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My Life After Darwin

Published at LewRockwell.com

Like most people, I never really bought the idea that life just spontaneously developed out of nowhere, and then humans came from fish or whatever.

It just didn’t make sense.

A man named William Dembski with a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Illinois has developed one good explanation why I always felt this way.

Let’s say that you go to see the carving of Confederate heroes on Stone Mountain right outside of Atlanta. Even though you didn’t actually see anyone perform the carving, you can infer that a designer made the images. Now if you go to the back of the mountain and see various amorphous shapes (although they are statistically as improbable as the carving), you assume that they were randomly formed by erosion.

I know what you are thinking. This is basic common sense. Unfortunately, however, we live in a time where common sense must be justified; hence, Dembski is creating mathematical models to test the validity of inferring design from something that is improbable and specific. He hopes to prove that life falls into the category of intelligent design.

I laud his efforts but in a way it is a sad commentary on our society.

Another man, Berkley law professor Phillip Johnson, has criticized the intellectual leaps of faith necessary to accept evolution as a life-creating force (leaps that I was never convinced to take). Johnson argues that Darwinism has ceased to be a scientific theory and is now a tautology that conveniently explains everything in nature. Although Darwin himself operated within the context of the scientific method by giving examples of empirical observations that would refute his hypothesis, modern-day evolutionists entertain no such claims. Their position is derived from a presupposed metaphysical belief that God cannot exist.

As Johnson points out, in 1859 when Darwin wrote The Origin of Species (actually entitled The Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection; or, the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life), the fossil record was relatively incomplete. Darwin predicted that further examination of fossils would demonstrate slow gradual change in living organisms. Paleontologists have since found the abrupt appearance of new organisms followed by long periods of static existence before abrupt distinction.

The pattern of life as portrayed by the fossil record prompted Nobel Prize-winning scientist, Francis Crick (he co-discovered DNA), to suggest that space aliens must have visited earth at different times bringing new species. Even the guy who discovered DNA has doubts about evolution!

(Crick is actually an interesting fellow. He signed the “Resolution in Scientific Freedom” with 49 other scientists noting that left-wing institutions are censuring and punishing some scientists for politically incorrect research.)

In Darwin’s time it was also believed that cells were made of simple vitalistic goo that contained life. Molecular biology has since revealed that even the most primitive organisms contain amazingly complex, interdependent parts. Michael Behe, a professor of biological sciences at Lehigh University, has adduced the concept of irreducible complexity that challenges the logic of natural selection driving the creation of complicated mechanisms with multiple independent parts. (How can a sophisticated structure like a wing develop piecemeal if its only functions in its completed form?)

My personal intellectual journey with Darwinism began at the University of Georgia as an undergraduate. I majored in microbiology (graduating 1st in my class of roughly 5,000 students in 1991) and did non-human genetic cloning research. I was overwhelmed with the diversity of life and the power of genetics. In fact, I came to understand that genes really matter. At the same time, I didn’t buy the weak little theory of survival of the fittest creating life.

I saw intraspecies change like bacterial anti-biotic resistance (microevolution) but I needed missing-link evidence (macroevolution). No one could give it to me.

I sincerely resented my professors conflating my skepticism in Darwinism with irrational anti-intellectualism. I loved science and truly respected the power of DNA. I just didn’t think they had proven how life was created.

I began reading everything I could get my hands on about evolution. I put aside my biology textbooks that presented evolution as a universally accepted law and started devouring the primary writings of the modern-day evolution experts. It was at this point that I realized that millions of students were being taught bad science for religious and political reasons.

I also learned that a potentially internecine civil war was raging within the Darwinian Nation.

On one side were the strict constructionists led by Richard Dawkins of Oxford University in England. Dawkins was more like a religious zealot than a political ideologue. He had long since accepted the fundamental primacy of survival of the fittest, and was applying its logical corollaries to human behavior.

On the other side were left wing ideologues led primarily by the brilliant but ruthless Stephen Jay Gould. Gould, a self proclaimed Marxist, loved the metaphysical liberation and culturally transforming power of Darwinism. He despised, however, “the universal acid of natural selection . . . reducing human cultural change to the Darwinian algorithm.”

Basically, he wanted to have his cake and eat it too.

Remember, leftists like Gould require a worldview where human behavior is 100% culturally conditioned; and here was Dawkins stating that culture itself was an extension of human genes. (At this point I should note that Dawkins is not a right winger, and received the Humanist of the Year Award in 1996)

Gould viciously attacked the “ultra-Darwinists.”

In a perfidious stab in the back to those committed to keeping “the divine foot out of the door” (to borrow from another left-wing ideologue, Richard C. Lewontin) Gould proclaimed, “Darwin is dead!” He went on to attack the inadequacy of natural selection to explain the complexity of life. He also cogently argued that the fossil evidence did not support slow gradual change.

He proposed a new theory of (macro)evolution that he called punctuated equilibrium. Basically, he suggested that (macro)evolution must have occurred in quick spurts not captured by the fossil record. In addition, he attempted to down play the importance of survival of the fittest. Using his talented literary skills, he painted the world of biological change as a non-threatening nebulous impression. He fashioned himself an “evolutionary pluralist.”

Now what was a confused young student to do?

I knew Darwin had stated that any reliance on macro mutations (or saltations as he called them) would cause him to reject his theory of evolution because it is not plausible; and here was Gould asking me to accept (macro)evolution based on some unknown rapid genetic change, basically a macro mutation. (Phillip Johnson has argued that punctuated equilibrium is a euphemism for miracle)

I also didn’t trust Gould. His primary concern seemed to be maintaining the leftist moral code of life rather than the scientific understanding of life.

I also couldn’t buy Dawkin’s historical narrative of life. The power of Darwinism rested in its claim to a plausible mechanism (which Gould destroyed) and its claim to a process without intentionallity. Dawkins was writing about “selfish genes.” How could the substrate of evolution (DNA) be selfish and at the same time be without intention?

In addition, I was learning about other mechanisms of genetic inheritance called genomic imprinting. Without going into detail, the evolutionists were touting this phenomenon as a genetic “battle of the sexes.” Again, they were asking me to accept Darwinism because DNA changed without purpose while simultaneously rejoicing that female DNA held a grudge against male DNA (I hope to fully describe the inconsistencies in logic of genomic imprinting and natural selection in another setting).

Basically, I came to realize that Dawkins and Gould were not the sophisticated atheists they wanted to be. They actually had faith in a god – the DNA molecule. They seemed to believe that it was omnipotent. To Dawkins it was a selfish god. To Gould it was an egalitarian god.

Personally, I decided to pass on worshipping the double helix. No, sir, I decided to keep the Christian faith of my ancestors.

But maybe it wasn’t actually free will that brought me to my decision. Maybe it was determined by the genes God gave me.

John R. Morgan, MD, is a practicing physician in Atlanta.

Copyright © 2001 LewRockwell.com