THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 137, September 3, 2001
Locke Laid, Gary Gabs
The Case For Evolution
by Kevin Crady
Exclusive to TLE
In his recent article "The Scientific Case Against Evolution" (TLE #136 8/27/01), Robert Locke writes:
Though Mr. Locke is not a creationist, his article repeats certain misunderstandings of evolution that form the "scientific" basis for creationism. Foremost is confusing theories of evolution with evolution itself.
What is "Evolution?"
"Evolution" is change taking place over time in accordance with the nature of the entities involved (including their constituent parts). A theory of evolution--cosmic, biological, social, etc.--is a theory attempting to explain how certain things evolve and/or have evolved. Thus, the fall of any particular theory of evolution does not necessarily disprove "evolution" any more than an incorrect weather forecast disproves weather.
The defining characteristic of creationism is that it proposes some non-evolutionary ("supernatural") entity which is able to make other (natural) entities act contrary to their natures. Inanimate molecules cannot self-organize into any form of primitive life, the creationist claims, but a Creator, somehow, can make them do so. What is this "Creator?" Is there any way to detect its presence scientifically? If matter cannot self-organize into simple life, how can something as complex as a Cosmic Super-Designer come to be? Is there really only one Creator? Why not a dozen, or a million?
The creationist never attempts to provide a scientific answer to any of these questions. The "Creator" is their answer to all unexplained mysteries of origins, but when asked about it, the creationist leaves the domain of science for theology. This is because the "Creator" concept is inherently anti-scientific. It is an entity somehow "outside" or "beyond" Universe that is not subject to the limitations of physics.
Evolution, in the broad sense used above, is the fundamental metaphysical premise on which the scientific method is based. If entities do not exist, interact, develop--evolve--according to their nature (and that of their constituent parts), but may contravene nature if a supernatural consciousness wills it, the entire enterprise of science is invalid. Say a student is doing an experiment in chemistry to see if sodium and chlorine can be combined to form table salt. She is learning/testing a theory, that the respective charges of sodium and chlorine ions can combine into a stable molecule because of the nature of their electron shells.
Does she stop to pray to the Creator that table salt, instead of water or sulfuric acid should result? Does she worry that the Goddess of Salt may not look favorably upon her enterprise? She's been told that scientists and chemistry classes in the past have done this reaction and produced table salt. But since there is something other than the natural behavior of matter at work in Universe, she cannot know that table salt will result this time. The nature of the chemical elements involved is secondary to the will of the "Creator" and any other "supernatural" beings that are purported to exist. It doesn't matter how many times an experiment is repeated. It proves nothing, because the will of the "supernatural" could change it tomorrow, or the "successful" experiments could have been the result of a demon or other "supernatural" trickster pulling a fast one on the puny humans.
The same thing applies to evidence from the past, such as the fossil record. The fact that the bones of giant extinct reptiles are found in the rocks does not prove that such creatures actually walked the earth long ago, if the Creator (working in "mysterious ways") or some other "supernatural" being(s) are able to put them there "miraculously." Some religious creationists went so far as to suggest that the Devil made dinosaur fossils to lead people away from God. Few modern creationists would make this claim, but given their metaphysical premises, they cannot rule it out.
Thus, it is impossible to substantiate creationism with scientific evidence. If such evidence existed, it would only show that scientific evidence is invalid as a basis for any claim. At best, it is secondary to the will of "supernatural" beings. This is why Biblically-oriented "scientific" creationists consider the book of Genesis superior to any and all scientific data, and cite it in their technical papers (see the Creation Science Research Quarterly for examples).
The Deists of the Enlightenment era tried to reconcile creationism with science by claiming that the Creator was a non-interventionist, so that apart from the actual creation event, Universe evolved naturally. The assertion that the Creator does not and will never intervene in the ordinary workings of Universe cannot be validated any more than can the presupposition that we're dealing with "the" Creator instead of a pantheon. The Deist Creator was little more than a plug for a gap in the scientific knowledge of the 18th century. The same is true of the Creator in modern anti-evolutionist thought.
The God of the Gaps
Look at the various "evidences" offered in favor of creationism. None of them constitute any actual data, experiments, observations or even mathematical models that provide positive evidence for the existence of one or more Creators or its/their miraculous acts. All creationists have to offer are various scientific mysteries: polonium haloes, "gaps" in the fossil record, the life cycle of Monarch butterflies, the fact than no one can explain how the very first life evolved (yet), etc. One or more of these may be sufficient to topple all current evolutionary theories, but they do nothing to substantiate belief in creationism. Why? Consider the following dialogue:
CREATIONIST: Mr. Scientist, the latest discoveries in molecular biology show that biological systems have "irreducible complexity" that is of such a high order that it could never have originated naturally. The most primitive bacteria, even its basic components are too complex to have come together by chance from nonliving molecules.
SCIENTIST: Never? Even if current evolutionary theories can't explain abiogenesis, that doesn't mean that no theory ever will. To know that requires omniscience.
CREATIONIST: Well, can you explain it then?
SCIENTIST: No, but important building blocks of life can self-assemble, such as amino acids and lipid barriers--
CREATIONIST: So you admit it then! Evolutionists can't explain how life began!
SCIENTIST: Well, I'd say that evolutionists can't explain how life began yet. Do you have an explanation?
CREATIONIST: Of course! Fairies! They created the first life with magic. They also made all the different species.
SCIENTIST: Can you tell me anything about these "fairies" of yours, how we might try to detect them, or offer any positive evidence for their existence?
CREATIONIST: Evidence? What more do you need? Look at the complexity of single-celled organisms! Look at the metamorphosis of the Monarch butterfly! Things like that couldn't just happen, so fairies have to exist!
It should be obvious from this that "fairies" and "magic" do not constitute an explanation for any mystery. Neither do "the Creator" and "miracles." Instead, these represent a choice not to seek or offer an explanation. Once it is decided that fairies (or the Lord God Jehovah) are "the explanation" for some phenomenon, further inquiry is cut off. 300 years ago, lightning was an "unexplainable mystery" which "proved" that Jehovah reigned in Heaven, and He was packing heat. The "supernatural" becomes a catch-all that supposedly "fills in" gaps in understanding--but actually blocks them off from continued examination and eventual explanation.
Let's look at some of the mysteries Mr. Locke proposes:
The Fossil Record
Locke mistakes a particular theory of evolution, one that claims evolutionary transitions are "infinitesimal," with evolution itself. He cites an evolutionist with a different theory--who is using these "gaps" as evidence for his evolutionary theory--as if they refuted all evolutionary theories. This is comparable to citing a Christian's rejection of a particular mechanism of creation, say, Allah or the ancient Egyptian ennead--and saying his arguments refuted all religion, including Christianity.
Gould is not quoted directly, nor is the reference given. The implication is that paleontologists are keeping the proof of creationism in the fossil record as a "trade secret." If so, why would Gould--an evolutionist himself--expose the nefarious deeds of his fellow-conspirators without at least becoming a creationist himself? Would some Air Force colonel drag out the alien bodies and flying saucer parts hidden in Area 51, claim that the government was keeping the existence of UFO's a "trade secret"--and still deny their existence himself? It seems probable to me that Locke or his source is taking Gould out of context.
But what about the gaps between species in the fossil record? "Species" is part of a human classification system, not nature itself. The map is not the territory. When a paleontologist finds a fossil, she has to classify it. She can either classify it as a specimen of a known species, or as a specimen of a newly-discovered species. The classification system--which pre-dates evolutionary theory--offers no other options.
The more closely-related fossil animals are to each other, the more difficult it is to classify them--but they are classified, even if debate is contentious. Example: Neandertal man: are they a different species, Homo neandertalensis, or a part of our species, Homo sapiens neandertalensis? Debate continues.
The difficulty of pointing out an "infinitesimal" evolutionary transition, even when you're looking right at it, is obvious when the variability within a species is considered. Imagine an alien paleontologist excavating Earth 60 million years from now. He has found the fossilized skeletons of a Chihuahua and a Great Dane. He can tell from the similarities in their structures that they're related. But are they one species, or two? Since both are long extinct, he has no way of knowing whether they could genetically interbreed or not (leaving aside the physical challenges!), and nothing about their behavior except what he can deduce from their bones.
By all appearances, they're separate species that "must" have taken hundreds of thousands of years--if not millions--to diverge from their common ancestor, the wolf. But where are the transitional forms, the infinitesimal transitions leading from the wolf to each new "species" over time? From our perspective, knowing that Great Danes, Chihuahuas, and wolves can (in genetic terms) interbreed and produce fertile offspring, we classify the two breeds of dog as one "species," Canis domesticus, and the wolves as another, Canis lupus. If we chose to give genetic compatibility preference over behavior, we could just as easily class all three as one species. Or, using morphology as the primary criterion, we could agree with the alien and class them as three separate species. The concept of "species" is an arbitrary human classification, not a fact of nature that evolution must bridge.
As another example, consider the fact that a number of paleontologists classify birds as surviving dinosaurs. The morphological similarity of many bipedal dinosaurs to birds so close that one species' Latin name means "Ostrich mimic." Archaeopteryx has well-developed feathers, wings, a robust wishbone--and a bony tail, teeth, and reptilian claws on its wings. Other newly-discovered dinosaurs also had more primitive feathers, such as the feathery crests on a new species of raptor. If these don't represent the kind of "transitions" we're supposed to be looking for, what does?
Any "infinitesimal" change would simply be lumped in as an example of variation within the old species, while a non-infinitesimal change would be classed as a new species.
What does the fossil record show? Since Locke's article makes no claim that geology is fundamentally wrong in its dating scheme, and distances himself and his sources (Denton and Bethe) from religion, I will not address "young Earth" claims. So far as I can tell, Locke and his sources do not argue for biblical "Flood geology" or anything like it.
So, we can agree that the fossil record shows a wide variety of organisms changing over time, from pre-Cambrian and Cambrian sea life to dinosaurs, to Pliestocene mammals, to the occumpants of the present biosphere. In a word: evolution.
Theistic evolutionists, and perhaps Locke and his sources, might propose that Jehovah, fairies, or some "other causes" (to use Owen's words, as cited by Locke) came along and magically made each new species appear over the last 3 billion years. Not only does this fall under "God of the gaps" theory, it leaves the question of why supernatural beings with the ability to create new species by miraculous power (or space aliens with genetic engineering, if "supernatural" concepts are to be avoided) would spend over 3 billion years doing it a species at a time instead of creating a full biosphere with sapient life (assuming something like humans was a goal of theirs) within a more efficient time-scale.
Ironically, one of the best examples of smooth, gradual transition occurs where the creationists want to see it least: the evolution of humans from primate ancestors. Starting with the australopithecines, there is a smooth gradiation of brain-size through the hominids all the way to modern humans. The variability-range of cranial capacity in each species blends into the variability-range of the next.
Since the concept of "species" and the whole classification system is a product of the human mind and not "raw biological data," it's no surprise that a computer would not come to the same conclusions, any more than an astronomical computer would be expected to recognize the same "constellations" we do from "raw astronomical data" alone. If it did, that would show that the computer had the same kind of pattern-recognition systems humans have and might be an indicator that it's an intelligent machine!
Though this process is not described thoroughly, it seems that something very important was left out: the time sequence. Without a time sequence (the sequence of different creatures' appearance in the fossil record), along with things like the location of the fossil finds, the context of other species found with them, etc., no one--computer or human--could work out a proper evolutionary sequence.
While it's tempting to think of computers as perfectly-objective, super-intelligent analysts, they're not. They can process mathematical data with blinding speed, but they're only as good as the data and processing-instructions humans enter into them. When asked to do things they're incapable of--such as recognize patterns and make inferences from data--they're much worse. A computer could not trace the evolution of art or literature (especially without time references--how's it to know whether Michelangelo or Gauguin comes first, or were contemporaries in different countries?), much less place a jaw fragment and a couple ribs on an evolutionary tree.
Computer intelligence is still very rudimentary, which is why they're scientific tools, and not scientists. Aside from mathematical calculation, computers have yet to match the intellect of a housefly.
Constructing evolutionary trees is not simple or unambiguous, nor to my knowledge do those who construct them claim otherwise. High school textbooks and other popular accounts may present evolutionary trees as unquestionable, neatly buttoned-up facts, but that is a flaw in those books (presenting science as if it were a set of "facts" to memorize and get right on a test instead of an ongoing process of discovery), not a cover-up on the part of paleontologists.
Constructing evolutionary trees requires combining a careful study of skeletal morphology (often using fragments rather than pristine, complete skeletons of individual organisms), patterns of wear (microscopic marks on teeth that indicate what an organism ate), a number of independent radiometric dating systems, stratiographic sequences (how fossils change from older to younger sedimentary layers they're found in), etc.. Add to this the above-mentioned difficulties with classification, and the fact that little direct knowledge of soft tissues (organs, skin, coloration, etc.) and behavior and physiology is available. Example: the debate over whether dinosaurs were warm-blooded or not.
Where is it written that all of an animal's features must evolve at the same time at the same rate? So far as I know, no evolutionist claims that a transition from fish to amphibians must evolve its lungs, legs, skin, eggs, skeleton, etc. simultaneously like a computer "morph." This is a straw man. To the contrary, it's far more likely that the various traits would evolve at different times and at different rates. The demand that some organs be in an "indeterminate" state is subjective. What is an "indeterminate" state? Does the lungfish's air bladder, which gives it a limited ability to metabolize oxygen from air count as an "indeterminate" lung, or is it defined as a fully-functional air bladder?
Ask an ostrich. Or a kiwi bird. Or a "flying" squirrel.
The key word here is "known." Recent discoveries have shown that life can thrive in environments hitherto considered uninhabitable, such as hydrologic vents and even deep within the Earth's crust. The proper conditions for the self-organization of the first life from non-living chemicals may well be something we hadn't even considered before.
Our knowledge of the processes of life has increased exponentially since Darwin's day. To expect that his theories should not become at least as obsolete as the physics and cosmology of his day is to demand that he be an infallible prophet, not a scientist. Or, perhaps Einstein should have declared that celestial mechanics has been refuted by the precession of Mercury's orbit and proposed that angels are necessary to keep the planets in their orbits, since Newton's equations did not answer all questions.
An implicit premise behind creationist critiques of evolution is that magic is a viable hypothesis until every stage of life's evolution clear-cut and certain, with every infinitesimal step unambiguously documented in the fossil record. If evolutionists come to the table with any kind of tentative "this is what works best with the data we have" theory, their inability to state All The Answers with dogmatic certainty is taken as proof that they don't know what they're talking about, that miracles are the only explanation--while any hint of certainty on their part is proof that they're closed-minded dogmatists. Evolutionists can't win either way.
Yet another straw man. In terms of construction materials, a passenger jet is more closely related to a soda can than to the Wright Flyer. Does this prove that passenger jets do not represent an evolutionary development from the Wright Flyer? In terms of fuel, the passenger jet is closer to a kerosene lantern than a glider. In terms of purpose, a Stealth bomber is closer to a cannon than a passenger jet. Does this mean that an "evolutionary tree" of aircraft that does not include soda cans, cannons, and kerosene lanterns is invalid?
It is not any particular protein or hemoglobin that is the harbinger of evolutionary relationships. DNA--the medium of evolutionary information--is the key, and it provides clear (and even clockable) patterns of evolutionary relationships. In the same way, the "family tree" of aircraft is found in the system of information transmission and alteration--the blueprints--not in construction materials, fuels, cargo, etc.
In reference to the hemoglobin sequence mentioned above, it obviously works for humans, lampreys, and fish--why should it change just because humans evolved hands instead of fins? If anything, the fact that all three share the same hemoglobin sequences suggests a common origin. A Creator--especially one who wanted people to accept creation--could have just as easily seen to it that no biochemical links existed between such divergent species.
Since Mr. Locke has spent the rest of this article offering a "Case Against Evolution," I'd expect him to disagree with Popper. If evolutionary theories were unfalsifiable, no "case against" them could be created. Evolution, even in the broadest sense (change over time according to the nature of the entities involved and their constituent parts) can be falsified. All it takes is the discovery of one or more beings capable of filling the role of "Creator(s)." The discovery of one or more beings able to make a Universe out of nothing (1) and fashion life by magic would falsify not only biological evolution, but all of science, including physics. Conservation of energy and matter? Not with ex nihilo creation. Entropy? I've never heard of a creationist who suggested that the Creator(s) had to contend with inevitable dissipation of its/their energy, much less aging and death. Compared to creation, such alleged feats as walking on water and stopping the Earth's rotation so a gang of Bronze-Age savages can continue a slaughter uninterrupted by nightfall (Joshua's "long day") are child's play. Conservation, entropy, surface-tension/bouyancy, inertia, conservation of angular momentum--basic physics all, and all falsified by the existence of a Creator able to flout them at will. Locke, Denton, and Bethe are not Fundamentalist creationists, and they would (probably) deny or be skeptical of the validity of biblical miracles. But the fact that they believe in at least one entity capable of biblical miracles means that the above claim is still valid. Physics only appears to provide a means to understand how matter behaves because the Creator(s) have decided not to let men walk on water and ladies fly around on brooms--for now.
Either Universe and everything in it, from atoms to galaxies and beyond, behaves according to its nature (2), or the will of one or more "supernatural" consciousnesses is supreme. It's one or the other. This is a question of metaphysics, which must be answered before any scientific evidence can be analyzed. The answer to this question determines whether or not science (as opposed to communication with the Supreme Consciousness[es], such as prayer, divination, revelation, etc.) is a valid means of acquiring knowledge.
How does one answer this question? By means of the irreducible, inescapable, self-evident axioms that cannot be denied because even the denial assumes them:
Existence exists. There is something, as opposed to nothing. Even the claim that nothing exists and "it's all an illusion" relies on the assumption that both the claimant and her audience exist.
A thing is itself. Any entity, from a sub-atomic particle to Universe itself has a specific nature that makes it what it is as opposed to something else, and determines the possible range of its behavior. Even the quirkiest quantum-mechanical attributes are definite, mathematically-quantifiable patterns of behavior, no matter how odd they may seem to the human mind.
Consciousness exists, being a faculty of perception of Existence. To be conscious is to be conscious of something. A consciousness conscious only of itself is a contradiction in terms, a vaccum filled with vaccuum. To perceive or think, a consciousness must have something to perceive or think about.
Denials of the existence of consciousness cannot be made without assuming the existence of consciousness. The person who says "'Consciouness' is just a deterministic function of conditioning," and wants you to agree assumes you're both able to perceive her argument and choose to accept it. If you did not have reliable means of perception (the hyper-skeptic "how do you know it's not all a hallucination" position), you can't be counted on to recieve and interpret the argument she's transmitting to you. If you did not have volition, you would become a determinist, or not, as your conditioning (or whatever the determinist mechanism is) warrants. The presentation of arguments presumably intended to be persuasive is irrelevant.
From these two axioms, Existence and Identity, evolution (in the broad sense I've used here) may be derived as a corollary. Specific theories of evolution may or may not be valid, but evolution itself is logically and perceptually self-evident.
The third axiom, Consciouness, refutes the idea of a "Creator" defined as a consciousness outside of the rest of Existence that miraculously created the rest of Existence. Consciousness, by definition, is perception of something outside itself. Prior to "creation," a "Creator" would have no way of concieving of a Universe, never having seen one, or anything else like one (or anything else at all). Not to mention that it has no place to be previous to its creation of places.
There are some attempts to prove a Creator or something roughly equivalent that is not "supernatural" (hence, a part of Universe and subject to physics and not a self-contradictory consciousness-outside-existence), such as the Omega Point theory and the Strong Anthropic Principle. Theories such as these do not invalidate science, and may be addressed by appeal to scientific evidence for and against. Since the "Creator" (or unconscious equivalent like the SAP) in such theories is itself a natural entity available (at least in principle) to scientific study/falsification, it is (using the broad sense) a mechanism of evolution--another entity or property of Universe behaving according to its nature. That is, it belongs in the same category with natural selection and humans (as selective breeders/genetic engineers of animals), not with "The Lord Jehovah God Almighty."
1. The notion that this occured (with or without a Creator) is one reason I do not accept the Big Bang theory.
2. Perhaps you've noticed that I do not use the phrase "natural law." That phrase carries a connotation that things behave the way they do because of some kind of cosmic legislation, i.e. the will of the Creator/Natural Lawmaker. I doubt that bowling balls choose not to hatch dinosaurs or sing opera because they'd get a ticket if they did.