Monday, September 1, 2008

What About Charles Darwin?

He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from the beginning to the end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

So what about that great bugbear of Evangelical Christians – Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution? Darwin made many observations of the natural world around him, but he never actually observed evolution taking place or, by way of experimentation, caused it to happen. Instead, he merely collected a great deal of circumstantial evidence that appeared to indicate a trend towards the increasing complexity of organisms with time. However, the fact that moths or finches can and do change in order to adapt to changes in their environment, or the fact that there are obvious structural similarities in a variety of apparently dissimilar organisms, does not prove that we all evolved, by chance, from some kind of protein-rich, primordial chemical soup, as a result of a bolt of lightning (or whatever).

Furthermore, after publication of Darwin's theories, nearly 100 years elapsed before scientists came up with any physical evidence that advantageous mutations could be inherited (although generally mutations are not normally passed-on (i.e. inherited)). Nevertheless, the transformation of, say, a fish into a frog is something else entirely and, apart form the fact that such an event cannot possibly be observed or repeated, it is very difficult to see how it could biologically or physiologically happen. Furthermore, if evolution must be conceived as an unguided process, as Professor Richard Dawkins conceded in his seminal book “The Blind Watchmaker”, then how can it possibly initiate or propagate any process that could lead to the eventual development of something as superbly fit for purpose as the human eye?

Despite all of this, it seems that if anyone dares to question the orthodox view (that Darwin must have been right) they are automatically branded as a crank, when in fact there are huge problems with explaining the mechanics of how any actual evolutionary process could work. Michael Denton, in his book “Evolution – A Theory in Crisis” (1986), provides just such an analysis: Here we have a well-respected microbiologist who is willing to put his head above the parapet to point out that there are immense difficulties in explaining the mechanics of any evolutionary process, Darwinian or otherwise. That being the case, it is just emotional blackmail on the part of the majority that maintains the status quo. In fact, the assumption that Darwin must have been right because we can’t come up with any sound, “scientific” alternative, is somewhat reminiscent of the Hans Christian Anderson tale of the “Emperor’s New Clothes”.

Darwin’s theory of natural selection (not evolution) starts out from the basic assumption that different species were not the result of separate acts of creation by God. This was the point on which Darwin and many others disagreed with the established Church of their time and, having decided this to be the case, they set about “proving” this to be true, by finding observable “evidence” to back up their theories. Many would say Darwin’s was one of the greatest scientific minds to ever grace the planet. However, zealous supporters - and virulent opponents alike - often seem determined not to let the facts of his life and work get in the way of what they have decided is the significance - or danger - of his observations on the workings of nature. It is therefore crucially important to see Darwin as a product of his time; a turbulent period of widespread social and economic upheaval. Adrian Desmond and James Moore did just that in an excellent biography of Darwin, published by Penguin in 1991.

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, England was comprised of a highly-structured society with a much smaller population than today. Therefore, far more than it is today, the nation’s wealth was concentrated in the hands of a very wealthy elite. Power was similarly concentrated, with property ownership being the qualification for having the vote. Despite the highly destructive efforts of King Henry VIII, the Church had remained an incredibly powerful landowner and key part of the Establishment. The Church was therefore heavily implicated in the maintenance of the status quo by those who wanted to bring about reforms. Whereas, for those who feared the consequences of the revolutionary changes and civil unrest which seemed to be happening elsewhere in the world, the Church was the last line of defence against anarchy. Therefore, in the mid-nineteenth century evolution was an idea whose time had come: Many atheist and anti-establishment figures in the scientific community pounced on Darwin’s ideas, and they rapidly became accepted as fact.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Martin, I owe you one, as you have been kind enough to contribute to my site, even if as a 'protaganist', more or less.
    My contribution, on the subject of Darwin, is supportive.
    I too, consider the accolades directed to Charles Darwin, to be, at the least, premature.
    It is late at night and I am tiring, so will limit my time and energies, perhaps to return with more later.
    Mainly, I agree that there is insufficient evidence of natural mutations explaining the development of greatly differing species.
    eg. birth systems, you know, hatching eggs/live birth. Even relatively minor human gene variations for that matter resulting in negroid, caucasian, asian characteristics.
    Or even the concept of the 'breath' or spirit of life. Not to mention our ability to feel love and compassion, (Some of us).
    Of course, my line of thought also precludes the biblical theory whereby the human race is generated from, initially, Adam and Eve, and subsequently, the family of Noah.
    Then matching genitalia, etc. How a doctor can fail to recognise a divine/design element in our physical make-up puzzles me.
    Plus the other differing characteristics of flying, bipeds, quadrupeds, together with air breathing and water dwelling plus hybrids, create more food for thought.
    Then, there is my firm belief in a spiritual nature of the animal/human world and spiritual afterlife.
    On the whole, I am critical of man's ability to truly understand much more than is obvious, and seemingly not even that in many cases.
    The Universe is way above our comprehension and we are being arrogant in assuming that we are capable of understanding much about it!
    Happy to continue this anon.
    Ken McMurtrie