Scientists Challenge Darwin

Why the Advocates for Stock Origin Theories Are on the Defensive

In 1997, British embryologist Michael Richardson and his colleagues published the result of a study which compared drawings said to be of embryos with actual embryos. The drawings under consideration had been published in many secondary school textbooks promoting the Darwinian concept of evolution. Richardson was quoted in the prestigious journal Science: “It looks like it’s turning out to be one of the most famous fakes in biology.” In fact, and worse, this was no recent fraud. Nor was its discovery recent. The embryo drawings which appear in almost every high school and college textbook are either reproductions of, or are based upon, a famous series of drawings by the 19th century German biologist—and fervent Darwinian—Ernst Haeckel, and they have been known for over a century to scholars of Darwin and evolutionary theory to be forgeries. But none of these scholars, apparently, have seen fit to correct this almost ubiquitous ‘error’. Writer Jonathan Wells, a Ph.D. in embryology, pointed out the fraud in a 2001 article for the National Spectator entitled “Survival of the Fakest.” The ensuing controversy has prompted Casey Luskin of Seat­tle’s Discovery Institute, the principal think tank for the intelligent design movement, to analyze the argument.

“Many Darwinists,” says Luskin, “are scurrying around on their blogs and at movie screenings, trying to rewrite history by claiming that Haeckel’s embryo drawings were never used in modern textbooks. In a contradictory claim, some then concede that modern textbooks have used the drawings but argue that Haeckel’s work was only cited to provide some historical context to evolutionary theory—they assert that Haeckel’s fraudulent drawings have not been used to promote evolution in modern textbooks. They are wrong on both counts.

“To avoid confusion,” Luskin goes on, “we are not claiming that Haeckel’s embryo drawings and recapitulation theory are the bedrock of evolutionary biology in 2007. Nor are we arguing that every textbook that has used Haeck­el’s fraudulent drawings (or some near-identical colorized version) therefore promoted the idea that ‘ontogeny reca­pitulates phylogeny.’ (In biology, ontogeny is the embryonal development process of a certain species, and phyloge­ny, the evolutionary history of a species’. Ed.) As Jonathan Wells points out in his recent article, The Cracked Haeckel Approach to Evolutionary Reasoning, “Many modern biology textbooks inform students that Haeckel’s dic­tum, ‘ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny,’ has been discredited, but the same textbooks often use Haeckel’s drawings (or modern versions of them) to persuade students that human embryos provide clues to our evolutionary history and evidence for Darwin’s theory.” Therefore, what we are claiming is that various modern textbooks have used Haeckel’s embryo drawings in precisely the manner that Darwinists now deny:

“(1) They show embryo drawings that are essentially recapitulations of Haeckel’s fraudulent drawings—drawings that downplay and misrepresent the actual differences between early stages of vertebrate embryos;

“(2) They have used these drawings as evidence for evolution—in the present day—and not simply to provide some kind of historical context for evolutionary thought;

“(3) Even if the textbooks do not completely endorse Haeckel’s false “recapitulation” theory, they have used their Haeckel-based drawings to overstate the actual similarities between early embryos, which is the key misrepresenta­tion made by Haeckel. They then cite these overstated similarities as still-valid evidence for common ancestry.

“Some Darwinists,” adds Luskin, “continue to deny that there has been any misuse of Haeckel in recent times. If that is the case, why did Stephen Jay Gould attack how textbooks use Haeckel in 2000? Gould wrote: ‘We should… not be surprised that Haeckel’s drawings entered nineteenth-century textbooks. But we do, I think, have the right to be both astonished and ashamed by the century of mindless recycling that has led to the persistence of these drawings in a large number, if not a majority, of modern textbooks!’ Similarly, in 1997, the leading embryologist Michael K. Rich­ardson lamented in the journal Anatomy and Embryology that ‘Another point to emerge from this study is the con­siderable inaccuracy of Haeckel’s famous figures. These drawings are still widely reproduced in textbooks and review articles, and continue to exert a significant influence on the development of ideas in this field.’ ”

Ranks of Scientists Doubting Darwin’s Theory on the Rise

According to the Discovery Institute, in a recent news release, another 100 scientists have joined the ranks of sci­entists from around the world publicly stating their doubts about the adequacy of Darwin’s theory of evolution.

“Darwinism is a trivial idea that has been elevated to the status of the scientific theory that governs modern biolo­gy,” says dissent list signer Dr. Michael Egnor. Egnor is a professor of neurosurgery and pediatrics at State University of New York, Stony Brook and an award-winning brain surgeon named one of New York’s best doctors by New York Magazine.

In February, Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture announced that over 700 scientists from around the world have now signed the statement expressing skepticism about Darwinian evolution. The statement, located online at www.dissent fromdarwin.org, reads: “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and nat­ural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.”

“We know intuitively that Darwinism can accomplish some things, but not others,” added Egnor. “The question is what is that boundary? Does the information content in living things exceed that boundary? Darwinists have never faced those questions. They’ve never asked scientifically if random mutation and natural selection can generate the information content in living things.”

“More scientists than ever before are now standing up and saying that it is time to rethink Darwin’s theory of evo­lution in light of new scientific evidence that shows the theory is inadequate,” said John West, associate director of the Center for Science & Culture. “Darwinists are busy making up holidays to turn Charles Darwin into a saint, even as the evidence supporting his theory crumbles and more and more scientific challenges to it emerge.”

The list of signatories includes member scientists from National Academies of Science in Russia, Czech Republic, Hungary, India (Hindustan), Nigeria, Poland, and the United States. Many of the signers are professors or researchers at major universities and international research institutions such as Cambridge University, Moscow State University, Chitose Institute of Science & Technology in Japan, Ben-Gurion University in Israel, MIT, The Smithsonian and Princeton.

During recent decades, new scientific evidence from many scientific disciplines such as cosmology, physics, biolo­gy, “artificial intelligence” research, and others have caused scientists to begin questioning Darwinism’s central tenet of natural selection and studying the evidence supporting it in greater detail.

Yet public TV programs, educational policy statements, and science textbooks have asserted that Darwin’s theory of evolution fully explains the complexity of living things. The public has been assured that all known evidence sup­ports Darwinism and that virtually every scientist in the world believes the theory to be true, an assertion now con­tradicted by the Discovery Institute list.

The arguments that ultimately unravel the Darwinian synthesis aren’t terribly difficult to grasp. Anyone who re­members the rudiments of logic learned in freshman composition can follow the essentials.

Discovery Institute provides brief summaries of the major point on its web site at Discovery.org. Here are some excerpts:

The Scientific Controversy over Whether Microevolution Can Account for Macroevolution

When Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859, it was already known that existing species can change over time. This is the basis of artificial breeding, which had been practiced for thousands of years. Darwin and his contemporaries were also familiar enough with the fossil record to know that major changes in living things had occurred over geological time. Darwin’s theory was that a process analogous to artificial breeding also occurs in na­ture; he called that process natural selection. Darwin’s theory was also that changes in existing species due primarily to natural selection could, if given enough time, produce the major changes we see in the fossil record.

After Darwin, the first phenomenon (changes within an existing species or gene pool) was named “microevolu­tion.” There is abundant evidence that changes can occur within existing species, both domestic and wild, so micro­evolution is uncontroversial. The second phenomenon (large-scale changes over geological time) was named “macro­evolution,” and Darwin’s theory that the processes of the former can account for the latter was controversial right from the start. Many biologists during and after Darwin’s lifetime have questioned whether the natural counterpart of domestic breeding could do what domestic breeding has never done—namely, produce new species, organs, and body plans. In the first few decades of the twentieth century, skepticism over this aspect of evolution was so strong that Darwin’s theory went into eclipse.

In the 1930s, “neo-Darwinists” proposed that genetic mutations (of which Darwin was unaware) could solve the problem. Although the vast majority of mutations are harmful (and thus cannot be favored by natural selection), in rare instances one may benefit an organism. For example, genetic mutations account for some cases of antibiotic re­sistance in bacteria; if an organism is in the presence of the antibiotic, such a mutation is beneficial. All known bene­ficial mutations, however, affect only an organism’s biochemistry; Darwinian evolution requires large-scale changes in morphology, or anatomy. Midway through the twentieth century, some Darwinian geneticists suggested that occa­sional “macromutations” might produce the large-scale morphological changes needed by Darwin’s theory. Unfortu­nately, all known morphological mutations are harmful, and the larger their effects the more harmful they are. Sci­entific critics of macromutations took to calling this the “hopeful monster” hypothesis.

The scientific controversy over whether processes observable within existing species and gene pools (microevolu­tion) can account for large-scale changes over geological time (macroevolution) continues to this day. Since the con­troversy over microevolution and macroevolution is at the heart of Darwin’s theory, and since evolutionary theory is so influential in modern biology, it is a disservice to students for biology curricula to ignore the controversy entirely. Furthermore, since the scientific evidence needed to settle the controversy is still lacking, it is inaccurate to give stu­dents the impression that the controversy has been resolved and that all scientists have reached a consensus on the issue.

The Scientific Controversy over the Cambrian Explosion

Darwin called his theory “descent with modification.” The phrase reflected Darwin’s belief that all organisms are modified descendants of a common ancestor that lived in the distant past. The only illustration in Darwin’s book The Origin of Species shows the “tree of life” pattern one would expect to find in the fossil record if his theory were true. The common ancestor would come first, as a single species at the base of the tree. Minor differences among individu­als would appear first, and these differences would eventually increase until one species had become two or more. Dif­ferences among species would then grow until some species became so different they would be classed as separate genera; genera would diverge to become separate families, families would diverge to become separate orders, and so on. Eventually differences would become so great that where there had originally been one major division or “phy­lum,” there would now be two. Today there are several dozen animal phyla. The major ones include the nematodes (roundworms), annelids (earthworms and leeches), mollusks (clams and snails), arthropods (lobsters and insects), echinoderms (starfish and sea urchins) and chordates (fishes and mammals).

If Darwin’s theory were true, then a long accumulation of minor differences must have preceded the major differ­ences we now see among the animal phyla. As Darwin himself wrote, before the different phyla appeared there must have been “vast periods” during which “the world swarmed with living creatures.” In the fossil record, however, most of the major animal phyla appear fully formed at the beginning of the geological period known as the Cambrian, with no fossil evidence that they branched off from a common ancestor. Darwin was aware of this, acknowledging in The Origin of Species that “several of the main divisions of the animal kingdom suddenly appear in the lowest known fos­siliferous rocks.” He called this a “serious” problem which “at present must remain inexplicable; and may be truly urged as a valid argument against the views here entertained.”

Darwin remained convinced that his theory was true, however. He speculated that ancestors of the different phyla had not been found because the fossil record was imperfect. If, as it seemed, rocks before the Cambrian had been de­formed by heat and pressure, or eroded away, then fossil ancestors might never be found. He acknowledged, though, that he really had “no satisfactory answer” to the problem.

Subsequent fossil collecting, however, has yielded many fossils of organisms that lived before the Cambrian. Fossil beds in Canada (the Burgess shale) and China (the Chengjiang fauna) have also yielded much richer collections of Cambrian fossils than were available to Darwin and his contemporaries. Reviewing the evidence in 1991, Berkeley pa­leontologist James Valentine and his colleagues noted: “During the past 40 years, rocks older than what had now been considered to be the base of the Cambrian have indeed yielded fossils that now permit much more detailed as­sessments of early metazoan [i.e., multicellular animal] evolution.”

What significance does the Cambrian explosion have for evaluating Darwin’s theory that all animals are modified descendants of a common ancestor? As we have seen, Darwin himself considered it a serious problem. Although Dar­win’s theory predicts that animal evolution should proceed from the “bottom up,” with the largest differences emerg­ing last, James Valentine and his colleagues wrote in 1991 that the pattern of the Cambrian explosion “creates the im­pression that metazoan evolution has by and large proceeded from the ‘top down’.”

Since the abruptness and extensiveness of the Cambrian explosion are so well documented, there is no excuse for a biology textbook to deal with the animal fossil record without even mentioning it. Furthermore, since some biolo­gists maintain that the Cambrian explosion presents a challenge—or at least a “paradox”—for one of the fundamental tenets of Darwin’s theory, any biology textbook that doesn’t discuss that challenge fails to provide students with the resources to think critically about the most widely taught scientific explanation for evolution.

BY ATLANTIS RISING STAFF

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