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January 30, 2004

Foreword to Geoffrey Simmons's What Darwin Didn't Know

By William A. Dembski

Arthur Miller's play The Crucible is about the Salem witch trials. Even at the start of the play, the evidence for Salem being a hotbed of witchcraft was no good. But as the play unfolds, it becomes clear to the judges overseeing the witch trials that the evidence was utterly fabricated and bogus. Unfortunately, by this time several people have already been executed for witchcraft. What are the judges to do? At a key point in the play, the judges decide that they better keep the executions going since otherwise their credibility will be shot.

A similar inertia drives Darwinism. The evidence for Darwinism was never any good -- even in Darwin's day. But with advances in contemporary science, Darwinism becomes utterly insupportable. What are Darwinists to do? Rather than admit that their theory is at fault (and thus lose credibility), they keep the propaganda mills running overtime, inflating Darwinism's paltry successes and charging critics like Geoffrey Simmons with being "unscientific" and "religiously motivated" and committing the "intellectual sin" of merely picking holes in evolutionary theory.

David Berlinski, a prominent critic of Darwinism, once remarked to me that "a shift in prevailing scientific orthodoxies will come only when the objections to Darwinism accumulate so forcefully that they can no longer be ignored." In this book, Geoffrey Simmons reviews the many discoveries and advances in science since Darwin that point to intelligent design in biology. By providing numerous clear evidences of the intelligent design of biological systems, this book is bringing about the shift in scientific orthodoxies to which Berlinski refers. What Darwin Didn't Know leaves none of Darwinism's grandiose claims standing. Its critique is cumulative, relentless, and overwhelming.

Why does Geoffrey Simmons focus on Darwinism? It is no accident that in debates over biological evolution Darwin's name keeps coming up. Nor are repeated references to Darwin and Darwinism simply out of respect for the history of the subject, as though evolutionary biology needed constantly to be reminded of its founder. Darwin looms larger than life in the study of biological origins because his theory constitutes the very bedrock of evolutionary biology. Indeed, nothing in evolutionary biology makes sense apart from Darwinism.

To see this, we need to understand how Darwinism makes evolutionary biology tick. Darwinism is really two claims. The less crucial claim is that all organisms trace their lineage back to a universal common ancestor. Thus you, the fly buzzing around your head, and the bacteria sitting on the fly all share the same great-great-great grandparent. This claim is referred to as "common descent." Although evolutionary biology is committed to common descent, that is not its central claim.

The central claim of evolutionary biology, rather, is that an unguided physical process can account for the emergence of all biological complexity and diversity. Filling in the details of that process remains a matter for debate among evolutionary biologists. Yet it is an in-house debate, and one essentially about details. In broad strokes, however, any unguided physical process capable of producing biological complexity must have three components: (1) hereditary transmission, (2) incidental change, and (3) natural selection.

Think of it this way: We start with some organism. It incurs some change. The change is incidental in the sense that it doesn't anticipate future changes that subsequent generations of organisms may experience (neo-Darwinism, for instance, treats such changes as random mutations or errors in genetic material). What's more, incidental change is heritable and therefore can be transmitted to the next generation. Whether it actually is transmitted to the next generation, however, depends on whether the change is in some sense beneficial to the organism. If so, then natural selection will be likely to preserve organisms exhibiting that change.

Evolutionary biologists debate the precise role and extent of hereditary transmission and incidental change. The debate can even be quite sharp at times. But no evolutionary biologist challenges Darwinism's holy of holies -- natural selection. Darwin himself was unclear about the mechanisms of hereditary transmission and incidental change. But whatever form they took, Darwin was convinced that natural selection was the key to harnessing them. The same is true for contemporary evolutionary biologists. That's why to this day we hear repeated references to Darwin's theory of natural selection but not to Darwin's theory of variation or Darwin's theory of inheritance.

Apart from intelligent design, what can coordinate the incidental changes that hereditary transmission passes from one generation to the next? To perform such coordination, evolution requires a designer substitute. Darwin's claim to fame was to propose natural selection as a designer substitute. In making that proposal, Darwin perpetrated the greatest intellectual swindle in the history of ideas.

Natural selection is no substitute for intelligence. All natural selection does is narrow the variability of incidental change by weeding out the less fit. What's more, it acts on the spur of the moment, based solely on what the environment at present deems fit, and thus without any foresight of future possibilities. And yet this blind process, when coupled with another blind process (incidental change), is supposed to produce designs that exceed the capacities of any designers in our experience.

Where is the evidence that natural selection can accomplish the intricacies of bioengineering that are manifest throughout the living world? Where is the evidence that the sorts of incidental changes required for large-scale evolution ever occur? The evidence simply isn't there. To appreciate what's at stake, imagine what would happen to the germ theory of disease if scientists never found any microorganisms or viruses that produced diseases? That's the problem with Darwinism. In place of detailed, testable accounts of how a complex biological system could realistically have emerged, Darwinism offers handwaving just-so stories for how such systems might have emerged in some idealized conceptual space far removed from biological reality.

Why, then, does Darwinism continue to garner such a huge following, especially among the intellectual elites? Two reasons: (1) It provides a materialistic creation story that dispenses with any need for design or God (this is very convenient for those who want to escape the demands of religion, morality, and conscience). (2) The promise of getting design without a designer is incredibly seductive -- it's the ultimate free lunch. No wonder Daniel Dennett, in Darwin's Dangerous Idea, credits Darwin with "the single best idea anyone has ever had." Getting design without a designer is a good trick indeed.

Darwinism is a magic trick performed far enough away from the audience to dazzle them until someone starts handing out binoculars. With the advances in the life sciences that he recounts in this book, Geoffrey Simmons is handing out a great pair of binoculars and making Darwinism's sleight of hand plain to see. Darwinism, though always a trick, has in the past been a remarkably successful trick. What Darwin Didn't Know shows why the Darwinian magic gig is now up.

File Date: 1.30.04

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