It is still, as it was in Darwin’s day, overwhelmingly true that the first representatives of all the major classes of organisms known to biology are already highly characteristic of their class when they make their initial appearance in the fossil record. This phenomenon is particularly obvious in the case of the invertebrate fossil record. At its first appearance in the ancient paleozoic seas, invertebrate life was already divided into practically all the major groups with which we are familiar today.
Whatever the motive, the consequence is that if a reputable scholar breathes so much as a hint of criticism of some detail of current Darwinian theory, the fact is eagerly seized on and blown up out of all proportion. So strong is this eagerness, it is as though there were a powerful amplifier, with a finely tuned microphone selectively listening out for anything that sounds the tiniest bit like opposition to Darwinism. This is most unfortunate, for serious argument and criticism is a vitally important part of any science, and it would be tragic if scholars felt the need to muzzle themselves because of the microphones. Needless to say the amplifier, though powerful, is not hi-fi: there is plenty of distortion! A scientist who cautiously whispers some slight misgiving about a current nuance of Darwinism is liable to hear his distorted and barely recognizable words booming and echoing through the eagerly waiting loudspeakers.
We cannot disprove beliefs like these, especially if it is assumed that God took care that his interventions always closely mimicked what would be expected from evolution by natural selection. All that we can say about such beliefs is, firstly, that they are superfluous and, secondly, that they assume the existence of the main thing we want to explain, namely organized complexity. The one thing that makes evolution such a neat theory is that it explains how organized complexity can arise out of primeval simplicity.
Paleontology is now looking at what is actually finds, not what it is told that it is supposed to find. As is now well known, most fossil species appear instantaneously in the fossil record, persist for some millions of years virtually unchanged, only to disappear abruptly — the “punctuated equilibrium” pattern of Eldredge and Gould.
Darwin offered strong, if grudging, praise and took Mivart far more seriously than any other critic…Mivart gathered, and illustrated with admirable art and force” (Darwin’s words), all objections to the theory of natural selection — “a formidable array” (Darwin’s words again). Yet one particular theme, urged with special attention by Mivart, stood out as the centerpiece of his criticism. It remains today the primary stumbling block among thoughtful and friendly scrutinizers of Darwinism. No other criticism seems so troubling, so obviously and evidently “right” (against a Darwinian claim that seems intuitively paradoxical and improbable). Mivart awarded this criticism a separate chapter in his book, right after the introduction. He also gave it a name, remembered ever since. He called it “The Incompetency of ‘Natural Selection’ to account for the Incipient Stages of Useful Structures.” If this phrase sounds like a mouthful, consider the easy translation: we can readily understand how complex and full developed structures work and owe their maintenance and preservation to natural selection — a wing, an eye, the resemblance of a bittern to a branch or of an insect to a stick or dead leaf. But how do you get from nothing to such an elaborate something if evolution must proceed through a long sequence of intermediate stages, each favored by natural selection? You can’t fly with 2% of a wing or gain much protection from an iota’s similarity with a potentially concealing piece of vegetation. How, in other words, can natural selection explain these incipient stages of structures that can only be used (as we now observe them) in much more elaborated form?”
Ultimately the Darwinian theory of evolution is no more nor less than the great cosmogenic myth of the twentieth century. Like the Genesis based cosmology which it replaced, and like the creation myths of ancient man, it satisfies the same deep psychological need for an all embracing explanation for the origin of the world which has motivated all the cosmogenic myth makers of the past, from the shamans of primitive peoples to the ideologues of the medieval church. The truth is that despite the prestige of evolutionary theory and the tremendous intellectual effort directed towards reducing living systems to the confines of Darwinian thought, nature refuses to be imprisoned. In the final analysis we still know very little about how new forms of life arise. The “mystery of mysteries” — the origin of new beings on earth — is still largely as enigmatic as when Darwin set sail on the Beagle.
The fact of the matter is that the fossil record not only documents evolution, but that it was the fossil record itself which forced natural scientists to abandon their idea of the fixity of species and look instead for a plausible mechanism of change, a mechanism of evolution. The fossil record not only demonstrates evolution in extravagant detail, but it dashes all claims of the scientific creationists concerning the origin of living organisms.
Since we proposed punctuated equilibria to explain trends, it is infuriating to be quoted again and again by creationists — whether through design or stupidity, I do not know — as admitting that the fossil record includes no transitional forms. The punctuations occur at the level of species; directional trends (on the staircase model) are rife at the higher level of transitions within major groups.
To propose and argue that mutations even in tandem with ‘natural selection’ are the root-causes for 6,000,000 viable, enormously complex species, is to mock logic, deny the weight of evidence, and reject the fundamentals of mathematical probability.
The occurrence of genetic monstrosities by mutation … is well substantiated, but they are such evident freaks that these monsters can be designated only as ‘hopeless.’ They are so utterly unbalanced that they would not have the slightest chance of escaping elimination through stabilizing selection …. the more drastically a mutation affects the phenotype, the more likely it is to reduce fitness. To believe that such a drastic mutation would produce a viable new type,
capable of occupying a new adaptive zone, is equivalent to believing in miracles …. The finding of a suitable mate for the ‘hopeless monster’ and the establishment of reproductive isolation from the normal members of the parental population seem to me insurmountable difficulties.
[I]t is a considerable strain on one’s credulity to assume that finely balanced systems such as certain sense organs (the eye of vertebrates, or the bird’s feather) could be improved by random mutations. This is even more true of some ecological chain relationships (the famous Yucca moth case, and so forth). However, the objectors to random mutations have so far been unable to advance any alternative explanation that was supported by substantial evidence.
I must be frank with you: the greatest danger confronting American evangelical Christianity is the danger of anti-intellectualism. The mind in its greatest and deepest reaches is not cared for enough. But intellectual nurture cannot take place apart from profound immersion for a period of years in the history of thought and the spirit. People who are in a hurry to get out of the university and start earning money or serving the church or preaching the gospel have no idea of the infinite value of spending years of leisure conversing with the greatest minds and souls of the past, ripening and sharpening and enlarging their powers of thinking. The result is that the arena of creative thinking is vacated and abdicated to the enemy… It will take a different spirit altogether to overcome this great danger of anti-intellectualism. For example, I say this different spirit, so far as philosophy alone — the most important domain for thought and intellect — is concerned, must see the tremendous value of spending an entire year doing nothing but poring intensely over the Republic or the Sophist of Plato, or two years over the Metaphysics or the Ethics of Aristotle, or three years over the City of God of Augustine. But if a start is made now on a crash program in this and other domains, it will take at least a century to catch up with the Harvards and Tübingens and Sorbonnes — and by then where will these universities be?
Our textbooks like to illustrate evolution with examples of optimal design — nearly perfect mimicry of a dead leaf by a butterfly or of a poisonous species by a palatable relative. But ideal design is a lousy argument for evolution, for it mimics the postulated action of an omnipotent creator. Odd arrangements and funny solutions are the proof of evolution — paths that a sensible God would never tread but that a natural process, constrained by history, follows perforce.
Persons are thinking and reflective as well as merely existing beings. They have unanswered puzzles in their minds as well as unrelieved estrangement in their souls. They have skeptical doubts about the truth they possess as well as despair about the meaning of life that is theirs. They are curious about intellectual answers as well as hungry for a new mode of being or existing. And clearly these two levels, the existential and the intellectual-reflective, are interacting and interrelated all the time.
Today our duty is to destroy the myth of evolution, considered as a simple, understood, and explained phenomenon which keeps rapidly unfolding before us. Biologists must be encouraged to think about the weaknesses and extrapolations that theoreticians put forward or lay down as established truths. The deceit is sometimes unconscious, but
not always, since some people, owing to their sectarianism, purposely overlook reality and refuse to acknowledge the inadequacies and falsity
of their beliefs.
The essence of Darwinism lies in a single phrase: natural selection is the creative force of evolutionary change. No one denies that selection will play a negative role in eliminating the unfit. Darwinian theories require that it create the fit as well.
The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology. The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference, however reasonable, not the evidence of fossils. Yet Darwin was so wedded to gradualism that he wagered his entire theory on a denial of this literal record: “The geological record is extremely imperfect and this fact will to a large extent explain why we do not find interminable varieties, connecting together all the extinct and existing forms of life by the finest graduated steps. He who rejects these views on the nature of the geological record, will rightly reject my whole theory.” ¶ Darwin’s argument still persists as the favored escape of most paleontologists from the embarrassment of a record that seems to show so little of evolution. In exposing the its cultural and methodological roots, I wish in no way to impugn the potential validity of gradualism (for all general views have similar roots). I wish only to point out that it was never “seen” in the rocks.
In defending gradualism as a nearly universal tempo, Darwin had to use Lyell’s most characteristic method of argument — he had to reject literal appearance and common sense for an underlying “reality.” (Contrary to popular myths, Darwin and Lyell were not the heroes of true science, defending objectivity against the the theological fantasies of such “catastrophists” as Cuvier and Buckland. Catastrophists were as committed to science as any gradualist; in fact, they adopted the more “objective” view that one should believe what one sees and not interpolate missing bits of a gradual record into a literal tale of rapid change.
Lewis continues his train of thought from “Men Without Chests”, criticizing the project of subjectivizing value. Lewis thinks the stakes are as grave as they can be: “the destruction of the society which accepts it”. But immediately, Lewis notes, such grave consequences do not make it false. And besides, there are “theoretical difficulties” as well. Those who advocate the subjectification of value, in this case the pseudonymous Gaius and Titius, presume some greater end even as they undercut traditional values. “In actual fact Gaius and Titius will be found to hold, with complete uncritical dogmatism, the whole system of values which happened to be in vogue among moderately educated young men of the professional classes during the period between the two wars. Their scepticism about values is on the surface: it is for use on other people’s values; about the values current in their own set they are not nearly sceptical enough.” But if Gaius and Titius have some ultimate ground for value in mind, which cannot be so debunked, what might that be? Lewis considers whether “instinct” can ground human value, but notes that instinct is itself contradictory and cannot warrant the leap from is to ought. One will be inexorably forced back to some objective law that presents itself to our conscience as self-evident and obligatory. “This thing which I have called for convenience the Tao, and which others may call Natural Law or Traditional Morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgements.” ~ Afterall