‘Evidence for Evolution’—a Paradox
26 April 2006
‘The evidence speaks for itself’ is something evolutionists commonly assert. Those who refuse to listen are often labelled as ignorant, blind or even insane.
South African newspapers often carry articles and letters of this nature. About 16 years ago, as a young Christian, I attended a debate at the University of Stellenbosch between two of the university professors on the one side and Dr Duane Gish on the other. What struck me powerfully was that while Dr Gish used scientific arguments to support the creation account, the worthy professors used personal attack against Dr Gish. The only bit of ‘hard’ evidence they used to support their case was a fossil that they waved around claiming it was a transitional fossil but without explaining exactly what it was and allowing Dr Gish to respond. It was as if they expected the fossil to ‘speak for itself’ to those observing the debate and that would win the argument for them.
It has increasingly been pointed out by philosophers of science that evidence, particularly when it comes to origin (or historical) science, does not speak for itself but is interpreted according to a person’s a priori philosophical assumptions—the two main contenders are naturalism (no God was involved) or theism.
A clear example of this is found, ironically, within a paradox of contemporary evolutionary belief itself.
Do fossils shout?
In the public mind, fossils are the key evidence for evolution. It is here more than anywhere else that people are led to believe that the evidence for evolution is shouting at us. Many people are unaware that there are two diametrically opposed views within the evolutionary camp regarding the interpretation of the fossil record.
The orthodox belief today, known as neo-Darwinism and held by such well-known evolutionists as Richard Dawkins, interprets the fossil record as evidence for slow, steady, gradual evolution over millions of years. The belief is that the fossils are a record of the gradual process of natural selection working on chance mutations of various organisms, favouring those that gave the creature a greater chance of propagating its kind as against those that were less suited. This is a modern form of the view held by Darwin, who placed great emphasis on the fossil record and wrote of the necessity for large numbers of ‘transitional forms’ (or ‘in-between kinds’) to be within that record, in order for his theory to be validated. Prof. Pierre Grassé, one of Europe’s leading zoologists, wrote,
‘Naturalists must remember that the process of evolution is revealed only through the fossil forms…only palaeontology can provide them with the evidence of evolution and reveal its course and mechanisms.’1
In the 1970s a new theory of evolution became increasingly accepted. Popularized by Stephen Jay Gould (now deceased) and Niles Eldredge, it is known as Punctuated Equilibrium and is the belief that contrary to steady, gradual change over vast periods of time, evolution is in fact characterised by long periods of stasis (no change) punctuated by relatively sudden bursts of upward evolution. And the basis of this belief? No evidence of gradual evolution in the fossil record. These episodes are believed to have occurred over relatively short periods at the periphery of main populations and so were not ‘captured’ in the fossil record. Gould stated:
‘The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology… to preserve our favored account of evolution by natural selection we view our data as so bad that we never see the very process we profess to study.’2In his book, The Panda's Thumb, Gould also stated,
‘In the peripheral region itself, we might find direct evidence of speciation, but such good fortune would be rare indeed because the event occurs so rapidly in such a small population. Thus, the fossil record is a faithful rendering of what evolutionary theory predicts.’3
In other words, the fossil record is good evidence for evolution because the fossil record shows no evidence for evolution. It could be said in a sense that Punctuated Equilibrium may have the dubious honour of being the only theory in modern science that admits as evidence a lack of evidence.
So we have two theories—both defending evolution, both looking at the same evidence, but having totally contradictory interpretations of that evidence. So much for evidence ‘speaking for itself’. What it does speak volumes about, though, is the a priori commitment of both groups to naturalism (and to evolution, which is essential to naturalism, regardless of the mechanism—if there is no God, the world of nature must have made itself). It also demonstrates how evidence is made to fit that belief, no matter how seemingly absurd the constructs that result.
Once we drop the shackles of evolutionary / naturalistic presuppositions, the evidence really does speak, in a sense. ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handywork. Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their words to the end of the world.’ (Psalm 19:13, NKJV) No wonder God declares those who refuse to acknowledge the evidence of creation, and who choose to worship creation rather than the Creator, as being ‘without excuse’ (Romans 1:20).
- Pierre Grassé, Evolution of Living Organisms p.82 as quoted from The Modern Creation Trilogy, Henry and John Morris, volume 2, p.49. Return to text.
- Stephen Jay Gould, ‘Evolutions Erratic Pace,’ Natural History, vol 86. (May 1977) p.14 as quoted from The Modern Creation Trilogy, Henry and John Morris, volume 2, p.106. Return to text.
- Gould, S.J. (1980) The Panda's Thumb, p. 184 as quoted from M Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, p.193. Return to text.