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A letter from a reader about The intelligent design/evolution debate

August 10, 2006

I was pleased with PAW’s June 7 feature on intelligent design and evolution, especially as a student who enrolled this past semester in two classes discussed by article. However, I believe two faculty comments left unchallenged at the end of the article deserve a second look.

The first is a remark made by ecology and evolutionary biology professor James Gould. He asks, “Does it really matter whether you think intelligent design or evolution is what accounts for the diversity of life on earth if you’re going to be a banker, or a lawyer, or a doctor? Where would it matter if you’re not going to be a biologist?”

I believe that all professionals, including lawyers and bankers, can benefit from an understanding and acceptance of evolution. Indeed, Princeton requires all undergraduates to take two “science and technology” classes because of the belief that knowledge of all fields of learning is important no matter what sort of career path a student may follow.

It strikes me as particularly odd, however, that Gould would suggest that choosing intelligent design over evolution is irrelevant to a professional in the medical field. To reject evolution is to reject much of the progress that has been recently made regarding the understanding of the human body and the infirmities that afflict it. Suffice it to say that, all other things being equal, I would much prefer to have my next illness diagnosed by a doctor who would understand my disease as the result of the evolution both of hominids and microorganisms than by a doctor who would view me and my illness as the designs of a deity with intentions too complex to be fathomed.

The second comment with which I take issue is an assertion made by chemistry professor Andrew Bocarsly. He says, “But the issue we’re all, I think, arguing about is the existence of God.” I, however, would protest that if discussions about intelligent design and evolution do relate to the existence of a god, they deal only with the sort of god envisioned by Judaism and Christianity. A belief in this kind of biological god who plays an active role in the lives of individuals is presented with complex problems by evolutionary science. The type of god for which evolution is not particularly problematic is one of the cosmological sort, as envisioned by the Deists. A belief in such a god does not necessitate a belief that humans hold a special place in nature, nor does such a god have any specific attributes that must be reflected in the world.

Therefore, I would contend that any argument over the existence of a god inherent in the intelligent design/evolution debate relates only to the traditional Western conception of a deity, not to the universal acceptance or rejection of the supernatural. It may be that Professor Bocarsly would agree with this and that he was only referring to the more commonly conceived god, but I thought it would be worth clarifying.


La Mesa, Calif.

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