For mutuations to provide the raw materials on which natural selection can operate, two things need to happen. First, the “mutants” must be viable (that is, able to survive, and capable of reproducing). Second, the mutation must be heritable.
The Arguments for and against
by Stephen C Meyer, Paul A Nelson, Jonathan Moneymaker, Scott Minnich and Ralph Seelke, Hillhouse Publishers, ISBN 978-0-947352-51-6
Why does this matter?
Not another book about evolution, you may be thinking! But here is a textbook which says what some of us have suspected for some time- that it is the science of neo-Darwinism that is far from settled. And if that is so, the implications are substantial.
Few theories pose such fundamental challenges to a Christian or indeed a wider religious view of life and the universe as does neo-Darwinism. And to question Darwinism is to court ridicule, abuse, and in some cases terminal career damage.
The attempts to harmonise Darwinism, which at its core holds that life is the result of blind and purposeless forces, and Christian belief always lead to major concessions to secular thought. But if the science does not sustain the grand Darwinian claims, then the implications for both theism and atheism are substantial.
A great deal is at stake here. Darwinian evolution is not only presented as indisputable fact, but it has permeated Western culture to an astonishing degree. It is, in effect, a protected theory, beyond critical investigation. Its processes are said to explain phenomena in areas far from biology, such as cosmology, sociology, philosophy and even theology. In fact it has become the universal explanation for almost everything, even contradictory observations. Darwinism has been used, variously, to justify eugenics, abortion, human-animal embryo experimentation and even genocide. If Darwinism is true, life is no more than a lucky cosmic accident, and moral values simply raw survival mechanisms.
But what if, as this book suggests, Darwinism is not secure scientifically and only plays a modest part in the origin and development of life? What if Darwinism has become no more than the secular world's creation myth? Interestingly, philosopher of science Prof Michael Ruse has recently identified evolution as a 'religion' and a 'secular ideology, an explicit substitute for Christianity'.
It's not a religious book
Although Explore Evolution is not in any sense a religious work, it has an important message for Christians who are increasingly embracing Darwinism and various forms of theistic evolution. Not so fast it says. The evidence for evolution is not all that secure. So be careful where you go with philosophy and theology!
When you've read this book you may consider it a scandal that scientific dissent from Darwinism is not tolerated in formal education, even though some who work within it will privately concede that neo-Darwinism claims too much from the available evidence.
You may also wonder why we have allowed several generations of students to be virtually brainwashed with a neo-Darwinian theory of biology that treats the available evidence with a level of arrogance that is inconsistent with proper scientific investigation.
A textbook like no other
Explore Evolution is the only biology textbook I'm aware of that gives students a thorough understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence for Darwinian evolution. It presents the case for, as well as the case against, aspects of Darwinian evolution such as the creative power of natural selection and universal common descent. Its approach is thoroughly evidence-based and is aimed at developing students' critical thinking. In this respect it differs markedly from other biology textbooks which generally settle for reciting uncritically the consensus on neo-Darwinism.
The authors include biology professors who do research on evolution-related topics, philosophers of science who have specialised in studying the logic of evolutionary arguments, and a science curriculum writer. The text has been peer-reviewed by a number of scientists and teachers, including university lecturers in biology, high school teachers, and doctoral scientists working for industry and government.
It's all about the science
The remarkable thing about this book is that it is all about the science of evolution. It is aimed at students at college and university, and will also be helpful to high school students. Any interested reader will benefit from its lucid and dispassionate treatment of the scientific method and the nature of scientific deduction. It is also, remarkably, a very good exposition of evolutionary theory in a way that will help biology students understand their courses and pass their exams. At all points, the treatment is interesting and accessible to students with only a relatively modest background in the subject.
What is meant by 'evolution' anyway?
The book clarifies the various meanings of the term 'evolution' explaining the major differences between change over time or adaptation, common descent, and the creative power of natural selection. The authors show how important it is to separate these differing strands of Darwinism in order to assess properly the strength of the supporting evidence. It will come as a surprise to many students that while the evidence for adaptation, or microevolution, is clear the empirical basis of the other strands is much less certain.
And how good is the evidence?
Each of the main areas of evidence for evolution is considered in detail. These include fossil succession, anatomical and molecular homology, embryology, biogeography, natural selection and mutation. In each case the strands of evidence are set out in a style which makes evolutionary theory intelligible. Equally illuminating are the expositions of different i nterpretations of the scientific evidence which do not support the neo-Darwinian synthesis. What becomes apparent is that the evidence adduced for the grand story of evolution is highly debateable and that alternative explanations are highly credible.
Can evolution generate genetic information and complexity?
It is in the area of the creative power of mutation and natural selection that the disagreements about the scientific evidence are at their most obvious. The accepted position of evolutionists is that natural selection acting on random mutations can generate the vast complexity of the living world. However, this book adduces clear scientific evidence of the grossly exaggerated nature of these claims. It also confronts neo-Darwinism with the discovery of the vast information content of the living cell and its complete inability to explain the origin of that information. It becomes clear that if evolutionary theory cannot pronounce unambiguously here, then it is in real trouble.
This book also exposes traditional evolutionary theory to more demanding challenges from current scientific work. This includes the irreducible complexity of molecular machines such as the bacterial flagellum which bears all the hallmarks of designed and engineered systems. The challenge here is to sustain the Darwinian hypothesis of 'numerous, successive, slight modifications' which now seems highly unlikely.
You need to buy this book!
Although some of the above sounds a bit technical, the book is written in a highly accessible and flowing style. It is ideal for college lecturers, high school teachers of biology and general science, home-school educators, parents and interested adults.
But don't take my word for it. Buy this book, read it, discuss it, assess the arguments and ask yourself, is evolution as secure as it is said to be? And if not, what does that mean for science, for philosophy and, indeed, for the deep questions of our existence?
I commend it to young people in churches and youth fellowships where it could form the basis of discussions of how the science of origins and faith overlap.
Reviewer: Dr Alastair Noble
Former HM Inspector of Schools in Scotland and Educational Consultant
God's Undertaker - Has Science buried God?
Prof John Lennox, Lion, ISBN 9-780825-479120
Darwin on Trial
Prof Philip Johnson, IVP, ISBN078-0-8308-3831-0
Signature in the Cell
Dr Steven Meyer, HarperOne, ISBN 978-0-06-147278-7
The Edge of Evolution
Prof Michael Behe, Free Press, ISBN 9-780743-296205
Evolution under the Microscope
Dr David Swift, Leighton, ISBN 0-9543589-0-2