By Paul Nelson and David Klinghoffer | December 13, 2016 | 2:37 PM EST
Darwinian theory is broken and may not be fixable. That was the takeaway from a meeting last month organized by the world’s most distinguished and historic scientific organization, which went mostly unreported by the media.
The three-day conference at the Royal Society in London was remarkable in confirming something that advocates of intelligent design (ID), a controversial scientific alternative to evolution, have said for years. ID proponents point to a chasm that divides how evolution and its evidence are presented to the public, and how scientists themselves discuss it behind closed doors and in technical publications. This chasm has been well hidden from laypeople, yet it was clear to anyone who attended the Royal Society conference, as did a number of ID-friendly scientists.
Maybe that secrecy helps explain why the meeting was so muffled in mainstream coverage.
Oh, there were a few reports. In the Huffington Post, science journalist Suzan Mazur complained of a lack of momentousness: “[J]ust what was the point of attracting a distinguished international gathering if the speakers had little new science to present? Why waste everyone’s time and money?” On the other hand, a write-up in The Atlantic by Carl Zimmer acknowledged a sense of strain between rival cliques of evolutionists: “Both sides offered their arguments and critiques in a civil way, but sometimes you could sense the tension in the room – the punctuations of tsk-tsks, eye-rolling, and partisan bursts of applause.”
Mild drama notwithstanding, why should anyone care?
For one thing, the Royal Society, dating back to 1660, is a legend in the science world. Its founders included the great chemist Robert Boyle, and it was later headed for 24 years (1703-1727) by Isaac Newton – a fact that is hard to forget with Newton’s death mask on prominent display in a glass case. Portraits of Boyle and Newton look down from the walls above. So the historical connections lend a certain weight by themselves.
What’s really notable, however, is that such a thoroughly mainstream body should so openly acknowledge problems with orthodox Neo-Darwinian theory. Indeed, though presenters ignored, dismissed, or mocked the theory of intelligent design, the proceedings perfectly illustrated a point made by our colleague Stephen Meyer, author of the New York Times bestseller “Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design.”
Dr. Meyer, a Cambridge University-trained philosopher of science, writes provocatively in the book’s Prologue:
“The technical literature in biology is now replete with world-class biologists routinely expressing doubts about various aspects of Neo-Darwinian theory, and especially about its central tenet, namely the alleged creative power of the natural selection and mutation mechanism.
“Nevertheless, popular defenses of the theory continue apace, rarely if ever acknowledging the growing body of critical scientific opinion about the standing of the theory. Rarely has there been such a great disparity between the popular perception of a theory and its actual standing in the relevant peer-reviewed science literature.”
The opening presentation at the Royal Society by one of those world-class biologists, Austrian evolutionary theorist Gerd Müller, underscored exactly Meyer’s contention. Dr. Müller opened the meeting by discussing several of the fundamental “explanatory deficits” of “the modern synthesis,” that is, textbook Neo-Darwinian theory. According to Müller, the as yet unsolved problems include those of explaining:
Phenotypic complexity (the origin of eyes, ears, body plans, i.e., the anatomical and structural features of living creatures);
Phenotypic novelty, i.e., the origin of new forms throughout the history of life (for example, the mammalian radiation some 66 million years ago, in which the major orders of mammals, such as cetaceans, bats, carnivores, enter the fossil record, or even more dramatically, the Cambrian explosion, with most animal body plans appearing more or less without antecedents); and finally
Non-gradual forms or modes of transition, where you see abrupt discontinuities in the fossil record between different types.