A disturbance followed when it was noticed that [scientists] had left the whole of evolutionary theory outside in the unscientific badlands as well. But special arrangements were made to pull it in without compromising the principle.
-Mary Midgley, Science as Salvation
Anybody here from the English department? The English department is a special place. If you want to find a Marxist, don't go to the political science department. Nary a Marxist will you find there. Go to the English department. If you want to find a Freudian, don't go to the psychology department. Nary a Freudian will you find there. Go to the English department. If you want to find a Darwinist, don't go to the biology department. Nary a Darwinist will you find there. Go to the English department. The English department is a living graveyard of all the dead and discredited ideologies that have been cast off by other departments.
-Yours Truly, Firestorm 2034
It may raise eyebrows to say that Darwin's theory of evolution is no longer live in the academy, but I assert that the claim is straightforwardly true. Or to be precise, evolution may be believed by some people whose commitment to the theory greatly exceeds their scientific competency, but no biologist I can ever recall speaking with believes in evolution.
If we look at the term 'evolve' or 'evolution', as in "The idea slowly evolved in her head," Darwin's theory of evolution is a proper theory of evolution, saying that life forms are constantly morphing into something different, so one would expect a fossil record of slow changes that accumulate over time, somewhat like the size and shape of a human being evolves from a ball-like fertilized age to a person who has come into proper adulthood. And that is why Darwin's biggest opponents in his day were paleontologists, because paleontologists said that the fossil record as it was known then didn't show much recorded evolution. And Darwin said, "Give it some time until we know the fossil record better," and that might have been the right decision at the time. However, we've had over a century of additional research into the fossil record, and the "hostile record" as I called it has only become more hostile to being accounted for as a result of evolution.
Biologists I have asked have said, "We've progressed," and what they mean by that is that they have recognized and acknowledged that what has happened is not evolution in any straightforward sense of the term, but that the fossil record reflects long periods of very little change worthy of the name, interrupted by brief periods of rapid change without preserved intermediate forms. The technical term for this is "punctuated equilibrium," informally abbreviated to "punk eek." As my biology teacher at IMSA said, "Evolution is like baseball. It has long periods of boredom interrupted by brief periods of intense excitement."
I do not deny that what biologists teach is much closer to the fossil record than Darwin, but the surviving reference to "neo-Darwinian evolution" is a retaining of terms whose meaning has been rejected. No biologist I have ever known has said that "evolution" has kept her maiden name, but "neo-Darwinian evolution" is not a theory of evolution in any sense of the term. It might, I admit for the sake of argument, be true, but what it is not is a theory of evolution. And that takes it further from Darwinian evolution than any of the other theories of evolution that competed with Darwinian evolution in Darwin’s day.
I might briefly state that "Darwinian" or "neo-Darwinian" as an adjective for a theory of punctuated equilibrium labelled as evolution comes from roots where there were multiple theories of evolution in some competition. As a child in school taught out of the prestigious BSCS Blue, one other theory of evolution given in the text's "history of science" treatment, included theories like Lamarckian evolution, which states that if an organism does a lot of something, it will get better at it, and that these changes are inherited by offsprint where the Darwinian claim is due to genetics and an environment that filters for what works over what doesn't work. And today's "neo-Darwinian" theory of "evolution" is closer on this score to Darwin's framing of evolution than any of its nineteenth-century competitors I am aware of. But "neo-Darwinian evolution" is not just post-Darwinian; I argue above that it is post-evolution.
Having fired that salvo, I would like to move on, not too much to look at how Darwinism came heavily mixed up with racism and racist eugenics (whose Margaret Sanger said, "Colored people are like human weeds" and spoke at KKK rallies--there is every consistency between Darwinism and an attitude of merciless hostility to other races), but to look at how scientific this post-scientific theory is. And here I am not interested in the special arragements that were made to include evolution in science without compromise of principle.
Philosopher of science Karl Popper said, in essence, that to be a scientific theory, you have to have some skin in the game. Various camps like Marxism could explain all sorts of things; Karl Popper articulated a criterion of "falsifiability" that said that a real scientific theory can't explain some experimental outcomes. The more striking and unexpected an experimental outcome a theory predicts, and turns out right where the incumbent is wrong, the better it augurs for the theory.
Karl Popper made a case study of Marxism, and said that it was originally a falsifiable scientific theory because it made certain predictions. When those predictions turned out very wrong, they modified the theory so nothing really could prove it wrong, and in Popper's estimation, they saved it by making it no longer a scientific theory.
(Have you read my Theory of Evolution Tries to be More Like Superstring Theory, Dismantles own falsifiability? It is noised in some quarters that Karl Popper picked on the academic powerhouse of Marxism because if he were to launch such an attack on "evolution" as science, he would have been called a Creationist and so picking on the powerhouse of Marxism was deemed the less encumbered approach.)
A mathematician's objection
Here I am not relying on my graduate education so much as my undergraduate degree in math with two overkill probability/statistics classes, and I am relying less on my bachelor's than the math contests I participated in, and often placed, and a little less on all those math contests than a lower level math class where the teacher told us that we should make a rough gauge idea of what a result should be in using a calculator, because it is easy enough to mistype and get a very wrong answer. So if I was going to divide seven by twelve, I should know that six is half of twelve and so the result should be a bit more than one half. If I accidentally hit "*" instead of "/" and get an answer of eighty-four, I should recognize a wildly inaccurate result when I see it, and try again, this time more carefully.
This was not welcome advice, but I see it’s wisdom today, and it informs my incredulity in conversations with people trying to convince me of "evolution."
The basic assertion I have so far been given, for why punk eek changes so little for long periods of time and then abruptly produced new life forms, is that when things are stable, things are working and there is little incentive to change, while when things are chaotic, the incentive is much greater. What is left completely unaddressed is the statistical ability of a breeding population to acquire and retain beneficial genetic changes so as to meet the higher incentive to change.
There was one discussion with fellow IMSA alumni in relation to evolution I asked, "Suppose that I claim the ability to guess lottery numbers, and I am right once. How odd. Suppose I succeed in a second or a third time. And on another note, suppose for the sake of argument that we can rule out fraud. If we suppose that I can only guess one lottery number per minute, that I can only guess lottery numbers for forty hours per week, and that I will die of old age at seventy if nothing else gets me first. Is there any number of successful guesses I could make before you would believe I can guess lottery numbers?" The answer I got was "...No more than a dozen!"
We were discussing the Cambrian explosion, when several new creatures appeared that were so different that they each belonged to their own phylum. I said a lot of weird things occurred over time, and I was willing for the sake of argument to admit optimally convenient mutagen exposure, so we would never really run out of mutations. Speaking conservatively, I posited that a random mutation would have a 90% chance of being harmful and a 10% chance of being beneficial (a microbiology grad student said he would place the chances of harm as much greater--and incidentally, he was the one partner in the discussion who answered with a non-commital "You seem well-read" instead of shockedly shutting me down altogether), and I would posit for one organism, again speaking conservatively, estimate a thousand beneficial mutations necessary to produce a viable organism of a new species (how a breeding pool could acquire and sustain such beneficial changes was left unaddressed). The figure would be inestimable higher to get a new phylum). On that count, we are talking the odds of one viable creature of a new species as being similar to the odds of winning a lottery over one hundred times in a row. The answer to that line of argument received an interlocutor's response of, "There are some things we may never know."
(Also, some people cried "Foul!" about fraud being ruled out. But in the analogy, fraud would correspond to an intelligence manipulating creatures that did not arise by intelligent design to appear to have arisen by intelligent design. This may not be the Christian God, but nobody in the discussion was entertaining a belief that an intelligence manipulated available evidence to give a false impression that evolution occurred.)
I was originally drawn in to the Intelligent Design movement by reading its texts (see The Evolution of a Perspective on Creation and Origins). Since then, I have accepted that those texts were from the Disco Toot concocting a neo-Creation “Science” that would attract academics... but, though this leaves me as a churchman without a church, evolutionists' efforts to draw me in have driven me away and brought loud warning bells to my horse sense about statistics. Tuskless elephants, like Darwin’s pepper moth example, are not about the generation of new species but a shift in the proportion of two already existing phenotypes. Worse, I have been told, as an example of why beneficial genetic change is easy, I have been told that Indian prostitutes have developed HIV resistance in a single generation.
Generating helpful new genetic change is not statistically easy. Generating helpful new genetic change is statistically hard. And since I read Intelligent Design founding texts, no attempt to convince me that helpful genetic change is easily acquired have done anything but sound like loud warning bells to my horse sense about how statistics work.
And this is a second objection to calling punk eek "science." The discipline of biology may be on the whole less mathematical than the other hard sciences of physics and chemistry. Pure math is what is called "data free," while physics for instance has various constants which are not negotiable in their theories (for instance, a gravitational constant of -9.8 meters per second squared). Biology is more data-rich than either of the other two: the sheer amount of anatomy of various organisms that a biology grad student is expected to know alone dwarfs the level of data in chemistry or physics, and this is without looking at other areas such as biochemical mechanisms that a biologist needs to be conversant in. I do not count it as a strike against biology that it is the furthest of the three from being data-free, but in physics or chemistry as hard sciences make sense mathematically and statistically, and it is a liability of "evolution" if accepting it includes swallowing a pill of statistical hogwash.
I would like to pause to give a couple of humanistic notes.
First, one grad school roommate from Czechoslovakia (not specifically a biologist) commented that Darwin’s singular place among English-speaking biologists may partly be a local loyalty to an English-speaking scientist. He, in the land of Gregor Mendel, said that he had been taught Mendelian genetics as the central biological theory. If I had read "Evolution is the one theory in biology without which nothing else makes sense," some form of genetics is also a theory without which nothing else makes sense. And for that matter, genetics is a theory without which "evolution" does not make sense, but "evolution" is not a theory without which genetics does not make sense. I’m not sure Gregor Mendel's signal contribution of dominant and recessive genes is that central, but genetics such as Mendel studied is the foundation variations of evolution are built on.
I would also be remiss not to mention C.S. Lewis's objection to evolution, an objection that it disturbed and alarmed him how difficult it was to make people see. On purely philosophical grounds, (naturalist) "evolution" could not possibly be true. It explains why we could have brains good enough to find food, procreate, and avoid being hunted to extinction. It does not, in any sense, explain why we could have brains good enough to posit a true theory of evolution. It is a straightforward implication of "evolution" that romantic love is a biochemical reaction that could not rise to the dignity of error; but by the same stroke all explanation (including "evolution") is a biochemical reaction that could not rise to the dignity of error. We need to have some sort of impressive "special flower" status to formulate a true theory of evolution that denies us "special flower" status.
It has been suggested in response or anticipation to such objection that natural selection may favor finding beliefs that are true, but the objection seems to me ill-considered. Over 99% of people who have ever lived have never seen a written word. Darwin's theory of evolution and its successors have not been available to anyone to believe except within the last two hundred years, and when it has been available it has been believed (or just available) to a minority of the whole world population. The subspecies of modern man, Homo sapiens sapiens has been around for hundreds of thousands of years, with our genus Homo around for maybe a few million. Timewise, evolution and successors have been available for less than one tenth of one percent of the time our subspecies has been around. Over 99% of people who have ever lived have believed that what we now call nature is spiritual in some wise. Post-Darwinian post-evolution is a mind-bogglingly parochial belief to our species as a whole. If natural selection selects for finding true beliefs, it has only hit its mark in a very parochial conditions; over 99.9% of people who have ever lived have had our naturally selected brains perform the way natural selection calls for.
One of the critiques lobbied by naturalists and evolutionists about some Christian theories is the "God of the gaps" objection. The objection asserts that unfalsifiable religious explanation is lodged in the gaps that modern science has not been able to cover yet. All things considered, present theories of "evolution" are now an "evolution of the gaps," where life forms evolve in the gaps of our knowledge of the fossil record, and if over a century of progressive increase in knowledge of the fossil record has smaller gaps between periods of equilibrium, unfalsifiable evolution is just asserted to have taken place in those much smaller and rarer gaps. This does not make evolution wrong on philosophical grounds per se; but like Marxism it has been defended on grounds that render it unfalsifiable, which amounts to abdicating from the throne of science. It is not grounds to deny that evolution might be true, but it is grounds to deny that evolution might remain a scientific theory.
Fr. Seraphim of Platina may have erred by importing Protestant doctrine on origins. He did not err in this: in today’s Western culture, the theory of "evolution" is not doing the work of science. It is doing the work of naturalist philosophy, and should be recognized as such.
I would suggest that at least for Orthodox, the discussion would be advanced just a little by stopping using the term "evolution" when in university biology departments all theories of evolution, and all serious openness to believe in evolution, have been dead so long they no longer even smell bad.
We’ve curated fruit flies for hundreds of thousands of generations and, while we can induce a mutation that causes antennae to grow from their eyes, but we have not yet bred a new species. The only species I know that is newer than Darwin’s theory is a radiotolerans or radiation-tolerant bacterium that evolved at Chernobyl after the meltdown. And, for reasons I won’t discuss here, that is the kind of exception that proves a general rule.
It might be productive to change vocabulary to more precise, and speak not of “evolution,” but of a post-scientific theory of post-Darwinian post-evolution.
I invite you to use the newer, up-to-date term. Enjoy!