The Discovery Institute has a long history of sponsoring and collaborating with a large number of highly intelligent, fascinating scientists who stand outside traditional Christian belief as well as outside the mainstream of evolutionary science. In keeping with this tradition, they have recently published Evolution: A Theory Still in Crisis, by Michael Denton, a followup to his famous book thirty years ago, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, which influenced a whole generation of scientists to question the standard paradigm of evolution. In this book, Denton is not mainly just updating his previous arguments with data from the past three decades in the rapidly advancing fields of evolutionary and developmental biology (“evo-devo”) and genetic paleontology. His main purpose in the book is to present a comprehensive, positive case for his own view of how the diversity of life came about. His view is not the same as the intelligent design view promoted by the Discovery Institute, but many of his points could be equally seen as supportive of intelligent design.
In short, his view is that there are pan-phylogenic Types, or Forms, which exist in nature, to which life spontaneously conforms. This view sounds a lot like neo-Platonism, which, following Plato, posits a spiritual world of Ideals which then instantiate themselves in nature. But Denton explicitly avoids spiritual implications and insists on this view as a purely physical and materialist theory. His hero is Richard Owen, an early pre-Darwinian evolutionist, who posited the same view.
We are all so programmed by the current evolutionary debate to see Darwinian evolution as the only viable materialist theory that it is hard to understand at first what Denton is proposing, if not intervention from a spirit world, and it is hard to grasp that there were evolutionists who preceded Darwin, with strong arguments against Darwin’s ideas. To understand Denton’s view (and Owen’s) it is crucial to realize that it is first and foremost an empirical theory. Science has a long tradition of empirical theories which simply state the facts in unifying language without proposing any mechanism at all to explain them. Thus, for example, Newton famously proposed that gravity force could act at a distance, without proposing any explanation why. We are all so used to Newton’s laws now that we forget how empirically driven it was. The same empirical approach was used to build the Periodic Table of chemistry, long before quantum mechanics explained why it has the form it does. In the same way, Denton, following Owen, draws us to look at a glaring and obvious fact of nature: that living organisms do not exist in a continuum of small differences with gradual transitions between them; rather, they exist in highly distinct types and forms, with specific identities and unique features for each type. Thus, for example, mammals all have four limbs, five digits per limb, two eyes, mammary glands in pairs, etc. These patterns persist over hundreds of millions of years despite all manner of selective pressure in different directions. More.
Curiously, and contrary to the talking points of pop culture, the religion is all on the Darwin side (where it belongs). After all, it was Richard Dawkins who claimed that Darwin made him an intellectually fulfilled atheist, and it has probably done the same thing for many smartass science journalists, dispensing them from any need for curiosity about how the world works. The rest of the world is moving on.
Note: How strange that journalists should be in the rearguard? Yes, but see what is happening to legacy media. Coffee table stuff.
See also: Michael Denton: The laws of nature are uniquely fine-tuned
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