Scholars have pointed out flaws in evolutionary dogma.
by Mark Hartwing

absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid, or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that).
-- Oxford scientist and author Richard Dawkins

Ever since Darwin published his theory of evolution, his defenders' favorite tactic against critics has been to attack their character and intelligence. Darwin himself used this tactic against some of the greatest scientists of his day accusing them of superstition and religious bias. Now that Darwinism rules the scientific roost, such charges are widespread. California's science education guidelines, for example, instruct teachers to respond to dissenting students by saying, "I understand that you may have personal reservations about accepting this scientific evidence, but it is scientific knowledge about which there is no reasonable doubt among scientists in this field."

By today's rules, criticism of Darwinism is simply unscientific. Schools usually don't attempt to defend the theory against skeptics. A student who wishes to pursue such matters is simply told to "discuss the question further with his or her family and clergy."

But is Darwinism so obviously true that no honest person could doubt it? Are all the alternatives so unscientific that no reasonable person could embrace them? The answer to both questions is a resounding no.

Searching for Support

The essence of Darwin's theory is that all living creatures descended from a single ancestor. All the plants, animals, and other organisms that exist today are products of random mutation and natural selection - or survival of the fittest.

According to Darwin, nature acts like a breeder, overseeing biological change. As useful new traits appear, they are preserved and passed on to the next generation. Harmful traits are eliminated. Although each individual change is relatively small, these changes eventually accumulate until organisms develop new limbs, organs, or other parts. Given enough time, organisms may change so radically that they bear almost no resemblance to their original ancestor.

Most important, this process happens without any purposeful input no Creator, no Intelligent Designer. In Darwin's view, chance and nature are all that are needed.

This all may sound very elegant and plausible. The only problem is, it has never been established by any convincing data.

For example, consider the fossil evidence. If Darwinism were true, the fossil evidence should reveal lots of gradual change, with one species slowly grading into the next. In fact, it should be hard to tell where one species ends and another begins. But that's not what we find.

As Darwin himself pointed out in his book, The Origin of Species, "(T)he number of intermediate varieties, which have formerly existed on the earth, (must) be truly enormous. Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graded organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory."

Darwin attributed this problem to the imperfection of the fossil evidence, and to the youthful state of paleontology. As the discipline matured, and as scientists found more fossils, the gaps would slowly fill, he thought.

Against the Evidence

Time has not been kind to Darwinism, however. Paleontologists have certainly found more fossils, but these fossils have only deepened the problem. What paleontologists discovered was not gradual change, but stability and sudden appearance. It seems that most fossil species appear all at once, fully formed, and change very little throughout their existence.

This poses quite a challenge for Darwinist paleontologists. One such paleontologist, Niles Eldredge, put it this way: "Either you stick to conventional theory despite the rather poor fit of the fossils, or you focus on the empirics and say that saltation (evolution through large leaps) looks like a reasonable model of the evolutionary process -- in which case you must embrace a set of rather dubious biological propositions."

Large evolutionary jumps are anathema to good Darwinists because the changes look too much like miracles. Reptiles simply don't hatch birds. The fossil evidence appears particularly troublesome with the "Cambrian Explosion," which most paleontologists believe took place approximately 530 million years ago. In an instant of geological time, almost every animal phylum seemingly popped into existence from nowhere.

A phylum is the broadest classification of animals. The phylum that contains human beings, for instance, also contains elephants, squirrels, canaries, lizards, guppies, and frogs. It includes every animal with a backbone - and then some. If the differences within a phylum are vast, the differences between phyla are far greater. As much as a chimpanzee may differ from a fish, it differs even more radically from a sea urchin. The two are built on entirely different architectural themes.

That's why the Cambrian Explosion remains so troubling for Darwinists. What paleontologists find isn't just the sudden appearance of a few new species. They encounter species so utterly distinct that they have to be placed in different phyla.

Even Oxford zoologist and prominent Darwinist Richard Dawkins has remarked, "It is as though they were just planted there, without any evolutionary history."

Worse yet, after the Cambrian Explosion, almost no new phyla appear in the fossil record - and many go extinct. By conventional dating, that's a 500 million-year dry spell.

This is exactly the opposite of what Charles Darwin would have predicted. According to Darwinism, new phyla are produced by the gradual divergence of species. As species split off from each other over time, they eventually become so dissimilar as to constitute a whole new body plan. Therefore,we should see new species slowly appearing over time, followed by the much slower appearance of new phyla --what Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould calls "a cone of increasing diversity."

Instead, the cone is upside down. Even by conventional timelines, the fossils look very non-Darwinian.

Darwinists, of course. express confidence that future discoveries will clear up the mysteries. But so far, the research has only deepened them. A recent reassessment of the fossils added 15 to 20 new phyla to the Cambrian zoo. Moreover, discoveries in 1992 and 1993 have shrunk the explosion's estimated duration from 40 million years to about 5 million.

Science or Philosophy?

The fossil problem is only one of Darwinism's woes. Virtually every other area of research poses problems, too. But like the bunny in the Energizer battery commercials, Darwin's theory just keeps going.

Why? Perhaps because Darwinism is more wishful thinking than fact.

Professor Phillip Johnson is a professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley. While on sabbatical in England several years ago, he became fascinated with the serious problems in Darwin's theory. He was also struck by how Darwinists continually evaded the difficulties through tricky rhetoric and pulpit pounding.

As he dug deeper into the scientific literature, Johnson eventually became convinced that Darwinism wasn't so much a scientific theory as a grand philosophy - a philosophy that attempts to explain the world in strictly naturalistic terms.

"The whole point of Darwinism is to explain the world in a way that excludes any role for a Creator." Johnson says. "What is being sold in the name of science is a completely naturalistic understanding of reality."

According to Johnson, the reason Darwinism won't die is that its basic premise is simply taken for granted: namely, that chance and the laws of nature can account for everything around us, even living things.

Given that assumption, Darwinism has to be true because nothing else will work. Creation has been ruled out from the start, and the other naturalistic theories are worse than Darwin's. So any argument against Darwinism is usually ignored.

Ruling out Design

Today a new breed of young evangelical scholars is challenging those Darwinist assumptions. They argue that intelligent design is not only scientific, but is also the most reasonable explanation for the origin of living things. And they're gaining a hearing.

One such scholar is Stephen Meyer, a graduate of Cambridge University in the philosophy of science and now a professor at Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington. Like Johnson, Meyer believes that the prohibition of design has essentially stacked the deck in favor of Darwinism.

"There's been a kind of intellectual rigidity imposed on the origins discussion," Meyer says. "It's only possible to talk about origins in a naturalistic vein, because people believe that the rules of science prohibit talking about intelligent design."

This prohibition rests on what philosophers call demarcation standards. These criteria allegedly set science apart from other disciplines, such as theology, history or literary criticism. For example, some might say that a scientific theory must explain everything in terms of observable objects and events, that it must make predictions, or that it must be capable of being proven wrong.

Although scientists and philosophers have proposed many demarcation standards, says Meyer, none of them does what evolutionists want them to - which is to exclude intelligent design as a scientific theory.

"When applied evenhandedly, demarcation standards either confirm that design is scientific, or they exclude evolution, too."

For example, Darwinists like to argue that design is unscientific because it appeals to unobservable objects or events, such as a Creator. But Darwinism also appeals to unobservables.

"In evolutionary science you have all kinds of unobservables," Meyer says."The transitional life forms that occupy the branching-points on Darwin's tree of life have never been observed in the rock record. They've been postulated only because they help Darwinists explain the variety of life forms we observe today."

When scientists try to reconstruct past events, appealing to unobservables is entirely legitimate, Meyer says. What's illegitimate is to say that design theorists can't do the same thing.

Design as Science

William Dembski, another evangelical scholar, is director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies at Princeton University. He holds a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Chicago and another in philosophy from the Chicago campus of the University of Illinois. He has also been a National Science Foundation doctoral and post-doctoral fellow.

Dembski argues that intelligent design, far from being a strange and exotic notion, is something that science recognizes every day. The existence of entire industries depends on being able to distinguish accident from design: insurance fraud investigation, criminal justice, cryptography, patent and copyright protection, and many others. No one calls these industries "unscientific" simply because they look for evidence of design.

Indeed, some scientific disciplines, such as anthropology and archaeology could not exist without the notion of intelligent design. "How could we ever distinguish a random piece of stone from an arrowhead except by appealing to the purposes of primitive artisans?" asks Dembski.

According to Dembski, we recognize design in events or objects that are too improbable to happen by chance. Stones don't turn into arrowheads by natural erosion. Writing doesn't appear in sand by the action of waves. Ah unaltered coin doesn't come up heads a hundred times in a row. Such results point to some intelligent cause.

There's more to design than just low probabilities, however. If someone tosses a coin 100 times, duplicating any series of results will be extremely improbable. But if someone claims that the coin came up heads 100 times, we would suspect that something more than chance was involved.

"Our coin-flipping friend who claims to have flipped 100 heads in a row is in the same boat as a lottery manager whose relatives all win the jackpot or an election commissioner whose own political party repeatedly gets the first ballot line," Dembski says. "In each instance public opinion rightly draws a design inference and regards them guilty of fraud."

If detectives can use this kind of thinking to spot election and lottery fraud, and if archaeologists can use it to spot arrowheads, then why can't biologists use it to look for design in the living world?

Currently, Dembski, Meyer, and Paul Nelson, a biologist and Ph.D. candidate in philosophy at the University of Chicago, are writing a book that details precise scientific criteria for recognizing design, and that applies them to biological systems.

Irreducible Complexity

Even without precise definitions, it's not hard for most of us to recognize design in the living world. The exquisite complexity of living organisms virtually proclaims the existence of a Creator. Many Darwinists admit this -- except they say it's only an illusion, produced by strictly natural forces.

For Michael Behe, a Catholic biochemist at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., the complexity is too extreme for Darwinism to be plausible. He argues that many systems in living organisms are irreducibly complex. They consist of several parts, all of which must be present for the system to work.

"It's like a mousetrap," Behe says. "A standard household mousetrap has five parts, all of which must be present for the trap to work. If you take away any of those five parts, you don't have a functioning mousetrap. You can add the parts one by one, but until you get to the full five parts, you have no function. It's an all-or-nothing kind of thing."

This irreducible complexity exists even at the level of a single cell. Behe says. "It was originally thought in Darwin's day that cells were very, very simple things -- like little blobs of gel. But as science has progressed, it's shown that cells are extraordinarily complex, more complex than anybody thought."

One example is the system that transports proteins within the cell from where they're made to where they're used. Enzymes are a class of proteins that help the cell digest other kinds of proteins. They are created in a compartment called the endoplasmic reticulum. But they do all their work in another compartment, the lysosome. To get from the one compartment to the other, enzymes are stuffed into a vesicle, a kind of bus. The "bus" then travels to the destination compartment and eventually merges with it, spilling its contents into the compartment.

Achieving this task requires several very specific proteins. A cell needs certain proteins (along with certain fats) to form the little capsule that contains the enzyme. It needs others to help the capsule grab the right protein. Finally it needs proteins that help the "bus" attach itself to the destination compartment and merge with it.

"Now if you think about irreducible complexity," Behe says, "virtually all of these proteins have to be there from the beginning, or you simply don't get any function."

That makes it tough for Darwinists to argue that design is simply an illusion that has been produced by mutation and natural selection.

"Darwin said one thing pretty strongly in The Origin of Species," Behe notes. "He said that if it could be shown that any system or organ could not be produced by many small steps, continuously improving the system at each step, then his system would absolutely fall apart.

"Now the thing about irreducibly complex systems is that they cannot be produced by numerous small steps, because one does not acquire the function until close to the end, or at the end. Therefore, with irreducibly complex systems, they cannot be produced by Darwinian evolution."

Gaining Ground

Most scientists are still far from throwing in the towel on Darwinism and accepting intelligent design. Nevertheless, design advocates are finding it easier to gain a hearing.

In March 1992, a landmark symposium took place at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Phillip Johnson, Stephen Meyer, William Dembski, Michael Behe, and other Christian scholars squared off against several prominent Darwinists. The topic was "Darwinism: Science or Philosophy?" (The symposium proceedings have since been published in a book by the same title. See accompanying "Design Resources" and book excerpts in this site.) The remarkable thing about the symposium was the collegial spirit that prevailed. Creationists and evolutionists met as equals to discuss serious intellectual questions. Not surprisingly, few issues were resolved. But in today's Darwinist climate, where dissent is frequently written off as religious bias, just getting the issues on the table was an accomplishment.

What's more, several months later, one prominent Darwinist who participated in the Dallas symposium publicly conceded that one of the points Johnson made was correct: namely that Darwinism is based as much on philosophical assumptions as on scientific evidence.

This admission took place at a national meeting of the country's largest science society the American Association for the Advancement of Science. It scandalized the Darwinist community which likes to portray evolution as indisputable fact. It was all the more scandalous because the speaker had specifically been invited to the meeting to denounce Johnson.

Creationists are still far from winning, but they believe things are getting better. As Johnson points out, creationist arguments are growing more sophisticated, while most Darwinists are still responding with cliche's. Now it's the creationists who come across as asking the hard questions and demanding fair debate.

But ultimately, Johnson says, it's not the debates or the arguments that will win the day. "It's reality that's doing it. It's just the way the world is. And sooner or later, scientists will have to acknowledge that fact."

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