Sarah was recently invited, along with two other scientists, to take part in a panel discussion for a group of mostly Christian students. After the main discussion, students were invited to submit questions via text message; there was very little time to address them, so only a few were answered. The questions were quite good, so over the next few weeks, Surak and Sarah will answer most of them here. All of the questions are listed in the Intro to this series. See also: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5; Part 6; Part 7.
What is the most important piece of knowledge you have come to learn about evolution since becoming a believer?
Darwin was a great scientist and pioneer in the field of biology. In that regard he is similar to Copernicus in the field of physics. Physicists honor Copernicus, but they also recognize and readily admit his shortcomings. He helped accomplish the first great paradigm shift that set science on its present course of discovery. What a great thing to do! But he was wrong about some important things; the Sun is not the center of the universe, and planets do not travel in perfectly circular orbits. We forgive Copernicus for his mistakes, because he did his work before the basic tools and higher mathematics of astronomy were developed. How could he be expected to get everything right four hundred years ago?
Darwin worked under similar limitations decades before the revolutionary discoveries of the Burgess Shale fossils and genes. So, once again, how could the great pioneer in the field of biology have gotten everything right all the way back in the mid 1860s? That would not be a fair expectation on the part of either supporters or detractors of Darwin.
The main principles of Darwinism are common descent, random mutation, natural selection, and gradualism. Each of these components is a necessary part of current evolutionary theory, which is important because people often confuse evolution theory for just one of these parts—the common descent of all animal life. It is true that common descent has all but been ‘proven,’ about as well as any scientific belief can be proven, and there can be little remaining doubt about it. But, the massive evidence in favor of common descent neither establishes the truth of evolution theory as a whole nor undercuts Christian beliefs. The most that can be said is that Darwin’s championing of this principle counts as a great success of the same magnitude as Copernicus’ heliocentric theory.
But, Darwin, just like Copernicus, got some things wrong. The fossil evidence does not support gradualism. In the words of one of the most respected biologists of modern times, Niles Eldredge, curator at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City: “The fossil record we were told to find for the past 120 years does not exist.”
It was Darwin who told biologists what to expect in the fossil record, and this mistake was a significant failure on his part.
In fact, the fossil evidence contradicts Darwin so badly, it compelled Eldridge and his more famous partner, Stephen Jay Gould, to offer something they called ‘punctuated equilibrium’ as an alternative to strict Darwinism. There are other serious problems with Darwinism (the mathematics of random mutations doesn’t work and there is a fatal lack of empirical evidence for natural selection), but, for the sake of brevity, it is enough to say that without gradualism Darwinism is seriously undone. In other words, Darwin was wrong about at least one major thing.
In light of this, the most important thing any scientist can come to learn about evolution is that biologists are generally incapable of saying the following words: “Darwin was wrong.”
Physicists can say without hesitation that there were times when “Galileo was wrong, Newton was wrong, and Einstein was wrong.” In spite of their mistakes, Galileo, Newton, and Einstein are still considered giants in the field of physics. Why can’t biologists make the same and obviously true statement about Darwin? I believe it is because strict Darwinism has become anti-Christian gospel, and many biologists are betraying science by promoting and defending this dogma.
Would the discovery of intelligent life on another planet disprove the existence of God?
Why would God be limited to creating one group of beings with souls in just one part of a vast universe? While the Bible is addressed to and concerned about the conscious beings inhabiting the Earth, there is nothing in the Bible that says that life was created only on Earth. “In my Father’s house are many rooms” (John 14:2). See here and here for further discussion.