Friday, May 7, 2021

Philosophical Problems with Evolution


     There are two very different mainstream paradigms that seek to explain the origin of the wide variety of plants and animals that exist on the Earth today. One of these is Darwinian evolutionary theory, which claims that most modern species arose by a combination of chance variation and natural selection operating over a long time. This theory typically goes even further, claiming that every plant and animal in existence has come from a single common ancestor. The other theory is creationism, which teaches that God brought into being “the basic kinds of plants and animals by the process of a sudden, or fiat, creation.” (Weiner 8) Lest one should be tempted to say that creationism is not mainstream, it should be remembered that “nearly half the citizens of the United States do not believe in evolution. Instead they believe that life was created by God in something like its present form, within the past ten thousand years.” (297) This paper will examine the belief worthiness of these two dramatically different theories in light of the philosophies laid down by philosopher of science Larry Laudan. Using Laudan’s influential book Progress and its Problems, in addition to the Pulitzer Prize award winning book on evolution The Beak of the Finch, this paper will demonstrate that creationism is worthy of our belief, and that chance variation and natural selection could not have created the assortment of life that exists on this planet today. 

     According to Laudan, “The first and essential acid test for any theory is whether it provides acceptable answers to interesting questions: whether, in other words, it provides satisfactory solutions to important problems.” (Laudan 13) When thinking about biology and the origin of various plants and animals, a few very important questions come to mind. What is life? Where did life come from? How did the first living thing come into existence? Has life ever come from something non-living? These important questions are not addressed by Darwinian evolutionary theory whatsoever. Over 150 years after The Origin of the Species was first published, no significant progress has been made in answering these questions. Biologists lament that they don’t even have a coherent theory of what life is, let alone where it came from. There is not even a detailed hypothesis, let alone theory, for how life came into existence by natural means from non-living material. Virtually every biology textbook starts out by saying that only life can beget life, and that living things cannot come from non-living material. They then proceed to wildly speculate about how the first living thing spontaneously came into existence, without a shred of evidence of this ever taking place anywhere in the universe at any time. Countless observations show us that life cannot come from non-life, and not a single contradictory instance has ever been observed. Nevertheless, many scientists still believe that life came into existence on Earth spontaneously from non-living material, the evidence notwithstanding. The theory of evolution does absolutely nothing to answer these important questions, but yet it is put forth as an alternative to creation, which actually does answer the questions about the origin of life. 

    Laudan further states, “In appraising the merits of theories, it is more important to ask whether they constitute adequate solutions to significant problems than it is to ask whether they are ‘true,’ ‘corroborated,’ ‘well-confirmed,’ or otherwise justifiable within the framework of contemporary epistemology.” (14) Darwinian evolutionary theory bypasses the most significant questions about the origins of the species and jumps right into seeking an explanation for variation in plants and animals over time. The fact that animals change over time is beyond question. Natural selection is certainly taking place in the wild and has been well documented. However, it is a logical leap to go from these well-established phenomena to the idea that every last organism on this planet came from a single common ancestor, which spontaneously arose from non-living material and grew ever more complex through Darwinian processes. Evolution fails to solve the most significant problems with this worldview and instead quibbles about the length of a bird’s beak. 

    This brings us to the discussion of The Beak of the Finch, a popular book that claims we can observe evolution taking place “directly, in real time.” (Weiner 8) This claim is absurd in light of the fact that Darwinian evolutionary theory purports that the rise of species comes about by a combination of chance variation and natural selection. The book uses observations of natural selection and speciation among finches on the Galápagos Islands as evidence and boldly states, “The idea that organisms evolve was transformed during the last century from conjecture to fact.” (267) The problem with this logic is that the changes taking places in the finches on the Galápagos are not due to chance variation. If they are supposedly due to chance variations, then why are they so incredibly predictable? The book gives many examples of the scientists predicting exactly which way and to what degree the changes would go and even says that “it would take about twenty selection events as intense as the drought of 1977 to turn a fortis into a magnirostris.” (271) How could such a calculation be made if the variations were random? There are plenty of examples of dog breeders who use artificial selection to create either standard poodles that weigh 45-70 pounds, or to create teacup poodles that weigh about 5 pounds and can fit in the palm of your hand. However, “there are fixed limits beyond which the descendants from common parents can never deviate from a certain type.” (26) According to the logic found in The Beak of the Finch, we should be able to breed dogs the size of houses by continuing to breed larger and larger dogs with one another. By also picking the reddest dogs, how long would it take to produce Clifford the Big Red Dog? This is ridiculous because the genetic variations that make either dogs or finches get larger or smaller are not chance variations, which is why there is an upper and lower limit on the sizes of dogs and finches. What is being observed on the Galápagos is no more “evolution” than a dog breeder making larger and smaller poodles is “evolution.” At the end of the day, a bird is a bird, and a dog is a dog, and they will never produce anything other than their own kind as offspring.

    The fact that every plant or animal produces the same kind of plant or animal as offspring presents a problem for the theory of evolution, but it presents no problem whatsoever for Biblical creationism since Genesis 1 repeatedly teaches that everything brings forth “after its own kind.” According to Laudan, “whenever an empirical problem has been solved by any theory, then thereafter [it] constitutes an anomaly for every theory in the relevant domain which does not also solve [it].” (Laudan 29) Creationism solves the problem of the origin of life and also explains why all animals can only produce their own kind. Both of these problems are anomalies for the theory of evolution. Evolutionists have plenty of evidence for one species evolving into another species, but what they cannot demonstrate or observe is one kind of animal evolving into another kind. In the Origin of the Species, Darwin writes, “I look at the term species as one arbitrarily given for the sake of convenience to a set of individuals closely resembling each other.” (Weiner 165) Just because someone arbitrarily decides that two animals are different “species,” that does not prevent them from being the same “kind” of animal. Even though there are 13 “species” of finches on the Galápagos, “Darwin’s finches can interbreed and produce fertile young.” (159) They are all the same kind of animal. “There is no difference between the largest fortis and the smallest magnirostris.” (240) “Evolving” from one “species” of animal to another does absolutely nothing to solve the problem of where the various “kinds” of animals come from since all available evidence demonstrates animals bringing forth after their own kind. Every finch on the Galápagos brings forth after its own kind. The same goes for other species of animals that are supposedly evolving. “Of the 161 species of ducks and geese in the world, 67 species have been known to hybridize…almost one out of every two species of ducks and geese has been seen to interbreed in the wild. The actual incidence is likely to be much higher.” (198) Therefore, a change from one species of duck to another does not constitute evidence for evolution from one kind to another since all of these species are clearly the same kind of animal, which is why they can mate with one another and produce offspring.

    The fact that evolutionary theory defines human beings as animals, and then proceeds to arbitrarily divide animals into species based solely on their appearances and breeding habits, presents a major conceptual problem for evolution. In Laudan’s chapter on conceptual problems, he talks about “seemingly serious arguments [being] lodged against a scientific theory because of moral or ethical worldview difficulties.” (Laudan 63) He goes on to mention that “there is a prominent group of thinkers in contemporary science and philosophy who have argued that worldview difficulties are only pseudo-problems.” (63) Laudan on the other hand makes a strong case in his book that “a conceptual problem will, in general, be a more serious one than an empirical anomaly.” (64) Conceptual problems should not be brushed aside or ignored. They should always be taken into consideration when examining the belief worthiness of a theory, and they typically have been given important consideration throughout the history of science. The moral and ethical problems generated by Darwinian evolutionary theory are one of the reasons why it should be abandoned.

    Consider the fact that animals are often assigned different species based on their color. “Tryoni has some bright yellow markings, whereas neohumeralis is plain dull brown.” (Weiner 195) Since evolutionists consider human beings to be animals, do human beings of dramatically different colors represent different species? According to the Bible, God has “made of one blood all nations of men” (Acts 17:26), and “there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek.” (Romans 10:12). However, if we apply the logic of evolutionary biology to mankind, we must conclude that human beings represent multiple species since “man varies from man more than animal from animal of different species.” (Weiner 288) The other thing that evolutionists use to divide one species from another, aside from appearance, is “sexual isolation and the maintenance of their separate identities in nature.” Yet the caveat is always that “every once in a while, a pair of them gets together anyway.” (195) Take for instance the nation of Japan which for hundreds of years maintained a very separate identity and rarely intermarried with other nations. Given their distinct appearance and sexual isolation, do they represent a different species than, for example, sub-Saharan Africans? The creationist would say, “Absolutely not,” but if we follow the reasoning of evolutionary theory to its logical conclusion, we are forced to divide human beings into multiple species at various stages of evolution. This creates a huge moral and ethical problem for evolutionism that does not exist for creationism since creationism does not teach that human beings are animals. According to the creationist viewpoint, human beings are made in the image of God, they are all of one blood, and they are all equal in the sight of God.

    Another conceptual problem for evolution in the area of morality is that if we are nothing more than evolved animals, there can be no absolute standard for right and wrong. In the animal kingdom, there is nothing wrong with killing and stealing, and there is certainly no prohibition on adultery. If we are to believe that human beings are animals that arrived on this earth as a result of “chance variation” and natural selection, then the case can easily be made that our lives have absolutely no meaning. “Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die.” (1 Corinthians 15:32) Consider the implications of teaching children such a worldview that logically leads to a nihilistic outlook. This is a major reason why evolution should not be taught in public schools, K-12. It does not benefit society to teach children that they are evolved animals with no accountability to God. Teaching natural selection and variation within kinds of animals is good science and presents no conceptual problems with regard to mankind’s status above the animal kingdom. However, teaching unscientific and unproven ideas like abiogenesis and the common ancestry of all organisms on Earth provides no valid educational benefit and only promotes an atheistic worldview that undercuts Christian morality. Tax dollars should not be used to undermine religion and advance a philosophy where science replaces God. If people want to specialize in evolutionary theory as adults and delve into unproven subjects like “astrobiology” and abiogenesis, then they have the freedom to do so. Howbeit, Darwinian evolutionary theory should not be taught as a fact to children since it is not only false, but also creates an extreme worldview difficulty with regard to morality that could be especially damaging to children.

    Aside from the serious moral problems mentioned above, there is also a major theological conceptual problem created by the theory of evolution. Laudan says, “[A] conceptual problem arises when a particular scientific theory is seen to be incompatible with, or not mutually reinforcing for, some other body of accepted, but prima facie nonscientific, beliefs.” (Laudan 61) He goes on to mention theology as an example of such a body of beliefs. Since the Bible clearly teaches that plants and animals bring forth after their own kind, and that God created each of the basic kinds of animals in the beginning, Darwinian evolutionary theory contradicts both the teachings of the Bible and the teachings of evangelical Christianity. It is not worth discarding the Bible in order to embrace the teachings of evolution, which is why the vast majority of evangelical Christians embrace creationism and reject evolution. There are far more reasons to believe the Bible than there are to believe evolution (even if these reasons are not necessarily scientific reasons), which is why so many people, when given the choice, go with the Bible. This is another reason why evolution should not be taught in public schools. If approximately half of Americans don’t believe in evolution, why should they be forced to pay for the teaching of evolution to children when it goes against their own beliefs and values? The theological conceptual problem created by evolution is considerable and should be given serious consideration, both by our schools, and by individuals. 

    According to Laudan, “The overall problem-solving effectiveness of a theory is determined by assessing the number and importance of the empirical problems which the theory solves and deducting therefrom the number and importance of the anomalies and conceptual problems which the theory generates.” (68) Evolutionary theory fails to solve important problems such as the origin of life and the origin of the first single-celled organisms. It fails to explain human consciousness and the profound metaphysical differences between human beings and animals. Meanwhile, it creates numerous serious anomalies and significant conceptual problems. This puts Darwinian evolutionary theory squarely in the negative when examined using Laudan’s formula.

    Not only is the problem-solving effectiveness of evolutionary theory lacking, but it has also failed to make sufficient progress over the last 160 or so years since the Origin of the Species was published. “Progress can occur if and only if the succession of scientific theories in any domain shows an increasing degree of problem-solving effectiveness.” (Laudan 68) Rather than improving its problem-solving effectiveness and reducing its conceptual problems and anomalies, evolution has done the reverse since it was introduced. Darwin said in the Origin of the Species, “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.” (Weiner 181) Since Darwin penned those words, it has been discovered that every cell in our bodies contains such “complex organs,” and there is to date no detailed theory or even hypothesis explaining how the extremely complex organelles of our cells came about, or how exceedingly complicated processes like cellular respiration came into existence “by numerous, successive, slight modifications” without a designer. Also, Darwin was writing before the discovery of DNA, which is an extremely complicated code, providing the blueprint for life as we know it. Today we know that even a single-celled organism is incredibly complicated, with complicated DNA, so the problem of where the first single-celled organism came from is a much bigger problem today than it was in Darwin’s day, when they were thought to be simple creatures.

     The Beak of the Finch presents a truly laughable straw man as an example of such a “complex organ” before which Darwin’s theory would “absolutely break down.” Instead of choosing the DNA of Amoeba Proteus with its 290 billion base pairs, or any number of other ultra-complex structures found at the cellular level of plants and animals, they chose the cross-billed beak. It is hard to imagine anyone actually considering that this is what Darwin had in mind. Again, Darwin said, “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.” (Weiner 181) A cross-billed beak is not complex whatsoever, but there are plenty of other things at the molecular level that are more complex than anything Darwin could have even imagined. Yet this does not stop the author of the Beak of the Finch from making the absurd statement that the crossbill “would be the kind of problem before which Darwin felt his theory would ‘absolutely break down.’” (184) In reality, the complicated nature of cellular biology, DNA, and many other such discoveries made after Darwin’s death present major problems for evolutionary theory, which are increasing, rather than decreasing with time. This represents the opposite of progress for the theory of evolution.  

    In the final analysis, creationism solves more important and significant problems than Darwinian evolutionary theory and creates less anomalies and conceptual problems in the process, so by Laudan’s logic, it is more worthy of our belief. However, I personally believe along with many other creationists that “neither evolution nor creation can be tested as a scientific theory, so believers in evolution or creation must accept either view by faith.” (8) At the end of the day, neither evolution nor creation can be empirically proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, and much of the evidence is open to interpretation. Creationism really comes down to believing the Bible, and evolution comes down to seeking an explanation for where we came from that excludes God. People will ultimately believe what they want to believe, but there is of course an absolute truth. To those of us who believe the Bible, creation is not just a “theory” or a “research tradition.” It is absolute truth simply because the Bible says, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)

Works Cited 

Laudan, L. (1978). Progress and its problems: Towards a theory of scientific growth. Berkeley: University of California Press.

The Holy Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments. (2010). London: Trinitarian Bible Society. 

Weiner, J. (2014). The beak of the finch: A story of evolution in our time. New York: Vintage Books.

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