A House of Cards By Dennis Crews (written and published in 1984) Are scientists losing faith in evolution? Well, let’s put it this way—in recent years many have been forced to examine their belief systems more closely than ever before. Classical Darwinism, the broad theory that once was thought to unite all the earth sciences and which ushered evolution into the mainstream of scientific respectability, is definitely out. In case you haven’t heard, even the most fiercely loyal evolutionists in the scientific community know that the rotting corpse of Darwinism must be buried quickly, for it risks spoiling the whole evolutionary scheme by mere association. This is a major development with such far-reaching implications for almost every branch of science and philosophy it would be impossible to overstate its importance. Yet incredibly, few average people are aware of the winds of change. Evolutionary scientists, which constitute the outspoken majority of scientists, downplay this news and still revere the father of their faith. The clever ones have devised strategies by which they figure to cut their losses, but many have begun to wonder whether the whole evolutionary edifice has been built upon a foundation of straw. Layer upon layer of evolutionary presupposition has crept into almost every nook and cranny of modern education, so that by now most of the western world has come to regard evolution as a self-evident fact. The ferocious zeal with which scientists and philosophers have defended evolution has until recently discouraged the application of strict methodological criticism to it that is normally applied in other areas of science. As a result, an altogether untestable philosophical idea has grown to colossal proportions and shouldered aside scientific objectivity in the process. Let’s take a peek at the history of the evolutionary theory for some clues as to how things got to be the way they are—a candid look at the evolution of evolution, if you please. Many people assume that evolution and Darwinism mean the same thing, but they do not. Evolution is a word used to describe the long process by which scientists say primitive life hitched itself up to higher and higher states. This exceedingly slow but successful climb supposedly culminated in the profusion of life forms on the earth today, including human beings. Darwinism (or neo-Darwinism, its modern version) is the name given to the theory posed by Charles Darwin that sought to explain just how evolution actually works. Evolutionary thought was around long before Charles Darwin began stirring the pot. Among the earliest theoretical evolutionists were the Greek atomists, who lived even before Socrates. They held that the order of the universe rose from a blind interplay of atoms. Closer to Darwin’s own time, philosophers such as Rene Descartes1 (“I think, therefore I am”) and scientists such as 1
Descartes (1596-1650) was a physicist and mathematician who is most remembered today as a philosopher. He doubted all ideas as dogma or opinion that obscured truth. In the end only the act of doubting remained, along with the inescapable inference that something exists which is capable of doubting—namely, the mind. The purpose of his famous argument “I think, therefore I am” was to show the mind as distinct from the body, the existence of God and the
biologist Jean Baptiste de Lamarck2 and geologist Charles Lyell3 built a convenient if shaky platform from which Darwin’s star would be launched. But it took the expansive, laboriously contrived thesis of Darwin, which transformed all the earth sciences into components of the evolutionary process, to pass muster as a scientifically viable theory. In a nutshell, Darwin believed that some living entities had characteristics that made them better able to survive in their environments than other competing entities. These characteristics were preserved and obtained greater representation in subsequent generations, and thus the population of living things became increasingly better adapted to function and survive. Meanwhile, less well endowed competing organisms were consigned to extinction. Along the way, mutations favoring an organism’s survival became encoded into its genetic structure in such a way that resulting offspring gradually distinguished themselves from the parent stock, and by this mechanism new species arose. The mysterious process that eliminated some and preserved others, propelling life relentlessly upward, was named “natural selection.” The British philosopher Herbert Spencer coined the phrase “survival of the fittest” in an essay written just seven years before Darwin’s The Origin of Species came out. Darwin appropriated the phrase in his fifth edition of The Origin of Species, considering it an apt summation of his own position. Just as breeders selected animals with the most desirable features to be the parents of the next generation, so, Darwin reasoned, nature selected those organisms that were best fitted to survive the struggle for existence. In this fashion, life would inevitably evolve into superior, improved organisms, leaping unimaginable boundaries of form and structure over equally unimaginable stretches of time. Until Darwin published his theory of natural selection evolution as science was at best a daring concept. It had little going for it by way of argument and even less evidence, except for what a few imaginative scientists thought they might be seeing in the fossils. Nevertheless, secular thinkers were chafing at the moral and intellectual constraints they felt the traditional Christian worldview imposed on them. The Protestant Reformation already had lifted the censorious hand of the church from science and intellectual inquiry, and in the late 18 th century the Enlightenment would make the pendulum swing complete. In an age of declining spirituality the implications of biblical cosmology had become unfashionable—even for the liberal theologians of the day. The climate was ripe for a philosophical revolution. Darwin’s theory of natural selection took the western world by storm. Never had such a radical new intellectual concept met with so little resistance. Like so many sheep flowing through a hole in the fence, scientists and philosophers reveled in their newfound freedom. No longer whole external world. Descartes believed with this method it was possible to attain a mathematically based, scientific knowledge of the material world apart from faith or superstition. 2 Lamarck's (1744-1829) primary contribution to biology was the division of animal life into the vertebrate and invertebrate categories. He believed all living bodies undergo changes in their organization and parts; therefore species were not fixed but in a constant state of flux. Lamarck's reputation remains controversial because of his notion that living beings evolve by consciously willing themselves to change. 3 The subtitle of Lyell’s chief work, The Principles of Geology, sums up the task to which he devoted his life (17971875): "An Attempt to Explain the Former Changes of the Earth's Surface by Reference to Causes now in Operation." Lyell’s arguments for man's early appearance on the earth were based on discoveries of flint implements in postPliocene strata in the Somme valley and elsewhere.
were they the handiwork of divine intelligence, endowed with corresponding moral obligations, but free agents with no loyalties but to themselves. They congratulated one another for finding themselves at the apex of evolutionary perfection, and in their haste to enshrine mechanistic process as the creator of mankind left their integrity on the shelf. Geneticist fingers fatal flaw For some time Darwin’s mechanism was not critically scrutinized, until the Nobel prizewinning geneticist T. H. Morgan suggested that the whole argument sounded suspiciously like a tautology (circular reasoning). “For it may appear little more than a truism,” he wrote, “to state that the individuals that are the best adapted to survive have a better chance of surviving than those not so well adapted to survive.” Soon other scientists and philosophers began examining Darwin’s arguments more carefully. If only the fittest survived, were there any independent criteria to determine fitness other than survival itself? If not, Darwin’s magnificent opus would be reduced to little more than a vain exercise in tail chasing. Darwin assumed that there were such independent criteria, but these were later shown to be invalid. His arguments were drawn from observations of artificial selection, guided by the skillful hands of human breeders. He inferred that similar qualitative results would accrue in the wild, because he endowed the principle of natural selection with mystical, almost god-like powers of discrimination and intervention: “It may be said that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinizing, throughout the world, every variation, even the slightest; rejecting that which is bad, preserving and adding up all that is good; silently and insensibly working, whenever and wherever opportunity offers, at the improvement of each organic being.” The Origin of Species. Since Darwin’s time, experiments with vegetables, grain, livestock and the lowly Drosophila (fruit fly) have demonstrated over and over the fundamental wrong-headedness of his assumptions. The farther away any organism deviates from the norm, the less likely it is to survive. According to Douglass Scott Falconer, formerly chairman of the Department of Genetics at University of Edinburgh: “The improvements that have been made by selection in these [domesticated breeds] have clearly been accompanied by a reduction of fitness for life under natural conditions, and only the fact that domesticated animals and plants do not live under natural conditions has allowed these improvements to be made.” Additionally, Luther Burbank, perhaps the most famous breeder of the twentieth century, observed that “there are limits to the development possible, and these limits follow a law. [It is the law] of the reversion to the average.” In other words natural selection, if there is any such thing, works only as a great stabilizing force at the center of every species, continually drawing all organisms back to its own mean.
Where did Darwin go wrong? Just what caused Darwin to err? Some say he was simply mistaken in equating artificial selection with natural selection. Others suggest an even more fundamental cause. Charles Darwin was by nature a patient, methodical observer. During his lifetime the machine age unfolded, and human achievements took place by unprecedented leaps and bounds. Individuals with means saw their status elevated with dizzying rapidity. Those on the bottom rungs of society were cruelly exploited and impoverished to the breaking point; many died from malnutrition, disease or injury in the factories. The struggle for survival was very real. In the tremendous social upheaval of the Victorian age, Darwin began to perceive a microcosm of the natural world. He looked to the way people harnessed and organized nature for clues as to how nature itself might operate. Biographer Geoffrey West observed: “In the machine age he established a mechanical conception of organic life. He paralleled the human struggle with a natural struggle. In an acquisitive hereditary society he stated acquisition and inheritance as the primary means of survival.” Like others who preceded him in history, Darwin borrowed concepts from the popular culture and transposed them to nature, proposing a cosmology that worked in a similar way to the day-today life with which he was familiar. In reassessing Darwinism one hundred years after his death political commentator Tom Bethell suggests that “what Darwin really discovered was nothing more than the Victorian propensity to believe in progress.” In no way should this be construed as a slight on Darwin’s life work as a naturalist. He was a sensitive observer of natural phenomena, and he was graced with enough modesty to quality carefully and repeatedly many of the conclusions to which his studies led him. In a letter written to a friend in 1863 he admitted “when we descend to details, we can prove that no species has changed: nor can we prove that the supposed changes are beneficial, which is the groundwork of the theory.” One of his major sources of perplexity was the “extreme imperfection” of the fossil record. Realizing that his entire theory rested on the evidence contained in the fossils, he optimistically consoled himself with the belief that as research continued, enough transitional fossils between the lower and higher species would be found to confirm it. Nevertheless, as the years rolled by and the desired evidence failed to appear, he fretted: “innumerable transitional forms must have existed, but why do we not find them imbedded in countless numbers in the crust of the earth?” Missing links never existed By now of course it is obvious that the transitional forms never did exist, and the “finely graduated organic chain” that Darwin hoped to discover in the fossil record has become an embarrassment to the whole of evolutionary science. Dr. Pierre B. Grasse, one of the world’s greatest living biologists, has said that “the process of evolution is revealed only through fossil
forms.… only paleontology can provide...the evidence of evolution and reveal its course or mechanisms.” And yet after literally millions of fossils have been unearthed and cataloged, not only are a few transitional forms missing; there is a complete absence of the fossil evidence which natural selection demands. Professor N. Heribert-Nilsson of Lund University, Sweden summed up 40 years of study on the subject this way: “It is not even possible to make a caricature of evolution out of paleobiological facts. The fossil material is now so complete that the lack of transitional series cannot be explained by the scarcity of material. The deficiencies are real, they will never be filled.” Dwell on that. First: the process of evolution is revealed only through fossil forms. Second: there is no fossil evidence for evolution! And Professor Nillsson is not alone in his conclusion; he states what virtually all scientists now reluctantly admit. Needless to say, as the truth became more obvious evolutionary theorists began clutching for something with which to cover themselves. Ironically, the most successful face-saver they found was an unlikely concept that had been hooted out of the laboratory only a few decades earlier. Dr. Richard Goldschmidt was a biologist who had escaped from Nazi Germany and continued his work at the University of California in Berkeley. Goldschmidt early realized the problems with the fossil record, and he made a proposition that flew in the face of the orthodox science of the 1940s. “When a new phylum, class, or order appears,” he said, “there follows a quick explosive diversification so that practically all orders or families known appear suddenly and without any apparent transitions.” What Goldschmidt actually believed was that out of all the mutations that took place during the billions of years of evolutionary time, certain specimens that were grossly malformed survived, and these individuals were the solitary bridges to whole new species and kinds of organisms. Never mind that almost all mutations are harmful and that few mutants survive—the fossil record demanded an explanation and Goldschmidt did the best he could. He called his fanciful mutants “hopeful monsters” and went so far as to express his belief that “the first bird hatched from a reptilian egg.” Goldschmidt’s main problem was that he was ahead of his time. He saw the holes in the fossil record with painful clarity, and did the only thing an honest scientist could do when operating under the presuppositions of an evolutionary worldview. He even admitted that if just one unquestioned intermediate form could be found anywhere, it would disprove his theory. Nevertheless the orthodox scientists of the day would not buy it, and Goldschmidt’s idea met with almost universal derision. “Punctuated equilibria” patches punctured egos
For nearly thirty years the fossil problem fermented like a great case of collective indigestion in the scientific establishment. But finally the belch came, in the form of two maverick scientists who had both the creative pizzazz and the marketing strategy to trundle out the “hopeful monster” and make it fly. Stephen Jay Gould, professor of geology at Harvard University, and Miles Eldredge, curator at the American Museum of Natural History, are two men who accomplished a remarkable thing. They raised the dead, in a manner of speaking, by restoring credibility to a profession that had fatally overextended itself. In return, the scientific establishment made folk heroes out of them. Their names can be found in hundreds of magazines and books today; students and sages alike receive their words with reverence. When Gould and Eldredge saw the fossil record undo Darwin’s theory of slow, incremental change they knew Goldschmidt’s idea was all they had left as evolutionists. But they were determined to avoid being laughed off the stage as he had been. Somehow the “hopeful monster” label sounded too ridiculous; they needed to find a better way of saying it. Effective marketing requires creative thinking, and it wasn’t long before Gould and Eldredge had coined a fine new name for the once-ugly duckling. Punctuated equilibria, they called it, and though it was slow taking off it became a hit. Here’s how they summed it up: “The history of evolution is not one of stately unfolding, but a story of homeostatic equilibria, disturbed only rarely by rapid and episodic events of speciation.” Put simply, they were still trying to agree with Darwin that stasis, or the absence of change, was the norm in nature. The long, uneventful millennia of evolutionary time were punctuated only rarely (really meaning rather often, when added up over billions of years) by episodes of great and sudden change, after which things quickly settled down again into stasis. The tricky part was that the transitional spurts were so brief and the changes in form they brought about were so complete that no transitional organisms had the chance to make it into the fossil record. This was a startling departure from Darwinian evolution, with implications that would have confounded the old gentleman from Victorian England. Contemporaries of Gould and Eldredge, realizing they might never live to see a better opportunity to redeem themselves and their profession, wasted no time jumping on the wagon. Once aboard, however, they began asking questions. The most significant was, what kind of circumstances could have produced such abrupt and rapid speciation? The consensus finally centered on another taboo of “orthodox” evolution—global catastrophes (floods, plagues, volcanic eruptions, meteor showers and the like). These events, the scientists now decided, must have caused widespread destruction of life and spawned gross genetic mutations within existing species, most of which were lethal. A few isolated mutants survived, and in an environment of relaxed competition (roll over, Darwin!) these “hopeful monsters” became the precursors of entirely new species.
Of course, the best available evidence for punctuated equilibria is still only the lack of fossil evidence for Darwin’s slow, gradual theory of evolution. Modern science finds itself on shaky logical ground here, much like a person who tries to prove that a house is green by merely citing the lack of evidence that it is red. However, it seems to be getting away with it simply because evolution, in one form or another, has become the official religion of scientists. Evolution sheds its disguise If that sounds a little strange (and doubtless many scientists would rather choke than admit it), consider these words by Edwin G. Conklin, late professor of biology at Princeton University: “The concept of organic evolution is very highly prized by biologists, for many of whom it is an object of genuinely religious devotion, because they regard it as a supreme integrative principle.” To qualify as legitimate science, evolution should be testable by means of the scientific method. Simply stated, after observation of phenomena, a hypothesis should be formulated. More importantly, this hypothesis should enable scientists to make clear-cut predictions regarding the data. Ultimately, experiments should be conducted to test the accuracy of the predictions, in order to confirm the hypothesis. If the experimental process is not repeatable or, worse yet, not feasible at all, the hypothesis lies outside the proper sphere of science. Call it philosophy, religion, speculation or whatever—it is not science. In what was tantamount to a confession, renowned evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky lamented in print (American Scientist 45) that “evolutionary happenings are unique, unrepeatable and irreversible.” He reluctantly acknowledged “the applicability of the scientific method to the study of such unique historical processes is severely restricted before all else by the time intervals involved, which far exceed the lifetime of any human experimenter.” Logically, evolution is a house of cards. It is a presupposition bolstered by observations undertaken to confirm it. Evidence that challenges evolution is reinterpreted, discredited or simply swept aside. By the fairest standards that can be applied to it, evolution is a matter of personal faith. Of course everyone is entitled to his own beliefs, convictions and speculations, but evolutionists profess that their theory is something totally unlike religious dogma. It is pure truth, they contend, even though untestable. How unfortunate that millions of average people have been duped into believing it is so! The crowning irony of the situation may be seen in the scorn evolutionists heap upon nonconformists who admit their faith in the biblical account of creation. When Stephen Jay Gould. in Discover magazine (February 1982) asked rhetorically, “What then of God himself?” his reply spoke more of his personal prejudices than any demonstrable scientific fact or ideal. “No intervening spirit watches lovingly over the affairs of nature,” he declared. “And whatever we may think of God, his existence is not manifest in the products of nature.” No boasting rights for evolution
One might be tempted to ask the scientist what evidence he can offer in support of such a conclusion. Of course there is none. Nor is there any coercive evidence to support his flat assertion in yet another essay that “human beings evolved from apelike ancestors whether they did so by Darwin’s proposed mechanism or some other.” In a passage of rare candor for an evolutionary scientist, entomologist W. R. Thompson rebuked this attitude in his introduction to one edition of Darwin’s The Origin of Species. “This situation, where men rally to the defense of a doctrine they are unable to defend scientifically, much less demonstrate with scientific rigor, attempting to maintain its credit with the public by the suppression of criticism and the elimination of difficulties, is abnormal and undesirable in science.” Abnormal in science perhaps—but commonplace in the realm of fanaticism, where belief systems are rooted in assumptions, and loose ends are concealed behind strong language. Religion has no monopoly on irrationality; it is a human trait that can emerge in any discipline, especially when pride and reputation are on the line. Evolution is an interesting idea, even a useful one in predicting the limited mutation of organisms—but as for leaping boundaries between species it is far from a demonstrable fact. For facts we are limited to the geologic record and the staggering array of life forms around us. Inferences must be made, for at the end of our observations we find no natural processes that can adequately explain the genesis of life on earth; much less the origin of the universe. Both require either the suspension of known physical laws or the intervention of supernatural forces. By now there has been much strong language unleashed on both the evolutionists’ and the creationists’ sides of the fence. There are impassioned voices on each side making equally irrational claims of proof for what must, in the end, remain a matter of faith. A pile of data exists which can be used with equal force to defend the concept of intelligent design—like evolution, a matter of faith. Origins simply cannot be tested from a high enough vantage point to prove either claim. Every thinking person believes in something; the question is: in what or whom are we most willing to rest our faith? Impersonal processes and primal competition over billions of years, or a superior intelligence that endows humans with moral virtues and corresponding obligations? The very fact that we are able to contemplate such questions suggests an answer outside the realm of science. Many generations ago the prophet Isaiah wrote: “Lift up your eyes on high and behold who has created these things.” Perhaps this is the beginning of true wisdom: to acknowledge that there is a source from whence all good things have come. From such a vantage point it becomes possible to recognize in the natural order something vastly superior to mere time and chance. Through all the interplay of life and motion—from the smallest known particles to the farthest reaches of our galaxy and beyond—there exist design, harmony and utility. These
evidences speak to our reason and invite us to become acquainted with the one who has placed them within our sight. Our capacity to grasp the infinite by the link of faith has not been left without the benefit of rational evidence; neither have we been forced by incontrovertible proof to believe what we do not choose to believe. One can learn to revere a God who does things like that. ________________________________ Other sources: Charles Darwin: The Origin of Species. NewYork, E. P. Dutton. 1956. Francis Hitching: The Neck of the Giraffe: Where Darwin Went Wrong. New York, Ticknor and Fields, 1982 Philip Kitcher: Abusing Science: The Case /\gainst Creationism. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press. 1982. Norman Macbeth: Darwin Retried. Boston, Dell, 1973. Jeremy Rifkin: Algeny. NewYork, The Viking Press, 1983.
Dr. Colin Patterson, a senior paleontologist at the British Museum in London, did an unprecedented thing when he appeared at an open meeting of evolutionary scientists and theorists at the American Museum of Natural History on November 5, 1981. In his speech Dr. Patterson confessed that after more than 20 years of work in evolutionary science, the realization struck that there was not one sure thing he could say he really knew about it. Shocked by the discovery, he posed the question to his colleagues: “Can you tell me anything you know about evolution, any one thing that is true?” In Chicago his question was greeted by silence from the geology staff at the Field Museum and at the Evolution Morphology Seminar at the University of Chicago. He received the same silence nearly everywhere he asked it. His conclusions were devastating to the crowds that had gathered to hear him. “The absence of answers seems to suggest that…evolution does not convey any knowledge, or if so, I haven’t yet heard it….I think many people in this room would acknowledge that during the last few years, if you had thought about it at all, you have experienced a shift from evolution as knowledge to evolution as faith. I know that it’s true of me and I think it’s true of a good many of you here…. Evolution not only conveys no knowledge but seems somehow to convey anti-knowledge.” Patterson continued with various examples of how evolutionists have distorted facts, manipulated data and concealed results of studies that refuted evolution, and soundly criticized his colleagues for their complicity in the scandal. Dr. Patterson’s honest and objective analysis is a rare breath of fresh air in a profession where dogma dies hard. Perhaps more young minds will catch the spirit and continue
to debunk that great â€œperpetual notion machineâ€? called evolution, and science can then be rightfully restored to its respected place in the pursuit of knowledge.