As we noted in a previous article, the first episode of deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos was aimed directly at Christianity. The message: faith is an obstacle to science, and a malicious one at that.
The second episode is designed to rub more salt in the wound by touting mindless evolution as the real cause of all the bountiful complexity of life on earth, and not a creator God.
The problem with deGrasse Tyson’s approach—and it is an old, well-worn one, going back to Darwin himself—is that evolution works too well for it to be a mindless process explainable in terms of random variation, natural selection, and mutation (and the various addenda brought in to shore up what these two can’t deliver).
Note again what I’m saying: the problem with mindless evolution is that evolution works too well for it to have been mindless.
I need to drill this in because our current public debate about evolution is entirely confused by specious notion that there are two and only two alternatives: either evolution didn’t happen at all, or evolution did happen and it happened mindlessly.
This is exactly the way the Darwin strategically set up his argument in the Origin of Species (and he did it precisely because he understood the serious defects in his own argument). Darwin offered his readers a false choice: eitheryou believe that God created each and every species from scratch, or you must accept that all development of life on earth can be explained by random variation and natural selection.
Either-Or. Two and only two choices.
So, continued Darwin, can any sane person think that on a single day 6000 years ago God individually created some 140 different species of sparrows, many of which are almost indistinguishable except to the expert? Or 20,000 species of butterflies, many of which differ so slightly that most experts tell them apart?
No. Therefore, Darwin asserted, we must admit that there has been development of species over time. And that means (and here’s the leap) we must conclude that evolution by random variation and natural selection explains the entire development and diversity of species on earth. No God needed.
DeGrasse Tyson’s strategy is much the same as Darwin’s. There are only two alternatives. Either you choose (as our ancestors did) the notion that God created all the creatures that have ever lived on earth from scratch in a few days, or you acknowledge the well-established scientific fact that life has developed over long periods of time, and that means that mindless random variation, natural selection, and mutation explain everything.
Set up this way (and it is a set-up), anyevidence for the development of life over time proves that evolution must have been mindless, and any evidence brought against mindless evolution can only be a foolish denial that any development has taken place. All deGrasse has to do is show—so he thinks— that development of life has occurred, and he’s proven that the cosmos is mindless.
And that is the goal of Cosmos—to prove that the cosmos does not need a divine mind as its cause.
But what if we dare step outside of this stale and worn dichotomy, and suggest that there is a third alternative? How about this: evolution happened, and it’s so fantastic, so marvelously prodigious in its production of the diversity and complexity of life, that it works too wellfor it to be explained by mindless random variation, natural selection, and mutation.
On this third alternative, when we bring up problems with Darwinian type explanations, we are not objecting to evolution but to mindless evolution. DeGrasse Tyson never allows this third alternative a voice.
So, let’s imagine that the third alternative was given a chance to speak in deGrasse Tyson’s second episode of Cosmos. Since he speaks for Darwin, I’ll speak for the third alternative. All quoted material comes directly from the script.
Cosmos: “Before Darwin discovered the actual mechanism of evolution, the prevailing belief was that the complexity, the variety of life, must be the work of an intelligent designer who created each of these millions of different species separately.”
Wiker: Not so fast. First of all, if you know your history, Darwin didn’t discover the mechanism of evolution. Evolution was a philosophical theory that arose in ancient Greece and spread to Rome. If you recall the first episode of Cosmos, you pictured the 16th century figure Giordano Bruno reading a copy of the 1st century BC Roman Philosopher Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things. Lucretius put forth an argument for evolution almost exactly like Darwin’s. In fact, Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus, used Lucretius as the inspiration for his own published account of evolution. Evolution was a philosophical idea in Darwin’s family tree.
Second, you are implying that someone who is convinced that a divine mind, God, created the cosmos, must hold that God “created each of these millions of different species separately” and so reject evolution. But that’s wrong, the chief scientific supporters of evolution in Darwin’s time, and Darwin’s own friends, Asa Gray, Charles Lyell, and Alfred Russel Wallace were theists who argued that Darwin’s “mechanism” of evolution—random variation and natural selection—was woefully insufficient to explain the actual development of the complexity and diversity of life.
In fact, do you know who Darwin acknowledged as his single greatest adversary, the most penetrating critic of his Origin of Species? An evolutionist and theist, St. George Mivart.
So, stop pretending there are only two choices, and that choosing evolution based upon the fact of life’s long development can only mean that a Godless, mindless process caused it. That’s not honest.
And speaking of honest, that whole opening bit with the domestication of wolves by early human beings, and the further creation of countless breeds of dogs by our artificially selecting and breeding for the traits we want?
Cosmos: “If artificial selection can work such profound changes in ten or fifteen thousand years, what can natural selection do operating over billions of years?”
Wiker: You need to be more honest. You’re really being misleading here. Billions of years? Earth is about 4.5 billion years old. But the conditions were too harsh for life until about 3.8 billion years ago. Almost immediately, prokaryotes, the simplest cells pop up. Why so soon? And these simplest of cells are not all that simple; in fact, nobody has been able to give a “mindless” account of the rise of life, isn’t that correct?
Cosmos: “Nobody knows how life got started…Science works on the frontier between knowledge and ignorance. We’re not afraid to admit what we don’t know. There’s no shame in that. The only shame is to pretend that we have all the answers.”
Wiker: Good! I agree. Now let’s get back to the development of life, and make sure we’re not pretending.
After the sudden arrival of these simplest of living things, not much else happened for another billion and a half years—that’s when cells with a nucleus showed up, cells capable of providing the foundation for complex life. And another billion years passed before you get the simplest multicellular life.
So, the real development of life’s absolutely stunning, biologically complex diversity has only barely begun—and we’re down to a billion years, not billions.
But it was another half billion years before the real explosion of life’s development occurred—the so-called Cambrian explosion, when nearly all of life’s biological phyla quite suddenly showed up.
So again, be honest. Blind evolution doesn’t have billions of years to do its meandering work. All the really significant development—the wonderful diversity of life you picture in Cosmos—happened in the last 550 million years.
Even stranger, when we consult the actual fossil record, we find that species stay the same for a really long time (stasis), and then show relatively short spurts of rapid development (punctuational change)—what evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould aptly called “punctuated equilibrium.” That means that the actual biological developments you’re attempting to explain by mindless evolution must occur in fraction of that 550 million years, in those short spurts.
When you take into account the enormous amount of change that you’re talking about—say, from the first exceedingly humble vertebrate, Myllokunmingia, to all the astounding creatures back-boning around today—it appears more and more that “natural selection” approaches the speed of human-defined artificial selection.
Maybe that means that there’s more to nature than your mindless Cosmos admits? At least you should admit the possibility of a third alternative: evolution works too well for it to have been the result of a mindless cosmos.