The Mystery of the Origin of the Species

Reader response to our Nov. 28 cover story on Charles Darwin proved that more than a century after his death, the father of evolution still provokes controversy. A supporter of intelligent design said, "Evolution is a man-made attempt to dismiss God from humanity." Proponents of Darwin's theories objected to presenting intelligent design as an alternative to evolution. "Evolution and intelligent design are not apples and oranges--they are apples and socket wrenches," one wrote. But many argued that evolution and intelligent design are not necessarily incompatible ideas. "The complexity and beauty of the evolution of plants and animals and the development of our earth," said one, "are strong evidence of the existence, power and love of God." And a minister in Massachusetts wrote, "Although I celebrate my faith in Jesus Christ on a regular basis, I also celebrate the privilege to learn from Galileo, Copernicus, Einstein and even Charles Darwin."

Darwin Under the Microscope Thank you for your unbiased look at Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution ("The Real Darwin," Nov. 28). At the age of 12, and despite years of Sunday school, I decided I was an atheist. I have questioned my beliefs more times than I can count, but the idea that makes me resist most is that a superior being exists. Evolution tells us that the type of creature that lives to see tomorrow or a thousand tomorrows may not be the most dominant of the time. Whatever caused the mass extinction at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary, almost all of the dinosaur species became extinct, yet the cockroach survived. Was this part of God's divine plan? Or was it that their size, prolific breeding and ability to adapt to a variety of environments allowed them to survive? The idea that the existence of a creature depends entirely on the whim of an all-powerful God ignores the tremendous leaps of evolutionary changes all creatures have made to be here today.

Wendy Teutsch Murphy, Texas

Evolution is the well-documented, scientific explanation for how species, including humans, came to be. It says nothing about the origin of life (hence, leaving the door open for a creator), just how it developed once it got started. "Intelligent design" is an impossible-to-prove, speculative explanation based on a nonscientific belief of how species came to be. As such, it has no place in a science classroom, just as evolution shouldn't necessarily be taught in church in order to provide "both sides of the argument." Incidentally, religious fundamentalists are quite right to resist evolution, and not just because it appears to diminish humans. As Charles Darwin and many others have admitted about their field of study, evolution is a heartless, pain-producing process that speaks not of a benevolent creator but quite the opposite. That's why so many evolutionists tend toward atheism. They'd rather not believe that life's suffering is the result of a purposeful creator.

Bill Schohl Los Angeles, Calif.

While I appreciate knowing that Darwin ate armadillos, many of the difficulties with evolutionary theory went unanswered in your story. The lowly trilobite, for example, suddenly appears in Cambrian rock with a head, a thorax and compound eyes. There are almost no life forms before the trilobite in rock strata. Surely there are evolutionary biologists around who can address these issues. Finch-beak adaptation is not the same as explaining the path from bacteria to the brontosaurus.

Bruce Dawson Liberty, Mo.

Science clearly shows that evolution of species has taken place. It also demonstrates that simple genetic adaptation (e.g., bacterial resistance to antibiotics) happens on its own. However, to extrapolate from this that it is actually proved that the complex events of origin of life and evolution of higher species could have occurred on their own is an unscientific fallacy. Mythology arises from this, not from the reasonable concept that a higher force steered evolution, a personal conviction of many scientists, including me.

Albrecht Moritz Salem, Mass.

As a Jew and a college graduate, I can accept both the story of creation and Charles Darwin's theories of evolution. In my Jewish day school, I learned about the Book of Genesis. But it was in college that I experienced an epiphany on the subject of creation. Studying anthropology and geology provided undeniable, irrefutable evidence that forever shaped my thoughts and beliefs. I found my studies electrifying because they opened up a whole new vista for me. I was fascinated with Darwin and his theories. Evolution provided the answers to so many mystifying questions. It explains the extinction of the dinosaurs and mammoths. It reveals the incredible similarities between man and the primates. I'm thankful that I didn't have a closed mind mired in religious and political dogma. Religion is no match when it comes to science. My belief in evolution supersedes the story of creation but does not diminish my belief in my God and faith. Having an open mind introduced me to a new world of remarkable discoveries and wonders. Charles Darwin made me a believer, and I'm grateful for that.

Cherie Rosenstein Dayton, Ohio Thank you for presenting a wonderfully objective article on Darwin. It worried me greatly, however, to see that less than half of all Americans accept evolution as scientific fact. Belief in the existence of God is one thing, but to deny science--which, as biologist Francis Collins explained so well, does not infringe on the existence of God--does not contribute to any solution. A long, long time ago, I asked my dad about science and religion. He explained to me that the role of science is to ask "How did this happen?" and the role of religion is to ask "Why did this happen?" They are indeed two separate realms of truth and should not be mixed.

Thomas Hartman Jr. Georgetown, Texas

Your article says biologists overwhelmingly dismiss intelligent design as nonsense. Living things are many times more complicated than anything made by humans, yet no one believes an automobile or a city pops up on its own. At its core, Darwinian evolution is the belief that life came into existence on its own and all living things evolved on their own, undirected. In other words, all life created itself. Now, that is nonsense. If there ever were a time when nothing existed, there would still be nothing. For anything to come into existence, something has always had to exist. The creator God has to have always existed and not been created. Otherwise, nothing would exist.

Booth Gentry Sharpsburg, Ga.

Thank you for a balanced discussion of Darwin and intelligent design. As a biologist raised in the Baptist Church, I have my own take on the issue. The reality is that none of our religions actually discuss the roles of chemistry, physics, geology or biology in this world. Contentions that what scientists have discovered violates God's plans have at least one major problem: if God did create everything in this world, how can scientists discover anything but what God intended and created? Some would say that the Devil put such things as fossils here to confuse us, but what about the million or so species of beetles and bacteria? If you wonder why the United States is falling behind in science, one answer is the people who are leading this attack. To be a scientist now puts you in the unholy company of evolutionists and those heinous secular humanists. If this were several hundred years earlier, scientists might soon be burned at the stake. The intelligent-design people are the flat-earthers of the 21st century and would like to turn the clock back on science 100 years.

Gregg Morris West Vail, Colo.

While I was an undergrad at a Jesuit college, the priest who taught my evolution class pointed out that evolution and creation theories are not mutually exclusive. The reason is really fairly simple. Evolution is a time-based process. Species evolve over great lengths of time. God is outside the space-time continuum. In other words, God "lives" in an eternal present; there is no past or future for him. Humans are bound by time and space, so it appears to humans that species have evolved and developed over long periods of time, but in reality, God has created each of them in his own eternal present. Science and spirituality can coexist happily.

Lisa McGork Chittenango, N.Y.

Better Pay for Teachers Anna Quindlen's remarks on merit pay were right on the mark ("The Wages of Teaching," Nov. 28). Over the last 16 years, I have said teaching is everything but easy: fun, hard work, energizing, exhausting, fulfilling--the list goes on and on. But not once have I come home and said I had an easy day. Think of how often you fall into bed worrying about the problems of your own children. I wake up at night to worry about some 50 children whom I am directly responsible for. There are teachers with many, many more students. Where does merit pay come in? Should merit pay count when a teacher stays after school to help a student? How about when she gives a student lunch money? Or when he goes to the funeral of a student's close family member and the child sobs in his arms? I wonder if merit pay counts for students' finding you years later and inviting you to their graduation because you gave them faith in themselves in the fourth grade. When you stop and think about it, that is pretty good merit pay. It is just too bad that my salary increase per month this school year is not enough to fill up my car with fuel.

Belinda Swope Aztec, N.M.

Anna Quindlen is on target when she says that starting teacher salaries in this country should be raised, but she misses the mark when she derogates merit pay. Too many schools are now experimenting with merit pay--Denver voters have even passed a full-scale merit-pay system for its teachers--to characterize it as a politician's obsession. Since 1964, when I began teaching high-school English, my colleagues and I wrestled at every contract-renewal period with the merit-pay concept. It's not just a "current fashionable fix." Over the years in my seven school districts in New York and California, my teacher unions invariably shot it down, not because it was fashionable but because it was frightful. How can it be fair? Will only the most popular teachers earn merit increases? What if I don't get one? Many people, including Quindlen, are quick to thank and even revere some (but not all) of their teachers. Why only some? Because only some of our teachers are our best teachers. The teaching profession can't achieve full status and respect until it quells its fear and distinguishes between its best practitioners and the others. And when that happens, the pay will be right.

David Bedell Melbourne Beach, Fla.

Remembering John Lennon I remember to this day the hollowed-out feeling I had the day when John Lennon was killed ("Lennon Lives," Nov. 28). No one who has listened to the lyrics of "Imagine" would question his genius. But it seems that John can never be remembered without the tireless question being asked: "Who was greater: John or Paul?" We will never know if John, like Paul, would have continued to create music that speaks to our soul. But what we do know is that both were able, through their music, to connect us to that spark of divinity that tells us we are not alone. The price that artists of this caliber pay can be high--they can lose their lives. John's extreme sensitivity made him self-destructive. Paul's gave him the courage to live the life of a good man. He cherished his wife Linda until the day she died. And he provided a home life away from the spotlight for his children, which resulted in all of them being able to reach their own potential. He continues to give his all to his fans during his transcending concerts, and he uses his fame to promote the causes he believes in. To me, Paul is not only the greater artist, he is the greater man.

Gail Cawsey Fawnskin, Calif.

Why is it that so few people seem to be able to praise John Lennon without knocking Paul McCartney? Jeff Giles chides McCartney for "behaving like a child" and says that he "reliably takes the bait and flinches" whenever Yoko Ono says something to the effect of McCartney's being the Salieri to Lennon's Mozart. Yet there is no condemnation of Ono's statements as being crass, mean-spirited and just plain wrong. Since Lennon's tragic death, it has become all too common for people to deify him and his music at the expense of McCartney, who was every bit as vital to the success of the Beatles as John Lennon. It's a shame that an entire generation will grow up ignorant of that because of Ono's longstanding grudge against McCartney and the media's all too easily accepting it as fact.

Jim Schmaltz St. Louis, Mo.

As a 15-year-old who recently discovered the Beatles, I want to thank NEWSWEEK for providing me with a chance to read about one of the talented four. I learned more about John Lennon's life, the good and the bad, and got to see other people's opinions of him. The article was a well-deserved tribute to a musical genius. Thank you for keeping Lennon's legacy alive.

Katy Hagan Hatboro, Pa.

Corrections In "Will Ethics Scandals Hurt GOP Bids in 2006?" (Periscope, Dec. 5), we reported that Republican activist Grover Norquist had suggested that if Rep. Bob Ney faced a serious legal problem, he "should step aside for the good of the team." Although Norquist was responding to questions about Ney, he was referring to any GOP congressman in legal trouble.

In "The Vet Strategy" (Dec. 5), we incorrectly referred to Patrick Murphy as a lieutenant commander with the 82nd Airborne. He is a former captain with the 82nd Airborne. NEWSWEEK regrets the errors.