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Saturday, October 15, 2005

Thoughts About Evolution

To hear people from the "mainstream" scientific community and the liberal press, one would think that anyone who questions evolutionary theory must be a complete idiot. Well, my I.Q. was tested a number of years ago, and my score was 140. That isn't high enough for me to qualify as a genius, but it's hardly the I.Q. of an idiot, either.

I went to public schools where I was indoctrinated with the view that evolution was a proven "fact", and where contrary views were generally dismissed or ignored. Nevertheless, I find evolutionary theory to be lacking in credibility.

Evolutionary theory is historically associated with the term "survival of the fittest". We are told that evolving from one species to another was nature's way of adapting to change which was so extreme that pre-evolutionary life forms could not have survived without evolving. That begs the following question: If apes needed to evolve into human beings in order to survive, why is it that the apes seem to have survived even to the present day? If they were so "unfit" that they needed to evolve into human beings in order to survive, then shouldn't chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas logically be extinct? Clearly, evolution was not necessary for their survival.

We are told that the long neck of the modern giraffe was an evolutionary response to the fact that vegetation was increasingly scarce, and giraffes needed their long necks in order to be able to reach the branches of the tallest trees. That is ludicrous. Anyone who has observed the complex ecosystem present in modern Africa can see that there are plenty of other species there (such as various antelopes which subsist on low-lying vegetation) which have managed to survive quite nicely without the benefit of such long necks.

Moreover, even if a particular species proved to be truly unfit for its environment, one cannot help but be struck by the realization that genetic evolution is a mighty extreme response to a changing environment, given the fact that other responses, such as migration to more hospitable climates, would make much more sense. Unlike evolution, migration is a recurring natural phenomenon which can be easily observed, year in and year out.

Even if the Galapagos Islands where Darwin first conceived of evolution was so isolated that migration would have been impossible for the species living on that island, it does not follow that it wasn't an option for animal species living on larger continents. Yet Darwin and his followers essentially claimed that evolution occurred in all parts of the world, not just on that remote island.

No rational person would dispute the existence of the fossil evidence cited by proponents of evolutionary theory. But it does not follow from the fact that that evidence exists that a particular interpretation of its significance is correct. Were those scientists actually present, millions of years ago, to witness the evolution from one species to another? No. The most they can do is to engage in speculation about how and why the physical evidence came to be. It may be informed speculation, but it is speculation nevertheless; and while it may be considered plausible by some, it does not follow from the fact that something is plausible that it is indisputably true. It is seldom if ever the case that there is only one plausible explanation for a given piece of evidence.

If scientists were to discover the bones of an animal which looked as if it might be a “missing link” between ape and man, would it automatically follow that it was in fact a missing link? No. It might very well be a completely separate species --- created ex nihilo by God --- which subsequently became extinct.

Evolution cannot be replicated in a laboratory, and in fact, no scientist has ever produced conclusive proof that one species has ever evolved into another species. Genetic mutation, often cited by Darwin in connection with certain moths which mutated over a period of time, is not tantamount to evolution.

Ask yourself: Why is it so important for public school students to accept evolution as fact? How would a failure to do so handicap them in terms of their ability to accomplish things in life?

We know, of course, that certain sciences have numerous practical applications. For example, a person who refuses to accept existing knowledge about aerodynamics may very well be handicapped when attempting to design airplanes and rocket ships. Hence, it would make sense to insist that science teachers teach the science of aerodynamics to students wishing to pursue careers pertaining to aviation.

Likewise, a knowledge of molecular science and chemistry has numerous practical applications, including the discovery of various medicines and the invention of various household and industrial chemicals which can make life easier.

However, I fail to see the practical benefits of accepting evolutionary theory as fact. There is no product currently in use which could not have been designed by a believer in Intelligent Design. No scientist has ever managed to replicate evolution by designing a new species which started out as a different species. So why is acceptance of evolutionary theory so important to the mainstream scientific community? There must be some reason why so many scientists advocate such a questionable theory with such vigor!

My opinion is that evolutionary theory is the foundational premise for a new worldview or cosmology which has the principal unspoken objective of undermining belief in the reliability and primacy of divine revelation. While there are those who claim that Christianity and belief in evolution are compatible, it often turns out, on closer examination, that most of the people making such a claim believe that the authority of the scriptures is limited to moral issues, and that the scriptures are unreliable insofar as such things as miracles are concerned. Apparently, in their view, God can be trusted to tell the truth with regard to right and wrong, but he's hopelessly naive when it comes to scientific facts pertaining to the universe which he created!

This, of course, has the ultimate effect, intended or unintended, of causing people to wonder why God should be trusted to tell the truth about anything at all. After all, as the book of Job makes clear, God's authority to do things which humans sometimes find inexplicable rests on his infinite and vastly superior knowledge of the universe. If God’s knowledge of the universe and the scientific principles which hold that universe together is questionable, then his right to command obedience is also questionable.

Not coincidentally, that's exactly what the predominantly liberal people who currently control academic curricula tend to believe. In their view, God may exist, but his existence is irrelevant to modern life. Objective truth, in their view, is a myth, and morality is merely a matter of personal opinion. Their ultimate agenda is to promote a form of "morality" which could best be described as licentious social anarchy.

It would not be the first time the theory of evolution was used in order to advance a social agenda. Racists of all stripes have long argued that if "survival of the fittest" is nature's way, and if some species (and, by logical extension, some races) can be considered to be "unfit", then it is appropriate to engage in that primitive form of genetic engineering known as genocide in order to insure that "more advanced" races will prevail.

Such arguments have been described as "social Darwinism". From Margaret Sanger to Adolph Hitler, evolutionary theory has been used in order to justify policies which deny the intrinsic value of human life. If for no other reason than that, it seems to me that Christians ought to regard evolutionary theory with great suspicion.

The scientific method would seem to require that all plausible theories be examined and considered seriously. Yet, evolutionary "scientists" are threatened by anything standing in the way of their social agenda, so genuine dialogue is discouraged. They ostracize and stigmatize those who fail to adhere to the new orthodoxy, which is defined primarily by its rejection of the old orthodoxy based on Judeo-Christian traditions. Such people claim to highly value diversity and tolerance. Very few things could be further from the truth.

UPDATE (4/21/2008): "Expelled" is a new movie by Ben Stein. I haven't seen the movie yet, but from what I've read about the movie, it echoes the point which I made in the last paragraph of this blog post. Here's a link to one of my comments (posted in response to a Chicago Sun-Times review of the movie) which deals more with the subject.

2 comments:

poot said...

you've misunderstoon evolutionary theory, my friend, which has led you to make some incorrect leaps of logic.

first of all, humans did not evolve from gorillas. humans and gorillas both evolved from a common ancestor, and both species are the same age- gorillas are NOT older, unfit prototypes of humans.

secondly, in evolutionary theory, a species is never considered to be unfit. that's not what survival of the fittest means. INDIVIDUALS may be unfit, and the unfit individuals will tend to die or have less offspring. this means that the unfit individual's particular combination of genes will not be represented in the next generation. only the genes of the individuals who lived and reproduced will be represented.

you, mark pettigrew, are the descendent of lots of "fit" human beings- the ones who lived past puberty and had kids. not one single ancestor of yours was stillborn, or died in infancy, or childhood. i guarantee that EVERY SINGLE ANCESTOR YOU HAVE EVER HAD, managed to live til he or she was sexually mature- and that he or she made at least one fertile baby. how do i know this? because the ones that died before having babies cannot possibly be your ancestors! they may be your ancestors' siblings... but they are not your ancestors.

the "fittest" individuals are, by definition the ones who have the most viable offspring, so their "fit" genes will eventually dominate the genepool.

evolutionary theory says this:

1.
indivudual members of a species differ from one another. (i have perfect eyesight. my boyfriend needs glasses.)

2.
those physical differences are inheritable. (random mutations cause them in the first place, but random mutations are pretty rare). most of your individual traits were inherited from your parents.

3.
the physical differences may cause a difference in the individual animal's survival and fertility. this effect is called "natural selection" or "survival of the fittest". (a bird with blurry vision may have a harder time finding insects to eat than a bird with clear vision. a blurry bird may not starve, but it may be slightly less healthy and be able to lay fewer eggs as a result.)

so:
the animals who survive and have babies will tend to have babies resembling them (a bird with good vision will probably breed chicks with good vision.)

the animals who don't do well will have less, or less healthy, offspring, and because of this, we would expect to see gradually less of the blurry birds and more of the sharp-eyed birds as time goes on.

doesn't that make more sense? THAT's what darwin was talking about.

giraffes with longer necks did better because they could eat the leaves the antelopes couldn't reach, the leaves that were right in front of them, just out of reach. if an individual giraffe thought "i can't reach the leaves here, i'm leaving town" and tried to migrate, well, that solution mght work. he might find lots of leaves in another area. lots of animals do that. BUT he might migrate so far that there were no female giraffes to mate with, and then although there would have been lots of leaves in his new home, he would have no wife and therefore no baby giraffes, so the trait of giraffe wanderlust might end with him.

meanwhile his neighbour who just happened to have a longer neck- the way i just happen to have longer arms than my short sister- got more leaves and was healthy. and he had babies, some of whom resembled him- also having long necks. and the nong-neck giraffes were slightly better fed than their short friends, and so gradually more and more giraffes with long necks had more and healthier babies. and over a LONG time, it came to pass that eventually MOST of the population of giraffes had long necks.

the PROPORTION of long-necked INDIVIDUALS grew. that trend is what we call the evolution of a species. i will stress that this change in proportions can take a LONG TIME. but we've HAD a long time- most species have been around for thousands of years, which is hundreds of generations.

NOTE THAT AN INDIVIIDUAL ANIMAL CANNOT EVOLVE- it can only live and have healthy, fertile babies, or die with no babies. (i think you already knew this, but i meantion it just because it was a commonly-held belief called Lamarckism that an animal's behaviour changed its physiology- for instance, the giraffes got long necks because their parents stretched to find leaves. if Lamarckism was true, then jewish baby boys would have no foreskins, seeing as their fathers have cut theirs off for thousands of years. but i digress.)

the point is that the evolution of a species happens as the proportion of individuals-with-a-certain-trait changes.

mark, you're well-spoken and your reasoning is clear- the only problem is that you are basing your logic on a flawed understanding of the theory you are attempting to disprove. the way you view evolution is incorrect, and therefore you are right in thinking it is illogical. good work. now, if you really want to learn about how the theory works, read

THE BLIND WATCHMAKER by richard dawkins. he's the professor for the public understanding of science at oxford, and his books are very readable and interesting.

you raise a good point about how knowledge of evolution may not contribute anything practical to a child's development. i'd never thought about that before. you might be right. personally, i think the theory is so elegant, and darwin's logic in arriving at it so interesting, that it makes a great story and is a wonderful model for how to formulate an idea. that's why i like it.
here's a post on my blog that's relevant (well, about halfway down it becomes relevant). seeing as you're a christian, i suppose my irreverant writing style will not charm you, but hopefully you can see the ideas behind my occasionally rude or deliberately facetious language.
goodnight, mark. i disagree with your reasoning, but i admire your mind, and i'm interested in hearing if your opinions "evolve" in either direction!

Mark Pettigrew said...

Dear Poot,

You write, "First of all, humans did not evolve from gorillas. humans and gorillas both evolved from a common ancestor, and both species are the same age- gorillas are NOT older, unfit prototypes of humans."

Well, gosh, that clears things right up. I guess, then, that the numerous visual charts forced down our throats by public school teachers over the past several decades are all wrong, because anyone with a modicum of intelligence would certainly interpret those charts to mean that we did in fact evolve from creatures looking very much like modern apes.

As I wrote the preceding paragraph, it occurred to me that it had been a while since I spent time in a grade school, so maybe my memory was flawed, and none of the images on those charts really looked like modern apes. So I decided to search the web today to see if I could find the chart I remembered from my school days, or something similar. It took a lot of searching, but I finally found one, at http://www.wilderdom.com/evolution/HumanEvolutionSequencePictures.htm. Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle! My memory is pretty reliable. To my eyes, that image of "Dryopithecus" looks virtually identical to a modern chimp, or possibly a small gorilla. If there are any differences, they are so trivial that they are hardly worthy of discussion. (After all, quite a few variants can be found within the human species as it exists today.)

Regardless of whether we evolved from creatures identical to modern apes or from creatures which were so similar to our modern apes that the differences are hard to perceive with the naked eye, it seems to me that we still have pretty much the same conundrum. Namely, why was it necessary for our "ancestral apes" to evolve into human beings for the sake of survival, given the fact that they were so similar to our modern apes, which did manage to survive quite nicely without experiencing such radical biological changes?

You continue: "Secondly, in evolutionary theory, a species is never considered to be unfit. that's not what survival of the fittest means. INDIVIDUALS may be unfit, and the unfit individuals will tend to die or have less offspring. this means that the unfit individual's particular combination of genes will not be represented in the next generation. only the genes of the individuals who lived and reproduced will be represented."

Yes, I get it. Species don't have sex, individual members of species have sex, and individuals who possess physical traits which are so radically out of tune with their environments that they don't stand a chance of bearing offspring (either because they will die before entering puberty, or because they will be infertile) are unlikely to pass their physical traits on to new generations. Therefore, subsequent generations will inherit the genetic traits of those individuals who were fit enough to reproduce.

I'll comment on that in a moment, but first, a little social commentary which I believe to be relevant. I find it fascinating that many of the liberals who take great pleasure in forcing evolutionary theory down our kids' throats are the same people who buy into the ludicrous idea that homosexuality is a genetically inherited trait. Why do I call that idea ludicrous? For a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it negates the concept of free will. (If it's logical to argue that a person can be genetically programmed to think in a certain way, then arguing that "homophobia" was a genetically inherited trait would be just as logical as arguing that homosexuality was a genetically inherited trait. Yet, I don't see too many gays advocating on behalf of "homophobes" or their civil liberties.) However, more to the point in the context of our discussion is the fact that by definition, a person who is completely and consistently homosexual is incapable of having biologically related children (barring cloning, of course, which to my knowledge was not a common practice during the era in which the adults currently marching in gay rights parades were born, and which, to my knowledge, is still only a theoretical possibility today insofar as human beings are concerned).

Bisexuals can, of course, have children. Homosexuals cannot. A person may say he or she is a homosexual, but if he or she has ever had sex with a member of the opposite gender, he or she is, in practical terms, a bisexual, not a homosexual. Therefore, while it is conceivable that one could inherit bisexuality (although I don't believe that that is the case, since I believe that we are all accountable for our thoughts and actions), it's preposterous to argue that a person could inherit homosexuality. It takes two to reproduce, and I don't mean two men or two women. There's not a gay person alive today who came into this world as the result of an act of homosexual sex. So for them to say that they have inherited true homosexuality from their parents (or other ancestors) is ridiculous.

Surely, if the premise of evolution is true (i.e., that individuals who have genetic traits which preclude or seriously impede the possibility of reproduction deserve to be described as genetically unfit), then there could be no better example of genetic unfitness than homosexuality. Yet, instead of seeing such individuals as a threat to the survival of the species, we are taught that we ought to regard people who oppose homosexuality as "unenlightened". Wanting to maximize the chances that the human species will survive is unenlightened? PLEASE! I thought that's what liberals were trying to do every time they opposed such things as pollution and nuclear proliferation. (Of course, since I don't buy evolutionary theory, I don't agree that gay people are "genetically unfit". I just think they're morally unfit.)

I have heard it said that homosexuality is "natural" because it has been observed in other species. What a ridiculous argument. Some species of animals also eat their young (sharks), greet one another by sniffing one another's anuses (dogs), eat feces (dung beetles and rabbits), and do any number of things which I would not recommend to any human being. We are not animals, and it is a sad day in human history when we start modeling our behavior on the behavior of animals. But it's only natural to do so if one buys the Darwinian premise that there is no fundamental difference between human beings and other species.

Likewise, the practice of legalized abortion is completely contrary to the natural desire to perpetuate the species and insure its survival by maximizing the number of "viable offspring". If the premise of evolution is correct, then women who choose to abort their own offspring are genetically unfit, since they are engaged in a practice which, if practiced universally among women, would lead (in the absence of widespread cloning) to the annihilation of the species. Yet, again, it is paradoxically the liberals who believe in evolutionary theory and its premises who are most likely to argue that a woman should be free to kill her own offspring in utero. I wonder what they would say about, say, a lioness which had the unusual habit of killing every cub to which it gave birth. Would they not regard such an animal as a tragic mistake of nature, and a threat to the well-being of the rest of the pride? Yet, when they see similar behavioral patterns among human beings, they condone such acts as a matter of "choice", as if the nature of the choice being made was completely irrelevant.

Regarding environmentalism, liberals who tout evolution also argue that it is a tragedy whenever any species becomes extinct. I find that odd. If evolution is a fact of life which has been occuring for many millenia, perhaps even millions of years, then it is the most natural thing in the world for species to die off in order to make way for new species which are better adapted to life on earth. It's irrational for believers in evolution to mourn the extinction of any species. Nevertheless, they do.

Now, back to your attempt to educate me about the facts of evolution. I won't bother quoting the entire multipoint argument, as the original argument is still on my website for all to see and for you to review. Essentially, you describe how physical differences are inherited, and how those differences can affect the reproduction and survival rates and fertility. I follow your reasoning, and I don't dispute the facts of genetic inheritance. What I dispute is the conclusions you draw from those facts.

First, it seems to me that there's a false premise behind evolutionary theory, and that's the premise that individuals who reproduce are almost invariably those individuals who are the most physically fit. In reality, all kinds of factors affect the reproduction of individuals. Physically and mentally, I am far more fit than the average retarded person or the average conjoined twins. Yet, some retarded people, conjoined twins and other with severe genetic disabilities have in fact had sex and children, whereas I have not had either. (Things could turn around for me, of course, but at age 49, that's far from being a sure thing.) My point is that physical fitness is only one of many factors which affect sex and reproduction. Darwin's view of the universe was a mechanistic view which overlooked the complexity of social interactions between individuals, and the influence of such interactions on such things as reproduction.

If memory serves, numerous sociological studies have shown that birthrates tend to be lower among highly educated women than among women who have less education. One might reasonably conclude that higher education is therefore a liability insofar as the ability to reproduce is concerned. Should we therefore label educated people as "genetically unfit" because they are statistically far less likely to have numerous descendants? If evolutionary theory is valid, such labels would make perfect sense.

There are many genetic diseases which can be passed on by otherwise healthy parents who suffer no apparent ill effects on account of the fact that they carry the defective genes. So the premise that those who carry defective genes are less capable of bearing offspring is, in many cases, false. There may be specific genetic defects which are so severe as to substantially alter the prospects of reproduction for those who carry such genes, but it would be misleading to characterize all genetic defects in that manner.

I've read your narrative several times, and it seems to me there is nothing in the entire narrative to support the idea that one species can evolve into another entirely separate yet equally fertile species. After explaining the basic facts of genetic inheritance (which I don't dispute), you conclude, "THAT's what darwin was talking about." Well, no, it really isn't. When he stuck to observable facts pertaining to mutations within species, that's what he was talking about. When he began to extrapolate his theory of evolution from those observable facts, then he was writing speculative science fiction, not science.

It is one thing to say that over a long period of time, the process of genetic inheritance can bring about slight changes in a given species. If that was what the term "evolution" meant, I would have no quarrel with the concept. However, genetic mutation is one thing. Evolution from one species to another is (to use a very appropriate metaphor) a completely different animal. It seems to me there is no evidence to support the idea that one species can evolve into another entirely separate yet equally fertile species.

As recently as 100 years ago, people tended to be shorter than they commonly are today. Abe Lincoln was considered to be a giant during his era, whereas he would be considered only average, or perhaps even short, if he were to join an NBA team today. So, sure, the genetic traits of human beings can change even within a time frame as short as a century or two. But it's a huge leap to go from saying that people have gradually gotten taller as the centuries have gone by to saying that human beings started out as protozoa (or as creatures similar to protozoa), migrated to land for no apparent reason (even though the oceans were still quite capable of supporting abundant sea life!), and eventually learned to build skyscrapers, computers and cell phones.

Regarding your rather amusing tale of "giraffe wanderlust" in relation to the question of migration, let me just point out that very few animals, with the possible exception of man, migrate as lone individuals, unless they are atypically disenfranchised from the larger groups of which they are members. In Africa, when drought threatens the animals in a given area, whether one is talking about a pride of lions or a herd of elephants, the animals migrate as a group. There is no reason to believe that the migratory patterns of wild animals are fundamentally different today from the way similar animals migrated tens of thousands of years ago. Anthropomorphism may be appealing in Disney movies, but it does a disservice to the truth to present such scenarios as anything other than the work of an overactive imagination. If environmental conditions had been so severe that survival was an issue, there is no reason to believe that animals would have behaved any differently tens of thousands of years ago than they do today when such problems arise. They would have migrated as a group: therefore, they would have reproduced and survived.

You write, "Mark, you're well-spoken and your reasoning is clear- the only problem is that you are basing your logic on a flawed understanding of the theory you are attempting to disprove."

Well, that's always a possibility. I am a musician, artist, photographer and writer, not a scientist, so I haven't spent decades reading books on evolution. But I'm not sure that's necessarily an indication that my understanding of the theory is flawed. And even if it is, whose fault is that? Certainly, my teachers had ample opportunities to present the theory of evolution to me, over and over again, in a way that would make sense to me. Yet, their explanations struck me as ridiculous.

If anything, I'm inclined to think that the fact that certain people have invested years of their life in academic studies is a strike against them, insofar as their credibility is concerned. After all, they have a vested interest in maintaining that those years of study have not been a waste of time and money. How many people, after making such an investment, would have the bravery to come out and say, "After all these years of study, I have concluded that I have been duped by my professors, and that I must therefore trash my education and renew my studies in another field in order to pursue a more reputable profession which actually has some practical applications"? A few, perhaps, but not many, especially after they see how the academic establishment tends to viciously attack anyone who dares to question evolution.

You write, "You raise a good point about how knowledge of evolution may not contribute anything practical to a child's development. I'd never thought about that before. You might be right." Thanks for acknowledging that possibility. Do please consider its implications in terms of whether or not alternative ideas should be allowed a fair hearing in the classroom.

You write, "Personally, I think the theory is so elegant, and Darwin's logic in arriving at it so interesting, that it makes a great story and is a wonderful model for how to formulate an idea. That's why I like it." Darwin's logic is indeed "interesting", if by interesting, one means that it is a fascinating glimpse into a deluded mind. As for elegance, any well-written work of fiction could be described as elegant. That fact that something is elegant doesn't make it true. As for the fact that it makes a great story, well, so did "Star Wars", and I enjoyed that movie just as much as anyone else, but that didn't mean that I believed it ever actually happened.