Evolution is at a Tipping Point
The Galileo Affair is the posterchild of the Warfare Thesis myth. As the story goes, poor old Galileo was a great scientist just doing his job when, after inventing the telescope, discovered the Earth goes around the Sun and this led to a firestorm of religious opposition from biblical literalists who naively and dogmatically referred to those passages of Scripture that say the Sun revolves around the Earth, and all this led to merciless persecution, torture and imprisonment of Galileo.
Furthermore, just as the literalists opposed poor old Galileo in the seventeenth century, so too they are opposing the innocent evolutionists today. If you admit that Galileo was right about heliocentrism back then, then you must agree that evolutionists today are right about mutations creating the species. It is just good solid science at work.
But this is a false argument on every count. First, this retelling of the Galileo Affair that we hear so often today is all wrong. Galileo did not invent the telescope, he did not discover, or otherwise prove, heliocentrism, he was not just a humble scientist, the serious opposition and legal problems he faced did not stem from biblical literalists, the Scripture does not say the Sun revolves around the Earth, and Galileo was not tortured and did not go to jail.
Yes, there were those who viewed heliocentrism as violating scripture, but generally they were easily dissuaded. There was much more serious resistance that Galileo would face. For example, his ideas unquestionably violated Aristotelian physics and ideology which not only was still active but at times had been elevated practically to the status of official church doctrine. Furthermore (i) Galileo’s caustic personality, and his penchant for humiliating people and making enemies (including his one-time friend, the Pope), (ii) the fact that leading astronomers of the day by no means were in agreement on this cosmological question and often held to opposing views, and (iii) the turbulent politics of the day, all conspired to make the going tough for Galileo.
It is misleading and a misrepresentation of history to hold up the Galileo Affair as an example of biblical literalism opposing scientific progress. Yet there it is.
But false history is not the only fruit of the Warfare Thesis, it also leads to false science. Just as historians prevaricate on the history, scientists prevaricate on the science. Consider, for example, the origin of life (OOL) problem.
The spontaneous generation of life was once accepted, but Darwin contemporary Louis Pasteur demonstrated it does not happen. His Law of Biogenesis stated Omne vivum ex vivo (all life from life), and the burden of proof fell to the evolutionists to prove that over time evolution gets lucky, or that there was something different about the early Earth that changes the rules. Well the early Earth was indeed different, but not in ways that help evolution. And deep time doesn’t help either. Evolutionists have been trying to demonstrate the plausibility of life arising spontaneously, over millions of years, from non living chemicals for almost a century now with no luck. And luck is exactly what is needed, an astronomical amount of luck.
Evolutionists have explored every conceivable mechanism, and then some, to tackle the OOL problem. Perhaps life evolved in a warm little pond, or in bubbles, or in crystals, or at deep sea vents, or in clay, or by hypercycles, or from comets. Some have even said it must have been planted here by extra terrestrials because otherwise the OOL problem requires a miracle to solve.
Not only have evolutionists failed but we now have an enormous body of work confirming what common sense (and Pasteur) indicated all along—the most complicated thing in the universe probably didn’t arise spontaneously by chance events.
But none of this changed the evolutionist’s high claims that their idea is a fact, beyond all reasonable doubt. Scientific evidence didn’t seem to matter. In fact for many years evolutionists were not shy about claiming victory, in spite of the obvious failures. Mainstream evolutionists, organizations, and textbooks insisted the OOL problem was essentially solved, with only the details to be ironed out.
That, of course, was an enormous misrepresentation of science. More recently evolutionists have fortunately been more forthcoming about the empirical findings. They have agreed that the problem has not been solved, and that solutionists are not right around the corner.
For evolutionists that was quite a concession, but it did not change their overall truth claims. Evolution is still an undeniable fact and the misrepresentation is now at more of a philosophical level. This is obvious, for example, at the BioLogos presentation on the evidences for evolution. which makes this argument:
The fact that there is no answer today does not mean there will be no answer tomorrow. Though an explanation for the origin of life is currently elusive, this does not mean divine intervention is the only possible explanation.
The religious agenda is obvious. God must not be an intervening God—special divine action must not be allowed. The state of the art must not be reported as indicating any serious problem for OOL; rather, the problem merely has not yet been solved. This opens the door to scientific misrepresentations which come next:
Although we do not know the path that led to these early bacterial forms, it seems likely DNA had emerged as the information molecule by this time. Microbiologist and physicist Carl R. Woese suggests there was a considerable amount of lateral gene transfer among the first forms of bacteria called archaebacteria. Lateral gene transfer, which is the movement of genes from one bacterium to another, would have enabled the exchange of genetic material, and it would therefore expedite the process of diversification of biological function acted upon by natural selection.
Most in the BioLogos audience won’t recognize the falsehoods in these technical claims. It is easy to fudge the facts when no knows any better but these are, nonetheless, serious misrepresentations. No, it is not “likely” that “DNA had emerged as the information molecule by [a 100 million years of the Earth cooling].” That would be a tremendous breakthrough in OOL research if that were true.
But it isn’t true.
There is no experiment or even calculation show that this is likely. In fact it is the exact opposite. Such a scenario is not likely by today’s science, and that is one of the many problems for OOL.
Next, to say that Carl Woese called for “a considerable amount of lateral gene transfer” is another misrepresentation. Woese called for an entirely different scheme which might be called lateral gene transfer on steroids. This is important because Woese’s idea has no analog in reality. Nothing of the sort has ever been observed in the field or synthesized in the laboratory. What Woese needed was a fanciful world of communities of unicellular organisms which somehow spontaneously arose and then engaged in a highly organized, complex process of sharing genetic material which, if not carefully controlled, would have wreaked havoc even if it somehow could have arisen spontaneously (for which Woese presented no evidence).
The article concludes with more philosophical and fallacious misrepresentations:
Life on this Earth appeared approximately 3.85 billion years ago, yet serious scientific study of its origins began just 60 years ago. A convincing scientific explanation may still emerge in the next 50 years.
Question: What do 3.85 billion, 60, and 50 have to do with each other? Or more to the point, why would an older event require more time to figure out? Would the OOL problem be easier if it was supposed to have occurred 1 billion years ago? And why is 110 years required to solve the problem rather than 60?
The answer, of course, is that this is simply more machinations to avoid the clear and obvious fact that the scientific state of the art does not support evolution. Another machination is the use of false dichotomies:
it is dangerously presumptuous to conclude the origin of life is beyond discovery in the scientific realm simply because we do not currently have a convincing scientific explanation. Although the origin of life is certainly a genuine scientific mystery, this is not the place for thoughtful people to wager their faith.
Wager their faith? Beyond discovery? Dangerously presumptuous? These warnings speak volumes for here we have a window into evolutionary thought. We must be evolutionists for otherwise we would be lost in a world of fideism where one’s very faith is staked to scientific failure. No wonder evolutionists are committed naturalists—their religion depends on it.
Finally, there is the ultimate argument which firewalls OOL off from evolution.
Finally, as a purely technical matter, the theory of evolution does not propose an explanation to the question of the origin of life at all. The theory of evolution becomes relevant only after life has already begun
As if sensing a problem, and just in case we were beginning to have doubts, we are told to forget about the whole thing. Forget about all those journals, conferences, textbook claims about the origin of life, popular books and newspaper articles, speeches and blogs. It all has nothing to do with evolution after all.
Evolutionists believe that the species, life, the Earth and planets, the Sun, the galaxies, yes the entire universe arose by chance events. There is no limit to what evolution can create, but when problems arise, the topic is simply dismissed as extraneous to the theory.
The fact, which evolutionists are at pains to avoid, is that OOL research has not merely failed to find a solution. It has positively succeeded in scientifically demonstrating that such a solution is unlikely. That is, according to today’s state of the art. Could that all change with future findings? Of course. Are philosophical end-arounds available such as redefining “evolution,” or invoking the anthropic principle and multiverse? Again, of course. But none of this changes the scientific facts.
Evolution is at a tipping point. In recent years evolutionists have increasingly had to admit that OOL research has not succeeded. The problem has not been solved save for a few minor details. Nor is there an obvious solution just around the corner.
But what evolutionists have not admitted to is what this implies about the fact of evolution. Evolution never was a fact and evolutionist’s insistence that it is has always been metaphysical. But the OOL problem is a good case study to make this crystal clear. It is abundantly obvious, to any objective observer, that evolution is not a fact. But evolutionists will not go there. At least not yet.
Religion drives science, and it matters.