Since this year is the bicentennial of Charles Darwin’s birth (and also the sesquicentennial of his landmark book The Origin of Species) I thought I’d post something related to the modern champion of evolutionary theory. While I do believe in natural selection and affirm the explanatory power of this mechanism when it comes to many biological adaptations and modifications, I am no Darwinist. That is, I don’t think natural selection can explain the evolution of whole new biological families, much less new classes or phyla, of animals. And the fallacy of the Darwinian paradigm, insofar as it affirms the common ancestry of all organisms, can be summed up in two words: hasty generalization. Just because variation within species (or, to be generous, new species and perhaps even new genera) can be produced through natural selection, it does not follow that all plants and animals evolved from a common ancestor. In fact, there are many reasons to believe that common ancestry is false, even impossible.
So while many tributes to Darwin this year have celebrated the reputed fulfillment of the man’s dreams of a scientific explanation of all living things, I’d like to list some of his worst nightmares. Here are, to my mind, some of the bigger problems with Darwinism, proceeding from particular problems to more general issues.
1. The Monotremes – These are the egg-laying mammals (including the platypus and the spiny anteater). It’s not just these anomalous beasts that are problematic for Darwinism, but the whole step from egg-laying to live births. One wonders how such a transition could ever take place. Also, if it was somehow environmentally necessary, then why are there still so many thousands of species of successful egg layers? All of these animals are doing just fine, thank you very much.
2. The Elephant – Consider the elephant’s trunk, an appendage so nimble that it basically has the functionality of both a hand and a water hose. The trunk is, or is often called, a fusion of the “nose” and “upper lip.” Also, the elephant appears to be the only animal with four knees. Or, if the front knees are actually more like wrists, as some maintain, it remains the case that these joints function like knees.
3. Marsupials – In marsupials, such as kangaroos, koalas, and possums, embryos (at just 4-5 weeks!) leave the womb, crawl up the mother’s abdomen, and then crawl down into a pouch where there is a milk-producing nipple waiting for them. Which came first, the life-sustaining pouch or the premature embryonic ex-cervical adventures? And how to explain the embryo’s excursions in the first place?
4. Flight – Explaining the emergence of flight is not just a problem for Darwinism. It is four separate problems, since there are (or have been) flying insects, bats, reptiles (Pterosaurs), as well as birds.
5. The Eye — Darwinists typically point to light-sensitive spots in primitive organisms as precursors of the eye. But such structures are so far from what we find in fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals as to be useless in providing a genuine account of eye evolution. The coordination of meticulous musculature, circulatory, neurological, and anatomical structures in even the fish eye is mind-boggling. And mere sensitivity to light is categorically different from what a true eye produces: a mental image or a visual experience, which leads us to the next item on our list.
6. The Emergence of Consciousness – Not only is it impossible for Darwinism to explain how brains first produced awareness and cognition, but Darwinism cannot tell us why this extraordinary capacity should evolve. Philosopher of mind David Chalmers puts it like this: “The process of natural selection cannot distinguish between me and my zombie twin. Evolution selects properties according to their functional role, and my zombie twin performs all the functions that I perform just as well as I do… It follows that evolution alone cannot explain why conscious creatures rather than zombies evolved” (from The Conscious Mind [Oxford, 1996], p. 120)
7. Sexual Reproduction – The evolutionary development of reproductive organs that are morphologically and physiologically complimentary is unthinkable. Evolutionary biologists tend to focus on the value of sexual reproduction for strengthening species. But this is not the point at issue. The question is how the mechanism could emerge in the first place and how such massively complex reproductive systems could change so dramatically in parallel (mutually complimentary) fashion.
8. The Cambrian Explosion – Classical Darwinism predicted that the geological strata (layers of rock in the Earth’s crust) would reveal a gradual increase of complexity in living forms. With the advance of geology and paleontology, exactly the opposite was discovered. The earliest strata in which multi-cellular life appears, Cambrian period, features a sudden appearance of very complex organisms.
9. The Lack of Intermediate Fossil Forms – In addition to the problem of sudden appearance of complex life, there is the stunning lack of fossil evidence for intermediate forms between the classes of animals, e.g. from reptile to bird (sorry, Archaeopteryx is a true bird), reptile to mammal, land mammal to sea mammal (cow to whale?), etc. Darwin himself seemed to sense the seriousness of this problem: “Why … is not every geological formation and every stratum full of… intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory” (The Origin of Species [Penguin, 1968], p. 292).
10. Self-Defeating Implications – Philosopher Alvin Plantinga has brilliantly demonstrated that a naturalistic Darwinist perspective undermines itself. If all aspects of living organisms were produced solely because of their survival value, then this means that even human cognition exists just because it is practical in this way. But nowhere in this account is there a concern for truth as an aim of cognition. In short, if human cognition (e.g., beliefs, reasoning, concept formation, etc.) were produced through evolution, then we have no reason to trust its capacity to produce true beliefs. So we have no grounds for trusting any of our beliefs, including our theories about origins. This means that if Darwinism is true then we have no reason to believe that it is true. G.K. Chesterton seems to have glimpsed this point when he said, “Evolution is a good example of that modern intelligence which, if it destroys anything, destroys itself. Evolution is either an innocent scientific description of how certain earthly things came about; or, if it is anything more than this, it is an attack upon thought itself” (Orthodoxy [Doubleday, 1908], 34). Amen.
Great article! Bonus points for mentioning Plantiga. Double bonus for quoting Chesterton! Not being a particularly smart person myself, I have often wondered if that was the reason I have always found Natural Selection not to be a completely satisfactory explanation as to how we all got here. It is always interesting and a comfort to little folks like me that there are intelligent people who also find some problems with the theory. But I am not so sure it is a safe topic of conversation these days, unless you are in line with the mainstream opinion that Darwinism is unquestionable fact…see movie Expelled.
Question: what do you say when Darwinists say “All these questions will be answered in time by Science” and to follow, you are accused of believing in “the God of the Gaps”?
“Question: what do you say when Darwinists say “All these questions will be answered in time by Science” and to follow, you are accused of believing in “the God of the Gaps”?”
Well if you ask a “darwinist” who have atleast basic uderstanding of the current evolutionary model, he will answer : What do you mean? Those questions were answered ages ago.
And about “the God of the Gaps”, I am afraid the only thing you can do is agree, because thats exactly what those arguments boil down to:
“Evolution can not explain “X”, therefore my culturaly inherited supernatural explanation is correct.”
Unless I misunderstand what Jim is saying in point 10, science cannot answer the objections raised in point 10. And if it thinks it can, then science as science is finished because it cannot think straight.
I’d like to recommend to you a book on this very topic. “The Language of God” by Francis Collins. Collins is the former director of the Human Genome Project, and a very well-respected scientist in many other aspects, as well. This book addresses many of the questions and concerns you raise here with very sound, researched-based scientific reasoning. The thing I especially love about this particular book is that Collins also tells how he became a Christian as an adult scientist. In fact, he came to Christ largely because of his understanding of, and appreciation for science. I’ve read of well-respected scientists who ‘hang onto their faith’ despite their scientific understanding, but not of a scientist who came to believe in God largely because of the beauty he finds in science. I like to think there are more of us out there, perhaps Collins is just more eloquent than most. Anyway, it’s an excellent read on both of those levels. Stop by Casa de Fortner some time; we’ll loan you a copy, feed you, dance to the Followill brothers, etc!
Thanks for the very insightful collection. I’m leaving for the Galápagos Islands in less than 5 hours and decided to take a pass on your blog… how appropriate this most recent post :)! I’ll take a picture next to Lonesome George for you.
Keep up the good work,
I find it both reassuring and depressing that G.K. Chesterton was debunking the same silliness in his day that we still contend with now.
Mankind sometimes goes out of its way to deceive itself.
Hi Mr. Spiegel,
Hi was just browsing some other blog entries and I came upon this one. Very interesting, but it’s clear you’ve been reading too many inaccurate sources on evolution.
Many of these I know the answers to off the top of my head so I’ll focus on those since I don’t have a lot of time this afternoon.
# 5 The Eye: Yes, that is how eyes first developed, starting out as light sensitive skin cells, but these spots further evolved and these evolutionary stages can still be seen throughout the animal kingdom today.
From TalkOrigins (http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB301.html) here are the various stages of eye evolution:
* photosensitive cell
* aggregates of pigment cells without a nerve
* an optic nerve surrounded by pigment cells and covered by translucent skin
* pigment cells forming a small depression
* pigment cells forming a deeper depression
* the skin over the depression taking a lens shape
* muscles allowing the lens to adjust
All of these steps are known to be viable because all exist in animals living today.
# 7 Sexual Reproduction: Why is this “unthinkable?” Individuals don’t just evolve, but entire populations do as well, which easily explains the “complimentary” nature of the sex organs. Men and women evolved together.
# 8 The Cambrian Explosion: The Cambrian did have an abundance of complex organisms, but it also contained less complex creatures called lobopods that were essentially worms with legs, an example of a transitional form. (http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CC/CC300.html)
Even though the Cambrian yielded some of the first fossils, these were by no means the first forms of life. Earlier forms of life (and much more simple) have also been found, but they were mostly soft-bodied and do not fossilize as easily, though some have been found. There is also molecular evidence showing that at least six animal phyla are Precambrian.
# 9 The Lack of Intermediate Fossil Forms: You quote Darwin from 1968 (!) as saying there are no transitional fossils, by why rely on such an outdated source of information? Darwin’s book is a classic and should be read, but much has been learned since Darwin’s time. There have been an abundance of transitional fossils found. I mentioned the lobopods above as one example. Here are a few more:
Archaeopteryx, Protarchaeopteryx, Ichthyostega, and Tiktaalik roseae
Hopefully that helps clear up some confusion. I also listed some websites that will give you more information.