In the late nineteenth century, Charles Darwin’s discoveries about evolution were described as a theory. That may have been accurate at the time, but since then many scientists have argued that they constitute fact. The difference is in part due to subsequent discoveries in the fields of biology and genetics. The discovery of DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick and the recent elucidation of genomes (including human) have revealed the map and sequence by which life conveys its essential instructions.
This road map that dictates how life is to develop and evolve does not require God’s intervention and guidance at every step. But it does not argue–nor has it ever–against the existence of a grand creator.
The theory of intelligent design is superfluous: It is not a defense of God and religion but rather a veiled attempt to find wiggle room in the term “theory” in order to justify the most literal and dangerous reading of the Bible–that beings did not automatically evolve one from the other based on survival of the fittest and encrypted genetic instructions. Intelligent design is not science but ideology. There may be a religious concept that God must be present to guide every step of life, but such a notion has no place in a science class.
Consider instead the scientific principle “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny,” essential to an understanding of embryology. This catchy phrase was coined by Ernst Haeckel, a nineteenth-century German biologist and philosopher, and it indicates that advanced beings pass through the developmental stages of their precursors as they grow as embryos in the womb. Though this is not literally true in every case, embryology does give us a portal back in time to the evolutionary advances first described by Darwin.
Another proof for Darwin takes place in the worlds of cellular and molecular biology. Each cell has the chemical and genetic codes that enable it to eat, move, process information and combine with other cells on the path to building more complex organisms. This information is self-regulating: Plant and animal life manage to develop and evolve without God’s direct intervention at every step.
Scientists have shown that God didn’t plunk down a plant on one extremely long day, followed by an animal the next, followed by man the next, followed by a woman made from Adam’s rib. Twentieth-century scientists have stood on the shoulders of Darwin and shown exactly how evolution occurs by using the principles of modern genetics (mutations lead to advantages or disadvantages, and natural selection favors the advantages), as well as learning the chemical and molecular ways of life in evolution.
One of the main reasons that evolution can coexist with God without an infringement on either’s turf is because evolution does not attempt to explain how life itself first came to be, nor does it attempt to explain away consciousness and self-awareness. Evolution does not try to explain away the human soul or spirit or to offer a theory on life from lifelessness. This is still the terrain of religion and philosophy, and just as religion has no place in a science class, science is best set apart from forages into metaphysics. Neurologists can map every neuron and synapse and still not account for the human mind or for consciousness. Biologists can show how the simplest cell can evolve into the most complex human but still not be able to explain convincingly how carbon compounds become alive. The process by which objects become animate can be described by science without being fully explained by it. In fact, the implications of life itself can reach well beyond science, without coming into conflict with it.
“God is in the details,” architects are fond of saying. But intelligent design is no argument for the existence of a divine architect. It is a dangerous construct that undermines the accomplishments of well-proven scientific experiments even as it attempts to create for the creator a role he doesn’t need.