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In the question period, I asked Derbyshire if he could think of any observation that would count as falsifying Darwinism. He said: “I think miraculous creation would do it. The miraculous appearance of an entirely new species.”
That answer at least points us in a useful direction. Pursue it, and we might be able to clarify the Darwinian conundrum. The point is that in Darwinism a philosophical assumption, rarely explicit, circumscribes the “scientific” conclusions that are permitted. The assumption is this: Only naturalistic explanations can be allowed within biology. Naturalism implies the exclusion of mind, intelligence, or absolutely anything except atoms and molecules in motion. Nothing else exists. Everything must be explained in terms of physics and chemistry and anything beyond that will be derided as “creationism.” Good Darwinians are not allowed by their own rules even to entertain the possibility that intelligence was involved in the origin or development of life. No research is needed to come to that conclusion. It is axiomatic within the theory.
Derbyshire responded: “Scientists embrace naturalism because science is a naturalistic pursuit. A working scientist is by definition naturalistic.”
That is incorrect. From scraps of unearthed rubble, archeologists infer design when no trace of the designer remains. A scientist investigating how automobiles are made goes to a factory and learns that the assembly line originated in plans and blueprints, which in turn originated in the minds of men.
Ah yes, the mind! But that, too, consists of nothing but atoms and molecules in motion, no? Which brings us to the Inner Sanctum of the materialist dogma: Mind itself is nothing but matter. Free will is an illusion, and so on. (Darwin accepted these propositions, noting “the general delusion about free will.”)
There is no reason in the world to accept the materialist faith, but once you do, then something very much like Darwinism has to be true. Life exists-we got here somehow, along with billions of other organisms. So how did it happen? Must have been that animals self-assembled a little bit at a time, in a long chain of accidental survivals.
THE SCIENTISTS DERBYSHIRE talks to at Cold Spring Harbor Lab say there is no controversy about Darwinism and so he counseled that “we can only defer to that consensus.” Because every observation they ever make seems to corroborate the Darwinian tautology, most scientists probably do believe that the theory is universally true. But as the philosopher of science Karl Popper saw, the same was true of Freudianism. For good Freudians, everything seems to confirm the theory because it is protected against falsification by its own logic. Likewise Darwinism. “To say that a species now living is adapted to its environment is, in fact, almost tautological,” Popper wrote. “There is hardly any possibility of testing a theory as feeble as this.”
Derbyshire displayed a distressing willingness to slander those he disagrees with. He said of the Intelligent Designers: “You don’t do any science. You go around the country on your expense accounts, which is one of the things I kick them about. You don’t do any research.” (Discovery Institute president Bruce Chapman says this is just plain false and lists several ID researchers.) Derbyshire even accused Michael Behe of Lehigh University of recommending to a hypothetical student with a research proposal that he not carry it out.
Derbyshire recalled that he said to Behe: “If a graduate student came to you and said: ‘You know, I’ve got this great idea for a possible evolutionary pathway for the bacterial flagellum. I think I could figure it out and I’ve got an idea for some experiments that would test this. Would you recommend me to go along with that?’ And Michael said no. Which left me stunned. This is obscurantist.”
George Gilder interrupted. Where was this encounter?
Derbyshire: “At National Review. At that meeting we had.”
Gilder, who was there, questioned whether Derbyshire had given us a correct ac-count.
Derbyshire: “No, it was a plain no. I’m sorry.”
(The curious can listen to the “audio” of the whole conference on the AEI web-site.)
I sent Behe an e-mail. Could he verify this account? No, he could not. “John Derbyshire is imagining things,” he wrote back. “I would never have said such a thing. I welcome experiments into evolutionary pathways. It has been my experience that the more we know, and the more experimental work is done, the less and less plausible Darwinian mechanisms become.”
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