Volume 15, Number 2

An Interview With Michael Denton

The following is an excerpt from an ARN video interview with Michael Denton. Some of the answers have been condensed. The tape is the first in a series of interviews with noted scientists and educators entitled Focus on Darwinism. The series is produced by ARN in conjunction with the University of California and has been designed for use in high school and college classrooms.
Dr. Denton is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Otago in New Zealand and the author of the book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis.
The entire interview is available on VHS video cassette from ARN for $19.95, plus $2 shipping. See the ARN Video Tape Information page for ordering information.

What was your motivation for writing Evolution: A Theory in Crisis?

Very simply, I think the current Darwinian picture is insufficient. I don't think it gives a credible and comprehensive explanation of how the pattern of life on earth emerged.

Why should students be exposed to problems in evolutionary theory?

People should be exposed to problems, particularly when the theory is very important. The theory of evolution permeates much of our thinking now in the Western world. I think there are problems with the current Darwinian world, and they should be discussed.

What have been the major objections to your book?

Most of the objections have been vague and philosophical. In the many reviews that I've read very carefully I don't find many specific objections. Most of the objections are that this guy is a creationist or he doesn't believe in Darwinism, he's outside the mainstream of biology, and so forth.

Does Darwinian theory adequately explain the pervasive patterns of natural history?

Well, the basic pattern it fails to explain is the apparent uniqueness and isolation of major types of organisms. My fundamental problem with the theory is that there are so many highly complicated organs, systems and structures, from the nature of the lung of a bird, to the eye of the rock lobster, for which I cannot conceive of how these things have come about in terms of a gradual accumulation of random changes.

It strikes me as being a flagrant denial of common sense to swallow that all these things were built up by accumulative small random changes. This is simply a nonsensical claim, especially for the great majority of cases, where nobody can think of any credible explanation of how it came about. And this is a very profound question which everybody skirts, everybody brushes over, everybody tries to sweep under the carpet.

The fact is that the majority of these com-plex adaptations in nature cannot be ade-quately explained by a series of intermediate forms. And this is a fundamental problem. Common sense tells me there must be something wrong.

What in your judgment are the most serious objections to Darwinian theory?

The most serious objection I have is with the nature of mutation. Darwinism is based on the idea that all the mutations which have been selected during the course of evolution were, when they initially occurred, entirely random. Mutations are random, and when an organism has a mutation which in fact is advantageous to it, that's purely fortuitous. This is the essential bedrock of Darwinism. The mutational input into living things is, as it were, at random.

Now, the problem with this doctrine is that we simply don't know much about mutations. My own field is human genetics, and while I certainly accept that the deleterious mutations which occur in humans and cause human disease are random, what I don't know about is the vast undercurrent of mutations (which we really don't see) that may be neutral, may have no particular deleterious effect and may not be particularly advantageous.

Darwinism is claiming that all the adaptive structures in nature, all the organisms which have existed throughout history were generated by the accumulation of entirely undirected mutations. That is an entirely unsubstantiated belief for which there is not the slightest evidence whatsoever. Maybe there will never be that evidence because those mutations occurred in the distant past and have now disappeared forever, perhaps, from the view of man.

So the first claim, that random mutations are selected and create different forms of life, is unsustained. The second problem is that there are a vast number of complex systems in nature, and no matter how unglamorous this problem is, no matter how people try to look the other way, the fact is that a huge number of highly complex systems in nature cannot be plausibly accounted for in terms of a gradual build-up of small random mutations.

Indeed, in many cases there does not exist in the biological literature even an attempt to explain how these things have come about. A classic example would be the lung of the bird, and I could mention some other ones, but everybody knows the lung of the bird is unique in being a circulatory lung rather than a bellows lung. I think it doesn't require a great deal of profound knowledge of biology to see that an organ, which is so central to the physiology of any higher organism, its drastic modification in that way by a series of small events is almost inconceivable. This is something we can't throw under the carpet again because, basically, as Darwin said, if any organ can be shown to be incapable of being achieved gradually in little steps, his theory would be totally overthrown.

The fact is that, in common-sense terms, if you have no axe to grind, there are a vast number of such cases in nature. So the two serious objections are the assumption of randomness unsubstantiated that claim that gradualism can generate the sorts of complex systems we see throughout the biosphere is not only unsubstantiated, but in many cases, it is actually beyond the realm of common sense that such things would ever happen.

What do you feel are the strengths of Darwinian theory?

Its major strength is that smaller-scale biological change can be adequately accounted for by Darwinian mechanisms. You have the case of the peppered moth, where it is demonstrated to be true that natural selection has created a biological change. The transitions in the history of life, early horse -- five-toed to one-toed -- can perhaps be adequately explained in terms of gradual evolutionary change, so that Darwinism does explain a certain degree of biological change.

I certainly believe that natural selection is capable of generating change in nature; after all, artificial selection at the hands of man has generated considerable change in domestic animals and plants. So I don't think there's any doubt that a small degree of evolutionary change can and does occur. Natural selection could be the major factor involving these changes. This is a great strength of Darwinism, compared with its other explanations. But if you're going to reject natural selection as the major cause of evolution, you've got to find an alternative.

There are various forms of teleological theories, extending from Creationist intervention theories to nature mysticism. But these theories are (I don't want to be derogatory) an occultist type of theory. You can't really find any evidence that such phenomena are operating in nature, but you can see that natural selection can operate. This is a great strength of Darwinism. Although I think it is totally incapable of accounting for the broad picture, the complex adaptations required by the tree of life, it's certainly capable of generating a certain degree of evolutionary change. That is its great strength.

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File Date: 7.20.95