Volume 16, Number 1

Darwinism: Science or Naturalistic Philosophy?

A debate between William B. Provine and Phillip E. Johnson at Stanford University, April 30, 1994


This is the fourth time that Will Provine and I have met in debate, the other three times being at Cornell University, two of them in front of his evolutionary biology class. So I feel qualified to say where we will tend to agree and disagree during this debate.

First, where we agree. The modern neo-Darwinian theory of evolution is fundamentally inconsistent with any meaningful theism -- with any meaningful God who acts as creator of the world. Now, of course, this isn't necessarily true of all theories of evolution, or of the concept of evolution broadly construed, because a creator could make use of a gradual, long-term process of making one thing out of another just as well as any other process. So there's nothing about the word "evolution" that rules out the creator.

But the modern neo-Darwinian theory of evolution, orthodox among today's scientists, insists that evolution is an unplanned, undirected process. It combines elements of chance and necessity or natural law, a combination of random genetic changes or mutations, which accumulate through natural selection. These are impersonal material forces reflecting no preexisting intelligence and no guidance. As the outcome of this process, human beings are essentially unplanned acts of nature.

Now it's evolution in that sense that we're talking about, and evolution as a comprehensive theory of the history of life: how we and other living things came into existence.

The implication of evolutionary biology in that sense is perhaps not exactly that God does not exist. If God does exist, however, existing is about the only thing He has ever done. God is permanently unemployed, if, in the entire history of life, impersonal material forces were capable of doing the whole job, and did do it. So if one attempts to hold a view of God as creator, it is a very attenuated view and one which tends to fade away into unreality.

Thus, a theistic picture of the world is fundamentally inconsistent with the manner of thinking that evolutionary biologists employ to reach their conclusions. Contemporary evolutionary biology, like much else in science, is based on the premise that nature is all there is. This is the premise of metaphysical naturalism. One assumes that at the beginning there was nothing but matter and mindless motion. It follows that impersonal, unintelligent, purposeless forces must have been capable of doing all the work of creation, because there wasn't anything else. Purpose and intelligence could not come into existence until they evolved through unintelligent and purposeless processes.

This way of thinking is said to generate reliable conclusions, which are labeled as "scientific knowledge." Evolution in this sense -- fully naturalistic evolution -- is said to be a fact. Now if that's the way to get to correct conclusions about reality, it would seem likely that the premises supporting the conclusions are true.

Notice the structure of the reasoning. One assumes that no creator was around at the beginning, so material forces had to do everything -- and, it's concluded, mutation and selection did the job. Looking at these conclusions, some people then turn around and baptize the naturalistic account as God's way of creating. Such persons are not thinking logically. They put in at the end of the process what was removed at the beginning.

On the other hand, if we start with the assumption that a Creator exists who might have employed a process of evolution, natural or otherwise, or who might have done something else, then we do not start with any certainty that natural forces alone are sufficient to explain the origin and enormous diversity of life. In short, the person I'll call the "theistic realist" wants to know: Is what you are telling me true? That person will not be satisfied to be told, "Well, the neo-Darwinian story is the best naturalistic story we can tell, and therefore it is science." That's not good enough. We should rather be asking if naturalistic evolution is true at all. Let me give you an example, taken from the exhibit Life Through Time: A Case For Evolution (at the California Academy of Sciences Museum in San Francisco), where that question makes a real difference The centerpiece of Life Through Time is the Hard Facts Wall. The wall represents the Cambrian Explosion, the sudden appearance of the animal phyla -- the major divisions of animal life -- in the rocks of the Cambrian era some 550 million years ago, give or take. The Cambrian explosion is one of the great mysteries in the history of life. Richard Dawkins, the complete Darwinist propagandist, says that the phyla are planted there in the rocks as if they had no history at all.

Figure 1 is a diagrammatic representation of the wall. The fossils representing the phyla all lie on parallel lines. These lines, however, are connected by lines with no fossils of their own -- and each connecting point is marked by a magnifying glass.

Figure 1. Selected Data Applied to Framework.

What's the significance of the magnifying glasses? Well, in other parts of the exhibit, magnifying glasses are used to enlarge little fossils -- things that one would have a hard time seeing without the glasses. The implication here is that if you strain your eyes hard enough and look through those glasses, you would see the common ancestors which connect these otherwise disparate phyla.

But there's nothing underneath the magnifying glasses. There is no evidence from the fossils of a pattern of common ancestors and intermediates connecting them. If neo-Darwinism were true, somewhere there should be a universe of transitional intermediates, as Darwin said there had to be. Where is it?

Figure 1 is an empirical plot of the stratigraphic distribution of the fossils, showing the parallel lines of the phyla. Notice what the museum exhibit does with these data. The lines are connected one to another, and the magnifying glasses are placed where the common ancestors should be. The casual museum-goer (I've tested this many times) doesn't see the difference between the parallel lines which represent the evidence, and the connecting lines which represent the theory, or the imagination of the theorist. The exhibit looks as if the common ancestors are really there.

But more than that has been done. Look again at Figure 2.

Figure 2. Life Through Time: Evidence for Sudden Appearance and Stasis.

The geological dates don't make any sense. The earliest vertebrate occurs at 450 mya, but on the left-hand side of the figure the earliest coral occurs at 440 mya -- well below in the strata! In terms of the empirical evidence, it makes no sense to alter the time scale that way, but you can see why it's done. The data are tailored to fit the theory.

I wouldn't object if the museum-goer were warned about what is fact, what is theory, and what is speculation. Nothing, however, distinguishes the theory from the evidence.

The actual evidence looks something like this: all of the basic groups arrive at the same time, and, with a certain amount of variation and change within their preexisting boundaries, persist until the present. That's a picture of evolution, of a sort, within certain boundaries. But look at what is predicted by the Darwinian picture. As Stephen Jay Gould describes it, in his fine book Wonderful Life, we expect a cone of increasing diversity, where one form branches off into others, the whole range of diversity becoming greater and greater as one goes along. In Figure 1, however, we see the diversity present all at the beginning, with variation within those limits.

Darwinists may be able to accommodate their theory to this evidence. Obviously that would be a long and detailed argument. What I am showing you is that people who are committed to the theory in advance lose sight of the difference between theory and the facts. Hence, they present as indubitable something which is in reality very dubitable, the claim that there was a step-by-step gradual process of natural selection which produced, from much simpler predecessors, the amazingly diverse basic groups of the Cambrian explosion.

It's not just diversity that has to be explained. It's complexity. We have to explain how new genetic information came into the world in order to make complex plants and animals out of single-celled predecessors. Where's the evidence that this happened? Of course, if one is a metaphysical naturalist, starting from the assumption that nature had to do its own creating, then something very much like neo-Darwinian evolution just has to be true as a matter of one's basic assumptions. There can be argument about the details -- the relative role of chance and natural selection could be at issue, as it is between the neutral theory of molecular evolution and the selectionist alternatives -- but the basic picture just has to be true. One has to explain everything on the basis of a combination of chance events and some natural law that provides the designing force -- something like mutation and selection.

So a metaphysical naturalist can tend to be very uncritical where neo-Darwinism is concerned. Let me give you another example of this, from the autobiography of Francis Crick. Crick is one of the most famous molecular biologists in the world, co-discoverer of DNA, and a passionately atheistic materialist and neo-Darwinist. Crick strongly recommends a book by Richard Dawkins called The Blind Watchmaker, which presents the modern argument for the Darwinian mechanism of mutation and selection. Here is what Crick says:

If you doubt the power of natural selection, I urge you for the sake of your soul to read Dawkins's book. I think you will find it a revelation. Dawkins gives a nice argument to show how far the process of evolution can go in the time available to it. He points out that man, by selection, has produced an enormous amount of types of dogs such as Pekingese, bulldogs, and so on, in the space of only a few thousand years. Here man is the important factor in the environment, and it is his peculiar tastes that have produced, by selective breeding, not by design, the freaks of nature we see preserved all around us as domestic dogs. Yet the time required to do this on an evolutionary scale of hundreds of millions of years is extraordinarily short, so we should not be surprised at the ever greater variety of creatures that natural selection has produced on this much larger timescale.

Now that's typical Darwinian reasoning. Selective breeding proves that small-scale change can lead to macro-change, i.e., to new forms of life and new complex organs. All that's needed is enough time.

Yet a child should be able to see that the example is quite beside the point. It's quite beside the point because selective breeding is a purposeful process in which a human breeder pursues a distant goal with skill and persistence. Yet the crucial claim of Darwinian evolution is that unguided processes can do the work of creation. The analogy fails because the processes being described are fundamentally different. Moreover, as is well known, even with all the power of human intelligence and purpose, breeders are able to produce change only within boundaries. Even those dogs are all members of a single biological species. Dogs don't get bigger and bigger indefinitely -- as big as elephants or whales -- much less change into elephants or whales, and the reason is not that there is not enough time. Rather, the genetic variability gives out.

Why have scientists of Crick's caliber overlooked these points? Answer: when you are proving something that just has to be true anyway, almost any evidence will do. For instance, evolutionary biologists trumpeted the minor results of the peppered moth observations around the world. As you know, experiments show that when trees were dark in the Midlands of England, dark moths in a population tended to survive more frequently than light moths, so the percentage of dark moths in the population went up for awhile until the trees became lighter again, and then light moths predominated. These shifting frequencies within a population, in which there were dark and light moths all along, have nothing to do with showing how you can produce moths and trees and birds and scientific observers in the first place. And yet this extremely modest evidence that natural selection produced something was so thrilling to the Darwinian world that it became one of the most famous scientific observations of all time.

What's going on here? Well, frankly, what's going on here is a cultural conflict. Evolutionary science has become a weapon in a cultural war. Countless public television programs, textbooks, and popular treatments foster the illusion that the tools of empirical science have shown the naturalistic worldview to be true.

But that isn't the case at all. The naturalistic worldview was assumed at the beginning. And an extremely lenient standard of evaluating the evidence has been employed, by which one can credit a marvelous creativity to mutation and selection that no one has ever seen, that no one ever will see, and that has not been recorded in the fossil record. That's metaphysics, not empirical science, from the standpoint of one who doesn't take metaphysics for granted.

What's happened is that neo-Darwinian theory -- a theory that is perfectly valid for certain small-scale changes -- has been enlisted in the service of naturalistic philosophy. Minor changes, however, the stuff of neo-Darwinian observation, do not produce new kinds of organisms, and, above all, do not add to the genetic information, which should be the real subject of biological evolution. These problems have been recognized all along by farsighted people in the scientific community, people like Pierre Grassé, the preeminent French zoologist of our time, Richard Goldschmidt, the Berkeley geneticist, even people like Stephen Jay Gould, my sometimes adversary, who perhaps feels somewhat embarrassed that his own attacks on every element of the neo-Darwinian scheme have been quoted to discredit it.

These scientists understand that a theory which is valid only at the small scale has been recklessly extrapolated into a general theory of creation, in order to fill the explanatory gap that would otherwise exist. The theory has to be extrapolated. Otherwise we wouldn't have a theory at all.

This isn't a secret. As the theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman says, for example, in the introduction to his book The Origins of Order, neo-Darwinism has fractures at its foundations, and needs to be replaced or supplemented. It's never quite clear by what -- some new theory based on computer models, or self-organizing systems that may or may not exist in nature.

Once again I am not here to tell you that there is nothing valid in these theories or research programs. But prominent members of the scientific community recognize a crisis. Year after year, people have come forward hoping to find the answer, hoping to find the new and general theory of evolution Stephen Jay Gould said was emerging to fill the gap left by what he called the "effectively dead" neo-Darwinian synthesis.

But no new adequate naturalistic explanation has emerged, and so Gould himself has to scurry back and protect the neo-Darwinian synthesis because there is no alternative. There would be a cultural earthquake if the scientific community had to admit a mistake, and had to acknowledge that they really don't know the answers to questions they have confidently told the public they did know the answers to.

It is possible to recognize this, however, and to debate it in an academic forum. I hope we are going to be doing a lot more of that in the near future. Biologists cannot be allowed to tell the creation story of our culture without dissent from the rest of us.


Did you notice that Phil had nothing to say about his mechanisms of evolution?

I think it's wonderful that we are having a debate of this sort. It's really good for Stanford, and good for people to get these views out in the open. Phil is definitely a friend of mine, and that's something you need to understand. We get up here, argue like everything, and then have dinner and a beer together afterwards.

But, having said that, let's look again at Phil's views. Phil is a born-again Christian. He believes that God exists, that God created life, and, apparently, successively created the major forms of life. God's design is apparent in the adaptations of animals and plants. God created humans separately because humans and chimpanzees do not share a common ancestor. God gives us life after death, and God gives us an absolute foundation for ethics. God gives us ultimate meaning for life, God gives humans free will, and thus, the possibility of genuine understanding and responsibility.

When it comes to the important questions, Phil has a very clear maxim, which is maximize your leaps of faith. Get them as big as you possibly can. Will has a maxim too: minimize your leaps of faith. That way you can actually live in a natural world.

It's strange. When Charles Darwin was a young man, he believed all the things that Phil believes now, with the exception of being born again. What could have caused a smart fellow like Charles Darwin -- and by the way, I don't claim that Darwin was all that smart; I believe that Phil Johnson is much smarter than Darwin, who, had he gone to Harvard, would have graduated near the bottom of his class -- to have changed his views? But he did change his mind, and we're going to have to figure out why.

He had a number of very direct reasons. First, morphological similarity among organisms suggested shared descent. Just plain morphological similarities. Secondly, living species are similar to recent related fossils. Now this is an issue that Phil does not work on very much. Indeed, the recent fossil record is quite good, and we can look in the fossil record and can see relatives of clearly different species that exist in the fossil record, and are closely related, however, to living species. Darwin saw this when he was on the voyage of the Beagle, different species occupying the same ecological niches in different but connected geological areas. As Darwin went down the east coast of South America, up the other coast, and around the world, he noticed that in similar ecological niches there were related but different species. Finally, of course, there was the similarity of island species to related species on nearby mainlands.

Darwin invented natural selection only after he had come up with the idea of evolution by des-cent, and that occurred only after the voyage of the Beagle. He believed that inventing the idea of natural selection was like committing murder. He knew exactly what he was doing. He was murdering the cultural tradition in which he had been raised, and in which Phil continues to live (rather belatedly).

How about natural selection and selection under domestication? Phil really whangs on poor Darwin for this one, but Darwin observed, for example, more than five hundred varieties of domestic pigeons, from pouters to giant homers. If you know pigeons at all, pouters are really different from giant homers. He realized that natural selection could produce even greater change operating on the same available heritable variation. For Darwin, and for his readers who took the idea seriously, natural selection undermined the argument from design. If you accept the argument of natural selection, then of course you cannot see intelligent design even in butterflies, or apes, or pandas, or whatever the pandas eat. Darwin gradually came to understand that the implications of his conception of evolution were profound. While difficult for him to accept, the implications were finally impossible for him to reject. Let's see what they are.

First, the argument from design failed. There is no intelligent design in the natural world. When mammals die, they are really and truly dead. No ultimate foundations for ethics exist, no ultimate meaning in life exists, and free will is merely a human myth. These are all conclusions to which Darwin came quite clearly. Modern evolutionary biology not only supports Darwin's belief in evolution by descent, and his belief in natural selection, but all of the implications that Darwin saw in evolution have been strongly supported by modern evolutionary biology.

Modern evolutionary biology has a great deal more evidence for evolution by descent than Darwin had. For example, we now have a lot of molecular evidence for descent. When we sequence DNA, and look at the differences between two apparently related but different organisms, we can see to what extent they share DNA. When you do this for humans and chimpanzees, by a variety of different techniques, and by using different parts of the genome, you can see that they share some ninety-nine percent of their genomes.

And domestic breeding has had tremendous success in the twentieth century. Observations of natural selection in the wild have been carried out in large part since 1950, but they occupy a good part of evolutionary biology today. Plate tectonics has shown us a lot about the movement of plates on the earth's surface, but it also has helped us to understand the geographical distribution of animals and plants, both living and fossil, and the correlation between what we understand of plate movement and what we can see of both fossil and living forms.

This is very strong evidence for evolution by shared descent. We know a great deal more now about fossil formation, which basically supports most of what Darwin believed, and we have a great deal more fossil evidence.

I will have to introduce Phil's bull at this point. I really appreciate Phil's general point of view. I used to share it myself -- Phil is a Presbyterian, and I used to be one -- and I'll say something more about that in just a few minutes.

OK, this is Phil's bull. Now I'm not going to make that bull appear again, unless Phil says something that is bull. Bye-bye, bull. We'll see you later, if we need you.

Let's look at Phil on artificial and natural selection. He just told you that artificial selection has definite limits on the amount of variation of even the most highly skilled breeders can achieve. Dogs do not change into elephants because dogs do not have the genetic capacity for that degree of change, and they stop getting bigger when the limit is reached. I suppose the limit is reached now. Well, let's see. Phil, there's the bull!

Let's see how far artificial selection can go. Breeders do, in fact, run out of heritable variations from time to time, but recombination and mutation mean that the limits that Phil claims simply don't exist. Let's look at some of the evidence for this, from long continued selection experiments. The oil and protein content of corn have been going up since the turn of the century. No limits have been reached: both protein and oil are still going right ahead.

What about chickens? I grew up on a chicken farm. Chickens are getting more and more diverse. They are laying more and more eggs now than when I was a kid. The ratio of fat content to lean in hogs, coat colors in fancy mice -- just go to an animal or plant breeding book, and you'll find lots of examples. Take the example of dogs. We can get Chihuahuas and St. Bernards out of wild wolves in just a few thousand years. But Phil wants us to believe that we can't go any farther. Sure, we can go farther than that. We can make dogs the size of rats and buffalo. It wouldn't even take a few million years. I suspect it would only take a few tens of thousands of years. Not only that, they would be what we call "species" -- different species indeed.

Where did Phil get the information that artificial selection just comes to an end, that there are limits to the size to which dogs can be selected to be? I don't know how he knows what the limits are. Animal and plant breeders certainly have not found them.

Next to Phil on natural selection. Hey, he believes in evolution! He even tells you. He'll give you Hawaiian Drosophila as a case of evolution by naturalistic causes. He says there is no reason for believing that natural selection can produce new species, new organs, or other major changes or even minor changes that are pertinent. So let's look at Hawaiian Drosophila. The older and newer species of Hawaiian Drosophila differ in major morphology, head shape and size, internal organs. They most certainly deserve to be called different species. More than twenty million generations separate some of these, and when you do DNA-DNA hybridization, or you sequence genomes and compare them, the genetic distances are quite large.

So you've got a problem. You admit that the differences between Hawaiian Drosophila species have evolved by natural means. You deny that humans and chimpanzees share common ancestors. But the fact is that the morphological and genetic differences between old and new Hawaiian Drosophilas is far greater than the differences between humans and chimps. So what should you do, Phil? In the future you've got to argue that God created different species of Hawaiian Drosophila -- otherwise you are going to be inconsistent.

Evolution of highly adapted things is really tough, and Phil says that you can't get the evolution of a wing for the following reason. Limbs evolving into wings would probably be awkward for climbing or grasping long before they became very useful for gliding, thus placing the hypothetical intermediate creature at a serious disadvantage. I have a feeling that the bull is coming! Bull!

There are organisms that glide, and they don't lose the ability of their limbs to climb or to jump. A lot of flying squirrels -- we raise a great number of them -- fly like crazy, they can also jump and grasp onto trees very well. Incidentally, these species separated from the regular gray tree squirrel about thirty-five million years ago. So when creationists tell me that a flying squirrel is one of God's kind that belongs to the squirrels, I return by saying, "Gosh! You know humans and chimpanzees share a common ancestor five to seven million years ago, and these squirrels that you say are all one of God's kind shared a common ancestor about thirty-five million years ago!"

Consider extinction and natural selection. When thinking about adaptations being the work of intelligent design, we should ask: are these the very same adaptations which virtually guarantee extinction when the environment changes enough? If you go back only sixty-five to seventy million years ago, to the end of the Cretaceous, the general estimate is that there were about fifty thousand species of vertebrates. Of those, fewer than twenty give rise to the some one hundred thousand species of vertebrates that exist now. All the rest went extinct.

On the theory of intelligently designed adaptations, the intelligent designer clearly is very short-sighted indeed. Virtually all of his creations are extinct. All the species on earth are going to be gone in one billion years, and the sad thing about that is that life has been around for three and one-half billion years already, so it's only got a relatively short period of time. Phil and I have already lived more than half of our lives. Life on earth faces the same dismal prospect.

When you die, you're not going to be surprised, because you're going to be completely dead. Now if find myself aware after I'm dead, I'm going to be really surprised! But at least I'm going to go to hell, where I won't have all of those grinning preachers from Sunday morning listening.

Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear -- and these are basically Darwin's views. There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That's the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either. What an unintelligible idea.

Christian humanism has a great deal going for it. It's warm and kindly in many ways. That's the good part. The bad part is that you have to suspend your rational mind. That part is really nasty. Atheistic humanism has the advantage of fitting natural minds trying to understand the world, but the disadvantage of very little cultural heritage -- and that's a real problem.

So the question is, can atheistic humanism offer us very much? Sure. It can give you intellectual satisfaction. I'm a heck of a lot more intellectually satisfied now that I don't have to cling to the fairy tale that I believed when I was a kid. Life may have no ultimate meaning, but I sure think it can have lots of proximate meaning. Free will is not hard to give up, because it's a horribly destructive idea to our society. Free will is what we use as an excuse to treat people like pieces of crap when they do something wrong in our society. We say to the person, "you did something wrong out of your free will, and therefore we have the justification for revenge all over your behind." We put people in prison, turning them into lousier individuals than they ever were. This horrible system is based upon this idea of free will.

Since we know that we are not going to live after we die, there is no reward for suffering in this world. You live and you die. I've seen bumper stickers (very sexist ones, actually) that say "Life's a bitch, and then you die." Well, whatever life is, you're going to die. So if you're going to make things better for yourself or for those you care about, you had better become an activist while you're still alive.

Finally, there is no reason whatsoever that ethics can't be robust, even if there is no ultimate foundations for ethics. If you're an atheist and know you're going to die, what really counts if friendship -- and that's why I value Phil's friendship so much.


Now we turn to the rebuttal. Professor Johnson will begin.


Will was kind enough to say flattering things about my intelligence, so I want to be sure and return the compliment. Will Provine has one of the great minds of the nineteenth century. What you have just heard is the mechanistic, atheistic village rationalism which says if we can just understand that we are simply mindless machines which need fixing -- and if we stop treating people as independent human agents created by God -- then we can solve all of our problems. We'll have this "scientific" approach.

I used to be an atheist. Charles Darwin used to be a theist, of a kind. He was, perhaps, a weak deist. But I was an agnostic, and when people ask me why I'm not an agnostic anymore, I say that I could not manage the leaps of faith that were required.

One of the necessary leaps of faith holds that single-celled creatures have the capacity, by a combination of random changes and natural selection, to turn into complex plants and animals, even though there isn't any evidence for this. You have to believe that the fossil record is totally misleading, and that a theory that contradicts it in every way is reliable. After hearing Will's theory about how Darwinian theory explains extinctions, I want to bring out that bull myself. In fact, extinction is one of the many ways in which Darwinian theories have been thoroughly discredited. In his recent book on extinction, Professor David Raup of the University of Chicago points out that it is only Darwinian theory and its prejudice that made biologists and fossil experts pursue for so long the illusion that things gradually become extinct because they are supplanted by better adapted descendants. Rather, there has been a return to catastrophism in extinctions, which is totally contrary to the uniformitarian predictions and predilections of Darwinism.

I want to get to a more fundamental, important level. Will, you may have noticed, talked a lot about variation. That is the Darwinian way of explanation. We get little changes, and little changes could conceivably become big changes (even if they're not recorded that way in the fossil record), and so what is to prevent little changes from adding up into big changes?

It's not so much that this is the wrong answer. It's the wrong way of looking at the problem. That is, it's the wrong question. The important thing about organisms is the information that they contain, encoding complex interrelated mechanisms that all have to exist and operate together in an extremely complicated way.

You couldn't make a computer program by sending random jolts of electricity through a magnetic field, even though computer programs, and computers, employ electricity and magnetism. Analogously, when we come to explain the origin of organisms, we don't really need to know how they vary or function once they exist, but rather how the very genetic information making the organism possible itself came to be. This is the problem that has been systematically ignored by Darwinian biology, although it's beginning to come into prominence now with the work of the complexity theorists.

When you understand that the problem is the original information -- the foundational complexity -- then you realize that research such as, for example, the growth of molecular evolution studies, is very anti-Darwinian. It's true that by comparing molecular sequences you can make what are called molecular phylogenies. Exactly what those phylogenies mean is very much in dispute, because they are often different for different molecules, and the data are very heavily and carefully interpreted -- but some patterns of relationship exist.

What the molecular studies also show us, however, is that the complexity which we have always seen at the visible level in organisms is replicated at the molecular level. We see deep new levels of complexity, so that even the simplest form of vision, for example, requires a vast network of complicated molecular components that all have to work together to set it in motion.

No effort is being made to solve these problems. In practice, molecular evolution studies chart molecular relationships. They do not explain how the complex varieties of molecular systems first came about. And the problem just gets more and more difficult all the time.

Will talked about recent fossils and how things are related. Yes, you can make a pattern of relationships, and say that some things are more like certain things than like others. But where are the patterns of ancestors and ancestral descent? Where is the step-by-step progression from one thing to another, especially in the big divisions, the phyla of the Hard Facts Wall? Where it ought to exist that pattern is totally absent.

Neo-Darwinism is a really a theory of variation within types which already exist. That modest theory is extrapolated, however, into a general account of biological creation and innovation. This is not a criticism which I have invented out of some religious bias. The most sophisticated Darwinists have seen it all along. It's what Stephen Jay Gould said when he wrote in 1980 that the synthesis as a theory is generally dead, despite its prevalent textbook orthodoxy.

Neo-Darwinism doesn't fit the evidence. Evolutionary change doesn't seem to occur in that way. The evidence that mutations of a complexity-building type arrived regularly and in great quantity, on schedule, to build new complex organs, just isn't there. That's why the stories of wing evolution and so on are called, derisively, "just-so" stories. They are naturalistic fables in scientific language, but without the scientific backing to show that they really happened.

Again, my goal in a talk like this isn't convincing people in the audience who may be convinced of the opposing view to change their minds overnight. I don't think that's how people are persuaded. What I want to convince you of is this. Those who doubt the truths of Darwinian evolution, who doubt that the accumulation of micro-mutations through natural selection builds complex plants and animals from single-celled predecessors, who doubt that anybody knows how the specific human qualities of consciousness and intelligent purpose have arisen -- these are people who doubt for scientific reasons based on the evidence.

What has been going on for the past century or so is a steamroller. You get the tone of the steamroller in the way that Will argues, friendly though he is. The purpose is to overwhelm dissent. And I want you to understand that that won't work anymore. As some of the most farsighted people in the field have grasped, the problems aren't going away. If anything, they've grown worse. We're going to have to come to grips with this, and I believe that as soon as we can get the debate open in the universities, and out on the table, the kind of evolution that Will Provine is preaching is going to collapse. Not because people like me are going to do it, but because the scientists themselves will see that they can't go on with it. Over to you.


Phil argues that evolutionary biology is in a crisis. There is no crisis whatsoever in the field of evolutionary biology with regard to the question of evolution by descent. Evolution by descent is agreed upon everywhere, among both biologists in general and certainly by evolutionary biologists in particular. You simply see no dissent there whatsoever.

But Phil conflates evolution by descent with the mechanisms of the evolutionary process. Darwin believed they were separable issues. I believe they are quite separable as well. There is very strong evidence indeed for evolution by descent. This does not mean that there is a complete fossil record. But what we can look at is the evidence we do have, and make the very reasonable conclusion that the entire process was evolution by descent, leaving aside whether it's purposeless or guided by God.

The question comes down to naturalism versus supernaturalism. I started from supernaturalism. I studied modern science, and that's what turned me into a naturalist. It's not as if I didn't fully consider the problem of supernaturalism. I clung to supernaturalism because I wanted it to be true. But in studying evolutionary biology, I found I simply couldn't hold to my belief because the evidences for naturalism were too great.

So, for me, the size of the leap of faith that is required to believe in naturalism is small. Phil tells you it's very large indeed. I guess for him it's only a small leap of faith to believe in a benevolent God who answers prayers, and who gives us all these other things. And that's just a little leap of faith! To me that's a giant leap of faith compared with believing in naturalism.

I would like to hear from this audience, on the count of three, how many of you believe all animals and plants were created by God within the last ten thousand years. All right, now from those who believe evolution occurred over very long time periods, but God guided this process. It seems, from the show of hands, that evolutionary theists are few and far between. Lastly, who in this audience believes that evolution occurred over three and one- half billion years ago by totally natural processes? The young earth creationists win that poll.

I thought I would discuss Phil's views on mechanisms of evolution, but unfortunately he said not one word about it, and if you ask him questions about it, that's exactly what you'll get in response: blank, blank, blank.

I thought Phil's critique of the California Science Museum exhibit was terrific. Only he just didn't go far enough, because many of those exhibits are much worse than he knows. I went through the one at the Royal Ontario Museum and that showed the mollusks evolving only once, and the exhibit showed a bunch of modern mollusks. Well, the mollusk expert I know the best, Arthur J. King from the University of Liverpool, claims that he's got abundant morphological evidence showing that mollusks have evolved independently at least five times around the world. So the exhibit was horrible. Shall we conclude that, because the museum exhibits are poor, evolution has not occurred? I don't think that follows.

Phil also argues that we cannot conceive of a natural process that can produce both diversity and adaptations. It seems to be clear that, indeed, natural selection can account for adaptations because Phil believes the Hawaiian Drosophila evolved through naturalistic processes. In those seven-hundred some odd species of Drosophila there are some of the most exquisite adaptations you would ever lay your eyes upon or understand. Indeed, they are jammed with adaptations. And so Phil obviously believes that natural selection can produce exquisite adaptations. The question is only whether it can do so over long periods of time. It seems to me that it's a leap of faith to believe that natural selection can, but it's a little bitty leap.

I even have faith that it's going to get light tomorrow morning. That is nothing but pure faith, but it's a little, bitty leap of faith. We have to keep in mind the sizes of leaps of faith.

Phil says that the evolutionists are uncritical. But Phil's view leads, I suppose -- he doesn't talk about it very much -- to the argument that God created the major adaptations in animals and plants. Now, how uncritical is that? A God comes down here to earth every once in a while, makes a few species of this and a few species of that -- and makes humans independently of any shared common ancestor with chimpanzees. Notice that he doesn't talk about that in his rebuttal. Maybe some of you would like to ask him that question.

As far as artificial selection is concerned, the point is that artificial selection is effective, not that it's purposeless. Over long periods of time, natural selection is sure to be more powerful than artificial selection, because it can "see" more of the organism that we ever could.

Evolutionary science is a weapon in a cultural war? I didn't know I was at war! Are we at war, Phil? That's all folks, and thank you.

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File Date: 6.02.95