Evolution: Where is the Evidence?
(Prepared for delivery at the 1st INTERNATIONAL CONGRESS ON QUERIED EVOLUTION in Istanbul, Turkey, May 4, 2013)
Texas Strikes a Major Blow to Evolution
In March 2009, the Texas State Board of Education adopted new science standards that challenged evolutionists to provide scientific explanations for some of evolution's glaring weaknesses in explaining the fossil record and the development of the complexity of the cell. Science, the prestigious journal of The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), reported "New science standards for Texas schools strike a major blow to the teaching of evolution."
How could the adoption of two standards in Texas' high school biology curriculum be a major blow to evolution? Surely the evolutionists have sound and solid explanations. Or, maybe they don't.
Since the Scopes trial of 1925, the teaching of evolution has dominated America's culture wars. The evolutionists have not lost a major confrontation. They usually have intimidated and bullied school boards by effectively claiming that there are no scientific grounds for questioning the fact of evolution. If a school board prevailed against the evolutionists, the evolutionists would take them to court. Once there, all the court battles have gone the evolutionist's way; they have successfully persuaded judges that evolution is a fact and that to point out evidentiary weaknesses is to teach creationism.
But, four years ago, the Texas school board broke that trend. The evolutionists, immediately realizing that they had been painted into a corner, knew that they finally had to present scientific explanations and let their paucity of evidence speak for itself. They also immediately knew the standards were not creationism or intelligent design but legitimate scientific inquiry that could not be challenged in court!
Here are the standards:
7(B) analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning any data of sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record;
7(G) analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning the complexity of the cell.
(To see the evolution standards, page down to High School Biology. §112.34. (7)))
For these efforts, a year later in March 2010, I was jokingly named the recipient of the National Center for Science Education's (NCSE) first ever annual UpChucky Award. The NCSE, in their own words, is "the premier institution dedicated to keeping evolution in the science classroom and to keeping creationism out." They said the award was bestowed on the creationist they found to be the most nauseating. While their award was a joke, their statement was not a joke; what we did in Texas actually made them sick.
Then last year, April 2012, my notoriety landed me an invitation to be a guest on one of America's most popular TV shows, The Colbert Report. My interview is now Colbert's "most viewed" interview that deals with evolution. More people have watched it than his interviews with evolutionists Richard Dawkins, Kenneth Miller, Neil Shubin, Lawrence Krauss, or Francis Collins.
How could a small town dentist from Texas draw such national and international attention? Basically it was because I was prepared; I had been a careful reader and student of the evidence for evolution for over 35 years. As a result, I was thoroughly convinced that evolution was not true. Thus, I saw no reason to not have our students examine evolution's inability to explain the fossil record and the development of the complexity of the cell.
The Culture Warriors
The great controversial claim of evolution is the idea that all life is descended from a common ancestor as a result of unguided natural processes; the vast majority of scientists, prestigious science organizations, and prominent intellectuals in our major media and academia claim it is a fact. They are as certain it is true as they are that the earth orbits the sun. However, despite decades of constant authoritative assertions of its truth, the majority of Americans are unconvinced.
And, since evolution has major implications about where we came from, how we got here and many other vital questions, evolution has become a major culture war issue in our country.
The Key Evolutionists
Let me first introduce you to some of the key individuals and science organizations promoting evolution as a fact.
My favorite evolutionist is Jerry Coyne, Professor of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, popular blogger, and outspoken atheist. Coyne is the author of the acclaimed book Why Evolution is True (2009). It is interesting to note that Coyne is very concerned about evolutionary skepticism spreading around the world. In the Preface of his book he states "Creationists…are establishing footholds in other parts of the world, especially in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Turkey. The battle for evolution seems never-ending. And the battle is a part of a wider war, a war between rationality and superstition. What is at stake is nothing less than science itself and all the benefits it offers society."
Coyne loves the debate. When I posted a comment on his popular blog "Why Evolution is True"-challenging evolution's explanation for the development of the cells' complexity, he made my comment the subject of its own blog post and invited his readers to "Have at it!" in response.
Another key player is Kenneth Miller, Professor of Biology at Brown University; he is the author of one of the top selling high school biology texts in the United States and prominent evolutionist who served as the plaintiff's lead expert witness in the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover Intelligent Design trial. He is so confident that evolution has occurred that he claims in his book Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul (2008), that if the world had to start over "that eventually evolution would produce an intelligent, self-aware, reflective creature endowed with a nervous system large enough to solve the very same questions that we have, and capable of discovering the very process that produced it, the process of evolution." A paragraph later he states that "it's perfectly reasonable to maintain that evolution as we know and understand it was almost certain to produce a species like ours under conditions that prevail on Planet Earth." These are the most unscientific statements I have ever read that claim to be scientific! Maybe Coyne is right about a war between rationality and superstition, except it is the evolutionist who is irrational.
And we will be evaluating Richard Dawkins, emeritus fellow of New College, Oxford and his book The Greatest Show on Earth: the Evidence for Evolution (2009). Dawkins is probably the world's best known evolutionist and atheist.
Finally, in the U.S., one cannot talk about the culture war over evolution without mentioning Eugenie Scott-the Executive Director for NCSE. Scott and her organization are the leading fulltime defenders of the teaching of evolution in America's public schools.
The Science Organizations
It is not just individual scientists that have entered in the culture wars, so have America's most prestigious science organizations. The National Academy of Sciences is a major participant in the battle. Over the last 29 years they have published three booklets for placement in high schools around the country to teach the "fact" of evolution. Their latest, Science, Evolution and Creationism (2008), states "evolutionary science provides the foundation for modern biology." (In reality, I would argue it has provided the foundation for the social sciences.) They also state "There is no controversy within the science community over whether evolution has occurred." (I guess if you are a scientist and disagree you must not really be a scientist.)
Another prestigious scientific group, The American Association for the Advancement of Science, has stated "The contemporary theory of biological evolution is one of the most robust products of scientific inquiry." Its President Alan Leshner, specifically commenting on Texas' proposed standards, stated "Mainstream science and medical organizations in the United States and worldwide, representing tens of millions of scientists, accept evolution as the best explanation for how life developed on Earth."
Also, during our adoption process in 2008-2009, another group of 1400 Texas scientists, calling themselves the 21st Century Science Coalition, joined the fray arguing that creationists on the State Board of Education would inject religion into the science classroom. (This did not happen.) They also say that the board would require supernatural explanations to be placed in the curriculum. (This did not happen.)
These scientists signed a statement that claiming evolution "is vital to understanding all of the biological sciences." This is simply not true. Evolution skeptic and esteemed National Academy chemist Philip Skell famously asked more than 70 eminent biological researchers if they would have done their work differently if they had thought Darwin's theory was wrong. The responses were all the same: No.
And, it seems just like AAAS' "tens of millions of scientists," there are an equal number of America's intellectual classes that embrace evolution as a fact. Major newspaper editorial boards and academia constantly assert that evolution has no legitimate scientific weaknesses and that skeptical opposition is only based on religious-based ideas. They are wrong; the key opposition is based on a deep understanding of the scientific facts. The facts are not being rejected, only the evolutionary interpretation of facts.
For example, the influential New York Times Editorial Board also opined on the Texas debate:
"Every student who hopes to understand the scientific reality of life will sooner or later need to accept the elegant truth of evolution as it has itself evolved since it was first postulated by Darwin. If the creationist view prevails in Texas, students interested in learning how science really works and what scientists really understand about life will first have to overcome the handicap of their own education."
Three Years Later
Three years after their adoption, our standards still made headlines. But this time, someone did not receive the evolutionist's talking points about criticizing Texas' standards and gave them an objective evaluation. The Fordham Institute, a highly respectable public policy think tank, released a report on state science standards across the United States. Their report described Texas' supposedly controversial high school evolution standards as "exemplary."
Fordham reported that "There are no concessions to 'controversies' or 'alternative theories.' In fact, the high school biology course is exemplary in its choice and presentation of topics, including its thorough consideration of biological evolution." Finally, there was a group that was honest in their evaluation of our standards.
When you add to this the fact that now, even after four years, these standards have not been challenged in court by the trigger-happy evolutionists, it demonstrates that our standards have passed the test of time and that our standards represent legitimate science.
Back when they were passed, Eugenie Scott, with the NCSE, stated that those "amendments were intelligent design talking points." Steve Newton, also with the NCSE, claimed "the board's actions are the most specific assault I've seen against the teaching of evolution and modern science." "Let's be clear about this," cautioned Scott. "This is a setback for science education in Texas, not a draw, not a victory." I guess "intelligent design talking points" are now considered legitimate science!
Why evolution is accepted
Common sense says that evolution cannot be true; therefore, why do so many people accept evolution? Primarily, it is because so many highly qualified people "experts" accept it. The appeal to a qualified authority is the strongest argument for evolution; and, it is incredibly strong! All major science organizations endorse it as a fact. Most major universities worldwide teach it as a fact. According to Alan Leshner, tens of millions of scientists accept it. For me, this is the bigger question: Why do so many scientists accept it?
I believe Jerry Coyne has the answer; the evolutionists believe it on faith. In a 2009 interview he stated "professional evolutionists don't seem to know what the supporting evidence is: many of them just take it on faith, that is, on the authority of their forerunners." In other word, they just accept what they were taught-thinking that their forerunners had already dealt satisfactorily with the issue. They are so immersed in the details of their research that they do not even stop to think about the big picture. Remember, Coyne did not say biologists don't understand the evidence but that the actual professional evolutionists do not! Wow!
Taking a Stand
How can a lay person make a stand against such impressive credentials-against the experts? I say we can take such a stand first, by the poor track record of scientific consensus. Science has frequently been wrong in the past.
Stephen J. Gould, famous paleontologist and evolution defender, warned that the "bandwagon" can sometimes be wrong. He cites Charles Walcott, one of America's premier paleontologists, misreading the amazing creatures of the Cambrian explosion "in the light of his well established view of life-and the fossils therefore reflected his preconceptions." Gould emphasizes that "The greatest impediment to scientific innovation is usually a conceptual lock, not a factual lock."
Second, there is a small but intellectually impressive group of scientific dissenters. They are likewise highly qualified; in the past they even included the founder of the fields of paleontology and comparative anatomy-Cuvier, and modern taxonomy-Linnaeus.
Plus, we still do not even know if evolution works. On a small scale, in what most call micro-evolution or adaptive variation, we find changes in a finch's beak size or bacterial antibiotic resistance. But evolution's central claim of progress from micro to macro has not been verified; micro changes do not necessarily extrapolate to macro changes. For example: High-low weather pressure systems do not predict seasons-the tilt of the earth orbiting the sun does.
But the main reason someone like me can stand up to the "tens of millions" of experts is simply because the evidence doesn't support it. To help us analyze the evidence presented for evolution, we must first clarify what evolution needs to explain. How much evidence do they need to present to make a convincing argument? The key criterion that distinguishes science from non-science is testability. Science tests explanations two ways-classically, with controlled experiments, and historically, by collecting evidence that supports or rejects predictions.
Genetics is an excellent example of classical testability. Gregor Mendel, in 1865 after growing 29,000 pea plants, empirically deduced the basic laws of inheritance-becoming the father of genetics. And as a result, almost nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of genetics.
Continental drift is an excellent example of historical testability. The (1) obvious fit of the coastlines of Africa and South America with (2) similar corresponding geologic formations, (3) along with the eventual discovery of the Mid Atlantic Ridge and (4) sea-floor spreading make a convincing argument.
Likewise, evolution is tested historically; thus, evolutionists need to present convincing evidence. A fair question is "How much evidence is enough to demonstrate evolution?" If four facts conveyed in a single sentence demonstrate continental drift, how many facts in how many sentences can demonstrate evolution? Continental drift is a basically a division of a single land mass; it can be demonstrated by the simple tearing apart of this piece of paper. A simple eukaryote cell division-mitosis-involves not only the division but replication of billions of molecules, hundreds of mitochondria etc. I know of no simple demonstration for mitosis; we would need billions of sheets of paper. And, this is for only a miniscule phenomenon of biology.
Therefore, for evolution to be true, what must the evidence explain?
For starters, it must explain how the complexity of the cell developed. In 1998, Bruce Alberts, President of the National Academy of Sciences, described the cell as a collection of protein machines.
"…the entire cell can be viewed as a factory that contains an elaborate network of interlocking assembly lines, each of which is composed of a set of large protein machines… Why do we call the large protein assemblies that underlie cell function protein machines? Precisely because, like the machines invented by humans to deal efficiently with the macroscopic world, these protein assemblies contain highly coordinated moving parts."
And, it must explain how the complexity of bones, muscles, nerves, brains, skin, and teeth developed.
And it must explain how leaves, seeds, flowers, and trees developed.
And it must explain how instincts, bird migrations, and insect metamorphosis developed.
And it must explain how insects, birds, whales, fish, dogs, cats and human consciousness developed.
Again, biologic life is not a simple division of some land mass; there is no simple demonstration of tearing apart a piece of paper. We need lots of observations and facts and we need a lot of "How's?'" answered!
Given the immense amount complexity that needs to be explained, the amount of evidence needed to pass the historical testability criterion of science for evolution is immense.
Let us now look at some evidence that the evolutionists must provide as required by our new standards about first the fossil record and then the development of the complexity of the cell.
The Fossil Record
The main evidential reason so many people accept evolution is the sequential nature of groups found in the fossil record. Having noticed that the old rocks contain simple organisms (like bacteria) and younger rocks contain more complex organisms (like dinosaurs), they hypothesize that the complex ones are ancestors of the older simple ones. Famous evolutionist Ernst Mayr stated "The most convincing evidence for the occurrence of evolution is the discovery of extinct organisms in older geological strata."
But, the fossil record exhibits two other patterns that not only do not support evolution, but in fact, argue against it-stasis and sudden appearance. Our new standards require evolutionists to provide scientific explanations for both of these phenomena. Stephen Jay Gould stated "The great majority of species do not show any appreciable evolutionary change at all. [This is called "stasis."] These species appear in the section without obvious ancestors in the underlying beds (sudden appearance), are stable once established and disappear higher up without leaving any descendants."
He also famously stated "...but stasis is data... Say it ten times before breakfast every day for a week, and the argument will surely seep in by osmosis: 'stasis is data; stasis is data'."
Stasis and sudden appearance is not predicted by evolution. In the Origin of the Species (1859), Darwin stated that "this, perhaps, is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory." His excuse was that he believed that they had not really found all the fossils; he called it "the extreme imperfection of the geological record." However, the problem for evolution now, after 150 years, is that the fossil record is not as incomplete as has been maintained; George Gaylord Simpson, perhaps the most influential paleontologist of the twentieth century, and a major participant in the modern evolutionary synthesis states that the fossil record is virtually complete for the larger forms.
It is important to note, that presenting half-truths seems to be the current strategy of modern evolutionists; they just want to ignore any mention of sudden appearance and stasis when describing the fossil record. In the National Academy of Science's latest booklet Science, Evolution and Creationism they are not mentioned and Kenneth Miller, in his book Only a Theory, is also silent about stasis and sudden appearance.
The Cambrian explosion, often called evolution's big bang, is also a major fossil problem for evolution. The absence of pre-Cambrian fossils that can explain the rise of the incredible "Cambrian Explosion" leaves the defenders of evolution scrambling to create hypothetical qualifiers such as "vast Pre-Cambrian oceans with no continents nearby to serve as a source of sediments" to explain the absence. The Cambrian explosion, with all major phyla appearing suddenly, totally contradicts the evolutionary view. Here, Jerry Coyne, in Why Evolution is True, is also guilty of presenting half-truths. Amazingly, as he discusses the fossil record, he jumps from 600 to 400 million years ago without mentioning the Cambrian explosion which allegedly occurred 500 million years ago.
To explain stasis and sudden appearance, the evolutionist falls back on an idea called "Punctuated Equilibrium." But, Gould and Niles Eldredge, co-inventors of the idea have said "We paleontologists have said that the history of life supports [the story of gradual adaptive change], all the while knowing it does not. Gould also said "The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology."
Our standards uncover these half-truths. Ironically, the fossil record, while providing evolution with some of its supposedly strongest evidence, does not support evolution. Texas children will discover this.
Evolution's Achilles Heel-the Complexity of the Cell
Now, let us look at evolutionists' explanations for the development of the complexity of the cell? Darwin and his followers today are very careful to claim that evolution operates only after first life appears; they completely separate the origin of life dilemma from evolution science.
But, since first life could not have possessed all the amazing biochemistry we find today, evolutionists must demonstrate evidence for how natural selection-evolution's primary mechanism-created it. All other evidence for evolution, from rocks, microscopes and the imaginations of man depends upon evolution proceeding at this microscopic level. Jerry Coyne recently admitted to this in his blog post responding to my comment. He said that biochemical complexity, "of course must underlie morphological complexity."
Darwin did not even know the cell needed an explanation; it went unmentioned in The Origin of Species. As details of the cell's complexity became known, one would have intuitively thought that scientists would have reconsidered Darwin's hypothesis. How could natural selection, evolution's main mechanism, have created such gargantuan complexity? Instead, already confident in the certainty of evolution they look for bits and pieces of cell biology for confirming evidence. Thus, they miss the big picture and do not seem to realize they offer no explanations for the origin and development of the cell's organelles, biochemical pathways and complex molecules.
Coyne, in Why Evolution Is True, 2009, argues that it is impossible to provide every detail of evidence concerning biochemical complexity. He also admits evolutionary development of "complex biochemical… pathways is not easy, since they leave no trace in the fossil record." Okay. How many details does he provide to demonstrate the evolution of life's complex chemistry?
Amazingly, considering the foundational nature of cell biology to drive all evolutionary adaptations, the only "detail" Coyne provides in his book is speculation about an imaginary gene. He states that "the common ancestor of sea cucumbers and vertebrates had a gene that was later co-opted in vertebrates…" as fibrinogen.
To get a perspective of how little Coyne's imaginary common ancestor explains, take a quick look at these "Biochemical Pathways" charts produced by Roche Diagnostics. These charts cover 27 square feet; for evolution to be true, every molecule and pathway would have to be explained by unguided natural processes. The lonely evidence Coyne produces is speculation about this single molecule-fibrinogen!
Anyone who has studied high school biology realizes that if this is all the evidence he can provide for the development of the myriad of biochemical pathways like the Krebs's cycle or protein synthesis or other cell complexities, his evidence is embarrassingly nonexistent. Evidently, it is not only impossible to provide every detail; it is impossible to provide a single detail. And, since all other explanations in his book depend on biochemical complexity, his arguments collapse.
Ironically, even famous evolutionist Richard Dawkins, in his book The Greatest Show on Earth, fails to present evidence for the development of biochemical complexity. The only detail he cites is a double mutation in E. coli that allows it to digest citrate. Like Coyne and Miller, he offers no evidence for how the process developed initially. He describes the cell as "breathtakingly complicated," and states "the key to understand how such complexity is put together is that it is all done locally, by small entities obeying local rules." He also states that some of the features of the cell descended from different bacteria, that built up their "chemical wizardries billions of years before." These statements are not evidence; they are vain imaginations.
The only indisputable fact is: leading evolutionists have no evidence that natural selection created today's biochemical complexity. Therefore, skepticism is the best response. Evolutionary dogmatism-the insistence that evolution is true-is a serious issue. Science is not threatened by evolutionary skepticism; science is threatened by the quasi-science of the evolutionist.
I will now conclude with an analysis of Kenneth Miller's explanation for the development of cellular complexity that he has prepared for Texas textbooks.
I am really looking forward to this summer when Texas adopts new textbooks; these books will reveal all that I have been sharing with you this morning. In the fairy tale "The Emperor's New Clothes" the deceivers' spell is broken by a simple child's cry. In science, evolution's spell could be broken by these new biology books in Texas that expose evolution's inability to explain the development of the complexity of the cell.
Science, in June 2009, reported Kenneth Miller's prediction that "The new Texas standards leave plenty of room for the authors to explain the robustness of evolutionary theory…." Therefore, Miller's explanations provide a fair sample to test evolutionary evidence concerning the cell. Here is an analysis of Miller's explanation for this complexity as presented in his new text.
He approaches this challenge by first asking "Is the living cell simple or complex?" Interestingly, instead of a direct answer, his immediate response is "Cells vary in complexity." He eventually seems to admit they are not simple as he states "… all living cells are complex in their own way." He next downplays the cell's complexity by describing how scientists can make a "new organism" in a very sophisticated modern laboratory. In truth, this illustration actually seems to be a better example for an "intelligently designed" organism. It is also noteworthy that he seems to endorse Michael Behe's "irreducible complexity" as he points out that the scientists' success depends "upon having all of the working parts of a living cell ready to receive the new DNA molecule they had made in the lab."
After this introduction, Miller proceeds to take on the main challenge required by the standard, which is to answer the next question he raises "How did cellular complexity come about?" He first correctly observes that the main evidence for evolution overall-the fossil record-provides "few clues." He then makes his case by presenting evidence in a discussion including "Endosymbiosis," "Ribosomes," "The Krebs Cycle," and "Flagella and Cilia."
Miller begins with "Endosymbiosis." This is the idea that eukaryotic cells (with a nucleus) formed from the symbiotic relationships of prokaryotes (no nucleus)-where one prokaryote swallows another. Significantly, he does not address and is silent about the origin of the complexity of the original prokaryotes. He also gives no hint as to how an ingested prokaryote can change into a cell nucleus. Like a magician, he just waves a magic wand of words, presents a simple illustration and apparently hopes the students do not see he has only provided a weak explanation for the origin of the eukaryotic cell.
In discussing "Ribosomes"-some of the most complex organelles in a cell and absolutely necessary for every protein now created-Miller does admit that their origin "has long been a mystery." He states "Thus, it seems likely that the earliest cells may have produced proteins using RNA alone. Over time, ribosomal proteins were added gradually to these protein-producing rRNAs in a way to stabilize the structure, increasing both the efficiency and complexity of the process." Amazingly, after this sleight of hand of gradually adding proteins with no explanation, he dogmatically states "Therefore, the complexity of today's ribosome is the result of an evolutionary process that started with simple rRNA molecules." This is another weak explanation.
In discussing the "The Krebs Cycle"-the second stage in cellular respiration, Miller asks "How can such a complex biochemical system have arisen?" His answer?-they were simply "'borrowed' from other pathways in the cells." Yet again, he is silent about the origin of the complexity of these original pathways or how they were borrowed or added. Still, he confidently boasts "…the Krebs cycle was built through 'processes of evolution by molecular tinkering,' using existing genes and proteins to produce a complex new biochemical pathway." And once again, the magic of words offers only a weak explanation.
Miller concludes his evolutionary explanations for the complexity of the cell with a discussion of "Flagella and Cilia." Once again, like a magician with a magic wand of words he argues that they were built from substances already present in the cell, and also again, he uses the word "borrowed" to explain the flagellum. He is silent on how the complexity came to exist in the original "borrowed" components. This final explanation ends up as weak as all the others.
In all this discussion, Miller only cites only two specific facts: (1) a single cell organism engulfs an alga that then acquires the photosynthetic ability of the alga, and (2) two distinct classes of bacteria share some similar enzymes. Would finding a radio in an automobile and finding identical bolts and nuts in a lawnmower and a scuba tank explain their complexity? And, they can't even reproduce.
Miller has now completed his treatment of evolutionary explanations for the complexity of the cell; it seems that all he has done is shine light on the weakness of evolution to explain complexity. Thus, Science was correct in 2009 when it reported that "New science standards for Texas schools strike a major blow to the teaching of evolution." The new standards have challenged the evolutionists to give us their best; their best is incredibly weak.
His predicted "robust" explanations have failed science's requirements for historical testability; the evidence is simply insufficient. This is not a surprise; it was expected. In that June 2009 Science article, I also made a prediction: "The explanations offered [in the texts] will be so weak that students who are skeptical of evolution will see the weaknesses for themselves."
This issue is even bigger than evolution; scientific integrity itself is at stake. If, for example, evolution has trouble explaining the fossil record and the origin of a cell nucleus or protein machines, scientists should say so. Texas students, understanding that science demands testability, can now use the evidence presented and test evolution's explanations for themselves. This is the way science operates. Actually, those 2009 standards did not "strike a major blow to the teaching of evolution;" they restored its integrity.
Former Chair, Texas State Board of Education