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Doug Axe: Hidden Figures and the Engineering Challenge to Darwinism


Ahead of tomorrow night’s Academy Awards ceremonies, Doug Axe has an excellent post up at The Stream on the film Hidden Figures and the engineering challenge to Darwinism. The film, with several nominations including Best Picture, is the story of African-American women who were math prodigies, or “computers,” at NASA.

Hidden Figures — the true story of three brilliant African-American women who proved themselves in a 1960s NASA culture dominated by white men — is sure to inspire. The film is filled with emotive lessons, most powerfully a vindication of the hope that those who persevere honorably for a just cause will not be disappointed.

Another lesson, more pragmatic, occurred to me as the drama unfolded. Having migrated in my own career from the measurable-fact culture of engineering to the more descriptive culture of biology, I felt a tinge of nostalgia as I watched a roomful of nerds with their calculators and chalk boards working together to find the answer to a pressing question: How can we bring an orbiting astronaut back safely to Earth?

Notice the very pre-post-truth essence of that phrase find the answer. Engineers have always taken for granted that clearly posed questions have uniquely correct answers — there to be found by anyone with the skill to find them, and unambiguously recognized as correct when found. The joy of Hidden Figures is that it sweeps away our prejudicial attitudes as to who might have these requisite skills.

Celebrating National Engineers Week here yesterday, Sarah Chaffee observed, “[E]ngineering and medicine differ from evolutionary biology in that they focus on how things work. Evolutionists can seem at times to disregard function, but doctors and engineers never can.” Yes, there’s a blurred, fudging quality to much of evolutionary thinking.

By contrast, Dr. Axe admires the steely, unforgiving nature of an engineer’s calculations:

There’s something comfortably reassuring about the existence of steel-hard facts — assertions that either end all opposition by proving true or end all sympathy by proving false. Maybe there’s even a hint of beauty here — in the stark simplicity of people putting their heads and hands to a challenge in a way that either succeeds or doesn’t, with no fuzziness in-between.

Of course, those who’ve turned fuzziness into a paid profession are apt to sense more threat here than beauty. A famous 1960s meeting demonstrated this, convened under the heading Mathematical Challenges to the neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution. There, a group of slide-rule toting engineering types, unconcerned with matters of etiquette, tried to put the slippery blob of evolutionary theory through the grinder gears of hard reality. Among the Darwinists present was Harvard’s Ernst Mayr, who (in protest) titled his talk: “Evolutionary challenges to the mathematical interpretation of evolution.” Stick that in your gears, you nerdy engineers!

This is rather unforgiving of Dr. Axe:

Here’s the steel-hard fact they most want to avoid:

The evolutionary explanation of life cannot stand up to NASA-style engineering scrutiny.

If you doubt this, please join me in testing it. Hand pick your Darwin sympathizers from the most esteemed places. It doesn’t matter who they are, because all the pomp and prestige of the academic world is powerless to change hard facts. All claims of Darwin having discovered the only scientifically valid explanation of life get torn to tiny bits when you put them in the grinder.

The response to this challenge is sure to be either silence or protest. There won’t be a nerdy evolutionary biologist who marches up to the chalkboard and does the math that saves the theory. The math has been done; the theory undone. Nor will there be a lab test that shows natural selection to be a worker of wonders. We’ve been there. Too many tests to count, and the blind watchmaker never showed up.

The protest will be familiar, organized around the usual defensive themes. Different sciences work differently! — they’ll say. It isn’t reasonable to hold a historical science to engineering standards! — they’ll say. No practicing evolutionary biologist would accept your proposal as valid! — they’ll say.

Let them speak. Then remind them that the difference is simply one of seriousness. When we really need to know that something will work, tested-and-approved certainty has always been the standard. Evolutionists ignore that standard because they can. Storytelling works for them because they’re all telling stories together. Their grand stories are all wrong, but as long as no one is dying in orbit, most people are content to let them carry on.

Merciless, but true. Evolutionary theory’s authority rests on muzziness as to details, and on the public’s being willing to overlook and forgive it, despite what Axe identifies in his book Undeniable as our universal intuition of intelligent design in nature.

“Trust us,” Darwinists in effect say. Trust our massive extrapolation to a grand theory from a spray of trivial observations (finch beaks, smaller voles, etc.). “Trust” is not a factor in engineering. Either you bring the astronaut safe and alive back to Earth, or you do not. There’s no fudging that.

Photo credit: 20th Century Fox.

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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.