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Douglas Axe: On the 160th Anniversary of Darwin’s Origin, “Fear of Man,” the Cringe Factor, and More

David Klinghoffer

Douglas Axe

Professor Sean McDowell at Biola University interviewed Doug Axe, author of Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed. The occasion for the conversation was the upcoming 160th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species, this Sunday, November 24. I love how Dr. Axe, the Maxwell Professor of Molecular Biology at Biola, pulls no punches.

Whose Side?

On the cringe factor and the role of the “fear of man” in the defense of Darwin:

I’m concerned because this shift [of “Christians coming to peace with evolution”] seems to be driven by the fear of man. That impression was solidified for me in July of 2007, at a small gathering of Christians hoping to resolve the tension over Darwinism. After two hours of vigorous scientific discussion, an attendee who had been silent to that point spoke up. “I don’t know how to evaluate these scientific arguments,” he acknowledged. Then, with a nod to the most famous scientist in the room — Human-Genome Director Francis Collins — he continued, “but I know whose side I want to be on.”

It was a cringe moment. In effect, this attendee was saying he was more interested in keeping esteemed company than in getting the crucial matter of who we are right. We’ve all experienced this temptation to make respectability our top priority, but if we are to be people who stand for the truth, we have to resist it.

I take “cringe” here in two ways. The attendee’s attitude was fawning and cringing, and it makes you cringe to witness it.

“The Power of Herdthink”

On social versus scientific success:

Darwin’s mechanism explains some things, such as the ongoing annual battle between the flu virus and humans. These things may impact human lives greatly, but they have no bearing at all on the weighty question of where humans came from. With respect to that question, the only thing that keeps Darwinism going is the culture of intimidation that makes so many of us afraid to question it. In other words, as an answer to the big question of our origin, Darwinism has succeeded only socially, not scientifically. It is living proof of the power of herdthink.

A Call for Soul-Searching

On human origins and the possibility of a historical first couple:

Only by confusing categories could anyone think data could rule out a historical Adam and Eve. Scientists hoping to infer something about human origins have to bring lots of untestable assumptions to their data, so their conclusions are only as good as those assumptions. To pretend otherwise would be dishonest.

My highly qualified colleagues Ola Hössjer and Ann Gauger have recently concluded that a single-couple human origin is possible, and they’ve been very clear about their assumptions. Other experts may well disagree for various reasons, which is fine.

But for non-experts to change their view on something as fundamental as our origin based on nothing more than hearsay is troubling. Same goes for experts who misconstrue and misappropriate science in order to change public opinion. I encourage readers to do some soul searching here.

Yes, the cringing goes on.

With the passing of Phillip Johnson, I was struck by a comment Steve Meyer made — that before Johnson came along, many Darwin skeptics were “unctuous and earnest and begging for a place at the scientific table.” Johnson, a “star academic [who] conceded nothing,” offered a shot of unapologetic courage to those willing to accept it. Doug Axe follows in that tradition.

Read the rest at Sean McDowell’s blog.

Photo: The Origin of Species, first edition, via Wikimedia Commons.