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Darwinism in "Crisis" - Again

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Darwinism in "Crisis" - Again
Steven B Hunter
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
When I heard of a conference that would introduce a scientific means of proving divine intervention in the natural world, thereby falsifying evolution, I knew I had to be there. So, on the evening of December 1, 1999, I headed off to La Mirada, a suburb of Los Angeles, to witness "Darwinism in Crisis - The New Challenge From Intelligent Design Theory".

The event was presented by the Master of Arts program in Christian Apologetics of Biola University (formerly the Bible Institute of Los Angeles). When all was said and done, it was quite clear that the purpose of the evening was to provide Christian apologetics and not science. We were to meet in an 800 seat lecture hall, but 1800 people showed up. The overflow was moved to the gymnasium where a closed circuit TV link had been set up.

By the time I settled into my seat in the bleachers overlooking the Biola Eagles' basketball court, the greetings and introductions had been completed and Phillip E Johnson, professor of law at UC Berkeley and author of Darwin on Trial, was holding forth on his idea of the Wedge. The Wedge is Johnson's strategy for separating science from philosophical naturalism, which he insists is the only basis upon which evolution could be accepted. Once he, as the sharp tip of the Wedge, has exploited the philosophical flaws in atheistic evolution to undo its death grip on modern theories of origins, others - scientists, philosophers and theologians, the wide end of the Wedge - would rush in to fill the void with a more "God-centered" theory.

Representatives of the wide end of The Wedge followed Johnson to the podium. A scheduling snafu caused the cancellation of the next planned talk, "DNA by Design", by Stephen C Meyer, PhD. I was disappointed to miss one of the 2 scheduled scientists. After all, I had come to see a scientific falsification of the theory of evolution. Someone remarked that to demonstrate that there was real science going on there would be slides and a laser pointer.

Paul A Nelson, PhD, a developmental biologist, was next, with a talk on "Intelligent Design and the Cambrian Explosion". He began with a chart illustrating Darwin's prediction that the history of life should exhibit ever-increasing diversity. He then compared it to his own bar graph showing the diversity of phyla as greatest during the Cambrian, then reducing and holding constant until the present. "There will never be an explanation", he insisted, for the paleontological record's being at such odds with Darwin's theory. No mention was made of the poor quality of the Precambrian and Cambrian fossil record nor of what including classes, orders, families, genera, and species might do to his bar graph nor of any number of evolutionary factors that are relevant to such a discussion. Nor did Nelson discuss how evolutionary biology has changed and matured since Darwin's early formulation of the theory.

He followed up with an argument from his own area of expertise. He contended that the genetic mechanisms that control cell differentiation and organization in a complex animal must have been in place and fully functional before the evolutionary processes that theoretically created them could have any effect. This is the same sort of cart-before-the-horse argument as Michael Behe's irreducible complexity, except at a larger scale - and it has the same flaws. There is no recognition of the fact that nature rarely gets from point A to point B via a straight line. A bat's wing, for example, did not develop as a wing one bone at a time. It was adapted from an arm for climbing, which in turn was adapted from a limb for crawling, which in turn was adapted from a fin for swimming.

Nelson's talk was to the extent of the scientific discourse for the evening. I was left with the impression that the closest we had come to real science was indeed the inclusion of slides and a laser pointer. That joke was not so funny after all.

Philosophers JP Moreland and John Mark Reynolds completed the program with talks on "Intelligent Design and Human Personhood" and "Intelligent Design: The History of a Concept", respectively. Moreland expounded on the idea that atheistic evolution is in direct opposition to human dignity, justice, and human rights. Reynolds described how society had come to be in the evil grip of such a vile concept as godless naturalism. I heard no new insights. There was no scientific proof of anything.

It is worth noting that the common thread of all of these talks was that the theory of evolution is necessarily atheistic and is therefore the cause of all of the major ills of Western society. Whether this is a straw man argument cynically used to whip up the faithful or an honest misunderstanding of the nature of science, the result is the same. There will be no easing of the passionate opposition to the teaching of evolution until this concern is effectively addressed.