Evolution in the News - April 1998

Science or Faith?

Page 1 of the March 1998 issue of National Geographic contains this statement from their editor, Bill Allen.

Whenever we feature an article concerning scientific evidence of evolution, I can be certain of two things: The story will represent the latest physical evidence presented by the leading scientists in the study of early life--and my office will be deluged with letters from readers who reject evolutionary theory. Most of the critics object as a matter of scriptural principle; others say they have scientific evidence that calls evolution into question. This month's story about the origins of life will only add to that debate.
Faith and science have one thing in common: Both are lifelong searches for truth. But while faith is an unshakable belief in the unseen, science is the study of testable, observable phenomena.

The implication that Mr. Allen is making is that the National Geographic article will discuss testable, observable phenomena, rather than the unseen. But when you turn to the article in question, the first two sentences are:

Looking like a planet adrift in space, a tiny ball of carbon holds a world of meaning: Nestled in a cavity etched from 3.86-billion-year-old-rock (colored here for contrast), it may be the oldest evidence of life on Earth. The specimen, found on what is now an island off Greenland, has lost all anatomical features, yet scientists believe its biochemistry was similar to that of every life-form that has evolved since.

Who saw that rock formed 3.86 billion years ago? Who saw the anatomical features in the ball of carbon? Who saw those features lost? Who saw its (now long gone) biochemistry and compared it to every other life form? Who saw those life forms evolve? Do the first two sentences in this article reflect "testable, observable phenomena" or "unshakable belief in the unseen"? The fact is a microscopic ball of carbon was found on an island near Greenland. All the rest is speculation, hedged with words like "may be" and "believe".

The feature article in our February newsletter, How Life Began, described the confusion and controversy in the origin of life debate, as reported in the February 1998 issue of Earth magazine. It is too soon to discuss those points again in this newsletter. Instead, we want to focus on the issue Bill Allen raised. Is the National Geographic article scientific or religious?

We encourage you to read the whole National Geographic article, and then ask yourself, the following questions.

  1. Who saw the chunk of iron and nickel slam into the earth 50,000 years ago, and recorded the date in the laboratory log book?1
  2. Who saw debris accrete 4.5 billion years ago to form the Earth?2
  3. Who saw microscopic interplanetary dust contribute to "the primordial soup and the living things that arose from it"?3
  4. Who saw "three lines representing the main branches of life, all emanating from a central stalk"?4
  5. Who saw life diversifying but staying the same size as bacteria for 3 billion years?5
  6. Who watched as "over thousands or perhaps millions of years, those chemical kitchens cooked up the greatest dish ever prepared: life itself"?6

What experiments have shown that these things could happen, let alone shown that they did happen? We could go on and on like this, but you no doubt have gotten the point by now. National Geographic states their belief in unseen, untested processes, as if they are scientific facts.

Ironically, the article about how life began contains many contradictory theories. Life began in a boiling cauldron.7 Life began in a ball of ice.8 Life began in a temperate pond.9 There are legitimate scientific objections to all these theories. But that doesn't matter to the true believers at National Geographic. They have an unshakable belief in the unseen.

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Footnotes:

1 National Geographic, March 1998, "The Rise of Life on Earth", page 57 (Ev)
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid. page 59
6 Ibid.
7 Ibid. pages 60 and 64
8 Ibid. page 62
9 Ibid. page 63