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Darwin’s Quantum Leap

The Quantum Leap

Early in 2009, the International Year of Darwin got underway in Shrewsbury, England, the birthplace of Charles Darwin. As part of the celebration marking both Darwin’s 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his seminal work, On the Origin of Species, a sculpture was unveiled in Shrewsbury’s Mardol Quay Gardens. Nearly forty feet high, sixty feet long, and weighing over 200 tons, the structure, named Quantum Leap, resembles a gigantic slinky placed on the ground like an upside down ‘U.’ Darwin coordinator, Jon King, explains, “What we wanted was an iconic structure – something that was big, was bold, but something that could be interpreted in different ways.” In an irony apparently lost on its celebrants, the name ‘Quantum Leap’ makes a fitting metaphor for the thinking of contemporary Darwinists.

Charles Robert Darwin began his career in the summer of 1831 when he boarded the H.M.S. Beagle on a four-year surveying mission. The budding naturalist had studied a bit of medicine and divinity at Cambridge, but geology and nature interested him most. During his five-week stay on the Galapagos Islands Darwin was particularly struck by the varieties of plant and animal life on the different islands.

A Paradigm is Born
On return, he took up pigeon breeding and discovered that with selective breeding, he could produce a variety of pigeons from a common rock pigeon. Like any curious scientist, Darwin began to speculate. What if, over time, little changes added up to big changes? And if random variations arose along the way, could not entirely new species come into existence? If the changes had enough time to accumulate, and if changes that failed to meet the requirements for survival died out, then the result could be a multiplicity of organisms adapted to their surroundings. This extrapolation from observed variations among species to adaptation and survival of the fittest came to be known as the Law of Natural Selection.

Darwin later put forth his ideas in On The Origin of Species, which reportedly sold out on its first day of publication in 1859. Though Darwin stopped short of atheism – in his autobiography he called himself an agnostic, and in fact never addressed the origin of life in any of his books, the intimation that life could have freely emerged, independent of any pesky notion of God, took on a life of its own, and within a century Darwinism, or ‘Evolution as the Explanation of Everything,’ would become the reigning paradigm of science.

Questioning the Premise
But is this paradigm itself a scientifically established fact? That was the question raised by a surprise entrant to the creation/evolution debate. Phillip E. Johnson, neither a theologian nor a scientist but a professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley, entered the ring in 1991 with Darwin on Trial, a lawyer-like examination in which he weighed the evidence for Darwinism and found it insufficient to support the conclusion. In Darwin on Trial, Johnson drew out the suspiciously sequestered fact that Darwinism presupposes a naturalistic worldview. Naturalism, as a worldview, says that nature or matter is all there is; the supernatural does not exist or, if it does, is entirely irrelevant to life in the natural realm. Johnson deftly pointed out that naturalism is not a scientifically deduced fact but rather a philosophical presupposition.

The first result of Johnson’s contribution was to expose the atheistic scientists’ philosophical presupposition of naturalism and separate it from their science. Like the lad saying the emperor has no clothes, he identified the philosophy masquerading as science and pointed it out. More far-reaching, though, Johnson gave birth to the scientific movement of intelligent design theory (ID).

The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, and not by an undirected process such as natural selection. ID does not begin with the book of Genesis, nor does it address the question of who the intelligent cause might be, and for that reason it’s been criticized by some creation scientists, who believe the study of creation shouldn’t be divorced from the Creator.

Three Facts of Life Evolution Fails to Explain
But ID provocatively challenges Darwinism’s overreaching claims. Here are three major problems for which Darwinian Evolution supplies no answer (but ID does):

(1) The Initiation of life. Natural selection says that evolution favors one already existing organism over another, but it says nothing about how those organisms came into existence in the first place. In The Selfish Gene, atheist zoologist Richard Dawkins ponders how the first living molecule might have formed. His speculative language suggests we “imagine” or “suppose” how it “could” or “might” have happened. “It was exceedingly improbable,” he concedes and says science has no idea how it happened. But he’s admitted he’s open to one possibility, that life on Earth was seeded from outer space. Seriously. The theory is called Panspermia, and, setting aside the implied drift from empirical science to science fiction, its mere suggestion reveals the dearth of working theories of abiogenesis, or how life got started without a Starter.

(2) The Information of life. The information content of DNA is mind-boggling. The DNA molecule for the single-celled bacterium E. coli contains enough information to fill a whole library of encyclopedias. Geneticists are still learning how to read the coded chemistry, but evolutionary science has no plausible theory as to how random processes can produce so complex, specific, and detailed a set of instructions.

DNA precipitated the undoing of one prominent atheist’s naturalistic worldview. In December of 2004, Antony Flew, one of the world’s leading philosophers of atheism for half a century, dropped an intellectual bombshell on the scientific community when he announced that he had come to believe there is a God. The 81-year-old British professor said his life had always been guided by the principle of Plato’s Socrates: “Follow the evidence, wherever it leads,” and that he had arrived at this startling conclusion after studying DNA. “The enormous complexity by which the results [DNA] were achieved look to me like the work of intelligence.”

(3) The Irreducible Complexity of life. An irreducibly complex system is one involving interrelated parts or subsystems, all of which are necessary for the system to function. Given the technology of his day, Charles Darwin believed a simple cell was only a little blob of protoplasm, and he envisioned it emerging spontaneously “in some warm little pond.” Still, he anticipated the potential difficulty of irreducible complexity. “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications,” he wrote, “my theory would absolutely break down.”

Too bad Darwin never met Dr. Michael Behe. A lifelong Catholic, Dr. Behe says he believed the standard story he was taught in school about evolution until he read Evolution: A Theory in Crisis by agnostic geneticist Michael Denton. “I was shocked because I had never heard a scientist question Darwin’s theory before. And here I was an associate professor in biochemistry, and I didn’t have any answers for his objections.” At that point, Dr. Behe realized he’d accepted Darwinian theory, not because of compelling evidence, but for sociological reasons. “That’s what I was supposed to believe,” he said.

Dr. Behe went on to explore cellular life and ultimately concluded its great complexity could never have come about by random and unguided processes as Darwinism requires. His research culminated in Darwin’s Black Box, in which he describes in elegant detail several microbiological systems, all of them intricately and irreducibly complex.

Questioning the Quantum Leap
“There is something fascinating about science,” Mark Twain, a contemporary of Darwin, once quipped. “One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of facts.”

He could have been referring to the Darwinists. Keep in mind that the starting point one chooses when it comes to the origin of life is not a question of science but of philosophy or, if you will, faith. Ultimately, we choose to adopt one worldview or another, and that involves making a faith choice. Darwin assumed that God – if he existed at all – was irrelevant, and then concluded that natural selection must have been the mechanism by which life developed into its present form. His intellectual descendants effectively consecrated his hypothesis, decreed Darwinism the principle canon of science, and began interpreting all data accordingly.

ID differs from Darwinian Evolution in that it allows for the possibility of an outside agent. It begins from a different philosophical starting point and asks, “Where does the evidence lead?” As technology advances, the three ‘I’s of life – initiation, information, and irreducible complexity – pose ever-growing difficulties for evolutionists. Michael Behe summed up his inquiry this way, “We are told by ‘Science’ with a capital ‘S’ that the universe is just matter and energy in motion. But it turns out that actual evidence of science does not necessarily support that philosophical claim.”

To Behe and other ID scientists, life looks more and more like an outside job.

This article first appeared in The Lookout and was reprinted in Salvo Winter 2009, Issue 11.

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  1. John
    December 11, 2009 at 8:57 pm | #1

    Hi, I am from Australia.

    Please find a set of related essays which give a unique Illuminated Understanding of the relation between scientism, exoteric religiosity, and culture.

    The first one explains how Big science eclipsed Big religion as the “official” arbiter of what is True & Real, resulting in the situation that, with very rare exception, most of what is now promoted as “religion” shares the same reductionist presumptions as scientism as to what is true and real (while PRETENDING otherwise).


    as does this reference:


    These two essays both mention the Big Bang theory, and they also criticize the naive essentially childish “world”-view promoted by exoteric religionists.



    Plus a radical critique of the conventional mommy-daddy “creator-god” idea.


  2. December 14, 2009 at 9:19 pm | #2

    The Galapagos Islands are the most incredible living museum of evolutionary changes, with a huge variety of exotic species (birds, land and sea animals, plants) and landscapes not seen anywhere else.

  3. Angela
    January 26, 2010 at 2:14 pm | #3

    Where are your references so I can see that your claims of areas science misses/overlooks are justified? I want to know why naturalism should not be presupposed when the subject studied is matter and not supernatural, especially when it can be explained by natural processes and for which there is ample evidence – such as the changes to pigeon morphology by selective breeding as described, which occur naturally. And it seems that intelligent design presupposes supernaturalism, so what have you achieved?

    • January 26, 2010 at 2:36 pm | #4

      (1) If there’s a specific piece of information for which you’d like the reference, tell me what it is, and if I have it I’ll provide it if I have it. I do have references for much of this information.
      (2) The presupposition of naturalism is a philosophical choice, made apart from empirical science. Phillip E. Johnson writes well on this, but I can’t remember offhand which book. (If I find it or remember where it is, I’ll post it later.) If an observed phenomenon can be explained by natural processes, for example changes in pigeons due to selective breeding, then fine. Natural processes provide a good explanation. That is a realm where empirical science serves us well.
      (3) Intelligent Design does not so much presuppose the existence of a supernatural cause as it allows for the possibility of a supernatural cause. There is a difference. It is Darwinism, with its presupposition of naturalism, that allows a philosophical presupposition to limit its scientific inquiry.

      What does this achieve? Darwinism excludes from consideration, a priori, the possibility of any supernatural cause. This article shows that this is a non-scientific presupposition on the part of Darwinism, and that it limits, rather than advances, scientific inquiry.

  4. Flyingspur
    September 30, 2010 at 10:24 pm | #5

    Hello Terrell,

    Since this is moderated, I am not sure if you will publish my comment . Here is a response to Johnson from the National Academy of Sciences

    Darwin Prosecuted: Review of Johnson’s Darwin on Trial


  5. October 1, 2010 at 7:50 am | #6

    Well, sure I’ll publish it. Why wouldn’t I?

    But given my list of things to do it’s not a high priority for me to respond to Dr. Eugenie Scott’s response to Phillip Johnson. Now if you want to interact with me over it, I will respond to you. For example, you could tell me what Dr. Scott’s main points are that you find persuasive and why you find them more persuasive than his or mine. Or you could tell me why you posted a link to it here or why this subject matters to you. I’ll make an effort to respond to you, but I’ll let Phillip Johnson respond to her.

  6. flyingspur
    October 1, 2010 at 2:12 pm | #7


    Looks like your article here has been dealt with.

  7. October 1, 2010 at 2:40 pm | #8

    Cool! Always nice to get read and taken seriously. Thanks for sharing.

  8. flyingspur
    October 1, 2010 at 8:03 pm | #9

    Glad you liked the rebuttal to your article.

  9. flyingspur
    October 1, 2010 at 8:19 pm | #10

    Terrell your arguments have a faith based agenda and not based on the scientific method or fact. Here is my response to some of your claims in the article.
    Antony Flew’s conversion was not to theism, but to a weak deism, a belief that a creator set the universe in motion but has not participated in any way since (Carrier 2004).
    Flew’s one and only piece of relevant evidence for accepting a deistic god was the apparent improbability of a naturalistic origin for life (Carrier 2004). Flew, by his own admission, had not kept up with the relevant science and was mistaught by Gerald Schroeder, a physicist and Jewish theologian (e.g., Schroeder 2001). He later conceded, “I now realize that I have made a fool of myself by believing that there were no presentable theories of the development of inanimate matter up to the first living creature capable of reproduction” (Carrier 2005). Thus Flew’s conversion is, by Flew’s own admission, baseless.

    Flew remains a deist but calls his belief a “very modest defection from my previous unbelief” (Carrier 2005).

    As for Flew’s bogus book. Here is some critical information.


    The argument from authority is weak to begin with, and Flew has never been a spokesperson for atheism, much less for the unrelated subject of evolution. Nobody’s unsupported beliefs, including Flew’s, constitute an argument for or against evolution (nor for or against atheism). Only evidence and logical argument are legitimate reasons to accept or reject any objective position

    Irreducible Complexity in Nature

    Can evolution lead to IC or not? It is time to look at living examples and let nature decide. Behe’s most famous example is a mousetrap. But since a mousetrap is not alive, it doesn’t tell us much about whether or how living IC systems might evolve. How about a flytrap instead? So much for Behe and his fallacy.

  10. flyingspur
    October 1, 2010 at 8:23 pm | #11

    ^ I meant to type the Venus Fly Trap – How did the Venus’ flytrap avoid the argument that IC can’t evolve? In two ways. First, rather than gaining a part, it lost a part – the glue that the sundews use. Even more interestingly, the trap was able to evolve because the parts evolved. The trap started out as a Drosera-like leaf, and the parts of the leaf were progressively changed. This makes a striking contrast with the mousetrap which Behe has repeatedly presented to illustrate why IC cannot evolve. As a manufactured item the mousetrap neatly illustrates his definition, but with its static parts it cannot model evolution. With evolving parts, nature can create a snap-trap after all. The mechanical and manufacturing analogies so influential in Behe’s thinking miss the flexibility of living things.

  11. October 2, 2010 at 10:42 pm | #12

    Something about this article really stirs you up, doesn’t it?

    (1) You assert that my arguments have a faith-based agenda. I’ve reread the article, and I see no words or sentences in here indicating either my faith or a faith-based agenda.
    (2) If Antony Flew, an avowed atheist, examined the complex specified information of DNA and then abandoned his atheism because of what he saw, then I see nothing factually inaccurate in what I wrote. Whether he might have been better described as theist or deist, while it might be interesting, is irrelevant to the point I made and does not negate it. He abandoned his atheism.
    (3) I’m unclear about what you mean by “the argument from authority” or how it applies to my arguments.
    (4) If you’re suggesting that the Venus flytrap managed to attain irreducible complexity by losing a part rather than gaining a part, while the details of the Venus flytrap are quite interesting and you may well be correct in what you’re saying about it, you utterly fail to offer an explanation of where the Venus flytrap got any parts – whether irreducibly complex or irreducibly complex plus one part – to begin with.

    So, in conclusion, while I appreciate the scrutiny you’ve given my arguments because I believe challenges are always good for getting at the truth and good for the intellect, I fail to see where my arguments are not based in fact. I think it’s standing up to your challenges quite well. Thanks for testing it out.

  12. Stephen Sparrow
    December 19, 2010 at 2:56 am | #13

    Why anybody would want to put up their hand to be a spokesman for atheism just kills me. If Darwinist evolution via Natural Selection/Survival of The Fittest/Force is true – tell me (you opponents of what Terrell Clemmons has posted) how come such principles as Mercy, Forgiveness or Justice exist, bearing in mind that Darwin’s theory by its own rule would have completely crushed any sign of such principles at the moment of hatching. But the fact is (as you folk already know) mercy exists: we have all experienced it; either by receiving it or dispensing it, or at different times both. And please spare me a lot of links to essays exceeding 500 characters in total length. If a case cannot be presented in less that that, then there is no case. Can you not get it into your heads that Atheism is a Faith with its own priesthood & evangelists?

  1. April 14, 2010 at 7:18 pm | #1
  2. April 26, 2010 at 11:02 pm | #2

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