Is Michael Denton's work valid?

I’m reading a book by Paul Brand, The Forever Feast. Dr. Brand, a surgeon who discovered that mechanism for the tissue damage in leprosy was caused by lack of pain and has written some influential Christian books. In The Forever Feast he writes: Michael Denton, A molecular biologist from Australia, has written a book called Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. In it he says that “the puzzle of perfection” critically challenges any theory of evolution that is based on chance mutations." P83.

So in looking up this Dr. Denton, I was surprised to see he has PhD in Biochemistry and is an agnostic.

Is anyone familiar with Denton’s work? I imagine this has been covered previously here. I wonder what Dr. Collins think of him?

It’s been a long time since I read Evolution: a Theory in Crisis so I don’t remember most of the details, but I do remember that the book was badly flawed in its attacks on evolution. A key argument involved something Denton called ‘molecular equidistance’, which he thought was evidence against common descent but which was actually exactly what evolutionary theory would predict – Denton simply didn’t understand the scientific field he was critiquing. The Wikipedia article on the book has a good summary of that particular argument and why it was wrong.


I hope you enjoy his book–I’ve not read that, but have read some of Brand’s other books (and another about his mother, Granny Brand)–they have an amazing history. My roommate in residency 20 years ago, a hand specialist in training, counted Brand among his heroes (I think he was about 90 then).

I am not familiar with Denton–so I am sorry, but can’t help you there.

Michael Denton is affiliated with the Intelligent Design movement, which is not very well-respected by the majority of Christian scientists that I know.

I’ve read, enjoyed, and learned a lot from Paul Brand books (some of which were co-authored by Philip Yancey). I’d be surprised if Brand was that much into the ID movement - which probably would have only been fledgling anyway back when Brand was writing. Even though YECism has been around more than a century, I don’t think ID had really come into its own as a politically charged option until this more recent generation. In short, I’d be surprised if Brand had spent much powder or shot on the issue of ID or creationism (from either side - he may have been something of a mild critic of evolutionism in his day for all I know - though I’m reasonably sure Yancey isn’t and wasn’t.)

But Brand sure did revel in the complexities of the human body and gave lavish praise to the Creator for it all. Pretty much like most Christian scientific thinkers around here would also.

Weren’t Behe, Myers, and Dembski sort of a holy trinity of ID names (all under the headship of Johnson perhaps?). Maybe Denton was in there among those too, but it’s been a while since I’ve followed any of those.

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I read Ten Fingers for God, which is about Brand, when I was a teenager, I think. It (and he) impressed me a lot.

I think Denton has been a bit of an outsider as a non-Christian. Maybe as a non-American, too.


Seems like it may be easier if you get the main reasons he as an agnostic disagrees with evolution and post them and then those ideas can be dissected. I imagine if he is disagreeing with evolution he’s not a very good scientist in that department. Evolution is not a fringe movement barely holding on. It’s very solid. It’s a more convincing interpretation of science than any doctrinal view is based on theology. Like it’s very clearly there based off of all data we currently have.

Anti-science tactics 101

The PhD Supporter

One of the things that is worth more currency than gold in contrarian science organizations are people with advanced degrees who agree with them. The advanced degree doesn’t even have to be directly related to the topics at hand, but the closer the better. It doesn’t matter if 10,000 other people with PhDs in biochemistry disagree with the person, so as long as they can find one person with a smart sounding degree that agrees with them.

A recent example would be how Robert Malone became one of the faces of the anti-vaccine movement because he claimed to be the inventor of mRNA vaccines. So if the inventor of mRNA vaccines speaks against them, people listened way more than they should have. Never mind the fact that hundreds of other individuals were involved in the development of the technology, nor the fact that thousands of other scientists and doctors were part of collecting or analyzing data proving Malone wrong.

One caveat, of course, is that sometimes the scientific consensus can be wrong or mistaken in some smaller ways. You should almost always ignore these contrarians though until they can convince other relevant experts that they are correct. Nearly 100% of the time they aren’t doing this and don’t do it. Instead they complain of corruption and try to become the guardians of true science as they become filters for their alternative science the population around them. See it is important that their followers never really engage with true science, but always the filtered version. This happened to me when I was a young earth creationist.

Regarding Denton’s work here, it doesn’t matter for intelligent design adherents that a thousand other scientists or more disagree with him and have pointed out numerous scientific flaws in his arguments. The only thing that really matters is that someone with a PhD wrote a book that agrees with their position.

The power of conversion anecdotes

The highest tier of these stories involve someone coming from an enemy camp and being converted to your perspective. Of course, one famous example of this is the apostle, Paul, that makes for a particularly powerful story element in the book of Acts. These stories can be good and I will readily admit I love stories like this. I love when someone converts to something that I think is true and cringe when I see the opposite. The problem with these stories is that they in themselves don’t tell us anything, but they are weaponized on a regular basis by nearly everyone in society. Consider following contradictory testimonies that I see all the time:

  • Atheist converts to Christianity as they see the light
  • Christian deconverts or deconstructs as they see the light
  • Baptists experiences gifts of the holy Spirit and becomes a charismatic
  • Charismatic realizes what he thought were gifts of the holy Spirit are fake and become baptist
  • Democrat becomes disillusioned with his party and becomes a Republican
  • Republican becomes disillusioned with his party and becomes a Democrat
  • Young earth creationist sees the scientific evidence and accepts the age of the universe and evolution
  • Theistic evolutionist sees the lack of scientific evidence and accepts young earth creationism
  • Local mom who always accepted what her doctor told her does her own research and becomes anti-vax
  • Local teenager grew up anti-vax and does his own research and starts getting vaccinated

The possibilities for these are endless, and we LOVE these stories. They inspire and encourage us if they align with our current perspective. And if someone converts to something other than what you called, it’s easy enough for our brains to find a quick fault in the story and to dismiss their anecdote as meaningless.

In the absence of a sufficiently good conversion story, some quotes will do from your enemies. This could be an atheist pointing out what they believe are the inadequacies of evolution, for a politician who is deeply critical of their own party.

In the case with Michael Denton, he is an outsider who seemingly agrees with the intelligent design movement. That is a very meaningful thing for the intelligent design movement, because to them, it implies or suggests that they are more justified. Essentially, an independent observer who is very critical of their position did their research and came to agree with them. It is especially noteworthy when someone who is an atheist makes quotes or says things that align with their perspective. Some of these quotes will be immortalized in intelligent design literature and repeated ad nauseam.

Interestingly, the intelligent design movement may have not quite taken off, at least in the same way without people like Denton.


Denton’s position is somewhat challenging to assess. He is willing to criticize “Darwinism”, which can make him sound like more popular ID, but ironically his more recent books accept evolution, claiming instead that other factors besides natural selection and mutation are important (see, e.g., Evolution is Still Not a Theory in Crisis, but Neo-Darwinism Might Be - Article - BioLogos ) and thus contradict his original “Evolution: A theory in crisis” that is so popular to invoke among ID advocates. The antievolutionary arguments in the original Evolution: A theory in crisis" are not good.

This is also entangled with the false dichotomy thinking that is so popular with fans of ID (and “new atheism” and many other views). Based on a superficial “litmus test”, people are divided into good guys who completely agree with me and bad guys. Ironically, the fact that Denton is not particularly theistic ought to highlight the fact that ID is not Christian orthodoxy (as should Jonathan Wells’ being in the Unification Church or the Raelian involvement in ID). Of course, Christians can work together with non-Christians on a common cause, but claiming that the whole in that case is Christian should cause concern. The attitude that “science problems in the ID movement don’t matter because they are so great theologically and theological problems don’t matter because they are just scientists” is not good.


That’s a really interesting perspective. Thanks. I just finished reading Denis Lamoureux’ (@DOL ) new book, “Struggling With God and Origins: a Personal Story”), and in one portion, he notes someone repeatedly asking Michael Behe, “if science doesn’t know the cause for a gap, what caused it?”. Behe (and others, being given the same question), purposely ignored it. Apparently, the reason was that if they posited God, ID would become relegated to “creationism,” but leaving it open made it appear more scientific. It’s an interesting conundrum. I can see the difficulty from both sides.

Good Morning,
Here is the passage from my book. It happened at the 1994 CS Lewis Summer Institute in Cambridge University. It still remains the BEST conference I have ever attended. It focused on science and the doctrine of creation. At the time I was still an anti-evolutionist. But I was starting to see the problem with the God-of-the-gaps.

PAGE 142. “A participant in this session was the well-known evangelical apologetics expert, William Lane Craig. He asked Behe directly, “If the flagellum did not evolve, then how was it made?” But Behe did not answer the question. Later in the session, Craig asked this very same question two more times. And two more times, Behe did not respond. The silence was uncomfortable. I wanted to shout out, “It’s obvious that God intervened miraculously to create the flagellum!” But I felt intimidated being at Cambridge University and did not say anything. It is only afterward that I figured out why Behe would not answer Craig’s question. A principal strategy of ID theorists was never to mention God in their arguments. In this way, they could claim that their theory was entirely scientific, and therefore, it could be taught in science classes at public schools. But of course, this is somewhat disingenuous because ID theorists certainly embrace the God-of-the-gaps to create biological structures like the flagellum.”


I want to thank everyone for their replies. One of the things I love about science is the uncovering of new knowledge, of seeing the laws of logic guiding our (humanity’s) growth. I think a pre-requisite is humility. In teaching students about empathy, I use a quote I heard from WH Auden, “Truth like sleep and love resents approaches that are too intense”


Thanks. I apologize–I had initially said it was you that asked the questions (I changed the initial note to say, “someone”). I found it interesting that William Lane Craig asked those questions.
I enjoyed reading your book.
Thank you!

Good for Craig to put it out there like that. I tried to reach out to his ministry by email last year and didn’t get very far with the intern about how the immediate effect of an uncaused cause will appear to come from nothing.

At some point there is going to be a gap. That is unless an infinite regress is being affirmed. But that is something which can neither be empirically verified.

I imagine if he is disagreeing with evolution he’s not a very good scientist in that department. This is a view but not a good scientific view.

I mean it’s like a mathematician that thinks that letters should not be used just numbers. Or a botanist who thinks gymnosperms came after angiosperms.

If you’re a scientist, and you disagree with evolution, you’re definitely going to be lagging in general. You definitely don’t understand a giant chunk of science.

Imagine being a scientist but you think the sun moves around the our flat earth.

Thanks for the reply. Been there and done more science than you give credit for. With that said I believe a good scientist will investigate both sides completely. Evolution has its weaknesses. Remember still a theory. but that said I ma not anti evolution. I belive to be scientifically hones one has to look at evolution from a Genesis creative perspective. I mean a close look and research. Not a look that says it is from the Bible therefore cannot be true.

Could you elaborate a little on that? My current view is that Genesis is not concerned with science and so would have little to nothing to say about mechanism, but rather is addressing meaning. How would you apply it to evolutionary theory?


To be fair you could say the same about any area of life - those who have a relevant background, in this case a high level of education in biochemistry which clearly relates to evolutionary theory, are going to be listened to. They may be wrong but it’s important to take each of their arguments and clearly show why they are wrong. Im not a biologist so my view that evolution is likely correct is based on the expertise of others, even though I know there are some voices, even within the biologically-trained community, which continue to argue evolutionary theory is insufficient to explain the development of life on earth.

As for mRNA vaccines, again one should at least listen to those appropriately qualified who have negatively commented on them. It is a fact that some individuals have died from receiving the vaccine, which is why lawsuits are being raised. That doesnt mean that for the vast majority of the population such vaccines are unsafe, but such voices should be heard, as it gives others the opportunity to negate their arguments with evidence. Though Im sure I wasnt the only one surprised to read that Pfizer hadnt done any research on their vaccine’s ability to prevent transmission of the virus before it was approved for use. I would have thought prevention of transmission is rather important particularly as that argument was used to require people, particularly workers in certain areas, to be vaccinated. Transparency in such areas is important.

A PhD in biochemistry should equip someone to be able to understand evolutionary theory relatively easily. By itself, however, it doesn’t confer any expertise in evolution – they’re very different fields of study. In the case of Michael Denton, he clearly did not understand basic aspects of evolutionary theory.

Well, others who are qualified enough to judge should listen to them. There are plenty of fields where I don’t know enough to distinguish a valid if unpopular expert opinion from a crackpot theory from someone who happens to have a credential.

I wasn’t surprised at all. Vaccine trials have very well specified endpoints they are testing and the trials have to be designed to test them. Testing for vaccine efficacy at blocking transmission would require a study design that was substantially more complex, more expensive, and longer to complete than the one they did. That would have been in the interest of neither the company nor public health. (As it happened, the mRNA vaccines were initially highly effective at blocking infection and therefore transmission, even though that wasn’t what they were designed to do, but that proved to be a short-lived phenomenon, thanks to a mutating virus and waning immunity – neither of which would have been apparent had Pfizer done a study of transmission.)