A CRITICAL VIEW OF EVOLUTION AS SCIENTIFIC THEORY

 By Dr. Alvin H. Franzmeier
Partly based on an article published by Access Research Network


An atheistic scientist was taking a walk through the woods, admiring all that the "accident of evolution" had created. "What majestic trees! What powerful rivers! What beautiful animals!" he said to himself.

As he walked alongside the river, he heard a rustling in the bushes behind him. As he turned to look, he saw a seven-foot grizzly charge towards him! He ran as fast as he could up the path. He looked over his shoulder and saw that the bear was closing in on him. He tried to run even faster, so scared that tears were coming to his eyes. He looked over his shoulder again, and the bear was even closer! His heart was pumping frantically as he tried to run even faster, but he tripped and fell on the ground. He rolled over to pick himself up and saw the bear right on top of him, raising his paw to kill him. At that instant, he cried out, "Oh my God!"

All of a sudden time stopped. The bear froze, the forest was silent, and the river even stopped moving. A bright light shone upon the man, and a Voice came out of the sky saying, "You deny my existence all of these years, teach others I don't exist, even credit my creation to a 'cosmic accident,' and now do you expect me to help you in your time of need? Am I to count you as a believer?"

The atheist, ever so proud, looked into the light and said, "It would be rather hypocritical to ask to be a Christian after all these years, but could you please make the bear a Christian?"

"Very well," said the Voice.

As the light went out, the river ran again, the sounds of the forest continued and the bear put his paw down. The bear then brought both paws together, bowed his head and said, "Lord, I thank you for this food, which I am about to receive."

 *     *     *     *     *

In the National Academy of Sciences' 1984 booklet on Science and Creationism, Robert C. Newman, John A. Bloom, Perry G. Phillips, and John C. Studenroth tell us that the "theory of evolution has withstood the tests of science many, many times. . . The debate [among scientists] centers only on the finer details of how it took place," not whether it took place. They insist that the theory of evolution is "supported by evidence," and such evidence survives the rigorous testing of the scientific method. They compare it to the "germ theory of disease" and the "theory of gravity." On the other hand, creation must be classed among theories "that have long been invalidated by observations and experiments." (p. 6. Emphasis in original.)

Similar comments occurred in the California Science Framework Draft of 1989:

 "Evolution is the central organizing theory of biology, and has fundamental importance in other sciences as well. It is no more controversial in scientific circles than gravity or electricity is...And, regardless of whether the changes in plants and animals are gradual or sporadic, the facts remain those plants and animals have evolved over time. There is no scientific dispute that evolution has occurred and continues to occur; this is why evolution is regarded as a scientific fact." (State of California, 1989, pp. 14-15.)

 In the 2000 edition of Encarta Encyclopedia, human evolution is also matter-of-factly explained as follows:

"Human Evolution, a lengthy process of change by which people originated from apelike ancestors. Scientific evidence shows that the physical and behavioral traits shared by all people evolved over a period of at least 5 million years."

In a recent article in the Lutheran Forum's newsletter Pastor George L. Murphy of St. Mark Lutheran Church (ELCA), Tallmadge, OH, embraces evolution. He suggests, however, that Lutherans need to do some very careful sorting out as we talk about evolution. He writes:

I think that it's correct-as far as it goes-to say, "evolution is God's way of creating." But too many ELCA clergy are content with such statements and have given no attention to the genuine theological issues that have to be dealt with in connection with evolution. Traditional concepts of original righteousness and original sin were formulated before evolutionary concepts had to be considered, when a straightforward historical character of Genesis 1-3 could be assumed

. Is evolution fact and creation merely faith? Or is evolution merely faith and creation fact? Is one true and the other false? Are both true? Or, for that matter, are both false? This controversy-whether in the media, the classroom, the church or the courtroom-has often generated more heat than light. In this paper I will try to shine a little light on just one question relevant to the dispute: What is the nature of evolution?

 In other words, how did this theory get started? How certain is it as a theory? In what sense can anyone say that evolution is a fact?

Some Definitions

In any controversy it is important that we agree on what we mean by the terms we all are using. So first let us clarify and define such terms as "evolution," "theory" and "scientific." If I use a term one way and you use it another, then it is quite easy for me to claim that you just don't know what you are talking about. I used this tactic when I was a debater in high school and college. All too often this type of misunderstanding itself becomes the cause of confusion. So here are some definitions of words:

1. THEORY:

A generic term used to suggest an explanation of observed phenomena.

A generation ago some tried to distinguish "theory" from such terms as "hypothesis" or "law." This is still done in some textbooks on science. This should not be done. And do not contrast "theory" with "fact." A theory may be either factual or mistaken. Assume that a theory is an attempt to describe reality. It is, however, more than a technique for reproducing observations. For instance, to locate a star in the sky by earth-centered coordinates is a technique, not a theory. When astronomers first developed this technique they thought the earth stood still and the stars crossed the sky daily. The theory that the sun revolves around the earth has long since been proven to be false. So when we seek to judge whether or not a theory is actually describing reality it is best to take a more-or-less realistic approach to science

2. SCIENTIFIC:

1) An attempt to explain how things actually are.

2) An explanation without recourse to the supernatural or divine.

These definitions are only equivalent one to the other if in fact God did not create the universe. Of course, we must reject that notion. Naturalism or secular humanism, however, are worldviews that claim the universe exists as some kind of machine without a Creator and without any intelligence designing or guiding it. If one accepts such a worldview then these definitions are indeed interchangeable. We cannot, however, accept any such switching back and forth. The creation/evolution controversy is even further confused without clear definitions of the word 'scientific'. This seems to be a significant factor in recent court decisions on the subject of evolution. It will continue to confuse people whenever they discuss the subject.

3. EVOLUTION:

1) Biological change over time;

2) Descent through common ancestry, as suggested by the above quoted Encarta Encyclopedia's article about human life;

3) The Darwinian mechanism of random mutation and natural selection.

4) The way the entire universe originated and developed.

5) A general, everyday synonym for change or development, as in "the evolution of the computer."

We can exclude general change (5) from consideration. Hardly anyone would be against evolution in this sense-certainly not we who believe that God created the universe.

Some extend the term evolution beyond biology to include (4), the origin and development of the entire universe, then our galaxy within the universe, our sun within that galaxy and finally our earth as a planet revolving around the star we call the sun. The ever-popular science fiction series Star Trek assumes that entire universe has evolved and so the "prime directive" for Trekkies is never to interfere with the evolutionary process of any given planet or star system.

We must exclude the evolution of the universe (4) from the scope of this particular paper. To use the label "evolution" to describe the origin and development of the cosmos can be very misleading. This gives the impression that scientists have achieved some kind of a "grand unification" theory that provides an all-encompassing description of everything that has ever gone on in our universe. This theory ties everything together in one great scheme. In fact no such theory is available. The assumption that such a theory exists must be challenged. Science has no majestic and all-encompassing unification theory. If we do not challenge this assumption then particular problems in the theory of Darwinian mechanism, definition (3) above, may be overlooked. Definition (4) encourages us to think that since the universe evolved from simplicity to complexity, so did life on planet earth.

4. SUBDIVISIONS OF BIOLOGICAL EVOLUTION

1) Microevolution: small-scale changes in living things both within and across the lower level divisions of the biological classification scheme.

2) Macroevolution: large-scale changes such as would produce new body plans, new organs or new biochemical systems, whether or not these are viewed as arising from a large number of small changes over a long period of time or a small number of large changes over relatively shorter periods of time.

These terms cut across the first three definitions given above (biological change, descent through common ancestry and the Darwinian mechanism). The reason for this distinction will become more obvious as we proceed.

We focus now on the first three definitions in more detail.

Definition 1) Evolution as Biological Change Over Time

Children are not identical to their parents. Therefore some biological change is certain. That is as reliable as our sense of seeing or hearing . Evolution as biological change is a fact, at least as certain as that the earth is round. We also change as we age. Nobody argues against that. However, the mechanisms of growth and aging are different from the mechanisms of Darwinism. More to the point is the fossil record. That record displays increasing complexity of life as one moves up from bottom to top. In the lowest strata we find no life, then simple life in the higher levels of the pre-Cambrian rocks, most animal phyla (classifications) in the Cambrian, fish in the Ordovician strata, dinosaurs in the Triassic, a few small mammals in the Jurassic, large numbers of mammals in the Tertiary, and finally, modern mammals and humans in the Quaternary. So look at the biological development of plants and animals around us. They grow from a few cells to many. By analogy, Darwinism concludes that these same kind of changes happened over time and evolution was the mechanism.

 In discussing the various levels of the fossil record, please realize that many creationists see the Great Flood of Genesis 6-9 as the complete explanation for the fossil records (e.g. Zimmerman, 1959; Henry Morris and John Whitcomb, The Genesis Flood, 1961). Young-earth creationists deny that the geologic strata provide a sequential record of the history of life on earth. That enables them to avoid the conclusion that life evolved over vast periods of time. That is why flood geology is so popular in such circles. With the universal flood mechanism, young-earth creationists claim that nearly all the fossils in the geologic column were laid down at the flood. Likewise all these life forms lived simultaneously on the earth up to that time. There are, however, severe scientific problems with flood geology, as old-earth creationists have regularly pointed out (e.g. Young, 1977, 1982; Wonderly, 1978, 1987). I will not deal with these matters in this paper. I would welcome the opportunity to take up the flood and the geological record another time.

In support of a young fossil record there is a recent work by Gorman Gray (The Age of the Universe, Morning Star Publications, 2000). Gray suggests that the earth is indeed very old, but the fossil record is relatively young. The Great Flood produced it. He sees Hebrew text of Genesis 1:1-2 recording an event. It is not a summary statement. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth developed over long geological periods. The age of the earth is therefore a non-issue for Gray. The real focus is upon the six days of creation. These never-to-be repeated six days relate to the special work of the Lord on the biosphere, this singular planet on which God formed life. They do not deal with the vast universe and the development of the planet before life appeared. Once the long-term geological changes were completed God created the various kinds of life on planet earth. Albeit he is a retired geologist, Gray does not believe there are scientific problems with flood geology,.

Personally, I have great difficulty with the above approaches. Evolution, in the sense namely that large biological changes have taken place in geologic history (1), is as certain, it seems to me and many other creationists, as that the earth and its geologic strata are billions of years old (rather than thousands) and that the strata do provide a reliable history of this time-span. However, that is a discussion for another time.

Before we leave this part of the discussion of definitions, we need to look at the difference between an "historical" and a "laboratory" theory. Compared with other scientific theories, evolution definition (1)--large-scale biological change-is an "historical" theory like the big-bang origin of the universe, continental drift or climatic changes caused by long-term variations in the earth's orbit. An "historical" theory must be contrasted to a "laboratory" theory like electromagnetism, the germ theory of disease, or gravity. For instance, though there are many things we do not know about electromagnetism or gravity, the theories about them refer to currently occurring, short-term, repeatable phenomena. Gravity is a real, everyday part of our lives. So long as gravity itself is not viewed as changing character with time, it is a "laboratory" theory. You can go to a laboratory and recreate various phenomena related to gravity.

On the other hand, if you theorize about the long-term actions of gravity as it operates in the expansion of the universe or about the formation of stars then gravity must typically be considered a component of various particular "historical" theories of the development of the cosmos. We have no way by which we can go to a laboratory to recreate such events. We can only observe what we see with the instruments available and draw conclusions. If the theory provides a plausible explanation for such events it is a working "historical" theory. That is what the big-bang theory is all about. It works. It explains the observed phenomena, at least for now. You have my understanding of that in a previous paper ("Another Look At Genesis 1-2," August, 2000).

Definition 2) Evolution as Descent Through Common Ancestry

If you accept the geologic record as a history of biological life on earth covering more than a billion years (and not everyone does), it is easy to see how scientists can feel that descent with modification (2) has occurred. This is the mechanism Darwin proposed to explain similarities and differences among the finches and turtles that he studied on the Galapagos Islands. He called it natural selection, the survival of those more fit to function and reproduce in their particular environment. Yet a sequence of similar fossils is not the same thing as a genealogy. To say that one living animal descended from a similar one living earlier is still an inference. This is particularly so when the difference between the two animals is much greater than differences between known contemporary ancestor-descendant pairs. It is just as plausible to say that the apparent successor is an independent creation.

However, rather than accept the idea that God created a wide variety of animals on planet earth, some secular humanists theorize that life was brought to earth by extra-terrestrials. Stanley Kubrick popularized that idea back in 1968. Perhaps you recall his movies, 2001: A Space Odyssey and the sequel 2010 (1984). They are all about extra-terrestrials planting primitive life on earth. That life supposedly evolved to human life and then humans evolved the technology that led them out into the universe where further evolution takes place. The 1968 film received an academy award for special effects. In 1968 the 23 years to 2001 seemed like enough time to develop the film's suggested technology. Of course, the far-out idea that life on planet earth was planted by aliens only pushes the question off and still does not answer the question about the origin of life and the mechanism of its development. The concept that there is alien life out there pervades our culture to this day; witness more recent books and movies portraying the search for intelligent life in other parts of the universe. ET phone home!

But returning to the fossil record, note that if the gradations between successive fossils are sufficiently small, alternative suggestions about them being imported by aliens or created by God will surely look like nit picking or special pleading. In such a case evolutionists would be reasonable in feeling their theory of complex life evolving from simpler is far superior to its competitors. But, in fact, the gradations between successive fossils often are quite large, not small. In addition, such gaps or "missing links" do not appear to be randomly distributed through the biological classification scheme. Nor are links missing only at such places in the geologic column where we might assume a large amount of rock has been eroded away. Simpson pointed that out fifty years ago:

It remains true, as every paleontologist knows, that most new species, genera, and families, and nearly all categories above the level of families appear in the record suddenly and are not led up to by known, gradual, completely continuous transitional sequences. (Simpson, 1953, p. 360.)

Darwin felt the force of this argument. Many observers raised it against evolution from the first. Darwin hoped that such gaps would be filled-in as the fossil record was investigated. More than a century of further research, however, has not borne him out. Nor do the gaps appear to be a fluke due to the imperfection of the fossil record. Simpson again:

It is a fact that discontinuities are almost always and systematically present at the origin of really high categories, and, like any other systematic feature of the record, this requires explanation. (Simpson, 1953, p. 361.)

 In the 1930's and 40's Darwinism was modified in an attempt to explain these discontinuities. This modification was called the Neo-Darwinian theory (NDT), a modification of earlier Darwinism. This modification puts nearly all evolution in small isolated populations of plants or animals that evolved rapidly, rather than in the slow drift of large populations. The mechanism for this process is random mutation. The concept of mutation comes from some published experiments with peas by the 19th century Austrian Augustinian monk, Gregor Mendel (1822-1884). The Dutch botanist Hugo De Vries (1848-1935) later popularized his work. De Vries noted that inherited variations in plants could appear suddenly. He called these variations mutations. Mutations, however, are usually harmful to an organism. They are often lethal. So Darwinians needed some further modification to their theory to explain the development of life in a natural, mechanical survival-of-the-fittest way.

By the 1930's genes had been discovered, although their molecular structure was unknown. Neo-Darwinians knew that most observed mutations were harmful, but they decided that across the millennia some must have been beneficial. Now how should such beneficial mutations happen? They rejected changes in the environment. They needed some other mechanism that could directly produce changes in the genes. So they chose randomness as the source of the variations they needed. A beneficial variation or mutation that enhances the organism's ability to survive and reproduce may just happen by chance. Such a mutation is random; it just happens by chance. Random mutations may be rare. Even so, such variations will increase in number in the population by natural selection. Eventually, this random change will spread throughout the population.

This certainly sounds plausible. Single mutations just might establish themselves in a small population by statistical fluctuations. However, to get the kind of changes necessary to explain evolution several coordinated mutations in large populations needed to happen. Only thus could the chances of getting the needed additional mutations increase. This is purely an off the cuff proposal or even special pleading. There is no scientific basis whatsoever for it. Even as an "historical theory" it doesn't work, as we'll see in a moment.

Lee Spetner (Spetner, 1997) discusses the process that would need to happen if the random mutations of the Neo-Darwinian theory (NDT) were to produce the necessary changes to evolve a new species. After carefully examining the presuppositions in the theory he concludes, "on theoretical grounds random mutations cannot form the basis of evolution. The information of life could not have been built up the way the NDT says it was. Evolutionists have not succeeded in finding a random source of the variation that will make the NDT work. In the 1940's when we knew almost nothing of molecular biology, evolutionists were satisfied that the NDT could explain evolution. In the 1990's we know too much about molecular biology to be satisfied" (Spetner, 1998, p.120).

Besides physical similarity there is a strong biochemical resemblance among all living things. All living things are made up of many cells. Cells change and develop according to various programs built into each of them. Most of the developmental instructions in the cell are in small bodies called chromosomes. The DNA or deoxyribonucleic acid is that part of the chromosome that carries most of the information. The entire DNA in all the chromosomes of a cell is called the genome. The mapping of the human genome has just been completed and announced by molecular biologists. It has the potential of providing many benefits for us as we deal with diseases and birth defects.

The DNA is a polymer. That means it is a large molecule built from many similar small molecular units. It is like a chain and the small units are its links. The DNA in a single human chromosome, if it were straightened, could be as much as 10 centimeters long. All together the DNA in the nucleus of a single human cell would be more than a meter long. If all the copies of the DNA in all the cells of your body were straightened and laid end to end they would be 50 billion kilometers long.

The DNA is like a tape with information on it. The cell uses this information to make little machines and structural elements. These little molecular devices are called protein and ribonucleic acid or RNA. Like DNA, RNA is a polymer that carries information, but it is a single strand instead of a double one. Protein molecules are also polymers, chains whose links are small molecules of 10 to 30 atoms each. The links are known as amino acids. The same twenty amino acids occur throughout life on earth. And the same five bases comprise all DNA molecules. Protein sequences are also similar. To obtain a detailed discussion of this whole process in laymen's language I refer you to Spetner (chapter 2).

In general, the closer together two organisms are in the physical classification scheme, the more alike are their proteins. This certainly fits well with the proposal that living things are connected by descent from a common ancestor.

On the other hand, Denton (1986) has pointed out that the biochemical "relatedness" between various plants and animals is not what one would expect in a scheme of descent from a common ancestor. Instead, plants or animals in one large biological grouping appear to be equidistant from those in any other group, in spite of varying physical differences among themselves. For instance, the difference between the cytochrome C protein of a bacterium and any higher organism is essentially the same, whether the other organism is yeast, wheat, silk moth, tuna, pigeon or horse. Similarly, using this or other proteins, the difference between insects and vertebrates is the same, as though no one vertebrate is more closely related to invertebrates than another.

After giving numerous examples, Denton suggests that the old creationist theory of typologies (separate large categories or "kinds" in Genesis 1, which are not related by descent but by design) better fits the evidence here than does common descent. Neutral variation within a "type" or "kind" gives rise to relatedness patterns, yet between types one observes equally distinct protein sequences.

The evolutionary alternative, that all proteins mutate at essentially constant rates, so that every living thing diverges from every other at a uniform speed, seems incredible in view of the vastly different reproduction rates of (say) bacteria and humans.

Michael J. Behe (Behe, 1996) discusses similar things in chapters 3 to 6 of his book. He looks at irreducibly complex biochemical systems. He goes into a lot of detail to show why they could not be formed in a gradualist manner. There are just too many problems. He points out that there are many examples of irreducible complexity, including aspects of DNA replication, electron transport, telomere synthesis, photosynthesis, transcription regulation and more. Even systems that at first glance appear amenable to a gradualist approach turn out to be major headaches for Darwinism on closer inspection.

In this connection we can paraphrase the argument that Carl Sagan used to dismiss UFO sightings:

"There are no cases that are simultaneously very reliable" (a nice sequence of transitional fossils) "and very exotic" (a transition between upper levels of the biological classification scheme). (Sagan, 1975, p. 199.)

Then there is the obvious evidence from the fossil record of strong physical constancy in many species (the "equilibrium" in the Punctuated Equilibria scheme) over hundreds of millions of years. There is no apparent change for vast periods of time. Most species were static through millions of years, with rare but rapid episodes of speciation. Speciation is a term used to speak about the process by which new species are formed. Rather than adapt to new environments, the fossil record shows that species migrated back and forth in response to these new environments. New species did not evolve.

The evolutionary idea of constant change was a tradition inherited from Darwin known as phyletic gradualism. A phylum is a group or class of organisms, based upon certain principles of classification. Phyletic gradualism sought out the gradual transitions between species in the fossil record. They viewed species as part of a continuum of gradual change in anatomical characteristics through time. The classic metaphor showed each species as part of a bell-shaped frequency curve, with the mean shifting gradually up through time. Each species was thus an arbitrary slice through a continual lineage, and paleontologists agonized for years as to whether these arbitrary slices should be designated species. Indeed, this debate had its own label: "the species problem in paleontology."

On the other hand, the fossil record shows the sudden appearance of new species punctuated by long periods of species stability, or equilibrium. This is known as Punctuated Equilibria. The dynamics of complex systems in nature often occur in terms of punctuations, or avalanches, rather than following a smooth gradual path. Earthquakes, stock market crashes, and mass extinctions in biology are examples of such turbulent behavior. Because of this paleontologists are beginning to shed their subservience to biological evolution so that they may seek some other explanation for what is observed in the fossil record.

Definition 3) - Evolution as the Darwinian Mechanism of Mutation and Natural Selection.

Today NDT defines mutations as changes in the DNA of the organism caused by copying errors, genetic recombination or various other random disruptions. Of course Neo-Darwinians did not think originally think there was a problem with the probability of mutations. Recent discoveries about DNA, as I pointed out in the discussion of definition 2), are stretching to the breaking point the bond that holds the theory to the facts.

The mechanism of mutation and natural selection is generally recognized as actually functioning in the present to produce small changes in living things, such as the resistance of various insects to DDT and color variations in moths which enable them to make better use of tree bark as camouflage. The case of the peppered moths of Great Britain is often cited. However, as Spetner points out (p.67), the dark moths were living side by side as a small minority among the light colored ones in the population. This is a case of mutation within a species. It is not an example of random variation producing a new type of animal.

It appears that evolution in sense (3) is well established as an explanation of small-scale or micro-evolutionary changes. It sometimes leads to a new variety or even a new species. At this level, one can say that evolution (3) is a fact, or at least a "laboratory" theory describing currently occurring, short-term, repeatable phenomena.

But evolution (3) runs into serious problems on the macro-evolutionary level. Attempts to simulate the Darwinian mechanism by computer have not produced the desired result of generating new organizational structures. Instead random changes in the computer language simulating the DNA sequence have produced degradation rather than increasing order (Moorehead and Kaplan, 1967).

In addition, since transitional forms are systematically lacking in the fossil record, attempts have been made to reconstruct the pathways by which various plants and animals may have been derived from ancestors. In cases where a transition across a major subdivision of the biological classification scheme is involved, enormous problems have been encountered which raise the question whether such transitions could have occurred at all without a large number of coordinated mutations in a single generation.

Denton (1986) discusses a number of such examples, including the conversion of reptile scales to flight-functional bird feathers, the formation of a flow-through lung from a dead-end lung which breathes in and out, and most astonishingly, the construction of a rotary propulsion motor for bacteria! These items cannot fairly be described as the "finer details of how" evolution took place when they raise serious questions about whether evolution has taken place on the macro-evolutionary level at all.

Spetner (1997) points out that there is absolutely no direct experimental evidence of large-scale evolution. Among all the mutations that have been studied there aren't any known, clear examples of a mutation that has added genetic information to the DNA. In fact, as Spetner makes abundantly clear, this is not possible. Nor does anyone know of an inherent drive in living things toward greater complexity. If life as we know it today could evolve from some simpler forms, the evolutionary process must have built up a lot of information and complexity. Any theory that is supposed to explain Darwin's concept of descent must explain the lack of such a growth of information and complexity.

There is fossil evidence, but at best the fossils only show that there have been changes in living organisms in the past. They don't tell us how these changes took place. They don't even tell us that the later forms of life descended from the earlier forms. To say that they did descend is an inference that must depend on an "historical" theory and in the light of current evidence the "historical" theory of macro-evolution is in dire need of revision. It doesn't work as an explanation. It is not good science.

Comparing Evolution with other Scientific Theories

So, where does evolution stand as a scientific theory? As noted, it all depends on what is meant by evolution.

Taking evolution to mean merely biological change, everyone agrees that this is occurring today. The question is, how much has occurred over the history of life on earth? Those who accept the current scientific arguments for an earth several billion years old (as I and the original authors of this material do) see a large amount of change; those who see the earth as only a few thousand years old feel all this diversity existed at one time rather than developing over eons.

Evolution in the sense of vast biological change is a natural consequence of an old earth and a geologic record that accurately records the diversity of life at each period of earth's history. In sense (1) evolution is presumably only slightly less certain than an old earth and a corresponding geologic record. Taking evolution to mean descent from a common ancestor, everyone agrees that descendants come from ancestors and that some changes occur in the course of descent.

The question is, how much of the diversity in the fossil record is a result of descent and how much a result of (say) a common Intelligent Designer? The apparently systematic gaps in the fossil record between the higher levels of the biological classification scheme, especially when linked with the unusual biochemical spacing between various living things, present serious evidential challenges to gradualist forms of evolution at the macro-evolutionary level, including the Punctuated Equilibria theory as usually presented. This would put evolution (in this second sense) in the class of "historical" theories that are currently disputed-perhaps as the volcanic vs. meteoric origin of lunar craters was disputed before the first unmanned landings occurred. However, this certainly does not put such theories in the category of "laboratory theories" such as electromagnetism, gravity and the germ theory of disease. What a majority of scientists may believe in the matter should not be the issue if we follow the guidelines laid down in the California Science Framework Draft:

Students should be told about evidence and how scientists reached their conclusions, not whether scientists "believe" something or how many do or don't. Scientists no more "believe" in their findings than a Superior Court Judge "believes" in a verdict (State of California, 1989).

Take evolution to mean the Darwinian mechanism of random mutation and natural selection. Nearly everyone agrees that mutation and natural selection occur on the micro-evolutionary level. However, is this mechanism, however, adequate to explain the much larger diversity that we see at the upper levels of the biological classification scheme? Currently not! And that suggests that something rather different is at work on these levels. In this sense, it appears that evolution is an historical theory without an adequate known mechanism. It is really more like Everett's (1953) many-universes theory of quantum mechanics [which is the basis for Michael Crichton's recent popular science fiction novel Timeline] or like Norman and Setterfield's (1987) theory of a changing speed of light. It is much less like continental drift or climate change due to long-term variation in the earth's orbit.

 In closing, it is worth noting that proving the theory of evolution, even in most of its macro-evolutionary forms, would not disprove the existence of a Creator. For the demonstration of a "naturalistic" mechanism does not, in itself, exclude an Intelligent Designer who uses that mechanism as a tool to achieve certain purposes. On the other hand, in the light of current knowledge, Darwinism, including Neo-Darwinism is a failed scientific research program! It is not a well-supported scientific theory. Its power to explain how things came to be is severely limited. It fails abysmally when it tries to account for the grand sweep of natural history. Having said that, we need to acknowledge that it must remain possible and entirely permissible for a scientist to investigate "how God may have done it," without compromising either his religious convictions or his scientific credibility.

References

1. Committee on Science and Creationism, Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Science (Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1984), 6; emphasis in original.

2. Behe, Michael J. Darwin's Black Box (New York: Touchstone, 1996)

3. "Human Evolution," Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 2000. © 1993-1999 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

4. Davies, Paul and Brown, J., Eds The Ghost in the Atom: A Discussion of the Mysteries of Quantum Physics (New York: Cambridge, 1986).

5. Demski, William A. Intelligent Design (Downers Grove, Ill: Intervarsity Press, 1999).

6. Denton, M. Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (Bethesda, MD: Adler and Adler, 1986), 274-307.

7. Everett, H. "'Relative State' Formulation of Quantum Mechanics," Reviews of Modern Physics 29 (1953): 454-62.

8. Gray, Gorman. The Age of the Universe (Morning Star Publications, 2000).

9. Herbert, Nick. Quantum Reality (New York: Doubleday, 1985).

10. Moorehead, P.S. & Kaplan, M.M., Eds. Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution (Philadelphia: Wistar Institute Press, 1967).

11. Morris, Henry and Whitcomb, John. The Genesis Flood (The Institute for Creation Research, 1961).

12. Murphy, George L. "Lutherans and Evolution", Lutheran Forum Letter. Russell E. Saltzman, editor. Copyright 1999, American Lutheran Publicity Bureau."

13. Norman, T. & Setterfield, B. The Atomic Constants, Light, and Time (Menlo Park, CA: Stanford Research Institute International, 1987).

14. Sagan, C. The Cosmic Connection (New York: Dell, 1975), 199.

15. Simpson, G.G. The Major Features of Evolution (New York: Columbia University Press, 1953).

16. Spetner, Lee M. Not By Chance! (The Judaica Press, Inc., 1997).

17. State of California, Science Framework Draft (September, 1989), 14-15.

18. Thomson, K.S. "The Meaning of Evolution," American Scientist 70 (Sept-Oct 82): 529-31.

19. Wonderly, D.E. God's Time Records in Ancient Sediments (Flint, MI: Crystal Press, 1978).

20. Wonderly, D.E. Neglect of Geologic Data: Sedimentary Strata Compared with Young-Earth Creationist Writings (Hatfield, PA: IBRI, 1987).

21. Young, D.A. Creation and the Flood (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1977).

22. Young, D.A. Christianity and the Age of the Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1982).

23. Zimmerman, Paul A., "The Age of the Earth," Darwin, Evolution and Creation. Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, 1959.

This essay is partly based upon notes developed by Access Research Network: Evolution As A Scientific Theory

Copyright 1995 Robert C. Newman, John A. Bloom, Perry G. Phillips, and John C. Studenroth. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Original File Date: 9.2.95

Access Research Network is a non-profit 501©(3) organization dedicated to providing accessible information on science, technology and society. http://www.arn.org/

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