Darwin, Derbyshire and the Dogma of the Gaps

Jonathan Witt

John Derbyshire of The Corner, and Darwinists on every street corner, insist that we should never cram God into the gaps of our scientific knowledge.
As if detecting design meant cramming the designer into the work itself: Imagine Leonardo da Vinci trapped inside the Mona Lisa.
Derbyshire proceeds apace: “History shows that these puzzles always get resolved sooner or later in a natural way, … sending the ‘God of the Gaps’ traipsing off to find a new place where he can hang his starry cloak for a while.”
Bracket off for the moment that this particular history of modern science is an urban legend. Derbyshire’s argument falls apart all by itself, apart from the historical record. Because more and more things have been explained with reference to impersonal causes, Derbyshire argues, we can never assume that something in nature cannot be explained thus.
That simply doesn’t follow. Consider an analogy.
Many insisted that no human would ever break the four-minute mile. Then Roger Bannister did it. Probably at the time, some expert could have been found to say, “Well, fine, but no one will ever run under 3:45 seconds.” But that barrier too has fallen.
Now what if a highly trained physiologist said, “As much progress as middle distance runners have made over the past century, no modern human will run a sub one-minute mile, certainly not on an ordinary track on planet earth, and certainly not without bizarre drugs, gimmicks or exotic genetic manipulation.”
Would it make sense to tell that scientist, “Others said ‘never’ about the four minute barrier, the 3:45 barrier, and they were wrong. Barriers are made to be broken!” No, that would be a silly argument. It is, in its essence, Derbyshire’s argument. The physiologist can reasonably rule out certain human performance barriers, and the scientist can reasonably rule out impersonal causes for certain phenomena.
Some have incorrectly determined that certain rock formations were shaped by some intelligent agent. This mistake is not even confined to children or primitive cultures. Some insisted that the “Face on Mars,” a large rock on the surface of the red planet, had been carved by alien beings to look like a face. Higher resolution images dispelled this fancy. Despite these errors, however, we can still safely infer that Stonehenge was designed.
Let’s not beg the question. The question is, were certain natural structures–of far greater complexity and intricacy than Stonehenge–designed? The first self-reproducing cell stands before us, a world of intricate circuits, miniaturized motors and enough digital code to fill an encyclopedia. Was it the product of design? What are the marks of design in the complicated artifacts around us? What can a Darwinian mechanism–that builds by adding one tiny functional improvement at a time–actually build? And what must it have before it can begin to work?
Design theorists make an inference to the best explanation about what we do know–what know about information-rich structures like the simplest self-reproducing cells for instance; and what we know about intelligent causes, that they routinely make information-rich structures like books and motors and software, a causal power like nothing else in our experience.

Jonathan Witt

Executive Editor, Discovery Institute Press and Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Jonathan Witt, PhD, is Executive Editor of Discovery Institute Press and a senior fellow and senior project manager with Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. His latest book is Heretic: One Scientist’s Journey from Darwin to Design (DI Press, 2018) written with Finnish bioengineer Matti Leisola. Witt has also authored co-authored Intelligent Design Uncensored, A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature, and The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom That Tolkien Got, and the West Forgot. Witt is the lead writer and associate producer for Poverty, Inc., winner of the $100,000 Templeton Freedom Award and recipient of over 50 international film festival honors.

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