Once again Kenneth Laub has dipped his oar into the waters concerning evolution and creationism. As with his previous statements, he offered a skewed version of science and especially of evolution as modern biologists understand it.
Laub says that creationists believe only in microevolution, the adaptation of populations to local conditions, but do not subscribe to “Darwinism,” which he says deals with the capacity for life to “arise from non-life elements” and through change over time to give rise to “higher life forms.” This sets up false distinctions and also burdens evolutionary biology with tasks that it does not concern itself with.
First of all, “Darwinism,” as happens so often with language, has changed its meaning over the years since Darwin’s original 1859 book and, in fact, is little used by modern evolutionary biologists. Thus Laub’s use of the term is both outdated and more of a rhetorical crutch than anything useful. If the term has any meaning, though, it is most closely associated with the idea that the primary shaper of life on earth is natural selection, Darwin’s biggest contribution to evolutionary thought.
Ironically, natural selection is the basis for local adaptive population changes, the stuff of microevolution. So, if the term has any utility, Laub is a “Darwinist” since he accepts microevolutionary change!
Moreover, while modern evolutionary biology is concerned with both micro- and macroevolution, it says virtually nothing about the origins of life itself. Biological evolution addresses only the diversification of life once life has begun.
There is a separate realm of inquiry that deals with chemical evolution, but little in modern evolutionary theory applies to that process unless there are reproducing objects for evolution to work on. Laub then goes on to bizarrely conflate his version of “Darwinism” with the Big Bang Theory, again a realm of inquiry that evolutionary biology has nothing to say about on any scale.
Laub casts modern evolutionary biology aside because he claims no one has witnessed the formation of “higher life forms,” whatever that means. In biology we have long realized that the “scale of nature” does not exist and that implications of “higher” and “lower” are meaningless. We concentrate just on differences and thus the diversity of organisms.
However, with regard to the emergence of novel pedigrees of life, we can witness it, however indirectly. All it takes is a glance at the fossil record. Despite the cries of anti-evolutionary activists, we have a fossil record that shows, for example, a graded series demonstrating how one line of fish gave rise to the four-legged critters we now call amphibians, and how out of that lineage we got a later grab-bag group, the reptiles, and from there we got mammals and birds.
Evolutionary biology now uses incredibly sophisticated genetic techniques (the same as those employed to identify perpetrators and solve crimes) to test the pattern we see in the fossil record against the genetics of present-day groups and, guess what? What we see in the fossil record is reflected in the genes of organisms today – those farthest apart in the fossil record are also farther apart genetically.
This is an example of hypothesis testing and is the bedrock of the scientific method. What we know of genes and genetic change comes from real-time studies of microevolution. From that we set up predictions about patterns of change in the past that we test using the genes of present-day groups.
Thus, microevolutionary work leads us to deeper understanding of macroevolutionary change. The two are seamlessly connected.
So, if creationists accept only microevolution, they are being intellectually dishonest because they disregard what we know about macroevolution. In science one does not get to pick and choose one’s evidence, which brings us to another assertion Laub makes.
He objects to the idea that “if you don’t believe in Darwinism you can’t function as a serious scientist in the modern world.” He is wrong. A scientist is free to question the prevailing explanation for a scientific phenomenon, but to be taken seriously as a scientist, the individual must collect data that test the mainstream explanation and must present them to other scientists. If new evidence emerges, debate begins and the working model will be changed.
Given that Laub labels “Darwinism” as “propaganda for a left-wing agenda,” he reveals obvious prejudices about it. He objects to evolution on religious and political grounds and, in doing so, dismisses one of the best-tested bodies of evidence about the workings of our world because it doesn’t fit his preconceptions. That’s blatantly antiscientific and no credible scientist should do it. In fact, as many have pointed out before, evolutionary biologists come from all religious and political persuasions.
Finally, Laub claims that in schools that teach creationism, a religiously-based explanation for the origins of life, “Darwinism” is usually also taught. That’s laughable. Evolution is brought up in such settings as a straw-man argument. The schools typically have a religious bent, and in that setting evolutionary biology is almost always caricatured in order to knock it down and promote creationism.
Talk about propaganda! A look at the books such institutions use reveals consistent attacks on evolutionary biology, especially macroevolution, while promoting creationism.
The fact is that creationism has no place in a science classroom. It depends on the supernatural for its operation and, as such, is beyond the actions of physical laws. Ever since Francis Bacon formulated his ideas around the beginning of the 17th Century, science has worked to get itself out from under the yoke of supernatural explanation. Laub, and those like him, are desperately trying to drag us back there.
The author, a Rock Hill resident, is a professor of biology at Winthrop University.