Many disagree, while others search for middle
Darwin anniversary reignites ideological debates
OU is marking Darwin’s 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of his magnum opus, “On the Origin of Species,” with an extensive series of lectures and events to encourage debate of Darwinian evolution.
The celebrations are focusing on Darwin’s work and its impact on science and society, but the focus on one man’s contribution is leading to concerns the events will be one-sided, said Jonathan Bartlett, a contributor to the intelligent design Web site uncommondescent.com.
“Evolutionary biology is a diverse field, and I do not think that it does justice to Darwin or evolution to present to the public such a one-sided picture of science and present it as a fact,” Bartlett said in a letter to OU President David Boren.
According to Bartlett, Nick Matzke and Richard Dawkins, who are scheduled to speak at OU this year, present a biased view of evolutionary theory that is weighted too heavily toward Darwinism.
“OU is a public university, so this series of lectures is oriented to the public,” Bartlett said. “I don’t begrudge people speaking their viewpoints, but there is a responsibility to genuinely look at other sides.”
Bartlett is a member of the intelligent design community, which believes certain biological features are best explained by an intelligent force, not an undirected process, and that design is scientifically detectable.
History of science professor Piers Hale said in an e-mail that intelligent design is an argument based on religious faith, not science.
“People who have strong religious objections to the idea that humans have evolved from other life forms find evolution problematic,” Hale said. “This would explain why any state in the Bible Belt would have more vocal opposition to the established science of evolutionary biology.”
Hale said while some of the lecture events throughout the year may be controversial, little controversy surrounds the “The Darwinian Revolution,” a special class which he teaches, because it aims not only to explore Darwin’s ideas of science, but also to look at the cultural response.
“The aim is to give students an understanding of the science as well as why some continue to find it controversial,” Hale said. “Providing students with the information from which to make an informed opinion on an issue that remains of current relevance is exactly what a university course should do.”
Jeff Harwell, chemical engineering professor and intelligent design proponent, said in an e-mail he thinks it is important for students to consider all scientific theories before drawing conclusions.
“I want students to know that every intelligent person in the university is not an atheist, that Darwinism has not disproven the existence of God, and that they are competent as logical thinkers to examine and understand the controversy without having to accept the extreme statements of those on either side of the issue,” Harwell said.
Bartlett said he agrees people should learn about other creation theories because most will disregard evidence that contradicts their core beliefs.
“As a culture, we tend to rely on what sciences say unequivocally,” Bartlett said. “Whether it’s good or bad, it happens.”
Harwell said he is disappointed by the controversy and emotion surrounding the theory of evolution.
“I wish the issue could be examined and debated in a rational manner,” Harwell said. “I also realize there is probably no hope of that ever happening.”
He said people invest so much into the controversy for complex reasons.
“Some feel they are protecting the Bible from a loss of influence and respect,” Harwell said. “Others feel they are protecting science and education from an intrusion of metaphysics and religion. Both are causes that stir the emotions.”
Dawkins will speak March 6 at 7 p.m in McCasland Fieldhouse.
What is Intelligent Design?
“Intelligent design is the study of patterns in nature that are best explained as the result of intelligence.”
— William A. Dembski, leading intelligent design theorist
In 1802, philosopher William Paley published “Natural Theology,” which argued that life must have been created from an intelligent designer.
Jonathan Bartlett, a contributor to the intelligent design Web site uncommondescent.com, said there is a sense in which evolution and intelligent design don’t necessarily have to be in conflict with one another.
Although some people claim intelligent design is a religious theory, researchers who study the theory argue it is scientific, intelligent design proponent Jeff Harwell said.
Bartlett said intelligent design seeks to detect intelligent causes to some features of biology.
“There are parts to human creativity that are based on physics and parts that are based on more of a spiritual nature,” Bartlett said. “Intelligent design is the science that looks into those types of causes. It describes certain aspects, but it is not a complete explanation.”