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MY WORD: Are we creating new arguments against evolution?

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By Rip Rinehart

Chuck Souder's columns often offer a disturbing glimpse into the weird thinking out on the fringes, and his last two on evolution don't disappoint. For instance, I had no idea how prevalent the notion was among certain folks that the Columbine killings could be blamed on belief in evolution, as Mr. Souder proposed in his first column. But enter the name of Columbine killer "Eric Harris" along with the term "natural selection" into Google, and you'll be inundated with nonsense from World Net Daily, the Creation Institute, and scores of fanatical bloggers who share the same profound misunderstanding of evolution and natural selection that afflicted the deeply disturbed Harris and, apparently, Mr. Souder.

The biggest misconception that these self-proclaimed experts share is that "survival of the fittest" means survival of the meanest, cruelest, and most selfish. But as the journal New Scientist says:

"Although the phrase conjures up an image of a violent struggle for survival, in reality the word 'fittest' seldom means the strongest or the most aggressive. On the contrary, it can mean anything from the best camouflaged or the most fecund to the cleverest or the most cooperative. Forget Rambo, think Einstein or Gandhi.

What we see in the wild is not every animal for itself. Cooperation is an incredibly successful survival strategy. Indeed it has been the basis of all the most dramatic steps in the history of life."

At the end of that first column Mr. Souder promised that next time he "would point out some of the many, many problems that the theory of evolution has and how it continually fails to predict what we actually find in the real world." I was anxious to see what he had uncovered that would overturn 150 years of settled science.

Imagine my disappointment when it turned out to be same old discredited myths.

First Mr. Souder spends half of his column pondering the origin of the universe, about which the Theory of Evolution has little to say, being as how its purpose is to explain how things evolved, not how they began.

And it's all downhill from there. We begin the descent with the laughably absurd statement that "the lack of fossil evidence is a major problem for evolutionists."

First, let's understand that the Theory of Evolution does not stand or fall on the existence of fossils of any sort. Furthermore, fossilization is a relatively rare occurrence that happens only under very specific circumstances. So the fossil record is necessarily incomplete.

Yet there's no shortage of fossil evidence that shows a progression of changes within species and links between species. Apparently Mr. Souder has never heard of Lucy, the fossilized remains of a member of a species of early hominids that is widely accepted as a transitional species between apes and modern humans. But Lucy is just one example of many. The fossil record clearly shows organisms that became increasingly complex as time advanced.

Next we move on to the topic of "irreducible complexity." I find it fascinating that Mr. Souder decides to reference Michael Bebe here, referring to his book as "ground-breaking." Although I have to wonder if Mr. Souder has actually read the book, since Bebe fully accepts most of the tenets of evolution and natural selection, and only questions how they apply at the biochemical level. As he says in the book:

"For the record, I have no reason to doubt that the universe is the billions of years old that physicists say it is. Further, I find the idea of common descent (that all organisms share a common ancestor) fairly convincing, and have no particular reason to doubt it. I greatly respect the work of my colleagues who study the development and behavior of organisms within an evolutionary framework, and I think that evolutionary biologists have contributed enormously to our understanding of the world."

Finally Mr. Souder attempts the favorite antiscience trick of pointing to legitimate scientific controversies as proof that all of the science is wrong. "Evolutionists still have to figure out how red-blood cells were found in dinosaur bones, helium has been found in rocks, and carbon-14 has been found in fossils that were all supposedly millions of years old," he claims.

The idea that helium is found in rocks is based on the thoroughly debunked work of a young Earth creationist named D.R. Humphreys. Carbon-14 dating is not reliable for objects older than about 50,000 years because the radioactivity of the carbon is swamped by background radiation.

As for red blood cells in dinosaur bones, I'm glad Mr. Souder brought that up. I believe he's referring to the findings of Mary Schweitzer, a molecular paleontologist at North Carolina State University. Schweitzer did indeed find pliable tissue resembling blood vessels in a 68-million-year-old fossil. And this was indeed surprising, since generally such tissue decays and disappears over time. But rather than throwing up her hands and interpreting these unexpected findings as proof that we don't know how to date fossils, she continued her research and recently announced that she believes the tissue was preserved by free iron radicals that can act like a sort of formaldehyde under certain conditions, preserving the tissue over many millions of years.

That's one of the reasons that I'm glad Mr. Souder mentioned this. It's a great example of how real science works.

And it also happens to be an example of how faith and science are not incompatible.

You see, Mary Schweitzer describes herself as "a complete and total Christian." Yet she also accepts the reality of evolution, just as millions of Christians do, including the Catholic Church, whose chief astronomer has rejected creationism as "pretend science."

Schweitzer was horrified when the radical creationist crowd latched on to her initial findings for their anti-scientific propaganda. Quoted in Smithsonian Magazine, she said of them: "They treat you really bad. They twist your words and they manipulate your data."

For her, as with many people of faith and reason, religion and science are two different views of the same thing. Faith explains why. Science explains how. We should let each do what they do best. The constant conflict that people like Mr. Souder keep stirred up is artificial, counterproductive and unnecessary.

 

Rip Rinehart is a software consultant with a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering. He lives in Shelbyville.