There have been a number of recent books by leading scientists challenging the Darwinian synthesis, such as Evolution: Still a Theory in Crisis (Michael Denton), In The Shadow of Oz(Wayne Rossiter), and most recently Undeniable: How Biology Confirms our Intuition that Life Is Designed, by Douglas Axe. While there have always been evolution skeptics since the time of Darwin, the resistance seems to be gaining some steam.
In Undeniable, Dr. Axe aims not so much to advance the scientific argument for intelligent design, but to motivate non-specialists to trust their design intuition, and to consider weighing in on the debate. By “design intuition,” he simply means the universal human faculty of recognizing design both in human products and in nature. He says, “I intend to show that the universal design intuition is reliable when properly used and, moreover, that it provides a solid refutation of Darwin’s explanation for life.”[i] According to Axe, we know that intelligence is necessary for making omelets and bricks, and yet we’re told that more complex things, like dragonflies and horses, came about without anyone making them. He finds this utterly implausible and in defiance of common sense.
Axe also aims to rid people of the naïve belief that science involves a purely objective and unbiased search for truth. He finds no reason to question the scientific community on issues like how many moons orbit Neptune or how many protons are found in the nucleus of a cobalt atom. He notes, “Why would anyone distort facts of that kind? Matters where everyone wants to see things a certain way, however, are a completely different story. With those we should always apply a healthy dose of skepticism” (p. 38). He recognizes that worldview, peer pressure, desire for prestige, and other human tendencies often taint how science is done.
Why Does the Question of Origins Matter?
The question of human origins is so important, says Axe, because it raises deeper questions about human value and purpose. He cites UW professor David Barash, who says that Darwin’s theory implies that humans “are produced by a natural, totally amoral process, with no indication of a benevolent, controlling creator.”[ii] Axe considers this “impoverished” view of life entirely dehumanizing. He responds, “Contemplate for just a moment the dystopian vision of 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, and you begin to grasp the true stakes” (55).
A Big Problem for Darwinism
Axe happily concedes that the most compelling aspect of Darwin’s theory is its simplicity. The idea that better-fit organisms survive and pass on their genes to the next generation seems plausible on its surface. As a result, says Axe, we ought to view many kinds of life the way we view geological features: as things in constant flux. One big problem, says Axe, is that living things are “busy wholes,” which he defines “as an active thing that causes us to perceive intent because it accomplishes a big result by bringing many small things or circumstances together in just the right way.”[iii] Like a perfect composition, perfect poem, or perfect mathematical proof, individual living things such as the spider, the salmon, or the orca “is strikingly compelling and complete, utterly committed to being what it is.”[iv]And just as we know compositions, poems, and proofs come from a mind, we should trust our intuitions that spiders, salmons, and orcas do as well.
Specifically, Axe takes aim to Darwin’s grand theory through the lens of the feasibility of protein evolution. He says, “If natural selection really coaxed sponges into becoming orcas in less time, inventing many new proteins along the way, we figured it should have ample power for this small transformation.” On the flip side, if selection cannot creatively build new protein features, then it certainly can’t build more complex organisms.
Building a new complex protein, according to Axe, is beyond the purview of selection. In fact, he argues, “Of the possible genes encoding protein chains 153 amino acids in length, only about one in a hundred trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion is expected to encode a chain that folds well enough to perform a biological function.” This is like finding one hydrogen atom out of the entire visible universe!
At the heart of Undeniable is a penetrating question: If accidental causes cannot build “simple” proteins, then how can it build complex organisms, such as killer whales and foxes?To make this point, Axe uses the example of someone who claims he can jump to the moon. But if this same person cannot perform a simpler task, such as slam-dunking a basketball, then why believe his greater claim?
Axe deals with many other issues such as the multiverse and the origin of mind. Yet he concludes, “My aim has been to show you that there’s a much more compelling view of life than the materialist view and that this compelling view also happens to be innate—known by us from early childhood and stubbornly persistent thereafter, such that to deny it requires sustained effort.”
Undeniable is a wonderful book. Axe skillfully uses stories, examples, and helpful illustrations to make his points understandable and memorable. He is careful not to overwhelm the reader with unnecessary scientific jargon, but it is also clear that he’s an expert on the issue and has done the “heavy lifting” to back up his claims. Whether you are an expert or novice, a believer in intelligent design or Darwinism, you will undeniably find value in this book.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.
[i] Douglas Axe, Undeniable: How Biology Confirms our Intuition that Life Is Designed(New York, NY: HarperOne, 2016), 21.
[ii] David P. Barash, “God, Darwin and My College Biology Class,” New York Times, September 27, 2014.
[iii] Axe, Undeniable, 68.
[iv] Ibid., 75. Axe does respond to the charge that there are faulty designs in nature (p. 77-78).
Good review! It’s great that an ID book has come out that appeals to arguments based on pragmatic reasoning (as well as science).