By Thomas Lee '59
Does evolution, as understood by modern scientists, leave room for a belief in God? Does the notion of "intelligent design," advanced by some as a refutation of modern evolutionary science, lead one to God instead?
As a matter of fact, the intelligent design argument is a fraud. It is bad science dressed as theology — and does a disservice to both. This is why.
Evolution is the process by which simple life arose from non-living matter several billions of years ago, after which more complex living forms developed by gradually — or sometimes rapidly — changing. Those living organisms that were best capable of surviving and reproducing did so, while less adaptable forms died out. The "changes" were reflections of random, influential modifications of genes (DNA) deep within the cells of the organisms.
The powerful tools of the biological sciences gradually are analyzing this complex phenomenon, which has resulted in all of the various species of life from bacteria to humans. At this point scientists universally accept evolution as a fact central to understanding the characteristics of all living organisms.
Where does God fit in, given the overwhelming scientific evidence for evolution? Quite simply, science does not come to any conclusions at all about the existence of a God. Certainly, scientific evidence challenges a simplistic notion of creation — expressed, for example, as a sudden appearance of fully formed life several thousands of years ago — but science as such does not speak to the issue of God's existence. Science looks only for evidence descriptive of how living organisms develop and function.
However, because the scientific evidence points to evolution as a seemingly random process resulting in what might be called biological "accidents," how can living creatures be specifically intended by a creating God?
Here then is the exact interface of religion and science. And here is where intelligent design proponents take the easy way out. Their position is this: given the incredibly complex interrelated details of the inner workings of living systems, random events could not have allowed such complexity to have developed. There must have been an "intelligent designer." Hence, for all practical purposes, there must be a creating God.
In other words, "we don't know how this could have happened, so it must have been designed." But while science has by no means yet discovered all of evolution's complicated pathways, these are being researched and unraveled at an increasing pace.
It is a mistake to deny facts to prove any conclusion, particularly if one does so to support one's religious beliefs — that's bad science and bad theology.
Facing the evidence for a seemingly random path of evolution, scientists have reacted to the notion of faith in a spectrum of ways. These range from Nobel Prize winner Francis Crick's conclusion that "The God hypothesis is rather discredited" to Brown University biochemist Kenneth Miller's conclusion that "A God who presides over (evolution) … is one whose genius fashioned a fruitful world in which the process of continuing creation is woven into the fabric of matter itself."
Science has little or nothing to say about, for example, why this incredibly beautiful universe operates under such finely tuned laws that even the slightest deviation in them would have made life impossible. There remains the utter mystery of why anything exists at all, and how the evolution of the universe itself — starting with the "Big Bang" 13 billion years ago — has arrived at the present where inanimate matter has condensed into stars, planets and galaxies and produced human beings whose minds somehow can encompass all that has gone before.
Attempts to explain life and search for God by denying what we have been able to deduce through scientific investigation is not worthy of a spiritual quest. And accepting the facts of science is not simply to amass dusty data — it is an invitation to open our eyes to the extraordinary beauty, wonder and solace of our vision of God.
Thomas Lee '59 is a biologist, author and the co-founder of "Neighbors Advancing Nonviolence" in Goffstown, N.H. His latest book is Battlebabble: Selling War in America.