Thursday, October 21, 2010

Book Review of "Why Us?" Part 2

Le Fanu devotes several chapters to Darwin and evolution. He begins by describing the zeitgeist of Darwin's time and how it led to the rapid and devoted acceptance of evolutionary theory. He then goes on to describe how scientific findings have undermined Darwin's theory, leaving it on the verge of collapse. He believes it is only the ideology of scientists that protects it now. In chapter five, he describes why he believes science has revealed fatal flaws in evolution as an explanation for our origin by addressing the problem of the fossil record, the inability of man to replicate nature's designs, and the inexplicable homology (similarity) of animal structures.

Regarding the fossil record, he discusses the evidence for immediate change within organisms, followed by long periods of stability within organisms, rather than slow evolutionary process described by Darwin. He quotes Niles Eldredge as saying "When we do see the introduction of evolutionary novelty, it usually shows up with a bang, and often with no firm evidence that the organisms did not evolve elsewhere." In summarizing the finds of the transitional forms that presumably led to the modern whale, Le Fanu notes that 12 million years would not provide the time needed for the numerous transitions from the wolf-sized mammal pakicetus to the whale. He noted, "some other dramatic mechanism, as yet unknown to science, must account for that extraordinary diversity of life as revealed by the fossil record." He didn't calculate how much time would be needed. He only quoted a report from an academic conference on evolution which concluded that mechanisms underlying microevolution could not be extrapolated to explain macroevolution.

Le Fanu also described the problem of "perfection" for evolution. He noted the inability of bioengineers to design an artificial heart which performs anywhere nearly as effectively as the human heart. He concluded that "it seems merely perverse to suggest that the undirected process of nature, acting on numerous small, random genetic mutations, could give rise to this or any other of those 'masterpiece of design.'" He declined to point to a Creator as the designer of such masterpieces, instead stating that "some prodigious biological phenomenon, unknown to science" must be responsible for our organs being "constructed to the very highest specifications of automated efficiency."

Finally, Le Fanu examined the "unsolved problem" of Cuvier's law of homology, which refers to the apparent similarity in structure of limbs of various creatures, from reptiles to amphibians, to birds, to mammals. Darwin felt that this was strong evidence of evolution. However, studies of embryos from these diverse animals reveal that their limbs originated in different segments of the trunk. He concludes by noting that the "'common architectural plan' of the forelimbs of reptiles and mammals, so long held to be powerful evidence for Darin's theory, can no longer be interpreted in favour of descent from a common ancestor."

I certainly agree that there is still a great deal we have to learn about our origins. Additionally, I do believe we are products of our time, apt to adopt the worldview in which we are born, which necessarily colors our view of the evidence before us. Certainly scientists are no different and have been slow to question the orthodoxy of evolution. This is a concern in that it prohibits them from asking the questions and exploring the inconsistencies in data that might lead to a better understanding of how we all came to be. However, I am encouraged that there are scientists who are challenging current understandings of evolution and attempting to develop models which better fit the data.

Here's one example of a recent article by a scientist evaluating the state of evolutionary theory.

In future posts I'll discuss what Le Fanu has to say about the limits of science in the fields of genetics and neuroscience.

2 comments:

  1. " Additionally, I do believe we are products of our time, apt to adopt the worldview in which we are born, which necessarily colors our view of the evidence before us."

    Reading this post makes me realize how much the two are intertwined, creationism and theism. While a theory evolution can stand with or without theism, of course creationism cannot. In my mind arguments for creationism are always motivated by apologetics for a specific brand of theism. I am sure that does not need to be the case, I suppose a creationist could be a deist of some sort? That is just not my experience, the materials I have read and the people I have been around.

    Regardless, it makes it hard for me to hear creationist arguments without assuming they have the ulterior motives of making an apologetic for a religion. You did a good job of summarizing the material without bringing that kind of bias into your post.

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  2. Interesting review. Thanks for the link to the article.

    Alas, it only serves to remind me how little I know regarding evolution. I envy the education my children receive at public school. They know so much more than I do regarding the development of life.

    I’ve read some books, and listened to classes/podcasts. But this information is simply not gripped in the fiber of my being. Having grown up in Christian private schools (straight through college) all I ever learned was creationism, creationism, creationism. We weren’t even taught enough of evolution (other than it was a product of the devil *grin*) to have even the slightest grasp of what it encompassed.

    I find, after my education, extremely well-suited to argue the doctrine of predestination, and utterly unable to even articulate the premises of evolution with having to look it up.

    Nuts.

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