November 11, 2004

by Dr. Benjamin Wiker
Dear Concerned Citizen,

Nearly a century and a half has passed since the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species. Evolution has been taught as an undeniable fact in high school textbooks for well over a half century. Why all of the sudden do we find the cover of the November 2004 issue of National Geographic emblazoned with the question, “Was Darwin Wrong?” Isn’t that like asking “Was Copernicus Wrong?”

So…what’s up? When we turn to the first page of the article, we find the same question again, this time written across the gray feathered breast of a domestically bred Jacobin pigeon, the outlandish plumage of which reminds one of the costumes of the late Liberace. Flip to the next page and we find our answer, a resounding “NO” printed in a font a third of the page high.

But if the answer is such a large and definitive NO, why would the venerable National Geographic entertain (even rhetorically) the apparently foolish question “Was Darwin wrong?”

If you read the article, you’ll wonder what all the shouting is about. The author David Quammen paints a calm picture of an established science unburdened by serious criticism. The only critics, so we are told, are “fundamentalist Christians, “ultraorthodox Jews” and “Islamic creationists,” all of whom view evolution as a threat to their scientifically uninformed theology. Obviously, they aren’t the ones ruffling National Geographic’s feathers.

Who else arouses the great NO? As it turns out, “Other people too, not just scriptural literalists, remain unpersuaded about evolution. According to a Gallup poll…no less than 45 percent of responding U.S. adults agreed that ‘God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.’” “Why are there so many antievolutionists?” they ask impatiently.

Why indeed? Unfortunately, you won’t find the real answer in the article, which merely offers a fluff and flash, unambiguous public relations presentation of evolution.

The real answer is this. To the question “Was Darwin Wrong?” the proper answer is not a clamorous “NO” but a well-informed “Yes and No.” While there are merits to his theory, there are also serious problems, serious scientific problems.

Listen to these words: “despite the power of molecular genetics to reveal the hereditary essences of organisms, the large-scale aspects of evolution remain unexplained, including the origin of species [emphasis added]….So Darwin’s assumption that the tree of life is a consequence of the gradual accumulation of small hereditary differences appears to be without significant support.”

Are these the words of a “fundamentalist Christian,” “ultraorthodox Jew,” or an “Islamic creationist”? No, they are the words of Dr. Brian Goodwin, professor of biology, one of a growing number of scientists who find that the powers of natural selection are woefully insufficient to perform the amazing feat—promised in the title of Darwin’s great work—of producing new species.

But that was the great promise of Darwin. Small variations among individuals are “selected” by nature because they make the individual more “fit” to survive. Those more “fit” characteristics are passed on to the offspring. Add enough little changes up over time, and the species becomes gradually transformed. Given enough time, evolution will have produced an entirely new species.

So it was that Darwin assumed that little changes in character and appearance (microevolution) would eventually yield, through natural selection, enormous changes (macroevolution). From a single living cell, given millions upon millions upon millions of years, the entire diversity of all living things could be produced.

That was the grand promise of Darwin’s theory. And Darwin wasn’t wrong about microevolution. But the case for macroevolution is far from closed. In fact, biologist Mae-Wan Ho and mathematician Peter Saunders contend that “All the signs are that evolution theory is in crisis, and that a change is on the way.” Darwin’s theory is in crisis, they argue, because it has failed to explain the one thing that made its promise so grand—how new species arise.

I quote the words of Brian Goodwin, Mae-Wan Ho, and Peter Saunders because they represent the growing number of scientific dissenters from orthodox Darwinism (or more accurately, neo-Darwinism). National Geographic makes no mention of them. That would make the quick and confident “NO” into a rather sheepish “well…sort of.”

They also purposely avoid mentioning the growing Intelligent Design movement, a group of scientists, philosophers, and mathematicians who have very serious doubts about many other aspects of Darwin’s theory. One suspects—reading between the lines—that the real reason that National Geographic suddenly “doth protest too much” against doubters of Darwinism, is that the Intelligent Design (ID) movement has done so much to bring the scientific and philosophical problems with evolutionary theory into the public spotlight. They cannot draw attention to the ID movement, however, or people might become more informed about the difficulties that beset Darwinism.

So, we return to the question, “Was Darwin Wrong?” National Geographic says “NO.” But readers who aren’t satisfied with such simple answers should read the following books.

  • Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis
  • Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box
  • Brian Goodwin, How the Leopard Changed Its Spots
  • John Angus Campbell and Stephen Meyer, Darwinism, Design, and Public Education
  • William Dembski, Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing
  • Mae-Wan Ho and Peter Saunders, Beyond Neo-Darwinism
  • Edward Larson, Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion
  • Benjamin Wiker, Moral Darwinism

Response to: Faith Under Fire

Lee, I have been encouraged by your bringing the issues we need to hear on your program, but I would like to see you deal with the merging house church movement and a re-evaluation of where we are as far as "being" church. A second look into the scriptures may be shocking, that is if we Christians are serious enough to look at the symptoms of our anemic existence and to try to understand why. I have a website that can kick start you into what is going on. - A.

I hate Hardball formats because the people are usually rude to each other by interrupting the other person while they are speaking or not letting them talk at all so I will probably not watch your program. - T. H.

I have enjoyed receiving and reading your material. However, I must question the wisdom of placing a picture of Playboy magazine beside Hugh Heffner's picture. Everyone knows what the magazine is that he is associated with. I don't think that our pastors and church leaders need another form of temptation placed right in front of them. Especially in the format where the magazine could be one click away on the internet. I appreciate all that you do. I simply wanted to point this out to you. I would be curious to know if you have had any other such concerns from your readers. - T. J.

In your blurb about the chief pornographer, Hugh Heffner, why did you find it necessary to put a cover of his garbage on your site? I am no longer interested in receiving your email. Please remove me from your list. - G. G.

I think we live in the world of double-speak. At the same time there is a suggestion that the world is growing increasingly secular, fundamentalist Christians take great credit in delivering the election to Bush - and from their strength expect much greater attention to their agenda in the second term. Perhaps fundamentalism at heart is a part of the secular order, having abandoned much of the Sermon on the Mount in order to support a rigid literal orthodoxy. "Streets of gold are meant to be taken seriously. Turning the other cheek and loving your enemy doesn't seem to be a fundamentalist concern." - D. D.

My wife and I saw it in Hawaii and it was very good! Going For God's Grammy. - S. A. L.

Thank you for your concern. I will look for the show. My wife and I have written a book about Mental Illness - a personal and religious perspective. It will be out early part of next year, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI. Please consider having us on one of your programs. - S. B.

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The Deniable Darwin
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The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories
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  Benjamin Wiker
Benjamin Wiker holds a Ph.D. in Theological Ethics from Vanderbilt University, and has taught at Marquette University, St. Mary's University (MN), and Thomas Aquinas College (CA).

He is now a Lecturer in Theology and Science at Franciscan University of Steubenville (OH), and a full-time, free-lance writer. Dr. Wiker is a Senior Fellow of Discovery Institute and a Senior Fellow at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. He writes regularly for a variety of journals.

Dr. Wiker just released a new book called Architects of the Culture of Death (Ignatius). His first book, Moral Darwinism: How We Became Hedonists, was released in the spring of 2002 (InterVarsity Press). He is writing another book on Intelligent Design for InterVarsity Press called The Meaning-full Universe.
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