President Bush has committed the unforgivable sin. When asked earlier this month whether students should be exposed to the growing controversy surrounding Darwin’s theory of evolution, Bush responded, “You’re asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas. The answer is yes.”
The reaction from the Darwin-only crowd was immediate: There is no controversy worth mentioning, no competing ideas worth hearing; Bush and his fundamentalist cronies are just trying to drag our country back into the Dark Ages.
Such a reaction isn’t surprising. As science historians such as Thomas Kuhn have shown, vulnerable scientific paradigms sidestep discussion of the evidence by marginalizing the opposition and claiming overwhelming consensus.
The tactic neatly sidesteps the mounting evidence against Darwinism, but it only works if people ignore certain things. A growing list of more than 400 Ph.D. scientists are openly skeptical of Darwin’s theory. And a recent poll by the Louis Finkelstein Institute found that only 40 percent of physicians accept Darwinism’s idea that humans evolved strictly through unguided, material processes.
To shut down debate, other tactics are needed. A favorite is to assure people that Darwinism underpins all of modern biology. Many people of good will strongly believe this, but they are mistaken.
A.S. Wilkins, a leading evolutionary biologist, concedes this point. “The subject of evolution occupies a special, and paradoxical, place within biology as a whole,” he wrote. “While the great majority of biologists would probably agree with Theodosius Dobzhansky’s dictum that ‘nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution,’ most can conduct their work quite happily without particular reference to evolutionary ideas. Evolution would appear to be the indispensable unifying idea and, at the same time, a highly superfluous one.”
Darwinism is not a cornerstone but window dressing. Its defenders arrive after laboratory breakthroughs and gerrymander the theory to fit the results. This is quite different from scientific models that lead to things such as microprocessors and space shuttles.
Pundits reassure us that Darwinism has matured, that its critics are behind the times, that modern evolutionary theory is constantly being modified and expanded as new evidence emerges. But when a robust theory expands to absorb new data, its elegance is preserved. Darwinism, in contrast, has grown increasingly messy, with new explanatory patches constantly being added.
That, too, is the behavior of a scientific paradigm in crisis. An early example of a paradigm that imploded this way was the Earth-centered model of the universe. The ancients had to devise complicated elliptical orbits to explain the observed movements of the planets; the “modified and expanded” model explained a great deal, but it was still wrong.
There is, of course, evidence for microevolutionary change, that is, change within species. But such evidence is noncontroversial and age-old. Darwin proposed something much more radical: that all the diversity in living things originated by natural selection and random variation. If the current evidence for Darwin’s theory were really overwhelming, his followers wouldn’t still be trotting out examples of microevolution to support their view.
Nor would they protect their theory from competition by misrepresenting design theory. They do this by claiming that design theorists infer design only where science is still ignorant of how something arose naturally. This, the Darwinists explain, is an argument from ignorance, something that doesn’t belong in science classrooms.
But when we examine Stonehenge, the great prehistoric temple in England, we infer design. Is this an argument from ignorance? No. It’s a reasonable inference to the best explanation, based on what we know about the features of designed things.
Consider the cell, something Darwin believed was little more than a blob of Jell-O. We now know that it’s a world of intricate circuits, miniaturized motors and enough digital code to fill an encyclopedia. These are to Stonehenge what a gothic cathedral is to a Lego house. Design theorists study the explanations for these marvels of nanotechnology and choose the one that best accounts for the data – intelligent design.
Leading design theorists haven’t tried to force intelligent design into public schools. They’ve merely urged schools to teach the strengths and weaknesses in Darwin’s theory and to protect teachers from being penalized who choose to discuss the controversy over intelligent design.
The Darwin-only crowd has responded with conspiracy theories. Why not respond with evidence? That is, if the case for Darwinism is so powerful, why the repeated attempts to duck both competition and critical inquiry?
The history of science suggests a model that explains such behavior in a most elegant fashion: Darwinism is a paradigm in crisis. Like massive ships, these paradigms sink slowly, but they do sink.
Jonathan Witt is a senior fellow at Discovery Institute and co-author of “A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Science Reveal the Genius of Nature.”