Saturday, October 07, 2006

Evolution's Biggest Problem

A few years back I read lots of books about evolution and intelligent design in an effort to get to the bottom of the controversy. I came to the conclusion that neo-Darwinism is almost certainly correct and intelligent design almost certainly inapplicable to evolution. However, I also saw how difficult it can be to take on board all the facts that are necessary to prove the case for evolution. The basic idea of mutation and natural selection is quite simple, although not quite as simple as 'survival of the fittest'. However, to accept that this idea can account for the variety of life requires a great deal more information and comprehension.

I've got no doubt that many of those who think that they understand evolution actually don't. Reading one of Professor Dawkins's books will not provide enough information or convince anyone who doesn't want to be convinced. Dawkins's genius, like that of many popular science writers, is to make his readers feel they understand more than they do. But a reader who comes to his work with a critical eye is unlikely to be convinced by it because they won't fall into the trap of letting Dawkins flatter their intellect. Rather, his polemic and anti-religious bigotry are likely to dissuade just those people who he has to try hardest to convince.

The main problem for evolution is, I think, that to do the legwork needed for an inquiring mind to accept the theory in full requires some goodwill towards it. The evidence is wideranging and disparate. There is no magic-bullet argument and no killer experiment. Rather there is a huge range of material from different disciplines (such as paleontology, molecular biology, statistics, zoology etc.) that mould together into a single matrix that can, taken together, bear the theoretical load placed upon it. But comprehending the matrix as a whole is only something you'll do if you are willing to look. Many of the aggressive advocates for evolution discourage critics from even wanting to see the whole. Instead, critics try to pick at individual threads that alone cannot convince.

Many Christians have learnt to look at the Bible as a whole. They don't feel they have to provide a cast iron defence of every verse against sceptics who are determined to find mistakes. Christians tend to exercise some goodwill towards the Bible and give individual troublesome verses the benefit of the doubt. We reach truth by distinguishing the wood from the trees. The same principles are necessary, I believe, to accept evolution as a whole. By destroying goodwill towards the theory, Dawkins and company do it no favours.

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