You don’t come across a story like this every day. David Gelernter is a world-renowned computer scientist from Yale and he’s moving on from Darwinism. Gelernter credits Stephen Meyers’ book, Darwin’s Doubt, as the breakthrough in his paradigm shift - calling it one of the most important books in a generation. In an essay in the Claremont Review of Books he outlines his position and the arguments that changed his mind.
Darwinism, as a philosophical-scientific system has three major problems. First, the fossil record doesn’t support Darwin’s theories, particularly the Cambrian Explosion. Simply put, the fossil record should look like a tree with an intricate system of branches fanning out from a common trunk, but as Meyers and Gelernter both point out, this is not the case. “The incremental development of new species is largely not there,” and the prospects don’t look good. Second, in order to account for the appearance of design in nature, natural processes must be able to generate new species, and this means they need to be able to produce new proteins. Gelernter offers a clear and detailed argument for why mutations and natural selection simply cannot account for this kind of innovation in the essay, but in summary, the chances of selecting the right genes to form new proteins are astronomically low (literally 1 in all the atoms in the universe). Finally, the mutations needed to generate new species lead to death much faster than to reproduction. Gelernter puts it this way, “Evidently there are a total of no examples in the literature of mutations that affect early development and the body plan as a whole and are not fatal.”
While Darwin may have landed a brilliantly simple explanation of adaptation, he simply has no answer for the origin of the species, which is what his defenders claim he has done. Even more than that, Darwinism has expanded to become an ideological platform for nearly every other scientific discipline. This makes defectors more dangerous and true paradigm change more difficult. The article concludes with this foreboding question; “How cleanly and quickly can the field get over Darwin, and move on?... This is one of the most important questions facing science in the 21st century.” Where Gelernter goes next and how many others follow his lead will have a big effect on the answer.
This is the kind of critical thinking and engagement we should expect from America’s academic elite, and the kind we should clamor for in our churches; but on both accounts, we have been short-changed. True academic rigor engages at the levels of technically proficient detail and overarching intellectual paradigm. Scientists have often focused on technical detail without examining the philosophical and methodological foundations. Christians have often been (willfully) ignorant of modern science.
Christians are committed to the belief that God created the world from nothing and that every corner of creation displays God’s creativity, power, and design. Often, though, we’ve been scared to investigate because the scientific community has largely been viewed as hostile to Christianity, probably more though the work of the new atheists than the science itself, and even more importantly, because Christianity has drifted toward anti-intellectualism. It always strikes me that for two thousand years, up to about a hundred years ago, pioneers in the sciences were often devout Christians. They were at the front of their discipline and they believed they were being faithful to God. How can we recapture that marriage of intellectual curiosity and biblical fidelity? The two should be mutually enriching.
Articles like this one have huge apologetic value. George Weigel rightly points out that Christians’ ability to keep up with and understand developments in science may be crucial to reaching the rising population of “nones,” who have a commitment to science and won’t bite on scientific illiteracy in the name of religion. Last year, I gave a lecture on the relationship between faith and science. If you’re looking for an introduction to the philosophical issues involved in Darwinism and Christianity, this is a great starting point. We also hosted a Q&A on the topic. Two weeks ago we discussed similar issues on the So We Speak podcast.
For more on Gelernter’s arguments and his road to rejecting Darwinism, check out his discussion with David Berlinski and Stephen Meyer on the Hoover Institution’s show “Uncommon Knowledge.”
Cole Feix is the founder of So We Speak and a regular writer. Follow him on Twitter, @cfeix7.