An Evolutionary Crisis? image

An Evolutionary Crisis?

For a brief time between graduating and starting a PhD I worked at London’s Natural History Museum. Each day on the way to the entomology department I had to pass an exhibition about Darwin, and each day I felt an inner conflict about the question of origins.

The Natural History Museum is a temple to Darwinism, and any questioning of the received dogma would result in ridicule. Still, I had my doubts about Darwinian evolution – both because of my Christian faith, and because the scientific foundations of the theory seemed so wobbly. Evolution by natural selection is a beautiful theory, as it can function as a theory for everything: any aspect of the natural world or the human experience can be analysed through Darwin’s lens. Yet while evolution at the micro-level seemed observable and provable, I couldn’t get my head around Darwinian evolution being a mechanism for macro-evolution. There were too many gaps that were too large, both in terms of missing fossils, and the extraordinary complexity of many biological systems. It was at this point that the ‘modern synthesis’ seemed to enter the realm of speculation rather than demonstrable experimentation.

In the end, I grew weary of trying to work it all out (weary of the aggression of the new atheists, and weary of the dogmatism of some six-dayers), decided to mentally park worrying about the details, and simply enjoy the knowledge that God is creator and Lord of all. (And I never finished that PhD.)

Questions of origins won’t go away though. At last year’s THINK conference, Andrew was desperate to get us onto the typology of the Exodus but all people wanted to talk about was origins!

I’ve just read Michael Denton’s Evolution: Still a theory in crisis. Denton is a medical doctor and biochemist without any particular faith conviction, but many doubts about Darwinism. In this fascinating book Denton argues the case for ‘structuralism’ – that due to the fine tuning of the universe there is a natural law to nature that results in the lifeforms we see today. Just as chemical crystals form the shapes they do as a result of innate structures, so, argues Denton, plant and animal life are inherently the way that they are, rather than as a result of adaptive selection.

While recognizing the reality of adaptive evolution in limited extent (for example, the development of different bill shapes in Galapagos finches) Denton argues for ‘saltation’ (major step-changes) being a better explanation for species development than natural selection. He calls as evidence plant and animal features that are type-defining but lack any apparent selective advantage, insights from the new field of evolutionary developmental biology, the lack of fossil evidence of intermediate stages, and the lack of any ‘plausible well-developed hypothetical evolutionary sequence’ for biological systems like the cell.

Denton’s thesis will no doubt infuriate Darwinians. It will also fail to satisfy the more literal-minded creationist, as he does believe in evolution, and is most definitely not a young-earth creationist. He would also hugely benefit from a strong editor to help his argument be expressed with greater clarity and to do away with some of the repetition and irritating stylistic ticks that dog the book. But as a scientific rebuttal of Darwinism I found this tremendously helpful – it has given me some of the answers I was reaching for as I walked through the corridors of the Natural History Museum all those years ago.

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