Part 9: The Society's View of Science and Evolution
It is evident that the Society's writers have only a superficial understanding of science. Therefore they often present arguments that are biased and incomplete. Nowhere is this more evident than when the Society publishes material on the theory of evolution. Often their difficulty manifests itself in the presentation of incomplete data, or in a series of partial quotations, as illustrated above. At other times their difficulty is with their overall understanding or their reasoning process. This is well illustrated by the Society's statements about whether various aspects of evolution are "facts" or are "theories." In this section we will examine these difficulties of understanding.
First let's establish precisely what we mean when we call something a fact or a theory. We will do this by examining how the Society handles the difference between fact and theory. Concerning the theory of evolution, the July 22, 1987 Awake! said in the article "When a Fact Is Not a Fact":
A fact is something that exists beyond question. It is an actuality, an objective reality. It is established by solid evidence.
A theory is something unproved but at times assumed true for the sake of argument. It has yet to be proved as factual. Nonetheless, sometimes something is declared to be a fact that is only a theory.
The theory of organic evolution falls into this category.
Scientists often use what is called "the scientific method" in their work. Understanding the scientific method requires understanding how facts and theories are related. The Creation book describes its version of the scientific method on page 50:
This has been described as follows: Observe what happens; based on those observations, form a theory as to what may be true; test the theory by further observations and by experiments; and watch to see if the predictions based on the theory are fulfilled.
These statements are true but incomplete. The implication is that if the predictions are fulfilled the theory may then be classed as fact. However, the statements show the lack of understanding Watchtower writers have of more general scientific methods, and in particular of how these methods apply to the theory of evolution. The problem is that they do not understand the difference between the historical and the experimental sciences. A few quotations from scientists show that the distinction between fact and theory is not nearly so clear as implied in the above simplistic explanation.
[A core principle of science] is the observer's independence from any commitment to a preconceived idea. The modern scientist does not work blindly, but he or she must be always prepared to modify or even abandon a hypothesis that doesn't jibe with experimental or natural observations.273a
Science uses multiple working hypotheses, choosing the one that best explains the greatest number of observations... A fact is a generally accepted observation, not an eternally unalterable truth. (The observation that the sun goes around the earth was a fact for thousands of years, until astronomers made additional observations that would not fit this hypothesis.)274
A "fact is a generally accepted observation," or as Webster's275 says, "a piece of information presented as having objective reality." This means that not everyone accepts all "facts" as true. No matter the evidence for some point of view, some will remain unconvinced. There are always some who oppose the generally accepted view. Also there are degrees of certainty about "facts." Some people today believe the earth is flat. This belief, they claim, is based on the Bible. As for all those photos from space, NASA is playing a carnie game. Here are some amusing comments about the Flat Earth Society:276
Charles K. Johnson, president of the fifteen-hundred-member International Flat Earth Research Society, makes it very plain that the aim of the Bible is a "one world, flat-Earth society, for honesty and decency and that sort of thing."... As far as science goes, he can offer many seemingly clear evidences to support his position. For example, anyone can see that water in a tub is flat. Therefore, if you expand on what you see right in front of you, you can only conclude that the whole earth has to be flat as well! The earth is a disc-shaped plane, Johnson argues, and there is even experimental evidence for this conclusion. In Columbus's famous 1492 test, three ships sailed the seas to the New World. Did Columbus fall off the earth? Not at all, which demonstrates conclusively that the earth cannot be a globe! Nonetheless, even the best of experiments must be repeatable, so Johnson's wife Marjory sailed to America from Australia and later swore in an affidavit that she never "hung by her feet in Australia," did not get on the ship upside down, and "did not sail straight up." She sailed directly across the ocean. Johnson considers this a very important proof. If it sounds absurd to the rest of us, it is probably because we have been raised on the globular hypothesis without ever getting the chance to hear the scientific evidences in favor of his view.
The point is that all "facts" must remain generally accepted observations, rather than "absolutely true" chunks of knowledge, because no one has a direct line to an absolute authority that has the final word.
The preceding quotation from Creation shows how poorly the Society understands what the scientific method entails. In reading that passage one gets the impression that the scientific method means nothing more than starting an experiment, then standing back and watching what happens. There is much of that in science, but the scientific method entails much more:
A ... serious deficiency in the scientific method used by the creationists is their repeated insistence on experimental evidence and their insistence that there be no exceptions. The creationists are fond of claiming that for something to be scientifically demonstrable, it must be amenable to proof by experiment and it must be without exceptions. These requirements are probably valid in certain areas of science, particularly in parts of physics and chemistry and in certain areas of engineering. What the creationists seem to miss is the fact that geology and paleontology are historical sciences, and therefore experimental testing of predictions is difficult, and that these sciences rely largely on statistical inference -- that is, on the building of a general case that accepts exceptions as tolerable, especially when there is a highly plausible explanation of those exceptions. In this context, the kind of inference made by geologists and paleontologists is not unlike that made in clinical medicine where both diagnosis and treatment are inexact and individual decisions may depend upon assessment of probabilities and predictions that may, in some cases, turn out to be incorrect.277
The theory of evolution falls in the category of historical science. Unfortunately Creation's author has exactly the same misunderstanding of the scientific method as most other creationists. There are many scientific theories other than evolution that have similar limitations in not being amenable to the "start, stand back and watch" type of experiment. But that does not mean there is no value in pursuing them, as there are often many ways to verify truth. This is shown clearly by the illustration given by paleontologist Steven M. Stanley:278
Creationists' opposition to evolution raises the question of whether evolution is a fact -- whether it has been proven. Most evolutionists would argue that it is almost certainly a real phenomenon, and a phenomenon powerful enough to be responsible for the varied forms of life we see around us. Absolute proof is another matter. Many of us adhere to the idea that science never proves anything. It provides no more than a very high degree of certainty. The connection between cigarette smoking and cancer offers a familiar example.
An enormous body of circumstantial evidence points to smoking as a cause of lung cancer. Statistical treatment of the incidence of lung cancer in smokers and in nonsmokers shows that there is only the slimmest of chances that smoking is not linked to cancer. Statistical treatments never offer proof, however; they simply give estimates of probability. So high is the probability in the smoking example that it would be hard to find an unbiased scientist who, after viewing the available data, would not bet on the presence of a connection.
The inherent lack of absolutes in statistical analysis offers the tobacco companies an escape, however. They can claim that no causal connection is proven. They are on safe ground on two counts. Only the first has to do with the impossibility of statistical proof. Here they simply avoid telling us that the probability of no connection is a tiny fraction of 1 percent. The tobacco industry's second escape route has to do with causality. Even strong evidence of connection does not establish an explanation... In short, if they choose to hide behind the requirement for absolute certainty, tobacco companies will always be able to make their present claim that, despite what the Surgeon General may say, smoking has not been proven harmful to your health.
Many students of biological systems are even more certain that evolution has occurred than that smoking causes cancer, but because they believe that science does not prove theories, they are barred from claiming absolute proof. The classic example of our inability to prove in science relates to the process we call induction -- the extraction of general principles or theories from bodies of data. A common cliche here is that we do not know with absolute certainty that the sun will appear in the East tomorrow. Throughout recorded history, the sun has shown in the East every morning. This means that it almost certainly will make an appearance tomorrow, but we have no proof: we cannot generalize that the sun will always appear in the East. Still, who would wager that the sun will not rise tomorrow?
Recognizing that absolute proof is not a legitimate issue, we then ask ourselves how many biologists untouched by religious fundamentalism do not consider evolution a near certainty. The answer, of course, is "very few." How has this verdict been reached?
Although science does not prove, it does disprove. When a theory with many implications has withstood the threat of disproof for many years, it is granted a very high probability of being valid: it gains general acceptance, if not proof. There are two ways that a theory can be refuted. One is by the discovery of direct evidence opposing it. The second is by refutation of its corollaries or predictions... For more than a century, [evolution] has offered an enormous variety of testable predictions, yet none of these has been called into question to the degree that evolution has lost general support... There is an infinite variety of ways in which, since 1859, the general concept of evolution might have been demolished... The general concept of evolution has not merely resisted refutation, it has gathered strength from new developments. As we have seen, fossil evidence that once seemed to indicate the almost instantaneous appearance of diverse groups (of the earliest marine life of the Cambrian, for example) has given way to more detailed fossil information that documents intervals of diversification... The historical enrichment of the general theory of evolution is also evident in the growth of modern genetics, which swept aside the temporary obstacle of blending inheritance and went on to offer new levels of evolutionary understanding.
Zoologist Colin Patterson makes an excellent presentation of these issues as they relate to the theory of evolution, in the chapter "Proof and disproof" in the book Evolution. Patterson says:279
Is the theory of evolution by natural selection proved? After so many pages of fact and argument, some may be disconcerted by a negative answer, and to read that certainty can no more be found in science than in any other way of thought. These ideas come from Sir Karl Popper, the great philosopher of science. Popper shows that proof, or certainty, exists only in mathematics and in logic, where it is trivial in the sense that the proven conclusions were already hidden in the premises. He thinks that science is distinguished from non-science (not nonsense), or metaphysics, or myth, not by proof, but by the possibility of disproof. The only characteristic of scientific theories is that they have consequences which might be falsified by observation or experiment, and a scientist is a person who is willing to relinquish his theory when it is falsified or refuted. Pseudo-scientific or metaphysical theories do not expose themselves to disproof in this way...
The theory of evolution is... neither fully scientific, like physics, for example, nor unscientific, like history. Although it has no laws, it does have rules, and it does make general predictions about the properties of organisms. It therefore lays itself open to disproof. Darwin cited several sorts of observations which would, in his view, destroy his theory. In this he was certainly more candid than his opponents...
Darwin's potential tests may strike the reader as pretty feeble, or as tests of natural selection rather than evolution. But many discoveries, not foreseen by Darwin, provide more severe tests of the theory. These include Mendelian genetics; the real age of the earth; the universality of DNA and the genetic code; and the evidence of protein biochemistry. Evolution has survived all these with flying colours...
Using Popper's criterion, we must conclude that evolutionary theory is not testable in the same way as a theory in physics, or chemistry, or genetics, by experiments designed to falsify it. But the essence of scientific method is not testing a single theory to destruction; it is testing two (or more) rival theories, like Newton's and Einstein's, and accepting the one that passes more or stricter tests until a better theory turns up. So we must look at evolution theory and natural selection theory in terms of their performance against their competitors.
I will deal with evolution first, the belief that all organisms are related by descent and have diverged through a natural, historical process. This theory has only one main competitor, creation theory, though there are different stories of how the Creator went about His work. All creation theories are purely metaphysical. They make no predictions about the activities of the Creator, except that life as we know it is the result of His plan. Since we do not know the plan, no observation can be inconsistent with it. At one extreme there is the fundamentalist view that evidence of evolution, such as fossils, was built into the newly-created rocks to tempt us or test our faith. At the other extreme is the person to whom evidence of evolution only pushes the activity of the Creator further and further into the past. Both these modifications of the original creation myths are typical evasive moves, avoiding refutation or confrontation by modifying the original theory, or erecting subsidiary defensive theories around it...
At present, we are left with neo-Darwinian theory: that evolution has occurred, and has been directed mainly by natural selection, with random contributions from genetic drift, and perhaps the occasional hopeful monster. In this form, the theory is not scientific by Popper's standards. Indeed, Popper calls the theory of evolution not a scientific theory but 'a metaphysical research programme'. He means that though the theory is closer to metaphysics than to science, accepting it as true gives us a research programme, a new way of looking at and investigating the world. And through this research programme we can make progress in understanding the world...
Yet Popper warns of a danger: 'A theory, even a scientific theory, may become an intellectual fashion, a substitute for religion, an entrenched dogma.' This has certainly been true of evolutionary theory...
The Darwinian revolution triumphed [over creation based theories]. Following it, we can recognize a series of subsidiary revolutions... No doubt other revolutions are in store, and whether we choose to follow Popper's or [philosopher Thomas] Kuhn's understanding of science, the one lesson we can learn from both these thinkers is that today's theory of evolution is unlikely to be the whole truth. Yet today's neo-Darwinian theory, with all its faults, is still the best that we have. It is a fruitful theory, a stimulus to thought and research, and we should accept it until someone thinks of a better one.
While many scientists become excited or emotional about their fields, and may therefore say something is definitely proved when it isn't, most have reflective moments when they admit they don't have all the answers. Popularizers often do a disservice to science by oversimplifying. We see this in the news media constantly, with "sound bites" on television, oversimplified reporting, and so forth. Introductory textbooks often present a subject as if it were well established, even if it isn't nearly as well established as others. To a certain extent this is an unavoidable consequence of teaching. Basic material has to be covered first, so that a student gets the general idea, and only later can the difficulties be addressed. If the difficulties are presented before, or along with the main material, students can become sidetracked. Not to be overlooked is the fact that people get defensive when they perceive their personal interests are being attacked. The Society is a good institutional example of this -- it abhors criticism in any form. Most scientists would probably agree with the following:
Could the evolutionists be wrong? It would be folly for evolutionists to claim that they have a complete and accurate understanding of the history of life and of the processes that produced that history. Too many major paradigms in science have been overturned for any statement of such absolute confidence to be wise. We should consider alternatives and we should consider the possibility that we might be wrong in at least some parts of the basic framework of evolutionary thinking. And this consideration of alternatives is, in fact, going on in the 1980s with challenges from within evolutionary biology itself to the neo-Darwinian model as it is applied to macroevolution (Lewin 1980).
There are some basic aspects of evolution, however, that are so close to being simple observation and measurement that evolutionists can claim to be right. In particular, geologic dating (both relative and absolute) is on extremely firm ground. To challenge the basic chronology of life forms would be like claiming that the sun is only ten thousand miles from the earth or that the earth is flat. In effect, we can "see" the geologic time scale. If organic evolution is defined as change in the biological makeup of life on earth over time then we certainly do have evolution and can "see" the fossil record of that process... Deducing the mechanisms of evolution is quite a different matter... the scientific creationists are totally wrong in their so-called two model approach -- the claim that if the Darwinian model is discredited, the only alternative is the creation model.280
Nevertheless, many evolutionists do overstep their speculative bounds and present currently proposed mechanisms of biological evolution as established fact. One author critical of these speculations observed:281
Evolution is very far from demonstrated as the sole explanation for all other species. This is not to say there is no evidence whatever for evolution; there is a great deal of it as a matter of fact, but almost entirely of a certain kind... It is well to point out that the word evolution has different meanings in different contexts. It has first of all an historical meaning. People sometimes use the word simply to indicate that there has been a succession of varying life-forms on this planet, without offering or implying an explanation as to their origins and extinctions. In this sense, evolution is beyond dispute. The dinosaurs, mammoths, and saber-toothed tigers are no longer extant. Virtually no one still defends the notion, formerly advanced by clerical apologists, that the fossils of these and other creatures were created with the earth and are thus not the remains of once-living animals.
Evolution in the sense in dispute implies that the earth's life-forms are biologically related by physical descent. For most scientists, historical evolution implies biological evolution.
The Society never discusses the ideas presented above. From the material presented thus far it should be evident that there is much more to the theory of evolution than the simple assertion that life evolved from inanimate matter. In its most broad sense "evolution" is defined by Webster's Dictionary as "a process of change in a certain direction." This broad usage is appropriate for many things; the Society's application of the idea that "the light gets brighter and brighter" is the evolution of doctrine. In this broad sense the "biological makeup" of life on earth can be said to have evolved because of, and only because of, the changes observed in the fossil record. These observations are entirely separate from theories about the way in which the changes came about.
As a concrete example of these ideas, it is an observation that something called "gravity" exists. Isaac Newton was the first to propose a set of laws that mathematically describe how gravity affects matter, and from his laws calculations can be made that predict objects will behave in a certain manner. At first, the laws accurately predicted everything that was observed. One major verification occurred when the planet Neptune was discovered in the mid-nineteenth century as a result of astronomers' finding the reason the orbit of Jupiter didn't follow the predictions of Newton's laws. Later, scientists found there were physical phenomena that contradicted Newton's laws. Einstein proposed the Theory of Relativity to explain some of the contradictions. To date the theory has proven extremely successful. But no scientist actually claims to understand gravity -- the theories only provide a lot of sophisticated mathematics that describe the observations. The math in no sense explains the underlying physical phenomena.
It is similar with the Quantum Theory, the most successful scientific theory of all time. It provides a mathematical basis for calculating all phenomena aside from gravity external to, and most internal to, the atom. All the practical uses of "the atom" are made possible by the mathematics of the Quantum Theory. Its predictions have281a been verified better than any other scientific theory, even when they are completely at odds with scientists' intuition. One of the greatest mysteries of science is why the universe behaves in a manner that can be described by mathematics at all, which is, after all, only an exercise of the mind.
Is the theory of relativity or quantum theory the last word on the subjects? No scientist with any sense of history would think so. An arrogant scientist of the late nineteenth century, Lord Kelvin, said in 1895 that he thought scientists such as himself had pretty well wrapped up all there was to know about the world. Later that year radioactivity was discovered, and the many fundamental discoveries since show how silly Kelvin's assertion was. As each new theory came along, the old was not usually abandoned but incorporated within the new. The new theory had to explain everything the old did as well the new things. Newton's laws were seen to be special cases of relativity -- for low velocities Einstein's equations reduce to Newton's. The point is that truth does not change but human explanations of it does.
There are many scientists today who claim that current theories on the mechanisms of evolution are as solidly based as relativity or quantum theory -- are "factual" -- when in reality it is only evolution in the broad sense mentioned above that has such a solid basis. They fall prey to what has been described as the "best in field fallacy" -- assuming that "the best currently proposed explanation is by the mere fact of being better than the others also necessarily the correct explanation."282 Even if, as is almost certain, Darwinian based theories of the mechanism of evolution are radically revised, it does not seem likely all the observations from the fossil record showing the broad evolution of life will become outdated. The mere fact scientists cannot now explain the workings of gravity, but can only describe them, did not limit NASA's ability to send Voyager spacecraft to the edge of the solar system. Similarly, even if scientists abandoned all hope of ever explaining the mechanisms of evolution, the observations from the fossil record would still hold. It is simple observation that dinosaurs were once abundant but are now extinct.
As for explaining the means by which the changes in life forms through time came about, either the changes happened because of the actions of an intelligent creator or they did not. This has no bearing on the observation that changes occurred, no matter how important the issue may be of itself.
The Society never really discusses the above issues, even though they are fundamental to achieving an understanding of the world in which we live. Instead the issues are oversimplified to the point that a reader gets no real understanding.
The July 22, 1987 Awake! article mentioned previously illustrates this perfectly. In its opening paragraphs, which talk about facts and theories, a "fact" is spoken of as if it were something that is absolute. But "facts" are defined by the majority of people who speak of them, as discussed above. Some may argue about which things are the "facts," and they may be correct in the absolute sense, but one can never be sure one knows absolute truth except by revelation from something considered an ultimate authority. And different people accept different ultimate authorities. Also, one never knows if one has gathered all the relevant information. So "facts" in an operational sense are the things that almost everybody accepts, and what is fact today may be fable tomorrow. The Society's doctrinal changes down through the years well illustrate this.
The Society is free to declare that God is the ultimate authority and that he has made known certain absolute "facts" in the Bible. Such a position is unassailable. But when the Society claims that its argument is based on rules other than this declaration, namely, normal everyday reasoning or the so-called "scientific method," it commits itself to arguing using sound rules of evidence. Using various rhetorical devices just to "win" the argument does no justice to truth. The above Awake! article violates these rules by using only the narrow senses of the ideas of "facts" and "theories." I quote these again for convenience:
A fact is something that exists beyond question. It is an actuality, an objective reality. It is established by solid evidence.
A theory is something unproved but at times assumed true for the sake of argument. It has yet to be proved as factual.
Here is an interesting comment about this sort of reasoning:
Science cannot prove anything, except on the assumption of certain postulates or axioms. For example, if we accept the correctness of gravitational theory (either the Newtonian or Einsteinian version), which has, after all, been impressively successful in predicting new planets and in guiding the Voyager spacecraft through and about the rings and satellites of Saturn, then it follows logically that the earth must revolve about the sun, and not vice versa. But perhaps some other theory can be found that will allow all known gravitational phenomena and yet have the earth at rest. It is not hard to think up such a theory: the reality of the universe might all be a dream, for example... [science,]... while not providing absolute truths, does find systematic order and develops models that allow us to understand nature and her behavior. Moreover, the method of science -- observation, hypothesis, and test -- leads to new knowledge and deeper understanding... Most scientists take for granted that these models, at least the extremely well tested ones, do describe reality -- that is, that the earth really is round, does turn on its axis, and does go around the sun. This acceptance is really a religious one, and, if challenged, those same scientists will usually agree that technically no truth can be proven by science to be absolute.283
According to these broad views virtually everything that is not specifically revelation is theory, as it could always in principle be falsified. How does one personally know that gravity is real? One accepts the word of scientists. Prior to Newton the concept of gravity didn't even exist. If gravity is described by mathematical rules called "gravitational theory," does this mean that the notion is not well established, and therefore not a "fact"?
Keeping the above discussion in mind, note the Awake! article's main premise, which is that the theory of evolution is not a "fact" because it is a "theory":
Nonetheless, sometimes something is declared to be a fact that is only a theory. The theory of organic evolution falls into this category.
As we discussed above, the fact that the general notion of evolution is also described by a theory by the same name, that attempts to describe its mechanisms, is no basis for arguing that the general notion is not a "fact". To show that general evolution did not occur requires arguments that the observations from the fossil record are incorrect. Showing that the proposed mechanisms are implausible and are not demonstrated in the fossil record is necessary but not sufficient. One must argue with evidence, not labels. Interestingly, the Society tacitly admits that much of the fossil record is correct when it argues that the lack of observation of true transitional forms proves gradual Darwinian evolution did not occur.
An article by Stephen Jay Gould in Science and Creationism284 provides another point of view on fact and theory:
In the American vernacular, "theory" often means "imperfect fact" -- part of a hierarchy of confidence running downhill from fact to theory to hypothesis to guess. Thus the power of the creationist argument: evolution is "only" a theory and intense debate now rages about many aspects of the theory. If evolution is worse than a fact, and scientists can't even make up their minds about the theory, then what confidence can we have in it? Indeed, President Reagan echoed this argument before an evangelical group in Dallas when he said (in what I devoutly hope was campaign rhetoric): "Well it is a theory. It is a scientific theory only, and it has in recent years been challenged in the world of science -- that is, not believed in the scientific community to be as infallible as it once was."
Well, evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts don't go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's in this century, but apples didn't suspend themselves in midair, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from ape-like ancestors whether they did so by Darwin's proposed mechanism or by some other yet to be discovered.
Moreover, "fact" doesn't mean "absolute certainty"; there ain't no such animal in an exciting and complex world. The final proofs of logic and mathematics flow deductively from stated premises and achieve certainty only because they are not about the empirical world. Evolutionists make no claim for perpetual truth, though creationists often do (and then attack us for a style of argument that they themselves favor). In science, "fact" can only mean "confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent." I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms.
Whether or not one agrees with Gould's statement that humans evolved from apelike ancestors, he makes valid points about the distinction between fact and theory.
Isaac Asimov made some observations about how creationists confuse fact and theory:285
Creationists frequently stress the fact that evolution is "only a theory," giving the impression that a theory is an idle guess. A scientist, one gathers, arising one morning with nothing particular to do, decides that perhaps the moon is made of Roquefort cheese and instantly advances the Roquefort-cheese theory.
In the history of science, it must be admitted, something like this has happened many times.
A theory (as the word is used by scientists) is a detailed description of some facet of the universe's workings that is based on long observation and where possible, experiment. It is the result of careful reasoning from those observations and experiments and has survived the critical study of scientists generally.
Here is another point of view:286
Using actual practice as the basis for definition, we can define "science" simply as the attempt to understand natural phenomena more completely by means of repeatable or verifiable observations of natural phenomena. (This is broader than the rigid, prediction or experiment-oriented definitions developed by some philosophers not actively engaged in scientific work.) Also, unlike mathematics or logic, science does not deal in formally rigorous certainties, but instead strives for conclusions which are at best highly probable. Failure to understand this has made extensive, philosophically based discussions -- by anti-evolutionists, among others -- irrelevant.
Throughout the July 22, 1987 Awake! article, the general notion of evolution is thoroughly confused with the specific mechanisms of Darwinian evolution. It is unfortunately true that many scientists claim that all of evolutionary theory is perfectly well established, but it is also true that the Awake! article oversimplifies the situation. Much of the quoted material is oversimplified as well. The problem becomes compounded when the article uses many out-of-context and half-quotations and inaccurate statements to bolster its argument.
The article in the July 22, 1987 Awake! magazine uses the statements in a New York Times article, by Irving Kristol, a professor of social thought at New York University's graduate school of business,287 to show that evolution is a theory and not a proven fact. Kristol puts forth a number of good arguments complaining about that, but he misses the major point about the difference between what are considered facts and what scientists consider conjectural mechanisms of evolution, and lumps everything together in a confused whole. The Awake! article then uses an article by paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould that appeared in Discover,288 to further show how evolution is an unproved theory rather than a fact. Gould shows how Kristol was partly in error, and presents a number of examples to prove his point. All in all, this Awake! article is an excellent example of the subtle half-truths so often seen in the Society's writings. None of Gould's major supporting explanations are set forth in detail, only some of his premises, which the Awake! article dispatches with half-quotations from other sources. We here present what the various players said. As before, let the reader be the judge of the truth. Keep in mind the above discussion of fact versus theory, and also that what is observed in the fossil record shows a general pattern of extensive change in life -- evolution in the broad sense -- down through time.
Awake! stated on page 10, paragraph 1:
On September 30, 1986, The New York Times published an article by a New York University professor, Irving Kristol. His contention is that if evolution were taught in the public schools as the theory it is rather than as the fact it isn't, there would not be the controversy that now rages between evolution and creationism. Kristol stated: "There is also little doubt that it is this pseudoscientific dogmatism that has provoked the current religious reaction."
Here is Gould's answer to Kristol:
Kristol, who is no fundamentalist, accuses evolutionary biologists of bringing their troubles with creationists upon themselves by too zealous an insistence upon the truths of Darwin's world...
Kristol needs a history lesson if he thinks that current creationism is a product of scientific intransigence. Creationism, as a political movement against evolution, has been a continually powerful force since the days of the Scopes trial. Rather than using evolution to crusade against religion in their texts, scientists have been lucky to get anything at all about evolution into books for high school students ever since Scopes's trial in 1925. My own high school biology text, used in the liberal constituency of New York City in 1956, didn't even mention the word evolution. The laws that were used against Scopes and cowed textbook publishers into submission weren't overturned by the Supreme Court until 1968...
Gould is correct. In schools in New York in the 1960s there was no mention of evolution whatsoever in most biology texts or course materials. The only place some regularly heard about evolution was in Watchtower publications.
Note in the following, which continues Awake!'s quotation of Kristol, how Kristol misses the distinction between evolution in the broad sense as established by the fossil record, and the mechanisms proposed for the theory of how that evolution occurred. Had he spoken about Darwinian evolutionary theory his remarks would have been correct. Awake! also misses the point.
The fact that many scientists including Gould also miss this point, is unfortunate and is really what Kristol should be complaining about. The whole mess is one great example of unclear thinking.
"Though this theory is usually taught as an established scientific truth," Kristol said, "it is nothing of the sort. It has too many lacunae [gaps]. Geological evidence does not provide us with the spectrum of intermediate species we would expect. Moreover, laboratory experiments reveal how close to impossible it is for one species to evolve into another, even allowing for selective breeding and some genetic mutation... The gradual transformation of the population of one species into another is a biological hypothesis, not a biological fact."
The article touched a raw nerve in Harvard professor Stephen Jay Gould, a fervent defender of evolution as a fact, not just a theory. His rebuttal of Kristol's article was published in a popularized science magazine, Discover, January 1987 issue. It revealed the very dogmatism Kristol deplored.
Kristol's above statement revealed his partial ignorance of science, and Gould addressed the problem:
Charles Darwin, who was, perhaps, the most incisive thinker among the great minds of history, clearly divided his life's work into two claims of different character: establishing the fact of evolution, and proposing a theory (natural selection) for the mechanism of evolutionary change. He also expressed, and with equal clarity, his judgment about their different status: confidence in the facts of transmutation and genealogical connection among all organisms, and appropriate caution about his unproved theory of natural selection...
Gould should be less dogmatic about "the fact of transmutation." The fossil record shows change in life forms, sometimes gradual. This does not prove transmutation, except by the a priori discarding of the notion of an intelligent creator who worked gradually.
... Evolutionary biologists have honored [Darwin's] fundamental distinction between fact and theory ever since. Facts are the world's data; theories are explanations proposed to interpret and coordinate facts. The fact of evolution is as well established as anything in science (as secure as the revolution of the earth about the sun), though absolute certainty has no place in our lexicon. Theories, or statements about the causes of documented evolutionary change, are now in a period of intense debate -- a good mark of science in its healthiest state. Facts don't disappear while scientists debate theories. As I wrote in an early issue of this magazine... "Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air pending the outcome."...
In this period of vigorous pluralism and intense debate among evolutionary biologists, I am greatly saddened to note that some distinguished commentators among non-scientists, in particular Irving Kristol..., so egregiously misunderstand the character of our discipline and continue to confuse this central distinction between secure fact and healthy debate about theory.
I don't speak of the militant fundamentalists who label themselves with the oxymoron "scientific creationists," and try to sneak their Genesis literalism into high school classrooms under the guise of scientific dissent. I'm used to their rhetoric, their dishonest mis- and half-quotations, their constant repetition of "useful" arguments that even they must recognize as nonsense... Our struggle with these ideologues is political, not intellectual. I speak instead of our allies among people committed to reason and honorable argument.
But what about Kristol's major charge -- anti-religious prejudice and one-dimensional dogmatism about evolution in modern textbooks? Now we come to the heart of what makes me so sad about Kristol's charges and others in a similar vein. I don't deny that some texts have simplified, even distorted, in failing to cover the spectrum of modern debates; this, I fear, is a limitation of the genre itself (and the reason why I, though more of a writer than most scientists, have never chosen to compose a text). But what evidence can Kristol or anyone else provide to demonstrate that evolutionists have been worse than scientists from other fields in glossing over legitimate debate within their textbooks?...
Speaking of dogmatism, the Society is dogmatic about many doctrinal points, in spite of the fact they can't be proved, and some have even been thoroughly disproved. To name a few: the Bible is the inspired word of God, the Watchtower Society is God's channel of communication between God and man, the Genesis account is historical, the Genesis Flood occurred, Jerusalem fell in 607 B.C. rather than 587 B.C.
With regard to the simplification that occurs in basic texts, does the Society encourage Jehovah's Witnesses to speak with Bible students of the difficulties many Bible scholars have with major portions of the Bible, or of the difficulties in showing that the Bible's Flood and Genesis creation accounts are historical? Of course not. If these points are covered at all, it is not until later. Points of difficulty are hardly ever discussed unless they are of the "straw-man" variety.
When we come to popular writing about evolution, I suppose that my own essays are as well read as any. I don't think that Kristol could include me among Darwinian dogmatists, for most of my essays focus upon my disagreements with the strict version of natural selection. I also doubt that Kristol would judge me anti-religious, since I have campaigned long and hard against the same silly dichotomy of science versus religion that he so rightly ridicules. I have written laudatory essays about several scientists (Burnet, Cuvier, Buckland, and Gosse, among others) branded as theological dogmatists during the nineteenth-century reaction; and, while I'm not a conventional believer, I don't consider myself irreligious.
Kristol's major error lies in his persistent confusion of fact with theory. He accuses us -- without giving a single concrete example, by the way -- of dogmatism about theory and sustains his charge by citing our confidence in the fact of transmutation. "It is reasonable to suppose that if evolution were taught more cautiously, as a conglomerate idea consisting of conflicting hypotheses rather than as an unchallengeable certainty, it would be far less controversial."
Well, Mr. Kristol, evolution (as theory) is indeed "a conglomerate idea consisting of conflicting hypotheses," and I and my colleagues teach it as such. But evolution is also a fact of nature, and so do we teach it as well, just as our geological colleagues describe the structure of silicate minerals, and astronomers the elliptical orbits of planets.
These paragraphs well illustrate several points. The boundary between what is well established and what isn't is often indistinct. As we've shown previously, the fossil record clearly shows a broad outline of change in life forms down through the ages. Evolutionists, with some justification, interpret this as proving the transmutation of life forms. Otherwise they would have to try to understand why the creator carried "out a series of special creation events so closely graded that the scientists of the present would misinterpret these progressive appearances and disappearances as the result of evolutionary change and extinction." (See Part 05 of this essay). This point is the key to the entire evolution/creation controversy, but the Society is unaware of it, and Gould makes the usual scientific assumption that a creator had no hand in the changes the fossil record so clearly shows.
Kristol shows his awareness of some of these issues, but says nothing about the impracticality of setting forth all the pros and cons of any scientific theory in basic texts:
Practically all biologists, when they engage in scientific discourse, assume that the earth's species were not created by divine command. As scientists, they could not make any other assumption. But they agree on little else -- a fact which our textbooks are careful to ignore, lest it give encouragement to the religious...
Kristol's point is very good. Even basic textbooks should have some discussion of the difficulties of evolution theory, even if it requires taking space from another discussion and even if it gives ammunition to the religious.
Rather than castigate Mr. Kristol any further, I want to discuss the larger issue that underlies both this incident and the popular perception of evolution in general. If you will accept my premise that evolution is as well established as any scientific fact (I shall give the reasons in a moment), then why are we uniquely called upon to justify our chosen profession; and why are we alone subjected to such unwarranted infamy? To this central question of this essay, I suggest the following answer. We haven't received our due for two reason: (1) a general misunderstanding of the different methods used by all historical sciences (including evolution), for our modes of inference don't match stereotypes of "the scientific method"; and (2) a continuing but unjustified fear about the implication both of evolution itself and of Darwin's theory for its mechanism. With these two issues resolved, we can understand both the richness of science (in its pluralistic methods of inquiry) and the absence of any conflict, through lack of common content, between proper science and true religion.
With these points established, it should be clear from the above context how much the Awake! article oversimplifies and distorts Gould's arguments:
In his protesting essay, Gould repeated a dozen times his assertion that evolution is a fact. A few examples: Darwin established "the fact of evolution." "The fact of evolution is as well established as anything in science (as secure as the revolution of the earth around the sun)." By the time Darwin died, "nearly all thinking people came to accept the fact of evolution." "Evolution is as well established as any scientific fact (I shall give the reasons in a moment)." "The fact of evolution rests upon copious data that fall, roughly, into three great classes."
The Awake! article clearly gives the impression that Gould is merely stating that evolution is a fact without giving any supporting data, but from the context of some of his statements quoted above, it should be clear he provides as much support as can be given in the space of a magazine article.
Awake!'s next argument is the best in the article. It argues against the idea of transmutation of species and against scientists' interpretation of the evidence:
For the first of these "three great classes" of "copious data," Gould cites as "direct evidence" for evolution the small-scale changes within species of moths, fruit flies, and bacteria. But such variations within species are irrelevant to evolution. Evolution's problem is to change one species into another species. Gould extols Theodosius Dobzhansky as "the greatest evolutionist of our century," but it is Dobzhansky himself who dismisses Gould's argument above as irrelevant.
In spite of the excellent point about transmutation of species, this paragraph has two serious problems. First, small variations within species are not irrelevant to theories of the mechanism of evolution. They form the basis of the entire theory. Small variations do not prove the transmutation of species, but they are relevant to evolution. Second, Dobzhansky, as the following paragraph in Awake! shows, was unable to provide a precise mechanism for how small scale change becomes large scale, but Dobzhansky in no sense ever dismissed this argument as irrelevant. Awake! merely concludes this is so, and gives the impression this is also Dobzhansky's conclusion. As is so often the case with Watchtower publications, no source is given for Dobzhansky's quotation, but there is little no doubt the context of his statement would bear this out. We will give examples of this shortly from another of Dobzhansky's writings. Awake! continues:
Concerning the fruit flies of Gould's argument, Dobzhansky says mutations "usually show deterioration, breakdown, or disappearance of some organs... Many mutations are, in fact, lethal to their possessors. Mutants which equal the normal fly in vigor are a minority, and mutants that would make a major improvement of the normal organization in the normal environments are unknown."
That Dobzhansky would not agree with Awake!'s conclusion is evident from what he said in Evolution, Genetics, and Man:289
Evolution is a continuous process, composed, though, of small discontinuous mutation steps. From the continuity of evolution it follows, of course, that forms intermediate between the now-living organisms must have existed in the past.
Dobzhansky makes statements such as that quoted in Awake! to illustrate difficulties with the theory that remain to be solved, not to disprove the notion altogether. Awake! continues:
Science, the official magazine for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, also spiked Gould's argument: "Species do indeed have a capacity to undergo minor modifications in the physical and other characteristics, but this is limited and with a longer perspective it is reflected in an oscillation about a mean [a position about midway between extremes]." In both plants and animals, variations within a species will oscillate or move about like pellets shaken in a glass jar -- the variations are held within the boundaries of the species just as the pellets are confined within the jar. Just as the Bible's account of creation says, a plant or an animal may vary, yet it is restricted to reproduce "according to its kind."...
No reference is given for the quotation from Science, but it is again evident, given Science's general position on evolution, that it is only a partial quotation. As has been shown above, even though scientists have no good explanation for the mechanism of evolution, the fossil record shows very fine gradual changes in some species down through time. Because of this, one of the main problems evolutionists have is to explain why their experiments and observations with fruit flies and such don't seem to jibe with the fossil record of such gradual change. Evolutionists tend to miss the point that extrapolation from small changes to large is often unjustified, and just because the fossil record shows gradual change of species does not mean species gradually evolved. A creator could just as well have done it this way for his own reasons. Of course, this is not a scientific view. But the Society does not touch upon this in the Awake! article or anywhere else. Again, this point is the key to the entire dispute about evolution, but in the Awake! article the Society argues about other things. It uses incorrect arguments to boot.
For the second of his three classes, Gould offers big mutations: "We have direct evidence for large-scale changes, based upon sequences in the fossil record." By saying the changes were large scale, one species changing into another in a few big jumps, he goes from the frying pan into the fire.
This would be a good argument if that is what Gould actually said. But he did not. He mentions nothing about large-scale mutations, but talks instead of observed fossil sequences of large-scale changes:
Second, we have direct evidence for large-scale changes, based upon sequences in the fossil record. The nature of this evidence is often misunderstood by non-professionals who view evolution as a simple ladder of progress, and therefore expect a linear array of "missing links." But evolution is a copiously branching bush, not a ladder. Since our fossil record is so imperfect, we can't hope to find evidence for every tiny twiglet. (Sometimes, in rapidly evolving lineages of abundant organisms restricted to a small area and entombed in sediments with an excellent fossil record, we do discover an entire little bush -- but such examples are as rare as they are precious.) In the usual case, we may recover the remains of side branch number 5 from the bush's early history, then bough number 40 a bit later, then the full series of branches 156-161 in a well preserved sequence of younger rocks, and finally surviving twigs 250 and 287.
In other words, we usually find sequences of structural intermediates, not linear arrays of ancestors and descendants. Such sequences provide superb examples of temporally ordered evolutionary trends...
Gould does not advance any theory that large-scale mutations occur, but says that evolution speeds up greatly from time to time because the rate of small-scale mutation is speeded up under unusual conditions, for reasons not clearly understood. This is a point Awake! should attack, but the writer does not understand the issues.
Clearly, Awake! confuses Gould's statements about large-scale changes with Irving Kristol's statements about mutations. Kristol shows his ignorance of some of the above issues when he says concerning evolution:
Though this theory is usually taught as an established scientific truth, it is nothing of the sort. It has too many lacunae. Geological evidence does not provide us with the spectrum of intermediate species we would expect. Moreover, laboratory experiments reveal how close to impossible it is for one species to evolve into another, even allowing for selective breeding and some genetic mutation. There is unquestionably evolution within species: every animal breeder is engaged in exemplifying this enterprise. But the gradual transformation of the population of one species into another is a biological hypothesis, not a biological fact.
Moreover, today a significant minority of distinguished biologists and geneticists find this hypothesis incredible and insist that evolution must have proceeded by "quantum jumps," caused by radical genetic mutation. This copes with some of the problems generated by neo-Darwinist orthodoxy, but only to create others. We just don't know of any such "quantum jumps" that create new species, since most genetic mutations work against the survival of the individual. So this is another hypothesis -- no less plausible than the orthodox view, but still speculative.
And there are other speculations about evolution, some by Nobel prize-winning geneticists, that border on the bizarre -- for example, that life on earth was produced by spermatozoa from outer space. In addition, many younger biologists (the so-called "cladists") are persuaded that the differences among species -- including those that seem to be closely related -- are such as to make the very concept of evolution questionable.
Gould says concerning Kristol's above comments:
... biologists have reached a consensus, based on these kinds of data, about the fact of evolution. When honest critics like Irving Kristol misinterpret this agreement, they're either confusing our fruitful consonance about the fact of evolution with our vibrant dissonance about mechanisms of change, or they've misinterpreted part of our admittedly arcane technical literature.
One such misinterpretation has gained sufficient notoriety in the last year that we crave resolution both for its own sake and as an illustration of the frustrating confusion that can arise when scientists aren't clear and when commentators, as a result of hidden agendas, don't listen. Tom Bethell [a creationist] argued in Harper's (February 1985) that a group of young taxonomists called pattern cladists have begun to doubt the existence of evolution itself. This would be truly astounding news, since cladistics is a powerful method dedicated to reforming classification by using only the branching order of lineages on evolutionary trees... rather than vague notions of overall similarity in form or function...
Cladists use only the order of branching to construct their schemes of relationships... Cladism... is the purest of all genealogical systems for classification, since it works only with closeness of common ancestry in time. How preciously ironic then, that this most rigidly evolutionary of all taxonomic systems should become the subject of such extraordinary misunderstanding -- as devised by Bethell, and perpetuated by Kristol when he writes: "... many younger biologists (the so-called 'cladists') are persuaded that the differences among species -- including those that seem to be closely related -- are such as to make the very concept of evolution questionable."
This error arose for the following reason. A small splinter group of cladists (not all of them, as Kristol claims) -- "transformed" or "pattern" cladists by their own designation -- have adopted what is to me an ill-conceived definition of scientific procedure. They've decided, by misreading Karl Popper's philosophy, that patterns of branching can be established unambiguously as a fact of nature, but that processes causing events of branching, since they can't be observed directly, can't be known with certainty. Therefore, they say, we must talk only of pattern and rigidly exclude all discussion of process (hence "pattern cladistics").
This is where Bethell got everything arse-backwards and began the whole confusion. A philosophical choice to abjure all talk about process isn't the same thing as declaring that no reason for patterns of branching exists. Pattern cladists don't doubt that evolution is the cause behind branching; rather they've decided that our science shouldn't be discussing causes at all.
Now I happen to think that this philosophy is misguided; in unguarded moments I would even deem it absurd. Science, after all, is fundamentally about process; learning why and how things happen is the soul of our discipline...
This incident also raises the troubling issue of how myths become beliefs through adulterated repetition without proper documentation. Bethell began by misunderstanding pattern cladistics, but at least he reports the movement as a small splinter, and tries to reproduce their arguments. Then Kristol picks up the ball and recasts it as a single sentence of supposed fact -- and all cladists have now become doubters of evolution by proclamation.
So Kristol does not understand some of the real issues, and neither does the author of the Awake! article, since he simply repeats Kristol's argument. Awake!'s statements about large-scale mutations are not based on anything Gould said, but on Awake!'s own interpretation of what Irving Kristol said, who in turn based some of his statements on the misunderstanding of Tom Bethell. As we've said before, it pays to go back to original sources to get correct information.
With the above information in hand the reader should be able to see how Awake! has twisted Gould's argument about large-scale changes observed in the fossil record into one about the difficulties of large-scale mutations:
Kristol comments on this: "We just don't know of any such 'quantum jumps' that create new species, since most genetic mutations work against the survival of the individual." And Gould's "greatest evolutionist of our century," Theodosius Dobzhansky, agrees with Kristol. His statement about many mutations being lethal is especially true of large-scale, quantum-jump mutations; also significant are his words that 'mutations that make big improvements are unknown.' Lacking evidence for his large-scale changes, Gould falls back on the old timeworn dodge of evolutionists: 'Our fossil record is so imperfect.'
By reading the quotations, above and below, of what Gould actually wrote, you can see for yourself that Awake!'s statement -- that Gould's lack of evidence for large-scale changes forces him to fall back on the imperfection of the fossil record -- is thoroughly untrue. Gould offers many examples, and says, not simply "Our fossil record is so imperfect," but "Since our fossil record is so imperfect, we can't hope to find evidence for every tiny twiglet." [italics added]
As discussed earlier in this essay, there are plenty of fossils that are intermediate in form between reptiles and mammals. Gould says of some:
... consider another example with evidence of structurally intermediate stages -- the transition from reptiles to mammals. The lower jaw of mammals contains but a single bone, the dentary. Reptiles build their lower jaws of several bones. In perhaps the most fascinating of those quirky changes in function that make pathways of evolution, the two bones articulating the upper and lower jaws of reptiles migrate to the middle ear and become the malleus and incus (hammer and anvil) of mammals.
Creationists, ignorant of hard evidence in the fossil record, scoff at this tale. How could jaw bones become ear bones, they ask. What happened in between? An animal can't work with a jaw half disarticulated during the stressful time of transition.
The fossil record provides a direct answer. In an excellent series of temporally ordered structural intermediates, the reptilian dentary gets larger and larger, pushing back as the other bones of a reptile's lower jaw decrease in size. We've even found a transitional form with an elegant solution to the problem of remaking jaw bones into ear bones. This creature has a double articulation -- one between the two bones that become the mammalian hammer and anvil (the old reptilian joint), and a second between the squamosal and dentary bones (the modern mammalian condition). With this built-in redundancy, the emerging mammals could abandon one connection by moving two bones into the ear, while retaining the second linkage, which becomes the sole articulation of modern mammals.
Awake!'s contention about lack of evidence for large-scale changes should be seen for what it is: wishful thinking. The fossil record clearly shows large-scale changes. The fact that no one knows why things occurred as they did -- why one animal had a weird double jaw joint -- is irrelevant.
In the very next paragraph, Awake! admits that Gould does offer evidence of large-scale changes:
Gould does, however, offer as "direct evidence for large-scale changes" what he calls one of the "superb examples," namely, "human evolution in Africa." But evolutionists generally acknowledge that this field is far from superb. It is a hotbed of controversy, a battleground over teeth and bits of bone that evolutionists with vivid imaginations turn into hairy, stooped over, beetle-browed ape-men. Once again, Dobzhansky is not supportive of Gould: "Even this relatively recent history [from ape to man] is shot through with uncertainties; authorities are often at odds, both about fundamentals and about details."
The next section of Gould's essay shows in some detail just how much evidence there really is for the existence of man, or at least a creature that for all intents and purposes looked like man, more than a million years ago. There is far more evidence than a few "teeth and bits of bone," as shown in the previous section of this essay. There are nearly complete skeletons. It doesn't take a vivid imagination, once you've seen photos of these skeletons, to see that these were very much like modern men in some respects, but in other respects very different. See for example, National Geographic Magazine, November, 1985, page 629, which shows a photo of a 1.6 million year old Homo erectus boy.
As for Dobzhansky, we have not found Awake!'s source reference, but it is virtually certain that Awake!'s quotation is taken out of context, since one of Dobzhansky's books says:290
Man is a biological species, subject to the action of biological forces, and a product of a long evolutionary development. It does not matter whether the evolutionary origin of man is called an "hypothesis" or a "fact." Events which occurred before there were observers capable of recording and of transmitting their observations must of necessity be inferred from evidence now available for study. But the evidence shows conclusively that man arose from forebears who were not men, although we have only the most fragmentary information concerning the stages through which the process has passed. Nobody has seen that the earth is a sphere or that it revolves around the sun, rather than vice versa; nobody has caught a glimpse of atoms or of things within atoms. Are atoms, then, factual or hypothetical? The least that can be said is that in our activities we take the earth to be a sphere and treat atoms as though they were facts. For similar reasons, it is not a matter of personal taste whether or not we "believe in" evolution. The evidence for evolution is compelling. Moreover, human evolution is going on at present...
So is Dobzhansky generally supportive of Gould or not? You be the judge.
Notably, Dobzhansky said in 1955 that nobody had seen that the earth is a sphere, or caught a glimpse of atoms. The 1957 success of the Soviet satellite Sputnik provided the first direct "proof" that all the previous inferences about the earth's shape were true. Today most everyone has seen photos of the spherical earth. In the mid-1980s a device was developed called the scanning tunneling electron microscope. This device does let one "glimpse" atoms directly, and further developments of it and other devices are actually allowing scientists to directly manipulate individual atoms. These examples should be sufficient to convince anyone that scientific inference is a valid way to gain knowledge of the real world.
This is what Gould actually said about the evolution of man:
Consider the evidence for human evolution in Africa. What more could you ask from a record of rare creatures living in terrestrial environments that provide poor opportunity for fossilization? We have a temporal sequence displaying clear trends in a suite of features, including threefold increase of brain size and corresponding decrease of jaws and teeth. (We are missing direct evidence for an earlier transition to upright posture, but wide-ranging and unstudied sediments of the right age have been found in East Africa, and we have an excellent chance to fill in this part of our story.) What alternative can we suggest to evolution? Would God -- for some inscrutable reason, or merely to test our faith -- create five species, one after the other (Australopithecus afarensis, A. africanus, Homo habilis, H. erectus, and H. sapiens), to mimic a continuous trend of evolutionary change?
It would be interesting to see a direct comment from the Society on Gould's last question, without the side-stepping so evident in the Awake! article.
The last example of the Society's oversimplifying and leaving out crucial parts of evidence is from page 13 of the Awake! article. It comments on Gould's last of three great classes of evidence that show the mechanisms of evolution:
Gould's second example: "Why do the plants and animals of the Galapagos so closely resemble, but differ slightly from, the creatures of Ecuador, the nearest bit of land 600 miles to the east?... The similarities can only mean that Ecuadorian creatures colonized the Galapagos and then diverged by a natural process of evolution." What the similarities can and only do mean is variation within the species. The finches, for example, are still finches.
This last comment leaves out the most stringent test for whether animals are of the same kind or not: the test of interbreeding. The finches of the Galapagos are finches all right, but they do not interbreed with one another even when several varieties of them live in the same area. Hybridization among them is rarely, if ever, observed.291 By usually accepted criteria, animals that do not interbreed are not of the same species, so it would seem that the finches really are an example of evolution in action. Somehow, it is very difficult to quite believe this, but we have no good argument against it. Neither has the Society, which characteristically ignores the problem.
There are much larger variations in the domestic dog family than in the finch family, but they freely interbreed. Therefore it is unquestioned that a two pound chihuahua is of the same species as a two hundred pound Saint Bernard. Wolves and dogs freely interbreed when given the opportunity, so they are generally considered closely related species. Foxes and dogs will not interbreed, but artificial insemination will produce hybrids. Therefore they are considered more distantly related species. Evolutionists use data like this to extrapolate over geologic time and propose that the basic mechanism of evolution entails more of the same. Of course, extrapolation is not always justified, and evolutionists should be more frank in discussing its limitations in any291a general discussion of evolution. But the Society never discusses any of this. Its discussions almost always reduce to the same old thing: the proposed mechanisms for evolution, such as for the origin of life, are patently ridiculous and have never been demonstrated; therefore evolution did not occur (that the fossil record shows a tremendous amount of change is sometimes barely acknowledged, but is never directly discussed); therefore creation must have occurred; therefore the Genesis account is correct.
In technical papers evolutionists tend to be far more frank about problems with evolutionary theory than they are in articles intended for general consumption. This is entirely understandable for reasons discussed above, and also for the simple reason that no one likes to air his dirty laundry in public. The Society does not like to air its dirty laundry in public. As has been made clear in these essays there are many serious problems with the Bible itself, and with the Society's speculations on and interpretations of the Bible. The Society has never openly discussed those problems with the object of achieving understanding of the underlying issues. Instead it makes dogmatic statements or completely ignores the issues. Do you really believe that all the fossil record of life, recorded in miles thick sediments, most of which have turned to stone and many of which have been uplifted in mountain ranges up to five and one half miles high, accumulated in the 20,000 year time span allowed by the Society's interpretation of the length of the Genesis creative days? How can the Society justify practicing the same sort of obfuscation it accuses evolutionists of? As the scripture says, "remove the rafter first from your own eye."
In keeping with its general ignorance of the scientific community, the Society usually writes as if science were a monolithic enterprise. It is nothing of the kind, and is no more nor less organized than any other large category of human activity, such as religion or politics. One book makes pertinent comments:292
This self-checking aspect of science is a very vital part of the whole process. When Creation 'Scientists' suggest, as they often do, that scientists are involved in some sort of conspiracy to protect conventional scientific hypotheses from being falsified, they betray either their extreme naivety or deliberate refusal to understand what actually happens. In fact, I have never heard of a practising scientist, evolutionist or other, who at heart does not delight in discovering a rotten spot in the core of his research field. Such a discovery, if successfully defended in publications in refereed research journals, frequently leads to research money to explore further related aspects of the field. A perusal of any issue of Nature, for example, will reveal that almost as much space is devoted to the refutation of previous views (in evolutionary biology as well as other fields of science) as is devoted to the presentation of entirely new concepts.
That is not to say that the individuals who propose new hypotheses will as enthusiastically seek evidence to falsify them. It is, perhaps regrettably, human nature for the author of a hypothesis to defend it vigorously against all but the most devastating disproofs. But you can be absolutely certain that the colleagues of these authors will leap at the opportunity to falsify the hypothesis and will waste no time in publishing contradictory evidence if they can find it.
While the self-checking aspect of science sometimes breaks down in the short term, it always works in the long run. Eventually all roadblocks to progress are removed -- politically powerful scientists retire or evidence becomes overwhelming. The process has been demonstrated to work time and again.
Some final comments by Stephen Jay Gould from the above mentioned Discover article are pertinent to this essay:
When I ask myself why the evidence for evolution, so clear to all historical scientists, fails to impress intelligent nonscientists, I must believe that more than simple misinformation lies at the root of our difficulty with a man like Irving Kristol. I believe that the main problem centers upon a restrictive stereotype of scientific method accepted by most non-practitioners as the essential definition of all scientific work.
We learn in high school about the scientific method -- a cut-and-dried procedure of simplification to essential components, experiment in the controlled situation of a laboratory, prediction and replication. But the sciences of history -- not just evolution but a suite of fundamental disciplines ranging from geology, to cosmology, to linguistics -- can't operate by this stereotype. We are charged with explaining events of extraordinary complexity that occur but once in all their details. We try to understand the past, but don't pretend to predict the future. We can't see past processes directly, but learn to infer their operation from preserved results.
Science is a pluralistic enterprise with a rich panoply of methods appropriate for different kinds of problems. Past events of long duration don't lie outside the realm of science because we cannot make them happen in a month within our laboratory. Direct vision isn't the only, or even the usual, method of inference in science. We don't see electrons, or quarks, or chemical bonds, any more than we see small dinosaurs evolve into birds, or India crash into Asia to raise the Himalayas.
William Whewell, the great English philosopher of science during the early nineteenth century, argued that historical science can reach conclusions, as well confirmed as any derived from experiment and replication in laboratories, by a method he called "consilience" (literally "jumping together") of inductions. Since we can't see the past directly or manipulate its events, we must use the different tactic of meeting history's richness head on. We must gather its wondrously varied results and search for a coordinating cause that can make sense of disparate data otherwise isolated and uncoordinated. We must see if a set of results so diverse that no one had ever considered their potential coordination might jump together as the varied products of a single process. Thus plate tectonics can explain magnetic stripes on the sea floor, the rise and later erosion of the Appalachians, the earthquakes of Lisbon and San Francisco, the eruption of Mount St. Helens, the presence of large flightless ground birds only on continents once united as Gondwanaland, and the discovery of fossil coal in Antarctica.
A theme the Society sometimes touches upon is the fact that evolutionists do not see the need for God in explaining the history of life. The reason is simple: biological scientists come from a wide variety of backgrounds and religious beliefs. Some are atheists, some agnostics, some are Hindus, some are Christians. The religions of the world all have creation stories or explanations of how the world got to be as it is. Since mixing religion and science under these circumstances works no better than mixing religion and politics, scientists generally leave religious ideas to religion. As paleontologist Niles Eldredge said with regard to the mechanism of evolution, scientists "perforce must stick to the only naturalistic, materialistic explanation around: natural selection."293
It is not possible to prove, using the Society's concept of the scientific method, that the God of the Bible created the universe. What kind of test would one devise to demonstrate it? Neither is it possible to scientifically disprove it. Likewise, purely logical arguments run into difficulties. The argument from design seems reasonable, but ultimately reduces to the question, Who designed the Designer? The argument that the laws of the universe imply a lawgiver seems reasonable, but ultimately stems from a misunderstanding of what natural law really means. Mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell discussed problems with this argument some years ago:294
... there is a very common argument from natural law. That was a favorite argument all through the eighteenth century, especially under the influence of Sir Isaac Newton and his cosmogony. People observed the planets going around the sun according to the law of gravitation, and they thought that God had given a behest to these planets to move in that particular fashion, and that was why they did so. That was, of course, a convenient and simple explanation that saved them the trouble of looking any further for explanations of the law of gravitation. Nowadays we explain the law of gravitation in a somewhat complicated fashion that Einstein has introduced. I do not propose to give you a lecture on the law of gravitation, as interpreted by Einstein, because that again would take some time; at any rate, you no longer have the sort of natural law that you had in the Newtonian system, where, for some reason that nobody could understand, nature behaved in a uniform fashion. We now find that a great many things we thought were natural laws are really human conventions. You know that even in the remotest depths of stellar space there are still three feet to a yard. That is, no doubt, a very remarkable fact, but you would hardly call it a law of nature. And a great many things that have been regarded as laws of nature are of that kind. On the other hand, where you can get down to any knowledge of what atoms actually do [in quantum mechanics], you will find they are much less subject to law than people thought, and that the laws at which you arrive are statistical averages of just the sort that would emerge from chance. There is, as we all know, a law that if you throw dice you will get double sixes only about once in thirty-six times, and we do not regard that as evidence that the fall of the dice is regulated by design; on the contrary, if the double sixes came every time we should think that there was design. The laws of nature are of that sort as regards a great many of them. They are statistical averages such as would emerge from the laws of chance; and that makes this whole business of natural law much less impressive than it formerly was. Quite apart from that, which represents the momentary state of science that may change tomorrow, the whole idea that natural laws imply a lawgiver is due to a confusion between natural and human laws. Human laws are behests commanding you to behave a certain way, in which way you may choose to behave, or you may choose not to behave; but natural laws are a description of how things do in fact behave, and being a mere description of how things do in fact behave, and being a mere description of what they in fact do, you cannot argue that there must be somebody who told them to do that...
The author of the Creation book appears unfamiliar with the fact that what we call natural laws are merely descriptions of how things behave. On page 123, under the subtitle "Law Requires a Lawmaker," he says:
The entire universe, from atoms to galaxies, is governed by definite physical laws. There are laws for governing heat, light, sound and gravity, for example. As physicist Stephen W. Hawking said: "The more we examine the universe, we find it is not arbitrary at all but obeys certain well-defined laws that operate in different areas. It seems very reasonable to suppose that there may be some unifying principles, so that all laws are part of some bigger law."
No doubt this is true. The object of theoretical physics, of which Hawking is an able practitioner, is to find out what those unifying principles are. Hawking believes that they will eventually be able to be expressed in terms of mathematical equations that will be part of what he calls "the unification of physics,"295 which has been a sort of holy grail for physicists since Einstein first formulated the theory of relativity. However, whether these principles are also "behests" that the physical universe has to obey is another story. Creation's author thinks they are, as on page 124 he says:
When we think of laws, we acknowledge that they came from a lawmaking entity. A traffic sign that says "Stop" certainly has behind it some person or group of persons who originated the law. What, then, about the comprehensive laws that govern the material universe? Such brilliantly conceived laws surely bear witness to a supremely intelligent lawmaker.
The claim that the God of the Bible is the Creator of the universe is found only in the Bible itself. So why should any one religious idea get more of a hearing in science than any other? If one allowed religious ideas to become essential parts of science, discussions would reduce to religious debates. Contrary to what scientific creationists claim, it is not practical to try to separate the idea of God as creator from any one particular religion, as each has its own ideas about God. That does not stop individual scientists from entertaining any ideas they please about the origin and history of life. Nor does it bear on how the universe really came into existence -- there may well be a creator and he may well be the God of the Bible -- but scientists are not in a position to discuss such matters from a professional standpoint. It is unfortunate that many scientists do not acknowledge these things, although many do. Most people in scientific fields seem able to resolve such matters of conflict between their personal beliefs and their professional beliefs satisfactorily.
My own personal feeling at this time is simply that there is a creator, probably the God of the Bible, who has done lots of things for reasons that are simply not understandable to humans at present. Why would he have created so many species throughout geological history and later wiped them all out in great extinctions? Why are there so many sequences of animals that show slight changes in structure as one progresses through the fossil record? The sudden appearance of new animals and radically new structures in the fossil record testifies to a creator, but the continuing sequences of slightly different animal forms testifies to experimentation. Maybe the creator had other beings like himself do most of the work. Many people would jump at the chance to do biological engineering of that sort. One thing is certain -- the world is full of great mysteries. The more is found out about the universe the more seem true the words of Ecclesiastes 8:17:
And I saw all the work of the [true] God, how mankind are not able to find out the work that has been done under the sun; however much mankind keep working hard to see, yet they do not find out. And even if they should say they are wise enough to know, they would be unable to find out.
273a The reader may say that evolutionists hold the preconceived notion of evolution. But an idea is often called "preconceived" by those who disagree with it. Anyone who believes in the literal truth of the Genesis creation account will say that most scientists hold preconceived notions about how everything came to be, namely, no God was involved. But with just as much justification one can call the ideas of those believers preconceived. Indeed, many Christians agree with Jesus' statement to the doubting Thomas: "Happy are those who do not see and yet believe."
Like all humans, scientists are loath to abandon an idea they have long held, unless something overwhelmingly better comes along. As Michael Denton said in Evolution: A Theory In Crisis, p. 356, (Adler & Adler, Bethesda, MD, 1985), about certain old theories abandoned hundreds of years ago: "... it was more than anything else the absence of conceivable alternatives which guaranteed their continued defense, even when this necessitated increasingly implausible rationalizations. The final abandonment of a theory has invariably required the development of an alternative. As Kuhn points out: '... a scientific theory is declared invalid only if an alternative candidate is available to take its place. No process yet disclosed by the historical study of scientific development at all resembles the methodological stereotype of falsification by direct comparison with nature... the act of judgment that leads scientists to reject a previously accepted theory is always based upon more than a comparison of that theory with the world. The decision to reject one paradigm is always simultaneously the decision to accept another, and the judgment leading to that decision involves the comparison of both paradigms with nature and with each other.'"
Hence, all scientists have some preconceived notions, within whose framework they interpret what they see, so that they are not working blindly. They do not want to abandon an idea that has no good replacement and become, as it were, blind. This explains some of the resistance of evolutionists to considering that some intelligent creator, not even necessarily the God of the Bible, made all living creatures. Explanations of "why" would reduce to explaining the subjective whims of a person, and no one can do that even for simple human creatures, much less for a powerful creator.
274 Laurie R. Godfrey, Scientists Confront Creationism, p. 10, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 1983.
275 Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam Co., Springfield, Mass., 1979.
276 Laurie R. Godfrey, ed., op cit, p. 309.
277 ibid, p. 160.
278 Steven M. Stanley, The New Evolutionary Timetable, pp. 169-172, 1981.
279 Colin Patterson, Evolution, pp. 144-151, British Museum, London, 1978.
280 ibid, pp. 161-162.
281 William R. Fix, The Bone Peddlers: Selling Evolution, p. 158, Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, 1984.
281a Certain predictions have been verified to an accuracy equivalent to measuring the width of the United States to within the thickness of a human hair.
282 William R. Fix, op cit, p. 194.
283 ibid, p. 34.
284 Ashley Montagu, ed., op cit, pp. 118-119.
285 ibid, p. 185.
286 ibid, p. 269.
287 Walter Sullivan, Room for Darwin And the Bible, Times Books, New York, NY, September 30, 1986.
288 Discover, pp. 64-70, January, 1987.
289 Theodosius Dobzhansky, Evolution, Genetics, and Man, p. 285, 1955.
290 Theodosius Dobzhansky, Evolution, Genetics, and Man, p. 319, 1955.
291 Laurie R. Godfrey, Scientists Confront Creationism, pp. 167-169, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 1983.
291a One of the best discussions of extrapolating too far is found in Evolution: A Theory In Crisis, Michael Denton, Adler & Adler, Bethesda, MD, 1985.
292 D. R. Selkirk and F. J. Burrows, editors, Confronting Creationism: Defending Darwin, p. 24, New South Wales University Press, Kensington NSW Australia, 1988.
293 Niles Eldredge, Time Frames, p. 142, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1985.
294 Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian, pp. 7-8, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1957.
295 Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time, p. 155, Bantam Books, New York, 1990.