Is Evolution a Fact?
“EVOLUTION is as much a fact as the heat of the sun,” asserts Professor Richard Dawkins, a prominent evolutionary scientist. Of course, experiments and direct observations prove that the sun is hot. But do experiments and direct observations provide the teaching of evolution with the same undisputed support?
Before we answer that question, something needs to be cleared up. Many scientists have noted that over time, the descendants of living things may change slightly. Charles Darwin called this process “descent with subsequent modification.” Such changes have been observed directly, recorded in experiments, and used ingeniously by plant and animal breeders.* These changes can be considered facts. However, scientists attach to such slight changes the term “microevolution.” Even the name implies what many scientists assert—that these minute changes furnish the proof for an altogether different phenomenon, one that no one has observed, which they call macroevolution.
You see, Darwin went far beyond such observable changes. He wrote in his famous book The Origin of Species: “I view all beings not as special creations, but as the lineal descendants of some few beings.” Darwin said that over vast periods of time, these original “few beings,” or so-called simple life-forms, slowly evolved—by means of “extremely slight modifications”—into the millions of different forms of life on earth. Evolutionists teach that these small changes accumulated and produced the big changes needed to make fish into amphibians and apes into men. These proposed big changes are referred to as macroevolution. To many, this second claim sounds reasonable. They wonder, ‘If small changes can occur within a species, why should not evolution produce big changes over long periods of time?’*
The teaching of macroevolution rests on three main assumptions:
1. Mutations provide the raw materials needed to create new species.*
2. Natural selection leads to the production of new species.
3. The fossil record documents macroevolutionary changes in plants and animals.
Is the evidence for macroevolution so strong that it should be considered a fact?
Can Mutations Produce New Species?
Many details of a plant or an animal are determined by the instructions contained in its genetic code, the blueprints that are wrapped up in the nucleus of each cell.* Researchers have discovered that mutations—or random changes—in the genetic code can produce alterations in the descendants of plants and animals. In 1946, Hermann J. Muller, Nobel Prize winner and founder of the study of mutation genetics, claimed: “Not only is this accumulation of many rare, mainly tiny changes the chief means of artificial animal and plant improvement, but it is, even more, the way in which natural evolution has occurred, under the guidance of natural selection.”
Indeed, the teaching of macroevolution is built upon the claim that mutations can produce not only new species but also entirely new families of plants and animals. Is there any way to test this bold claim? Well, consider what some 100 years of study in the field of genetic research has revealed.
In the late 1930’s, scientists enthusiastically embraced the idea that if natural selection could produce new species of plants from random mutations, then artificial, or human-guided, selection of mutations should be able to do so more efficiently. “Euphoria spread among biologists in general and geneticists and breeders in particular,” said Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig, a scientist from the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in Germany, who was interviewed by Awake! Why the euphoria? Lönnig, who has spent some 28 years studying mutation genetics in plants, said: “These researchers thought the time had come to revolutionize the traditional method of breeding plants and animals. They thought that by inducing and selecting favorable mutations, they could produce new and better plants and animals.”*
Scientists in the United States, Asia, and Europe launched well-funded research programs, using methods that promised to speed up evolution. After more than 40 years of intensive research, what were the results? “In spite of an enormous financial expenditure,” says researcher Peter von Sengbusch, “the attempt to cultivate increasingly productive varieties by irradiation, widely proved to be a failure.” Lönnig said: “By the 1980’s, the hopes and euphoria among scientists had ended in worldwide failure. Mutation breeding as a separate branch of research was abandoned in Western countries. Almost all the mutants exhibited ‘negative selection values,’ that is, they died or were weaker than wild varieties.”*
Even so, the data now gathered from some 100 years of mutation research in general and 70 years of mutation breeding in particular enable scientists to draw conclusions regarding the ability of mutations to produce new species. After examining the evidence, Lönnig concluded: “Mutations cannot transform an original species [of plant or animal] into an entirely new one. This conclusion agrees with all the experiences and results of mutation research of the 20th century taken together as well as with the laws of probability. Thus, the law of recurrent variation implies that genetically properly defined species have real boundaries that cannot be abolished or transgressed by accidental mutations.”
Consider the implications of the above facts. If highly trained scientists are unable to produce new species by artificially inducing and selecting favorable mutations, is it likely that an unintelligent process would do a better job? If research shows that mutations cannot transform an original species into an entirely new one, then how, exactly, was macroevolution supposed to have taken place?
Does Natural Selection Lead to the Creation of New Species?
Darwin believed that what he called natural selection would favor those life-forms best suited to the environment, while less suitable life-forms would eventually die off. Modern evolutionists teach that as species spread and became isolated, natural selection chose those whose gene mutations made them most fit for their new environment. As a result, evolutionists postulate, these isolated groups eventually developed into totally new species.
As previously noted, the evidence from research strongly indicates that mutations cannot produce entirely new kinds of plants or animals. Nevertheless, what proof do evolutionists provide to support the claim that natural selection chooses beneficial mutations to produce new species? A brochure published in 1999 by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in the United States says: “A particularly compelling example of speciation [the evolution of new species] involves the 13 species of finches studied by Darwin on the Galápagos Islands, now known as Darwin’s finches.”
In the 1970’s, a research group led by Peter and Rosemary Grant began studying these finches and discovered that after a year of drought, finches that had slightly bigger beaks survived more readily than those with smaller beaks. Since the size and shape of the beaks is one of the primary ways of determining the 13 species of finches, these findings were assumed to be significant. “The Grants have estimated,” continues the brochure, “that if droughts occur about once every 10 years on the islands, a new species of finch might arise in only about 200 years.”
However, the NAS brochure neglects to mention some significant but awkward facts. In the years following the drought, finches with smaller beaks again dominated the population. Thus, Peter Grant and graduate student Lisle Gibbs wrote in the science journal Nature in 1987 that they had seen “a reversal in the direction of selection.” In 1991, Grant wrote that “the population, subjected to natural selection, is oscillating back and forth” each time the climate changes. The researchers also noticed that some of the different “species” of finches were interbreeding and producing offspring that survived better than the parents. Peter and Rosemary Grant concluded that if the interbreeding continued, it could result in the fusion of two “species” into just one within 200 years.
Back in 1966, evolutionary biologist George Christopher Williams wrote: “I regard it as unfortunate that the theory of natural selection was first developed as an explanation for evolutionary change. It is much more important as an explanation for the maintenance of adaptation.” Evolutionary theorist Jeffrey Schwartz wrote in 1999 that if Williams’ conclusions are correct, natural selection may be helping species to adapt to the changing demands of existence, but “it is not creating anything new.”
Indeed, Darwin’s finches are not becoming “anything new.” They are still finches. And the fact that they are interbreeding casts doubt on the methods some evolutionists use to define a species. In addition, they expose the fact that even prestigious scientific academies are not above reporting evidence in a biased manner.
Does the Fossil Record Document Macroevolutionary Changes?
The previously mentioned NAS brochure leaves the reader with the impression that the fossils found by scientists more than adequately document macroevolution. It declares: “So many intermediate forms have been discovered between fish and amphibians, between amphibians and reptiles, between reptiles and mammals, and along the primate lines of descent that it often is difficult to identify categorically when the transition occurs from one to another particular species.”
This confident statement is quite surprising. Why? In 2004, National Geographic described the fossil record as being like “a film of evolution from which 999 of every 1,000 frames have been lost on the cutting-room floor.” Do the remaining one-in-a-thousand “frames” really document the process of macroevolution? What does the fossil record actually show? Niles Eldredge, a staunch evolutionist, admits that the record shows that for long periods of time, “little or no evolutionary change accumulates in most species.”
To date, scientists worldwide have unearthed and cataloged some 200 million large fossils and billions of microfossils. Many researchers agree that this vast and detailed record shows that all the major groups of animals appeared suddenly and remained virtually unchanged, with many species disappearing as suddenly as they arrived. After reviewing the evidence of the fossil record, biologist Jonathan Wells writes: “At the level of kingdoms, phyla, and classes, descent with modification from common ancestors is obviously not an observed fact. To judge from the fossil and molecular evidence, it’s not even a well-supported theory.”
Evolution—Fact or Myth?
Why do many prominent evolutionists insist that macroevolution is a fact? After criticizing some of Richard Dawkins’ reasoning, influential evolutionist Richard Lewontin wrote that many scientists are willing to accept scientific claims that are against common sense “because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.”* Many scientists refuse even to consider the possibility of an intelligent Designer because, as Lewontin writes, “we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”
In this regard, sociologist Rodney Stark is quoted in Scientific American as saying: “There’s been 200 years of marketing that if you want to be a scientific person you’ve got to keep your mind free of the fetters of religion.” He further notes that in research universities “the religious people keep their mouths shut,” while “irreligious people discriminate.” According to Stark, “there’s a reward system to being irreligious in the upper echelons [of the scientific community].”
If you are to accept the teaching of macroevolution as true, you must believe that agnostic or atheistic scientists will not let their personal beliefs influence their interpretations of scientific findings. You must believe that mutations and natural selection produced all complex life-forms, despite the fact that a century of research, the study of billions of mutations, shows that mutations have not transformed even one properly defined species into something entirely new. You must believe that all creatures gradually evolved from a common ancestor, despite the fact that the fossil record strongly indicates that the major kinds of plants and animals appeared abruptly and did not evolve into other kinds, even over aeons of time. Does that type of belief sound as though it is based on fact or on a myth?
Dog breeders can selectively mate their animals so that eventually the descendants have shorter legs or longer hair than their forebears. However, the changes dog breeders can produce often result from losses in gene function. For example, the dachshund’s small size is caused by a failure of normal development of cartilage, resulting in dwarfism.
While the word “species” is used frequently in this article, it should be noted that this term is not found in the Bible book of Genesis, which uses the much more inclusive term “kind.” Often, what scientists choose to call the evolution of a new species is simply a matter of variation within a “kind,” as the word is used in the Genesis account.
See the box “How Organisms Are Classified.”
Research shows that the cell’s cytoplasm, its membranes, and other structures also play a role in shaping an organism.
Lönnig’s comments in this article are his own and do not represent the opinion of the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research.
Mutation experiments repeatedly found that the number of new mutants steadily declined, while the same type of mutants regularly appeared. Lönnig deduced from this phenomenon the “law of recurrent variation.” In addition, less than 1 percent of plant mutations were chosen for further research, and less than 1 percent of this group were found suitable for commercial use. The results of mutation breeding in animals were even worse than for plants, and the method was abandoned entirely.
Materialism, in this sense, refers to the theory that physical matter is the only or fundamental reality, that everything in the universe, including all life, came into existence without any supernatural intervention in the process.
[Blurb on page 15]
“Mutations cannot transform an original species [of plant or animal] into an entirely new one”
[Blurb on page 16]
At best, Darwin’s finches show that a species can adapt to changing climates
[Blurb on page 17]
According to the fossil record, all the major groups of animals appeared suddenly and remained virtually unchanged
[Chart on page 14]
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HOW ORGANISMS ARE CLASSIFIED
Organisms are classified into increasingly inclusive groups, from specific species to kingdoms.* Compare, for example, the classifications of humans and of fruit flies listed below.
HUMANS FRUIT FLIES
Species sapiens melanogaster
Genus Homo Drosophila
Family Hominids Drosophilids
Order Primates Diptera
Class Mammals Insects
Phylum Chordates Arthropods
Kingdom Animals Animals
Note: Genesis chapter 1 states that plants and animals would reproduce “according to their kinds.” (Genesis 1:12, 21, 24, 25) However, the Biblical term “kind” is not a scientific term and should not be confused with the scientific designation “species.”
Chart based on the book Icons of Evolution—Science or Myth? Why Much of What We Teach About Evolution Is Wrong, by Jonathan Wells
[Pictures on page 15]
A mutant fruit fly (at top), while malformed, is still a fruit fly
© Dr. Jeremy Burgess/Photo Researchers, Inc.
[Pictures on page 15]
Plant mutation experiments repeatedly found that the number of new mutants steadily declined, while the same type of mutants regularly appeared (Mutant shown has larger flowers)
[Picture Credit Line on page 13]
From a Photograph by Mrs. J. M. Cameron/U.S. National Archives photo
[Picture Credit Line on page 16]
Finch heads: © Dr. Jeremy Burgess/Photo Researchers, Inc.
[Picture Credit Lines on page 17]
Dinosaur: © Pat Canova/Index Stock Imagery; fossils: GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty Images