December 1, 2005


Don’t Fear the Designer: Competing philosophies and beliefs. (Tom Bethell, 12/01/05, National Review)

If we discount trivial examples like bacterial resistance or "change over time" or small changes in beak size among the finches of the Galapagos Islands, we don't know very much about evolution at all. We don't see it happening around us, or in the rocks.

In my book, I quote Colin Patterson, a senior paleontologist at the British Museum of Natural History, telling a professional audience at the American Museum in New York that there was "not one thing" he knew about evolution. He had asked the evolutionary-morphology seminar at the University of Chicago if there was anything they knew about it, and, he said: "The only answer I got was silence."

Patterson, who died a few years ago, was an atheist and once told me that he regarded the Bible as "a pack of lies." There was no way he could be accused of Biblical primitivism. People would ask him, with a note of alarm, "Well, you do believe in evolution, don't you?" He would respond that science wasn't supposed to be a system of belief.

So let's look at the evidence adduced for evolution. The fossil record is sparse. Bats, for example — the only mammals capable of powered flight — appear suddenly in the fossil record, with their sonar systems already fully developed. "There are no half bats," as a world expert on bats once said. The experts have no idea what animal gave rise to the first bat.

The creatures that evolution purports to explain are fantastically complex. The cell, thought at the time of Darwin to be a "simple little lump of protoplasm," is as complicated as a high-tech factory. We have no actual evidence that it evolved — and yet we are asked, indeed obliged, to believe that it did.

In the human body, there are 300 trillion cells, and each "knows" what part it must play in the growing organism. To this day, embryologists have no idea how this happens — even though they have been trying to figure it out for 150 years.

Imagine an automobile company that came out with a new model that could do the remarkable things that living creatures do. How amazed we would be! The car would be able to repair itself, if not damaged too badly. Dent it and, in a few days, the dent is gone. It needs to rest for a few hours every day but it can keep going for 80 years on bread and water, with perhaps vegetables thrown in. And it can hook up with another version of the same automobile, and produce in a few months' time new, tiny versions of itself, which will then grow up to full-size autos with the ability to reproduce in turn.

We have been unable to do anything remotely like this in the lab. Yet we are surrounded by lowly creatures that do these things every day — and we express no amazement. We have been trained to be blasé about the marvels of creation. "Oh, evolution did that," we say. "It was just a matter of random mutation; nothing surprising there." "These things arose by accident and were selected for."

That phrase — "it was selected for" — is regarded as a sufficient explanation for . . . everything. The same mundane phrase is given as the explanation for everything under the sun. How did the bats get sonar? "It arose by an accidental mutation of the genes and was selected for. Next question?" How did the eye develop? "Piecemeal. There was a random mutation and it conferred an advantage so it was selected for. Then the same thing happened over and over again. Next question?" How did the camel get its hump? "Random mutations conferred some advantage and so they were selected for. Next question?"

This is the science before which all knees must bend? These explanations are no better than "Just-So stories" (as one or two Harvard professors have rightly said). No actual digging in the dirt is needed: The theorist merely contemplates the trait in question and makes up a plausible story as to how it might have been advantageous.

When secularism was in the ascendant, and where it remains so today, it made sense for its adherents to demand that everyone pay obeisance to Darwinism--societies demand conformity to their core principles as a minimum condition of membership. But with secularism in decline, its ideologies are destined to fade as well. No one today believes in Freudianism. No one today takes Marxism seriously. Darwin will just be the third of the bearded god-killers to be interred. And not even scientists will miss his dogma.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 1, 2005 5:14 PM

If evolution is a "just-so" story, the Bible is more of the same -- even less accurate, in that it completely ignores such proven facts as the age of the earth. The reason that we don't see evolution happening in ourselves or in rocks is that it is a slow process, happening on the order of geologic time. When you acknowledge that the Earth is more than 6,000 years old, you have gone a long way towards understanding evolution. The Bible is a very important document, but it is not a scientific one, nor should it be treated as such. If we were to treat it like a biology textbook, it would lose its spiritual power.

Posted by: Hollis at December 1, 2005 5:52 PM


Exactly. Darwinism is just like the Creation story scientifically. The difference between the two is moral.

Posted by: oj at December 1, 2005 6:01 PM

Darwin's theory is not a faith, despite all your claims. I'll give you one simple reason why, if you guys came up with a better theory TODAY, I'd consider it, and accept it with no moral or intellectual trauma at all. In fact, I'd be delighted with your discovery.

In contrast, would any evidence AT ALL dissuade you from believing in the God Did It version? Like a giant stone tabelet falling out of the sky with 'It was here when I got here' signed 'With high regards, God'?

Darwin's theory is not going anywhere, because 'God did it' is not a scientific theory any more than 'Krishna blew it out of his backside'. I'm totaly pro Christian, but seriously, this creationism obsession is dumb.

Posted by: Amos at December 1, 2005 6:57 PM

There is interesting scientific research from the Institute for Creation Research ( calls into question the accuracy of carbon dating.

Of course, we can't pay attention to their predetermined ravings; there has to be an old earth. For without an old earth...

Posted by: RLS at December 1, 2005 7:04 PM

Amos: If Darwinism is not a faith, then why did so many people start putting the "Darwin fish" on their cars after Christians had long put the fish on theirs?

Posted by: b at December 1, 2005 7:13 PM


Here's an alternative theory to Darwinism on the origin and development of life:

We don't know!

I checked it out in the lab this evening and all the evidence backs me up.

Posted by: Peter B at December 1, 2005 7:29 PM

i have noticed a pattern in these conversations. whenever someone challenges darwinism, the true believers come back with "the earth isn't 6000 years old". well no one here said it was. the topic under discussion is the validity of darwinism, and not any competing theories. so come on comrades, show us how darwinism is scientific, give us the proof, all i want is some proof.

Posted by: chuck darwin at December 1, 2005 7:44 PM

I usually don't comment on the Darwin threads, but only 5400 site visits to go, and BJB is at a million!

Posted by: jim hamlen at December 1, 2005 7:55 PM


Yes, and if we can just get creeper and Anon into a new thread on evolution, we'll be there by morning.

Posted by: Peter B at December 1, 2005 8:22 PM

Peter: It certainly is a miracle that there haven't been any casualties in Iraq. That must be due to the brilliance, bravery and vast military experience of George W. Bush, the greatest leader of any nation in the entire 6000 year history of the world since Creation. I certainly hope they teach this in school right after Creationism class.

Which reminds me: have I ever mentioned what a boon the Inquisition was for the Jews.

Posted by: David Cohen at December 1, 2005 8:48 PM

Not for the Jews, for Spain.

Posted by: oj at December 1, 2005 8:51 PM


Tut-tut--Jeff says it's the process by which God Created Man. Don't interrupt his breakthrough to [super]natural evolutionary theory.

Posted by: oj at December 1, 2005 8:57 PM

peter, that made me laugh heartily. thanks.

Posted by: cjm at December 1, 2005 9:39 PM

OJ: the inquistion crippled Spain and southern Italy for hundreds of years.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at December 1, 2005 9:56 PM

Though it was a boon for the Ottomans.

Posted by: David Cohen at December 1, 2005 11:07 PM

In 1492 if you bought Ottoman futures and I bought Spanish futures who came out ahead?

Posted by: oj at December 1, 2005 11:09 PM

Depends on the term. Right now, I'd rather have my money on Turkey.

Posted by: David Cohen at December 1, 2005 11:30 PM

Chuck the last thing you want or accept would be proof. Why do whales have hip bones? Why do no contemporay large mammals like horses or elephants exist in the Jurassic strata? On and on it goes. There is no final proof for the existance of anything, not even yourself. What we have is evidence supporting, mountains of it.

And as for God's existence, all I ask is for proof, Chuck, got any proof? Or does your craving for proof only go one way?

I don't demand proof for religious beliefs, so stop mixing science with religion, the two are different, that's not to say both aren't important.

And also stop suggesting I'm one of those jackasses with a darwin fish on his car.

Posted by: Amos at December 1, 2005 11:32 PM

Aaachhh, another anti-Darwin thread. A few points:

1) Marx was a pioneer but hugely wrong, Freud was a pioneer who was partly right but has been superceded in the field he helped start, Darwin another pioneer but was largely right.

2) The fact that we can't fully test evolutionary theory doesn't invalidate it. We can't fully test theories about how stars age, either, but astrophysics is still science.

3) Complexity arises startlingly easily from a combination of simple rules and random chance. See Conway's game of Life.

4) There are numerous ways (radioactive and other) to date fossils, and they tend to agree with one another. The fact that

5) Like Democrats attacking Republicans these days, anti-evolution types are good at picking at flaws but fail to advance any real alternative. "ID" doesn't cut it, because it fails to account for all the dumb design decisions in various species. Nipples on men? The appendix? The human spine not optimal for walking upright? Was that because God has a bad back and we're in His image? Come on. And why do so many species share so many genes? Why are some species extinct, and why do all of today's appear to have started at different times in the fossil record? Until ID can explain those things (and hundreds more) with something other than "Because God did it," it's going nowhere as science.

Posted by: PapayaSF at December 2, 2005 12:01 AM

A few more things. The history of science (or even human knowledge) is admittedly a history of "pushing God back." No modern person believes that God actively directs every bit of weather, every chemical reaction, the movement of every light in the sky. But all of the rules we've learned about how the universe works and how we came to be does not prove or disprove the existence of God. Some find evolution an argument against the existence of God, but it really doesn't prove anything about God one way or another, anymore than Einstein or Newton or Galileo or Archimedes did.

Using science and logic to explain some aspect of the real world does not and cannot prove or disprove the existence of God. God is, by definition, larger than human life and thought, and beyond the reach of science.

So I wish you folks would stop acting as if Darwin and evolutionary theory and science were, in and of themselves, an attack on faith. The fact that some have used them for that purpose is largely beside the point. (I know someone will jump on that "largely" but I've already written enough.) The entire conservative anti-evolution thing only serves to discredit the Right in the eyes of not just the Left but among many educated people who might otherwise agree on other issues.

Posted by: PapayaSF at December 2, 2005 1:23 AM

I agree.

I find the fact that we are beginning to understand the incalculable complexity of the processes behind speciation does nothing to confirm or deny God. If God exists he doesnt do things with magic, the vast processes set in motion either by a giant random explosion or the will of a creator move and develop according to physical rules. If you want to speculate that the almighty is behind it then fine, but that's religion, not science.

PapayaSF is right, figuring out the universes mechanics is not an attack on faith, if it is you have a pretty insecure faith.

Posted by: Amos at December 2, 2005 1:39 AM

ergo cognito sum

belief in the absence of proof is what again ? just can't quite put my finger on it...oh, now i remember, it's called "faith".

thank you for proving my point. next! (no prize for you though).

yes, i do want proof

Posted by: chuck darwin at December 2, 2005 2:08 AM

Evolution is proveable. Creationism is not proveable.

Its that simple!

Posted by: oldkayaker at December 2, 2005 2:23 AM

then prove it.

Posted by: chuck darwin at December 2, 2005 3:28 AM

oldkayaker isn't quite right: you can no more 'prove' the theory of evolution than you can 'prove' that everything is not an illusion. But science deals in evidence and best theories, not philosophical games.

chuck: 'cogito ergo sum' actually only proves that "a thought exists now". Doesn't say anything substantial at all about chuck darwin.

PapayaSF is quite right that strictly speaking darwinism does not say anything at all about God or initial Creation, and it is not necessary to be atheist if you are a darwinist.

However, like most science in history, it is corrosive to religious explanation.

Indeed, it is probably more corrosive than any other single piece of science ever, because it destroys the best argument for God: the argument from design. Which is also why it is more vehemently opposed by the religious than any other single piece of science.

Posted by: Brit at December 2, 2005 5:21 AM


Yes, we can all read. Your argument that God establishes the process makes it supernatural Intelligent Design, that it is used to Create Man makes it Creationist, that it has fulfilled its function expolains why it has ended, but makes it deterministic.

Posted by: oj at December 2, 2005 7:18 AM


It's opposed because it's a rival religion and an evil one. That it endures is a function of it not being science and therefore, as you point out, impervious to scientific disproof.

Posted by: oj at December 2, 2005 7:19 AM


No, science is generally just a healthy curiosity about how the Universe works. Darwinism is unique in making no pretense to science and being motivated solely by an anti-Christian and racial-political impulse.

(Not by Darwin so much as by huxley and company, though Darwin made clear that his theory was meant to explain a theological quandry: "With respect to the theological view of the question. This is always painful to me. I am bewildered. I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.")

Posted by: oj at December 2, 2005 7:36 AM


1) Three identical men--one of whom is your guru so you still believe.

2) None of it has ever been validated, unlike physics.

3) You lost the argument at the point you said "rules"

4) Yes, fossils exist. Their existence says nothing about Darwinism.

5) That's an anti-scientific argument. The failure of your theory doesn't depend on the proof of a rival, just on the failure itself.

Posted by: oj at December 2, 2005 7:46 AM


Yes, well, the Spanish have unfortunately stopped Inquisiting, which is why they'll decline. However, if we just take it up to the point where Aznar fell and the multiculti crowd took over:

GDP - per capita: $7,400

GDP - per capita: $23,300

Posted by: oj at December 2, 2005 7:49 AM


I said you can't 'prove' the theory of evolution. You could certainly scientifically disprove it, but that hasn't happened yet.

Posted by: Brit at December 2, 2005 8:01 AM


Are you sure about that? How about the evidence that man's evolution since the common ancestor has been away from any ability to survive unaided by artifical means (fire, clothes, shelter, tools)in his natural environment?

Posted by: Peter B at December 2, 2005 8:28 AM

You mean why are we naked, or how did we get clever enough to use tools, fire etc?

Posted by: Brit at December 2, 2005 8:44 AM


No, you can't. We can show you over and over that nothing evolves via Natural Selection but that won't stop you from believing that something will one day and support your faith. Worse, were something to evolve into a new species there'd be no way to demonstrate whether it had happened as a fiunction of Nature or of design.

Posted by: oj at December 2, 2005 8:47 AM

Almost everything about everything that lives, breathes, sleeps, eats, is eaten, reproduces, jumps, grows and dies is evidence of evolution by natural selection.

That's why scientists don't spend any time arguing about it anymore, but certain religious people spend all of their time arguing against it.

Posted by: Brit at December 2, 2005 9:01 AM


of evolution. Not of evolution by natural selection.

Most scientists don't fret about it because Darwinism doesn't offer anything scientifically useful to them:

It's only needed by ideologues.

Posted by: oj at December 2, 2005 9:11 AM

Since you have elsewhere conceded that natural selection is the process by which change within a species occurs, but that speciation requires an external intervention (I recall something about gamma rays?) I wonder why you also object to Intelligent Design - your position is perfectly textbook ID.

'Allopatric speciation' is a fancy name, but the principle is simple enough: if a population is split into geographic areas where different selection pressures apply, they will deviate accordingly through the process of natural selection.

Posted by: Brit at December 2, 2005 9:20 AM


because evolution is designed by God, not by an unknown "intelligence". Intelligent Design is pretended ignorance.

yes, the "allopatric" is to differentiate from actual speciation and the clearest concession that natural selection failed.

Posted by: oj at December 2, 2005 9:26 AM

So does God intervene only in speciation, or in every element of evolution, or not at all?

Posted by: Brit at December 2, 2005 9:32 AM

Only He knows and He didn't feel it important to go into that level of detail. But if we're made sufficienmtly in His Image we can conjecture from how we'll go about it and we'd likely establish the necessary initial conditions then just intervene in a massive way (via radiation) to cause widespread speciation, then inject a discrete tweak here and there, which is how evolution indeed proceeds according to the scientific evidence.

Posted by: oj at December 2, 2005 9:50 AM


Posted by: Brit at December 2, 2005 10:06 AM