IN 1973, GENETICIST THEODOSIUS Dobzhansky wrote: "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution." By "evolution," he meant the synthesis of Charles Darwin's 19th-century theory that all living things have descended from a common ancestor through natural selection and random variations, and the 20th-century theory that new variations are produced by mutations in DNA. By 2000, the biological sciences had become almost totally dominated by this view. Millions of students were taught that Darwinian evolution was a simple fact, like gravity. Oxford professor Richard Dawkins even proclaimed that anyone who doubted it must be ignorant, stupid, insane, or wicked.
Now, a mere quarter of a century later, Darwinian evolution is little more than a historical footnote in biology textbooks. Just as students learn that scientists used to believe that the Sun moves around the Earth and maggots are spontaneously generated in rotting meat, so students also learn that scientists used to believe that human beings evolved through random mutations and natural selection. How could a belief that was so influential in 2000 become so obsolete by 2025? Whatever happened to evolutionary theory?
Surprising though it may seem, Darwinism did not collapse because it was disproved by new evidence. (As we shall see, the evidence never really fit it anyway.) Instead, evolutionary theory was knocked off its pedestal by three developments in the first decade of this century-developments centered in the United States, but worldwide in scope. Those developments were: (1) the widespread adoption of a "teach the controversy" approach in education, (2) a growing public awareness of the scientific weaknesses of evolutionary theory, and (3) the rise of the more fruitful "theory of intelligent design."
The first development was a reaction to late 20th-century efforts by dogmatic Darwinists to make evolutionary theory the exclusive framework for biology curricula in American public schools. Biology classrooms became platforms for indoctrinating students in Darwinism and its underlying philosophy of naturalism-the anti-religious view that nature is all there is and God is an illusion. In the ensuing public backlash, some people demanded that evolution be removed from the curriculum entirely. A larger number of people, however, favored a "teach the controversy" approach that presented students with the evidence against evolutionary theory as well as the evidence for it.
The U.S. Congress implicitly endorsed this approach in its No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. A report accompanying the legislation stated that students should learn "to distinguish the data and testable theories of science from religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science," and that students should "understand the full range of scientific views that exist" with regard to biological evolution. Despite loud protests and threats of lawsuits from the Darwinists, hundreds of state and local school boards across America had adopted a "teach the controversy" approach by 2005.
In the second major development, students who were free to examine the evidence for and against evolution quickly realized that the former was surprisingly thin. Although Darwinists had long boasted about having "overwhelming evidence" for their view, it turned out that they had no good evidence for the theory's principal claim: that species originate through random mutation and natural selection. Bacteria were the best place to look for such evidence, because they reproduce quickly, their DNA can be easily mutated, and they can be subjected to strong selection in the laboratory. Yet bacteria had been intensively studied throughout the 20th century, and bacteriologists had never observed the formation of a new species.
If there was no good evidence that a Darwinian mechanism could produce new species, still less was there any evidence that a Darwinian mechanism could produce complex organs or new anatomical features. Darwinists discounted the problem by arguing that evolution was too slow to observe, but this didn't change the fact that they lacked empirical confirmation for their theory.
Of course, there was plenty of evidence for minor changes in existing species-but nobody had ever doubted that existing species can change over time. Domestic breeders had been observing such changes-and even producing them-for centuries. Unfortunately, this was not the sort of evidence that evolution needed. After all, the main point of evolutionary theory was not how selection and mutation could change existing species, but how that mechanism could produce new species-indeed, all species after the first-as well as new organs and new body plans. That's why Darwin titled his magnum opus The Origin of Species, not How Existing Species Change over Time.
A growing number of people realized that the "overwhelming evidence" for evolutionary theory was a myth. It didn't help the Darwinists when it became public knowledge that they had faked some of their most widely advertised evidence. For example, they had distorted drawings of early embryos to make them look more similar than they really are (in order to convince students that they had descended from a common ancestor), and they had staged photos showing peppered moths on tree trunks where they don't normally rest (in order to persuade students of the power of natural selection).
In the first few years of this century, the cultural dominance of Darwinism was so strong, especially in academia, that critics were slow to speak up. By 2009, however, when Darwin's followers had hoped to stage a triumphal celebration of their leader's 200th birthday, millions of people were laughing at the emperor with no clothes.
The third and perhaps most decisive development was a series of breakthroughs in biology and medicine inspired by the new theory of intelligent design. Everyone, even the Darwinists, agreed that living things look as though they were designed. Darwinists insisted that this was merely an illusion, produced by the combined action of random mutation and natural selection; but design theorists argued that the design was real. For years the controversy remained largely philosophical; then, in the first decade of this century, a few researchers began applying intelligent-design theory to solving specific biological problems.
One of these was the function of so-called "junk DNA." From a Darwinian perspective, "genes" were thought to determine all the important characteristics of an organism, and gene mutations were thought to provide the raw materials for evolution. When molecular biologists in the third quarter of the 20th century discovered that certain regions of DNA encode proteins that determine some of the characteristics of living cells, and equated these with "genes," Darwinists assumed that their theory was complete. They even proclaimed DNA to be "the secret of life."
Yet molecular biologists learned in the 1970s that less than 5 percent of human DNA encodes proteins. Darwinists immediately declared the other 95 percent "junk"-molecular accidents that had accumulated in the course of evolution. Since few researchers were motivated (or funded) to investigate garbage, most human DNA was neglected for decades. Although biologists occasionally stumbled on functions for isolated pieces of "junk," they began to make real progress only after realizing that the DNA in an intelligently designed organism is unlikely to be 95 percent useless. The intensive research on non-coding regions of human DNA that followed soon led to several medically important discoveries.
Another insight from intelligent-design theory advanced our understanding of embryo development. From a Darwinian perspective, all the information needed for new features acquired in the course of evolution came from genetic mutations. This implied that all essential biological information was encoded in DNA. In contrast, intelligent-design theory implied that organisms are irreducibly complex systems in which DNA contains only part of the essential information. Although a few biologists had been arguing against DNA reductionism for decades, biologists guided by intelligent-design theory in 2010 discovered the true nature of the information that guides embryo development.
All three of these developments-teaching the controversy, educating people about the lack of evidence for evolutionary theory, and using intelligent-design theory to make progress in biomedical research-were bitterly resisted by Darwinists in the first decade of this century. Defenders of the Darwinian faith engaged in a vicious campaign of character assassination against their critics in the scientific community. Meanwhile, their allies in the news media conducted a massive disinformation campaign, aimed primarily at convincing the public that all critics of Darwinism were religious zealots.
More and more people saw through the lies, however, and within a few short years Darwinism had lost its scientific credibility and public funding. By 2015 it was well on its way to joining its intellectual cousins, Marxism and Freudianism, in the dustbin of discarded ideologies. By 2020, Darwinism was effectively dead.