While by no means am I an expert in the topic of evolution, I daresay I know enough to be able to analyze evidence critically and without bias. While I am generally of the opinion that evolution is more correct than the theory of creation, I would not wholeheartedly throw myself behind it. Evolution, like any scientific theory, has flaws that may ultimately prove it to be wrong or at least partially incorrect. Scientists who read Darwin today (2011) may be inspired, but they would hardly consider him a textbook authority.
I found the book Darwin, Evolution, and Creation and it immediately sparked my interest. While the material is clearly dated, being written in 1959 on the centennial of Darwin’s big break, the book was a critique of Darwin and a defense of creation from the point of view of college professors, some with a degree in science. While it is one thing for a Baptist minister to declare Darwin evil, it is an entirely different matter for a PhD in biology to say that Darwin was wrong. So, I would like to go over some of the topics discussed in the book.
The Fossil Record and Missing Links
Wilbert Rusch, professor of science, claims, “If 25 new orders were evolved during the early Tertiary Period, one would expect to find a multiplicity of intermediate, transitional forms. Instead not a single transitional fossil has been found.” [Zimmerman: 32] This is a well-known criticism of evolution and one that scientists get asked all the time. And frankly, I think it is a legitimate question. Without the missing links, it is hard to say with any certainly how one species transformed into another.
I would say on the other side, though, that missing links do not automatically suggest creation. If we accept the dating of fossils rather than the thesis that “the devil put them there to fool us”, we are still left with the clear image of time — dinosaur bones once existed, but we have no dinosaurs today. Human bones do not exist before a certain time period, yet humans exist today. To accept a creation view, we might have to say that God (or whoever) created multiple times over, because clearly people were created long after dinosaurs died out. If we deny that, we are left with only one solution — that new species somehow came from old ones.
Rusch struck me right off the bat as having a simple view of Darwin’s thought, as he defines evolution as “the development of the more complex forms of life from the simpler”. [Zimmerman: 6] I should not be too hard on him, because I think many (most?) people think of “evolve” as moving forward to a more complex stage, but that is not what the word means. It simply implies change. The evolution of snakes or whales took more complex forms and simplified them, but we would not deny this is evolution.
Stephen J. Gould once remarked that linking “evolution” and “progress” was “the worst kind of anthropocentric bias.” [Gould 1977: 37] He would later clarify, “Natural selection talks only about ‘adaptation to changing local environments’; the scenario includes no statement whatever about progress — nor could any such claim be advanced from the principle of natural selection.” [Gould 1996: 139]
John W. Klotz, professor of biology, argues that similarities do not mean that animals descended from a common ancestor. “Brothers and sisters are usually marked by family resemblances. Yet the reverse — that two individuals who resemble one another closely must belong to the same family — is not true.” [Zimmerman: 108] Klotz is much more logical than Rusch and I have to give him credit for good points. A platypus may lay eggs and have a “duck bill”, but it is not related to ducks or any other birds. I think with modern genetic tests, it is easier to decide the closeness of animal species, but he still has a good point.
Regarding the fossil record, Klotz says “the evidence is not as overwhelming and as compelling as it first appears.” [Zimmerman: 118] He points to the great variety within one species. “If we did not know the dog as a modern form, if we knew it only from the fossilized skeletons of the various varieties, it is quite likely that we would conclude that we were dealing with a number of separate species.” [Zimmerman: 120] This, too, is a valid point. A chihuahua skeleton looks very little like a Saint Bernard or Great Dane skeleton, yet these are the same creature. Is it possible that miniature horse fossils are just a strange breed of modern horse and not a different species? Perhaps.
Regarding the connection between man and ape, Klotz claims “there are at least 50 differences between man and the anthropoids.” [Zimmerman: 128] What can I say about this? Simply that, if true (and I suspect it is), there are many, many phases of evolution that need to be accounted for. Absence of evidence does not mean evidence of absence, but it does create reasonable doubt and any attempt by science to answer these questions and fill these holes (even with theory rather than solid fossils) would be a step in the right direction.
The Days of Genesis
Paul Zimmerman, president of Concordia Teachers College, puts his focus on the issue of time in the Bible. He first points out the connection between time and evolution, by quoting William S. Beck as saying in 1957, “When the time scale is large enough, the improbable becomes the inevitable.” Zimmerman finds such statements “increasingly revolting to reason”. [Zimmerman: 85] He also quotes Dr. Leo Koch as saying the same year, “the highly improbable occurs regularly and indeed is inevitable.” Did Koch reference Beck, or the reverse, or did they have a common source? That really is outside the scope here. What does matter is how Zimmerman deals with the issue of time.
While Zimmerman accepts the “days” of Genesis as seven literal days, he concludes, “The Bible does not give us sufficient information to date the time of creation and the age of the earth.” [Zimmerman: 165] Out of context, this may sound like a denouncement of the Bible, but in fact Zimmerman’s position is the opposite. He finds that there are ways to interpret the Bible that are still literal but allow for the Earth to be older than 6000 years. For example, the genealogies may be missing less important generations. If this is so, Zimmerman’s point is that the scientific attack on Biblical literalism fails because the Bible can stand firm if interpreted correctly. But is this so?
The tradition 6000 years can only be expanded so far. Being generous, let us say 10,000 years. That still puts us in a quandary. Did all of history happen in 10,000 years? The creation of the universe, the rise and fall of the Neanderthals, all of human civilization? This seems quite unlikely to me. Even if the Bible were literally true and everything was created in one week, some pesky issues remain — how did the tribes of South America get there? I suppose one could say they were scattered there after the Tower of Babel collapsed. But evidence seems pretty strong that American Indians came across the Bering Strait and walked to their destination… and to walk from Africa to Peru in 10,000 years and build a civilization seems improbable — especially if we have to deny the “land bridge” of the Ice Age. Evolution has its mysteries, but the literal Biblical interpretation creates its own share, too, with more speculation than science to back it up.
What About Noah’s Ark?
Raymond Surburg, professor of theology, says, “Scientists today list approximately 8,500 species of birds and 14,500 species of mammals. There are 12 species of caribou in North America alone. If ‘kind’ is equivalent to our modern term ‘species,’ it is difficult to conceive of Noah carrying out this Herculean task.” [Zimmerman: 67] Where these numbers come from, I am unclear — I only account for 9 species of caribou. But his point is still important and valid and other examples exist — including a fish called the cichlid, which has 500 species in Africa’s Lake Victoria alone (and maybe 3000 species in total)! [Kranich: 28] What Surburg is referring to is the story in Genesis where Noah brought two of each “kind” of animal on to the ark to survive the flood. Surburg suggests that “kind” could not equal “species” because there is no possible way that many species fit on the boat.
But this does not solve the problem — it creates a new one. We can agree that Noah could not have brought all animals. But if he brought only “kinds”, then the “kinds” had to divide into “species” after the flood. This seems even more doubtful. Those who accept creation do not think species can evolve after millions of years. Why would they accept that many new species would arise in a mere 4000 years (the time since the flood)? If animals evolved that quickly, we would see many more new creatures all the time!
The flood story has had a number of problems whether or not we even get into the issue of species versus kinds. We can ask, where did the water come from? Where did the water go? How did entire civilization pop up so quickly after the flood (by the time Moses got to Egypt, it was quite heavily populated)? How did the animals get dispersed around the world? Apparently Noah was kind enough after landing on Mount Ararat to build a new boat and take the marsupials to Australia, penguins to Antarctica, polar bears to Greenland…
Threat to the New Testament
Rusch says, “Since the New Testament subscribes to the account of the Creation as well as the Flood, relegating these happenings to the mythological also weakens and removes the effectiveness of the whole New Testament.” [Zimmerman: 35] This is an important point that I think many Christians overlook or do not deal with.
The Roman Catholic Church has come out in favor of the theory of evolution (as well as ideas such as the Big Bang). What does this do for the theology, though? If the point of baptism is to get rid of “original sin”, why be baptized? Without an Adam, the idea of original sin means very little. Likewise, Jesus was said to take away the sins of the world upon his death, and belief in him would do the same for us. But what sins? And what about the genealogies of the Bible that trace Jesus back to Adam? Are they fabricated? If yes, can we even say Jesus was descended from David?
Non-Christians may not need to be too concerned about this, but Christians who accept the Gospels but deny the Old Testament are in a bit of pickle. And with the belief of evolution, the Old Testament must be said to be at least partially a myth.
The Influence of Darwin
Surburg also makes a point of stressing how Darwin’s work has led to some terrible things. He devotes an entire chapter to the influence of evolution on various disciplines. I will cover some of these, but one thing should be made clear — even if every single thing that was influenced by Darwin is a bad thing (which it is not), that does not mean that the theory of evolution is false. I might hate getting vaccinated, but that does not affect the truth of whether or not vaccines work.
Surburg believes the “naturalism” of Darwin is related to the “erroneous philosophies” of positivism, pragmatism, materialism and socialism. [Zimmerman: 182] He later reiterates that “evolutionism has allied itself with such antitheistic systems as atheism, materialism, agnosticism, skepticism, pragmatism, naturalism, and secularism.” [Zimmerman: 202] There is a lot to take in here, but I think the one thing to point out is the idea of guilt by association. Do materialists and socialists accept evolution? For the most part, probably. But I think that many or most dualists and capitalists accept evolution, too. There is no direct link from Darwin to any of these other “erroneous philosophies” (some of which I think are quite useful, and not erroneous whatsoever).
This is not to say that the theory of evolution did not affect philosophy. In fact, for example, it gave a boost to nominalism and a blow to Platonism. For evolution and Platonism to coexist, either evolution “has to proceed in steps and jumps” or the Platonic forms must be infinite — encompassing every possible variation and species. [Mayr 1976: 27] Of course, some Platonists may not mind infinite forms (if each number is a form, they must be infinite) but it sure creates a crowded ontology!
Surburg believes that Freud is the successor of Darwin, because the belief that the “sex drive” constitutes “the primary factor in all emotional life” is built from the idea that “man is nothing more than a higher type of animal”. [Zimmerman: 185-186] Freud would then go on to influence “students in sociology, anthropology, biography, literature, ethics, history, and religion.” [Zimmerman: 186] I do not know enough about Freud to say how Darwin influenced him, but this may be a fair point. The “detrimental” effect of Darwinism on psychology has also “eliminated the Christian doctrine of the dualism of a body and a soul.” [Zimmerman: 203] This is most certainly true. While many people distinguish between the mind and the soul, those who do not are in an awkward position — the mind is now often thought of as little more than electrical impulses in the brain, a physical object. Psychology is more a study of behavior than of thoughts.
Surburg sees “evolutionary Darwinism” influencing “the development of Marxian socialism and its materialistic philosophy of history.” [Zimmerman: 194] This charge is debatable. The argument could be made that Marxists were influenced by Darwin, which could be quite true. But Surburg quotes Marx himself, which seems less realistic. Was Marx familiar with Darwin’s work? I would certainly think so. But Marx had already published The Communist Manifesto in 1848, 11 years before Darwin’s groundbreaking book. And socialism existed before Marx arrived on the scene. Later material from Marx may have been influenced by Darwin, but the foundation of his ideas was already quite strong.
But Surburg’s lowest blow comes when he says, “Few people realize that Hitler, in bringing about World War II, merely put into practice what he believed was human evolution.” [Zimmerman: 196] The implication is clearly that Darwinism is evil and leads to world war. What a grotesque leap of logic! The fault lies in Hitler’s application and false belief, not the theory itself. As anyone who believes in Christianity would surely argue, the fault of the Crusades and the Inquisition and the many other horrible acts committed by the Church in the name of God were the fault of the people who committed the crimes and not their source material. If Surburg blames World War II and the Holocaust on Darwin, he may as well blame millions of other senseless murders on God and Jesus Christ.
He later says, in a less direct way, that Darwinism has led to “the fostering of the belief in racial superiority as well as to the condoning of militarism as a legitimate way of aiding the process of evolution.” [Zimmerman: 204] This is just as much nonsense as his Hitler claim. Did racism not exist before Darwin? Did the whites not seek to imprison the blacks and to eradicate the “red” American Indians by military means? In the Bible, did the Israelites not see themselves as a “chosen people” and therefore superior to all non-Israelites? Even if racists have used the mantle of Darwin to rally against other peoples, the root of racism is in the weakness of the human spirit and heart, not in the teachings of a dead biologist.
Lastly, Surburg says the effect of Darwin on religion between 1859 and 1959 “has been baneful.” [Zimmerman: 201] To clarify, “Evolution has contributed to the spawning of a type of religion that emasculated the distinctive character of Christianity, attempting to dethrone Christ and remove Him as the world’s only Redeemer.” [Zimmerman: 202] I am in strong agreement here. While I do not know that the effects have been “baneful”, it is certainly true that being a Christian today is not what it once was. The idea now seems to be more than one need only be a “good person” rather than devout believer. Surburg and I dislike the water-downed Christianity for different reasons, but we most certainly agree that today’s Christians could not have survived a century ago.
One does not have to be a Christian to have quarrels with Darwin. Any 150-year old theory is going to have some aspects that do not stand on firm ground. But perhaps even right away, Darwin’s “explanation of evolution” was not “satisfying”, as Ernst-Michael Kranich says. [Kranich: 3] To accept it, one would have to “sacrifice their intellect and overlook basic difficulties.” [Kranich: 31] Evolution was surely correct, but Darwin’s version may have been wrong! Kranich disagrees with Darwin’s view that an “organism is simply an aggregate of individual features” rather than accepting an “inner lawfulness” that is “the very essence of living things.” [Kranich: 4] For example, Darwin is known for his finches and their bills (an individual feature). Kranich would stress that a change in one part must result in a change of the animal as a whole. A giraffe that develops a long neck cannot simply have a long neck — the legs must adapt to support such a structure!
Darwin believed “species of plants and animals ought to undergo a gradual and continuous transformation by ever new variations through eons of the earth’s history.” [Kranich: 24] However, Stephen J. Gould, one of the biggest names in evolution, favored the idea of “punctualism” over “gradualism”, meaning that evolution happens in spurts and long periods of no change. Gould is probably right, or at least it is fair to say that the fossil record closer matches his view than Darwin’s. [Schlopf 1972]
Evolution is sometimes thought of as happening by chance or accident. G. G. Simpson, an equine biologist, rejects this, saying, “The evidence of the horses thus indicates that evolution is not strictly oriented or guided and not strictly random, but that it is a mixture of the two.” [Simpson: 207] He is not necessarily suggesting a creator, but indeed one must accept that there is a push by nature for organisms to go in a certain direction. Is evolution a determinist creed? That is something for another debate.
The Future of Humanity
We might speculate on the future of human evolution. Have we slowed it down? Are we speeding it up?
I have terrible vision. In a prehistoric time, I would have died at an early age and not had children. But today I can get corrective surgery and pass my bad genes on to my kids. Does this make us worse off as a species? Traits that should get phased out are passed on!
And what of genetic engineering? While a taboo subject (because it calls to mind Nazi eugenics) we could, in theory, weed out the gene for bad eyes (or anything else) we wanted… we could push humans to a better quality of existence. Is this true evolution if it is not naturally selected?
These are questions for the philosophers to mull over.
Beck, William S. Modern Science and the Nature of Life
New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1957.
Gould, Stephen J. Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History New York, 1977.
Gould, Stephen J. Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin New York, 1996.
Jones, Steve. Darwin’s Ghost: The Origin of Species Updated Ballantine, 2000.
Koch, Leo. “Vitalistic-Mechanistic Controversy,” Scientific Monthly, LXXXV (November 1957), 250.
Kranich, Ernst-Michael. Thinking Beyond Darwin: The Idea of the Type As a Key to Vertebrate Evolution Lindisfarne Books, 1999.
Mayr, Ernst. “Typological versus Population Thinking”, in Evolution and the Diversity of Life: Selected Essays, Cambridge, Mass./London 1976.
Schlopf, T. M. H., ed. Models of Palaeontology, San Francisco 1972.
Simpson, George Gaylord. Horses: The Story of the Horse Family in the Modern World and through Sixty Million Years of History New York, 1951.
Zimmerman, Paul A., ed. Darwin, Evolution and Creation Concordia Publishing House, 1959