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Darwin’s (Failed) Predictions: An Interview with Cornelius Hunter, Part II

Yesterday, ENV interviewed molecular biophysicist and Discovery Institute fellow Cornelius Hunter on his new web-book Darwin’s Predictions. Our conversation continued:

ENV: A typical instance of a failed prediction would be that Darwin himself expected the geology and paleontology would confirm that the earth is at least 400 million years old, because that’s how long he thought it must need to evolve its repertoire of species. We now know that while the earth and life are much older than that, the time frame for the development of most animal body plans or phyla in the Cambrian explosion occurred in a geological flash of probably of less than 10 million years. What do you think is the most devastating failed prediction you discuss? How would you crystallize it simply, perhaps as cocktail-party ammunition?

CH: That’s a difficult question, there are so many. Of course today DNA is a popular topic, so the finding of long stretches of identical DNA in distant species is a good one. Evolutionists have worked hard to figure out how this could be, but have not even come up with a good epicycle yet.

Then there is the evolution of contradictory behavior patterns, such as altruism. Evolution has undergone a big makeover in the past fifty years in trying to explain such behaviors. The evolution narrative has become incredibly creative in explaining every behavior imaginable. Loyalty, sacrifice, honor, suspicion, obligation, shame, remorse, moral indignation — the list goes on and on of the incredible powers of evolution.

But I think my favorite is that the minor, adaptive, changes that we do observe in populations is now known to be responsive to environmental pressures. Organisms have complex cellular mechanisms that intelligently and rapidly respond to environmental changes. Again, it is fundamental to the theory of evolution that biological variation be blind, not responsive, to environmental pressures. The only epicycle available to evolutionists is that evolution created phenomenally complex mechanisms so that evolution could occur.

ENV: I can imagine a Darwinist objecting that these predictions are outdated. Theories naturally develop, and as they do they, scientists throw off new predictions — predictions that in Darwinism’s case, the theory can in fact pass. Your response?

CH: Again it comes back to the reaction. It certainly is true that some false predictions can be remedied by quite reasonable theory adjustments. For instance, I can predict how far a cannon ball will fly, but if I ignore the atmospheric drag I will consistently overestimate the distance. Then I learn about atmospheric drag, incorporate it into my theory, and my predictions are more accurate. The adjustment corresponds well to new knowledge about an observable phenomenon in nature — atmospheric drag. It is clear that atmospheric drag is not merely a contrived epicycle. It can be empirically studied. The evolutionary epicycles, on the other hand, have become intricate and complex, and quite disconnected from any observable phenomenon in nature.
ENV: How do you think an honest Darwinist, who’s not fooling himself, would reply to your thesis?
CH: I really don’t think there is such an evolutionist. I’ve discussed and debated the evidence with many evolutionists, and to a person they simply do not address the issues squarely. I’d like to think that this is all a misunderstanding about the evidence; that evolutionists, or their skeptics, or both are simply confused about the science. I’d like to think that this could all be cleared up with a sober assessment of the empirical data. But the discussion never even approaches such a high point. When you interact with evolutionists, you quickly realize that it is not about science and the evidence. It never was.
ENV: Darwinists seem blind to this pattern of false predictions because, as you write, they’ve arrived at their theory by a process of elimination, limited by a metaphysical doctrine that rules out other plausible explanations of life’s development, such as design. For them, Darwinism has to be true because there’s no other possibility. So Darwinists are compelled to mold their interpretations of data to match the preconceived theory. Is the really ultimate problem that metaphysical assumption ruling out design? If so, where does it come from?
CH: Yes, that sums it up. The metaphysics underlying evolution, and its history, are somewhat complex, but the bottom line is they rule out design. Ironically, the metaphysical mandates for evolution come from a spectrum of Christian traditions in the West — primarily Anglicans, Lutherans and Roman Catholics. Darwin’s work was loaded with religious claims about God — those were the strong arguments for evolution. Darwin had to explain away the empirical data, but the religious arguments were quite powerful. This religious incursion into science by no means began with Darwin. You can trace the intellectual history of these mandates for at least two centuries before Darwin. Today, evolutionists make these arguments all the time without even realizing the non-scientific premises they are relying on. The whole debate can be quite subtle.
ENV: I hope you’ll get a chance draw together this material into a printed book form at some point. It’s great. Thanks again for your time!
CH: Thank you so much. Let me just say that I have written three books on this subject and I felt the need to make the information accessible on the Internet. Of course does not contain all the details in my books, but it does give me a chance to update the information with the latest scientific findings.

David Klinghoffer

Senior Fellow and Editor, Evolution News
David Klinghoffer is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute and the editor of Evolution News & Science Today, the daily voice of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, reporting on intelligent design, evolution, and the intersection of science and culture. Klinghoffer is also the author of six books, a former senior editor and literary editor at National Review magazine, and has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Seattle Times, Commentary, and other publications. Born in Santa Monica, California, he graduated from Brown University in 1987 with an A.B. magna cum laude in comparative literature and religious studies. David lives near Seattle, Washington, with his wife and children.