Science in Christian Perspective



Irving W. Knobloch, Ph.D.

From: JASA 7 (June 1955): 17-18.

In the four previous articles we have summed up some of the current ideas on species formation in nature. We have used the term "speciation" to cover the effects of the processes of point mutation, chromosome rearrangement, polyploidy and hybridization since this definition is allowed by some authorities. These processes result in new genotypes and, undoubtedly, in new phenotypes' If new phenotypes arise we can say that the number of "species" has been added to and the diversification of organisms increased. The change of a species or the formation of new species can be said to typify "evolution".

We have hitherto evaded a definition of the latter term. It is in the same nebulous category as "species" or "natural selection". It might be best therefore to briefly outline three of the many possible positions assumed by various groups in regard to this subject. The first, commonly called the "Fixity Position" assumes that the approximately million and a half species now existing in the world have come down unchanged from the original creation. The advocates of this view are opposed to any idea of change or evolution. Since new species can be formed almost at will by the plant breeders and since crossbreeding occurs fairly freely in nature, it is difficult to reconcile this view with the facts (and hybrids are sometimes fertile). Other forms of speciation have also been mentioned above.

A second point of view on evolution, taken by most biologists, assumes a development or unfolding of organic life starting with relatively unspecialized protoplasm. This idea is an old one and goes back to the Greeks (although their ideas were quite crude by comparison with our ideas). Scientists believe this doctrine on the basis of what they consider to be facts and a considerable number of laymen accept it on faith (in the scientists). The evidences given for this belief come from the fields of morphology, embryology, serology, classification, paleontology and paleobotany. Since the arguments from these fields are well known to readers of this magazine they will not be quoted here. In fairness to this "phylogenetic" theory of organic evolution it must be said that many of the evidences force us to the belief that organisms have changed. The whale and boa constrictor have probably lost limbs they once had (see Genesis 3:14 in reference to the snake). The ostrich was probably not created with defective wings and probably the horse did evolve from a small horse (Eohippus) to the modern Equits. Many other examples could be mentioned.

However none of these evidences is proof of "phylogenetic" evolution. One must make a herculean mental assumption that the type of evolution mentioned above (whale, boa, horse, etc.) also applies on a much larger scale and carries back to an ameba-like ancestor. This requires faith of the highest order. To bridge this gap we are referred to the fossil record which is said to show this gradual transition. Many paleontologists feel that the fossil record is fairly complete and that the time is ripe for making great generalizations. History, by the way, is full of illustrations of people who acted upon insufficient data and consequently made erroneous conclusions. Relatively speaking, modern science is of recent origin and our present dogmas will probably be quite outmoded in a hundred years or less. This is the lesson of the history of science. I will probably be disputed on this point but it is my sincere belief that although the fossil record may be complete in regard to the number of species capable of being fossilized, it is probably very incomplete in respect to the number of species actually existing at any one time. Probably most people know that the fossilization of soft-bodied animals or even those with bones is a fairly rare event. These observations should make us pause. There are several other peculiarities about the fossil record which a scientist will consider carefully before making the assumption spoken of earlier. Some of these are the astounding discontinuities in the rock, the lack of any (or as many) intermediate forms as predicated and the incredibly complex forms of life (e.g. trilobites) in the earliest fossiliferous strata. It may be that time will bear out the contentions of the phylogenetic evolutionists but the time to take a dogmatic position is probably not now. The facts speak for themselves but the proof of the assumption, presumably based on the facts, cannot be verified as yet. It is my personal belief that ultimate proof of the theory outlined above will have severe consequences for those holding to the fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith.

A third way of looking at the question of evolution entails a limitation of its scope to observable fact. This viewpoint admits of genotypic and phenotypic diversification as far as the evidence leads. It replaces the phylogenetic tree concept with the more realistic one of a bundle of sticks each lying more or less parallel to each other. It allows for evolution from certain created types; how many and of what kind no one knows. If one assumes that many soft-bodied and boned animals lived in Pre-Cambrian and Cambrian times, the position of people upholding this view becomes plausible. Furthermore if one remembers that the rates of evolution have been much faster in certain periods than they are today, the objection of the time factor can be ignored. This is not to say that we must agree with the erroneous calculations of the Arch Bishop of Ussher as to the age of the earth. Certainly the earth is old and life on the earth ancient. I do not know what to call this type of evolution but let us tentatively contrast it with the other type by ascribing the name "intraphyletic" evolution to it. The main flaw in this theory is that it requires faith enough to believe in a creation of some plants and animals. Science itself, however, demands faih of its devotees-faith in the reality of the atomic structure .. faith in the order of the universe, faith in cause and effect, faith in uniformitarianism and in many other fields.

Since some people may accuse me of hedging, I will be frank to say that the last two positions appear to be tenable, but personally I think that the third possibility is more in accord with the facts, as we know them today.

The purpose of this article has been to explain what I meant by the terms "speciation" and "evolution". 1 fear that I have omitted many things that should be said but I trust that I have answered, in a measure, most of the queries that have been directed my way.

East Lansing, Michigan