Re: [asa] Wells and traditional Christianity

From: David Campbell <>
Date: Fri Sep 01 2006 - 19:06:28 EDT

> Speaking as an evangelical Christian, I see Darwinian evolution as the
_antithesis_ of the Gospel of Love. <

Of course, part of this depends on what all is meant by Darwinian
evolution. The biological process of evolution is irrelevant to the
but "Darwinian" typically is used to include additional baggage, some of
which is contrary to the gospel. However, another aspect of this
relates to a key mistake characterizing much antievolutionism.
Evolution is
often misidentified as _the_ antithesis (note changed emphasis) of the
Gospel. Anything that denies that salvation is only obtained through
atoning work of Jesus is antithetical to the Gospel. Thus, it's not
OK for
Wells to be a Moonie as long as he opposes evolution; it's not OK to
the 9th commandment as long as you are opposing evolution; it's not
OK to
claim that creationism is essential to evangelism; it's not OK to
present as
a testimony of salvation something that tells only of being converted
evolutionism to creationism by the work of creation scientists. (I'm
saying that Vernon is making this mistake but merely that his phrase
to mind a widespread problem.)

> Wells' work on Haeckel's embryos
> probably has more merit (IMO) than most of the other parts of his
> book--a
> very lengthy article in the current issue of "Isis" (the journal of
> the
> History of Science Society) actually cites Wells and other
> anti-evolutionists and comes to a conclusion that leaves some room for
> Wells' views on that issue.

The problem with Wells on Haeckel is that Haeckel was wrong about
evolution. It is true that Haeckel drew things to be more in line
with his
ideas about evolution than they were in reality, though I don't know
if one
could prove deliberate misrepresentation versus self-delusional
misinterpretation or "correction" by circular reasoning. Such work
is a lot
of trouble, so there's limited checking of it, and textbook examples in
reality are not so much the best examples as the ones that the author
happens to remember or run across as he's writing, so it's not
that it has taken a while to correct.

However, Haeckel was too enthusiastic about embryos as records of past
evolutionary features. Although embryos do indeed show some features
characterized past evolutionary stages (such as gill slits in
tetrapods), often what Haeckel interpreted as resemblance to an
ancestor is
better characterized as generic appearance. I.e., the vertebrate embryo
with gill slits is not so much fish-like as generic early developmental
vertebrate. Some versions of Haeckelian interpretation of development
(which was very influential into the first decades of the 20th century)
viewed development as practically a museum of evolution. However,
understanding of evolution sees serious problems with this
One is that evolution is not progressing to a particular goal (as far as
biology can tell; theologically we can assume that it is working towards
God's goals, but that is no more obvious from biological study than
the fact
that history is working towards a culmination in God's plan is
obvious from
a study of human history). In particular, evolution can proceed by
new steps (as Haeckel assumed), but it can also go somewhat backwards
make use of formerly embryonic features later in life. Gould
discusses this
extensively in Ontogeny and Phylogeny. An example is that the large
of humans seem to reflect a prolongation of the period of brain
growth later
into development. This can be seen in the fact that baby apes look more
human than the adults. Similarly, some of the variations in dog
breeds have
a more puppy-like build in some features. There are also classic
studies on
ammonites and axolotls (salamanders that become sexually mature while
retaining juvenile body features).

Perhaps more importantly, the embryo is subject to evolutionary
pressures of
its own and cannot simply store up old evolutionary stages for the
convenience of evolutionary developmental biologists. This point was
championed against prevailing Haeckelian views by Walter Garstang
(who often
put his observations into humorous poetry rather than sticking to more
conventional scientific publication). The presence of six legs in a
juvenile isopod, for example (the adult has more), does not mean that we
need to go look for six-legged fossils to trace the ancestry (as extreme
Haeckelians thought-some even made up names for hypothetical
ancestors that
looked like known larval forms). Instead, it may have function in
the life
of the juvenile, or it may have to do with aspects of the overall
developmental pattern.

In short, correcting Haeckel's embryo drawings provides a better
match with
modern evolutionary understanding than his incorrect drawings do.

> --
> Dr. David Campbell
> 425 Scientific Collections
> University of Alabama
> "I think of my happy condition, surrounded by acres of clams"

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Received on Sun Sep 3 19:21:19 2006

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