TCS Daily

Darwin Among the Believers

By Frederick Turner - July 22, 2005 12:00 AM

In a recent TCS essay ("Darwin and Design: The Evolution of a Flawed Debate") I attacked what I regarded as the excesses of both sides of the evolution-creationism debate. There were angry responses in the mail and the blogosphere from both the creationist and the evolution sides, which pleased me, since there were clearly oxen on both sides that felt they had been gored, and caps in my piece that were felt to have, uncomfortably, fit. The angry evolutionists were especially interesting, as they often wound up admitting implicitly that their real agenda was atheism -- while denying that there was any social policy message in that agenda.

In the essay I did state flatly that the theory of evolution had been proved. I wanted it to be clear where I stood. Much of the mail I received protested about that statement. I hold to it, and hold to it not as my own opinion, but as a fact, like the existence of Australia, which is not my opinion but a fact. But I do know that there are many who sincerely, and given their range of knowledge, rationally, do not believe in the theory of evolution.

By the theory of evolution I mean the origination of new species from common ancestral forms by an iterated process of genetic mutation, natural selection, and hereditary transmission, whereby the frequencies of newly altered, repeated, and old genes and introns in a given lineage can cross ecological, structural, and behavioral thresholds that radically separate one species from another. In one sense, this can be summed up in a syllogism, which must be true if we make the basic and essential act of faith that logic itself is true: survivors survive. Given enough time, variation among the genes of individuals, variations in habitat in space and time, the process by which genes translate into proteins, tissues, and organs, and the thresholds that define biological species, all of which can be observationally verified, the principle of the "survivors survive" syllogism must bring about a huge branching of different kinds of life.

The above summary statement of the theory will not convince opponents, who will be able to pick philosophical holes in it (which holes have been sewn up by countless scientists and philosophers in the last 150 years). But what opponents of evolution do not perhaps realize is what they are up against in terms of sheer human and civilizational achievement based on the evolutionary paradigm. This is not a proof of evolution, any more than the four-thousand year history of the survival of the Jewish people is a proof of Judaism or the worldwide congregation of Christianity is a proof of that religion; but it is an indication of the kind of scholarship that would be needed to refute it.

There are at least 50 major journals in the academic field of biology. All accept without question the theory of evolution as I outlined it above. They are not attempting even to prove the theory, any more than math journals attempt to prove that the sum of the internal angles of a plane triangle is 180 degrees, or engineering journals revisit the existence of gravity. But they would be nonsense without the theory of evolution, just as engineering would be nonsense without gravity. Each of those journals is published about four times a year; several of them have been in existence for over a hundred years. Each journal contains at least ten articles of about 2-20 pages, and each of those articles represents several months' or years' work by a team of trained biologists whose most compelling material and moral interest would be to disprove the work of all their predecessors and to make an immortal name by doing so. The work of the biological teams is required to be backed up by exhaustive experiment and observation, together with exact statistical analysis of the results. There is a continuous process of search through all these articles by trained reviewers looking for discrepancies among them and demanding new experimental work to resolve them. Since every one of these articles relies on the consistency and truth of the theory of evolution, every one of them adds implicitly to the veracity of the theory. By my calculation, then, opponents of evolution must find a way of matching and disproving, experiment by experiment, observation by observation, and calculation by calculation, at least two million pages of closely reasoned scientific text, representing roughly two million man-years of expert research and perhaps trillions of dollars of training, salaries, equipment, and infrastructure.

But the task of the opponent does not end here. For biology is not the only field for which the theory of evolution is an essential foundation. Geology, physical anthropology, agricultural science, environmental science, much of chemistry, some areas of physics (e.g. protein folding) and even disciplines such as climatology and oceanography (which rely on the evolutionary history of the planet in its calculations about the composition of the atmosphere and oceans), are at least partially founded on evolution. Most important of all for our immediate welfare, medicine is almost impossible as a research discipline without evolutionary theory. So perhaps the opponent must also throw in another 4 million pages, four million man-years, and ten trillion dollars -- and be prepared to swallow the billions of human deaths that might follow the abandonment of the foundations of medical, mining, environmental, agricultural, and climatological knowledge.

If what is at stake is a proposition in the theology of biblical interpretation that is not shared by a large minority or possibly a majority of Christians and Jews, perhaps it might be more prudent to check the accuracy of the theology, which, after all, is a human creation even if scripture itself is conceded to be divinely inspired. Might not God's intentions be revealed better in the actual history and process of nature, his creative expression, than in the discrepancies we might hope to find in its self-consistency and coherent development?



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