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The Boxer and the Biologist

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July 31, 2014 Tags: Biblical Authority, Christianity & Science - Then and Now, Creation & Origins, Education

Today's entry was written by Ted Davis. You can read more about what we believe here.

The Boxer and the Biologist

Philadelphia’s Metropolitan Opera House in its heyday, not long after it was built by Oscar Hammerstein, grandfather of the famous Broadway lyricist, on the southwest corner of Broad and Poplar in the first decade of the last century. Occupying much of a city block about a mile north of City Hall, the cavernous structure with a four-story façade, now in great need of repairs, could hold about four thousand people. When Harry Rimmer debated Samuel Christian Schmucker here in 1930, the newly completed Broad Street Subway stopped just one block away, making it easily accessible. More than two thousand people paid between twenty-five cents and one dollar to attend. Courtesy of Edward B. Davis.

Today’s column begins a new series on fundamentalists, modernists, and evolution in the 1920s. Although I’m starting with a debate about evolution that took place in Philadelphia in 1930, the first full year of the Great Depression, the issues on display came out of the previous decade. Opposition to teaching evolution in public schools mainly began a few years after World War One, leading to the nationally publicized trial of a science teacher for breaking a brand new Tennessee law against teaching evolution in 1925—though it was really the law itself that was in the dock. Simultaneously, some of the larger Protestant denominations were rent by bitter internal conflicts over biblical authority and theological orthodoxy, with the right-wing “fundamentalists” and the left-wing “modernists” each trying to evict representatives of the other side from pulpits, seminaries, and missionary boards. As I pointed out in another series, that controversy from this period profoundly influenced the current debate about origins: we haven’t yet gotten past it. A better understanding of how we got here may help readers see more clearly just what BioLogos is trying to do.

The Boxer: Harry Rimmer

Portrait photo of Harry Rimmer
Harry Rimmer at about age 40, from a brochure advertising the summer lecture series at the Winona Lake Bible Conference in 1934—the largest such gathering in the world, long associated with Billy Sunday, who died the next year. Rimmer was billed as “President Research Science Bureau,” a one-man organization that he had incorporated in 1921 “to encourage and promote research in such sciences as have direct bearing on the question of the inspiration and infallible nature of the Holy Bible.” Courtesy of Edward B. Davis.

It was unseasonably warm for a late November evening when the evangelist and former semi-professional boxer Harry Rimmer stepped off the sidewalk and onto the steps leading up to the Metropolitan Opera House in downtown Philadelphia. The balmy weather took him back to his home in southern California, back to his wife of fifteen years and their three children, back to the USC Trojans and the big home game just two weeks away against a great team from Notre Dame in what would prove to be Knute Rockne’s final season. He awaited that confrontation as eagerly as the one he was about to engage in himself—a debate about evolution with Samuel Christian Schmucker, a local biologist with a national reputation as an author and lecturer. Writing to his wife that afternoon, he had envisioned himself driving a team of oxen through the holes in his opponent’s arguments, just what he wished the Trojans would do to the Irish: they didn’t; Notre Dame won, 27-0, before 90,000 fans.

Flyer advertising appearance of Harry Rimmer at Lincoln Ave. Presbyterian Church
Advertisement for talks Rimmer had given at a California church several months earlier. Here Rimmer was promoted as a “geologist,” which he wasn’t. A flyer advertising his pamphlets in the 1930s described him as “a competent Bible scholar and a well-informed scientist,” though he was also neither of those things. The trumpeting of bogus credentials was, sadly, business as usual for Rimmer. As in this instance, he typically came for one or two weeks, preaching once or twice daily in local churches. He also spoke—seemingly full time for almost four decades—at colleges, universities, military bases, Bible conferences, and large public auditoriums. Millions of Americans must have heard him in person, or encountered him through his books and pamphlets, some of which remained in print for about forty years. Occasionally an event was broadcast on the radio, but he never had his own program. Courtesy of Edward B. Davis.

Rimmer dearly hoped that things would get even warmer before the night was over. The heat of battle would ignite the fire inside him, and the flames would illuminate the truth of his position while consuming the false doctrines of his enemy. This was exactly what had happened so many times before, in so many different places, with so many different opponents, and he was well prepared for it to happen again. He had been up late for a night or two before the debate, going over his plans with members of the Prophetic Testimony of Philadelphia, the interdenominational group that sponsored the debate as well as the lengthy series of messages that led up to it. It was in fact Rimmer’s second visit to Philadelphia in six months under their auspices, and this time he would top it off in his favorite way: with a rousing debate against a recognized opponent of fundamentalism. He approached every debate as an intellectual boxing match, an opportunity to achieve a hard-fought conquest despite his almost complete lack of formal education. As he told his wife before another debate, “It is now 6:15 and at 8:30 I enter the ‘ring.’ I am just starting to make an outline. I’ve been sorting my pebbles and greasing my sling. I shall type my notes for easy reference and then rest until the gong sounds.”

The Biologist: Samuel Christian Schmucker

Apparently, Rimmer had originally sought to debate the renowned paleontologist William King Gregory from the American Museum of Natural History, but that didn’t work out. As it happens, his opponent was Gregory’s longtime friend Samuel Christian Schmucker, a very frequent speaker at the Museum and undoubtedly one of the two or three best known speakers and writers on scientific subjects in the United States. A regular at several prestigious venues in the Northeast, he was best known for his annual week-long series at the Chautauqua Institution, the mother of all American bully pulpits. Two of his books were used as national course texts by the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, and his lectures, illustrated with numerous glass lantern slides, got top billing in advertisements for a quarter century.

Portrait of S. C. Schmucker
Portrait of S. C. Schmucker in the latter part of his life, by an unknown artist, Schmucker Science Center, West Chester University of Pennsylvania. Schmucker studied chemistry at Muhlenberg College before completing a doctorate in chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, where he went to study with his former undergraduate mentor, the famous Edgar Fahs Smith, himself a former student of the great organic chemist Friedrich Wöhler. In 1895, he accepted a position in biology, not chemistry, at the West Chester State Normal School, where he spent his whole academic career. At the turn of the century, following postdoctoral work in biology at Penn with one of the leading American scientists of his generation, Edwin Grant Conklin, he devoted the rest of his life to education and science writing.

Interestingly, Wikipedia pages exist for his father and grandfather, two of the most important Lutheran clergy in American history, while electronic information about the grandson is minimal, despite his notoriety ninety years ago. How quickly we forget! The grandfather, Samuel Simon Schmucker, founded the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg; his son, Allentown pastor Beale Melanchthon Schmucker, helped found a competing institution, The Lutheran Philadelphia Seminary. But, they didn’t get along, and perhaps partly for that reason the grandson was an Episcopalian.

Although he never published any important research, Schmucker was admired by colleagues for his ability to communicate science accurately and effectively to lay audiences, without dumbing down—so much so, that toward the end of World War One he was elected president of the American Nature Study Society, the oldest environmental organization in the nation. As we will see in a future column, his involvement with the Nature Study movement dovetailed with his liberal Christian spirituality and theology.

Spines of three books by Schmucker
Schmucker wrote five books about evolution, eugenics, and the environment for major publishing houses. Lippincott published The Study of Nature (1908), illustrated by his wife, five times in twenty years. His most popular book, The Meaning of Evolution (1913), was printed eight times in a dozen years by Macmillan. The first edition was published simultaneously by the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle as a national course text in 1913-14. A later book, Man’s Life on Earth (1925), was also a Chautauqua text in 1925-26. Macmillan did three printings in five years, and a Japanese translation was published twice in Tokyo, both before and after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

For the moment, however, I will call attention to a position that gave him high visibility in Philadelphia, a long trip by local rail from his home in West Chester. For more than thirty years, Schmucker lectured at the Wagner Free Institute of Science, located just a mile away from the Metropolitan Opera House in north Philadelphia. The Institute’s mission was to educate the general public about science, at no cost, and Schmucker was as good as anyone, at any price, for that task.

When the boxer and the biologist collided that November evening, they both had a substantial following, and they presented a sharp contrast to the audience: a pugilistic, self-educated fundamentalist evangelist against a suave, sophisticated science writer. When it comes right down to it, not all that different from Ken Ham versus Bill Nye, except that Ham has a couple of earned degrees where Rimmer had none. Come back to see what happens. Our foray into this long-forgotten episode will provide an illuminating window into the roots of the modern origins debate. The great gulf separating Rimmer from Schmucker, fundamentalist from modernist, still substantially shapes the attitudes of American Protestants toward evolution. History, as an historian once said, is just too important to be left to historians.

Looking Ahead

The next installment takes a closer look at the life and ideas of Rimmer, whose career as a proponent of science and a literal Bible influenced Henry M. Morris, the leading modern creationist—despite the fact that Rimmer was an OEC who advocated the “gap” theory, which Morris repudiated.

References and Suggestions for Further Reading

This material is adapted from two articles by Edward B. Davis, “Fundamentalism and Folk Science Between the Wars,” Religion and American Culture 5 (1995): 217-48, and “Samuel Christian Schmucker’s Christian Vocation,” Seminary Ridge Review 10 (Spring 2008): 59-75. Additional information comes from my introduction to The Antievolution Pamphlets of Harry Rimmer (New York: Garland Publishing, 1995). Often away from home for extended periods, Rimmer wrote many letters to his wife Mignon Brandon Rimmer. She quoted some of them in her book, Fire Inside: The Harry Rimmer Story (Berne, Indiana: Publishers Printing House, 1968); his comments about football are on pp. 92-3. Unfortunately she destroyed their correspondence after the book was finished, so there is no archive of his papers available for historians to examine.


Ted Davis is Fellow of the History of Science for the BioLogos Foundation and Professor of the History of Science at Messiah College. At Messiah, Davis teaches courses on historical and contemporary aspects of Christianity and science and directs the Central Pennsylvania Forum for Religion and Science.

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Jon Garvey - #86109

August 1st 2014

Ted

I’m first with my hand up again…

Thanks for this. Looks a promising series, if it does justice to all sides (as I’m sure it will).

You had to start somewhere, historically speaking, but is it worth raising the issue of how Fundamentalism came to be militantly anti-evolutionist in the first place?

Straight literalism seems too simplistic an explanation, since some of the contributors to the original Fundamentals were supporters of evolution, and as you say even Rimmer was an OEC.

I’ve read that the Great War made a big difference, since it was perceived (rightly, I think) that one of the important causes was the Kaiser’s liking for social darwinism, or more broadly the vibe in the European air that the fittest nations and races were those that struggled most effectively for survival.

So, the combination of liberal (evolutionary) theology and partly-social Darwinist slaughter on an apocalyptic scale (started by the nation that brought you the theology), perhaps combined with atheistic evolutionary Marxist revolutions, added to the anti-religious agenda of evolutionists like Huxley and Haeckel since Darwin’s time ... all that *combined* with biblical literalism to make evolution something to be abhorred totally.

Is that at all fair?


Ted Davis - #86118

August 1st 2014

Jon,

As you say, “straight literalism” is too simplistic an explanation—for the whole phenomenon of fundamentalism. Other factors come in, including social Darwinism and enormous theological deficiencies on the “modernist” side. I point to some of those factors in a column linked in the opening paragraph above: http://biologos.org/blog/science-and-the-bible-theistic-evolution-part-5

Biblical literalism of some sort was certainly part of the explanation, though not in the same way it is for “fundamentalists” today. At that time (90 years ago), fundamentalists had no problem with long periods of time prior to the creation of Adam & Eve. That is, they weren’t “young earth” creationists, a fact that Ham and company have not ever really come to terms with; to be fully consistent with their over-the-top rhetoric about “uncompromisingly uphold[ing] biblical authority from the very first verse” (http://blogs.answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2011/02/22/what-a-line-up/), they need simply to say that virtually every conservative Protestant author between (about) 1860 and 1960 was a “compromiser,” a term they use derogitorily. In other words, they cut themselves off from their own tradition.

For the fundamentalists of Bryan’s day, the problems came with biological evolution, and especially human evolution—the same issues taken up now by the Discovery Institute, if one can fairly equate their take on it with the content of Casey Luskin’s columns (http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/index.php?command=submitSearchQuery&orderBy=date&orderDir=DESC&query=Casey Luskin&searchBy=author&searchType=all&includeBlogPosts=true). There’s a direct continuity of concerns between two prominent attorneys: Bryan, the fundamentalist leader of the 1920s, and Philip Johnson, the law professor who basically started the ID movement. Human evolution is the most important item on that list of concerns. To the extent that biblical literalism of some sort is behind this, it was part of the picture then—and now, at least for Discovery and nearly all other proponents of ID.

For the YECs, of course, it’s literalism all the way down; you just can’t get past it. A typical YEC author today (I am thinking of people like Ham, Mortenson, or William Barrick, the author of the YEC section of the new book on the historical Adam (http://www.zondervan.com/four-views-on-the-historical-adam), the rule is as follows: the Bible is the only reliable source of information concerning everything the Bible affirms. No other sources of information have standing to compare claim with claim, so the “literal” Bible stands alone. This is a complete rejection of all types of concordism. Barrick says exactly this in his contribution to that book, leading a very conservative biblical scholar (C John Collins) to throw up his hands in reply. There’s literally no talking with advocates of such a view: they are right, everyone else is just wrong. I fear for the future of the church, when such an attitude gets such good press in such a large segment of American Protestantism: it has no good outcomes.


Jon Garvey - #86119

August 1st 2014

Thanks Ted - my point wasn’t to deny literalism as a banner today, but simply to explore how it came to be where it was at your historical take-off point.

On another thread a couple of us were talking about the very different atmosphere in the UK. I’ve belatedly come across the “Rescuing Darwin” survey here from 2008, which like the US survey Deb Haarsma reviewed recently provides a confusing picture, and evidence for my contention that national trends don’t tell you that much.

But one interesting thing to me was that, even now after 40 years of imported Creationist literature, the temperature is a good deal lower here. For example, a good number of YECs saying that TE is probably true, the number of TEs willing to countenance a young earth, and the number of IDs (actually probably mainly OECs, since the definition matched that rather than true ID and the OECs, as in the US survey, were left optionless) who were sympathetic to evolution. That matches my own experience that origins issues are of mild interest here to most believers, and seldom more than a minor contention (though the issue did lose me a column in a magazine with Creationist sympathies, albeit on friendly parting terms!)

Actually the strangest finding was just how many people, in a demographically careful survey, supported the three theistic options. In a country where the rising generation has little or know idea of Christian teaching, it looked surprisingly similar to the US results - and atheistic evolution came off worst, by a whisker..


Ted Davis - #86120

August 1st 2014

There are probably more YEC-type creationists in the UK and Canada than most scholars would like to say. And, probably more believers in God as well. Like you, I’ve seen a few numbers that look like they pertained to American, not British, sample sets.


Jon Garvey - #86122

August 1st 2014

Too right - and too bad that the fruit of aggressive secularism isn’t no religion, but bad religion. People believe in God, but it does them little good. But they’ve been innocculated fairly effectively against Christianity.


g kc - #86127

August 2nd 2014

“…controversy from this period profoundly influenced the current debate about origins: we haven’t yet gotten past it. A better understanding of how we got here may help readers see more clearly just what BioLogos is trying to do.”

Perhaps the remainder of this series will indeed clarify what BioLogos is trying to do. But I have my doubts whether looking back at debates from 80 years ago will help resolve current debates. Have the last 80 years produced any groundbreaking scientific discoveries or theological epiphanies to settle the controversy? I don’t think Gallup polls were around back then, but the ones performed over the last 30 years show essentially no change in beliefs about human evolution (~40+% don’t believe in any type of human evolution).

 

However, my main feeling right now is something like surprise.

That evolution could have as high a profile as it does in society is surprising for a number of reasons.

It has had no effect on people’s daily lives at any time in recorded history.

It has no effect on science, or, at least not on the applied sciences that can affect people’s daily lives (e.g. medicine, technology).

It even has no effect on virtually all religious preaching. Genesis 1 & 2 represent less than 0.2% of the chapters in the Bible, so there’s plenty of other Scripture to preach about.

Yet this thing which in our daily lives is essentially entirely inconsequential shows up virtually every day in our popular media (e.g. A piece on dinosaur evolution on Fox News’ website yesterday, an article on evolutionary psychology in today’s Wall Street Journal, probably many mentions of the word in any number of National Geographic TV programs tonight.).

And definitely every day it causes disagreements among Christians, all of whom, of course, profess belief in Christ. (If these people were called Bibleians or Scripturians, instead of Christians, perhaps the disagreements would be more anticipated.) 

Pretty surprising for something which, unlike God, has never been observed by human eyes.

At least it’s somewhat surprising in my eyes.


Eddie - #86129

August 3rd 2014

A number of interesting observations, g kc.

I think you are right about one thing at least:  given the emphasis of the New Testament and the Christian Creeds, one would expect that theological conflicts over Christianity would focus on Jesus Christ, not on the creation narratives of Genesis.  Yet for some reason, in the USA at least, public debates rages far more over Genesis than over Jesus.  Even among Christians, whom one would expect to be more concerned about the nature and work of Jesus than about Adam or Noah or Cain, the account in Genesis is the most divisive account.  In the days of the Reformation, it was the doctrine of the sacraments that divided Christians; in the days of the early Councils, it was the doctrine of Trinity.  But these days it is the doctrine of Creation.  That is indeed something worth wondering about.

I also agree with you that the creation/evolution debate does not, for the most part, impinge upon the daily life of most modern people.  It doesn’t, for the most part, even affect how most modern scientists do their science—except in the case of evolutionary theory itself, obviously.  The people at NASA don’t consult with Jerry Coyne before they calculate how to get a rocket to Mars, and the people who build skyscrapers don’t ask the opinion of Richard Dawkins, and biologists measuring the mercury level in the tissues of the Great Lakes fish don’t need to know when fish first emerged from amphibians, and medical schools don’t teach the debate between adaptationism and neutral theory as part of their curriculum for cancer surgery or brain surgery.

Thus, the argument (made by the NCSE and other organizations and individuals), that if the USA fails to use its public schools to force ninth-grade biology students to accept evolution, the USA will fall behind in the scientific and technological race with other countries, and will become a third-world economy due to its scientific backwardness, is entirely silly and has no foundation.  Most working scientists and engineers go weeks or months at a time without the word “evolution” ever crossing their minds, and there are almost no jobs in the working world, not even in corporate or government scientific laboratories, requiring any knowledge of evolutionary theory.

(Besides, only an ivory-tower scientist with his or her head in the clouds would be so naive about the way the world works as not to know that it is global economics, not the way US schools teach science, which has moved millions of jobs out of America to India and Indonesia and China etc. and thus destroyed the country’s prosperity.  No capitalist is going to say:  if Louisiana makes Darwinian evolution mandatory in the schools, I’ll be so impressed by the state’s commitment to good science that I’ll put a billion-dollar manufacturing plant there, so I can have the pleasure of paying American workers four times what I’m paying my workers in Central America now.)

If the legendary Cambrian rabbit were discovered tomorrow, most of the scientific and everyday worlds would go on exactly as before.  The only people upset would be professors of evolutionary biology, who would now have no raison d’etre, and school boards and textbook publishers, who would now have to adjust the science curriculum, and ideological popular writers like Chris Mooney who would have to learn some new cliches to use against the conservative Americans who are the targets of their hostility.

However, there is one area where evolutionary theory has been socially important.  In the past, evolutionary theory was brought in to public disussion of subjects such as war and eugenics.  Many leading scientists in the early 20th century supported eugenics and America had some eugenics policies which most Americans now deeply regret and repudiate.  The justification for such policies was often clearly Darwinian.  Also, it has been documented that militarism in World War I, and Nazi racial policy later on, were often couched in Darwinian terms.  It appears that one of the main objections that many anti-evolutionary crusaders of the 1920s and 1930s had to Darwin was the use of Darwinian ideas in the social and political arena.  Thus, there was a strong moral incentive to try to undercut certain bad social policies by undercutting Darwinism as science.

Notice that here it was the proposed mechanism of evolution rather than the sheer assertion of evolution that was the issue.  The Darwinian mechanism was popularly supposed to involve a ruthless survival of the fittest, with the weak dying and the strong living; when this was translated into human terms, it looked as if Darwinian biology endorsed the idea that the strong should rule and the weak should serve—or be eliminated.

If evolution had been couched differently, if the idea had been that evolution represented a divinely planned march of consciousness to higher and higher levels of goodness and compassion, and that God intended evolution as a means to make his creatures more and more loving (witness the family nurturing in some birds and mammals, for example) and socially caring, with the idea being that human beings ought to be the most loving and caring creatures of all, being the closest to God and in his image, I don’t think evolution would have been as problematic.  It was the mechanism—ruthless competition which pitches the blind products of nature against each other in a struggle for survival, where there are no rules except to win any way you can and displace everyone else’s seed with your seed—that so repelled people.  And that repulsion was very much behind the scenes in the Scopes trial.

Before about the 1920s, while there was some popular resistance to evolution, it was not nearly so strong.  Indeed, some of the writers of “The Fundamentals” (whence our term fundamentalism) accepted biological evolution.  The social applications of Darwinian ideas were certainly a factor in turning “fundamentalist” Christians solidly against evolution.

 


g kc - #86130

August 3rd 2014

Eddie,

I’m with you on just about all your points. However, a couple observations:

“If the legendary Cambrian rabbit were discovered tomorrow, most of the scientific and everyday worlds would go on exactly as before.  The only people upset would be professors of evolutionary biology, who would now have no raison d’etre, and school boards and textbook publishers, who would now have to adjust the science curriculum…”

That would be fascinating to see play out.

Being familiar with the ways of human beings, however, I’m not fully confident we’d ever hear about such a rabbit if it were indeed discovered. Evolutionists have “invented” discoveries to advance the evolution story and their own fame (e.g. Charles Dawson’s “Piltdown Man” fraud, Ernst Haeckel’s false depictions of embryonic recapitulation). Other evolutionists’ actual discoveries, when they present problems for the current paradigm, almost don’t see the light of day. For a recent example, see the initial reaction of Mary Schweitzer and the secondary reaction of her boss Jack in the 7/21/14 BioLogos article “Not So Dry Bones…”.  In the case of an even more problematic discovery, with some more anger from another Jack and more timidity from another Mary, who knows? Maybe we don’t hear about a Cambrian rabbit.

“If evolution had been couched differently, if the idea had been that evolution represented a divinely planned march of consciousness to higher and higher levels of goodness and compassion, and that God intended evolution as a means to make his creatures more and more loving (witness the family nurturing in some birds and mammals, for example) and socially caring, with the idea being that human beings ought to be the most loving and caring creatures of all, being the closest to God and in his image, I don’t think evolution would have been as problematic.  It was the mechanism—ruthless competition which pitches the blind products of nature against each other in a struggle for survival, where there are no rules except to win any way you can and displace everyone else’s seed with your seed—that so repelled people.”

Perhaps so. But, in the animal kingdom and in human society, for every example of “loving and socially caring” there are at least as many of ruthless competition and fierce defense – even within the same organism kind. Lions and other mammals can be very family-oriented, but they’ll also engage in infanticide. Chimpanzees can be chummy, but they also stage murderous raids on other chimp groups. Geese may mate for life, but they’ll also try to flap or “peck” you to death:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MAeS2HhjPII

As for mankind, most people in 1930, or in 2014, would say we haven’t progressed in peace and love one bit in recorded history. In 5,000 years we’ve advanced greatly in knowledge and technology, but minimally, if at all, morally. Any extraordinary gains, such as loving even one’s enemies, come not from any supposed natural progression of our innate instincts, but rather from a particularly “unnatural” and shocking command from Jesus Christ.

Yes, evolution could have been couched differently (and perhaps is today in some quarters). Promoters do couch their product, but usually in an unbalanced and biased way for appeal. But the customers usually eventually wise up to see the other side of the balancing act.

Couching evolution as God’s way of making living things increasingly “better” might make many suspect somebody’s playing with the scales.


Ted Davis - #86132

August 5th 2014

I don’t agree with you, g kc, about Haldane’s famous (but putative) “rabbit in the Precambrian” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precambrian_rabbit), which is what Eddie meant by a “legendary Cambrian rabbit.” I don’t agree that we might not hear about it. Anyone who thought they had made such a discovery would almost certainly hesitate to publish it immediately, given the shock it would create, but IMO they would indeed publish it—once they were convinced it was an actual discovery. Mary Schweitzer did indeed publish, regardless of her very understandable trepidation, just as Hahn and Strassmann did indeed publish, once they were convinced that uranium did actually produce barium when bombarded with neutrons—despite their ongoing realization that the physicists considered fission impossible. I already addressed this on that other thread: http://biologos.org/blog/not-so-dry-bones-an-interview-with-mary-schweitzer.

Such a discovery would be enormous. I don’t quite agree with Dawkins that it would completely destroy evolution (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precambrian_rabbit#Would_anachronistic_fossils_disprove_evolution.3F), but it would surely overturn a lot of the current theory. A “young” earth would completely destroy evolution, IMO, to offer a pertinent example.


g kc - #86133

August 5th 2014

Ted,

“Such a discovery [“rabbit in the Precambrian”] would be enormous. I don’t quite agree with Dawkins that it would completely destroy evolution but it would surely overturn a lot of the current theory.”

I agree with you 100%, Ted.

And I think further that if it overturned current theory, then a new theory would eventually be proposed, provided that theory was still evolution. My experience is that evolutionists won’t allow any discovery to overturn the theory. Examples:

1

The very engine of neo-Darwinian evolution, genetic mutation, is almost invariably observed to be damaging to organisms. And these inevitable mutations accumulate over time, furthering weakening the organism. The idea proposed by some, that human beings of 5,000 years ago were significantly superior genetically to today’s, is not without scientific merit. How could a hominid, or any alleged evolutionary line of organisms, still be healthy after millions, even billions, of years of accumulating deleterious mutations?

2

The discovery of numerous biological systems whose very purpose is to prevent change in the organism. Processes which work to ensure accurate reproduction and precise transmission. I believe the scientific term for this phenomenon is “stasis.” Stasis presents a serious problem for evolution.

3

The total absence of any coherent, compelling or verifiable explanation of how the first living thing survived and reproduced. [I’m not talking about the conundrum of the origin of life or theories of abiogenesis. I’m talking about after the origin.) As I asked Bren in the nearby “Not So Dry Bones…”,

“How is it that the very first life was able to mutate systems to 1) realize it needed nourishment, 2) locate appropriate nourishment, 3) acquire the nourishment, 4) ingest the nourishment, and 5) digest the nourishment, and do so very, very quickly so that it wouldn’t starve to death? That’s five (5) systems before it starves. Then, how did this very first life randomly mutate a system to reproduce itself, and do so very, very quickly before it dies?” Unfortunately, I never received a reply from Bren on this.

4

A continual compression of evolution time. Specifically, the frequent and significant re-dating further back in time of biological processes and living organisms. Among countless examples:

-        Oxygenation now suspected to have occurred 600 million years earlier than long believed. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v501/n7468/full/nature12426.html

-        “Cambrian” fossils showing up a billion years before the Cambrian. http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2009/04/23/0812460106.abstract

-        A beaver building dams 100 million years ahead of the “consensus” calendar. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4748058.stm

Yes, evolution is said to take a long time, but ongoing discoveries give it less and less time. A compression of evolution time.

But should a Precambrian rabbit be drawn out of the hat, the response will likely be something like “This exciting discovery warrants much further investigation into how and when rabbits evolved.” [The key part of the response is found in the last two words.]

 

“A “young” earth would completely destroy evolution, IMO, to offer a pertinent example.”

I agree with you again, Ted.

Old ages seems to be the last sturdy leg standing for the evolution paradigm platform. Lacking any good biological/genetic evidence, the evolution argument increasingly seems to be “Look how old the universe is according to the (problematic) Big Bang Theory. And see how old they’ve dated these fossils, with the “simpler” fossils in older rock than the “advanced” fossils. Obviously evolution over long ages is true.”

Getting back to “Not So Dry Bones…”, I asked there

“…I wonder if anyone has submitted the soft tissue (and bone) to blind radiometric dating at multiple labs. [It should go without saying, but I better say it: By “blind” I mean the testers have zero knowledge of the source or identity of the samples; for the testers they’re just a sample of tissue and bone that could be from anything.] I’d be most interested in seeing the full results. It never hurts to “double-check”, and re-confirm your beliefs. The researchers have nothing to fear. Or at least, the searchers for truth have nothing to fear.”

But I’m sure they have their scientific reasons for not performing the blind tests. Chief among these might be “The debate is over.”


Ted Davis - #86143

August 6th 2014

There are times in scientific debates at which it is more than fair to say “the debate is over,” g kc. For example, the Earth really moves, despite ongoing efforts by a handful of people to insist that it doesn’t.

I put an “old” earth (far older than, say 10-12K years) in that category. Far too many physical processes “seem” to have gone on far longer than that, and the coherent picture obtained by accepting the evidence for those ages is far more convincing than looking for supposed problems with each and every one of them—let alone the much larger problem of posing a coherent alternative picture that matches the evidence anywhere nearly as well.


Eddie - #86135

August 5th 2014

g kc:

So that my remarks above won’t be misunderstood, I want to make clear that they were about the negative reception of the theory of evolution in America, and did not express any opinion about the validity of evolution in itself.

I don’t have any biological or theological objections to “evolution”—broadly understood.  The idea of common descent does not in itself offend me in terms of ethics or religion, and I think there is plenty of circumstantial evidence for common descent which cannot be wished away.

At the same time, the neo-Darwinian explanation of evolution has for many years struck me as weak and unconvincing, weaker and more unconvincing than any modern scientific explanation I’m aware of.  And most of the moral and theological objections to evolution seem to be a reaction to the neo-Darwinian explanation rather than to the bare idea of evolution in itself.  So my argument has always been not that Christians need to scrap “evolution,” but that they need to scrap neo-Darwinism.  

The irony is that some Christians—both biologists and theologians—have been tying their Christian apologetics to the star of neo-Darwinism (“randomness is God’s subtle and profound way of creating”; “the non-teleology of Darwinian evolution is the perfect expression of God’s love in giving nature its freedom”; etc.)—even as that star is falling in secular, atheistic biology.   But that biological discussion would take us away from the historical discussion that Ted has started, so I’ll save it for elsewhere.


g kc - #86136

August 5th 2014

Eddie,

“I don’t have any biological or theological objections to “evolution”—broadly understood.  The idea of common descent does not in itself offend me in terms of ethics or religion…”

But certainly you could understand other people having objections, perhaps legitimate objections, couldn’t you?

For possible biological objections, see #86133 nearby.

As far as theological objections, here’s one that you might not have heard before. I’ll take it in steps:

1)

If God has had the patience to wait 14 billion years since His creation of matter and energy (The Big Bang) for cosmological and biological evolution to progress, surely He could wait billions of years more before bringing an end to the universe.

2)

Given that, according to its promoters, evolution is ongoing in every living thing, and that distinctly new types of beings appear throughout the history of the planet, we could well expect to continue evolving significantly for billions more years before the end of time.

3)

Given that man today is nothing like the life that was on earth a billion years ago, would man even be man billions of years from now? Would we still be in the image and likeness of God, of Jesus Christ?

4)

Related to the above, I think, is a view that, in evolution, no such thing as what might be called “essence” exists. [“Essence” here might be what Aquinas described as “substantial form”.] Essentially, all life in evolution is in the process of becoming something else. Any appearance of essence is an illusion when viewed over the “deep time”. So, a dog today may appear to embody “dogness”, but what will it be in a billion years? Even if dogs were to go extinct, some branching out from dogness would likely continue into, I guess, “non-dogness”. Dinosaurs went extinct, but some say today’s birds are living dinosaurs, or at least a branching out from dinosaurs. So, what of man in a billion years? The essence of man, or of any living thing, becomes time-dependent. [Come to think of it, this even indirectly relates to the question of abortion: “Is it a human being?” “That depends on how old it is.”] This fluidity of being is quite unlike anything human beings have observed in recorded history, and perhaps more importantly, quite unlike the distinct “kinds” (“essences”?) created by God in Genesis.

 

“.. and I think there is plenty of circumstantial evidence for common descent which cannot be wished away.”

If science, or courts of law, were based on circumstantial evidence, we wouldn’t have science or courts, as we know them.

 

“So my argument has always been not that Christians need to scrap “evolution,” but that they need to scrap neo-Darwinism.”

So your argument is that Christians need a new evolution theory, so long as the theory is still evolution. Maybe, say, a speculative self-organizing Shapiro slant?

Based on real and “circumstantial” evidence (see again examples in #86133), I would disagree.


Eddie - #86138

August 6th 2014

Thanks for your response, g kc.

In answer to your main question:  Yes, I can understand why some people have strong objections to the idea of common descent.  Further, I don’t think such people are either stupid or wicked for the reluctance they feel to accept the notion.  My point, however, was that I personally don’t feel such reluctance, and I don’t see that such reluctance is a necessary consequence of Christian belief.

For one who accepts a certain literal-historical reading of Genesis, evolution cannot be true.  Therefore, people who hold to such a reading will logically reject evolution, not just in its Darwinian form but in any form.  However, I don’t hold to such a literal-historical reading, and therefore the alleged conflict between Genesis and evolution does not exist for me.  (To avoid any misunderstanding, I add that my mode of reading Genesis was not adopted in order to make room for evolution; I have not adjusted my theology in order to please biologists.  I came to my conclusions about Genesis for textual and theological reasons that have nothing to do with what current science teaches about origins.)

I’m quite familiar with Aquinas, etc.  I’m also sympathetic with your concern about stable forms, essences, natures, etc.  That said, let’s examine your argument.  Your objection amounts to this:  since evolution is ongoing, the nature of “kinds” is unstable, and regarding the most important “kind,” i.e., man, the ability of man to retain “the image of God” over the course of time is highly doubtful.

I have considered this.  Bear in mind, however, that this objection actually applies only to forms of evolutionary theory in which the mechanism forces everything to keep on going.  Neo-Darwinism is such a form.  But suppose evolution is teleological, i.e., suppose the process was designed from the beginning to proceed through a series of changes, and then stabilize with the coming of man?  Suppose that, after this, a predetermined ecological balance would be struck in which no further evolution occurred, or at most mild cosmetic changes such as the color of beetles or flowers?  Then the “kinds” would remain in the state you want to keep them in.  An analogy might be human growth.  Human beings grow in height, in hardness of bone, etc. up to a certain point.  But then they reach a maximum height, and full adult hardness of bone, and there is no further change—at least until old age sets in—because the adult form has been achieved.  It is at least theoretically possible that there could be an evolutionary process that, like human growth, is calibrated to stop when it has finished running its program.

So again, it is the mechanism that is the problem:  an open-ended evolutionary mechanism will produce the problem you have identified; a teleological type of evolution won’t.  That is why “evolution” per se is not a dirty word for me, as it is for some Christians.  It is open-ended, unstructured, aimless evolution that is the problem for me.

I don’t understand your point about circumstantial evidence.  I’ve read of famous criminal lawyers who say that circumstantial evidence is the strongest there is.  Eyewitnesses can lie, be intimidated, etc.  Their memories are notoriously defective, and they can also think they see things that they didn’t really see.  (Watch Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man sometime.)  But items of clothing, hairs, fingerprints, DNA, tire tracks of one’s car, evidence of prior criminal intent captured in handwriting or on audio recording, an unusually large amount of cash of unknown origin deposited in a humble working man’s bank account, a plane ticket bought for a one-way trip to a country with no extradition agreements, etc. can build up a very strong circumstantial case that Mr. X is guilty of a crime.  And in fact, much of the argument for common descent is based on essentially “forensic” evidence.  I think it’s wrong to simply discount such evidence.

Of course I’ve not spoken of “proof” of common descent.  I’ve said merely that the evidence is strong enough that it can’t be wished away.  That evidence must be explained in terms of some alternative scenario.

I don’t say that Christians have to accept evolution at all.  What I’m arguing is that they can, in principle, accept some version of evolution without compromising the essentials of faith.  Whether they do in fact accept it should depend on the evidence.  So no, Christians don’t “need a new evolution theory.”  They can still reject evolution entirely if the facts warrant it.  But if they do, on the basis of the evidence for common descent, accept an alternate, non-Darwinian theory of evolution, they aren’t necessarily bad Christian theologians for doing so.  We would need to examine the specifics of the proposed evolutionary mechanisms before we could say.

I would say, for example that Lynn Margulis’s non-Darwinian theory isn’t any improvement on Darwin, from a theological point of view.  But Michael Denton’s non-Darwinian theory is compatible with a broadly Christian understanding of man’s special place in the cosmos.

It might help if I said that I’m arguing here from an ID perspective, not a TE/EC perspective.  A typical TE/EC will say:  “Evolution is a fact; Christians had better learn to live with it.  It’s design in the evolutionary process that is dubious.”  ID theory says:  “Evolution may or may not be a fact; but even if it is a fact, there is design in the process.”  

So I concede the possibility of common descent without dogmatizing about it.  If it’s true, I can live with it, both biologically and theologically, because it is at least in principle compatible with design.  And if it isn’t true, then design is a certainty.  This is why I don’t expend my energy trying to disprove common descent.  I save that energy for attacking neo-Darwinism, and non-teleological accounts of evolution generally.  The issue for me is not “creation versus evolution” but “design versus chance.”


g kc - #86141

August 6th 2014

Eddie,

“I’m also sympathetic with your concern about stable forms, essences, natures, etc….But suppose evolution is teleological, i.e., suppose the process was designed from the beginning to proceed through a series of changes, and then stabilize with the coming of man?”

So, you would have “unstable” forms, essences, natures (i.e. nonexistent forms, essences, natures) for the billions of years of life before the coming of man. Virtually the entire history of life on the planet would be of non-essence.

“It is at least theoretically possible that there could be an evolutionary process that, like human growth, is calibrated to stop when it has finished running its program.”

Just about anything is theoretically possible. The question is, what evidence does one have of the truth of the theory? Wouldn’t teleological evolution require that the first living thing had the genetic makeup to become a limitless number of very different things? If so, that first DNA must have been a doozy. And since the time of that first doozy DNA, everything’s gone down-hill, becoming increasingly incapable of producing great varieties of form, to the current day when a sample of DNA is identifiable to one and only one form (e.g. human DNA). Where is the evidence for the mechanism, the doozy DNA?

“I don’t understand your point about circumstantial evidence.”

I have no problem with circumstantial evidence, per se, or its use. I do have a problem when weak circumstantial evidence is relied on despite being contradicted by more substantial evidence. For example,

Weak: DNA mutation is evidence for evolution.

Substantial: DNA mutations are almost invariably harmful, accumulate over time, and biological systems work to assure stasis, not change.

 

I was unsure of the meaning of the following, as it seemed to be inconsistent with your general point that Christians don’t need to believe in evolution:

“Of course I’ve not spoken of “proof” of common descent.  I’ve said merely that the evidence is strong enough that it can’t be wished away.  That evidence must be explained in terms of some alternative scenario.”

Do you mean it must be explained in terms of an alternative evolutionary scenario? If so, why “must”?


Eddie - #86145

August 6th 2014

g kc:

You wrote:

“So, you would have “unstable” forms, essences, natures (i.e. nonexistent forms, essences, natures) for the billions of years of life before the coming of man. Virtually the entire history of life on the planet would be of non-essence.”

The number of years doesn’t matter to God, who has an infinite supply of them.  And stability of forms in the ages prior to our coming shouldn’t matter to us, either, as long as we find ourselves in a stable world now—which is what Genesis describes.

Your complaint here—if it is a complaint—strikes me as odd.  The human body is unstable until it reaches its final form.  Children start without teeth, then lose their first set of teeth entirely, then grow new ones.  Cartilage becomes bone with age.  Many sexual characteristics manifest themselves only long after birth.  And the proportional length of legs and body is different in a toddler than in an adult.  In any of these cases, do you complain about the failure of God to maintain the right “essence” or “form” of human beings all through their lives?  Or do you accept a period of development before the desired adult form is reached?  Perhaps, like most people, you even find the different shape of the toddler charming in its own way, and say that to each thing there is a season.  Maybe the dinosaurs were part of an earlier season, a season which served its purpose in preparing the ground for mammals and for us.  I do not see that change of personnel upon the earth over time—if that is what happened—is anything to reproach God for—especially when God has made sure that we have the right personnel on the planet now (delicious fruits, solid trees for timber for our homes, useful domestic animals, etc.) for a becoming human existence.

On your other points:

I don’t find it at all implausible that the DNA of the first organisms could have been very large and very adaptable.  Also it could have been engineered to augment and reorganize itself when external forces mutated parts of it or when environmental pressures demanded it (the latter “Lamarckian” character of the genome has been articulated by James Shapiro based on the solid experimental results of many other biologists).  It is even conceivable that timing mechanisms could have been built into the genome, as suggested by Michael Denton.  I don’t rule out anything for an all-wise and all-powerful designer of life.  We really don’t have a clue what most of the genome is for, or how many layers of control it conceals (we already know that certain parts of it serve more than one function).  I’m quite prepared to discover that the genome has virtually limitless combinatorial and organizational capacities.

Whether or not the circumstantial evidence for common descent is weak is of course a judgment call.  I would not say the evidence is absolutely overwhelming, but I would not say it is weak.  You think otherwise.  You are entitled to your judgment.  As for being contradicted by other evidence, that is the case in every scientific explanation known to us.  There are no scientific explanations for which there are no contrary data.  There are always a few data points that don’t fit the curve.  The question is not whether a scientific conclusion is of Euclidean certainty, but which conclusion fits best with the preponderance of the data.  Common descent clashes with some data but fits well with quite a bit of other data.  So a judgment call is needed.  I respect your right to make a different judgment call.  I would hope you would respect the right of others—Christian as well as non-Christian—to do the same.  And I would hope that you would not simply dismiss the fact that the vast majority of those who are highly trained to do work on genomes, fossils, geographical distributions, comparative anatomy, etc. find common descent persuasive, and would couch your objections with due scientific modesty in light of their expertise.  These people may be wrong—I’ve granted that many times—but they are not people who need basic lessons regarding mutations etc. from the interested layman on the street.

I’ve already very clearly answered your last question, so I don’t know why you are asking it.  I bent over backwards to make clear that I don’t insist that Christians accept common descent.  I said Christians should have the freedom of intellectual judgment to accept or reject it based on the evidence.  However, one thing I’m against is the action of a self-appointed cabal of Biblical interpreters who say that Genesis 1 can be read only in one way—their way—and that it must be taken literally-historically or Christianity will fall to the ground, and therefore that evolution must be rejected on Biblical grounds.  As long as that is not your position, you need not fear opposition from me.

To repeat: when I said “alternative scenario,” I had in mind non-evolutionary scenarios as well as non-Darwinian evolutionary scenarios.  The point is that the apparent “fit” of much data with common descent is not going to go away, so if one wishes to dissuade people from common descent, one has to provide an alternate narrative which makes sense of the same data without resorting to common descent.  If you are in possession of such an alternate narrative you are at liberty to provide it.  It’s a losing strategy to stop after listing the shortcomings of common descent when everyone can see that common descent still has plausibility and the alternative is not obvious.  The winning strategy involves providing an alternate narrative.  One must try to show why so much evidence seems to point toward common descent if common descent is not in fact a reality.  Only an alternate narrative can do that.  I leave the floor to you on this matter.

As for myself, I find the evidence for design much stronger than the evidence either for common descent or for Darwinian mechanisms, and it’s the evidence for design that I’m most interested in talking to atheists and TE/EC folks about.  I also find the question of design versus chance more central theologically than the question of creation versus evolution.  So I won’t be pursuing this debate (common descent or not) with you here.  If you want to have that debate, I would suggest you address your objections under the columns of Dennis Venema on this site.  Best wishes.


g kc - #86146

August 6th 2014

Eddie,

“The human body is unstable until it reaches its final form… In any of these cases, do you complain about the failure of God to maintain the right “essence” or “form” of human beings all through their lives?  Or do you accept a period of development before the desired adult form is reached?”

“Final form”, “adult form”? I think we have a complete misunderstanding of “form” philosophically. I had used the term “essence” and compared it to what I think Aquinas called “substantial form.” The “essence” or “substantial form” remains regardless of developmental changes or incidental changes. The human body may appear “unstable”, but the human being is fully stable, whether he grows a new set of teeth or whether he loses an arm. It is this “form” (i.e. substantial form) which I was talking about and which I thought you clearly understood me to be talking about. I presumed too much. With this explication I hope you understand now.

And no, I have no complaints about whatever God does.

 

“I do not see that change of personnel upon the earth over time—if that is what happened—is anything to reproach God for…”

Again, I do not reproach or have any complaints with God.

“Also it [DNA] could have been engineered to augment and reorganize itself when external forces mutated parts of it or when environmental pressures demanded it (the latter “Lamarckian” character of the genome has been articulated by James Shapiro based on the solid experimental results of many other biologists).”

Could you give a solid Lamarckian example of verified and duplicated experimental results of the genome changing beneficially to fit environmental pressures? I don’t mean incidental changes like a genome enabling white fur for a snowshoe hare in the Arctic, for that capability always existed in the rabbit genome. Rather, something really new to the rabbit genome, like growing the claws and stature of a polar bear in the Arctic. It doesn’t have to be this extreme of course. But some solid experimental result showing the genome providing a truly new and beneficial form and/or function for the organism.

 

“As for being contradicted by other evidence, that is the case in every scientific explanation known to us.  There are no scientific explanations for which there are no contrary data.”

Does something like, say, the scientific explanation of gravity have contrary data?

 

“The question is not whether a scientific conclusion is of Euclidean certainty, but which conclusion fits best with the preponderance of the data.  Common descent clashes with some data but fits well with quite a bit of other data…It’s a losing strategy to stop after listing the shortcomings of common descent when everyone can see that common descent still has plausibility and the alternative is not obvious. The winning strategy involves providing an alternate narrative.”

You appear to be saying that having an inadequate theory (i.e. does not comport with at least some verifiable observations) is better than having no theory at all. I would disagree. Winning can be difficult. Losing is much easier. And I would include in the “losing strategy” the insistence on sticking with a theory that has been objectively shown to be wrong, or at least inadequate. That’s how it works in the real world. NASA doesn’t risk sending rockets to the moon if it’s not certain beyond any reasonable doubt about the calculations, physics and other science involved.     

 

“So I won’t be pursuing this debate (common descent or not) with you here.  If you want to have that debate, I would suggest you address your objections under the columns of Dennis Venema on this site.”

If the opportunity arises, with a new Venema article on common descent, I’ll certainly try to send some questions to Dennis. I’m not optimistic on getting a response though. My first comments on this site were questions to Dennis on 7/13/14 on “Evolution Basics: At the Frontiers of Evolution, Part 2: Abiogenesis and the Question of Naturalism”. I haven’t received any response yet.


Eddie - #86148

August 6th 2014

g kc:

We got tangled up with my example of the growth of the human body.  Yes, you are right that the “form” of man in the Greek sense is not the same as the body  Let me rephrase to clarify.

I was trying to make an analogy between the different phases of development in a human body, and the different phases of development in a hypothetical evolutionary process.  (I’m of course aware that the two cases are not exactly parallel, but all analogies are only useful for limitied purposes.)  I was saying that we don’t complain that the body goes through temporary stages before achieving a final adult configuration.  We don’t say that there is something defective about the fact that a baby human being isn’t a perfect miniature of an adult human being, with everything the same only scaled down.  We don’t see the incomplete actualizations of the human potential as flaws in the developmental process.  

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that common descent were true, and was God’s way of producing a human bodily configuration.  In such a case, we would see, over time, a small primate perhaps something like a lemur, then a larger, monkeylike body, then some sort of proto-ape body, then a sort of crude great ape body, and finally a branching off into hominids, and then to the modern human body.  Now if this were God’s way of working, I wouldn’t complain that all the “forms” or “essences” of these intermediate creatures were too shifting, too unstable, etc.  And that seemed to be your complaint—that if there is common descent, then “substantial form” or “essence” doesn’t exist.

I don’t see that this follows.  Each intermediate biological form might have a long span of generations during which the “essence” was conserved, before mutation changed it.  And the existence of transitional forms wouldn’t negate the existence of stable forms connected by the transitions.  (Silent movies became talking movies through transitional forms, in which some vocal musical numbers and sound effects were inserted, then later the occasional scene of dialogue, but no one would deny the real existence of the distinct forms “silent movie” and “talking movie.”)  

If your complaint is a broader one—that evolution cannot be true because Greek or Thomist metaphysics does not allow for that kind of transformation of one creature into another—then we are into a large and very technical academic debate about the validity of Greek or Thomist metaphysics itself, as well as its application to the question of evolution.  Such a debate could take us a year, and I doubt this is the right forum for it.

If you want examples of genome re-engineering in light of environmental challenges, read James Shapiro’s 2011 book Evolution.  It contains hundreds of citations to relevant technical literature.

No, I am not saying that we should have an inadequate theory rather than no theory at all.  I am quite willing to label some questions as “undecided.”  But we are talking about evidence for common descent.  There is at least prima facie evidence for common descent, and lots of it.  That doesn’t make common descent true, but it raises the question:  supposing common descent is not true, why does nature give this appearance?  Anyone with even the slightest curiosity about nature would try to wrestle with that question, and come up with an answer.  What I’m saying is that you don’t seem to think the question is even worth asking.  You seem to be saying:  “I don’t know why nature gives this appearance, and I don’t care.”  That is not the attitude of mind that would ever produce a successful career in the natural sciences.

But let’s say I’ve misread you, and that you do acknowledge the prima facie case for common descent, and that you are curious why nature appears that way.  Well, in that case, all I’m asking for is your tentative explanation (not a hard and fast dogmatic position), an explanation which I would gladly let you retract at any time, why those appearances are there.

For example, are you tentatively of the school that believes “God deliberately tries to make it look as if things evolved, to test our faith in his word”?  (He planted fake bones of nonexistent creatures at certain depths, made it look as if the Flood was not global, etc., to see if we would trust Biblical revelation rather than worldly reason.)  Or do you have some other tentative explanation of the appearances?  

Remember, I am not asking you to assent to any particular causal explanation of how one form might change into another.  I’m not even asking you to assent to common descent.  I’m merely asking you what you do with the appearances that make common descent a plausible inference.  Do you just shrug your shoulders and say, “God will explain all this to me in Heaven?”  Or do you have a coherent notion that you could share with us?

If you don’t have any such notion, then fine.  I’m not trying to cajole you into anything.  I’m merely saying that those who infer common descent are not being either unreasonable or wicked in doing so.  There are plausible grounds.  If you disagree with that, if you think there are no plausible grounds for inferring common descent at all, then I think we do not have enough in common, scientifically or philosophically, to have any further discussion.


g kc - #86149

August 7th 2014

Eddie,

“Each intermediate biological form might have a long span of generations during which the “essence” was conserved, before mutation changed it.  And the existence of transitional forms wouldn’t negate the existence of stable forms connected by the transitions.”

I’ve come to a realization recently that the terms “intermediate” (as in “intermediate biological form”) and “transitional” (as in “transitional forms” or “transitional fossils”) are meaningless in orthodox evolution. Because in orthodox evolution, all organisms – living, dead, or fossilized – are intermediate/transitional species. All used to be something else and all are (or were) on the way to becoming something else still. I say “orthodox” because I think your theory (i.e. the end of evolution after the appearance of man) would be considered unorthodox or heterodox. Not that that makes you wrong, of course. But even with your theory, all organisms before man were transitional. So, why use the term?

And no, I don’t agree that the stability of being, the essence, of an organism can be judged just because it doesn’t appear to have changed for “a long span of generations”. As I said in an earlier comment, this would make essence time-dependent. Just take it to the extreme. (I often find taking things to the extreme helps to clarify an idea or position. Some might say the extreme is impractical or unhelpfully hypothetical or even ridiculous. I would disagree.) Say something mutated into three distinctly different things in succession over the course of one day. Would you say this something was stable? Which something? Of course you wouldn’t. Getting into longer but still arbitrary time frames (e.g. What if it happened over one thousand years? Or one million years?) just leaves you with more arbitrariness, indecisiveness - the very opposite of essence.

Also, your idea of temporary essence seems wrong from at least two additional perspectives. To begin with, science has, or at least used to have, a “law” of biogenesis – That life comes from other life, not from non-living things. I think it also has a similar “law” on reproduction – X begets only more X (e.g. cats beget only more cats, dogs beget only more dogs.) The changed /“transitional” species you’re proposing either

1)     Were born as a new species, which would violate the reproduction law, or

2)     Became a new species sometime after its birth (i.e. during its lifetime), which means the organism definitely wasn’t stable. You (not “we”) got “tangled up” with a questionable analogy earlier, so I’ll try my hand at another possibly poor analogy: Would you say a stick of dynamite with a lit fuse is stable just because it hasn’t blown up yet?

 

Your unorthodox theory does have at least one advantage, though. It easily answers those pesky people pointing out that evolution has never been observed. “Of course you haven’t, silly. Evolution’s over. After a busy 2 or 3 billion years it stopped cold turkey. And we know when it stopped: When man evolved just some thousands of years ago. So, of course, you’ll never see any evolution. Next question, denier.”

 

“(Silent movies became talking movies through transitional forms, in which some vocal musical numbers and sound effects were inserted, then later the occasional scene of dialogue, but no one would deny the real existence of the distinct forms “silent movie” and “talking movie.”)”

Is a deaf or dumb human being not a human being?

  

“If your complaint is a broader one—that evolution cannot be true because Greek or Thomist metaphysics does not allow for that kind of transformation of one creature into another—then we are into a large and very technical academic debate about the validity of Greek or Thomist metaphysics itself, as well as its application to the question of evolution.”

And the likely conclusion would be that if evolution is true it does invalidate Greek or Thomist metaphysics (as well as thousands of years of traditional Judeo-Christian understandings).

 

“If you want examples of genome re-engineering in light of environmental challenges, read James Shapiro’s 2011 book Evolution.  It contains hundreds of citations to relevant technical literature.”

But you wouldn’t cite just one of the hundreds?

 

“No, I am not saying that we should have an inadequate theory rather than no theory at all.  I am quite willing to label some questions as “undecided.”  But we are talking about evidence for common descent.  There is at least prima facie evidence for common descent, and lots of it.  That doesn’t make common descent true…”

So, you would then at least say that the truth of common descent is undecided.

 

“but it raises the question:  supposing common descent is not true, why does nature give this appearance?”

Likewise, if Genesis is true history, one might ask “Why did God give the newly-created Adam the appearance of a full-grown man, an adult of, say, 20 or 30 years of age?”

Or, if evolution is true, an evolutionary biologist might ask “Why did the first living thing give the appearance of “adulthood” (i.e. independently feeding, protecting, and reproducing itself) when it was only a few minutes to a few years old?”

Or, going farther afield, admittedly, why did Jesus Christ give the appearance of being a natural, mere man for 90% of his lifetime, to the extent that his neighbors in town rejected what they considered his newfound “uppityness”?  [“And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.”]

In all the above, appearances can be deceiving.

“Anyone with even the slightest curiosity about nature would try to wrestle with that question, and come up with an answer.  What I’m saying is that you don’t seem to think the question is even worth asking.  You seem to be saying:  “I don’t know why nature gives this appearance, and I don’t care.”  That is not the attitude of mind that would ever produce a successful career in the natural sciences.”

Again, appearances can be deceiving. I am curious about nature and I do care about the old appearance of things which may not be nearly as old as assumed. This response of mine already strikes me as too long, so I’ll try to give just a couple quick observations:

1)

Turning the tables a bit, why do some things that are assumed to be old give the appearance of being young? Ref: the nearby “Not So Dry Bones: An interview with Mary Schweitzer”. No one in the evolution community is even close to the answer. And unless I’ve missed them, I’m not aware of much, if any, work being done to decipher how the cell tissues remained soft for 65-145 million years.

 

2)

Because we observe a star which is calculated to be 13 billion light years away, we assume that the universe is at least 13 billion years old. Could we assume anything else? Light is made of photons and so has a physicality. It can bounce (i.e. be reflected) and be bent. What if God instantaneously stretched out star light like a wad of chewing gum to great distances? The light is real, the great distance from that star may be real, but the 13 billion year timeframe for its light to hit our eyes may not be real. The Old Testament describes God stretching out the heavens (e.g. Job 9:8; Psalm 104:2). We know He created matter instantaneously (unless one holds the atheistic belief in an eternal material universe). This instantaneous ex nihilo, something from nothing, creation is decidedly more miraculous than any other miracle, for the other miracles involve doing something with something. Is any Christian here prepared to say firmly that God did not instantaneously stretch out the light?

3)

Is it impossible that other appearances of deep time are God’s tests of faith?If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me.” [John 4:46]

(continued…)


g kc - #86150

August 7th 2014

Eddie,

(continuation)   

“For example, are you tentatively of the school that believes “God deliberately tries to make it look as if things evolved, to test our faith in his word”?  (He planted fake bones of nonexistent creatures at certain depths, made it look as if the Flood was not global, etc., to see if we would trust Biblical revelation rather than worldly reason.)”

What fake bones and what nonexistent creatures? I don’t know what you mean here. But this reminds me of the evolutionist acquaintance who once asked me “I suppose you don’t believe in dinosaurs either!” To which I replied, after getting over my shock, “Of course I believe in dinosaurs. How could any sane person not believe in dinosaurs? We have the bones to prove it.” And I meant every word.

As I recall, I followed this with some more words - and these will have to do for now in response to your other questions to me about the “appearance of common descent.” My words were something like this:

Everyone agrees that the bones are real, from real creatures that existed, but no longer exist. But the bones don’t speak for themselves. And unfortunately, not everyone agrees on the validity of the conclusions of the methods used to date those bones.”


Eddie - #86151

August 7th 2014

g kc:

This is a reply to both parts of your post.

Regarding Shapiro, I am not going to give you citations from Shapiro’s book to save you the trouble of reading it.  I don’t engage in proof-texting.  I read entire books, with the goal of understanding the ideas in the books, not with the goal of finding details to clobber people with in internet debate.  Shapiro is one of the leading evolutionary theorists alive today.  He is also one of the most original thinkers in the field.  That is why I read his book.  Anyone who wants to understand current evolutionary theory should read Shapiro’s book, not so that he can rebut people he doesn’t agree with on the internet, but because he seeks theoretical insight.  You can act on this advice or ignore it.

It is surprising that you don’t know what I mean by fake bones.  But then, I have been studying creation/evolution literature for over 45 years now, so perhaps I am more familiar with the views that are out there than you are.  I have in fact read fundamentalist books and pamphlets (I don’t remember the names of them, so don’t ask, but they exist, especially from the 1960s era when YEC started its boom period) in which it is bluntly asserted that God planted dinosaur fossils in the ground with the appearance of great age, to see if Christian believers would be misled into accepting the “godless” theory of evolution instead of believing in a literal six-day creation as “taught” in Genesis.  That is what I’m referring to.  My question to you (in relation to which fake dinosaur bones were merely an example) was whether you believed that God would deliberately deceive genuinely open investigators by making it look as if common descent was a reality.  If you don’t wish to answer the question, that’s your privilege. 

The other point we discussed has gone on far too long.  I was merely suggesting that evolution might have gone on for a time, then effectively stopped after the appearance of man.  I realize that this would not be neo-Darwinian evolution, which in principle never stops.  But I stated clearly when I floated the idea that it was not neo-Darwinian evolution that I was speaking of.  I was merely trying to show that such a non-Darwinian scenario would be compatible with a special place for man as indicated in the Bible:  man would be the climax and end point of evolution, as he is the climax and end point of creation in Genesis.  And the only point I was making was that a Christian need not be opposed to “evolution” understood as “common descent,” since the mere fact of animal ancestry would not prevent man from being the climax and end point of the creative work of God.  

You have not yet stated whether you find the idea of common descent (by itself, leaving aside the alleged Darwinian mechanism for the moment) *theologically* unacceptable.  It is one thing if you agree with me that common descent is not a religious issue; in that case we could argue merely about the scientific evidence for common descent.  It is another thing if you are so offended theologically by the idea of common descent that you are determined, no matter what it takes, to refute it.  That would put you in a frame of mind where you would not likely be able to consider the evidence with the proper detachment.  In my case, precisely because I don’t care whether or not common descent is true, I can listen to the arguments for and against without worrying about the outcome.  Are you in that emotional position?

I can feel, even though the words are only printed rather than oral, that your replies are becoming heated.  One indication of this is the frequent usage of boldface type, which when carried to excess is no longer merely a device for emphasizing the odd point, but expresses anger, or at least impatience, and makes the reader feel under attack.  Because of that feeling of heat, I am no longer finding this a relaxed exchange of ideas, but something much more like a showdown.  I am not interested in this kind of frictional interchange.  So I shall take my leave.


James Stump - #86153

August 7th 2014

A comment has been removed from this thread.


Eddie - #86156

August 7th 2014

To the Moderator:

Ooops, sorry—I just replied to the comment you deleted.  My apologies for continuing on a discussion you wished to terminate.  I defer to your decision.


GJDS - #86139

August 6th 2014

It is ironic that we are confronted with a similar dilemma from: (a) those who will throw out all and any aspects of Darwinian evolution, and (b) those who think Darwinian evolution is more or else the ultimate truth or insight from Science. For both camps, it is instructive to become acquainted (and perhaps knowledgeable) of the history and philosophy of science – once both protagonist do this (if any of them are even interested), they will soon realise that science has a much more modest claim regarding a total understanding of reality and this includes fundamental tenets of evolution. Such a realisation is found with those who understand science and not with ideologies from either theistic and atheistic camps (or all of the bewildering shades derived from these two camps).

The inadequacies of Darwinian evolution have been identified and discussed ad nausea for many years – as have the intellectually insane claims made on (poor old) Darwin. I am reminded of the phrase, ‘so and so is turning in his grave’; with Darwin, I would use the phrase ‘Darwin is spinning in his grave and probably begging God for mercy’ when he realises what has become of his outlook. I think Darwin a displayed remarkable power of observation and description, but that is all he did; he did not provide a theory of everything, or a brute fact of science (whatever that means to the protagonists). Subsequent conflict(s) related to his observations and insights have distorted his contribution to the biosciences beyond all scientific bounds. 

I suggest that protagonists become acquainted with the way(s) science has progressed (always filled with doubts) and perhaps the theistic and atheistic protagonists take their battle to another platform/battleground (although I understand this is wishful thinking on my part).


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