Who are the “dissenters from Darwinism”?

One of the weapons used by the Wedge activists is the Scientific Dissent from Darwin list. They use this to promote the idea there is a controversy about evolutionary theory within the scientific community. The idea that a significant number of scientists actually oppose the modern understanding of evolution and support “intelligent design” (ID) theory as an alternative. They then go on to demand introduction of ID into science classrooms under the slogan “teach the controversy.”

Only a small number of professionals have been prepared to support the Discovery Institute’s statement (see Dissenters from Darwinism in context). However, the understanding and motives of those who have is interesting.

  • Are they genuinely concerned about modern evolutionary theory?
  • Do they support ID as an alternative?
  • Do they even understand modern evolutionary theory?
  • What is their areas of scientific expertise?
  • Is their motivation primarily religious?
  • Or have they been duped – signing up to support the relatively innocuous statement only to find out later the real way the list is being used?

Professional expertise of dissenters

There have been several attempts to determine motivation of the signatories. John M. Lynch, who is an evolutionary biologist and an historian of biology at Arizona State University, has made a preliminary analysis in his post Dissenting from Darwinism.

He found that only about 2% of the signatories may have had any training in evolutionary biology. The fields of expertise most highly represented on the list are chemistry (19%) engineering (14%) and physics (13%). He comments: “At the risk of being a broken record, I’ll say this again: I don’t care what chemists, physicists, engineers etc have to say about evolution, and neither should you. They have no expertise in the field (and I have none in theirs).”

The professional training of almost all the signatories suggests that their motivation is not concern about any major problems with evolutionary theory.

Religious motivation?

It’s inevitable the question of religious motivation should be raised given the subject. As the list comes under closer scrutiny the religious links of individual signatories will be discussed. This does not imply dishonesty or secrecy on the part of the signatories. It’s just extra information (beyond professional qualifications) which gives an insight into their motives for signing the statement.

At this stage some indication of motivations are indicated by analysis of subsets of the list of dissenters

Roger Stanyard at the British Centre for Science Education analysed the 34 UK members on the list. His results indicate that many of the 34 are active in religious creationist movements and at least 11 of them a Young Earth Creationists.

Analysis of the Steves

Because of Project Steve I chose the eight signatories with the given name Steve (or its variants) for a brief internet search of background information. As a result I believe that all except one were probably motivated by their religious attitudes. (Dr Sewell, a Family Practice Physician in Belton, Texas, only other internet presence appears to be his medical practice). Here are results for the other Steves:

Stephan J. G. Gift is well known in Trinidad as an outspoken creationist, an opponent of Big Bang cosmology and his claim to have proved Einstein wrong (he is opposed to relativity). His letters to newspapers indicate his Christian beliefs.

Stephen Crouse describes his strong Christian beliefs on his Leadership University personal pages. (Leadership University is not a university – it describes itself as ‘a “one-stop shopping superstore” in the marketplace of ideas’ and is sponsored by the Christian Leadership Ministries, part of the Campus Crusade for Christ International). Crouse was also active in a creationist campaign about the teaching of evolution aimed at the Texas Education State Board of Education

Stephen J. Cheesman is described by the Young Cosmos creationist blog as a “brother” and “special comrade.” He has been editor of “Gate and Wheel” a newsletter of the Koinonia Ministry “a Christian fellowship that believes God is relevant on our college campus today.”

Stephen Lloyd has written for Origins, journal of the Biblical Creation Society, (see ‘God of the Gaps’: A Valid Objection?) and the Evangelical Alliance (see Creation and Evolution – ‘Designed to be significant’ ).

Stephen Meyer is one of the original fellows, and is currently the director of, the Centre for the Renewal of Science and Culture which is part of the Discovery Institute and the main Wedge organisation. His religious beliefs are evident from his writings. He believes that scientific evidence supports such belief and that “theism explains a wide ensemble of metaphysically-significant evidences more adequately and comprehensively than other major worldviews” (see The Return of the God Hypothesis).

Steve Maxwell’s Christian views can be inferred from his activity with the Christian Heritage Home Schoolers. Despite his specialisation in molecular and cellular medicine he has been prepared to argue his ID views on the Pharyngula blog.

Steven Gollmer operates Origins webpages from his Cedarville University personal page. Here he declares “Our approach to science and origins is based on the presupposition that our highest and ultimate authority is the unchanging Word of God.” Gollmer was also active in creationist attempts to impose lesson plans on the Ohio State Board of Education.

New Zealand connection

There are currently only three New Zealand signatories to the Scientific Dissent from Darwin list. They are:

Neil Broom is well known as an ID activist and there is no doubt of his Christian beliefs. He is author of the book How Blind Is the Watchmaker?: Nature’s Design & the Limits of Naturalistic Science. The father of ID, Phillip Johnson, gave the book a glowing review describing it as “in the tradition of my own Darwin on Trial and Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box.” (Reviews on the Amazon site are far less complimentary). Broom is a fellow of the International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design (ISCID) a web site formed by William Dembski which presents itself as an ID “think tank.”

Ian C. Fuller is an elder of, and preaches in, the Grace Reformed Baptist Fellowship and was active in attempts to teach creationism in schools in the UK. He is described in the Christian Apologetics Forum as a Young Earth Creationist and has written for Origins, journal of the Biblical Creation Society (Geochronology in the light and Science of Earth’s Birth not set in stone).

Bridget Ingham has a religious perspective on science as indicated in a letter to the Pittsburgh Tribune review. She claims: “Science and faith are not mutually exclusive. Faith in the Judeo-Christian God and the Bible stand up to true scientific scrutiny. There is no conflict between the observable physics of our universe — at the microcosm or macrocosm — and what is written in the Scriptures.” And: “Of all the many theories regarding the origin of the universe and the origin of life, none can be absolutely proven because there were no observers and the “experiment” cannot be repeated.”

So what are the motives

I think that the motives for Scientific Dissent from Darwin signatories are religious in the vast majority of cases. Very few have the training to come to their position purely on scientific ground. Almost all the signatories looked at have strong religious views.

I am a little surprised that there is not more evidence of signatories with purely scientific motives – after all the statement itself is quite innocuous. Many, if not, most supporters of modern evolutionary theory would have little trouble supported the sentiments implied by it (see Dissenters from Darwinism in context). However, the lack of such support suggests that people are aware of the way the statement is being used – to discredit modern evolutionary knowledge and to undermine science itself.

Related Articles:
Dissenters from Darwinism in context
Religious opposition to “intelligent design”
Intelligent design and the threat to Christianity
Intelligent design and scientific method
Bringing the supernatural into science
Intelligent design – a war on science
New Zealand supports evolution
Intelligent design at the shopping mall
Intelligent design attacks on Christianity
Isaac Newton and intelligent design
Intelligent design/creationism I: What is scientific knowledge?
Intelligent design/creationism II: Is it scientific?
Intelligent design/creationism III: The religious agenda
Intelligent design/creationism IV: The religion – science conflict
Intelligent design/creationism: Postscript
Should we teach creationism?

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33 responses to “Who are the “dissenters from Darwinism”?

  1. Excellent piece of research Ken. Do you have any idea what scientific backgrounds the three NZers have?

  2. Neil Broom is an engineering lecturer at Auckland University, Ian Fuller is a Geographer at Massey university and Bridget Ingham recently graduated in Physics from Victoria University.

    It’s actually quite easy to hunt down people’s activities (for this list anyway) on the internet. There is an equivalent physicians list I have had a little look at – unfortunately physicians don’t seem to have much internet activity so it’s harder to find details.

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  4. Ken, I posted your comment on my website. it was held in moderation, and I explain why,

    David

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  8. The background research omits Etienne Windisch (PhD Engineering, McGill University (Canada)), who qualifies as a “Steve”; perhaps because almost no post-1995 details seem to be available on-line.

  9. Just a clarifier as to Broom’s background (‘engineering lecturer’ was a bit generalised) – he is “Professor & Head of Department, Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering, The University of Auckland. (2009 – present)”. Found here.

  10. OK he has been promoted since I last checked him out (about 2 years ago?). Is it relevant?

  11. my clarification was not concerning his recent promotion but was between the general category of ‘engineering’ and the more specific category/work in ‘bio’-engineering. that’s all

  12. Oh – funny, you didn’t mention bioengineering in your comment.

    I see he has a research interest in biomechanics. But is it relevant? Are you therefore claiming he has expertise in evolutionary science?

    I think the point of the dissent list was to get together people with Ph. Ds prepared to put their name to the list (hell, I could have signed the list, in principle). The point of my article was to analyse the likely motivation of a sample of people on the list. And that seems to be religious in most cases.

  13. Again, my clarification was merely in regard to his work, not his motivation for signing the list. But yes, ‘bio’-engineering would be of more particular relevance to evolutionary science than ‘engineering’ in general. And as I’ve mentioned at my blog recently in discussion with you, I will be asking him about his reasons for signing the document, as I understand him to fully accept evolution by natural selection.

  14. Biomechanics would not usually be classified as biology – certainly not as evolutionary biology. But that’s beside the point.

    Please let us know how he justifies his presence on the dissent list and Dembski’s ISCID. I certainly don’t think he is one of those people deluded by the actual wording. I haven’t read his book (looked for it in our local library some time ago but it wasn’t there) but have read some of his other stuff. This indicated to me that he clearly disagreed with evolutionary science – and philosophically he lines up with the Wedge people.

    If I am wrong, get him to let me know via this post. I would be happy to correct any mistake.

  15. Cheers Ken,
    As for ‘some of his other stuff’ which indicates disagreement with evolutionary science, could you direct me to it?

  16. I tried to read his book once. He certainly disagrees with evolutionary biology but I wouldn’t suggest you track down his book – as far as I could tell he managed to write several hundred pages on the impossibility of modern evolutionary biology without articulating a single argument to support his thesis. Lots of inane stuff like “Michael Behe has recently shown that many sub-cellular compenents are irreducibly complex”, and my old favourite “lab experiments in evolution are designed by scientists so provide no evidence that evolution can happen without design” and even gets all upset about Dawkin’s biomorphs.

    At least reading Ian Wishart on science is funny, this was just too boring.

  17. Dale – have a search on then internet. I can’t remember the name of the conference/journal now.

  18. There are a number of engineers who look to biology for “working models” on which to base engineering solutions. What they are doing is exploiting the fact the evolution has going working models because evolution has slowly polished them into the “refined” state we see today.

    I wouldn’t be that surprised to find some of these engineers are creationists, etc. They don’t have to know anything at all about how these biological solutions were arrived at (evolution), as they only use the current working model. (And then only as a template of sorts.)

  19. Turns out the book is (mostly) readable on google books. I’ve not the time to read it. If anyone can be bothered with quoting bits, feel free. Unfortunately, none of the amazon negative reviewers made any specific points about how his arguments fail. Inconvenient for me, as I cannot take time to scan the book for anti-evolution sentiments.

  20. Unfortunately, none of the amazon negative reviewers made any specific points about how his arguments fail

    They fail to exist.

  21. I presume you mean ‘his arguments’? (not ‘any specific points’)

    …also, even their mention of his claims is vague/sweeping (they are all very short reviews, after all).

  22. Relying on Amazon reviews is dodgy at best. In the case of books on either side of religion v. science, you really have to look very closely. What you’ll often find is those that oppose haven’t read the book at all and are simply slagging it.

  23. I’m impressed you’re able to admit that is even the case for these negative reviews of Broom’s book. Well done. And I agree. And was merely looking for some (quick) indication of the sort of poor science that Broom was supposed to be making. My guess is that the points that atheists won’t like would revolve around his treatment of ‘naturalistic science’ (a philosophical notion *about* how science is viewed/used in a naturalistic way). Again, I don’t have time to read the book, but would love to see specific quotes, etc. (lazy, perhaps, but I do have a job/family/study/band/etc.!)

  24. Dale – why the concern?

    Broom’s signature on the wedge document tells you something about him. If you want to find out more – read his book and on-line articles. Talk ot the guy.

    You seem to want to justify him or attribute a position to him that probably doesn’t have.

    It’s far simpler to just deal with the evidence – divert your energy that you are dissipating in speculation into actually getting the evidence. The you are going to have a more realistic understanding of the guy.

  25. Again, merely seeing if any quick tad-bits (helpful, fair summary critques) were easily available. They aren’t. So, as I mentioned elsewhere, I’m going to talk to him.

  26. Dale,

    I didn’t refer to any particular book and I’m not making a point about any particular book. I was pointing that using Amazon reviews as “evidence”—what what you intended to do—is suspect at best, especially for book on topics people take personally, as in the case of books for/against religious points of view. (I have no idea what reviews there are of that book, either.)

    Maybe you should slow down a bit when you read my posts, you seem to constantly read into things that aren’t there, by any stretch of the imagination. For example, where in the post do I refer to this particular book? My words are very clearly referring to Amazon reviews in toto.

    And was merely looking for some (quick) indication of the sort of poor science that Broom was supposed to be making.

    You’re unlikely to get this from Amazon reviews; if you want science critiques, look for peer review by scientists, perhaps? ;-)

  27. …and if you slowed down and read my comments you’d see that relying on Amazon reviews as ‘evidence’ (of any significant worth) is the last thing I’m doing. Looking for specific quotes? yes. Looking for hard evidence. Hardly.

  28. Unfortunately, none of the amazon negative reviewers made any specific points about how his arguments fail.

    And was merely looking for some (quick) indication of the sort of poor science that Broom was supposed to be making.

    You were clearly looking for evidence of “how his arguments fail”, “the sort of poor science that Broom was supposed to be making”. Hint: quotes are evidence when they’re used to address a particular point ;-) Please don’t entirely misread me, then tell me to read more carefully.

  29. (insert last word in tit-for-tat conversation here)

  30. Dale,

    The problem ultimately is his book he is not even wrong. I don’t remember anything resembling a specific point which might be judged as good or bad science – just vapid assertions like quorum sensing requires intellegence, natural selection implies teleology, Behe proved things are irreducibly complex.

    If you specific instances of this then skim through the google books one (it won’t take much longer than reading this thread) – it was a while ago that I tried to read it and it’s not exactly sparkling prose so specific sentences have not lodged in my brain.

  31. Dale, you are the one that keeps making it out to be tit-for-tat. That’s partly where you’re going wrong. As a recall saying on “that” other blog, please don’t place a “tone” on my posts. I can see how you can read it wrong, but that really is coming from you putting a tone on my posts, so that everything I write comes out in a way that you self-justify attacking me. I’ve told you before I write briefly as I haven’t a lot of time. Get used to it, eh?

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  33. Stephen J. Gift has a long history of crackpot “papers” that purport to have demonstrated “errors” in the theory of relativity. He publishes mostly in crank “journals”, like :Physics Essays, Progress in Physics and Advanced Physics Research. Do not let the titles fool you, these are fullblown crank venues.

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