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Critics Want More Facts, While Darwinists Push Their Faith

Stephen Jay Gould says it’s time for us to take a “Darwinian cold bath” by “staring a factual reality in the face.” The “factual reality” is that all living things are descended from a common ancestor through directionless natural processes, mainly survival of the fittest.

It is factual, according to Gould, because it “has been validated” as much as the “roughly spherical shape of our planet.” And it will be cold because Darwinian evolution has “substituted a naturalistic explanation of cold comfort for our former conviction that a benevolent deity fashioned us directly in his own image.”

The bath is a four-day, eight-hour miniseries titled Evolution. Just broadcast (September 24-27) on PBS, our tax-supported television network, the series is accompanied by a privately financed, multi-million dollar campaign to influence teachers, local schoolboards and government officials. And for $30 you can buy a glossy companion book titled Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea, with an introduction by Gould that includes the lines quoted above.

According to a June 15 memo from its producers to PBS affiliates, the guiding vision of Evolution is to convey “the importance of evolution” to the American people. The focus of the series is “understanding the underlying evidence behind claims of fact and proposed theories, and reporting on those areas where the science is sound. . . . In keeping with solid science journalism we examine empirically testable explanations for what happened, ‘but don’t speak to the ultimate cause of who done it,’ the religious realm.”

Yet some of the “evidence” presented in Evolution is known to be false, and the remaining evidence provides surprisingly little support for Darwin’s theory. In place of scientific evidence, Evolution relies on a parade of experts to assure us that Darwin had it right, and that the only people who disagree are ignorant Biblical literalists. Religion is OK in its place, but its place is not to challenge Darwinian evolution.

Evolution is science, we are told, because it is supported by evidence. And that “powerful evidence” is that all living things are descended from a common ancestor, a basic tenet of Darwin’s theory, is the universality of the genetic code. The genetic code is the way DNA specifies the sequence of proteins in living cells, and the narrator of program tells us the code is the same in all living things.

But biologists have been finding exceptions to the universality of the genetic code since 1979, and more exceptions are turning up all the time. In its eagerness to present the “underlying evidence” for Darwin’s theory, Evolution ignores this awkward, and potentially falsifying, fact.

Evolution also claims that “a tiny handful of powerful genes” are now known to be the “engine of evolution,” because all animals inherited the same set of body-forming genes from their common ancestor. The principal evidence we are shown for this is a mutant fruit fly with an extra pair of wings. But perceptive viewers will see that the second pair of wings is inert.

The fly is a hopeless cripple, not the forerunner of a new and better race of insects. In fact, the similarity of these genes in all types of animals is a problem for Darwin’s theory: If flies and humans have the same set of “body-forming genes,” why don’t flies give birth to humans? Evolution doesn’t breathe a word about this well-known paradox.

Most of the remaining evidence in Evolution shows us that things are not what they used to be, or it shows us minor changes within existing species. But changes within existing species were known to domestic breeders long before Darwin was born. The revolutionary claim in Darwin’s theory was that this same process could produce not only new species, but also completely new forms of organisms.

Show Me the Evidence

Evolution has lots of interesting stories about scientists studying changes within existing species, such as antibiotic resistance in bacteria, but nowhere does it provide evidence that such changes can lead to new species, much less new forms of living things.

Episode one, “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea,” takes its name from a book by philosopher Daniel Dennett, who regards Darwinism as a “universal acid” that eats through virtually all traditional beliefs, especially Christianity. On camera, Dennett tells us that Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection was “the single best idea anybody ever had.”

People “used to think of meaning coming from on high and being ordained from the top down,” Dennett says, but we must now “replace the traditional idea of God the creator with the idea of the process of natural selection doing the creating.”

Biologist Stephen Jay Gould also talks about God. “The Darwinian revolution is about who we are,” Gould says, “it’s what we’re made of, it’s what our life means insofar as science can answer that question.”

And one thing science tells us is that we originated like every other living thing, through Darwinian evolution. “You could construe it in another way, that is (I like to say) more user-friendly: You could have thought, well, God had several independent lineages and they were all moving in certain pre-ordained directions which pleased His sense of how a uniform and harmonious world ought to be put together, and Darwin says, No, it’s just history all coming [through] descent with modification from a single common ancestry.”

We meet biologist Kenneth Miller sitting in church, where he says: “I’m an orthodox Catholic and I’m an orthodox Darwinist.” He explains that, “if God is working today in concert with the laws of nature, with physical laws and so forth, He probably worked in concert with them in the past. In a sense, He’s the guy who made up the rules of the game, and He manages to act within those rules.”

The episode concludes with historian James Moore, who tells us that “Darwin’s vision of nature was, I believe, fundamentally a religious vision.”

All this in the first episode of a series that supposedly doesn’t “speak to the ultimate cause of ‘who done it,’ the religious realm.”

Episode two claims that “our bodies are built from the same genes that build all other animals,” and then it uses Michelangelo’s painting of God touching Adam as a backdrop for its message that we are no exception to evolution. The evidence, it seems, is that lemurs (who “most closely resemble our tree-dwelling ancestors”) are capable of a wide variety of movements.

And Donald Johanson, discoverer of the famous “Lucy” fossil, assures us that in producing human beings “evolution has worked the same way with us as it has with every single organism on this planet.”

No evidence is presented, however, to show that this is actually the case.

Episode three explains how mass extinctions supposedly open up opportunities for the few remaining organisms to evolve. Of course, we don’t want to help other organisms evolve by going extinct ourselves, and we depend on complex interactions among other species for our existence, so much of this episode focuses on saving the rainforest.

It also shows how cattle ranchers in North Dakota use beetles to control a weed infestation, which is designed to give us the impression that evolution is essential to agriculture. But farmers have been using beneficial insects to control pests for centuries; Darwin had nothing to do with it.

Episode four tries to convince viewers that evolution is essential to the practice of medicine. Darwinian theory, in fact, may help us to understand what’s happening when bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics. But when we meet TB victims in a Russian prison, we learn that they succumbed to the disease in the first place because their immune systems were weakened by poor nutrition and a bad lifestyle. Nothing especially Darwinian about that.

Then a geneticist speculates on the evolutionary origin of a virus, in domestic cats, that resembles HIV, though this does nothing to help humans suffering from AIDS. Finally, an evolutionary biologist explains that the best way to avoid cholera epidemics is to drink clean water. But we already knew that.

Episode five is all about sex. It begins by telling us that “from an evolutionary perspective, sex is more important than life itself.”

No doubt many of the adolescents watching the series in their biology classes will be pleased to hear this. Sex is “our immortality,” we are told, and many of our behaviors were inherited from our evolutionary ancestors. This is graphically illustrated by scenes of apes having heterosexual and homosexual intercourse in almost every position imaginable.

Then evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller tells us that the human brain, like the peacock’s tail, evolved through sexual selection: “It wasn’t God, it was our ancestors, they were choosing their sexual partners.” Darwin conceived his theory of sexual selection, however, to explain why peacocks, but not peahens, have large and colorful tails. Yet women’s brains seem to be just as large and colorful as men’s.

Conspicuously absent from episode five are the many Darwinists who think evolutionary psychologists such as Miller have gone off the deep-end.

Jerry Coyne, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago, has compared evolutionary psychology to now-discredited Freudian psychology: “By judicious manipulation, every possible observation of human behavior could be (and was) fitted into a Freudian framework. The same trick is now being perpetrated by the evolutionary psychologists. They, too, deal with their own dogmas, and not in propositions of science.” Evolution completely ignores such in-house critics of “evo-psycho.”

Episode six is about “the mind’s big bang.” Psychologist Steven Pinker assures us that “there were lots and lots of mutations over a span of tens, maybe even hundreds of thousands of years that fine-tuned and sculpted the brain.” We see no evidence for such mutations, however.

Instead, we are shown some similarities between humans and chimpanzees, and we are told that deaf-mutes in Nicaragua created their own sign language without any help from sign-language experts.

The episode draws to a close with people crossing an African plain to the music of the kyrie eleison from the Missa Luba, an African version of the Roman Catholic mass.

A Roman Catholic mass? More religion, in a series that supposedly doesn’t speak to the religious realm.

If we had any doubt that the message of Evolution was fundamentally religious, those doubts are dispelled in the seventh and last episode. “The majesty of our Earth, the beauty of life,” the episode begins. “Are they the result of a natural process called evolution, or the work of a divine creator?”

We are told that the only people who reject Darwinian evolution are ignorant Biblical literalists, and that people who want to sneak religion into science classrooms often intimidate or censor scientists. Nothing is said about the many critics of Darwinian evolution who are not even Christians, much less Biblical literalists. And nothing is said about the large and growing number of cases in which Darwinists intimidate and censor their critics.

It seems that Evolution is not so much a science documentary as a propaganda piece. And the propaganda aims to leave us with two take-home messages. First, Darwin’s theory is fully confirmed by overwhelming evidence. Second, religion is OK in its place, but its place is the subjective realm of beliefs about meaning and morality, not the objective realm of events in the real world. Both of these messages are stunningly and unmistakably false.

The Evolution series itself demonstrates the falsity of the first. The evidence we are shown for Darwin’s theory is embarrassingly thin. Fossils prove that things are not what they used to be; there are similarities and dissimilarities among living things; and minor changes occur within species.

Darwinism As a Personal Philosophic Commitment

But all these were known before Darwin, and scientists made good sense of them without his theory. It turns out that belief in Darwinian evolution is not so much a matter of scientific evidence as a matter of personal philosophical commitment. The oft-repeated claim that Darwinism is supported by “overwhelming evidence” is not a scientific statement, but an advertising slogan.

Second, many religious affirmations are not based on subjective feelings, but on events in the real world. There would be no Christianity if certain space-time events had not occurred 2,000 years ago. True, some modern Christians have accommodated themselves to secular philosophies by retreating to a subjective realm, but, in this respect, these people have abandoned classical Christianity, and they do not represent that historic and intellectually vibrant Christianity, expressed, for example, in the work of C.S. Lewis or Francis Schaeffer.

The Darwinists’ message to Christians in Evolution is: Believe whatever you like, as long as you leave objective reality to us. In response, the Christians’ message to Darwinists should be: Stick to the evidence, don’t confuse your materialistic ideology with empirical science, and stop teaching our children that you have a monopoly on the whole of reality.

Stephen Jay Gould and the producers of Evolution want to immerse the rest of us in their cold bath of materialistic ideology. Using the same metaphor, the opposite of a Darwinian cold bath could be a warm shower of scientific truth that follows the evidence wherever it leads.

Jonathan Wells

Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Jonathan Wells has received two Ph.D.s, one in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of California at Berkeley, and one in Religious Studies from Yale University. A Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, he has previously worked as a postdoctoral research biologist at the University of California at Berkeley and the supervisor of a medical laboratory in Fairfield, California. He also taught biology at California State University in Hayward and continues to lecture on the subject.