PHILOSOPHICAL PROBLEMS WITH EVOLUTION THEORY
Since the theory of evolution has been widely accepted, creationism has often been condemned as unscientific. A useful way of considering whether this is so is to review the 'Arkansas trial' which centred around the definition of the phrase 'scientific creationism'.
In the 1970s creationists had participated in debates with prominent evolutionists on many university campuses, and a few became politically active in sponsoring legislation in numerous American states that would require public schools to teach creation along with evolution in science classes, if either view is taught. The State of Arkansas passed such a bill (Act 590) in 1981.
A teacher brought a legal action against the State of Arkansas because it prevented him from teaching evolution in the class-room without also teaching scientific creation (McLean vs Arkansas). He charged that the latter was not scientific because it prejudged the results of science by importing religious dogma. Against this, the defence maintained that it was as scientific as evolution.
According to Section 4 of the Arkansas law, scientific creationism includes the following beliefs:
2. Insufficiency of mutation and natural selection to explain the occurrence of living forms.
3. Changes of species only ocurring within fixed limits.
4. Separate ancestry for man and apes.
5. Explanation of geology by catastrophism including a world-wide flood.
6. Relatively recent inception of the earth and living kinds.
In his judgement on the case, Judge Overton opined that for educational purposes creationism should not be given equal consideration with evolution because the former was religious teaching under the guise of science, and not amenable to the Popperian test of falsifiability. It was therefore a breach of the US Constitution.
He supported this view by identifying five properties requisite for scientific knowledge, which scientific creationism did not fulfil:
2. It has to be explanatory by reference to natural law.
3. It is testable against the empirical world.
4. Its conclusions are tentative (that is, are not necessarily the final word).
5. It is falsifiable.
This judgement was arguably unjust to creationism. It does fulfil these criteria, certainly as well as does evolutionism. The first two conditions require only law-likeness and explanatory ability. These characterize creationism as much as evolutionism. All the last three criteria (testability, revisability and falsifiability) can be met merely by a creationist saying, 'I will abandon my views if we find a living specimen of a species intermediate between apes and man.' The real question is not whether scientific creationism is scientific but whether the existing evidence provides stronger arguments for evolutionary theory than for creationism.1
Fossils are the key, specifically the presence or absence of 'missing links'. Their non-existence is probably decisive because the evolutionary model would require an inconceivably great number of them.
PRIMARY AND SECONDARY CAUSES
One of the main features commending the evolution theory is that it is seen as being capable of giving a complete explanation of the world in a way that creationism cannot. After the Big Bang, the evolution to modern humans is seen as a continuous natural process, at no point requiring the intervention of the supernatural. Although natural causes clearly cannot explain the origin of the universe, it is thought that they can explain such events as the origin of life and its subdivision into major forms.
But this view cannot be sustained. All these changes are dramatic contrasts with anything that could have preceded them. They must be regarded origin events which cannot be explained by the routine operation of natural laws. Secondary causes are not enough. Matter must have had a primary cause, and this must have been under conditions in which the known laws of physics were not valid, and as a product of forces which we cannot discover. The spontaneous generation of life on Earth is so obviously unlikely that it has sometimes been suggested that it must have come from outer space. But even if true, this would merely push the argument back one stage. The incoming life must have started somewhere. The same difficulty occurs when trying to explain the origins of the main subdivisions of the plant and animal kingdoms. The evidence is strongly against these having happened without the intervention of outside intelligence. A belief in uniformitarianism actually makes origin events more difficult rather than easier to explain. This is because the more regular have events been, the more singular and contrasting must origins have been. Origin events are singularities and therefore are not amenable to methods of study which apply to regularities. They must be approached through origin science, not operation science.
This confusion of origin with operation followed from the discoveries of Galileo, Kepler, and Newton, which generally established a mechanical view of causation of natural phenomena. These scientists had confined their explanations of the motions of the planets around the sun to secondary causes, but as time passed these explanations came increasingly to be extended to include those of primary causes, such as that originating the universe. The role of primary causation of the various origin events was therefore gradually squeezed out of the scientific study of the past. As time passed, the astronomers discovered more and more secondary causes and continually reduced the place of primary causes. Hutton, Lyell, and others did the same thing for geology, and Darwin for biology. The key principles of this secondary causality were uniformity, continuity, and secondary causality. The legitimate search for secondary causes in operation science was inappropriately applied to origin science.
Believers in the divine origin of the universe, however, undermined their own case by appealing to the supernatural to explain anomalies in its operation, because when natural explanations were found the objection looked absurd. This happened, for instance, when science revealed the true explanations of phenomena such as meteors and earthquakes.
The necessity for invoking primary causes to explain origins argues strongly for creationism. Just as the earlier scientific advances, by explaining astronomical phenomena in terms of secondary causes opened the way to a decline of creationism, so today's emphasis on a cataclysmic origin to the universe may open the way for its resurgence. As the emphasis on secondary causes which started with astronomy was extended to geology and biology, a renewed emphasis on astronomical catastrophism could encourage primary cause explanations in these latter sciences also.3
The first law of thermodynamics states that although energy can be converted from one form to another, the total amount remains unchanged. Energy is neither being created nor destroyed at the present time.
The second law states that although the total amount of energy in any closed mechanical system remains unchanged, there is always a tendency for it to become less available for future work. Put another way, where energy conversions are accomplishing work the entropy (that is, the non-availability of the energy) increases. This applies to all geological, physical, and biological systems. They tend towards increasing disorder and disorganization.
These two laws are accepted by physicists as perhaps the most secure generalizations from experience that exist. One can apply them to any concrete situation in the confidence that nature will not let one down. It is not too much to state that they provide the foundation for modern science and technology.
Certain consequences follow. First, if energy cannot be added or subtracted, it must originally have been created. This requires an external cause a creator. Secondly, the entropy law contradicts the central evolutionary affirmation that life forms can evolve upwards towards increasing complexity. The biological evidence is at least as strongly indicative of degeneration and diminution in the size of living things as it is of their refinement and enlargement.
Some evolutionists have sought to refute the obvious challenge of the law of entropy by contending that it applies only to closed systems, whereas the Earth is an open system since it interacts with the Sun, Moon, and other bodies in space, receiving and emitting energy and matter. It forms, however, a small part of an infinitely large closed system to the which the entropy law applies. There is no evidence of a source within this large closed system which could or did provide the information needed to effect the upward evolution of life forms. It needed an external source which transcended the thermodynamic laws.
It is also contended that within a universe proceeding towards entropy there must be local inversions towards greater complexity, which could explain evolutionary processes. It is hard to find any instance of this which does not owe its increased complication to prior information. An example sometimes quoted is the crystallization of minerals, where order appears to emerge from disorder. But this is not a spontaneous movement using new information. The crystallization process is purely chemical and consists in the repetition of a simple pattern which has been predetermined by the arrangement of atoms in the mineral's molecule. It contrasts sharply with the biological reproduction of DNA or proteins where the repeating unit is highly complex and stores much information in its structure.
There are three significant philosophic problems which affect the creation/evolution debate:
Although the Arkansas trial rejected the idea that creationism was as scientific as evolutionism, an examination of the two views shows that they largely meet the same criteria.
There are some primary events in Earth's history which are not amenable to explanation by secondary causes. These include the origin of matter, the origin of life, and the separation of the main branches of the plant and animal kingdoms. These demand an approach to study which considers the fundamentals of primary causation. The concept that living things have evolved from simple to complex cannot be reconciled with the law of entropy which teaches the inevitability of deterioration in any closed thermodynamic system. The Earth forms a minute part of such a system and the entropy law applies to the whole. There is no evidence of a source of information within it that can explain an upward evolution of living things.
*This material is taken from Chapter 3 of The Case for Creationism by Dr. Colin Mitchell
1Laudan, L. (1988). Science at the bar causes for concern, In Ruse, M. (ed.) But Is It Science? Prometheus Books, Buffalo, NY, chapter 22, 351-355.1988.
2 Ibid, 1988.
3 Geisler, N. L. and Anderson, J. K. (1987). Origin Science: A Proposal for the Creation-Evolution Controversy, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Page 120.