The Bombing of Darwin Philosophy, not science, drove evolution Today it’s a theory under threat
The question of how the universe began is generally answered in the scientific community by referring to naturalistic evolution, which claims that the universe came about as the result of an unguided, undirected process, explained strictly in terms of chance and natural law. Many scientists prefer to attribute the existence of the universe to chance and randomness, rather than to an all-powerful, purpose-driven God. Recently however, it is increasingly, and ironically, the scientific basis of Darwinism that has come under scrutiny.
In the 1920s a court challenge in Tennessee over teaching creation science in schools brought a significant victory for its opponents, a debate revived last year in Kansas. Today, however, the tables are turning, as evolution’s inadequacies are highlighted in many different scientific disciplines. Growing numbers of scientists and others in related fields of inquiry, have become more vocal in their scepticism over the scientific validity of Darwin’s theories. Michael Denton, an Australian medical doctor and molecular biologist wrote in his book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, that evolution “is still, as it was in Darwin’s time, a highly speculative hypothesis entirely without direct factual support”.
Indeed, John Ankerberg and John Weldon, in their book The Creation Hypothesis, state that “when one considers the great number of scientists who have expressed serious reservations regarding a particular area of evolutionary thought, their collective weight is formidable. Virtually all aspects of evolutionary theory have recently encountered major critique by someone. Thus collectively considered, what now remains factually and scientifically established in evolutionary theory as a whole would appear to be marginal.”
Even the majority of Darwin’s contemporaries did not agree fully with his theory, writes Nancy Pearcey, co-author of How Now Shall We Live? (with Charles Colson) and The Soul of Science (with Charles Thaxton). Many of them came to agree that some form of evolution or development had occurred, but they championed other mechanisms and causes to explain the process. Basically, they held that either God was directing the process or that it was propelled forward by some internal directing force.
Darwin himself appears to have wavered on the scientific validity of his theory, writing in a letter in 1882: “Though no evidence worth anything has as yet, in my opinion, been advanced in favour of a living being, being developed from inorganic matter, yet I cannot avoid believing the possibility of this will be proved some day in accordance with the law of continuity.” It appears that over time Darwin rejected the role of a Creator, preferring to assign godlike powers to the laws of nature. The key to his thinking was his philosophical commitment.
Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) was regarded by the Victorians as the foremost philosopher of the age, and was an immensely popular prophet of evolution at a time when the idea had gripped the public imagination. He appears to have promoted Darwinism from a similar perspective. Though he was not persuaded by Darwin’s scientific theory, he saw that once he had embraced philosophical naturalism he had no alternative but to accept some form of naturalistic evolution. Writing in The Principles of Psychology, he acknowledges that “the hypothesis of evolution is beset by serious difficulties scientifically”, yet “save for those who still adhere to the Hebrew myth, or to the doctrine of special creations derived from it, there is no alternative but this hypothesis or no hypothesis.”
Thomas Huxley (1825-1895), nicknamed “Darwin’s bulldog”, having surveyed early forms of evolutionary theory and finding them all unsatisfactory, nevertheless continued to nurse a “pious conviction that Evolution, after all, would turn out to be true”. It seems that Huxley had long sought an alternative to the creation hypothesis that could be accepted by any “cautious reasoner”. He was so eager to be freed from this dilemma, that he was willing to champion any naturalistic theory, even one he himself found scientifically implausible, writes Pearcey.
So what was the attraction of Darwinism? Pearcey argues that Darwinism won less because it fitted the empirical data than because it provided a scientific rationale for those already committed to a purely naturalistic account of life.
Richard Lewontin, a Harvard biologist, revealed in an article in 1997 that he accepted the standard story of evolution, not because he was without scepticism about the “unsubstantiated just-so-stories” often labelled “science”, but because he had “a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism”. Lewontin admits that the commitment is not based on science. Instead, scientists accept materialism first, and then are “forced” to define science in such a way that it produces strictly materialistic theories.
So, what are some of the main scientific problems various scientists have identified within Darwin’s theories?
Within evolutionary theory, the first stage on the road to human life, writes Michael Denton, is presumed to have been the buildup, by purely chemical synthetic processes occurring on the surface of the earth, of all the basic organic compounds essential for the formation of a living cell. These are supposed to have accumulated in the primeval oceans, creating a so-called “prebiotic soup”. When conditions were just right, these compounds formed into large macromolecules, proteins and nucleic acids. And eventually, millions of years later, many of these macromolecules combined in such a way as to enable them to self-reproduce. This process continued in more and more complex ways, until eventually, through a process of natural selection, the first simple cell system emerged.
What is crucial to this hypothesis, is the existence, for millions of years, of a prebiotic soup of rich organic compounds. Denton comments that if this were indeed the case, some of this material would very likely have been trapped in the sedimentary rocks. Yet, ancient sedimentary rocks have been closely examined in recent decades without any trace of these compounds being evident.
Even still, the formation of a single cell system from a “prebiotic soup” pales in comparison to the formation of a human being through these same processes. Molecular biology has revealed in recent years that the living cell is far more complex than Darwin ever thought. Such cellular complexity cannot come about in the gradual process outlined by Darwin, because all the coordinated pieces must be in place before they function at all, writes Michael Behe, a Professor of Biochemistry, at Pennsylvania’s Lehigh University.
The central assumption of Darwinism is that minor changes accumulate to create major changes between organisms. This assumption has been disputed for decades. For instance, writes Pearcey, it has been known for a long time that minor variations, like the differences between dog breeds, do not add up in any consistent direction. “And if they’re not going anywhere in the first place, they won’t lead to major evolutionary innovations, no matter how vast the allotted time”.
Anthropic principle: In the field of cosmology, we encounter the idea of the anthropic principle, which basically tells us that the universe is finely tuned to support life. “Imagine a universe-creating machine, with thousands of dials representing the gravitational constant, the charge on the electron, the mass of the proton, etc. Each dial has many possible settings, and what you discover is that even the slightest change would make a universe where life was impossible,” says geophysicist Stephen Meyer. What we see in the world around us is that each dial is set to the exact value necessary to keep the universe running.
Principle of irreducible complexity: Michael Behe offers an explanation of this principle:
“By irreducibly complex I mean a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning. An irreducibly complex system cannot be produced directly (that is, by continuously improving the initial function, which continues to work by the same mechanism) by slight, successive modifications of a precursor system, because any precursor to an irreducibly complex system that is missing a part is by definition nonfunctional.
An irreducibly complex biological system, if there is such a thing, would be a powerful challenge to Darwinian evolution. Since natural selection can only choose systems that are already working, then if a biological system cannot be produced gradually it would have to arise as an integrated unit, in one fell swoop, for natural selection to have anything to act on,” says Michael Behe.
For example, like a microscopic motorboat, bacteria are able to move from one location to another in the human body with complexity and efficiency. With over 50 different protein parts, it is hard to imagine a machine with so many necessary pieces.
So, intelligent design or Darwinian evolution? Even Darwin did not deny the evidence for design. Rather, he hoped to show that living things only appear designed while really being the result of chance and natural selection. Darwin’s goal, writes Francisco Ayala of the University of California, was to “exclude God as the explanation accounting for the obvious design of organisms”.