Darwin’s Doubters

BreakPoint listeners have heard me speak many times over the years about the intelligent design movement. Intelligent design is the argument by scientists that the world shows clear signs that it was designed and is not simply the result of random evolution. This is one of the biggest cultural shifts in recent history, especially now with school boards across the country debating this very question and affirming the need to teach both sides of this controversy. How did this come about? It's been developing for years, and a new book recounts the intelligent design movement's history. Doubts about Darwin: A History of Intelligent Design, written by rhetorical historian Thomas Woodward, tells the stories of four founders of the intelligent design movement -- Michael Denton, Phillip Johnson, Michael Behe, and William Dembski -- and how they used brilliant rhetorical strategy to break down Darwinism. Woodward notes that his reason for writing the history is that it nurtures "the health of science itself and . . . the civic health of American society." What's at stake, you see, is no less than "supreme cultural authority," says Woodward. At the heart of the origin debates is "our notions . . . of what it means to be human." The motivation for these four founders of the design movement to instigate this "reformation within science" is a passion for intellectual truth-telling. "Design sees itself," writes Woodward, "as . . . doing its best to restore epistemic integrity." Woodward begins with biochemist Michael Denton. Denton set the tone, purpose, and value of the fight against Darwinism in his book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. Next he examines legal scholar Phillip Johnson, this year's Wilberforce Award recipient. Phil Johnson began reading Darwin and realized two things: the immense cultural implications if the Darwinian worldview was proved false and, as a result of his legal training, just how easy it was to prove it false. Johnson put Darwin on trial and forced Darwinians in the academy onto the defensive. Woodward then turns to biologist Michael Behe, author of the "anti-Darwinist bomb," Darwin's Black Box. When Behe read Denton's book, he experienced "the greatest intellectual shock of his life." For years, Behe believed in Darwin's empirical proof because he had been taught it throughout his education. Behe's "conversion," so to speak, caused him to rethink biochemical systems, and he coined the term 'irreducible complexity' to describe systems that would cease to work if any part was missing. Finally Woodward comes to mathematician, philosopher, and theologian William Dembski. Dembski has discovered that telling the truth is never wrong, but sometimes it is costly, and that Christian institutions themselves are not immune from Darwinian stranglehold on truth. Even fellow colleagues at Baylor University have worked to "shut down" Dembski's dissent. Woodward makes it clear that telling the truth never hurts the Christian cause. Intelligent design's purpose isn't to stop good scientific practices. Instead the goal is to open the stifling Darwinian atmosphere to new possibilities. Doubts about Darwin is an exciting history lesson. While there are "no truces in view," says Woodward, these fighters are working toward intellectual freedom. And their stories can inspire you as you face your school board, colleagues, or biology professors. For further reading and information: Thomas Woodward, Doubts about Darwin: A History of Intelligent Design (Baker Book House, 2003). Read an excerpt. (Adobe Acrobat Reader required.) Kim I. Robbins, "Doubting Darwin," BreakPoint Online, 8 January 2004. Register today for the Intelligent Design Conference, taking place in Highlands, North Carolina, June 24-26. Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (Adler & Adler, 1997). Phillip E. Johnson, Darwin on Trial (InterVarsity, 1993). "Dr. Phillip Johnson Receives PF's William Wilberforce Award," Wilberforce Forum. Michael Behe, Darwin's Black Box (Touchstone, 1998). William Dembski, The Design Revolution (InterVarsity, 2004). William Dembski, "Skepticism's Prospects for Unseating Intelligent Design," BreakPoint Online, 24 June 2002. See the BreakPoint page on Intelligent Design. And visit Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture.


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary