An Ivy League professor of computer science has abandoned Darwinism and denounced evolution as an improbable scientific theory. Intelligent design, he now says, is an argument worthy of deeper consideration.
David Gelernter, who has taught computer science at Yale University since 1982, penned an article earlier this year in the Claremont Review of Books detailing his journey of coming to believe that Darwinian evolution — for which he still retains some fond feelings, calling it "brilliant and beautiful" — is wrong.
Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species was published in November 1859 and is widely considered to be the foundation of evolutionary biology.
"Like so many others, I grew up with Darwin’s theory, and had always believed it was true. I had heard doubts over the years from well-informed, sometimes brilliant people, but I had my hands full cultivating my garden, and it was easier to let biology take care of itself. But in recent years, reading and discussion have shut that road down for good," he explained in May.
A key reason why he came to reject Darwinism was notably missing fossils from the from historical record. During the Cambrian era, the number of fossils of major animal groups grew exponentially; thus, the record should then show many fossils of much simpler creatures, "transitional" ones, in the previous period. But it does not and such organisms still have not shown up.
“Darwin’s theory predicts that new life forms evolve gradually from old ones in a constantly branching, spreading tree of life,” Gelernter went on to say.
“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.”
He elaborated that no one should doubt Darwin's explanations about the small changes in organisms where they adapt to their surroundings over time, adjustments like wing style, fur density, or the shape of the beaks of birds. Yet larger, more macro changes in biology that Darwinism posits, such as the emergence of new species as opposed to the micro adjustments in old ones, should be doubted, he said.
"The origin of species is exactly what Darwin cannot explain," he quipped.
An influential work in the Yale professor's journey out of Darwinism was Stephen Meyer's 2013 book Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design about which Gelertner said that "few open-minded people will finish it with their faith in Darwin intact."
The Yale professor does not accept intelligent design as Meyer describes, and thinks that belief in Darwinian theory will persist for a long time due to its sizable influence in culture.
"An intelligent designer makes perfect sense in the abstract. The real challenge is how to fit this designer into life as we know it. Intelligent design might well be the ultimate answer. But as a theory, it would seem to have a long way to go," he wrote.
He recounted in a July 6 interview with the Hoover Institution that his public rejection of Darwinism is taken among many of his colleagues as a personal, existential threat.
Although his fellow academics remain his friends and are courteous to him, he noted, "when I look at their intellectual behavior, what they publish, and, much more important, what they tell their students, Darwinism has indeed passed beyond a scientific argument."
He continued: "As far as they are concerned, take your life in your hands to challenge it intellectually. They will destroy you if you challenge it."
"What I've seen, in their behavior intellectually and at colleges across the West, is nothing approaching free speech on this topic.
"It's a bitter rejection, not just — a sort of bitter, fundamental, angry, outraged, violent rejection, which comes nowhere near scientific of intellectual discussion. I've seen that happen again and again. 'I'm a Darwinist, don't you say a word against it, or, I don't want to hear it, period.'"
"I am attacking their religion," he added. "It is a big issue for them."
Gelertner is also the author of The Muse in the Machine and the novel 1939. He is known for predicting the emergence of the World Wide Web.