A recent Gallup poll found that 38% of Americans hold to the Creationist view of human origins.” The remaining 62% believe that evolution (either guided or unguided) played a part. In the court of public opinion, evolutionists appear to have won the day. The problem however is that the debate suffers from a lack of precision in terms. “Evolution” means different things to different people. In general we know that it refers to some transformation of a species of living beings but most discussion occurs without making that definition more specific. This is why the first (and most important step) in any discussion is to define your terms. Evolution falls into two main categories, microevolution and macroevolution. As the name suggests, microevolution explains the changes that lead to variation within a given species. Macroevolution refers to the large-scale changes that lead to increasingly more complex species. The failure to make a distinction between these two categories is the source of most of the confusion in the current debate between so-called creationists and evolutionists.
Microevoltion and Macroevolution
As the “experts” in the scientific fields, the evolutionary philosophers, that is, those who treat evolution as a philosophy such that it explains all of reality rather than as a scientific theory that explains part of reality, are only too happy to have these two lumped together. Microevolution seems to be self-evident and it doesn’t take an expert to see this. Anyone who has had to take multiple antibiotics for an infection knows that bacteria can evolve such that they are resistant to certain antibiotics. With the self-evident quality of microevolution, the evolutionists can perform a bait and switch of sorts lumping macroevolution in and selling it as “evolution.” Opposing something that seems so obvious makes one look like an unreasonable religious nut. We must insist then that swallowing the microevolutionary slice doesn’t mean we must eat the whole evolutionary pie.
Many insist that there ought to be no distinction between micro- and macro-evolution because macroevolution is simply an extrapolation over time of the same processes that drive microevolution. This viewpoint is scientifically problematic for at least three reasons.
First, there is the problem of the Missing Link in the fossil record. “The problem is”, as GK Chesterton pointed out nearly a century ago, “that the missing link is still missing.” The use of the term “missing link” is considered archaic, but the idea I think is still valid even as we find more and more examples of intermediate species within the fossil record. These intermediate species are often labeled as “transitional” but the problem is that this implies that the jump from one to the other is very short. If macroevolution based on microevolution is true, then there ought to be something like a linear or gradual progression between species. Instead there are still jumps, and even if the jumps are getting smaller, they are still pretty large.
Too often the “missing link” became an argument from silence, but I think it is still valid because the gap of say 400,000 years between two related species is non-trivial. The fossil record really appears to show something like fits and starts. A species is stable and then abruptly a new species appears.
If science truly is allowed to go where the data takes it, then it is far from definitive that macroevolution has occurred based on the fossil record. In fact in a controversial paper in 1972 as Stephen Jay Gould points out the exact opposite,
“The history of most fossil species includes two features particularly inconsistent with gradualism:
(1)Stasis. Most species exhibit no directional change during their tenure on earth. They appear in the fossil record looking much the same as when they disappear; morphological change is usually limited and directionless.
(2) Sudden appearance. In any local area, a species does not arise gradually by the steady transformation of its ancestors; it appears all at once and ‘fully formed.'”
Second there is the problem of time. Extrapolation from micro to macro-evolution we are told, happened slowly over time. If a chasm is so wide that it cannot be crossed without a bridge, no amount of time is going to make it crossable. The macroevolutionist might say that there were small stepping stones that arose that made the crossingpossible, but that those stepping stones disappeared. Again one would have to ask where the data is that suggests that such stones actually appeared, especially when there is a simpler and much more reasonable assumption that they were carried across. That is unreasonable, if you have not already presupposed that no such carrier existed.
The third problem is related to the mechanism by which evolution is said to occur, namely natural selection. This ought to be obvious from the name, but Natural Selection is selective and not productive. It does not bring new creatures into being, but instead is a mechanism by which certain individuals are favored because of their adaptations to some environmental condition. It cannot create those individuals but draws from those who already exist in the population. Many treat Natural Selection as a creative force; as if it somehow causes the favorable mutation rather than just selecting based on it.
An Edge to Evolution?
As we continue to study the genetic basis of mutation, Natural Selection seems not to be a mechanism by which this jump from microevolution to macroevolution could have occurred. In his book, The Edge of Evolution, biologist Michael Behe documents a study in which about 30,000 generations, or 1 million years of E. coli have been manufactured and what they have found is “ Mostly devolution.” It will advance to a certain stage and then throw away chunks of genetic patrimony because it costs too much energy to maintain. What Behe claims is that this is one example among many of the edge to evolution. There is a barrier beyond which selective breeding will not pass because either sterility occurs or genetic variability is exhausted. Although Behe is not popular among some of his colleagues, it is mostly on ideological and not scientific grounds. Even scientific giants like Richard Dawkins could only resort to ad hominem arguments to refute Behe.
None of this, of course, proves that macroevolution does not offer a true explanation of the variety of species. But it does show the need for intellectual honesty that starts by using terms properly. We should not fall for the evolutionary bait and switch that many neo-Darwinist philosophers try to sell us. Evolution, especially macroevolution is an open question and ought to be treated as such.