Sunday, May 6, 2007

"Berra's Blunder"

Ask the average person today what evidence they think there is to support the theory of evolution, and most will name the fossil record and (more recently) the fact that the same gentic code is shared by all living things. In my last post, I argued that the genetic code fits the Judeo-Christian explanation as well as it fits Darwinian theory. I want to now make the same claim for the fossil record.

With regard to both the genetic code and the fossil record, I believe a much stronger case can be made for Christian theism than for evolution as the best explanation. But as in my last post, my purpose here is more modest; I hope to use a simple analogy to demonstrate that evolution is not the only--or even the likeliest--conclusion to be drawn from the relevant evidence.

Many people have been led to confuse the fossil record itself with the popular (though problem-plagued) Darwinian explanation for it. The fossil record does reveal that different life forms inhabited the earth at different times. Darwinian evolutionary theory, however, is just one of many attempts to explain this record. Other explanations include punctuated equilibrium theory, intelligent design theory, old-earth creationism, and directed panspermia (the theory that life was seeded here by intelligent beings from elsewhere in the universe).* Proponents of each of these theories agree that the life forms inhabiting earth exhibited differences through time. Based on the evidence, however, they disagree with the notion that earlier species evolved into later species as Darwin hypothesized.

This confusion—of the fossil record itself with a particular explanation for it—was well (albeit inadvertently) illustrated by evolutionist Tim Berra. In attempting to defend Darwinism, Berra used the analogy of a series of car models.
If you compare a 1953 and a 1954 Corvette, side by side, then a 1954 and a 1955 model, and so on, the descent with modification is overwhelmingly obvious. This is what [paleontologists] do with fossils, and the evidence is so solid and comprehensive that it cannot be denied by reasonable people.
This may be a fair analogy for what we see at certain places in the fossil record, but it supports Darwinism only if Corvettes evolve by strictly natural processes, without the involvement of any designers (or manufacturers). Of course, they do not. Berra’s analogy demonstrates that—of the explanations posited for the history of life—intelligent design, old-earth creationism, and even directed panspermia find more support from the fossil record than do Darwinian evolution or other naturalistic theories. This, of course, was not Berra’s intent, and his use of this analogy has been called—by Phillip Johnson—“Berra’s Blunder.” Johnson notes that this blunder was published following review by a number of other scientists. In other words, this muddled thinking—mistaking common design for common ancestry—is prevalent among the biological and educational communities today.

* I do not here include "Flood Geology" because, at least in my opinion, this explanation does not really seek to interact (as do the other ideas listed) with the available evidence. Rather, its validity depends largely on a mischaracterization of the fossil record, a denial of much of the relevant data.


john said...

What is the best analogy for evolution out there (even if you don't think it is ultimately successful?)

Rick Gerhardt said...

Hi John! I'm not sure exactly what you're looking for. But I'll try (in the next few posts) to give a "big-picture" understanding of the place of current Darwinian evolutionary theory in the scheme of scientific knowledge in general. I hope you'll keep reading.

john said...

I'm sorry... what I meant is 'is there an analogy' for evolution that does seem persuasive (even if you don't find it compelling) and not smuggle in intelligence?

What is the best illustration, I guess?

Rick Gerhardt said...

John: I think the only compelling illustrations of evolution are things like dog-breeding, where changes within a species are brought about by selection of desired traits and careful breeding for those traits. At best, this illustrates only microevolution, and its extrapolation to macroevolution (to explain the diversity of all life from a single common ancestor) is without warrant. This illustration has a number of other problems, though, so maybe I'll do a post on it.