Author: Luther D. Sunderland
Three former staunch evolutionists have recently publicly challenged the basic foundations of evolution theory. Astronomers Sir Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe and palenotologist Colin Patterson have put the scientific world into a spin by renouncing essential tenets of the very theory on which they had built their careers without accepting the creation alternative.
In Evolution From Space (1981) Hoyle and Wickramasinghe said that life can’t be explained by any random process. “Once we see that the probability of life originating at random is so utterly miniscule as to make it absurd, it becomes sensible to think that the favorable properties of physics on which life depends are in every respect deliberate, and it is almost inevitable that our own measure of intelligence must reflect higher intelligence even to the limit of God.” Although they had been atheists and resisted this vigorously, they said they finally came to believe in God as the only possible explanation of the origin of life.
The November 12, 1981 issue of Nature magazine reported on Hoyle’s statement at the recent Kellogg laboratory symposium about why he disbelieves conventional views about the evolution of the universe. He had lost patience with the supposed connection between the background radiation and the big bang for two primary reasons. The calculated time since the origin of the universe of ten billion years or so was not enough time to account for life, and evidence for the big bang hypothesis was emerging too slowly. The information content of the higher forms of life is about 1040,000, and there just isn’t enough assumed time for this degree of specificity to have happened by random processes. He likened the chance that higher forms could have evolved in this way to the chance that “a tornado sweeping through a junkyard might assemble a Boeing 747 from materials therein.”
He said that the steady state theory (matter is eternal), which he helped formulate in the 1950s, is not tenable because of new evidence. Neither is the big bang tenable because of the way in which it implies the degradation of information. The article concludes, “Of adherents of biological evolution, Hoyle said he was at a loss to understand biologists’ widespread compulsion to deny what seems to me to be obvious.”
As reported in the November 26, 1981 New Scientist magazine, Wickramasinghe, although not a creationist, agreed to testify in support of the State of Arkansas about his anti-Darwinism position. Humphrey Greenwood of the Natural History Museum in London, another non-creationist, has doubts also about neo-Darwinism.
Francis Crick, co-discoverer of DNA and 1962 Nobel prizewinner, agrees that there is not enough supposed time available on Earth for the first life to have spontaneously generated from non-life, so he has just published a book, Life Itself, in which he contends that the first protozoan must have been sent here on a rocketship from some other civilization which was colonizing the universe.
The British scientist who is having the most profound impact in United States scientific circles is Dr. Colin Patterson of the British Museum of Natural History where he is editor of their journal and a well-respected paleontologist. He was in this country attending various conferences and talking to museum experts in the fall of 1981. The highlight of his tour was an address he delivered on November 5th at the American Museum of Natural History to a select group of about fifty specialists interested in the subject of origins. This lecture is certain to have as profound an effect on the scientific community as any given on the subject since Darwin’s paper was read in 1859.
Dr. Patterson first acknowledged that he had been kicking around non-evolutionary ideas for about eighteen months. One reason was, “One morning I woke up and something had happened in the night, and it struck me that I had been working on this stuff for twenty years and there was not one thing I knew about it. That’s quite a shock to learn that one can be misled so long. Either there was something wrong with me, or there was something wrong with evolution theory.”
He said he knew there was nothing wrong with himself, so he started asking various people and groups of people a simple question. “Can you tell me anything you know about evolution, any one thing that is true? I tried that question on the geology staff at the Field Museum of Natural History, and the only answer I got was silence.” He tried it on the Evolutionary Morphology Seminar at the University of Chicago, a very prestigious body of evolutionists, and all he got there “was silence for a long time and eventually one person said, I do know one thing – it ought not to be taught in high school.”
He said, “It does seem that the level of knowledge about evolution is remarkably shallow. We know it ought not to be taught in high school, and that’s all we know about it.” Then he said his second subject was creationism and, “What do we know about that? We know that it ought not be taught in high school, too.”
His lecture used Gillespie’s 1979 book, Charles Darwin and the Problem of Creation, as a basic reference. He said that this book was an historian’s attempt to explain the amount of space that Darwin gave to combating the creationist arguments. Gillespie shows that what Darwin was doing was trying to replace the creationist paradigm by a positivist paradigm – a view of the world in which there was neither room nor necessity for final causes. Of course, Gillespie takes it for granted that Darwin and his disciples succeeded in this task. Dr. Patterson said that he, too, took that view until about eighteen months ago – “Then I woke up and realized that all my life I had been duped into taking evolution as a revealed truth in some way.” He thought Gillespie’s comments about pre-Darwinian creationism were “strikingly apt,” if applied to evolutionary theory today. It is an anti-theory, a void that has the function of knowledge but conveys none.
Gillespie said that creationism was not a research-governing theory since its power to explain was only verbal. Dr. Patterson said that most of us think we are working in evolutionary research, “but is its explanation power any more than verbal when in systematics the research-governing aspect of evolution is common ancestry or descent with modification, or divergence?” Both he and Don Brady had independently and without collusion quoted the same statement: “Explanatory value of the hypothesis of common ancestry is nil.”
In thinking about this further he concluded, “I feel that the effects of hypotheses of common ancestry in systematics have not been merely boring, not just a lack of knowledge, I think it has been positively anti-knowledge.”
He noted that the absence of answers to his question – “Is there one thing you can tell me about evolution?” – seems to suggest that it is true: evolution does not convey any knowledge, or if so, I haven’t heard it yet. Otherwise, how could he and others have worked on evolution for years, read tons of books on it, written one or two, and learned nothing from it? “Gillespie’s comment – a void that has the function of knowledge but conveys none – seems to me to be very precise, very apt,” concluded Dr. Patterson.
He noted the revolution going on in evolutionary theory at the moment about mechanisms, not the fact of evolution, and said, “Well, natural selection is under fire and we hear a raft of new and alternative theories. I’ve heard four in the last six weeks.”
He again quoted Gillespie on creationism in the 1850s. “Frequently, those holding creationist ideas could plead ignorance of the means and affirm only the facts.” He said that seems to summarize the feeling of evolutionists today. “They plead ignorance of the means of transformation but affirm only the facts, knowing it has taken place. Again, the two points seem hard to distinguish.”
He must have read a quote by Dr. Gould in the September 15, 1980 Philadelphia Bulletin: “But evolution, like gravitation, is a fact. I don’t mean to be dogmatic about it, but it’s as much a fact as anything in science.” Another typical quote by Gould in the May, 1981 Discover magazine said: “…we have always acknowledged how far we are from completely understanding the mechanisms (theory) by which evolution (fact) occurred.” Only a former evolutionist like Dr. Patterson could so effectively and concisely cut through such statements to find fuzzy thinking, “They plead ignorance of the means of transformation but affirm only the facts…”
Another quote from Gillespie about the spread of evolutionary thinking in the 1860s: “Just as science shifted from a theological ground to a positive one, so religion among many scientists and laymen influenced by science shifted from religion as knowledge to religion as faith.” I know that’s true of me, and I think it’s true of a good many of you here.”
If Dr. Patterson hadn’t made it clear that he had no sympathy for creation theory, one would think that this address were being given by a creationist. He has, however, expressed in an interview and letters with this author his dislike for creation theory.
He went to his second theme, “that evolution not only conveys no knowledge but seems to somehow convey anti-knowledge, apparent knowledge which is harmful to systematics.”
Then he used the very latest data, not yet published, on amino acid similarities in various animals to show in case after case, evolution theory makes the wrong predictions.
For instance, it would predict that two reptiles have more shared genes than a reptile and a bird; but of the 143 amino acids in alpha hemoglobin, the viper snake and crocodile share 5.6%, while the crocodile and chicken share 17.5% and the viper and chicken share 10.5%.
Of the 153 amino acids in mioglobin, the lizard and crocodile share 10.5%, crocodile and chicken 8.5%, but the lizard and chicken also share 10.5%. Again, something is wrong. The turtle and crocodile share 11.8%, crocodile and chicken 5.2%, while turtle and chicken share 5.9%. The turtle and bird should share only a tiny amount of the genome.
The same problem exists in homologies of alpha hemoglobin of mammals, birds and crocodiles. Man and crocodile share 7.7%, crocodile and bird share 7.7%, while man and bird share a whopping 14.7%. Dr. Patterson asks, “What’s going on?” since man and bird should share the smallest amount. “After all, birds and mammals converge into the endothermic adaptive zone.”
Dr. Patterson concluded that basing one’s systematics on evolution will give bad systematics. That is why he and many other specialists who classify organisms (systematists) are basing their classification system not upon ancestry, but upon similarities in structures. They call themselves cladists.
So, very appropriately, Great Britain, the birthplace of a concept that has had a more profound influence on virtually every aspect of human endeavor than any other for the past two hundred years, is the spawning ground for a revolution that may help open science up to new ideas on origins. But the same thing also seems to be coming from this side of the Atlantic, even from some of the scientists who believe most fervently in Darwin’s Dogma.
The beneficial effect of widespread acceptance of the Gould-Eldredge punctuated equilibria theory is already well recognized. Their admission of the reason they were forced to devise such a theory, which predicts no intermediate forms, gives strong support to creation theory which also predicts the gaps. Dr. Gould says that the two characteristics of the fossil record which drove them to abandon gradualism were “sudden appearance” of new species and “stasis”.
Support for teaching both models of origins has just come from a most unexpected source at Cornell University. No, Dr. Sagan hasn’t flipped his lid, but an associate of his, William Provine, professor of the history of science, has startled the evolutionists with a most remarkable announcement.
In April this author was invited to give a presentation on establishing a balanced approach in the teaching of origins to the Corning school board at a public meeting in the high school auditorium. To counter this, evolutionists invited Dr. Provine to speak in Corning on November 17 and refute my presentation. They were stunned when he got up and said that he was not going to answer my presentation. “Indeed, on at least three crucial issues I fully agree with Mr. Sunderland’s position. These three positions are:
- “First, I agree with him that creationism should be taught along with evolutionism from grade school through high school.
- “Secondly, I agree with Mr. Sunderland that most biological scientists are intolerant of creationism and do not understand the reasons for the great attraction of the creationist’s position.
- “Thirdly, this is a position held, I believe, only implicitly by Mr. Sunderland, but explicitly by Jerry Falwell of the Moral Majority and many other people, namely that modern evolutionary biology, instead of being fully compatible with Christianity as Pope John Paul II declared and as many world famous theologians declare, instead it is actually deeply incompatible with fundamental assumptions not only of Christianity but also of most other religions of the world.
“On these three points I agree completely with Mr. Sunderland.”
Then he went on to explain why he believed that creation theory was wrong and why he, a convinced atheist, believed firmly in evolution. At the conclusion, he explained his agreement:
“First of all, I said that creationism should be taught along with evolutionism in grade schools and high schools. My motivation for wishing them to be discussed in this way is twofold. First of all, I believe strongly in an open discussion of ideas. I do not believe that natural scientists should suppress the creationist point of view and keep it out of the science classroom when creationism is a viable, understandable and plausible theory for the creation point. It is my opinion that it is a wrong theory, and the reason why I would like it discussed, particularly in the science classroom, is that when we put it against evolutionism in the science classroom, creationism will gradually die out. Students will accept evolutionism rather than creationism.”
He said that evolutionists who expend a lot of energy to keep creationism out of the classroom “are their own worst enemies because they somehow have the idea that, in a free discussion of ideas, creationism will win out on the young mind.” He thought evolution could hold its own in a free and open discussion but, “Nevertheless, I think that we should in our society be sensitive to and should support open and free discussion of ideas involving the way we look at things.”
Then he explained his second point: “Secondly, I said I agreed with Mr. Sunderland that most biological scientists are intolerant of creationism and do not understand the reasons for the great attraction of the creationist position. So what I am trying to tell you tonight is that the creationist position is founded upon a very deep cultural tradition in western civilization and in other cultures as well. I think there is no cultural tradition that is deeper than the one which these modern creationists have; namely, the idea that the world had to have come into being through some kind of design. This is still a fundamental idea which is accepted by most Americans and most people of all cultures and of all religious faiths. It happens as I have indicated here, I think, to be wrong. That is, the design that we see in the natural world can be explained more simply and convincingly by pure mechanistic causes.”
He explained why he agreed on point three which was not my point but, I must admit, his argument sounds convincing:
“Thirdly, I said that I agreed with a position held only implicity, so far as I know, by Mr. Sunderland but explicitly by Jerry Falwell and by many fundamentalists that modern evolutionary biology is incompatible with modern Christianity. Now it is clear from what I have said already that they are fundamentally incompatible, but it is a fact that Pope John Paul II and many of the great theologians of the world have argued in the past and continue to argue in the present that there is nothing incompatible in the Christian belief with all of science, that all can live together in one happy large way of looking at the world. I do not see how one can viably make that argument because modern biology has undercut all evidences of design in the world, all evidences whatsoever. And the whole idea that the design in the natural world and the human ethical rule come from one long history is an idea which modern biology explicitly refutes. It says this kind of idea is not necessary. And so, Jerry Falwell and Mr. Sunderland, at least I think Mr. Sunderland, who believe that modern Christianity and modern evolutionary biology are fundamentally in conflict, are correct in that assertion and the modern theologians and Pope John Paul II are wrong in their assertion that all the fundamentals of Christianity fit perfectly harmoniously with all of modern science. I simply do not believe that is the case.”
Dr. Provine is to be highly commended for offering to put evolution theory up alongside creation theory in the free marketplace for evaluation. His basic motivations are the same as those of most creationists: classrooms are for free discussion, not indoctrination. An historian of science knows that eventually the truth will win out in the end. Why do the evolutionary scientists fear free competition? It certainly appears as if evolutionary theory is no longer the unquestioned monolith that it once was in the scientific community. It is time to open up the discussion!
Photo: Francis Crick. Courtesy of Marc Lieberman. (CC-BY-SA 2.5)