When Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution nearly 150 years ago, he shattered the dominant belief of his day – that humans were the product of divine creation. Through his observations of nature, Darwin proposed the theory of evolution by natural selection. This caused uproar. After all, if the story of creation could be doubted, so too could the existence of the creator. Ever since its proposal, this cornerstone of biology has sustained wave after wave of attack. Now some scientists fear it is facing the most formidable challenge yet: a controversial new theory called intelligent design.
In the late 1980s Phillip Johnson, a renowned lawyer and born-again Christian, began to develop a strategy to challenge Darwin. To Johnson, the evidence for natural selection was poor. He also believed that by explaining the world only through material processes was inherently atheistic. If there was a god, science would never be able to discover it.
Johnson recruited other Darwin doubters, including biochemist Professor Michael Behe, mathematician Dr William Dembski, and philosopher of science Dr Stephen Meyer. These scientists developed the theory of intelligent design (ID) which claims that certain features of the natural world are best explained as the result of an intelligent being. To him, the presence of miniature machines and digital information found in living cells are evidence of a supernatural creator. Throughout the 90s, the ID movement took to disseminating articles, books and DVDs and organising conferences all over the world.
To its supporters, intelligent design heralds a revolution in science and the movement is fast gaining political clout. Not only does it have the support of the President of the United States, it is on the verge of being introduced to science classes across the nation. However, its many critics, including Professor Richard Dawkins and Sir David Attenborough, fear that it cloaks a religious motive – to replace science with god.