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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

An evolving faith

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Managing Editor

If any lot could be characterized as intellectual stragglers in the evolution of humankind, it would be editorial cartoonists, a disproportionate share of whose gray matter is reserved for juvenile humor. I know; I am one. We cartoonists are guys (mostly) who still can't believe we're actually getting paid for doing what once got us sent to the principal's office.

Some are paid quite well. Take Garry Trudeau, whose comic strip, Doonesbury, is at the top of the cartoon heap. Its political content made Doonesbury the first comic strip to win a Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning only five years after it was launched 33 years ago this fall.

Every editorial cartoonist tries to do what Trudeau does so well -- get under his readers' skin, often by lampooning their cherished values. He got under my skin in a strip this year when he took one of his many swipes at President Bush's intelligence. One character, Rev. Sloan, sitting at the kitchen table with another, Zonker, says, "You know, it's hard to believe we have a president who doesn't believe in evolution."

What does that mean to Rev. Sloan? He tells us: "It means the leader of the free world has closed his mind to VAST areas of human experience and knowledge! Rejecting evolution requires him to repudiate the core tenets of entire fields of study ... such as biochemistry, genetics, ecology, paleontology, anatomy, physics, astronomy, geology, cosmology, history and archeology!"

"Whew ..." responds Zonker (and, presumably, Doonesbury readers), "Leaving what, gym and band?"

"Pretty much explains all those C's doesn't it?" quips Rev. Sloan.

Ouch. I didn't know I rejected the core tenets of history (I didn't even know history had core tenets). But it must be so, since I'm one of the millions of Americans who share the president's view.

Since there is no broad demand for commentary on armpit noises, we cartoonists have to come up with something to say about issues we really don't know all that much about. Even though we lampoon anything and anyone in the news, we're really not experts on war and politics and economics. Certainly not science.

So readers of Doonesbury should not surmise from its smug tone that its creator is really an expert on the subject of origins. One doesn't have to be an expert to take potshots from safely within the fold of popular opinion.

Admittedly, I'm just another non-expert, but it seems to me the arrogance of the evolutionists is hardly justified given the theory's history, which is so fraught with embarrassing errors and deliberate frauds. This history should, instead, inspire a measure of humility.

A history of blunders

For example, scientists once believed the coelacanth (SEE-luh-canth) was an early evolutionary link, a fish that was the first creature to walk on dry land -- some 400 million years ago. Then fisherman caught a live coelacanth off the coast of Madagascar. Others have been caught since. The fish is indeed equipped to walk with its fins, but on the bottom of the ocean, not on land. But there was no "oops" from the scientific community. Instead, scientists continue to assert the fossil is 400 million years old, but explain that the fish has reached "terminal evolution" because it is so perfectly suited to its environment that it has remained unchanged since before dinosaurs walked the earth. Yeah.

In the famous Scopes trial that led to public schools allowing the teaching of evolution alongside creationism, one piece of evidence attorney Clarence Darrow used was a fossil scientists said belonged to the missing link -- Nebraska Man. That fossil (which was nothing but a tooth) was later discovered to belong to a pig -- and inadvertently exposed the zeal of over-anxious scientists who were blinded by their belief.

The creator of Piltdown Man probably never imagined his hoax would fool the scientific community for more than 40 years. The prankster many think was none other than Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, combined the chemically stained partial skull of a man with the jaw of an orangutan, its incisors shaved down to believable proportions. The skull remained in the British Museum for more than 40 years before dating methods revealed both parts of the skull were of recent origin.

Evolutionary theory itself evolves as each error is repudiated, but each error's shelf life is sufficient to carry popular opinion until the next yet-to-be-exposed proof is introduced.

Evolutionists who should be embarrassed by their own history instead grow all the more smug as they sniffily dismiss those such as George W. Bush who see evidence of intelligent design in the ordered universe.

One might think the evolutionist would respond to the creationist with his best argument, his best piece of evidence, but instead he always resorts to ridicule. Except in a public setting where he doesn't want to appear rude. There he asserts that evolution must be true since the vast majority of scientists accept it as true. Science by majority opinion.

But this majority exists only within the closed circles of university science departments, where creationists are routinely denied admission to graduate school, denied faculty positions or denied tenure, often denied even a forum to present their papers. But they are finding it a losing battle. The fact is, despite the concerted effort of organizations such as the National Science Teachers Association to purge public school curriculum of all references to creationism or intelligent design, polls show for the first time in a generation the majority of high school graduates accept creationism over evolution as a more believable model. No wonder evolutionists are alarmed; their best argument ("There are more of us than there are of you") is crumbling

It's not that there is no evidence for evolution. Creationists recognize adaptations within species, known as microevolution, and don't pretend to know the limits of those adaptations.

Unanswered questions

But there also gaping holes in evolutionary theory:

* Scientists still can't explain the glaring absence of intermediate species in the fossil record.

* They have no answer to the mathematicians who have calculated the mathematical improbability of any organism evolving to such complexity from such rudimentary beginnings, not to mention the infinite improbability of such evolutionary ascension occurring in the countless plant and animals species that inhabit the earth.

* The evolutionist can't explain the incredible balance of life at any scale, from the microscopic to the astronomical.

* And every attempt to explain the biggest flaw in evolution -- the emergence of living organisms from non-living matter -- has been a spectacular failure. You can't replicate something that never happened.

It's not for lack of trying. The late Dr. Stephen Jay Gould, paleontologist at Harvard University and science celebrity, attempted to explain the absence of intermediate species in the fossil record with his theory called "punctuated equilibrium," which hypothesizes that the changes occurred in rapid spurts that, presumably, didn't coincide with the catastrophic events that caused the fossilizing of living organisms.

It is a fanciful theory destined for the scientific junk heap alongside bleeding leeches and, well, Piltdown Man, but not before the next fanciful theory is in place to carry the theory forward for true believers.

Another science celebrity, the late Carl Sagan, set up advanced radio telescopes to broadcast messages on different frequencies into space in an effort to communicate with extraterrestrials. Sending whale songs and Mozart into outer space signals a shift in the long-held assumptions about our origins. What was science fiction to the previous generation -- the existence of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe -- has moved into the mainstream.

It has to; the holes in evolutionary theory are too big to mask. But for those who steadfastly reject the possibility of a creator, there must be a naturalistic alternative, even if it is something as farfetched as life on earth originating somewhere else in the universe.

Science and faith

Creationism is the world view that the universe is a product of intelligent design. It is a discipline rooted in religion, in faith. Although it is unfair and inaccurate when evolutionists accuse creationists of shunning science, it is undeniable that our starting assumption is that God created the universe.

But evolution is also faith based. It is not an attempt to explain our origins; that was revealed long ago by the Creator Himself. Instead, evolution is an attempt to forward an alternative theory of how we got here, a theory plausible enough to satisfy those whose world view starts with the rejection of God. But its plausibility is waning.

That's why the theory of evolution evolves -- with punctuated equilibrium -- to the point that serious scientists now entertain the possibility that life on earth originated in another part of the natural universe.

That means theistic evolution, the view that God used evolution as His method of creation, is intellectually dishonest. It is the position taken by those who are intimidated by jeers or who want to conceal their ignorance of the subject.

Darwinism is relatively young (The Origin of the Species was written in 1859), but rejecting the creator in favor of naturalistic origins is not. The Apostle Paul addressed it in his letter to the Romans.

"Since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities -- his eternal power and divine nature -- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. ... Although (godless men) claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles." Romans 1: 20, 22, 23

Doonesbury's Rev. Sloan might not be familiar with that passage because his creator is not. But the good reverend should be, as well as with God's words in the Old Testament to Job: "Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? ... Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? ... Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs? Do you know the laws of the heavens? ... Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn? Do you count the months till they bear? ... Do you give the horse his strength or clothe his neck with a flowing mane? ... Does the eagle soar at your command ...?" (from Job, chapters 38-40)

Evolutionists sometimes praise (with barely veiled derision) the faith of creationists. But it really doesn't take much faith to look at the universe and see the hand of the creator. Billions of stars, each at the center of its own solar system, are but tiny dots scattered across countless galaxies throughout the vast universe, each body suspended in balance with all the others by its own unique mass, rotation and orbit. How much more faith it would require to believe that balance happened by chance.

Nor does it require much faith to see the hand of God in the delicate orchid, which fascinated Darwin himself. Orchids provide a glimpse of the extravagant nature of God, who went wild at creation, making tens of thousands of orchid varieties. In order to pollinate, some varieties take on the appearance of the animals they depend upon to carry their pollen to reproduce. These flowers mimic bees, spiders, moths, even bats.

One particularly remarkable variety is the wasp orchid. Part of its flower looks like a female wasp to human eyes and, more importantly, to the eyes of a male wasp. Its flowering period coincides with the wasps' mating season. And the flower even emits the odor a female wasp's pheromone. When I see the wasp orchid I see not only the providence of a benevolent Creator, but His wisdom and wit.

The evolutionist has the unwavering faith to believe not only that the wasp and orchid evolved side by side in a symbiotic relationship, but that the orchid took on the odor, sexual cycle and appearance of the wasp by natural adaptation. What religious fundamentalist has faith to compete with the evolutionist?

Finally, it doesn't take great faith to see the Creator's hand in the sacrificing love one human being has for another, a love that endows a mother with supernatural strength when her child is endangered, a love that has been know to heal physical ailments, a love that leads a soldier to sacrifice his own life to save the lives of his brothers in arms. The evolutionist says that capacity to love is merely conditioned behavior.

Call me a skeptic. I just don't have the faith to believe that.

David Cox, managing editor of The South Missourian News, is also an editorial cartoonist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.