Excerpt from Chapter 8

Genesis and Genes is now available in Israel, the UK and the USA. It is expected in South Africa in January 2013. In the meantime, I intend to post a number of sample passages. Here is an excerpt from chapter 8, which takes the form of a dialogue between ‘Jonathan’ and me.

***

YB: Proponents of evolution often cite a statement made by Theodosius Dobzhansky, one of the founders of the modern version of Darwinian evolution. He wrote in 1973 that nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.[1] He argued that evolution is the cornerstone of biology and is central to understanding both living and extinct organisms.  This statement – that nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution – has been repeated thousands of times in order to argue that evolution must have a central place in all areas of science education, and that students should not be exposed to criticisms of the theory.

Jonathan: Can you give me a specific example?

YB: Certainly. In April 2009, a senior South African virologist, who happens to be an observant Jew, wrote a letter to the local Jewish press. He stated that, 

Indeed Theodosius Dobzhansky’s maxim that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” is even more relevant today than when it was first published 36 years ago [very recently it was paraphrased in a leading article in the Journal of the American Medical Association that “nothing in medicine makes sense except in the light of evolution” (JAMA Feb 11, 2009 volume 301:663-665)].[2]

 Jonathan: So biologists see evolution as a unifying principle?

YB: Yes. It is a line that has been consistently taken for decades. In 1959, for example, an article in American Scientist could state that Evolution is the greatest single unifying principle in all biology.[3] And a half-century later, here is how the National Academy of Sciences in the USA puts it: Evolution is “the most important concept in modern biology, a concept essential to understanding key aspects of living things.”[4]

Jonathan: What is the connection between this and geosynclinal theory?

YB: Before geosynclinal theory was ditched in favour of continental drift, it was seen as the unifying concept in geophysics, oceanography and other disciplines.

Jonathan: Really? Can you show me how?

YB: Alfred Wegener died in 1930. By that stage, he had argued for continental drift for many years. Over the ensuing decades, more and more evidence in favour of Wegener’s proposal accumulated. But as late as 1960, the authors of a geology textbook could make the following breathtaking comment: 

The geosynclinal theory is one of the great unifying principles in geology.  In many ways its role in geology is similar to that of the theory of evolution, which serves to integrate the many branches of the biological sciences… Just as the doctrine of evolution is universally accepted among biologists, so also the geosynclinal origin of the major mountain systems is an established principle in geology.[5]

 
Jonathan: I think I can see why you call this statement breathtaking. It is because this textbook equates evolution and geosynclinal theory as being central and indispensable in their respective disciplines, and yet, geosynclinal theory is dead and buried.

YB: Right. And it is most significant that this textbook appeared in 1960, by which time geosynclinal theory was already collapsing. But there’s more. Remember the Scopes Trial?

Jonathan: The monkey trial of the 1920s, in which biology teacher John Scopes was prosecuted for teaching evolution in his science class?

YB: Yes. I won’t go into how this trial has been misrepresented over the years. I only want to show you another unifying principle – supposedly so important that it was not subject to scientific refutation – which was cited in the trial. The Scopes Trial decision quoted the following words of Dr. E. N. Reinke, professor of biology at Vanderbilt University: 

The theory of evolution is altogether essential to the teaching of biology and its kindred sciences.  To deny the teacher of biology the use of this most fundamental generalization of his science would make his teaching as chaotic as an attempt to teach… physics without assuming the existence of the ether.[6]

 Jonathan: But you told me that the ether is dead!

YB: Precisely. It was a unifying principle of physics, until the famous Michelson-Morley experiment, when interpreted by Albert Einstein, demolished it. It is now only remembered by historians of science. It is never taught in physics classes.

Jonathan: Fascinating. Can we tie it all together now?

YB: Yes. In each of these examples, there is a clear distinction between nature and science. Before these theories were replaced, science was wrong. It is incoherent to maintain that the Torah is true and that there can never be a contradiction between the Torah and science. That would require the Torah to be in harmony with theories that have been demonstrated to be false. Bottom line: those who maintain that there must be harmony between Torah and science are sloppy thinkers. Any given scientific claim has to be analysed independently to ascertain whether it is consistent with Torah sources or not. One cannot decide at the outset, as a point of principle, that all scientific positions are compatible with Torah sources. There have been many scientific positions in the past which were dropped like so many bags of ballast.

References:

[1] The essay in which Dobzhansky made this statement was first published in the journal American Biology Teacher, volume 35, pages 125-129.

[2] Letter to the editor by Professor Barry Schoub, The South African Jewish Report, 14th-24th April 2009.

[3] Prosser, C.L., The ‘Origin’ after a Century: Prospects for the Future? American Scientist, 47(4):536-550, December 1959.

[4] National Academy of Sciences, Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1998 page viii.

[5] Thomas H. Clark and Colin W. Stearn, The Geological Evolution of North America: A Regional Approach to Historical Geology, Ronald Press, 1960, page 43.

[6] Scopes v. State of Tennessee, opinion filed January 17, 1927 page 8.

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