By Rodney Stark
The battle over evolution is not an example of how heroic scientists have withstood the relentless persecution of religious fanatics. Rather, from the very start it primarily has been an attack on religion by militant atheists who wrap themselves in the mantle of science. When a thoroughly ideological Darwinist like Richard Dawkins claims, "The theory is about as much in doubt as that the earth goes round the sun," he does not state a fact, but merely aims to discredit a priori anyone who dares to express reservations about evolution. Indeed, Dawkins has written, "It is absolutely safe to say that, if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid, or insane ...."
That is precisely how "Darwin's Bulldog," Thomas Huxley, hoped intellectuals would react when he first adopted the tactic of claiming that the only choice is between Darwin and Bible literalism. However, modern physics provides a model of how science benefits from being willing to live with open questions rather than embracing obviously flawed conjectures.
The Darwinian Crusade does not prove some basic incompatibility between religion and science. But the even more immediate reality is that Darwin's theory falls noticeably short of explaining the origin of species. Stephen Jay Gould, distinguished Darwinian, while acknowledging that "the extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record" is a major embarrassment for Darwinism, confided that this has been held as a "trade secret of paleontology" and acknowledged that the evolutionary diagrams "that adorn our textbooks" are based on "inference ... not the evidence of fossils."
According to Steven Stanley, another distinguished evolutionist, doubts raised by the fossil record were "suppressed" for years. Stanley noted that this too was a tactic begun by Huxley, always careful not to reveal his own serious misgivings in public. Paleontologist Niles Eldridge and his colleagues have said that the history of life demonstrates gradual transformations of species, "all the while really knowing that it does not." This is not how science is conducted; it is how ideological crusades are run.
By Darwin's day it was well-known that selective breeding can create variations within species. But the boundaries between species are distinct and firm – one species does not simply trail off into another by degrees. As Darwin acknowledged, breeding experiments reveal clear limits to selective breeding beyond which no additional changes can be produced. For example, dogs can be bred to be only so big and no bigger, let alone be selectively bred until they are cats. Hence, the question of where species come from was the real challenge and, despite the title of his famous book and more than a century of hoopla and celebration, Darwin essentially left it unanswered.
After many years spent searching for an adequate explanation of the origin of species, in the end Darwin fell back on natural selection, claiming that it could create new creatures too, if given immense periods of time. That is, organisms respond to their environmental circumstances by slowly changing (evolving) in the direction of traits beneficial to survival until, eventually, they are sufficiently changed to constitute a new species. Hence, new species originate very slowly, one tiny change after another, and eventually this can result in lemurs changing to humans via many intervening species.
Darwin fully recognized that a major weakness of this account of the origin of species involved what he and others referred to as the principle of "gradualism in nature." The fossil record was utterly inconsistent with gradualism. As Darwin acknowledged: "...why, if species have descended from other species by fine gradations, do we not everywhere see innumerable transitional forms? Why is not all nature in confusion instead of the species being, as we see them, well defined?"
As for the lack of transitional types among the fossils, that was, Darwin admitted, "the most obvious and serious objection which can be urged against the theory."
Darwin dealt with this problem by blaming "the extreme imperfection of the geological record." "Only a small portion of the surface of the earth has been geologically explored, and no part with sufficient care." But, just wait, Darwin promised, the missing transitions will be found in the expected proportion when more research has been done. Thus began an intensive search for what the popular press soon called the "missing links."
Today, the fossil record is enormous compared to what it was in Darwin's day, but the facts are unchanged. The links are still missing; species appear suddenly and then remain relatively unchanged.
Indeed, the evidence has grown even more contrary since Darwin's day. "Many of the discontinuities [in the fossil record] tend to be more and more emphasized with increased collecting," noted the former curator of historical geology at the American Museum of Natural History. The history of most fossil species includes two features particularly inconsistent with gradualism, Stephen Jay Gould has acknowledged. The first problem is stasis. Most species exhibit no directional change during their tenure on earth. They appear in the fossil record looking much the same as when they disappear. The second problem is sudden appearance. Species do not arise gradually by the steady transformation of ancestors, they appear "fully formed."
For generations, Darwinians have regaled their students with the story of the monkey and the typewriter, noting that given an infinite period of time, the monkey sooner or later is bound to produce Macbeth purely by chance, the moral being that infinite time can perform miracles.
However, the monkey of random evolution does not have infinite time. The progression from simple to complex life forms on earth took place within a quite limited time. Moreover, when competent mathematicians considered the matter, they quickly calculated that even if the monkey's task were reduced to coming up with only a few lines of Macbeth, let alone Shakespeare's entire play, the probability is far, far beyond mathematical possibility. The odds of creating even the simplest organism at random are even more remote – Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe, celebrated cosmologists, calculated the odds as one in ten to the 40,000th power. (Consider that all atoms in the known universe are estimated to number no more than ten to the 80th power.) In this sense, then, Darwinian theory does rest on truly miraculous assumptions.
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