End of Darwinism?


Philip Gold
Washington Times
October 25, 2000

In 1962, an historian of science named Thomas Kuhn published a book titled, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. He argued that science (and, when you get down to it, most everything else) works on the basis of paradigms, of general notions of "The Way It Is." Study concentrates on validating, expanding, and tidying the dominant paradigm. Gradually, however, anomalies, discrepancies and contradictions begin to accumulate. The paradigm breaks down; another takes its place in a paradigm shift. The process begins again. The Earth is the center of the universe. The sun is the center of the universe. The universe has no center. And on and on.

At the moment, the various paradigms provided by the scientists and allegedly scientific thinkers of the 19th and early 20th century West are failing: this is the necessary prelude to the next set of shifts. Karl Marx has been consigned to the trash compactor of history. Sigmund Freud has been composted. Albert Einstein is in trouble. (The speed of light isn't constant, and may have been exceeded recently in, of all places, New Jersey.) Of the great thinkers who fashioned the modern worldview, only one - Charles Darwin - remains inviolable. To question is to invite automatic dismissal as a religious wacko, a low-dull-normal ignoramus, or both. And if you are a scientist, don't expect a lot of establishment funding . . . or cocktail party invitations.

This is odd. Evolutionary materialism - the belief that life arose and evolved by chance - is, after all, a mid-19th century notion. Since then, this paradigm has remained, by modern scientific standards, virtually stagnant. The missing links and vital fossil records have not been found. The list of things the paradigm can't explain, from the Cambrian Explosion and Chinese fossil records to the incredible and irreducible complexity of a single cell, keeps growing. And now comes Jonathan Wells to show that many of the traditional proofs of Darwinian evolution are at best open to multiple interpretations, and are at worst . . . faked.

Jonathan Wells holds two Ph.D.s, one in biology from the University of California-Berkeley and one in religious studies from Yale. He is a senior fellow of the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute (with which I am also affiliated) and one of the luminaries of the emerging Intelligent Design movement: the scientific attempt to study evidence of intelligent design in the physical and biological realms without asserting either the identity or the intent of the designer. Many of the movement's scientists hold strong religious beliefs and attempt to draw cultural and theological implications out of the work. But the fundamental issue here is scientific truth, and the movement will stand or fall as science.

Mr. Wells is a member of the Intelligent Design movement, but concentrates on Darwinism. It's a longstanding interest. As a graduate student in embryology, Mr. Wells noticed that evolutionary biology textbooks misrepresented the development of vertebrate embryos. Now he has a new book out, Icons of Evolution (Regnery) that dissects 10 commonly invoked evidences for Darwinian evolution. "Writing the book," he says, "I felt like a dentist going into a very bad mouth. The more I dug, the more rot I found."

Icons of Evolution is a meticulous book, intended for a general readership. He starts with an unassailable premise: Testing theories against the evidence never ends. If a theory cannot hold up against the evidence, it must be altered or discarded. No exceptions. He then works through the icons, from the Darwinian Tree of Life to peppered moths and embryos and finch beaks. With each passing chapter, Darwinian evolution looks less like science and more like myth . . . or, more aptly, a paradigm in serious need of shifting.

Why hasn't it happened? Many reasons. One is pure self-interest. The Darwinian High Priesthood stands to lose a great deal if they're wrong. Another is that Darwinian materialism is impossible to test empirically; evolutionary time is too long, past conditions too hard to define and/or reproduce. Reality caught up with Karl Marx's risky scheme. Ditto Freud and the psychobabble-infested civilization he did so much to spawn. Einstein's work can be, and is being, modified by empirical research. Evolution is not.

But perhaps the greatest reason for Darwinism's survival is that, culturally, it's too useful for some folks to live without. It is a dandy way of thumping the Bible-thumpers. And if it is true we're nothing but accidental creatures, purely and merely physical and endowed with neither purpose nor rights, then anything goes. From anarchy to tyranny, from Jack Kevorkian to Britney Spears there are no standards, and therefore who is to judge?

And yet, humans find it impossible to live without some sort of spirituality, leading to notions of dignity, purpose and rights. We know that, in some way or other, we're more than flesh. Materialism's official creed may be, "If it isn't matter, it doesn't matter." But it's also Carl Sagan's rapt, "We are the universe looking at itself."

At the moment, Intelligent Design's in a deconstructionist mode. Destroying Darwinism does not automatically validate Genesis or any particular alternative. Will Intelligent Design ever achieve full paradigm status? Perhaps the day an article appears in some prestigious, peer-review journal, beginning: "We have discovered the identity and intent of the Intelligent Designer."

Probably followed by, "And we've got some good news and some bad news."

Until then, do read Icons of Evolution and the other fine books coming out of the Intelligent Design movement. You owe it to yourself. And to the universe.

Philip Gold is a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute in Seattle and president of Aretea, a cultural affairs center.