Darwin's Loyalists Keep Dwindling in Number
If New Scientist is no longer Darwin's friend, where will he turn?
I've been following the intelligent design controversy for over twenty years now. I had assumed that Darwinism would last forever. It's the perfect materialist explanation of everything! As the most famous of the new atheists, Richard Dawkins, said in 1986: "Although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist" (The Blind Watchmaker, 1986).
But now, not only is new atheism collapsing, but, if we go by recent developments at New Scientist, so is Darwinism.
Okay, first let's talk about new atheism. Last year, we learned that new atheism had begun to feel like "a movement certain of its own victory burning out spectacularly over the course of a few short years, followed by mysterious yet near-total contempt from the very people it thought it had convinced."1
That was a startling admission from a supporter. But it makes sense. Who cares any more about the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster? (You can look that up on the internet if you are not sure what it means. On the other hand, maybe you needn't bother.)
But surely Darwinism isn't threatened! It has been defended by elite opinion at least since the Scopes Trial in 1925 right up to the present as a simple explanation of how everything, including the human mind, originated from simpler organisms that have evolved and sustained themselves because of the simple circumstance that "fitter" life forms leave more descendants than others.
New Scientist's Divorce
Well, wait. According to a long article by multiple authors, New Scientist—the tabloid of popular science publications—apparently divorced Darwinism last September (2020). The authors did not mince words; their article is titled, "Evolution is evolving: 13 ways we must rethink the theory of nature."2
They express the hope that non-Darwinian thinking will lead to a "glorious new picture of life's complexity." They think that genetic determinism is a myth, that genetic drift accounts for a great deal, and that horizontal gene transfer is important.
There were earlier rumblings. In December 2019, some writers at New Scientist had already begun questioning the idea of species, an idea that is central to a belief system that takes its name from Darwin's Big Book, On the Origin of the Species. "We're beginning to question the idea of species—including our own,"wrote feature editor Kate Douglas.3
To form some idea of how big a change this is, consider how a New Scientist story from 2013 began:
Legions of disembodied brains floating in deep space threaten to undermine our understanding of the universe. New mathematical modelling suggests string theory and its multiple universes may just provide our salvation—and that could win the controversial theory a few more backers.
Physicists have dreamed up some bizarre ideas over the years, but a decade or so ago they outdid themselves with the concept of Boltzmann brains—fully formed, conscious entities that form spontaneously in outer space.
It may seem impossible for a brain to blink into existence, but the laws of physics don't rule it out entirely. All it requires is a vast amount of time. Eventually, a random chunk of matter and energy will happen to come together in the form of a working mind. It's the same logic that says a million monkeys working on a million typewriters will replicate the complete works of Shakespeare, if you leave them long enough.4
More Heretical Thinking
New Scientist appears to have sobered up some since then. And it isn't just New Scientist, either. The Economist recently informed us that hybrid animals have "upturned" evolutionary theory, which—for them—is really heretical thinking: "This story would once have been considered deeply implausible," an October 2020 article acknowledged. "Evolution's orthodox narrative does not suggest that hybridisation is how new animal species emerge."5
It's hard to say what the future is for string theory and multiverses. But, for now, it's worth asking: Why aren't the Cool People in science foursquare for Darwin anymore, the way they used to be?
Here are three possibilities to mull:
1.Racism has always been an underdiscussed but inescapable feature of Darwinism. This fact has recently entered the realm of general knowledge.6 Consider, for example, John West's 2019 film, Human Zoos, which has won a number of awards.7 Perhaps, nearly a century after the Scopes Trial, such explosive information has at last broken the sound barrier that so many of us have encountered in the past when trying to broach this topic (e.g., "You are all just ignorant creationists, so we don't need to listen to a single thing you say about Darwinism's contribution to racism!"). Maybe it's time for people to start listening.
2. There's never been any evidence that explicitly Darwinian evolution is true. Life forms don't just pop into being out of nothing and then somehow become more complex and develop minds, for example, only through competition for survival, without any mind behind the universe at all. Believing that such a thing is true is not the same thing as demonstrating it. Other accounts of evolution, which are not linked to materialist atheism, are beginning to receive more attention.
3. And today, just in time, there are naturalist alternatives to Darwinism. There are, for example, horizontal gene transfer, hybridization, epigenetics, and other processes. A naturalist atheist who prefers these explanations is no longer betraying the clan or becoming a "creationist" by casting doubt on a purely Darwinian explanation.
Some combination of these suggestions—and doubtless other factors—probably accounts for the decline of Darwinism in pop science publications that we are seeing today. In any case, it is welcome.
1. "New Atheism: The Godlessness That Failed?", Slate Star Codex (Oct. 30, 2019): https://bit.ly/2WkAuJg.
2. Michael Le Page, Colin Barras, Richard Webb, Kate Douglas, and Carrie Arnold, "Evolution is evolving: 13 ways we must rethink the theory of nature," New Scientist (Sept. 23, 2020): newscientist.com/article/mg24733010-800-evolution-is-evolving-13-ways-we-must-rethink-the-theory-of-nature.
3. Kate Douglas, "We're beginning to question the idea of species—including our own," New Scientist (Dec. 11, 2019): https://bit.ly/3p34eqn.
4. Adam Becker, "String theory may limit space brain threat," New Scientist (May 22, 2013): https://bit.ly/3gS7jHb.
5. "How hybrids have upturned evolutionary theory," The Economist (Oct. 3, 2020): https://econ.st/3nrBkA2.
6. "Darwin Reader: Darwin's Racism," Uncommon Descent (Feb. 14, 2009): https://bit.ly/34jtJMs.
7. John G. West, Human Zoos, Discovery Institute (2019): humanzoos.org.
is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger. She blogs at Blazing Cat Fur, Evolution News & Views, MercatorNet, Salvo, and Uncommon Descent.Get Salvo in your inbox! This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #56, Spring 2021 Copyright © 2023 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/article/salvo56/the-passe-scientist