Slaying yesterday’s dragons
Darwinism as a science has been evolving. That is, it has changed from its original concept and continues to change. It would do us well to pay attention to the latest trends so as not to be caught arguing against yesterday’s theory. When Charles Darwin initially postulated that all living species could be traced back to a single common ancestor, he suggested the mechanism causing these changes was natural selection.1 That was in 1859. Later, he backed off from his initial hypothesis and suggested that other forms of selection (e.g., sexual selection2) were not only involved, but were more important. Worse, not knowing anything about genetics, he came up with and strongly promoted a Lamarckian3 idea that the environment caused changes in organisms which were then inherited by their offspring. This was contradicted by his contemporary, Gregor Mendel, who published the laws of genetics4 in 1862, but that was the state of evolutionary theory at the close of the 19th century.
More changes occurred when genetics was finally brought under the Darwinian umbrella in the early 20th century. This involved a wholesale rejection of much of Darwin’s later writings and eventually led to the ‘Modern Synthesis’ of evolution, genetics, and population genetics under which most biologists today were trained. This ‘gene-centric’ view dealt with populations and gene pools, ignoring the fact that the individual (a complex combination of traits) was the unit of selection and not individual genes. Proponents of this view also ran into mathematical difficulties5 early on, but these were pushed aside by further speculation that most of the genome was junk DNA.6
Now that we have entered the 21st century, things are changing once again. As we have learned more about genetics and the inner workings of the cell, neo-Darwinism (another name for the Modern Synthesis) is having to adapt. Evolutionists have had a difficult time explaining incredibly complex systems like the human genome, and the naturalistic origin of life flies in the face of all known laws of physics, chemistry, genetics, probability, and information theory. The idea that most of our DNA is ‘junk’6 is now untenable. The mathematical difficulties discovered decades ago are only getting worse as our understanding of life becomes more and more complex. What is an evolutionist to do?
Thomas Kuhn, a famous philosopher of science, said that scientific revolutions occur every several generations. When a new theory rises to the top, it is promoted heavily. The next generation of scientists runs with it, often using it as a basic assumption of how things work. Eventually, however, enough cognitive dissonance7 is raised, especially among the younger scientists who often find older ideas unsatisfactory, that a wholesale turnover of ideas occurs. For example, the phlogiston theory of combustion once ruled academia, but a few experiments in the late 1700s put an end to it. Another revolution occurred in the 1960s when plate tectonics suddenly replaced a geology based on static continental blocks. A scientific theory tends to have a certain amount of inertia and it takes a considerable effort to change it once it is established as a ruling paradigm, but it can change.
Will another revolution occur in evolutionary theory? Probably so, and we can see early rumblings of it already. This is not to say that lots of scientists are going to become biblical creationists, but that there are a significant number of people in science who are less than satisfied by mainstream ideas of how evolution works. We can see young scientists pushing the pagan-esque Gaia hypothesis8 and others talking about nebulous self-organizing properties supposedly inherent in matter that drive evolution inexorably forward.9There is a Kuhnian10 revolution in the works, no doubt. The movers and shakers of the new revolution, though, are leaving mathematics and population genetics (because these failed Darwin and because the problems have not been resolved by neo-Darwinism, i.e. the Modern Synthesis) and are turning to more philosophically speculative ideas.
Things are shifting under our feet. We need to be careful not to be caught slaying yesterday’s dragon. Yet, the new trends within science do not necessarily require a different type of counter-argument. Interestingly, I find myself arguing population genetics as a cogent weapon when confronted by these newer ideas. I find myself talking about what we know about physics and chemistry and how that contradicts all ideas about the physical origin of life from non-life. I find myself saying that what we have discovered through experimental science argues against there being any inherent property in matter that would drive it to spontaneously form high-level organizational structures, let alone codified information strings.11 It is as if they are suddenly admitting to a ‘Darwin of the Gaps’ model of evolution while we creationists stick to empirical science, and I find this ironic, even oddly humorous.
Although evolutionary theory is threatening to change its basis, the argument has not really changed all that much. Why is this? Because evolution is a smokescreen for a raging spiritual battle. The how of evolution is really not all that important, and evolutionists will readily shift their beliefs about the mechanism behind it, often using these shifts to claim science is self-correcting. The alleged fact of evolution, however, must be defended by its adherents at all costs, because there is no escape from accountability to a Creator unless nature made itself somehow.
Although this shift away from neo-Darwinism is certainly not yet the majority view, it is a rapidly popularizing trend within science. It seems, therefore, as if the big question we are going to face in the future is similar to one faced when trying to share the Gospel with the new generation of public school kids (you know, the ones that could not say that taking down the Twin Towers was an act of evil men). That is, how do you talk to a science buff who has left empirical science and whose mind is full of philosophical speculation?
In short, there is, to this point, no coherent science coming from this new paradigm of neo-pagan metaphysics with nature as a self-creating entity, demonstrating that the battle is really being waged at a deeper philosophical level. Therefore, the creationist arguments that have been developed over the past several decades remain relevant and powerful. Resources like The Creation Answers Book, creation.com, Journal of Creation and Creation magazine are still the best sources of information one can use to prepare a defence, for there is nothing truly new under the sun.
References and notes
- See creation.com/natural-selection-questions-and-answers. Return to text.
- Catchpoole, D., creation.com/peacock-poppycock, March 2007. Return to text.
- Carter, R., creation.com/epigenetics-and-darwin, 1 March 2011. Return to text.
- Lester, L., creation.com/genetics-no-friend-of-evolution, March 1998. Return to text.
- Batten, D., creation.com/haldanes-dilemma-has-not-been-solved, April 2005. Return to text.
- Carter, R., creation.com/junk-dna-slow-death, 9 June 2009. Return to text.
- This term refers to the holding of conflicting beliefs, and the tension/discomfort this causes. Return to text.
- Wieland, C., creation.com/pagan-panic, December 1992. Return to text.
- Depew, D. and Weber, B., The fate of Darwinism: evolution after the modern synthesis, Biological Theory 6(1):89-102, 2011. Return to text.
- Kulikovsky, A., creation.com/sloppy-lazy-and-dishonest, December 2007. Return to text.
- Gitt, W., creation.com/information-science-and-biology, August 1996. Return to text.