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How Scott Turner Evolved

Scott Turner

On a new ID the Future episode, Rob Crowther talks with biologist J. Scott Turner about his book Purpose and Desire: What Makes Something “Alive” and Why Modern Darwinism Has Failed to Explain It. Crowther wants to know how Turner and his thinking on evolution…evolved. Turner, of the State University of New York, is a really interesting and sympathetic case of a scientist who straddles design and evolutionary thinking. How did he get to be where, intellectually, he is today?

He explains the impact that media coverage of the Dover trial had on him, the smears directed at ID proponents, the trite attacks on “creationism” that seemed to have been preserved in vinegar from the Scopes Monkey Trial eighty years before. Turner met Stephen Meyer and other advocates of intelligent design. He was startled to find that they were quite a different crowd from what you’d imagine based on press coverage and published comments from Darwin defenders. Listen to the podcast or download it here.

Rob Crowther asks Dr. Turner what he’s learned since his book came out, and Turner mentions that it’s been a lesson in how “worldviews” shape and limit thinking. Do they ever.

What is a worldview, though? Sometimes I think the concept is not applied broadly enough. We all tell a story to ourselves about who we are, what kind of people we are, what kind of people it must be who would disagree with us on emotionally charged matters. This goes beyond controversies in biology, of course.

I was listening to an NPR report about — naw, I’m not going to say what it was about, it doesn’t matter. But I was listening to all these voices, the reporter and the people she was interviewing, and I was thinking about how they all sound so remarkably alike. Same manner of speaking, which is echoed by the distinctive production style. The reporter was telling a story, and everyone else was in her story, and she was in theirs, and they were all, transparently, just as pleased with themselves as they could be. That quality of almost giddy self-satisfaction is highly diagnostic. It is diagnostic of someone telling himself a tale, living in the world generated by his tale, but not realizing he is doing so.

Joan Didion famously said that “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” The problem comes when you cannot identify your personal narrative, cannot step back and see it and yourself objectively. A tendency to uncontrolled storytelling continually molds Darwinist responses to Darwin skeptics. That, I think, is another way of stating the lesson Scott Turner has taken away from the experience of publishing Purpose and Desire.