On the 210th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birthday, the Discovery Institute is going public with a list of more than 1,000 Ph.D. scientists who declared their skepticism toward Darwin’s mechanism for evolution: natural selection acting on random mutation. This mechanism is the centerpiece of Neodarwinism, the current but eroding consensus on how evolution took place.
“We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged,” the statement reads.
The Discovery Institute released a video of 19 scientists reading the statement.
“Our statement is not anti-evolution, it’s on what is the mechanism,” John West, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, told PJ Media on Monday. He said the list originated in 2001 “as a response to claims that were frequently parroted by the media that there are no scientists who raise questions about Darwinian theory.”
The Discovery Institute found 100 Ph.D. scientists and published the list in The New York Review of Books. After a few years, “the pushback became really harsh; some of the people on the list lost funding, some were threatened with their jobs. We thought, ‘We don’t have to keep promoting this.’ People kept signing anyway.”
West insisted that the list “keeps growing on its own accord without our promotion.” In fact, West told PJ Media that the Discovery Institute encouraged many professors not to sign, lest they lose their jobs. “There are people who want to sign and we tell them not to because they don’t have tenure. It’s not like we’re begging people to sign,” he said.
The list includes Ph.D. scientists from around the world. It includes a professor at Moscow State University in Russia. The list also includes a former president of Bangalore University in India, as well as many Ph.D. scientists who taught and studied at various prestigious American institutions like Harvard University, Duke University, and Johns Hopkins University.
“This is not to say the majority of scientists don’t support Darwin’s theory,” West explained. But “the claims that there are no serious scientists that doubt Darwin, those are false.”
“There are more than a thousand serious scientists who are willing to say there is an issue, that natural selection and random mutation do not explain the diversity of life,” the Discovery Institute scholar said.
Many outlets might emphasize the fact that this statement does not disavow evolution per se. West said that is a virtue of the statement, however.
“Evolution is a real weasel word that means all sorts of things,” he said. “If they mean small level changes within species, no one doubts that. If they mean a universal common ancestor, that’s the majority of the scientific community. Our statement focuses on mechanisms.”
“The standard theory going back to Darwin is natural selection or survival of the fittest acting on random mutations,” West explained. “When the debate is over what mechanism can actually produce life, I would say that’s a fundamental debate.”
The mainstream media may insist that evolution is “settled science,” but the debate over mechanisms is vital. “If people understand just how fundamental these debates about the mechanism are, that opens Pandora’s Box,” West said.
Importantly, not everyone on the list is a Christian, and the list has nothing to do with the theory of Intelligent Design.
Tellingly, the New York Times‘s Ken Chang ran an expose of the list in 2006 misleadingly entitled, “Few Biologists but Many Evangelicals Sign Anti-Evolution Petition.” As West reported later that year, “While Chang’s story conveys the clear impression that scientists who support Discovery’s Dissent from Darwin statement are motivated by religion rather than science, Chang has now admitted in an interview that 75% or more of the scientists he interviewed did not fit this description” (emphasis original).
In two weeks, biochemist Michael Behe (one of the signatories on the list) will release a new book, Darwin Devolves: The New Science About DNA That Challenges Evolution. The pre-eminent magazine Science ran an article attacking the forthcoming book, but the article did not address the book’s key arguments, West claimed. Behe himself responded to the Science article, noting that evolutionary biologist Richard Lenski had no response to his arguments.
“I used to believe Darwin’s theory got it right about most of life, but as science learned more about the molecular and cellular levels of biology I broke ranks,” Behe told PJ Media. “My new book, Darwin Devolves: The New Science About DNA that Challenges Evolution, shows readers why new research gives those thousand scientists much more reason to be skeptical.”
Americans need to understand that there is a real debate about key aspects of Darwin’s theory of evolution, and that dissent is not merely a religious position, but a scientific one.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.