The natural selection vs. “creationism” debate has led to Ben Stein creating a film about the matter. The film was shown in Tallahassee recently and was not a great success. I suspect that part of the problem was the apparent lack of advertising-I had no idea the film was even here until after the fact.
But, this shows that matter is still of some concern.
The debate is often muddled by the fact that people (on various sides) lump together all the forms of intelligent design with creationism (and often the most absurd form of creationism).
The more interesting conflict is between the foundation of the two main views. To be specific:
Natural selection: there is no intelligent or purposeful guide to the universe. Complex organisms arise from a process in which those that survive reproduce and pass on traits. Organisms that do not survive to breed do not (obviously enough) pass on traits. This selection process results in the evolution of complex organisms that seem designed but are, in fact, the result of a random process and a selection mechanism. This idea actually originated with the Ionian philosopher Anaximander but was best presented by Darwin.
Intelligent Design/Teleological Approach: There is an intelligent guide or purpose to the universe. The ID view is that an actual mind (or minds) guided the development of organisms. Naturally enough, this view is most often put forth by religious thinkers. However, it can also be presented without a religious angle. Aquinas, Locke, Leibniz and others present excellent arguments in favor of this view. The teleological view is that the universe has a purpose or goal and that living creatures also have an end or purpose that guides them. On this view the process of evolution would not be due to random factors and a natural selection process. Rather, the process would be goal oriented. This need not involve a mind (like God) guiding the process. For example, Aristotle took this view and some take Taoism to also include this approach.
In the public battles, people tend to stab vigorously at straw men-they attack the worst, simplest and most absurd version they can find or create. While this affords a certain degree of amusement, it is intellectually dishonest.
I have argued elsewhere (my book will be out in May) that a teleological account fits a non-question begging definition of science. At this point, the teleological approach seems to be behind the natural selection approach based on the empirical evidence, theoretical economy and such. But it can be considered a proper hypothesis.
To forestall some attacks-I don’t defend simplistic creationism. I don’t defend the pop view of evolution. I consider the matter of the nature of the universe to still be an open matter. One thing that science and philosophy teach us is to be wary of dogmatism. That is one of the most savage enemies of truth and wisdom.