Friday, March 12, 2010

Darwin's Defenders

I came across a piece the other day by one Michael Ruse, a historian and philosopher of science, who happens also to be a big fan of Charles Darwin. He is troubled by, and his article was about this, recent attacks on Darwin and evolutionary theory by eminent philosophers, three in particular. The article was gracious to a fault, lacking all of the sparks and heat that usually attend discussions on this subject. In it, however, he employs in defense of Darwinism a line of argument I've noticed before, one that really does nothing to advance the case.

Among the several pieces of evidence he marshals to defend Darwin against the critique of the philosophers, he mentions recent research regarding the fruit fly. It seems that humans and not only apes, but even fruit flies are very similar at the molecular/DNA level. We are to conclude, of course, that similar DNA implies a similar ancestor, which is yet more proof of the truth of evolutionary science.

Except, that it proves nothing of the kind. First, the fact that two carbon-based life forms coming from the same planet share similar DNA is really not surprising at all. If I knew nothing else about them and was asked to guess, my first guess would be that they would be similar at the molecular level. But even if it were surprising, if we were shocked to discover that fruit flies and humans are remarkably alike, it would still beg the question about the differences. That is, what exactly are the differences between them and are those differences significant? One doesn't have to be a scientist to notice that, as between a human and a fruit fly, there are very real differences.

And this is precisely where one important part of the controversy over evolution lies. If all living beings are essentially, that is, in essence the same, then why are there so many differences? Pointing out that their DNA is 90%, 95%, or even 99.99% similar, tells me nothing about the differences and resolves none of the controversy.


  1. Dear must be in the water. I have been watching/reading some discussions between Michael Ruse and Stephen Meyer (The Signature in the Cell) online, and many works on similar topics as well. While I disagree with Ruse on many things (though not all), I think he should be applauded for his willingness to engage in respectful dialogue on these issues. He doesn't back down on what he believes, nor should he, but is always cordial. I have never heard him be derogatory during an exchange. As for Darwin's contribution to science, and it's implications, you might find some of the following interesting if you are so inclined(and I may come back to this at another time if it seems appropriate): Stephen Meyer (and others at the Discovery Insitute's Center for Science and Culture), Robin Collins (very interesting comments on ID by him; he's on the faculty at Messiah College), Alvin Plantinga, Francis Collins (see The Biologos Foundation), John Lennox (and his debates with Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens), and the Center for Public Christianity (in Australia).

  2. Thanks Lavender, I will check some of those out. As I said, Ruse's tone was very gracious. All the best.