Permutations of Evolution
At a very early stage of the campaign for the 2008 presidential election, a television event was staged at which a domineering host insisted that the Republican candidates answer “yes” or “no” to his question, “Do you believe in evolution?” It was a trick question designed to embarrass, because evolution is not a single, precisely defined concept, but a set of related concepts, some of which are much better supported than others. The candidates should have demanded a precise definition before they would answer, but the format did not permit that option.
If the question had referred only to the evolutionary process by which disease-causing viruses become resistant to antiviral drugs, then all of the candidates, and all of the voters, would have answered “yes.” If the question had been whether all living organisms share a common ancestor, then the responses might have been fairly evenly divided. If the question had been, “Do you agree that the development of life from the first living cell up to and including humans was governed by Darwin’s mechanism of random mutation with natural selection, so that there was no need or room for a creator at any point?”, there might have been more answering “no” than “yes.”
By demanding a yes or no answer to his oversimplified question, “Do you believe in evolution?”, the host was refusing to allow the candidates to make sense of his question before answering it. That kind of oversimplification belongs to the realm of partisan politics or comedy, not science.
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Phillip E. Johnson is Professor of Law (emeritus) at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of Darwin on Trial, The Wedge of Truth, The Right Questions (InterVarsity Press), and other books challenging the naturalistic assumptions that dominate modern culture. He is a contributing editor of Touchstone.
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