Where the Evidence Led Me

A Review of Heretic: One Scientist's Journey from Darwin to Design, by Matti Leisola & Jonathan Witt

As a student beginning his scientific studies in 1966, Finnish biochemist Matti Leisola used to laugh at Christians who "placed God in the gaps of scientific knowledge," as the criticism often went. As he saw it, those people lacked the patience and level-headedness that he possessed.

After hearing Francis Schaeffer speak in 1972, though, he realized his concept of truth was naïve. He bought several of Schaeffer's books and began to study philosophy, a subject he had previously considered of little value. At some point he realized the god-of-the-gaps criticism cut both ways, since a functional atheist could also insert a pat explanation into any knowledge gap. He also came to see another problem that the god-of-the-gaps criticism obscured: materialists seemed to think the proverbial knowledge gap was ever-shrinking, but in practice, the more scientists learned about the natural world, the more they found new and unexpected mysteries opening up. More important, the materialist argument for allowing only material explanations simply presupposed that only material causes exist. What if that presupposition was wrong?

By the mid-1970s, his doubts had become a conviction. "Scientists have no materialist explanation for the origin and complexity of life," he wrote. "The confident bluffing of the dogmatic materialists notwithstanding, they weren't even close." Experimental science, he concluded, seems to point in a different direction.

A quintessential scientist's memoir, Heretic: One Scientist's Journey from Darwin to Design contains Leisola's reflections on both developments in science (including biology, paleontology, genetics, information theory, and ID) and his "long and painstaking" voyage from the naturalistic evolutionary faith to dissent from Darwin. Heretic also details some of the evasions, hatred, suspicions, contempt, fears, power games, and persecutions that unfortunately mark the life of an open Darwin skeptic. And remarkably, it manages to do so with a subtle wit both sharp enough to poke fun at the contortions of materialism and shrewd enough to note the gravely consequential nature of what's at stake.

Various chapters focus on experiences in academia ("I long ago had come to see that those bent on intimidation think nothing of shutting down debates and marginalizing scientists while paying lip service to the value of academic freedom"); encounters with publishers and broadcaster bias ("unconscious religiosity is all too common in the science community, and the broadcast media ensure that it's presented as scientific fact day after day"); and "rationalists" behaving irrationally ("Bullies for Darwin; Actually, Several Bullies for Darwin").

One especially compelling chapter is "The Church Evolves," which deals with not only the Finnish Lutheran Church's abject capitulation to Darwinism but also its active opposition to material that challenges Darwin. Even as literature critical of Darwin was forbidden on pain of punishment within Finland's Soviet bloc neighbors, inside free Finland, church leaders were willfully suppressing the same information. This chapter speaks of trends to which Christians in America should pay attention.

"Criticism of evolutionary theory is a stressful hobby," observed one reporter about Leisola. "On the other hand," Leisola responded, "life as a dissenter is rich and exciting." For the uncertain, he offers a modest invitation:

Take at least that first step on the journey that I began so many decades ago as a young, slightly arrogant scientist committed to modern evolutionary theory. That first step is a modest one, a step through the door of a paradigm and onto an open path whose end point I was unsure of. The first step was the decision simply to follow the evidence wherever it led.

Science- and truth-lovers might also find a delightful first step in Heretic.

—For more about Matti Leisola, see Minority Reporter: A Finnish Bioengineer Touches the Third Rail by Denyse O'Leary.

 is Deputy Editor of Salvo and writes on apologetics and matters of faith.

This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #45, Summer 2018 Copyright © 2024 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/article/salvo45/where-the-evidence-led-me


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