Science vs. Evolution

Written by M. Bowden Reviewed By William K. Kay

I am glad that books like this can be published. Creationism is the subject very often of vituperation and detestation but Bowden’s tone is always level, reasonable and sometimes mildly humorous.

Evolution as a theory demands knowledge of several scientific disciplines. Certainly botany, zoology, physics, geology and chemistry have their part to play and, in modern discussion, some understanding of genetics and organic chemistry is also necessary. Simple pronouncements from the perspectives of one discipline do not on their own stand much chance of commanding attention. Bowden’s approach is to divide his book into four sections. The first deals with geology and examines fossil evidence within various rock strata and what are thought to be human remains; the second concerns biology and looks at evidence for and against a classic Darwinian model of evolution; the third deals with physics and concentrates on radiometric and other methods of dating; and the last section briefly sketches in the rise of evolutionism as a broad body of received opinion propagated by the media and in textbooks. Finally there are appendices on archaeopteryx, the Piltdown hoax, a well-known account of the distribution and incidence of differently coloured moths and finally a short section devoted to Dawkins’ rhetorical and other persuasive devices.

To take three examples of Bowden’s approach: he is surely correct to point to the circularity of the reasoning which dates rock strata by the fossils they contain and fossils by the rock strata in which they are situated. He is also correct in pointing out that the absence of intermediate types is a matter of some embarrassment to the convinced evolutionist—especially as writers such as S.J. Gould have had to advance a neo-evolutionary theory of ‘punctuated equilibrium’ which proposes that new species arose suddenly as a result of severe ecological disturbances; the suddenness of the arrival of new species prevents the survival of intermediate forms.

Anyone who has read Richard Dawkins will have detected his occasional gratuitous anti-biblical tone. Bowden’s demonstration of a number of logical or methodological mistakes in Dawkins’ vaunted computerized simulation of evolution is therefore welcome. In essence Dawkins’ results, which are intended to show how rapidly evolutionary change can take place, suffer from the defect that changes only seem to be allowed to take place towards a predetermined target. Once elements of his, main variable reach the target (which is analogous to a successful evolutionary form), random changes away from this form are ruled out by the programming. Consequently it can have little value.

The biology textbooks of the 1960s and ‘70s used to contain pictures of horse fossils to illustrate the development of the hoof from a four-toed original. Very often, too, pictures or diagrams of embryos were shown which purported to recapitulate evolutionary stages from gills to lungs and from a tailed to a non-tailed human child. So far as the horse fossils are concerned, it seems that several similar-looking species were chosen to build up the desired sequence; so far as the embryos were concerned, it is now clear that much of the evidence was faked and it has gradually passed over in silence as a proof of evolution.

This perhaps is indicative of the turbulence in the evolution/creation debate as a whole. There have undoubtedly been hoaxes on the evolutionary side, just as there has been some dogmatic hermeneutics on the creationist side. Bowden does not venture far into hermeneutical issues except insofar as he considers the relationship between the word ‘kind’ of Genesis, 1 and ‘species’ as it is commonly used. In his view the ‘kinds’ of Genesis are a great deal broader than the rather narrower band of ‘species’. Once it is admitted that there may be considerable variation within species, but no cross-breeding of kinds, then certain aspects of the controversy are soluble.

No single author is likely to overturn the massive consensus in favour of evolution which now runs as an explanatory motif beyond its parent discipline into sociology and ethnology. Part of the power of an evolutionary explanation is that it appears, like gravity, to be able to make sense of a huge variety of phenomena of different kinds. But Bowden’s book reminds me of good investigative journalism and that, as we know, has more than once brought a government down.

William K. Kay

Mattersey Hall