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Darwinism = evolution + maximal naturalism

Proponents of ID are not in full agreement in their evaluation of the basic vision of biological evolution. Some ID advocates are willing to accept a limited amount of variation and selection but nonetheless balk at the idea that all life forms are related by common ancestry. Evolution limited to small changes (often called microevolution) is often tolerated, as it is even among many young-earth creationists, but the idea of uninterrupted genealogical continuity (or macroevolution) among all life forms over billions of years of earth-history is rejected. Phillip Johnson, for instance, sees the common ancestry thesis as the foundation of Darwinism - the view of life’s formational history that he vigorously rejects.

When we posit that the discontinuous groups of the living world were united in the remote past in the bodies of common ancestors, we are implying a great deal about the process by which the ancestors took on new shapes and developed new organs. ...There may be arguments about the details, but all the basic elements of Darwinism are implied in the concept of ancestral descent.Darwin on Trial, p. 150.

There are other ID advocates, however, who express a willingness to accept the common ancestry thesis as a real possibility, but insist that the changes that took place over time required more than natural processes alone. Michael Behe, for instance, says

I find the idea of common descent (that all organisms share a common ancestor) fairly convincing, and have no particular reason to doubt it. ...Although Darwin’s mechanism - natural selection working on variation - might explain many things, however, I do not believe it explains molecular life.Michael J. Behe, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (New York: The Free Press, 1996), p. 5.

And Dembski comments that

...intelligent design is not a form of anti-evolutionism. [On the contrary, intelligent design is] fully compatible with large-scale evolution over the course of natural history, all the way up to what biologists refer to as “common descent.”NFL, p. 314.

But - and this is the place where an ID-based curriculum will differ from how biological evolution is currently taught - intelligent design is not willing to accept common descent as a consequence of the Darwinian mechanism. The Darwinian mechanism claims the power to transform a single organism (known as the last common ancestor) into the full diversity of life that we see both around us and in the fossil record. If intelligent design is correct, then the Darwinian mechanism of natural selection and random variation lacks that power.NFL, pp. 314-315.

What all advocates of ID do seem to be agreed on is their judgment that Darwinism is impossible because the Darwinian mechanism is inadequate to accomplish the large-scale transformations envisioned by nearly every professional biologist today. But a reader of ID literature must pay careful attention to the varied operative meanings that these key terms convey. At minimum, Darwinism denotes the concepts of large-scale biological evolution and common descent as consequences of unguided natural processes. But there is usually far more meaning packed into the term as it is employed rhetorically in ID literature. “Darwinism” is commonly employed to characterize biological evolution as a way of accounting for the formational history of life that is both “thoroughly naturalistic” and “nonteleological.” But which form of naturalism does “thoroughly naturalistic” entail? If only minimal or methodological naturalism, then a number of theistic worldviews could accommodate it. But if the term Darwinism is presumed to entail maximal naturalism (or scientific naturalism, as Johnson uses the term), then Darwinism effectively becomes a member of the family of atheistic worldviews. This is, I believe, the rhetorical impact most commonly intended in the literature of the ID movement, especially when the reader is offered the binary choice - either Darwinism or design.

Similar concerns must be raised when Darwinism is referred to as a “nonteleological” theory - a concept that excludes reference to goals, purposes or intentions. If this exclusion refers only to individual events or to low level natural processes in isolation from the larger context, that would be consistent with minimal naturalism and open to various forms of theism. But if the characterization of “nonteleological” entails the rejection of purpose or intention at all levels of consideration, then “Darwinism” is once again functioning effectively as a substitute label for “maximal naturalism.”In anti-evolutionist literature it is often implied that the presence of randomness in natural processes such as random variation or natural (unguided) selection completely displaces the idea of goals,...

 Email link | Printer-friendly | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr. Howard Van Till

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