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.