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Section 3: Quotations from Scientists

Other Problems With the Theory

Doubts and Doubters in the Camp

E.C. Olson, Evolution After Darwin, Vol. 1, Sol Tax, editor (University of Chicago Press, 1960), p. 523.

...There are, of course, degrees of difference in evaluation of successes, from healthy skepticism to confidence, that the final word has been said, and there are still some among the biologists who feel that much of the fabric of theory accepted by the majority today is actually false and who say so. For the most part, the opinions of the dissenters have been given little credence. This group has formed a vocal, but little heard, minority.

There exists, as well, a generally silent group of students engaged in biological pursuits who tend to disagree with much of the current thought but say and write little because they are not particularly interested, do not see that controversy over evolution is of any particular importance, or are so strongly in disagreement that it seems futile to undertake the monumental task of controverting the immense body of information and theory that exists in the formulation of modern thinking. It is, of course, difficult to judge the size and composition of this silent segment, but there is no doubt that the numbers are not inconsiderable. Wrong or right as such opinion may be, its existence is important and cannot be ignored or eliminated as a force in the study of evolution.

Ibid., p. 540.

...Somehow a theory in which each case seems to be a special case fails to convey a sense of adequacy.

Ibid., p. 540.

...We raise the question whether this process, broadly conceived to involve genotypic shifts, the forces that effect shifts, and the resultant phenotypic changes, can be considered effective as the major process in the production of the many results of evolution that have been discovered.

Ibid., p. 542.

...The variety of phenomena and the opposing features of many of them appear to require manipulations of the available mechanisms to degrees that seem almost incredible.

Perhaps this is illusion and there are, in fact, no problems. Possibly this is the case, but it seems no more subject to demonstration than does the contrary proposition. If problems do exist, it is difficult to devise methods of approaching solutions. We are then in the position of believing, without definitive proof, that factors beyond those recognized at present are of major importance in some areas of evolution, but of not knowing just what they are or how they may be discovered. This is an unfortunate, negative situation. ...It seems quite clear that the basically simple Mendelian inheritance system, even with its many modifications, is far from adequate for a full and final formulation.

John Tyler Bonner, reviewing Implications of Evolution by G.A. Kerkut, American Scientist, vol. 49, June 1961, p. 240.

This is a book with a disturbing message; it points to some unseemly cracks in the foundations. One is disturbed because what is said gives us the uneasy feeling that we knew it for a long time deep down but were never willing to admit this even to ourselves. It is another one of those cold and uncompromising situations where the naked truth and human nature travel in different directions.

The particular truth is simply that we have no reliable evidence as to the evolutionary sequence of invertebrate phyla. We do not know what group arose from which other group or whether, for instance, the transition from Protozoa occurred once, or twice, or many times. Most of us make the tacit assumption that the origin of life, and the origin of the Protozoa themselves are unique events, but can we be sure? The evidence from fossils for the primitive groups has so far been of no help. The sole basis has been on the structural resemblance's between adults or their development, but as the author shows in a most effective manner, if one were to tally the views of experts on such resemblance's, then one can find qualified, professional arguments for any group being the descendant of almost any other. In a particularly illuminating chapter, he discusses the biochemical evidence for affinities between groups. What we have all accepted as the whole truth, turns out with some mild inspection, to be rather far from it. Apparently, if one reads the original papers instead of relying on some superficial remarks in a textbook, the affinities become extremely clouded indeed. We have all been telling our students for years not to accept any statement on its face value but to examine the evidence, and, therefore, it is rather a shock to discover we have failed to follow our own sound advice.

Ibid., p. 242.

....We may have known for almost a hundred years that Haeckel's blastea-gastrea theory of the origin of the metazoa is probably nonsense, but it is so clear-cut, so simple, so easy to hand full-blown to the student. The point, of course, is that although system may exist, we do not know yet what it is. But students are impatient and, at first, ignorance does not goad them into solving problems; they only see an unfinished canvas with great blotching holes in it. Just as the wrong solution to this difficult problem is easy, the right one is hard. In the case of phylogeny our textbooks are little help; in fact they are, as a rule, a festering mass of unsupported assertions.

Emanual Radl, The History of Biological Theories (Oxford University Press, London, 1930), p. v.

...It is true that the theory has not received any clinching scientific proof.

Ronald Good, Features of Evolution in the Flowering Plants (Longmans, Green and Sons, London, 1956), pp. 1-2.

All this being so it might be expected that there would be an essential unanimity of opinion about the probable means by which evolution has been effected and that writings on the subject would be distinguished by the highest standards of scientific dialectic, but in neither case can this be claimed. There are still deep divergences of opinion about the nature of evolutionary processes, while it is the experience of many that increased acquaintance with the literature brings more rather than less uncertainty, together with a conviction that however much may already have been said there is even something of the alluring but elusive quality of a mirage, in which the scene, at first apparently so sharply etched, gradually dissolves as it is more closely approached until it loses much of its earlier certainty of outline.

In consequence, although evolution finds wide tacit acceptance as a grand organizing concept of biology and as the best available working hypothesis to explain the present multifariousness of plant and animal life, many people gravely doubt the validity of many of the more particular arguments by which it is customarily sustained. Some even question the whole idea. The biological sciences today are thus in the uneasy position of having to use, as one of their principal tools, a body of theory which is both sententious and incomplete, and one in which many workers have less than complete confidence.

Ibid., p. 2.

The fundamental inherent difficulty in the study of evolution is that this great natural process involves time dimensions of a magnitude quite out of proportion to the duration of human life or even to the sum of human experience, and the observer has therefore to rely on indirect, or circumstantial evidence. Hence beliefs that are often referred to as theories of evolution are, more accurately, only working hypotheses. This is a very important matter because the essence of a hypothesis is that it is an opinion suggested by the available evidence, but not one which precludes the possibility of some alternative. A hypothesis may well be substantiated when more corroborative details are forthcoming, but until then there is no logical reason for excluding the consideration of some other explanation of the facts. So, while it may be justifiable to believe that evolution affords a reasonable explanation of the facts of nature, it is not justifiable to maintain that no other explanation is possible or permissible.

T.H. Huxley, Discourses: Biological and Geological Essays (D. Appleton and Co., New York, 1897), pp. 289-291.

We are all accustomed to speak of the number and the extent of the changes in the living population of the globe during geological time as something enormous. ...But, leaving the negative differences out of consideration, and looking only at the positive data furnished by the fossil world from a broader point of view--from that of the comparative anatomist...a surprise of another kind dawns upon the mind; and under this aspect the smallness of the total change becomes as astonishing as was its greatness under the other.

There are two hundred known orders of plants; of these not one is certainly known to exist exclusively in the fossil state. The whole lapse of geological time has as yet yielded not a single new ordinal type of vegetable structure.

The positive change in passing from the recent to the ancient animal world is greater, but still singularly small. No fossil animal is so distinct from those now living as to require to be arranged even in a separate class from those which contain existing forms. It is only when we come to the orders, which may be roughly estimated at about a hundred and thirty, that we meet with fossil animals so distinct from those now living as to require orders for themselves; and these do not amount, on the most liberal estimate, to more than about ten percent of the whole.

Note: Since Huxley's time fossil animals have been discovered in the Burgess Shale in British Columbia and in the Ediacaran formation in Australia which are radically different from anything previously found among fossil or living animals. However, there is no fossil evidence that these strange species have any connection with other fossil or living species.

T.H. Huxley, Life and Letters of T.H. Huxley, Vol. 1, Leonard Huxley, editor (MacMillan & Co., London, 1903), p. 252.

...I by no means suppose that the transmutation hypothesis is proven or anything like it.

Martin Lings, Ancient Beliefs and Modern Superstitions (Perennial Books, London, 1964), pp. 4-5.

The French biologist Professor Louis Bounoure quotes Yves Delage, a former Sorbonne Professor of Zoology: `I readily admit that no species has ever been known to engender another, and that there is no absolutely definite evidence that such a thing has ever taken place. None the less, I believe evolution to be just as certain as if it had been objectively proved.' Bounoure comments: `In short, what science asks of us here is an act of faith, and it is in fact under the guise of a sort of revealed truth that the idea of evolution is generally put forward.'(Le Monde et la Vie, Nov. 1963) He quotes, however, from a present day Sorbonne Professor of Paleontology, Jean Pivetaeau, the admission that the science of facts as regards evolution `cannot accept any of the different theories which seek to explain evolution. It even finds itself in opposition with each one of these theories. There is something here which is both disappointing and disquieting.'(Le Monde et la Vie, March 1964)

W.R. Thompson, "The Status of Species," in Philosophical Problems in Biology;, Vincent E. Smith, editor (St. John's University Press, New York, 1966), pp. 93-95.

...It is possible to retain faith in evolution while disbelieving any of the explanations of it that has been proposed. Such is the position of Jean Rostand who says (J. Figaro Litteraire, April, 1957 that the two great doctrines of evolution, Lamarckianism and mutationism, appear to him to be one as childish as the other and that it is time to dispense completely with these fairy tales for adults. ...

"Shall we say that evolution proceeds too slowly for the signs of it to be detected by our methods of investigation, or which is preferable, in my opinion, shall we admit that evolution is finished and that the organisms of today no longer possess, even in a lesser degree, the evolutionary capacities of their ancestors? ..."

However, concludes Rostand--a competent biologist, whose long connection with the Laboratoire d'Evolution in Paris has made him well acquainted with evolutionary thinking--the simplest position is to recognize loyally that we know nothing of the causes of evolution. We are, he thinks,

"in a less favorable position than in 1859, because, after searching vainly for a century, we have rather the impression that the field of hypotheses has been exhausted. Furthermore, living nature appears as even more stable, more fixed, more refractionary to transmutations than it appeared to be before we had clearly distinguished between hereditary and acquired variations."

In spite of these radical reservations, Jean Rostand's evolutionary faith remains intact.

This was not the view of Darwin who said that he would give nothing for his theory of evolution unless he could explain the process; and he was in fact, convinced that he had explained it. His attitude is shared by many modern evolutionists among whom, however, there is often complete disagreement about the causes of evolution. This hardly inspires confidence in an `unbiased observer,' because if one is right, the others must all be wrong, and it seems, in fact, quite likely that they are all wrong.

Paul Lemoine, editor, French Encyclopedia, Societe de Gestion de L'Encyclopedie Francaise(1937), 5-28-8; quoted in James D. Bales, The Genesis Account and a Scientific Test (707 East Race, Searcy, Ark. 72143), p. 47.

It results from this expose that the theory of evolution is impossible. Moreover, in spite of appearances no one longer believes it, and one says it, without attaching any importance to it otherwise, evolution in order to signify enchantment--or, more evolved, less evolved in the sense of more perfectioned, less perfectioned, because it is conventional language, admitted and almost obligatory in the scientific world. Evolution is a sort of dogma in which the priests no longer believe but that they maintain for their people.

That--one must have the courage to say it in order that men of future generations orient their research in another way. For one must say it well also, even if the theories of evolution were truly dismounted, one would arrive at the supreme hypothesis before which all the biologists have withdrawn. How has life appeared? And why such day rather than such other? On such period rather on such other?

G.A. Kerkut, Implications of Evolution (Pergamon Press, Elmsford, New York, 1960), p. 148.

...At present, however, it is a matter of faith that the textbook pictures are true, or even that they are the best representations of the truth that are available to us at the present time.

Paul R. Erhlich and Richard W. Holm, Science, vol. 137, 1962, p. 656.

Finally, consider the third question posed earlier: `What accounts for the observed patterns in nature?' It has become fashionable to regard modern evolutionary theory as the only possible explanation of these patterns rather than just the best explanation that has been developed so far. It is conceivable, even likely, that what one might facetiously call a non-Euclidean theory of evolution lies over the horizon. Perpetuation of today's theory as dogma will not encourage progress toward more satisfactory explanations of observed phenomena.

Roy Danson, New Scientist, vol. 49, 1971, pp. 35-36.

As I understand it the Theory of Evolution is no longer with us, because neo-Darwinism is now acknowledged as being unable to explain anything more than trivial changes and in default of some other theory we have none. ...

What concerns me, however, is not the incidentals but the fact that despite the hostility of the witness provided by the fossil record, despite the innumerable difficulties, and despite the lack of even a credible theory, evolution survives as a basic faith for the scientific masses. ...Can there be another area of science, for instance, in which a concept as intellectually barren as embryonic recapitulation could be used as evidence for a theory? As Professor Heribert Nilsson said some years ago, "For everything must ultimately be forced to fit this speculative theory. An exact biology cannot, therefore, be built up."

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