The pope, evolution, and the sceptics
[dropcap]D[/dropcap]elivering an address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Pope Francis recently declared evolution and Big Bang theory are real and God is not ‘a magician with a magic wand’. “When we read about creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so,” Francis said. “He created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfilment.”In my opinion, whether Pope got it right or wrong might not bother many Christians especially in our Naga context. As such whether Pope got it right or wrong is not a concern in this article, yet, even as a layperson, it interestsmeto point out some of the issues on the theory of evolution, that there are scientific dissents from Darwinism and it deserves to be heard.
However, before we look at some of those challenges posit against evolution, it delights me to quote one of the most influential Christian thinkers in our world today, an analytical philosopher and theologian, William Lane Craig. Presenting his case for God’s existence, Craig observed,
“Something cannot come from nothing: To claim that something can come into being from nothing is worse than magic. When a magician pulls a rabbit out of a hat, at least you’ve got the magician, not to mention the hat! But if you deny something cannot come from nothing, you’ve got to think that the whole universe just appeared at some point in the past for no reason whatsoever. But nobody sincerely believes that things, say, a horse or an Eskimo village, can just pop into being without a cause” (On Guard.p-75).
The pope declares, “God is not a magician” and Craig declares, “it is worse than a magic to say something comes out of nothing.” Of course you notice that there is a vast gap or almost no connection between the two, thus a clarification is needed here, yet I will leave that aside. Craig is arguing for God’s existence, which Pope doesn’t deny either; nor evolution might be the issue inbetween. However, let us look at the other angle, yes, God sure is not a magician, nor has the magic wand, simply because God created everything (Genesis 1; John 1:3) that includes the magicians and their wands, yet if that is true, thenGod can createand do everythingthat is logicallypossible and is intrinsic to His nature (that the pope seem to disagree?) includingperfect complete human beings (not evolved) as the Word of God tells us, “God created Adam and Eve” in His own image (Genesis 1:27).With that say, we now move to some of the problems with the evolutionary theory, which in recent years, numbers of scientists are questioning. Then in a way, puts up skeptical tones on the scientific paradigm of Darwinian in explaining theory of life, and in particular the theory of common descends, the macroevolution. The first part of this article will clarify the usage of the term evolution. John Lennox, a professor of mathematics and philosopher of science at the University of Oxford puts it this way, “…without getting the sense in which a person uses the term evolution, and denying it could look ignorance or stupidity.”(God’s Undertaker:Has science buried God?p.100). Following this, we proceed on to macroevolution and discuss some of the issues that are in question today. Thereafter, I will point out what I call the Darwinists’ sarcasm and list some of the scientists in the recent scientific community, who are skeptical about the biological evolutionary theory. As mentioned earlier, one of the main purposes of this article is to show that there are scientific dissents from Darwinism and it deserves to be heard.
The Evolution: Definition and connotation
The definition of evolution tends to create problems when it comes in dialogues. In a debate, “Has evolutionary theory adequately explained the origin of life?” held between Stephen Meyer and Richard Sternberg, representing Theism, and Donald Prothero and Michael Shermer, representing Atheism, a moderator of the debate defines evolution in order to avoid the debate contesting the definition, then all the four panelist agreed to debate on this definition, “Evolutionary theory means, new forms of life, in a distinctive feature and structure, arising from simpler pre-existing forms of life as natural selection through random mutation and identifies the most sufficient forms consistence for life’s continuation. Origin of life means, origin of the first life from simpler, non-living chemicals, and the development of new living forms, form simpler pre-existing.forms.”(see:http://www.discovery.org/v/1711).John Lennox also remarks this way, “Discussion of evolution is frequently confused by failure to recognize that the term is used in several different ways, some of which are so completely non-controversial that rejection of them might indeed evidence some kind of ignorance or stupidity (but, even then, scarcely wickedness)” (God’s Undertaker.p.101).
What then it conveys to us, is to be careful and listen closely when someone talks about evolution, the use of the term and its connotations. The Oxford Dictionary of Science defines evolution as, “The gradual process by which the present diversity of plant and animal life arose from the earliest and most primitive organisms, which is believed to have been continuing for at least the past 3000 million years.” However, this is just one of the wayspeople intend when they talk about evolution. John Lennox carefully noted five usages of the term evolution in his book God’s Undertaker (pp.102-3):
1. Change, Development, Variation. 2. Microevolution 3. Macroevolution 4. Artificial selection, for example, in plant and animals breeding 5. Molecular evolution.
Lennox then observed, when people talked about the ‘evolution of life’ in the sense of (1) change, development, variation, all they mean is that life arose and has developed (by whatever means) then the term ‘evolution’ is neutral, innocuous and uncontroversial. With regard to (2) Microevolution, he commented that given the explanations, it would not be controversial except insofar as examples of microevolution. (3) Macroevolution, refers to large scale innovation, the coming into existence of new organs, structures, body-plans, of qualitatively new genetic material etc., this is where the difficulties lie, writes Lennox. With regard to (4) artificial selection, breeders have produced many different kinds of roses, sheep from basic stock, etc. as we can see all around today, but he commented that this process involves a high degree of intelligent input and so on (meaning, not by chance or by unguided natural process). Then (5) molecular evolution, which is now commonly used to describe the emergence of the living cell from non-living materials, Lennox comments that this language used can easily obscure the fact that the word ‘evolution’ here cannot mean a Darwinian process in the strict sense. Thus, the disagreements or being skeptical with biological evolutionary theory here is not in the sense of 1, 2, 4 and 5, provided they are used insofar as what they mean, but on 3, the Macroevolution. With these observations in mind, we shall now proceed to some of the problems with the macroevolution.
Macroevolution and its challenges:
Macroevolution generally refers to evolution above the species level. So instead of focusing on an individual beetle species, scientists tell us that a macroevolutionary lens might require that we zoom out on the tree of life, to assess the diversity of the entire beetle clade and its position on the tree. Macroevolution encompasses the grandest trends and transformations in evolution, such as the origin of mammals and the radiation of flowering plants. Macroevolutionary patterns are generally what we see when we look at the large-scale history of life.
In the Darwiniantheory of evolution, the theory of macroevolution comes much later, after the origin of the first living cell and the mircorevolution. Science held that the origin of the first living celloriginated from primordial (lifeless) entitythat scientists don’t know for sure.However, there areeven some honest evolutionary biologists like Richard Dawkins, at University of Oxford and Lewis Wolpert, at University College London (both avowed atheists)admit, “We have no idea how it comes about, the origin of the first life cell is unsolved.” (See. Documentary and Debate: Expelled: No intelligence allowed. Hugh Ross vs. Lewis Wolpert: Is there evidence for a Cosmic Creator). Nonetheless, there are some scientists suggesting theories to account the origin of the first living cell, yet, it might be noted that such explanations are not adequate. On the issue of the origin of the first life, Professor Jim Tour commented, “If anybody should be able to understand evolution, it is me, because I make molecules for a living, and I don’t just buy a kit, and mix this and mix this, and get that…I make molecules. I understand how hard it is to make molecules.” He continues, “I don’t understand evolution, and I will confess that to you, is it okay to say, “I don’t understand this” (Jim Tour was ranked one of the Top 10 chemists in the world over the past decade. See his comments on the Evolution- http://www.jmtour.com/).
It is known today that over in US National Academy of Sciences, Hungarian and Czech National Academies, as well as from universities such as Yale, Princeton, Stanford, MIT, UC Berkeley, UCLA, and others, that in recent years, hundreds of scientists are now questioning evolutionary theory and posing questions on whether it adequately answers the theory of life. There are lists of scientists who signed their disagreement on Darwinian Theory, updated on December 2011, see- www.dissentfromdarwin.org. This group of scientists has signed, been skeptic about evolutionary theory, projects, “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged”(See-www.dissentfromdarwin.org).
One of the primary disagreementson the issue with the theory of macroevolution is the notion of the common descends, the fossil evidence. It is held, though no complete evidences as such are provided or shown today, that all available evidences support the central conclusions of evolutionary theory, that life on Earth has evolved and that species share common ancestors. Also, it is held that Biologists are not arguing about these conclusions. But they are trying to figure out how evolution happens, and that’s not an easy job. It involves collecting data, proposing hypotheses, creating models, and evaluating other scientists’ work. Darwin’s basic conception of evolutionary change and the diversification explains many observations in term of natural processes and is supported by evidence from the natural world, thus some of the questions that evolutionary biologists are trying to answer include: Does evolution tend to proceed slowly and steadily or in quick jumps? Why are some clades very diverse and some unusually sparse? How does evolution produce new and complex features? Are there trends in evolution, and if so, what processes generate them? Biologists are trying to provide the evidences in such questions. (see. http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/0_0_0/evo_48).
Even so, it is held that there is no such established and complete evidence till date for evolutionary theory. In 2012, CBC news reports Paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey, who predicted that scepticism over evolution will soon be history. Leakeyobserved,“Sometime in the next 15 to 30 years, scientific discoveries will have accelerated to the point that “even the skeptics can accept it.” Yet on the other hand, as mentioned earlier, inthe recent years, scientists in different field and philosophers of science alike are increasinglyshowing their scepticism and questioning the biological theory of evolution.
On the records of fossil evidence, John Lennox writes, “The impression that microevolution is limited in its scope is confirmed by the comments of Wesson and others to the effect that the fossil record gives no good examples of macroevolution. This will sound surprising to many people since it is a widespread public impression that one of the most powerful evidences for evolution comes from the fossil record. And yet this impression does not correspond to all that is to be found in the scientific literature. Indeed, at the outset, some of Darwin’s strongest objectors were palaeontologists” (God’ undertaker. p.113). Jonathan Wells, who has PhD in molecular and cell biology at the University of California, on his interview with Lee Strobel observed, “Darwin’s theory predicts a long history of gradual divergence from a common ancestor, with the differences slowly becoming bigger and bigger until you get the major differences we have now. The fossil evidence, even in his day, showed the opposite: the rapid appearance of phylum-level differences in what’s called the ‘Cambrian explosion.’ “Darwin believed that future fossil discoveries would vindicate his theory but that hasn’t happened. Actually, fossil discoveries over the last hundred and fifty years have turned his tree upside down by showing the Cambrian explosion was even more abrupt and extensive than scientists once thought” (Lee Strobel, The case for God.p. 43).
Along the line of Wells’s observation, Zoologist Mark Ridley, whose doctoral advisor incidentally, was Richard Dawkins, made similar comments, ‘the fossil record of evolutionary change within single evolutionary lineages is very poor. If evolution is true, species originate through changes of ancestral species: one might expect to be able to see this in the fossil record. In fact, it can rarely be seen. In 1859 Darwin could not cite a single example.’(Mark Ridley, the problem of evolution.p.11).Furthermore, Lennox cited Palaeontologist David Raup of the Field Museum of National History, which houses one of the largest fossil collections in the world who said, ‘We are now about 120 years after Darwin and the knowledge of the fossil record has been greatly expanded. We now have a quarter of a million fossil species, but the situation hasn’t changed much. The record of evolution is still surprisingly jerky and, ironically, we have even fewer examples of evolutionary transition than we had in Darwin’s time’(God’s undertaker).
In a debate between Christian astrophysicists Hugh Ross and atheist biologist Lewis Wolpert, Ross points out the problem of evolution that it is implausible when it comes to organism, that it can’t explain the whole story in naturalist way. He contented, the primates, we aren’t now observing any change, and there are no significant change in DNA or morphology, and argues that thehypothesis of evolution is invalid (See. http://www.reasons.org/audio/hugh-ross-lewis-wolpert-on-evidence-for-god ). David Jablonski, Michael J. Benton, Robert A. Gastaldo, Charles R. Marshall, and J. John Sepkoski, Jr. also wrote a similar observation with regards to morphology, “Much macroevolutionary research was triggered by the realization that many species appeared to be almost static morphologically after their first appearance in the fossil record rather than evolving continuously. This led to the hypothesis of punctuated equilibrium, which holds that most evolutionary change accrues at the branchpoints of species’ histories rather than over the duration of established species. The fossil record does indeed exhibit many examples of stasis, but contains not only instances of punctuated equilbria, but also punctuated anagenesis (evolutionary histories consisting of stasis and rapid change without branching), gradual anagenesis (constant, directional evolution without branching) and even the gradualistic splitting of lineages that characterized the evolution in classical textbooks. Still unclear is whether these different evolutionary tempos and modes are distributed unevenly among taxa, habitats, regions, or ecological categories.” (See. http://www.nhm.ac.uk/hosted_sites/paleonet
In 2008, a documentary film directed by Nathan Frankowski and hosted by Ben Stein, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, features excerpts from an interview, Stein conducted with Richard Sternberg, described as an evolutionary biologist (who has two PhDs in evolutionary biology and a former editor for a scientific journal associated with the Smithsonian Institution). The film shows that his life was “nearly ruined” after he published a review of a paper by intelligent design proponent Stephen C. Meyer in 2004, allegedly causing him to lose his office, to be pressured to resign, and to become the subject of an investigation into his political and religious views. Sternberg peer review controversy concerns the conflict arising from the publication of an article supporting the controversial concept of intelligent design (ID) in a scientific journal, and the subsequent questions about whether proper editorial procedures had been followed and whether it was properly peer reviewed.
The film also shows some other victims who lost their jobs when they questioned evolutionary theory and suggested that intelligence could be the reason for the origin of life. In the documentary film, Caroline Crocker, a former part-time cell biology lecturer at George Mason University, reports that after she simply mentioned Intelligent Design in her cell biology class, her sterling academic career came to an abrupt end,” she was blacklisted. Michael Egnor, a neurosurgery professor at SUNY at Stony Brook, was also subjected to persecution after writing an essay to high school students asserting that doctors do not need to learn evolution to practice their trade. Robert Marks, a professor at Baylor University, research’s website shut down by the University and was forced to return grant money when it was discovered his work had a link to intelligent design. Guillermo Gonzalez, an astrophysicist, assistant professor at Iowa State University, is interviewed by Stein, who claims that despite a “stellar” research record that led to the discovery of new planets, Gonzalez was denied tenure because his book, the privileged planet argued that the universe is intelligently designed (See. Expelled: No intelligence allowed- A documentary).
Today, it is known that the new evidences from many scientific disciplines, such as cosmology, biology, artificial intelligence research, and others have caused scientists to begin questioning Darwinism’s central tenet of natural selection and studying the evidence supporting it in greater detail. Yet, public TV programs, educational policy statements, and science textbooks have asserted that Darwin’s theory of evolution fully explains the complexity of living things. The public has been assured that all known evidence supports Darwinism and that virtually every scientist in the world believes the theory to be true. Since then, in 2001, the Discovery Institute has launched a list of scientists who have disagreements with Darwinism, and hundreds of scientists have courageously stepped forward and signed their names. As mentioned earlier, the list is growing and it includes scientists from the US National Academy of Sciences, Hungarian, and Czech National Academies, as well as from universities such as Yale, Princeton, Stanford, MIT, UC Berkeley, UCLA, and others. Rebecca Keller, researcher of biophysics, molecular biology, and neuroscience, one among hundreds of scientists who signed the statement, the dissent from Darwinism writes, “I found it important to sign this statement because I believe intellectual freedom fuels scientific discovery. If we, as scientists are not allowed to question, ponder, explore, and critically evaluate all areas of science, but forced to comply with current scientific orthodoxy, then we are operating in a mode completely antithetical to the very nature of science.” Alone the line with Keller, Vladimir L. Voeikov, Professor of Bio-organic, Moscow State University, a member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences similarly writes, “The ideology and philosophy of neo-Darwinism, which is sold by its adepts as a scientific theoretical foundation of biology seriously hampers the development of science and hides from students the field’s real problems.”(See. http://www.dissentfromdarwin.org/).
However, despite some problems and inadequacy of theory of evolution in explaining the theory of life and disagreements with evolutionary theory by hundreds of well-known scientists, people like Richard Dawkins writes, “…today the theory of evolution is about as much open to doubt as the theory that the earth goes round the sun, but the full implications of Darwin’s revolution have yet to be widely realized.” (The selfish Gene.p.1), not only that, Dawkins ironical refers people who questions evolutionary theory as irrational, ignorant and stupid. Can’t we consider such a view as Darwinian Orthodoxy? Yet again, recently, the Pope has declared, evolution is the answer? and that God is not a magician?
As stated in the introduction, one of the purposes of this article is to point out that there are scientific dissents from Darwinism. Two things are then discussed in this article, that the evolutionary theory is in itself inadequate, first, it does not account the origin of the first life living cell, and second, there is lack of fossil evidence to support macroevolution. And that there are numbers of scientists and thinkers who are raising their voices of disagreements on the Darwinian Theory of life today. Yet, at the end, people like Dawkins and Atkins ridicule and caricature those who don’t buy the theory of evolution.
What then it tells us: First, it tells us as Ravi Zachariasmentioning Sir John Polkinghorne (a devout Christian scientist) and Stephen Hawkins(an avowed atheist scientist), both world’s leading scientists today,observed that “There is an intellectual material available for both sides on the issue, and anyone who thinks that he is either avowed or disavowed purely for intellectual reasons betrays a prejudice and a lack of understanding. There have been giants in their thinking capacities who have been skeptics and there been giants who have been believers and those who are committed to the Christian’s perspective (why I am not an atheist. See-http://www.rzim.eu/why-i-am-not-an-atheist-ravi-zacharias-at-princeton). Secondly, what it also tells us as John Lennox observed, is eventually then at itscore, the conflict between the two is not on science, but the worldview one chooses to believe (God’s Undertaker. pp. 15-30). Eventually, then the bottom line I believe is which side one chose to step one’s foot in, as there are on the both sides the giants who hold evolutionary theory and who do not.
Yet again, if one supposed the observation of Lennox to be the case, that the conflict and issue at hand is a matter of worldviewand not on thetwo scientific theories, then what is important is which worldview one chooses to believe. Nonetheless, let us also not forget that every idea and worldview has its consequence. Thus as a Christian,in my opinion,one should not be hasty in placingone’s faith on the things that matter most to us,such as on the worldview that is uncertain. If not, then suspend one’s belief, or perhaps like Professor Jim Tour admit,‘we don’t understandyet,’and look beyond what it mightbethen, and what impacts could it be if eternity is a possibility.