Following is the body of an e-mail I wrote to a blogger who was avidly backing Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.
The beginning of modern science can be dated to the 16th and 17th centuries, so modern experimental and observational science is about 400 to 500 years old. A convenient early reference point is the publication in 1543 by Copernicus of On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres.
Sir Francis Bacon, who lived 1561-1626, was an early scientist. He had a classical education, which at that time, meant that he studied the ancient Greek and Roman sources. However, he became dissatisfied with the accuracy of these sources and advocated that people should make their own observations. The famous anecdote about looking in the horse’s mouth is almost certainly fictional, but it captures the essence of his scientific approach. (Bacon was supposedly engaged in a discussion with several scholars on how many teeth a horse had. People disagreed about what Aristotle had said on this and could not resolve their discrepancies by argument. Bacon supposedly answered the question by going outside and looking in a horse’s mouth.)
In the beginning (he, he), scientists assumed the historical writings in the Bible were fact. They believed that God created the universe in seven 24-hour days, that Noah’s flood occurred, and all the rest. Today, creationists circulate lists of scientists who believed the Biblical accounts rather than evolutionary theory. These lists always seem to include Issac Newton (1643-1727), the greatest scientist who ever lived. Of course, these lists don’t mention that he lived when everyone, including all scientists, thought the Bible was historically accurate.
Around the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, much data had accumulated on the nature of the Earth, including much information on the layering of sedimentary rocks and the distribution of the included fossils. It became apparent that fossils in the lower strata were simpler than those in the higher strata and that species came and went through time.
In 1815, William Smith published the first geologic map, which covered Britain. It summarized his research on rock layers and fossils and established that fossils occurred in a predictable order throughout the country. Soon, the same layers containing the same fossils were described in France and the concept spread to the rest of Europe. It did not seem possible that a Noachian flood could have sorted out the fossils by complexity and laid them down in layers that could be correlated across an entire continent.
Attempts were also made to estimate the age of the earth. In one method, the amount of sediment transported by a river in one year was divided into the amount of rock eroded from the river valley (making necessary compensations for changes in density during weathering of the rock). These estimates gave ages of several millions of years for the valleys.
Evidence was mounting that the Biblical account of a rapid creation several thousand years ago, followed by the Noachian flood, could not be rationalized to explain real-world measurements and observations, which could be reproduced by anyone willing to make the effort. The Principle of Uniformitarianism (that the processes operating today are the same as the ones that operated in the past, i.e. no global catastrophes or miracles) was developed in the late 1700’s and popularized by the publication of Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology, beginning in 1830. Charles Darwin brought the first of its three volumes when he sailed on the H.M.S Beagle, and arranged to have the two remaining volumes mailed to him during the voyage.
A logjam developed with many different age estimates, made by different methods, competing for acceptance. The logjam was broken when radiometric dating was developed. In 1907, among the first-published radiometric dates, was one for a rock that was 1.6 billion years old. Now, the accepted age for the earth, based on radiometric dating, is 4.5 billion years.
A number of evolutionary theories were developed in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. The most widely accepted before Darwin’s theory was that of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829). His theory held that offspring inherited characteristics acquired by their parents during their lifetime. The giraffe’s neck was long because generations of giraffe parents stretched their necks to reach higher branches and their children inherited their longer necks.
Charles Darwin (1809-1882) sailed on the Beagle from 1831 to 1836. He developed his theory of evolution shortly after the voyage, but delayed publishing it because he knew it would put him at the center of a controversy. After Alfred Russel Wallace shared with Darwin his own, very similar, evolutionary theory, Darwin hastened to get his in print so he would get professional credit. The two theories were published simultaneously in 1858. On the Origin of Species was published in 1859.
In Darwin’s theory, children randomly inherited various characteristics from their parents. By chance, some offspring were more adept at staying alive, keeping themselves well nourished, bearing children, and having their children survive to reproduce. The better adapted an individual was to its environment, the more likely it was to have surviving children. Thus, a species would gradually change to another species, small increment after small increment.
Expelled uses the term “Darwinism” to refer to evolution. Scientists rarely use that term because it would refer to the theory just as Darwin proposed it. After 150 years of research, the Theory of Evolution has grown considerably. Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) developed the laws of inheritance (that genes responsible for inherited characteristics obey certain mathematical relations) at about the same time as Darwin was developing the Theory of Evolution. However, Mendel’s research was published in an obscure German language journal and was not widely known
By the early 1930’s and 1940’s, scientists figured out how to combine evolution and genetics into a new theory that was known as the “Modern Synthesis,” which has been well confirmed by subsequent research. In 1972, Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould put forward their “Punctuated Equilibrium” theory, which says that evolution of new species is unlikely to occur as Darwin thought, gradually over millions of years, but rapidly (say, in 100,000 years) in a small geographic area. To be successful, the new species must spread from its point of origin.
Punctuated equilibrium explains why it is rare to find fossils that are transitional between two species; they occur in such small areas and over such a short time period that they are unlikely to be found, if they are preserved at all. It appears that Punctuated Equilibria explains the fossil records of many species (a large majority, I think), but other species seem to have evolved gradually or not at all. Lingula, a clam-like animal, apparently has remained unchanged for 500 million years, and Ginkgo, the herbal remedy, dates to 270 million years ago.
So, since the Theory of Evolution has changed dramatically from the way Darwin proposed it, I do not think that it is responsible to refer to modern evolutionary theory as “Darwinism,” and scientists do not do so. Scientists call it “evolution.” I suspect the reason Expelled calls it “Darwinism” is to create the impression that evolution is just another social movement like Marxism or National Socialism (Nazism). It is not. All aspects of evolution can be tested, and the well accepted parts of it have been tested, by experiment and observation. That cannot be said for beliefs like Marxism, National Socialism, and Christianity.
The reason I went into so much history is that I wanted to make it clear that when creationists advocate for “equal time” or some other policy to have creationism accepted, they are not being reasonable. They are asking for special treatment.
Like a multitude of other ideas, Lamarckian evolution, for example, the historical accuracy of the Bible with regard to the origin of the earth, natural phenomena, and life, does not square with the evidence that we observe. We know that the earth does not have four corners ( Isiah 11:12 ), that Noah’s flood never occurred, and that the earth and life were not created in seven days. Anyone who doubts that is free to collect data that disproves it. The Biblical literalists had their chance from 1600 to 1850 and they lost out to science. Now they are whining and wanting another chance. Sorry, science doesn’t work that way.
The creationism, scientific creationism, and intelligent design movements are public relations efforts, not science. The IDists have millions of dollars to make and promote a movie, but they refuse to spend a nickel on research. Essentially no scientific research has been conducted by conducted by creationists, against 150 years of testing evolutionary theory. Published scientific research on evolution literally fills libraries. That for creationism would not burden a coffee table.
I hope you find this to be informative.
Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed