What Every Darwinist Could Learn From Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures sweeps away our prejudicial attitudes as to who might have requisite skills to find answers.

By Douglas Axe Published on February 12, 2017

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.

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  • I like the analogy. The reason that evolution has never been put through physical gears is that when Darwin came along, materialists-atheists finally found their own creation myth. It was now plausible to those who couldn’t stand the thought of a personal God holding humanity accountable to see the natural world as a product of chance. Getting rid of the need for a creator or designer of the universe meant man could now be his own god, just as Satan promised Adam and Eve in the Garden. If materialists-atheists ever admit that their cosmology is just as faith-based as any religion, which it is, the jig is up.

  • ARB

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

    It’s worth noting here the distinction between evolution as a process and evolution as a history or a complete explanation of all life.

    The evolutionary process *can* be put into engineering-level scrutiny. Indeed, the existence of the process of evolution is so simple to demonstrate as to show that 1) variation occurs and 2) some variations have a better probability of surviving than others. The entire process follows from those two (obvious) statements.

    The Darwinist then dishonestly calls this “proof” of evolution as a process a “proof” of evolution as a history. However, evolution-as-a-process is only one small gear in the theory of evolution as a history; that theory entails a history determined entirely by selective pressure so strong that it can overpower the (observed) sheer dominance of entropy in any mildly complex organism, of negative, information-destroying mutations, with the extraordinarily rare positive mutation, without also totally annihilating that strain of the species entirely. It would be nigh impossible for a human to maintain so precisely the type of constant selective pressure necessary for evolution even in a simple mathematical simulation, much less were the process led blindly by chaos in the complexities of nature. And to me it becomes clear here that evolution as a history begs even more heartily for a divine entity, to maintain the balance of all things, to constantly dig every furrow through which life flows, than even creationism, which in most of its incarnations only cares for deities to set up the dominos we watch tumbling all around us.

  • Timothy Horton

    If Axe and the other “scientists” at the DI did more than write propaganda books and blow smoke they might make some headway with the scientific community. But alas, all the DI produces is thinly disguised Christian apologetics.

    • llew jones

      Epicurus and Democritus were ancient Greek materialists holding to the world view that the universe and everything in it came about by chance. Which of course is the world view that atheistic evolutionists
      today put their faith in. This postulate is demolished on scientific and mathematical grounds by Isaac Newton, the author of Mathematica Principia and perhaps the greatest scientist who ever lived. One can examine his reasoning on this in Optica.

      If biologists propose the evolution of life (by natural processes and mutations) then the scientific community need to be able to explain how the raw materials (the earth, the sun and the first cell) essential for the evolution of life came into being. If you have no sun, earth or first cell we can have no evolution of life.

      In the present atheistic evolutionist framework, post the Big Bang singularity, the sun, the earth and the first cell
      came about by random, mindless, blind and unguided processes.

      Those who are familiar with John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University, will appreciate that this
      Christian apologist is certainly an intellectual. He has publically debated some of the New Atheists such as the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, the theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, a
      thorough going atheist who has shared those views on Australian TV and the ethicist Peter Singer. Lennox shows beyond all doubt that they are men of great faith… in the natural or materialist world view. One of Dr. Lennox’s videos is titled “I don’t have faith to be an atheist”.

      In his latest book, entitled The Grand Design, Steven Hawking makes the adventurous claim that “because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.”

      Lennox acknowledges that Hawking is a brilliant theoretical physicist but responds to Hawking’s assertion that “the universe can and will create itself from nothing” with; “That sounds to me like something out of Alice in Wonderland… it’s not science!”

      Lennox explains by saying; “If I say “X creates X,” I presuppose the existence of X in order to account for the existence of X. To presuppose the existence of the universe to account for its existence is logically
      incoherent.” Or put simply; “From nothing, nothing comes.” or “Nothing cannot do anything!”

      In relation to Hawking’s latest idea Lennox concludes; “What this all goes to show is that nonsense remains nonsense, even when talked by world-famous scientists”.

      • Timothy Horton

        If biologists propose the evolution of life (by natural processes and mutations) then the scientific community need to be able to explain how the raw materials (the earth, the sun and the first cell) essential for the evolution of life came into being.

        Wrong. Evolution is the process which happens after you have imperfect self-replicators competing for limited resources. How the materials got there is irrelevant to the process.

        Evolution no more needs to explain the origin of its raw materials than chemistry needs explain the origin of atoms.

        • Alexander Hamilton

          I can see your point if you define evolution strictly as commencing after the first cell. But if there is no plausible materialistic explanation for the first cell then it undermines the overarching naturalistic/materialistic framework under which evolution operates. The inability to explain the first life is a major problem for the materialist.

  • John Palmer

    From an engineer’s perspective, Darwinism can’t stand up to even minimal scrutiny. I think the foundation of Darwinism depends on three implied assumptions.

    First, Darwinists claim that one or two mutations can create a novelty for natural selection to capture (mostly because that’s all they can get). This is disproven by the discovery that most structures in a cell are irreducibly complex. The small steps that Darwinists imagine are better represented by ladders. Natural selection can’t hold on to anything until all the steps on a ladder have been accomplished.

    Second, Darwinism needed “junk DNA”. Without it, Darwinism has no place to accumulate random mutations until the right mutations come along and create something useful.

    Third, Darwinists have long claimed that “most arrangements of amino acids form some sort of protein”. This had been decidedly disproven by Doug Axe’s own work.

    In addition, they’ve been claiming that success explaining the origin of life is just around the corner since the 1920’s. They’re no closer today, and are unlikely to find any new mechanism that will get around the huge improbabilities. When an explanation for the origin of life is so far from possible, their other arguments don’t hold much water.

    Why is Darwinism even still a thing?

    • Timothy Horton

      “Why is Darwinism even still a thing?”

      Because real scientists in the evolutionary fields don’t listen to the unsupported bluster of scientifically illiterate engineers. Evolutionary theory is here because it works, b*****s. It’s the best explanation by far for the evidence, ALL the evidence, of the history and diversification of life on Earth over the last 3.8+ billion years. It supplies a timeline, and the mechanisms, makes successful predictions, is consilient and consistent across hundreds of different scientific fields of study.

      P.S. Science knows how natural evolutionary processes produce IC structures through the processes of co-option and scaffolding. Also go read up on genetic neutral drift as it applies to evolution. It you researched first before shooting off your mouth you wouldn’t look quite so foolish.

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