Yale university professor renounces Darwinism!
But what does he believe now instead?
Published: 5 September 2019 (GMT+10)
Professor David Hillel Gelernter is a writer, artist and professor of computer science at Yale University. He is a senior fellow in Jewish thought at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem and was also a member of the American Enterprise Institute and the National Endowment for the Arts. He is also chief scientist at Mirror Worlds Technologies. He has published widely in numerous newspapers and written several books. Professor Gelernter has caused quite a buzz recently by publicly renouncing his “faith” in Darwinism, which he describes as a “replacement religion” for troubled souls who desperately need one instead of God.1
Gelernter says that he was swayed by the scientific evidence into abandoning the materialistic theory of Darwinism. Interestingly, most of the evidence that changed his mind falls into three categories of science: natural selection, genetic mutations, and the fossil record, which are three of the five top pieces of evidence that college students use to justify their belief in evolution. Interestingly, our Evolution’s Achilles’ Heels covers these three subjects in depth (chapters 1, 2, and 4, respectively). Notable Intelligent Design (ID) publications which influenced Gelernter’s about-face include Darwin’s Doubt, by Stephen C. Meyer, The Deniable Darwin, by David Berlinski, and Debating Darwin’s Doubt, edited by David Klinghoffer
Some of the arguments that convinced Gelernter
The following are some of the arguments that Gelernter believes discredit Darwinism, taken from his online review of the three previously mentioned works by ID authors.2
The origin of life
Mathematics is the bane of evolution. Probability, specifically, tells us that believing in evolution is akin to believing in miracles. For example, there are only approximately 50,000 known protein families,3 but certain proteins are essential for all forms of life. Most proteins are composed of hundreds to thousands of amino acids. Let’s pick one of these proteins and say that only 150 of the amino acids are necessary for it to work. What is the probability that this one, short protein would evolve in the primordial soup? You can think of the amino acids in a protein like beads on a string. Each position along the string can hold any of the 20 amino acids. Thus, there are 20150 ≈ 10195 possible proteins of this length. This number is much, much larger than the estimated 1080 atoms in the universe.
But bacteria need more than one protein. I published some calculations in 2015 that estimated the probability of a “simple” bacterium evolving with only the very basic essential proteins. The probability of a bacterium evolving from the chemical soup with a mere 1,340 proteins was 10–167,500. We can’t even represent that number with words. That’s smaller than 1 chance in a trillion trillions, and even that is nowhere close. In other words, there is virtually no chance that life evolved; it had to be created. This short exercise gives us the idea of how futile chemical evolution is, and this is only the beginning of probability calculations.
Mutations that affect the later stages of the development of an organism achieve only small adjustments in the organism, affecting only local structures. Examples include mutations that influence the density of fur, the shape of a bird’s beak, or the color of a flower. Such mutations occur frequently and are often not detrimental. In contrast, there are no known mutations which occur very early on during embryonic development. These would fundamentally affect the body plan. From everything we have seen, such mutations are always lethal, leading to a premature death, usually before the organism is even born. At best, they produce a monstrous organism that is inviable in the wild, such as the antennapedia mutation that produces legs in the place of antennae in fruit flies (figure 1). Yet these are the kinds of mutations which are necessary for large-scale evolutionary changes, such as transforming invertebrates into vertebrates. This field of “evo-devo” (short for evolutionary development) has been looking into this for decades, but they have drawn a blank. Tinkering with the fundamental building blocks of living organisms only produces catastrophic results, so evolution can’t even get started. This is where Darwin failed. He noticed changes. But his mechanism for change cannot get over the hurdle of genetics, a field he knew nothing about.
The fossil record
Darwinism is a step-by-step process, yet we see a striking variety of organisms suddenly appearing on the scene during what is called the Cambrian explosion. During a short window of only “a few million years” all major animal groups suddenly appear in the fossil record without any predecessors. This means that life appeared very suddenly on Earth—it makes much more sense if life was instantaneously created, as the Bible says.
The reception in insecure secular academia
Although not completely ostracized by all parties for his change of beliefs (perhaps due to his prestige and his not being a biologist), Gelernter describes the extreme anger and hostility that evolutionists have for anyone who denies their worldview. The reason ‘rational’ scientists, who supposedly apply nothing but impassioned logic to their work, transform into fist-shaking, angry people is, as Gelernter says, that evolution goes beyond science and serves as the basis of their atheistic worldview. According to Gelernter, “You take your life in your hands to challenge it intellectually. They will destroy you if you challenge it.”1 Furthermore, “…what I have seen in their behavior intellectually and at colleges across the West is nothing approaching free speech on this topic. It’s a bitter, fundamental, angry, outraged rejection [of intelligent design], which comes nowhere near scientific or intellectual discussion. I’ve seen that happen again and again.” 1
Gelernter also views ID as a viable scientific theory capable of replacing Darwinism. It should not be rejected out of hand in a bigoted manner by evolutionists. He states that design is the most obvious explanation for the complexity of life and says that Darwinism was formulated to explain how seemingly designed organisms assembled themselves by evolution. According to Gelernter, the question of intelligent design, “…is one of the most important intellectual issues of modern times, and every thinking person has the right and duty to judge for himself.”2
Evolution does not have a monopoly over theories of origins, and academia is not the exclusive playground of atheists. Such monolithic thinking on the part of secularists kills critical thinking.
What does Gelernter believe now instead of Darwinism?
Based on his rejection of Darwinism, is Gelernter now a biblical creationist? What does he believe now that he has rejected evolution?
It does not automatically follow that, just because someone gives up Darwinism, they become a biblical creationist. According to Gelernter, he still claims that evolution is a beautiful and brilliant scientific theory, because it can explain large processes in the history of life with a simple mechanism, natural selection. He thinks that the legacy of Darwinism will never truly disappear and that only a Darwinist “heresy” will take its place. At the same time, even though Gelernter admits that living organisms show evidence for intelligent design, he claims that the world is a mess, and that humans are prone to do evil. If left to him, Gelernter would fail the intelligent designer for making such a world. Gelernter doesn’t go the extra mile to accept biblical creation (oddly despite his Jewish roots), because he thinks that the two creation accounts in Genesis chapters 1 and 2 are contradictory. However, we have already dealt with this alleged contradiction in detail.
But Gelernter contradicts himself. How can he fail the intelligent designer who created this world, yet at the same time call evolution a beautiful theory? This is because, according to evolution, nature is ‘red in tooth and claw’. It is all about selfish struggle; the stronger species crushes the weaker species. Death is a necessary element in the endless process of struggle, suffering, and extinction.
As opposed to evolution, the Bible calls death the last enemy (1Cor. 15:26). God is a God of the living and not of the dead. This is why Jesus Christ rose from the grave, conquering death. Death and suffering were never part of God’s original, good design. God is not an ogre to use suffering and death to create life. How opposite life is from death! God did not use evolution to create.
Conclusion: the insufficiency of Intelligent Design
Sadly, the evidentialist approach of the ID movement does not often bear much fruit. We have written much about ID before (our position statement on ID is available here).
As Christians, we should preach the full Gospel. If we convince a person that evolution is inviable, we must also replace this defunct worldview with something else which better explains the origin and meaning of life. Many proponents of ID even believe in a form of guided or ‘theistic’ evolution. The ID movement notoriously tends to leave the Bible out of their discussions, by design. But what do we gain if we prove the existence of a “god”, who may turn out to be Zeus or Allah in some peoples’ minds? Indeed, not all members of the ID community, or the flagship of ID, the Discovery Institute, are professing evangelicals. One famous ID advocate (Jonathan Wells) is well-known for being a member of the Unification Church of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon (a.k.a. the “Moonies”), which most evangelicals consider a cult. ID is not enough for saving faith. Rather, we need special revelation–the Bible. As mentioned previously Gelernter doesn’t even believe that the Old Testament is fully historical. In comparison, when we look at the conversion of the famous atheist Anthony Flew to theism in 2004, we also see that Flew ended up as a deist. Flew did not believe in the Trinity or the Resurrection of Christ. Rather he believed in what he describes as Aristotle’s God, a philosophical, rationalistic type of God.
ID attempts to deal with theism first, then Christianity later. However, the big problem is that those ID proponents who happen to be Christians are not necessarily attempting to prove a distinctly Christian brand of theism. It would thus make much more sense to deal with Christianity and theism as a unit, and not two separate issues. ID proponents are in effect appealing to human reason alone to build their case, which is the same method atheists use. What is worrisome is that if their starting point is outside the Bible, their endpoint might also well be the same, as Van Til noted.4 Clearly, we must base our thinking on the Bible as the sole highest authority (Sola Scriptura).
According to Psalm 19:1:
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”
There is ample evidence for the existence of the God of the Bible. We can trust the eye-witness accounts of the Bible. His Word is enough for us (2 Timothy 3:16-17) to guide us unto all truth (John 16:13), not just a partial truth. Thus, while we applaud Professor Gelernter for his bold stance in rejecting Darwin, we plead with him to take the next logical step and accept that Jesus Christ, the Creator of the world, is also his Saviour.
References and notes
- Kabbany, J., Famed Yale computer science professor quits believing Darwin’s theories. thecollegefix.com/famed-yale-computer-science-professor-quits-believing-darwins-theories, 30 July, 2019. Return to text.
- Gelernter, D. Giving Up Darwin. claremont.org/crb/article/giving-up-darwin, 1 May, 2019. Return to text.
- Orengo, C.A., Thornton, J.M., Protein families and their evolution—a structural perspective, Annu Rev Biochem. 74:867–900, 2005. Return to text.
- Van Til, C., The Defense of the Faith, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., Phillipsburg, NJ, 1967, pp. 114–122. Return to text.