Volume 15, Number 1

Editor's Column

Art Battson

Guest Commentary

What was it about the lead article that first grabbed our attention? The author? The topic?

Maybe. Then again, perhaps it was the startling pronouncements by the anti-creationist philosopher of science, Michael Ruse, that evolution has functioned as something akin to a secular religion. Yea, that must be it.

Anyone familiar with the Humanist Manifesto should not be surprised that evolution can function like a secular religion. When evolution is used in the sense of an all-encompassing, mechanistic, materlialistic account of origins, it certainly does function as a secular creation myth and the basis of atheology and Darwinian fundamentalism. Please open your books to Agenesis 1:1 and read along with me:

Long, long ago in a forest far, far away, lived a population of light- and dark- colored moths. Without any help from God, natural selection transformed them into a population of dark- and light- colored moths. Therefore, the Cosmos is all there is, or ever was, or ever will be, we really, really hope, forever and ever. Amen.

You may be seated. The offering will now be taken, followed by the sacrifice of Michael Ruse.

The star witness at the Arkansas trial has come a long way in 12 years. During the pregnant pause following the Ruse Revelations in Boston, there were undoubtedly those in the audience thinking to themselves, "I don't think we're in Arkansas anymore, Toto." Indeed, we're not. Although, we are not in Las Vegas, either, I will see Ruse's revelation and raise him one.

As a former supporter of the Balanced Treatment Act, I hereby join him by no longer advocating the idea that a balanced teaching of creation and evolution should be mandated in the public schools. In brief my reasons are as follows:

1) Students are ultimately misled into thinking that the primary reason scientists reject creation is on empirical rather than methodological or philosophical grounds. Special creation events themselves are not subject to the scientific method and are therefore rejected a priori by most scientists. Data is not nearly as relevant as research grants are. Scientists must have research programs which study natural rather than supernatural phenomena.

2) If a gradual evolutionary process exists, it would constitute a far greater miracle of creation than fiat or special creation. Something miraculous would have to preserve those useless transitional stages from being eliminated by natural selection. Complex systems with interdependent components are not built naturally on a step-by-step basis, particularly in the competitive environment of natural selection.

3) The study of ultimate origins is metaphysical in nature. The origin of natural processes cannot be explained on the basis of natural processes, and supernatural processes are beyond the scope of the natural sciences.

4) Although the study of the ultimate origins of matter, energy, space, time and information lies beyond the realm of the empirical sciences, the subjects of evolution and stasis are both subject to empirical investigation. Specifically:

a) Natural processes may exist which account for the transformation of one major body plan into another (despite the lack of empirical evidence for major transitional series).

b) Natural processes may be insufficient to account for major evolutionary change; or

c) Natural processes may exist which prevent major evolutionary change from occurring and which account for the natural phenomena of stasis.

If a scientist acknowledges that each of these statements may be true, he/she passes the agnostic test of science. If a scientist insists that purely mechanistic, materialistic (non-theistic) processes must account for the origin and transformation of the major body plans, one can be sure that evolution is functioning as a secular religion. From the standpoint of science, the "scientific agnostic" (i.e., the one who has serious doubts about the omnipotence of time, chance and materialistic processes and who truly acknowledges the possibility of all three propositions) is the one who enters science most objectively. May our objectivity be multiplied.

Party in Berkeley--Film at 11

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) should be applauded for its role in bringing Michael Ruse to Boston and bringing his new perspectives to light. It is certainly the case that secular religion has a much more profound potential for distorting science and science education than any theistic religion ever had, due to the fact that its belief system--philosophical naturalism--is so easily confused with the methodological naturalism of science. Wolves in theistic clothing are much easier to detect than those in naturalistic garb. The NCSE should be happy to see secular religion exposed for what it actually is. All scientists should welcome the exposure of influences which distort our understanding of the universe--even if those influences are secular or based on naturalism.

If the NCSE has no other reason to celebrate this year, allow me to provide them with one. I agree with them that neither "intelligent design" nor "sudden appearance" qualify as something which is currently considered to be subject to the scientific method. Call William Thwaites as well. Tell him the party is just starting. I agree with him that "abrupt or sudden appearance" does not qualify as anything more than a description of the geological data; it is not a substitute theory or explanation of origins. While it is true that none other than Stephen Jay Gould described the key features of the fossil record as "sudden appearance" and "stasis" and acknowledged the record to be in fundamental disagreement with Darwinain gradualism, "sudden appearance" represents one-time historical singularities--hardly something that one can develop patterns from or scientific explanations for.

While it is also true that this virtually eliminates the origin of the major body plans and the higher taxa origins from the realm of empirical sciences, we must remember that the purpose of science is to explain the regular patterns which we observe in nature. To borrow another of Gould's phrases, "Stasis is data." Fossil after repeatable fossil demonstrates that natural processes exist which act to preserve the original body plans intact and prevent their gradual transformation into something substantially different. Natural processes exist which account for the phenomenon of stasis, both at a micro and macro level. Although the thought is anathema to most scientists, natural processes do not necessarily exist which can account for the origin of life or the origin of the higher taxa.

The study of stasis should be seen not as something which totally refutes evolution on the grand scale, but rather something which can be studied as a complement to evolution (even though evolutionary processes may not be able to overcome the mechanisms which account for stability). Certainly, the study of stasis would add to rather than detract from the need for additional research. Gould himself states that:

...we must understand that nothing happens most of the time--and we don't because our stories don't admit this theme--if we hope to grasp the dynamics of evolutinary change. (This sentence may sound contradictory, but it isn't. To know the reasons for infrequent change, one must understand the ordinary rules of stability.) The Burgess Shale teaches us that, for the history of basic anatomical designs, almost everything happened in the geological moment just before, and almost nothing in more than 500 million years since (Gould, S. J., "A Web of Tales," Natural History, October, 1988).

It should be emphasized that the ordinary rules of stasis and stability have been virtually ignored in science and science education. It is understandable why those who have subscribed to orthodox neo-Darwinian gradualism might wish to avoid the subject. What baffles me is why creationists haven't taken up the study of higher taxon-level stasis and the stability of the major body plans. Why have they left the task to Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge all these years? (NOTE: Both Gould and Eldredge undoubtedly believe that mechanisms exist which could ultimately overcome the ordinary rules of stability). Why haven't the creationists been publishing books on "sudden appearance" rather than researching stasis all these years? Surely it isn't because they were afraid that after Professor Thwaites made his sudden appearance he would just stand there in static suspension for millions of years, is it? They should have been exposing students and educators to the natural phenomenon of stasis, which accounts for the key features of the fossil record rather than particular models of special creation which scientists cannot study and which many creationists cannot agree on. (Have I offended everyone yet?)

We must remember that, for the most part, Darwinian theory attempts to explain the major transitional fossils paleontologists don't have rather than the prevasive patterns of the fossil data they do. It is certainly not a theory which attempts to explain the pervasive patterns of natural history--the lack of transitional forms and the dominant pattern of geological succession which indicates a systematically reverse order of appearance (top to bottom, with disparity preceeding diversity) contrary to Darwinian predictions.

Science Education: The Next Generation

The next generation of students should be told why most scientists have rejected the notion of "intelligent design" or even the inference of creation despite the "sudden appearance" of all of the major body plans. They need to understand that any means of intelligent design cannot be studied by the scientific method, however logical the inference of intelligent design may be. Most scientists have assumed that an intelligent designer played no role in the history of the cosmos simply because the cretaion process itself cannot be couched in purely mechanistic and materialistic terms. One wonders about the intelligence behind such assumptions.

Although intelligent design should never be discounted by the academic community as an historical possibility, students must understand the religious, philosophical and methodological reasons why most scientists have rejected it a priori as an explanation of origins. They need to understand that most scientists are heavily biased in favor of naturalistic explanations, even in the areas of origins which are not observable or repeatable. Even the poorest of naturalistic explanations have been preferred by the modern scientific community over any inference of guided or deterministic evolution, let alone intelligent design or creation. We must keep in mind that many scientists still believe Darwinian theory despite the fact that it does not explain the observable, repeatable facts of natural history (i.e., the natural phenomenon of stasis). It is still the best naturalistic explanation for the innumerable transitional forms that paleontologists don't have.

If students were taught the distinction between methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism and that natural processes may exist which prevent major evolutionary change from occurring, many of the philosophical biases in science could be removed and distortions resulting from metaphysical naturalism could be corrected. If students were exposed to the problems with our current theories, they would also be more prepared to solve them and improve upon our knowledge and description of nature. Exposing them to those natural processes which account for stasis would certainly give them a more complete education in science, along with tools to discern the difference between metaphysical assumptions and empirical data.

Alas, there is reason for hope. The concept of stability has been identified within the most recent California State Science Framework as one of the major themes of the natural sciences. Does natural selection account for stasis and the stability of the higher taxa by preventing major evolutionary change from occurring on a gradual, step-by-step basis through the elimination of useless transitional and incipient stages? Does speculation prevent major evolutionary change from occurring via saltation due to genetic correlation mechanisms? Will this commentator ever find work again? Tune in next issue. Same Batt time. Same Batt channel.

Book Bashing in Boston On the Trials and Tribulations of Phillip Johnson

In his book Darwin on Trial, Phillip Johnson makes it clear that the "evolution" he criticizes is not geological succession, geographical distribution, shifts in gene frequencies or even the mechanism of natural selection per se. Johnson's primary focus is a critique of the secular religion of evolution (philosophical or metaphysical naturalism) and the adequacy of the mechanism behind its "creation myth." Johnson takes aim at the religious claim of Darwinists who claim that God played no active role whatsoever in the history of life on earth. The July 1992 issue of Scientific American featured a rather lengthy and acerbic critique of Johnson's book by Stephen Jay Gould entitled "Impeaching a Self-Appointed Judge." Johnson was subsequently denied space to reply, but that space is provided to Professor Johnson in this issue.

Johnson hits the nail on the head when he argues that, absent a credible mechanism, fully naturalistic evolution lacks credibility. But it is a nail that has been struck before. Patricia Horan, in the foreward to the 1979 Avenel edition of The Origin of Species, writes:

When The Origin of Species was written, the theory of evolution in biology was already an old, even a discredited one... Why then is Darwin's work the revolutionary one? Because of the vast amounts of evidence patiently sifted. And because he found a plausible mechansim to explain how species can change: by means of natural selection.

Charles Darwin placed more emphasis on the mechanism than he did the patiently sifted evidence, which he acknowledged could lead to directly opposite conclusions. The question of mechanism--the question of how--is the all-important one.

In considering the Origin of Species, it is quite conceivable that a naturalist, reflecting on the mutual affinities of organic beings, on their embryological relations, their geographical distirbution, geological succession, and such other facts, might come to the conclusion that each species had not been independently created, but had descended, like varieties, from other species. Nevertheless, such a conclusion, even if well-founded, would be unsatisfactory until it could be shown how the innumerable species inhabiting this world have been modified, so as to acquire that perfection of structure and coadaptation which most justly excites our admiration (Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, reprint of the 1859 edition, Avenel Books, New York, 1979, p.66).

Johnson's question, "How do Darwinists know that the blind watchmaker created animal phyla, for example, since the process can't be demonstrated and all the historical evidence is missing?" is the most important question Darwinists need to answer, since it is obviously the most important claim to their theory.

The most objective appraisal of this claim can be made by approaching the question systematically from the top down. At issue is not whether shifts in gene frequencies can take place or subpopulations of species can ultimately lose their ability to interbreed and technically form new species. At issue is not the question of the diversity of species, but rather the disparity fo the higher taxa. By asking for historical evidence of the transitional series leading to the origin of new phyla (which by any current evolutionary scenario must have existed in great abundance) one is establishing an empirical test favorable to evolutionary theory. Since the greatest number of transitional forms ought to exist in the fossil record, connecting species classified in different phyla back to their common ancestor, one would expect the question of the phyla origin to be among the easiest for the Darwinist to answer. Ironically, it is not.

The vast majority of the animal phyla have their abrupt appearance in the Cambrian explosion, a window of time currently dated to be only 16 million years in duration. According to paleontologist James Valentine, no new phyla have arisen since the Cambrian explosion. Compounding the conundrum is the fact that species diversity within each phylum is extremely low upon first appearance, indicating that each new body plan had not had a very long tenure on earth. The phyla were simply not the result of accumulating lower level diversity.

The fact that geological succession appears systematically backwards from the primary predictions of Darwinian theory and that the disparity of the higher taxa precedes the diversity of species rather than increasing Darwinian diversity accumulating to produce the origin of the higher taxa has to be (next to the problem of an adequate mechanism) one of the most profound problems facing Darwinian theory today.

In this light it is surprising that Johnson seems to view systematics as supportive of Darwinism. He writes:

No doubt the pattern of relationships among plants and animals invites and inference that there was some process of development from a common source.

While it is true that such an inference exists at lower taxonomic levels (e.g., development of the several generations of Darwin's finches from a common ancestor), the inference breaks down when it is logically carried to the question of the phyla origin. The tremendous morphological distances between the phyla throughout time, the lack of transitional forms and the reverse pattern of geological succession hardly invites an inference of development from a common source.

The fundamental Darwinian prediction of systematic relationships is that the increasing morphological distances generated upon the origin of new species should lead first to new genera and families and ultimately to new orders, classes and phyla. The question is how this prediction can possibly be reconciled with the data of natural history which reveals that the disparity of the higher taxa precedes the diversity of the lower taxa and that the phyla stop appearing first, followed by classes, and then orders. In short, the most significant claim of Darwinian theory--that the accumulation of lower taxon level change ultimately generates new phyla--is not only unsupported by geological succession, it is in essentially reverse order to the most important of Darwinian predictions.

The data of natural history suggests the need to develop a theory of macrostasis which explains why one body plan does not gradually transform into a substantially different body plan despite the abundant environmental change which must have occurred over the past 500 million years since the Cambrian explosion.

As I have already trumpeted stasis sufficiently in this column (although perhaps in the wrong key and to a different beat than most drummers), I will close with a quote from Gould's book review which seems to invite the next critic of Darwinism to step up to the plate:

...Johnson's major premise--the inherent Godlessness of Darwinism-- could be wrong, and he might still have a good argument for the major thrust of his text: the attempt to show that Darwinism is a dogma, unsupported by substantial and meaningful evidence, and propped up by false logic.

Gould believes that Johnson has fouled out on a third strike bunt attempt. Johnson believes that he has just squeezed home the winning run. You make the call.

Read This Note

Mark Hartwig and Stephen Meyer follow Johnson in the lineup. Their article entitled "A Note to Teachers" is a reprint of the appendix to the Second Edition of Of Pandas and People by noted authors Percival Davis and Dean Kenyon.

Of Pandas and People is without a doubt the best textbook supplement on the market dealing with the subject of origins and evolution. In addition to its objective treatment of Darwinian theory, it also exposes students to some of the major weaknesses in our current understanding of origins. Admitting that the subject of origins is controversial, Hartwig and Meyer note that controversy has its benefits and offer teachers a number of convincing justifications for teaching alternatives to Darwinian theory:

Controversy is not all bad. For it gives teachers the opportunity to engage their students at a deeper level. Instead of filling young minds with discrete facts and vocabulary lists, teachers can show their students the rough-and-tumble of genuine scientific debate.

(Davis' and Kenyon's) presentation of a non-Darwinian perspective, in addition to the standard view, is intended to stimulate discussion and encourage students to evaluate the explanatory power of different theories--which, after all, is what science is all about.

As students learn to weigh and sort competing views and become active participants in the clash of ideas, you may be surprised at the level of motivation and achievement displayed by the students.

Despite their jabs at textbooks that fill young minds with discrete facts and vocabulary lists, one of the strengths of Pandas and People is the carefully articulated definitions of the term "evolution" and the use of the term "fact."

Hartwig and Meyer point out that one of the most important (and certainly most controversial) meanings of evolution is a "cause or mechanism of biological change (which) is purposeless, non-intelligent, and completely naturalistic." The very essence of Darwinism is this naturalistic mechanism and the extrapolation of minor changes (which undoubtedly do have purposeless, non-intelligent, and naturalistic elements) to account for the origin of complex biological systems and major new body plans. The authors are lucid in their reasons for rejecting this Darwinian extrapolation on empirical grounds and persuasive in their arguments for the erroneous philosophical arguments behind the rejection of "intelligent design."

Evolutionists have been successful in the past by convincing educators that naturalistic evolution must be taught as the only scientific theory of origins because the only alternative is creation or "intelligent design," something which they argue can be invoked to explain virtually anything. Hartwig and Meyer tackle this objection with admirable art and wisdom. The authors could have stooped to noting that the God of Chance can also be called upon to create any genetic change or erode away any transitional series which must have adorned the earth in the distant and unobservable past, but they left that to me.

Another Note to the Teacher

Undoubtedly there will still be those who object to any discussion of intelligent design. Typically, they will argue that naturalistic evolution is the only possible explanation of origins and therefore the only one which should be taught in the public schools. Although intelligent design is not only a logical but a probable explanation for the origin of matter and energy, time, space and most biological information, arguments will continue that creation or design is non-natural and should therefor not be discussed. Philosophical objections to design will continue.

Teachers, please take note. Pandas provides you with more than sufficient information to evaluate Darwinism on its own merits, even without any reference to design. However, if you desire a supplement to Pandas which avoids the ultimate and controversial question of origins and focuses instead on the purely naturalistic and materialistic mechanisms which prevent major evolutionary change from occurring, order a copy of On the Origin of Stasis by Means of Natural Processes. This publication is hot off the press and is available exclusively through Access Research Network.

As erudite as the arguments are for creation or design, as long as science is defined as "what scientists do" and as long as there are those within the scientific community who insist on using the prestige of science to further their own secular agenda and world view, those claiming that naturalistic explanations of origins are inadequate should continue to expect a rough-and-tumble debate on their hands. As long as scientists fail to recognize the difference between the "inductive sciences" and the "historical sciences," there will be those who will insist that the game always be played on natural turf.

I wonder who will pinch hit for me in the next issue. Who knows? The "natural anthem" is about to begin. Sit back and enjoy the game. As long as the playing field is natural, though, I'm betting on stasis.

Copyright © 1997 Art Battson. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
File Date: 6.3.97