May 14, 2019

THERE ARE NO DARWINISTS:

GIVING UP DARWIN (David Gelernter, May 1, 2019, Claremont Review of Books)

There's no reason to doubt that Darwin successfully explained the small adjustments by which an organism adapts to local circumstances: changes to fur density or wing style or beak shape. Yet there are many reasons to doubt whether he can answer the hard questions and explain the big picture--not the fine-tuning of existing species but the emergence of new ones. The origin of species is exactly what Darwin cannot explain.

Stephen Meyer's thoughtful and meticulous Darwin's Doubt (2013) convinced me that Darwin has failed. He cannot answer the big question. Two other books are also essential: The Deniable Darwin and Other Essays (2009), by David Berlinski, and Debating Darwin's Doubt (2015), an anthology edited by David Klinghoffer, which collects some of the arguments Meyer's book stirred up. These three form a fateful battle group that most people would rather ignore. Bringing to bear the work of many dozen scientists over many decades, Meyer, who after a stint as a geophysicist in Dallas earned a Ph.D. in History and Philosophy of Science from Cambridge and now directs the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, disassembles the theory of evolution piece by piece. Darwin's Doubt is one of the most important books in a generation. Few open-minded people will finish it with their faith in Darwin intact.

Meyer doesn't only demolish Darwin; he defends a replacement theory, intelligent design (I.D.). Although I can't accept intelligent design as Meyer presents it, he does show that it is a plain case of the emperor's new clothes: it says aloud what anyone who ponders biology must think, at some point, while sifting possible answers to hard questions. Intelligent design as Meyer explains it never uses religious arguments, draws religious conclusions, or refers to religion in any way. It does underline an obvious but important truth: Darwin's mission was exactly to explain the flagrant appearance of design in nature.

The religion is all on the other side. Meyer and other proponents of I.D. are the dispassionate intellectuals making orderly scientific arguments. 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.

As for Biblical religion, it forces its way into the discussion although Meyer didn't invite it, and neither did Darwin. Some have always been bothered by the harm Darwin is said to have done religion. His theory has been thought by some naïfs (fundamentalists as well as intellectuals) to have shown or alleged that the Bible is wrong, and Judeo-Christian religion bunk. But this view assumes a childishly primitive reading of Scripture. Anyone can see that there are two different creation stories in Genesis, one based on seven days, the other on the Garden of Eden. When the Bible gives us two different versions of one story, it stands to reason that the facts on which they disagree are without basic religious significance. The facts on which they agree are the ones that matter: God created the universe, and put man there for a reason. Darwin has nothing to say on these or any other key religious issues.

Fundamentalists and intellectuals might go on arguing these things forever. But normal people will want to come to grips with Meyer and the downfall of a beautiful idea. I will mention several of his arguments, one of them in (just a bit of) detail. This is one of the most important intellectual issues of modern times, and every thinking person has the right and duty to judge for himself.

Darwin deserves his due: he observed the way local farmers bred animals and thought that something similar might occur "naturally."  Of course, the limitations of this observation are obvious and have never been overcome.

Posted by at May 14, 2019 7:20 PM

  

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