Imagine you are sitting in a university lecture theatre, the lecturer gives a full day presentation on Darwinian Evolution. You are shown evidence from anatomy, fossils, embryology, genetics, and Bio-geography and told it is beyond doubt that the Darwin was right. Since God was right we do not need God as an explanation. How would you react to this avalanche of indisputable evidence?
Most people would simply accept what they are told and go with the crowd, No one wants to be the odd one out. Whether you are religious or nonreligious we can all agree accepting something without critically analyzing it is blind following and that can’t be a good thing.
This pamphlet has been put together to give you an alternative view. Although Darwinian Evolution is a working model, theory and paradigm it is not a fact in sense of being absolute, certain and unchangeable.. There is huge difference between the academic understanding of Darwinian evolution and the public understanding.
If all this sounds odd as all your life you have been taught this theory is as true as the shape of the earth then your not alone, millions of people of earth are on the same boat, you may think
Terms of Engagement
It is important to highlight from the outset that all of the biologists and philosophers cited below are mainstream secular academics, in other words they don’t have any religious bias against Darwinian Evolution. Also we need to define ‘Darwinian Evolution’ and ‘Evolution’.
Evolution simply means Biological change over time, it was first used in the English language in the 17th century. Evolution as it’s most basic meaning is an observable phenomena which is uncontroversial and had been known for a long time. For example butteries of the various species alive today go back a common ancestral butterfly. Likewise the pitbull and the chiwawa going back come from a common ancestor.
In 1809 french Biologist Jean bapsite lamarck published Philosophie Zoologique, in it he for the first time in Science he tried to put together a theory of evolution. His theory had two parts one was a history of evolution on earth and a mechanism of how this evolution may have taken place.
Lamarck assumed the history of evolution to be like a hedge. He assumed there were multiple origins of life and multiple line of evolution taking place. This happened by the mechanism known as inheritance of acquired characteristics.
Darwin came along in 1859 and put forward an alternative theory of evolution which also had two parts. Darwin proposed history of evolution on earth was a tree. Rather than multiple origins of life, Darwin assumed there was only one origin of life and all life evolved from this. The mechanism of how this evolution may have taken place was natural selection.
Darwin’s theory took centre stage and alternatives like Lamarckian Evolution were ignored by the scientific community. Over time the term evolution and Darwinian Evolution started to be used interchangeably and this lead to to a great deal of confusion. This is why it’s important to use the term evolution in the correct manner. Evolution is uncontroversial, it is the simple observation of biological change. Specific histories of evolution can be made such as lamarck’s hedge or Darwin’s tree, likewise specific mechanisms of evolutionary change can be made such as natural selection and inheritance of acquired characteristics.
Sometimes zealous proponents of Darwinian Evolution deliberately conflate Evolution and Darwin’s theory. This creates the impression that Darwinian Evolution is clear observation in nature and therefore is undeniable. If someone accepts that Evolution and Darwinian Evolution is the same thing then all that is is needed to prove that the tree of life is true is the observation of bacteria evolving to resisting medicine.This is obviously false and is a formal logical fallacy known as ‘Equivocation’.
So each term needs to be used correctly or else there will be a great deal of confusion and people will be taking past each other!
Science and certainty
The scientific revolution has brought with it tremendous technological advancements. Every part of our daily lives is touched, from checking our facebook on our smartphone first thing in the morning to clapping to switch off the lights at night. Due to the unprecedented impact of Science on human well being, it’s practitioners, conclusions and predictions are taken as sacred and absolute.
However there is marked difference between the way Science is perceived and the way it is actually pursued. Take the following statement of evolutionary Biologist and senior editor of the journal Nature: In reality, the more we discover, the more we realise we don’t know. Science is not so much about knowledge as doubt. Never in the field of human inquiry have so many known so little about so much.
That’s quite a different picture to what the general public has in mind. Gee is not on his own in this view of science, philosophers of Science, the people who study how science works also acknowledge that all Scientific theories are open to change and that Science can never lead to certainty.
Science works by taking a limited set of observations and making a general theory. There are two reasons why these theories are provisional. Firstly you may have new observations that can challenge your existing theory and the same observations can give rise to different theories. Because of these two reasons all scientific theories can never be absolute. In Philosophy of Science: A New Introduction by Oxford University it explains “Science is revisable. Hence talk of scientific ‘proof’ is dangerous, because the term fosters the idea of conclusions that are graven in stone.” Darwinian evolution (aka as Darwinism) is a scientific theory so it is also not absolute. Oxford University Professor Richard Dawkins admits to this reality: We must acknowledge the possibility that new facts may come to light which will force our successors of the twenty-first century to abandon Darwinism or modify it beyond recognition. The fact that science can change is not a negative thing, it is the beauty of the scientific method that previous theories can change.
The idea that Darwinian evolution is a fact is simply not true. Although we can still accept it as a working model, theory and paradigm. At closer inspection Darwinian evolution is still at best speculative, based on assumptions and there are disputes about it’s most fundamental ideas.
Working out the history of life on earth is difficult task for two simple reasons, firstly we are talking about something that happened a very long time ago and secondly there is an incredibly large set of data that is missing.
Life has been around for about 4 billion years and 99.999% of all living things are estimated to be undiscovered. So whatever you try and make is bound to be speculative. In the journal Science it gives the analogy of working out the history of life like working out the plot of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace with 13 randomly selected pages! Biologists can look at the history of life and come up with a number of interpretations such as single origin of life or multiple origins of life, universal common ancestor or multiple common ancestors, gradualism or rapid changes, increasing progressive complexity or non progression, hedge of life or tree of life or bush of life or web of life, whatever interpretation you make can be challenged by another alternative one. It is impossible to give a definitive answer regarding the history of life.
There is a popular narrative that because there is similarities between different species, there is assumed to be common ancestor between them, this is known as homology. Again homology is a speculative assumption, no one was around billions of years to watch how one species lead to another distant one. Also since we only have observed 0.0001% of life any tree that is made to show genealogical relationships is incredibly difficult. Apart from the fact that homology is an assumption, there is a major problem with this assumption, since similarities are assumed to be due to common descent then conversely there must be differences that are not. Now the question arises how much similarity is needed for homology to be correct? This is a difficult question to answer and there is no clear answer.
If that wasn’t speculative enough there is a major problem for the assumption of homology- we have observed similarities in different species that can not possibility be due to common decent, this is known as homoplasy, the exact opposite of the assumption of homology. Philosophers of Mainstream secular academics are in agreement that homology is based on a probabilistic framework, which has assumptions and ad hoc hypothesis and there are difficult conceptual problems within it. In the Cambridge university publication ‘Evidence and Evolution, the logic behind the Science’ it explains ‘Both of the following thoughts are therefore naive: ”humans and chimps must share a common ancestor because they are so similar” and ”humans and mushrooms must have arisen independently because they are so different. There is no must within a probabilistic framework.’ So whether you look at physical similarities or genetic similarities homology is a still speculative.
There are a number of assumptions that Darwinian evolution is based on upon and many of these assumptions are being challenged by new evidence and new interpretations.
It was assumed that Genes are only transmitted Vertically meaning from parent from offspring, recently we have discovered the process of Horizontal Gene Transfer (HGT). HGT has been documented in animals and plants for example one study showed up to 25% of the genes in a Cow are from snakes[x].
Darwin assumed evolution to take place in extremely small steps, this assumption of gradualism has always been controversial yet it an absolutely essential part of darwin;s theory. Recently there have been a number of studies challenging this gradualist view and there is lots of disagreement amongst evolutionary biologists about gradualism and rapid evolutionary change.
Tree of life is probably the most well recognized symbol of Darwinism. Darwin assumed all of all life came from one cell in the remote past and slowly and gradually there was break up of species in a branching tree pattern. The tree of life is the only figure in the origin of species and since then it has been taught all across the world, you can’t open up any book on Biology except that it is there. However in the past couple of years the some Biologists are politely burying the tree and replacing it with a radical alternative, a web of life!
One of the central ideas of put forward by proponents of Darwinism is that traits that you acquire in your lifetime can’t be inherited by your descendants. The blacksmith’s tough arms are not inherited by his children, no matter how much they develop through his tough routine. Richard Dawkins in his bestselling book ‘The selfish gene’ argues it is impossible that such developed traits can be passed on. However recent studies have directly observed such traits being passed on. This new area of development is called epigenetics and is revolutionizing the way we think about biological change.
Evolutionary change needs a source of novelty. Proponents of Darwinian Evolution assumed this source is random mutations. So everything that exists today was assumed to be a result of the accumulation of random mutations. Again this assumption is being challenged by new studies. Bioloigists have observed mutations are activated by external factors, so they are directed mutations.
These are some of the assumptions that are being challenged by new evidence. According to Oxford University biologist Denis Noble: All the central assumptions of Neo-Darwinism have been disproven. Noble’s view is rare amongst Biologists, the point of mentioning these assumptions and how they are being challenged is to show the changing nature of scientific ideas and that there is live discussion going on.
The popular view that Darwinian evolution is a fact is challenged when we discover that some Biologists challenge the most fundamental ideas about Darwinian evolution and even go so far as to propose compete alternatives. Below are five alternatives to Darwinian Evolution:
Evolution by Natural Genetic Engineering (ENGS)
According to the standard darwinian theory the randomness of mutations is the clay that natural selection shapes into all sorts of novel species. Though this has been taught and retold in numerous popular publications and documentaries, some evolutionary theorists claim there is lack of evidence that random mutations can make anything useful. James Shapiro is one of the innovative Biologists who is challenging this central pillar of Darwinism. Shapiro is using contemporary research in mutations to make a completely new evolutionary paradigm. In Evolution: A View from the 21st Century Shapiro explains why Evolution by Natural Genetic Engineering can be a better model than Darwinian Evolution.
Evolution by Self Organisation
One of the main concerns of some evolutionary theorists have about Darwinian theory is the lack of explanatory power that natural selection has for creating new species. They argue natural selection explains the survival of the fittest, not the arrival of the fittest. Theoretical Biologist Stuart Kauffmann has come up with Evolution by Self Organisation as an alternative explanation to natural selection. Self Organisation is well documented observable phenomena in Nature. Kauffmann applies this principle to solve Biological scenarios that Darwinian theory can’t. His book ‘The Origins of Order’ lays out a completely new way to look at evolution.
Neo Lamarckian Evolution
Although Lamarck was ignored for a long time, in the last couple of years some Biologists have started to look back at his ideas and have developed a revised theory known as Neo Lamackian evolution. Proponents argue inheritance of acquired characteristics drive evolutionary change, they cite recent studies that show support their view. Neo Lamarckian evolution assumes rapid evolutionary transitions as opposed to slow incremental changes. Evolutionary Biologist Eva Jablonka sets out this alternative in her book Transformations of Lamarckism.
Mutation Driven Evolution
Mutationism assumes evolution is driven by large mutations not small incremental steps. This mechanism challenges the idea of Darwinian gradualism and natural selection as the driving force behind evolutionary change. Although Mutationism was discarded decades ago in recent years
Evolutionary Biologist Masotasi Nei proposes a rehashed version of Mutationism. Nei is a well known, respected and award winning scientist whose work is widely used in population genetics. His book Mutation Driven Evolution shows how developments in molecular Biology are challenging the Darwinian predictions and how a new alternative can work.
The idea that natural selection created all of the diversity of life has always had opposition from some quarters in the Biological sciences. Some of the most vocal recent criticisms has come from Lynn Margulis. Margulis is a prestigious and award winning biologist, her theory of Endosymbiosis is lead her to receiving the National Medal of Science by the Bill Clinton in 1999. Currently Endosymbiosis is included in every university level biology book. However what is less known is that she came up with a complete alternative to Darwinian evolution, Symbiotic Evolution. Symbiotic Evolution is a complete u-turn on Darwinism, it claims life took over the planet through networking and cooperation not brute survival and competition. Margulis explains why her theory is a viable alternative in her book Acquiring genomes, A Theory of the origin of Species.
If Darwinian Evolution was a fact than, these alternatives, the Biologists who support them and the Universities that publish them would not exist, but they do. There is a clear disagreement in the Biological community about the most fundamental parts of Darwin’s theory, the disagreement is not by Biologists that have a religious bias against Darwinism, infact every one of the authors above who proposed these alternatives are Atheists.
For more information about secular academics that challenge Darwinian theory please refer to the project Third Way of Evolution. This project includes Biologists from North America, Europe and as far as China, some of prestigious universities that these Biologists stem from include Oxford, Cambridge, Princeton, Harvard and MIT.
What’s all the hype about?
The next question that must be answered is why is so much rhetoric about the certainty about Darwinian evolution. It has been compared to being as true as gravity which obviously it is not. The reason is quite interesting, Darwinian Evolution started off as a Science and it still is but some have have turned it into a religion. In the Blind Watchmaker Richard Dawkins explains that Darwin allowed Atheists to be intellectually fulfilled. If Darwin’s theory was true in the absolute sense then all of the apparent design is just an illusion, there is no real design behind nature. This is why since Darwin Atheists have used the theory to support their worldview.
Julian Huxley was an important evolutionary Biologist and an Atheist activist, he is the first one to formally turn Darwin’s theory into a religion called ‘Evolutionary Humanism’, he considered this a ‘Religion without Revelation’. Historian and Philosopher of Science Michal Ruse published a book called ‘Darwinism as Religion’. Ruse is an Atheist and a Darwinist and he shows how Darwin’s theory from it’s earliest days was used to make a secular religion to replace Christianity. This aspect of Darwinism is the reason why the popularization of theory claims certainty.
No Scientific theory can be a absolute, certain and unchangeable. Because Science does not work that way, scientists can always get novel data that challenges their previous theories, also they can always make alternative theories. Even if a theory is successful it doesn’t mean it is true in an absolute sense. Think about Newtonian Physics, it worked well for 200 years, and it made precise predictions which were confirmed, Einstein challenged this view and gave good reasons that although newtonian mechanics worked it’s assumptions are false. Just because something works doesn’t mean it’s true.
Evolution simply means biological change over time and it was known and well documented before Darwin. Darwinian Evolution is theoretical and it is speculative, based on assumptions and there are disputes about it’s most fundamental ideas amongst secular academics.
Darwinian Evolution is a still a valid working model, theory and paradigm and there is nothing wrong with using it and at the same time not accepting as literally true, this is what any rational person should do with any scientific theory. Even the most fierce critics of Darwinism can agree to this pragmatic approach. Philosopher of Science David Stove though he is an Atheist believes Darwinism has fatal flaws. He penned ‘Darwinian Fairytales’ to rebuke those who claim it is true yet he admits in the same book that Darwinian Evolution though it is not true is still the best model we have in evolutionary Biology.
For more information please see the publication: Failed Hypothesis: Islam, The Quran and Science.
References: The Changing Meaning of “Evolution” https://www.jstor.org/stable/2709013
 Darwin and His Theory of Evolution https://www.pewforum.org/2009/02/04/darwin-and-his-theory-of-evolution/