Evolution was claimed to be an undeniable fact in the nineteenth century so today new proofs hardly seem necessary. But science continues to offer them up, say evolutionists, as we probe the depths of biology. These days a common source of such proofs is the genomic data which exploded onto the scene in recent decades. But are the new data really undeniable confirmations of Enlightenment speculation or are the new data merely interpreted according to the same old metaphysics?
The genomic revolution has taught us that genomes contain far more than an inventory of genes. Included is a genomic cast of characters, including viruses, pseudogenes, and LINEs and SINEs (long and short interspersed elements, respectively), to name a few. Evolutionists were quick to find that such intruders were not only useless junk but in accordance with common descent—they appear in the same genetic location in cousin species. Such evidence, according to evolutionists, proved their theory yet again, and once and for all.
The molecular revolution was providing the usual evidence of dysteleology, but it was coupled with commonality across species. The so-called shared error evidence, like identical typos in homework assignments from different students, provided the ultimate proof text of a common source. There could no longer be any doubt, evolution was mandated by the evidence.
Indeed there is much evidence here that supports evolution. But there are problems as well. Occasionally, for instance, this genomic junk does not align with the pattern required by common descent but instead mysteriously appears where it shouldn’t (such as in distant species rather than close cousins) or is absent from where it should be (such as in a particular species among many).
Such anomalies can be explained by various mechanisms. Perhaps junk occasionally goes missing because it failed to become fixed in the population, though it succeeded in cousin species. Or perhaps DNA repair processes sometimes erase the junk repeatedly and independently in cousin species. Or perhaps insertion site preferences cause the same pattern to appear in distant species.
Aside from speculation, we don’t know how evolution created such mechanisms. But given their existence and utility in explaining anomalous patterns, this means that evolutionists can explain a wide variety of patterns. And that means the particular pattern we do observe is less compelling evidence for evolution.
The Finding of Function and Theory-Dependent Interpretations of Evidence
Another problem altogether is the failure of the evolutionary expectation (and triumphant proclamation) that these genomic intruders are nothing more than junk. In fact this so-called junk has occasionally been discovered to perform various functions, such as in embryonic development and gene regulation. Indeed evolutionists have had to conclude that this junk actually played an important role in, yes, evolution itself.
But if you already believe that all of biology just happened to arise by itself, then it is hardly a challenge to believe that retro viruses and the like could have serendipitously played important roles in the narrative. Philosophers refer to this as theory-dependent observations. The evolutionist’s credulous interpretation is a consequence of the fact that they are evolutionists to begin with.
From a theory-neutral perspective these functions cast a long shadow on evolution. Are we simply and automatically to believe that evolution just happened to create retro viruses which then, in turn, just happened to play crucial roles in the evolution of the species?
The Religion in Evolution
Given these conundrums one might think evolutionists would go easy on these evidences. There certainly is plenty of supporting evidence, but there are complicating questions. The complicating questions, however, have to do with the details of evolutionary history. How could this happen and how could that happen?
Those are merely the details of evolutionary theory, and evolutionary theory never was motivated by the liklihood of evolution. Evolutionary theory is, and always has been, motivated by the mandate for naturalistic explanation. As so many Christians have argued, naturalism is required for both philosophy and theology. Both man and god need a natural history, for anything less is bad science and bad religion.
In this case, it is obvious that god never would have designed or created pseudogenes, viruses and the rest of the genomic malcontents. We would have to believe, as Ken Miller explains, that the designer made serious errors, wasting millions of bases of DNA on a blueprint full of junk and scribbles. As Elliot Sober has pointed out, this is the Darwinian principle—it is not that the probability of the evidence is so high on evolution, but that it is so low on creation.
Whether the pattern always fits, or whether unlikely functions are discovered, is altogether irrelevant. Yes, they reduce the probability of the evidence on evolution, but so what? What’s the difference between 0.1/0 and 0.01/0? Either way evolution wins.
This is evolutionary thinking. Darwin and evolutionists before and after, evaluate the evidence on creation and find it wanting. Furthermore naturalistic explanation is necessary for good science. Evolutionary theory is unlikely, but necessarily true, for the alternatives are both false and not allowed anyway.
Yes there is evidence for evolution in the genome. It is complicated but any objective analysis would tally points for Darwin. But those points would have to be compared to the many other evidences, both for and against the theory. The problematic evidences are formidable and evolution would not emerge unscathed. The genomic evidence in particular, and the totality of evidence in general, do not bode well for evolution, whichever version one favors. The idea from Kent certainly would not qualify for anything close to the status of fact. Unless, that is, the idea had to be true. Religion drives science and it matters.