Intelligent Design vs. Evolution
The new creationism, the religion of modern Europe, and secrets of the Vatican.
There have been many disputes recently over the teaching of evolution vs. "intelligent design" in many of our school systems. Should "intelligent design," a new term for creationism, be required curriculum? Tucker speaks with Dr. Francis Collins of the Human Genome Project, and Christian.
Carlson: Before they began to teach the theory of evolution, ninth grade biology teachers in Dover, Pennsylvania are required to read their students a lengthy statement that says in part "Darwin's Theory is a theory... The Theory is not a fact... Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence... Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view... The school leaves the discussion of the Origins of Life to individual students and their families." Intelligent design, that's idea that details of life are so complex and in many cases so elegant they couldn't have evolved in slow Darwinian intelligence but only through the design of a higher intelligence. Who is the higher intelligence? Dover schools aren't saying that, they're deliberately making no mention of God. Charles Darwin, you'll recall, famously argued that man evolved from an unbroken line of predecessor species, put crudely, from ape to man. Many Americans, if not most, believe that God created man on the sixth day and in his own image. No apes or monkeys involved, period. In the debate over evolution, this article of faith is called creationism. And nowhere have the two collided more explosively than in America's public school classrooms. From the Scopes monkey trial 80 years ago to Supreme Court's decision in 1987 that public schools teaching creationism, "impermissibly advance religion." And today in Dover, Pennsylvania, and in countless other school districts, God is back in the classroom and he has an alias, "intelligent design." As the director of the Human Genome Project, Dr. Francis Collins is on the leading edge of scientific understanding of man's biological code, he's one of America's most influential scientists. But he is our "First Up" guest because, as it happens, Dr. Collins is also a Christian. Thanks for joining us.
Collins: Nice to be here.
Carlson: What do you think of this statement read to the Dover, Pennsylvania public school children that the theory is just a theory and explaining briefly intelligent design? Is that that be read to kids?
Collins: It sounds as if it's a good idea to suggest anybody listening to a discussion about science to keep your mind open and to be sure that facts are actually backed up by data. But, of course, that statement is full of a lot more than scientific facts and data and concerns about them. It is a statement that reflects a battle that's going on right now. And in my view, an unnecessary battle. So let me explain why I say that. As somebody who has watched our own D.N.A. sequence emerge, our own instruction book over the course of the last few years, all three billion letters of our code, and watched how it compares with that of other species, the evidence that comes out of that kind of analysis is overwhelmingly in favor of a single origin of life from which various forms were then derived by a process which seems entirely consistent with Darwins view of natural selection. By saying that, some people listening to my words will immediately conclude that I must therefore be opposed to any role for god in the process that's not true. But I'm not an advocate of intelligent design, either.
Collins: Intelligent design is a fairly recent arrival on the scene. Been around 15 years or so. It argues that there are certain constructs in biology, certain particular features that can't be explained by evolution because they have irreduceable complexity. Take the eye, for instance. How do you develop something as complicated as the eye by a process of natural selection. It doesn't seem like that would fit with the slow gradual process where small changes get selected for. You'd never get there. The problem with that argument is biology actually is identifying multiple intermediate steps from the simplest single light-sensitive cell to something as complicated as the eye which clearly could have evolution acting upon them and result in a complicated structure. I worry about intelligent design, though I admire its advocates for wishing to put forward something in the way of a rebuttal to the idea that evolution says there's no god. And we'll come back to why I think that's an unfortunate argument. I think intelligent design sets up a god of the gaps kind of scenario. Well, you know, we haven't yet explained this particular feature of evolution, so god must be right there. If science ultimately proves that those gaps aren't gaps, after all, then where is god? We really ought not to ask people to do that.
Carlson: Does evolution even imply that there's no god?
Collins: Of course not. Evolution, although it's called a theory, in science a theory is a collection of observations that are pulled together into a consistent view of things. Electromagnetic theory, for instance. It doesn't mean its still hypothetical and people don't think its right. Biology makes almost no sense without evolution to undergird it. Saying as the opening statement did evolution is a theory, not a fact, that's not really quite an adequate explanation of the solidity of information we have that --
Carlson: Do we need a new term?
Collins: We need a new term. Evolution has reached the point it's not going to be discarded.
Carlson: Why don't we call it a law?
Collins: Law in science, perhaps a little different. You're talking about physical laws, say, of gravitation. This is in fact a way of understanding how biological things came into being. But it in no way excludes god. Let me come to that. Science investigates the natural world. It is the way to investigate the natural world. But if god exists, god must be outside the natural world and so science really is silent in terms of answering that question. In that regard, athiests, who say there is no god. Where does god fit in to this, if you think evolution explains life forms including our own? I think it's fairly straightforward. I'm whats called a theistic evolutionist. I believe god had a purpose that involved you and me as individuals, people that he wished to have fellowship with. I believe that the way he decided to do that creative step utilized the mechanism of evolution. I don't think that requires god to step in and fill in these gaps in the development of the eye. I think evolution is self-sufficient. I think god is basically the mind that is behind it.
Carlson: As a scientist, as a leading scientist, thats not an overstatement in your case, what evidence leads you to believe that?
Collins: Again, scientific evidence --
Collins: I have none. But I do think there are rational arguments for the existence of god. They don't come out of my science of genomics. They come out of why is it you and I know what is right and wrong. We know, as do all people who have lived on this planet, as far as we can tell, this moral law. If you're looking for evidence of god, a holy person who cared about good and evil, where better than inside yourself? With this instinct, which I would argue evolution cannot explain because it sometimes causes you to do things that are self-destructive and evolution wouldn't generally ask you to do that. I think you can reason yourself all the way up to the edge of the conclusion that god is more plausible than no god. It still requires that step of faith. We're not going to get away from that by sheer logic. I do think that a thinking person can both be one who believes that science, rigorous science, is the way to understand the natural world and that god is the way to understand the spiritual world. And when you marry the two together, as I get to do, your appreciation of science, of a new discovery, takes on a new meaning because its a glimpse of what god knew all along and at that moment its a moment of worship.
Carlson: They say pretty clearly, which I think the Bible says in many places in the Christian Bible that god created people specifically, distinctly from the animals so he had a -- that's the implication I draw from it, that he has this plan for human beings that's different from his plan for every other species.
Collins: I agree with that statement. Why is evolution not a completely elegant way to accomplish that goal? What's wrong with that? Where are we to say, that isn't the way I would have done it.
Carlson: Why isn't evolution the process god chose to create man?
Collins: I would agree with that. But that's not intelligent design.
Carlson: Has your personal faith ever collided in any way with your scientific research?
Carlson: Do you think it's hindered it in any way?
Collins: No. I think that's surprising to most people. We live at a tragic time when it comes to this debate. We have scientists arguing on the basis of their study of the natural world that there is no god. And they're committing a falsifment
(sic) on the other side of the gap we have fundamentalist views saying science is dangerous. Evolution can't be right because god wouldn't have done it that way. The first book of the Bible says something different and the gap gets wider and wider and it must break god's heart, because, I believe in the middle is a wonderful harmony where you can both accept the tools of science. I mean, after all, we have laws and theories and ways of understanding things and if god is real, he must be the author of them so he shouldn't be threatened by them. Right? We have the tools of science to understand nature and the tools of faith to understand god and our relationship to him. Then you're in the best of all places. You can bring together that scientific world view and the spiritual world view into a harmony and that harmony seems to have escaped an awful lot of these polarized debates. It would be my hope that we can bring those back together.
Carlson: Dr. Francis Collins, thank you very much.
Collins: Thank you.