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Happy New Year! #1 Story of 2022: Evolutionists Admit Their Field’s Failures

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Photo credit: Nitish Meena via Unsplash.

Editor’s note: Welcome to an Evolution News tradition: a countdown of our Top 10 favorite stories of the past year, concluding now on New Year’s Day. Our staff are enjoying the holidays, as we hope that you are, too! Help keep the daily voice of intelligent design going strong. Please give whatever you can to support the Center for Science & Culture before the end of the year!

The following was originally published on July 1, 2022.

An article in The Guardian by science journalist Stephen Buranyi represents something remarkable in the way the public processes the failures of evolutionary theory. In the past, those failures have been admitted by some biologists…but always in settings (technical journals, conferences) where they thought nobody outside their professional circles was listening. It’s like if a married couple were going through rough times in their relationship. They’d discuss it between themselves, with close friends, maybe with a counselor. But for goodness sake they wouldn’t put it on Facebook, where all marriages are blessed exclusively with good cheer and good fortune. 

Scandalous Admissions

Well, the field of evolutionary biology has just done the equivalent of a massive Facebook dump, admitting that Jim and Sandy, who always seemed so happy, are in fact perilously perched on the rocks. In a very long article, top names in the field share with Buranyi what intelligent design proponents already knew, but few Guardian readers guessed. The headline from the left-leaning British daily asks, “Do we need a new theory of evolution?” Answer in one word: yes. The article is full of scandalous admissions: 

Strange as it sounds, scientists still do not know the answers to some of the most basic questions about how life on Earth evolved. Take eyes, for instance. Where do they come from, exactly? The usual explanation of how we got these stupendously complex organs rests upon the theory of natural selection….

This is the basic story of evolution, as recounted in countless textbooks and pop-science bestsellers. The problem, according to a growing number of scientists, is that it is absurdly crude and misleading.

For one thing, it starts midway through the story, taking for granted the existence of light-sensitive cells, lenses and irises, without explaining where they came from in the first place. Nor does it adequately explain how such delicate and easily disrupted components meshed together to form a single organ. And it isn’t just eyes that the traditional theory struggles with. “The first eye, the first wing, the first placenta. How they emerge. Explaining these is the foundational motivation of evolutionary biology,” says Armin Moczek, a biologist at Indiana University. “And yet, we still do not have a good answer. This classic idea of gradual change, one happy accident at a time, has so far fallen flat.”

There are certain core evolutionary principles that no scientist seriously questions. Everyone agrees that natural selection plays a role, as does mutation and random chance. But how exactly these processes interact — and whether other forces might also be at work — has become the subject of bitter dispute. “If we cannot explain things with the tools we have right now,” the Yale University biologist Günter Wagner told me, “we must find new ways of explaining.”…

[T]his is a battle of ideas over the fate of one of the grand theories that shaped the modern age. But it is also a struggle for professional recognition and status, about who gets to decide what is core and what is peripheral to the discipline. “The issue at stake,” says Arlin Stoltzfus, an evolutionary theorist at the IBBR research institute in Maryland, “is who is going to write the grand narrative of biology.” And underneath all this lurks another, deeper question: whether the idea of a grand story of biology is a fairytale we need to finally give up. [Emphasis added.]

“Absurdly crude and misleading”? A “classic idea” that “has so far fallen flat”? “A fairytale we need to finally give up”? Scientists locked in a desperate struggle for “professional recognition and status”? What about for the truth? This is how writers for Evolution News have characterized the troubles with Darwinian theory. But I didn’t expect to see it in The Guardian.

A Familiar Narrative

Buranyi runs through a familiar narrative: the modern synthesis, the challenge from the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis, the 2016 “New Trends in Evolutionary Biology” meeting at the Royal Society (which was covered here extensively), how some evolutionists condemned the conference while others embraced its revisionist messaging, efforts to prop up unguided evolution with exotic ideas of “plasticity, evolutionary development, epigenetics, cultural evolution,” etc. 

If you’ve ever owned an automobile toward the end of its life, the situation will be familiar: the multiple problems all at once, the multiple attempted fixes, the expense, the trouble, the worry about the car breaking down and dying at any inconvenient or dangerous moment (like in the middle of the freeway), all of which together signal that it’s time not to sell the car (who would want it?) but to have it towed off and donated to charity for a tax credit.

Buranyi doesn’t mention the intelligent design theorists in attendance at the Royal Society meeting — Stephen Meyer, Günter Bechly, Douglas Axes, Paul Nelson, and others. He doesn’t mention the challenge from intelligent design at all. That’s okay. I didn’t expect him to do so. Anyway, readers of Evolution News will already be familiar with most everything Buranyi reports.

Despairing Statements

He concludes with seemingly despairing statements from evolutionists along the lines of, “Oh, we never needed a grand, coherent theory like that, after all.”

Over the past decade the influential biochemist Ford Doolittle has published essays rubbishing the idea that the life sciences need codification. “We don’t need no friggin’ new synthesis. We didn’t even really need the old synthesis,” he told me….

The computational biologist Eugene Koonin thinks people should get used to theories not fitting together. Unification is a mirage. “In my view there is no — can be no — single theory of evolution,” he told me.

I see. Evolutionists have, until now, been very, very reluctant to admit such things in the popular media. Always, the obligation was heeded to present an illusory picture of wedded bliss to the unwashed, which, if given some idea of the truth, would draw its own conclusions and maybe even take up with total heresies like intelligent design. Now that illusion of blessed domesticity has been cast aside in a most dramatic fashion. Read the rest of Buranyi’s article. Your eyebrows will go up numerous times.