Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Doubting Thomas

Microbiologist Kas Thomas is no creationist. Indeed, he's a Darwinian evolutionist, but he's one of an increasing number of such scientists who's growing disenchanted with Darwinism's inability to satisfactorily respond to the scientific challenges posed by intelligent design advocates.

He talks about his concerns at Big Think and, because he has given voice to doubts about the theoretical efficacy of Darwinism, he's greeted with a tidal wave of scorn and derision in the comments section. Here's the crux of his piece:
I find it horrifying that there are college-educated people in the U.S. (and around the world) who believe the earth is 6,000 years old; and yet at the same time, I have a certain amount of discomfort, myself, with evolutionary theory—not because it demeans the nobility of man or denies the Bible, or anything of that sort, but because it's such an incomplete and unsatisfying theory on purely scientific grounds. (Many physicists feel much the same way about quantum theory.)

Almost everything in evolutionary theory is based on "survival of the fittest," a tautology that explains nothing. ("Fittest" means most able to survive. Survival of the fittest means survival of those who survive.) The means by which new survival skills emerge is, at best, murky.... the fact is, even today we have a hard time figuring out how things like a bacterial flagellum first appeared.

When I was in school, we were taught that mutations in DNA are the driving force behind evolution, an idea that is now thoroughly discredited. The overwhelming majority of non-neutral mutations are deleterious (reducing, not increasing, survival). This is easily demonstrated in the lab. Most mutations lead to loss of function, not gain of function. Evolutionary theory, it turns out, is great at explaining things like the loss of eyesight, over time, by cave-dwelling creatures. It's terrible at explaining gain of function.

It's also terrible at explaining the speed at which speciation occurs. (Of course, The Origin of Species is entirely silent on the subject of how life arose from abiotic conditions in the first place.) It doesn't explain the Cambrian Explosion, for example, or the sudden appearance of intelligence in hominids, or the rapid recovery (and net expansion) of the biosphere in the wake of at least five super-massive extinction events in the most recent 15% of Earth's existence.
Despite these shortcomings, Thomas isn't willing to give up on the theory because there's no other naturalistic explanation for the problems he highlights:
Of course, the fact that classical evolutionary theory doesn't explain these sorts of things doesn't mean we should abandon the entire theory. There's a difference between a theory being wrong and being incomplete. In science, we cling to incomplete theories all the time. Especially when the alternative is complete ignorance.
Perhaps the theory is incomplete because it excludes intelligent agency as a creative factor, but be that as it may one of the ironies of this post by Thomas is the hostility it has provoked in the comments section. What is it about doubts of Darwinism that cause such emotional reactions in people who would never dream of reacting so vehemently to a post expressing doubts about, say, quantum theory, relativity, or Big Bang cosmology? It's almost as if Thomas' doubts call into question his critics' most deeply held religious convictions. Come to think of it, perhaps they do.