The theory of evolution would be fairly simple to debate, if only evolution opponents had a bit of sense…
Here are the steps:
Step 1 – Define the debate
It is important before anything else to define exactly what is under debate. Evolution supporters will often point out that evolution is nothing more than change over time. However, that is not ALL that evolution is and it is not the part that is being questioned.
“Biological evolution is a change in the genetic characteristics of a population over time… Biological evolution ALSO refers to the common descent of living organisms from shared ancestors.” FAQ section of TalkOrigins.org (2012) (emphasis mine)
So it is MACRO not MICRO evolution that we are debating, right?
WRONG! We are not debating Macroevolution either, simply because it is unnecessary.
And, while we’re on the subject, here are a few other topics NOT under debate:
- Cosmic Evolution, Stellar Evolution, Chemical Evolution, Planetary Evolution and Organic Evolution.
- Abiogenesis (the emergence of life from non-life) – this is considered a separate topic from evolution and is not under debate here.
- The age of the earth or of life on earth
- The Biblical Creation story or the flood
Regardless of whether any of these topics might be debatable in their own right, they do not need to be and will not be addressed in the process being outlined here.
So now let’s talk about what IS being debated. The question to ask is, what does the Theory of Evolution claim?
According to Wikipedia:
“Life on Earth originated and then evolved from a UNIVERSAL COMMON ANCESTOR approximately 3.8 billion years ago.” Evolution (emphasis mine)
Not just this, but the entire process was undirected. There was no intelligent interference influencing the natural course of events.
If this is the claim, AND IT IS, the only thing it would take for the claim to be false would be ONE INSTANCE of intelligent interference throughout the entire evolutionary process. If even once throughout these 3.8 billion years an intelligent entity tampered with the system so as to be even partly responsible for the existence of modern life forms as we find them, then the Theory of Evolution would be incorrect. And, if this is all it takes, why debate anything more?
But now someone will say, “Great. If you believe there was intelligent interference, PROVE IT!”
Fortunately (or unfortunately), I don’t need to. The question to be asked is this:
Can the Evolution Supporter demonstrate that the entire evolutionary process WAS in fact undirected; that there wasn’t even one instance of intelligent input?
If YES, then he is invited to proceed with the demonstration.
Otherwise, what this means is that there is plenty of room in science for an alternative model.
Step 2 – Eliminate the Supernatural Element
The simplest way to illustrate how to do this is with a series of questions (I like to picture, just for fun, a naïve looking middle-schooler asking these questions of an University Evolution Professor):
- We know that an organism’s DNA contains the genetic information used in development and scientists have been able to decipher that code for several organisms, correct?
- So are scientists able to tamper with the genetic code at all? Can they make some change in the DNA and change the way an organism turns out?
- Do you think that someday scientists will be able to check the DNA of an embryo and if it looks like it might have some disease, to correct it before the baby is born?
- What about coming up with brand new features? Do you think we will one day be able to invent something totally new like a new organ that no other organism has that provides some added benefit and then introduce that feature into the DNA so that it gets passed on to all descendants?
- Do you think we will even be able to come up with entirely new organisms and write our own original DNA code for them?
- What about if we found some deserted planet and handcrafted organisms suited for the conditions on that planet and populated the planet with them. Do you think some day we will be able to do that?
- But then if WE will one day be able to design life forms to populate new planets couldn’t it be that the same thing might have happened to our planet?
Intelligent Design as a concept does NOT require the designer to be supernatural. After all, in the not-too-distant future, we will be able to do things like this ourselves. (we’re actually doing them already)
But why eliminate the supernatural?
In science it is necessary for a proposed solution to make tangible predictions that can be tested and examined. If the solution proposes a supernatural designer that made living organisms supernaturally, science has nothing left that it can say about that. Virtually anything it discovers about reality could be adapted to fit with a supernatural explanation. The technical term for this is unfalsifiability. This is not to mean that a supernatural explanation is necessarily wrong but simply that it is not something that the scientific method is equipped to address.
The only way that the concept of Intelligent Design could be developed into a valid scientific model is to postulate a non-supernatural designer that used natural design methods like those human bioengineers would use. Without this, Intelligent Design is bound to be dismissed as unscientific which is in fact what actually happened and is the main reason ID has made little progress this far.
Step 3 – Do the Science
Up to this point everything we’ve discussed has been merely a theoretical framework for how the evolution debate might be approached. And, if the discussion stops here all this will amount to nothing more than an entertaining mental exercise.
To actually have a shot at winning the debate against evolution, this alternative model will need to be backed up by actual science. In other words,
- The model will need to be developed so that it makes specific claims about how and when this intelligent agent interfered with the evolutionary process and what we should expect to discover that will support those claims.
- Do the necessary research to determine if these predictions were correct.
- Do this enough times to show that correct predictions aren’t an isolated occurrence.
So what would this accomplish?
First, if over time it becomes evident that predictions made by this model are consistently more accurate than predictions made by the evolutionary model it will do a whole lot more to counteract evolution than any attempts to displace it through legal or political means.
Second, if this model becomes established, it will become a scientific alternative to evolution. Hence, if there is currently anything about evolution that is “assumed true” for lack of alternative explanations, this will no longer be possible.
Of course there is also no reason why the two models couldn’t continue side by side as just two different schools of thought. Even though one will eventually win out, for the time being such a state of things could only be of benefit to science.
And that’s it. This is what it would take to debate evolution effectively or at least, this is what it will take for an alternative theory to have a chance competing against evolution. Or evolution opponents could continue doing things the way they have been doing them for over a century and continue to meet with the same results.