EVOLUTION: FACT OR PHILOSOPHY?

by Jan Young


CHAPTER 8: TWO VIEWS IN THE CLASSROOM

We have now heard two opposing points of view. One group of scientists sees the theory of evolution as very scientific. A smaller group raises serious questions about the theory. According to one view:

"...The existing framework of the evolutionary synthesis is essentially unshakable..," and there is "not a dent in it." (Ernst Mayr)

"In fact, the strongest of all indications as to the fact of evolution and the truth of the theory of natural selection is that all the independent findings of scientists in every branch of science, when they have anything to do with biological evolution at all, always strengthen the case and never weaken it." (Isaac Asimov)

"But here on earth we see clearly that life has progressively evolved into more and more complex systems; there certainly is no question about that. The evidence for evolution is clear-cut and incontrovertible; we see it in the fossil record, in comparative biochemistry and anatomy, and in embryonic developments." (David Fisher)

"There is probably no other notion in any field of science that has been as extensively tested and as thoroughly corroborated as the evolutionary origin of living organisms." (Encyclopaedia Britannica)

"Evolutionary change is undeniable. Evolutionary theory is a collection of carefully reasoned and tested hypotheses about how evolutionary change occurs." (Miller and Levine)

Then, on the other hand:

"This raises the most basic question of all. If there are so many problems with Darwinism, and no satisfactory alternative within the framework of evolution, why not reevaluate the framework? What makes our scientists so absolutely certain that everything really did evolve from simple beginnings?" (Phillip Johnson)

"...And throughout the past century there has always existed a significant minority of first-rate biologists who have never been able to bring themselves to accept the validity of Darwinian claims. In fact, the number of biologists who have expressed some degree of disillusionment is practically endless." (Michael Denton)

"...Classical Darwinism is no longer considered valid by qualified biologists." (Norman Macbeth)

“…Darwinism is an inadequate framework for understanding the origin of complex biochemical systems.” (Michael Behe)

You are now faced with a dilemma. You have heard two conflicting views about evolution. What should you conclude? Part of being educated is learning to think, not just memorizing facts. This book is based on the concept that learning is enhanced when more than one view is presented. You are being encouraged to think critically, to use logic.

You will notice that many questions have been asked in this book. One of the purposes has been to get the reader to ask questions.

But what about answers? How can you know which answer is right? Read other books on evolution and compare them with this one. Don't base your conclusions on any one book, or any one person's views. Make sure you have evidence on which to base your conclusions. If some evidence seems to conflict with other evidence, keep reading and thinking.

Think like a scientist. Look for more evidence. Ask questions about the evidence you have found. Then draw logical conclusions.

Two views of evolution have been presented in this book. One view accepts the theory of evolution. One view questions it. This chapter examines the proposition that both these views can and should be presented in the classroom. A look at some of the issues involved may help to defuse this explosive topic.

The Scientific Method

In Chapter 2, we discussed the scientific method, the time-tested backbone of science. Can evolution be studied by the scientific method, by means of repeated identical experiments, to see how it happened? If macroevolution happened, there is no way to repeat those events so they may be studied.

Stephen Jay Gould makes it clear that evolution cannot be studied by the scientific method. This is because evolution, if it happened, was a historical, non-repeatable event. Evolution is not one of the "pure" sciences but is a "historical" science. History can be studied and explained but not examined in a test tube or under a microscope.

He claims, "We cannot see a past event directly, but science is usually based on inference, not unvarnished observation..." On the contrary, the pure sciences, such as physics or chemistry, are based on observation. Historical science, such as evolution, can only be based on inference. There is a big difference.

Some things can be definitely tested and known to be factual. Tests can be performed to determine the weight of an object. This weight can be known for certain. No matter how many times it is repeated, the same weight will be obtained, regardless of the pre-existing bias of the scientist. This weight is not subject to interpretation. Results gleaned in this manner, by the classic scientific method, are truly scientific.

In his book, Wonderful Life, Gould admits that such sciences as cosmology (the study of the universe), geology (the study of the history of the earth as recorded in the rocks), and evolution cannot be studied with the same tools used in other sciences. It is important to establish the fact that evolution cannot be studied by the scientific method. This is not to say that the theory may not have some validity, or that it cannot be studied by some other method. It is obviously one possible interpretation of the evidence around us.

We have seen that the evidence regarding evolution can be interpreted in different ways, often depending on the pre-existing bias of the scientist. This brings up a very important question. Is evolution science or is it philosophy? We talk about who "believes in" evolution and who doesn't. That seems to indicate a belief system, rather than science, in the strictest sense of the word.

Almost everyone will agree that a certain amount of change does take place. The argument is over just how much change can happen, and has happened. Also at stake in this argument is whether it can be proved, and how it can be proved. Much of the heated debate could be avoided if evolutionists would admit that the amount of change is unknown, and that historical events cannot be studied in the same way that science can.

Protecting the Status Quo

Because of the strong support given to the theory of evolution by most scientists, many people refuse to consider the possibility that it could be invalid.

However, there are reasons other than a quest for truth about origins that influence scientists in their support of the theory. Considering its weaknesses, why do so many scientists embrace this theory so fervently? One important reason is, they wish to protect the status quo.

"Evolution is a fact and it cannot be upset without discarding all of modern biology, biochemistry, geology, astronomy--in short, without discarding all of science,"

says Isaac Asimov. He is only partly right. If the theory of evolution collapses, then all these branches of modern science may be in for some major shaking up. This explains the passion with which evolutionists defend their theory. They have a great deal at stake--their life's work, their professional reputation.

These sciences will never be discarded. But if they are based on false assumptions, what is wrong with rethinking them? What is wrong with admitting that in some areas, we just don't have the answers? This is only a problem for those whose careers and reputations will be on the line, and who are more interested in personal considerations than in ultimate truth. Herein lies an important reason why many scientists close their eyes to all information that is contrary to evolution.

How far are scientists willing to go in protecting the status quo? In a book review of Darwin on Trial, Thomas Woodward tells of scientists who are supportive of the author's position (that of criticizing evolution), who "describe a system of 'thought control' under which it is professional suicide to question the basic assumptions under which evolutionary science operates." (Woodward writes this under the sub-title "Biological thought police," reminding us of George Orwell’s book, 1984.)

Sometimes scientists, just like the rest of us, are afraid of change, of threatening ideas. For proof, read Stargazers and Gravediggers, by Immanuel Velikovsky. This is the story of a book that challenged the accepted scientific theories of the day (back in the 1950s), and of how the scientific community tried to suppress the book and discredit the author. If the new information and new interpretations were true, many of them had a great deal to lose. They would have to admit, if the book was correct, that some of what they had believed, taught and written about for years was now known to be false.

Norman Macbeth observes, in Darwin’s Enigma, that teachers try to “protect the traditional and sacred theories that were taught to them in school and that they’ve been teaching to their own students.” No one likes to admit that their ideas might be wrong or are based on misinformation. But it is more important to find out if what you believe is really true, than to hold onto what could be a wrong idea because you are afraid of looking bad.

Gould says,

"We know that evolution must underlie the order of life because no other explanation can coordinate the disparate data of embryology, biogeography, the fossil record, vestigial organs, taxonomic relationships, and so on."

Regardless of whether or not this is true, let's assume that there currently is no other explanation. Does that prove, or even imply, that this one must therefore be true? Is this a logical conclusion?

As a lawyer, Macbeth points out the fallacy of a theory being considered good or true, merely because it is the best of several choices. If they are all poor choices, that does not prove the "best" one to be true or accurate. Many evolutionists ignore valid objections because a better theory has not been proposed (at least, not one that they are willing to consider). Macbeth argues that "whether a better theory is offered is irrelevant." Ignoring or suppressing evidence in order to maintain the status quo, simply because there is no better explanation, hardly seems scientific.

But Denton points out that, nonetheless, theories tend to be held until an acceptable alternative is available. At present there is only one known alternative, special creation, so evolution continues its grip on science. That alternative is not even considered by evolutionists as a possibility. Evolutionists say that the theory of special creation is not scientific, because they define science as evolution.

Philosophical and Religious Implications

Another reason that the majority of scientists support evolution, besides a need to protect the status quo, has to do with the philosophical and religious implications of both evolution and its historical alternative, creation, also known as special creation. Why is special creation seen by many scientists as an unthinkable alternative to evolution? Some feel that anyone who questions evolution must be a religious fundamentalist who accepts a young earth and the literal biblical account of creation in six days. This is not true. Many people hold a position that lies somewhere between the two extremes.

Numerous scientists who question the theory of evolution are not creationists. Some who are evolutionists feel that the present theory—Darwinian evolution--is completely inadequate to explain how evolution happened. (Darwinian evolution is slow, gradual change, by natural selection working on mutations.) Others who do not accept creation believe that evolution as presently understood could not have happened, and that there must be an explanation, other than evolution or creation, that has not yet been discovered. British physicist Alan Hayward details the thinking of many leading European evolutionists who reject Darwinism in his book, Creation and Evolution.

In fact, a new position called “intelligent design” has recently become popular. Well-known proponents of intelligent design include Phillip Johnson (Darwin on Trial), Michael Denton (Evolution: A Theory in Crisis), and Michael Behe (Darwin’s Black Box). Their writings have made a powerful case against Darwinian evolution, without insisting on creationist assumptions. Their views stress philosophical assumptions. They believe it is highly unlikely that the complexity of life is a result of chance. As Behe says, “the conclusion of intelligent design flows naturally from the data itself--not from sacred books or sectarian beliefs.”

Referring specifically to the field of geology, Whitcomb and Morris (The Genesis Flood) explain why so few have challenged the evolutionary school of thought:

"It is unlikely that many students majoring in the field could survive several years of intensive indoctrination in the uniformitarian interpretation of geology without becoming immune to any other interpretation and still less likely that they would ever be granted graduate degrees in this field without subscribing wholeheartedly to it."

The theory of evolution is based on the concept that the complexity of life must be the result of random change. Special creation and intelligent design theory are based on the concept that the complexity of life appears to be the product of design. Many scientists automatically exclude the possibility of design because of its religious implications, or dismiss intelligent design theory as special creation in disguise. However, Behe argues,

"The philosophical commitment of some people to the principle that nothing beyond nature exists should not be allowed to interfere with a theory that flows naturally from observable scientific data.”

Denton points out that those who are skeptical about evolution come not only from the ranks of religious fundamentalists, whom evolutionists categorically label as unscientific, "but also from very respectable members of the scientific establishment."

Is evolution non-religious? It is based as much on belief as on facts. It is based on certain presuppositions about the non-existence of a God, and results in a belief system based on humans being merely the highest animals. This in turn results in a certain value system, one lacking purpose in life and lacking absolute morality. Johnson says:

"Darwinist evolution is an imaginative story about who we are and where we came from, which is to say it is a creation myth. As such it is an obvious starting point for speculation about how we ought to live and what we ought to value."

Evolutionists insist that science must be naturalistic. In other words, there can be no supernatural power at work in the universe. Why? That is merely the assumption that some people have made who hold that point of view. If there is no supernatural power, then that view is true. But if there is a supernatural power, then that point of view would be false.

Numerous polls show that the majority of Americans believe there is a supernatural power, a world view that is not strictly naturalistic. Can this view be dismissed by arguing that the majority of Americans are uneducated or unthinking? Is naturalism the only truly scientific view?

In our society, science, for many, has taken the place of religion as an authority figure. If something is labeled as "scientific," we believe it. If someone who is called a "scientist" makes a claim, we believe that person, because he or she is thought to operate on a level beyond that of the ordinary human being.

To question the authority of science is heresy, as in any religion, and scientists have little patience with those who dare to challenge their conclusions. Newell illustrates this attitude:

"People with little or no elementary scientific training who are not acquainted with the essential nature of science make up a large part of the general public. They cherish the factual, love the imaginative, but do not know the difference between the two. Consequently, they are susceptible to error when presented with problems that require for their solution at least elementary scientific knowledge--knowledge of the limitations, as well as the potentials, of science."

This implies that many of the general public can't tell the difference between fact and imagination when it comes to scientific truth, because we don't have enough scientific training. On the contrary, many non-scientists are intelligent enough to think critically and draw logical conclusions, to identify faulty reasoning and scientific fallacies. (Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, was a theologian, not a scientist. He became a self-styled naturalist. Many early evolutionists were not scientists.)

Evolution is a world view full of religious implications. Not all religious belief systems have a God. Religions without a God are called “non-theistic” religions. Evolution is the foundation of such non-theistic recognized religions as atheism and humanism. The philosophers of the 1800s had rejected God and traditional religion in favor of the idea that existence lacks purpose. It is quite possible that Darwinism was accepted so quickly and so non-critically because it justified their belief system.

Therefore, it is incorrect to define evolution as scientific and any other view of origins as religious. Likewise, it must be conceded that no view of origins can truly be examined by the scientific method. As this book has demonstrated, it is possible to discuss the scientific evidence for both views of evolution in a non-religious context.

Science Redefined

One reason that science teachers feel justified in presenting the theory of evolution as the only theory of origins, besides the fact that they were taught it in school, is because science has been redefined to mean naturalism and evolution.

In Chapter 3, we saw that many scientists have redefined "life" to mean the process of evolution. If science means evolution, then that means that those who don't believe in evolution, or who at least question evolution, are unscientific. By defining science as evolution, evolutionists have created an effective method of stifling discussion and debate over the real issue--facts.

Newell's comment is typical of those evolutionists who feel that such skeptics cannot even be considered scientists:

"The sterile controversy over evolution is not, as the creationists would like the public to believe, a split within the scientific community, because the creationists are not part of that community."

Does science mean only evolution? Can you question evolution and still be scientific? Consider these comments from Dean H. Kenyon, Professor of Biology at San Francisco State University and co-author of Biochemical Predestination, who has taught many courses on evolution. In the foreword to What is Creation Science?, he claims that "more and more professional scientists holding evolutionary views are beginning to take the creationists' scientific challenge seriously for the first time."

He believes that creation science is legitimate science, and finds it "regrettable" that "many have considered it to be simply religion in disguise." He now believes that "all students of the sciences (at any level) should be taught the major arguments of both the creation and evolutionary views."

Present Both Views

Scientific evidence for all views of origins can be presented in the school system without damage to the learning process or to the constitutional issue of separation of church and state. If the evidence presented is based on facts, and is presented without religious arguments, how can it help but enhance the learning process? Learning is enhanced, not damaged, when critical thinking is involved. Students should be taught to compare and weigh evidence.

Teachers need to understand that all scientific models of origins can be presented and discussed in the classroom without breaking the law. It is both legal and constitutional to discuss scientific data. To exclude data unfavorable to evolution on the grounds that it is the basis of a religious belief is to use faulty logic. Evolution is the basis for well-known religious beliefs also, yet this fact is completely overlooked by science teachers.

Unfortunately, the present classroom climate discourages both student and teacher from critical thinking in this area. In many classrooms, fear of legal censorship intimidates students and teachers. This situation should not exist in the United States of America, and is based on a lack of knowledge of our laws and our constitution.

In the famous Scopes Trial in 1925, with the opposing lawyers Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan, attention was focused on the issue that more than one theory of origins ought to be presented in the classroom. At that time, only creation was being taught in the schools, and many felt that the theory of evolution should also be presented. The courts upheld the teaching of both.

Now we have just the opposite situation. In a book review of Phillip Johnson’s book, Reason in the Balance, Tim Stafford comments, “Today evolution has become the pious orthodoxy, and it is creationists who hold the daring views too shocking for children to hear.” (Christianity Today, Jan. 8, 1996)

In most schools, only evolution is presented. And today, the issue is the same--many believe that more than one theory of origins ought to be presented in the classroom. If it was legal then, it is still legal now.

All data, not just selected data, needs to be presented, regardless of the implications or conclusions that may be drawn from it. If evolution does eventually turn out to be a fact, then evolutionists have nothing to fear from an honest presentation of all the evidence. If evolution is not a fact, then what scientific purpose has been served by withholding conflicting evidence?

To give some leeway for the various points of view that scientists hold would defuse some of the controversy. If textbooks included the information that there is conflicting evidence and a lack of consensus among scientists, they would not give the impression that students are being indoctrinated with an unproved theory, which is how things appear to many people at the present. If textbook publishers would remember that science means "knowledge," not "belief," much of what is philosophy would be deleted, and the matter of origins could be treated with greater intellectual honesty.

Without doubt, there is some evidence for the theory of evolution. The purpose of this book has been to point out that there is also evidence against it. Evolutionists have not yet made a strong case for the naturalistic origin of life. Legitimate questions can also be raised about the fossil evidence, the geologic time scale, macroevolution, and the biologic mechanisms behind evolution.

This book makes no pretense of having discussed all the evidence regarding evolution. But enough evidence has been presented to give you an overview of the problems. Now you must draw your own conclusions. Is evolution a fact, or is it a philosophy?


Copyright 2003 Jan Young

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