Hooke, Fossils and the Anti-Evolutionists
The last paragraph brings me back to the opening lines of this essay. Robert Plot, in 1677, used the fact that the fossils we call ammonites are "imperfect" versions of living Nautilus to argue that interpretations of fossils as the remains of real organisms must fail. Similarly, today anyone who admits that our current understanding of evolution is less than complete risks misrepresentation by anti-evolutionists and may be cited by them as evidence that the whole structure is a sham. (To see if your own work has been so treated, consult http://antievolution.org/people/wre/quotes)
Two hundred years after Hooke's Micrographia, in an effort to plug the dyke before evolutionism flooded the intellectual landscape, Philip Henry Gosse produced the mother of all ad hoc reasoning in his book Omphalos (1857). Greek for "the navel," the book's title was a reference to the old conundrum—did Adam have a navel? Gosse's answer was, yes; God created an Adam with a navel, and He created all the fossils of creatures that had never lived and the whole complex structure of the earth as we know it. He created trees with internal rings attesting to growth that had not occurred, rock strata that had never been laid down and streams with their sediment load from hills that had not been eroded. All the apparent evidence of a changing ancient earth was simply another part of God's bounteous creation. While this is almost an unbeatable argument—after all, how can you prove it to be false?—it is also nonsense: That which explains everything, explains nothing.
Following faithfully in Gosse's footsteps, some modern anti-evolutionists have developed a new version of the old ad hoc logic. It allows the option of granting the later course of evolutionary history but insists that the origin of life cannot be explained by evolution. According to this logic, large, complex molecules such as hemoglobin present an "irreducible" complexity that requires the operation of a Designing Intelligence, which they identify with God. It is hard to see this as science because it poses no testable hypotheses about what the Designing Intelligence is or how to investigate it, and it requires acceptance of belief in a negative—the un-evolveability of complex systems.
In the end, "irreducible complexity" also suffers from the same chicken-egg problem that I outlined above. If there were independent scientific proof of the existence and nature of God, His hand in creation would be more likely to be accepted. If the un-evolveability of complex molecules were somehow proved, there would be more support for a supernatural "intelligence." But the possibility of one says nothing about the probability of the other. And none of it constitutes the sort of hard-nosed search for explanations of material phenomena that Hooke and his contemporaries pioneered and that we call science.
© Keith Thomson