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Larry Moran and I Agree: Darwinian Evolution Is “Unguided”

Casey Luskin

It’s not every day that Larry Moran and I agree. Recently, I wrote a short piece noting that the “unguided” nature of neo-Darwinian evolution is an integral part of the theory. Francisco Ayala’s 2007 paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences backed me up by saying things like, “[i]n evolution, there is no entity or person who is selecting adaptive combinations” or that biological evolution,

does not necessitate recourse to a preordained plan, whether imprinted from the beginning or through successive interventions by an omniscient and almighty Designer. Biological evolution differs from a painting or an artifact in that it is not the outcome of preconceived design.

I’m not saying the evidence supports Ayala’s vision of an unplanned, undesigned world. I’m just observing that leading evolutionary biologists publish papers in leading scientific journals stating that evolutionary theory claims there is no “preordained plan” and “no entity or person” who is pulling the strings to make evolution happen.

Professor Moran essentially agrees that my description of modern evolutionary theory is accurate. After his customary namecalling that I’m a “creationist” and an “IDiot,” he writes “There are tons of experiments proving that mutations are essentially random. (Let’s not get into quibbling about the meaning of ‘random.’).” Looking past the personal jabs, I certainly don’t have any problem with that view. Though Jonathan Bartlett rightly points out that we’re finding many examples where mutations aren’t random, I agree that mutations often appear to occur randomly. At the very least, evolutionary biology asserts that they’re random. Indeed, Nicholas Barton et al.’s textbook Evolution explains that evolution involves “random genetic drift,” “random mutation,” “random variation,” “random … individual fitness,” and “random reproduction” and the “[r]andom growth of a sexual population” stemming from “the random number of offspring from each individual.” So we agree that evolutionary biology entails randomness.

Dr. Moran further writes, “it is true that evolutionary theory doesn’t allow for a ‘guided’ mechanism.” Hey wait, isn’t that what I just said?

The central argument, it would seem, is over: On the question of whether Darwinian evolution is unguided, Dr. Moran appears to agree with me that it is. I suppose I could cite Dr. Moran as an authority who supports my position if I wanted to–although he’d probably just call me more names.

Dr. Moran goes further and then claims the evidence supports a random and unguided history of life. He boasts that “Looking [at] all the evidence used to reconstruct the probable history of life we see no evidence whatsoever that it was guided in any particular direction or that there was any underlying purpose.” He further writes:

The history of life looks exactly like it should if it were the result of accident, contingency, and evolution. There’s no evidence of god(s). That’s what makes the creationists upset, not evolutionary theory.

In any case, Dr. Moran is certainly entitled to his opinion about the unguided nature of the history of life, but on this additional point I think he’s dramatically overstated the evidence. Some of the most important discovery in biology and physics of the past 80 years show that nature offers unfathomable amounts of evidence for design and purpose. Whether we’re talking about the finely-tuned cosmic architecture of the universe which allows for advanced life, the information-rich, language-based biochemical code filling the genomes of living organisms, or the complex molecular machines which operate inside living cells turning them into miniature factories, life is filled with evidence of design.

Innumerable quotes from scientists from a myriad of fields could be provided backing the evidence for design in nature. Let’s use just one–an oldie but a goodie from the atheist cosmologist Fred Hoyle:

A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with the physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.

Jonathan Witt recounts a number of similarly striking quotes here.

Despite the evidence, many materialist biologists prefer to start with the a priori assumption that only material causes operate, and there is no design in nature. As Harvard zoologist Richard Lewontin writes:

[W]e have a prior 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 … produce material explanations … [T]hat materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.

(Richard Lewontin, “Billions and Billions of Demons,” New York Review of Books, p. 28 (January 9, 1997).)

Should we be surprised that a theory which assumes there’s no design in nature makes the conclusion that there’s no design in nature? In computer programming, they call this “garbage in, garbage out.” More importantly, the evidence doesn’t support the view that life has an unguided origin.

Dr. Moran can call whatever names he likes–and I can cheerfully forgive him for doing so. But no amount of namecalling can remove the evidence for design and purpose in nature.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



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