In my naivety, I thought creationism, under the guise of “Intelligent Design,” would have taken a deep decline after the “Dover” trial 18 years ago. Good luck with that. A recent Pew poll found that Creationism/Intelligent Design is still alive and well in the Land of the Free. The poll found that 40% of us think God created humans in the past 10,000 years. And even if you don’t believe in the Genesis account, we—average we—hold the opinion that our species evolved under God’s guidance. Only 22% of us believe that God had no role in the making of humans. 

Creation of Adam (Michaelangelo, Sistine Chapel, c. 1512. Public domain)

Some 2,500 years ago, a bunch of Jewish exiles in Babylon came up with their own creation myth, one that extolled their claim of being “the chosen ones.” The stories codified in the Book of Genesis was written long before DNA sequencing had been developed, so it’s no wonder that folks back then thought in terms of, not only Jewish exceptionalism, but human exceptionalism, aka anthropocentrism. The claim is that our species is central, the most important entity on Earth (or, taken to extremes, in the universe). From that, it follows that we’re both separate from, and superior to, “nature.” Animals and plants are merely resources, put here for our benefit. 

Those Iron Age folks didn’t have DNA sequencers, but we do. We know—unless the entire enterprise of molecular biology is a vast conspiracy—that we share about 99% of our DNA with chimpanzees and bonobos. Seven million years ago, we were the same species.

“Dover” (above) refers to the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial, which pitted pseudoscientific “experts” against actual scientists. The former claimed that the complexity of life, including various biological organs—eyes come in for particular attention—is just too great to be explained by natural selection, and therefore God must have created it, and us.

(Ironically, the Father of Evolution may have thought the same. Darwin wrote, “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one…from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.” He added the italicized words to the second edition of Origin of Species, but later regretted it.)

In the Dover trial, evolutionists countered the “complexity” claim saying:

  1. Even if the theory of evolution was wrong, that doesn’t automatically lead to the conclusion that “God did it.” Evidence against evolution doesn’t constitute evidence for design.
  2. The emergence of, for instance the eye, is readily explained. A process that started with the spontaneous appearance of a circular patch of photoreceptor cells—perhaps 600 million years ago—can evolve into full-blown eyes. The idea is that mutations naturally led to a slight improvement in each generation, and creatures that can detect prey better than their peers have a slight reproductive advantage over their peers.

Stages in the evolution of the eye in vertebrates. | Matticus78 via Wikipedia Creative Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

The anti-evolution, pro-creation crowd at the Dover trial was organized by the Discovery Institute, founded in 1991 with the aim of “spreading creationism in its Intelligent Design incarnation, its overarching goal being the replacement of materialism in science and life with the idea of God,” to quote evolutionist Jerry Coyne.

Eighteen years later, the Discovery Institute hasn’t gone away, and currently has about 40 employees. After the ruling from the (Republican!) judge in the Dover case—that teaching ID alongside evolution violates the separation of church and state, ID being thinly-veiled Biblical creationism—the DI has abandoned its original goal. Instead of aiming to have Intelligent Design taught in public schools, it now focuses on highlighting problems with the theory of evolution (which isn’t hard to do, it’s complicated!) and with reminding us that we’re not machines. 

As if we’d know.