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JD Donovan
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Allangering: Your comment raises several issues and I'll start where we agree. Yes, Newton didn't believe Darwin's theory. Of course, he died over a century before Darwin wrote "On the Origin of Species". In Nat Sci 2, one of our authors is Cuvier, the father of paleontology, a faithful Catholic, and a believer in special creation. Cuvier, the greatest anatomist of his time, was the person who showed how to identify species from fossil fragments and who convinced the scientific community that those old, odd species were really extinct. This was a radical idea at the time, and led to a conundrum which Cuvier himself admitted he could not resolve. Throughout natural history, species were constantly going extinct, and continue to do so. At the same time, he thought that no new species were evolving (although he knew Lamarck's theory of evolution, he strongly rejected it.) That means that the total number of species in the world must continually be declining. It was almost as if the world is slowing dying. Also, all living species are absent from the early fossil record; where were they back then? Why were there no mammals before the Jurassic Period? Why no land animals of any kind before the Devonian? The issue is exacerbated today by the fact that a simple, unbiased classification of the fossil record shows that the number of species that have died out over time is many times more than the number extant today. This conclusion comes from pure observation; it does not depend upon evolution for it to stand. Cuvier accepted that he could not explain the raw data, and at times hinted that creation may have occurred several times, once after each major catastrophe. From a scientific perspective, this seemed rather ad hoc and unsatisfying. From the perspective of biblical literalism, this idea is non-scriptural and potentially heretical (although for Cuvier, a Catholic in a Catholic country like France, literal interpretation was not the norm.) Cuvier is considered one of the half-dozen greatest biologists in history. He rejected evolution—the idea of species changing—on philosophical grounds and thereby could not make sense of his own fossil record. His own example refutes your statement that “If you study the natural record without evolutionary glasses on, it makes much more sense.” Cuvier was not smart enough to do it. Neither am I. But with the theory of Natural Selection, the progression from unicellular to multicellular life, from invertebrates to vertebrate fish, from sea to land, from cold-blooded to warm-blooded animals—it all makes sense. The relationships between genetic maps also make sense, and roughly overlay the maps supplied by paleontologists, an astounding coincidence unless all organisms are related in one giant family tree through common descent. Finally, if your concern is that ‘godless evolution’ is somehow heretical and evil, consider that Darwin invokes the Creator several times in the Origin of Species. Many leading evolutionists have been practicing members of their faith, most notably Dobzhansky, one of the developers of the neo-Darwinian synthesis. Less notably, myself. On the other hand, if you take the position that evolution and belief in God are incompatible, you will find yourself on the side of several anti-religion crusaders, a group whose positions I suspect you likely reject.
Warner, thanks for your comments. You're living evidence that the bias against Great Books colleges by techies is misplaced. Stop by if you're ever in Chicago.