A Review of "Taking Leave of Darwin: A Longtime Agnostic Discovers the Case for Design," by Neil Thomas
Neil Thomas is a philosophy professor at the University of Durham, England, where he specializes in language, logic, and rhetoric. A life member of the British Rationalist Association, he learned and internalized the standard Darwinian narrative from a young age without demur. Some aspects of it struck him as strange and counterintuitive, but he trusted that the processes of science had established everything through proper peer review. Surely, the only holdouts after more than a century post-Origin were the biblical fundamentalists.
But when he encountered opposition to Darwin from within the ranks of scientific academia, well, that was something he couldn't so easily dismiss. The question of origins was no insignificant matter. So he set out "to investigate for myself the dispute between the pro- and contra-Darwin factions." He made no apologies for doing so as a nonscientist, since, as a longtime academic, he had seen "an alarming degree of bias and intransigent parti pris [prejudice]" among the ranks of specialists in the subject.
Chapters one and two of Taking Leave of Darwin give some biographical background on Charles Darwin, with a special focus on his intellectual formation. Chapter three surveys early receptions of his works, most of which were critical, and then examines the contemporary critiques. Two things become apparent: (1) dissent from Darwin has always been present, and (2) problems identified early on, such as missing fossil evidence and the enigma of abiogenesis, are not only still with us, but pose even larger challenges today due to advanced observational technologies.
In the remaining three chapters, Thomas addresses the debate from a wider philosophy-of-science perspective: Have prior philosophical commitments or anti-religious biases hindered the quest for solid empirical findings? he asks. The answer is an emphatic yes, and before wrapping up, he issues a scathing indictment of those who have propped up the narrative for well-nigh a century and a half. His summation at the end of the deep dive is, "I had been conned!" and Taking Leave of Darwin is his way of warning the rest of us that we, too, "have been fooled!"1
No Other Choice
There are three points I find especially noteworthy about this work. First, Thomas accurately represents the theory of intelligent design. For a scholar, this should be the norm, but it's noteworthy, given that a multitude of mainstream scientists and science journalists have failed to rise to this minimal academic standard. Second, Thomas is not attempting to make a scientific case for ID, but he is joining his voice to its proponents because, as a philosopher skilled in the use of language, he has weighed the literature and rhetoric of the Darwinists, beginning with Darwin himself, and found it wanting.
And third, Thomas began and ended this project a nontheist. He openly admits that he finds the alternative of intelligent causation "unwelcome." Nevertheless, "it is those very rationalist principles which bid me reject the Darwinian narrative, in its original, neo-Darwinian, and extended manifestations."2
It turned out that everything had not been established through the proper processes, but rather had been propped up with "disingenuous reasonings, cognitive dissonances, and frankly, credulities which have afflicted biologists from the time of Darwin down to our day." For the sake of good science, then, he writes that "with the naturalistic/materialistic alternative having failed so signally, we are left with no other choice but to consider the possibility of the 'God hypothesis.'"
1. Quotes taken from "Description" on the copyright page.
2. Taking Leave of Darwin, p. 140.
Terrell Clemmons is Deputy Editor of Salvo and writes on apologetics and matters of faith.Get Salvo in your inbox! This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #59, Winter 2021 Copyright © 2023 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/article/salvo59/a-definitive-farewell