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"The Idea of Intelligent Design is Blasphemous"

So says the 2010 Templeton Prize Winner

Dr. Francisco J. Ayala, a former Dominican priest who as an evolutionary geneticist has long argued that science and faith are compatible yet separate, won the Templeton Prize, one of the world's most prestigious religion prizes. Ayala, a biologist at the University of California at Irvine, is known in the science world as the Renaissance man of evolutionary biology.

Here Ayala speaks of God, Darwin and the work of natural selection:

God’s handiwork in biology is undetectable. I get a lot of people who don't know what to think. Or they believe in intelligent design but they want to hear. Evolution is a well-corroborated scientific theory. The belief in evolution does not rule out belief in God, in fact, evolution is more consistent with belief in a personal god than intelligent design. Besides, in his address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in October 1996, Pope John Paul II endorses evolutionary teachings.

If God has designed organisms, he has a lot to account for. Consider that at least 20 percent of pregnancies are known to end in spontaneous abortion. If that results from divinely inspired anatomy, God is the greatest abortionist of them all. Or consider, the "sadism" in parasites that live by devouring their hosts, or the mating habits of insects like female midges, tiny flies that fertilize their eggs by consuming their mates' genitals, along with all their other parts.

Evolution is not only NOT anti-Christian, but the idea of special design, which many fundamentalists adhere to, might be – because it teaches the view of God that is blasphemous. The Special-Design-God is a God who messes up. Think about all the backaches, infected wisdom teeth and painful childbirth that exist because we humans evolved incompletely! ''Do you think God is absent-minded?'' I ask them.

Darwin’s discovery of natural selection is one of the most significant events in intellectual history because it completed the Copernican revolution. In the 16th and 17th centuries, a great number of physicists, as we would call them now — Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and eventually Newton , among many others — initiated what is now known as the Copernican revolution.

It is science in the modern sense of the word, science that proceeds by formulating laws and hypotheses and testing them by observation and experiment. It is science that looks for universal laws. But these physicists left the living world out of that revolution. They thought that their discoveries applied to the earth as well as to the heavens. The same laws that explain the motion of bodies or the falling of bodies on earth also explained the motion of the planets and the stars in the sky. But living organisms were clearly “designed”, ergo the eyes for seeing and the hand for grasping.

Natural selection can account for the design of organisms. Darwin brought into the realm of scientific explanation the living world, which had been left out by the Copernican revolution, and thus, completed that revolution because now everything in the world of nature was explainable by scientific laws. It was due to the genius of Darwin that he discovered what has come to be known as the law of natural selection or, more accurately, the theory of natural selection, as a way to account for the design of organisms, and why the eye, for example, has all the parts put together for the purpose of seeing.

It is all right to give credit to Darwin for the theory of evolution because he accumulated large amounts of information and evidence supporting this theory. But evolution was frequently accepted by biologists at the time, and theories of evolution had been proposed previously, most notably in 1809, the year of Darwin ’s birth. A French scientist, Lamarck, had published a full theory of evolution. But many scientists on the Continent, as well as in the U.S. and in Great Britain , weren’t quite willing to accept evolution. What was not known was how to explain evolution, how to explain the change of organisms over time, and critically, how to account for design.

The idea of natural selection came to Darwin shortly after his return from a trip that he took on the HMS Beagle around the world between 1831 and 1836. So we know from his notebooks that by late 1837 to early 1838, he had come up with the idea of natural selection, and he was extremely excited because he realized that he now had the explanation for design and, therefore, for evolution.

Now he had a theory to work with. For the rest of his life he conducted all sorts of observations and experiments. He was looking for observations that could falsify his theory, if his theory was wrong. By the way, that’s the proper way of doing science — not trying to find evidence that is consistent with one’s theory, but that is actually contrary. Doing all these observations, experiments, and studies convinced him that his theory was correct.

Why creationism has such a strong hold on America ? It is rooted in historical origins. This is a country colonized originally by people seeking their own religious feelings, people who felt themselves marginalized because of them. This beginning gave rise to a kind of religious populism, which remains a strong part of U.S. culture, even today.

The John Templeton Foundation awards the annual prize, worth about $1.5 million, to “a living person who has made exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.” Following is a description in the Templeton Prize website:

It was the first of many discoveries that placed Ayala among the pioneers of genetic research in the second half of the 20th century, including his proof that the parasites responsible for Chagas, an often fatal disease afflicting millions of people living in the tropics, reproduced not sexually but by cloning. This led to similar discoveries about the parasites that cause malaria and other tropical diseases, opening up new approaches to potential vaccines.

Ayala also developed highly-accurate ways to read genetic clocks to determine the timing of precise steps in the evolution of a species over millions or even billions of years. Recently, he and colleagues determined that malaria was likely first transmitted from chimpanzees to humans a mere five or six thousand years ago, possibly through a single mosquito. In January 2010 he co-authored a paper establishing that gorillas and chimps may now serve as reservoirs for the parasites that cause human malaria, so that even if a vaccine is developed, humans will always be vulnerable to re-infection.

Dr. Ayala, 76, whose recent research focused on the evolution of micro-organisms, particularly those that cause malaria, is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and holds the National Medal of Science. His philosophical writings range from the scientific method to the biological foundations of ethics. His books include Tempo and Mode in Evolution (1995), Modern Genetics (second edition, 1984), Population and Evolutionary Genetics: A Primer (1982), and Darwin ’s Gift (John Henry Press, 2007), in which describes the theory of evolution as helping to explain how evil could co-exist with a good and omnipotent God. His newest book, Am I a Monkey? Six Big Questions about Evolution, will be published this year by Johns Hopkins University Press.



  • R Hampton 5 years ago

    It's also blasphemy in another way: the denial of Natural Revelation (a.k.a. General Revelation), which has become unquestioned doctrine among many (most?) Conservative Evangelicals.

    Certainly the impulse to reject nature as the authentic word of God could be found among some American Protestants in the 17th and 18th centuries, but the Barmen Declaration of 1934 - especially Karl Barth's defense of this position against Emil Brunner in the mid 1940s - disestablished Natural Revelation.

  • Paul Burnett 5 years ago

    The creators of the pseudoscience currently known as "intelligent design" creationism have commited not only blasphemy but heresy. They have re-invented a variation of the Manichaean Heresy, by positing a designer god separate from the creator God of Genesis. Intelligent design creationism is almost Zoroastrian in its duality - the creator god they acknowledge on one hand, and on the other hand the "intelligent designer" with god-like powers, whom they refuse to name, to avoid getting in trouble with the secular authorities whose courts have ruled they can't mention Genesis in the classroom. So they invented another god.

  • Human Ape 5 years ago

    Blasphemy is an idiot religious word. Also, all religious beliefs are idiotic. Intelligent design is an idiotic religious belief. And there's nothing compatible about science and faith, because faith is a mental illness.

    darwin-killed-god dot blogspot dot com

  • Russ 5 years ago

    I'm not discounting science, but even you accept evolution, there is still the mind and body problem. Also I'm skeptical over billions of year if a monkey will ever turn into a human. If you look at humans we almost don't even seem like we are natural to this planet. Nothing else has our cognitive thought ability and not to mention we are the only animals that kills for fun and enjoy manipulating our planet.

  • D J Wray 5 years ago

    God isn't an abortionist. Nature is an abortionist. People confuse the influence of God with the influence of nature. Just to clarify, various studies rate miscarriages between about 20% and 80%. The wide statistical variation is an indication of the lack of quality research.

    D J Wray
    Packaged Evolution: The Intelligent Universe

  • O Elphick 5 years ago

    Ayala seems to have no understanding of the biblical account: namely that a perfect world was cursed because of sin. Since he ignores what God actually says about the matter, it is no wonder that he comes up with antibiblical, false conclusions.

    Natural Revelation (R Hampton) is only good for revealing God's everlasting power and divinity (Romans 1). It cannot tell you anything about the character of God. Neither can it give you information about the past, if you ignore what divine revelation says about the past. Natural revelation tells you more about men's assumptions and systems of interpretation than about nature. Since modern "science" is built on atheist assumptions, it naturally gets atheist answers, which deny the actual history that God has given us.

    If conservative evangelicals have despised the scripture by ignoring it in favour of atheistic science, that tells you more about them than about the world and its real history.

  • Wayne Hollyoak 5 years ago

    It's the battle of the 2 creation stories. One that fits the pop-science paradigm and one that doesn't. Personally, i think the scientific establishment is out of its league when it starts theorizing about creation.

    As for naturally aborted births, the human genome has faired pretty well after who knows how many generation. But, it's on the decline. That the genome is still capable of producing viable births at all is a testament to skill of its engineer.


  • RickK 5 years ago

    Actually, Wayne, it's about honesty. The DNA that proves you and your cousin share a common ancestor also proves you and a chimpanzee share a common ancestor. The same DNA evidence that puts criminals in jail also gives irrefutable evidence of common descent.

    So it's up to you. You can
    (1) declare DNA evidence as valid, and accept common descent;
    (2) declare DNA evidence as invalid, and release any criminals convicted on DNA evidence; or
    (3) lie, and maintain some false differentiation by claiming DNA is only valid up to the point that it conflicts with somebody's religion.

    Which do you choose?

  • RickK 5 years ago

    Russ said: "Nothing else has our cognitive thought ability and not to mention we are the only animals that kills for fun and enjoy manipulating our planet."

    Really? You've never seen a housecat worry a small rodent, bug or lizard to death just for the entertainment of it? You've never seen a beaver dam completely change the landscape of a river valley?

    Have you ever actually looked in detail at the comparison of human and chimp DNA? Have you ever really watched the interactions between a group of young gorillas, and compared it to the interactions between a group of young humans? Friendship, trust, jealousy, deceit, spite - they're all there in both groups.

    I have no problem with the thought that I'm just one more part in a great interconnected, interrelated web of life on Earth. But I do fear those people who think they are above nature, that they have a God-given right to rule nature, and that God will protect them from the ultimate consequences of their actions.

  • R Hampton 5 years ago

    O Elphick,
    You are a perfect example of a Conservative Evangelical who has come to reject half of God's Revelation. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

    159 Faith and science:

    "Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth."

    "Consequently, methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are."

  • Nick 5 years ago

    >>>"Since modern "science" is built on atheist assumptions, it naturally gets atheist answers, which deny the actual history that God has given us."

    Sorry Elphic, God gave you no such thing. MEN gave you a book which you gullibly believed as being the Word of God. Yet I'd guess you reject "God's word" which claims the Earth is flat and unmoving and resting on pillars. There's no such thing as "atheistic science", only science. And if a God exists, it used evolution.

    But if you prefer to live in the Dark Ages because you think your religious opinions are more important than everyone else's and more important than reality, then by all means...

  • RickK 5 years ago

    Isn't it interesting that Christian apologetics are indistinguishable from fabrication or rationalization. By introducing "original sin" and "free will" and "Satan", the existence of evil and horrible natural disasters ("acts of God") can be rationalized alongside the idea of a "loving and just God". With the twists and turns of Christian theology, we now have a situation where the existence of God is indistinguishable from the non-existence of God.

  • tonyf 5 years ago

    Nick said "There's no such thing as "atheistic science", only science"

    I think what O Elphick meant was that modern science assumes that God does not intervene and then builds hypothesies based upon that assumption. I understand the importance of that assumption for routine investigations. However, I declare that modern origins science built upon a no-God assumption has a priori ruled out the most important theory of all - that God is real.

  • Profile picture of Paul Vjecsner
    Paul Vjecsner 4 years ago

    Dr. Ayala, despite his high standing, commits an enormous illogicality. If God created a world that functions in accordance with Darwinian theory, by which misfortunes are explainable as consequences of natural laws, how can God be absolved from responsibility? As omniscient and omnipotent, he should be able to foresee the consequences of those laws, and adjust them to his satisfaction. If misfortunes are to be explained by reference to the intentions of a supreme being, they cannot be relegated to evolution.

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