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Evolution, Science, and Religion

Dear Editor:

 

Abraham Rempel’s “Evolution and ‘I’,” which appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of The Torch, contains several serous errors.

 

Error 1:  ID is a Scientific Theory

 

Rempel claims that Intelligent Design (ID) is a scientific theory.  However, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania found otherwise (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitzmiller_v._Dover_Area_School_District), seeing ID as indistinguishable from creationism, a religious teaching.

 

Evidence presented at trial compared an earlier version of an ID textbook, Of Pandas and People, with the version adopted by the Dover School District, revealing the systematic replacement of the word “Creationism” (and creationist terms) with “Intelligent Design” (and ID terms).  This was done to hide ID’s religious origin, creationism having been ruled a religious concept by the Supreme Court in 1987.  In practical terms, ID is merely a synonym for creationism (http://ncse.com/rncse/26/1-2/my-role-kitzmiller-v-dover-0).

 

Further, it was shown that the main tenet of ID, that life is designed, is un-falsifiable (cannot be tested), is not based on evidence (is merely an argument), and that its few testable claims, such as the irreducible complexity of the flagella, the eye, and the blood clotting pathway were false.

 

While empirical challenges to evolution are fully acceptable, such challengers are based on evidence, not scripture or conjecture.  When ID proponents’ claim that biological features have “irreducible complexity” they mean that science has not explained that feature.  But they also mean that no such explanation is possible so we shouldn’t bother trying (http://www.millerandlevine.com/km/evol/design1/article.html).  And they don’t.

 

But in science, evidence matters.  When biologists actually looked into the blood clotting allegation they found that whales and dolphins, puffer fish, lampreys and sea squirts are all missing factors in their clotting pathways, yet their blood still clots, in contrast to ID claims (http://www.millerandlevine.com/km/evol/CSHL-2009.pdf).  This, along with other falsifications, allows scientists to reject the concept of ‘irreducible complexity’ with its fundamentalist underpinnings on factual grounds.

 

Error 2:  Evolution is Controversial among Professional Scientists

 

Rempel claims that Evolution is in doubt and is increasingly questioned by professional scientists.  This is untrue.  Evolution is widely and strongly supported by scientific organizations and their members.  There is no controversy among scientists.  The controversy is limited to adherents of religious fundamentalism who seek to counter and deny the evidence.

 

The National Center for Scientific Education, for example, list 110 professional scientific organizations that support evolution and oppose the teaching of ID as science.  Their website includes links to the written position papers of each (http://ncse.com/media/voices/science).

 

Error 3:  The Lack of Precambrian Fossils Challenges Evolution

 

When Darwin wrote ‘Origin,’ no Precambrian fossils were known.  Being honest, Darwin included this as a possible challenge to his theories.  It took 100 years to locate the missing fossils, largely because paleontologists were looking for macroscopic fossils only.  Since then, the fossil record has been pushed back from 540 million years in Darwin’s day, to 3.8 billion years today.  So now, the challenge is gone (http://www.pnas.org/content/97/13/6947.full).

 

Error 4: There Are No Precursors to the Cambrian Fauna

 

This is incorrect.  Not only have metazoan fossils (from organisms composed of tissues and organs) been found, but some appear to be precursors to the Cambrian explosion that followed.  The Ediacaran fossils (from soft‑bodied metazoans resembling modern jellyfish, sponges, worms, seaweed, sea anemones and sea pens) are the remains of the ancestors of shelled animals (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/474302/Precambrian-time/69817/Ediacaran-fossils).

 

The fossil record does not have to be perfect.  It only needs to show that precursors and potential precursors existed.  The Ediacaran fossils demonstrate that the Cambrian explosion was well underway before the Cambrian.  But because the organisms were soft-bodied, they did not fossilize extensively.

 

Error 5:  The Cambrian Explosion Occurred In Six Million Years (Too Short a Time for Natural Selection to Account for)

 

Rempel writes that it would take hundreds of millions of years to achieve the diversity observed in the Cambrian explosion.  He then claims that the Cambrian explosion occurred in six million years.  These claims are both inaccurate.

 

First, while it took over 540 million years to reach our ‘current’ biodiversity and complexity, Cambrian life was much simpler so needed less time.  It consisted only of invertebrates and primitive chordates.  There were no fish, land animals, or vascular plants.  While the Cambrian explosion increased the number of body plans, it did not greatly increase complexity.   In other words, we see only variations on a theme (http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1997/PSCF12-97Miller2.html).

 

Second, Rempel shortened the duration of the Cambrian era, claiming it was six million years long.  But the actual duration was 40 to 53 million years.  Shortening the timeframe by as much as 89 percent makes his arguments seem more plausible, but is wrong (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambrian).

 

Error 6:  Laboratory Experiments with Fruit Flies Have Never Produced Viable New Species

 

Rempel claims that none of the breeding experiments on fruit flies have resulted in new viable species.  However, according to Jerry Coyne (Why Evolution is True, Penguin Books, 2009, p. 180), More than half of the approximately twenty such studies on fruit flies produced reproductive isolation.  Further, Joseph Boxhorn in “Talk Origins Archive” lists several examples of recent speciation (http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-speciation.html#part5).

 

Speciation, which is characterized by reproductive isolation (the inability to breed with other species), results from various isolating mechanisms including timing (different breeding periods), physical incompatibility (size difference, shape), genetic incompatibility (mismatched chromosomes), physical preference, and behavioral differences.  Rempel makes the mistaken assumption that reproductive isolation is limited to genetic incompatibility.

 

Error 7:  Evolution Is Mathematically Impossible

This claim is similar to saying “man will never fly.”  It stems originally from William Paley’s watchmaker analogy.  The “argument” assumes that evolution is based on purely random events.  But this is incorrect.  Evolution is driven by natural selection, which is non‑random.

 

The vast pool of genes resulting from mutation is simply the raw material for natural selection.  And by mixing and matching, one can build many styles of “homes” from standard building materials.  Natural selection works by making existing populations better, not perfect.  It sifts through exiting genes and new ones that come along.  And since every organism born, hatched, or germinated carries a load of new mutations, there is a lot to work with (http://www.sanger.ac.uk/about/press/2011/110612.html).

 

We know natural selection works and is capable of driving evolution because of field studies, laboratory experiments, and computer simulations.  We know the evolution occurred because it is demonstrated by the fossil record, in molecular studies of living species, through biogeography, vestigial structures, atavism (like humans born with tails), and from comparing the physical features of living species.  And we know that evolution is mathematically feasible because of computer simulations—all of which counter the “random” argument, thus revealing its faulty and ideologically driven logic.

 

Conclusion

 

The arguments presented in “Evolution and I” mirror those from fundamentalist Christian literature.  And they demonstrate the same inability to acknowledge scientific evidence found in that literature.  The paper ignores the religious underpinnings of ID, rejects the obvious interpretation of the fossil record, alters timeframes to support its thesis, and denies the existence of precursors to the Cambrian explosion.  Lastly, it ignores the mountains of evidence and the many mathematical and computer models revealing evolution as fact.

 

If facts are modified to match ideological principles and religious dogma, then there can be no knowledge.  And when scientific facts can be challenged without evidence, then there can be no science.

 

Larry Zaleski

Hagerstown Torch Club