Chapter 3. Why Darwin was almost certainly right.
This chapter is an expression of Adrian’s complete faith in Darwin’s “Origin of Species”. That he lacks a similar faith in the Bible will be obvious to any reader of his book. However, what may not be clear to many readers is that his attitude to both books is equally over-simplistic. When criticising the Bible, he fails to consider alternative understandings to his own negative views. When praising Darwin’s most famous work, he fails to test its claims by looking at criticisms of it. Like many evolutionists he thinks that anyone who questions Darwin’s dogma is a fool, but ignores the double assertion in Scripture that “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God .’” (Psalms 14 & 53).
In writing his book Darwin was almost certainly reacting to the arguments of his day put forward by men like William Paley, who believed that every species of plant and animal was individually created by God. Darwin read Paley’s “Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy” as part of his undergraduate course at Cambridge. Whilst there he also read, though not as a set text, Paley’s “Natural Theology” which puts forward the well-known “watchmaker argument” in support of the existence of God as Creator. Of these books he wrote, “The logic of this book [Principles] and as I may add of his Natural Theology gave me as much delight as did Euclid.” (Autobiography, Nora Barlow ed. p.59) Familiar as he was then with the traditional view as expressed by Paley and many others, Darwin argued against the idea now known as the fixity of species and this is what Adrian seemingly thinks the Bible teaches, for much of this chapter focusses on the variation between species.
The question which Adrian should have asked first is a simple but important one; “Does the Bible teach that all species were created separately and unchangeable?” The original language of the Old Testament was of course Hebrew. In Genesis 1 the Hebrew word ‘miyn’ (Strong’s No. 4327) occurs 10 times in the phrase “after his kind”. Since Tyndale it has been translated into English by the word ‘kind,’ which shares the same root as ‘kin’ meaning relatives. In Darwin’s day most academics, including theologians, widely used the classical languages of Latin and Greek for study and debate. Consequently whilst English versions of the Bible were available, in places like Cambridge the Latin Vulgate translation still held sway. The Vulgate uses two Latin words to translate ‘miym’ and these are ‘genus’ (5 times) and ‘species’ (4); it also omits one of its three occurrences in Gen. 1:25. For many centuries theologians had used the idea of species to describe the restrictions put on biological reproduction by the Creator God. However, since the time Linnaeus laid down the foundation of the modern biological classification system, both ‘genus’ and ‘species’ have taken on different meanings. Species is now the lowest classification and genus the one above it. However, neither of these should be confused with the meaning of the Hebrew ‘miyn’, as this existed long before modern scientific classification. Seeking to squeeze ancient word usage into modern definitions is just another example of trying to define the past in terms of the present. ‘Miym’ may be better represented by the classification of ‘family,’ but because no living organism carries classification labels in its genome, then the most we would be doing is imposing today’s wisdom on the work God did before He created the man “kind”.
An important point therefore of which Adrian seemed unaware when he wrote his book, is that the scientific test of Biblical creation is not variation within species, nor is it when some members of the same genus apparently lose the ability to breed with one another. Darwin was right to challenge the prevailing view of his day that species were fixed in number and appearance, but he did this for the wrong reason. The popular theology of his day was (and still is) misleading people due historical Biblical translation; however Darwin was not interested in truth – he simply wanted to justify his own and his family’s unbelief (I will say more about this later). As Adrian noted, Darwin cited human controlled breeding in dogs and pigeons to illustrate how much variation can be found between species. However, what he and Adrian did not highlight is that for all our efforts, the vast variety of dog breeds continue to be dogs and the varieties of pigeons are still pigeons. Furthermore, if they were allowed to breed freely with any dog or pigeon they wished, within a few generations the many varieties of each would fade out and the mongrel and feral forms would dominate. Every breeder knows this, for in artificially selecting mates for their animals, they look for partners with features which they think will strengthen the desired characteristics in the resulting offspring. But they know that if they stop doing this, the desired characteristic will cease within a relatively short time.
Selecting for qualities which are beneficial or attractive to humans though may not be for the best good of the animal, and as such these efforts could work against the principles relied upon by evolution. In 2008 the Daily Telegraph headlined a report with “BBC may cut Crufts over disease-riddled pedigree breeds”. This referenced a documentary, “Pedigree Dogs Exposed” which was broadcast that evening (19 Aug.) on BBC1. The programme looked at the health problems suffered by many of the pedigree breeds where decades of inbreeding have resulted in a number of life-threatening illnesses ranging from epilepsy to cancer. The article quoted Mark Evans, the RSPCA’s chief vet who said, “We’ve become completely and utterly desensitised to the fact that breeding these deformed, disabled, disease-prone animals is either shocking or abnormal.” Evolutionist Prof. Steve Jones added, “If dog breeders insist on going further down that road, I can say with confidence that there is a universe of suffering waiting for many of these breeds and many, if not most, will not survive.”
Why is understanding such insights important to the debate? It is important because evolution does not simply require biological change through descent – it will not happen unless the changes are beneficial to the creature which experiences them. For Darwin to cite dog-breeding in support of his theory was an understandable mistake given the knowledge of his day, but it was still a mistake. Sadly, and Adrian illustrates this by his own assertions, present-day evolutionists continue to fail to distinguish between beneficial and detrimental changes. Some time ago a farmer told me that his cows had benefited from being bred to produce more milk. In response I asked what benefit it was to the cow to produce more milk than its calves could drink? To his credit he acknowledged that there was none, adding if he did not regularly treat his herd for mastitis they would suffer greatly. Unfortunately, this farmer is an exception, with most who have been nurtured in an evolutionary world-view unable to recognise that degenerative change does not produce evolution. Some years ago I posed a question to a class of university students. Reptiles and snakes are the one group of animals (some may say two) which have been observed to lose limbs through successive generations. This has been observed both in the fossil record and in extant creatures. I asked if (assuming the popular fish to reptile story), it was through evolution that they gained limbs in the first place, then what should one call the process of losing those limbs? Several vocal students insisted that it was still evolution and not degeneration (nor devolution), arguing that not having legs was an advantage in some circumstances. Such shallowness in interacting with the evidence is one of the fruits of evolutionary thinking.
Another example of the triteness promoted by evolutionary thought is Adrian’s statement on p.23, “Natural selection doesn’t start from scratch – it can work only with what’s already there.” I completely agree! Natural selection is a real process which selects features in organisms which are pre-existent. This is a massive problem for Darwin’s theory, though most evolutionists fail to acknowledge it. Natural selection takes aspects of existing biological information and beneficially emphasises them in response to features of that organism’s environment. However, as Adrian accepts, natural selection does not explain where that information initially came from. This highlights Darwin’s wisdom in giving his book a title which would become shortened to “The Origin of Species” rather than “The Origin of Kinds”. Whilst there is no modern scientific definition of “kind”, the Bible is clear that kinds are the starting point for each family of animals. It is from these created kinds that what we now call species have derived; in each of these kinds The LORD placed all the information on which the many species selectively draw today. If natural selection does not generate new information, where does naturalistic evolution argue that that information comes from? The long-standing answer is from mutations. Adrian recognises this in a footnote on p.22, “Today we understand that genetic mutation is a crucial component of evolution alongside natural selection.” What then are mutations?
Mutations are random changes in the information in biological cells revealed by differences in the way the organism develops physically. Evolutionists reason that it is from these changes that new information arises; natural selection then ‘chooses’ which of this needs to be developed and which should be discarded. In the minds of evolutionists therefore, mutations have replaced the work of God for the Biblical understanding is that The LORD designed each kind, including the genetic information which shapes them. Mutations do seem to be a possible source of information, until one takes the time to study what they do in real life. Careful study of mutations reveal that many don’t result in any observable physiological change and that those which do are degenerative rather than developmental to the organism. Evolutionists are unable to provide any clear examples of beneficial mutations and consequently therefore over time have appealed to weak examples such as sickle-cell anaemia, E. coli (which Adrian mentions on p.27) and nylonase. This is not the place to discuss any of these at length, so for those who are interested here are three links to helpful articles on the ‘Ask John Mackay’ website: sickle-cell anaemia, E. coli and nylonase. My point is that if there were as many helpful mutations as evolution needs, then irrefutable present-day examples would be abundant and Darwinists would not need to scrape the scientific barrel for questionable examples.
In contrast, there is an abundance of degenerative mutations. Many human illnesses and disabilities are the result of mutations which cause harm. Plants and animals also suffer from a wide variety of ‘faults,’ even though we humans may find some of the results attractive. Evolutionists often describe this loss of features (i.e. genetic information) as if they were beneficial to the animal. Take for example small flightless birds like the kiwi. Such birds usually have smaller wing bones than flying species and a breastbone keel (to which the wing muscles are attached) which is not as large. That their wings cannot be used to fly means that they can only survive in environments which are free of predators – islands for example. To my mind this would seem to be a disadvantage to them, but some evolutionists describe flight as being the disadvantage because it requires large amounts of energy.
This opens up another debate; it used to be argued that flightless birds were never motivated to evolve flight because they had no need for it, but present-day research concludes that they have all lost the ability to fly. Again, this degenerative change does not challenge the evolutionary world-view for as I have explained, this claims that all change is evolution at work, and secondly it only considers the superficial outcomes of the changes. It was for this reason that the students mentioned above insisted that losing legs was an advantage to a reptile as it enabled them to escape down smaller holes. So it is with small flightless birds; “they don’t need to fly because there are no rats to kill them, so why should they waste resources by retaining strong wings?” is the type of argument used. However, I am sure there are many flying birds which at least visit such habitats, if not live in them permanently. These enjoy both the benefits of the predator-free environment and the greater mobility that flight provides. Until evolutionists discipline themselves to take into account all the pros and cons of their theories of how and why supposed individual examples of evolution occurred, then it remains reasonable for those who question their assumptions to assign them no more authority than Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories.
There is much more in this chapter which Adrian cites in support of his view that “Darwin was almost certainly right”. Potential readers’ ability to endure restrains me from looking at everything in detail, for the most important issues of “Why Darwin Matters to Christians” are its theological claims. Suffice it to say that I would encourage you to look in detail at all the different items which are mentioned in passing and see if they are based on sound research or upon weak claims. Amongst these I will highlight Darwin’s Galapagos finches (p.23), embryology (p.24) and the evolution of the eye (p.26). For the first two of these, I recommend reading Creation Research’s “Evidence from Biology” available as PDF download from here on their website.