Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Darwinian House of Cards

For the last twenty five years or so, book after book has been published in which various authors have pummeled the orthodoxies of Darwinian evolution. Most recently philosopher of science Stephen Meyer (Darwin's Doubt), philosopher Alvin Plantinga (Where the Conflict Really Lies), geneticist Michael Denton (Evolution: Still a Theory in Crisis), novelist Tom Wolfe (The Kingdom of Speech), and molecular biologist Doug Axe (Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed) have released books deconstructing the biological and philosophical underpinnings of the Darwinist paradigm that has ruled the biological and social sciences for a century and a half.

Now comes yet another work by prominent journalist Tom Bethell (Darwin’s House of Cards: A Journalist’s Odyssey Through the Darwin Debates) which discusses why Darwinism seems to be teetering. Uncommon Descent pulls a few quotes from the book:
  • The science of neo-Darwinism was poor all along, and supported by very few facts. I have become ever more convinced that, although Darwinism has been promoted as science, its unstated role has been to prop up a philosophy—the philosophy of materialism—and atheism along with it. Page 20
  • The scientific evidence for evolution is not only weaker than is generally supposed, but as new discoveries have been made since 1959, the reasons for accepting the theory have diminished rather than increased. Page 45
  • Darwin might well have been dismayed if the meager evidence for natural selection, assembled over many years, had been presented to him 150 years after The Origin was published. ‘A change in the ratio of preexisting varieties? That is all you have been able to come up with?’ he might reasonably have asked. It is worth bearing in mind how feeble this evidence is, any time someone tells you that Darwinism is a fact. Page 79
  • Natural selection functions in the realm of philosophy, not science. Page 81
  • Evolutionists, of course, believe that they are appealing to science, in contrast to the religionists’ reliance on faith. But the truth is that when they utter their two-word incantation, ‘natural selection,’ they are not being remotely scientific. Nor are they expected to provide any details. Page 123
  • Darwinian evolution can be seen as a way of looking at the history of life through the distorting lens of Progress. Given enough time, society in general, including human beings, would be transformed into something superior and perhaps unrecognizably different. Page 248
It has been something of an open secret for at least a decade that many biologists have either tacitly or explicitly agreed with what Bethell writes. Many have admitted in so many words that the Neo-Darwinian version of the theory is deeply inadequate and probably wrong, but until there's another scientific theory to put in its place they're stuck with it. Any theory which replaces the old paradigm must rely on physical mechanisms and causes which act solely naturalistically (i.e. with no input from supernatural agency) in order to qualify as a scientific theory, and there's simply no such hypothesis on the horizon.

There's some truth to this, but as long as scientists and philosophers of science cling to the notion that science must exclude non-natural causes they hamstring themselves in their attempt to make headway on the problem of biological origins. If certain phenomena point to an intelligent provenience, as a multitude of biological phenomena do, scientists should be allowed to posit intelligent agency even if they can't explain how that agent worked to bring about the phenomena in question.

As philosopher of science Del Ratszch once put it, if some future astronaut scientists were to discover a large, perfectly cubical piece of polished titanium on some desolate, uninhabitable planet the scientists may not have any idea who put it there, nor how they managed to get it there, nor why they did it, nor how they made the cube, but they would be perfectly justified in believing that it was the product of an intelligent mind or minds.

There's a passage from William James' 1896 lecture titled The Will to Believe that's apposite here. James insists that, "...a rule of thinking which would absolutely prevent me from acknowledging certain kinds of truth if those kinds of truth were really there, would be an irrational rule. That for me is the long and short of the formal logic of the situation, no matter what the kinds of truth might materially be."

Just so.