Darwinism: Science or Wishful Thinking?

creation Darwinism and neo-Darwinism as generally held carry with them an a priori commitment to metaphysical naturalism, which is essential to make a convincing case on behalf of Darwinists and neo-Darwinists writes Dovari Sudhakar.


What is Darwinism? 

For the uninitiated, Darwinism tries to answer two very different kinds of questions. First, Darwinian Theory tells us how a certain amount of diversity in life forms can develop once we have various types of complex living organisms already in existence. If a small population of birds happens to migrate to an isolated island, for example, a combination of inbreeding, mutation, and natural selection may cause this isolated population to develop different characteristics from those possessed by the ancestral population on the mainland. When the theory is understood in this limited sense, Darwinian evolution is uncontroversial. 

Evolutionary biologists are not content merely to explain how variation occurs within limits, however. They aspire to answer a much broader question – which is, how complex organisms like birds, and flowers, and human beings came into existence in the first place. The Darwinian answer to this second question is that the creative force that produced complex plants and animals from single-celled predecessors over long stretches of geological time is essentially the same as the mechanism that produces variations in flowers, insects, and domestic animals before our very eyes.

In the words of Ernst Mayr, the dean of living Darwinists, "transspecific evolution [i.e., macroevolution] is nothing but an extrapolation and magnification of the events that take place within populations and species."1 

Neo-Darwinian evolution in this broad sense is a philosophical doctrine so lacking in empirical support that Mayr's successor at Harvard, Stephen Jay Gould, once pronounced it in a reckless moment to be "effectively dead." Yet neo-Darwinism is far from dead; on the contrary, it is continually proclaimed in the textbooks and the media as unchallengeable fact. 

Metaphysical Assumptions 

Darwinism and neo-Darwinism as generally held carry with them an a priori commitment to metaphysical naturalism, which is essential to make a convincing case on behalf of Darwinists and neo-Darwinists. Ruse, a professor of zoology and philosophy of science at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, was a key speaker at a seminar convened to debunk "The New Creationism." Ruse had specifically been asked to "refute Phillip Johnson's book, Darwin on Trial." (Intervarsity Press, 1991.)

Instead, he shocked his colleagues by endorsing one of its key points: that Darwinian doctrines are ultimately based as much on "philosophical assumptions" as on scientific evidence. Assuring his audience, "I'm no less of an evolutionist now than I ever was," Ruse nevertheless explained that he had given fresh consideration to Johnson's thesis that Ruse himself, as "an evolutionist, is metaphysically based at some level just as much as . . . some creationist. . . . I must confess, in the ten years since I . . . appeared in the Creationism Trial in Arkansas . . . I've been coming to this kind of position myself."2

 Darwinists assume as a matter of first principle that the history of the cosmos and its life forms is fully explicable on naturalistic principles. This reflects a philosophical doctrine called scientific naturalism, which is said to be a necessary consequence of the inherent limitations of science. What scientific naturalism does, however, is to transform the limitations of science into limitations upon reality, in the interest of maximizing the explanatory power of science and its practitioners.

It is, of course, entirely possible to study organisms scientifically on the premise that they were all created by God, just as scientists study airplanes and even works of art without denying that these objects are intelligently designed. The problem with allowing God a role in the history of life is not that science would cease, but rather that scientists would have to acknowledge the existence of something important which is outside the boundaries of natural science.

For scientists who want to be able to explain everything-and "theories of everything" are now openly anticipated in the scientific literature – this is an intolerable possibility. The second feature of scientific naturalism that is important for our purpose is its set of rules governing the criticism and replacement of a paradigm. A paradigm is a general theory, like the Darwinian theory of evolution, which has achieved general acceptance in the scientific community. The paradigm unifies the various specialties that make up the research community, and guides research in all of them. Thus, zoologists, botanists, geneticists, molecular biologists, and paleontologists all see their research as aimed at filling out the details of the Darwinian paradigm.

If molecular biologists see a pattern of apparently neutral mutations, which have no apparent effect on an organism's fitness, they must find a way to reconcile their findings with the paradigm's requirement that natural selection guides evolution. This they can do by postulating a sufficient quantity of invisible adaptive mutations, which are deemed to be accumulated by natural selection. Similarly, if paleontologists see new fossil species appearing suddenly in the fossil record, and remaining basically unchanged thereafter, they must perform whatever contortions are necessary to force this recalcitrant evidence into a model of incremental change through the accumulation of micromutations.3 

Supporting the paradigm may even require what in other contexts would be called deception. As Niles Eldredge candidly admitted, "We paleontologists have said that the history of life supports [the story of gradual adaptive change], all the while knowing it does not."4  

Eldredge explained that this pattern of misrepresentation occurred because of "the certainty so characteristic of evolutionary ranks since the late 1940s, the utter assurance not only that natural selection operates in nature, but that we know precisely how it works." This certainty produced a degree of dogmatism that Eldredge says resulted in the relegation to the "lunatic fringe" of paleontologists who reported that "they saw something out of kilter between contemporary evolutionary theory, on the one hand, and patterns of change in the fossil record on the other."5

Under the circumstances, prudent paleontologists understandably swallowed their doubts and supported the ruling ideology. To abandon the paradigm would be to abandon the scientific community; to ignore the paradigm and just gather the facts would be to earn the demeaning label of "stamp collector." It is religion in the name of science, and that means that it is misleading people about both religion and science. 

Paleontoloical facts 

Science is all about facts, hard facts. If a scientific theory does not fit the facts it is discarded. The fossil record still does not speak into the evolutionary hypothesis. China’s rich cache of fossils provides paleontologists with a window to the time in Earth’s history when complex animal life first appeared. As scientists peer through this window, they see a scene that defies naturalistic explanation.

The fossils discovered in China, along with those in British Columbia and elsewhere, present an unexpected picture: nearly every animal phylum ever to exist in Earth’s history appeared suddenly about 540 million years ago.6 A phylum refers to the level in the biological classification system describing an organism’s body plan or architectural makeup. Some paleontologists report that more than seventy animal phyla (strictly marine animals) appeared in less than 2-3 million years. Scientists refer to this dramatic introduction of animal phyla as the Cambrian Explosion—biology’s “big bang.” Paleontologists had thought the Cambrian event involved only invertebrates (organisms lacking a backbone). However, the recent discovery of jawless vertebrates from the lower (earlier) Cambrian deposits in China changed their view. Researchers must now account for the simultaneous appearance of both groups.7 

The phylum Chordata holds special interest for paleontologists researching the origin of animal life. Chordates include all vertebrates (fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals) and some invertebrates. To understand the origin of chordates, therefore, is to understand the beginning of some of the most important organisms in Earth’s history.

For this reason, evolutionary biologists peer eagerly through this window of time. They especially hope to see the connection between chordates and the other invertebrate phyla. According to the most widely accepted evolutionary model, echinoderms (sea stars, sea cucumbers, etc.) gave rise to chordates (and to hemichordates, as an evolutionary side-branch).8

This model posits that a sessile (attached to the seafloor) echinoderm brought forth a sessile chordate (classified as a urochordate), similar to modern-day tunicates (sessile invertebrates with a free-swimming larval form). The urochordate then gave rise to a free-swimming cephalochordate, which in turn produced jawless vertebrates, followed by jawed vertebrates. 

The prediction for the fossil record, in light of the evolutionary model for chordate origins, calls for echinoderms, urochordates, hemichordates, cephalochordates, jawless vertebrates, and jawed vertebrates to appear sequentially. Given the extensive differences among these groups, their first occurrence in the fossil record should be separated by long time periods, much longer than the 2-3 million years shown by the Cambrian Explosion. The China discoveries show, instead, the co-existence of echinoderms, hermichordates, cephalochordates, and jawless vertebrates in the earliest part of the Cambrian era.9

And now Chinese paleontologists have added urochordates to this list with the discovery of a tunicate in lower (earlier) Cambrian rocks.10

Before the Cambrian era, no such animal groups existed on Earth. In other words, early in the Cambrian period, when complex animal life first appeared, the kinds of creatures that should have given rise (according to evolutionary theory) to the jawed vertebrates emerged concurrently. To compound this problem, Chinese paleontologists now recognize an additional phylum (Vetulicolia) as part of the Cambrian event.11

This taxa’s features place it at the base of the chordate evolutionary tree. This makes the Cambrian explosion that much more dramatic. In the words of the Chinese scientists, “the co-occurrence of stem-group deuterostomes [Vetulicolia] and agnathan [jawless] fish are consistent with an ‘explosion’ of metazoan body plans in the latest Neoproterozoic and early Cambrian.”12 

What researchers see as their view through the window of time grows clearer is the sudden and simultaneous appearance of echinoderms, hemichordates, urochordates, cephalochordates and jawless vertebrates in the fossil record. This image, with its observable data, confounds a naturalistic explanation but conforms to a biblical creation model that asserts the divinely orchestrated introduction of complex animal life on Earth.13 

Ecology of the Cambrian Fauna: 

A recent report by one of the world’s leading paleontologists, Richard Fortey, provides compelling evidence that chemoautotrophic symbiosis, a complex ecological relationship between sulfur-oxidizing bacteria and advanced, multicellular marine animals, first appeared close to the time of the Cambrian Explosion.14

This discovery adds to the growing weight of evidence for the supernatural introduction of complex animal life on earth. The Cambrian “Explosion” is a dramatic event in life’s history taking place around 540 million years ago. Over the course of perhaps less than 2-3 million years, nearly every animal phylum (over 70) ever to exist on earth appeared. Since that time no new animal phyla have been introduced.15,16

Phyla are the categories in the biological classification hierarchy that refer to an organism’s body plan, or architectural design. In 1986, Simon Conway Morris identified an additional feature of the Cambrian Explosion that has remained troubling for the naturalistic paradigm; namely, that the ecology of the Cambrian fauna resembled that of a modern marine ecology. It includes identifiable predator-prey relationships.17,18

This finding runs counter to what would be expected if the Cambrian “Explosion” were the result of natural processes. Instead of observing a haphazard, loosely-woven ecology, as predicted by the evolutionary paradigm, the Cambrian fauna appear suddenly in the fossil record as a tight-knit ecological community, consistent with a Creation Model for the origin of complex multicellular animals.

The new discovery by Richard Fortey of the Natural History Museum in London adds additional support for a fine-tuned, modern Cambrian ecology.  Chemoautotrophic symbiosis is a complex interdependence between advanced marine animals and sulfur-oxidizing bacteria. These bacteria use hydrogen sulfide and other sulfur compounds as an energy source and often employ carbon dioxide as their sole carbon source, converting it into organic nutrients. Sulfur-oxidizing bacteria are found in environments that are low in oxygen and rich in hydrogen sulfide. A number of multicellular, complex animals also exist in this toxic low oxygen, high sulfur environment through their interactions with sulfur-oxidizing bacteria. These animals feed on the bacteria directly or have modified body-and mouth-parts that allow the cultivation of the bacteria. Also, many of these animals have brood pouches to sequester their young from the toxic milieu until they can establish a symbiotic relationship with the sulfur-oxidizing bacteria. Based on an understanding of modern-day chemoautotrophic symbiosis, Richard Fortey was able to recognize this type of relationship in the fossil record of Olenids (a family of trilobites) as far back as 505 million years ago, just after the Cambrian “Explosion.”19

These trilobite fossils share morphological features with modern arthropods that rely on chemoautotrophic symbioses and are recovered from deposits low in oxygen and high in sulfide content. The appearance of this type of complex interrelationship shortly after the Cambrian event is surprising to evolutionists. Substantial anatomical changes (modified mouthparts, gills, body surfaces, reproductive anatomy) must take place all at once for the organism to survive in this toxic environment. Natural processes do not allow for the sudden and highly orchestrated changes necessary for an organism to transition into an environment that demands complex symbiotic relationships for survival. From an evolutionary perspective, this type of transition must happen over exceedingly long periods of time which the earth’s history did not have.  

Irreducible Complexity at Biochemical level of the cell: 

Charles Darwin in his Origin of Species has stated “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications my theory would absolutely break down.” With this statement, Charles Darwin provided a criterion by which his theory of evolution could be falsified. The logic was simple: since evolution is a gradual process in which slight modifications produce advantages for survival, it cannot produce complex structures in a short amount of time. It is a step by step process which may gradually build up and modify complex structures, but cannot produce them suddenly.  Michael Behe, biochemical researcher and professor at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania has shown exactly what Darwin claimed would destroy the theory of evolution, through a concept he calls "irreducible complexity."

In simple terms, this idea applies to any system of interacting parts in which the removal of any one part destroys the function of the entire system. An irreducibly complex system, then, requires each and every component to be in place before it will function.  As a simple example of irreducible complexity, Behe presents the humble mousetrap (http://www.arn.org/docs/mm/mousetrap.htm). The implication of the example is obvious that an irreducibly complex system cannot come about in a gradual manner. One cannot begin with a wooden platform and catch a few mice, then add a spring, catching a few more mice than before, etc. No, all the components must be in place before it functions at all. A step-by-step approach to constructing such a system will result in a useless system until all the components have been added.

The system requires all the components to be added at the same time, in the right configuration, before it works at all. How does irreducible complexity apply to biology? Behe notes that early this century, before biologists really understood the cell, they had a very simplistic model of its inner workings. Without the electron microscopes and other advanced techniques that now allow scientists to peer into the inner workings of the cell, it was assumed that the cells was a fairly simple blob of protoplasm. The living cell was a "black box"-something that could be observed to perform various functions while its inner workings were unknown and mysterious.

Therefore, it was easy, and justifiable, to assume that the cell was a simple collection of molecules. But not anymore. Technological advances have provided detailed information about the inner workings of the cell. Michael Denton, in his book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, states "Although the tiniest bacterial cells are incredibly small, weighing less than 10-12 grams, each is in effect a veritable microminiaturized factory containing thousands of exquisitely designed pieces of intricate molecular machinery, made up altogether of one hundred thousand million atoms, far more complicated than any machine built by man and absolutely without parallel in the non-living world." In a word, the cell is complicated. Very complicated. In fact, Michael Behe asserts that the complicated biological structures in a cell exhibit the exact same irreducible complexity that is in the mousetrap example. In other words, they are all-or-nothing: either everything is there and it works, or something is missing and it doesn't work. As we saw before, such a system cannot be constructed in a gradual manner – it simply won't work until all the components are present, and Darwinism has no mechanism for adding all the components at once.

Darwin's mechanism, though, is one of gradual mutations leading to improved fitness and survival. A less-than complete system of this nature simply will not function, and it certainly won't help the organism to survive. Indeed, having a half-formed and hence non-functional system would actually hinder survival and would be selected against. But Behe is not the only scientist to recognize irreducible complexity in nature.  

In 1986, Michael J. Katz, in his Templets and the explanation of complex patterns (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986) writes: "In the natural world, there are many pattern-assembly systems for which there is no simple explanation. There are useful scientific explanations for these complex systems, but the final patterns that they produce are so heterogeneous that they cannot effectively be reduced to smaller or less intricate predecessor components. As I will argue … these patterns are, in a fundamental sense, irreducibly complex…" Katz continues that this sort of complexity is found in biology: "Cells and organisms are quite complex by all pattern criteria. They are built of heterogeneous elements arranged in heterogeneous configurations, and they do not self-assemble. One cannot stir together the parts of a cell or of an organism and spontaneously assemble a neuron or a walrus: to create a cell or an organism one needs a preexisting cell or a preexisting organism, with its attendant complex templates. A fundamental characteristic of the biological realm is that organisms are complex patterns, and, for its creation, life requires extensive, and essentially maximal, templates." 

One of the several examples Behe presents of irreducibly complex systems to prove this point is the cilium. Cilia are hair-like structures, which are used by animals and plants to move fluid over various surfaces (for example, cilia in your respiratory tree sweep mucous towards the throat and thus promote elimination of contaminants) and by single-celled organisms to move through water. Cilia are like "oars" which contain their own mechanism for bending. That mechanism involves tiny rod-like structures called microtubules that are arranged in a ring. Adjacent microtubules are connected to each other by two types of "bridges" – a flexible linker bridge and an arm that can "walk" up the neighboring microtubule. The cilia bends by activating the "walker" arms, and the sliding motion that this tends to generate is converted to a bending motion by the flexible linker bridges. Thus, the cilium has several essential components: stiff microtubules, linker bridges, and the "motors" in the form of walker arms. (Behe notes that over 200 separate proteins have been identified in this particular system).

These 3 components form the basic system, and show what is required for functionality. For without one of these components, the system simply will not function. We can't evolve a cilium by starting with microtubules alone, because the microtubules will be fixed and rigid-not much good for moving around. Adding the flexible linker bridges to the system will not do any good either – there is still no motor and the cilia still will not bend. If we have microtubules and the walker arms (the motors) but no flexible linker arms, the microtubules will keep on sliding past each other till they float away from each other and are lost.This is only one of many biochemical systems that Behe discusses in his book, Darwin's Black Box.

Other examples of irreducible complexity include the light-sensing system in animal eyes, the transport system within the cell, the bacterial flagellum, and the blood clotting system. All consist of a very complex system of interacting parts which cannot be simplified while maintaining functionality.Therefore, evolution simply cannot produce complex structures in a single generation as would be required for the formation of irreducibly complex systems. Franklin Harold, a professor emeritus of cell biology at Colorado State University, in 2001 he published The Way of the Cell with Oxford University Press. He remarked: “There are presently no detailed Darwinian accounts of the evolution of any biochemical or cellular system, only a variety of wishful speculations.” 

Argument to ignorance 

One common argument evolutionists frequently resort to is that there is yet so much to be discovered in science which when comes to light will decisively answer Intelligent Design charges of lack of evidence in favor of biochemical evolution. But this attitude is not scientific in that science is based on experimental evidence and theories proved by experimental data. Therefore at least until such evidence of detailed Darwinian accounts of the evolution of any biochemical or cellular system has come the evolutionists should stay put and stop making a variety of wishful speculations and lead the public astray with their philosophical pontification. The right scientific temper is to follow the evidence wherever it leads.

Moreover, the burden of proof of is on the Darwinists and not on the critics of Darwinism. As Roberet Koons points out, “How could it be proved that something could not possibly have been formed by a process specified no more fully than as a process of “numerous, successive, slight modifications”? And why should the critic [of Darwin’s theory] have to prove any such thing? The burden is on Darwin and his defenders to demonstrate that at least some complex organs we find in nature really can possibly be formed in this way, that is, by some specific, fully articulated series of slight modifications.”

 William Dembski the chief theorist of Intelligent Design says:  “the Darwinist has artificially insulated himself artificially insulated Darwinian theory and rendered it immune to disconfirmation in principle because the universe of unknown Darwinian pathways can never be exhausted. From the vantage of the Darwinist, on the other hand, nothing less than an in-principle exclusion and exhaustion of all conceivable Darwinian pathways suffices to shift the burden of evidence onto the Darwinist…. Intelligent design allows the evidence of biology both to confirm and to disconfirm it. Darwinism, by contrast, assumes no corresponding burden of evidence—it declares itself the winner against intelligent design by default. This unwillingness of Darwinism to assume its due evidential burden is unworthy of science.

Science, if it is to constitute an unbiased investigation into nature, must give the full range of logically possible explanations a fair chance to succeed. In particular, science may not by arbitrary decree rule out logical possibilities. Evolutionary biology, by unfairly privileging Darwinian explanations, has settled in advance which biological explanations must be true as well as which must be false apart from any consideration of empirical evidence. This is not science. This is arm-chair philosophy. Even if intelligent design is not the correct theory of biological origins, the only way science could discover that is by admitting design as a live possibility rather than by ruling it out in advance. Darwin unfairly stacked the deck in favor of his theory.” 

Will the Intelligent Design Theory vanish in the light of any new evidence?          

Notwithstanding, elsewhere in the Origin of Species, Darwin wrote: “A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.” That balance, says William Dembski, is now shifting away from Darwinism and toward intelligent design. Therefore to think that Intelligent Design Theory will vanish in the light of any new evidence is wishful and the evidence is not forthcoming. 

Author’s profile: Dovari Sudhakar, M. Tech, is currently employed with the Government of Andhra Pradesh. The views expressed are personal.  

Sources: 

1.            As quoted in Dr. Phillip E. Johnson’s Paper What is Darwinism published in the collection Man and Creation: Perspectives on Science and Theology (Bauman Ed. 1993) by Hillsdale College Press, Hillsdale. (Article can be accessed online at : http://www.arn.org/docs/johnson/wid.htm)

2.            Ruse Gives Away the Store by Tom Woodward (http://www.leaderu.com/real/ri9404/ruse.html) 

3.            What is Darwinism by Dr. Phillip E. Johnson published in the collection Man and Creation: Perspectives on Science and Theology (Bauman Ed. 1993) by Hillsdale College Press, Hillsdale.

4.            Nile Eldridge, Time Frames (Hieneman, 1986), 144. (As quoted in What is Darwinism by Dr. Phillip E. Johnson)

5.            Ibid., 93. (As quoted in What is Darwinism by Dr. Phillip E. Johnson).

6.            Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, “The Cambrian ‘Explosion’ and Why It Means So Much for Christians,” Facts for Faith 2 (Q2 2000), 15-17. (As quoted in Chordate Fossils Foil Theory by Fazale R. Rana).

7.            D. –G. Shu et al., “Lower Cambrian Vertebrates from South China,” Nature 402 (1999): 42-46; Jun-Yung Chen et al., “An Early Cambrian Craniate-like Chordate,” Nature 402 (1999): 518-22. (As quoted in Chordate Fossils Foil Theory by Fazale R. Rana).

8.            Cleveland P. Hickman, Sr. et al., Integrated Principles of Zoology, 6th ed. (St. Louis, MO: The C. V. Mosby Company, 1979), 476-81. (As quoted in Chordate Fossils Foil Theory by Fazale R. Rana). (As quoted in Chordate Fossils Foil Theory by Fazale R. Rana).

9.            Fazale R. Rana, “Cambrian Flash,” Connections, vol. 2, no. 1 (2000), 3; Fazale “Fuz” Rana, “Extinct Shell Fish Speaks Today,” Connections vol. 3, no. 2 (2001), 1-2. (As quoted in Chordate Fossils Foil Theory by Fazale R. Rana).

10.              D. –G. Shu et al., “An Early Cambrian Tunicate from China,” Nature 411 (2001): 472-3. (As quoted in Chordate Fossils Foil Theory by Fazale R. Rana). 11.              D. –G. Shu et al., “Primitive Deuterostomes from the Chengjiang Lagerstatte (Lower Cambrian, China),” Nature 414 (2001): 419-24. (As quoted in Chordate Fossils Foil Theory by Fazale R. Rana).

12.     D. –G. Shu et al., “Primitive Deuterostomes,” 419-24. (As quoted in Chordate Fossils Foil Theory by Fazale R. Rana). 

13.     Chordate Fossils Foil Theory by Fazale R. Rana. (http://www.reasons.org/resources/fff/newarticles/index.shtml#chordate) 

14.     Richard Fortey, “Olenid Trilobites: The Oldest Known Chemoautotrophic Symbionts?” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 97 (2000): 6574-78. (As quoted in New Insight into the Ecology of the Cambrian Fauna: Evidence for Creation Mounts By Fuz Rana, Ph. D). 

15.     Fazale R. Rana and Hugh Ross, “The Cambrian ‘Explosion’ and Why It Means So Much for Christians” (An Interview with Dr. Paul Chien), Facts for Faith (Quarter 2, 2000): 15-17. (As quoted in New Insight into the Ecology of the Cambrian Fauna: Evidence for Creation Mounts By Fuz Rana, Ph. D). 

16.     Fazale R. Rana, “Cambrian Flash,” Connections 2, no. 1 (2000): 3. (As quoted in New Insight into the Ecology of the Cambrian Fauna: Evidence for Creation Mounts By Fuz Rana, Ph. D). 

17.     S. Conway Morris, “The Community Structure of the Middle Cambrian Phyllopod Bed (Burgess Shale),” Paleontology 29 (1986): 423-67. 

18.     S. J. Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (New York: W. W. Norton, 1989), 222-24. 

19.     Irreducible Complexity: The Challenge to the Darwinian – Evolutionary Explanations of many Biochemical Structures, as found on the IDEA Center website at http://www.ideacenter.org 

20.     Irreducible Complexity Revisited by William A. Dembski (version 2.0, revised 2.23.04) accessed at www.designinference.com/documents/2004.01.Irred_Compl_Revisited.pdf 

 

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