Is Darwinian Evolution the Phlogiston of Today?

Imagine, for a moment, what it would have been like to live 400 years ago. The falling of rain, the blowing of the wind, and the crackling of a fire at your hearth are all natural phenomena that you experience on a frequent basis. Also imagine, for a moment, trying to comprehend the inner workings of these natural phenomena. What causes a lightning strike? Where does rain come from? If you can feel the wind, why can’t you see it? Why do fires start, and what is fire made out of?

Keep in mind, this is during a time when Francis Bacon’s ideas about empiricism and the scientific method were only just beginning to catch on. Most natural phenomena could not yet be described on a fundamental level, and many would not be for hundreds of years. Atomic theory had not been developed. Imagine what it would have been like to comprehend the world without any concept of what gravity is. To the common person, everything must have simply boiled down to “magic.” And, in a sense, the inner workings of science are so impossibly complex and precise that it does, to many today, still seem like magic.

German alchemist Johann Joachim Becher (1635-1682) wanted to describe, in a fundamental fashion, how combustion worked. He posited that every combustible substance contained something that would later be called phlogiston. When a combustible substance burned up, phlogiston was given off into the air. For example, wood was believed to simply be a substance composed of phlogiston and ash. When the wood was burned, the phlogiston within the compound was liberated into the air, leaving only ash. When an empty glass jar was placed over a burning piece of wood, the wood stopped burning because the jar became too full of phlogiston for any more to be liberated from the wood.

From a logical standpoint, the theory made a lot of sense. From a modern scientific standpoint, however, it is patently false. Looking back, we might find the theory of phlogiston to be a little amusing, but can we really blame them for believing it? If there was no concept of oxygen molecules and how they interact with heat, how would they have come to any conclusion other than the theory of phlogiston?

Grant me the premise, for a moment, that God created the universe and all of its living inhabitants during six 24-hour days. No Darwinian evolution was involved – God simply used His omnipotence to speak the world into existence.

Now, imagine if a scientist were to try to explain the existence of life without involving God in the process. Imagine if that scientist didn’t even believe that God exists. What would this “naturalistic” explanation look like? In a sense, this is Darwinian evolution. It is an attempt to explain and account for creation in a way that doesn’t involve God. Evolution has been put forth as a theory based purely on scientific evidence, having absolutely nothing to do with the supernatural. Darwinian evolutionary theory (in its modern sense) posits that:

  1. There is no God.
  2. Life arose from purely naturalistic origins (i.e. no supernatural phenomena).
  3. At the time of the universe’s beginning, no life existed.
  4. Over billions of years, basic chemical building blocks, by chance, organized themselves into self-replicating “living” organisms.
  5. Through genetic mutation and natural selection, these organisms evolved (and continue to evolve) into more complex and functional organisms.

If creationism is true (and I believe it is), a parallel can be drawn between Darwinian evolution and the phlogiston theory. Perhaps Darwinian evolution is a theory that attempts to explain a complex phenomenon while lacking sufficient prior and foundational knowledge. This is obviously not a perfect analogy, because creation in this case does not have a purely naturalistic explanation the same way combustion does. Evolutionists are also fully aware of biblical creation, but they simply reject it based on their premises.

These aren’t just the doubts of a rabid “anti-science” fundamentalist Christian. A growing number of scientists are questioning the validity of Darwinian evolution, and many of them are not even creationists. Many are atheists who simply believe that Darwinian evolution fails to adequately explain the origins of life. The site provides an impressive list of distinguished scientists from aroucharles_darwin_photograph_by_herbert_rose_barraud_1881nd the world who question the validity of modern evolutionary theory. While most of these scientists would reject creationism as the alternative to Darwinism, the mere fact that they doubt naturalistic evolution is remarkable, even from a purely secular standpoint.

Modern American culture and popular science have attempted to present neo-Darwinism as an indisputable fact that enjoys absolute scientific consensus. Most people tend to ignore creationists’ rejections of Darwinism, but the questioning of Darwinism even among atheistic scientists gives this movement even more credibility. In the future, will Darwinian evolution have a legacy analogous to that of phlogiston? Perhaps. Even if the scientific community eventually rejects evolution, it will be replaced by another naturalistic theory that doesn’t involve the supernatural. One can only hope the questioning of neo-Darwinism will lead some to examine the creation account of Genesis and recognizing the truth of the Scriptures.




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