One of the most popular pieces in last Saturday’s Weekend Australian reported a controversial scientific hypothesis proposing that the evolution of life on planet earth is a result of comets from outer space. It’s a pertinent reminder as to how science can be dogmatically pressed into the service of a particular ideology, while the thesis of intelligent design is immediately dismissed out of hand. According to environment editor, Graham Lloyd:
The evolution of life on Earth was spurred on by the bombardment from space of comets carrying viral genes and frozen eggs of complete species such as the octopus, a new multi-author paper has claimed.
Well, at least that’s not as crazy as Richard Dawkin’s suggestion that all of us could have been “seeded” by extra-terrestrials. Dawkins has Tweeted that he doesn’t understand how anyone could believe that he thinks this:
However, in 2008, Dawkins did a recorded interview for a documentary with Ben Stein where the following exchange took place:
Stein: What do you think is the possibility that intelligent design might turn out to be the answer to some issues in genetics or evolution?
Dawkins: Well, it could come about in the following way. It could be that at some earlier time, somewhere in the universe a civilisation evolved by probably some kind of Darwinian means to a very, very high level of technology and designed a form of life which then seeded onto perhaps this planet. Umm, now that is a possibility, and an intriguing possibility. And I suppose it’s possible that you might find a signature of some sort of designer…
Stein [in voice over]: Wait a second. Richard Dawkins thought intelligent design might be a legitimate pursuit?!
Dawkins: And that designer could well be a higher intelligence from elsewhere in the universe. But that higher intelligence would itself have had to come about by some explicable, or ultimately explicable, process. It couldn’t have just jumped into existence spontaneously. That’s the point.
Stein: So, Professor Dawkins was not against intelligent design, just certain types of designers, such as God.
Now maybe Dawkins had forgotten what he said, but thankfully we have the internet to remind us. He is absolutely correct about one thing though. Nothing can simply “just jump into existence spontaneously”: not the beginning of the universe, nor the introduction of new life forms.
The question that Dawkins really has to answer though is how did all of the major subgroups of animals ‘spontaneously’ appear in the fossil record? This event is commonly referred to as Biology’s “big bang” or ‘The Cambrian Explosion’. And this does not just occur with animals. As Stephen C. Meyer observes in his Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design:
Many other such abrupt appearances or discontinuous origins are documented in the fossil record. For example, the first winged insects, birds, flowering plants, mammals, and other groups also appear abruptly in the fossil record, with no apparent connection to putative ancestors in the lower (and older) layers of fossil-bearing sedimentary rock.
This poses a massive problem for Dawkins, and even Charles Darwin acknowledged it as a “serious” challenge to his evolutionary theory. As Meyer explains:
In the Origin of Species, Darwin depicted the history of life as a gradually unfolding, branching tree, with the trunk of the tree representing the first one-celled organisms, and the branches representing all the species that evolved gradually from these first forms. As Darwin depicted life’s history, novel animal and plant species would have arisen from a series of simpler precursors and intermediate forms over vast stretches of geologic time.
The dramatic, and in particular sudden, appearance of most major groups of organisms in the fossil record obviously does not fit with Darwin’s hypothesis of gradual evolutionary change. And this was something that Darwin himself acknowledged as being a serious challenge to his theory and of which he could not answer. As he stated:
There is another and allied difficulty, which is much graver. I allude to the manner in which numbers of species of the same group, suddenly appear in the known fossiliferous rocks…To the question why we do not find records of these vast primordial periods, I can give no satisfactory answer.
Unfortunately for Darwin, after 150 years after his Origins was first published, there is actually less evidence in the fossil record for what is being increasingly viewed as being his speculative theory than there was when he first proposed it. Dr David Raup, former curator of geology at the Field Museum in Chicago, said as much in a widely cited article:
We now have a quarter of a million-fossil species but the situation hasn’t changed much. The record of evolution is still surprisingly jerky and, ironically, we have even fewer examples of evolutionary transition than we had in Darwin’s time. By this I mean that some of the classic cases of Darwinian change in the fossil record, such as the evolution of the horse in North America, have had to be discarded or modified as a result of more detailed information—what appeared to be a nice simple progression when relatively few data were available now appears to be much more complex and much less gradualistic.
All of which is to say, if there is no scientific evidence from the fossil record to prove that the theory of evolution true, then this should raise doubts as to the reliability of this particular hypothesis. As that philosopher of science Karl Popper said in his The Logic of Scientific Discovery:
The old scientific idea of episteme—of absolutely demonstrable knowledge—has proved an idol. The demand for scientific objectivity makes it inevitable that every scientific statement must remain tentative forever.
Ironically, people like Dawkins are so dogmatic in their assertions that they end up asking those who follow them to take a blind leap of faith. To believe in the benevolent intervention of extra-terrestrial beings of a superior intelligence, of a higher power, of even a certain type of designer – anything other than God – even when the physical evidence does not support what he is saying.
Mark Powell is the Associate Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, Strathfield.
Illustration: Gracie Films/Fox Television Animation.
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