We considered the intersection of science and metaphysics in Evolution and Atheism. The idea there was to consider one’s philosophical presuppositions, when doing science, such as scientific inquiry into the origin of life. We ended on the observation that calling skeptics of Evolution “anti-science” is just a form of shouting down the opposition. It’s closed-mindedness.
Macro- and Micro-evolution
It’s helpful to pause and consider what we mean when we say “evolution.” Those who recognize that evolution is not among the “laws” of science consider that it can mean something as simple as variation within a species, to something as complex as a full explanation for speciation and all of the taxonomic varieties of life. The former is sometimes referred to as micro-evolution; the latter as macro-evolution.
We should remember what the theory of macro-evolution actually holds, rather than taking it as given. It holds that the fittest individuals are “selected” by the operation of chance mutation combined with motivating pressures such as getting food and avoiding danger. “Evolution” or “macro-evolution” is thus sometimes used interchangeably with “natural selection.”
Words matter. The word “selection” really doesn’t belong, in discussion of a theory of biological development that proceeds in the passive way that Darwinian evolution is said to operate. There is no “selection,” because there is no entity doing the selecting. The very word implies an intelligence outside the system of biological development, but the entire point of Darwinian macroevolution is that there is no such outside intelligence.
This becomes more clear if we consider that this process we call “selection” has no innovative capacity. By definition, nothing new is brought to the process which is evolution. What happens, according to the theory of macroevolution, is that existing life lives or dies according to chance variations existing in individuals. The survivors are not “selected,” but rather survive because they are better adapted to the pressures of living than are other individuals with other combinations of biological features.
The “Selfish Gene”
In the same way, there is no “selfish gene,” contra Dawkins, because the genes (equivalent to the combination of physical features adapted to the pressures of living) do not make decisions. There is no “selection” from the outside, but there is no “selection” from the inside, as by selfish genes, either. The phrase, “selfish gene,” is like “selection:” just another unfortunate choice of words. One seems to be from the outside; the other from the inside. They both imply independent action, or agency, however, when the whole point of the theory is that such agency is lacking.
“Selection” is not an agency with innovative capacity. It is not something that acts upon the life that exists, so that the life survives or does not survive. Instead, the theory holds that the living thing survives or dies based on whether it happens, by chance variation in features, to be better adapted to circumstances.
To say it another way, the process which is unfortunately called “natural selection” is a process whereby the weak is weeded out from the strong, with the strong surviving. But the strong had to already have been in existence. The strong were not created by the process. “Selection” of the strong is not the same as creation of the strong. Generation of the strong features that cause certain individuals to survive had to have come about by some other means than selection.
Chance Plus Challenge
Chance alone does not account for evolution as an explanation of biological origins, as most of its proponents will agree. The role of chance is only in producing random mutations. To understand how variation and speciation and branching into types of life can occur, one must also consider life challenges, in order to understand that individuals with some mutations survive longer, and procreate, while others die. The surviving individuals are better adapted to those challenges of living.
What are the challenges of living? Certainly, they include the pressures of getting food and avoiding danger. Danger means not getting eaten by predators, but it also means being shaded out by larger tree specimens, or simply falling out of the tree. Retention of some mutations, over time, are believed to make the individual more adaptable to its environment, which means being more capable of meeting the challenges of living.
Procreation a Life Challenge?
Important point. One might be tempted to add procreation to the pressures of life that also act upon chance, but that isn’t really helpful to the theory of evolution. The drive to procreate must have come from somewhere. It is not obviously something within the individuals already, under evolution theory. If it were, it would have to be recognized as an interior impelling agency. But there is no such agency, according to the theory. In fact, the existence of the drive to procreate cuts against the theory of evolution, rather than supporting it.
This is another reason why the idea of a “selfish gene” is so pernicious to our thinking about how evolution is supposed to work. It causes us to ascribe agency, as noted above, but one of the outworkings of that agency is that it drives individual organisms from within, to procreate. The drive to procreate is unmistakeable, but that doesn’t mean that it is a result of evolution. Indeed, as important as procreation is to the theory of evolution, the theory itself would seem to negate the drive to procreation as being among life’s challenges. Biological evolution is a passive result of the interaction of chance and challenge. The drive to procreation is not a passive response, but an impelling impulse in living things.
“Selection” Is Not a Force
Here is the central and fundamental mistake of evolution as a theory of biological origins. Chance alone does not account for evolution. Instead, natural selection is thought to be a law of nature that sifts random mutations that result from chance. The resulting selection is thought to be a concentrated path for living things’ change over time, than would occur by chance alone.
The problem with that is that “selection” does no sifting of the random mutations. Some mutations survive to procreation, and some die beforehand. The fittest mutation may survive, but it may not, and it is no more likely to survive, if the mutation does not by itself (before development into an entire system of mutations built upon mutations) confer a survival advantage. And even if it did, there is not enough time for operation of random chance with almost equally random effects of life challenge, even on an earth that is 4.5 billion years old.
We must remember that macroevolution has never been observed in nature. As Michael Behe observed with regard to observation of some 30,000 generations of E. coli bacteria (the equivalent of about a million human years), there has been no evolutionary change; in fact, the only change noted has been some devolution. There is a limit to what evolution can do, and it appears to be limited to variations within general types of living things. The example of malaria resistance is another good example of the limit of evolution. The human equivalent to a single successful selection of mutation like malaria’s resistance to chloroquinine would take many hundreds of thousands of years more than the age of the entire universe.
On top of all that, the fossil record provides no evidence of macroevolution. In fact, what it shows is that species exhibit no significant change during their tenure on earth. They disappear from the fossil record in essentially the same form they appear. Morphological change is usually limited and directionless (meaning, that to the extent there is change, it is not necessarily a positive change). In addition, species in the fossil record are identified fully formed. There is no indication of a gradual transformation of its ancestors. Nor is there any indication in the present vast array of living things of gradual gradations from one type of living thing to another.
Evolution theorists have still not adequately explained the problem of the so-called Cambrian explosion. Huge numbers of creatures appear, according to the fossil record, to have come suddenly into existence in a period of time too short to be explained by evolution, and moreover, the fossil record of living things prior to the Cambrian explosion provide no like-kind predecessors for many of the animals living afterward.
So. Are we “anti-science,” for pointing out the scientific shortcomings of macro-evolution?