Magazine article The Spectator

The Mystery of the Missing Links

Magazine article The Spectator

The Mystery of the Missing Links

Article excerpt

A few weeks ago I was talking to a friend, a man who has more postgraduate degrees than I have GCSEs. The subject of Darwinism came up. 'Actually,' he said, raising his eyebrows, 'I don't believe in evolution.'

I reacted with incredulity: 'Don't be so bloody daft.'

'I'm not,' he said. 'Many scientists admit that the theory of evolution is in trouble these days. There are too many things it can't explain.'

'Like what?'

'The gap in the fossil record.'

'Oh, that old chestnut!' My desire to scorn was impeded only by a gap in my knowledge more glaring than that in the fossil record itself.

Last Saturday at breakfast with my flat-mates, there was a pause in conversation. 'Hands up anyone who has doubts about Darwinism,' I said. To my surprise all three - a teacher, a music agent and a playwright slowly raised their arms. One had read a book about the inadequacies of Darwin - Michael Denton's Evolution: A Theory in Crisis; another, a Christian, thought that Genesis was still the best explanation for the universe. The playwright blamed the doctrine of survival of the fittest for 'capitalist misery and the oppression of the people'. Nearly 150 years after the publication of Charles Darwin's Origin of Specie, a taboo seems to be lifting.

Until recently, to question Darwinism was to admit to being cither a religious nut or just plain thick. 'Darwin's theory is no longer a theory but a fact,' said Julian Huxley in 1959. For most of the late 20th century Darwinism has seemed indubitable, even to those who have as little real understanding of the theory as they do of setting the video-timer. I remember a recent conversation with my mother: 'Do you believe in evolution, Mum?' 'Of course I do, darling. If you use your thumbs a lot, you will have children with big thumbs. If they use their thumbs a lot, and so do their children, then eventually there will be a new sort of person with big thumbs.'

The whole point of natural selection is that it denies that acquired characteristics can be inherited. According to modern Darwinism, new species are created by a purposeless, random process of genetic mutation. If keen Darwinians such as my mother can get it wrong, it is perhaps not surprising that the theory is under attack.

The current confusion is the result of a decade of campaigning by a group of Christian academics who work for a think-tank called the Discovery Institute in Seattle. Their guiding principle - which they call Intelligent Design theory or ID - is a sophisticated version of St Thomas Aquinas' Argument from Design.

Over the last few years they have had a staggering impact. Just a few weeks ago, they persuaded an American publisher of biology textbooks to add a paragraph encouraging students to analyse theories other than Darwinism. Over the past two years they have convinced the boards of education in Ohio, Michigan, West Virginia and Georgia to teach children about Intelligent Design. Indiana and Texas are keen to follow suit. They sponsor debates, set up research fellowships, publish books, distribute flyers and badges, and conduct polls, the latest of which shows that 71 per cent of adult Americans think that the evidence against Darwin should be taught in schools.

Unlike the swivel-eyed creationists, ID supporters are very keen on scientific evidence. They accept that the earth was not created in six days, and is billions of years old. They also concede Darwin's theory of microevolution: that species may, over time, adapt to suit their environments. What Intelligent Design advocates deny is macroevolution: the idea that all life emerged from some common ancestor slowly wriggling around in primordial soup. If you study the biological world with an open mind, they say, you will see more evidence that each separate species was created by an Intelligent Designer. The most prominent members of the ID movement arc Michael Behe the biochemist, and Phillip E. Johnson, professor of law at the University of California. …

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