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For Darwin Advocates, Wistar Conference Remains a Pain in the Master Narrative

David Klinghoffer


The 1966 Wistar Institute conference remains, fifty years later, a pain in the master narrative of Darwin advocates. According to their favored story, doubts about the evolutionary mechanism are the exclusive domain of, first of all, those seeking to uphold a particular interpretation of Genesis and, second, the scientifically ignorant. Today marks the anniversary of the conference’s opening, April 25 in Philadelphia.

Certainly, so goes the cherished story, there would be nothing fundamental to debate about if you got together, say, a meeting of biologists, physicists, and mathematicians from MIT, Harvard, the University of Chicago, plus stellar scientific intellects like Nobel laureate Sir Peter Medawar, University of Paris mathematician Marcel-Paul Schützenberger, and others.

In fact, as Discovery Institute’s Dr. Paul Nelson recounts in a brief video released today, when precisely such a group got together at Wistar, there was a lot to argue about:

“It looks like the math is not going to cooperate” with Darwinism, was the message the mathematicians and physicists delivered to their biologist colleagues. As Paul says, the official monograph that followed the conference — “Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution” (1967) — features transcripts of the conversations and one can all but hear the attendees tossing chairs at each other. You can get a copy from Amazon for $199.99.

The 52 listed participants also include Loren Eiseley, Murray Eden, Stanislaw Ulam, William Bossert, Ernst Mayr, Richard Lewontin, and C.H. Waddington. No debate about Darwinism, you say?

A third feature of the master narrative, somewhat contradictory of the second, is that whatever scientific controversy there may once have been about evolutionary theory, it’s all died down by now. Well that’s not true either.

Dr. Nelson notes that the upcoming Royal Society meeting, “New trends in evolutionary biology: biological, philosophical and social science perspectives,” to be held in November of this year, will likely replay the drama of Wistar. And as I mentioned on Friday, Science Magazine last week reported on a new $8.7 million project funded by the Templeton Foundation devoted to an “evolution rethink” that has the more rigid Darwinists squawking in protest. Undisputed scientific “facts” don’t need to be “rethought.”

What’s changed since 1966 is that challenges to Darwinism have multiplied and grown enormously in scientific sophistication, matched by the heightened defensiveness of Darwin apologists. The mathematical challenge, like the others, remains without a convincing answer (see here and here). That’s why in replying to critics, Darwinists overwhelmingly content themselves with storytelling, insults, and invective.

Photo: Marcel-Paul Schützenberger, via Wikicommons.