Evolving opinion of one man
Evolving opinion of one man
Seattle Times, Wednesday, August 24, 2005 - original

By Danny Westneat - Seattle Times staff columnist

Bob Davidson is a scientist a doctor, and for 28 years a nephrology professor at the University of Washington medical school.

He's also a devout Christian who believes we're here because of God. It was these twin devotions to science and religion that first attracted him to Seattle's Discovery Institute. That's the think tank that this summer has pushed "intelligent design" a replacement theory for evolution all the way to the lips of President Bush and into the national conversation.

Davidson says he was seeking a place where people "believe in a Creator and also believe in science.

"I thought it was refreshing," he says.

Not anymore. He's concluded the institute is an affront to both science and religion.

"When I joined I didn't think they were about bashing evolution. It's pseudo-science, at best ... What they're doing is instigating a conflict between science and religion."

I got Davidson's name off a list of 400 people with scientific degrees, provided by the Discovery Institute, who are said to doubt the "central tenets of Darwin's theory of evolution." Davidson, at 78 a UW professor emeritus, says he shouldn't be on the list because he believes "the scientific evidence for evolution is overwhelming."

He's only one scientist, one opinion in our ongoing debate about evolution and faith.

But I bring you Davidson's views because I suspect he is a bellwether for the Discovery Institute and intelligent design, as more scientists learn about them. He was attracted to an institute that embraced both science and religion, yet he found its critique of existing science wrong and its new theory empty.

"I'm kind of embarrassed that I ever got involved with this," Davidson says.

He was shocked, he says, when he saw the Discovery Institute was calling evolution a "theory in crisis."

"It's laughable: There have been millions of experiments over more than a century that support evolution," he says. "There's always questions being asked about parts of the theory, as there are with any theory, but there's no real scientific controversy about it."

Davidson began to believe the institute is an "elaborate, clever marketing program" to tear down evolution for religious reasons. He read its writings on intelligent design the notion that some of life is so complex it must have been designed and found them lacking in scientific merit.

Then Davidson, who attends First Presbyterian Church in Bellevue, heard a sermon in which the pastor argued it's foolish to try to use science to understand God.

Science is about measuring things, and God is immeasurable, the pastor said.

"It just clicked with me that this whole movement is wrongheaded on all counts," Davidson said. "It's a misuse of science, and a misuse of religion.

"Why can't we just keep the two separate?"

That's a good question, especially coming from someone who believes strongly in both.

Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at 206-464-2086
or dwestneat@seattletimes.com