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Wells vs. Shermer at Cato Institute

On October 12, Jonathan Wells spoke opposite Skeptic magazine editor Michael Shermer at the Cato Institute in Washington, DC. Shermer was promoting his new book, Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design, and Wells was promoting his book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design.

Shermer appears to be a favorite of the Cato Institute. In his book he writes (on p. 138): “Evolution [by which he means a blind materialistic form of it] provides a scientific foundation for the core values shared by most Christians and conservatives, and by accepting — and embracing — the theory of evolution, Christians and conservatives strengthen their religion, their politics, and science itself.”

At this event, Shermer spoke first, then Wells followed. Wells’s prepared remarks are given below. Shermer and Wells then answered questions from the audience. The event was filmed by C-Span Book Channel, and is scheduled to air on TV next weekend, October 21-22.

CATO INSTITUTE REMARKS
Jonathan Wells

In the 1960s, I was a Berkeley leftist. In fact, I spent a year and a half in prison for my opposition to the war in Vietnam. Now older and (I hope) wiser, I am committed to conservative social values and opposed to big government. Unlike Mr. Shermer, however, I do not embrace Darwinism, for the simple reason that Darwinism is false.

“Darwinism” is not the same as “evolution,” which can mean simply “change over time” or “change within existing species” — neither of which is the least bit controversial. By “Darwinism” I mean Charles Darwin’s theory, in both its original and modern forms, that all living things are descended from a common ancestor and modified by unguided natural processes such as random mutation and survival of the fittest.

As I learned in the course of earning my Ph.D. in biology from the University of California at Berkeley, Darwinism is false because it doesn’t fit the scientific evidence. This includes the evidence cited by Mr. Shermer in his book, Why Darwin Matters.

For example, according to Mr. Shermer fossils “speak for themselves,” and Darwin’s theory of descent with modification is evident in “eight intermediate fossil stages identified in the evolution of whales.” (p. 16) Yet paleontologists now know that all of these fossils have features they would have had to lose before giving birth to more recent forms. They cannot possibly be members of a single lineage of ancestors and descendants. One might as well line up a series of automobile models and claim that they illustrate descent with modification — as some Darwinists have done — even though we know that automobiles are products of design rather than unguided natural processes.

Darwinists acknowledge that living things look designed, but they claim that this is an illusion. Mr. Shermer uses the example of the human eye: “Biological structures show signs of natural design. The anatomy of the human eye, in fact, shows anything but ‘intelligence’ in its design. It is built upside down and backwards, requiring photons of light to travel through the cornea, lens, aqueous fluid, blood vessels, [and various nerve] cells before they reach the light-sensitive rods and cones that transduce
the light signal into neural impulses.” (p. 17) But this description is incorrect: The blood vessels are behind the light-sensitive rods and cones — otherwise they would block the incoming light. Indeed, this is the very reason the nerve cells must be positioned in front of the light-sensitive cells — so the latter can be close to the underlying blood vessels that nourish and renew them. The human eye is, in fact, an extraordinarily efficient video camera that continually regenerates itself, and no one has
succeeded in showing how it could have been designed any better — nor demonstrated how it evolved through a Darwinian process.

Darwinists claim that microevolution — minor changes within existing species — if given enough time, will produce macroevolution — the origin of new species, organs and body plans. Microevolution, such as we see in breeds of dogs or varieties of roses, is uncontroversial, and people knew about it long before Darwin came along. But macroevolution has never been observed, and the extrapolation from microevolution to macroevolution remains controversial even among evolutionary biologists. Yet Mr. Shermer cites as “an example of macroevolution” a 2004 experiment* that produced no new species, much less new organs or body plans (p. 75). Don’t take my word for it; I have the article from the journal Science right here. Mr. Shermer also claims that “we see evolution at work in nature today, isolating populations and creating new species” (p. 79), even though no one has ever observed the origin of a single new species by Darwinian evolution.

Nevertheless, Mr. Shermer concludes: “Darwin matters because evolution matters. Evolution matters because science matters. Science matters because it is the preeminent story of our age, an epic saga about who we are, where we came from, and where we are going.” (p. 161)

Now, I like a good story as much as the next person, but science isn’t about telling stories. It’s about understanding the real world by testing theories against the evidence. Mr. Shermer pays lip service to evidence, but he actually ignores it and falls back on a completely different definition of science. According to Mr. Shermer, the essence of science is naturalism, which dictates that “life is the result of natural processes in a system of material causes and effects that does not allow, or need, the introduction of supernatural forces.” Indeed, “there is no such thing as the supernatural.” (pp. 52-53)

This is not empirical science, but materialistic philosophy. In this respect, Darwinism is no different from Marxism and Freudianism, and like them it is headed for the dustbin of history. As a conservative myself, I urge you not to hitch your wagon to a falling star.

I’d like to add that although I have criticized the faith that Mr. Shermer places in Darwinism, we agree on one important point. He writes: “In the free marketplace of ideas, turning to the government to force your theory on others — particularly children — goes against every principle of liberty upon which modern Western democracies are founded.” (p. 91)

Absolutely; I couldn’t agree more. But the people who are using government to force their ideas on our children are not intelligent design theorists, they are the Darwinists themselves. Despite what you may have read in the establishment news media, there is no national campaign to mandate intelligent design in any science curriculum. One highly publicized local exception was the Dover, Pennsylvania, school district, which required the reading of a short statement informing students that there was a book on intelligent design in the school library. That school district acted against the advice of the Discovery Institute, the principal organization representing intelligent design. The Discovery Institute, with which I’m affiliated, maintains that actions such as Dover’s — while constitutional — unnecessarily politicize what should be a scientific debate.

Darwinists, on the other hand, routinely use public education to impose their ideas on our children. In the past few years, several states (such as Ohio and Kansas) adopted science curricula that included a critical analysis of evolutionary theory. Those curricula did not include intelligent design; instead, they require students to learn the evidence and scientific arguments both for and against Darwinism. Although you might think that critical analysis would be good science education, Darwinists in Ohio
succeeded in banning it, and Darwinists in Kansas are now in the process of doing the same. This is not science education, but government-imposed indoctrination of our children — at our expense.

Things are just as bad at the college level. Qualified scientists who criticize Darwinism become outcasts in their university departments, and in a growing number of cases they are losing their jobs. Taxpayer-subsidized universities — which, I think you know, are not the open-minded forums for competing ideas that they claim to be — do their best to silence all criticisms of Darwinism.

As a conservative and opponent of big government myself, I urge you to resist this government-imposed Darwinist monopoly in public science education.

Thank you.

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20 Responses to Wells vs. Shermer at Cato Institute

  1. The event video is already online at Cato’s page for the event (with podcast mp3 link).

  2. Does any comment with a URL get marked as spam?

  3. It would appear so, as I’ve posted two links to video of this event.

  4. I’m listening to Shermer’s opening now, I hope Dr Wells exposes his circularity and philosophy-as-science.

  5. I am amazed at the confidence Shermer has in the fairy tales he’s using to ‘debunk’ irreducible complexity. Now Dr Wells is beginning…

  6. Ah, Shermer introduces him by way of his religion and his infamous comments about devoting his life to the overthrow of Darwinism.

  7. “Shermer appears to be a favorite of the Cato Institute. In his book he writes (on p. 138): ‘Evolution [by which he means a blind materialistic form of it] provides a scientific foundation for the core values shared by most Christians and conservatives, and by accepting — and embracing — the theory of evolution, Christians and conservatives strengthen their religion, their politics, and science itself.’”

    So, according to Shermer, “…by accepting – and embracing – the theory of evolution, Christians…STRENGTHEN THEIR RELIGION”? Oy. If Shermer is that uninformed or blind to the teachings of Christianity as to come up with the above doozy, why is anyone still listening to him talk about religion and its relationship with science?

  8. Do the following to find the video:
    1. Google up “Cato Institute”
    2. Go to “Events” (top of the screen)
    3. Go to “Watch or Listen to Archived Events Online” (left side of the screen)

  9. Todd,

    Send us that link! URLs work fine here.

    BTW, I watched Meyer and Ruse on PBS ThinkTank today. Ruse didn’t seem to have much to say except that ID is motivated by religion. That sure is getting old.

    Meyer is superb and articulate — a great public spokesman for ID.

  10. “Why Darwin Matters”? I though the whole point of Shermer’s metaphysical commitment is that nothing matters per se. After all, if the Darwinian paradigm is true and I ought to believe because it is good for human beings qua human beings to believe what is true, then Darwin ought to matter to us because we have a certain telos that requires that we ought to know the truth. So, Darwin matters because there’s more to us than matter, or Darwin matters because materialism is false.

    I can live with that.

  11. The link for Shermer vs. Wells is here:
    http://www.cato.org/event.php?eventid=3184

    To date, I have watched about five ID vs. Darwinism debates. I am partial to ID, but try to be objective as possible when watching these debates. IMHO, the ID proponent has been the clear winner in every debate. The Meyer vs. Ward debate hosted by the Seattle Times was just terrible for Ward. I actually felt myself becoming embarrassed for him – he simply had nothing to say beyond unsuccessfully attempting to link ID to religion, and he even called out to colleagues sitting in the audience like he was at some kind of sporting event. In Wells vs. Shermer it was more of a Q&A type event, and although I think Wells presented the ID side very well, I think it’s only fair to say that Shermer came across as articulate and for the most part polite, which is more than I can say for the other Darwinists. Shermer didn’t say anything to help poor Charlie though.

  12. Dr Wells has a statement that is not correct. The blood vessels in the eye do cast a shaddow. In an unlighted room shine a flashlightfrom the side into the eyes while gazing into the distance. You will see a road map of the vessels. I am a retired physician. But no matter, research has shown that the human eye is more efficient in delivery of energy to the retinal vessels, than the ‘more perfectly designed’ octopus retina, which is not ‘backwards’, the retina that Shermer delights in referencing.

  13. Shermer’s ‘bad designer’ points about the eye are made shallow by The Silicon Eye – if it is such a bad design, why can’t ‘Science’ replicate it?

    I was also struck by Shermer’s attempt to co-opt design for ‘selection’. Ironically, he repeatedly claimed nature designed this or that…

  14. Shermer criticised ID proponents for taking swipes at Darwinian evolution without coming up with their own theory to explain the origin and development of life.

    Yet I don’t see those who point out flaws in string theory being asked to come up with their own “Theory of Everything” before their views can be considered.

    Isn’t there some hypocrisy here?

  15. Shermer should read Dembski’s discussions of ‘optimal design’ vs. ‘perfect design’, whatever the latter is thought to be. Perfect , in the eye of the beholder, does not guarantee adequacy or appropriateness.

  16. GilDodgen, all,

    Was the debate (aired by PBS) already put on the net (audio, video, text format) ?

    If yes, can we have a link ?…

    Thank you!

  17. 18

    Turell:
    But no matter, research has shown that the human eye is more efficient in delivery of energy to the retinal vessels…

    Do you have a reference for that? Thanks in advance!

  18. IMHO, the ID proponent has been the clear winner in every debate.

    That’s exactly why in general Darwinists encourage each other to avoid debating IDers. Dawkins refuses to debate on the premise that it would dignify ID. Baloney. He’d have his arrogant head handed to him even by second string IDers.

  19. As I learned in the course of earning my Ph.D. in biology from the University of California at Berkeley, Darwinism is false because it doesn’t fit the scientific evidence. This includes the evidence cited by Mr. Shermer in his book, Why Darwin Matters.

    And since you can learn this in your PhD program in biology, it seems like there is not much more to say… Until you read that Shermer can just tell that embracing information that would cast a shadow on the bible is somehow a “Way to strengthen your religion”. Sheesh. The nerve.

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