Many years ago I learned how thoroughly evolutionary theory had penetrated our culture. While watching the first installment of the Disney movie The Land Before Time with my sons I gazed with some amusement as colorful one celled organisms struggled through the soupy blue-green sludge to evolve, though several mutations and incarnations, into the adorable little dinos who would populate the movie and then, one day, the Earth.
Of course the nexus between that opaque little cell and the extraordinary creatures who would relentlessly pound the earth billions of years later is never clearly established. But then again, how the dinosaurs emerge speaking idiomatic English with outbursts of American slang is never made too clear either. It all makes good television.
The question today is whether it all makes good science.
The 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth will be celebrated this week, as will be his most famous work On The Origins of Species which was published in November, 1859 almost exactly 150 years ago. Back then the book hit Victorian England with the power of a full force gale, lifting the sheeting right off the rooftops of the Anglican Church and exposing the narrowness and impossibility of the Biblical narrative of Creation.
For the Church itself it was a call to arms since the evolutionary theory articulated by Darwin suggested that life could never have sprung into existence ab initio but required a slow process of mutation and transformation which probably took billions of years. In light of Darwin’s theory, it was then preposterous to declare the world only 5,000 years old and that man had entered it at more or less the same time as all other living creatures.
But the Darwinist revolution had an even more significant cosmological impact. If the Biblical narrative of Creation was demonstrably untrue, then perhaps the existence of a Deity, masterminding that Creation could also be dealt a death blow. Extrapolating further, order in the universe, and indeed its very purpose and meaning, could be questioned. Life, if one followed Darwin’s irreducible logic, actually had very little direction or purpose without the guiding hand of a Creator. Consistent Darwinism meant no life after death, no foundation for ethics, no free will, no ultimate meaning in life.
It is not an exaggeration then to state that the advent of Darwinism heralded the reign of secular humanism in British life and the eventual ennoblement of atheism throughout the western hemisphere. It was the midwife to Nietzcheian existentialism and the foster mother of 20th Century nihilism. Today, evolutionary theory and the concept of scientific materialism that it enshrines has become an ideological fortress that one assaults at his own peril. You can barely whisper a word of doubt about evolutionary theory without being immediately shelled with lethal amounts of outrage and scorn by our intellectual elites. For them, evolutionary theory has not just become a building block of modern science, but an unassailable truth, as accurate as a mathematical formula and as empirically proven as the earth’s orbit of the sun.
That, of course, would be fine if evolutionary theory had been proven unassailable. But the fact is that the theory, over the past 150 years, has been repeatedly punctured, leaving gaping holes that have been extraordinary difficult to fill. Missing is the fossil evidence which would reveal how one species changed and adapted over several billion years to produce the final product. Or as physicist Gerald Schroeder puts it:
“ In the entire fossil record, with its millions of specimens, there has been found no midway transitional fossil at the basic levels of phylum….. no trace of an animal that was half the predecessor and half the successor of its parent group.”
In other words, no missing link.
On the contrary, the fossil record portrays the continuity of the same morphology of plant and animal forms for billions of years, only to be upset by a sudden transformation which began in the Cambrian period. Therefore evolutionary theory’s linear, gradual transformations of plant and animal life has not been proven, not enough at least to justify the Darwinists’ claim that the theory is incontrovertible. That proof may still be waiting, buried thousands of feet under the earth’s surface; or perhaps lying embedded on an ocean floor. But until it is revealed, the jury is still out on evolution.
I will leave to others, such as the molecular biologist Michael Behe in Darwin’s Black Box, the philosopher David Stove in Darwinian Fairy Tales ( an AFA recommended book of the month) or the mathematician William Dembski’s The Design of Life to amplify the claim that the proofs adduced by both Darwin and his successors have presented far more questions than they have ever answered. Suffice to say they show the Darwinian mechanism of chance variation and natural selection to be inadequate in accounting for the full diversity of life in the universe.
But I wouldn’t tell that to Richard Dawkins. The best selling author who has made millions debunking religious faith has declared that “ it is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane.” The naturalist Edmund O. Wilson has stated that “ evolutionary theory is so ingrained in our intellectual approach to the world that anyone who disavows it should be regarded as mentally incompetent.” The Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg has stated that from all his research into the substance and mechanics of the universe he finds the universe to be pointless and “only a little above the level of farce – and only a fool would think otherwise.” These guardians of evolutionary theory, together with the late professors Stephen J. Gould and Carl Sagan have become the celebrity high priests of a movement that they regard – and demand that society regard – as inviolable.
But be warned. The dogmatism that has attached to the defense of evolutionary theory since its beginnings, can also stand accused as the progenitor of some of the most malign practices and political movements of the 20th century. The pervasive Darwinian notion of the survival of the fittest (a term coined not by Darwin but by the 19th Century philologist Herbert Spencer) gave Nazi propaganda regarding Jewish unfitness for life most of its intellectual heft. Marxism ( and Leninism for that matter) built on the notion of static inherent social conditions, a sociological variant of Darwinism and relied heavily on the necessity for violent confrontation rather than dialogue and cooperation in seeking to redress social wrongs. The eugenics movement of the 1930s, which sought to isolate, quarantine and ultimately eradicate defective human genes, led 30 U.S. states by 1935 to enact forced sterilization laws. At the legal level, the American eugenics crusade culminated in the infamous Supreme Court decision in Buck vs Bell, where Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. declared that compulsory sterilization for the mentally handicapped was constitutional because, afterall, “ three generations of imbeciles is enough.”
Extreme shades of multiculturalism, feminism and environmentalism today further represent forms of the same scientific materialism. Proponents of these ideologies often assert that human beings are so programmed by their race, gender or class that their political views, morality and religious beliefs are mere mechanical by-products of their social condition and that nothing can change them. This, of course, leads to the refusal to debate or discuss with seriousness the basis for their complaints against our society and often leads to violent confrontation.
And yet the wonder of how life began stubbornly persists. You don’t need to be a Nobel Prize winning scientist or a Sorbonne educated philosopher to understand the issue. One view of the night sky with the understanding that the light of any star you see may have been traveling towards you for a million years or the examination through a microscope of the infinite complexity of a cell – a galaxy unto itself – should be enough to make even a child ask powerful questions about ultimate cause. Science, of course, has helped us along in capturing this awe and wonder. We know, for instance, that almost four billion years ago, an exquisite, efficient system for encoding and transmitting the information necessary to guide an organism’s development from seed to adult, appeared. That same system, the double helix of our genetic DNA, guides the growth and characteristics of all living organisms. We also know that the development of a cell requires a perfect configuration of approximately 250 proteins and that the odds of this arrangement occurring by random chance from nothing, is several trillion to one.
The question then that any astronomer, molecular biologist and philosopher worth his salt must ask, is where did it all begin? Where did that first extraordinary cell which became the progenitor for all life derive its origins? Why did it develop and what, in the end, was its purpose?
Evolutionary biologists have no convincing answers for any of these questions.
Given this huge inadequacy, one is entitled to ask how is it possible to have such an intricately structured universe of such deep complexity, largely beyond human understanding or comprehension, and not be impressed by the hand of design? Curiously it is the scientific evidence – the significant discoveries of gravity, relativity, DNA, quantum mechanics and molecular biology and their irreducible complexity ( to borrow a term from Michael Behe) that points to the reality of intelligence in the origins and development of life.
The Intelligent Design theory, advanced by the authors I identify above, highlighted in Ben Stein’s excellent documentary Expelled and supported by hundreds of other scientists, philosophers and commentators throughout the world, does not demand to be the only theory advanced to explain the origins of life. But it demands and deserves to be heard.
But it is not heard, at least not audibly enough. Professors on our college campuses who even hint at the possibility of intelligent design suffer the threat of censure, research grant cuts and even termination. Books on intelligent design cannot be found in many college or community libraries or even in many book stores, as I found to my surprise in conducting research for this article. Scientists who espouse intelligent design are ridiculed on talk shows and news programs as simplistic born-again Christians, with a religious agenda, even if they practice no religion. A virtual witch hunt ensues in our society for those who wish to pursue alternative theories to evolutionary theory.
Oddly enough, it is science itself which has opened up the questions about intelligent design by leaving unanswered fundamental questions. Shouldn’t science then be the vehicle to examine it more fully? Do not the demands of free inquiry, one of the hallmarks of academic freedom and one of the absolute necessities for human progress, require our universities to take countervailing theories which seek to plug the gaping holes in old ideas with a level of seriousness?
Since the late 1850s we have seen where fanatical adherence to a philosophy and theory which brooks no opposition can lead. In the ontological approach it propounds, evolutionary theory has not led to the discovery of universal truths. On the contrary, the atheism of which evolutionary theory is a natural corollary has failed us, leading us to doubt, despair, ennui and societal breakdown. In its political incarnation it did not engender tolerance, cooperation and understanding as the scientific community might have once promised us, but instead led to competition, struggle and violence. The perniciousness of the theory as it has developed, unintended by its author, would probably shock him today.
What is at stake in all of this? Why should the debate over ultimate cause, evolution and intelligent design matter to any non-scientist? It is fairly simply stated. If life on earth is a product of blind, purposeless natural causes, brought into existence by random associations, then our lives are a mere cosmic accident. There is no source for overarching moral imperatives, no unique dignity for human life and no sense of purpose at all. Why should we fight to preserve human life or battle for a culture or a civilization when none of it has any transcendental meaning?
On the other hand, if life is the product of foresight and design, then human beings are not merely randomly associated chunks of matter, whose atoms will be spewed back into the ether to be reformed into space dust, but organisms whose existence have a direction and a purpose. With such assurance we can firmly fix our place in the universe and discern meaning in our daily lives. We have reason to defend our families, our values and our civilization.
At stake, ultimately, is which world view will shape our culture and our future.
At stake, may be our very survival.