Darwin and Design

The theory of evolution today is open to doubt just about as much as the notion that the sun and not the earth is the center of our solar system, but the full implications of Darwin’s revolutionary thinking have yet to be widely realized. In establishing his theory of natural selection, Darwin knew that he was implicitly challenging a whole way of thinking about humanity’s place in the scheme of life and about a good deal else, besides. In this subject, our main focus of attention will be the relevance of Darwin’s thought to what is called “the argument for intelligent design”, the notion that since innumerable aspects of the world (and most particularly the organisms within it) display features directly analogous to objects of human design, it follows that an intelligent, conscious agency must have been responsible for their creation. But a study of Darwinism must address other questions as well. For example, (a) is natural selection via our genetic endowment the source of our ethical biases? (b) if mindless nature can select, can mindless machinery, like computers, think? (c) does mankind’s intelligence set mankind apart from nature by virtue of the human capacity to adapt the natural environment to its needs or is intelligence just one way–and not an especially privileged way–to compete in the struggle for existence? In the course of discussing issues raised by such questions, we shall read literary texts by authors such as Lewis Carroll, Voltaire, E. M. Forster, H. G. Wells, Samuel Butler, and Robert Louis Stevenson, and excerpts from argumentative works by Aristotle, David Hume, Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, Thomas Huxley, Alan Turing, and others, as well as a substantial portion of Darwin’s major work, On the Origin of Species.