35 Replies to ““Ayala’s Potemkin Village” — review of Francisco Ayala’s DARWIN’S GIFT

  1. 1
    dacook says:

    Clear, cogent, and easy to read. Nicely done.

  2. 2
    rockyr says:

    Re: “For Ayala, Darwin resolves the problem of evil…. God, who is also an intelligent designer renders the problem of evil insoluble, since such a designer God would be responsible for all botched and malevolent designs in nature.”

    Not sure why the problem of evil and theodicy is so mindboggling to people like Ayala. Is this why he quit to be a Catholic priest? Really, what would nature with only “perfect” designs be like? And, can we even talk about such “perfect” nature or is it logical to talk about “malevolent design”? Isn’t any design a “good” or at least a “good enough” design even if it may seem botched to our imperfect mind and reasoning?

  3. 3
    jerry says:

    Dr. Dembski,

    Thank you for the great review and it is also good to have you in your own words since we see all too much distortions about what you actually have said and believe by others who seem to put their words into your mouth.

    It will be interesting to see what Dinesh D’Souza’s new book says about Darwin since in a synopsis of it he says that Darwin’s theory supports God and design.

    Here is his quote from his website

    “Darwin’s theory of evolution, far from undermining the evidence for supernatural design, actually strengthens it.”

    Though I believe this is a very small part of the book from what has been said about it by reviewers.

  4. 4
    Jack Golightly says:

    Recommended related reading:

    “Darwins God”
    Cornelius Hunter

  5. 5
    Carl Sachs says:

    I also found the review well-written and well-reasoned. As I read it, I was reminded of Ian Hacking’s recent essay in The Nation. To put his view in a nutshell, Hacking argues that the mark of a “live research program” is that it raises a lot of interesting problems and questions — that a lot remains to be done. I’m attracted by this view but not entirely sold. A theory with a lot of anomalies could generate the illusion of thriving, in Hacking’s sense, when it is fact on its death-bed.

    I wonder if, as a practicing scientists, Ayala holds (along with Hacking) that the prevalence of unanswered but answerable questions is a sign of health, but he doesn’t trust in “the average reader” to grasp this point.

    For those interested, Hacking’s essay is here. (Caveat lector: Hacking is a Darwinist.)

  6. 6
    StephenB says:

    It would be one thing if Ayala had read The Design Inference and said, “I don’t agree with the distinction between “optimum design” and “perfect design.” However, from what I gather, he has not even chartered that territory, much less formulated an intelligent objection to the principles brought forth. Unless I am missing something, I must conclude that he is not only unfair, but also uninformed.

  7. 7
    ReligionProf says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed Ayala’s book, and I think the strength of his statement about evolution should not be downplayed. When he says, at one point, that there are no longer gaps in our knowledge about evolution, he really means it, and it is true in the specific sense in which he makes the statement. Are there still fossils we do not have, for instance? Of course. But Ayala is talking about the evidence from genetics, which is as clear cut evidence as one could hope for – and genetics is also obviously a striking confirmation of Darwin’s theory, which it predicted but did not know about at the time. We can trace the relatedness of all living things using the same methods that make paternity testing an open and shut case.

    As for the issue of theodicy, Ayala’s approach is at the very least no weaker than that of ID. If indirect creation is not a persuasive theodicy for Dembski, it is not clear that God intelligently designing organisms to evolve into what we now see deals with the issue in a more satisfactory way.

    At any rate, Dembski’s point that there are uncertainties and gaps in our knowledge about evolutionary history is for most evolutionary biologists the reason they are continuing to do research in the field, and not a reason to give it up.

  8. 8
    bornagain77 says:

    A good and insightful review Dr. Dembski.

  9. 9
    jerry says:


    What does genetic information imply about mechanism for the origin of new species? The answer is nothing and to rely on it is tantamount to giving up on gradualism.

    The genetic information available is consistent with all the alternative mechanisms proposed for the origin of species so to claim it for Darwin’s approach is nonsense. As I said it a sign of weakness and Ayala has essentially given up if that is his main argument.

  10. 10
    rockyr says:

    Re: post 5 by Carl Sachs

    Hacking, being a mathematical researcher and an expert on chance should know better than to simply bypass the key question ID is trying to point out:

    “I have said nothing about the second sticking point for the anti-Darwin movement, that chance variation and natural selection have sufficed to produce the living world as we know it. It is an incredible doctrine. Darwin himself was pretty cautious about it. I respect anyone who says he cannot believe it. But that is where one should stay, in a state of disbelief. Once you start arguing against it, you end up being silly.” (Page 5 of the The Nation review)

    Hacking is dead wrong when he says “It is a fact that you will get complex structures if you just let such systems run.” If you just let any system run for long enough without some guiding conditions and interactions, it will eventually go haywire, a fact well known from the basic Control Theory.

    Leibniz’ “best” world would have maximum of variety, but again Hacking is wrong when he thinks that “Such a world has no place for a specific set of plans for the Arctic tern. … A stupid designer would have to arrange for all the intricate details (the Arctic tern again) that anti-Darwinians eulogize.” It is the point of Christianity that Providence has specific plans for creatures, including the flowers and the birds (Matthew 6:24-34, Luke 12:24-27), even if it provides free will for creatures who can actually exercise it. (See Aritstotle’s understanding of chance.)

    Hacking’s grand conclusion is: “In other words, in the light of our present knowledge, we can only suppose that the most intelligent designer (I do not say there is one) would have to be a “neo-Darwinian” who achieves the extraordinary variety of living things by chance.”

    Again, and this goes back to Hacking being an expert on chance — what is this “chance”? And can we, including Darwinians, intelligently argue about it without being silly about it?

  11. 11
    mike1962 says:

    RelgionProf: “genetics is also obviously a striking confirmation of Darwin’s theory”

    How so?

  12. 12
    StuartHarris says:


    I’m puzzled about why Ayala would refer to you as being a “sociologist”. I probably won’t be buying his book, so please tell us in what context he thinks of you as a “sociologist”.

  13. 13
    jerry says:


    I have tried to post things and they have been either delayed or deleted. Am I being moderated for some reason?

    Once Word Press appeared and said I was posting too quickly. What does that mean?

  14. 14
    Jack Golightly says:

    It seems to me you’ve missed pretty much the main point of the review, or, at least stayed on the merry-go-round when Bill suggested a nice hopping-off point: “admit there are difficulties on both sides of the divide”.

    The author may sincerely mean it when he says “there are no longer gaps”, but surely the evidence is at least as murky as the fossil record. Especially when we have folks seriously suggesting that we scrap the gene model altogether.
    The “uncertainties and gaps” should most certainly give biologists pause to consider whether their research might not be more productive under a new paradigm.

  15. 15

    StuartHarris: He makes the mistake in listing Phil Johnson as a lawyer (rightly), Mike Behe as a biologist (rightly), and me as a sociologist (wrongly).

  16. 16
    tribune7 says:

    Great review.

    Ironically, without God, evil really would not exist.

    Suffering and its premedited infliction would exist, but God is needed to define it as evil.

  17. 17
    DaveScot says:


    You are making the common mistake of conflating “evolution” and common descent. ID does not dispute common descent. Neither does ID confirm common descent. It just doesn’t speak to that subject. As one might expect since there is actually nothing ID says about common descent there are some ID proponents who accept common descent (Mike Behe and me, for example) and some who do not (Paul Nelson, for example). Still others are non-committal (Dembski, for example).

  18. 18
    larrycranston says:

    Dr. Dembski,

    Dave says that you are non-committal regarding common descent. There are Darwinists claiming that at your recent talk in Oklahoma, you said you did not believe that humans and apes share a common ancestor.

    I think they’re making it up. Is there a transcript of the talk available so we can show that they’re lying?

  19. 19
    russ says:

    I think they’re making it up. Is there a transcript of the talk available so we can show that they’re lying?

    Is it possible that no one is lying, but that there’s been a misunderstanding, or even a change in the facts?

  20. 20
    Joseph says:

    But Ayala is talking about the evidence from genetics, which is as clear cut evidence as one could hope for – and genetics is also obviously a striking confirmation of Darwin’s theory, which it predicted but did not know about at the time.

    If that were so there wouldn’t be any geneticists who are Creationists. Yet there are a numnber of them.

    One is Giuseppe Sermonti who wrote:

    The scientist enjoys a privilege denied the theologian. To any question, even one central to his theories, he may reply “I’m sorry but I do not know.” This is the only honest answer to the question posed by the title of this chapter. We are fully aware of what makes a flower red rather than white, what it is that prevents a dwarf from growing taller, or what goes wrong in a paraplegic or a thalassemic. But the mystery of species eludes us, and we have made no progress beyond what we already have long known, namely, that a kitty is born because its mother was a she-cat that mated with a tom, and that a fly emerges as a fly larva from a fly egg.”

    Universal common descent is not testable scientifically. What is missing is something, anything, that can account for the physiological and anatomical differences observed.

    That doesn’t mean that UCD is false. It just means at this point in time it is out of the realm of science.

    As for ID not disputing UCD that is true however it may be best to say that ID is non-committal. That is if UCD were falsified ID would still stand.

  21. 21

    For the record: I personally don’t believe in common descent though I think there are lines of evidence that suggest considerable evolutionary change. At the same time, there are lines of evidence that suggest considerable discontinuity among organisms. Check out chapter 5 of my forthcoming book with Jonathan Wells titled THE DESIGN OF LIFE (publication date keeps being delayed, but I think it’ll be out in November).

  22. 22
    ReligionProf says:

    Many thanks to William Dembski for being up front about his views on this subject!

    I just wanted to reply to mike1962 briefly. Darwin’s theory was formulated in the absence of any understanding of how traits were passed on, and it was clear to him that if traits were what we today might call ‘analog’ rather than ‘digital’, then his explanation would not work.

    Needless to say, the fact that one can map the degree of relatedness of all living things through the comparison of DNA (something else unknown in Darwin’s time) also is something that his theory would lead one to predict, and has subsequently been confirmed.

    Given that we have genetic evidence, evidence from homologous structures, and so on, I guess I can only wonder what sort of evidence would be necessary in order to persuade those here who are skeptical about common descent that it actually occurred.

  23. 23
    Joseph says:

    Genetic similarities can be explained by convergence and/ or common design.

    There isn’t anything in Darwin’s theory nor the modern synthesis, that predicts genetic similarities.

    Loss and replacement is not mapped out. Culled genetic accidents is virtually void of predictive power.

    Homologous structures- that is another story. Homolgy implies common ancestry. Therefore to demonstrate homology one has to demonstrate common ancestry. Yet homology is used as evidence for common ancestry.

    Structures are considered homologous only if common ancestry is assumed.

  24. 24
    Jack Golightly says:

    How about, any evidence for the existence of a mechanism for the introduction of novel structures in an organism.
    Oh, wait, I forgot, we just haven’t found it yet!

  25. 25
    jerry says:


    Genetic similarities says nothing about how these similarities arose. There are four basic assumptions about how new species arise and two of them involve design and two involve naturalistic mechanisms. Each would support genetic similarity.

    So finding genetic similarity, which of the four mechanisms do you choose. The answer is that you must go to other evidence to make these choices.

    Darwin’s theory or gradualism has been modified several times and the current version uses genetics to explain how changes arise. The only trouble is that there is so much contradictory information to the gradualistic approach as to make this mechanism not viable. Thus, one should be looking at one of the other mechanisms.

    This has been pointed out to you several times but you seem to ignore it. So you can not use genetic similarity to support the gradualistic approach of Darwin. It doesn’t point to it over the other possible mechanisms.

  26. 26

    “Needless to say, the fact that one can map the degree of relatedness of all living things through the comparison of DNA (something else unknown in Darwin’s time) also is something that his theory would lead one to predict, and has subsequently been confirmed.”

    Of course you can map it. It is possible to take any two or more things and map out a hypothetical relationship. The question is not whether it can be mapped, but whether the map reflects reality, which is very much an open question.

    In addition, you are incorrect that Darwin’s theory would predict that “the degree of relatedness” can be mapped. Darwin’s theory knows no such constraints. Everything is possible and anything goes. Based on Darwin’s musings, we might as well have a hundred different genetic codes. Or one. DNA might be quickly modified. Or slowly. Genes might be conserved from generation to generation. Or not.

    Common descent may in fact be true, but you don’t get there with Darwin’s completely vague, outdated and simplistic view of biology.

  27. 27
    jerry says:

    I have a question that was prompted by tribune7’s comment above about the nature of evil.

    What is evil? We normally associate it with physical or mental pain/hardship caused by the randomness of the world or by the intentions of humans. We never say that one animal’s treatment of another is evil (unless the recipient animal is human) while we quite readily use this to describe human behavior.

    Is evil really more than that? Does the concept of evil require that there be purpose? And is evil also the frustration of that purpose?

    Are there any accessible discussions of evil. I am sure there are lots of obtuse philosophical treatises but was looking for something simple. And also I hope this doesn’t start a discussion of this here since I was just curious.

  28. 28
    Carl Sachs says:

    Jerry — philosophers and theologians sometimes distinguish between “natural evil” (e.g. diseases, earthquakes) and “moral evil” (murder, torture). Maybe if you tried a Google search on those two phrases you could find something useful. Hope this helps!

  29. 29
    bornagain77 says:

    This has a thought provoking message no matter how you believe.

    Does evil exist?

    The university professor challenged his students with this question. Did God create everything that exists?
    A student bravely replied yes, he did!”
    “God created everything?” The professor asked.
    “Yes, sir,” the student replied.

    The professor answered, “If God created everything, then God created evil since evil exists, and according to the principal that our works define who we are then God is evil.”
    The student became quiet before such an answer.

    The professor was quite pleased with himself and boasted to the students that he had proven once more that the Christian faith was a myth.

    Another student raised his hand and said, “Can I ask you a question professor?” “Of course”, replied the professor. The student stood up and asked, “Professor, does cold exist?”

    “What kind of question is this? Of course it exists. Have you never been cold?” The students snickered at the young man’s question.

    The young man replied, “In fact sir, cold does not exist. According to the laws of physics, what we consider cold is in reality the absence of heat. Everybody and every object is susceptible to study when it has or transmits energy, and heat is what makes a body or matter have or transmit energy. Absolute zero (- 460 degrees F) is the total absence of heat; all matter becomes inert and incapable of reaction at that temperature. Cold does not exist. We have created this word to describe how we feel if we have too little heat.

    The student continued. “Professor, does darkness exist?”

    The professor responded, “Of course it does”.

    The student replied, “Once again you are wrong sir, darkness does not exist either. Darkness is in reality the absence of light. Light we can study, but not darkness. In fact we can use Newton’s prism to break white light into many colors and study the various wavelengths of each color. You cannot measure darkness. A simple ray of light can break into a world of darkness and illuminate it. How can you know how dark a certain space is? You measure the amount of light present. Isn’t this correct? Darkness is a term used by man to describe what happens when there is no light present.”

    Finally the young man asked the professor. “Sir, does evil exist?”

    Now uncertain, the professor responded, “Of course as I have already said. We see it every day. It is in the daily example of man’s inhumanity to man. It is in the multitude of crime and everywhere in the world. “These manifestations are nothing else but evil.”

    To this the student replied, “Evil does not exist sir, or at least it does not exist unto itself. Evil is simply the absence of God. It is just like darkness and cold, a word that man has created to describe the absence of God. God did not create evil. Evil is not like faith, or love, that exist just as does light and heat. Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God’s love present in his heart. It’s like the cold that comes when there is no heat or the darkness that comes when there is no light.”

    The professor sat down.

    The young mans name — Albert Einstein

  30. 30
    Carl Sachs says:

    I’m shocked to hear that the professor was so easily tricked. The doctrine that evil is nothing in itself, but only the absence of divine presence, can be found as early as Augustine’s Confessions — and the doctrine played an important role in the early debates over Gnosticism. It boggles the mind to think that a professor (of what?) could be so deficient in the basics of the history of Western thought.

  31. 31
    larrycranston says:

    Excuse me, bornagain77, but I don’t think that quoting an urban legend about Albert Einstein does much to bolster your argument.

  32. 32
    Nochange says:


    That’s an urban myth. As much as I support the message, the story itself isn’t true:


  33. 33
    bornagain77 says:

    Larry Cranston:
    This has a thought provoking message no matter how you believe or even if the story is a urban legend.
    Or to put it more directly to you Larry ,,,prove to me that evil exists without ever alluding to a loss of good!!!!
    If you can do this, then the logic of the argument will be proven false,,%2 il then I think it warrants considerable merit as a strong possible overall truth of reality…In other words ….Ev;il in its truest definition is equal to non-existance, such as dark and cold are equal to non-existance of light and heat. Thus to choose to “do ev;il” is to choose to become more non-existant i.e. . To choose to do good is to choose to become more existant i.e. alive.

    That probably sounds impersonal to you, but it is pure and true in its logic since you cannot ever refer to ev^il without also referring to the loss of good. As such absolute good (God) must exist for their ever to even be a consideration of the loss of Good i.e. ev^il

  34. 34
    larrycranston says:


    I think you are being a bit overly sensitive. Read my post again, I am not disagreeing with you.

    My point was that the attribution of the question to Einstein is incorrect. If you knew that when you posted it, then you could be seen as lying, and that weakens your argument.

  35. 35
    rockyr says:

    Prof. Sachs, the problem of evil has been muddled by all sorts of second and third rate thinkers and philosophers you quote. (I guess this muddle keeps modern philosophers and professors of philosophy employed.) The most authoritative and logical explanation of the problem of good and evil was presented by Thomas Aquinas. For a simple no-nonsense explanation see for example here


    or see more detailed explanation here


    Just to give a quick example, considering that “an evil thing is first a thing. Consequently it has some existence, and so has some good, of which God is the cause.”

    An earthquake wiping out a city may seem to be evil, but it is not absolutely evil in all aspects, it may have have some good points or “higher” good, (which we may not be able to understand with our “Impure Reason” as you should know from your blog). It may lead to some good in future, such as new soil or a good habitat for some future generations of life in the area. (Theologically, an earthquake may also be a part of divine judgement on such a city, such as Sodom, so there may be more good hidden in wiping out depravity and evil.)

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