Thursday, November 20, 2008

One Big Weakness of the Theory of Evolution

By "the theory of evolution" I mean to signify the notion that new, superior species arise through the processes of genetic variation and natural selection. Those who control public education in Texas are presently debating whether our curriculum should continue to address both strengths and weaknesses in the theory of evolution. I didn't realize that the debate had prompted even national Baptist Press to sit up and take notice (see here). The pseudo-scientific groups do not wish to acknowledge that there are any weaknesses at all in the theory of evolution. (Even the evolutionists believe in an inerrant text, apparently—the only difference between them and conservative Christians is that the evolutionists believe that they have authored their own inerrant statement, whereas Christians will at least acknowledge their own fallibility and ascribe inerrancy only to God and God's word!)

So, are there weaknesses in the theory of evolution? You bet there are, and I'll only trouble myself to mention the most glaring one: In thousands of years of recorded human history, we've not once seen it happen. Scientists have coerced a thing or two like it in a lab somewhere, but with all of our myriad species on earth and with as long as humans have been recording history, you'd think we'd have a record of somebody saying, "My cow gave birth to a buffalo last week!" After all, as the theory goes, this is supposed to be something that just happens, and just happens with regularity, right?

If it ever does happen, it will be a pretty strong argument for the theory: "See kids, Tommy over there has another set of eyes in the back of his head. That makes him a new species derived from homo sapiens, and guarantees him lower automobile insurance rates."

But it doesn't happen. And most scientists appear to have the same relationship with evolution that some Christians seem to have with the second coming—they'll affirm it as a matter of dogma 'till they're blue in the face, but their words and actions sometimes make you wonder whether they really believe it. Consider the book A Plague of Frogs. William Souder is apoplectic over a rash increase in mutated frogs allegedly caused by contaminants in their watery habitat. Scientific sources utter grave pronouncements over our certain imminent doom if these things aren't sorted out quickly.

But wait a minute. Why aren't these scientists gleeful about the uptick in mutations? Shouldn't we be supremely confident that the outcome will inexorably be a superior frog? Or do they need Charles Darwin to reach down through the decades and help their unbelief?

The basic foundation of science is to be dubious about a person's grand, sweeping claims and to observe for one's self. Observation over doctrine. On occasion some labcoat will stroll away from his bunsen burners and wave before the world some evolutionary Shroud of Turin to encourage the faithful, but the processes of evolution simply are not observed and do not repeat in real-world experience. It is because of the fundamentals of science, not in spite of them, that people continue to see weaknesses in this theory.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post, Bart. I am just wondering, but couldn't the same argument work against creatio ex nihilo? I mean, if it is a weakness of evolution that we have never seen it happen, wouldn't it also be a weakness for creation?


Bart Barber said...

I'm not arguing that the idea of creation ex nihilo is a concept that should be taught in public schools without alternatives and without any weaknesses as a theory of origins. That, Adam, is the difference.

As you have astutely observed, from a rationalistic standpoint, every theory of origins comes crumbling down from the fact that none observed the events and none left a contemporary record of them (except, as we receive by faith, God). To posit the Earth or its creatures or the Universe as containing still some decipherable record of the origins of the Universe is an enormous presupposition.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree it should not be taught apart from alternatives and objections being raised. Thanks.


Gary Ledbetter said...

Hmm. I wonder where BP got the story? Every theory "tumbling down" is the point of the conflict isn't it? The statement of the 21st Century Science Coalition (with hundreds of Texas signatories) says that evolution is "easily observable" and "beyond all reasonable doubt." Evolution has moved far into the realm of unreasonable faith.

CB Scott said...

I like frog legs. They are good.

From the Middle East said...

I'm with Brother C.B.

Chris Bonts said...

This is the best article I have ever read on the value of catachisms :)

Just kidding...It's nice to read a blog that focuses on something other than what's wrong with the SBC.

r. grannemann said...

"you'd think we'd have a record of somebody saying, "My cow gave birth to a buffalo last week!" After all, as the theory goes, this is supposed to be something that just happens, and just happens with regularity, right?"

"If it ever does happen, it will be a pretty strong argument for the theory: "See kids, Tommy over there has another set of eyes in the back of his head.""

This kind of lampooning of evolution does not make "us" look good to those who understand the theory.

One can say that since evolution cannot be repeated as an experiment is does not quite have scientific certainty, regardless of how some may interpret certain data. That is the argument that can be made for those who do not want evolution taught exclusively.

Concerning ex nihilo creation: Observations do suggest creation of the universe by a point source of energy of extremely great intensity, giving rise to space, matter and time (via relativity and quantum chemistry). For the origin of the point source of energy there is no good theory (but it could have been ex nihilo).

Bart Barber said...

My profound apologies. Through, no doubt, great imprecision in my writing, I have somehow given you the impression that I was trying to make myself look good to evolutionists.

But I would count myself among those who understand the theory. The theory suggests that macro-evolution took place through ongoing natural processes. Doubtless, when one has only a small population of a small number of species, one would only expect to see macro-evolutionary progress on rare occasions. But as the global population of living things increases and the number of species increases, shouldn't one expect a logarithmic increase in the appearance of this natural process? Yet it remains unobserved and undocumented.

r. grannemann said...

My apologies for being the one who was not clear, and thanks for blogging on this issue that is very important to Texas.

My concern was that too much hyperbole would poison the political environment in a way that would make it difficult for the Texas curriculum-review panel to do their work
view&id=8718&Itemid=53 This is not the way to get a good outcome.

But if your statements about us not seeing a boy born with four eyes or a cow giving birth to a buffalo were meant as serious challenges to evolution (I consider myself fairly neutral on the subject), then I would say that it seems genetic changes of both large and small varieties are possible. However, seeing the kind of changes you suggest would require simultaneous changes to many genes and/or chromosomes in a coordinated fashion and would have an infinitesimal probability of occurring. Evolution would more normally work with many small genetic changes, some of which might not be noticeable at first, but would continue to reside in the population until such a time as a change in environmental conditions would increase their prevalence through natural selection.

If you want historical examples of noticeable results of genetic mutations, I would suggest the giants in Canaan, Goliath, and the white buffalo as examples. Scientist observe small genetic mutations all the time.

Concerning the "Plague of Frogs," yes all those mutants might lead to one really wonderful super-frog. But most mutants die. The concern is that the environmental contamination causing excessive mutation would find its way to the human population. It might produce another Arnold Schwarzenegger, but the rest of us would all be dead.

Bart Barber said...

R. Grannemann,

Those who see weaknesses in the theory of evolution do not criticize the concept of genetic variation (white buffalo, etc.). The missing element is speciation. That's why I used the (admittedly hyperbolic) examples that I employed. It is not enough to say, "See, kids, Tommy over there has longer eyelashes than you do." Such does not indicate speciation.

Hyperbole persists in human language for a reason. It is not a useless literary device; it is often the very best way to communicate a point.

Among human beings, we have tremendous genetic variation: caucasian, black, asian, blond, brunette, dwarfism, giantism, etc. But all of these, although they were insulated from one another for many generations, readily interbreed and are all a part of the same species.

A devotee of evolutionary theory must argue that it is just a matter of time. Or, one can take artificial refuge in an idea like punctuated equilibrium. But the fact remains that a lot of time has passed, especially given the large number of species, large population of organisms, and large number of generations that have passed during recorded history.

Andrew said...

As a formally trained evolutionary biologist (and committed creationist...confused yet?), I must clarify how macroevolution is thought to occur.

There are two major theories: gradualism (Darwin's Origin of Species) and punctuated equilibrium (posited by Stephen Jay Gould). In gradualism, there would be no "pop", no sudden boy with four eyes, no cow giving birth to buffalo...the new species would slowly (think millions of years) diverge from one another until they could not reproduce together any longer. The best example of this that HAS been observed in human history is dogs (think Chihuahua and Great Dane).

In punctuated equilibrium, the new species arise after cataclysmic disasters (think South Asia tsunami over all of India), with the first few generations resembling the pre-disaster species, but quickly (because of limited gene pools) changing to new forms. Since no major land mass has been almost destroyed and recorded in the human cultural period, this has obviously not been observed.

Back to my creationist side: you are correct in that this is a failure of the theory. In the case of dogs, it was human, intentional evolution (breeding) that has created the near-speciation of canines. In punctuated equilibrium, the extreme rarity of cataclysms make them inherently un-empiricial (and by definition, not scientific). Perhaps human "corruption" of the environment (global warming, toxins in the water table, etc.) will give us the evolutionary impetus to see macroevolution in action (and also figure out which model is correct)...but we'll probably all die out with the majority of living species (humans are remarkably soft and squishy in these areas!). Maybe THAT is why evolutionists are so up in arms about pollution...they don't want to miss their vindication!

Sorry about the length, but thought some shed light would help!

CB Scott said...


Post something over here normal people who already know God creatred us and all of existence in just six, twenty-four hour days can fight about.

If you will I will certaily be in your debt.

CB Scott said...

Well?? Hurry up.

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CB Scott said...

Fraidy Cat

CB Scott said...