Conservative USA blogger and writer Dinesh D'Souza isn't afraid of Darwin. According to D'Souza, this is not because Darwin can be easily refuted; but because actually Darwin is perfectly compatible with Christian belief in design. He says:
I know many on the right, especially the Christian right, are scared of Darwin. Even intellectual magazines like Commentary seem to have adopted an anti-Darwin position. This has enabled many on the left, as well as the professional atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, to portray conservative Christians as yahoos. Sometimes we do come across that way.This has been picked up by a number of prominent bloggers. Pharyngula is unimpressed, at The rebranding of Intelligent Design. He says:
In my forthcoming book "What's So Great About Christianity" I will show why, contrary to the claims of Dawkins and company, Darwinian evolution does not undermine the design argument for God. On the contrary, the latest findings of modern science have greatly strengthened that argument. Paley was right and Dawkins is wrong.
The new strategy is to embrace the word "evolution". Ask them if they believe in evolution, and they will happily declare that "Yes, I believe in 'evolution'!" Unfortunately, what they call "evolution" is not evolution as evolutionary biologists understand it. If they're willing to redefine science, what's to stop them from redefining mere evolution to suit them?Pharyngula's title got it right. D'Souza is trying to rebrand design, but without letting on that this is what he is doing. But is D'Souza actually redefining evolution? Not that I can see.
Paley's notion of design
D'Souza is playing fast and loose with the notion of design. Paley's arguments on natural theology dealt specifically with the forms of living things. His famous book, first published in 1802, is Natural Theology, Or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity. This includes the notorious "watchmaker" argument, which is the argument that has been picked up by the modern intelligent design movement. Put simply, anything that complex needs a designer. This argument was exploded by Darwin's insights on the origin of species.
The modern Intelligent Design movement picked up the shreds of this now useless argument, and by virtue of reeking incompetence at elementary science they tried to prop up the corpse with a lot of claims about new scientific theories. No science was actually involved, of course; just lots of bafflegab, and repackaging of conventional creationist arguments. This charade has been thoroughly exposed for anyone with the wit to see it.
D'Souza thinks Paley got it right. But Paley does much more than propose design. He gives an actual argument for design, and he speaks specifically of design of the forms of living things themselves. And in this, Paley got it wrong.
For instance, on page 468 (12 ed) of his book, Paley considers some difficulties with his view.
The TWO CASES which appear to me to have the most of difficulty in them, as forming the most of the appearance of exception to the representation here given, are those of venomous animals, and of animals preying upon one another. These properties of animals, wherever they are found, must, I think, be referred to design; because there is, in all cases of the first, and in most cases of the second, an express and distinct organization provided for the producing of them. Under the first head, the fangs of vipers, the stings of wasps and scorpions, are as clearly intended for their purpose, as any animal structure is for any purpose the most incontestably beneficial. ...The remainder of the chapter makes fascinating reading. Paley gives some mitigating considerations, and a look at the whole problem of evil, and also, interestingly, a consideration of a role for chance and contingency along with design.
The critical point to bear in mind is this: Paley is looking at the specific organs and adaptions of living things. In Paley's view, the form of such organs can only be explained by design. Darwin showed that this is wrong; finely adapted organs can also be explained by natural selection.
The modern intelligent design movement is perfectly correct to see evolution and design as being two radically different explanations for the finely adapted forms of living complexity. They can't both be right, and this design argument is most certainly wrong.
Another view of design
At this point, we come to a subtle distinction. Darwin certainly exploded the line of reasoning used by Paley, but he did not explode the conclusion that the natural world is established by the design of a deity. Darwin left in smoking ruins the best positive argument from the natural world to a deity. He did not actually proceed to refute the deity itself.
It seems hard for many atheists to get their head around this point: but there are many Christians actively at work in scientific research into the natural world, and who accept without quibble or distortion all the basic empirical facts of evolutionary biology as conventionally understood by mainstream science. Christians are a minority amongst working scientists, but there are still a substantial number.
Christians invariably have some kind of notion whereby the natural world is God's creation. For Christians active in conventional science, this usually means that evolution itself is an intended consequence of how the designer set up the cosmos. An interesting example of this perspective is the famous evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky. Dobzhansky's well known essay,
Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution is actually about science and religion, and it expresses basically a kind of theistic evolution. He says:
The organic diversity becomes, however, reasonable and understandable if the Creator has created the living world not by caprice but by evolution propelled by natural selection. It is wrong to hold creation and evolution as mutually exclusive alternatives. I am a creationist and an evolutionist. Evolution is God's, or Nature's method of creation. Creation is not an event that happened in 4004 BC; it is a process that began some 10 billion years ago and is still under way.This is a variant of a common theme amongst Christians who are active in science. They hold that the entire natural world is established by design, and that any study of natural processes is study of that design.
This perspective is, of course, not provable and (usually) not falsifiable. It is not a scientific model. This is invariably recognized by its advocates. It may not be a good fit with popular religion, but Christianity is extremely diverse in any case. Dobzhansky, for example, was a devout Russian Orthodox Christian, but he was by no means conventional in his beliefs.
Whether this perspective is a fit with traditional religion is debatable. My own feeling is that we can see this much, at least... it has been a traditional belief all down the centuries that all natural processes are established by God. This foundational belief has been maintained many many Christians even as our understanding of those processes has developed.
Don't Redefine Evolution
We don't have to agree with Dobzhansky. But it would be rash to say that his view was inconsistent with evolution, or that he redefined evolution! As one of the major developers of the "New Synthesis" of evolutionary biology with genetics in the 1960s, Dobzhansky has an excellent claim to being one of those who established the definitions of evolution that we use today!
D'Souza recognizes that taking an explicit anti-Darwin position makes you look like a yahoo. As far as I can tell he's recognizing Darwinian evolution as it is conventionally defined. I see no flagrant errors in the details of evolutionary biology involved; and no redefinition.
The explicitly anti-Darwin position of the modern Intelligent Design movement so popular with D'Souza's fellow religious conservatives is a position of breathtaking inanity, fostered by culpable ignorance and calculated dishonesty in its public defenders. The real risk from attempts to rebadge intelligent design is the problem of the big tent. The risk is that they'll say one thing to one audience and another for a different audience, and try slide anti-Darwinian design of specific forms into the arena under the cover of a vague belief in a creative design underlying the whole cosmos.
D'Souza is, as far as I can tell, recognizing the validity of evolution, but arguing that it's a part of the whole design. That's a position that can and should be argued. But let's not argue it by redefining evolution ourselves!
This has nothing to do with wanting atheists to keep silence, or with rolling over and accepting the validity of religion, or with avoiding offense to believers who happen to be allies in the fight against creationist pseudoscience.
Evolutionary biology makes no mention of plans, or designs, or Gods. We have no need of that hypothesis. The same is true of meteorology, geology, physics, chemistry or any other science. There is not even an additional clause to say "there's no God who set this up". To argue for or against God's existence can use arguments relating to empirical science, but they have to go further than this and into some metaphysics.
Distorting science to insert our own metaphysics is bad because it distorts science. It is bad when done by believers, and it is bad when done by unbelievers.