Evolution vs. Intelligent Design

Ever since, in late 2005, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones ruled that the school district of Dover, Pennsylvania, could not mandate material about intelligent design in its science curriculum on evolution (declaring it unconstitutional to do so), the controversy between proponents of evolution and intelligent design continues to intensify. Protesting the ruling, advocates of intelligent design rail against evolution that it is unproven theory, woefully inadequate to explain how human life came to be.

Every effect (human life) must have a proportionate cause, they say. A skyscraper can’t be caused by a pack of dogs, a magnificent sculpture by pigs wallowing in the mud, but only by intelligence capable of creating such feats. They insist that human life — magnificently complex and magnificently coordinated — couldn’t have been caused by a random, haphazard, hit-or-miss process of evolution, where lower forms (living and non-living) randomly produced higher forms (human). The magnificence of human life doesn’t just happen; it demands, they say, the wisdom of a Creator God, “the mind behind it all” making sure that evolution makes all the right turns on the fifteen-billion-year journey of mankind, from non-life to lower life, and from lower life to higher (human) life.

Advocates of intelligent design concede that evolution, despite its inadequacies, is science, but insist that intelligent design is also science. Both theories, they conclude, must be taught in the schools as integral parts of the physical science curriculum. Many fundamentalist Christians, offended that God is left out of the evolution equation, are demanding equal time for evolution and intelligent design. Evolutionists vehemently disagree. Thus the controversy continues.

What is the Catholic Church’s position on the theory of intelligent design? You’d expect the Catholic Church to join with other Christian groups in supporting either instantaneous creation (as in Genesis) or intelligent design. Surprisingly enough, that is not the case. The Catholic Church sides with the evolutionists, denying that intelligent design is science and saying it has no place in the physical science curriculum. The position of the Catholic Church is based on a clear, unequivocal definition of what science is, and what intelligent design is.

The encyclopedia says science concerns itself with facts, observable phenomena in nature, nothing else. “Scientists discover and test facts and principles by scientific method, an orderly system of solving problems.” By “facts” the encyclopedia means phenomena observable by the senses, from which the existence of that phenomena’s components not observable by the senses (atoms, muons, quarks, the earth’s origin, etc.) can be deduced and their existence proven by rigid tests. By stating that science is “an orderly system of solving problems,” the encyclopedia insists that the answers to problems in the physical world are contained right there, in the physical world; and scientists need look nowhere else. Scientific answers to questions about the universe must be found where the “facts” are: in the universe.

Thus when scientists seek to know how human life came into existence in the physical world, they fix their gaze on the physical world and say, “Speak to me. Tell me your secrets. Reveal to me the answers to my questions. How did human life come to be? Tell me your secrets!” That’s the scientific process, the physical universe seeking answers to its questions where only they should be found, in the physical universe. If the world is where the question occurs, the world is where the answer must be found.

If a theory of life’s origins (which science extracts from observing the physical universe) is flawed and inadequate, science (to remain science) has only two alternatives: either abandon the theory for another, or keep digging and digging until nature yields its proof that the theory is either valid or not.

The theory of evolution is science’s response to the urgent question about the origin of human life. How, over a period of more than fifteen billion years, can pure energy become primordial slime, slime transform from lifeless matter, lifeless matter into lower forms of life, and lower life into the superior organism of a human being? Scientists say they don’t know, but advance evolution as the best available theory. Focusing on what the senses could reveal about the material world and its living creatures, and observing how over millions of years a small number of living creatures seem to have emerged from lower forms of life to higher, scientists conclude that there is at least enough evidence in these isolated phenomena to advance the theory that, not some, but all higher forms of life have evolved from lower forms, and that the human being finds himself at the end of long process of evolution.

Evolutionists are the first to admit that their theory is just that, a theory, not absolutely certain, not in many cases probable. They won’t even admit that the theory in all its parts is absolutely accurate, but it is nonetheless science — human intelligence seeking the origin of human life where it originated, in the physical universe. The theory of evolution admittedly is a work in progress. It’s not perfect, but provides intelligent humans with at least a beginning to the search for their origins. For their relentless effort and patient persistence to find answers, evolutionists at least deserve the world’s appreciation.

Scientific process demands great patience, patience which proponents of intelligent design seem to lack. They begin — like the evolutionists — with intense observation of physical world (nature), but when they run into obstacles, when the physical world seems to stubbornly refuse to yield its secrets, they give up, looking for information, not “from below” in nature (the physical world) but “from above” in supernature (the spiritual world of religion which gets its knowledge from direct revelations from the Creator God).

If science seeks answers from supernature, science is no longer science. It may be science-religion or religion-science or simply religion, and it may surpass science in learning objectively how life began, but it certainly isn’t science. Science must remain where it belongs, continue its search where it belongs — in the physical world. It is there that it must, if it can, get its answers.

Proponents of intelligent design disagree. Evolution has failed, and will continue to fail, in its attempts to extract information about life’s origins from the physical world. How, they ask, could anything as complex as human life ever evolve from primordial slime by a process so haphazard and mindless and confusing as the evolutionary process? If evolution in fact caused the lower to result in the higher, it couldn’t have achieved such a feat without the continued guidance of a “mind behind it all,” the Creator God who orchestrated the evolutionary process, making sure that the mineral world took all the right turns in its evolutionary journey to the world of lower life of vegetation, and the higher life of animals, and the highest form of life on earth, human. For this logical reason, they claim, intelligent design is just as scientific as evolution, rightly deserves a place in scientific curricula.

But should it? More basically, is intelligent design science? In an article appearing on January 17, 2006 in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, author Fiorenzo Facchini, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Bologna, answers that question with an emphatic “no.” Representing the Vatican’s position on intelligent design, he states unequivocally that intelligent design “doesn’t belong to science and the pretext that it be taught as a scientific theory alongside Darwin’s explanation is unjustified.” He warns that educators must avoid creating “confusion between the scientific and philosophical and religious planes.” Facchini is clear that both science and religion are valid sources of knowledge, but equally clear that the two planes of knowledge should not be confused. Each should pursue its respective goals.

In fact, the two “planes” of knowledge — as long as they are kept separate — can work in tandem, each enhancing the other and providing mankind with a more complete picture of the world’s origins and nature. Data from the sciences has enabled religion to gain greater and deeper knowledge of the world and its people. And data from religion (God’s revelation) has given science valuable clues about where to look for the information it seeks.

The late Pope John Paul, in his 1996 Message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences of Evolution, recognized the difference in scientific and theological methods when he said that “revelation contains teaching concerning nature and origins of man” and that body of knowledge can ask “how the conclusions reached by various scientific disciplines coincide with those contained in the message of salvation.” As long as the “planes” of knowledge are kept separate, science and religion can complement each other, even goad each other to further and deeper research.

The Catholic Church contends that religion does more than simply complement science in its search for truth; it transcends it. It possesses, because of God’s revelation, unequivocally certain principles about the universe which science will never be able to learn, information, for example, that the human person is created in the image of God, that it is endowed with the absolute freedom and a “fullness of life” which God intended it to have, and that it is destined not to end up rotting in some anthropological scrap heap, but survive death into life everlasting; all of that and much more.

At his Mass of installation on April 2, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI said it perfectly. “We are not,” he declared, “some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.”

Science may never get beyond the inability to conclusively prove that God either exists or doesn’t exist. Religion, on the other hand, knows God’s existence as an unassailable fact. Religion also probes far deeper into the supernatural world, unveiling the real nature of the Creator God as the Triune God, God the quintessential Father of the mankind, God the Son who saved the world, and God the Holy Spirit who continues to save each individual in it.

Valid conclusions of science provide humanity with great wisdom, but valid conclusions of religion (theology and philosophy) provide even greater wisdom. In the higher regions (the “higher plane”) of mankind’s inestimable value and eternal destiny, only religion (revelation), only non-scientific, superior, God-given knowledge, can provide the answers. Science (evolution) can’t prove the existence of God, and for that failure, makes itself less than perfect. Theology, with the ability to see what science cannot, has a clear vision of God’s existence, and God’s presence in creation as “the mind behind it all.”

David Barton About David Barton

Born in Connecticut, raised in Massachusetts, educated in New York (BA) and Washington, DC (MA); author of The Mind of the West (exploring the underpinning of Western thought processes) and Fundamentals of English Linguistics; educator in colleges in USA and Japan; founder of AcuVoice Inc. and its prize-winning approach to computerized speech; and long-time catechist in USA and Japan; Barton has maintained contact with both the academic and the business world. Stunned by the accidental death of his son Paul in 1994, Barton felt driven to explore every area of human knowledge for answers to life’s most urgent questions, an endeavor which resulted in the publication of his book Calming the Raging Storm.


  1. Avatar Neil Kane says:

    Dr. Barton’s article is nuanced and well written. I am heartened to see that he situates Intelligent Design in philosophy and theology. One of the most disturbing things about Intelligent Design is the vitriolic reaction to discussing it by scientists like Richard Dawkins. He is one who “protester too much”. If Intelligent Design is not science as such, is it not licit to discuss that in Science classes, Philosophy classes and Theology classes? When I taught theology at Salesianum School, the students were allowed to ask questions about ID, to critique it, and to understand that the Teleological Argument, which has been around for millennia, can be compared AND contrasted with ID in natural theology and metaphysics. May this article on Intelligent Design and Evolution stimulate.healthy discussion between theologians,, philosophers and Scientists.

    • Avatar Thomas Hennigan says:

      Dawkins is not a real scientist, and he hasn’t produce any scientific paper in more than 30 years. In my opinion he ought to ignored because his arguments are not rational.

  2. This is no criticism of the author or his essay – it is merely my long-standing frustration with science in general. I don’t understand the absolute rigidity of specific, allowed and proper subjects for humanly defined branches of learning. Why does some definition (by some man) of what is allowed in “science” and what is forbidden, have claim to universal obedience? Who gave this man (whoever he may have been) this authority, or license, or whatever backs up his opinion? Truth may not be so compartmentalized! Truth may have bigger concerns than where humans set the boundaries of their laboratories! Reality did not get man’s permission to come into being, nor must it confine its expression to remain within human sensory and rational limitations.

    Suppose the “science” of medicine decided to forbid medical specialists to infringe upon any other part of the body’s health or sickness, except that one body part for which that specialist held a credential? A visit to “one’s doctor” for any complex malady would legally require a committee of a thousand or so “specialists”! That’s all we need – more complexity, more confusion in medicine. And the fact that a human spiritual soul orders and governs one human physical body would be an absolutely impermissible possibility, since the spiritual (if it exists) and the physical could not possibly communicate with each other. Oh wait – we’re there already.

  3. Avatar Fr. Thomas Hennigan says:

    i don’t see how Darwinism is science and in fact it has long been debunked. Neither is evolution a theory. It is a mere hypothesis which is light years from being proven. It is also a kind of ideology which is presented to school children as truth, when in reality it is a bunch of presuppositions which have little credibility for the most part. Can the Darwinian hypothesis explain how man came to be able to speak and communicate with his fellows many thousands of years ago? Maybe a good dose of humility on the part of Neodarwinists would be helpful for educational purposes as what they actually can prove is very little. I am not defending intelligent design as our Protestant brothers understand it.
    As for the value of articles published in L’Osservatore Romano these days, it is not up to much at a time when Papal documents are being questioned by theologians loyal to the Magisterium of the Church. It is an argumentum ex autoritate, but there is not much authority there.

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