Sunday, November 15, 2009

Is the Battle Actually Between Science & Religion?

I am working my way through the companion book to the PBS special, "A Glorious Accident." In the documentary, several important intellectuals discuss the development of human consciousness and the mind/brain question. The title of the program comes from a quote by Stephen J. Gould who describes the development of consciousness as, "a glorious accident." Dr. Gould was reflecting a shift in the way that evolution was conceived by many of today's scientists. Previous generations of evolutionists believed natural selection drove the increase of complexity in the progress of organic life from simple organisms to human beings. It was the observed complexity of the biological world that needed a serious explanation, and evolution provided a naturalistic explanation. The idea that evolution was a progressive force was central to the doctrine. Dr. Gould, in rejecting the inevitability of progress, is embarking on a major departure from this view. Logic told him the development of human consciousness was a stroke of pure luck. He said, "No species now alive is predictable, and any species that exists does so by the merest good fortune of tens of thousands of antecedent events that went one way and not the other" (A Glorious Accident, p. 92).

It is not that Dr. Gould was rejecting evolution or natural selection, rather he was affirming that nothing in evolution was predictable or inevitable. It was all just one great big accident. (Actually it was trillions of accidents, many of which would require several integrated steps and parts. It boggles the mind to think that "luck" could have operated so many times in nature.) Dr. Gould was part of an attempt to redefine evolution in the light of several serious problems such as the scarcity of transition forms, the proven stability of species, and the lack of experiemental evidence for gradualism. The new explanation was called "punctuated equilibrium." It attempted to say that species are normally resistant to genetic change until subject of dramatic stress. For example, it was a gigantic meteor strike that changed the earth atmosphere, caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, and produced dramatic evloutionary change in the birds and mammals. In explaining his theory, Dr. Gould said that evolution was not a straight line gradually inclined upward, but rather a line shaped like a set of stair steps.

These questions are not as much scientific as they are logical since the lack of direct scientific evidence has led to the need for a reformulation of the theory grounded in the use of logic to find a more reasonable explanation. It seems to me that this is the crux of the entire controversy. Since there is no direct evidence of evolution, either by being able to re-create it in the laboratory, of by direct observation of evolution in nature. The questions are not really matters of "science" but of logic. So the matter revolves around which of all the explanations for life on earth makes the most sense. When one thinks of the astounding complexity of life, from spiders weaving webs, to bats flying by sonar, not to mention all that is involved in digesting ice cream, the most logically satisfying answer is the Grand Designer God whose handiwork is seen in all that He has made.