Thomas Fowler Discusses the Evolution Controversy
Interview by Gayle Trotter
Gayle Trotter talks with Thomas Fowler about The Evolution Controversy, a book surveying the competing theories surrounding evolution. Fowler (ScD, George Washington University) is Senior Principal Engineer at the Center for Information Technology and Telecommunications at Noblis, formerly known as Mitretek Systems, a not-for-profit consulting firm working in the public interest in Falls Church, Virginia. He is also an adjunct professor at George Mason University and Christendom College. For further information, see the author’s website, http://www.evolutioncontroversy.net/.
GT: I’m very excited to talk to you about your book, and the topic is The Evolution Controversy. So why is evolution even controversial?
TF: It’s controversial for a number of reasons. First, within the scientific community there are a number of people who object to the theory. They feel that it, in its most popular form, Neo-Darwinism, has gone beyond the bounds of what it really should be able to explain. And outside of the scientific community, in the broader arena of society, you have a lot of people who feel that the theory of evolution has turned into some sort of surrogate religion, and therefore is intending to attack Christianity or other established religions.
GT: So why even write this book? Why do you apply a scientific overview to creationism – why dignify it this way?
TF: Well, the purpose of the book was to do what no other book has done to date, and that is to look at the evolution controversy and to examine the major schools of thought because all those schools of thought claim to have strictly scientific theories that can explain the observed facts. So, of course the Neo-Darwinian school has their theory, which is usually the one taught in schools. The Creationists have, over the last 50 years especially, developed what they claim are scientific theories that can explain the same set of facts. More recently, the Intelligent Design school and another school that we call the Meta-Darwinian school also have come forward with explanations. So the purpose of the book was to look at these major schools of thought with respect to their scientific theories, and every one of them claims to have a scientific theory to explain the observed facts. So our goal was to look at those theories, in an objective way, and report to the reader about exactly what each school says, and why they say it.
GT: Do you have a personal interest in this topic?
TF: Well, it’s one that’s been of interest to me ever since I was in high school. I guess I always had a somewhat uneasy feeling about evolution as a theory, especially compared to theories in physical science where you generally have a much closer relationship to experimental type of verification.
GT: And how many schools of thought do you go into in your book?
TF: Well, we just break the main explanations of evolution – or the facts, rather – into four schools, as I mentioned: The Neo-Darwinian school, which is the dominant school; the Creationist school, which is not dominant in the educational arena but is dominant in the broader cultural arena, at least in terms of allegiance; the Intelligent Design school, which is fairly small but growing; and the Meta-Darwinian school, which is also small but growing and is sometimes not clearly distinguished from the Neo-Darwinian school.
GT: Let’s start with Neo-Darwinism. What are the key tenets of this school of thought?
TF: It goes back to Darwin. The basic idea behind the school is that the nature and history of life forms can be explained by a fairly simple paradigm involving common descent from a single ancestor and then modifications, as it’s usually explained. And these modifications come about by random changes, in our current understanding, to genetic material caused by various factors, including maybe even cosmic rays, chemical effects, things like that. And the idea is that occasionally a random change will actually lead to an improvement in the organism, and over time these improvements can build up and lead to better organisms, maybe new species or higher-order taxa.
GT: And what kind of time frame are we talking about?
TF: This would require, of course, tens, hundreds of millions of years. This depends on how much change you want but the rate of change is very slow by this mechanism.
GT: And so can you explain to us a little bit about microevolution versus macroevolution?
TF: Yes, this is really the focus of the controversy. Contrary to popular belief, all the schools of thought accept the existence of natural selection, which is commonly identified with evolution but really isn’t. Natural selection is really just the mechanism by which certain organisms in a population are selected because they can survive better in a given environment. All schools of thought agree that this can occur, and it was well-known at least 25 years before Darwin. So natural selection is one factor; random mutation is a second factor, which is, just as I mentioned, the way in which supposedly new information gets incorporated into the genetic code. Now, microevolution says basically that you can have small changes in the distribution of characteristics of a population over time in response to environmental factors. For example, if you had … oh there was an experiment that was done, fraudulently as it turned out, but there was a famous experiment that was done in the past in which light and dark moths were released and the light moths survived better in certain trees where there was lighter bark and the dark moths survived better on the other trees where the bark was darker. So there’s a main example of what we call microevolution. No new information was involved, just the distribution of characteristics changed. You had more of one type than another. Macroevolution, on the other hand, claims that you can get substantial changes to the genetic material and thus to the physiological organization of organisms as a result of an accumulation of small changes. Now, the controversy centers around the fact – or the hypothesis – that microevolution and macroevolution are actually the same thing…
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|Recommended Resources: Not by Chance: Shattering the Modern Theory of Evolution / Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design|