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Zombie Science: Darwin’s Theory Feeds on Raw Materialism 

Jonathan Wells

Zombie Science

Most of us think of science as the enterprise of seeking truth by formulating hypotheses and testing them against the evidence. This is empirical science. It has broadened and deepened our understanding of the world, and, together with human creativity, it has contributed to the advances in technology and medicine on which modern civilization depends.

Sometimes, however, science is defined as the enterprise of providing natural explanations for everything — that is, accounting for all phenomena in terms of material objects and the physical forces among them. Many scientists defend this definition on the grounds of “methodological naturalism” — the view that science is limited to naturalistic explanations because repeatable experiments can be done only on material objects and physical forces. In principle, however, this is only a limitation on method; it is not a claim about reality, which can include entities that defy explanations restricted to material objects and physical forces.

In practice, however, many scientists assume that they will ultimately find natural explanations for everything. This assumption is not merely methodological. It is equivalent to materialistic philosophy, which regards material objects and physical forces as the only realities; mind, free will, spirit, and God are illusions. Materialistic philosophy also has no place for intelligent design (ID) — the view that some features of the world and of living things are due to an intelligent cause rather than to unguided natural processes. In 1999, biologist Scott Todd wrote a letter to Nature stating that “even if all the data point to an intelligent designer, such an hypothesis is excluded from science because it is not naturalistic.”1

Obviously, this is not empirical science; it is materialistic science.

Scientific Consensus

The majority opinion of the scientific establishment is sometimes referred to as “the scientific consensus,” which is often expressed as “All scientists agree…” (even though some usually don’t), or as “Science says….” The history of science shows that the consensus is often wrong. For example, in 1500, Science said that the Sun revolves around the Earth. In 1700, Science said that some living things (such as maggots) originate by spontaneous generation. In 1900, Science said that Newtonian mechanics explains the behavior of everything from single atoms to the whole universe.

Now Science says that everything about living things can be explained materialistically. In 1973, Russian-American biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky wrote that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”2 But evolution, as proposed by Charles Darwin, is materialistic science.

Darwin called The Origin of Species “one long argument,” and the argument took the following form: The facts of biology are “inexplicable on the theory of creation” but make sense on Darwin’s theory of descent with modification.3 The mechanism of modification was the natural selection of small variations, and Darwin argued that the mechanism was undirected and that its products were undesigned. He once wrote: “There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings, and in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the wind blows.”4 In the fourth edition of The Origin of Species (1866), Darwin went further and stated that creation by design “is not a scientific explanation,” thus banning it from science altogether.5 

It is often claimed that people in the 19th century were converted to Darwin’s theory because he provided so much evidence for it, but the claim is false. For one thing, Darwin could offer no evidence for natural selection, only “one or two imaginary illustrations.”6 And despite the title of his most famous book, he failed to explain the origin of species. According to historian Neal C. Gillespie, “it is sometimes said that Darwin converted the scientific world to evolution by showing them the process by which it had occurred.” Yet “it was more Darwin’s insistence on totally natural explanations than on natural selection that won their adherence.”7 According to biophysicist Cornelius Hunter, Darwin’s theory was more theology than science. “Ultimately, evolution is not about the scientific details,” he wrote in 2001. “Ultimately, evolution is about God.”8

Overwhelming Evidence?

We are now told that evolution has been confirmed by overwhelming evidence. But if “evolution” means Darwin’s theory of the origin of species, nothing could be further from the truth. There is overwhelming evidence for minor changes within existing species (what Dobzhansky called “microevolution”9), and for the fact that that many plants and animals now living are different from those that lived in the past. But there is surprisingly little evidence for the origin of new species, organs, and body plans by unguided natural processes (what Dobzhansky called “macroevolution”).

The lack of evidence for macroevolution became obvious at a November 2016 meeting of evolutionary biologists at the prestigious Royal Society of London.10 Austrian biologist Gerd Müller (who helped organize the meeting) spoke first, pointing out that current evolutionary theory fails to explain (among other things) the origin of new anatomical structures in living creatures (that is, macroevolution). Müller and most of the other speakers advocated an “extended evolutionary synthesis” (EES) to correct the problem, though two other speakers argued that the current theory is fine and needs no extending. ID was excluded from consideration. One speaker caricatured ID as “God did it,” and at one point a participant blurted out, “Not God — we’re excluding God.”11 By the end of the meeting, however, it was clear that advocates of the EES had failed to meet the challenge posed by Müller on the first day: they could not explain macroevolution.12

Icons of Evolution

In the absence of an empirically supported explanation for macroevolution, biology textbooks have long used various images, or icons, to convince students it is true. In 2000, I wrote a book about ten icons of evolution that exaggerated, misrepresented, or even faked the evidence.13 They were the 1953 Miller-Urey experiment, Darwin’s tree of life, homology in the limbs of vertebrates (animals with backbones), Ernst Haeckel’s drawings of vertebrate embryos, the fossil bird Archaeopteryx, peppered moths, finches on the Galápagos Islands, four-winged fruit flies, fossil horses, and drawings of ape-like creatures evolving into humans. By 2000, all of these were empirically dead, and they should have been removed from science textbooks. Instead, they still stalk the halls of our educational institutions, like zombies, and they are still being used to indoctrinate our children in evolution and materialistic science.

There are other icons of evolution, too. The DNA double helix has become an icon, used to convince people that DNA determines everything about us and that DNA mutations provide the raw materials for evolution, even though biologists have long known that DNA is just part of the story. Whale fossils have replaced the icon of horse fossils, supposedly providing what Stephen Jay Gould called “the sweetest series of transitional fossils an evolutionist could ever hope to find,” yet the evidence reveals that so-called “walking whales” were really land-dwellers and that truly aquatic whales appeared suddenly in the fossil record. The human appendix and the human retina have long been used to convince people that our bodies are full of junk due to unguided evolution, yet the appendix helps us fight harmful bacteria and the retina is a marvel of optical engineering.

Resistance to antibiotics is widely advertised as an icon of evolution, but it illustrates only microevolution. Some biologists now claim that cancer is an example of macroevolution, but cancer leads to the exact opposite of what evolution is supposed to accomplish. Using cancer as an icon of evolution is like saying I have a theory for the evolution of modern civilization and my best evidence is Night of the Living Dead.

This is zombie science. It grows out of materialistic science, and it corrupts science education. It’s not that scientists (or any other real people) are zombies. Zombie science is more like an evil spirit to which many scientists and educators succumb — especially if they think spirits don’t exist.

Night of the Living Dead was inspired by Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel, I Am Legend.14 In Matheson’s novel, the first zombies (like vampires) could not survive if they were exposed to the light of day.15 Likewise, zombie science can be defeated by exposing it to the light of truth. It’s time to teach our children the truth about the lack of evidence for macroevolution and about the difference between empirical and materialistic science, as well as the viability of intelligent design.

Notes:

  1. Scott C. Todd, “A view from Kansas on that evolution debate,” Nature 401 (1999), 423.
  2. Theodosius Dobzhansky, “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense except in the Light of Evolution,” American Biology Teacher 35 (1973).
  3. Charles R. Darwin, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1st ed.; London: John Murray, 1859), 459, 372.
  4. Francis Darwin, ed., The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Including an Autobiographical Chapter (London: John Murray, 1887), I: 309.
  5. Charles R. Darwin, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (4th ed.; London: John Murray, 1866), 513.
  6. Darwin, Origin of Species (1859), 90.
  7. Neal C. Gillespie, Charles Darwin and the Problem of Creation (University of Chicago Press, 1979), 147.
  8. Cornelius George Hunter, Darwin’s God (Brazos Press, 2001), 175.
  9. Theodosius Dobzhansky, Genetics and the Origin of Species (Columbia University Press, 1937), 12.
  10. “New trends in evolutionary biology: biological, philosophical and social science perspectives,” Royal Society of London (November 7–9, 2016):
  11. [LINK]
  12. Paul A. Nelson, “Specter of Intelligent Design Emerges at the Royal Society Meeting,” Evolution News and Views (Nov. 8, 2016).
  13. Paul A. Nelson and David Klinghoffer, “Scientists Confirm: Darwinism Is Broken,” CNS News (Dec. 13, 2016) .
  14. Jonathan Wells, Icons of Evolution: Why much of what we teach about evolution is wrong (Regnery Publishing, 2000).
  15. “One for the Fire: The Legacy of Night of the Living Dead,Night of the Living Dead DVD (Dimension Home Entertainment, 2008).
  16. Richard Matheson, I Am Legend (Fawcett Gold Medal, 1954)

Editor’s note: Dr. Wells’s latest book is Zombie Science: More Icons of Evolution. This article first appeared in Salvo 40. It is published here with the permission of Jonathan Wells.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr., Eglin Air Force Base, Zombie Stomp 2015.