but is it science · Darwin · Evolution · science and philosophy

Darwinian Evolution: Science or Philosophy? part 2

michelangelo-sistine-chapel-adam
Adam by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel

To be scientific, a theory must deal only with the matter or processes with which we can or possibly could interact, it must be verifiable, falsifiable and testable, and it should predict future outcomes based on experimental data. What question could possibly be asked to make Evolution falsifiable? Until recently we would say None. As we have seen, Evolution allows for survival of Panchronic species throughout time, but also allows for change through slight modifications. Neither can falsify the philosophy, so it is not science by this criteria.


“If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find out no such case.”

— Charles Darwin


“If it could be proved that any part of the structure of any one species had been formed for the exclusive good of another species, it would annihilate my theory, for such could not have been produced through natural selection.”

— Charles Darwin


What about the biochemical complexity? If you include that, and allow that some structures or processes could not possibly be built up through generations of gradual change, could that falsify Evolution? Potentially, yes. The almost infinitely complex biochemistry of the cell, rather than supporting Evolution, is the greatest challenge to it. The more that we discover about the biochemistry of processes within living things, the less likely it is that undirected Evolution is the only or any explanation at all. Since each gradual step in a series of changes would have to make the organism more fit than its predecessors many generations before the resulting structure fills the function it will ultimately perform, any step that is not advantageous would not be selected, according to the theory.

OK, then if each step would exist well before the ultimate function, wouldn’t there be in each organism on earth a lot of junk DNA or nonfunctioning proteins or organs? The answer seems obvious: yes. Do we find this?   No. As for the proteins that perform all of the functions of the cell, useless or interfering material is usually only found in defective cells causing disease, e.g. PKU or Sickle Cell. Useless enzymes are quickly destroyed if they are formed at all. Enzymes are only produced in response to current needs as defined by a complex system of feedback communication within the cell.

As for DNA, we don’t know yet whether there are actual proto-genes lurking there. Genes, which are sections of DNA wrapped around companion proteins (Histones), are separated by sections of so-called “junk” DNA (Introns) for which we, as yet, know next to nothing about their functions. Could Introns be the missing nonfunctioning proto-genes? Possibly, and that is the assumption of some Evolutionists. But remember that any “junk” must also have a survival advantage over predecessors, so it must function in some way. Regardless of what you may have read in the popular press, we are just scratching the surface on understanding the DNA code (or codes).

The only sections we really know anything about are those that encode for proteins ( about 1%) used as either structural elements or enzymes that perform various cell functions, along with certain signals such as start, stop, zip and unzip used in replication or repair. We don’t even understand why the units encoding for certain enzymes are broken up into sections, sometimes on separate genes along the DNA strand or why the RNA that is assembled from the DNA template is usually cut and/or rearranged before it carries the instructions from the nucleus to the ribosomes where the proteins are assembled from component amino acids. Development is another important area where we lack understanding. How does a fertilized egg differentiate to form a complete creature? We can describe what happens at each step, but have yet to formulate a comprehensive theory of how the instructions are timed, given and received. Much research is being done in this area, but results are sketchy and incomplete at this time.

Intelligent Design and Creationism(s)

If Evolution is a philosophy or belief system and not fully science, what about Intelligent Design, and what is it anyway? Intelligent Design (ID), like Evolution, is a philosophy that uses science as its basis. It is a theory that the very complexity and improbability of the universe and life processes necessarily implies an intelligence or greater principle behind it all. ID does not say what (or who) that intelligence is or connect it with any particular faith based belief system. ID proponents accept the possibility that some of Evolution’s claims are true, but challenge the validity of other conclusions, particularly unguided chance as the only source of biological progress.

If gradual assembly, step by step, of complex systems, from DNA to hearts, by random chance is statistically impossible or implausible, it rules out chance as a cause. That leaves necessity and design as possible causes. ID contends that the very implausibility and complexity strongly imply that some intelligence (design) or as yet undiscovered guiding principle (necessity) must be at work to overcome the statistical barriers. Necessity fits in with the Progressive philosophy of inevitable progress built into the universe. NeoDarwinian Evolution states that life and the universe only LOOK designed[1]. ID is the most significant challenger to Evolutionary theory at this time and some of the observations and experimentally derived facts could eventually lead to falsification or at least modification of Evolution as it is defined today.

The media tend to lump ID and Creationism together because the Evolutionists associate them in an attempt to discredit ID. ID accepts all scientific facts, whether it is the age of the universe and the ages assigned to the fossil record or biochemical or astronomical knowledge. ID acknowledges the appearance of design and infers that it necessarily implies an intelligence or guiding principle. The implication is that of purpose, not blind purposeless chance. This teleological[2] view is one of the things that makes ID a philosophy, not a hard science. However, most of the proponents are competent scientists who use valid scientific principles in scientific studies into the validity or lack of validity of Darwinian Evolution’s random chance claims. Whether Darwinian Evolution or ID is (more) valid, is a matter of opinion at this point. Expressed differently, ID could be an attempt to falsify Evolution as arising only from random chance.   Statistical arguments of the improbability of random processes explaining life and complexity are quite convincing. Note that progressivism, espoused by Darwinians, also implies teleology because everything is believed to be naturally progressing toward perfection.

Biblical Creationism comes in two major forms: Young Earth and Old Earth. Young Earth Creationism declares that the universe and the earth were created some 6000 years ago in seven twenty-four hour days by a strictly literal interpretation of Biblical Genesis. Old Earth Creationism accepts the ages of the universe, the earth and the fossil record and interprets the Biblical Genesis account somewhat more figuratively than literally. As such, it is closer to Intelligent Design, but specifies the God of the Bible as the intelligence responsible for it all. A subdivision within Old Earth Creationism is one that assumes a literal seven day creation (or seven epochs) after the initial billions of years needed to form the universe and prepare the earth for that event. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” – Genesis 1:1 is assumed to contain all of the history of the universe, the earth and the fossil record that had already taken place before the creation event that formed modern humans. This is sometimes called the Gap Theory, especially by its opponents. I tend to fall into the Old Earth camp, based on scientific probabilities and evidence, while leaving the length of the seven “days” as an open question. The same word is used for a 24 hour period and for an indefinite time period as “in the day of Moses.” “These are the Generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.” – Genesis 2:4. Also, in 2 Peter 3:8[3] it is obvious that they did not limit a “day” to 24 hours.

It is easy to see that Creationism, based not on science but Biblical texts, is different from both Evolution and Intelligent Design. While it is true that some who believe in Intelligent Design are also Old Earth Creationists, it is not true for many of ID’s technologically and scientifically astute proponents. As a matter of fact, many proponents of Creationism, especially Young Earth Creationists, oppose Intelligent Design as a distortion and means of explaining away the literal interpretation of Biblical texts that they hold to be infallible. Questioning the literal interpretation of Genesis in this way is seen by them as opposing all of God’s truth in His word. In their opinion, rejection of literal seven day creation ex nihilo (from nothing) is tantamount to saying the Biblical texts, in their entirety, cannot be trusted to be true.   In their opinion, rejection of literal seven day creation ex nihilo (from nothing) is tantamount to saying the Biblical texts, in their entirety, cannot be trusted to be true. However, the actual text does not exclude longer periods or preparatory periods occurring before the seven days described except by assumptions of interpretation.  As a Christian, I believe in the literal interpretation as God’s inspired word, but recognize that our own understanding may be biased by preconceived assumptions not actually in it. As a scientist, I have to believe reliable scientific data, but question its reliability and some of the projections and philosophical assumptions.

Conclusions:

So, where does that leave us? We have three basically different philosophies for the development of the complexities of life, at least two of which base their beliefs on scientific inquiry and knowledge. Which is correct? The jury is still out. Neo-Darwinists see Intelligent Design, with its underpinnings of biochemical complexity and probability theory, as the greatest threat to their beliefs and rightly so. Rather that embrace Evolutionary philosophy and all its claims, ID proponents critically examine the evidence for and against guided and unguided development, including the incredibly complex biochemical nature of life and statistical probabilities of unguided or chance development of complex molecules, structures and functions. If Evolution is a robust theory and the aim is truth, such a challenge should be welcomed as a further development of understanding Evolution. The vitriol with which Evolutionists attack ID proponents can only be interpreted as religiously defending dogma that they feel may be vulnerable.

[1] Richard Dawkins defines biology as “… the study of complicated things that give the appearance of being designed.”

[2] Teleological definition: (Gk tele or telos = end, purpose) 1a: the study of evidences of design in nature; a doctrine that ends are immanent in nature; 1c: a doctrine explaining phenomena by final causes; 2: the fact or character attributed to nature or natural processes of being directed toward an end or shaped by a purpose; 3: use of design or purpose as an explanation of natural phenomena.

[3] “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” 2 Peter 3:8

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