Science in Christian Perspective



A Criticism of the A.S.A. Monograph on "Creation and Evolution"

From: JASA 6 (March 1954): 24-26.

Editor's note: The following letter was forwarded to Dr. Mixter by another party. Correspondence has failed to disclose the writer's identity, except to reveal that he is a university scientist.

Note added 5/2017: The identity of the author was revealed to be John H. McClendon in this Letter to the Editor in the December 1954 issue.

I Regarding logic

There is in logic what is called the principle of parsimony. This is exceedingly important, as it is, or should be, used in every attempt at synthesis of theories from empirical facts. It simply states that if there are two or more possible mechanisms which account for the facts, the simpler of them should be accepted until further facts make necessary a more complex theory. Examples are the geocentric vs. heliocentric theories of the solar system, and classical vs. modern physics. Similarly, since, as Dr. Mixter agrees, there is ample evidence that evolution has occurred in some lines, it is in keeping with this principle to believe that evolution has occurred where the paleontological or comparative morphological evidence is spotty or nonexistent. Page 1, par. 2 creates a false impression, that special creation is necessary to explain certain phenomena. As you can plainly see on further examination, the only thing he shows is a lack of necessity to believe in evolution in some particular cases, due to lack of evidence. Thus, on p. 23, par. 2 he says " . . . until bridges are found, one may hold that the groups so separated have arisen from independently created kinds". This is like saying that since I didn't see you go to Wheaton College, you must not have been there. I believe that a fair summary of Dr. Mixter's monograph would be: "Either evolution has occurred as the modern evolutionist says it has (with all his ifs and buts), or that God has made the creatures of the world in such a way that we cannot distinguish the order from an evolutionary one". This is little consolation to the creationist unless he is willing to throw out evolution in its entirety.

As for the approach to unsolved problems, he does not discuss this further, and I fail to see how creationism can have anything to offer in this regard. If science is to make any progress, it must take as its basis the premise of being able to find mechanistic causes for natural phenomena. I don't see why the study of heredity and the bringing of order out of the chaotic array of plants and animals about us should be any exception to this.

This idea of there being a machinist (God) behind the complicated mechanisms that are living organisms was also found in the other pamphlet I referred to. It is a difficult idea to justify. Naturally there is something back of every natural phenomenon. But a watch is only evidence of a man in the sense that a hoof is evidence of a horse. If you have never seen a man make a watch, or have never seen a whole horse, you don't know the connection. There are a great many leaves and stems found as fossils that have been put into so-called "form genera" separately, because no one has found the leaves and stems attached. Conversely, because of the evidence that has been amassed (in the last hundred years. especially), evolution is conceived as the mechanism behind the diversity of life as we see it today, just as biochemistry gives mechanisms for many of the chemical events that occur in living things, (in contrast to the "vitalistic" theories of years past). If one wished to lay emphasis on this feature of the Bible, then one might say God is evolution.

I would like to give some examples of inconsistency in the argument presented in this pamphlet. Vide p. 16 par. 2 (X), p. 17 (X). If he believes that evolution can take place anywhere, anytime, why not in Hawaii in the recent past? Vide p. 27 last sentence. This statement is a direct denial that evolution has occurred at all, whereas Mixter admits that it has. The mutations only indirectly "cause" adaptation anyway, for the diversity must be present for natural selection to act upon it. The latter is the factor producing adaptation (see further discussion below). It would almost look as if Mixter was trying to confuse the reader.

II Regarding similarities

In pure genetic lines (in which brother-sister matings have gone on for many generations, i.e. laboratory mice, rats, etc.) the difference between parents and offspring is exceedingly minute, and that which occurs can usually be shown to be due to uncontrolled environmental influences. On the other hand, male and female Red-Wings (as well as males and females of any species) do not in fact receive the same chromosomes from their parents. This is the basis of sexual differentiation. In all natural populations which reproduce sexually there is a great deal of variation due to the fact that the genetic material is not uniform and is being constantly shuffled. The point is that there is variation about a norm that is the "ideal" species. Now, when an evolutionist is talking about similarities he naturally takes this into account. As one goes to higher and higher categories (families, orders, etc.) the similarities he works with become more generalized. For example, all mammals and birds have a four chambered heart in contrast to all the lower animals, in spite of variations in size and shape of the details. One of the most important generalizations of the early biology (about a hundred years ago) is that all living things are composed of cells with nuclei. This is not quite true, but even bacteria, long thought to have no nuclei, have recently been shown to have them at least in some cases. The small size is a definite disadvantage to study in this instance. As Mixter says, however, (p. 9, par. 2) it is not individual likenesses that are compelling evidence, but the sum total of likenesses. He forgets this principle many times in his discussion, although it cannot be overemphasized. Believe me, if there is anything in biology that has been hashed and rehashed (and is still going on!) it is the probable relations of this group to that, for example: ideas of what is basically simple and what is reduced from a more complex condition have undergone revision to the extent of completely inverting the accepted phylogeny in a number of cases.

This is indeed a difficult problem. I have one objection to this argument, however, that a mutation occurs means that the gene is no longer like that of its parent. Does this mean that it is not descended from its parent? Of course not. This insistence on almost complete similarity (in order to be able to demonstrate genetic relationship) is illogical. All automobiles are historically and functionally related, but one can't use a Ford carburetor in a Cadillac. The bolts won't fit, or the position of the air holes is wrong. These are features irrelevant to the function, but make it impossible to make a hybrid. Similarly with chromosomes and genes. Given enough time for random, nonessential changes to take place, and the "bolts don't fit" and there won't be any hybrid. So the ability to hybridize is just another of many features used to show relationships. Given sufficient complexity, I don't believe that convergent evolution occurs to such an extent as to confuse the evolutionary picture. That is, birds and bats are obviously different, even though they both fly. Similarly with whales and fish. With things like bacteria, it is a different story and little can be done in the way of phylogenies in this group, although people have tried.

Nor does the evolutionist say that all mammal-like reptiles became mammals. Again the judgment of evaluation of the degree of similarity is the critical matter, which depends at least in part on how carefully the subject is examined. Many of the fossils found which might be in the ancestral line of mammals, appear on close study to be more specialized in one respect or other than the mammals proper, and so are thought to be not in the direct line. Similarly, it is obvious that present day apes could not be the ancestors of ancient man. But in the judgment of those who have studied evidence, there does not appear to be any compelling necessity to invoke special creation in the ancestry of any line of organisms. The converse does appear to be true, however.

Regarding vestigial organs. The beginning of the first paragraph says that vestiges are evidence of a former perfection, but this is contradicted by the last part of the paragraph, both being views of creationists! What does it matter, whether it is vestigial or not, anyway, the crux of the matter is the business of degree of similarity. Both rabbits and man have a blind pouch off of the intestine, one big, one small. Does it matter if we can find no use for that in men?

Regarding adaptation. It is apparent from a few minutes thought that there is no reason to expect ill-adapted plants and animals to be found in any numbers, for they would soon lose out in the struggle for food, etc. This is natural selection. Read Time's Arrow and Evolution by Blum for an attempt to apply the second law of thermodynamics to evolution. Regarding the non-adaptive features in specific distinctions, this may be true of morphology, but I doubt it very much when it comes to physiology. Within the species, if it is at all widespread, there are bound to be adaptations to varying climatic conditions if nothing else.

The necessity to put labels on things (apparently dating back to Adam) is a source of much difficulty in understanding evolution...

III. Regarding gaps in the record

A very good example of the slender thread on which hangs the evidence is that of the early history of birds. Archaeopterix and Archaeornis are the only birds known in the Jurassic (which lasted some 30 million years). The first represented is by one nearly perfect specimen (no skull) and one isolated feather, while the latter is known from one more perfect specimen. These are the only ones known, none at all having been found from 1877 until the present (at least until my reference book was written-1939). The number and distribution of avian fossils increase as we go up in the geological record, but we must consider ourselves very fortunate in the Jurassic specimens, as most of the later finds are fragmentary. I believe, therefore, that Mixter's argument for gaps~special creation is based on the false premise that fossils are a likely occurrence. One has only to consider that all the C02 in the air would be used up in a few decades if there were no decay to realize that much less than one percent of all organisms can be preserved as fossils.

Granting this, a pretty good case can be presented that gaps in the record are probable. It has been shown that evolution among modern plants and animals (that is to say, formation of new species) goes on at a rate proportional to the smallness of the interbreeding group. That is, variations which would be swamped in a large population have a greater chance of expression in a small population. If speciation indeed may lead to formation of higher categories (genera, orders, etc.) as many geneticists believe, then the oldest population of a new Class (Birds) may indeed be quite small, say a few thousand. The chances of one or two of such to be preserved in 30 million years is small enough, let alone a set of specimens illustrating all the steps in the evolution.

So much for the gaps in the middle. I would like you to consider a few items about the earliest ages, also. It is certainly true that there is only very scanty morphological evidence of life in the Archaeozoic and the Proterozoic eras, but the chemical evidence is more abundant. Graphite, so cursorily dismissed in a footnote on p. 24, occurs in the Archaeozoic in beds as much as 13 feet thick. This is hardly comparable to "fine microscopic dust" in igneous rocks. The complete series from peat to graphite is known from later periods, but apparently all the carbonaceous deposits in the Archaeozoic were too far gone to yield any recognizable forms (even anthracite has none).

It is also apparent that any animals that were preserved ate to keep alive. What did they eat? Today the carbon cycle is founded on photosynthesis, carried on by plants. If we now look at the catalogue of species found in the early part of the Cambrian (according to a book by P. E. Raymond in 1939), we find 455 species, of which there were no protozoa, no algae except a few that formed calcareous matrices, 18.5% sponges, 21% jellyfish (etc.), 4.25% "worms", 27.5% brachiopods, 11.5% mollusks, 36.5% arthropods (note that all but 6.25% of these animals had hard skeletons of one sort or another). Are we to suppose that all of these animals lived on the few calcareous algae? It appears exceedingly unlikely from what we know of the feeding habits of modem animals of their ilk. For example, sponges feed on the microscopic plants and animals that they can strain out of the water, and have no means of locomotion. Does it not appear likely that the seas then, as now, were filled with minute plants and animals that formed the food for the larger forms? These animals also needed oxygen to respire and gain energy from their food. The only known source of oxygen in the atmosphere is that produced from green plants in photosynthesis.

It is also possible to outline in general terms how the origin of life probably took place. (theory according to Oparin, Huxley, Bernal, etc.) We know that before there were animals there were photosynthetic plants, but how did they get here? Since the photosynthetic plant is the most self-sufficient organism existent, this means it has to synthesize all its complex proteins, enzymes, etc. from C02 and water. So this does not seem to be the beginning, but the climax of the evolution of the basic protoplasm. (Most of the history of the earth went by before abundant fossils appeared!) So we start at the time when there was no oxygen and therefore, no ozone, in the atmosphere. Then the U-V from the sun could penetrate to the surface of the earth. Now it is known that U-V can produce all sorts of reactions, including making simple organic compounds (in the laboratory). In the eons that went by this matter accumulated (there being no bacteria, etc. to eat it). More and more complicated molecules were formed until organic catalysts were formed which utilized the soup they were dissolved in. Somehow or other (it is very vague) these progressed to form organized complexes, and then cells with all their accouterments, living on this organic soup. The synthetic abilities of the early complexes or cells need not be formidable, since many complex molecules are present. The present complexity was then reached step by step as the complex molecules in the environment became used up one by one, working backwards down a chain of synthesis until the whole thing could be made f rom simple compounds. Then each step in the chain was useful when devised, which would not be true if one tried to build up a synthetic chain the other way. If all this seems very unlikely, remember that it might not have worked the first time through, in which case it could start all over (I don't believe that one can calculate how long it would take, for it depends on so many special circumstances, such as absorption on clay particles, concentrations, etc. that we know nothing about). Also remember that it would only take one individual (assuming no sex) to populate the world and that this process was undoubtedly going on simultaneously in many places, if it was going on at all.