The Evolution of Dr. Ann Gauger
Editor’s note: We are delighted to present a new, occasional series on the “evolution” of top scientists who have helped advance the case for intelligent design.
“It was like the cast of characters from an Illustra Media film.”
That was biologist Ann Gauger’s droll comment on her first visit to Discovery Institute’s offices in Seattle. The year was 2004. Dr. Gauger’s scientific credentials had caught the eye of Stephen Meyer and he had invited her to come talk with him. On the day of the meeting, Gauger arrived and settled into a conference room. In walked Meyer, Jay Richards, and Jonathan Wells — the usual suspects from Illustra films such as Unlocking the Mystery of Life.
The occasion of the meeting went back to two weeks earlier. A friend had recommended to Gauger an article in DI’s newsletter, Nota Bene. The article summarized Steve Meyer’s controversial piece on the Cambrian explosion in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington.1
Gauger had been reading ID literature for some time. She was interested and decided to subscribe to Nota Bene. When she signed up, she included “PhD” after her name. “I wonder what will happen?” she mused.
Twenty minutes later, she received a phone call from Logan Gage, an administrative liaison. Logan went through a checklist.
“You have a PhD, right?”
“You’re aware of the Dissent from Darwin list?”
“Yes. In fact, I’ve already signed it.”
A pregnant silence. Then a reply, “Can you send me your CV?”
Gauger promptly did so. “I wonder what will happen?” she thought again.
Twenty minutes later, Logan was on the phone again. “Can you come in to DI to talk with Steve Meyer?” Nothing was the same after that.
Evolution as Default
Like a number of scientists involved in the intelligent design movement, Dr. Gauger, today a Senior Fellow with the Center for Science & Culture, had accepted evolutionary theory for much of her scientific career. The theory was widely believed and seemed to explain a great many facts. Gauger held it as she pursued degrees and did research at institutions including MIT, University of Washington, and Harvard. She was well-traveled and well-studied. Evolution made sense to her.
In fact, while pursuing her doctorate in the mid 1980s, Gauger took an interest in a field rife with excitement about evolution. The field was evo-devo, a combination of evolutionary theory and developmental biology. The study of embryos and their development promised to shed light on the evolutionary history of organic life — and evolution, of course, promised to illuminate fascinating features of developmental biology. The field was buzzing.
Researchers were particularly interested in the genes involved in early pattern formation. These genes were significant because they were thought to exercise a regulatory role in body plan development. They were said to control when other genes turned on and off, a kind of meta-level role that helped build the architecture of an organism as a whole. The hope was to identify genes that evolution used to make key innovations during organic history. In particular, evo-devo promised to explain how evolution produced new body plans.
During this period, Gauger spent a lot of time studying invertebrate zoology. She encountered so many different body plans — sponges, clams, coral, worms, jellyfish, and the like — she wondered, “There has to be an explanation about where all these phyla came from. Some are so different.” It was here, in direct contact with the diversity of body plans, that the seeds of doubt about Darwinism were sown.
Doubts About Darwin
Yet by the time Gauger watched the Illustra movie cast walk into the room at Discovery Institute in 2004, her concerns about evolution had grown. Why? There were many reasons, yet chief among them was the Cambrian explosion.
The fossils of the Cambrian era raised the puzzle that Gauger had pondered while studying invertebrates: how did all of these different body plans emerge? Of the 27 phyla recorded in the fossil record, an astonishing 20 of them emerged during the Cambrian explosion. Only 3 phyla appear before the Cambrian, and only 4 others appear after that era.2 It is the major event within organic history.
Gauger also realized that the neo-Darwinian mechanism lacked the creative power to generate so many new body plans in the time available.3 And even the promise of evo-devo had fallen short. In particular, Gauger was impressed with the Nobel Prize-winning work of Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard and Eric Wieschaus. These geneticists had studied the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, mapping its genome and analyzing is early development. They discovered that mutating or perturbing early-acting body plan molecules invariably kills the fruit fly.4 In order to generate a genuinely new body plan, early embryonic changes must take place. Yet for evolution to occur, these changes must be viable rather than lethal. By contrast, Nüsslein-Volhard and Wieschaus observed that early developmental mutants never even hatched as larvae.5 Other problems plagued evo-devo, too.6
Moreover, Gauger’s own research after 2004 helped illuminate key problems for evolutionary theory. Among others, she articulated the causal circularity problem,7 the waiting times problem,8 and the implausibility of human evolution.9 Gauger has also helped to show that a first couple is possible in the context of human origins.10 And more on the way: a volume she has edited on the positive case for intelligent design, by contributors arguing from a Catholic perspective, is just around the corner.11
Gauger recalls with a chuckle her initial meeting with the Illustra cast in 2004. “Steve Meyer walked me through his PowerPoint presentation on the Cambrian explosion. He had the right argument. But I spotted a typo and said so.”
The “typo,” as it turns out, was a technical point about invertebrates. Only someone well-versed in the field would have had that kind of knowledge. Dr. Gauger’s years of research and study had prepared her perfectly for the road ahead.12
- “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories” | Stephen C. Meyer (stephencmeyer.org)
- Stephen C. Meyer, Darwin’s Doubt (New York: HarperOne, 2013), 32.
- Meyer, Darwin’s Doubt, chapters 8-14.
- Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard and Eric Wieschaus, “Mutations Affecting Segment Number and Polarity in Drosophila,” Nature 287 (1980): 796.
- Nüsslein-Volhard and Wieschaus, “Mutations Affecting Segment Number and Polarity in Drosophila,” 796.
- Meyer, Darwin’s Doubt, chapters 15-16.
- For example, “Causal Circularity in Biology” | Discovery Institute and Ann Gauger on “Emerging Clues to Life’s Design” | ID the Future.
- Hössjer, O., Günter Bechly and A. Gauger. (2021), “On the waiting time until coordinated mutations get fixed in regulatory sequences,” Journal of Theoretical Biology 524 (2021) 110657. Hössjer, O., Bechly, G. and Gauger, A. (2018), “Phase-type distribution approximations of the waiting time until coordinated mutations get fixed in a population,” chapter 12 in Stochastic Processes and Algebraic Structures — From Theory Towards Applications. Volume 1: Stochastic processes and Applications, S. Silvestrov, A. Malyarenko, and M.Rančić (eds.), Springer Proceedings in Mathematics and Statistics, 245-313.
- For example, Hossjer O., A. Gauger, C. Reeves. (2016), “Genetic modeling of human history part 2: A unique origin algorithm,” BIO-Complexity(4):1-36. Hössjer O., A. Gauger, C. Reeves. (2016), “Genetic modeling of human history part 1: comparison of common descent and unique origin approaches,” BIO-Complexity (3):1–15. A. Gauger A, Axe D and C Luskin (2012), Science and Human Origins. Discovery Institute Press, Seattle, Washington. And: “A New Book Refuting Theistic Evolution Puts Ape-to-Man Under the Microscope: Pt. 1” | ID the Future and “New Book Refuting Theistic Evolution Puts Ape-to-Man Under the Microscope: Pt. 2” | ID the Future
- For example, Hössjer O, Gauger A (2019), “A Single-Couple Human Origin is Possible,” BIO-Complexity (1):1–21. Ann Gauger (2017), “Human Evolution (Unique Origin View),” in The Dictionary of Christianity and Science, edited by Paul Copan, Tremper Longman III, Christopher L. Reese (Zondervan): 235-243. Ann Gauger, Ola Hössjer, and Colin R. Reeves (2017), “Evidence for Human Uniqueness,” in Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical and Theological Critique, edited by J. P. Moreland, Stephen Meyer, Wayne Grudem, Christopher Shaw, and Ann Gauger (Crossway, Wheaton, IL): 475-502. Hössjer, Ola, Ann K. Gauger, and Colin R. Reeves, (2017), “An Alternative Population Genetics Model,” in Theistic Evolution, 503-521. “A First Couple? Here’s the Backstory” | Evolution News and “Human Genetic Variation: The Tale Goes On” | Evolution News.
- God’s Grandeur: The Case for Intelligent Design (in press).
- For more of Gauger’s story, listen to the ID the Future podcasts episodes https://idthefuture.com/1683/ and https://idthefuture.com/1686/.