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Debating Common Ancestry

Neanderthal in business attire.jpg

As those of us at Discovery Institute have emphasized #questionsAboutIntelligentDesign for a long time, intelligent design is not incompatible with the idea that living things share a common ancestor. In other words, one can believe that nature displays evidence of intentional design, and still believe in common descent.

Indeed, I would argue that one of the forebears of the modern intelligent design movement is none other than Alfred Russel Wallace, who is credited with Darwin as co-discoverer of the theory of evolution by natural selection. Wallace believed that nature displayed powerful evidence of design by an overruling intelligence. Today, Discovery Institute has a number of affiliated scholars who similarly affirm the idea of common descent, including biologist Michael Behe and geneticist Michael Denton. Denton makes his views clear in his book Evolution: Still a Theory in Crisis, which Discovery Institute Press published earlier this year.

Of course, we have other affiliated scholars who are strongly critical of universal common descent, the claim that all living things are descended from one original primordial organism. I think that our diversity on this issue is a good thing.

You can see it on display in the recent, fascinating exchanges between ID proponents Cornelius Hunter (a biologist and Discovery Institute Fellow) and ID-supporter Vincent Torley, a gifted philosopher who writes at Uncommon Descent. This type of robust exchange on the evidence for common descent is the sort of thing you would be hard pressed to find among supporters of modern Darwinism, either atheist or religious.

Although supporters of Darwinism typically try to claim the mantle of being fearless free-thinkers, many of them appear to have an exceptionally narrow tolerance for genuine diversity of thought, especially when it comes to allowing any debate on the scientific evidence relating to evolution. In my experience, this narrow tolerance for scientific debate relating to evolution is just as true among religious supporters of Darwin’s theory as it is among secularists.

Indeed, I have come across many religious supporters of Darwin’s theory who make common descent a litmus test on whether one is “anti-science” and who won’t entertain any discussion of the scientific evidence. On this and other topics, I think it’s the ID community that is showing the way.

Photo: Model of Neanderthal man in business attire, via Neanderthal Museum.

John G. West

Senior Fellow, Managing Director, and Vice President of Discovery Institute
Dr. John G. West is Vice President of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Managing Director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Formerly the Chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Seattle Pacific University, West is an award-winning author and documentary filmmaker who has written or edited 12 books, including Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, and Walt Disney and Live Action: The Disney Studio’s Live-Action Features of the 1950s and 60s. His documentary films include Fire-Maker, Revolutionary, The War on Humans, and (most recently) Human Zoos. West holds a PhD in Government from Claremont Graduate University, and he has been interviewed by media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, Reuters, Time magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.