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"Flooded #01" by Laura Veronesi @flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
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A Professor of Biology

Dean Kenyon

  • PhD in Biophysics, Stanford University
  • Co-author, Biochemical Predestination

It became increasingly difficult for me to provide examples of actually observed evolutionary change for my students, difficult to find transition fossil series documented in the literature that I could backup my lectures with and supplement the textbook material with, and I think that one of the main factors that led me to begin to question whether or not this general viewpoint about origins might not be correct. “Focus on Darwin” by Access Research Network

Expert Reassigned

Dean Kenyon, along with Gary Steinman, authored the seminal origin-of-life book, Biochemical Predestination. Leslie Orgel of the Salk Institute, known as one of the fathers of the RNA world theory, reviewed the book in the journal Science. He stated that it was “a thoroughly professional book on the origins of life. It presents the best detailed account of the subject that I have read.” But based on research and teaching, Kenyon began having doubts:
Over a period of years, I was involved in teaching courses here at San Francisco State on the origin of life and on the topic of evolution. It became increasingly difficult for me to provide examples of actually observed evolutionary change for my students, difficult to find transition fossil series documented in the literature that I could backup my lectures with and supplement the textbook material with, and I think that was one of the main factors that led me to begin to question whether or not this general viewpoint about origins might not be correct. And then there was work I was involved in, my own research work on origination of first life, as time went on there I began to be more aware of some of the problems involved, the question of oxygen, the primitive atmosphere, the question of origin of genetic information. It looked increasingly problematical to me.
“So I think things added up to a time for a critical reexamination,” Kenyon noted. He continued,
Actually some students brought me a book by A.E. Wilder Smith called The Creation of Life: The Cybernetic Approach to Evolution in which my own work with Gary Steinman, Biochemical Predestination, was critiqued. I thought I could easily refute this refutation of my work, and so I said, well, I’ll take the summer to look at this material, it looks very interesting. By the time the summer was over, I had decided pretty much that I could not refute this criticism. A number of lines of argument that we had not anticipated, had not included in our earlier work were brought up by Wilder Smith, and he had something very powerful indeed as a challenge to my earlier views.
After becoming convinced that materialistic explanations for the cell were insufficient, including the content of his own work, Kenyon included intelligent design in his human biology course. In 1992, San Francisco State University removed Kenyon from teaching the class and reassigned him to labs. Kenyon brought his case to the university’s academic freedom committee, which conducted an investigation and recommended that the faculty senate vote in his favor. After Kenyon won overwhelmingly, the chairman of the department relented and he was allowed to teach the course again. By then, it was 1994; the process had taken around two years.

Backstory

December 6, 1993

Danger: Indoctrination

December 6, 1993

Intolerance has shown itself in California in the 1990s as a result of students complaining about a biology instructor. Unlike the original Scopes case, this case involves a distinguished biology professor at a major university — indeed, an acknowledged expert on evolutionary theory. But unlike Scopes, the teacher was forbidden to teach his course not because he taught evolutionary theory (which he did) but because he offered a critical assessment of it.

February 21, 1994

Open Debate on Life's Origins

February 21, 1994

Can scientists change their minds about controversial ideas? Can they reject theories if the evidence requires? Consider a disturbing case in California involving a distinguished biology professor, Dean Kenyon. Kenyon was removed from his biology classroom at San Francisco State University after a few students complained to administrators about ideas they heard in a lecture.