Is Evolution a Fact?
A great deal of publicity has focused on this important question. It is relevant to the fossil record because the assumption of an evolutionary sequence remains the primary means of dating rock layers. We must define the terms at the outset. Gould gives an excellent definition: “Scientific Fact is a theory that is so thoroughly confirmed it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.” (Gould, Stephen J. , Evolution as a Fact and Theory, p.119). “Evolution,” in the origins debate, is simply “molecules to man transformation.” Anything less requires a creation act of some kind. Let’s leave aside the tremendous challenges that cosmic evolution faces in explaining a universe that is fine-tuned for life. Suffice it to say that the field of cosmology has provided a ream of articles over the recent years focusing on the evidence of intelligent design from the universe. Let’s also leave aside the complete failure of chemical evolution and organic evolution scenarios (theories of how the building blocks of life evolved and how life came from non-life–abiogenesis). Suffice it to say that the spontaneous generation of specified complexity faces huge probability problems in the area of information theory. Instead we will focus on biological evolution. A number of obstacles for macroevolution have been identified in recent years. The work that must be done for evolution theory to surmount these formidable hurdles alone should cause it to fail the test as a scientific fact.
The genetic challenge: Where are the beneficial mutations that are adding new information to become the basis for an evolutionary novelty? Since by anyone’s estimation most mutations are not beneficial, can a population reasonably bear the cost of removing the deleterious mutations via differential survival? And what is the impact on the reproductive capacity along the way? This argument, called Haldane’s Dilemma, is well articulated in Walter ReMine’s wonderful book The Biotic Message.
The mechanism challenge: Many people, scientists included, seem unaware that there is no consensus in the evolutionary community regarding the mechanism of macroevolution. Some biologists believe that the mechanisms of macroevolution are fundamentally different from those of microevolution (or genetic variation), while others hold that large-scale biological evolution is merely cumulative variation. The mechanism of natural selection is fraught with tautology and is woefully inadequate when one moves past the typical naive presentation to a complex fitness terrain with epistasis/heterosis (complex gene interactions and recombinations), and polygeny/pleiotropy (multiple genes coding for a trait and single genes influencing multiple traits). The origin and maintenance of sexual reproduction and consciousness in humans remain fundamental problems for the darwinian materialists.
The complexity challenge: The sophistication and apparent design of biological systems cry out for an explanation. This begins at the microscopic level in the “simplest” life forms which display incredibly complex protein machines. Douglas Axe, an expert on protein formation, was able to put a startling number on the odds of nature stumbling upon a useful protein structure–only one good protein sequence for every 10^74 bad ones (Axe, Undeniable, 2016, p. 57.). There isn’t enough time, even by evolutionists reckoning, to randomly produce the proteins required for a single bacterium! In his book Darwin’s Black Box, Michael Behe argues that the evidence from the field of biochemistry gives new force to an argument begun by Paley. William Paley pointed to a watch as an illustration of a system that must be designed because freak chance and the work of natural laws can not explain it. Darwinian gradualism completely breaks down when faced with irreducibly complex systems.
But what about the evidence in favor of evolution? Evolutionists present five general arguments. The first (and arguably the best) is the fact that there is a pattern to life–twin nested hierarchy. We can classify organisms by a cascade of similarities both in morphology and genetics. Second is Darwin’s riddles. These arguments against the creation model begun by Darwin and eloquently articulated by Gould asks questions: “Why would a Designer sometimes use the same pattern for different purposes? Why would a Designer use different designs to accomplish the same ends? Why would an intelligent Designer use jury-rigged and odd designs?” Third is the general trends of simple to complex in the fossil record. More rarely, evolutionists argue that patterns in embryology and biogeography (the geographic distribution of organisms across the world) give evidence of common ancestry.
Various exhibits deal with the difficulties for the Darwinists in the fossil record. The last two arguments have largely been discarded by leading proponents of evolution. If one reads the recent anti-creation books and even the latest NAS primer on teaching evolution, the biogeography argument is not even discussed. Indeed, for a number of years, no modern book surveys this field as evidence for or against evolution. “We conclude, therefore, that biogeography (or geographical distribution of organisms) has not been shown to be evidence for or against evolution in any sense.” (Nelson & Platnick,Systematics and Biogeography: Cladistics and Vicariance, 1981, p.223.) The embryology argument, once powerfully presented by Haeckel and still discussed in some textbooks, has been completely discredited in recent years. Not only has the argument lost its force, but the evidence indicates that Haeckel fraudulently altered the data to bolster the evolutionary illusion.
Walter ReMine argues eloquently for the presence of odd designs being deliberately designed to call attention to the message inherent in the panorama of biological systems. The message is that life was designed by a single designer specifically to confound naturalistic explanations. His book (The Biotic Message, 1993, p. 465) and published paper on Message Theory list several reasons for nested hierarchy.
- It allows for enormous diversity (making it cumbersome for evolution to explain), while
- uniting all of life together, often in a visible way.
- It confounds simpler explanations like transposition (lateral transfer of genetic material) and
- highlights the absence of identifiable phylogeny (ancestor-descendant lineages).
- It conveys the single designer message even when the observer lacks much of the data.
- The pattern is embedded deeply into each organism, thereby making the biotic message resistant to mutation.
- The nested pattern cannot be the haphazard result of a single civilization (panspermia) but rather points to the action of a single Designer.
Evolution never predicted nested hierarchy and Carl Linnaeus’ work on classifying organisms preceded Darwin by over a hundred years. To the extent the patterns did not exist, evolution would happily accommodate with processes of genetic loss, replacement, distant hybridization, anagenesis, transposition, unmasking, panspermia, or multiple biogenesis. Gould stands ready and willing to invoke transposition (the idea of a lateral transfer of genetic material between organisms…vastly more elementary than convergence or natural selection) if the pattern were obliging. “The debate about lateral transfer does not center upon plausible mechanisms. …The issue is not plausibility but relative frequency. Lateral transfer is intelligible and feasible, but how often does it happen in nature? This crucial question must be established by example, not by theory.” (Gould, Stephen J., 1986, “Linnaean Limits,” Natural History, vol. 95, no. 8, p. 18.) To the extent that biodiversity exhibits nested hierarchy it supposedly supports evolution. To the extent that it does not, evolutionists will happily accommodate with a variation on their theory. Evolutionism adapts to data like fog to a landscape! Indeed most of these other mechanisms would be far simpler than the current theory involving natural selection and convergence. They could handily explain troublesome features of the fossil record without resorting to punctuated equilibria. There is no good naturalistic/evolutionary reason for some of them not to have occurred. But the nested hierarchy pattern is intractably resistant to these alternative explanations.
The evidence for the theory of evolution certainly does not qualify it to be called a scientific fact. Indeed, as science has progressed Darwinists have had to retreat completely out of the scientific arena into unfalsifiable positions or resort to contradictory models to deal with special problems. The smorgasbord of competing hypothesis that are left should not even qualify as a scientific theory, much less a fact. Again, ReMine is insightful: “1) Life systematically lacks a pattern of fine-gradations of fossils joining disparate lifeforms together. 2) Life systematically lacks a pattern of clear-cut ancestors and lineages joining disparate lifeforms together. 3) Experimental demonstrations, in the laboratory and in the field, systematically fail to demonstrate a plausible naturalistic origin of our disparate lifeforms. Let me emphasize that these are three separate, independent, failures for evolutionary theory… Any one of these three areas would be sufficient to establish evolution as a fact. Yet the systematic, independent failure of ALL THREE shouts that evolutionary theory is wrong.” (From a private correspondence, used with permission, 1999.)
But some evolutionists counter that evolution, despite its many flaws, is the best origins theory that we have. Usually they won’t even allow the idea of Intelligent Design to be considered, claiming that theories involving the supernatural have no place in science. This is wrong on multiple fronts. First of all, it is conceivable that earth’s life forms could have been designed by naturalistic alien forces. Secondly, there is no reason science cannot evaluate supernatural theories and good reason to allow consideration of all theories so that the best theory wins and science proceeds towards the truth. Thirdly, evolutionary theory itself has steadily retreated from testable science into the Metaphysical Arena.