Dissent: Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing

edited by William A. Dembski.
ISI Books (Wilmington, Delaware) 366 pp., $28.00 cloth,

book cover imageThis
book contains a provocative collection of essays in which
the educational and cultural authorities of modern America
are taken to task for their dogmatic approach to Darwinism.
The fifteen essays are written by authors from a wide range
of backgrounds, including philosophers, lawyers, mathematicians,
and scientists. There is something for everyone here.

From my perspective in academia, a chilling quotation in
the Introduction sets the stage for how the Darwinian dogma,
with its demand for unquestioning allegiance, operates on
college campuses: “I would strongly advise graduate
students who are skeptical of Darwinian theory not to make
their views known” (Michael Behe, Professor of Biochemisty
at Lehigh University).

In the book’s Introduction, Dembski describes the
various “myths” that Darwinists have developed
in order to defeat their opponents. The myths include ad
arguments, elitist arrogance, hand-waving discussions,
and belief that Darwinism is much broader in it scope than
the evidence allows. In other words, in the hands of its
polemicists, the scientific evidence for evolution has been
transformed into the ideology of “scientism.” Dembski
does a good job of summarizing the attacks that have been
mounted against Michael Behe’s concept of “irreducible
complexity,” and how these attacks have not achieved
their goal of driving out those who doubt Darwinist ideology.
The remark that Darwinism “is no longer merely a scientific
theory but an ideology” alerts the reader to the possibility
there is more at work in this field than rational inquiry

In his essay, historian of science James Barham points out
that since living things strive to survive, they “value
life.” But if Darwin is correct, and life emerged from
a purely mechanical process, how did the ability to value
anything (including life) arise? “Inanimate matter
does not struggle to survive.” When Darwinists talk
about natural selection (“survival of the fittest”),
the tendency is to discuss what makes one organism “the
fittest.” This teeters on the tautological: a trait
is the most fit for survival and so it is adaptive, and it
is adaptive because it is the most fit for survival. But
if one does not discuss where the urge to survive came from
in the first place, then “the explanatory logic of
Darwinism is backwards.”

Mathematician Marcel-Paul Schutzenberger admits that the
union of chance mutation plus natural selection “has
a certain descriptive value,” but it is not an explanation.
Effects of natural selection can be established after
the fact
, but in that case, we are dealing merely with
ecology: the effects provide no support for Darwin’s
theory. In connection with the development of human beings,
Darwinism has no explanation for the near simultaneous emergence
of (at least) four biological systems that distinguish humans
from the higher primates: bipedalism, dexterous hands, phonation,
and recognition of speech. As the author Walker Percy famously
described in his work “The Message in the Bottle,” the
uniqueness of speech to humans (out of 2 million species
on Earth) begs for an explanation. Schutzenberger concludes: “Confronted
with such questions, the Darwinian paradigm is conceptually

As a scientist, I consider it significant that among the
fifteen authors, Dembski was able to recruit professors of
chemistry, biophysics, biochemistry, and genetics. In Darwin’s
day, one could afford to wave one’s hands about evolutionary
processes, and rely on some “just-so stories” of
how any particular aspect of the living world might have
come about. But nowadays, scientists can get down to the
molecular level, and hand-waving has to be replaced by sharper
arguments. The scientist authors in the present book are
knowledgeable in this regard, and I found it an eye-opening
experience to read what they have to say.

Especially impressive, in my opinion, is Michael John Denton’s
essay. Denton, a researcher in genetics, became well-known
for his 1984 book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis,
in which he marshalled arguments against the gradualism of
Darwinian evolution, without however proposing anything in
its place. His views have developed since then, including
contact with Schutzenberger on the origin of language. In
1998, Denton published Nature’s Destiny, in
which he proposed a specific alternative to Darwin: “the
whole pattern of life is built into nature and directed by
natural law.” In a fascinating section of his essay
in Uncommon Dissent, Denton describes how he and
his colleagues, in their study of protein folding, discovered
a set of rules that predict a finite number of protein folds
based on minimizing energy. This seems to me to be a remarkable
discovery, on a par with Mendeleev’s insight into the
periodic table of the elements. The conclusion is striking:
biological order (at the level of individual proteins) is
not to be found in genes or in mechanism, but in nature itself, “where
it resided before the Darwinian revolution.” He mentions
the prospect of a “final union of biology and physics…a
fully rational and lawful biology…as profoundly anti-Darwinian” [i.e. not
dependent on chance] “as could be imagined.”

Does Denton’s work mean that we need look no further
for a “designer” in nature? Not at all. While
the work hints at how three-dimensional complexity (i.e. a
sort of “design”) might be built into nature
at the level of individual proteins, Denton does not address
the higher order processes that are at the heart of Behe’s “irreducible
complexity.” The latter applies at the level of the
organism, where multiple proteins are assembled in such a
way that they can act in a coordinated manner on a macroscopic

Cornelius G. Hunter, a researcher in biophysics, highlights
some areas that are commonly claimed to support evolution.
One is the occurrence of small-scale change, such as in the
beak-lengths of finches in the Galapagos Islands: such examples
of microevolution are often claimed as evidence in support
of macroevolution. But there is no evidence for this: microevolution
relies on changes in a single gene, whereas macroevolution
requires coordinated alterations in multiple genes, with
the organism remaining successfully reproductive at every
point along the way. Hunter points out that the fossil records,
and connections between those records, are by no means as
clear-cut and definitive as Darwinians claim. In this regard,
he includes a telling quotation from Niles Eldredge (of “punctuated
equilibrium” fame) about an exhibit of horse evolution
on display at Eldredge’s institution: “an awful
lot of stories, some more imaginative than others…presented
as the literal truth in textbook after textbook…I
think that is lamentable, particularly when the people who
propose those kinds of stories may themselves be aware of
the speculative nature of some of that stuff.” This
quotation deserves to be known by a wide audience.

Ronald F. Hirsch, an analytical chemist with the US Department
of Energy, discusses how genome studies are uncovering complexities
that were not anticipated by Darwinism. I found the discussion
about horizontal gene transfer (HGT) truly astounding: it
indicates that significant pieces of the genome of any species
do not come “vertically,” i.e. they
do not come from the ancestors of that species.
Rather, they have come from neighboring species. For example,
bacteria in which photosynthesis occurs, “are found
in five quite different phyla” of the animal kingdom,
and the gene properties cannot be reconciled with Darwinian
inheritance. Although HGT was at first thought to be confined
to bacteria, Hirsch cites an explosion of articles in 2003
on HGT in higher organisms. The existence of HGT endangers
one of the favorite images of Darwinian theory: the so-called “tree
of life.” Now, it emerges that there is no longer a
single tree, but rather “a web or net of interconnections
that are both vertical and horizontal.” Hirsch also
covers the topic of protein folding, and how it is somehow
guided by nature. (Denton’s essay develops the topic
in more detail.)

I cannot possibly cover all of the significant pieces of
information offered by the gifted authors of the essays in Uncommon
. I hope that what I have mentioned will encourage
readers to take the plunge. But caveat lector: readers
will need to don their thinking caps: this is not light reading.
I freely admit that I had to go through the book from cover
to cover twice before I extracted many of the nuggets that
are tucked into the essays.

When I finished the book for the second time, what
came to mind was a note penned by Winston Churchill during
World War II. In the darkest days of that conflict, after
two years of blitzkrieg had subjected the British
and Russian armies to a series of defeats, Churchill wrote: “Renown
awaits the Commander who first in this war restores artillery
to its prime importance on the battlefield” (The
Grand Alliance).
In a metaphorical sense, I view the
editor of Uncommon Dissent, William A. Dembski,
as a commander after Churchill’s heart. In these essays,
Dembski has assembled artillery that will be of significant
value in the battles of the culture war, a war in which our
opponents consider you and me as purposeless agglomerations
of molecules.

D. J. Mullan is
a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy
at the University of Delaware in Newark, Delaware.