Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Evolution Inference

Belief in evolution is supported by a well established reliance on inference. Without the power of inference, the discipline of science and many other human inquiries would skid to a halt. The definition of inference ranges from drawing fairly certain conclusions based on deductive and inductive reasoning to drawing conclusions based on evidence which merely produces some degree of probability. The degree of certainty is variable.

In origins studies it is widely agreed that life forms have changed over earth’s long history. This change is observed in the fossil succession and the change is termed evolution. In this sense, and in this sense only, evolution is a fact. Evolutionists attribute the changes entirely to naturalistic causes. How the mechanisms of naturalistic evolution work has been in considerable dispute, even among naturalistic evolutionists. Whether the mechanisms of evolution (mechanisms of change) result from natural or supernatural processes is, of course, the subject of even more heated disputes between naturalists and theistic creationists.

Old earth creationists do not deny that many changes in life forms have occurred from the earliest one-celled bacterial life (prokaryotes) to the present multiplicity of life forms, encompassing all complex, multi-cellular creatures, mankind included. A surprising, under-reported fact is that numerous abrupt changes in the fossil sequence occur after lengthy periods of stasis--no change. Gradual changes are not in evidence. Evolutionists and creationists alike see the same abrupt changes: there are virtually no transitional forms in the fossil record. Evolutionists infer a naturalistic process; creationists infer supernatural creation events.

Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002), popular and influential evolutionist, incurred the wrath of fellow evolutionists beginning in the 1970s by stating the surprising reality of this step-like, “fits and starts” progression of the fossil record repeatedly and explicitly. He wrote, “The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology.”

How does the evolutionary science community deal with this “trade secret?” They dismiss it as unproblematic. Gould and Niles Eldredge in 1972 proposed “punctuated equilibrium” as a descriptive term with respect to the apparent “fits and starts” character of progressive changes in the record of the rocks. But the descriptive value of punctuated equilibrium far exceeds its explanatory value. Most people who choose to believe in evolution also choose to infer that the fundamental processes of mutation and natural selection driving small changes (microevolution) in isolated populations eventually result in the production of a new species (macroevolution). Essentially, they agree with Darwin who argued that small amounts of change over a short time could produce large amounts of change over a long time.

Theistic and naturalistic evolutionists examine the fossil record and infer that the entire array of earth life was brought forth in an undirected, naturalistic process. The tree of life has one trunk, they claim; all species are related; the common origin of all earth life is inferred. At present, the commonality of DNA sequences of genomes across species causes them to infer the evolutionary relationship of all earth life. Genome similarity is the modern basis for the evolution inference.

Genome similarity is far from proof that evolution has occurred. Exciting research in this field is ongoing. Evolutionists draw confident inferences that evolution has occurred. Creationists look at the ever present past record of stasis, extinction, sudden appearance of new forms, and non-existence of intermediate forms, and make inferences that many supernatural creation events have occurred. Diverging inferences should be approached by the stakeholders with the greatest of humility and a request for divine wisdom.

Consider the advice of the Apostle James: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5 NIV)