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Darwin's Discovery: Design without Designer

The strength of the argument-from-design to demonstrate the role of the Creator is easily set forth. Wherever there is function or design we look for its author. A knife is made for cutting and a clock is made to tell time; their functional designs have been contrived by a knifemaker and a watchmaker. The exquisite design of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa proclaims that it was created by a gifted artist following a preconceived purpose. Similarly, the structures, organs, and behaviors of living beings are directly organized to serve certain functions. The functional design of organisms and their features would therefore seem to argue for the existence of a designer. It was Darwin's greatest accomplishment to show that the directive organization of living beings can be explained as the result of a natural process, natural selection, without any need to resort to a Creator or other external agent. The origin and adaptation of organisms in their profusion and wondrous variations were thus brought into the realm of science.

Darwin accepted that organisms are "designed" for certain purposes, i.e., they are functionally organized. Organisms are adapted to certain ways of life and their parts are adapted to perform certain functions. Fish are adapted to live in water, kidneys are designed to regulate the composition of blood, the human hand is made for grasping. But Darwin went on to provide a natural explanation of the design. He thereby brought the seemingly purposeful aspects of living beings into the realm of science.

Darwin's revolutionary achievement is that he extended the Copernican revolution to the world of living things. The origin and adaptive nature of organisms could now be explained, like the phenomena of the inanimate world, as the result of natural laws manifested in natural processes. Darwin's theory encountered opposition in some religious circles, not so much because he proposed the evolutionary origin of living things (which had been proposed before, and accepted even by Christian theologians), but because the causal mechanism, natural selection, excluded God as the explanation for the obvious design of organisms.It may be worth noting that Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection encountered vehement opposition among scientists as well, but for different reasons.  There are many thoughtful discussions...

The Roman Catholic Church's opposition to Galileo in the seventeenth century had been similarly motivated not only by the apparent contradiction between the heliocentric theory and a literal interpretation of the Bible, but also by the unseemly attempt to comprehend the workings of the Universe, the "mind of God." The configuration of the Universe was no longer perceived as the result of God's Design, but simply the outcome of immanent, blind, processes. There were, however, many theologians, philosophers, and scientists who saw no contradiction then nor see it now between the evolution of species and Christian faith. Some see evolution as the "method of divine intelligence," in the words of the nineteenth century theologian A.H. Strong. Others, like the American contemporary of Darwin, Henry Ward Beecher (1818-1887), made evolution the cornerstone of their theology. These two traditions have persisted to the present. Pope John Paul II has recently (October 1996) stated that "the theory of evolution is more than a hypothesis. It is … accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge." The views of "process" theologians, who perceive evolutionary dynamics as a pervasive element of a Christian view of the world, are well represented in this volume.

Email link | Printer-friendly | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr. Francisco Ayala

Topic Sets Available

AAAS Report on Stem-Cells

AstroTheology: Religious Reflections on Extraterrestrial Life Forms

Agency: Human, Robotic and Divine
Becoming Human: Brain, Mind, Emergence
Big Bang Cosmology and Theology (GHC)
Cosmic Questions CD-ROM Preview...
Cosmic Questions Interviews

Cosmos and Creator
Creativity, Spirituality and Computing Technologies
CTNS Content Home
Darwin: A Friend to Religion?
Demystifying Information Technology
Divine Action (GHC)
Dreams and Dreaming: Neuroscientific and Religious Visions'
E. Coli at the No Free Lunchroom
Engaging Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence: An Adventure in Astro-Ethics
Evangelical Atheism: a response to Richard Dawkins
Ecology and Christian Theology
Evolution: What Should We Teach Our Children in Our Schools?
Evolution and Providence
Evolution and Creation Survey
Evolution and Theology (GHC)
Evolution, Creation, and Semiotics

The Expelled Controversy
Faith and Reason: An Introduction
Faith in the Future: Religion, Aging, and Healthcare in the 21st Century

Francisco Ayala on Evolution

From Christian Passions to Scientific Emotions
Genetic Engineering and Food

Genetics and Ethics
Genetic Technologies - the Radical Revision of Human Existence and the Natural World

Genomics, Nanotechnology and Robotics
Getting Mind out of Meat
God and Creation: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on Big Bang Cosmology
God, Humanity and the Cosmos: A Textbook in Science and Religion
God the Spirit - and Natural Science
Historical Examples of the Science and Religion Debate (GHC)
History of Creationism
Intelligent Design Coming Clean

Issues for the Millennium: Cloning and Genetic Technologies
Jean Vanier of L'Arche
Nano-Technology and Nano-ethics
Natural Science and Christian Theology - A Select Bibliography
Neuroscience and the Soul
Outlines of the Science and Religion Debate (GHC)

Perspectives on Evolution

Physics and Theology
Quantum Mechanics and Theology (GHC)
Questions that Shape Our Future
Reductionism (GHC)
Reintroducing Teleology Into Science
Science and Suffering

Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action (CTNS/Vatican Series)

Space Exploration and Positive Stewardship

Stem-Cell Debate: Ethical Questions
Stem-Cell Ethics: A Theological Brief

Stem-Cell Questions
Theistic Evolution: A Christian Alternative to Atheism, Creationism, and Intelligent Design...
Theology and Science: Current Issues and Future Directions
Unscientific America: How science illiteracy threatens our future
Will ET End Religion?

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