I will start by stating that I am a Christian and thus a theist. I accept the Bible as God’s revealed Word and Genesis as an accurate description of the creation events. I also accept the rather overwhelming evidence for the antiquity of the earth and universe. (That is, that the universe came into existence somewhere around 15 billion years ago and that the earth is about 4 billion years old). It is my belief that the days of Genesis are periods of time not literal 24 hour days and that God created life over millions of years with some or the simplest forms emerging first. Evolution could perhaps have been the mechanism that He used to create life. Nonetheless, I do have significant philosophical and scientific problems with evolution, as it is understood by most of the scientific establishment.
First of all, what are my philosophical reservations?
The evolutionary paradigm, accepted by most biologists and thus presented in essentially all biology textbooks is based on the foundation of metaphysical naturalism. That is that all life on earth can be explained by random chance events involving mutation and natural selection. This essentially implies that all of creation occurred apart from any supernatural power such as God. It is in fact practical atheism. Let me illustrate this by giving you a quote from the 1995 official Position Statement of the National Association of Biology Teachers regarding evolution:
“The diversity of life on earth is the outcome of evolution: an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process of temporal descent with genetic modification that is affected by natural selection, chance, historical contingencies and changing environments.”
Because it was realized that the statement was unpalatable to the general public, it was softened in subsequent versions with the removal of the words unsupervised and impersonal. However, in spite of the attempts to cover it up, the statement demonstrates that true orthodox evolutionary theory is very closely tied to metaphysical naturalism or atheism. This makes naturalistic evolution untenable for a Christian or any theist.
Let me give another quote from a prominent biologist, Douglas Fatuyma, the author of a widely used undergraduate biology text:
“By coupling undirected, purposeless variation to the blind, uncaring process of natural selection, Darwin made theological or spiritual explanations of life superfluous. Together with Marx’s materialistic theory of history and Freud’s attribution of human behavior to influences over which we have little control, Darwin’s theory of evolution was a crucial plank in the platform of mechanism and materialism, of much of science, in short, that has been the stage of most of Western thought.”
“If the world and its creatures developed purely by material, physical forces – it could not have been designed and has no purpose or goal. The fundamentalist in contrast believes that everything in the world, every species was designed by an intelligent, purposeful artificer and that it was made for a purpose. Nowhere does this contrast apply more sharply and with more force than with the human species. Some shrink from the conclusion that the human species was not designed, has no purpose and is the product of mere mechanical mechanisms, but that seems to be the message of evolution.”
So, the point here is that true, orthodox evolution clearly includes philosophical naturalism.
Now, the mechanism of the origin of life cannot really be subjected to the scientific method since it is not experimentally repeatable. Inferences can be made based on such things as similarities among animals, for instance, or patterns in the fossil record, but, the conclusions from these must be based on many assumptions. The hypothesis a person proposes will be determined by his worldview. A theist will hold that some supernatural power (such as God) brought the universe into existence while a naturalist assumes that it is all the result of random chance causes alone. Whichever position one takes cannot be proven scientifically and thus must be accepted by faith. Both naturalism and supernaturalism are, therefore, faith commitments or, if you will, religions. Often the debate over evolution is framed in terms of a conflict between science and religion actually it is not. If you take nothing else from this talk remember this: The debate over creation/evolution is not really a scientific argument at all but is instead a conflict between two different world views or religions.
If a person believes that life is the result of random chance alone, then the possible mechanisms for origin are severely limited. Something like Darwinian evolution just has to be true since it is really the best random chance mechanism available. Evidence that is contrary to evolution is thus summarily discounted. However, if one believes in a creator, a much wider spectrum of possibilities exists. God could have created in any number of ways. One could be evolution, another creation at the species level over long periods of time, or another, instantaneous creation in 6 literal days, a few thousand years ago. A theist is in a much better position to consider all of the scientific evidence than is a naturalist.
Although you would never know it, based on most biology textbooks, there are a number of significant scientific challenges to the prevailing dogma of Darwinian evolution. Let me cite a few.
1) There is a rather startling lack of transitional forms in the fossil record. This observation has been called the trade secret of paleontology by the late Harvard evolutionist Stephen J. Gould.
Darwin himself realized this lack of transitional forms. Let me quote from the Origin of the Species:
“The number of intermediate varieties, which have formerly existed on earth, [must] be truly be enormous”
Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain.”
“Indeed, this is, the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory”.
A book by Luther Sunderland entitled Darwin’s Enigma explores this lack of fossil evidence for evolution. During the course of collecting information for the book, he wrote a letter to Colin Patterson who is the Senior Paleontologist at the British Museum of Natural History and Editor of the Journal of the British Museum of Natural History. He asked Dr. Patterson: Why didn’t you include any transitional forms in your index of fossils? The following is the answer that Sunderland received back:
“If I knew of any, I most certainly would have included them. As a matter of fact, I will lay it on the line, I know of no truly transitional fossil for which one can make a water tight case.”
2) Next, let us consider what is called the Cambrian explosion. The fossil record shows the almost simultaneous appearance (geologically speaking) of all or most of the major animal phyla at the transition into the Cambrian period (some 600 million years ago). If Darwinian evolution is true, the emergence of animal phyla in the fossil record should look something like this:
(From “OF Pandas and People” (P. Davis, D.H. Kenyon and C.B. Thaxton)
In fact, this is the way it is presented in most biology text books. However, it is now well established the most animal phyla (roughly 30) appear in the geological record in a remarkably brief period of geological time (10 to 30 million years) at the start of the Cambrian period which is about 600 million years ago. No or few precursors to these are observed prior to this time. After this explosive appearance, the evidence in the fossil record of the formation of new phyla simply stops. This is shown in the following overhead:
(From “OF Pandas and People” (P. Davis, D.H. Kenyon and C.B. Thaxton)
I fail to see how this evidence supports the classical Darwinian view of gradual, step by step evolution.
3) A third major problem is the explanation of the origin of information content in living systems. Experience and common sense tells us that information comes from intelligent sources and never by chance. Even atheists acknowledge that nature reflects design and not random chance. Francis Crick, originator of the DNA helix, states the following:
“Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed but evolved.”
Richard Dawkins in his book the Blind Watchmaker states:
“Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.”
Dawkins goes on to state that this appearance is misleading since we all know that they were actually produced by purposeless, unintelligent forces.
However, in a recently published book by the late Sir Fred Hoyle, British physicist and mathematician entitled “Mathematics of Evolution” the final conclusion is that Darwinian evolution by random chance is a mathematical impossibility.
It is impossible to explain how the massive amount of information required to produce a living organism could have come about by mere random chance processes.
4) Finally, there is the problem of explaining systems that are irreducibly complex.
There are many biological systems which, to use the language of the author of Darwin’s Black Box, Michael Behe, are irreducibly complex. That means that systems such as the bacterial cell flagellum, the human blood clotting mechanism or the ATP synthase of mitochondria work only when fully assembled and, the elimination of any one part, renders the whole thing inoperative. An example of such a system would be the bacterial flagellum.
(From “Darwin’s Black Box”, Michael J. Behe)
This very sophisticated rotary motor that is part of one of the simplest cells in nature allows the bacterium to navigate around. The parts include: an acid powered rotary engine, a stator, O rings, bushings, and drive shaft, etc. The flagellum works as an assembled whole and the loss of any one of the parts leads to the complete loss of motor function. It is impossible to imagine how such a system could have evolved by a random step- by-step progression.
Darwin himself addressed this problem in the Origin of the Species:
“If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.”
The following is another Darwin quote:
“The eye to this day gives me a cold shudder.”
Michael Behe states the following in his book:
“To Darwin, the cell was a black box–its inner workings were utterly mysterious to him. Now, the black box has been opened up and we know how it works. Applying Darwin’s test to the ultra-complex world of molecular machinery and cellular systems that have been discovered over the past 40 years, we can say that Darwin’s theory has absolutely broken down.
Many other challenges could be given, but this should be sufficient for my purposes here.
I will state in closing that, in spite of the well-known weaknesses of Darwinian evolution, there is a concerted effort by the scientific establishment to exclude any of this from the science curricula in the public schools. It is my humble view that this attempt is unscientific and anti-intellectual and does a great disservice to our young people. Certainly, evolution should continue to be taught in schools (private Christian schools as well) since it is the prevailing theory among scientists for the origin of life. However, should it not be subjected to the scrutiny of the scientific method? Is it such a sacrosanct dogma that it is beyond normal scientific skepticism? The whole basis of the scientific method depends upon a continual reassessment of our theories as new data is discovered. If the evidence for evolution is really as overwhelming as many would lead us to believe, why should there be any fear of presenting of all of the evidence to students? I contend that scientific honesty and intellectual integrity demand the presentation of all the evidence and not just that which supports of the prevailing dogma of evolution.
Sometimes, when dealing with this issue, one gets the feeling that we are experiencing the battle of the church vs Galileo all over again, only this time the church is the scientific establishment and Galileo is the one with the temerity to challenge the reigning dogma.