Francisco Jose Ayala: Darwin's Gift: To Science and Religion

With the publication in 1859 of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Charles Darwin established evolution by common descent as the dominant scientific explanation for nature s diversity. This was to be his gift to science and society at last, we had an explanation for how life came to be on Earth.

Scientists agree that the evolutionary origin of animals and plants is a scientific conclusion beyond reasonable doubt. They place it beside such established concepts as the roundness of the earth, its revolution around the sun, and the molecular composition of matter. That evolution has occurred, in other words, is a fact.

Yet as we approach the bicentennial celebration of Darwin s birth, the world finds itself divided over the truth of evolutionary theory. Consistently endorsed as good science by experts and overwhelmingly accepted as fact by the scientific community, it is not always accepted by the public and our schools continue to be battlegrounds for this conflict. From the Tennessee trial of a biology teacher who dared to teach Darwin s theory to his students in 1925 to Tammy Kitzmiller s 2005 battle to keep intelligent design out of the Dover district schools in Pennsylvania, it s clear that we need to cut through the propaganda to quell the cacophony of raging debate.

With the publication of Darwin s Gift, a voice at once fresh and familiar brings a rational, measured perspective to the science of evolution. An acclaimed evolutionary biologist with a background in theology, Francisco Ayala offers clear explanations of the science, reviews the history that led us to ratify Darwin s theories, and ultimately provides a clear path for a confused and conflicted public.

Order your copy at The National Academies Press (PDF available!!)

Starred Review. Taking a more pacific tone than Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett in this marvelous little book, Ayala, a UC-Irvine biologist and member of the National Academy of Sciences, offers a way to reconcile religion and science on the issue of evolution. He is uniquely well suited to address this: before becoming an evolutionary biologist, he trained for the Catholic priesthood. According to Ayala, Darwin provides both a clear understanding of the nature of the physical world and an explanation for its flaws that takes the onus for them off of God. Natural selection gives scientists an eminently plausible and verifiable explanation of the shape species and members of those species have taken over millions of years. For religious believers, evolution offers an explanation for the flawed designs such as the too narrow human birth canal and our badly designed jawbone ”that might call into question the work of a benevolent designer. Ayala points out that science and religion perform different roles in human understanding: science offers a way of knowing the material world, but matters of value and meaning ”the core of religion are outside of the scope of scientific investigation. This elegant book provides the single best introduction to Darwin and the development of evolutionary biology now available.

Read more of Ayala

Francisco J. Ayala. 2003. €œIntelligent Design: The Original Version.€ Theology and Science 1:9-32.

Ayala At the MetaLibrary

I advance three propositions. The first is that Darwin’s most significant intellectual contribution is that he brought the origin and diversity of organisms into the realm of science. The Copernican Revolution consisted in a commitment to the postulate that the universe is governed by natural laws that account for natural phenomena. Darwin completed the Copernican Revolution by extending that commitment to the living world.

The second proposition is that natural selection is a creative process that can account for the appearance of genuine novelty. How natural selection creates is shown with a simple example and clarified with two analogies, artistic creation and the “typing monkeys,” with which it shares important similarities and differences. The creative power of natural selection arises from a distinctive interaction between chance and necessity, or between random and deterministic processes.

The third proposition is that teleological explanations are necessary in order to give a full account of the attributes of living organisms, whereas they are neither necessary nor appropriate in the explanation of natural inanimate phenomena. I give a definition of teleology and clarify the matter by distinguishing between internal and external teleology, and between bounded and unbounded teleology. The human eye, so obviously constituted for seeing but resulting from a natural process, is an example of internal (or natural) teleology. A knife has external (or artificial) teleology, because it has been purposefully designed by an external agent. The development of an egg into a chicken is an example of bounded (or necessary) teleology, whereas the evolutionary origin of the mammals is a case of unbounded (or contingent) teleology, because there was nothing in the make up of the first living cells that necessitated the eventual appearance of mammals.

I conclude that Darwin’s theory of evolution and explanation of design does not include or exclude considerations of divine action in the world any more than astronomy, geology, physics, or chemistry do.

Ayala will speak on November 17th at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach CA.

Part 1: Darwin’s Greatest Discovery ”Design without Designer Darwin’s discovery of natural selection provides a scientific explanation of the design of organisms. Natural selection also explains why organisms change over eons of time and diversify as they adapt to environments that are enormously diverse. Ayala will speak about how natural selection is Darwin’s gift to religion, because the imperfections and cruelties of the living world need not be attributed to the Creator, but are the result of natural processes. Dr. Ayala will also discuss the evidence and arguments of Intelligent Design and explore how an understanding of evolution is indispensable for establishing sustainable relationships with the natural environment.

Part 2: Adaptation, Natural Selection, and Biodiversity The process of natural selection is grounded on genetic change; depends on spontaneous mutations; is opportunistic, that is, modulated by the past history of organisms and the demands of the environment; and is creative, so that it gives rise to genuine novelty and wondrous diversity, organisms with features designed for specific ways of life. The fauna and flora of the Hawaiian Islands illustrate these dominant features of natural selection.

Dembski is not amused by Ayala mistaking him for a sociologist, can we blame Ayala for this obvious mistake?

But Darwin’s precise gift comes off as a bit more ambiguous. While explaining the science of Darwinism, Ayala repeatedly uses it as a bludgeon to whack around the tenets of intelligent design. “I couldn’t find many saving graces in ID,he assures us by way of understatement, and then goes on to dissect the duplicity of ID proponents such as Berkeley law professor Phillip Johnson and the sociologist William Dembski. As an intellectual exercise, the deployment of Darwinism to do away with creationism is akin to showing off a steamroller’™s power by rolling over a doodle bug. But Darwinism is not a steamroller. It’s a humanistic view of life rooted in scientifically verifiable principles. And what’™s really the point of squashing a doodle bug when there are larger beasts with which to do battle ”like God

Ducking the God Question James McWilliams.