At a recent lunch with some co-workers a friend shared a picture he thought was funny. The picture was of the sign for a Christadelphian Meeting Room, which in addition to the name and meeting time also had an area for a short message that could be changed. The message in the picture was “Evolution is a Lie.” What he found humorous was that taped to the sign was a paper that said, “If you have evidence to disprove evolution… then write it down, get it peer reviewed & collect your Nobel prize.”
Regardless of any possible humorous value, this picture does highlight a number problems with this entire issue. The first point is that it is always easy to poke fun at the fringe and the Christadelphian Church is clearly on the fringe. Not only do they reject evolution, they reject most of teachings that have defined Christianity for 2000 years.
Their claim that evolution is a lie is at best hyperbole, and more likely simply absurd. Regardless of what you think about evolution, it is not a lie. A lie is something said with the intent to deceive. The core of a lie is deception not truthfulness. In fact, it is possible to lie while only saying things that are true, if they are said in such a way as to mislead.
Few if any supporting evolution do so because they know that evolution is false, and they are just trying to deceive people into thinking it was true. They believe evolution to be true and that is why they defend it. Evolution can be true or false, but it is not a lie.
The paper taped to the sign is not much better, has it has several problems. Let me take them in reverse order. Let’s assume for a second that someone did have such evidence. Would it really be as simple as getting it peered reviewed and collecting a Nobel Prize? The history of science says no. Science, regardless of its benefits as a method to learn about the natural world, is governed by people. As a community, scientists have beliefs and agendas that get in the way of pure objectivity.
In my book, I cite the example of Alfred Wegener, who had a theory of Continental Displacement, what we would now call Plate Tectonics. When he published his results rather than winning a Nobel Price he was shunned and ridiculed to the point that he could not even get a job teaching in his own country. This was because his theory would have overturned the then current thinking on Geology. It was only 20 years after his death that his theory ceased to be considered pseudoscience and finally came to be accepted. Overturning evolution would be a far more massive change than that proposed by Wegener.
That brings us to the issue of what this “supposed evidence to disprove evolution” might be. Just how would one go about trying to disprove the theory? Evolution is not a repeatable event that can be verified by experiments. If one wanted to “disprove” Gravity one would need to construct an experiment which showed that the mathematical formulas that describe it break down.
But evolution was an historical process. It attempts to describe what happened. So how would one “disprove” it? Find a difference between the theory and the evidence? That already exists. Darwin’s theory involved small changes over long periods of time, but the fossil records shows long periods of stability marked by short periods of change, which has led to the version of evolution called punctuated equilibrium.
This leads to the second problem, which goes to the heart of what is evolution. I have seen a very wide variety of definitions. In short it means many things to many people. I have seen evolutionists define it so broadly as to account for all dogs, or even all canines, evolving from a single type, something even devout 7-day creationists would accept; to a godless and undirected natural process that accounts for the origin of all life.
This later definition is probably the most accurate for the most ardent supporters. It is not tied directly to any evidence, as evidence really does not matter. The theory of evolution will simply adjust itself to include whatever the evidence is found. Given the human ability to rationalize almost anything, it is hard to conceive of anything that could not be fitted in somehow.
After all the core of Darwin’s original theory was small changes over long periods of time. When that was not supported by the evidence, the evidence was simply incorporated into to the theory. In short, Evolution can accommodate large changes or small changes; long periods of change or short periods of change. It is whatever it needs to be. In short, it is a tautology and thus is something that cannot be disproven.
Finally, there is an even deeper issue at play, and it is one that involves the nature of science, particularly when it comes to historical issues such as evolution that do not lend themselves to repeated testing and experimentation. When dealing with such issues, is it the purpose of science to discover what happened, or is science limited only providing a natural explanation? This question is at the core of the debate over the possibility of discovering intelligent design.
The short history of research into intelligent design also shows the absurdity of the claim taped to the church’s sign. Even scientists who accept evolution have found themselves in trouble for even considering the possibility of Intelligent Design. This is because for many, science can only consider natural explanations, and as such, any consideration of Intelligent Design is a priori unscientific. This would be fine if it was then acknowledged that science was correspondingly biased, but strangely few skeptics will acknowledge that point.
The real irony in all this is that within the Christian community, evolution is a matter of open debate. There are Christians who accept evolution, Christians who do not, and some in the middle. One is free to look at the evidence and reach their own conclusion. Within the scientific community, evolution is a belief that can only be questioned at serious risk to one’s career, where even the research into the possibility of Intelligent Design is strongly opposed and condemned. Yet somehow it is the Christians who are closed minded because they consider more than one option.