Mark Steel: What creationists really hate is that we emerged by accident

If all species were designed, it was hardly by someone intelligent

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Charles Darwin would probably love the fact that the 200th anniversary of his birth is being celebrated with radio shows, documentaries and exhibitions, but he might not have enjoyed the way that furious Christians still despise his theories and try to prove the Bible is more reliable.

For example, the Discovery Institute has announced that: "We want students everywhere to speak out... for the right to debate the evidence against evolution and turn 'Darwin Day' into 'Academic Freedom Day'."

But they're lucky Darwin isn't forced on us the way religion has been, otherwise the national anthem would start: "Our Gracious Queen will be saved or not according to a series of factors that are sod-all to do with God," and once a week school assemblies would start with everyone singing: "All things biological/ All matter sweet or frightening/ Are Godless, real and logical/ See – where's the bleeding lightning?"

The creationists demand that biblical theories are taught alongside Darwin's theories of natural selection, which might sound reasonable except that creationism depends not on evidence but on faith. If all theories are given equal status, teachers could say: "Your essays on the cause of tornadoes were very good. Nathan's piece detailing the impact of warm moist air colliding with cool air, with original sources from the Colorado Weather Bureau, contained some splendid detail. But Samatha's piece that went "Because God is cross" was just as good so you all get a B+."

To improve their standing the anti-Darwin lobby have changed their tactics, so now instead of arguing for creationism they call their theory "intelligent design".

Mostly this consists of trying to illustrate how species are too complex to have been formed by nature. But then they can't help themselves, so you get articles such as the one by prominent advocate of intelligent design, David Berlinski, that starts: "Charles Darwin says, 'In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals.' Another man, Adolf Hitler says 'Let us kill all the Jews of Europe.' Is there a connection? Yes is the obvious answer." So there we are – study the differences between finches and you're half way to organising a holocaust.

The founders of intelligent design are nearly all creationists, and one of their books, Of Pandas and People, is identical to a book used by creationists. Except that, after a ruling in the US Supreme Court that creationism couldn't be taught in schools, the word "creationist" was deleted throughout, and replaced with "intelligent design".

The new theory, where it is new, states there are many species that can't have become the way they are through gradual evolution, because if you remove any one part of them the whole structure would collapse. So they must have been created whole, as they are now, without changing. But this ignores the beauty of Darwin's discovery, which is that species change not because they're on a march towards perfection but by accident.

What may be ideal for survival one day is no good once the environment has changed. For example if it gets colder, or the colour of the surroundings changes, the individuals in a species best suited to the new conditions will be the ones to last, and the species becomes altered.

Survival of the fittest means those accidentally matching the requirements of a new situation, not the creatures most prone to winning a scrap. Otherwise by now the only hamsters to survive would be those ones who could pick up the wheel and smash it over their mate's head, and the only surviving parrots would be the ones squawking: "Who wants some? Who wants some?"

And this dominance of the accidental is the most damning argument against intelligent design, because if all species were designed, it was hardly done by someone intelligent. If it was, how do you account for the parasitic wasp that lays eggs on its prey so they hatch and eat its victim while it's still alive?

More to the point, why are your most sensitive nerves at the end of your toe, where they're most likely to get walloped? Why are men's nuts in such a vulnerable location, ay? Bloody vindictive design that is. Why do dogs do the squashiest, most unpleasant turds that hide in the grass and spread themselves in the indentations on the bottom of your shoe, but don't start smelling until you get indoors and then render the place uninhabitable until you've left every window open for a month? Why, why, why?

Come on intelligent design people, the questions you have to answer have barely begun.

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