This I Believe

Rick - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Entered on February 12, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65

I believe that Charles Darwin got it right. The eloquent logic of Darwin’s theory of natural selection has stood the test of time and trial by the scientific method for more than a century. A famous geneticist, Theo Dobzhansky, said that nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. To a practicing biologist, this is putting it mildly. Every day that I see something new in biology—a new structure on a microscopic organism, a new DNA sequence in genetic studies from worms to humans—in which the message is driven home that Darwin got it right. To explain the processes and properties of living things without evolution would be like trying to plan the Apollo moon missions while denying the existence of gravity.

I realize that there are nonbiologists who say the same thing about trying to explain their worlds without Bible, or the Koran, or other sacred scriptures. That every day they see new evidence of a supreme being’s existence and influence. So the question is, can we both believe in the rightness of these two apparently divergent lines of inspiration?

I believe we can. As did Popes Pius XII, John Paul II, and as does Pope Benedict XVI, when he was still a Cardinal (he’s had second thoughts lately, but these sound politically motivated). They found no conflict between evolution as an explanation for natural processes and revelation in scripture for spiritual redemption. It is only a narrow, intellectually lazy interpretation of either science or religion that requires that the two remain at war.

Take the recent emergence of Intelligent Design, a so-called alternative to Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. According to this school of thought, there are some features of the natural world—the working of cells, the arrangement of matter in the cosmos—that are irreducibly complex. There is no way, proponents claim, that such order could have evolved or progressed from simpler arrangements of the parts into the grandly complex and elegant designs we see in the natural world. Such intelligent designs or arrangements of complexity are evidence of an intelligence, a designer, with or without a capital “d”, depending on one’s point of view. Many biologists have trouble with this argument because it seems to call for intellectual surrender—instead of tackling the complexity uncovered in research as another intellectual challenge, intellectual design provides an easy off-ramp from the scientific highway, where one can put the car in park, throw up your hands and declare the majesty of the unexplained and intricate beauty of life.

But what about Darwin’s theory itself? Developed in the 19th century, the theory has readily accommodated the discovery of DNA, genes, and genomes, with some modification but without abandoning the general idea that species change over time. Darwin himself wrote in the Origin of Species that there is grandeur in this view of life, of its evolution from simple organisms into the great wealth of species on earth, including our own. I see Darwin’s ideas as irreducibly complex . . . in the way that all grand scientific theories are. They explain and keep on explaining the more we learn. Is it possible that scientific theories such as evolution and the Big Bang, represent truly irreducibly complex phenomena in the natural world, and that those with the inclination to marvel at such phenomena can find in them irrefutable proofs of the existence of God?