Wells vs. Shermer at Cato Institute
|October 14, 2006||Posted by William Dembski under Evolution, Intelligent Design, Darwinism|
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
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.