Darwin, Mendel, Watson and Crick, and Al Gore

Michael Egnor

Is Darwinism indispensable to genetics? Darwinists claim that their theory, which is the assertion that all biological complexity arose by random heritable variation and natural selection (“chance and necessity”), is indispensable to modern medicine. What was Darwin’s role in genetics?
He played an important role in classical genetics, in a negative way. In 1865, an Austrian monk named Gregor Mendel presented a scientific paper called ‘Experiments in Plant Hybridization’ at meeting of the Natural History Society of Brno in Moravia. Fr. Mendel found a remarkable pattern of inheritance in experiments on plants in his garden in his monastery. The experiments suggested that heritable factors were, in some cases, particulate, could remain hidden for generations, and sorted according to simple mathematical rules. According to contemporary records, his paper was ignored, and discussion at the meeting swirled around Charles Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection. Mendel’s seminal work, the basis for classical genetics, was buried for the rest of the 19th century under a Darwinian frenzy.

Modern molecular genetics grew out of the work of James Watson and Francis Crick in Cambridge in the early 1950s. Using x-ray diffraction and information about molecular structure derived from quantum mechanics, Watson and Crick designed scale models of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). The models made it evident that DNA was a double helix, and that the individual components (base pairs) were symbols in a code. Subsequent work translated the genetic code, and revealed that at the core of life there is a symbolic language, with letters (base pairs), words (codons), sentences (genes), directional reading frames, and even punctuation (stop codons).
Darwin’s role in the emergence of molecular genetics was negative, as well. Molecular geneticists worked implicitly from an inference to design, using the principles of reverse engineering applied to biology. The genetic code was translated, and read, like a language. Darwin’s assertion that the raw material for biological complexity is “randomness” was anti-heuristic. It was the inference to design, not the inference to randomness, that led to the understanding and translation of the genetic code. Darwin never predicted, in his theory of chance and necessity, a language at the core of life. The understanding of the genetic code was the direct result of the inference to design in biology.
Former Vice President Al Gore famously claimed to have invented the Internet because years ago he was in the Senate and sponsored a bill. The assertion that Charles Darwin’s theory was indispensable to classical and molecular genetics is a claim of an even lower order. Darwin’s theory impeded the recognition of Mendel’s discovery for a third of a century, and Darwin’s assertion that random variation was the raw material for biological complexity was of no help in decoding the genetic language of DNA. The single incontrovertible Darwinian contribution to the field of medical genetics was eugenics, which is the Darwinian theory that humans can be bred for social and character traits, like animals. The field of medical genetics is still recovering from eugneics, which was Darwin’s only gift to medicine.

Michael Egnor

Senior Fellow, Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence
Michael R. Egnor, MD, is a Professor of Neurosurgery and Pediatrics at State University of New York, Stony Brook, has served as the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, and award-winning brain surgeon. He was named one of New York’s best doctors by the New York Magazine in 2005. He received his medical education at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and completed his residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital. His research on hydrocephalus has been published in journals including Journal of Neurosurgery, Pediatrics, and Cerebrospinal Fluid Research. He is on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Hydrocephalus Association in the United States and has lectured extensively throughout the United States and Europe.