“Religion vs. science” conflicts are generally depicted in popular culture as battles between narrow-minded bigots and tolerant truth-seekers. From the Galileo Affair to the Scopes Monkey Trial, religious authoritarians are cast as the force of darkness attempting to stifle the light of science.
In recent decades, though, this narrative has arguably been turned on its head. Instead of religious authorities persecuting free thinkers, today, more often than not, it is “free” thinkers who persecute believers who dare challenge the popular consensus on such hot-button issues as evolution or global warming.
Douglas Axe, director of the Biologic Institute in Seattle, knows this first-hand. As a post-doctoral researcher at the prestigious Medical Research Council Centre in Cambridge in 2002, he was experimenting on protein structures when his superiors discovered that his research was being funded in part by an intelligent design organization. The science was solid – he later published his findings in a prestigious journal – but his association with intelligent design was considered unacceptable. He was asked to leave.
In his first book, “Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed” (HarperOne) – published two weeks ago – Axe recounts his experiences at the Medical Research Council Centre and presents his objections to the theory of evolution as it currently stands.
Axe holds a PhD from Caltech and has published in such scientific journals as Nature, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and the Journal of Molecular Biology. He recently spoke with The Jewish Press.
The Jewish Press: You write in Undeniable that you harbored doubts about evolution even as a college student. What were those doubts?
Axe: I perceived there to be a deep contradiction between the materialist worldview – which is the idea that everything is matter and energy – and our notion of human free will. If we are nothing but large machines made out of atoms and molecules, all of which are slaves to the laws of physics, how is it that we can decide to do this or do that?
You write that you were convinced at the time that if you could prove the evolutionary theory was flawed, scientists would be forced to agree since they value truth above all. You now say you were naïve to believe this. Please explain.
It’s a utopian view of science. It’s this idea that although scientists have their own personal preferences, when they put on their white lab coats they’re ultimately about the truth – and nothing else – and if their theories are proven wrong they will concede. But scientists are 100 percent human, and all the things that other humans find hard – like admitting you’re wrong – are hard for scientists. Also, scientists survive in their profession by getting the approval of other scientists, so that gives rise to peer pressure.
You write that philosophical hindrances might also be holding scientists back from acknowledging the flaws with evolution.
Yes. I start the book with the question “Where did we come from?” and lay out the two possibilities: Either we’re cosmic accidents or we’re the product of purpose. If we’re cosmic accidents, we basically end up with this nihilistic position – that there is no moral right and wrong and we’re here today and gone tomorrow, so live how you want to live. But if that’s false and instead we’re a product of purpose and intent [conceived by a Creator], then you have a completely different view of who we are as human beings and how we ought to live our lives.