I know little about science, which is more a reflection on my school-day interests than the quality of instruction back then. Fortunately I have a 10-year-old granddaughter who loves this stuff so I can always ask her when I need to know something scientific.
My one exception is the whole issue of evolution versus creation. In the interest of full disclosure, I am a lifelong Lutheran and we take the Bible at face value, including the Genesis account of creation. I do, therefore, begin any analysis of evolutionary theory with a healthy dose of skepticism. Even after discounting this bias, I just can’t buy into the incredible leap of faith evolution requires to accept it prima facie. It just looks too much like a house of cards to me.
As it does to Tom Bethell, whose last published book is entitled, appropriately, “Darwin’s House of Cards: A Journalist’s Odyssey through the Darwin Debates” (Discovery Institute Press 2017, 257 pages plus notes, $22 paperback). Bethell, who died this past February, was a renowned journalist who also wrote what I consider the seminal work on property rights.
Bethell became acquainted with Darwinism during his years at Oxford but didn’t think much about it until he came to America and read his first book that advanced the Intelligent Design thesis. This sparked his journalistic interest and so he did what journalists do, or should do, and that is read the published literature and interview the key thinkers in the field. This book is the result of his years of research and contains extensive quoting from their writings and their interviews. In fact he quotes Darwinists extensively, some of whom are themselves critical of much of evolutionary theory.
The book covers the well-known facets of evolution: natural selection, the fossil record, speciation, extinction, etc. He also examines some of the more esoteric fields of evolutionary study: homology, systematics, cladism, genomics and sociobiology. Much of this is beyond my previous knowledge but his evidence is clearly stated and I could follow it. Still, I needed to read the book twice just to be sure I got it.
Bethell’s point of departure is that Darwinism arises from an uncritical, whole-cloth adherence to the philosophy of materialism, i.e., only matter exists so therefore everything that exists must have come from other existing matter. Bethell points out Darwin withheld his evolutionary theories from publication for about 20 years, needing full acceptance of materialism by Britain’s learned class in order to have a foundation that would not be questioned. Was this a matter of self-confidence or simply shrewd marketing?
What the neo-Darwinists succumb to is the logical fallacy of begging the question. This term, frequently misused to mean asking the obvious question, in fact refers to assuming the conclusion as a premise to proving the conclusion. (While I avoided science classes, I did take two in logic from the philosophy department. This was on a test and fortunately I remember the answer.) “It is true because it must be true” is too often given as a defense, and Bethell provides numerous examples of this argumentation.
What disgusts me is the surrender of science to politics; witness all the claims and counterclaims during the COVDI debates that had more to do with what Donald Trump said than any honest scientific conclusions. The same has happened in so-called climate science; i.e., “the debate is closed.” It is now occurring in sociobiology, Darwinists fighting a losing battle against intelligent design proponents. How do they counter them? By the Left’s tried-and-true method of “cancelling” them within university faculties, academic publications and the media. The unforgivable sin is giving ammunition to the enemy, as one such scientist charged. Another called attacking Darwin “the sin against the Holy Ghost,” using a rather impious analogy to Christian doctrine but still making the point quite nicely.
Where macroevolution falls flat is its inability to convincingly explain the origin of life or show any transitional life forms that document the changing of one species into another. Recall the Tree of Life diagram used in many publications. This graphic is presented frequently to show a common ancestor for all life on earth but none of the nodes connect. It is a parade example of begging the question.
One thing we hear incessantly is the rapid extinction of species due to mankind’s behavior. The facts, as Bethell points out, are that only about 860 extinctions have been recorded since 1650 or two per year on average. This is against a total speciation of anywhere from 8.7 million to a trillion, and who knows how many more that are undiscovered. Even here Darwinists face a paradox: natural selection is given credit for the rise of species but then it must be a failure as well due to extinctions.
Someone with more scientific background than I, and that includes nearly every sentient being, will find Bethell’s discussion of DNA, amino acids and proteins quite informative. These are the building blocks of life and key to evolutionary theory … except the math doesn’t add up. The probabilities against all these pieces arranging themselves into an appropriate complex order is something to the magnitude of 1×10 to the 74th power, according to one scientist quoted by Bethell. These odds are slightly better than my chances of winning the Indiana lottery, but then I’ve never bought a ticket.
Darwin can be classified as a fellow philosophical traveler with Marx, fair enough, but Darwin also considered his theory to be a biological sibling to Adam Smith’s theory of laissez-faire economics. I found this point disturbing at first blush but then the obvious question helped me get past it: If natural selection is simply free enterprise in the wild then what explains its “invisible hand” other than intelligent design?
This may be the touchstone for the ID alternative to natural selection. Even Darwin admitted he couldn’t explain the origin of matter. He simply assumed its existence and then launched his theory of evolutionary progress. So I ask: Where did the original matter come from that somehow combined against astronomical odds to create a simplistic life form and then billions of years later evolve into human beings? Bethell makes clear that evolutionary biology cannot provide the answer.
It is important to note intelligent design does not equate necessarily with Biblical creation. Most proponents quoted by Bethell don’t believe the Genesis account but at the same time can’t offer a coherent alternative. I guess this means they leave the door open but concede they will never “prove” God by any scientific means. As well they shouldn’t; He is above and outside that.
Bethell’s chapter on fossilization is interesting even to a non-scientist. Apparently most Darwinists believe the fossil record is nearly complete but can’t be used to explain Darwin’s theory. In fact as more fossils are discovered, expected evidence for transitional life forms not only fails to appear but actually is disproved by the new fossil findings.
The simple fact remains Darwinists cannot point to any transitional life forms in the fossil record nor in observation in the current world. Neither has there been any successful creation of life or consciousness in the laboratory. Glowing claims for artificial intelligence notwithstanding, robots still can’t think for themselves. And they never will, at least as Bethell’s human intelligence tells him.
Bethell attributes the stubborn support of Darwinism to an unholy alliance of progressivism and materialism during the 19th century. The irony is that progressivism, which postulates mankind is continuing toward perfection, has been totally discarded by the radical environmental movement, which considers mankind to be an evil species that must go extinct to save the planet. So the fittest species, humans, cannot or must not survive in contradiction to Darwin’s cherished theory of natural selection.
In the final analysis, Darwinism is incapable of answering several fundamental questions. How did the original matter come about? Where are the fossil records for transitional life forms? Why haven’t we observed even one species evolving into another, different one? Why hasn’t modern science been able to recreate (pun intended) the origin of the first life on earth?
If we are all honest with ourselves, we will accept that both evolution and creation are based on premises not empirically provable but capable of inference drawn from our own observations and our inherent biases. Either is a matter of faith. I simply am incapable of having enough faith to worship at Darwin’s altar.
Mark Franke, M.B.A., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice-chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. Send comments to [email protected].