Re: ASA News Releases

David Campbell (
Thu, 4 Sep 1997 21:42:37 -0400

A few specific points: (text not commented on snipped)
> The message points out the different
>meanings of the word evolution, raises some unanswered questions about the
>origin of life and encourages the student to 'Study hard and keep an open
Not all the "unanswered" questions are as uncertain as the statement
suggests; for example, many Precambrian animals are now known, including a
small but increasing number of likely ancestral forms for the major
Cambrian groups. Young-earth advocates (e.g., Huse, 1993; Gish in a
debate, 1993) often continue to claim that no Precambrian animals (or even
no fossils) are known; this is over 50 years out of date.
>What has fueled the controversy are broad claims by established science
>organizations, such as the official Statement of the National Association
>of Biology Teachers on teaching evolution. Two years ago, the NABT endorsed
>the view that evolution is "an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and
>natural process," a claim that clashes with the view that a purposive and
>intelligent Creator did the creating instead. The NABT recognized that the
>issue involves more than science. The opening statement declares that
>"Evolutionary theory, indeed all of science, is necessarily silent on
>religion and neither refutes nor supports the existence of a diety or
The difficulty with this and similar statements is that it's half science
(and, as far as we know, true), and half atheistic claims. Evolution is
humanly unpredictable-given what organisms were alive at a given time
interval, we can guess to some extent that the most widespread, common taxa
are more likely to have descendants in a later time interval, but this is
not always the case. Likewise, we have no way to guess in what direction
(if any) a given trait will evolve. It is also true that evolution is
"natural" in the sense that it happens in obeyance of natural laws. Behe
has questioned whether some of the origins of life are plausibly accounted
for by natural laws alone; however, it remains possible if unlikely.
However, "purpose" and "supervision" are outside the realm of science.
These claims are metaphysical extrapolations, based on assumptions about
how a supervising entity would behave. Specifically, they assume that this
entity has to act in violation of natural laws. This assumption is
unBiblical, although Christians have often fallen into the trap of
accepting it in arguements.

>to other areas of science. Their underlying concern is that Darwinism is
>materialistic religion masquerading as science.
Again, Darwinism needs a clear definition (probably another name, too!).
Scientific evidence for evolution is widely used as an excuse for atheism
but is actually irrelevant to the question of God's existance. Much effort
has been wasted on attacking the scientific evidence when the logic is at
fault. Materialism and naturalism are religions, hostile to Chritianity.
Geologic evidence showing the age of the earth or that major groups of
animals share common ancestors is simply scientific data, often
fraudulently pressed into service of naturalism.

>Dr. Michael Behe, a professor at Lehigh University in Bethlehem,
>Pennsylvania has written a recent best-seller, Darwin's Black Box. Behe
>argues for "irreducible complexity," the idea that some complex features of
>living organisms, like mouse traps, cannot be made in tiny steps. All of
>the pieces of a trap, for example, must be present and in the right
>configuration for the trap to work at all. Behe, a biochemist, studies the
>molecular-size machinery of life, such as the motors that power flagella,
>the hairlike appendages that work mucous upwards in our windpipes. Few
>evolutionary biologists remain strict neo-Darwinians (Dawkins is an
>exception) because of insurmountable problems with the theory, but will
>still defend the "Darwinian mechanism" of random genetic variation acted
>upon by natural selection. Johnson argues that this might explain
>variations in finch beaks on Hawaii but doesn't tell us how finches came
>about in the first place.

Few evolutionary biologists believe that there are "insurmountable problems
with the theory". Behe seems to accept that random genetic variation acted
upon by natural selection can tell us how finches came about; just that it
doesn't tell us how life came about ("Darwinian mechanism" is a poor term
for this since Darwin didn't know about genes; "neodarwinian" is better).
>The edifice of Darwinism has stood firm for over a century, but cracks
>appear to be developing in its base.
Such cracks are often proclaimed in antievolutionary writing but do not
seem very wide to those believing in evolution as a major means of
creation; Johnson claims this is due to selective blindness on their part,
but his views have not yet gained much scientific creedance.

> Behe has searched for papers in the scientific literature proposing
>mechanisms >for how life might have started, and came up empty.
This is overgeneralization. Many mechanisms have been proposed. It's the
details that he found lacking. I disagree with his conclusion that this
reflects widespread failed attempts rather than lack of attempt, but in
either case the statement as it stands is untrue.

David Campbell

"Old Seashells"
Department of Geology
CB 3315 Mitchell Hall
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill NC 27599-3315
FAX 919-966-4519

"He had discovered an unknown bivalve, forming a new genus"-E. A. Poe, The
Gold Bug