Susan C. Anthony

Evolution: Conversations with My Readers

Conversation with Mike  |  Question from Devin  |  Critique by Matthew  |  Discussion with Daniel  |  Comments 

For reasons I don't really understand, my article "Is Evolution True?" comes up high on Internet searches. I get letters from people who agree or disagree with what I wrote. Some e-mails have led to spirited and respectful exchanges. I decided to give space to correspondents, especially when they make good points or disagree with what I wrote. Some correspondents are brilliant and highly educated, spokesmen, if you will, for evolution. Please consider their points as well as mine when investigating this question for yourself.

Let me say here that I love living in America! It's an expectation that Americans can agree to disagree, agreeably. We may do battle with words, but for the most part, Americans don't seek to physically harm or kill those with whom they disagree. 

My object in writing about evolution is not to silence opposition or force anyone to agree with me. Rather, I want to share with you, for your consideration, evidence that changed my mind. For a good part of my life, I didn't even know there were intelligent people who questioned evolution. I expect the same might be true for many of you. Sincere, intelligent people can reach different conclusions, even after examining the same evidence, because they weigh evidence differently. The more evidence available, however, the better informed our conclusions will be.

 

E-mail conversation with Mike

This exchange began my somehow being included on a list-serve among old friends, including high school science teachers. 

It started with Vicky posting an article with the comment:  "Here's hoping that people become educated!"  The article was "New Analyses Bolster Central Tenants of Evolution Theory," by Rick Weiss and David Brown, published in The Washington Post. The authors' conclusion was:  "Their analysis was just the latest of many in such disparate fields as genetics, biochemistry, geology and paleontology that in recent years have added new credence to the central tenet of evolutionary theory:  That a smidgen of cells 3.5 billion years ago could — through mechanisms no more extraordinary than random mutation and natural selection — give rise to the astonishing tapestry of biological diversity that today thrives on Earth."


Her friend Mike responded:  I really enjoyed this article; although I wish that Eric Lander would have said, "You only believe scientific theories when they make useful and dependable predictions about the natural world that can be independently confirmed empirically." This would have forced John West, in my opinion, to admit that the concept of an intelligent designer is not a scientifically testable assertion.

On another note, I agree with the many theologians and philosophers who argue that looking for God in the gaps of human knowledge, such as irreducibly complex systems, is fraught with theologically difficulties. It certainly seems to be a strange way to build one's faith.


To which Pete responded:  Thanks, Mike.  There are some right-leaning people out there who "get it."


And back to Mike:  I agree. What worries me are the people representing the far right who claim to have the truth with a "capital T". I like this quote from "Kindly Inquisitors" by Jonathan Rauch, "Fundamentalism, properly understood, is not about religion. It is about the inability to seriously entertain the possibility that one might be wrong." Some of my relatives are fundamentalists and I feel that I experience the idea behind this quote quite often.


At this point, I jumped into the conversation:  Vicky: I appreciate you including me in this interchange! I would add to the debate that one can be a fundamentalist anything, including a fundamentalist Darwinist. Is Darwinism truth with a capital "T"? Do Darwinists as well as so-called "fundamentalists" of other stripes find it difficult to seriously entertain the possibility that they might be wrong? (partially wrong—they obviously aren't completely wrong, but sometimes truth can be true without being the whole story, like Newton's physics was true but not the whole story)

Again, to emphasize, I am NOT in favor of debating philosophy in the science classroom. I AM in favor of informing students that what is being taught in biology as far as origins, macroevolution and one-time historical events such as the origin of first life and the purported transition from reptiles to birds is based on a naturalistic philosophy which not everyone agrees is the whole truth. That avoids naturalistic dogmatism and allows students latitude to do philosophical research on their own without belittling them. I am as opposed to presenting naturalism in a science classroom as though it were the entire truth with a capital "T" as I would be against presenting the Bible in a science classroom as the whole truth with a capital "T". What are popularly called "fundamentalists" of any stripe assume that anything added to or contrary to what they believe is stupid, uneducated, naive and even evil. It should not be up to any science teacher to teach or debate philosophy, whether it be naturalism, intelligent design, creationism or eastern mysticism. That is not science.

There is plenty of empirical science to teach that NO ONE can argue about. That's where the focus should be in the science classroom. It is fine to teach evolution as a framework through which biology can be viewed AS LONG AS students are informed that random chance evolution is based on a philosophy which may or may not comprise the whole truth.

Thank you for "listening"! I do realize that I may be wrong. I've certainly been wrong before. Advancing age can bring a certain humility, and that's not a bad thing.


Mike took me on and we exchanged numerous e-mails thereafter:

I agree, fundamentalism comes in many forms. I believe it is vital that we teach the nature of science in the classroom, not as a philosophical naturalism, but as a methodological naturalism. What many of my scientist friends believe spiritually cannot be a part of the articles they write for scientific journals. The characteristics of science as laid out by judge William Overton, in the 1982 Arkansas vs. the B.O.E. balanced treatment law represent the thoughts of many theologians, scientists and philosophers and have stood up in many court cases, they are:

  1. Guided by Natural Law
  2. Explanatory by reference to natural law.
  3. Testable against the empirical world.
  4. Conclusions are tentative (not the final word or truth with a capital T).
  5. Falsifiable (scientific explanations must have a test for wrongness).

I think it is important to let students know that science has defined limits and can not answer many spiritual or philosophical questions. I also think that many people confuse what scientists are able to write in their popular writings with the nature of science. Scientists are biased, but bias is not the problem, when dealing with naturalistic questions it is unchecked bias that is the problem.


My response to Mike:

I appreciate your thoughtful response.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, the science class has very often been used to promote an atheistic philosophy. Atheism may or may not be true but it is not science. It is philosophy. Science deals with materialistic causes and effects and that is its proper role. Scientific "truth" is demonstrably, repeatedly true, unlike, for example, historical or forensic "truth."

I would love to see a focus on empirical science in the classroom and a de-emphasis on philosophical explanations for origins. I do not think biology would suffer a fatal blow if the evolutionary paradigm were de-emphasized and empirical biology emphasized. I realize many biologists and teachers would disagree with me, but that disagreement would be based on philosophy. Darwinism in the sense of macroevolution (microevolution is empirical and beyond dispute) is not scientific according to the definition laid out by Judge Overton. Its conclusions are generally not presented as tentative. It is not falsifiable because such things as the assumed natural divergence between reptiles and birds is not something repeatable or testable. It is a historical event (assuming, of course, that it happened as supposed). Even were scientists were able to mutate and breed reptiles until they became birds, scientists are INTELLIGENT so it would not say much about what occurs naturally.

You have probably read the article published in Science, Vol. 210, 21 November 1980 entitled "Evolutionary Theory Under Fire." To quote, "The central question of the Chicago conference was whether the mechanisms underlying microevolution (mutation/natural selection) can be extrapolated to explain the phenomena of macroevolution. At the risk of doing violence to the positions of some of the people at the meeting, the answer can be given as a clear No."

It is possible that there is another mechanism, as yet undiscovered. It is also possible that once DNA has been completely decoded in a number of related animal species, computer simulations can be run to numerous paths that organisms could have taken and to show that small mutations can add up to huge changes, with each organism along the way being not only viable but superior enough in function to ensure that its genes would be preserved and not swamped.

I completely agree with you that it is important to let students know that science has defined limits and cannot even address all questions. Once modern humans broke free of the yoke of medieval myth and superstition, people began to believe that science could answer all questions. It is disappointing that comprehensive truth still seems so elusive. A century ago, people expected, among other things, that by now there would be no more crime, no more poverty, no more illness. Science brought unprecedented improvement in people's lives, but psychology and social science have not had the success of empirical science. It is doubtful they ever will.

Thank you again for your reasoned, clear and thoughtful response. What saddens me most in the "culture wars" is that people of differing opinions seem to have such difficulty conducting rational discussion.


Mike's response:

I am glad to see that both you and I do not equate science with atheism. I agree with Robert Pennock that science is neither theistic nor atheistic in the ontological sense it is agnostic, leaving God as a possibility that is outside the boundaries of its method of investigation.

I agree that many biologist and teachers would disagree with your idea about deemphasizing the "evolutionary paradigm." I would add that most of the scientific community would disagree with your idea.

Evolution would predict that different organisms have lived at different times. This is a testable prediction and one that has been overwhelmingly confirmed by looking at the history of the earth as it is revealed by the fossil record. Evolution by natural selection would predict that organisms would look less like those of present day as you move back in time through older layers. This again is a testable prediction and ironically, first observed by creationists of the past. Evolution by natural selection would predict that the organisms on islands off major coasts would be closely related to species on the mainland. Furthermore, the fossils found in these locations would be related to the present day organisms. These biogeographical patterns in time and space are predicted and are testable. Even more significant to me, is the fact that scientists representing different religious and cultural backgrounds can come to very close agreement on these historical patterns.

I believe as many do that the distinction between microevolution and macroevolution is blurred by time. I do not remember if I have read "Evolution Under Fire". I will definitely look it up.

Every scientist would agree that there may be as yet undiscovered mechanisms that drive evolution and that the best way to uncover those naturalistic causes will be through rationalism combined with empiricism.

There was a time when people with mental illness were diagnosed through the authority of revealed truth and the treatment they received would be punished by our courts of law today. Thankfully, the empirical side of psychology has brought us out of those dark days and discovered natural causes and treatments that are more effective.

Disagreement is something for which our great nation has fought. Science institutionalizes curiosity, skepticism is encouraged and empirical evidence challenges authority. I only hope that the disagreements in science will continue to be settled though empirical evidence.


I wrote back to Mike:

I agree we're in agreement about a lot of things. It is refreshing to find someone with whom I can agreeably agree to disagree. Enough of that (got agreeably carried away, sorry).

I think a majority of scientists would equate science with atheism, consciously or not, and that is part of the problem. To quote Paul Kurtz: "Humanism is the dominant moral and religious point of view in this scientific age among our intellectual and educated classes, though some may not be aware that they are humanists." He also wrote, "We should not deceive ourselves into believing that scientific intellectuals are any more fair-minded or impartial than others when it comes to their own cherished values." So true.

Again, Paul Kurtz: "We should be skeptical and suspend judgment whenever there is insufficient evidence." Of course, a lot depends on what evidence different people accept as "sufficient". Many juries have deemed that "sufficient" evidence existed to imprison defendants and even sentence them to death, only to find later when more evidence became available that they were wrong! Humanists find insufficient evidence that any intelligent designer or God exists. Intelligent design advocates find insufficient evidence that purely natural processes, unaided by intelligence, could or would produce incredible and intricately designed living systems that intelligent beings such as ourselves can't yet even copy. Water doesn't flow uphill. Things don't "naturally" become increasingly complex. Entropy points the other direction. I contend that neither of these positions is science, strictly speaking, no matter how meritorious they may be.

Karl Marx wrote that an agnostic is just a gutless atheist. That can be accurate if the agnostic in question is not somewhat humble about his/her agnosticism and open to/respectful of people with other views. Science classes have often been used to indoctrinate children with naturalistic/ materialistic/ humanistic philosophy, that the cosmos is all there is and ever will be (to roughly quote Carl Sagan). While that may or may not be TRUE, it is not science. Students should not be shamed, silenced or humiliated if they do not agree with the philosophy of their teacher, whatever it may be. The teacher may freely state his/her philosophy and the reasons he/she holds it, but should maintain a clear distinction between philosophy and science. Empirical science is provable beyond ANY doubt. That is what makes it so valuable. It has extraordinary value regardless of the philosophy of its practitioners. Who cares if the scientist who discovers a cure for cancer is an atheist, a Christian or a Hindu? The focus in science classes should be on SCIENCE. The science of biology predated Darwin.

An aside on the word "fundamentalism". Its meaning has morphed over the years and I'd guess you and I have different definitions. This is why I've stated it as "so-called fundamentalism", put "fundamentalism" in quotes, etc. Originally, the word "fundamentalist" meant a Christian who believed what were then billed as the "five fundamentals":

  1. The Bible is the inspired Word of God.
  2. Christ was born of a virgin.
  3. The miracles of Christ are historical events.
  4. The Crucifixion was substitutionary atonement for human sin.
  5. Christ was resurrected bodily.

For anyone who's not a Christian, that list means very little and probably elicits a sneer. A lot of people who are reviled as "fundamentalists" may not themselves believe those five "fundamentals". The word was later applied to Islamists whose ideology is to bring about an earthly Utopian government ruled by Sharia (laws of Allah).

Paul Kurtz uses some of the following words about "fundamentalists" (religious but presumably not scientific fundamentalists): radical, archaic, responsible for terror and violence, standing in the way of solutions to the world's most serious problems, opposed to diversity of opinions, anti-intellectual, repressive, opposed to modernism, intolerant, dependent, gullible, escapist, fearful, irrational, obscurantist, antiscience, antifreedom, antihuman. Antihuman. Hmmm.

The "fundamentals" of humanist philosophy, as I understand them, are:

  1. All forms of the supernatural are myth. Nature is all that exists.
  2. Man is a product of evolution. There is no life after death.
  3. All problems can be solved through reason and the scientific method.
  4. Humans are masters of their own destiny.
  5. Man is the measure of all things.
  6. Humans can, with their reason, establish an enduring citadel of peace and beauty on this earth, "a Utopian civilization that is breathtaking in promise."
  7. Basic assumptions and convictions (apparently with the exception of those listed above) should be questioned unendingly.

The goal of humanism is to emancipate humans from irrational superstition and dogma. Kurtz again: "If we humanists have any primary mission, it should be to reconstruct education." "Since the Enlightenment, it has been commonly believed that with the achievement of universal education the scientific (read humanistic) outlook would eventually triumph and would emancipate humankind from superstition. Progress was thought to be correlative with the growth of science." Humanists hope to achieve Utopia through education. They strongly believe (against the evidence, I would say) in the perfectibility of man.

Things didn't work out as they expected. Marx, the "Greatest Humanist of the 20th Century", truly believed, I think, that Communism would bring about Utopia. But even after the (less than tolerant) attempt to exterminate all naysayers in Marxist countries, Utopia was not forthcoming. Something went wrong. A simplistic answer might be that this failure was the fault of religion and especially "fundamentalists." On the other hand, it might be time to question some basic assumptions.

The theory of evolution has many "true believers." The Piltdown man story should be enough to convince us of how very much many people want naturalistic evolution to be true. When emotion is involved, reason suffers, whether we're talking religion, science, or anything else. Some disagreements may never be settled, at least not in our lifetimes, but the process of addressing them is valuable, including the process of spirited discourse and reasoned debate.

Patterns such as those in the fossil record may have different causal explanations. One possible explanation is naturalistic evolution but that cannot be proved or falsified beyond doubt. I await more evidence or other mechanisms that may be discovered in the future. One thing that shook my personal "faith" in evolution was reviewing textbooks 20+ years later and finding that so little had changed. The exact same examples were still the primary "evidence": peppered moth, sickle-cell anemia, Archaeopteryx, horse series, fruit flies. That's exactly what I learned in high school! Why nothing new? Read the book Icons of Evolution for the weaknesses in those examples. Lots more about Darwin's finches in that book, too.

I am all for skepticism, curiosity, and empirical evidence. Where evidence is less than conclusive, people may reach different opinions and that's OK. One of us is wrong, but we can't be 100% sure who it is at the moment. Future evidence will settle many questions, but probably not all. We should distinguish between proven / provable facts and opinions / beliefs. Even the authority of "science" must remain open to challenge. Scientific dogma is no less dogmatic than religious dogma.

Regarding the distinction between microevolution and macroevolution being blurred by time, if you haven't read Darwin's Black Box, I'll send you a FREE copy in THANKS for your willingness to dialog. If you read this far in this message and will send me your address, the book will all yours, postage paid, a $17.00 value! YOURS in thanks for your patience with me.

Till later.....


Mike responded:

I have taught secondary science for nearly 20 years. My favorite hobby is fossil collecting, I focus on plant material from around the world. I also go collecting fossils during the summer. I really like to think about questions that include philosophy, religion and science.

I believe that to confuse the personal spiritual beliefs of scientists with the methodological naturalism demanded by their job is careless at best and dishonest at worst. In my opinion, Paul Kurtz is correct; science is biased in the sense that it demands supporting evidence that is empirically based, although many would argue it is not a bias to utilize methodologies and standards of evidence appropriate for scientific inquiry. Dragnet fans love it when Jack Webb would say, "Just the facts, Ma'am." Alas, even facts are subjected to empirical evidence in science or should I say what we are warranted in accepting as fact. It was once a scientific fact that the Earth was at the center of our solar system. The empirical evidence no longer warrants accepting a geocentric model as fact. It was once warranted to accept as fact that the universe was unchanging and permanent, today we recognize that it is expanding and evolving. Many people find the tentative truth of science depressing and unnerving. I personally find it inspiring and hopeful. The study of the universe keeps me in a constant state of amazement.

I.D. advocates and Humanists are free to speculate, but in studying the natural world, scientific knowledge is ultimately advanced by naturalistic explanations. The idea that an "irreducibly complex system" was engineered by an intelligent designer is not an empirically testable assertion. This is why even William Dembski has noted, "There are good and bad reasons to be skeptical of intelligent design. Perhaps the best reason is that intelligent design has yet to establish itself as a thriving scientific research program." Publishing in peer-reviewed journals is still the gold standard of science.

The second law of thermodynamics states that entropy tends to increase in closed systems; however, we must also recognize that increase in complexity can occur if there is energy input. When food and water are given to a chicken in a cage it develops and grows in complexity. If we deny the chicken food and water complexity cannot increase. Of course, even when we give the chicken food and water the overall entropy has increased when we consider the heat lost to metabolic processes, but with energy input increase in complexity has occurred.

I respectfully disagree with Karl Marx. The people who I know that identify themselves as agnostic are being honest: deep down in their hearts, they can neither confirm nor deny the existence of God.

Again we agree, science teachers should not promote that which is in the domain of metaphysical philosophy or religion as science. Science adopts a methodology that is neutral with respect to diverse religious and cultural backgrounds. Science values doubt, skepticism and supporting evidence, free from the chains of knowledge by authority claiming sole possession of an absolute truth.

You are right that biology predated Darwin just as physics predated Einstein.

I am using the word fundamentalism to encompass any system of thought that uses knowledge by authority as absolute truth, a brittle authority that is unwilling to bend even under the weight of empirical evidence. I am defining a dogmatic fundamentalism. In this sense, we find fundamentalism in every human system whether it be Humanism, Egalitarianism, Islam, Christianity, or even science. The reason I think scientific methodology is so powerful is due to its empirical ruthlessness. Philosophically, Einstein resisted the ideas of quantum mechanics saying that, "God does not play dice." The empirical evidence for quantum mechanics has allowed it to flourish in physics. Darwin doggedly stood by his theory of evolution by natural selection even though the mechanisms of heredity were not in the spot light. Darwin's speculation that when this mechanism was better understood it would support his theory has much empirical support today. According to Karl Popper, the final claim to objectivity in science is that it is a collective enterprise where any individual's views are subject to criticism by others. In a sense, you could say that there is freedom of belief and speech in science, but not freedom of knowledge.

Methodological naturalism reveals nothing about the realm of the supernatural and that is enough, in the humanist's view, to dismiss the supernatural. The claim that science is the only sufficient or legitimate source of belief or knowledge is itself not a scientific claim; therefore, humanism cannot be equated with science.

I appreciate your offer. I have read sections out of Behe's book, but do not own a copy. I would be happy to accept your offer if you would let me send a copy of Robert Pennock's The Tower of Babel.


And my response:

I'd love to trade books. I like reading things that challenge my thinking and I anticipate Tower of Babel will do that. I’ve never heard of it.

I love fossils as well. In college I took a month-long summer travel-study course all over the state of Colorado. We had a biology professor and geology professor with us and did biological studies of the various ecosystems in the state as well as stopped at practically EVERY road cut for geology, fossil hunting, etc. It was WONDERFUL, and one reason I almost hated to move to Alaska. I felt like I was just getting to know Colorado. Very few antique apple parers in this young state, though.

I think you and I are in complete agreement about what science is and what the role of science should be, although I would disagree that, “It was once a scientific fact that the Earth was at the center of our solar system.” I would say, rather, that it was always a fact that the sun was the center of the solar system, but humans had not apprehended that fact. They didn’t have adequate empirical evidence to prove any theory at the time. The empirical evidence they HAD seemed to point to what they then assumed was a fact, but too many pieces were missing for the picture to be clear. It’s like a connect-the-dots puzzle with not enough dots. One reason it is important (for all of us) to maintain humility, I think, is that not even the most brilliant person knows everything. One thing I love and respect about scientists is that they are committed to yield (however unwillingly at times) to empirical, verifiable evidence when it is available.

Even in science, though, freedom of thought is critical. Einstein THOUGHT out his theories through before evidence became available to confirm them. Without his theory as a starting point, some experiments to ascertain facts might not have been designed. Not everyone LIKED what Einstein had to say. Even he didn’t like some of it. But scientists respect and yield to evidence. Right now, a lot of scientists aren’t too happy with string theory. We don’t yet know enough to prove or disprove it conclusively. It’s interesting and rather speculative. I wouldn’t bank on it being true. It may end up on the trash heap, only to be resurrected in part down the road. That’s the process. Keep finding more dots. Eventually, sometimes, you have enough dots to be certain. For example, it wasn’t until background radiation was detected by the COBE satellite that the steady-state theory was permanently put to rest.

Unfortunately, at least in forensic science, “Just the facts” gives only dots. Even in Dragnet, facts were used for something, for discovering truth. Depending on the patterns of the dots, additional dots are interpolated so facts make sense or fit patterns. Often there are a couple of dots that don’t fit into the picture that seems to be emerging. If it’s a beautiful picture, it’s tempting to just ignore them. But over time, more and more dots may be discovered that don’t fit, even if most of them still DO fit. That’s when “thinking outside the box” (as Einstein did) can yield fresh insight. I think a lot of Steven Hawking’s thinking is “outside the box” and not (at least yet) solidly grounded in empirical evidence. If he were restricted to thinking ONLY about facts and not speculating about patterns into which those facts fit, he’d be truly handicapped.

Regarding the increase of complexity happening with energy input, that is true. But random or disorganized energy input doesn’t yield more complexity. If I leave home for 10 years without inputting any energy, things will go downhill. However, things will go downhill a lot faster when there is energy input (say from a gang of energetic kids). To make things get better and more organized, I have to input intelligent or organized energy.

In the case of the chicken, I would argue that the growth and development that manifests with the input of food and water is a result of the energy being organized by the chicken’s body in certain ways that are directed, ultimately, by DNA and proteins. The energy in the food is not randomly used; it is broken down, sorted, organized and distributed to the proper cells using processes that are complex and difficult to replicate. Adding food energy to something without such “abilities” (something nonliving including a dead chicken) would not naturally increase its complexity.

I entirely agree that “The claim that science is the only sufficient or legitimate source of belief or knowledge is itself not a scientific claim.” That is what I meant when I said science teachers should clearly delineate for their students the difference between science and philosophy and the primary focus in the classroom should be on empirical science. While philosophy can be addressed to some degree, it should clearly be labeled as such. Just because humanism and science aren’t the same thing does not mean that humanists do not use science to promote their philosophy as scientific and therefore undeniably (in their view) true. You and I agree that is improper.

Peer-reviewed journals are the gold standard, but even peer-reviewers have biases. A peer reviewed journal in Copernicus’ day may well have marginalized his views. In retrospect, a lot of things seem perfectly clear that were not at all clear at the time. And it wasn’t that people back them were stupid. They were blinded by preconceptions. We likely are, too. If we could return to earth 200 years hence, a lot of things would be perfectly clear, in retrospect, that are not at all clear now.

Someone once wrote: “In theory, the facts determine the theory. In fact, the theory determines the facts.” Theories very often determine which facts are accepted and acknowledged, or even perceived. We are all blind to our own blind spots.

Scientists, like anyone else, are not immune from “group-think” and dogmatic defense of pet theories. What makes science beautiful and superior is that there is a prior commitment to yield to empirical evidence (at least when it becomes overwhelming), whether one likes it or not. But sufficient evidence to prove something not the same thing as lack of sufficient evidence to disprove it. Centuries ago, there was insufficient evidence to disprove geocentrism. That didn’t mean there was sufficient evidence to prove it.

Again, thanks for your patience and willingness to dialog. I have a pile of things to do and don’t want to “write your ear off” so I’ll sign off and get to work.


Mike wrote:

I think we may be in agreement on the nature of scientific facts. I do think that what we are warranted in accepting as scientific fact changes with the empirical evidence that is available. That again illustrates the tentative nature of scientific knowledge.

I also agree that freedom of thought and the ability to speculate in science is critical. I would add that the freedom of speech and belief are also valued by science. I do not think there is a freedom of knowledge in science. Alfred Wegener thought outside the box and concluded that continents had drifted over time. His views had some major unexplained causes, which lacked empirical evidence. Wegener had no testable method for how continents could move and so his idea was marginalized. However, in the 1960's the evidence for sea-floor spreading became empirically powerful and convincing. Wegener's ideas then became a part of plate tectonic theory.

I would say that red-shift, background radiation, and the relative abundance of elements in the universe are important empirical dots that make an expanding universe model the best scientific thinking at this time.

Whether or not my house gets more messy when I leave depends upon which of my boys is taking care of the house. I am not sure I am familiar with the concept of "intelligent" energy. I do agree with your view of DNA's role in life. I also know that DNA's structure and function are explained in naturalistic ways and are consistent with the laws of chemistry and physics.

If you want to believe the Earth is flat, that continents can move, or that gaps in human knowledge about the natural world can be explained as evidence for the supernatural, that is all right. However, if you want your belief recognized as scientific knowledge you must be open to empirical tests. If your belief does not stand up to the empirical evidence it will not be included in scientific texts, it will be marginalized. Furthermore, the intellectual community may not even take it seriously.

Your book should arrive on October the 14th. I also like Kenneth Miller's book called Finding Darwin's God. I also enjoyed Creationism on Trial: Evolution and God at Little Rock by Langdon Gilkey. Gilkey is a theologian who recently passed away.


My response to Mike:

I will mail a book to you today. We're taking off for our homestead tomorrow and will be there for a week. I LOVE it up there.

What we accept as scientific fact does change as more evidence is uncovered. What is fact never changes. The same is true for historical facts, which are no less factual but are by nature less provable than empirical scientific facts. One of the problems I see is a confusion between the nature of science and history (empirical v. forensic “proofs”), as well as a confusion between facts and the paradigms or philosophies into which we fit facts. I wish everybody was a bit more tentative and a bit less dogmatic in their beliefs. Even the most brilliant minds in the world don’t know everything. That’s not a bad thing. Every new generation can uncover or discover more truth and that is exciting!

Can science empirically prove there no intelligence exists that is higher than our own? I don’t think so although, like you, I respect the right of others to come to a different conclusion, AND to try to present evidence to me that might shed new light on the subject or persuade me to change my point of view. I have not always had the point of view I have now. Maybe I am wrong now and the point of view I had before is the right one. But on the other hand I did do a lot of research and consideration, trying as best I could to maintain an open mind and not automatically accept what I wanted to be true as being true. To be honest, I be pretty happy if there were no God or accountability. It’s not something I’d CHOOSE to be true (unless, of course, I could invent a God to fit my personal specifications and desires, in which case I’d be the real boss). Anyone who has a desire to have a mere belief (of any kind) recognized as scientific knowledge has confused science and philosophy. Atheism and agnosticism are philosophies that fit well with science and are accurate IF scientific knowledge is the only true knowledge. That’s a big IF. I would argue again that there are historical truths that are TRUE but are not scientific, so it’s clear that scientific knowledge is not all-encompassing or the sole possible source of knowledge, without even bringing up “religion”. Science is wonderful because many things can be proven to a stage of black and white that makes it impossible for any rational person to deny their truth. Historical and philosophical knowledge remain in shades of gray no matter how diligently we study them. It’s like the difference between awarding a gold medal for a foot race in contrast to figure skating. A race is perfectly objective, like empirical science. Figure skating is not -- it cannot be judged with perfect objectivity.

To put it as someone once did: “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Whether God exists or does not is a question outside the realm of science and need not be addressed in a science classroom. Empirical truth is 100% true no matter what the philosophy of the scientist. But it may be a subset of truth and there may be truths that transcend it. We can hopefully agree that historical truth is not verifiable scientifically in most cases. Although science can help identify possible perpetrators of a crime or rule out others, it cannot in many cases prove conclusively who done it.

Vicky forwarded me a great web site that has links to TONS of resources supporting your arguments and point of view: http://www.home.duq.edu/~lampe/ID_critique_resources.html I have hundreds of pages from there downloaded onto my computer but I won’t have a chance to get to them for awhile because of other pressing projects. I’ll probably read the book you’re sending first. But AFTER I’ve read all that, let’s “talk” again. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be convinced. At a minimum, I would have given arguments challenging my point of view very serious consideration (realizing, as I said before, that I don’t know everything and that I’ve certainly been wrong before). Already, I’m more in favor of de-emphasizing philosophy (including ID) in science classrooms than in teaching multiple philosophies. I’m not of the opinion that science teachers should be mandated to teach intelligent design theory. I’d just like to see teachers refrain from indoctrinating students into their own philosophy in the science classroom (whatever it is or however true it is). I’d like to see less teaching of naturalistic/materialistic philosophy as truth and less ridiculing and sneering at those who thinks otherwise. If we can agree that intelligence exists at all (in us, for example), it should be possible to agree that intelligent people can disagree.

Again, I appreciate your communication. You haven’t written me off completely because we are on different sides of a philosophical divide (at least not yet). What worries me in America today are emotional attacks, lack of humility and the virulent dogma. You and I cannot both be right BUT we can be respectful and discuss things on a rational basis. That’s worth a lot. Too often, people (on all sides of a debate) simply marginalize and despise each other, refusing to even communicate. That’s a very sad thing, I think. THANK YOU!


And I'll let Mike sign off with the last word:

I have really enjoyed our email exchanges. It is always good to have someone challenge your own beliefs. I am amazed at how much we have in common.

To sum up my thoughts, there are three reasons why I have problems with balanced treatment laws. Langdon Gilkey in his Creationism on Trial: Evolution and God at Little Rock explores these thoughts in depth.

First, balanced treatment laws would serve to establish a particular form of Christian religion in the science classroom. This would represent a threat to free religious life in our society. I would add that for some, it would also represent a threat to freedom from religion.

Second, the laws would be a disaster for the instruction of science. Langdon Gilkey notes, "...Creation science represents a direct repudiation of perhaps the most general and pervasive theorem basic to all  the physical and biological sciences. This is a concept of a universe in process, changing over vast stretches of time, interrelated and interacting in all of its aspects, out of whose developing interrelations novel forms of existence arise and come to be. This theorem far transcends the various theories and models of biological science alone, and certainly any concepts associated with Charles Darwin.

"Actually, the thesis of a universe developing over immense stretches of time dominates every science from astrophysics through astronomy, physics, chemistry, biochemistry, geology, geophysics, microbiology, and into biology, paleontology, zoology, botany, and meteorology. To counter the central theorem structuring these sciences, and to insert into their midst a set of alien theses unrelated to all other theories in these fields, would bring about a systematic destruction of American science far greater than that engineered so fatally by Stalin in the name of Lysenko on Soviet biology."

Third, such laws would be an attack on academic freedom. The state often legislates what subjects are to be taught in the curriculum. The state should not decide which theories should or should not be taught within these mandated subjects.

The second and third reasons also tie into my fears that such laws would change the methodological naturalism of science by inserting supernatural explanations. I am a spiritual person, but I do not think science would benefit from metaphysical or religious explanations. In fact, I believe that it would really hurt science in America.

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Question from Devin:

I just wanted to email and ask a few questions of you in regards to your essay "Is Evolution True?" I have many thoughts about it, but don't have the time to address them right now. I just wanted to begin by asking how you chose your reading list. It seems to have a highly anti-evolutionary slant. I can't argue that it incorporates many scientists, but you left out many highly acclaimed evolutionary biologists, such as: E.O. Wilson, SJ Gould (whose quote you highly take out of context in your quotations page), Neil Shubin (Your Inner Fish is a fantastic read), Ernst Mayr, and many others. Most books you read seem to be about the debate over evolution vs. creationism, as opposed to books that are actually about evolution. I'd like to hear your thoughts on this, thank you for reading this, and I hope to hear from you soon.


My response: I didn't list all the books I read, and I did choose to focus on the debate. I wanted to ferret out the best arguments of each side against the other. I wanted to find on which points they agree and disagree and what were the best critiques they could offer of the other. Rather like a trial. Prosecution witnesses, cross-examination, defense witnesses, cross-examination. As in a trial, sometimes jurors who have heard all the same evidence still disagree on the main question, innocence or guilt.

In the end, I concluded that you can't prove or disprove history using science. The question of origins is historical rather than scientific. Since it's not happening regularly, it can't be subjected to scientific standards of proof or disproof.

Scientists begin with the presupposition that nothing exists outside nature, which is a philosophical assertion that can't be proved or disproved scientifically. It is an absolutely necessary assumption for conducting scientific research because by definition science investigates nature. The question is whether natural law encompasses the whole of reality rather than a subset of reality.

Whether or not evolution accounts for the development of life from a single-cell to the diversity we observe today, it can do nothing but speculate about the origin of life and the universe, since that can't possibly be investigated scientifically at this point in time.

I'll put Your Inner Fish on my reading list at your recommendation. Thanks for writing!

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Critique by Matthew

Recently I came across your website, specifically the section on evolution and I must confess I became quite distressed with what I encountered. Before you swiftly click out of this e-mail I wish you to know that I am not about to launch into the usual aggressively atheist and dogmatic tirade about how evolution is eternally correct or creationism is inherently evil. On the contrary I would like to credit you with being one of the few pro-creationists I've encountered who seem genuinely interested in pursuing the truth as opposed to brandishing your beliefs like a weapon against the 'evil' evolutionists. Such intellectual bashing – from both sides of the debate, for evolutionists are not innocent of that charge either – does nothing but harm the debate, and it's refreshing to find someone who can adhere to a view while keeping an open mind. That you arrived at a creationist viewpoint as the result of a long and thorough intellectual journey is evident on your webpage. Since you appealed to evolutionists to come forward and offer criticism I decided to pen this e-mail (if that is the correct term).

With that said, and with the deepest respect, I would like first to take issue with your use of the word 'theory.' This is one of the most common rebuttals of the theory of evolution that I have come across, i.e. the idea that, since it is 'just a theory,' it amounts to nothing more than, at best, a well-informed guess. When used in the context of scientific research the word 'theory' has a meaning that differs significantly from that of its vernacular usage, which is closer in meaning to 'speculation.' The definition of a scientific theory is a body of testable (and therefore falsifiable) scientific hypotheses, principles and propositions, based on empirical evidence and the formal application of logic, that attempts to explain observed phenomena. A scientific theory must be able to make verifiable predictions about events in the world. Some scientific theories are supported by a sufficiently sizable body of evidence that they can effectively be considered 'facts.' The first and second laws of thermodynamics, quoted on your web page, are examples of such theories. Anyone who so wishes may form alternative theories to explain the principles of heat and energy; any such theory must fit the above definition and must show itself to be more probable than the formulated laws. Likewise anyone who objects to the theory of evolution – which, it must be said, has repeatedly been demonstrated to fit the definition of a scientific theory – may criticise it as they wish and offer alternative theories, but the criticisms must be shown to be sound, and the alternatives must meet the criteria for a scientific theory.

While problems have been highlighted that the theory of evolution has so far been unable to explain, this does not imply that the theory will never be able to explain them. When certain discrepancies were noticed in the Newtonian model of gravitation the scientific community did not respond by abandoning gravity as a dud theory. Instead the theory was re-examined and eventually reformulated by Albert Einstein as the theory of general relativity, the current accepted theory of gravitation. Similarly there is yet to be a criticism of the theory of evolution that betrays some fatal internal inconsistency within its framework. Like any theory it must be tweaked to fit with observations. When Maxwell had his demon seemingly violate the second law of thermodynamics the response from the scientific community was not to throw up their hands and abandon the law as a dud theory. Instead the law was re-examined to determine why it seemed not to hold, and an important relationship between entropy and information was discovered. Should some particular aspect of the theory be challenged by observations it will be re-examined, and an attempt to explain the discrepancy offered. Should evolution ever be empirically demonstrated to be false the scientific community will rightly abandon it and set about seeking an alternative explanation for the adaptive nature of species. Contrary to the beliefs of many of the more vocal anti-evolutionists no one in the scientific community wishes to cling to a false theory; this would fly in the face of everything for which science and the pursuit of knowledge stand. The present form of the theory of evolution currently offers the best explanation for the diversity of life on the planet, and, while there is evidence that seems to contradict it, the overwhelming majority is in its favour.

With that in mind, I would like to attempt to refute the points made against the theory of evolution as posted on your website:

“Natural law: Scientists investigate the laws on nature. The very existence of law and order in the universe points to a source or lawgiver.”

This is a null point for a couple of reasons. Firstly the fact that there are laws in the universe does not automatically point to the existence of a creator of those laws. In fact it is just as easy to draw the opposite conclusion – that the occurrence of laws in nature implies that they do not need a creator – a statement that, on the basis of this sole point, would be equally as valid. However this is a minor point because evolution does not strictly exclude the notion that the laws of nature were created by a supernatural deity, nor vice versa. It is perfectly possible to believe in both the existence of a supernatural creator and evolution. The problem arises only when the nature of the creator is at odds with the notion of evolution, as is the case with, for example, Biblicism.

Secondly evolution does not actually involve the study of any laws because neither evolution nor its driving force, natural selection, are laws in the sense that, say, gravity is a law. Evolution and natural selection, unlike gravity, do not have to occur, and when they do they do not take a specific form, hence the diverse forms of life seen in nature. Species can adapt to better suit their surroundings but it is not guaranteed that they will, and in many cases they simply don't, which is one reason that species go extinct. In fact evolution does not at all concern itself with the origins of life or the universe; it is concerned solely with the development of life after it appeared, however that appearance took place, making this point completely irrelevant.

“Law of cause and effect [...] the present realm of nature.”

This is also a null point, for much the same reasons as above (i.e. evolution does not exclude the notion that the universe was created, nor does it attempt to postulate how the universe or life began; it is the study of the development of life after it appeared). However it is also worth noting that, by invoking the law of cause and effect and subsequently attributing the existence of the universe to a another First Cause, one inevitably creates more questions, not least of which is: If everything must have a cause, and the universe must therefore have been caused by someone or something, then what caused the cause? Who created the creator? This is a well-known philosophical question, known as the cosmological argument, and it has a rich history to which it is worth devoting some time.

“First law [...] in operation.”

Again, a null point. Evolution does not concern itself with the origins of the laws of the universe, and so does not exclude the notion that those laws may have been intentionally created.

“Second law [...] ever less usable form.”

The second law of thermodynamics has been shown not to be violated with regard to evolution. The resolution of this famous problem runs thus:

The second law of thermodynamics states that, in an isolated system, the level of entropy (a measure of the amount of thermal energy unavailable for mechanical work in the system) will increase until it reaches equilibrium at a maximum level.

Evolution requires a decrease in entropy over time as organisms become ever more complex. This apparently violates the second law.

Organisms, however, are not closed systems; they interact with their environments in a number of ways (eating food and excreting waste, absorbing and radiating heat, etc.). On a grander scale the Sun radiates heat and light onto Earth, which absorbs some and radiates the rest into space. This results in a constant increase in entropy in the system comprising the Sun, Earth and wider space, exactly as predicted by the second law. The decrease in entropy caused by the ordering of life is easily outstripped by the increase caused by the Sun and the Earth.

Furthermore life is not the only cause of decreasing entropy in the universe. The conversion of matter to a more stable form (gas → liquid → solid), for example, involves decreases in entropy that are unrelated to life.

This is now a widely accepted resolution, and a quick Google search for 'Entropy life' will bring many results that can clarify the matter much better than I.

In the interest of fairness, however, I must admit that, while the the notion of thermodynamic entropy has been deemed not to be violated, the question of logical entropy is not so clear-cut. My understanding of this problem is limited and so I will not attempt to engage it.

“Law of biogenesis [...] sometime in the past.”

Whether or not proponents of evolution contend that life arose spontaneously from non-life is irrelevant; the theory of evolution itself does not contend this because, as already stated, evolution does not concern itself with the study of the origins of life; this belongs to a separate area of science known as abiogenesis.

“Complexity of living cell [and] DNA code [and] the brain”

Evolution can account for the complexity of component parts of organisms; the process is a bit long and tedious to go into here but any of the innumerable widely available introductions to evolutionary biology, written for the general reader, will contain an outline. Of course, to contend that highly complex cells, DNA or brains simply appeared is ludicrous, and that is not what evolutionists are proposing. Instead they contend that it is possible and highly probable that the first occurrences of cells, DNA or brains paled in comparison to the complexity of modern day examples but that they evolved into their present day forms.

Sexual reproduction [...] they must have happened thousands of times in the course of history if natural evolution is to account for what exists today.

Firstly the discrepancy in the numbers of chromosomes is not a roadblock in the theory of evolution; it comes about through mutations like most (but not all) other adaptations. I am not an expert on the subject and so I'm not going to attempt to explain this process (mostly because I can't!). But the material explaining this variation is out there, and I urge you to find it.

Secondly the admittedly extremely rare occurrence of two mutated offspring with the same discrepancy in their chromosomes has been observed to take place in the wild, particularly in plants. It is unlikely that a new species should arise in this way but, as every mathematician knows, given enough time the improbable becomes almost certain. The phenomena is known as polyploid.

Interdependence of proteins and DNA [...] Such scaffolding is completely speculative.

The history of science is the history of speculation. Every single scientific hypothesis began as a tentative proposition, from Newton's formulation of the laws of mechanics through the laws of thermodynamics right up to the present day, where physicists find themselves scouring the universe for the elusive Higgs boson, lest the entire Standard Model of particle physics falls apart. This point brings us back to the definition of a scientific theory. The scaffolding is not just mere speculation: it is a testable prediction made by the theory of evolution that proposes that at some indeterminate time in the past a specific biomechanical mechanism served to link DNA and protein together before becoming redundant and either vanishing or being remoulded by the process of natural selection into some other functional entity. The job of the evolutionary biologist is to seek evidence that will either verify or falsify this prediction.

It is neither fair nor justified to accuse a dedicated evolutionary biologist such as Richard Dawkins – who, despite his flaws, has done more than most to promote clarity and discourse on the subject of evolution – of being a mere speculator.

Probability [...] impossible regardless of how much time is available.

On this point I must agree with you. With these figures the mathematical likelihood of the spontaneous development of life is nil. As with some of your previous points, however, you are here attacking a straw man: the theory of evolution does not postulate how life originated, only how it developed afterwards. It is worth repeating that this allows for the possibility of a creator. Perhaps life was created and then allowed to evolve of its own accord. I do not personally agree with this hypothesis, but it is not unreasonable.

Mutations [...] the primary source of improved genetic material.

The second two statements in this point are frankly false. Mutations are quite common, and, while some are indeed harmful or, to a lesser degree, fatal, the vast majority are neutral. A well-known example of such a mutation is red hair, which is caused by a mutation of the MC1R gene. That mutations are the raw material of evolution has been a widely accepted scientific theory for almost one hundred years and has been empirically demonstrated in both laboratory and field environments.

Natural selection [...] Information must come from somewhere. It does not arise spontaneously.

Once again neither the theory of evolution nor the theory of natural selection make any attempt to explain the origins of life. Natural selection, however, along with another theory known as genetic drift, are both possible explanations for the huge variation present in the gene pool of species.

Adaptation [...] The probability of more than one advantageous mutation arising at once is incredibly slim.

This is a variation of the complexity argument and has been solidly refuted. It is possible that the various components of the bombardier beetle's impressive defence served alternate functions in the past and, as the beetle evolved, were restructured to serve a new purpose. This is known to occur: legs and arms are simply modified fins, restructured to serve a new purpose, i.e. walking and climbing. Conversely the defense mechanism could, in the past, have been of simpler design, evolving gradually to the level of complexity witnessed (and felt!) today. This is the most likely explanation, as several other species of beetle have been identified, each demonstrating a different intermediate stage of the defense, with each stage giving a definite adaptive advantage to the beetle in question. If there exists such a creature as could break down Darwinian theory it has yet to be found.

Convergence [...] intelligent man did not figure out the principles of flight until the past century.

Again, no evolutionist is arguing that the eye appeared by “pure random chance.” Evolutionists, much as their name would suggest, believe the eye evolved. Like the defence mechanism of the bombardier beetle the eye most likely developed gradually, through a series of intermediate stages, from a primitive photo-sensitive cell to its current incarnation, with each variation giving an additional advantage to the organism. The strongest evidence for this is a number of species that have been identified that display various intermediate stages in the development of the eye. It is also not unreasonable to suppose that if a such a process could take place to an organism living in an environment that supported such a change then it could take place in others living in similar environments. The same principle applies to wings: they evolved neither “spontaneously” nor “by chance” but through a long gradual process, each intermediate stage giving some kind of reproductive advantage to the organism.

One argument regularly toted by anti-evolutionists is that there is no use in having half a wing or eye, i.e. that you either have all of it or none of it. An evolutionist would agree. There is, however, use in having a primitive eye- or wing-like organ that, if it doesn't yet grant full vision or the ability to fly, does bestow some kind of advantage, such as the ability to detect shifts in light levels or the ability to glide.

(On a side note it is somewhat daring to include a quote from Darwin himself in an argument attempting to refute Darwinism.)

Transitional species [...] with no apparent connections.

Transitional leaps [...] But no natural mechanism has been even been suggested to explain how macroevolution (from reptile to bird, for example) could possibly have happened.

It is probably true that some of what Darwin considered to be transitional species can be discredited; it is also true that many other examples of transitional species have since been discovered. Archaeopteryx, contrary to your statement, is the earliest fossil ever discovered to display bird-like characteristics, including feathers. The evidence cannot be disputed: Archaeopteryx displays both bird- and dinosaur-like characteristics, and fossil dating places it at exactly the time that evolutionary biology predicted birds would have started evolving (which, interestingly, allows evolution to satisfy one of the criteria of a scientific theory, namely the ability to make predictions). Nevertheless, were earlier fossils to be discovered that resembled modern birds, Archaeopteryx would not automatically be deemed a non-transitional species. It is possible that several species of dinosaur developed bird-like characteristics. Archaeopteryx is not necessarily the ancestor of all modern birds (most evolutionary biologists, in fact, believe that it isn't), but if this is true then another as-yet-undiscovered species is. Archaeopteryx would still be a transitional species, just one that never made the full transition. Also, contrary to another of your statements, quite a lot of species divisions in the fossil record are quite indistinct, increasingly so the further back into the record one delves.

As for how how the lung of a reptile could evolve into the lung of a bird, see the point above or any of the countless evolutionary books that vividly describe this process.

Microevolution cannot be extrapolated to explain macroevolution. Microevolution (one species of bird to another closely related species) has been fairly well established. But no natural mechanism has been even been suggested to explain how macroevolution (from reptile to bird, for example) could possibly have happened.

This is pointedly not true. I'm not sure what books on evolution you've been reading, but several likely scenarios have been put forward suggesting how reptiles transitioned to birds, to use your example. The natural mechanism is very much the same as that for microevolution: natural selection.

The Anthropic Principle [...] If these things and many others were just slightly different, life as we know it would be impossible.

It is easy, in hindsight, to look back upon something and say 'Well of course it had to have been this way.' The reason why our planet seems tailor-made for life is because the conditions were right for life to develop on it. And, as you rightly state, it did not have to be this way. Indeed it hasn't been for most places, and we need not look very far for an example. Take our closest planetary neighbour, Mars. Had conditions been just slightly different it could've been the Martians sending wordy e-mails regarding evolution to one another. Or, if things had been different again, the residents of Venus might have been engaging in long discussions about the possible repercussions of a creator. Change them again and it could've been Jupiter, or Saturn, or Mercury, or any of the other millions of planets around the universe on which life didn't appear. Unless each of these planets is counted as a failed experiment the likelihood of the conducent conditions on Earth being the result of deliberate tinkering falls dramatically.

In fact, if an estimate of the total number of planets in the universe is compared to the likelihood of life developing on any one of them, based on the required conditions for life that you describe, then, even accounting for an astronomical margin of error, the presence of life on another planet becomes a mathematical certainty. Far more likely than the proposition that conditions on this planet were tailor-made for life is the proposition that we are simply one of the probably numerous planets that were lucky enough to get the right conditions. This is not even to consider the as-of-yet tentative scientific hypothesis that there have actually been (and might still be) many universes, each of which may or may not harbour or have harboured life.

Finally, with regards to your quotations section, I feel compelled to point out some inaccuracies. Robert T. Clark's statement, that “[t]he fossil material is now so complete that the lack of transitional series cannot be explained by the scarcity of material,” is flatly false. As any paleontologist will testify the sheer unlikelihood of an organism eventually becoming a fossil means that the fossil record is and shall probably always remain far from complete. Likewise for Paul and Ann Ehrlich, who state that “[t]he production of a new animal species in nature has yet to be documented.” Because evolution is such a slow process it is difficult to see it in action; however, there are documented cases of species evolving, albeit only slightly, during historical time and even during a human generation. The demand to see an entire new species evolve in nature is akin to demanding to see the entire life cycle of a star in nature: the process is simply too slow. But this is not equivalent to saying that it does not happen. As for the rest of the quotes, Francis Crick and Michael Denton are both quoted out of context, and it is somewhat intellectually dishonest to include a quote from the late Stephen Jay Gould, who was an outspoken supporter of evolution for his entire academic career, even contributing greatly to the development of recent evolutionary theories, and who taught evolutionary biology until the end of his life.

If at any time during this e-mail my tone of writing (such a tricky thing to pin down!) suggested hostility or aggression I sincerely apologise, for that was most certainly not my intention. I hope to hear back from you; if you wish to refute any of my points please do not hesitate to inconvenience my inbox as I have inconvenienced yours. Also, I do not know if you have received many of these e-mails in the past, but if I may I would like to make the somewhat daring suggestion that this letter be posted on your website. I'm sure you appreciate the value of open discussion, and I believe a readily accessible and (I hope) open-minded summary of the 'other side' to your argument could encourage others to engage positively with this often-contentious topic.


My response to Matthew:

Thank you for writing. I haven’t much time but wanted to respond in brief. It doesn’t bother me at all that others think differently than I do or have reached different conclusions.

You wrote: evolution does not at all concern itself with the origins of life or the universe; it is concerned solely with the development of life after it appeared, however that appearance took place.

Part of the narrative that is taught to children, however, is that “long ago and far away in a warm little pond, something that wasn’t alive somehow became alive.” Naturally. All by itself. While this is technically abiogenesis rather than evolution, the distinction is rarely made clear.

I perfectly understand that science by definition deals with the natural world and ONLY the natural world. Anything not part of the physical natural world is not in the realm of science. That doesn’t prove there ISN’T anything outside the physical natural world, only that it cannot be investigated scientifically.

People wouldn’t become so emotional about this issue except that it goes to the heart of philosophy. Who are we? Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going? How shall we live? The answers will be entirely different if one believes that man is the pinnacle of evolution rather than being accountable to a creator. Even most scientists live their lives as though they believe people have power to choose and are responsible for their choices (though the logical outcome of materialistic philosophy would be pure determinism). If a thief steals a scientist’s car, he wants the culprit held responsible in the courts! The whole concept of responsibility is non-material. Love is non-material. Most social sciences aren’t in the same class as chemistry or physics.

Science does an incredible job of investigating the natural world.

It is the philosophical claim many scientists make that “the material universe is all that exists” that is at the heart of the issue. That is not a scientific but a philosophical claim. Not all scientists hold that philosophy but it is by far the most common (scientists who have a different opinion keep their mouths shut or risk being censured and mocked by their peers). In the day-to-day work of empirical science, it matters not at all how things originated or whether non-material things exist. They are irrelevant to science if they do, because science by definition investigates nature.

We all agree things exist, I think. There are only two possibilities: (1) something came from nothing, or (2) something has always existed. Steady-state theorists believed that matter has always existed, but to scientists’ credit, that theory has been superseded by a theory more true to the facts (named the “Big Bang” by its steady-state detractors). We can’t scientifically investigate what existed before the Big Bang, though people speculate. If we reject that something came from nothing, we are left with something has always existed. What that is can’t be proven scientifically one way or another.

To give scientists credit, they are at some level committed to follow evidence even when it leads where they don’t want it to go. Even when they HATE where it goes.

There is a distinction between empirical science (repeatable, falsifiable) and forensic science (the attempt to recreate historic events based on remaining evidence). Some of the confusion comes from equating the two. Historical events are by nature not repeatable. Many things are possible but only one thing happened. Sometimes there is enough evidence to be fairly certain what happened and sometimes there isn’t.

"It is possible that the various components of the bombardier beetle's impressive defence served alternate functions in the past and, as the beetle evolved, were restructured to serve a new purpose."

Perhaps. Maybe someday a computer can use the DNA of that beetle and others to recreate all possible paths that evolution could have taken to arrive at the bombardier beetle and his related beetles. That would be interesting.

For the moment, there is a whole lot we don’t know. I don’t think any of us should be too arrogant about what we do know. In the 1800s, the Commissioner of Patents said, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” HA!

If there is no Creator, I'm OK with that. I’ve had a good life and don’t fear death (pain is another matter, I hope to die fast without pain like most people hope).

If there is a Creator and ultimate justice, that could be a problem.

Have you read The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn. Just finished it. Highly recommended. Said to be one of the most influential books since WWII. You’ve probably heard of “paradigm shift”. That’s the concept of the book.

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Discussion with Daniel

I have been reading your blog on whether evolution is true. One of your arguments is that of "Cause and Effect." Since every event must have a cause, you reason that God must have triggered the existence of the Universe.

As I understand the theory of evolution, the theory does not address how life formed or the origin of the Universe. The beginning of life is the science of "abiogenesis" and outside the realm of evolution. Many people accept the facts of evolution and still believe in a Creator. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Do you agree that the evidence for evolution is truthful as far as the branching of species from a common origin? If not, how on earth do you explain the fossil evidence and the explosion of confirming evidence by the recently discovered science of DNA and gene sequencing?

Do you agree that much of the evidence for evolution shows that evolution is a fact, though not all aspects of the puzzle are complete?

Darwin had precious little to go on when he proposed the idea in the mid 1800's. But as science and technology have improved, and hundreds of thousands of fossils have been discovered over the 160 years since "The Origin of Species" the evidence for evolution (speaking strictly of branching of species by means of natural selection from a common origin) IS overwhelming. How do you explain all of the other branches of science that confirm the validity of evolution, such as paleontology, genetic biology, astrophysics, anthropology, geology, and the recent advances of gene sequencing?

Thank you for your consideration.


My response to Daniel:

Although the theory of evolution doesn't technically address the issue of abiogenesis (origin of life), the naturalistic philosophy of science mandates that somehow somewhere life arose from nonliving matter. The admission of any higher intelligence that transcends nature (even if it only generated the initial "spark" of life) is unacceptable to philosophical naturalists.

In effect there are two mutually exclusive viewpoints, one claiming that nothing exists outside the natural universe and another saying nature is not "all there is" though it certainly is an important part of what is. There are scientists, including geologists, who believe in God. They keep their mouths shut around naturalistic scientists.

It seems quite difficult for people to agree to disagree on this issue, despite the fact that everyday life goes on regardless of how things came to be long ago. I personally don't know or pretend to know the details about what happened in the long-ago past (the history before prehistory). I can only speculate. I just think the evolutionists speculate, too. That's OK. They have a right to do that, but they claim their speculations are facts. Maybe. I don't think they always are. I don't mind agreeing to disagree about the subject, however.

To me, the evidence is not convincing, and believe it or not, some of my questions to evolutionists have been met with the answer "You just have to have faith." That's the same answer I got as a kid in Sunday School and I hated it for the same reason back then.

The theory of evolution is one way to "connect the dots" but there is an incredible amount of speculation involved. It's much easier to believe if you start as a thoroughgoing naturalist with a firm belief that nothing can possibly exist outside nature.

If evolution means nondirectional "change over time", yes, I believe in evolution. If it means that an original single cell changed over time and branched into everything we see today, I don't. Life at even the simplest level is incredibly complex.

Taxonomy predated evolution. Evolution just changed the way the picture was drawn by showing branches coming from a common origin.

DNA is called, even by scientists, a "language" of life. Language is a function of intelligence. DNA has been around for millennia even though no one was aware of it. Yet it's more elegant than our most sophisticated computers, which were created by intelligent beings. Intelligent beings are "decoding" DNA and may in time learn to "encode" the language. I say the language itself, like all languages, had an intelligent source.

Despite the hundreds of thousands of fossils, I think Darwin expected not just numbers, but variety, a great and obvious "chain" of intermediate fossils. Wouldn't it be interesting to interview him today about what has come to light since he put forth his theory? He was much more tentative about it, at least initially, than were those who embraced its philosophical implications.

As far as the many disciplines that are said to confirm the validity of evolution (paleontology, genetic biology, astrophysics, etc.), please read Evolutionary Theory Under Fire in Science, Vol. 210, 21 November 1980 pp. 883-887. It is an account of one of "the most important conferences on evolutionary biology in more than 30 years." Of interest here is that they brought together people from many disciplines such as those you mention.

Thank you for your respectful tone. I think there is a whole lot about the ancient past, in particular, that nobody knows, including me. And that's OK. We don't need to demonize each other for differences in opinion, as so often happens.


Daniel wrote:

Susan, thank you for your reply. I agree that there needs to be more respectful discussions on this topic, there seem to be precious few. I have been guilty of losing my respectful tone, and it never has motivated anyone to consider seriously my thoughts.

This is a subject that I am woefully ignorant on, but I have slowly been learning more about evolution since I lost my faith in my religion over 25 years ago. I was raised as a Jehovah's Witness and there was never room for discussion about these things... it is their way or the highway.

I believe (I'll have to look it up to make sure) that the article you mentioned in "Science" about the conference in 1980 was cited in a publication of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. Their reference to the article did not mention why the theory of evolution came under attack, just that it did. Their reference to the article left the reader with the impression that the entire theory of evolution was on the verge of collapse, when in fact, such was not the case at all. The conference sponsored some scientific papers that described evolution as occurring in spurts rather than linear, steady change over time. In the years since that conference there has been much evidence to demonstrate that evolution indeed takes place often times in response to changing habitats and sudden climate changes. This was not Darwin's viewpoint at all... he opined that evolution was steady, linear, and very slow change. Today, we have evidence that it may happen that way for some species, but not for all.

The Watchtower's technique of picking a few sentences out of a scientific article to cast doubt and sway people's minds is sometimes referred to "quote mining." I started to research every quote they made about some of their citations (as many others have done), and found their methods to be intellectually dishonest. Indeed, if such techniques were used in a formal academic setting, the student presenting information in this way would risk expulsion; certainly, his "research" would be considered dishonest and manipulative.

My father used to tell me that if evolution was "true," why was it called a "theory?" At the time, neither he nor I knew that a "theory" in science is as far as you can go. Hence, we have the theory of gravitation, atomic theory, electromagnetic theory, mechanical theory, wave theory and so on. Who of us would say that gravity or atoms and molecules are not "true" because they are part of a growing base of knowledge (and facts) that scientists refer to as theory? Scientific theory connotes a much different meaning than we commonly think of and use the word theory. Scientific theory is not "opinion," or a random guess, prediction or hypothesis. It is supported by well documented facts. For every scientist who presents the details of experimentation that lend credence to his/her ideas, there are a hundred more scientists whose sole aim is to challenge and disprove their ideas. It's a tedious and grueling process. And that is what makes science stand apart from any personal or group bias.

Theory explains why and how phenomena occur, but it is not necessarily something we can say holds up under all conditions or possibilities. Newton's laws of motion were demonstrable, predictable, and could be modeled using the mathematics of calculus. For hundreds of years, scientists believed that Newton's laws of motion were set in stone, or at least, there were no exceptions. Einstein comes along and formulates his hypothesis of relativity, but there were no known ways to test it until several years later. It turns out that the only known method in the 1920's was to observe the position of a star during a total solar eclipse. The scientists were looking for the demonstration of light bending in a gravitational field. The tests failed at first due to problems with the astronomer's telescopes and weather, but eventually, their tests were successful. Einstein's hypothesis became scientific theory and Newton's laws of motion had to then be revised. It became obvious that Newton's laws begin to break down as an object or particle approaches the speed of light. Under Newton's laws, a constant force when applied to an object should eventually propel the object to the speed of light and beyond, but under relativity, no such force exists--it would take an infinitely strong force to propel the object to the speed of light, more and more force is required to continue the given rate of acceleration.

We could say that Einstein "overturned" or at least "brought under fire" all that Newton had discovered. In a sense he did, but for all practical purposes, Newtonian mechanics is still regarded as true and factual. Einstein merely expanded mankind's knowledge and broadened the existing theory of mechanical motion.

For something to obtain to the level of a scientific theory, it must be replicable, undergo extreme scrutiny through experimentation, and also predict the outcome of various tests and experiments. Evolution has done just that. Scientists have often looked at two similar fossil examples from greatly differing time periods and speculated that there must be intermediate fossils that demonstrate the changes in species over time. They have then gone out to certain locations where the age of rock sediments are known to fall between the ages of the two fossils. Intermediate fossils have been uncovered exactly where such intermediate fossils were predicted to exist. Many such finds have occurred in just the last one or two decades. As time goes on, the evidence seems to only get stronger that evolution has been going on for billions of years.

These are a few of the things about evolution that I have learned in just the last couple of years. I will never be in a position to participate in the scientific work that has provided more certainty of evolution. I have neither the education or the time to obtain such an education... and so I cannot argue these points with any certainty. What I CAN do is watch and observe the debate and the evidence presented by both sides, and form an opinion based on what I can understand. I know there are several problems with the idea of "creation" that cannot be answered as of yet--one of the most powerful problems is that there are simply no known examples of fossils that demonstrate a species has "suddenly appeared" fully functional, for the first time in history. There are also many "defects" in the design of living species that cannot be explained if the species was indeed "designed" by an intelligent being. There is also the problem of why 99 percent of all species have become extinct. Why would an intelligent designer have to constantly change his original design to accommodate the changes in habitat and environment?

I personally don't think that evolution rules out the possibility of a "creator." I could never say that with 100% conviction. Nor can I explain how matter came to be in existence in the first place. Whatever happened before the "big bang," or its cause I cannot even fathom. But our knowledge of the universe grows over time, and it will never be fully understood in my lifetime, or perhaps even the time that mankind as we know it will exist. When I hear that God created everything with purpose and design, and mankind suddenly appeared in the last few thousand years as the result of such a creation, I have to ask for the evidence. I have not yet seen it, and in fact, all the evidence we have up to now shows that such was not the case. The same holds true for the Noachian Flood, something I fervently believed at one time.

I enjoy these kinds of discussions, and I will definitely read the other article you wrote. I have tried as best I can to maintain the respectful tone you speak of. I hope I have done so. Perhaps we can continue these discussions as time allows. I am at work right now, and I have had a pause in my work day that allowed me to send you a return response, but these are rare occurrences.

I wish you well, and thank you for the opportunity to think more about this subject.

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Comments

I just read online your 4 page article refuting evolution entitled, "Is Evolution True?" I have a friend who just graduated from college. She has never even heard that there is science that refutes evolution.

A couple of weeks ago, we took a hike and found a smiley face next to the trail made with rocks. It is, of course, possible, that the rocks naturally fell in that design due to erosion, but it is unlikely. It is MUCH more likely that someone arranged those rocks that way to send a message—information—to other hikers, "Have a nice day!" Even most evolutionists would agree with that. Yet a single teeny-tiny DNA molecule has the equivalent of VOLUMES worth of information. Information comes from intelligence. With computers, there's software and there's hardware. Hardware without software is worthless. The whole purpose of a computer is to manage information, which is NON-MATERIAL. Thoughts, emotions, much of the important stuff in life is not material.

I don't think that science can address questions of origins. The universe originated once. Life originated once. It's history, not science. Even the most ardent evolutionists have no good naturalistic explanation for origins. They speculate based on philosophical assumptions. The theory of evolution attempts to pick up the story of life after it originated.


I'm a Christian trying to get more reason into why I believe there is a GOD. I was wondering if you still hold the same view since the article or found more evidence?

The more I've learned and read, the more confident I am that evolutionists are speculating, taking materialistic assumptions for granted. No matter how many billion years there have been, the origin of life had to have taken place quickly. One minute there was no life, the next minute there was life. On it's own, it's then asserted, that original speck of life "somehow" without intelligent input evolved into intelligence and diverged to form all the intricate machinery of life that we are only now (thanks to brilliant scientist brains) beginning to understand, let alone replicate. That contradicts everything we know about life. Life comes from LIFE, never from non-life. Information comes from intelligence, not from random combinations of matter.

Science by its very nature investigates only NATURAL law and phenomena. Its speculations have to be limited to natural explanations. If there really is anything above or beyond the natural universe, science would have nothing to say about it. The error, I think, has been the philosophy of materialism, which asserts (without proving by evidence) that NOTHING exists aside from the physical and material. C.S. Lewis said the very fact that we're asking these questions proves there is at least one thing that is not physical and material, THOUGHT itself. Not to mention love and free will.

There is a lot I don't know, but I KNOW it couldn't happen the way they say. Rather than speculating too much myself (or accepting all the speculations of creationists, which are interesting if not entirely persuasive), I put origins in the "I don't know" category and checked the credibility of the Bible based on other things that are more possible to check and confirm — fulfilled prophecy, historical accuracy, etc. Most people simply assume the Bible isn't credible or authoritative. They don't look into it carefully or evaluate it by the same standards they apply to other ancient documents. I became convinced there really is a God and the Bible is a message from the real God. 

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