For anyone approaching the subject with a fair and open mind, a dismissive attitude to intelligent design cannot survive a sustained encounter with the best science and scholarship from the ID community. This observation was put to the test by distinguished German paleo-entomologist and curator Günter Bechly, who joins Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture as a new Senior Fellow.
He is a wonderful addition to our research community, and his story is instructive. Dr. Bechly specializes in the fossil history and systematics of insects, particularly dragonflies. From 1999 until the end of 2016, he served as the curator for amber and fossil insects in the Department of Paleontology at the State Museum of Natural History in Stuttgart.
Chosen to organize the largest museum exhibit in Germany celebrating the bicentennial of Charles Darwin’s birth in 2009, Bechly ended up having gnawing doubts about Darwin after he read books by intelligent design proponents Michael Behe and William Dembski. Initially keeping his scientific heresy a secret, he began years of private discussions with intelligent design proponents including CSC Director Stephen Meyer.
The experience completed the process of overturning his past misconceptions about ID, which, as noted, wear away quickly once exposed to the actual arguments and personalities behind the design movement. That is, they do for those scientists and science consumers not committed a priori to a rigid defense of 19th-century materialist science.
In 2015 on his personal website, Bechly publicly disclosed his support for intelligent design. And everyone was totally cool with that. Right? In a future post, we’ll have more to say about what happened next in Dr. Bechly’s professional life. Forgive us if we keep you in suspense.
“We are honored and excited to have him join our team at the Center for Science & Culture,” said CSC Associate Director John West.
Bechly’s interests include comparing the duration and complexity of key radiations in the fossil record with the time required according to standard population genetics models to generate the coordinated mutations that would have been necessary to produce the observed changes. Doing so is a key to assessing the plausibility of the neo-Darwinian mechanism as an explanation for these abrupt radiations in the history of life.
Contrary to the trite stereotypes of ID supporters advanced by Darwin defenders, Bechly came around to his new opinions from a completely secular background, for scientific reasons. Bechly was interested in nature and science from a young age. He remembers one of the first gifts he received from his parents was a coloring book of insects. He enjoyed fossil-collecting around Germany with his family.
“It was quite clear during all my youth that I wanted to study biology, or maybe paleontology,” he said. After graduating summa cum laude with his PhD in geosciences from Eberhard-Karls-University in Tübingen, he served as a volunteer for two years at the Natural History Museum in Stuttgart before stepping into the position as curator of amber and fossil insects.
Although the 2009 Darwin exhibition was a catalyst for his move toward intelligent design, the groundwork had been laid much earlier. Bechly describes two gut feelings he had long before he ever voiced his skepticism of Darwin openly. First, he felt that it just didn’t make sense to say that if you just wait long enough, bare rock will turn into Beethoven. That is to say, he felt what Douglas Axe, in his book Undeniable, called the universal design intuition.
Second, throughout his scientific study, he came to resent the evolutionary “just-so” stories that covered poor science in a narrative sheen. And as a paleontologist, he knew that the fossil record did not contain the slow, gradual transitions Darwinism requires. Over time, his scientific studies pushed him further and further from traditional evolutionary biology.
Dr. Bechly was one of the presenters at the “Beyond Materialism” conference co-organized by Discovery Institute and the U.K.-based Centre for Intelligent Design at Cambridge University last November. He wowed the audience with his comments about the challenges to traditional Darwinism in the fossil record. He was also present for the Royal Society meeting, “New Trends in Evolutionary Biology,” in London where he provided us with excellent on-the-scene reporting, commentary, and photography.
Beyond his scientific expertise, we have had the pleasure of getting to know him at a personal level, and have found him to be a thoroughly charming and delightful individual. We welcome him as a colleague, future collaborator, and contributor to Evolution News!