Doubting Darwinism – 150 Years of The Origin of the Species

[Cross posted from Sixteen Small Stones]

Romanes's 1892 copy of Ernst Haeckel's embryo drawings

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of “The Origin of the Species” by Charles Darwin. If you’ve followed my blog for a significant time you know that I have doubts about the compatibility of Darwinism and the belief in God as the Creator.

I remember as a high-school biology student, in addition to various other evolutionary facts, our teacher showed us the famous Heackel drawings of the developmental stages of embryos. He made us all memorize the phrase “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.” And he insisted that it was a scientific “fact” that proved that Darwin’s theory was undeniably true. It was all very convincing and I believed him. As a faithful member of the LDS church I reasoned that “evolution” was simply the device which God employed to bring to pass the creation. This was in 1989 and little did I know that the “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” hypothesis had, even then, been long discredited.

After graduating from high school, going on an LDS mission, and then attending BYU for a number of years, I found myself once again taking Biology, this time as a graduation requirement. It was 1998. As I wandered the BYU bookstore, scanning the biology books, I ran across a funny looking book with a golden colored cover with red letters spelling out the curious title “Darwin on Trial,” by Phillip E. Johnson. Darwin-On-TrialIt had been published in 1991, but this was the first time I had heard of it. Johnson had an impressive resume, graduate from Harvard and the University of Chicago, former clerk to U.S. Chief Justice Warren, and professor at the Boalt School of Law of UC Berkeley. He was not trained in biology, but he was an expert in logical argument and evidence in the realm of law. I sat in the book store for a couple of hours, missing several of my classes, as I read his critique of Darwinism. I went back another day to finish it.

I imagine I felt a little like some members of the LDS church feel when they innocently stumble upon some of the historical aspects of the church that appear to contradict their understanding of the church. Johnson made some very astute observations about evolution. He exposed some glaring logical fallacies. This well educated, intelligent man doubted Darwinism and made some good arguments that needed to be addressed. And a number of the undeniable “facts” I had been taught were simply not true. “Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” was a long discredited hypothesis. I felt deceived by my high school biology teacher.

Well, it had been nearly ten years. I remembered that my teacher had also told us that our scientific knowledge of biology was doubling every five years. Now I was taking a BYU biology class. Surely with our greater knowledge these issues would have been addressed and new, potent evidence for evolution would be available. As fate would have it, within a couple of weeks of reading “Darwin on Trial” my university biology class covered the unit on “Evolution.” I was shocked to find that the textbook was still touting peppered moths and embryological parallelism (even including Heackel’s bogus drawings). It seemed that nothing had changed. I had taken years of physics and chemistry at both the high school and college level. I knew how science was supposed to work. But there was no mention of the challenges put forward in Johnson’s book let alone an attempt to address and refute them, at least in the biology course that most students would be required to take as a graduation requirement. It felt like propaganda instead of science. I was thoroughly disillusioned.

A year or two later I was taking a class on Victorian era English literature. One day the professor broached the subject of evolution. I was interested to see if the English department would approach the subject differently, but again I was disappointed. Evolution was a “fact.” The professor made it clear that anyone who doubted it was either uneducated, a fool, or wicked. I was the only student who would openly admit to doubting Darwinism in the class. I lent a copy of Johnson’s book to my professor. It was returned to me by mail some time later without comment. I don’t even know if he ever read it.

I have followed the “Intelligent Design” vs “Evolution” debate ever since.

The crux of my problem with “Evolution” is as follows:

I accept that species adjust to their surroundings through micro-evolutionary adaptations. This is an observable fact.

I can accept that there has been a succession of species which have evolved from one into another. There is quite a lot of evidence for this.

But I cannot accept Darwin’s hypothesis that a completely unguided mechanism of accumulated micro-evolution by random mutation and natural selection is solely responsible for the complete genesis of the plenitude of biological life. There is very little evidence supporting this mechanism and because it requires such unfathomable time frames it is also completely unobservable. By its very definition Darwin’s mechanism excludes the possibility of a supreme being employing evolution as the device for teleological creation. The minute you say God “used” evolution you have become a “Creationist” because Darwin’s hypothesis does not permit evolution to be “used” by an intelligence at all.

An address to BYU by Elder Marion D. Hanks was printed in the July 1981 issue of the LDS Church’s Ensign magazine. He said:

I know that man is co-eternal with God, and that he clothed us in spirit form and then made it possible for us to have eternal life, through his gift, through his love. I know that, with his Son, he is our Creator and that his children are his special and crowning creation. But I take great comfort in personal conversations I had with President David O. McKay some years ago when I was concerned with these matters. His answer was about what I have given you. He said, ‘It would do no violence to my faith to learn that God had formed man in one way or another.’

If you believe that God has a purpose in creation, and that he guided it to his own ends, then you have automatically rejected Darwin’s unproven mechanism. You may still believe in the “fact of evolution” (micro-evolutionary adaptations and a succession of species) but you reject Darwin’s “Theory of Evolution” (i.e. that this observable “fact of evolution” is solely the result of his proposed purposeless, materialist process).

Accepting the “fact of evolution” but rejecting Darwin’s hypothetical anti-teleological mechanism seems to me to align well with the LDS Church’s position on Evolution. We do not know by what means God brought the creation to pass. But we do know that it was brought to pass by His will and to fulfill His purposes. Any theory that rejects this is incompatible with the revealed Gospel.

Personally, I like the theory of “Front-Loaded” evolution, wherein the basic building blocks of life were pre-configured with sufficient information to generate all of biological life. This information would then be activated through the natural complex feedback loops and attractors of reproduction to produce the succession of species we observe. That way mutation and natural selection do play a role, but are not the sole mechanism of creation because their creative power is only made possible and set in motion by the inclusion of intelligently organized information. It’s just a hypothesis, but I like it and hope to see some research in that direction.

Darwin Doubters like me who express their doubts on blogs are frequently labeled “uneducated , fools, or wicked” and so there are few who will openly admit to their doubt, just like in my English class years ago. The fact that Darwinists so often react this way to evolutionary apostates is just another hint that it has become more of a dogma than a science. At a very minimum if you don’t want schools to “teach the controversy” then you shouldn’t be calling for the Church to do so with regard to its history. And if you complain that members of the church are not familiar enough with the critic’s views of the church, then maybe you should pick up a clutch of modern “Intelligent Design” books and read them all from start to finish. If you’re going to presume to judge the Church of God then you should be at least as presumptuous for the Church of Darwin.

Some books to check out:

Darwin on Trial 2nd Edition 1993 by Phillip E. Johnson- somewhat out of date, but still a great introduction

The Edge of Evolution 2008 by Michael J. Behe

The Signature in the Cell 2009 by Stephen C. Meyer

38 thoughts on “Doubting Darwinism – 150 Years of The Origin of the Species

  1. It’s interesting that the father of Intelligent Design, Phillip Johnson, is not scientifically trained, but is instead trained in how to make an effective argument. That effectively showcases the strengths and weaknesses of most anti-evolution arguments. They may be effective arguments, but they are not scientific.
    If my worldview on economics, government, or religion were formed due to a book written by a biologist, untrained in any of those fields, I hope you would call me out on that. What does a biologist know of these other distant fields of knowledge? Unless trained in them, very little. A lawyer writing on biology is no different, and I find it strange that people fail to recognize this.

  2. Jon, I have actually read Johnson’s and Behe’s books and have come to the conclusion that microevolution has definitely been proven. I think they make good points, as you point out, about textbooks using outdated arguments for evolution.

    Having said that, there was a period during which I spent a lot of time fighting the good battle on evolution, and I think it is time to just let it be. Do I think we “evolved” from apes? Probably not, but I just can’t get worked up about it anymore. My reading of the Brethren’s take on it is, “let science deal with science and let faith deal with faith.” So, I have put the whole evolution issue in a category of “things we will probably never know until the Millennium.” In the meantime, biologists (including LDS biologists) seem to feel strongly that evolution is settled science in their field, so I’ll have to cede to their judgment, at least when it comes to how life evolves and acts on Earth currently.

  3. Tim, have you actually read Johnson’s book? because he addresses your particular point. Have you thoroughly read any books by Darwin doubters?

    If biology is inaccessible to non biologists to the extent that they cannot discern it’s validity then complaining when they do not accept it is pretty elitist not to mention futile. Pro darwin texts are pretty contradictory on this point. The insist that anyone can see that evolution is true until some non-biologist makes an argument against it and then claim that their critique is invalid because it can only really be understood by trained biologists. Sorry, but you can’t have it both ways.

    In any case, Meyer is an experienced geologist with a Ph.D. in the History and Philosophy of Science.
    Behe is trained in chemistry and has a Ph.D. in biochemistry.

  4. Geoff,
    I respect your position and agree with it to a great extent. I generally don’t post on Evolution anymore, but on this day of Darwin worship, I felt that a dissenting post would be good. I’m not particularly interested in arguing it with anyone (it is generally futile any frankly I don’t have the time) but there are quite a few members of the church who sympathize with my point of view and so I thought I’d represent their voice among the other voices.

  5. By the way, the two arguments made in the post against evolution, peppered moths and the embryos, are misleading.
    Yes, Haeckel doctored his pictures so the embryos look more similar than they actually are. But, even though he engaged in fraud, all of these embryos, at least at early stages, have tails and gills. That still stands, and that’s still evidence that evolution happens, and that many of the changes to the vertebrate form occur later in an embryos development (such as the loss of tail and gills in humans).
    And yes, the peppered moths may have been placed on the trunks of trees because they made better pictures that way, but the science behind the peppered moth study is sound–that when the trees get darker, the moths change color too, and when the trees get lighter, the moths get lighter again. Basic evolution here–a change in environment leading to a change in genetic makeup. Fixed pictures, but the science behind those pictures is still sound.
    Also, the fossil record we’ve discovered since Darwin has been amazing. Whales with legs, animals that are half bird half dinosaur, half reptile half mammal, half fish half amphibian–some excellent evidence of multiple transitional forms. We’ve even been able to look at two forms of fish/amphibians, one more fish-like and one more amphibian-like, figure out how old they are, figure out which age of rocks would hold a fossil that would fit in the gap between those two fossils, go to an area with that age of rock exposed to the elements, and find exactly the transitional fossil we were looking for. Pretty impressive stuff.

  6. I have read multiple creationist and ID books, including Behe’s Black Box. I have read shorter articles from Johnson, but not the book mentioned above.
    For a readable, effective rebuttal by an outstanding biologist and writer, I recommend Ken Miller’s “Finding Darwin’s God.”
    I love discussing the evidence behind evolution, but often find that, no matter how much evidence I discuss, those who read it dismiss it without even considering it. So sometimes I get discouraged and I stop trying to explain it, rationalizing that no one will pay attention to it anyway.
    I’ll try not to do so here.
    My question would be–why does Johnson, a lawyer, serve as the father of the ID movement, instead of an actual biologist? If he answers that in his book, I would love to have someone explain it to me.

  7. Tim,

    Reading “creationist and ID books” is kind of vague. Behe’s newer book is better. And your comments don’t seem to show much familiarity with the literature.

    Even the wikipedia article on recapitulation theory acknowledges that it is discredited and rejected. The “tails and gills” are pretty tenuous. “…no cleanly defined and functional “fish”, “reptile” and “mammal” stages of human embryonal development can be discerned. Moreover, development is nonlinear.”

    As far as peppered moths and the fossil record, I haven’t said anything that would deny those things. What you describe as “evolution” is micro evolution. I said that I accept both micro-evolutionary adaptations (peppered moth colors) and a succession of species (fossil record, though it is not nearly as impressive as you seem to think).

    But neither adaptive micro evolution nor a succession of species in the fossil record prove Darwin’s materialist mechanism is capable of producing what we see. The mechanism is what is contested.

  8. “My question would be–why does Johnson, a lawyer, serve as the father of the ID movement, instead of an actual biologist?”

    Sometimes it takes an outsider to bring perspective, ask questions, and challenge assumptions that those who are inside are blinded to. And sometimes someone who is trained as a communicator can articulate criticisms better than someone who is not. If biology departments had time to emphasized effective writing, communication, and written argument then perhaps they would have produced the father of the ID movement.

  9. This has been argued to death, but simply count me in on the side of evolution. The evidence accumulated since Darwin’s original hypothesis (especially the discovery of DNA in the 1950s) has only served to demonstrate that he came to the right conclusion.

    As far as ID’ers claims that Darwin was “godless,” I wonder how many of them have actually read The Origin of Species. Darwin himself concluded the book with this:

    “It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other, in so complex a manner have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the conditions of life, and from use and disuse: a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”

  10. Backgrounds in chemistry, biochemistry, philosophy of science, geology, and law.
    But no backgrounds in biology? Genetics? Evolution? Ecology?
    Don’t you find that a little odd?
    I do recognize that there are a handful of biologists out there (Wells, for example) that are anti-evolutionists. However, Wells, for example, went into biology specifically to discredit evolution–he was asked to do so by his religious leader, Reverend Moon. And somehow he is one of the more prominent proponents of Intelligent Design, along with the lawyer and the biochemist.
    As far as I know, however, not a single member of the church with a PhD in biology is anti-evolution.
    Again, a bit odd.

    It’s been a few years since I delved into the literature, or since I’ve taken a biology class. I’ve changed career tracks, and that stuff is no longer on my radar as much. At this point, having already read some of the ID literature, I’d rather spend my time reading up on cool new scientific discoveries than scientific arguments made by lawyers.
    It’s unfortunate that most scientists don’t have the way with words that lawyers do, but I can assure you that if they did, they wouldn’t be using that way with words to convince people of intelligent design. They’d be using their power to convince people of evolution. I think Ken Miller does a pretty good job, for a scientist. Another recent book, detailing the fossil discovery I discussed above, “Inner Fish,” is also pretty good.

  11. One common misunderstanding made by those who do not have a scientific background is that evolution includes the study of the first life. While science does study it, evolution, as Darwin himself, doesn’t consider it–evolution focuses on what happened after the first cell was created. Science has many ideas about the origins of the first cell, but frankly, the idea that God somehow breathed life into the first cell is probably as valid as any other idea about the origins of the first cell, at least as far as our current state of knowledge is on that subject.
    I can accept that and still think ID is pseudo-science. I’m fairly sure Darwin would feel the same way.

  12. Backgrounds in chemistry, biochemistry, philosophy of science, geology, and law.
    But no backgrounds in biology? Genetics? Evolution? Ecology?
    Don’t you find that a little odd?

    Tim, you make is sound as if there are no biologists who doubt Darwinism. That’s simply not true:

    As far as I know, however, not a single member of the church with a PhD in biology is anti-evolution.

    This is an interesting observation. There are, of course, enormous institutional pressures to conform to the Darwin dogma, and there may be a motivation compounded by a sense of duty not to place the church in the spotlight.

    Any LDS Ph.D. Biologists out there who would be willing to admit to having doubts about the Darwinian Mechanism?

    In any case, your continued harping on the credentials of the criticizers, rather than the merit of their arguments, is a form of the ad-hominem fallacy combined with an appeal to authority fallacy. If their arguments are so clearly incorrect than it should be relatively easy to refute them in a way that is both easy to understand and convincing to non-scientists. You clearly feel that they have. I do not.

    One common misunderstanding made by those who do not have a scientific background is that evolution includes the study of the first life.

    Regarding the study of first life, if lay-people mistake the claims of science concerning the primordial soup for “evolution” it is because the scientists themselves, the public school system, and the media have portrayed it as such. The distinction is only made when evolutionists are pinned down.

  13. I’d love to attack the argument, but arguments by anti-evolutionists are so varied and numerous that I don’t know where to start. Give me a specific example and I’d be happy to address it or send you somewhere where you could address it.
    I’m sorry that scientists aren’t better communicators. Unlike IDers, scientists are not out (for the most part) on a PR buzz. They’re in labs and in the field doing research. They’re not paid for their writing or argument skills. They’re paid for doing science. I agree that they need to do more to educate people, but, as I said above, and as is apparent by how you entirely ignore presented evidence (like my info about fossils), it’s no use teaching people who refuse to learn.
    Have you read any pro-evolution books? Particularly, any evolution textbooks? Many aren’t terribly difficult to understand.
    Also, if you have a specific question about a creationist or ID claim, I recommend going here for answers (yes, scientists do take time to explain, if people would only listen):
    It’s an index of claims and scientist’s replies to those claims. Good stuff.
    I apologize if I sound condescending. I’d reply in the exact same matter to people who get their opinion on religion from someone like Dawkins.

  14. Tim,

    I’m not interested in a tit-for-tat back and forth argument about Evolution. I’ve done that too many times already. Who has the time? Not me. I said I would read the book you recommended and if it changed my mind I would post about it.

    If you are interested in the most recent arguments presented in what I think is the most fair manner, check out Stephen C. Meyer’s The Signature in the Cell which I linked in the post.

    I agree that they need to do more to educate people, but, as I said above, and as is apparent by how you entirely ignore presented evidence (like my info about fossils), it’s no use teaching people who refuse to learn.

    I did not ignore you evidence. I said that I accepted the succession of species that the fossil record shows completely. But the fossil record does not demonstrate that Darwin’s mechanism is responsible for what we see. It shows the “what” but not the “how.” And the “how” is hwat is at issue.

    Let’s just let it be, read the books suggested as time permits, and report back if anything has changed.

    Thanks for your civil tone. I appreciate it.

  15. In my humble way let me say that as a professor I discovered a fact that has been overlooked by all others. As you know, the well-known “stages” of mankind in science books portray a hairy, bent-over, Neanderthal-type creature which increasingly stands more upright over a long period until he is finally standing erect with a 1930s-style haircut. Well, I found out that someone accidentally reversed that sketch! Yes, that is correct! The first creature was actually standing erect with a 1930s-sort of haircut and then over a long period bent over more and more and grew longer hair until we have the final “stage” today. Has anyone been to a rock concert lately and scientifically observed the final “stage”? Of course I am very modest which is why I have resisted revealing this until this momentous occasion of the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s
    “Origin.” Karl Meyer-Haus

  16. I once attended a lecture by Steven J. Gould who said that one of the most difficult things in archeology is to explain why the data does not match the theory. He explained that the fossil record overwhelmingly showed that species immediately show up fully formed, stay exactly the same for millions of years, and then suddenly die out. Which is exactly what it is not supposed to show.

    I have come to believe that much of our theories, even scientific ones, are often more the stuff of philosophical necessity than rigorous unbiased science.

  17. Eric: You’re referring to Gould’s theory of punctuated equilibrium, which is that evolution takes place in brief bursts in response to climatic or other sudden change, rather than gradually and continually. Gould’s theory in no way attacked evolution, it merely refined our understanding of how it occurs. (Gould himself publicly opposed creationism.)

  18. A thought on why no biologists go against evolution: I started college as a computer science major. I was frustrated that the computer geeks in the program were not focused on human solutions and were mono-dimensional. I dropped the program and became a history teacher. Not a perfect example, because I’ve learned that I was being dreadfully stereotypical (and the decision was partially motivated by my weakness in abstract mathematics).

    I cannot imagine someone having the stomach to go through the effort to develop a career in biology and then be willing to throw it away so publicly so that we would hear the critique. Much more likely that someone looking for the holes would be outside the field.

  19. Max — Check out Stephen J Gould’s books. He very effectively addressed every question you raised.

    Geoff — I believe the oldest hominid fossils indicate modern apes evolved from our hominid line and not vice versa. In other words, a common ancester fossil looks a lot more like us than it looks like them.

  20. Here’s an idea, good explanations are on ones that are not easily variable:
    (Skip to 11:11 for the point if you are bored or annoyed by him)

    I read Dawkins looking for a refutation of Behe’s central contention. I read Behe’s as saying that unguided evolution can’t produce a new organ (or chemical process, etc.) when there is no survivability advantage for the intermediary steps. I hadn’t listened to Deutsch’s theory, but he puts his finger on what I didn’t like. Dawkins exhibits great variability in starting from the _conclusion_ that elephant trunks must have conferred a survivability/selection advantage at each step and then introduces a series of conjectures to prove it was possible. Insect flight or the complexities of a spider’s web come from backing down the back slope of the cliff that _must_ be there rather than explaining how the slope works.

    I was very frustrated, because several smart people told me to just read Dawkins and the problem would be explained. I’m still stuck there. I want some explanation that bears observation of a mechanism for making the leaps. I’m not convinced that by the back slope of the cliff argument yet. Any help?

  21. And the debate continues…

    I will state right off that I am emphatically on the side of Intelligent Design. What bothers me with Christian evolutionists against ID is that they have taken it completely political in their position. Theistic evolution is plain and simply- Intelligent design. Now of course every evolutionist will argue with me on this but the fact stands- to put in a creator (intelligent agent) into the mix on the origins of life means that one belives in and supports ID theory. The real issue is that most Christian evolutionists put God in as a mere figurehead stating merely their religious affiliation, but then attempt to explain every origin of life from Darwinian evolution models devoid of any creator. So, the way I figure it is that Theistic evolutionists are really atheists cloaked in a make believe religious belief, or they are really Id’ers but too afraid to admit it.

    I recently had someone tell me they were creationists but believed in evolution, but that they were not bible literalists. Ok, fine, what part of the creation do you believe in? This is the case for all LDS evolutionists for sure- they can’t quite seem to understand where the creator actually fits in but yet will not deny his purpose either. It’s a classic paradox for them literally- they belive in the reality of an intelligent designer but deny that he had any part in designing and operating the actual process.

    Seems kind of hopeless to me. They either need to admit that there is an intelligent designer and that he functioned physically in the mechanism of how and why life came about on this planet, or they need to step aside and deny the creator that darwinian evolution supports.

  22. Jon, I like your post. Don’t you think this is engaging a little bit in semantics, though? For all intents and purposes, you agree that organic evolution is an established scientific fact/process, including both what you are referring to as “micro-evolution” and succession of species. What it is obvious that you do not agree with are the conclusions that many atheists force the evidence of evolution to support. Most Mormons, I believe, agree with you in rejecting the idea that evolution, no matter how factually substantiated, means that there is no God or creator. By this I mean that even Mormons who fully accept evolution as discovered over time and as now represented by the latest research and theories do not believe that the non-existence of God must follow from such theories. In one sense, therefore, although I am sympathetic to the feelings behind your post and certainly agree with the conclusion that God is the creator, it seems that your arguments here are aimed at a straw man: the Darwin presented to us by creedal Christian Fundamentalists. Nothing in Darwin, whether natural selection or otherwise, necessarily negates anything about our Heavenly Father or his purposes, as understood through the further light and knowledge available through the Restored Gospel, although Darwin’s thoughts and theories might indeed be critically damaging for creedal Christian Fundamentalist beliefs (young earth, six literal 24 hour days of creation, creation ex nihilo, no pre-existence of the spirit, election to salvation/damnation, etc. — none of which philosophies Mormons should feel obliged to believe as part of the package of the Plan of Salvation). Let’s part ways with creedal Christian Fundamentalists on ID and other of their pet projects — let’s be confidently Mormon, gracefully harmonizing science and faith, not rejecting any of the magnificent scientific discoveries that God has seen fit to allow man to discover through hard work, meticulous research and complex thought processes.

    If the materialism of Darwin’s conclusions seems to run contrary to how you understand God’s teleological purposes in the creation of the Earth and its inhabitants, then by all means that aspect can fall by the wayside without doing violence to the theories of organic and even human evolution that are most current today. As you already noted in the original post, some aspects of theories of evolution have continued to be refined over time and this will certainly continue to be so. I agree that public schools should not rely on outdated aspects of evolution theories but I would think that there is much value in transmitting knowledge about organic evolution as possible in the public school environment to make sure that our children grow up aware of this important element of modern science and can begin to make it the basis of their further understanding of the world around them and how it works and can be used.

    In short, your contention is with atheistic purveyors of evolution (e.g. the types that get a lot of airtime in the media and set themselves up as popular preachers, so to speak, of atheism) as evidence that God does not exist and not with Mormons whose study of biology and other sciences leads them to agree that the evidence is overwhelming and sufficiently substantiated to show that the process of organic evolution is real and has real applications in our understanding of many other fields of knowledge and scientific inquiry/discovery, all the while maintaing a firm and informed testimony of God, our Savior, and the Plan of Salvation. What purpose is served by going so far in the other direction as a result of a desire to oppose such atheistic exploiters of evolution and getting behind creedal Christian Fundamentalist apologetics against evolution? Their interest in the debate, given their different philosophical/theological premises and outcomes, differs substantially from that of Latter-day Saints.

    In any event, your post was nicely done and given that you state that you are on board with well established evolutionary processes and even succession of species, I can’t see any evolution-supporting Mormon of the type that you implicitly seem to be criticizing in the post accusing you of denying science or being irrational. I certainly see you as a very rational and intelligent friend and have also learned much from you over the years — and I see that reason and intelligence expressed in your frank admission that you see and accept the evidence for evolutionary processes at work in life forms’ continual adaptation even while you feel driven to speak out against the materialist dimension that Darwin’s theories can by used to support.

  23. People have been doubting Darwinism from day one. I imagine they will still be doing so a hundred years from now. If the past is any indication, evolution will still be there, either as elegantly or annoyingly as ever.

  24. @Steve EM

    Max — Check out Stephen J Gould’s books. He very effectively addressed every question you raised.

    Several of you seem to think that my objection to Darwinism consists entirely of spotted moth photos and Haeckel’s drawings. It is much more than that. I am familiar with Gould’s books and arguments and they are not nearly as effective at refuting the issues as you seem to think. In the 2nd edition of “Darwin On Trial” Johnson covers the responses of Gould and others to his book in an appendix and it is pretty telling.

  25. @quandmeme

    Dawkins exhibits great variability in starting from the _conclusion_ that elephant trunks must have conferred a survivability/selection advantage at each step and then introduces a series of conjectures to prove it was possible. Insect flight or the complexities of a spider’s web come from backing down the back slope of the cliff that _must_ be there rather than explaining how the slope works.

    Thanks for your thoughts. This is exactly what I have seen too. A series of conjectured just-so-stories.

  26. @Rob Osborn

    Theistic evolution is plain and simply- Intelligent design.

    they belive in the reality of an intelligent designer but deny that he had any part in designing and operating the actual process.

    Thanks for your thoughts Rob. I tend to agree with you on these points.

  27. @john f.

    Thanks for your considerate and thoughtful comment. It makes me happy that you have been able to understand to a great degree what I am struggling to say.

    While “Intelligent Design” may attract Fundamentalist Christians, and some of its more identifiable characters may be Fundamentalist Christians, it is a big tent that welcomes and includes groups of all kinds that doubt Darwin’s mechanism, including Agnostics. While there are some strains of ID with whisps of creation ex-nihilo, et all, they are really not central or essential.

    The semantics you see are the result of an ambiguity perpetuated by Darwin supporters themselves, who conflate various different meanings of the word ‘Evoltuion” to their advantage.

    Darwin was not the first to observe that species adapt to their surroundings through micro-evolution. Nor was he the first to identify the succession of species in the fossil record. These were rather uncontroversial and widely accepted scientific facts before Darwin published his book. “Evolution” often means “micro-evolution” and “succession of species.” Almost all the scientific evidence we have for “Evolution” supports these two concepts.

    Darwin’s breakthough, his “Theory of Evolution,” was that unguided micro-evolution, combined with purely materialist random mutation and natural selection, was the sole mechanism of speciation. It is that claim that is controversial. And it is also, after 150 years, that claim that has almost no scientific evidence.

    Over the years I have had hundreds, maybe even thousands, of conversations with people who try to show me evidence for the Darwinian mechanism. Upon careful consideration, nearly every so-called evidence put forward as proof of “evolution” ends up being only evidence for either micro-evolution (e.g. Finch beaks) or a succession of species (e.g. transitional fossils) or evidence for intelligently guided evolution (e.g. fruit flies and dog breeding), but not for Darwin’s mechanism itself.

    In other words, Darwin’s purposeless, materialist mechanism is a dogma accepted on faith. For Atheists it makes sense to accept the mechanism based on faith in materialism, but for those of us who believe in a Creator, it doesn’t make sense.

    After careful consideration I have come to believe that Darwin’s mechanism is wholly materialist and purposeless and does not leave any room for a Creator with a purpose. You seem to think that his mechanism does leave room for Him.

    Can you or anyone else who proports to believe in a Creator and in Darwinian Evolution explain to me how exactly a Creator could use a purposeless, materialist process without it ceasing to be both materialist and purposeless and while maintaining the ability of the Creator to accomplish His purposes through it?

    You are a dear friend and I really appreciate and value your perspective and criticism on many things. You would probably enjoy Johnson’s book, even if in the end you did not find it convincing.

    * I probably wont have much more time for response today, though I wil continue to read and approve comments by others.

  28. As a physics education researcher I spend a lot of time identifying and trying to correct conceptual misconceptions that students have. My group has been doing this for 30 years, and still there are many students who study, attend lecture, do the homework, etc., and still end up with some rather large conceptual misunderstandings. Certainly even someone who remains in a discipline for many years will yet have some mistaken ideas, but in my experience it’s far more likely that they have “unorthodox” ideas after having understood very well the fundamentals of their subject.

    On the other hand, it is my experience that those non-physicists who spam graduate students about their latest “discovery” invariably have some very serious gaps in their understanding (and often their logic as well). Thus I am extremely wary of outsiders telling practitioners of a discipline where they went wrong.

    As suggested above, this is not to say that I disagree with the notion that specialists can be blinded by unexamined assumptions and the dominating personalities of rockstars in that particular field. However I am quite content to leave scientific revolutions to members of that particular discipline who have paid the price (e.g. studied a subject for years despite some unanswered questions or suspicions that something isn’t quite right) to be able to think and speak knowledgeably and with authority. In fact I hope to do such revolutionary work. I think many who get into science hope to as well.

    Incidentally, Lee Smolin argues that the physics community is geared more to train artisans and technicians than seers and visionaries, and this may be true in other fields as well, but again I think any needed reforms have to be done from within each community to be taken seriously and to have any lasting effect.

    One idea I’ve recently had about putting God and evolution in the same mixing bowl would have God waiting for (or seeding?) mutations and then modifying external pressures (this is no different from turning on the Tender Mercy generator) to select the one He likes. It’s not exactly natural selection, but it’s indistinguishable from it as far as science is concerned (just as one can always view a Tender Mercy as a coincidence).

  29. Max wrote:

    “In other words, Darwin’s purposeless, materialist mechanism is a dogma accepted on faith. For Atheists it makes sense to accept the mechanism based on faith in materialism, but for those of us who believe in a Creator, it doesn’t make sense.”

    This is where the heart of the problem lies with Intelligent Design’s claim to being “science.”

    Evolution based on natural selection and random mutation is the leading scientific theory because it is a hypothesis that can be tested and falsified. Random genetic mutation has been proven via DNA (a significant win for Darwin’s theory). So far no other falsifiable hypothesis other than natural selection has been brought forward. The hypothesis that there is an “intelligent Designer” is not falsifiable—it is a tenant of faith.

    This is where mainstream scientists balk at ID in the classroom. It’s a perfectly fine theory for the theology or philosophy departments, where it should be included as part of the larger discussion about science and religion. But it is not science.

    As a believing Latter-day Saint, I accept the fact that there is a Creator and that human beings are here on this earth with a purpose. But these are not beliefs that can be empirically tested and confirmed; they are part of the human encounter with the divine, which goes beyond what can be examined and measured.

  30. @Mike Parker

    Again, you are conflating meanings of “Evolution” in just the way I described. Mutation is hardly controversial. DNA evidence of mutation and DNA relationships between species are only evidence for micro-evolution and a succession of species. They offer no support to Darwin’s proposed materialist mechanism as the sole method of speciation.

    ID may not be “science” but then neither is Darwinism. If the last 150 years of trying have demonstrated anything it is that Darwin’s mechanism is not falsifiable. It is true even when the evidence does not support it. That is why Gould and Eldridge came up with “punctuated equilibrium” when the fossil record didn’t support the gradualism of Darwin. They started from the mechanism as axiomatic and then tried to find a new way for the evidence to fit the theory. That is how it always works with Darwinism. If the evidence will always reinterpreted to fit into the conclusion, then that isn’t “science” either. It’s a form of begging the question.

    Perhaps you would like to propose a test that would falsify Darwin’s materialist mechanism that does not conflate micro-evolution and the succession of species?

    I am wary of the compartmentalization of knowledge that you advocate here wherein theology and philosophy are divorced from other related fields. I think that kind of reductionism is problematic because it can’t be truly accomplished. Whether its Theism or Materialism that underlie the methodology, that philosophical underpinning should be transparent to students and practitioners to evaluate for themselves. How is a “Materialist Mechanism of the Gaps” superior to a “God of the Gaps”?

  31. “Can you or anyone else who proports to believe in a Creator and in Darwinian Evolution explain to me how exactly a Creator could use a purposeless, materialist process without it ceasing to be both materialist and purposeless and while maintaining the ability of the Creator to accomplish His purposes through it?”

    Sorry, but don’t engineers use the “purposeless, materialist processes” of Newtonian mechanics all the time? All natural selection requires in diversity and selection and science has shown how a Creator is not necessary in these processes. But why does this mean that a creator couldn’t have influenced the diversity by way of directing mutations or selection by way of smiting/protecting individuals or populations? Just because these thing were not necessary, just as science suggests, doesn’t mean they didn’t happen all the same, as religion suggests.

  32. The argument of ID not being falsifiable is weak and outdated- and unmerited. Lets look at it in the basic principles-

    Evolutionary theory claims that intelligent life has arisen due solely to random unguided and unintelligent events in nature. Id theory claims the opposite mechanism- that intelligent life has not arisen from mere unguided random events in nature. Falsifying ID is as simple as proving that rises in biologic intelligence do in fact come about by random unguided mutations and genetic drift, etc. Thus- it is easy to falsify evolution- prove that rises in intelligence in information leading to new species cannot possibly happen in a random unguided environment.

    It is thus completely logical to state that evolutionary theory is as much “scientific” as is ID theory because otherwise, evolution would not be falsifiable without ID theory.

    In the lab, the scientists has to ask- is this a random or nonrandom process? If it is random, what causes it and what observations can be made? If it is not random, what intelligent cause is seen or observed?

    The phenomenon in nature, as any scientist will agree, is that biologic systems are “intelligent” and that the perpetuation of this intelligence only comes about because the intelligence that perpetuates it. Many, many tests have conclusively shown that intelligent biologic material does not self assemble in a random unguided environment. It is a basic law of nature- some call it the law of biogenesis. In reality, ID theory is just an exyension of further investigating how the law of abiogenesis works in nature.

  33. that last sentence should have said…”In reality, ID theory is just an exyension of further investigating how the law of “biogenesis” works in nature” (not abiogenesis)

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