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The Only Game in Town

Michael Denton


Editor’s note: In his new book Evolution: Still a Theory in Crisis, Michael Denton not only updates the argument from his groundbreaking Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (1985) but also presents a powerful new critique of Darwinian evolution. This article is one in a series in which Dr. Denton summarizes some of the most important points of the new book. For the full story, get your copy of Evolution: Still a Theory in Crisis. For a limited time, you’ll enjoy a 30 percent discount at CreateSpace by using the discount code QBDHMYJH.

Despite its obvious failure, Darwinism has retained its hypnotic hold on the biological mind primarily because cumulative selection has been “the only game in town.” As Thomas Kuhn pointed out, without an alternative framework, scientific communities are forced to regard evidence that to anyone outside the circle of belief may appear to be profoundly hostile as mere anomalies.1

The perception that Darwinism is “the only game in town” has been reinforced since the middle of the 20th century by makers of the neo-Darwinian “modern synthesis,” who imposed on biology the conviction that the evolutionary argument was over, and that the Darwinian functionalist paradigm had won the day. In their view, adaptation was everything — the primal organizing principle of biology — and the extrapolation from microevolution to macroevolution was embedded in concrete.

Not content with conjuring up a completely illusory Darwinian victory, the makers of the neo-Darwinian synthesis also denigrated 19th-century typologists and structuralists, portraying them, as we have seen, as intellectually driven by discredited metaphysical, essentialist beliefs which biased their biology in favour of the notion of the Type. This denigration of typology was a striking case of the “pot calling the kettle black.”

The apparent lack of a rational scientific alternative has meant that the defects and failures of Darwinian metascience are viewed by nearly all evolutionary biologists as trivialities which will somehow eventually be accounted for in terms of the accepted theory. For this reason, virtually all current evolutionary biologists, even those who are insistent that Darwinism is insufficient, are stalled at an intellectual Rubicon, unable to cross — intuiting that Darwinism cannot provide a convincing narrative, yet having no alternative view of nature to embrace.

And if cumulative selection fails, then what natural explanation, what directive natural force, is available other than natural law? What explanation other than the fitness-structuralist paradigm, which sees the forms of life as no less built into nature than the properties of water? If the homologs are not natural forms, given their uniqueness, their complexity, their apparently saltational emergence during phylogeny and subsequent invariantconstraining powers for vast periods of time in diverse lineages, then to what other category of being do they belong?

Fortunately, it now seems that after a slumber of more than 150 years, a consilience of evidence is emerging that is supportive of the alternative paradigm of natural law. There is the deep hint, arising from the cosmological discovery of the fitness of nature for life, that the life forms on earth may be, after all, an integral part of the cosmic order. There are tantalizing hints that an explanation of life’s origin may lie within the fitness-structuralist framework, hints that nature lent a hand over this first great divide!

But sadly, because of an unshakeable commitment to the contingent view of life — and perhaps because to embrace a biology of law might be seen as the first step towards a reintroduction of teleology into biology — many Darwin skeptics among evolutionary scientists are unable to cross the dangerous waters and leave behind the realm of contingency.

But although the Darwinian dragon is fatally wounded, the beast must be maintained on life support by evolutionary biologists. This is why Pigliucci and Kaplan end their critical book Making Sense of Evolution with the claim that Darwin “was (largely) right after all.”2 Indeed, Darwinism will have to be right after all, will always be resuscitated, will have to be resuscitated even when it is so obvious that “he got it wrong,” until evolutionary biologists put aside their metaphysical commitment to a contingent worldview, and biology finally embraces the realm of law — a realm whose only defect in the eyes of the agnostic mainstream is that it might be construed as supporting a return to a more teleological view of life and its place in the cosmos.

Darwin is dead; yet — like the ancient King of the Woods who stood sentinel over the Golden Bough in Diana’s sacred grove at Lake Nemi — Darwin lives! Le roi est mort, vive le roi.3


(1) See Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 4th ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2012); Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (Maryland: Adler & Adler, 1985), Chapter 15.

(2) Massimo Pigliucci and Jonathan Kaplan, Making Sense of Evolution: The Conceptual Foundations of Evolutionary Biology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), last sentence of the book: “The master was (largely) right after all.”

(3) Sir James G. Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion (New York: Macmillan, 1922). Citation from the concluding passage of the final chapter ‘Farewell to Nemi’: “The temple of the sylvan goddess, indeed, has vanished and the King of the Wood no longer stands sentinel over the Golden Bough. But Nemi’s woods are still green, and as the sunset fades above them in the west, there comes to us, borne on the swell of the wind, the sound of the church bells of Rome ringing the Angelus. Ave Maria! Sweet and solemn they chime out from the distant city and die lingeringly away across the wide Campagnan marshes. Le roi est mort, vive le roi! Ave Maria!

Image: Ruins at Lake Nemi, via Wikimedia Commons.

Michael Denton

Senior Fellow, the Center for Science & Culture and the Center on Human Exceptionalism
Michael Denton holds an M.D. from Bristol University, as well as a Ph.D. in biochemistry from King’s College in London. A Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, Denton has had a critical impact on the debate over Darwinian evolution.