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Why Darwin Matters

The Case Against Intelligent Design

Michael Shermer

The Principles of Evolution

1. Evolution. Organisms change through time. Both the fossil record of life's history and nature today reveal this change.

2. Descent with modification. Evolution proceeds through the branching of common descent. As every parent knows, offspring are similar but not exact replicas of their parents, producing the necessary variation that allows adaptation to the ever changing environment.

3. Gradualism. All this change is slow. Given enough time, small changes within a species can accumulate into large changes that create new species, that is macroevolution as the cumulative effect of microevolution.

4. Multiplication. Evo does not just produce new species, it produces an increasing number of new species.

5. Natural Selection. Evolutionary change is not haphazard and random. It follows a selective process and operates under rules:

a. populations tend to increase geometrically 2, 4, 8, 16 etc
b. but reach a limit
c. not all organisms can survive - they all face a struggle for existence
d. there is variation in every species
e. thus the individuals that are better adapted to the environment leave behind more descendants than less well adapted individuals

Evolution is not the equivalent of a warehouse full of parts randomly assembling into a jumbo jet, as the creationists like to argue. Mutations are random, but the selection of genes through the survival of their hosts is not.

Fossils. We already know they are rare because so few die in conditions where fossils can form. Transitional fossils even rarer because they involve a small, rapidly changing population. Wolves have evolved into many species of dog over past 15,000 years or so. Yet there are no fossils documenting these changes. But analysis of DNA lets us track the changes in each breed.

Real reason for objecting to Evolution is summed up in William Jennings Bryan's speech at the Scopes "Monkey trial". Christian logic goes like this:

Evolution implies there is no God, therefore ....

Belief in Evolution leads to atheism, ....

Without a belief in God there can be no morality or meaning, .....

Without morality and meaning, there is no basis for a civil society, ......

Without a civil society we will be reduced to living like brute animals.

Creationists explain natural world by immediately turning to supernatural forces operating outside the world. Following this sort of thinking there would be no point in medical research. We should throw out all medical knowledge and just rely on prayer. But we've found that medicine works best when it deals with natural explanations for natural phenomena. The lesson clearly is that we should first of all seek answers from the natural world.

God of the Gaps. Creationists argue thus: X looks designed. I can't imagine how science can explain how X could have been designed naturally. Therefore X must have been designed supernaturally.

When Isaac Newton looked at the planets and saw that they all lie on the same plane, and orbit the sun in the same direction, the arrangement seemed so unlikely to him that he assumed God must have done it. But Creationists today never invoke this example. Why not? Because scientists have filled that gap with a natural explanation.

There is no such thing as the supernatural or the paranormal. There is only the natural, the normal, and mysteries we are yet to understand.

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