Sunday Night Journal — November 13, 2005
Sunday Night Journal — November 27, 2005

Sunday Night Journal — November 20, 2005

Is Evolutionism Science?

The indignant charge I keep hearing against the theory of intelligent design is that it isn’t science. As best I can tell this complaint can mean one of two things: either that ID allows for the possible existence of non-material reality, or that it is not an experimental science. The first of these is just materialist philosophy trying to pass itself off as science. But the second, I suppose, is true. I’ve always thought that the function of ID is necessarily only negative. It seems to me that the term itself might involve a bit of over-reach, because it can only hope to show that the theory of development by accident is inadequate to explain the facts, not to prove positively that any other mechanism is operative.

The Darwinist antagonists of ID say that it is non-testable and non-falsifiable, and has no predictive power. How could one test it, they say?—wait around for God to create something? And they seem to find this a very witty and telling question.

But it strikes me, as a layman, that this charge can just as easily be made against materialistic evolutionism—let’s call it evolutionism, for convenience. The simplest claims of evolutionism are not, as far as I know, contested by any one, even the young-earth creationists: everyone agrees that organisms undergo modifications which are passed on to their progeny, and that if conditions favor the survival of individuals with a certain modification it will eventually become a characteristic feature. This sort of evolutionary theory has been understood and put to practical use for millennia, although, obviously, no one had any idea of the mechanisms involved. What is only predicted by the theory, and in principle can never be verified experimentally, is that chemical and genetic events are sufficient to account for the entire development of the cosmos, including the presumed evolution of our planet from lifeless rock to the home of millions (billions?) of species, including one which has the ability to ask how it came to be here. How could one test this?—wait around for evolution to create life on a bare rock?

There are three great transitions which, I think, are likely always to remain mysterious: that from nothing to something, from non-life to life, and from life to consciousness. The first of these is inherently unknowable, and evolutionists seem content to ignore it—understandably enough, because it shakes their whole edifice. As for the second, I’m aware that some scientists claim to have produced in the laboratory minute changes in both non-living and living materials of a sort that they believe might be involved in the evolution of life on the grand scale. Although I’m not remotely qualified to pass judgment on their real significance, I think I’m entitled to say, as a reasonable person exercising reasonable judgment, that they do not constitute anything approaching a proof of the dogma that no causes other than material and accidental ones are required to produce everything we know, up to and including human consciousness. And as for that third transition, well, I can’t think of any bigger leap of credulity than that taken by those who assume that consciousness is a by-product of the activity of the brain. There is no evidence whatsoever for this; it is a logical deduction from materialist premises, but no more.

How can evolutionism ever conceivably be anything more than an hypothesis? Its adherents insist that science in general would be retarded significantly if it could not proceed on the assumption that evolution works more or less as they describe it. I don’t see why this should be true: why it is necessary to make so many hypothetical postulates about the origins of things in order to study them as they presently are? As a matter of pure logic, the fact that all living things share fundamental building blocks, and that they can be grouped into smaller categories on the basis of more specialized components (e.g. bones), doesn’t imply common descent from the more simple to the more complex any more strongly than it implies the sort of design that we practice every day—i.e., variations on certain basic ideas and features. (I understand that there are other reasons for believing in common descent, but the existence of common features has never struck me as very persuasive one way or the other.)

Would it really damage science so badly to admit that we simply don’t know, and probably never will know, exactly how things came to be? What drives someone like Richard Dawkins to venture so far beyond any knowable facts in insisting that evolutionism is proven? And whose is the real offense against the method and spirit of scientific investigation?

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