Jim Keener's Home Page

If you have gotten this far on my website, I applaud your patience. I want to say something here about the Faith/Science debate and the controversy about origins. First, let me say up front that I find the biological world to be one of staggering complexity, truly awe inspiring and full of mystery. I have spent the last 30 years of my career using mathematics to try to understand some of these mysteries, and it is easy to predict that I will run out of career long before I run out of fascinating questions.

As you certainly know, the dominant explanation for the origin of species and of the wonders of biology is Darwin's theory and its more recent modifications, the neo-Darwinian synthesis. There is no doubt that much of the data are well explained by this theory. And yet, I must admit to numerous concerns.

First, the theory has become a theory of everything, which it simply cannot be. All scientific theories have limitations, so also must Darwin's. So, just as I am interested in knowing the limits of Newton's laws, so too I am interested in knowing the limitations of Darwin's theory.

Sadly, it is almost impossible to engage in a discussion of the limitations of Darwinism, at least in the academy. It is a bit like religion and politics - never discuss them with friends. But that gives a bit of a clue, that Darwinism has become political and/or a religion for some (certainly not all) of its adherents.

So, if you are interested in a discussion about some of my concerns, great, but let's agree that we will not accuse each other of idiocy just because our ideas differ. But it is really not necessary for us to agree about the origin of living things. Just understanding how living things work provides us all with plenty of hard questions to solve without any need to resolve the question of how it all came to be.

and by the way, the driving question behind the work of the vast majority of laboratory scientists is how something works, not how it came to be. The question of origins plays a very small role in the working life of most scientific investigations.

While we are at it, let me mention the two main concerns I have with Darwin's theory and these are the problems of gradualism and randomness. Gradualism demands that there is a chain of small genetic modifications with viable reproducing organisms connecting all living things, and randomness demands that this linkage between viable objects was found by a random search algorithm (a massive trial and error method) on the space of genetic material. I am not convinced that a random search has the power of discovery needed to explain what currently exists, and the evidence for gradualism is not, in my view, convincing.

So, to stir that pot a bit, let me reword the statement of Richard Dawkins to be more in line with what I contend: Anyone who believes that unguided evolution is ultimately responsible for the origin and complexity of life is either naive, or deluded, or intentionally suppressing the truth, but I prefer to think naive.