Can Neo-Darwinism Survive?

(This article comes from JohnDePoe.com to whom we are grateful).



In 1859 Charles Darwin published his seminal work, On the Origin of the Species. This publication sent the public in an uproar and has continued to do so to the present day. Why all the commotion over one book? Darwin proposed a scientific system which threatened the common belief that nature was designed in such a way to have means adapted to ends. Instead, he proposed that all of nature, including human nature, was not the work of a Designer but the happenstance of purely materialistic laws over time. Undoubtedly this scientific proposal has ramifications beyond biology. Philosophy, economics, politics, ethics, sociology, and just about every other field of study has been radically revised by those who accept a Darwinian worldview. Many Christians have tried to respond to the threatening challenges of materialistic evolution by harmonizing Christianity with it. However, the question remains whether or not evolution is true. In fact, recent polls suggest that less than 10% of the American population believe in a type of Darwinian evolution, despite the monopoly the scientific paradigm has on the public education system. Why do so few believe in evolution? I believe that materialistic (or Neo-Darwinian) evolution in untenable because the evidence does not support it. Evolution is only acceptable if one is committed to certain philosophical presuppositions. In this article I am going to offer a general critique of materialistic evolution explaining why it is unacceptable.

Am I Some Whacked Out Fundamentalist?

Too many people believe that the only kind of person who could reject evolution must be some fundamentalist who reads the Genesis creation account in the most literal way. First, that is an ad hominem argument. That means such a point pokes fun at the person making the argument, and does not address whether or not that person has offered good or bad reasons for accepting or rejecting the argument. Secondly, that is simply false. There are many evangelical Christians who hold a high view of the Bible and believe the earth is more than 10,000 years old. If you are willing to consider my case against evolution, I want you to pay close attention to the arguments I raise against it. The points I bring up are relevant and often scientific. My case works from evidence to a conclusion and not vice versa.

Furthermore, those who support an understanding of science that I agree with are not just religious quacks. Many have been educated at the best schools and are widely recognized as dedicated scholars. Furthermore, those who support Intelligent Design come from all fields including biology, astrophysics, philosophy, law, theology, and other disciplines. My argument is not "whoever has the most PhD's wins," however, it does matter on some issues whether or not the source it comes from has been trained to understand the field they speak on.

You may believe that since I am a Christian, then my religion predisposes me to holding a certain view. However, such an observation can be thrown back at the Neo-Darwinist who holds her theory because it is comfortable to live a life that is unaccountable to God. The point is is simply this: judge evolution according to the evidence. If the evidence supports evolution, then believe in it. If the evidence points elsewhere, then go elsewhere. Let's see where the evidence leads.

What is Darwin's Theory?

Simply put, Darwin's theory suggests that the principles of natural selection can account for all animal life (including humans). Natural selection is a process also known as survival of the fittest. This means that in the struggle for survival, the animals with the best genes for survival would find mates and pass on their genes to their offspring. Those who are unfit for survival would die out and subsequently not pass their genes on. In this manner species would gradually pass on superior traits and leave behind inferior ones. Also, in order to account for one species changing into another, Darwin assumed that random genetic mutations could account for major changes (like growing wings or having lungs rather than gills). Such a process must take place over a large span of time in gradual steps. Initially, such a view does not seem implausible. However, let us look closely at the evidence and see whether science and good reasoning support this theory.

The Fossil Record

When Charles Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species, he did not know what the fossil record would look like. If macroevolution is true, then he projected that the fossil record would reveal a steady gradual change in animals from one kind into another. This seems to be  a necessary component for Darwinian evolution to be true. Furthermore, advocates of a type of Intelligent Design behind the universe predicted the fossil record would show sudden bursts of types of species, rather than gradual changes. After all, wouldn't sudden appearance point to a Designer and gradual changes point to evolutionary causes?

What has the fossil record shown since Darwin's time? It shows that all kinds of life emerged at the Cambrian explosion. This is often referred to by scientists as the "big bang" of biology. During the Cambrian explosion life emerges suddenly in different types - not by gradual transitions. Robert F. Dehaan and John L. Wiester have elucidated this point in their article, "The Cambrian Explosion":

To verify these Darwinian predictions, it is necessary to go back about 530 million years in the fossil record to an event so important that it is called the watershed in the history of life, second in signficance only to the origin of life itself - the Cambrian explosion, called by some "Biology's Big Bang." The Cambrian explosion refers to the sudden appearance of multicellular animals during the geological period called the Cambrian.

The entire period of the Cambrian explosion spans no more than 5 to 10 million years. In this small window of time fifty or so unique animal body plans appear, most of which are not found earlier in the fossil record and many of which persist to this day. That's not to say that nothing was happening in the time leading up to Cambrian explosion. But whatever was happening in the Precambrian eon wasn't drawn together, augmented, and organized until the Cambrian explosion. It took the Cambrian explosion to assemble fifty radically different animal types, each one the progenitor of a major theme of life's history.

This event occurred suddenly - in a geologic eye blink. It was never to be repeated. Most significantly, it produced an extraordinary breadth of animal designs. From these Cambrian animals issued nearly all the major animal groups (or "phyla" as they are known technically) that ever existed on earth.

Each of the fifty Cambrian animal types can be identified by its unique body plan. To see what's at stake here, consider an automobile. Automobiles have a basic body plan - wheels, axles, a chassis, body, power supply, and stopping and steering mechanisms. Each new model adds modifications, but the basic body plan is never abandoned. Next consider an airplane. Its basic architecture is as fixed as that of an automobile, yet it is radically different from an automobile. As a third example think of a sailing vessel. All of these have basic designs that are unique. True, they may borrow specific components from each other, but the basic design remains constant regardless of subsequent developments.1

The Cambrian explosion has shown that gradual changes did not occur. Furthermore, the fossil record shows that after basic phyla emerged, they have stayed basically the same with variations within phylum. There is no evidence of one phyla changing gradually into another. The fossil record clearly presents a difficulty for the Neo-Darwinian theory.

Darwin's Black Box - The Evidence of the Cell

In addition to his assumption that the fossil record would support his theory, Darwin also worked under the assumption that cellular life was not complex. Since Darwin's time, scientists have discovered that cell is not simple. In fact cellular life is extremely complex and has raised serious questions about the teleology of life. Cells function with the work of smaller cellular organelles within the cell. These organelles include mitochondria, endoplasmic reticullum, flagella, cilia, the nucleus, and many others. The cell is irreducibly complex. This means that there are certain organelles that are necessary for cellular life that cannot be formed in gradual steps. The whole organelle must appear wholly formed or the cell will not work. Furthermore some organelles are not just impotent but lethal to the cell if formed in gradual steps. In other words, in order for the the building blocks of life (cells) to exist, they must come into existence with irreducible complexity (that is, wholly formed in their complex functioning form).

Michael Behe, biochemistry professor at Lehigh University (PhD University of Pennsylvania) has pointed out the many signs of irreducible complexities of cellular in his iconoclast work Darwin's Black Box.2 In order to illustrate irreducible complexity he uses the example of a mousetrap. In order for a mousetrap to work, you must have a platform, spring, trigger, etc. If you have every piece except one (let's say the spring), the mousetrap will not work. You do not begin with a just a platform that is a poor mousetrap that slowly develops into a better one by gradually adding components. The mousetrap is either completely built or worthless. Similarly, a cell cannot gradually develop its components from a simple cell to a complex cell. The cell is either complete with all of its complexity or dead.

So, why does this matter? What's the big deal if cellular life does not conform to evolution? Isn't this about how animals evolve? This is important because cells are the building blocks of life. Cellular life had to evolve prior to animal life for Darwinian evolution to be true. If cellular life is not harmonious with gradual changes, then evolution cannot get off the ground. Irreducible complexity in cellular organisms is yet another stumbling block for Neo-Darwinism.

Genetic Mutations

Materialistic evolution depends on genetic mutations to account for changes in species. Genetic mutations must be invoked by strict naturalist in order to explain how organisms change from one celled organisms to multicellular organisms to marine life to amphibious life to mammals and so on. Jonathan Wells (PhD Yale [Relligious studies] and PhD University of California Berkeley [Developmental Biology]) explains this deficiency:

Mutations are supposed to provide the raw material for evolution, but they can do this only if they benefit the organism, and mutations in developmental genes are always harmful. In fact, the only DNA mutations that are known to be benficial are those that affect immediate interactions between a mutant protein and other molecules. Such mutations can confer antibiotic and insecticide resistance, but they can never lead to the sorts of changes that could account for evolution. DNA mutations cannot even change the species of an animal, much less change a fish into an amphibian or a dinosaur into a bird.3

In addition to the weak evidence for genetic mutations being beneficial in a way that significantly helps the explanatory power of Neo-Darwinism, there is evidence that genes are not the sole factor controlling development in life. I defer again to the expertise of Dr. Wells:

During the industrial revolution, dark (melanic) peppered moths became more common than light moths, until their proportion declined with the advent of pollution-control legislation. The rise and fall of melanism certainly involved changes in gene frequencies, and experiments in the 1950s seemed to show that these were a result of natural selection: when caged moths were released onto pollution-darkened trees, birds preyed more selectively on the conspicuous light moths, and the proportion of melanic moths increased. In the 1970s, however, biologists noticed that the proportions of light and dark moths in the wild did not correlate with bark color, and in the 1980s they learned that peppered moths do not normally rest on tree trunks. So the evidence for natural selection has been discredited, and the relevance of industrial melanism to evolution is in doubt. Unfortunately, in other supposed cases of evolution by natural selection - such as beak differences in Darwin's finches and adaptive differences in Hawaiian fruit flies - the genetic basis is unknown.4

If the basis for development in evolution cannot be attributed to genes, it seems that there is no materialistic basis for the theory. Even if it could be attributed to genes, there is no good reason to suppose genetic mutations occur in any ways that would significantly help the Darwinian model of life. Therefore, the plausibility of evolution becomes weaker in light of the evidence we have about genes and genetic mutations.

Internal Contradiction - Problem of Knowledge

A final piece of evidence I wish to consider is the problem of internal consistency with materialistic evolution. If life is not designed, but the product of random, unintelligent, accidental causes, then what basis is there for saying our brains are a reliable source of information? Here is the catch: if we say our brains are trustworthy for knowledge, then we must admit that they were deisgned in such a way to accurately give us knowledge. On the other hand, if we say our brains are not trustworthy for knowing the world, then we cannot say evolution (or any other science) is true. Peter Kreeft (philosophy professor at Boston College) captures this in this dialog:

Chris: Would you trust a computer programmed by chance? -by a fall of hailstones on its keyboard, for instance?
Sal: No.
Chris: Or if you were flying in an airplane and the public address system announced that the plane was being flown by a computer that had been programmed by a football player in spiked shoes walking over computer cards, would you trust the airplane to land safely?
Sal: No way.
Chris: Then why do you trust your brain and nervous system? It's like a very complex computer. If it's been programmed only by chance, by blind nature, and not by God, not by any Designer, why trust it when it does science, and when it tells you about nature? Or about itself? If you can't trust the programmer of the human brain, then you can't trust the brain when it tells you about the brain!5

This final problem is not mere sophistry or a simple logic puzzle. If our brains are reliable, then there must be some other reason to be justified in believing that besides supposing a theory that declares that all life is the result of random, unintelligent processes. If materialistic evolution is true, I see no basis by which we can trust our own reasoning. Neo-Darwinian evolution is a scientific paradigm that effectually saws off the epistemological limb it stands upon. For this reason, evolution is internally inconsistent, and therefore ought to be rejected.

Conclusion

This article has assessed the case for materialistic evolution by examining the evidence of the fossil record, cellular life, genetic mutations, and internal consistencies. Each of these areas of evidence examined fundamental, necassary aspects of Darwinian evolution. The evidence against evolution is daunting. Simply on the basis of science and reason it seems that it ought to be discarded as a viable scientific theory. Additionally, there are good other good arguments against evolution such as the ethical ramifications of it and the positive evidence for an intelligently designed universe.

So the question is: why do so many scientists advocate such an unscientific model? Some scientists advocate evolution because their philosophical presuppositions exclude the possibility of intelligent design. Now it is true that all scientists carry biases and presuppositions. The question is, which biases and presuppositions are correct to hold. In the case of the evolution debate, those who argue for Intelligent Design do not rule out the possibility of natural causes prior to research. Meanwhile, materialists will rule out the possibility of intelligent design prior to examining the evidence. If one's worldview prevents one from following the evidence where it leads, the problem is not in the evidence but in that person's worldview. Darwinian evolution is not fit to survive the rigorous challenge of scientific evidence. Are you willing to follow the evidence where it points?


End Notes

1. Robert F. Deehan and John L. Wiester, "The Cambrian Explosion" in Signs of Intelligence, ed. William Dembski and James Kushiner (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2001), 148.

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

3. Jonathan Wells, "Making Sense of Biology" in Signs of Intelligence, ed. William Dembski and James Kushiner (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2001), 123.

4. Ibid., 148-49.

5. Peter Kreeft, Yes or No?: Straight Answers to Tough Questions About Christianity (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1991), 38-39.


Books for Further Reading

Darwin's Black Box by Michael Behe.

Signs of Intelligence edited by William Dembski and James Kushiner

A Case Against Accident and Self-Organization by Dean L. Overman


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 License.

UK APOLOGETICS