Laying the Foundations: Evolution vs Design - Part 1
Evolution vs. Design Part I
Last month’s article presented evolution as a theory that is ‘naked’ of any scientific merit—a bold claim I intend to address in the months to come. Those who put their faith in the seductive draw of its mythology were presented as either seriously uninformed, pretentious intellectuals, or indoctrinated bystanders. In an effort to reduce the apparent conflict between science and theology some have blended the world views of theology and science to create what is often called ‘Theistic Evolution.’ This position once held my interest until I had to admit I was not being honest with the facts. Adopting any form of Darwinian evolution (the kind that transmutates life forms) yields to a philosophical treatise barren of substance that unfetters thinking to seriously liberal attitudes towards the value of human life, subjective morality, situational ethics and often to political persuasions that yield human freedom’s to the state. For many, especially our young, a life devoid of purpose is a life not worth living. Materialism replaces ethical values. Depression and hopelessness are not surprising results for creatures like ourselves who possess the mental and emotional faculties that are so far removed from the rest of the animal kingdom. Our inherent need to love and be loved makes only transient sense in a world that ends in death. But, if evolution is true and death is the ultimate end, we should, as the apostle Paul said, “eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32).
In this and the next essay, I hope to build the foundation for a fair appraisal of the facts of science and to challenge you with two ‘theories’ or philosophical interpretations of those facts. I am admittedly prejudiced by now, having arrived at my beliefs through an exhausting assessment of the facts. But I do hope to be fair and objective in the appraisal so that you can decide the truth by yourself. I have never completely yielded to evolutionary theory, either throughout high school or throughout my 10 years of higher education and several years of post-doctoral studies. Having intimate and thorough knowledge of what evolution supposes, I have never found a single fact that credibly supports those suppositions. The only other alternative for me was found in special creation. This ‘religious’ alternative made more sense to me in every aspect of scientific study in explaining, metaphysically, what obviously could not be explained by materialistic evolutionary thought. Yet, the tools needed to bring together the various observations of science into a clear and meaningful argument for the supernatural explanation were not being taught or presented at any level of education, and typically denounced as anti-intellectual. If mentioned at all in texts or lectures the “God idea” was ridiculed and relegated to ignorant mythology.
At the beginning of the creation-science debate of the 20th century; a heavy reliance on biblical authority seemed a rational approach to assess the facts of science. I believe it will always have merit. However, the creation argument also revived a logic that was abandoned for Darwin’s philosophy in the mid-19th century and is now called ‘design theory;’ an approach that freely admits that all sciences reveal, to the unbiased researcher, the existence of a deliberate and intelligent creation. This conclusion demands a creator.
So consider this. There are only two possibilities; either life and the physical universe arose by natural processes, i.e. by evolution, or a supernatural agency designed our physical reality. There are no other options. The controversy between the two positions exists because there are two explanations that are applied to the facts. Evolution demands a material explanation for all things and this is a philosophical bias not a scientific necessity; the first of many indications that evolutionary commitments are religious in nature and subjective.
For example, evolution sees facts like the similarity between life forms (homologies) as in the case of the great apes and the human body as organic beings having a common ancestor. This is an example of biological evolution evaluating the facts with a potential explanation of why similar forms exist and potentially explains how they came into existence. A second interpretation of these same facts would consider the biological relationship of ape and man not unreasonable, save for the vast number of differences between the life forms that are unbridgeable by any currently known natural phenomena. This leads to question whether chemicals like DNA and proteins, or statistical probability, chance and time and ultimately, evolutionary theory, could account for the differences or the similarities between such life forms. While evolutionists, knowing the odds are quite improbable, are willing to explain away the discrepancies by faith in unknown and un-testable hypotheses, design advocates freely admit that intervention by something more creative than humans had a hand in, if not a deliberate act in, making such creatures into unique, but fairly adaptable life forms. The facts lead to this conclusion making the design theory a viable alternative hypothesis.
Without going back in history to the many early philosophers of the pre-Christian era who first proposed the idea that living forms were a product of random association of non-living substances (wind, fire, water, earth), let’s start with Darwin whose theory is touted by the London Natural History Museum to have revolutionized biology and “changed the course of science and society.” This claim is true but unfortunately the change has hindered progress in real science as well as manifested humanistic philosophies that distort human value, pervert world perspectives on ethics and misdirect political policy at all levels of government. Darwinism of any kind applied to human living has been an experiment resulting in social blunders of massive proportion. In future articles I hope to address this.
Those who have actually read Darwin’s first edition of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection would have read the preface from Darwin which clearly apologizes for the lack of any hard evidence for his treatise. Though in no uncertain terms he clearly proposes, through a synthesis of previously acknowledged observations of other naturalists, his grandfather Erasmus Darwin, Thomas Malthus, Alfred Wallace and others, with a few original observations of his own, that all things living may have had their beginnings from a common ancestry. Furthermore he proposed the variety of life forms may have had its origin by the inheritance of variable characteristics. Some of these characteristics may have profited some individuals over others through the struggle to survive the current environmental conditions. Darwin hypothesized that competition for food, space, mating, and the climate, geography, predation and other external factors would have selected for the individuals most fit within a population. Their survival being statistically more favorable meant a better and more frequent chance to reproduce and therefore pass on those favorable characters to their offspring. Death of the less fit exerts the pressure that then shapes the form and features of those beings having the greater advantage to survive. Extending this hypothesis to thousands of generations would potentially result in a creature, plant or fungus uniquely fit (adapted) to specific conditions; functionally built into an ecosystem of life forms that intertwined and are codependent in the circle of life. In this way, living beings come to be so vastly different from their ancient parentage that they represent unique species. Thus, the On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection seems a feasible hypothesis by which all life came to be and in such diversity and so specialized that they hold only the appearance of being deliberately designed for their existence.
In the foreword to his work, Darwin knew that his observations could just as well support the idea of special creation.
For I am well aware that scarcely a single point is discussed in this volume on which facts cannot be adduced, often apparently leading to conclusions directly opposite to those at which I have arrived. A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question; and this cannot possibly be here done. (2)
His conclusion was a process of evolution and the direct opposite of that conclusion was special creation.
Darwin admitted the problems of discovering both how and where variation in living forms came from as well as lack of hard evidence for any specie changing over time. With the exception of the breeding of domesticated plants and animals, he was at a loss as to argue, except by extrapolation, using facts to support evolution by natural means. He said,
In considering the Origin of Species, it is quite conceivable that a naturalist, reflecting on the mutual affinities of organic beings, on their embryological relations, their geographical distribution, geological succession, and other such facts, might come to the conclusion that each species had not been independently created, but had descended, like varieties, from other species. Nevertheless, such a conclusion, even if well founded, would be unsatisfactory, until it could be shown how the innumerable species inhabiting this world have been modified, so as to acquire that perfection of structure and coadaptation which most justly excites our admiration. (3)
He went on to apply what he understood of domestication of varieties of living beings to the natural world and found, essentially, the Linnaean classification system a useful tool in describing natural life forms into types and subgroups; Family, Genus, Specie, as exemplifying a type of proof of generic (Genus) characteristics giving rise to specific (specie) characteristics adapted to unique environmental conditions. Carl Linnaeus (1710-1778), by the way, had no intention of using his classification system as a tool to demonstrate evolution.
The rest of Darwin’s book is mostly insightful descriptions of the interplay of animal species in its environment, discussions of how frequent a new variation might arise, how minute and undetectable nuances in these variations might be important to overall survival of an individual, some fossil finds and the supposition that the rock layers may reveal intermediate species. One example of a possible scenario to evolution is a story of seeing a bear swimming in a lake and opening his mouth to eat the insects on the surface of the water. He reflected on how the generations of bears might specialize in this feeding habit and through time, develop a larger mouth, specialized means of swimming and essentially turning into a freshwater whale, though he does not call it such.
He devoted a chapter to problems with his theory considering organs of supreme perfection, the lack of anything truly transitional from one form to another form either preserved as fossil or living, how to explain the existence of complex instincts/behaviors, all of these things interlaced with arguments of supposition of what might account for such difficulties rather than any fact.
In his concluding remarks Darwin said,
That many and grave objections may be advanced against the theory of descent with modification through natural selection, I do not deny. I have endeavoured to give to them their full force. Nothing at first can appear more difficult to believe than that the more complex organs and instincts should have been perfected, not by means superior to, though analogous with, human reason [intelligence], but by the accumulation of innumerable slight variations [evolution], each good for the individual possessor. Nevertheless, this difficulty, though appearing to our imagination insuperably great, cannot be considered real if we admit the following propositions, namely,—that gradations in the perfection of any organ or instinct, which we may consider, either do now exist or could have existed, each good of its kind,—that all organs and instincts are, in ever so slight a degree, variable,—and, lastly, that there is a struggle for existence leading to the preservation of each profitable deviation of structure or instinct. The truth of these propositions cannot, I think, be disputed. (459)
In his closing words Darwin remarked, “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved” (490).
Subsequent to his publication and presentations to the naturalist societies of the day, much argument was made against his theory which though admittedly an attractive hypothesis was filled with speculations, extrapolations and imaginations that were not filled with any scientific proofs. His next 5 revisions of this book attempted to yield proofs for his hypothesis but all of these continue to be debated as to their usefulness. His argument for the origin of species by the means of natural selection became accepted as a revolution in scientific thinking and, 150 years later, the paradigm for biological explanations for why things are the way they are. Yet, regardless of its acceptance in the sciences, even its extrapolation to cosmology and other earth sciences, Darwin’s grand hypothesis has remained lacking in any support save that variation of characteristics within an organic form exist and can be manipulated by external forces, be it man or nature but only to a limited degree, to create different and often stable types of the same form.
The proofs and mechanisms that were sought to support the theory were many and, for objective researchers, continue to be sought. Where does the variation in characteristics come from that supposedly leads to new species arising? Is it sufficient to account for nature’s ability to select for and improve on the diversity of all life forms on the planet? Can nature really select for successful forms to survive or is this a metaphor for an intelligent agency not yet admitted by science? Does geography and climate impose strong enough powers for the differential survival rates to occur within a specie such that minuscule differences are selected upon? Does the fossil record support the transmutation of any specie? Is there any proof that evolution occurred or is occurring? Can science detect design in the Universe? Is it potentially metaphysical in nature (supernatural)? Does the discovery in cell biology and the mechanism of heredity through the DNA molecule support biological evolution? Did Darwin actually understand the meaning of Natural Selection; a term used by naturalists of the time to define the process whereby nature eliminates the weak, the mutants, and the sick from a population for the sole purpose, not of improving the specie, but of maintaining its unique identity as a specie?
Next month I would like to present those concepts about biology, natural selection and speciation in Western thought that were understood up until Darwin’s revolutionary hypothesis. In that article I wish to begin to nail down the principles of the design argument which is not entirely devoid of the concept of evolution but by hard scientific proofs acknowledges the limitation of biological change within any type of organism. Following this effort we will begin to look at the facts of biology, geology, paleontology, and genetics and interpret those facts first through evolutionary perspectives and then through the design perspective. Ultimately, you the reader, are free to decide which one of the two (i.e. creation or evolution) is sound as an explanation for the reality that we call life.
Dan Moran, Ph.D.
Darwin, Charles. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. London: Clowes, 1859.