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Darwinist Could Learn from Hidden Figures


Hidden Figures — the true story of three brilliant African-American women who proved themselves in a 1960s NASA culture dominated by white men — is sure to inspire. The film is filled with emotive lessons, most powerfully a vindication of the hope that those who persevere honorably for a just cause will not be disappointed.

Another lesson, more pragmatic, occurred to me as the drama unfolded. Having migrated in my own career from the measurable-fact culture of engineering to the more descriptive culture of biology, I felt a tinge of nostalgia as I watched a roomful of nerds with their calculators and chalk boards working together to find the answer to a pressing question: How can we bring an orbiting astronaut back safely to Earth?

Notice the very pre-post-truth essence of that phrase find the answer. Engineers have always taken for granted that clearly posed questions have uniquely correct answers — there to be found by anyone with the skill to find them, and unambiguously recognized as correct when found. The joy of Hidden Figures is that it sweeps away our prejudicial attitudes as to who might have these requisite skills.

Evolutionary biology would have a hard time recognizing that kind of skill set. Darwin, born into the privileged life of English gentry, didn’t really have to solve practical problems. He had the luxury of concerning himself more with persuasion and influence than calculation or invention. Contrast him with another Charles of his day — Charles Babbage — who had to make actual steel gears mesh in order to accomplish his exacting goal of building a mechanical computing machine. For that Charles success or failure would be a fact for the whole world to witness. The other Charles could settle for the much less exacting (though not easy) goal of getting mere mental gears to mesh in the minds of his peers.

Darwinian Evolution Can’t Make the “Physical Gears” Mesh

Now, I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t understand the importance of mental gears. My point is that we sometimes lose sight of how potent physical gears can be for making the mental ones mesh. There’s something comfortably reassuring about the existence of steel-hard facts — assertions that either end all opposition by proving true or end all sympathy by proving false. Maybe there’s even a hint of beauty here — in the stark simplicity of people putting their heads and hands to a challenge in a way that either succeeds or doesn’t, with no fuzziness in-between.

Of course, those who’ve turned fuzziness into a paid profession are apt to sense more threat here than beauty. A famous 1960s meeting demonstrated this, convened under the heading Mathematical Challenges to the neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution. There, a group of slide-rule toting engineering types, unconcerned with matters of etiquette, tried to put the slippery blob of evolutionary theory through the grinder gears of hard reality. Among the Darwinists present was Harvard’s Ernst Mayr, who (in protest) titled his talk: Evolutionary challenges to the mathematical interpretation of evolution. Stick that in your gears, you nerdy engineers!

Fine. If you don’t want your blob to be minced, then keep it out of the grinder. And while you’re at it, keep it out of science classrooms and textbooks as well, because no idea should be accorded the status of tested science without going into the grinder. Well-machined gears go in as working parts. Everything else gets chewed up by those parts. Call your theory a blob or call it a grinder gear, but don’t tout it as a gear while protecting it as a blob.

Most Darwin followers are more earnest than that. From what I can tell, they really believe in their cause. Because the biology departments of the most revered research institutions are chock-full of professing Darwinists, they feel certain that anyone challenging Darwinism must be a deluded zealot. They long for the day when those smart professors from the big universities finally care enough about all the anti-Darwin nonsense to join forces and put the Flying Spaghetti Monster of intelligent design through the grinder of scientific reality.

What these ordinary Darwinists don’t realize, however, is that the professors know better than to go anywhere near that grinder. That’s the last place you want to be if your own theory is a quivering blob of gelatin — “a messy guess — baggy, boggy, soggy and leaking all over the place,” as Tom Wolfe put it.

The Steel-Hard Fact

Here’s the steel-hard fact they most want to avoid:

The evolutionary explanation of life cannot stand up to NASA-style engineering scrutiny.

If you doubt this, please join me in testing it. Hand pick your Darwin sympathizers from the most esteemed places. It doesn’t matter who they are, because all the pomp and prestige of the academic world is powerless to change hard facts. All claims of Darwin having discovered the only scientifically valid explanation of life get torn to tiny bits when you put them in the grinder.

The response to this challenge is sure to be either silence or protest. There won’t be a nerdy evolutionary biologist who marches up to the chalk board and does the math that saves the theory. The math has been done; the theory undone. Nor will there be a lab test that shows natural selection to be a worker of wonders. We’ve been there. Too many tests to count, and the blind watchmaker never showed up.

The protest will be familiar, organized around the usual defensive themes. Different sciences work differently! — they’ll say. It isn’t reasonable to hold a historical science to engineering standards! — they’ll say. No practicing evolutionary biologist would accept your proposal as valid! — they’ll say.

Let them speak. Then remind them that the difference is simply one of seriousness. When we really need to know that something will work, tested-and-approved certainty has always been the standard. Evolutionists ignore that standard because they can. Storytelling works for them because they’re all telling stories together. Their grand stories are all wrong, but as long as no one is dying in orbit, most people are content to let them carry on.

You be the exception — one of the few who realizes that slow erosion is every bit as harmful as sudden calamity. Take a stand and don’t stop standing. When your motivation flags, remind yourself of the cost — “a generation of human beings believing in their hearts that they are nothing more than bestial accidents fending for themselves in a world where morality is a fiction.”

Those who persevere honorably for a just cause will not be disappointed.

Source: Douglas Axe,