by Brad Nelson 11/17/13
I ready about half of Stephen Meyer’s Darwin’s Doubt this weekend as well as watched the documentary of the same title. Like most such efforts, Darwins’ Doubt is a weak apologetic for the idea of Intelligent Design. But this particular apologetic does raise serious questions regarding Darwinism.
First, let me tell you where I stand. The subject of the origin of life tends not to let the facts speak for themselves, and not just because the facts are relatively scarce. There are people on both sides of this issue who want a particular outcome, facts be darned. In the case of science (as we see with the global warming scam), many scientists are as zealous and dogmatic as the worst fundamentalist religious person in terms of being close-minded and simply demanding that Darwinism not be questioned lest (in their minds) it lead to religious considerations. Meyer recounts one such incident.
But as I see it, we’d be better off letting the chips fall where they may. No one should be threatened by an honest debating of the facts or an honest airing of philosophical differences, including one’s metaphysical presuppositions. In the case of Intelligent Design, it’s not enough to merely look at something as incredible as DNA or the mechanism of the cell and say “That is too incredible for natural processes to come up with that on its own.” Indeed, anyone who has looked at DNA and the mechanisms of cells will readily admit the miraculous nature of it, no matter how such things came to be.
But they did come to be. And the question is, just because we do not how they came to be, should we rightly invoke divine intervention? As Meyer points out in the book (or quotes from someone else), does it really matter if you say that god created a certain species, whether the mechanism is evolution or special creation?
My philosophical starting point is that God created the heavens and the earth. He created the laws of nature. And embedded in the laws of nature is the ability for all these amazing things to occur: electricity, magnetism, chemistry, quantum physics, etc. It is no less wondrous to me if God created species via Darwinian natural selection.
And we should probably get over some of our fear of that word. As I commonly put it, evolution via natural selection is little more than the idea of chemistry-over-time. And the idea of chemistry itself is not controversial. And DNA may be a wondrous molecule, but it is still a molecule and it is one that obviously and inherently is amenable to encoding vast amounts of data and allowing that data to change. The genes and all the wondrous proteins and cellular mechanisms show the deep power and wonder of chemistry, which is all built upon the foundational laws of physics, which is all based upon the Creative power that caused all that is to come to be. It is not blasphemous to suppose that there is evolution by natural selection any more than it is blasphemous to suppose there is such thing as continental drift. Just as geology has consequences (or, rather, interesting capabilities), so does chemistry.
And as we see in modern science, infested with Leftism and a hostility to even the barest amount of philosophy that doesn’t lead to a completely meaningless outlook on life, science itself is now biased toward a very particular and narrow metaphysical presupposition. And scientists tend to defend this outlook with all the gusto of the worst kind of priesthood. Oddly, in science today it is often more difficult to let facts speak for themselves than in the most fundamentalist religious community (which too much of science itself has become).
First, it should be said that to disprove all or part of Neo Darwinism is not in any way to give evidence for, or make the case stronger for, the idea of Intelligent Design. The only way that I can see to prove the idea of Intelligent Design is to get to the point where you can say, with certainty, that natural processes are incapable of evolving life. And at some point that might even be possible. But nature is full of surprises and we would be engaging in supreme hubris if we supposed that because we had encountered a deep problem that we must invoke (in the case of the creation of life) Special Creation.
On the case that Stephen Meyer makes for Intelligent Design in Darwins’ Doubt, I can only say that I am underwhelmed by that argument.
However, his critique of Darwinism is specific, protracted, and powerful. I came away from this book quite sure that Neo-Darwinism (or Old Darwinism, for that matter) is untenable. Yes, we surely evolve. But how? The model of the gradual accumulation of changes (via random mutations) that leads to new species (and eventually, given enough time, to new phylum) is totally blown apart by the fossil record, particularly the Cambrian Explosion.
What we have is a both a severe silence in the fossil record combined with a cacophony of noise a moment later. Remember, the theory of evolution by natural selection eschews fast-and-furious. The entire theory depends upon the accumulation of gradual changes. As Meyer quotes Darwin himself saying, anything else is little different from Special Creation.
For three billion years, the only life on earth was single-celled life: algae. A few sponges and other very very primitive lifeforms appear at the end of this period (the entire period being known as the Precambrian).
And then — within a span of 5 to 10 million years (which is a blink of the eye in terms of the theory of Darwinism or relative to the amount of time life has been on earth) — the fossil record shows the sudden appearance of various forms of complex life. There are 20 or so complete phylums seemingly created out of thin air, in the relative blink of an eye, a timescale much too short for the theory of evolution by natural selection to account for.
In this 5 to 10 million year span in the Cambrian (which followed the Precambrian), nearly all of life’s major body plans or general forms (phylum…the largest category just under Kingdom) came into being (with a few more added later). The creatures that appear in this very detailed (and high resolution, thanks to the fine-grained mud) fossil record are quite complex with compound eyes and various other features of what we would think of as highly evolved creatures. But before this sudden explosion in the fossil record in the Cambrian, there is silence. There are a few sponges and other strange (and very primitive) life forms but absolutely no evidence of any ancestral life forms. And Darwinism itself depends upon a steady string of them.
And the consternation this is causing committed Darwinists can be seen in the lame excuses made for this. “Oh, we haven’t searched enough. There are still fossils to be discovered.” Or, worst of all, they lie and say “The precursors of those Cambrian life forms are represented in the Precambrian fossils.”
But they’re not. There is only silence. We have in earth’s history 3 billion years of simple single-celled life and then — boom — we have nearly all the phylum (including chordates — us) being created seemingly out of thin air. I would still insist that there is a natural explanation for this. But even so, it’s obvious that the Cambrian Explosion blows a gaping hole in Darwinism.
That’s not to say that some new and better theory won’t come along to explain this. I expect that will be the case. But for now, Darwinism (much like global warming) is a crippled theory, buoyed up more by the zealousness of its adherents than by the evidence.
Now that is not to say the evolution does not occur. Clearly the fossil record does show this. But the idea of a steady, slow evolution via natural selection is blown apart because, well, that’s not what happened.
Meyer also notes that this sudden appearance of nearly all the major phylum in a brief 5 to 10 million years span in the Cambrian puts on its head Darwin’s idea of a “tree of life.” In that iconic “tree of life,” there would be a gradual branching off as new species arise. Over time, species would become so remote from other species on other branches of the tree of life that entirely new phylum would be created. But what we instead have is all the major phylum being created in a relative blink of the eye and then diversification inside of the phylum, but no mixing between the phylum. There is no tree. It’s all more a a series of vertical shafts. It’s top-down rather than bottom-up.
And Meyer shows how the latest science that has been done cannot show any kind of logical “tree of life.” If you base that tree on outer forms, you get one kind of tree. If you base it on a specific few genes, you get another. If you base it upon some other set of genes, you get still another. There is no clean, logical, and inevitable branching structure. What we instead almost assuredly have is the idea of the “tree of life” being more of a man-made creation.
Darwin understood the problem of the Cambrian Explosion and understood that if this wasn’t resolved that his theory would be shattered. It was just assumed at the time that this issue would resolve itself, that there were large missing parts of the fossil record and/or that the precursor life forms that predated the Cambrian would all necessarily be soft-bodied and thus the fossil record could not preserve the evidence.
These ideas are blown apart because actual and minute eight-celled sponge embryos have been found in Precambrian layers. Those layers are indeed capable of preserving soft-bodied creatures. But those layers are missing all of the supposed precursors (or earlier forms) of the Cambrian life forms that, according to Darwin’s theory, must exist. Neo Darwinism is based upon the idea that natural selection (fueled by occasional mutations) add up over time and create new species. But there is no mechanism or theory in this for the kind of rapid change that took place in the Cambrian.
But clearly that life did arise, and I’m going to assume it arose by natural processes. Much of Meyer’s book is dedicated to explaining how difficult, if not impossible, it is for random genetic changes to create new proteins. And it is new proteins that ultimately are the smallest unit that can be selected for via natural selection. DNA codes for the chain of amino acids that make up proteins. And proteins are the mini factories or orchestrators of all cellular functions. If natural selection cannot create new proteins, then Neo Darwinism is stillborn.
I found this part of the book to be intriguing and yet, well, certainly those complex proteins were built somehow and I’m not ready to say that the hand of god intervened. And yet the latest research does strongly suggest that mere random mutations can in no way account for creating new information encoded into DNA for the creation of new proteins. So we are indeed left with much doubt about current theories. Hopefully the answers will be forthcoming and will be as marvelous as they surely must be, whatever the explanation.