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University of Iowa Chemist Rebuked by Faculty for Acknowledging "Holes" in Darwinian Theory

University of Iowa.jpg

A chemistry professor at the University of Iowa got slammed recently by colleagues for voicing the view that Darwinian evolutionary theory has "holes...that are big enough to drive a semi-truck through."

The professor, Ned Bowden, was writing in an official university publication, Iowa Now, and 25 of his fellow faculty members took umbrage. They signed a collectively authored letter chastising him, reminding Dr. Bowden that Evolution Is a Fact -- "we no longer debate the central principles of evolutionary theory as a scientific framework for understanding Earth's diversity" -- and chiding Iowa Now for publishing the piece and thereby doing "a disservice to the university."

There are several points of interest here.

First, Bowden's remark about the semi-truck is actually in the context of a very mild article, "Common Ground: A Case for Ending the Animosity Between Science and Religion," expressing the general view that science and religion need not conflict. He makes crystal clear that he is no Young Earth Creationist -- "I have utter confidence in radioactive dating." There's not a word about intelligent design either. In fact he uses a standard theistic evolutionary formulation about how "it is highly possible that evolution was the tool that God used to bring humans into being."

Poor guy! Many theistic evolutionists -- not, I'm sure, Dr. Bowden, who seems very sincere -- embrace the idea because it's supposed to protect you from attack by Darwinists. So that's a prophylactic, like some others I can think of, that's not 100 percent effective after all.

Second, in contrast to the situation at Ball State University, a University of Iowa spokesman commented to Inside Higher Ed that Bowden has every right to his opinion and every right to express it in a university publication: "as a public university, we welcome a diversity of views and encourage robust and civil dialogue." Well, good for them!

Third, on the point about Darwinian theory having holes you could "drive a semi-truck through," why does that sound familiar? Holes, gaps...oh, right...it reminds me of what Harvard computer scientist Leslie Valiant writes in his book Probably Approximately Correct, quoted by Berkeley mathematician Edward Frenkel in his New York Times review, about how Darwinism "has the gaping gap that it can make no quantitative predictions as far as the number of generations needed for the evolution of a behavior of a certain complexity" (emphasis added).

Why does Valiant get away with saying that, while Bowden is publicly condemned by 25 of his closest colleagues? It seems unfair. Is it that Bowden specifies the size of the "holes" in terms of the dimensions of a particular vehicle, a semi-truck? So if Valiant said that the gap in Darwinian theory was so large you could drive a double-wide mobile home through it, then that would have brought the wrath of the Harvard faculty down on him?

I don't think so. The rush to condemn Bowden, or to censor Ball State physicist Eric Hedin, is probably driven in part by status anxiety on the part of faculty or administration, respectively. The last thing you want to do is let one of your own professors taint you with the reputation for harboring someone with views -- so goes the mythology of Darwinism -- just a step or two removed from the Ark Park.

The University of Iowa and Ball State are perfectly respectable places to hang your hat as a professor, but there's only one Harvard. If you're a tenured professor there, obviously, you've made it. You need not feel threatened by something a little bit outr� that the guy in the office down the hall says or writes somewhere.

This may explain why Harvard geneticist George Church, who gave a warm approbation to Darwin's Doubt, has not, as far as I know, suffered a public condemnation by his own colleagues. It's also one reason why Darwinism makes so fascinating a sociological study, as much as it does a scientific one.

Image: University of Iowa/Wikipedia.