Reasons to Believe

Weeding out Evolution: Book Reviews of Icons of Evolution and Science & Christianity: Four Views

by Dr. Fazale ("Fuz") Rana and Robert Bowman Jr.

1. Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth?
By Jonathan Wells. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2000. 338 pages, index. Hardcover; $27.95.

Reviewed by Fazale R. Rana.

In Icons of Evolution Jonathan Wells convincingly demonstrates that the evidence and examples of Darwinian evolution commonly found in biology textbooks are either misleading or, in some cases, false. As a result, Icons of Evolution assumes an important role in the Creation versus Evolution debate. Less than a month after its release, Icons of Evolution was cited in a Citizen’s Appeal filed in West Virginia with the Kanawha County Board of Education (Carrie Smith, “Parent Files Complaint Over Science Textbooks,” Charleston [WV] Daily Mail, Saturday, November 18, 2000). This appeal maintains that science textbooks used in Kanawha County public schools are in violation of state law. The law mandates that science curricula must present up-to-date and accurate information.

Wells is certainly qualified to evaluate the evidence for evolution. He earned Ph.D.’s in Religious Studies (from Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut) and Molecular and Cell Biology (from University of California – Berkeley), and authored Charles Hodge’s Critique of Darwinism. A rising figure in the Intelligent Design movement, he has had work published in peer-reviewed scientific journals and is currently a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute in Seattle, Washington.

Wells carefully documents his thesis from the work of evolutionary biologists, explaining that the “icons” of evolution—considered to be the best evidence for evolution—are nothing more than scientific myths, in most cases. The lack of experimental and observational support for evolution’s so-called best evidence comes not from recent scientific advances, in most instances, but from long-acknowledged mainstream scientific literature. This lack of support prompts Wells to repeatedly question why textbooks consistently present these “icons” as evidence for evolution when evolutionary biologists understand that these “icons” are equivocal at best in their support for evolution. He believes that the answer to this question stems from a deliberate effort by Darwinian ideologues to suppress scientific truth out of concern that without these widely known “icons” of evolution, public support for evolution will wane.

The evolutionary “icons” addressed by Wells include: 1) the Miller-Urey experiment; 2) the evolutionary “Tree of Life”; 3) the homology of vertebrate limbs; 4) Haeckel’s drawings of vertebrate embryos; 5) Archaeopteryx as the missing link connecting birds to reptiles; 6) the peppered moth story; 7) beak evolution and speciation among Darwin’s finches; 8) the laboratory-directed evolution of four-winged fruit flies; 9) equine evolution; and 10) human evolution.

Icons of Evolution, readily accessible to lay people, still satisfies those well-versed in biology. Wells provides extensive research notes (over 70 pages) that not only buttress his case but also serve as an excellent entry point into the original scientific literature for those interested in pursuing a specific point in greater technical detail.

Those interested in science apologetics, the Creation versus Evolution debate, or the controversy over the teaching of evolution in public schools will find Icons of Evolution an excellent resource. The book’s material equips apologists with formidable responses to some of the most commonly encountered evidences for Darwinian evolution—the evidences found in textbooks. Toward this end, Wells provides exceptional discussions on the evolutionary “tree of life,” vertebrate limbs homology, and the Galapagos finches.

Icons of Evolution does not give a comprehensive response to biological evolution, nor does it make a case for Intelligent Design. In fact, Wells does not take a strong anti-evolutionary position—he simply refutes the textbook evidence for evolution. For this reason, Icons of Evolution emerges as a great first book to pass on to skeptical friends who are deeply influenced by the evolutionary paradigm. The book will give them reasons to consider the lack of evidences for evolution and provide the opportunity to present positive evidences for Intelligent Design.

Although Icons of Evolution will make strong inroads with those who have unwittingly accepted the evolutionary paradigm, this work will not likely prompt evolutionary biologists to soften their stance towards Intelligent Design. Even though Wells makes it clear that not all biologists are to blame, he does paint evolutionists, in general, as conspirators and ideologues. He believes evolutionists suppress the truth about evolution and systematically work to prevent those who do not accept Darwinian orthodoxy from holding research and teaching positions. Wells is essentially correct in making this charge. However, driving this point home repeatedly will not promote dialogue between evolutionists and Design proponents. Such a tactic only serves to erect walls and further polarize the debate.

Wells has identified what seems to be a pattern of systematic deception on the part of evolutionists, and, like Lucille Ball, these evolutionists “have a whole lot of ‘splaining to do.” However, in the face of this deception, Christians must be willing, with sincere humility, to be gracious towards the same evolutionists who seem to have worked long and hard to deceive the public about the evolutionary paradigm. If Wells had displayed this attitude and allowed the evolutionists to save face, he could have used his outstanding analysis of the scientific literature to build bridges between the Intelligent Design and the Evolution camps.

Wells’ overemphasis on the lack of forthrightness displayed by evolutionists may have other undesirable consequences. Icons of Evolution will quite likely exacerbate the antiscience sentiment already too pervasive among Christians. Fostering distrust of scientists, whether intentional or not, will make many Christians even less supportive of using science as a platform to engage contemporary culture and as a vehicle to share the Gospel. The science apologists using Icons of Evolution in their ministry need to convey the value scientific advances have in providing some of the most potent new evidences for the Christian faith. Icons of Evolution does not clearly communicate any key points toward this end. In fact, the results which question the validity of evolution’s best known “icons” are the product of scientific investigation carried out by evolutionary biologists themselves.

Wells makes the case against the evolutionary paradigm admirably. Icons of Evolution has already become an important work in science apologetics and deserves a place on every apologist’s bookshelf. It is unfortunate that Wells takes a combative stance toward evolutionists. One hopes this position will not be adopted by apologists and applied toward evolutionists when using the excellent arguments offered in Icons of Evolution.

2. Science & Christianity: Four Views
Edited by Richard F. Carlson. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000. 276 pages, indices. Softcover.

Reviewed by Robert M. Bowman, Jr.

How do the findings of science relate to the teachings of Christianity? This question receives four distinct answers in Science and Christianity: Four Views. All of the participants have training and experience as scientists, and all are professors of science (or, in one case, of the philosophy of science).

The editor, Richard F. Carlson, is a professor of physics at the University of Redlands in California. He characterizes different views on creation and evolution in terms of varying degrees of agreement or disagreement between science and theology. According to Carlson, creationism, the view that affirms the inerrancy of the Bible’s statements regarding origins, views science and theology as in conflict. “In any conflict arising between scientific and theological conclusions, the science is taken to be defective or incomplete or inadequate or at least suspect, for the Bible is seen to be free from any error and is the final authority in all matters concerning faith” (p. 13).

Creationism: No Real Conflict

Ironically, the authors representing the creationist approach contradict Carlson’s characterization of their position. Wayne Frair is the retired head of the biology department at King’s College, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. His co-author, Gary D. Patterson, is professor of chemical physics at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Frair and Patterson state at the outset that they “strongly reject any scholarly program that ignores the clearly established data and conclusions of science or that rejects the authority of the Bible” (p. 20). Further, they point out that since “both science and theology are human activities” (pp. 20-5, 30), both are prone to error and subject to correction by the other.

Thus, while cautioning against dogmatic acceptance of the current scientific estimates of the age of the universe, Frair and Patterson urge Christians to “consider the findings and conclusions of astronomers before reaching . . . conclusions” about the age of the universe or the proper interpretation of the opening chapters of Genesis (p. 34). Likewise, the authors give tentative approval to the view that the Flood occurred in a limited geographical area. “Sound interpretation of the relevant texts requires consideration of both the internal textual evidence and the external geological and historical evidence” (p. 44).

In their concluding remarks, Frair and Patterson make it clear that they see no conflict between science and theology as disciplines. Rather, they attribute controversy in this area to “the conflict between unsound interpretations of the Bible and unsupported or even incorrect conclusions presented in the name of science” (p. 46).

Intelligent Design: Positive Support

A former geophysicist at the Atlantic Richfield Company, Stephen C. Meyer now teaches philosophy of science at Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington. Meyer’s model, like that of Frair and Patterson, “maintains that, when correctly interpreted, scientific evidence and biblical teaching can and do support each other” (p. 130). The difference here is that while Frair and Patterson are content to defend an agreement between science and Christianity, Meyer strongly contends that science lends positive support (though not deductive proof) for Christianity.

Meyer offers a detailed review of the evidence from the “big bang” (pp. 141-5), the “fine-tuning” of the universe (pp. 145-53), and the apparent design of life at the microscopic level, especially of DNA (pp. 153-62). He concludes that the God hypothesis “explains a wide ensemble of metaphysically significant scientific evidences and theoretical results more simply, adequately, and comprehensively than other major competing worldviews or metaphysical systems” (p. 174).

Independence: Separate Turfs

Jean Pond, a microbiologist and retired professor of biology at Whitworth College, advocates an “independence” model of science and theology. Pond bases this model on Stephen Jay Gould’s NOMA (“non-overlapping magisteria”) principle that science deals with empirical reality while religion deals with meaning and value (p. 71). Thus, science must not be misused to deny God, while Scripture must not be misused to deny evolution (pp. 81-5). According to Pond, “conflict between science and theology becomes almost inevitable” when the Bible, especially Genesis, is “interpreted in a literally descriptive sense” (p. 85). In order to retain respect for the Bible, then, people must not interpret it as making any statements with which science could disagree (or agree).

In his response, Meyer points out that Pond’s independence model logically entails a rejection of all factual claims in Christianity, including the miracles of Christ’s incarnation and resurrection. While acknowledging that Pond is an orthodox Christian, Meyer asks how she can reconcile her orthodox beliefs with her unqualified endorsement of Gould’s NOMA principle (p. 120).

Partnership: A Fully Gifted Creation

Howard J. Van Till is professor emeritus of physics and astronomy at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. He advocates a model that sees science and theology as “partners in theorizing.” Like Pond, Van Till’s main contention seems to be that evolution should not be opposed on theological grounds. The biblical accounts of creation are artistic, figurative portraits of God’s work of creation (pp. 203-5). Such diverse questions as the age of the universe or the origin of species are “questions that a Christian would not have any right whatsoever to expect to be normatively answered by the biblical text” (p. 210). This way of putting the matter, it should be noted, is rather prejudicial. The issue is not what questions the Bible may be expected to address, but rather what questions the Bible does address.

Central to Van Till’s model is his concept of the creation’s formational economy, by which he means the “resources and capabilities” inherent in creation from its beginning for bringing about new structures and forms over time (p. 215). His thesis is what he calls the robust formational economy (RFE) principle: “For the sake of scientific theorizing we assume that the formational economy of the universe is sufficiently robust to account for the actualization in time of all of the types of physical/material structures and all of the forms of life that have ever existed” (p. 216, emphasis in original). In other words, Van Till contends that the evolution of the universe and of life (including man) should be interpreted as made possible by God’s having fully “gifted” creation with the capabilities of evolving as it has to produce and sustain all living things.

Meyer puts his finger on the problem in his response. Van Till holds to his RFE principle “as a regulative principle for scientific theorizing . . . that denies the possibility of detecting divine action at any point in cosmic history after the initial creation of the universe” (p. 248). While granting that many aspects of the universe can be explained as the result of “self-organizational capabilities” operating over time, Meyer insists that scientists ought to be open to the possibility that not everything in the universe is best explained in that way (p. 249). In particular, Meyer argues that the information-rich specificity of life is best explained as the result of God’s creative activity in time (p. 254).

Really Two Views

Ultimately the book presents variations on two views: creationism (defended by Meyer and by Frair and Patterson) and theistic evolutionism (defended by Pond and Van Till). Meyer and Van Till maintain that science lends support or credence to belief in God, while Frair and Patterson, as well as Pond, deem it unwise to base any argument for God on the findings of science. The cross-section of these two issues—creation vs. evolution and the evidential value of science for belief in God—results in the four views defended in the book. While this reviewer sides with Meyer, the other contributors all make important points that need to be heard.

Robert M. Bowman, Jr. is co-author with Kenneth D. Boa of Faith Has Its Reasons (NavPress, 2001), which includes extensive discussions of different approaches to science and Christian apologetics. Mr. Bowman may be contacted at robertbowman@mindspring.com.

Subjects: Convergence, Evolutionary Trees, Macro vs. Micro Evolution, Transitional Forms

Dr. Fazale Rana

In 1999, I left my position in R&D at a Fortune 500 company to join Reasons to Believe because I felt the most important thing I could do as a scientist is to communicate to skeptics and believers alike the powerful scientific evidence—evidence that is being uncovered day after day—for God’s existence and the reliability of Scripture. Read more about Dr. Fazale Rana