Fossils showing stability over time...............
Many fossils, like this jellyfish fossil, actually show stability of some species over time rather than change and there is a lack of intermediates. Species that are the same as their fossil ancestors are called "Living fossils".
Until the late 19th century the pituitary gland and other endocrine organs were considered to be vestigial organs - useless leftovers from evolution. Could some of other evolutionary concepts that are still accepted as correct by main-stream science in fact be wrong?
We often look to science, scientific theories and scientists as being nearly infallible. As such some theories such as the theory of evolution can be considered above question. However, below are just a few examples of when science got it wrong in the past. These illustrate that science is not infallible, and it is good to remember this when considering theories like the theory of evolution. Below was written by Diane Eagerwith the exception of the evolution of evolution section which was written by Dr Mark Toleman.
Plant growth from water alone?
In the early 1600’s a Flemish nobleman named Jean Baptiste van Helmont (1579-1644) carried out an experiment to find out where plants derived their substance from. He carefully weighed out 200 pounds of dried soil and placed it in a pot. He then planted a small willow sapling weighing 5 pounds into the soil and for the next five years he regularly watered the plant with rainwater or distilled water. He then dried the soil and weighed it and the plant. The plant now weighed 169 pounds, but the soil had lost only a few ounces in weight. Van Helmont concluded that “164 pounds of Wood, Barks, and Roots, arose out of water only.” We now know that plants derive much of their mass from carbon dioxide in the air, and ironically van Helmont knew about carbon dioxide, although he did not give it this name. He called it gas sylvestre and described how it was generated burning charcoal - a plant derivative. He also did many other experiments involving the production of gases but did not make any connection between air and plant growth. To top
Over a century after van Helmont’s death Joseph Priestley showed that plants absorbed carbondioxide andreleased oxygen. At that time oxygen was equally misunderstood and was known as “dephlogisticated air”. This ponderous name refers to a theoretical substance known as “phlogiston” which was believed to be released into air by combustion. Eighteenth-century scientists had worked out that combustion, respiration and rusting of metals seemed to involve the same processes and phlogiston was seen as a unifying explanation for these. The theory was proposed by Johan Becher (1625-1682) and Georg Stahl (1660-1734) who claimed that air had a limited capacity for absorbing phlogiston and when it became saturated with it combustion would stop and animals would suffocate unless they were exposed to air that had the phlogiston removed, i.e. “de-phlogisticated”. Plants were believed to absorb phlogiston from the air. This could be shown experimentally by first burning a candle inside a concealed container until it went out, i.e. the air was saturated with phlogiston. If a mouse were placed in this air it would die, but if a plant were placed in the container, after a while the air would become fit to breathe again.
We now know that all these observations can be explained by the fact that combustion, respiration and rusting of metals involve reactions with oxygen and plants give off oxygen as a result of photosynthesis.
Oxygen was discovered by Joseph Priestley, but he persisted in calling it de-phlogisticated air and he continued to believe in phlogiston for the rest of his life. The name oxygen was given by Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier who repeated Priestley’s experiments and used them along with others to disprove phlogiston theory. To top
Facts can lead to different conclusions
Here (see above) we have a good example of how the same experimental facts can be interpreted by two different theoretical frameworks to produce totally different conclusions. We also see that the science of biology progressed because Priestley was prepared to ask “was van Helmont right?” and the science of chemistry progressed because Lavoisier was prepared to ask “was Priestley right”?
Other sciences have benefited because researchers have been prepared to think in different frameworks and ask “Was …. Right?” To top
Circulation of the blood
William Harvey (1578-1657) was a court physician in early 17th century England who researched the flow of blood through the body and worked out how the heart worked. Through careful, systematic observations Harvey worked out that the heart pumped blood through a one way circuit, directed by valves and it was impossible for the body to constantly make and consume the amount of blood that flows through the heart. He proposed that arteries, which carry blood away from the heart, and veins, which carry blood towards the heart, must be connected in some way and make a closed circuit system.
Harvey published his findings in 1628, although his notes indicate he had worked out the closed circuit blood circulation system long before that. Harvey may have realised his ideas would generate controversy and did not want publish them straight away for fear of rejection. If so, he was right. His work generated a raging controversy for the next twenty years and he was rejected by many scientists and physicians and some of his patients left him. To top
At his time medicine and physiology were dominated by the teachings of Galen (131-201) an ancient Greek scientist and philosopher. He taught that the lungs moved blood through blood vessels and that blood was constantly being consumed and made by the organs of the body. Harvey’s experiments and observations clearly showed that Galen was wrong, but Galen was held in such veneration no one dared question his teachings. Medicine and physiology were advanced because Harvey was prepared to ask “Was Galen right?” However, it wasn’t until 1661 (after Harvey’s death) that he was finally proven right, when Marcello Malpighi (1628-1694) discovered microscopic blood vessels (capillaries) that did connect arteries and veins. Harvey and his contemporaries did not have a microscope, so Harvey was not able to observe capillaries for himself and his opponents may have felt justified in not believing in something they could not see. Sometimes it is necessary to wait for new technology for science to progress, but people are still reluctant to change their thinking. We are still learning this lesson with “vestigial organs” and “junk DNA”.
Until the late 19th century the pituitary gland and other endocrine organs were considered to be vestigial organs – useless leftovers from evolution. If scientists were really consistent in this belief the progress of biology would have been hindered. Fortunately human curiosity prevailed and, as newer biochemical techniques were developed it was found these organs produced small amounts of chemicals that were used as signals for controlling many essentialbody functions. Some immune system organs such as the thymus, tonsils and appendix were also considered useless leftovers but advances in cell biology enabled us to work out their functions.
"The list of vestigial organs that was made by the German Anatomist R. Wiedersheim in 1895 included approximately 100 organs, including the appendix and coccyx. As science progressed, it was discovered that all of the organs in Wiedersheim's list in fact had very important functions. For instance, it was discovered that the appendix, which was supposed to be a "vestigial organ," was in fact a lymphoid organ that fought infections in the body. This fact was made clear in 1997." To top
When scientists first started searching for individual genes amongst the long strings of DNA in our cells they found many sequences that appeared not to code for specific genes. These were labelled “junk DNA” and considered to be useless remnants of evolution, but in recent years some of this has been found to have important functions in regulating other parts of the genome. In 2004 the Journal Science listed discoveries made from “non-coding DNA” in their list of 10 Breakthroughs of the Year. To top
Should we question Darwinism?
The history and contemporary progress of science has depended on people being prepared to ask “was some previously accepted idea or person right?” To ask “was Darwin right?” is not to hinder science, but is part of a long tradition that has stimulated the advancement of science over the centuries and will keep it going into the future. To top
Many believe that the theory of evolution appeared abruptly in the second half of the nineteenth century mainly through the pen of Charles Darwin and his visit to the Galapagos Islands. However,this is simply untrue. Charles Darwin was the grandson of Erasmus Darwin (picture right). An accomplished poet, inventor, country doctor and furtive evolutionist. (1)In 1771 in keeping with his evolutionary beliefs Erasmus Darwin added the motto “E chonchis omnia”, or "everything from shells" to his family’s coat of arms, which featured three scallop shells. In response to these blasphemous words his neighbour Canon Seward of Lichfield Cathedral countered with his own inspired poetry:
“Darwin renounces his Creator and forms all sense from senseless matter. Great wizard he! By majic spells can all things raise from cockle shells.”
Twenty years after this event the elder Darwin, now the leading poet of his day expounded the theory of evolution in the first volume of his medical tome “Zoonomia” including the hypothesis of the survival of the fittest by natural selection. His life’s work was completed with the posthumous publication of a long poem that he called “The origin of society” but for fear of reprisals the publisher changed the title to “The Temple of Nature”. Below is a small excerpt:
Hence without parent by spontaneous birth
Rise the first specks of animated earth;
From Nature's womb the plant or insect swims,
And buds or breathes, with microscopic limbs.
ORGANIC LIFE beneath the shoreless waves
Was born and nurs'd in Ocean's pearly caves
First forms minute, unseen by spheric glass,
Move on the mud, or pierce the watery mass;
These, as successive generations bloom,
New powers acquire, and larger limbs assume;
Whence countless groups of vegetation spring,
And breathing realms of fin, and feet, and wing.
Charles Darwin was therefore, neither objective nor original in his thinking. In fact even the title of his first book was unimaginative “The origin of the species” is not a great leap from the title of his grandfathers’ poem “The origin of society”.
Certainly though, the theory of evolution appeared a very long time before the Darwin family. The first recorded evolutionary statements appear approximately 570BC from a Greek philosopher named Anaximander (611-546 BC). He hypothesized that:
“In the beginning there was a fish-like creature with scales that arose in and lived in the world ocean. As some of these advanced, they moved onto land, shed their scaly coverings and became the first humans.”
This first recorded evolutionary idea can be seen to have several of the features of current evolutionary dogma i.e. entirely naturalistic process that excluded any form of Divine intervention or design, life arising from the sea and the change of one creature into another. What this first idea lacked was any time span involved in the process. It is interesting that the Apostle Paul writing in 70 AD specifically in the first instance to the Greeks described the message of the cross as a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the gentiles and quotes God as saying “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar, where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe." (2)
In godless society this first evolutionary idea was slowly refined by the addition of a time span, albeit a short one. Life could arise “spontaneously”. Amazingly enough this idea was very fashionable right up until the 1850’s when the beautiful experiments of Louis Pasteur finally put paid to the pseudo-science entwined in this refinement of evolutionary dogma. The theory basically went this way. Life could arise from non-living things, for instance, if you observed a pond long enough you would eventually see a frog come from the pond. The reason for this, so it was said, was that the frog was spontaneously generated in the pond. Or again, leave a piece of meat on the side and leave it rot. After a while you would observe maggots on the meat that had been spontaneously generated out of the decay. There seemed to be rather good evidence for this belief system and as such it held sway through much of the civilised world and for many centuries. In fact the leading scientists of the day were the proponents of it. The learned naturalist Ross for example stated that:
“To question that beetles and wasps were generated in cow dung is to question reason, sense, and experience. Even such complicated animals as mice didn’t have to have mothers or fathers-if anyone doubted this, let him go to Egypt, and there he would find the fields literally swarming with mice, begot of the mud of the river Nile, to the great calamity of the inhabitants”.(3)
The ideas of spontaneous generation were strengthened by the lack of careful observational science (scientia- to know), together with godless peer pressure. However, this was all to change with Francesco Redi. Redi was a graduate of medicine from Pisa in Italy in 1647 and goes down in history as one of the greatest scientists of all time. He published on a wide range of subjects but Redi’s true masterpiece was “Esperienze intorno alla generazione degl’insetti” (experiments concerning the generation of insects) published in Florence in 1668.
This experiment was designed to smash the philosophy of spontaneous generation, which it did admirably and is the first known example of a scientific experiment that was conducted with proper controls. Redi’s masterpiece used three Jars with meat placed in the bottom. In the first jar the neck was left open to the elements, the second jar was corked with a large bung but the third was a class piece of intellect, a jar exposed to the elements but covered with gauze that would not allow flies through. The result of the experiment could be experienced by anyone who would merely observe. Flask 1 developed maggots but both flasks 2&3 did not. In this one simple experiment the long held evidence of spontaneous generation of maggots from rotting meat was obliterated. The truth that even flies have parents and offspring was evident to all. The pseudo-scientific second version of the theory of evolution tottered and almost fell.
I say virtually because most people of intellect dropped the idea but a small core including the grandfather ofCharles Darwin did not want to lose their excuse fornot believing in an intelligent designer. The sad group included the great thinkers of the day not only Erasmus Darwin but also Comte de Buffon (picture right), one of the first proponents of an old age for the earth and the idea that men were descended from monkeys. The darling of the group was a man named Needham. Needham was a Catholic priest who liked to dabble in pseudo-science. Although the experiments of Redi had put an end to the idea that insects and large animals could be generated spontaneously yet surely they said small creatures such as animalicules (present day ciliates and bacteria) could. Added to his philosophy was real science that Needham thought was on a par with the great Redi. Indeed, so they thought, this was a proof backed up with scientific evidence in the form of undeniable experimental proof. (4)
Needham's experiments involved boiling mutton gravy in glass flasks and as "everyone knows" he bantered “nothing can survive boiling.” He then corked the flasks and left them for several days. After the allotted time span, he put the now rancid material under the microscope and behold animalcules were found everywhere. The only possible reason for this, so he thought, was that these animalcules were spontaneously generated from the mutton gravy as it putrefied. Not only was the scientific world rocked by this momentous discovery, but, also every strata of society. Here was scientific proof as good as any Redi that demonstrated that spontaneous generation of micro-organisms was a fact. Buffon said “father Needham you have discovered the very force of life we should call it the vegetative force”. The royal society was so impressed that Needham was made a fellow. This was the greatest scientific accolade of the day. Once again people could breathe safe in the knowledge that they could be intellectually fulfilled atheists no longer subject to the accountability of an intelligent designer. However, their hope was soon dashed.
In on our scene came another great Italian scientist Spallanzani (picture left) and for intellectually fulfilled atheists the worst kind, a man with a bias for truth. Spallanzani was a Catholic priest but one that really believed in a God. One who believed that life could only come from life and every living thing must have a parent. Enthused and empowered by the beautiful experiments of Redi he went to design his own. He thought to himself Needham is wrong he must have missed something, but what could it be? He thought of all the possible scenarios and then came to the conclusion. It must be that either Needham didn’t boil those flasks for long enough or, he didn’t boil them hard enough to kill the parents or, maybe their eggs are protected in some way. Or, maybe those tiny creatures could get into the flasks by the small cracks in the cork, but how to prove it?
Spallanzani designed experiments to test his ideas, or even defeat if necessary, his own explanations. He heated one group of flasks for a few minutes, another set he boiled for an hour. But how to seal them he thought-corks might not be tight enough, they may let these tiny animalcules through. He pondered. “I’ve got it, I’ll melt the necks of my bottles in a flame. I’ll close them with glass-nothing, no matter how small, can sneak through glass!” Then, inspired by Redi, he added a control, he made a duplicate set of flasks, which he plugged up with corks. After a suitable time he returned to his flasks and one by one he cracked open their necks, and fished down with a slender hollow tube to get some of the soup out. He first looked at drop after drop of the sealed flasks that had been boiled for an hour, nothing! Then he looked at the set that were boiled for a few minutes here and there, there were animalcules playing and sporting about. The truth dawned on him that the flasks were sealed nothing could get in from outside, these little being must be able to withstand boiling for a few minutes. Then the flasks that were just plugged with corks as Needham had done, every one of these flasks was alive with little animals, even the flasks that had been boiled for an hour. “That means the little animals get into Needham's flasks from the air!” he shouted. “And besides I have discovered a great new fact, living things exist that can stand boiling water and still live, you have to heat them to boiling almost an hour to kill them!”
This indeed was a great day for Spallanzani and a great day for the world. Spallanzani had proved that Needham's theory of little animals arising spontaneously was wrong just as the old master Redi had proved the idea was wrong that flies can be bred in putrid meat. Unknowingly he had laid the foundation for the germ theory of disease later discovered by Pasteur and Lister.
You may think that this was the end of the ideas of spontaneous generation. However, Erasmus Darwin would not let go of it. It was an essential part of his evolutionary theory and his poem “The origin of society” described and annotated it.Erasmus Darwin simply chose deception rather than truth and ignored Spallanzani's experiments as though they were never performed. It was not until Louis Pasteur (interestingly another believer in Creation) that spontaneous generation was finally laid to rest, just in time for Erasmus Darwins grandson Charles to pick up the batten of godless philosophy. Interestingly, Erasmus Darwin combined spontaneous generation with millions of ages for the first microbes to change into humans. As such from pure philosophy he moved the hypothesis of evolution firmly out of the reach of experimentation by future Redis and Spallanzanis. Today the hypothesis of evolution can never be proved incorrect by real observational science and no controls can be used against it. As such it remains as an improvable and un-testable fashionable belief. But, by its very nature pseudo-science. To top
References for evolution of evolution
(1) The furtive evolutionist. New Scientist April 12 2003.