This article was first published in the December 2006 ABR Electronic Newsletter.
Skeptics of evolution have long made the claim that Darwin’s theory is untestable and relies on faith rather than empirical observation to bolster it. It is quite surprising to learn that at least two important figures in the field of evolutionary origins have agreed with this position. Kevin Padian, professor of integrative biology and curator in the Museum of Paleontology at the University of California at Berkeley and co-editor of The Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs, reviewed a book on evolution in the February 2000 issue of Scientific American. The book was In Search of Deep Time: Beyond the Fossil Record to a New History of Life by evolutionist Dr. Henry Gee, an editor and senior writer at the prestigious scientific journal Nature. Dr. Gee is also a paleontologist with experience in the field.
Prof. Padian’s review, entitled “What the Media Don’t Tell You about Evolution,” contained some astonishing admissions. For example, Padian stated:
“Gee shows that many traditional explanations of major evolutionary transitions are not testable and therefore have no scientific content….[For example,] ideas about how flight must have evolved, he says, rely on faith in the particular workings of natural selection or other evolutionary processes” (Padian 2000: 103).
This is exactly what skeptics of Darwin’s theory have always claimed, usually to a strongly negative response. Another objection raised by non-Darwinists is that fossils that purport to provide indisputable evidence for human evolution from more-primitive, apelike ancestors (known as hominids) are not as straightforward and unmistakable as many would have us believe. This is precisely what Gee has intimated in his book, as Padian pointed out:
Gee describes the difficulty of reconstructing the past using his experience searching for hominid fossils in Africa with Meave Leakey’s crew. A bone you pick up might be a hominid and might persuasively be not far from the direct line to living humans. But you can never really know, because not enough information is preserved. Deep Time, with its attendant destruction of information from the geologic past, has wiped away direct evidence. We have to reconstruct evolutionary history, as we reconstruct human history, from the bits and pieces we have available to us (ibid.).
Again, this is a claim that non-Darwinists have made on countless occasions, either to deaf ears or to shouts of derision. The study of human origins is extremely difficult, clouded as it is with prevailing and countervailing theories, fragmentary evidence, varying interpretations of certain fossil finds, human foibles, and a strong dose of personal pride thrown in. Rock-ribbed dogmatism or unswerving adherence to a single theory or a particular fossil find can prove to be disappointing at best and dangerous at worst.
Recommended Resources for Further Study
2000. “What the Media Don’t Tell You about Evolution.” Review of In Search of Deep Time: Beyond the Fossil Record to a New History of Life, by Henry Gee, 1999. Scientific American, vol. 282, no. 2.
Stephen Caesar holds his master's degree in anthropology/archaeology from Harvard. He is a staff member at Associates for Biblical Research.