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Evolutionary Biologist Concedes Intelligent Design Is the Cutting Edge

Photo: Bret Weinstein, by Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons.

Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying are well-known evolutionary biologists (and husband and wife) with a podcast, the DarkHorse Podcast. Recently Weinstein posed a provocative question, “Is intelligent design a competitor to Darwinian evolution?” His answer may surprise you: Yes.  

No, he’s not about to come over to the dark side. Weinstein is confident that Darwinism will meet the challenges that ID has set, about the Cambrian Explosion and more, but he concedes that it hasn’t done so yet.

He describes conversations with Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne, asking them why evolutionary biology hasn’t had a breakthrough since 1976 when Dawkins published The Selfish Gene. Dawkins and Coyne, separately, both answered that it was because all the big questions had already been answered, and all that was left was a “clean up” operation. Weinstein recognizes that that is just so much blowing smoke, and the work of Stephen Meyer and his “high-quality colleagues” in the ID research community has exposed the problems that Darwinists need to be working on to solve. 

Settled Science?

About Dr. Meyer, he says:

I encountered people like Stephen Meyer, who were not phony scientists, pretending to do the work. They were actually very good at what they did. And I believe Stephen Meyer is motivated by a religious motivation, but we don’t generally ask the question when somebody takes up science, “What are you really in it for? Are you in it for the fame?” That’s not a legitimate challenge to somebody’s work. 

And the fact is, Stephen Meyer is very good at what he does. He may be motivated by the thought that at the end of the search he’s going to find Jesus. But in terms of the quality of his arguments, I was very impressed when I met him: his love for biology, his love for creatures, the weirder the better, he likes them, right? So that looked very familiar to me. 

No Mind Readers Here

In other words, motivation should be irrelevant. The quality of the science is what counts. I would add, none of us is a mind reader and we can never know what someone else’s motivation really is. In any event, says Weinstein, ID clearly is about science, not religion:

And it all also became obvious to me in interacting with Stephen Meyer and many of his high-quality colleagues that they’re actually motivated, for whatever reason, to do the job that we are supposed to be motivated to do inside of biology. They’re looking for cracks in the theory. Things that we haven’t yet explained. And they’re looking for those things for their own reasons, but the point is we’re supposed to be figuring out what parts of the stories we tell ourselves aren’t true, because that’s how we get smarter over time. 

Shrinking from a Fight 

Darwinists, say Weinstein, are shrinking from a fight they wrongly feel they shouldn’t have to bother with:

If you decide… that your challengers aren’t entitled to a hearing because they’re motivated by the wrong stuff, then you do two things. One, you artificially stunt the growth of your field, and you create a more vibrant realm where your competitors have a better field to play in because you’ve left a lot of holes in the theory ready to be identified, which I think is what’s going on. The better intelligent design folks are finding real questions raised by Darwinism, and the Darwinists, instead of answering those questions, [are] deciding it’s not worthy of their time. And that is it is putting us on a collision course.

“Giving Up Darwin”

Heying cites the 2019 public defection from Darwinism of Yale computer scientist David Gelernter, who pointed to Meyer’s writing as his primary reason for “Giving Up Darwin.” She admits she hasn’t kept up with the challenges from ID, but agrees that she should keep up, and that’s because challenges like those from ID can make the evolutionary establishment “smarter.” Ignoring the challenges makes the establishment dumber — stagnant and self-satisfied.

I’m not familiar with most of the arguments that are coming out of the intelligent design movement. It hasn’t felt like it was my obligation to be familiar with them. Perhaps what you’re arguing is it is our responsibility.

Weinstein, unlike Coyne or Dawkins, is up for talking and debating with ID proponents:

I’m open to that battle and I expect that if we pursue that question, what we’re going to find is, oh, there’s a layer of Darwinism we didn’t get and it’s going to turn out that the intelligent design folks are going to be wrong. But they will have played a very noble and important role in the process of us getting smarter. And look, I think Stephen Meyer at the end of the day, I don’t think he’s going to surrender to the idea that there’s no God at the end of this process. But if we find a layer of Darwinism that hasn’t been spotted, that answers his question, I think he’s going to be delighted with it the same way he’s delighted by the prospect of seeing whale sharks.

Again, these are remarkable concessions from a couple of scientists who are not at all looking to make the leap to ID, but who understand that intelligent design, not Darwinism, is currently at biology’s cutting edge.