Raising the Bar on the Evolution Debate

People such as New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and author Susan Jacoby have been calling for an improved intellectual climate and reasoned, informed debate on hot topics such as the question of origins. OK, let’s give it a try.
Did you know that most of the evidence claimed for evolution is actually not evidence for evolution? That’s right. Remember the mountain of evidence that evolutionists say is supposed to make evolution a fact? Well, most of it consists of biological findings that merely have been interpreted according to evolution.
Here is an example: a prestigious scientific journal, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published last week detailed findings about how DNA information is used to make proteins in our cells. The research team, led by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory professor Michael Zhang, discovered subtle signals in the DNA that help guide incredibly complex molecular machinery when editing the DNA information. The findings are not in any way evidence for evolution, yet the headlines proclaimed, “Scientists Find a Fingerprint of Evolution Across the Human Genome.”

This was not merely a case of journalistic naivete. One can hardly blame the science writer when the journal paper itself presented the results as elucidating the evolutionary process. The paper’s title alone (“RNA landscape of evolution for optimal exon and intron discrimination“) suggests a new finding about evolution, and the paper concludes that human genes seem to have been optimized “during evolution.”
But the “during evolution” part is gratuitous. The key findings are about how the genetic signals work, not that they evolved. There is, in fact, nothing in the findings to indicate evolution. The science writer concluded that “the researchers found signs that evolution rejects some types of mutations,” but there simply was no such finding. What the researchers actually found was the presence of certain subtle signals in the genome. They found no evidence that the signals were produced by evolution.
This dynamic is common and, not surprisingly, influences popular thinking. For reports such as this are taken to be objective, scientific confirmations of evolution. They often find their way into the popular literature, text books, Internet discussions, origins debates and so forth. Is there not a mountain of undeniable evidence for evolution? Are not those who deny this up to no good?
Do Kristof and Jacoby worry about this sort of anti-intellectualism? Do they worry that there are erroneous evidential claims being made about evolution? Do they worry that their own misstatements and ridicule of evolution skeptics are fueling something ugly? I doubt it. My worry is not that evolutionists work within their paradigm and force-fit all findings into their theory, or that the findings later are erroneously concluded to be yet more confirmations of Darwin’s theory. My worry is that this dynamic, as well as the other intricacies of the origins debate, has been steamrolled by an us-versus-them demonization frenzy, and that thinkers like Kristof and Jacoby are none the wiser.

Cornelius G. Hunter

Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Cornelius G. Hunter is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he earned a Ph.D. in Biophysics and Computational Biology. He is Adjunct Professor at Biola University and author of the award-winning Darwin’s God: Evolution and the Problem of Evil. Hunter’s other books include Darwin’s Proof, and his newest book Science’s Blind Spot (Baker/Brazos Press). Dr. Hunter's interest in the theory of evolution involves the historical and theological, as well as scientific, aspects of the theory. His blog is Darwin's God.