My Reply to Jerry Coyne: Why Darwinism is False

Michael Egnor

In his essay for, Jerry Coyne takes me to task for my dissent from Darwinism. According to Coyne, “The tenets of evolutionary theory are simple: Life evolved, largely under the influence of natural selection; this evolution took a rather long time; and species alive and dead can be organized on the basis of shared similarities into a tree whose branching pattern implies that every pair of living species has a common ancestor. Among genuine scientists, there is not the slightest doubt about the truth of these ideas.”
Coyne writes that I am “decades out of date” and show “no sign of knowing anything at all about evolutionary biology in the 21st century.” Indeed, “there is so much evidence” for Darwinism that “one would have to be either willfully ignorant or blinded by faith” to doubt it.
Am I really “decades out of date” and “either willfully ignorant or blinded by faith”?
As evidence for Darwinism, Coyne cites the fossil record. But the fossil record lacks the innumerable transitional forms predicted by Darwin’s theory. And shared similarities among species have not produced a consistent branching tree pattern. Evolutionary trees based on anatomical features conflict with trees based on molecular evidence, and trees based on one molecule conflict with trees based on other molecules. The recent scientific literature is full of such examples.
Coyne cites the existence of “dead genes” as evidence for Darwin’s unguided process and evidence against intelligent design. But data from the genome projects show that most–perhaps all–of what was previously thought to be “junk DNA” is in fact functional. Following Coyne’s logic, the recent scientific literature actually provides evidence against Darwinism and for intelligent design.

So Coyne’s defense of Darwinism ignores recent scientific evidence. And his criticism of intelligent design (ID) rests on a misconception. According to him, ID claims that “if we don’t understand something, there’s no point in trying to understand it–we should just throw up our hands and say, ‘God did it’.”
But ID claims only that we can infer from evidence that some features of living things are better explained by an intelligent cause than by unguided natural processes. ID is not an argument from ignorance, and it does not explain things by saying “God did it.”
Darwinism and intelligent design are merely different answers to the same scientific question: Is there evidence for design in biology? Consider a living cell, which contains tens of thousands of different kinds of biomolecules. Some of the molecules–such as DNA–carry complex information. As Bill Gates describes it, “DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software ever created.”(1)
Other biomolecules translate the DNA code into functional proteins such as enzymes. Still other molecules are motors, or energy-producing factories, or intricate surface channels that regulate the cell’s interactions with the outside world.
Darwinists claim that all of this originated from random mutations and unguided natural selection, without design. Yet there isn’t a single detailed, evidence-based explanation for the evolution of any biomolecule from primordial precursors. All Darwinists have to offer are “just-so” stories about how biomolecules might have originated.
Is design an argument from ignorance, a mere assertion that ‘God did it’? Not at all. Intelligent design is a scientific inference based on knowledge. We have extensive knowledge of computer codes, motors and energy-producing factories. All of them are designed. The more we learn about living cells, the more they look like things that can only be made by design. Modern cell biology implicitly accepts this and consists essentially of reverse engineering. My own research, which involves the mechanisms by which the brain regulates pulsatile blood flow from the heart, relies on the application of engineering principles–design principles–to study brain blood flow.
Science, properly conducted, follows the evidence wherever it leads. The fact that so many biologists defend Darwinism in spite of the evidence shows that something else is going on here. As I wrote in my original essay, “the fight against the design inference in biology is motivated by fundamentalist atheism. Darwinists detest intelligent design theory because it is compatible with belief in God.”
I quoted several other Darwinists, but I could also have quoted Coyne. “There is a fundamental conflict” between science and religion, Coyne wrote in 2008, and it “can never be reconciled until all religions cease making claims about the nature of reality.” In fact, “the only contribution that science can make to the ideas of religion is atheism.”
Atheism is the consensus among evolutionary biologists. In a remarkably candid essay, leading evolutionary biologist Dr. Richard Lewontin–Dr. Coyne’s mentor at Harvard–wrote:

Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.

So there is a deeper commitment at stake here, one that has little to do with scientific evidence. Darwinism is atheist ideology, imposed on science. This might explain why Darwinists do not want their scientific critics to be heard, and why Coyne excoriates for providing space to them.
Intelligent design theory takes a different approach to science. It is open to any kind of causation–random or designed–in accordance with the evidence. Some aspects of biology, particularly molecular biology, show clear scientific evidence for intelligent design.
I respectfully ask my Darwinist colleagues to set aside atheist ideology, and follow the evidence.
(1) Bill Gates, with Nathan Myhrvold and Peter Rinearson, The Road Ahead (New York: Penguin Books, 1995), p. 188.

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.