With Darwin Day, February 12, approaching, it’s good to report that the “Scientific Dissent from Darwinism” list currently tops a thousand names of PhD scientists who publicly declare their skepticism in the face of absolutist claims for evolutionary theory. The key word there is “publicly.”
February 12 is Charles Darwin’s birthday. (Look here that day, incidentally, for a special birthday gift.) The Dissent statement represents a splash of cold water on the great man. It reads, “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.” The signers hold professorships or doctorates from Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard, Berkeley, MIT, UCLA, the University of Pennsylvania, and many other prominent institutions.
They are also an increasingly international group. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, and the Brazilian Academy of Sciences are represented. Discovery Institute began taking names of signatories in 2001 in response to frequently heard assertions that there is no dissent, or “virtually” none.
“There Are No Weaknesses”
The nonexistence of scientific skepticism was only natural since, as Darwin lobbyist Eugenie Scott would say in 2009, “There are no weaknesses in the theory of evolution.” See here for the “The Top Ten Scientific Problems with Biological and Chemical Evolution.”
What’s significant about the Dissent from Darwinism list is not so much the names and the institutions listed there but what they tell you about the many Darwin skeptics in the science world who wouldn’t dare sign. Scientists know the career costs that would come from publicly challenging evolutionary theory. Discovery Institute and its sister research lab, Biologic Institute, have welcomed refugees who were chased out of top spots in the research world. Douglas Axe, Günter Bechly, and Richard Sternberg are well known to Evolution News readers. Check out the Free Science website for other stories.
The Power of Groupthink
The signers of the Dissent list have all risked their careers or reputations in signing. Such is the power of groupthink. The scientific mainstream will punish you if they can, and the media is wedded to its narrative that “the scientists” are all in agreement and only “poets,” “lawyers,” and other “daft rubes” doubt Darwinian theory. In fact, I’m currently seeking to place an awesome manuscript by a scientist at an Ivy League university with the guts to give his reasons for rejecting Darwinism. The problem is that, as yet, nobody has the guts to publish it.
Other scientists, like the Third Way group or the researchers who met at the Royal Society in 2016, reject standard evolutionary theory but would not sign the Dissent list because they (mistakenly) think it conveys an even worse source of ritual contamination — the taint of intelligent design. In fact, the Dissent text doesn’t in any way imply support for ID, as the website’s FAQ page emphasizes. The simple observation that neo-Darwinism can’t explain the origin of complex life forms does not lead directly to a design inference. That is a separate argument with separate evidence. Every ID proponent is a Darwin doubter, but not every Darwin doubter is an ID proponent.
Nothing to Lose?
But I understand why people fear to go public, even if they would seem to have nothing to lose. I recall a visit a colleague and I made to the office of a Nobel laureate in a relevant field who gruffly stated his own rejection of evolutionary theory but refused to say anything in public. He is not a young man. Given his senior status, you would think he’d have nothing to fear. Yet he was afraid.
Some people don’t know when they should be afraid. Indeed, it’s a yearly thing at the Summer Seminars on Intelligent Design, held in Seattle primarily for undergraduate and graduate students, that we need to warn the participants not to take the perils lightly. They should not, for example, post news about the Seminar or photos of other students on social media. We’ve had panics about PhD students who acted incautiously. In fact, we had one just last week.
But by the time you’ve advanced a little further in academic life, you likely know what’s good for you. Given all this – the fear of taint and reprisals – it follows inevitably that the 1,000+ names represent only the tip of a vast iceberg. For every name, you can assigner a multiplier. Would it be ten? A hundred? More? I don’t know.
A Skeptical “Underground”
Physicist Brian Miller, Research Coordinator for the Center for Science & Culture, has written about what he calls an “underground” in academia. Again, ID sympathizers are a subset of Darwin skeptics. But Dr. Miller observed:
A biologist in our network worked as a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard. He recounted how about a quarter of the postdocs he encountered were at least sympathetic to design arguments, but none were willing to acknowledge their support publicly due to the likely repercussions.
A postdoc at Harvard is no dummy, including about “repercussions” that would follow from being too open about sensitive subjects. The key point here is the trajectory. The original hundred names on the Dissent list have grown to more than a thousand, which points to a far greater underground. It seems reasonable to hope that someday the threat of repercussions will diminish as the underground grows. The sun will come out, and shine on a very different intellectual landscape.