I'm continuing my quest for evolutionary evidence. Thus far my expedition has taken me to Mayr, Ridley,1 and Kitcher.2 I must confess that at this point I'm getting pretty desperate. Despite my best efforts, I've come up empty. So Douglas Futuyma is my last best chance to bag the rare and elusive quarry known as evidence for evolution. I'm rapidly running out of funds to finance my safari. My scouts and trackers have threatened to abandon me if I don't make the next payroll.
Futuyma has written a standard textbook on Darwinism.3 He is also a veteran of the creation/evolution wars, and specifically argues against creationism in the course of making his case for naturalistic evolution. So, this is as good as it gets.
Let's be clear about the rules of evidence. It isn't enough to adduce evidence consistent with evolution. Rather, the Darwinian must adduce evidence that implicates evolution. Evidence that singles out evolution as the correct explanation. For Ridley, Kitcher, and Futuyma all appeal to the evidence for Darwinism in contrast to creationism. Therefore, they need to come up with evidence that distinguishes evolution from creation. That is where they themselves have set the bar.
Futuyma is a rather repetitious writer. His evidence is spread over three basic sections. So I'll reorganize his evidence under a few headings for ease of analysis.
His redundancy is, of itself, an indication that the evidence for evolution is pretty thin. If the best you can do is to reiterate a handful of arguments, then your database is fairly sparse. Otherwise you wouldn't feel the need to spread yourself so thin.
Indeed, this is characteristic of the evolutionary literature. The arguments are so stereotyped. Not only do Mary, Ridley, Kitcher, and Futuyma recycle many of the same arguments, but they frequently use the very same examples. Oftentimes they use the same illustrations that Darwin was using 150 years ago. Yet, given the immense diversity of life, and our vastly expanded knowledge of the natural world, if evolution were true, then it shouldn't be necessary to rely on such a small set of dated illustrations. It's like a used car salesman who turns back the odometer, or a butcher who keeps repackaging the same rotten batch of ground beef when the expiration date is past.
Due to the degree of overlap, I'm not going to comment on all his arguments when Futuyma says something that Riley or Kitcher also says, which I already addressed.
I. Methodological naturalism
The most important feature of scientific hypotheses is that they are testable, at least in principle (526).If testability is the most important feature of a scientific hypothesis, then why the escape clause? What does it mean to say that a scientific hypothesis must be testable, "at least in principle"? If testability is the criterion, then what would be the value of a hypothesis that is testable in principle, but not in practice?
Scientists can test and falsify some specific creationist claims, such as the occurrence of a worldwide flood or the claim that the Earth and all organisms are less than 10,000 years old (526-27).This is an assertion, not an argument. In what respect can these creationist claims be falsified? Of course, YEC chronology is at odds with conventional dating schemes, but YEC writers are perfectly aware of that discrepancy. Their response is to challenge the conventional dating schemes. So it's not as if creationism simply ignores or disregards the counterevidence. Indeed, you don't even need to be a creationist to question conventional dating schemes.4
He also doesn't bother to explain how science has falsified a global flood. And flood geologists are used to fielding objections to their position.
But scientists cannot test the hypothesis that God exists, or that He created anything, because we do not know what consistent patterns these hypotheses might predict (527).One of the ironic problems with this claim is that other writers who are equally hostile to creationism strike the opposite stance. For example, Victor Stenger thinks that science positively disproves the existence of God. So either Futuyma misunderstands the scientific method, or Stenger misunderstands the scientific method.
And this, in turn, presents the creationist with an interesting choice. If Futuyma is right, then we can safely ignore Stenger, but if Stenger is right, we can safely ignore Futuyma.
(Try to think of any observation at all that would definitively rule out these supernatural possibilities) (527).Is Futuyma claiming that a scientific explanation must "definitively rule out" all rival explanations? But that sets the bar so high that no explanation would count as a scientific explanation since one can always postulate an alternative explanation. Futuyma's argument either proves too much or too little. If it cuts out creationism, it cuts out naturalistic evolution.
Science must therefore adopt the position that natural causes are responsible for whatever we wish to explain about the natural world. This is not necessarily a commitment to metaphysical naturalism...but it is a commitment to methodological naturalism (527).But what if a natural cause is not responsible for whatever happens in the natural world? What if a supernatural cause happens to be the correct explanation for a natural event?
Futuyma is divorcing a scientific explanation from a true explanation. He is defining the scientific method in such a way that it automatically excludes a supernatural explanation even if the supernatural explanation just so happens to be the right answer. What's the advantage of being "scientific" but wrong rather than "unscientific" but right?
Is the scientific method now an end in itself? Let's follow an arbitrary, man-made set of rules for their own sake, even if a scientific explanation doesn't correspond to reality? Look at how Futuyma, in his irreligious antipathy, reduces science to vacuity.
Unlike the Puritans of Salem, Massachusetts...we no longer seriously entertain the notion that someone can be victimized by a witch's spell or possessed by devils, and we would be outraged if a criminal successfully avoided conviction because he claimed that "the Devil made me do it" (527).This statement is interesting in several respects:
i) On the very same page, he said that science is committed to methodological naturalism rather than metaphysical naturalism. But now he immediately slides into metaphysical naturalism. To say, with no further ado, that we no longer seriously entertain the notion that someone can be victimized by a witch's spell or possessed by devils, is a metaphysical claim, not a methodological claim.
So Futuyma is tipping his hand. If that's his real reason for repudiating supernatural causation, then why doesn't he drop the pose of methodological naturalism and openly embrace metaphysical naturalism as the primary rule of scientific evidence? Why does he dishonestly hide behind the cloak of methodological naturalism when that is not his real reason?
Since he doesn't say, one can only guess, but here are a few possibilities:
a) Metaphysical naturalism is, by definition, a metascientific position. For Futuyma to come clean on his true commitments would expose the unscientific character of his scientific methodology, for a metascientific position is underdetermined by the scientific evidence since this is the filter which will determine what can even count as scientific evidence. It screens out any evidence that doesn't slip through its fine-mesh grid.
b) Metaphysical naturalism is a tall order to prove. Methodological naturalism is a less ambitious thesis. Hence, it enjoys a tactical advantage. What this means is that Futuyma wants the cash value of metaphysical naturalism at the much lower investment rate of methodological naturalism.
ii) He's begging the question in favor of naturalism. Do we repudiate the possibility of possession or black magic?
His preemptory rejection is consistent with a secular outlook, but it's hardly consistent with a Christian outlook. Futuyma's summary denial also disregards many case studies to the contrary.
There's a name for Futuyma's position: prejudice. He has decided in advance of the fact that there are no facts that could overturn his position.
In so doing, he has rendered science unfalsifiable. Yet he told us at the outset that a scientific hypothesis must be "testable."
iii) Whether possess is exculpatory ("the Devil make me do it!") is a separate issue. And how is that relevant to the factual question?
Suppose someone commits a crime because he's clinically insane, due to brain cancer. Would we reject the medical diagnosis because we're outraged by the acquittal?
Why is Futuyma resorting to such an emotional appeal in the first place? Is the case for evolution so rickety that he has to take refuge in patent sophistries to shore up its collapsing fortunes? Does evolution now need to be propped up by toothpicks and matchsticks to keep from tumbling into a heap of dust?
The beliefs of creationists vary considerably. The most extreme interpret every statement of the Bible literally. They include "young Earth" creationists who believe in special creation (the doctrine that each species, living and extinct, was created independently by God, essentially in its present form) and a young universe and Earth (less than 10,000 years old), a deluge that drowned the Earth, and an ark in which Noah preserved a pair of every living species (524).This is a stock misdefinition. YEC regards the natural kind rather than species as the fundamental unit of special creation. Likewise, only land animals were brought aboard the ark. And it wasn't limited to just one pair per "species."
Why do writers like Ridley, Kitcher, and Futuyama constantly misrepresent the YEC position? Are they ignorant or dishonest?
Needless to say, it's self-defeating to misrepresent the opposing position, for when you marshal evidence against a straw man, you leave the opposing position untouched.
Other creationists allow that mutation and natural selection can occur, and even that very similar species can arise from a common ancestor. However, they deny that higher taxa (genera, families, etc.) have evolved form common ancestors (525).i) Yet another misrepresentation. YEC writers allow for mutation, speciation, and natural selection.5 Indeed, 10 pages later, he admits that
most creationists accept natural selection and "microevolution," such as changes in moth coloration (535).ii) His statement about speciation also suffers from a fatal equivocation, for he himself discusses no fewer than a half-dozen definitions of "species" in the evolutionary literature: the biological species concept, evolutionary species concept, phylogenetic species concept, genealogical species concept, recognition species concept, and cohesion species concept (354).
A basic problem with his appeal to homologies is that Futuyma conceals the vicious circularity implicit in this appeal. That's on display in Mayr's unwittingly revealing explanation:
The study of phylogeny is really a study of homologous characters. Since all members of a taxon must consist of the descendants of the nearest common ancestor, this common descent can be inferred only by the study of their homologous character. But how do we determine whether or not the characters of two specie or higher taxa are homologous? We say that they are if they conform to the definition of homologous: A feature in two or more taxa is homologous when it is derived from the same (or a corresponding) feature of their nearest common ancestor.6
Similarity of structure despite differences in function follows from the hypothesis that the characteristics of organisms have been modified from the characteristics of their ancestors, but this is hard to reconcile with the hypothesis of intelligent design (48).How does that follow? Why wouldn't that be a mark of design economy?
Design does not require that the same bony elements form the frame of the hands of primates, the digging forelimbs of moles, the wings of bats, birds, and pterosaurs, and the slippers of whales and penguins (48).i) The fact that design does not require the same bony elements is hardly an argument against design. Indeed, one characteristic precondition of creative design is the freedom of the designer. The fact that the same general design can be varied to perform so many different functions is a mark of great efficiency and ingenuity.
ii) In addition, another characteristic of creative intelligence is the ability to exhaust a set of variations on a common theme. Consider a Bach fugue. The challenge in contrapuntal music is to show how much you can do with so little.
Modification of preexisting structures, not design, explains why the stings of wasps and bees are modified ovipositors, and why only females possess them (48).From here on out, Futuyama is just repeating himself. These are not additional supporting arguments, but multiple illustrations of the same fallacious argument.
All proteins are composed of "left-handed" (L) amino acids, even though the "right-handed" (D) optical isomer would work just as well (48).Once again, he's repeating himself. No new argument, here. You notice that he shot his wad right away. Piling on examples to illustrate the same argument doesn't turn a bad argument into a good argument. It only illustrates a bad argument.
Observe how his reasoning is reversible. He says that right-handed isomers would work just as well. So we could turn this around and say that left-handed isomers work just as well. Assuming Leibniz law, God has no compelling reason to do otherwise when one arrangement is functionally indiscernible from another.
The nearly universal, arbitrary genetic code makes sense only as a consequence of common ancestry (48).Why? He keeps thumping the same battered drum.
i) One of the problems with his appeal to genetic evidence is his failure to address the challenge that genetic entropy poses for macroevolution.7
ii) Another problem with his appeal to genetic evidence is his failure to interact with scientific critics who share his commitment to some form of evolution, but also draw attention to the limited explanatory power of genetics as an evolutionary mechanism:
My main criticism of Darwinism is that it fails in its initial objective, which is to explain the origin of species. Now, let me explain exactly what I mean by that. I mean it fails to explain the emergence of organisms, the specific forms during evolution like algae and ferns and flowering plants, corals, starfish, crabs, fish, birds. That sort of spectrum of organism, each of which is distinct from the other. They don't blend with each other, they are distinct from each other. Now the problem is that in order to understand that the kind of distinct structure and form we have to understand how organisms are actually generated, and that means understanding how starting with an egg or a bud, the organism goes through a developmental process and ends up as a particular type of species with a particular morphology (shape and features). So the whole problem then is to try to understand the nature of that process. One of the fundamental issues is whether or not you can get more or less any kind of organism, or whether there are constraints. Darwin turned biology into a historical science, and in Darwinism, species are simply accidents of history, they don't have any inherent nature. They are just 'the way things happened to work out' and there aren't any particular constraints that mean it couldn't have all worked out very differently.iii) A mark of common design is when an abstract pattern is multiply-instantiable in a variety of concrete exemplifications. That points us to the ontological priority of a guiding idea. The idea is prior to its property-instance. Mind is prior to matter.
There's another aspect of this problem which has to do with the way Darwinists explains embryonic development. They say that there is a genetic program that determines the development of an organism. An organism wants to become a newt, say, or a sea urchin. Because it has particular genes, they say, it undergoes a particular embryonic development and that is sufficient, in other words knowing the genes is sufficient to understand the details of the embryonic development, and the emergence of a species with its characteristic form and behavior. That sounds, on the face of it, plausible because we know that mutations actually cause transformation of morphology. Drosophila can have a mutation that transforms a two-winged fly to a four-winged fly. Now that is a pretty major transformation, and a single gene can do it. So you might say that's the sort of thing that is involved in evolution. Well, you see, the burden of proof then is on the neo-Darwinists to demonstrate exactly how the genes do this. They use the term genetic programming, and it is a metaphor for what happens in a computer, but if you ask them to use a genetic program to generate an organism, they can't do it, and the reasons are very simple.8
The reason I think we need a field explanation in biology, is first of all, when embryos develop...the form they take up, the shape they fall into, the shape of my body or your body or any animal body, depends not just on the genes and the chemicals, but the way they're arranged. The field plays the role of the kind of architectural plan of the organism. If you analyze your arm or your leg, they have exactly the same genes, the same chemicals, the same bone cells, the same muscle cells. There's nothing in your arm or your leg that makes it an arm or a leg because of the chemicals in it; it's the way they're arranged. And the DNA can't explain that by itself. The genetic material is the same in all the cells and it's the same in the arm or the leg. It's a bit like having two houses in a suburban street, where the two houses are built using the same kinds of materials, but they're different shapes, because they have different architectural plans.9
iv) But let's turn this around. Imagine if there were no master plan underlying the diversity of life? What would the Darwinian say then? Would he appeal to the creativity of God? Not at all! In that event our Darwinian would attribute the origin of individual species to the fortuitous outcome of purely local and immanental contingencies.
There are many examples, such as the eyes of vertebrates and cephalopod mollusks, in which functionally similar features actually differ profoundly in structure. Such differences are expected if structures are modified from features that differ in different ancestors, but are inconsistent with the notion that an omnipotent Creator, who should be able to adhere to an optimal design, provided them (49).Notice that this argument directly contravenes the previous argument. So, according to Futuyma, similar structure with dissimilar function disproves creationism, and, what is more, dissimilar structure with similar function equally disproves creationism!
Such is Futuyma's fanatical devotion to naturalistic evolution that contradictory arguments drawn from contrary lines of evidence prove evolution and disprove creation.
Likewise, evolutionary history is a logical explanation (and creation is not) for cases in which different organisms use very different structures for the same function, such as the various modified structures that enable vines to climb (49).He says "likewise," as if this were an additional argument, but it's just a reiteration of the same argument with a different illustration. And it's an argument diametrically at odds with the previous argument he deployed. If organisms share a similar structure with dissimilar functions, then this verifies evolution and falsifies creation—but if organisms share similar functions with dissimilar structure, then that also verifies evolution and falsifies creation! Heads or tails, evolution always comes out the winner!
This is one of the casualties of intellectual inbreeding. The only way I can explain such logical blindness to glaringly inconsistent arguments is an insular guild of like-minded believers in which there is no incentive to question evolutionary pieties.
The distributions of many taxa make no sense unless they have arisen from common ancestors. For example, many taxa, such as marsupials, are distributed across the southern continents, which is easily understood if they arose from common ancestors that were distributed across the single southern landmass that began to fragment in the Mesozoic (49).There are several basic problems with this:
If someone asks us why there are no elephants in the Hawaiian Islands, we will naturally answer that elephants couldn't get there. This answer assumes that elephants originated somewhere else: namely, on a continent. But in a preevolutionary worldview, the view of special divine creation that Darwin and Wallace were combating, such an answer would not hold: the Creator could have placed each species anywhere, or in many places at the same time (118).
We saw, as did Darwin, that an isolated region such as an island is not populated by all the kinds of organisms that could thrive there, as we might suppose a thoughtful designer could arrange. Instead, whole groups are commonly missing, and human-introduced species often come to dominate (529).
i) Once again, there's a bait-and-switch quality to his attack. Futuyma claims to be attacking the Scriptural doctrine of special creation, but he's really attacking some generic form of theism, then transfers that attack to creationism. The "view of special divine creation that Darwin and Wallace were combating" was the Biblical account of creation. And there's nothing to suggest that God put every kind of animal on every landmass around the world. What we have, rather, at least in part, are some localized fiats. God created a human pair. They lived in garden until they were expelled. God also created certain animals for life in the Garden.
In addition, the Bible is acquainted with certain migratory species. So Bible writers would not assume that every species was present everywhere at the same time.
As such, the creation account is quite consistent with the idea that different life forms were originally created to occupy different regions. Some of them may have subsequently radiated out from a common point of origin.
Thus, the creation account doesn't foster the expectation that God populated each region with each species. Some regions may originally have been uninhabited. Or some regions may have been populated by some animals, but not by others.
ii) It would be quite impractical to populate each region with each species. For the competition between species would upset the ecological balance. Some carnivores are more formidable than others. Some herbivores are more vulnerable than others. Just imagine if, in a zoo, you allowed all the animals to roam freely. After a few weeks there wouldn't be much biodiversity left.
iii) Futuyma also admits that different factors can account for the distribution patterns:
Whereas systematists often look to evolutionary history in order to understand the reasons for a taxon's distribution, ecologists tend to look to factors operating now or in the very recent past (132).Therefore, an evolutionary explanation is not the only explanation, or the best explanation, for the present distribution of land animals around the globe.
Within the last 200 years, many species of plants accidentally brought from Europe by humans have expanded across most of North American...and some birds, such as the starling and the house sparrow, have done the same within a century (121).
Other species have crossed major barriers on their own. The cattle egret was found only in tropical and subtropical parts of the Old world until about 75 years ago, when it arrived in South America, apparently unassisted by humans. It has since spread throughout the warmer parts of the New World (121).
We saw, as did Darwin, that an isolated region such as an island is not populated by all the kinds of organisms that could thrive there, as we might suppose a thoughtful designer could arrange. Instead, whole groups are commonly missing, and human-introduced species often come to dominate (529).
VI. Intermediate forms
Among living species of birds, we see gradations in beaks (49).Wouldn't this be an instance of microevolution rather than macroevolution?
The term evolutionary trend can refer to a succession of changes of a character in the same direction, either within a single lineage or, often, in many lineages independently. For example, a phylogenetic analysis indicated that within the fly genus Zygothrica, there has been directional evolution toward wider heads in male flies (61).Wouldn't this be an instance of microevolution rather than macroevolution? Futuyma has admitted that creationism is open to microevolution.
VII. The fossil record
The fossil record is extremely incomplete, for reasons that geologists understand well (see Chapter 4). Consequently, the transitional stages that we postulate in the origin of many higher taxa have not (yet) been found (528).This is a face-saving way of conceding that the theory of evolution is underdetermined by the fossil record.
But there is absolutely no truth to the claim, made by many creationists, that the fossil record does not provide any intermediate forms. There are many examples of such forms, both at low and high taxonomic levels; Chapter 4 provides several examples in evolution of the classes of tetrapod vertebrates (528).One of his examples is a fossil ant that supposedly
bridges the gap between modern ants and the wasps from which ants are thought to have arisen (73).Yet he also tells us, on the very same page, that:
The earliest fossil ants, for instance, have wasplike features that had been predicted by entomologists (528).
The fossil record often matches the predicted sequences...wingless insects (the phylogenetically basal bristletails) precede winged insects (528).So if winged insects precede winged insects, then that proves evolution, but if winged insects precede wingless insects, then that also proves evolution!
Critically important intermediates are still being found: just in the last few years, several Chinese fossils, including feathered dinosaurs, have greatly expanded the record of the origin of birds (528).This is a controversial claim:
But the new team says that their analysis shows that the creature was actually bald. The patterns are the remains of "structural fibers, probably collagen—the most abundant fiber in vertebrates—of the skin and the dorsal frill," said lead study author Theagarten Lingham-Soliar of the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. The findings were published last week in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B."We are dealing here basically with a faith-based science where the contrarian view is silenced to a large extent by the popular press," he added.11
Lingham-Soliar and colleagues' results support the arguments of a small but highly vocal group of scientists who say there's no evidence of dinosaurs ever having feathers.
"The existence of protofeathers in these dinosaurs was considered critical evidence that birds were derived from dinosaurs," said study co-author Alan Feduccia, a bird evolution expert at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
"What we have shown is that there's absolutely no evidence whatsoever that protofeathers existed in dinosaurs, period."10
For the new study, researchers looked at a recently discovered Sinosauropteryx specimen also found in Liaoning.
"The peripheral dorsal structures are the remains of fiber reinforcement of the frill" that extended from the head to the tip of the tail of the dinosaur, said lead author Lingham-Soliar.
"Their regular nature and straightness defies the notion of them being soft pliable structures [like feathers] but rather high-tensile fibers such as collagen."
The fibers show a striking similarity to the collagen found on the skin of sharks and reptiles today, the authors say. And without protofeathers in Sinosauropteryx, the authors argue, the theory that feathers first evolved in dinosaurs—not for flight but for insulation—falls flat.
Storrs Olson, the curator of birds at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, has been a vocal critic of the theory that modern birds evolved from dinosaurs.
"The whole notion of feathered dinosaurs is a myth that has been created by ideologues bent on perpetuating the birds-are-dinosaurs theory in the face of all contrary evidence," he said.
National Geographic magazine and other media have heavily publicized stories about feathered dinosaurs. But contrarian views struggle to get heard, Feduccia said.
"One of the primary arguments used to deflect our view is that we are a fringe group," he said. "But if science operates by a majority view, we're in serious trouble.
Futuyma also glosses over the difficulties in reading evolution right off the fossil record. But even scientists who subscribe to some form of evolution have pointed out the problems with this facile appeal:
Many of the assumptions we make about evolution, especially concerning the history of life as understood from the fossil record, are, however, baseless. The reason for this lies with the fact of the scale of geological time that scientists are dealing with, which is so vast that it defies narrative. Fossils, such as the fossils of creatures we hail as our ancestors, constitute primary evidence for the history of life, but each fossil is an infinitesimal dot, lost in a fathomless sea of time, whose relationship with other fossils and organisms living in the present day is obscure. Any story we tell against the compass of geological time that links these fossils in sequences of cause and effect—or ancestry and descent—is, therefore, only ours to make. We invent these stories, after the fact, to justify the history of life according to our own prejudices.12VIII. Dysteleology
Fossils are never found with labels or certificates of authenticity. You can never know that the fossil bone you might dig up in Africa belonged to your direct ancestor, or anyone else's. The attribution of ancestry does not come from the fossil; it can only come from us. Fossils are mute: their silence gives us unlimited licence to tell their stories for them, which usually takes the form of chains of ancestry and descent...Such tales are sustained more in our minds than in reality and are informed and conditioned by our own prejudices, which will tell us not what really happened, but what we think ought to have happened. If there are "missing links," they exist only in our imaginations.13
Once we realize that Deep Time can never support narratives of evolution, we are forced to accept that virtually everything we thought we knew about evolution is wrong...If we can never know for certain that any fossil we unearth is our direct ancestor, it is similarly invalid to pluck a string of fossils from Deep Time, arrange these fossils in chronological order, and assert that this arrangement represents a sequence of evolutionary ancestry and descent. As Stephen Jay Gould has demonstrated, such misleading tales are part of popular iconography: everyone has seen pictures in which a sequence of fossil hominids—members of the human family of species—are arranged in an orderly procession from primitive forms up to modern Man.14
To complicate matters further, such sequences are justified after the fact by tales of inevitable, progressive improvement. For example, the evolution of Man is said to have been driven by improvements in posture, brain size, and the coordination between hand and eye, which led to technological achievements such a fire, the manufacture of tools, and the use of language. But such scenarios are subjective. They can never be tested by experiment, and so they are unscientific. They rely for their currency not on scientific test, but on assertion and the authority of the presentation.15
Whether you believe the conventional wisdom that our own species Homo sapiens descended in seamless continuity from the preexisting species Homo erectus depends not on the evidence (because the fossil evidence is moot) but on the deferment of your lack of knowledge to the authority of the presenter or whether the presentation of the evidence resonates with your prejudices.16
The story of human interaction with fossils represents an example of how experience and belief have a powerful effect on interpretation and demonstrates why scientific truths can only be temporary. Today, we see fossils as the remains of creatures that once lived. However, this nature is not inherent in the fossils. It is our immersion in a century and half of Darwinian thought, not the fossils themselves, that gives us the capacity to see fossils as kin to things that were once as alive as you or I.17
The intervals of time that separate the fossils are so huge that we cannot say anything definite about their possible connection through ancestry and descent.18
The conventional portrait of human evolution—and, indeed, of the history of life—tends to be one of lines of ancestors and descendants. We concentrate on the events leading to modern humanity, ignoring or playing down the evolution of other animals: we prune away all branches in the tree of life except the one leading to ourselves. The result, inevitably, is a tale of progressive improvement, culminating in modern humanity. From our privileged vantage point in the present day, we look back at human ancestry and pick out the features in fossil hominids that we see in our selves—a big brain, an upright stance, the use of tools, and so on. Naturally, we arrange fossil hominids in a series according to their resemblance to the human state.19
The conventional, linear view easily becomes a story in which the features of humanity are acquired in a sequence that can be discerned retrospectively—first an upright stance, then a bigger brain, then the invention of toolmaking, and so on, with ourselves as the inevitable consequence.20
New fossil discoveries are fitted into this preexisting story. We call these new discoveries "missing links," as if the chain of ancestry and descent were a real object for our contemplation, and not what it really is: a completely human invention created after the fact, shaped to according with human prejudices. In reality...each fossil represents an isolated point, with no knowable connection to any other given fossil, and all float around in an overwhelming sea of gaps.21
Just because the unicorn looks something like a bull or a horse to us, this does not imply that a unicorn is a missing link between these two animals. Horses and bulls are contingent; they just happened to offer themselves as models because they are familiar and available. Perhaps in another part of the world, a unicorn would be seen as a mixture of a camel and a kudu, but a unicorn would not be a missing link between those animals either.22
This task had very little to do with what the fishes were like as living animals. All I had were fragments that I could link to larger and more certainly known fragments that were sufficiently informative to have a name. I might as well have been doing the same thing with stamps, or cigarette cards. The relationships that these fishes had with living animals is so distant that any attempt to clothe them in flesh, to make them swim, requires a leap of faith.23
However, this leap must in some degree be fuelled by comparison with the animals that live around us today. If this were not possible, we would not be able to make any sense of fossils at all. When we look at pteraspids now, we interpret them in terms of lampreys: that is how they "make sense" to us. But the model of a pteraspid in terms of a lamprey is as provisional as that which once linked pteraspids with squid.24
The quest to interpret fossils in terms of modern models rests on the assumption that all life on Earth has a common ancestry, because we can interpret past life only in terms of other living organisms. If this were not possible, we would not recognize the fossils of animals as animals at all. We'd just see them as rocks.25
Crucially, you should have a clear idea about the position of the organism in nature before speculating about the function of its various parts. Let me explain. Let's say that you have discovered that unicorns use their horns to kill dragons. Using this information, you could spin a tale about the importance of the horn in unicorn evolution: unicorns evolved in dragon country, where possession of horns was an asset. Unicorns without horns would all be charred to ashes by the fire-breathing dragons. Only those unicorns with horns survived to perpetuate the species.26
This story sounds plausible, but like the story about the evolution of tetrapod limbs, it cannot be tested. What is more, if you use your prior (and untestable) assumption that the unicorn evolved its horn to kill dragons as a guide to the unicorn's relationships, you cannot then use this information in any subsequent test of the function of the unicorn's horn. Why? Because you have already assumed that you know the horn's function, even before you run the test. You have loaded the dice to tell you what you want.27
Misinterpretations about "adaptive purpose" ignore the fact that natural selection is a blind and undirected consequence of the interaction between variation and the environment. Natural selection exists only in the continuous present of the natural world: it has no memory of its previous actions, no plans for the future, or underlying purpose. It is not a winnowing force with an independent existence that can b e personified, like Death, with his black cowl and scythe.28
Artificial selection is an imperfect metaphor for natural selection because breeders quite obviously do have intelligible reasons for why they select some traits and not others. Unlike natural selection, breeders have memories, plans, and purposes. They select for the same traits, generation after generation, to produce a discernible trend. Natural selection could hardly be more different.29
To take a line of fossils and claim that they represent a linage is not a scientific hypothesis that can be tested, but an assertion that carries the same validity as a bedtime story—amusing, perhaps even instructive, but not scientific.30
Ornithologists, who study modern birds, regard Archaeopteryx as an ancestor and an icon. Given that they have already judged where Archaeopteryx fits into the history of life, they look at the fossil and see exactly what they expect to find—birdlike features...Archaeopteryx has feathers, so it is a bird by definition. Its archaisms are only to be expected, given the fossil's great antiquity when compared with other bird fossils. Because they study modern birds, ornithologists will, naturally, tend to see bird evolution in terms of perceived adaptations to birds' current, airborne niche.31
Palaeontologists, in contrast, come to Archaeopteryx with a different search image...To palaeontologists, Archaeopteryx looks very similar to members of a group of dinosaurs called theropods...In this light, palaeontologists tends to see the feathers of Archaeopteryx as intriguing decorations for the body of a theropod dinosaur, not as central, key features essential for explaining the course of evolution in birds.32
The finds are 4.4 million years old and come from a place called Aramis. "This is the earliest-known hominid," says White, proudly, but with a touch of self-deprecating humour that demonstrates a sensitivity to the inevitably piecemeal nature of human fossil remains, in which all the evidence for the hominid lineage between about 10 and 5 million years ago—several thousand generations of living creatures—can be fitted into a small box.33
There is therefore nothing special, advanced, or progressive about bipedality—only the fact that it is we who are bipedal, and it is we who are writing the book, makes it so.34
To complicate matters, brain volume can vary enormously among individuals in a species, with no discernible connection to intelligence.35
There was nothing wrong in Wallace's use of the recent fossil record but attempts to use the more distant fossil record in order to investigate wider evolutionary connections has not been similarly successful. From 1860 onward the more distant fossil record became a big issue, and over the next two decades discoveries were made that at fist seemed to give support to the theory, particularly the claimed discovery of a well-ordered sequence of fossil horses dating back about 45 million years. Successes like this continue to be emphasized both to students and the public, but usually without the greater failures being mentioned. Horses according to the theory should be connected to other orders of mammals, which common mammalian stock should be connected to reptiles, and so on backward through the record. Horses should thus be connected to monkeys and apes, to whales and dolphins, rabbits, bears...But such connections have not been found. Each mammalian order can be traced backward for about 60 million years and then, with only one exception, the orders vanish without connections to anything at all. The exception is an order of small insect-eating mammal that has been traced backward more than 65 millions years.36
The story is the same for other classes of animal, the case of insects being particularly well documented. Orders of insects can be traced back over 200 million years for mayflies and dragonflies and about 300 million yeas for cockroaches, grasshoppers, and locusts. The striking feature of these long records is that they contain little evidence of change; and they too fade away to nothing instead of connecting to other orders of insects. The theoretical presumption of evolution for a common ancestor is not there in the insect record, just as it is not there for mammals, or for any other class of animal or division of plant. Still less is there evidence of evolution connecting different classes and divisions, subkingdoms or kingdoms. It 1860 it could be claimed with some plausibility that the record was seriously incomplete, and it could therefore be hoped that with increasing knowledge the more distant connections postulated by the theory would eventually be found. They have not been, and since geology has expanded enormously in scope over the past century, it now seems unlikely that the postulated connections will ever be found.37
One still hears talk about the incompleteness of the record, but fossils of many insects continue smoothly throughout the period some 60 millions years ago when the mammalian record fades away. To the excuse sometimes offered that insects fossilize better than mammals, they reply is that, if insects fossilize so well, why is it that the insect record fades away before connections between the insect orders are found? Why is that crustacea, shrimps for example, continue smoothly through the period some 350 million years ago when the insect record fades away?38
A systematic problem with all of the examples that Futuyama is about to recite is that even if, for the sake of argument, his examples were, indeed, instances of design flaws, genetic defects, or natural evils, these are teleological categories. Yet naturalistic evolution banishes teleology from nature.
You can only identify a certain phenomenon as a design flaw, genetic defect, or natural evil if you incorporate teleological criteria into your valuation. For dysteleology is only meaningful within a teleological framework. In principle, you can have teleology without dysteleology, but you can't have dysteleology without teleology.
Indeed, Darwinians commonly argue that naturalistic evolution supplanted the teleological argument. But they can't play both sides of the fence.
The "accidents" of evolutionary history...the paths followed by food and air cross in the pharynx of terrestrial vertebrates...so that we risk choking on food (49).i) How is dual use technology an "accident of evolutionary history"? Why isn't that a mark of compact design?
There are trade-offs between one design and another. That's why there's no such thing as optimal design.
Having separate paths for food and air might minimize the risk of choking, but that would also be a more complicated system, take up more space, and consume more energy—with more things to go wrong.
ii) What makes Futuyma think that only a risk-free design is compatible with intelligent design? Human beings invent many dangerous devices. Do we deny that these devices are intelligent artifacts because they are potentially or even (in some cases) deliberately dangerous?
Guns are hazardous. Does it follow that guns are an accident of natural history?
Once again, it says a lot about the intellectually atrophied state of the evolutionary community that this sort of thing passes for a serious argument.
The human eye has a "blind spot." It is caused by the functionally nonsensical arrangement of the axons of the retinal cells, which run forward into the eye and then converge into the optic nerve, which interrupts the retina by extending back through it toward the brain (49).Not only do Darwinians tend to recycle the same little set of flea-bitten illustrations to prove evolution, but they're also apt to reuse the same little set of moth-eaten illustrations to disprove creation. This illustration (among others in his litany) is handed down from one Darwinian apologist to another as if it were a splinter of the True Cross.
Now, if the critics of evolution had no answer to this illustration, then it would be fair to bring in up in every conversation. But it's not as if anti-Darwinians have never addressed this issue.39
Cave-dwelling fish and other animals display eyes in every stage of degeneration. Flightless beetles retain rudimentary wings (49).Once more, he's ignorant of the position he's critiquing. YEC doesn't deny the possible or actual existence of some vestigial organs.40 For whatever reason, Darwinians like Ridley, Kitcher, and Futuyma think it's okay for them to be an utter ignoramus about the position they purport to critique.
The appendix, coccyx, rudimentary muscles that enable some people to move their ears or scalp, wisdom teeth, that fail to erupt, or do so aberrantly (49).What about impacted wisdom teeth? How is that at odds with special creation? Like Darwinian critics in general, Futuyma doesn't work his reaction into an actual argument. So where's the argument? My guess is that Futuyma is working from one or two unspoken assumptions:
i) God, if there is a God, is perfect. Whatever God makes must be equally perfect. Therefore, any imperfections in nature disprove the existence of God.
But if that's his assumption, then it's a dubious assumption at best. The creature cannot be perfect in the same way that God is perfect. A creature embodies a finite mode of existence. There is no direct, across-the-board transference of divine attributes to the creature. That would deify the creature, which is impossible.
Finitude is not an imperfection. A creature is inherently limited. So it hasn't fallen short of some ideal mark.
ii) In the industrial age it is tempting to equate perfection with replication. With a machine-like regularity in the product. Hence, if the wisdom teeth don't fall in line with mechanical precision, that's a flaw.
But the only flaw is the flawed analogy. The organic world is, in some measure, inherently asymmetrical. It was never meant to reproduce itself with robotic invariance, like a cosmic copy-machine or automated assembly line.
That is not a design flaw since it was never designed to work that way in the first place. Futuyma's concept of God may be a celestial orthodontist or plastic surgeon who gives everyone the million-dollar smile of a Hollywood star, or the cup size of a Playboy centerfold, but this has no bearing on the Biblical doctrine of creation.
At the molecular level, every eukaryote's genome contains numerous nonfunctional DNA sequences, including pseudogenes (49).i) The appeal to junk DNA is an argument from ignorance. Darwin-of-the-gaps.
ii) Darwinians also write as if Christians have a doctrine of creation, but no doctrine of the fall. But we would expect some imperfections in a fallen world.
Only evolutionary history can explain vestigial organs—the rudiments of once-functional features, such as the tiny, useless pelvis and femur of whales, the reduced wings...of some flightless beetles, the nonfunctional stamens or pistils of plants that have evolved separate-sex flowered from an ancestral hermaphroditic condition (530).As I run through his litany, I only comment on things I haven't already discussed. But what about the useless pelvis and femur of whales? As I pointed out in my review of Ridley, he regards these features as functional.
That's a problem when you rely on Darwinians for all your information. Because Futuyma is trying to make the best case for evolution and the worst case for creation, he is often untrustworthy.
Likewise, only history can explain why the genome is full of "fossil" genes, pseudogenes that have lost their function. Only the contingencies of history can explain the arbitrary nature of some adaptations (530).Once more, he's just repeating himself. Same stock argument. Same stock examples. He shuffles the deck to vary the order. But it's the same deck of dog-eared cards.
Because characteristics evolve from preexisting features, often undergoing changes in function, many features are poorly engineered, as anyone who has suffered lower back pain or wisdom teeth can testify (530).How is the back poorly engineered?
i) To begin with, if he thinks our back is poorly engineered, then why doesn't he design a better back? Show us a superior design. Provide a working model.
ii) Why do we suffer lower back pain? For a couple of reasons:
a) The aging process. Arthritis. That sort of thing.
But that's not a design flaw. Rather, the aging process is a part of human mortality, which is—in turn—a direct result of the fall.
Creationism subscribes to the fall. Age-related maladies are no impediment to creationism. Is Futuyma too clueless to know that?
b) Back strain. We use our back to do something it wasn't intended to do. We use our back to lift heavy objects, as if the back was a crane. Or we engage in contact sports. That sort of thing.
But that's not a design flaw. If you put your back to a different purpose than it was made for, you may suffer back strain.
Perhaps Futuyama is alluding to the common evolutionary claim that we suffer back pain because we were not designed to be bipedal. Our upright posture is an evolutionary adaptation.
But if that's his argument, it suffers from a couple of problems:
i) From a Darwinian perspective, we were never designed to walk on all fours, either. Naturalistic evolution eschews teleological explanation, remember?
ii) A horizontal posture is just as susceptible to back pain and back strain as a vertical posture. Many horses suffer from swayback, such as aging brood mares.
The extra "finger" of the giant panda's hand is not a true digit at all, and lacks the flexibility of true fingers because it is not jointed (530).Yet another cliché. Does the panda have a problem feeding itself? Are pandas starving in their natural habitat? No. The panda's thumb works perfectly well in stripping leaves from bamboo shoots.
Similarly, animals would certainly be better off if they could synthesize their own food, and corals do so by harboring endosymbiotic algae—but no animal is capable of photosynthesis (530).Several basic issues:
i) Corals have a pretty limited lifestyle, don't you think? When was the last time you saw a coral reef fly through the air? Would photosynthesis power a hummingbird?
ii) Why doesn't Futuyma roll out a working model of a leopard with an organic, inbuilt photosynthetic battery pack? Can photosynthesis generate enough energy to fuel a leopard's metabolism?
Or perhaps Futuyma would say that misses the point: a mammal with a photosynthetic battery-pack wouldn't need the mobility of a bird or a predator.
But that's just a way of saying that a leopard would be better off if it were not a leopard. And what's that supposed to mean?
Would a leopard be better off if it were a rock? Then it wouldn't depend on sunshine.
iii) And there's a larger issue. The question is not whether an individual animal or even a species would be better off with some enhancement or another, but whether the biosphere or ecosystem would be better off.
For example, there's a delicate balance between predator and prey. If you improve the prey, the predator will starve, and the prey will eventually starve as well through overpopulation—due to the lack of predation. If you improve the predator, the prey will become extinct, at which point the predator will also become extinct.
Why does a biologist like Futuyma raise such dumb, shortsighted objections to creationism?
Many species become extinct because of competition, predation, and parasitism. Some of these interactions are so appalling that Darwin was led to write, "What a book a Devil's chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low, and horribly cruel works of Nature!" (531).Several problems here:
i) This is a blatantly anthropomorphic value judgment. The subhuman order isn't "cruel." Rather, the subhuman order is amoral.
Both Darwin and Futuyma are mentally projecting themselves into the "plight" of the prey species. But that hardly represents the viewpoint of the prey. The prey has no viewpoint. Rather, this is a wholly extrinsic exercise in moralizing on the part of an outside observer—and a very human observer at that. One cannot extract "cruelty" from within the perspective of subhuman order itself. It has no ethical outlook.
ii) In what sense is nature "wasteful"? Keep in mind that this is yet another teleological description—as if there were a more efficient way to get the job done. But even if there were a more efficient way to get the job done, the Darwinian deserts his post the instant he falls back on teleological criteria.
iii) Again, what does the Darwinian mean by "wasteful"? Does he mean it's wasteful for organisms to have high reproductive rates in order to ensure that enough of their progeny will survive and reproduce?
But redundancy in that sense is a mark of good design. It leaves a margin for error. Every arrow doesn't have to hit the target.
iv) Is it bad to be wasteful? There's a sense in which it's wasteful to father 12 children when the replacement rate is 2 or 3. But it's also a question of priorities. Perhaps a couple isn't having kids to take their place and keep the future of the human race afloat. Perhaps they're having kids because they enjoy kids, and they wish to spread the joy around.
It's wasteful to own dogs and cats and other house-pets. Most of us don't need a dog or cat. We could live without it. But, of course, that misses the point. We have them because we like them, not because we need them.
It's wasteful to eat gourmet food. After all, we could survive on tofu and soybeans.
Artwork is wasteful. Music is wasteful. Watching a sunset is wasteful. Buying cut flowers is wasteful. Making love more often than you need to in order to maintain the replacement rate is wasteful.
Speaking of wasteful, writing a textbook on evolutionary biology is a supreme waste of time. After all, the human race managed to survive and increase long before the rise of Darwinism.
One wonders if Futuyma's lifestyle matches his thrifty views of optimal design in nature. Think of all the children who died of malnutrition while he was writing his book. Why didn't he become a doctor serving in the Third World?
The life histories of parasites, whether parasitic wasp or human immunodeficiency virus, ill fit our concept of an intelligent, kindly designer, but are easily explained by natural selection (531).This is a typical straw man argument. Futuyma has indicated that he is targeting the Biblical concept of creation. Yet he's really aiming at some very generic preconception of the Creator. But the evidence he cites is not at variance with Biblical theism:
Psalm 104:20-22 (NIV)Ironically, pious Israelites didn't share the sentimentality of a hardnosed atheist like Futuyma. The wilderness is meant to be harsh. It's a place of exile. It's the antithesis of Eden.
20 You bring darkness, it becomes night, and all the beasts of the forest prowl.
21 The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God.
22 The sun rises, and they steal away; they return and lie down in their dens.
Job 39:13-17 (NIV)
13 "The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully, but they cannot compare with the pinions and feathers of the stork.
14 She lays her eggs on the ground and lets them warm in the sand,
15 unmindful that a foot may crush them, that some wild animal may trample them.
16 She treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers; she cares not that her labor was in vain,
17 for God did not endow her with wisdom or give her a share of good sense.
Job 39:26-30 (NIV)
26 "Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom and spread his wings toward the south?
27 Does the eagle soar at your command and build his nest on high?
28 He dwells on a cliff and stays there at night; a rocky crag is his stronghold.
29 From there he seeks out his food; his eyes detect it from afar.
30 His young ones feast on blood, and where the slain are, there is he."
v) I'd add that a designer can be intelligent without being kindly. A terrorist with scientific training could design a weaponized strain of Ebola. Would it be reasonable to conclude that bioterrorism is unintelligent because it's unkind?
According to creationist thought, an intelligent Creator must have had purpose, or design, in each element of His creation. Thus all features of organisms must be functional (535).Futuyma is equivocating, which is why his conclusion doesn't follow from the premise. The fact that every organism has an instrumental function in the plan of God doesn't mean that every constituent of an organism is functional.
It's easy to think of occasions when a nonfunctioning part has a functional role in a larger plan. Suppose I'm an automechanic. Suppose I find out that my wife is having an affair with one of my customers. Suppose I "repair" his car in such a way that his brakes will give out when he drives down a steep hill.
But the various vertebrate embryos really do share profoundly important similarities (such as the notochord and pharyngeal pouches, often misnamed "gill slits") and really are more similar, overall, than the animals are later in development (535).Two points:
i) Futuyma provides a much-needed corrective by pointing out that it's a misnomer to speak of "gill slits" in human embryos.
ii) However, there's nothing vestigial about the notochord. As he himself admits much earlier in the book:
In most vertebrates, the notochord degenerates after its expression in early embryonic development, but it is retained in the embryo because it induces the development of the central nervous system (83).Since the notochord is functional, there's no reason to treat the notochord as an evolutionary throwback to a distant, inhuman ancestor.
Moreover, extraordinary similarities in both the superficial morphology of embryos and the underlying developmental mechanisms are found not just among vertebrate embryos, but in many other groups of animals and in plants (535).Three issues:
i) Darwinians never explain why embryology would recapitulate ontology. What developmental purpose would it serve for the embryo to restage the evolutionary history of life on earth?
ii) Why should the developmental mechanisms vary from one embryonic organism to another?
iii) What's surprising about the fact that embryos in the early stages of development resemble each other? The process of development is a process of increasing specificity and differentiation. So naturally, in the early phase of their gestation, when embryos are underdeveloped, they would have more in common with one another.
3 D. Futuyma, Evolution (Sinaur 2005).
4 Cf. R. Milton, Shattering the Myths of Darwinism (Park Street Press 1997).
5 Cf. J. Sarfati, Refuting Evolution 2 (Master Books 2003); K. Wise, Faith, Form, and Time (B&H 2002).
6 E. Mayr, What Evolution Is (Basic Books 2001), 16.
7 Cf. J. Sanford, Genetic Entropy & The Mystery of the Genome (Elim Publishing 2005).
12 In Search of Deep Time: Beyond the Fossil Record to a New History of Life (Cornell 2001), 1-2.
13 Ibid. 2.
14 Ibid. 4-5.
15 Ibid. 5.
16 Ibid. 8.
17 Ibid. 9.
18 Ibid. 23.
19 Ibid. 32.
20 Ibid. 32.
21 Ibid. 32.
22 Ibid. 54.
23 Ibid. 61.
24 Ibid. 61.
25 Ibid. 82.
26 Ibid. 87-88.
27 Ibid. 88.
28 Ibid. 96.
29 Ibid. 96-97.
30 Ibid. 117-18.
31 Ibid. 180.
32 Ibid. 180-181.
33 Ibid. 201-02.
34 Ibid. 214.
35 Ibid. 214.
36 F. Hoyle, Mathematics of Evolution (Acorn Enterprises 1999), 106-07.
37 Ibid. 107.
38 Ibid. 107.
39 Cf. Sarfati, ibid. 117-21.
40 Cf. Sarfati, 205-07; Wise, ibid. 219-20.