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Darwin’s Desperation?

Origin of Species

They used to just ignore us. That worked for many years. Rare appearances of the loathsome words “intelligent design” in scientific journals were quickly squashed, as Richard Sternberg can attest. Occasional payouts to avoid lawsuits, like at the California Science Center, could be dismissed as inconvenient hush money, quickly settled and ignored by the press. 

Meanwhile, Darwinism marched on, confident and triumphant. Largely unimpeded by any need for debate, evolutionary biologists and psychologists, safe in the accepted custom of methodological naturalism, could spin their just-so stories without fear of contradiction. The media were willing accomplices, keeping the public submissive and quiet, satisfied with the daily illusions pouring forth from the ministry of truth. See how wonderful, elegant, and powerful Darwin’s theory is at explaining everything — from human speech evolving from chimpanzee lip-smacking to beards evolving to cushion men’s chins from punches by rivals. Just a few bloggers, like Jerry Coyne, seemed adequate to shout down the heretics.

Now there are rumblings of change. Why else would direct attacks on ID reverberate through the science news media? Is there fear in the regime behind the scenes? 

Trembling Hands

In 1991, radical reformer Boris Yeltsin was standing on a tank outside Moscow after an attempted coup by Soviet hardliners against moderate reformer Gorbachev. Yeltsin rallied the “peasants” to throw off the dictatorial regime that had failed the Soviet people so miserably. Meanwhile, in the Kremlin, the Communist coup leaders read from a printed statement on live TV, stating confidently that the Communist Party was still in control. Those who watched on TV that day might have noticed that their hands were shaking. Change was in the air. Back in the day, Yeltsin would have been exiled or shot for such crimes, but now, even some of the officers were defecting to him. 74 years of ruthless Soviet domination collapsed almost overnight.

It may be too early to tell whether the current uptick in pro-Darwin rhetoric in the media represents trembling hands by leaders of the Darwinian regime. But given the steady stream of impressive books by scholars at Discovery Institute, the success of Summer Seminars leading graduates to take the ID message back to their home countries, and views of enthusiastic crowds at ID conferences, there is reason to evaluate these news items in a similar context.

Take That, Straw Man!

One example comes from the University of Oslo, in Norway. It’s been rare to see direct attacks against intelligent design, but this one said in bold headlines, “Evolutionary flaws disprove the theory of intelligent design” (emphasis added). Strong words, but they were echoed across the pro-Darwin media networks as usual. It was a risky strategy, because mentioning ID might cause some people to inquire more about it. Nevertheless, Professor Glenn-Peter Sætre, shown with the stern, confident gaze of a prize fighter, launched into his blows against the straw man, using his right hook: dysteleology “disproves” intelligent design, because the human body is rife with bad designs. As is customary with Darwin partisans, he didn’t have to face a real opponent. With the collapsed straw man at his feet, Sætre performed the Darwin victory dance under the banner, “Evolution Is Amazing!”

Professor Sætre by no means believes that evolution is a miserable process. For example, it has given the world wonderful and varied creatures such as the tiger, the blue whale, and the finches on the Galapagos Islands. His point is instead that evolution has no foresight or intelligence; there is no plan that can guide the direction of evolution.

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution was presented in the book The Origin of Species in 1859 and is considered one of the greatest advances in science of all time. According to Darwin‘s theory, all life on earth has arisen through a process of change from pre-existing forms. This very process of change is called evolution.

To sweep the floor of the remaining straw, Sætre dismisses ID as unscientific, using the straw man definition of intelligent design.

“In science, we make hypotheses and test them, and then we reject the hypotheses that cannot be confirmed. In this way we are getting closer and closer to the truth, but such a way of thinking is completely absent from the followers of ID. Instead, they “cherry-pick” natural phenomena that they think are a bit strange, and then they claim that these phenomena cannot be explained by evolution. Ergo, there must be a designer”, says Sætre.

“But unfortunately, the ID supporters do not care if their arguments are refuted time and time again. All the “unexplainable” examples they cite can be explained by the theory of evolution”, he adds.

With a few more handshakes from Dawkins, Haldane, and Gould, he congratulates himself and envisions his readers cheering his performance. With a last kick to the straw man, he sneers at ID as a “marginal phenomenon” that only rises up in America.

“My impression is that the leading representatives of the major faiths in the world accept modern science. They realize that it is unreasonable to believe that the Bible should function as a textbook that trumps everything we have developed in knowledge and technology over the last 2000 years. It is not necessary to take the stories and parables of religious works literally, thus becoming a science denier”, says Sætre.

“I am an atheist myself, but I know that there are also evolutionists – especially in the United States — who are devout Christians. That combination is not as common in Norway, but then we are also a more secular society”, he adds.

Wouldn’t it be better to see a real fight between Sætre and the Scandinavian Heretic, Matti Leisola? Such a contest would violate Darwinian regime rules, but the peasants might like it.

Space doesn’t permit a full rebuttal to each of his examples of poor design. Good grief, he even includes the appendix; where has he been? But let’s take a brief look at one: the epiglottis. “Even eating can be dangerous,” he says. That is, if a piece of food gets into the windpipe, “where it can cause fatal choking.” OK, it can; granted. Sometimes it does. But let’s run the numbers. Not having Sætre’s age, let’s guess he is about 30. He hasn’t choked to death yet, obviously. Maybe a few times he had close calls, but some of them might have been due to his own carelessness, not following Mom’s advice, “Don’t speak while eating.” Parts must be used correctly, after all; we’re not supposed to text while driving, too.

Assuming he has swallowed 2,000 times per day, that’s 730,000 swallows per year, or some 22 million swallows in his life so far. If he has experienced a thousand inadvertent close calls (probably an excessive number), then the epiglottis has performed flawlessly at least 99.99 percent of the time (probably more), usually without his conscious thought. How many mechanical systems can he name with a record like that over 30 years? Many people live into their 90s without choking to death (and choking is most common among the elderly, who are often losing muscle control in general). The epiglottis, furthermore, is a living organ with constant upkeep and repair. On top of that, Sætre has undoubtedly enjoyed many pleasurable moments eating his favorite foods and consuming his favorite beverages. Bad design? How ungrateful can a person be?

Dysteleology is a straw man argument anyway, because ID theory does not require perfect design. Even poor designs can pass through the design filter and eliminate chance. 

Guns A-Blazing

In another show of force, Current Biology dedicated its entire May 18 issue to “The Cell in Evolution.” Over 40 articles, editorials, papers and essays play the strategy of overwhelming force, sucking all the oxygen out of the room with massive amounts of pro-Darwin propaganda. Those without the time to read all this material, though some of it may involve good experimental work, must come away with the feeling that Darwinism is so powerful and useful, no serious scientist could ever dispute it. The tactic is like what the lawyers in the Dover trial did to Michael Behe, stacking a pile of papers and books on his desk that allegedly disputed his contention that no peer-reviewed papers explained the evolution of complex biological systems by random mutations and natural selection. It didn’t matter that the papers were irrelevant to the question. Judge Jones was impressed!

Nevertheless, the Editorial in the series contained some remarkable admissions. Trembling hands? Uncommon Descent quoted Florian Maderspacher worrying over a conundrum about the need for a high level of minimum complexity in the first eukaryote. She says, “this time, somewhat of a deus ex machina came to the rescue —  the discovery of an entirely new lineage of archaea.” Calling on a deus ex machina is a bit like inserting into a math derivation, “Then a miracle happens.”

For more on the issue of Current Biology, see here for “Harvard Molecular Geneticist Vindicates Michael Behe’s Main Argument in Darwin Devolves.”

When All Else Fails, Censor

Another response to the peasant revolt against the Darwinian regime is to outlaw it. As reported here already, an article by Dave Speijer in BioEssays called on the government to censor ID websites. Discovery Institute takes this seriously. Given that social media giants are already censoring ideas they don’t like, “This is not a drill.”

Yet on the flip side, what is the regime afraid of? If ID is really no scientific threat, because of the clear superiority of evolutionary theory, and if intelligent design is easily refuted, why not face it in public debates? Censorship is a sign of weakness. It too recalls the trembling hands of the Soviet hardliners.

The Darwin hardliners have shown themselves to be intransigent. But in a dramatic irony, gradualism is working in ID’s favor. One by one, through books, conferences, websites, conversations, and better ideas, ID is winning the race for survival of the fittest science.

Photo: Mural portrait of Charles Darwin, Sidney Street, Sheffield cc-by-sa/2.0 © Neil Theasby via Geograph.