evolution?,” the magazine presents a forum with four participants. I participated in the forum, along with Michael Behe, Steven Pinker, and Francis Collins. Collins, head of the Human Genome Project, argues that evolutionary theory and Christian faith are fully compatible. At one point he suggests that God may well have used evolution as the “mechanism of evolution to create you and me.” Here are his words: If God, who is all powerful and who is not limited by space and time, chose to use the mechanism of evolution to create you and me, who are we to say that wasn’t an absolutely elegant plan? And if God has now given us the intelligence and the opportunity to discover his methods, that is something to celebrate. Yet, just a few lines later he says this: Nearly all working biologists accept that the principles of variation and natural selection explain how multiple species evolved from a common ancestor over very long periods of time. I find no compelling examples that this process is insufficient to explain the rich variety of life forms present on this planet. While no one could claim yet to have ferreted out every detail of how evolution works, I do not see any significant “gaps” in the progressive development of life’s complex structures that would require divine intervention. In any case, efforts to insert God into the gaps of contemporary human understanding of nature have not fared well in the past, and we should be careful not to do that now. If natural selection is a sufficient explanation, in what sense can we say that God “created” you and me?
I argue that evolutionary theory and the biblical doctrine of creation are incompatible and irreconcilable. Interestingly, Steven Pinker, a prominent defender of evolution and the materialist worldview agrees: Many people who accept evolution still feel that a belief in God is necessary to give life meaning and to justify morality. But that is exactly backward. In practice, religion has given us stonings, inquisitions and 9/11. Morality comes from a commitment to treat others as we wish to be treated, which follows from the realization that none of us is the sole occupant of the universe. Like physical evolution, it does not require a white-coated technician in the sky. Michael Behe, a critic of evolutionary theory, claims to have no basic theological conflict with the theory — his criticism is driven by scientific concerns: I’m still not against Darwinian evolution on theological grounds. I’m against it on scientific grounds. I think God could have made life using apparently random mutation and natural selection. But my reading of the scientific evidence is that he did not do it that way, that there was a more active guiding. I think that we are all descended from some single cell in the distant past but that that cell and later parts of life were intentionally produced as the result of intelligent activity. As a Christian, I say that intelligence is very likely to be God.
The forum is a truly interesting exchange, and I was glad to take part. The magazine hits newsstands today.