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Let The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik Read Our Series on the 10 Top Problems with Darwinian Evolution, and Then Give Us His Thoughts


We have now posted in full Casey Luskin's series on "The Top Ten Scientific Problems with Biological and Chemical Evolution." It was earlier published in serial form here at Evolution News & Views. What would Adam Gopnik at The New Yorker say if he actually sat down and read such a document?

Mr. Gopnik wrote the other day to endorse the idea of subjecting national office-seekers to an evolutionary catechism. He finds it telling that some leading Republicans have declined to say whether they believe in Darwinian theory. Gopnik regards answering such a question as a test of character:

Do you have the courage to embrace an inarguable and obvious truth when it might cost you something to do so? A politician who fails this test is not high-minded or neutral; he or she is just craven, and shouldn't be trusted with power.

While this is stated in extreme terms, and while the premise is false -- that evolution is "an inarguable and obvious truth" -- I'm sympathetic to the basic point that someone who wants to be President of the United States shouldn't be congratulated for "punting" on evolution. Biological origins is an ultimate question demanding consideration, a serious weighing of the evidence, from any thoughtful person.

That said, Gopnik shouldn't be allowed to get away with chastising anyone on the basis of his own -- that is, Adam Gopnik's -- ignorance.

He writes:

All the available evidence collected within the past hundred and fifty years is strongly in [Darwinism's] favor, and no evidence argues that it is in any significant way false.


While there is no debate about Darwinian theory, there are endless debates within Darwinian theory. The controversies are loud and real: Are the mutations offered up to selection always truly random, or could they be in some ways pre-winnowed? How gradual does "gradual" have to be? Is everything we find in an animal an adaptation, or does simple genetic drift and accident account for some part of biological change? There is always a controversy, in that sense, because science is an organized controversy, a self-correcting debate.


Opposition to evolutionary biology is overwhelmingly tied to an investment in some kind of defiantly anti-rational ideology: in our time, to fundamentalist Christian reaction; in dark days past in the Soviet Union, to the Lysenkoist belief in culture-made traits. To oppose Darwinian biology is not to announce yourself neutral or disinterested or even uninterested. It is to announce yourself against the discoveries of science, or so frightened of those who are that you can be swayed from answering honestly.

Oh please. Casey Luskin's Top 10 list is important because no one who reads it and is honest with himself could come away thinking the "debate" over Darwinian evolution is limited to fine-tuning at the margins of the theory, or that the controversy is limited to "creationists" who in Adam Gopnik's telling are running scared from science.

These things go to the core:

  • Problem 1: No Viable Mechanism to Generate a Primordial Soup
  • Problem 2: Unguided Chemical Processes Cannot Explain the Origin of the Genetic Code
  • Problem 3: Random Mutations Cannot Generate the Genetic Information Required for Irreducibly Complex Structures
  • Problem 4: Natural Selection Struggles to Fix Advantageous Traits into Populations
  • Problem 5: Abrupt Appearance of Species in the Fossil Record Does Not Support Darwinian Evolution
  • Problem 6: Molecular Biology has Failed to Yield a Grand "Tree of Life"
  • Problem 7: Convergent Evolution Challenges Darwinism and Destroys the Logic Behind Common Ancestry
  • Problem 8: Differences between Vertebrate Embryos Contradict the Predictions of Common Ancestry
  • Problem 9: Neo-Darwinism Struggles to Explain the Biogeographical Distribution of many Species
  • Problem 10: Neo-Darwinism has a Long History of Inaccurate Darwinian Predictions about Vestigial Organs and "Junk DNA"

Check out Luskin's voluminous footnotes, too, which direct the reader not to creationist literature but overwhelmingly to peer-reviewed science. "All the available evidence" supports orthodox Darwinism? "No evidence" goes against it "in any significant way"? I'm sorry, these are statements that can be defended only through a willful turning away from what the evidence really does say.

What is the nature of the "debate" around Darwinism? Is it nit-pitting or fine-tuning, or simply made up, as Gopnik prefers? Or does it cut to the heart of the theory? That is a question worth talking about. I would love to hear Adam Gopnik's informed response.

Casey's essay, also previously published in the book More than Myth, is not at all the final word on this question. It's simply our most current statement of some important themes. We document the non-trivial problems with Darwinism every day here at ENV.

However for a start, an easy introduction, our Top 10 as articulated by Casey Luskin can't be beat. Let Mr. Gopnik read it and tell us his thoughts.

Image: � Krasimira Nevenova / Dollar Photo Club.