Science in Christian Perspective
The Deep Waters of Evolution
Produced by: Media Production Amigos Ltd., Finland, 1996, 20 min.
Keith B. Miller*
Department of Geology
Kansas State University Manhattan, KS 66506-3201
From: PSCF 49 (March 1997): 54-55. Another view: Pun
This 20-minute video seeks to portray evolutionary theory as based on philosophy alone and wholly unsupported by evidence. It primarily features the comments of Matti Leisola, Siegfried Scherer, and Dean Kenyon. Unfortunately, it tries to make its case with accusations of scientific censorship, unsupported assertions, and the repetition of well-worn but false arguments.
The most troubling aspect of the video was the consistent attempt to present a picture of the scientific community as closed to, and even hostile toward criticism and alternative hypotheses. It further implies that evolutionists are either naively blind, or willfully suppressing evidence against their position. The charge that critical discussion of evolutionary theory is not permitted within the scientific community is simply false. Various aspects of evolutionary theory are widely and vigorously debated in scientific literature.
Evolutionary theory is criticized primarily by raising doubts, based not on conflicting scientific evidence, but on assertions that evolution lacks a factual foundation. At several points the simple existence of unresolved problems is equated with evidence against evolution. Science thrives on questions, for they focus the direction of research. The questions generated by evolutionary theory have resulted in extraordinarily fruitful research, providing explanations for a wide range of biological and historical phenomena.
An underlying premise of the video is that "evolution has become a modern religion." For some it has, and for others capitalism, nationalism, or even "evangelicalism" has become the center of religious devotion. The issue is not whether an idea or cause can usurp God's place as the focus of our worship, but whether evolutionary theory is compatible with a biblical understanding of God's work and character. Evangelical scholars from the time of Darwin have concluded that evolution and Christian faith are fully compatible.1
The video first raises the scientific issue of the origin of life. Although the validity of biological evolution is not dependent on the resolution of this question, the video seeks to use uncertainties about chemical evolution as evidence against neodarwinism. Darwin's theory is not about the origin of life. Furthermore, the video's discussion of the origin of life misrepresents the present state of research and ignores the significant developments of recent years. No mention is made of the many areas of active and productive research (self replication of RNA, autocatalytic processes, evolution of RNA in cell-free media by random mutation, synthesis of membrane-bounded vesicles, studies on chirality, etc.).2 Recent discoveries, such as the association of thermophilic chemosynthetic organisms with hydrothermal systems, have also opened up whole new possible scenarios for the evolution of life.3 The video emphasizes that no definitive conclusions have been reached, and that there is no consensus on the pathway to the first living cell even after "thousands of research projects." There are many scientific frontiers, and this is one of them. I personally think God's creation is complex and multifaceted enough that we will not resolve this problem for many more years.
The second part of the video is introduced with the question, "What evidence do we have for the evolution from species to species?" But the evidence for speciation itself is never subsequently discussed. None of the overwhelming data from species distributions, population biology, environmental adaptation, and genetics are even mentioned. That leaves the false impression that there is no evidence for species change. Rather than discussing speciation, the video attempts to show that random mutation cannot generate "totally new information." However, what constitutes "new information" in the context of the genetic code is never stated. Contrary to the claims of the video, random processes can produce new functional units in a selective environment. Highly functional and surprisingly long RNA ribozymes have been generated experimentally from random sequences.4 In the nonbiological realm, functional computer programs have been generated by random combinations of commands using a technique that mimics natural selection.5
The section dealing with transitional fossils consists of the repetition of false assertions and faulty arguments. The two authorities used to comment on the topic lack appropriate credentialsóone is a physicist and the other a soil geographer. The claim is made that connecting links between "basic types" are absent and that evidence from the fossil record has not changed since Darwin! The true situation is that there are numerous examples of fossils with transitional morphologies crossing every taxonomic category from species to phyla.6 Major discoveries of transitional fossils have been made within the last few years, most notable being the "walking whales"7 of Pakistan. Faced with the undeniable existence of fossils with transitional morphologies, the video seeks to exclude them by definition. "Claimed links" are thus dismissed because they are "complete organisms" that are "fully formed." Such terms are meaningless because they can be applied to any organism however transitional. The transitional status of Archaeopteryx is denied because it possesses a mosaic of bird and reptile features! The dinosaur/bird transition is actually another good example of the impact of recent discoveries. A completely new group of primitive fossil birds called the Enantiornithes has been discovered that retain many primitive features. Interestingly this new group includes several fossils previously identified as theropod dinosaurs!8
The video closes with statements that attempt to minimize the significance of historical evidence. Scherer states that there are "... no data from the past. We have no direct observations of the things which happened a thousand, ten thousands, or millions of years ago." Even the hard sciences utilize data from events in the past that cannot be directly observed. Science works by inferring past processes and causes from their preserved or recorded products and effects. Once the value of historical data is denied, then the only difference of substance between theories is the worldview of the scientists. If the video's approach to historical science was widely accepted, theories could be held and taught regardless of the supporting evidence. The result would be the elimination of science itself.
1Livingstone, David N., Darwin's Forgotten Defenders: The Encounter Between Evangelical Theology and Evolutionary Thought (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987).
2Joyce, G. F., "Directed Molecular Evolution," Scientific American 267, no.6 (1992): 90-97. Ponnamperuma, C., and Chela-Flores, J. (eds.), Chemical Evolution: Origin of Life (A. Deepak Publishing, 1992). Morowitz, H.J., Beginning of Cellular Life: Metabolism Recapitulates Biogenesis (Yale University Press, 1992).
3Holm, N.G. (ed.), Marine Hydrothermal Systems and the Origin of Life (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1992).
4Ekland, E. H., Szostak, J. W., and Bartel, D. P., "Structurally Complex and Highly Active RNA Ligases Derived from Random RNA Sequences," Science 269 (1995): 364-370.
5Wayt, W., "Programming with Primordial Ooze," Scientific American 275, no.4 (1996): 48-50.
6Gingerich, P. D., "Paleontology and Phylogeny: Patterns of Evolution at the Species Level in Early Tertiary Mammals," American Journal of Science 276 (1976): 1-28. Schultze, H. P. and Trued, L. (eds.), Origins of the Higher Groups of Tetrapods: Controversy and Consensus (Ithaca: Comstock Publishing Associates, 1991). Ahlberg, P. E. and Milner, A. R., "The Origin and Early Diversification of Tetrapods," Nature 368 (1994): 507-514.
7Thewissen, J. G. M., Hussain, S. T., and Arif, M., "Fossil Evidence for the Origin of Aquatic Locomotion in Archaeocete Whales," Science 263 (1994): 210-212.
8Chiappe, L. M., 1995, "The First 85 Million Years of Avian Evolution," Nature 378 (1995): 349-355.