Digging in One’s Heels: Darwin, Dogma, and Intelligent Design

The means-test for judging a person’s intellectual integrity has been a somewhat dogmatic issue for some time. David Smalley and I kicked the ball of Darwinian evolution around when I was on Dogma Debate in January, and all that I could say was that I was honestly unconvinced by it, not that at certain levels, at least horizontally, it has explanatory power, something David demonstrated articulately. However, people often assume that because an explanation can work in one direction that it can work in another, often indicates that they really haven’t thought through the problem sufficiently.

Right now, across from me in my shop is a John Deere Gator 6×4. It’s a handy vehicle that is rather capable for what it is. However, it is not as capable as my Dodge pickup.

John Deere Gator 6×4
2001 Dodge 1500

And when I consider the similarities and differences between the two vehicles, it becomes rather clear that there is a significant amount of mechanical and informational complexity that separates the two, and that in order to get one from the other, in either direction would require significant decisions from an intelligent agent on multiple levels at once, as well as additions and subtractions of materials. However when it comes to the clear differences between, say a human being and…say… a bee, in evolutionary circles, such clear differences get broad brushed by a single word: evolution. And when evolution is spoken of Darwin is king.

Let me be clear: I’m not opposed to Darwin’s observations. He made good observations. His conclusions however…well…they leave a lot of room. I mean if there were not anything to the idea of evolution via natural selection, then a contemporary of Darwin wouldn’t have drawn some of the same conclusions. However, as scientists have engaged in deeper study of the world, Darwinian explanations have encountered problems, especially when it comes to microbiology and chemistry.

In May of 2019, a Yale computer science professor by the name of David Gelernter published what can essentially be described as a breakup letter with Darwin at the Claremont Review of Books. This stunning “coming out” by a scientist at a major university sent ripples through elite academia, and even got a scathing reproach from the leading evolutionist Jerry Coyne over at Quillette.

But what was so stunning about Gelernter’s confession was that it exposed the dogmatic sentiments of those who embrace Darwin. In his opening paragraph Gelernter writes,

“Darwinian evolution is a brilliant and beautiful scientific theory. Once it was a daring guess. Today it is basic to the credo that defines the modern worldview. Accepting the theory as settled truth—no more subject to debate than the earth being round or the sky blue or force being mass times acceleration—certifies that you are devoutly orthodox in your scientific views; which in turn is an essential first step towards being taken seriously in any part of modern intellectual life. But what if Darwin was wrong?

A solid skeptic should embrace that questioning attitude. In science, such skepticism is supposed to be embraced, supposed to be endorsed…except when it comes to Darwin it seems.

Gelernter doesn’t deny that he has certain issues with the theory of intelligent design (I.D.), and he specifically points out the fact that proponents like Stephen Meyer and David Berlinski specifically avoid making religious arguments and drawing religious conclusions, whereas the opposition is desperately religious, writing,

“Some I.D.-haters have shown themselves willing to use any argument—fair or not, true or not, ad hominem or not—to keep this dangerous idea locked in a box forever. They remind us of the extent to which Darwinism is no longer just a scientific theory but the basis of a worldview, and an emergency replacement religion for the many troubled souls who need one.

Coyne gets downright dismissive, even whipping out the strawman of equating I.D. to creationism, in what could be rightly considered a diatribe over at Quillette. He also displays the level of ambiguity that Darwinian proponents have to depend on when actually trying to respond to the matter of microevolution vs macroevolution, when he writes,

“…we have ample evidence from the fossil record for gradual but really substantial macroevolution, however you define the term.

The problem is that evidence is subject to interpretation. A valid interpretation flows from the evidence. An invalid interpretation imposes a narrative and cherry-picks the evidence. Darwinian evolution had a great deal of explanatory power until the DNA molecule was elucidated, and its molecular machinery was brought to light. This is clearly demonstrated in Coyne’s comment about human evolution,

“…some of the details of our ancestry are unclear, but one thing is clear: modern humans didn’t spring into existence in a short time, but emerged over at least four million years from small-brained ancestors that lived in trees.

The only is that it’s not simply the size of the brain that has to be explained, but it’s unique and complex arrangement of components, all of which are composed of proteins that have to be assembled in a specific order, at a specific time, along with nerve fibers, and accompanying skeletal and muscle structures that are unique to humans.

See also Organic Chemist James Tour’s Presentation on the Chemistry Problem in Evolution

What Coyne probably wasn’t expecting was a response to his characterization of Gelernter. The response, written by paleontologist Günter Bechly, physicist Brian Miller, and philosopher David Berlinski, exposes Coyne’s deliberate misrepresentation of Gelernter, as well as his ignorance of simple facts by direct refutation.

All three are long, but informative reads. David Klinghoffer has a shorter summary of the entire debacle.