George Claassen

Too many led by 'blind faith'

2005-05-13 08:47

"Oh my dear, let us hope that what Mr Darwin says is not true. But if it is true, let us hope that it will not become generally known!"

These words uttered in 1859 by an important English lady shortly after Charles Darwin's Origin of Species was published, came to mind when I read the reaction of some users to my News24 column of last week, 'Where is the evidence'?

Their defence against the overwhelming evidence that evolution is a fact, without themselves giving any evidence proving their belief in an Intelligent Designer, illustrates how seriously Darwin and modern genetics, paleontology, geology, physics, biology, chemistry and other natural sciences have eroded the sand upon which their belief-castle has been built.

Their arguments show four basic characteristics: blind faith in their holy books; total ignorance of the findings of evolutionary science; a lack of reason and rational thinking based on evidence; and an astonishing adherence to and gullibility about creationist literature and the spin doctoring of the Intelligent Design movement led by Phillip Johnson, Michael Behe and William Dembski.

Today one can understand Darwin's trepidation about announcing his findings.

He knew it would turn the belief system of his day and age on its head, that evolution would be an unmitigated foe of the world upon which religious faith in a creator god and an everlasting life for the faithful were built.

'Like confessing a murder'

Darwin wrote in a letter to an upcoming botanist, Joseph Hooker, that his theory of evolution, which inter alia found that species are not immutable (unchanging through time), was "like confessing a murder".

He knew as a true scientist that his findings would be regarded by many as blasphemy because it would make the gods people believed in, become irrelevant.

In the years that I have been writing and teaching about science, one clear phenomenon has always been noticeable: people who still deny that evolution is a scientific fact, have never indulged themselves in scientific literature proving and explaining modern evolutionary science.

Their arguments are always the repetitively recognisable material and phraseology used by Young Earth creationists (people still believing the earth is only 6 000 years old), and the Intelligent Design movement's explanations of why there should be a creator of the universe.

My invitation to the doubters is simple: take up the challenge to read wider. They can start with two very accessible books: Almost Like a Whale ? The Origin of Species Updated by Steve Jones, and Carl Zimmer's Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea - From Darwin to DNA. And then read Richard Dawkins's The Blind Watchmaker afterwards.

Zimmer uses the example of barnacles that, although descended from free-swimming crustaceans, had given up the independent life for a lazy existence camped to a piling or a ship hull. "Perhaps we (humans) are all drifting towards the condition of intellectual barnacles," Zimmer quotes the British biologist Ray Lankester.

Is this not what is happening to humans when they refuse to leave their comfort zones promising an everlasting life, despite the findings of science about the origins of life?

  • George Claassen, science editor of Die Burger, teaches science and technology journalism at the postgraduate Department of Journalism at the University of Stellenbosch. He is the author of a book on science, Geloof, Bygeloof en Ander Wensdenkery - Hoe Vrees en Vals Hoop Mense Mislei (to appear shortly at Protea Boekhuis).

    Send your comments to George or discuss this column now in our debating forum.

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