Darwinism and Science
The Creation Hymn as an Account of a Literal Six-Day Creation
(Part 2 of “On Genesis, 1-11” [*])
by James Kiefer
On Genesis: 1-11, Pt 1 MMMMOn Genesis: 1-11, Pt 3MMMMOn Genesis: 1-11, Pt 4
 On Genesis: 1-11, Pt 5MMMMMOn Genesis: 1-11, Pt 6 MMMMMOn Genesis: 1-11, Pt 7

A fourth approach to the Creation Hymn is to accept it as an account, literally interpreted in the most obvious sense, of the creation of the world in six days of twenty-four hours each, not many thousands of years ago. Some of you will regard this as stark lunacy. You will ask, “How can you possibly include such a notion on your list of possible interpretations?” I reply: How can I possibly leave it out? If I remember aright, a Los Angeles Times poll taken in the early 1980s shows that more than 40 percent of U.S. college graduates believe that the human race is descended from a single human pair created by God less than 10,000 years ago. Now I have been known to reject theories held by considerably more than 40 percent of college graduates, but not to dismiss them without argument. And quite apart from how many people hold the theory, if I left out this section my readers would have every right to complain, “This fellow drags in all kinds of theories about what the Creation Hymn means, but the one theory he never considers is that it means what it says.”

It seems, then, that it is my duty not to dismiss the fundamentalist interpretation of Genesis out of hand, or sneer it out of court, but rather to give it a fair and careful hearing, trying to see what is the best case that can reasonably be made for it. And this means that we must look hard at Darwinism, together with its associated theories, and see precisely how conclusive the evidence for them is.

Does Creationism Deserve a Hearing?

Some people will object: That is not an appropriate question for a Christian discussion group. The question of whether Darwinism is true is a scientific question, to be answered by Science, and Science has answered it in the affirmative. The question is closed. The only choice that Christians have is whether they will plainly declare their acceptance of the verdict of Science, or whether, once again, a handful of Christians will stand in the way of Truth and Progress, accomplishing nothing thereby except to make religion appear ridiculous to all thoughtful persons.

To that I can only reply that, as long as I have been in this group, it has operated on the rule that Argument by Intimidation is out of bounds. No one has ever been shushed in this group for expressing doubts or difficulties with the Bible. Disagreed with, yes, but never told, “Hush, you mustn’t say such things!” and if we don’t regard the Bible as too holy to be questioned, I for one do not propose to bestow that status upon The Origin of Species.

Is the Consensus of the Experts Enough?

The objector may say: Well, that’s not what I meant, exactly. My point is that when you are not yourself an expert on some question, and all the experts are agreed, it makes sense to regard the matter as closed. Admittedly, advances in a science are often made by some lonely pioneer questioning what everyone else takes for granted. But that is a pioneer who is a qualified expert. It is one thing for an expert in a field to disagree with the majority of experts. It is another thing for an amateur with only a smattering of knowledge to contradict the unanimous opinion of the experts. And the scientific experts are unanimous in saying that evolution is not a theory, but an established fact. Case closed.

To this, I reply that of course it makes sense to trust the consensus of the experts in a given discipline in which we are not ourselves experts. A man who took no one’s word for anything, who would not believe in the existence of Europe until he had seen it for himself, would have to be content to know very little.

However, we trust the judgement of the expert because we suppose that he is basing it on the evidence, and that he knows the evidence better than we do. If we discover that he is basing his conclusion on something other than the evidence, we are more cautious in our trust. Thus, for example, suppose that you meet a paleontologist, a fossil expert, who tells you that he disbelieves in evolution. You ask him why, and he says: “I am a fundamentalist Christian. I believe that every word of the Bible is literally true, and therefore I would not believe in evolution no matter what the fossil evidence on the matter turned out to be.”

Now clearly, if you are wondering how good the fossil evidence for evolution is, the mere fact that this fellow disbelieves it is not admissible as evidence that the fossil evidence is weak. But that argument cuts both ways. Suppose you meet a paleontologist who tells you that he is a convinced evolutionist. You ask him why, and he says, “Because I am an atheist, and if I didn’t believe in evolution, I should have to believe in special creation, and that would mean believing in God, and I can’t stand the thought.” (The suggestion that a scientist might say this is not far-fetched. I have read two magazine articles by Isaac Asimov, in which he says that although the amount of matter that has been observed in the universe is only X, he is convinced that it must be at least 10X and that we will find the other 9X if we keep looking, because if the amount of matter available is less than 10X, then the universe is at most only a few billion years old altogether, in which case God must have created it, and he, Isaac Asimov, can't stand the thought. The first article was in the Radio Times of London, last week of April the year that Mrs. Thatcher became Prime Minister [1979 — ed.]. The second was an article on neutrinos in Omni magazine, I think in April of 1982 or thereabouts.)

Or suppose he says, “I believe in God, but I find the idea of His creating things gradually, like a flower unfolding, ever so much more beautiful than the idea of his zapping them into existence all at once, or in six days. It would offend my religious instincts if the theory of evolution were not true.” (Martin Gardner says precisely this.) In either case, you see that the paleontologist is basing his belief in evolution, not on the fossils, but on his religious convictions (atheism is a religion), and therefore the mere fact of his being a convinced evolutionist is of no help at all to you in deciding how strong the fossil evidence for or against evolution is.

If you want to use the experts’ opinions as a short cut, so as not to have to examine the evidence and the arguments yourself, then you will have to round up the experts, but examine them before you poll them. First, you exclude from voting all the experts whose religious beliefs commit them to creationism — all the fundamentalists. Next, you exclude all the experts whose religious beliefs are incompatible with creationism. That means, of course, disqualifying all the atheists, but it also means disqualifying anyone who does not think that God is the sort of being who would perform miracles. Anyone who is quite sure that Lot’s wife did not turn into a pillar of salt is every bit as suspect as someone who is quite sure that she did. Your list of eligible voters will now be pretty small, and you may decide that the sample is too small to yield a reliable conclusion. You will certainly find that your panel of experts is not unanimous. For example, Sir Fred Hoyle, FRS, the cosmologist who wrote The Nature of the Universe in 1950, is now of the opinion that life cannot have originated on this planet, and that the evolution of life cannot be explained without postulating an intelligence directing it. (See his Evolution from Space, co-written with Chandra Wickramasinghe.) A similar view is held by Sir Francis Crick, FRS, (see his book Life Itself) of Watson and Crick, the team that got the Nobel Prize in 1962 for discovering the structure of DNA.

Biologists, especially when dealing with the public, have often treated Darwinism as beyond question, for a number of reasons. In the first place, because it is so vigorously attacked by fundamentalists, holding it has become a kind of loyalty test. Admitting that there are any unsolved difficulties in the theory, or that the positive evidence for it is less conclusive than, say, the evidence for the circulation of the blood, constitutes betraying your fellow biologists and selling out to the other side. It is like what a convinced liberal might feel in the early 1950s if the ugly thought crossed his mind that Alger Hiss might just possibly be guilty after all. You don’t want to give aid and comfort to those whom you perceive as the enemy. It is all very well to debate the justice of our national policy toward the Indians, but the battle of Little Big Horn is not the time or place. Even if they did not feel under attack, I think that many biologists would have an emotional reason to defend the theory, in that it has for years been the chief basis of their claim that biology is a science, in the sense that physics is a science. Before Darwin (I realize I am exaggerating a little, but not enough to affect the principle), biologists were primarily men with butterfly nets, collectors and classifiers and dissectors and cataloguers of interesting specimens. Darwin gave them something like what Newton had given the physicists: an overarching theory almost universal in its scope, with a multitude of data available purporting to confirm the theory, and the theory in turn serving to interpret and give significance to the data. Now it is true that, what with other research from Gregor Mendel to Watson and Crick, biology today has other theories and would not go back to being a collectors’ game if it lost Darwinism. Nevertheless, one respects one’s benefactors. Insofar as this last reason is operating, biologists may feel less compelled to defend Darwinism at all costs as they accumulate other grounds for claiming to be scientists. In that sense, it is probably no co-incidence that Crick, with another biological theory to his credit, is prepared to admit that the Darwinian theory is in difficulties.

Someone may object that to analyze one’s opponents’ motives is a sneaky and dishonest substitute for refuting his arguments. I agree. But please note that we have not yet gotten as far as the arguments. Indeed, I am at this point contending for my right to examine the arguments, as against a critic who maintains that the mere fact that most biologists believe in evolution should settle the question without reference to the arguments. And this makes the reasons for their beliefs relevant. If Professor Jones publishes data purporting to prove that left-handed persons are on the average more intelligent than right-handed persons, it is a cheap shot to reply that Jones is left-handed himself (or worse, to draw the inference that he must be left-handed himself) and let it go at that. However, if we are simply told that Professor Jones believes that left-handed persons are more intelligent, and are asked to accept his assertion on the grounds that surely such a distinguished man must be right, it is fair to ask whether his own left-handedness may have colored his belief.

Theories and Falsifiability

Someone may say: What you are trying to do is based on a misunderstanding. You propose to treat evolutionism and creationism as two rival scientific theories, and then see which fits the evidence better, like scientists going off on an expedition to photograph the stars during a solar eclipse to see whether the results were what Newton’s theory of gravitation predicted, or what Einstein’s theory did. But there each theory was falsifiable, meaning that the theory predicted a definite result, and that if the photographs did not show that result, the theory was in trouble. A theory of gravitation that was not falsifiable, that did not stick its neck out by predicting some result that could be tested, would not be taken seriously by anyone as a scientific theory. Thus, “All pennies fall when released in midair,” is a legitimate scientific hypothesis, because we know what would disprove it — a penny that was released in midair and flew to the ceiling. On the other hand, the statement, “All pennies have free will, and will do whatever they choose,” is not a legitimate scientific hypothesis, because no matter what a penny does, one can claim that it chose to do so. In the same way, “God created the giraffe,” is not a legitimate scientific hypothesis, because there is no conceivable discovery that would show that God did not create the giraffe.

I reply that this argument cuts both ways. Many researchers who are firmly committed to the theory of evolution freely admit that there are a number of awkwardnesses in the theory of evolution. However, they say that we must stick with the theory regardless, because the only alternative is creationism, which is not, and can never be, an acceptable scientific hypothesis. But this amounts to saying that evolution must be accepted independently of the evidence, which amounts to saying that no empirical difficulty could be grounds for rejecting it, which amounts to saying that it is not falsifiable, and is therefore (by the above criterion) not a legitimate scientific hypothesis.

Reminiscences of an Outraged Flimflam Victim

Someone may say:

I quite agree that the only way to settle the question is to look at the evidence. And I assure you that we evolutionists welcome an appeal to the evidence, because it is solidly, overwhelmingly on our side. There are really only three groups of people where this question is concerned: (1) Creationists, mostly from sheltered backgrounds, who simply have never seen the evidence, (2) Creationists who are hard-core nuts (or perhaps mentally defective) and simply impervious to reason or evidence, and (3) Evolutionists. I am not being snide about this. I speak from experience. You see, I myself was once a fundamentalist and a creationist. It wasn’t my fault; I simply didn’t know any better. Then I went to college and took freshman biology. The professor explained how all the evidence pointed to the same conclusion: (1) the morphological evidence, (2) the embryological evidence, (3) the paleontological evidence, (4) the serological evidence, (5) the genetic evidence, (6) the biochemical evidence, (7) the evidence from vestigial organs, (8) and so on. By the time I got out of that class, it was clear to me that the evidence for evolution is as conclusive as the evidence that the world is round, or the evidence that water is made of hydrogen and oxygen. My only regret is that there are still people around who remain in ignorance on the matter, and fanatics and charlatans who wish to keep them in ignorance.

To this I reply: I am interested to hear of your experience in freshman biology, since it is in many ways the exact opposite of my own. I went into freshman biology a convinced evolutionist and came out a convinced anti-evolutionist. No, I was not taking creationist science at a fundamentalist Bible school — I would not have been caught dead at such a place. My formal education has been totally secular. I was simply taking the course seriously and checking out what I was told. For example:

The Serological Evidence

A researcher had invented a quantitative measure of the closeness of two species. If you inject a bit of human blood serum into a rabbit, it develops a sensitivity to human serum, and if you then inject some more serum a week or so later, the rabbit’s blood coagulates and it dies. Suppose that instead of making the second injection, you draw off some blood from the sensitized rabbit and put it into a test tube. If you add the second dose of human serum to the test tube, you can measure the time it takes to coagulate, and the degree of coagulation, for a given quantity of rabbit blood and of human serum. Now comes the interesting part. If, for the second dose, you add not human serum but chimpanzee serum, the rabbit blood does not coagulate quite as quickly and completely. If you use serum from a Rhesus monkey, the result is still less quick and complete. With a cow, there is very little reaction at all. Thus you can measure the difference between the blood sera of two species, and the difference corresponds beautifully to the distance between them on the evolutionary tree as determined by comparative anatomy. All this interested me. I went to the library and looked up the original report of the experiment in the technical journal. The researcher reported that about half his results agreed with what one would expect from the usual diagrams of the evolutionary tree, but the other half did not agree at all. For example, his results showed that a pigeon is more closely related to a turtle than to other birds. He published his results anyway, hoping that some future researcher would be able to explain the discrepancies. My textbook (and my professor) referred to the experimenter by name and cited his work as evidence. But they dealt with the discrepancies by the simple expedient of not mentioning them. I was upset. Recently published textbooks have dropped this experiment in favor of protein sequencing. A protein in one species consists of a long chain of amino acids, and a protein in a related species may have almost the same sequence of acids, but not quite. The difference is taken to be the result of random neutral mutations (“neutral” meaning neither an advantage nor a disadvantage to the organism, and hence not affected by Natural Selection) and to be a measure of the evolutionary distance between them. This is essentially the same thing as the old serological experiments but more sophisticated. I have not checked out the original articles on this. Until I do, my motto is, “Once bit, twice shy.”

The Evidence from Vestigial Organs

My textbook referred to a scientist (Wiedersheim) who had published a list of “more than 180 vestigial organs in the human body, thus making every man a walking museum of evidence for evolution.” I found the same assertion in the book The Science of Life, by H.G. Wells, Julian Huxley, and G.P. Wells [Doubleday, 1931, book 3, cap 5, sec 3; or vol. 2, p. 415], a work that undertakes to do for biology what Wells’s Outline of History did for history. But I noticed that nobody was troubling to reproduce this important list. So I looked it up myself [Robert Ernst Eduard Wiedersheim, Der Bau des Menschen, (1887 & 1893); trans. by H. and M. Bernard as The Structure of Man (Macmillan 1895), pp. 200–204], and found that the list included the thyroid gland, the parathyroids, the pineal gland, the pituitary gland, etc. When I found that Sir Arthur Keith, FRS, President of the British Royal College of Surgeons and himself an active propagandist for evolution, denied that the appendix was a vestigial organ, I began to suspect that a vestigial organ is just one whose function is not yet understood. I also began to suspect that the statements in my textbook needed to be checked before being accepted.

The Embryological Evidence

I was taught Professor Ernst Haeckel’s Biogenetic Law: “Ontogeny recapitulates Phylogeny,” informally stated as, “The embryo climbs up its family tree.” Because our ancestors were amoebas, and then jellyfish, and then fish, and then amphibians, and so forth, the human embryo starts out as a single cell (like an amoeba), and then passes through a jellyfish-like stage, and a fish-like stage (complete with gills), and so on. Our textbook devoted a page to drawings of embryos of various animals in various stages, taken from Professor Haeckel’s book, and illustrating the Biogenetic Law in action. There was a small parenthesis in the caption, noting that the drawings were “not quite accurate.” This aroused my curiosity, and I checked out Professor Haeckel. It seems that when his book was first published, a number of biologists wrote to him, saying, “But Professor, the embryos don’t look like that!” His reply was that he had modified their appearance in order to make them more convincing evidence for the theory, and that he could see nothing wrong with doing this, since it was standard practice for evolutionists to modify the evidence when the theory required it. To say that I was upset would be an understatement.

At first I consoled myself with the thought that, although Haeckel was a forger and a scoundrel, the Biogenetic Law must itself be valid or the textbook would not be presenting it as such. But then I discovered otherwise. If you will look up “Haeckel, Ernst,” in the Encyclopedia Britannica and the Encyclopedia Americana, you will find his Law described as “since proved to be erroneous” and “now discarded.” A perusal of Embryos and Ancestors, by Sir Gavin de Beer, FRS, (convinced evolutionist, Director of the British Museum of Natural History, recipient of the Darwin Medal of the Royal Society, etc.) will yield a less succinct but equally severe verdict (and reasons for it).

I had been told that the human embryo has gills at one stage of its development. It has several parallel blood vessels feeding blood to the head, and because these are large and on the surface, they form ridges with furrows between them. But at no time do they function as gills, obtaining oxygen from the surrounding fluid. Embryos of other species have similar blood vessels, because their heads are also large and in need of a copious blood supply. When the embryo no longer needs these large vessels to supply blood to the head, they develop into other organs (which seems efficient) instead of simply vanishing and being replaced by other structures built from scratch. In the fish, these other organs are gills. In humans, they are the larynx. So much for the embryonic gill slits.

I was told that fish have two-chambered hearts, reptiles have three-chambered hearts, and mammals four-chambered, and that the human embryo has first two, then three, then four, and that this is the Biogenetic Law at work, and clear evidence of evolution. But there is a reason why a human (or more generally, mammalian) embryo would be expected to have a two-chambered heart. Its lungs are not supplying it with oxygen. Instead, the bloodstream, having obtained oxygen through the placenta, is supplying the lungs with oxygen, just as it is supplying the other organs. In the last stages before birth, the left and right auricle of the heart are completely separate, but there is an opening between the ventricles. This permits blood to pass between them, with the result that much of the blood pumped by the right ventricle flows over into the left ventricle and out the aorta into the body, bypassing the still largely dormant lungs. At the moment of birth, the opening between the ventricles snaps shut, forcing all the blood pumped by the right ventricle into the pulmonary artery and to the lungs. This sudden surge of blood stimulates the lungs and causes the baby to begin breathing. So much for recapitulating its piscine and reptilian ancestry!

The Morphological (Comparative Anatomy) Argument

One of the most impressive arguments for evolution is that the bodies of very different animals seem to have the same basic structure, modified drastically to perform different functions and fulfill different needs, but still modifications of the same pattern. A bird and a horse both have four limbs, and although to the superficial gaze neither a claw nor a wing is the least bit like the hooved leg of a horse, yet there is an astonishing bone-for-bone correspondence. Clearly we are dealing with the same basic five-digit pattern modified. You see it in the flipper of a seal, where the five rows of bones are there, though the fingers have fused to form a solid fin. You see it in the legs of a horse, where one toe does all the work, but the other toes are still there. Sometimes a toe may have shrunk so completely that one can question that the animal has five toes at all, even vestigially, but one never finds a species with more than five digits (I refer to a species, not to rare individuals within a species).

When I began freshman biology, I thought these arguments conclusive. But then I encountered someone doing embryological research, who gave me the following speech:

Surely you have not forgotten the work that is being done, investigating why particular structures appear and then disappear in the development of the embryo in response to the needs of the embryo at that time. We have come a long way from the days when people thought that an embryo at any stage ought to be simply a perfect scale model of the adult, and were puzzled because it was not. Very early embryos of lizards, ducks, pigs, and men do look a lot alike, because they all start out from a single cell and are growing into multi-celled organisms and doing so in an aquaeous environment, in which they are faced with similar problems about, for example, getting food and oxygen. They all go through the blastula and gastrula stages, not because of a common ancestor, but because those are the shapes required in order to let every cell have access to food and oxygen. The laws of geometry are the same for all species. But once the gastrula has been formed, it becomes the basis for the alimentary canal of the adult organism. The rule seems to be that a basic structure is determined in the embryo, based on the needs of the embryo at that stage, and that later development consists of moderations of that basic structure. Now we don’t know nearly as much as we should like to, and hope to learn, about the development of, for example, bones and muscles in the embryo. However, by tampering with, say, a pig embryo, artificially compressing or stretching various parts of the embryo as it develops, we know that at certain stages tissue will turn to bone if compressed and to muscle if stretched. In what will eventually become a foot, five columns of tissue start growing faster lengthwise than the tissue around and between them, and so they stretch the surrounding tissue (causing it to turn to muscles and nerves and skin) while it compresses them (causing them to turn to bone). Now, we don’t know what triggers the growth in that pattern, and why. To say that embryos of almost all quadrupeds adopt the five-digits pattern because of similar needs or similar geometric constraints would clearly be going beyond our present evidence. But note that we have here essentially two rival scientific hypotheses. One is that all quadrupeds exhibit the five pattern because it is established in the embryo to meet the common requirements of similar organisms developing in similar environments. The other is that they exhibit the pattern because they are descended from a common ancestor. Why did this common ancestor develop the pattern? Probably no special reason. It may very well be pure chance. But even if there were a reason, we have no way of investigating it now, since the ancestor is long dead and we have no idea what he looked like or what his environment was like. Why have his descendants all kept the pattern? Not, on this hypothesis, because five digits was exactly the right number for each of them. (On the contrary, if this were the case, then the presence of five digits would not be evidence for a common ancestor at all. Besides, many species, like the horse, appear to need just one digit and to let the others atrophy.) But if the pattern fulfills no particular need, then why does it persist? There are humans who are born with six digits instead of five, and the trait is a straightforward one, controlled by a single gene (dominant, if I remember aright). So, given that a single mutation of a single gene is all it takes to make a quadruped six-toed instead of five-toed, and given that (on the standard evolutionary hypothesis) the trait is neutral, one would expect that some species would have become six-toed just by random mutations.

[Note: The layman might suppose that this means that all the babies, or at least most of them, in a given generation would have to be born with six toes, having had the same mutation simultaneously and independently, which is clearly too much to ask of co-incidence. Not so. Consider two persons betting on a fair coin toss. On heads, A pays B a dollar, and on tails, B pays A a dollar. The game continues until one player is broke. Now if A begins with x per cent of the money, the chances are x per cent that he will be the eventual winner. Similarly, if x per cent of the animals in a breeding population have some perfectly neutral trait, there is an x per cent probability that, purely by genetic drift, eventually all of them will have it. So let us consider two populations, one with fifty animals and one with a hundred. The chances of a given neutral mutation’s occurring in the larger population are double the chances that it will occur in the smaller population, but, once it has occurred, it has only half the chance of becoming universal in the population by genetic drift. Thus the probability that the neutral trait will come to occur by mutation and will then completely replace the original trait is independent of the size of the population. If you consider a single unborn cat and ask, What is the probability that this cat, once it is born, will turn out to be a mutant with six toes? and if you then divide that probability by two, you get the probability that every cat will eventually have six toes.]

Given the number of species of quadrupeds in the world, the chances are excellent that at least a few species should now be six-toed species. Since they are not, I conclude that the five-toe pattern is not neutral, and I look for a reason for it. Since a single unified reason is not to be expected in the many and varied environments of the adult animals, I look for it in the similar environments and developmental problems of the embryos. The point is that if you think that the explanation for the pattern lies in the conditions of the embryo, then you have something to investigate, a hypothesis to be confirmed or falsified by experiment and investigation. If, on the other hand, you attribute it to a primeval ancestor, that is, to chance, then there is nothing to check out. That does not mean that the embryo hypothesis is bound to be true, but it does mean that as a matter of methodology it is the kind of hypothesis that takes priority unless there is overwhelming reason to prefer the other. Faced with two hypotheses, one of which can be used as a basis for research and the other of which cannot, one goes for the former. That is called the scientific outlook.

Having heard the embryologist speak, I am now a fence-sitter on the morphological argument. On the one hand, I see common ancestry as a reasonable explanation of homologies — i.e., similarities in basic structure between organs performing radically different functions in adult organisms of different species. On the other hand, I see the explanation that those organs have developed from embryonic organs serving a common purpose both as a priori more likely and as offering a basis for research and scientific investigation, which the evolutionary explanation does not. Back on the first hand, I note that the embryologists’ hope of explaining why certain structural patterns are advantageous to the embryo remain to date mostly a hope. On the other hand, I note that serious investigation of the development of embryos of widely varying species of vertebrates has been a much neglected (my embryologist friends want me to add: and underfunded) field, and a little patience may here be in order. Meanwhile, I remain on the fence.

The Geological Evidence

My textbook gave me to understand that if you go out and start digging in a bed of sedimentary rocks, you will find fossils, and the further down you dig, the simpler and more primitive the fossils become. In fact, I had the general impression that the earth is rather like an onion, with successive layers of sedimentary rock from the various geological eras, each laid down over the preceding layers in neat order and ready to be excavated. I felt more than mildly foolish when someone asked me, “Once all the sedimentary rocks for the Silurian Era were laid down in place, where did the material to make the rocks for the next era come from?” I saw at once that when stony material is accumulating in one place, it must be being depleted somewhere else, and that therefore most of the rock laid down during some era of the remote past will probably have since worn away, so that digging into a bed of sandstone and finding a continuous series from the present down to the pre-Cambrian will be distinctly improbable. Note: I am not suggesting that professional geologists are laboring under the onion-coat delusion. It is just that the sweeping statements in my texts and lectures about the clear-cut and systematic nature of the geological evidence for evolution suggested such an onion-coat arrangement, and that I did not feel properly warned about how fragmentary the fossil record really is.

Indeed, evolutionists are the first to insist on how fragmentary it is when they are asked, “Why are there no fossils at all showing intermediate stages between fish and amphibia, or amphibia and reptiles, or reptiles and mammals, or reptiles and birds? Why in particular are there no fossils of the transitional forms between marine mammals and their supposed land-dwelling ancestors? Such transitions would presumably have occurred at the seashore, precisely where conditions for fossilization are ideal.” So I accepted the notion that the geological record is incomplete and fragmentary, but I still took it for granted that in a given location the earlier rocks were under the later ones. But then a geologist cheerfully told me, “Oh you can’t count on that at all! What with earthquakes and such, a formation may get flipped over upside down, or there may be a nearly horizontal break in a formation, with one set of layers pushed up on top of the other, with both sets still upright — what we call a low-angle thrust fault. So you never know what to expect. The only sure guide to the age of a sedimentary rock is the type of fossils it contains. If they are fossils that the evolutionists say are early, then we date the rock as early.” This upset me, since I had assumed that we deduced the ages of the fossils from the ages of the rocks in which they were found. Instead, I was told that evolutionists are free, within broad constraints, to give a fossil whatever date suits their theories. (Is it surprising that the simple fossils turn out to be the early ones?)

The Evidence of the Fossil Ape-Men

My textbook named several types of fossil men as transitional forms between the human and the sub-human, but upon checking the technical articles in the library, I found that the researchers were agreed that Neanderthal Man, for example, was completely human and in no way a transitional form, and that the only fossils then known (this was before “Lucy” and company) that provided a link between humans and their non-human ancestors were Piltdown Man and Java Man. Piltdown Man (Eoanthropus dawsoni, meaning Dawson’s Dawn Man) consisted of a human-like skullcap and an apelike jaw found separately in a gravel bed in England. Java Man (Pithecanthropus erectus, meaning upright ape-man), consisted of an apelike skull and a human-like thighbone found fifty feet apart in a gravel bed next to a river in Java. I asked what reason there was in either case for supposing that the two bones had come from the same animal, and got no answer. Eugen duBois, who found the Java Man, was a pupil of our old friend Ernst Haeckel, and, acting on the basis of his teacher’s theories about where man must have evolved, had announced before he went to Java that he was going to find a “missing link” there. Having found the bones, he was in doubt as to whether they were genuine, and wrote to Haeckel describing them. Haeckel wrote back that they were undoubtedly the real thing, and duBois proclaimed his find. Having found it, he kept it in his private safe for more than twenty years, not allowing anyone else to see it, saying that he wished to publish his own findings first. He made plaster casts of the fossils and sent them to various museums, but after several years sent out a second set of casts, explaining that there was some clay stuck to the interior of the skull which he had not noticed, supposing it to be part of the skull. The new casts showed a much thinner skull, with a highly enlarged cranial capacity, and therefore presumably a much more intelligent Java Man. This sort of thing does not inspire confidence.

The Piltdown Man, of course, is now known to be a forgery. The only question is, which of the scientists working on the dig were part of the hoax, and which, if any, were the victims. As matters stand, the prime suspect (according to S.J. Gould — see below) appears to be Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, then a young man just beginning his career. This is of some interest, since in the 1930s a major fossil find was Peking Man, a close relative of Java Man. When the Japanese invaded China, the bones were packed into a crate and sent out of the country for safekeeping. However, they never arrived at their destination, and it is not known how or at what point they went astray. As matters stand, almost our only information about the bones and authority for believing that they existed and were ever in that crate is the description of them by Teilhard, who discovered them. They remain his chief claim to scientific distinction. [Note: This is the Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who achieved popular fame in the early 1960s with the posthumous publication of his book The Phenomenon of Man, hailed in many circles as a brilliant synthesis of science and Christianity in terms of evolution. I once referred to him as de Chardin, and was informed that his surname is Teilhard de Chardin, and that it may properly be abbreviated as Teilhard (pronounced TAY-yar) but not as de Chardin. I pass this on for the benefit of those who, like myself, are anxious not to be caught using the wrong fork.]

My textbook referred to the ability of experts to deduce the complete anatomy of an extinct animal from a few tiny fragments of bone, and I was prepared to take it on authority that they could really do this. But then I read about the rise and fall of Nebraska Man (Hesperopithecus haroldcookii, or Harold Cook’s Twilight Ape, so named to signify that this was an ape in the last stage just before evolving into manhood, just as Piltdown Man was man in the first stage after evolving from apehood). Nebraska Man was discovered in William Jennings Bryan’s home state — almost in his back yard, so to speak — just in time to be a prime exhibit at the Scopes trial in Tennessee. It was only a single tooth, but that was alleged to be enough. Clarence Darrow waved it under Bryan's nose (figuratively speaking) and asked him how he could deny what all the relevant experts affirmed, that this was the tooth of a transitional form between ape and man. All Bryan could do was say that experts can be wrong. These experts were, for the fossil in question is now agreed to be the tooth of a pig.

The problem for me was not just that the best examples of fossil ape-men all turned out to be worthless. The question ran far deeper. How did these pitiful specimens ever come to be accepted by the scientific community at large? Long before it was discovered that the Piltdown jaw had been ground down by a dentist’s burr and stained with iodine to make it look old and worn, biologists ought to have reacted automatically by asking what reasons there were for supposing that the skullcap and the jaw belonged together, instead of simply being what they ultimately proved to be: the skullcap of a modern man and the jaw of a modern ape. As far as that is concerned, interested evolutionists ought to have had a look at the Piltdown fossils. The grinding and staining job is not particularly skillfully done. The first bone specialist to examine the find with a skeptical eye ought to have spotted the forgery, and apparently the first one did. Piltdown was announced to be a fake precisely at the time when theories about the evolution of man had begun to develop in directions that made the genuineness of the Piltdown find improbable. As long as it fit the prevailing theories, no one thought either to look at it closely or to question the assumption that the two bones (cranium and jaw) belonged to the same organism. Why did the scientific community, or that part of it specializing in evolution, or in fossils, or in early men, not raise the question? I began to fear that wishful thinking was at work — that any discovery that supported Darwin could count on not being scrutinized too carefully.

Difficulties about Transitional Forms

Thus far I had only found that the evidence for the theory was not as strong, and some of the chief spokesmen for the theory not as scientifically pure, as I had expected. But then I began to encounter positive difficulties in the theory. I had assumed that the geological record would show, for example, that as we go back in time the ancestors of our modern dogs and cats are more and more alike, until we arrive at a common ancestor for both that can be linked with modern dogs by a series of fossils arranged in chronological order, each fossil differing only slightly from its neighbors, and that a similar series connected the ancestor with modern cats. This turned out to be not at all the case. Characteristically, a type of animal will appear in the fossil record without any transitional forms linking it with a previous type, will persist for a while without significant change, and then will vanish without transitional forms linking it to some following type. This is quite openly asserted by the paleontologists, who call it “the systematic deficiency of the record.” The standard explanation is that the fossil record is incomplete and fragmentary, that the odds are enormous against any particular corpse’s being fossilized, and that it is just our bad luck that the transitional forms between known types have not happened to be preserved.

Recently, however, some evolutionists (such as Stephen Jay Gould, author of The Panda’s Thumb, Ever Since Darwin, and many other highly readable and informative paperbacks available at your local bookstore) have adopted a theory called “punctuated equilibrium.” This means that a particular type of animal does not evolve gradually and by small steps into another type, but remains stable for a long time and then suddenly undergoes a burst of rapid change that moves it from one type to another in the blink of a geological eye. Thus the reason for the lack of transitional forms is not bad luck but simply the fact that transitions are rapid and transitional forms few. A randomly fossilized specimen is unlikely to be transitional for the same reason that a photograph taken at a random time during a baseball game is unlikely to show a player in the act of stealing a base. This explanation has the advantage of fitting the fossil evidence far better than the standard explanation, but it raises many questions of its own, not yet (so far as I know) even tentatively answered.

But sometimes the change from one type to another is such that, not only are the transitional forms unknown from fossils, but it is hard to see what the transitional forms could be like. For example:

Consider the crocodile bird. The crocodile holds its mouth wide open and the bird walks in and cleans the teeth and gums, removing ticks and other parasites. The arrangement is advantageous to both, but how did it get started? The instinct to walk into the open mouth of a crocodile will not be developed by Natural Selection unless the birds that do it are likelier to survive than the ones that don’t, and this will not be the case until considerably more than 99.999 percent of all crocodiles had a built-in instinct to refrain from eating them, and the crocodiles would have had no reason to develop such an instinct until the birds had an instinct to groom them.

Most vertebrates have a flexible rib-cage. The turtle does not. The development of the turtle's shell by small gradual steps does not appear to be possible. Gould and others assume that it happened by a few (say three) mutations. This is not the gradual process that evolutionists originally talked about. When Darwin’s book was originally published, Philip Gosse (or Edmund Gosse — I can never remember which is which) advanced the theory that God had created the world in six days, but had created fossils at the same time so as to make it appear that the world had evolved gradually. The advocates of “punctuated equilibrium” appear to be reversing the process and maintaining that Natural Selection his been evolving new species, but is doing so in a manner calculated to look like instantaneous and supernatural creation!

Again, every reptile has at least four bones along each side of its lower jaw, whereas a mammal has one. It is standard evolutionary theory that the three extra bones of the reptile jaw moved up and have become the three bones in the middle ear of the mammal. It would greatly ease my mind if someone were to show me a series of, say, ten drawings of the transitional stages, showing how the bones gradually moved from the jaw to the ear, allowing the animal to eat and to hear at all points of the transition. Do not bother going to your local museum to look up the intermediate stages. None have ever been found. But I am reasonable. I am not asking that you show me how the transition actually took place — only how it could possibly have taken place.

Long after my encounter with freshman biology, I asked an expert on fossils of early mammals about the jaw, and he replied: “Perhaps you have not heard that there are some fossil reptiles that have a number of traits of mammals (such as the placement of the hip joints) and that these reptiles have a double hinge in the jaw: one hinge to the rear of the foremost bone and the other hinge to the rear of all four bones. There are your transitional forms for you.” I said, “Very interesting, but once the second hinge was in place and working, how did the three bones between the hinges gradually slip out of the jaw altogether and up to the middle ear without interrupting the animal's meals?” He said: “I haven’t the faintest idea. But the existence of reptiles which have taken the first step toward the transition (even if we have no record of the second step or any idea of how it could have occurred), and which are moving from reptilian to mammalian characteristics in other ways as well (such as the hip joints) makes me confident that somehow that second step occurred, and that someday we will figure out how.” I said: “Now wait a minute. You have told me that you don’t think that the process of evolution was guided by some intelligence. That means that each step in the transition has to be explained, not by its eventual usefulness when the transition is completed, but by the usefulness of that particular step when it occurs, without reference to further developments, if any. But now you look at the double hinge and say, ‘This can be explained only as the first step in the eventual conversion to a mammalian jaw.’ If that is so, then you have conceded the guiding intelligence, whether it be God or Nature (capital N) or the reptile itself saying, ‘Oh, this double-hinged jaw is certainly a nuisance, but I don’t mind, because I keep thinking about how grateful my remote descendants will be to me when they are enjoying the benefits of the completed mammalian arrangement!’ If you repudiate the guiding intelligence hypothesis, then all you have left is the observation that, among all the many varieties of reptiles, some varieties resemble mammals more closely than other varieties.”

[Note: a recent television program in the NOVA series, called God, Darwin, and Dinosaurs, had a segment on the evolution of the mammalian jaw, from which I understand that almost from the time there first were reptiles, they were split into two groups, (1) a very small group with a special jaw construction, from which mammals are presumed to be descended, and (2) all the rest, with the standard reptilian jaw.]

I asked my freshman biology professor about the mammal’s jaw. I invited him to explain the crocodile bird and the shell of the turtle. I made his life a misery. He used to groan when he saw me coming. Once, pushed beyond endurance, he snapped: “The trouble with you, Kiefer, is that you are trying to approach this subject in a logical manner. You have got to realize that biology is not subject to the laws of reason!” Poor man, he really took it very well, all things considered. He was used to students who said, “I don't believe in evolution because it contradicts the Bible,” and he knew exactly how to handle them. But he had never had a student who said, “I don't believe in evolution because it contradicts the fossil evidence,” and he had no pat answers ready. (You must not suppose that I spent my entire freshman year persecuting my biology professor. I also gave pacifist literature to my ROTC lieutenant, and did my best to persuade my social science professor that when he made statements like, “The removal of teleological concepts from our thinking must be one of our chief goals as scientists,” he was contradicting himself. They were all three of them decent, patient men, and I owe them.)

One argument that did not hit me until years later involves DNA. When the discovery of DNA and something of how it works became generally known, most of the references to it that I encountered took it for granted that this was a major step toward showing how life evolved from non-living matter, and I, not having thought about it, assumed that this was correct. Then my advisor, Professor Herbert Feigl, Head of the Philosophy of Science Center at the University of Minnesota, and a thorough atheist, said that DNA was a major problem for him, and explained:

In order for Natural Selection to work, traits must be inherited. Thus, before there can be evolution by Natural Selection, there must exist a mechanism for passing traits from one generation to the next. We now know what that mechanism is. There is a genetic code which is passed on by the DNA. A given triplet of DNA units signals the production of a given amino acid in sequence. But how did the genetic code itself develop? It cannot have done so by Natural Selection, for its existence is presupposed by Natural Selection. People talk as if this solved the problem of the origin of life. It doesn’t. It makes it ten times worse!

At first, I didn’t know what he was talking about, since I assumed that the correspondence of a given triplet with a given amino acid was deducible in principle from physico-chemical laws, and perhaps had already been deduced. I was wrong. The correspondence is arbitrary, and although there is a standard code used by almost all known species, there are a few species that use a slightly different one. Professor Feigl is right. There is a problem.

The Victim Cools Down — More or Less

From my remarks so far, you may have gained the impression that I am a convinced anti-evolutionist. In fact, I am nothing of the kind. My anti-evolution kick lasted about three years, and although my opinion of freshman biology texts remains unfavorable, I finally concluded that one can put forward a case for evolution as a plausible and useful working hypothesis, and probably true. What changed my mind? Nothing spectacular — rather a consideration of minor considerations, each serving to make my objections to the theory marginally less compelling. For example: I got a summer job with an oil company and rubbed elbows with a number of geologists, and got a new respect for the thoroughness with which rock strata (especially if there is any chance that there is oil in them — and in fact there is a positive correlation between oil and fossils) are mapped in many areas. Every time an oil company drills, a cylinder of rock about two inches in diameter is brought up out of the hole and the pieces are carefully kept in order and labelled, and every so often the geologists have “core parties,” at which all these specimens are put on display so that every geologist (not just those working for a given company) knows exactly what kind of rock you will find 250 feet and 4 inches down if you drill a hole starting 280 miles and 42 feet directly north of the northwest corner of the Alamo. The result is that, although the dating of sedimentary rocks is neither simple nor clear, and certainly not as straightforward as my freshman text suggested, it is by no means the utter mess that I once thought.

So, I end up giving the theory of evolution my qualified blessing. I think that it is probably true, in some form at least vaguely like the one now held by most biologists, and that it is a useful way of organizing data, and is a good stimulus to sound research (with some exceptions, such as the field of embryology, where in the past it has done definitely more harm than good, but that may have stopped being the case). It has some unresolved difficulties, and biologists (except when they are arguing about whether Creationism should be given equal time in high-school textbooks, in which context they still tend to circle the wagons and stonewall all questions) are moving more and more in the direction of saying: “Of course there are unsolved and extremely troublesome questions. That is the mark of a living discipline. There are unsolved and extremely troubling questions in quantum mechanics, in mathematics, in meteorology, in biblical archaeology, in every field in which there is serious research and worthwhile activity going on. How did the turtle get its shell? Beats me!”

It should be emphasized that there is no clear-cut line between believing in evolution and disbelieving. Belief in most theories is a matter of degrees of credence. Thus, the British geneticist and evolutionary biologist J.B.S. Haldane, writing in Science and the Supernatural, says (I quote from memory): “I regard evolution as a theory about events in the distant past, not directly testable by present observation, a theory rather more probable than the existence of Cedric the Saxon, but less so than that of Queen Anne.” The relation between belief and disbelief ceases to be a continuum and becomes a dichotomy when action is required, based on whether a theory is true or false. Either the surgeon operates for appendicitis or he doesn’t. Either you vote for candidate X or you don’t. Either you join church Y or you don’t. Either you marry Z or you don’t. But the theory of evolution implies no such clear-cut choices of action. Accordingly, the division is not between those who accept it and those who reject, but among those who think it 90 percent probable, those who think it 40 percent probable, those who think it 5 percent probable, and so on. (A figure of 0 or 100 percent probable suggests to me a decision not based altogether on the observable facts.)

Let me add that there is a considerable difference between being skeptical about Darwinism and being a six-day Creationist. The distinction is highly important in the controversy over the teaching of evolutionism and scientific creationism in the schools. Consider Teacher A, who says:

The Bible teaches that the heavens and the earth were created in six days, about 4000 years BC. It also teaches that there was a world-wide flood about 2000 BC that reduced every species of land-dwelling animal to at most 14 individuals. Since the Bible says these things, they must be true. My mission is to show that the scientific evidence is at least consistent with these assertions, and preferably supportive of them.

Now consider Teacher B. who says:

There is a good deal of evidence supporting the theory of organic evolution and the origin of species by natural selection. I intend to make sure that my students are familiar with that evidence. There are also difficulties in that theory, and I intend to make sure that my students are aware of those difficulties. I will have them do experiments. They will plant beans, and weigh the seeds, and plant the biggest seeds for the next generation, and so seek to obtain a race of jumbo beans, and when this fails, we will discuss why. I will send them to the library to obtain a catalog of mutations of fruit flies, perhaps an update of the same one I discovered when I was a freshman. They will note that there are thousands of mutations listed, and I will point out that when a mutation is recessive to the parent stock, it is not immediately obvious whether it is a genuine mutation or the surfacing of a trait already present but not visible until both chromosomes of a pair are carrying the recessive gene. I will invite them to compare numbers of recessive and dominant mutations in the catalog, and when they have read several pages without finding a dominant mutation, I will offer a dollar for each dominant mutation in the catalog to the first finder thereof. When they fail to pauperize me, we will discuss why.

I will ask each of them to write a short library research paper on a question selected from a list including: How the turtle got its shell, how the mammal got its jaw, how the yucca moth developed its reproductive cycle, and so on. (Naturally, one question will deal with the Biogenetic Law and the life of Haeckel.) No one will be more surprised than I at what they report back. But I will never suggest to them that the theory of evolution is false, though I will admit that there are difficulties and questions to which I have no answer. Nor will I permit the words “Adam,” “Eve,” “Genesis,” “Bible,” or “God” to cross my lips in the classroom. However, I will point out to my students that, if (1) we cannot explain the existence of the rhinoceros by accidental development, one small modification at a time, from something much simpler, and if (2) it is not possible (say because the generation of heat and light by the sun is an irreversible process) that the earth has always existed with more or less its present climate, and that rhinoceroi also have always existed, then the answers that suggest themselves are (3) an intelligent agent designed rhinoceroi, or (4) we do not know where rhinoceroi came from. [Note: Recognized plurals include (1) rhino, (2) rhinos, (3) rhinosceros, (4) rhinoceroses, (5) rhinoceri, (6) rhinoceroi, (7) rhinoceron, and (8) rhinocerotes. Take your pick!]

Finally, consider Teacher C, who says:

Since I know that miracles and the supernatural are unscientific and discredited notions, I will explain the existence of the rhinoceros, and for that matter everything else, strictly in terms of unplanned development; and that means evolution. I will give them the usual arguments to show that there is evidence of evolution from all sides. I will assure them that the evidence is overwhelming and that responsible scientists are unanimous. I will tell them that all opposition to the theory comes from ignorant religious fanatics, and will make a few references to Galileo and the Inquisition, and to Tammy Bakker. As for the question of how the shell of the turtle developed, I think I will leave that out. It would only confuse them.

When various speakers object to the proposal that Creationism be taught in the public schools, it is usually on the assumption that the Creationist will be someone like Teacher A. My response is that Teacher A is indeed guilty of using the classroom to propagandize for his religious opinions, and has no business in a state-run school. But exactly the same thing is true of Teacher C. Teacher B is the only one who is sticking to biology, the only one who can be said to be religiously neutral. Given that a certain school is committed to religious neutrality, Teacher B is the one, and the only one, to hire. (Besides, anyone who can reel off eight plurals of “rhinoceros” without looking them up has my vote anytime!)

Many Creationists eagerly point out difficulties in the evolutionary theory, but gloss over difficulties in the Creationist theory (either the general theory that the various species were directly created, or the more explicit and therefore more vulnerable one that they were so created as a literal reading of Genesis suggests, less than ten thousand years ago, and all — of land-dwelling kinds — reduced more recently to the cargo of a single ark), either ignoring the difficulties or saying, “Surely an omnipotent God can take care of that,” or, “Since God is infinite and we are not, we mustn’t expect to understand everything He does.” Such a double standard is obviously dishonest, and likely to disgust the hearer. Purely as a tactical matter, it seems to me that Christians would be better off granting the evolutionary hypothesis, pointing out some of its many difficulties, and then saying, “But despite the existence of many puzzles and unanswered questions, we are agreed that evolution is a reasonable theory, worthy of the intelligent observer’s belief, right? Then I am sure you will understand why, despite the existence of many puzzles and unanswered questions, I nevertheless regard Christianity as worthy of belief.”

To those of you who are interested in pursuing the topic further, let me recommend the book The Neck of the Giraffe (Mentor Paperbacks: New American Library, 1983, $7.95), by Francis Hitching. The author is a believer in evolution, but is willing to admit that there are difficulties, and the book is a survey of the current state of the debate about them, both among evolutionists and with anti-evolutionists. Mike McCully has recommended a book specifically on the evolution of man, called The Bone Peddlers: Selling Evolution, by William R. Fix (Macmillan, 1984, ISBN 0-02-538480-5). If you start to dip into anti-evolution literature, you will find that many writers on the subject are cranks. This is, in a way, predictable. On many questions of opinion, there is a conventional answer, an opinion such that if you hold it you are unlikely to be called on to defend it. If you hold the conventional opinion, others will not raise their eyebrows and say, “You really think that? But why?” Over against the conventional opinion there are one or more maverick opinions. Now the oftener you consider some question and arrive at a maverick position, the easier it will be to take a maverick position on the next question that comes up. A hopeless crank is very likely to take a maverick position on the next question he meets, and a mindless sheep is very unlikely to do so. As a result, if you take a maverick position on any question (evolution, the authorship of Hamlet, the date of the death of Edward V of England, you name it), you will have in your company a disproportionate number of hopeless cranks, whereas if you take the conventional position on the same question, you will have in your company a disproportionate number of mindless sheep. Of course, maverickness — mavericity? — is dependent on context. In many social and intellectual environments, traditional Christianity is a conventional position. In others, it is definitely maverick. So keep your eyes on the issues and the arguments, and try not to let personalities upset you. In any dispute, no matter which side you take, you are bound to have at least a few allies you would be more comfortable having as opponents.

And that concludes my discussion of the question: “How compelling is the scientific case for evolution?”

* Editor’s Note

James Kiefer wrote a seven-part series dealing with the first eleven chapters of Genesis, Darwinism, and the Atonement. The series was meant to be found at the Christia Library. Somehow, Part 2 — the part I have prepared for this Website — was overwritten by one of his commentaries on the Infancy Narratives, and so is not available there. I had a copy from the time that the Christia Library operated a listserve, making it possible for me to supply the missing text. The links at the beginning of the piece take the reader to the Christia Library, there being no need for the material to be duplicated here.

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