Against the grain: There are questions that science cannot answer

Mary Midgley argues that opponents of intelligent design are driving people to accept it.
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The Independent Online

People are not going to accept scientific fact if they think it is morally pernicious. When people are asked why they are persuaded by intelligent design, they often say that it's the only alternative to scientific atheism and Darwinism which are pernicious moral doctrines; they see it as the only refuge from this anti-human bloody-mindedness. It's at the level of attitudes to life that these choices are made. And people will think scientists as a whole believe this. As Professor Winston [pictured] has said, science becomes discredited by this kind of stuff.

Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion) explicitly says that there are no other positions available except for his own and creationism, but these are both highly eccentric positions. Dawkins says that natural selection is the only source of evolution. But Darwin himself said that natural selection was not the only source of evolution.

Dawkins dramatises natural selection by the use of the word selfish. He says that natural selection means nature red in tooth and claw, but that's not true. Natural selection means using something that others are not, like photosynthesis or a new food source, and we must not forget that co-operation is often terribly important for survival.

The ideology Dawkins is selling is the worship of competition. It is projecting a Thatcherite take on economics on to evolution. It's not an impartial scientific view; it's a political drama. It is wrong to link science with this one-sided contemptuous stuff, as if making out that people who disagree with him are idiots. There are many believing scientists. It's very misleading to reduce the debate to this level.

Dawkins' idea that religion makes people do appalling things is absurd. Whatever is the favoured thought system at any time, people doing appalling things use it to justify themselves. Marxism was used in this way, monetarist ideology is the same. It's all political. When you build it up to cosmic doctrines, you're taking on a much bigger responsibility.

Belief does not compete with science; it means different things. Dawkins is very angry with anyone who says there are mysteries, but science cannot answer some questions. We raise all sorts of questions beyond the material world. Then it's understanding we're after rather than information. These are not questions like "is there a box on the table?" but questions of inner life, that can't be settled in the lab.

Mary Midgley's Impact Pamphlet 'Intelligent Design and Other Ideological Problems' will be launched with a debate on 3 October at King's College, London (Franklin Wilkins Building, 2pm). To book, email Sarah Moore:; or call 020-7848 3099.