Saturday, September 22, 2007

Bird Evolution

A couple of days ago, I received the September issue of the monthly newsletter of the Seattle chapter of Reasons To Believe. The feature article in it is by your blog host (that is, yours truly, er, actually, me) and is titled "Bird Evolution: The Evidence." In it, I examine the evidence available to us today from a wide array of disciplines (including ones that didn't exist in Darwin's day) to see which view--Darwin's theory of evolution or the typological view held by most of his contemporaries--is better supported. (Typology held that the generally groupings into which living--and extinct--organisms fall are unbridgeable, and that Darwin's hypothetical transitional forms are incoherent and non-functional.)

Here are the concluding paragraphs of my article...
If Darwin made any positive contribution to our understanding of life on Earth, it was in helping move us away from a view of complete stasis and immutability, a belief that each species was exactly as created and that populations of living things were invariable across time. But the alternative noncontroversial view–what we now call “microevolution”–was already well on its way to acceptance even among the typologists among Darwin’s contemporaries, largely because of the evidence from the fossil record. What Darwin’s theory sought to do was to extrapolate microevolutionary variation to account for the existence and diversity of all life. As this paper has shown, such extrapolation has garnered little or no evidentiary support in the decades since Darwin. Instead, a typological view–albeit one that sees the limits to variation at the generic or familial (rather than the specific) level–remains the one that corresponds to the evidence. We have examined evidence from cosmology, comparative anatomy, cell biology and biochemistry, genomics, ecology, paleogeology, and paleontology, and have at every step encountered problems for the macroevolutionary paradigm.

Darwin asked, “...why, if species have descended from other species by insensibly fine gradations, do we not everywhere see innumerable transitional forms? Why is not all nature in confusion instead of the species being, as we see them, well defined?” His own answer, that the fossil record is incomplete, is no longer satisfactory. Indeed, once a variety of scientific evidence is brought to bear on this question, the answer that emerges is very similar to that of Darwin’s contemporary skeptics. The distinctions between groups of dissimilar organisms are based in necessity, and intermediate and transitional forms are undiscovered because they are nonexistent and incoherent. If scientific understanding is based on evidence rather than speculation, then Darwin’s theory is rightly understood as far inferior to the typological view it was formulated to supplant.
If you'd like a .pdf copy of this article, just email me ( and ask for one.

(Don't worry... I'll get back to the "problem" of evil shortly.)


Dan McCarthy said...

I think that this would be a great beginning to a long paper or book!


Anonymous said...

Rick - "the alternative noncontroversial view–what we now call “microevolution”"

Do you believe that it is possible to accept microevolution, without accepting evolution on the whole? I don't know if it is possible.

Creationism is top-down: Intelligence created everything.
Naturalism is bottom-up: Intelligence was simply a development from everything (evolution).
I don't see how one could hold a belief in both at the same time.

Rick Gerhardt said...

Anonymous: You asked...

Do you believe that it is possible to accept microevolution, without accepting evolution on the whole? I don't know if it is possible.

Of course it's possible to believe in microevolution without making the extrapolation to naturalistic macroevolution. Microevolution is the name given to the non-controversial recognition that humans average 6 inches taller than they did 100 years ago or that bacterial populations can develop resistance to antibiotics. It is easy (and quite logical and reasonable) to accept these sorts of observations and yet not think that the mechanisms responsible for such minor changes within a population can therefore be extrapolated as the explanation for the origin of humans or of bacteria in the first place.

Your characterization of creationism represents a straw-man, and your contrast of it with naturalism is a false dichotomy. I don't know of a single creationist (of any era) who would have denied that the Creator uses natural processes (the physical laws with which He endowed the universe and living things).

I'd be glad to interact with you about this. Why don't you email me at