Tribute to Dr. A. E. Wilder-Smith (1915 – 1995)

William Dembski, author of several key books in the ID movement, credits Dr. A. E. Wilder-Smith for the inspiration to make the study of origins his life’s work. Dean Kenyon, the evolutionary origin of life researcher turned creationist, called Dr. Wilder-Smith one of the two or three most important scientists in his life. Much of the literature coming out of the modern intelligent design movement contains echoes of powerful arguments made by A. E. Wilder-Smith decades ago.

In his books and tapes, Arthur Edward Wilder-Smith stressed the importance of information in biology, stressing that the materialist’s formula for the life, energy + matter + time, was deficient because it left out the factor information. He convincingly argued that the information in DNA, in its translation, had to follow a language convention which presupposed an agreement between parties needing to communicate with one another. For example, he explained how SOS is a meaningless sequence of letters unless there has been a convention (a “coming together” agreement, in advance) that it is a signal for distress. Similarly, the DNA triplet codon for alanine, GCC, looks and smells nothing like alanine, by itself. Unless both the translation mechanism (the ribosome) and the DNA code both have a convention that GCC means alanine, it means nothing at all. This, he explained, was prima facie evidence of intelligent design.

He also argued effectively against Thomas Huxley’s old monkey-typewriter analogy, the claim that a million monkeys typing on a million typewriters would eventually produce Psalm 23 by chance, given enough time. Wilder-Smith pointed out a fatal flaw that undermined the whole argument. By showing that since the chemical reactions that would have led to life in a primordial soup are reversible, that fact rendered the analogy useless – in the monkeys’ case, if the letters fell off the page as soon as they were typed, no meaningful sequence would ever be produced. Huxley, therefore, had cheated by claiming that the letters typed would remain on the page. The laws of chemistry do not permit that sort of stability in chemical evolution scenarios. With points like this, he argued that creation was scientific and naturalistic evolution was unscientific.

As a highly qualified organic chemist, A. E. Wilder-Smith was uniquely positioned to critique so-called “chemical evolution.” This kindly gentleman was merciless in his attacks on Miller, Oparin, Fox and other evolutionists who claimed to be making progress explaining life’s origin by chance and necessity. His effectiveness stemmed not from vituperative ability or rhetoric, but rather – because of his intimate acquaintance with the facts of chemistry – from calm, rational dismantling of the philosophical and scientific assumptions underlying his opponents’ errors: i.e., from scientific arguments that could not be denied by any knowledgeable chemist. Dr. Wilder-Smith was one of the first to emphasize the necessity for one-handed molecules to hold genetic information (see online book), and to apply the laws of thermodynamics and equilibrium to discussions of the origin of life.

A. E. Wilder-Smith was one of few scientists in the world to have three earned doctorates. He obtained his first Ph.D. in physical organic chemistry at Reading University, England in 1941. A research scientist during the war, he subsequently became a fellow of the University of London, and then director of research for a Swiss pharmaceutical company. After becoming a full professor at the University of Geneva, he earned a second doctorate in pharmacology there, and later, a third in pharmacological sciences at ETH, a senior university in Zurich, Switzerland. In addition, he was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and a NATO three-star general!

Dr. Wilder-Smith was not only an expert on chemotherapy, pharmacology, organic chemistry, and biochemistry, but a gifted teacher and popular public speaker. He did not shy away from entering the lions’ den of the evolutionary establishment. At a time when communism was strong and evolutionary science reigned with unchallenged bravado, he was like a Daniel with seemingly divine power to shut his opponents’ mouths. Once, in a manner reminiscent of Paul turning the Pharisees and Sadducees against each other (see Acts 23), he got the better of a hostile audience of Finnish and Russian students by referring to a word that meant one thing in Finnish and another in Russian. The Finns, who despised the Russians, were incensed to hear him claiming this word had the Russian meaning, but the Russians agreed with him. As they were shouting at one another, the English jumped in and argued that the word was a meaningless syllable.

Thus the professor made his point effectively: without a language convention, a sequence of letters carries no information. Dr. Wilder-Smith confronted communists with scientific arguments that undermined their political philosophy. God only knows how much his work contributed to the eventual demise of communism, but it certainly affected numerous individual communists.

A. E. Wilder-Smith is also probably responsible for Richard Dawkins refusing to debate creationists any more. In 1986, Wilder-Smith and Edgar Andrews debated the two leading evolutionists in Britain, Richard Dawkins and John Maynard Smith, at Oxford – a lions’ den with the two strongest Darwinian lions in Europe. Yet even there, over a third – almost half – of the staunchly pro-evolution audience voted that the creation side had won the debate. The vote count became a contentious issue. There were claims of a cover-up by the Oxford Student Union. The AAAS was accused of lying about the vote count and didn’ correct it even when confronted (see article). The evolutionists apparently were embarrassed that the creationists made such a strong showing. For whatever reason, Dawkins no longer will debate creationists.

Reports from those in attendance say that, contrary to the ground rules of the debate, the Dawkins and Maynard Smith repeatedly attacked religion, while the creationists used only scientific arguments. Dawkins himself had to be reprimanded by the moderator for attacking Wilder-Smith about his religious views. Dawkins implored the audience not to give any votes to the creationists lest it be a “blot on the escutcheon of ancient University of Oxford” (an odd remark, considering Oxford was founded by Christians).

After the debate, details of the event were lost by the University. Normally, Oxford Union debates are big news, given prominent publicity in the press, radio and television. This one, however, which should have rivaled the historic 1860 Huxley-Wilberforce debate in importance, and indeed was even titled the ’Huxley Memorial Debate,” was silently dropped from the radar screen. In his memoirs, Dr. Wilder-Smith wrote, “No records of my having held the lecture as part of the Oxford Union Debate could be found in any library. No part of the official media breathed a word about it. So total is the current censorship on any effective criticism of New-Darwinian science and on any genuine alternative.”

A sought-after public speaker, Dr. A. E. Wilder-Smith shared his insights with tens of thousands throughout America and Europe. His rapport with audiences made them feel at home with even difficult scientific concepts as he would occasionally glance into their faces to see whether they “got it” and, if not, would ask who needed a term or concept explained before he went on. With charming simplicity he could be found discussing comfortably everything from black holes to one-handed molecules, or Shannon information theory, time dilation, DNA transcription, AIDS, criminal psychology, history, natural theology, natural selection or why God allows suffering. He was no mere talking head.

A devoted husband and father of five children, a devout born-again Christian, and an unquestionably capable scientist, he left no chinks in his armor. To the consternation of his scientific colleagues, here was a young-earth creationist they could not pigeonhole as an ignoramus. He could not only hold his own among the best of them, he could make his opponents turn tail and run for cover.

Wilder-Smith authored over 70 scientific publications and more than 30 books, some of which have been published in 17 languages and are still in print. Many of today’s leading creationist consider him a major influence in their own intellectual development, and call him a pioneer in anti-evolution arguments.

Source: Photos from Intelligent Design: the future by Johan Swart,

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