Skip to comments.National Geographic Ignores The Flaws in Darwin's Theory
Posted on 11/09/2004 11:21:22 AM PST by Michael_Michaelangelo
Was Darwin wrong?
In the November 2004 issue of National Geographic, David Quammen answers this question with a resounding "NO. The evidence for Evolution is overwhelming."
In Quammen's view, most people who reject Darwin's theory of evolution do so out of ignorance, so he proceeds to lay out some of the evidence for it. But the evidence he lays out is exaggerated, and the problems with it are ignored.
Quammen explains that Darwin's theory has two aspects: the "historical phenomenon" that all species of living things are descended from common ancestors, and "the main mechanism causing that phenomenon," which is natural selection. The evidence presented by Darwin, he continues, "mostly fell within four categories: biogeography, paleontology, embryology, and morphology."
The first category includes evidence from similar species in neighboring habitats, such as finches on the Galápagos Islands; the second includes evidence from the fossil record, such as extinct horse-like animals that preceded modern horses; and the third includes evidence from similarities in early embryos that supposedly point to their common ancestry.
All three categories are rife with problems that Quammen overlooks. For example, the Galápagos finch story is complicated by the fact that many of what were originally thought to be thirteen species are now interbreeding with each other -- even though Darwinian theory regards inability to interbreed as the distinguishing feature of separate species.
The fossil record of horses is also much more complicated than Quammen makes it out to be; actually, it looks like a tangled bush with separate branches rather than a straight line of ancestors and descendants. Even worse, Quammen ignores the Cambrian explosion, in which many of the major groups ("phyla") of animals appeared in a geologically short time with no fossil evidence of common ancestry -- a fact that Darwin himself considered a "serious" problem that "may be truly urged as a valid argument against" his theory.
Finally, embryos fail to show what Darwin thought they showed. According to Quammen, the evidence for evolution includes "revealing stages of development (echoing earlier stages of evolutionary history) that embryos pass through before birth or hatching." Darwin (as quoted by Quammen) thought "the embryo is the animal in its less modified state," a state that "reveals the structure of its progenitor." This idea -- that embryos pass through earlier stages of their evolutionary history and thereby show us their ancestors -- is a restatement of German Darwinist Ernst Haeckel's notorious "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny," a false doctrine that knowledgeable experts discarded over a century ago.
It is actually Quammen's fourth category, morphology (i.e., anatomical shape), which Darwin himself (as quoted by Quammen) called the 'very soul' of natural history, that provides the basis for the other three. In each category, similarity in morphology ("homology") is interpreted as evidence for evolutionary relatedness. According to Darwin, features in different organisms are homologous because they were inherited from a common ancestor through a process he called "descent with modification."
The biologists who described homology a decade before Darwin, however, attributed it to construction or creation on a common archetype or design. How can one determine whether homology in living things comes from common ancestry or common design? Simply pointing to the similarities themselves won't do, as biologist Tim Berra inadvertently showed when he used different models of Corvette automobiles to illustrate descent with modification in his 1990 book, Evolution and the Myth of Creationism. Although Berra wrote that "descent with modification is overwhelmingly obvious" in Corvettes, we all know that automobile similarities are due to common design rather than common ancestry. Only by demonstrating that a Corvette can morph into another model by natural processes could someone rule out the need for a designer. Similarly, the only scientific way to demonstrate that similarities in living things are due to common ancestry would be to identify the natural mechanism that produced them. According to Darwin's theory, that mechanism is natural selection.
So the four categories of evidence on which Darwin relied to support his theory of the historical phenomenon of evolution rely, in turn, on his theory about the mechanism of evolution. But what is the evidence for Darwin's mechanism?
The principal evidence Quammen cites is antibiotic resistance. "There's no better or more immediate evidence supporting the Darwinian theory," Quammen writes, "than this process of forced transformation among our inimical germs." Perhaps so; but then Darwin's theory is in serious trouble. Antibiotic resistance involves only minor changes within existing species. In plants and animals, such changes had been known for centuries before Darwin. Nobody doubts that they can occur, or that they can be produced by selection. But Darwin claimed much more, namely, that the process of selection could produce new species -- indeed, all species after the first. That's why Darwin titled his magnum opus The Origin of Species, not How Existing Species Change Over Time.
Yet no one has ever observed the origin of a new species by selection, natural or otherwise. Bacteria should be the easiest organisms in which to observe this, because bacteria can produce thousands of generations in a matter of months, and they can be subjected to powerful mutation-causing agents and intense selection. Nevertheless, in over a century of research no new species of bacteria have emerged. Quammen cites Darwinian biologists who claim to have produced "incipient species," but this merely refers to different strains of the same species that the researchers believe -- on theoretical grounds -- might eventually become new species. When the truth of the theory itself is at stake, such a theoretical extrapolation hardly constitutes "overwhelming evidence" for it.
So the evidence Quammen presents for Darwin's theory falls far short of confirming it. Biogeography, paleontology, embryology and morphology all rely on homologies, and the only way to determine whether homologies are due to common descent rather than common design is to provide a natural mechanism. Yet Darwin's mechanism, natural selection, has never been observed to produce a single new species. Scientific theories (Quammen acknowledges) should not be accepted as a matter of faith, but only on the basis of evidence. And given the evidence, any rational person is justified in doubting the truth of Darwin's theory.
As Quammen points out at the beginning of his article, public opinion polls conducted over the past twenty years have consistently shown that only about 12% of Americans accept Darwin's theory that "humans evolved from other life-forms without any involvement of a god." The reference to "god" is significant, because it shows that science is not the only thing at stake here: Darwinism also makes religious and philosophical claims. Most importantly, Darwinism is committed to naturalism, the philosophy that nature is all that exists and God is imaginary -- or at least unnecessary. It is not surprising, then, that many people reject Darwinism on religious grounds. Nevertheless, Quammen maintains, most Americans are antievolutionists only because of "confusion and ignorance," because "they have never taken a biology course that deals with evolution nor read a book in which the theory was lucidly described."
As someone with a Berkeley Ph.D. in biology, I dispute Quammen's characterization of Darwin's doubters as confused and ignorant. On the contrary, Quammen's article makes it abundantly clear why it is quite reasonable to doubt Darwinism: The evidence for it is "underwhelming," at best.
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires every state to formulate standards for science education. As a guide to interpreting the law, Congress also passed a Conference Report recognizing "that a quality science education should prepare students to distinguish the data and testable theories of science from religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science. Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society.''
In other words, students should be encouraged to distinguish the actual evidence for Darwin's theory from the naturalistic philosophy that accompanies it. Furthermore, students should be taught not only the evidence for the theory, but also why much of that evidence is controversial. Congress recommends this; the American people overwhelmingly support it; and good science demands it.
Quammen claims that evolution is "more crucial nowadays to human welfare, to medical science, and to our understanding of the world, than ever before." Yet no country in history has made more contributions to human welfare and medical science than America. Is it just a coincidence that the vast majority of citizens in the most scientifically successful nation on Earth are skeptical of Darwin's theory? I think not. As a scientist myself, it seems to me that a healthy skepticism is essential to good science. This caveat applies to all theories, including Darwin's.
If Quammen's article had accurately presented not only the evidence for Darwin's theory, but also the problems with that evidence, it might have made a valuable contribution to scientific literacy in America. As it stands, however, the article is nothing more than a beautifully illustrated propaganda piece. The readers of National Geographic deserve better.
Jonathan Wells, Ph.D. Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture Discovery Institute
Variance is real, but you can't tell me that evolution can be proven within a lab. No one knows how new species are created. That is the only fact I can see in this thread.
Why should National Geographic be any different?
Darwin never met a DEM. If he had there's no telling what theories he would have proposed.
The theory of the evolution of life is independent of the question of whether there is a God, but can be related.
Many Creationists reject biological evolution out of hand due to their perception that evolution excludes God, which is not true.
Atheists like to discuss evolution, establish their case, then slide into philosophical evolution which does exclude god.
Both are not logical necesities, and the latter is blatantly fraudulent.
"inanimate things somehow come to life ping"
Of course they do. Look at kerry.
Darwinism is a fideistic religion.
Thanks for the ping, but at this stage I'm inclined to leave this thread to the creos. We've got several other threads going at the moment.
You gotta believe in something why not evolution?.. Calling it science is the rub though.. Two faith believers arguing their faiths is entertaining but not science. Unless "science" is your faith, some do that also... Like most democrats have faith in the democrat party.. no "facts" are good enough to shake that faith..
Its all a matter of what you have faith in.. "The facts maam, only the facts", is a rare event.. Columbo must have been a republican, a TV police show republican.. Since most republicans are ex-democrats still hampered by their "faiths" whatever they might be..
Hell... it takes faith to get into your car and actually expect to arrive at point B from point A.. Its takes a measure of faith or you wouldn't even get into that rolling coffin.. fergitabout an airplane ride.. that take serious faith..
But thats coming a guy that don't believe in miracles..
I RELY ON THEM...
I had 31 years in, but the Global Warming and "FARC is Wonderful" articles did it for me.
I wonder how many other long-time subscribers are dropping the magazine, and if they are recruiting enough new Green Party activist readers to make up the difference?
The real issue isn't idea of evolution per se, but rather the idea of evolution as mediated solely by the concept of Natural Selection ("survival of the fittest").
I believe Natural Selection plays a small part in the process of evolution, a very small part.
Obviously, there are greater things going on behind the scenes...
A showcase! "Your kids could be learning THIS instead of real biology!"
Did I ever say it wasn't plausible? Even with all of your fancy words and big sentences, you never showed me where evolution is FACT. Is it plausible? Of course. Is it the most plausible explanation available scientifically. Sure. Problem is, it is unproven scientifically to my satisfaction for me to call it a FACT. And the fact is, there are many scientists who won't go so far as to call evolution the FACTUAL reason for life on this planet.
Religion is a matter of faith.
I see no intersection between the two,
The science of philosophy is superior to the natural sciences, since it defines what constitutes natural science. And philosophy is the handmaid of theology.
Modern "science" is based on several metaphysical assumptions that derive from Christian philosophy. These assumptions include the idea that the universe is governed by predictable natural laws, that human observers can trust the evidence of their senses, that the universe had a beginning in history and that events proceed forward from cause to effect (the universe doesn't exist in an eternal cycle).
It is for this reason that modern science arose from medieval Scholastic philosophy. Its birth can be traced to the formal promulgation of the doctrine of "creation from nothing" by the Fourth Lateran Council in the year 1250 AD. Newtonian physics followed shortly thereafter.
See Stanley Jaki's Science and Creation.
Why Catholics Like Einstein
George Sim Johnston
Science is mankind's great success story since the Renaissance. Only the most obdurate Luddite can regret the computer chip, the Hubble telescope, and the heart bypass. But these material triumphs have come at a philosophical cost. The scientific method has been so successful in its own sphere that many intelligent people think it the only valid expression of knowledge. From this perspective, Christian belief appears as a relic of the dark benighted ages, when men still hearkened to the powers and principalities of the air.
G. K. Chesterton, as usual, diagnosed the psychological flaw of scientific triumphalism: People who don't believe in God don't believe in nothing: they will believe in anything. The dogmas of faith have been replaced by the dogmas of materialism. Modern belief-systems like Marxism and Darwinism boil down to a single unproved, and unprovable, proposition: that all phenomena, including Homo sapiens, can be explained entirely by natural science. This core dogma of post-Christianity allows the famous rhetorical question of physicist Stephen Hawking: What need, then, for a Creator?
This sort of materialism is extremely old-fashioned. It ignores virtually everything we've learned about the universe since the nineteenth century. Why do so many scientists embrace it? The answer is simple: Scratch a physicist like Hawking who says that science has dispensed with a Creator, and you will find a person who won't do science without first putting on philosophical blinders. You'll also find a refusal to heed a simple ground rule: Science, being a description of nature, can have nothing to say about what, if anything, is outside of nature.
Far from being intimidated by science, Christians ought to rejoice in the fact that modern science points strongly in the direction of a Creator. They also ought to be aware of a simple historical fact that is seldom broached in textbooks: without Christianity there would be no science in the first place. As Stanley Jaki, the physicist and Benedictine priest, has brilliantly shown in books like The Savior of Science, science was "still-born" in every culture - Greek, Hindu, Chinese - except the Christian West. Science is a precarious enterprise that cannot get off the ground unless first given permission by philosophers and theologians. And this permission has been granted but once in history: by the great Catholic thinkers of the Middle Ages.
What is it about Christianity, and medieval scholasticism in particular, that paved the way for Newton and Einstein? First, the belief that the universe is rational. It was created, after all, through the Word, the divine Logos, which is rationality itself. When we read pagan accounts of the origin of the world, we find nothing but chaos. In the ancient Babylonian account, the universe, instead of being the deliberate act of an all-wise Creator, is the accidental byproduct of a drunken orgy. The Greek gods are somewhat more decorous, but even they decide things mainly by argument and deception - not by a single, definitive fiat.
Second, the Catholic philosophers of the Middle Ages formulated a realist metaphysics, without which science is impossible. Catholics believe in the reality of matter; the physical world is not simply a veil of illusions, as the Eastern religions would have it, but an order of being that has its own dignity and built-in laws. Buddhist science for this reason is a nonstarter.
Third, Christians believe that history is linear and not, as Eastern religions hold, cyclical. Only a universe with a beginning, middle, and end is hospitable to irreversible physical processes like the second law of thermodynamics. The work of Newton and Einstein would have been impossible without this simple assumption.
Since Western science owes its existence to the realism of Catholic metaphysics, how did the situation arise where educated people assume that science and Catholic dogma are antagonistic? The answer is simple: Galileo. Galileo is one of those hot button words, like Inquisition, which are used to end any discussion about the compatibility of Catholicism and human progress. There are even educated Catholics who wish that the whole sorry episode surrounding that great scientist could be swept under a rug and forgotten.
This is not, however, the attitude of Pope John Paul II, who has a keen interest in modern science. Shortly after becoming pope, he established a commission to look into the Galileo affair. The commission's report affirmed that Church authorities in the seventeenth century had indeed gravely violated Galileo's rights as a scientist; but it also interestingly supported the anti-Catholic Victorian biologist Thomas Henry Huxley, who examined the Galileo case and reluctantly concluded that "the Church had the best of it."
The great irony of the Galileo affair is that until Galileo forced the issue into the realm of theology, the Church had been a willing ombudsman for the new astronomy that emerged in the sixteenth century. In 1543, Nicolai Copernicus, a Polish canon and devout Catholic, published his epochal book supporting the heliocentric (earth around the sun) model at the urging of two Catholic prelates, dedicating it to Pope Paul III, who received it cordially.
If the issue had remained purely scientific, Church authorities would have shrugged it off. Galileo's mistake was to push the debate onto theological grounds. Galileo told the Church: Either support the heliocentric model as a fact (even though not proven) or condemn it. He refused the reasonable middle ground offered by Cardinal Bellarmine: You are welcome to hold the Copernican model as a hypothesis; you may even assert that it is superior to the old Ptolemaic model; but don't tell us to reinterpret Scripture until you have proof.
Galileo's response was his theory of the tides, which purported to show that the tides are caused by the earth's rotation. Even some of Galileo's supporters could see that this was nonsense. Also, ignoring the work of Kepler, he insisted that the planets go around the earth in perfect circles, which the Jesuit astronomers could plainly see was untenable. In fact, the Copernican system was not strictly "proved" until 1838, when Friedrich Bessel succeeded in determining the parallax of star 61 Cygni.
The real issue in the Galileo affair was the literal interpretation of Scripture. In 1616, the year of Galileo's first trial, there was precious little elasticity in Catholic biblical theology. But this was also the case with the Protestants: Luther and Melanchthon had vehemently opposed the heliocentric model on scriptural grounds. Another irony of the affair, pointed out by John Paul II, is that Galileo's argument that Scripture makes use of figurative language and is meant to teach "how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go" was eventually taught by two great papal encyclicals, Leo XIII's Providentissumus Deus (1893) and Pius XII's Divino Afflante Spiritu (1943).
There are fundamentalists out there, Protestant and Catholic, who do not understand this simple point: Scripture does not teach science. The Book of Genesis was written in the archaic, prescientific idiom of the ancient Palestinians. The author of Genesis could not have told us that the universe is twelve billion years old, because the ancient Hebrews did not have a word for one billion, and even if they had the fact is hardly necessary for our salvation.
If the universe were roughly 6,000 years old, as a literal reading of Genesis would suggest, then we would not be able to see the Milky Way. The light would not have reached the earth yet.
As Catholics, we must believe that every word of Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit, a claim the Church won't make even for ex cathedra pronouncements. But we must not think of the sacred writers as going into a trance and taking automatic dictation in a pure language untouched by historical contingency. Rather, God made full use of the writers' habits of mind and expression. It's the old mystery of grace and human freedom.
Once we understand how to read Scripture, the vexed subject of evolution should not present a problem. That evolution per se is not an issue for Catholics was made clear by John Paul II during a brilliant series of catechetical talks on creation at his Wednesday audiences in 1986:
The theory of natural evolution, understood in a sense that does not exclude divine causality, is not in principle opposed to the truth about the creation of the visible world as presented in the Book of Genesis. . . . It must, however, be added that this hypothesis proposes only a probability, not a scientific certainty. . . . it is possible that the human body has evolved from antecedent living beings.
The pope got it exactly right. Not only is Darwinism not proved, almost every aspect of it is currently subject to a heated debate among geneticists and paleontologists. Darwin's model of gradual evolution does not square with the fossils, which show species appearing fully formed, staying around for a million years or whatever, and then suddenly disappearing (99 out of 100 known species are extinct). There are no transitional forms between any of the major animal groups, and even in "thought experiments," smooth intermediates between, say, reptiles and birds are almost impossible to construct.
Darwinism also does not square with breeding experiments; dogs remain dogs, fruit flies remain fruit flies. While DNA allows a certain elasticity in a species for ecological adjustment, it programs living things to remain stubbornly what they are. The essence of Darwinism is the unwarranted extrapolation of the small changes that happen all the time within species into the really big jumps (reptile to bird); as any statistician will tell you, extrapolation is a dangerous business, and in the case of Darwin it goes flat against the evidence.
The earth is roughly 4.5 billion years old. Bacteria appeared 3 billion years ago, followed by blue-green algae and a few oddities. Then, 530 million years ago, came biology's Big Bang: the Cambrian explosion. There was a sudden profusion of complex life-forms - mollusks, jellyfish, trilobites, chordates - for which there are no discernible ancestors in the rocks. A man from Mars looking at the subsequent fossil record would say that species are replaced by other species, rather than evolve into them. Primates as a class appear out of nowhere; Homo sapiens also makes an abrupt arrival, fully equipped with a will, intellect, and language - capabilities simply not found in apes.
Thus far, there is no coherent scientific explanation of how all this happened. But you have to go outside the Anglo-Saxon countries, where Darwin is dogma, to find honest admissions of this. The late Pierre P. Grasse, the most eminent French biologist of his generation, called himself an "evolutionist" on the basis that all life-forms share certain genetic material, but he was frankly agnostic about how the higher life-forms came about. He dismissed Darwinism as a "pseudo-science" and ended his book on evolution with the admission that on the question of origins, "Science, impotent, yields the floor to metaphysics."
Whatever their differences, Darwin's staunchest defenders - John Maynard Smith, Richard Dawkins, E. O. Wilson, Stephen Jay Gould - are all hostile to religion. Dawkins's remark that Darwin made atheism intellectually respectable is typical. If you cut through all the verbal camouflage, the basic argument of the Darwinist camp is, "There is no God, therefore it had to be this way." But this is ideology, not science. Darwinism - like Marxism and Freudianism - has too many philosophical additives to be fully trusted as a science.
Evolutionary materialism has a serious flaw that is never acknowledged by its proponents. If man is no more than an accidental collation of atoms, a product of blind material forces that did not have him in mind, then humans do not possess a free will. If this is so, we cannot trust any products of the human intellect, including books by Darwinists. This is the Achilles' Heel of all materialist philosophies; their truth claims are self-canceling because they downgrade human consciousness to an epiphenomenon of matter. Walker Percy's remark that Darwin's Origin of Species explains everything except Darwin writing Origin of Species neatly summarizes the problem.
Darwin's real motive, as revealed by notebooks not published until the 1970s, was to get rid of a Creator, a motive he shares with modern cosmologists like Hawking and Steven Weinberg. And creation is an unsettling idea. The notion that the universe had a beginning ex nihilo is one of the most radical concepts introduced by Christianity into the mind of the West. The Fourth Lateran Council defined it as dogma in 1215. It's an idea that would have scandalized an ancient Greek, who thought matter eternal, as much as a nineteenth century positivist. Today, the fact that the universe had a beginning with, and not in, time is a commonplace of astrophysics.
When Einstein formulated the General Theory of Relativity, which deals with gravity and the curvature of space, he was perturbed that his equations showed an expanding universe, which points to its beginning. So he introduced a fudge factor, the "cosmological constant," to keep the cosmos static. He later called this "the biggest mistake of my life." When Edwin Hubble, the American astronomer, published data in 1931 showing that the universe was indeed expanding, Einstein finally accepted "the need for a beginning." When in 1964 two scientists from Bell Labs accidentally discovered the three-degree background radiation throughout the entire universe, which can only be explained as a remnant of a super-heated Big Bang, modern cosmology came of age - and found Catholic metaphysics and theology waiting there all along.
The universe began with an "initial singularity": all matter was packed into an infinitely dense space. The Big Bang, which may have occurred twelve billion years ago, must not be pictured as the expansion of matter within already existing space; space, time, and matter came into existence simultaneously, a fact that would not have surprised St. Augustine. What Stanley Jaki calls the "specificity" of the formation of the universe is breathtaking. If the cosmic expansion had been a fraction less intense, it would have imploded billions of years ago; a fraction more intense, and the galaxies would not have formed. Picture a wall with thousands of dials; each must be at exactly the right setting - within a toleration of millionths - in order for carbon-based life to eventually emerge in a suburb of the Milky Way. You cannot help but think of a Creator.
Einstein's universe, which is finite and highly specific, presents an enormous opportunity for the rearticulation of the cosmological argument for the existence of God. Although the universe points strongly to its dependence on a Creator, Catholics have to be careful not to fall into the trap of "creation science." Creation is a strictly philosophical concept; it has nothing to do with empirical science, which deals only with quantitative nature. It's difficult to say who turns themselves into the biggest pretzel: creationists trying to fit science into a biblical template, or agnostic scientists trying to avoid the existence of a personal God.
Putting God in the gaps unexplained by science has always been a mistake, because science eventually fills those gaps with material explanations. An enlightened Catholic view of science must be anchored in the proposition that God delights to work through secondary causes. God concedes an enormous degree of causality to his creation, and we ought to be in awe as science explains more and more of it. At the same time, we ought to remind those who will listen to us that the universe will never finally explain itself. Modern cosmology will reach its final maturity only when it makes that admission.
Yeah. Here's a glimpse of what it would be like if the Dark Ages had never ended.
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