Kurt Vonnegut on Darwinism and Intelligent Design

A recent NPR Morning Edition segment, “Kurt Vonnegut Judges Modern Society,” took a surprising turn late in the interview. Vonnegut is, of course, a renowned postmodern novelist and self-described secular humanist, not somebody who fits easily into Barbara Forrest’s conspiracy-haunted world wherein all Darwin skeptics are Bible-thumping fundamentalists. The conversation turns to Darwinism and design a little over four minutes into the interview:

Mr. VONNEGUT: Where you can see tribal behavior now is in this business about teaching evolution in a science class and intelligent design. It’s the scientists themselves are behaving tribally.

INSKEEP: How are the scientists behaving tribally?

Mr. VONNEGUT: They say, you know, about evolution, it surely happened because their fossil record shows that. But look, my body and your body are miracles of design. Scientists are pretending they have the answer as how we got this way when natural selection couldn’t possibly have produced such machines.

INSKEEP: Does that mean you would favor teaching intelligent design in the classroom?

Mr. VONNEGUT: Look, if it’s what we’re thinking about all the time; if I were a physics teacher or a science teacher, it’d be on my mind all the time as to how the hell we really got this way. It’s a perfectly natural human thought and, okay, if you go into the science class you can’t think this? Well, alright, as soon as you leave you can start thinking about it again without giving aid and comfort to the lunatic fringe of the Christian religion. Also, I think that, you know, it’s tribal behavior. I don’t think that Pat Robertson, for instance, doubts that we evolved. He is simply representing a tribe.
Finally, if you

INSKEEP: There are tribes on both sides here in your view?

INSKEEP: May I ask what tribes, if any, you have belonged to over the years?

Mr. VONNEGUT: Well, it’s an ancestral tribe. These were immigrants from north of Germany who came here about the time of the Civil War, but anyway, these people called themselves free thinkers. They were impressed, incidentally, by Darwin. They’re called Humanists now: people who aren’t so sure that the Bible is the Word of God.

INSKEEP: Who are denounced by some religious people as secular humanists?
Mr. VONNEGUT: Well, that’s exactly what I am. The trouble with being a secular humanist is that we don’t have a congregation. We don’t meet, so it’s a very flimsy tribe, but there’s a wonderful quotation from Nietzsche. Nietzsche said, Only a person of deep faith can afford the luxury of skepticism. Something perfectly wonderful is going on. I do not doubt it, but the explanations I hear do not satisfy me.

There are many others like Vonnegut, people like Princeton-trained mathematician, agnostic, and award-winning science writer David Berlinski, geneticist Michael Denton, and leading British philosopher and former atheist Antony Flew. These and the more than 400 Ph.D. scientists on our dissent-from-Darwin list–those skeptics of the theory brave and tenured enough to speak out–are trying to tell us something: modern evolutionary theory is in crisis, and no amount of motive mongering about people’s religious motivations will change that; no amount of denials from sincere evolutionists who have invested their careers in the theory will change that; and no amount of bullying designed to silence the controversy will change that. It’s time for all of the Kurt Vonneguts and Antony Flews and Michael Dentons to calmly but clearly call a stop to the pretense that there is no scientific controversy.

And it’s time for all of the academics and intellectuals and journalists who have largely trusted the Darwinists on blind faith to revisit the issue, thoroughly considering the arguments made by scientists like Michael Denton and Jonathan Wells. It simply doesn’t work to entrust the process to the priesthood of Darwinists. Although most of them are both bright and sincere, they have a deep and long-vested interest in believing in their theory, and in shielding it from attack.

Some haven’t attempted because they assume the debate is over their head. But the arguments that ultimately unravel the Darwinian synthesis aren’t terribly difficult to grasp. Anyone who remembers the rudiments of logic they learned in freshman composition can follow the essentials of the argument. Below are three articles to get started:

Fact Sheet: Microevolution vs. Macroevolution
Fact Sheet: The Cambrian Explosion
The Survival of the Fakest

Finally, if you have a Ph.D. in engineering, mathematics, computer science, biology, chemistry, or one of the other natural sciences, and you agree with the following statement, “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged,” then please contact us here.

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.