Renowned Yale computer scientist David Gelernter claims that he is abandoning Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Gelernter, who formerly served as a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, published a column earlier this year detailing his move away from evolutionary theory. The column, which was titled “Giving Up Darwin,” provides Gelernter’s arguments against Darwinism.
Darwin’s theory predicts that new life forms evolve gradually from old ones in a constantly branching, spreading tree of life. Those brave new Cambrian creatures must therefore have had Precambrian predecessors, similar but not quite as fancy and sophisticated. They could not have all blown out suddenly, like a bunch of geysers. Each must have had a closely related predecessor, which must have had its own predecessors: Darwinian evolution is gradual, step-by-step. All those predecessors must have come together, further back, into a series of branches leading down to the (long ago) trunk.
But those predecessors of the Cambrian creatures are missing. Darwin himself was disturbed by their absence from the fossil record. He believed they would turn up eventually. Some of his contemporaries (such as the eminent Harvard biologist Louis Agassiz) held that the fossil record was clear enough already, and showed that Darwin’s theory was wrong. Perhaps only a few sites had been searched for fossils, but they had been searched straight down. The Cambrian explosion had been unearthed, and beneath those Cambrian creatures their Precambrian predecessors should have been waiting—and weren’t. In fact, the fossil record as a whole lacked the upward-branching structure Darwin predicted.
A group of scientists, including Gelernter and Meyer, sat down to discuss evolution this summer in a conversation that was hosted by Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.
Gelernter, echoing a message from scientist Stephen C. Meyer, argues that science must quickly move on from Darwinism and towards a more, open, nuanced perspective on the creation of life on earth.
He now poses a final challenge. Whether biology will rise to this last one as well as it did to the first, when his theory upset every apple cart, remains to be seen. How cleanly and quickly can the field get over Darwin, and move on?—with due allowance for every Darwinist’s having to study all the evidence for himself? There is one of most important questions facing science in the 21st century.
Gelernter argues that intelligent design, the notion that life on earth was designed by a higher power, is an “absolutely serious argument.” Gelernter cautions his peers in academia against using anti-religious bigotry to justify their dismissals of the theory of intelligent design.
Gelernter was injured in 1993 when he opened a package addressed to him from Ted Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber. “My first thought was along the lines of: Bombs must be going off all over campus this morning,” Gelernter wrote in a book published in 1997. “It didn’t occur to me that I could possibly have been singled out as a target. I was not in a murder-prone line of work; I had no personal enemies, on account not of being lovable but of being obscure.”