Friday, 30 October 2015

Contrary to what YECs claim, Michael Denton no longer believes evolution is a theory in crisis.

Evolution denialists tend to recycle the same arguments and appeal to the same books long after they are debunked. One of the most commonly cited is the 1985 book by the New Zealand biochemist and medical doctor Michael Denton Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. Denton's thesis has been thoroughly refuted by mainstream scientists. Typical of those refutations was that by geneticist Philip Spieth who noted that
[a]s a serious piece of biology, however, the book could not pass the most sympathetic peer review. In its approach, methods, and style it is straight out of the creation science mold. Abuses typical of creation science literature abound: evolutionary theory is misrepresented and distorted; spurious arguments are advanced as disproof of topics to which the arguments are, at best, tangentially relevant; evolutionary biologists are quoted out of context; large portions of relevant scientific literature are ignored; dubious or inaccurate statements appear as bald assertions accompanied, more often than not, with scorn.
Fifteen years later, Denton wrote another book Nature's Destiny. How the Laws of Biology reveal Purpose in the Universe in which he radically changes his views about evolution being a 'theory in crisis'. The Dutch biologist Gert Kortoff's review makes that clear in its opening paragraph where it is clear that Denton now accepts the fact of evolution
Nature's Destiny is one long argument for the biocentric Fine Tuning of the Universe. In that sense it is a greatly expanded version of the chapter "The Puzzle of Perfection" in his Evolution: a theory in crisis (1986). However the Fine Tuning Argument does not only imply cosmological evolution, but it also implies biological evolution. And that is exactly what his previous book Evolution: A Theory in crisis attacked in the most thorough way. And biological evolution, that is the common descent of all life, is exactly what he defends now in Nature's Destiny. Not a limited version of evolution. No, complete naturalistic evolution from inorganic materials to the first cell to humans.
Those who appeal to Denton's book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis would be advised to accept that Denton himself no longer rejects the fact of evolution, but rather argues for directed evolution and a biological form of fine tuning. Furthermore, as Kortoff notes, what Denton in 1985 thought were fatal probems for evolution are now minor details:
In the 'Note to the Reader' Denton makes an important and revealing remark:
"Because the validity of the argument [biocentric design of the universe] depends on so many independent lines of evidence, the conclusion is not materially threatened because the whole picture is not yet complete or because this or that phenomenon such as the origin of life or the mechanism of evolution is not understood. Just as the meaning of a jigsaw puzzle may be obvious long before all the pieces are perfectly placed, so too my argument does not necessitate that everything be explained." (p xvi.) (emphasis mine [Kortoff])
Phenomena such as the origin of life or the mechanism of evolution were his main obstacles in Evolution: a theory in crisis. And now they are just insignificant pieces of the jigsaw puzzle! This is a nothing less than a paradigm change. If he had that attitude in 1986, there would have been no point in writing Evolution: a theory in crisis. Books like Evolution: a theory in crisis are based upon the view that as long there are missing pieces of the jigsaw puzzle of the origin of life, we have not solved the puzzle and are not justified in claiming we know the whole picture. The most remarkable thing is that Denton doesn't account for this dramatic change of attitude at all. We can only guess that the attitude change follows from his acceptance of the biocentric design of the universe and the necessity of evolving life. And consequently any problems with evolution do not have the serious consequences they had in 1986. (Emphasis in original)

In short, when even Denton no longer accepts that common descent is a theory in crisis, and regards the origin of life and the exact mechanism behind evolutionary change to be relatively minor problems, intellectual honesty demands that those who continue to appeal to his dated, thirty-year old book recognise that not even Denton regards those arguments against the fact of evolution as compelling, and cease using them.