Sunderland and the Enigma

Sunderland, Luther. Darwin’s Enigma: Ebbing the Tide of Naturalism. Green Forest, AR: Masters Books, 1998. Reprint 2002.

In preparation for our last piece on the tragedy of compromise, we’re going to republish two pieces from the Quartermaster’s tent. The first piece of these is a review of Sunderland’s book the Darwin Enigma. What I appreciate in Sunderland is where he is rare – he demonstrates and analyzes the philosophical elements of the discussion. Discovering him was a joy, because of my own work in a similar vein.

Sunderland’s book is an important aging work in the Creation-Evolution debate. The work is technical, and spends much of its focus on the failings and gaps in evolutionary theory. The work, as recognized by the title, focuses on evolution in large part due to its relationship to modern atheistic philosophy. Sunderland’s work is solid and technical for its day. He spends a great deal of time explaining – not those comments made by Biblical creationism about evolution, but those outside of our camp have said on the matter – including discussions between biologists and mathematicians. Among other things, Sunderland has sought to acquaint himself with the persons involved in the various debates. For example, he notes questions about Stephen Jay Gould’s Punctuated Equilibria as being at least partially derived from Marxist dialectical materialism.

Analysis: Southerland is a highly technical work. As my training is not in the hard sciences, I will not discuss his accuracy or inaccuracy. As the theory of evolution shifts regularly, this book, due to its age, may not be the best primary source. Southerland’s work was probably in production at the same time as Behe’s better known Darwin’s Black Box, so issues of molecular biology are not discussed in the same terms as Behe presents. Sunderland’s work also does not take the same steps to note when arguments are technical. However, Darwin’s Enigma hits the note of evidence and philosophy in the debate over evolution that many sources do not discuss: the question of the quality of the evidence. He notes this not only from the standpoint of Creationists’ argumentation, but he also notes prominent scientists who have likewise noted the evidentiary problems in the evolutionary theory. For example, he spends quite a bit of time on Karl Popper, one of the major names in Philosophy of Science. Popper is no young earth Creationist, but he refers to the theory of evolution as a metaphysical experiment – praising the experiment as a valuable one, but not calling it “science”. He also notes how many theories are related to evidentiary problems; for example, Goldberg’s Hopeful monster theory, or Punctuated Equillibria are precisely formed because the fossil record does not demonstrate gradual changes, but rapid change over a very short period of time. He goes on to note other issues that are outside of my domain, but these evidences alone are powerful information that the academics don’t tell their students. Sunderland’s research is erudite, beginning with Darwin and his sources.

Conclusions: If you are looking for an easy read or an introduction to the debate over evolution versus creation, this book is not for you. This book is useful if you are looking to expand your knowledge and understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of the debate.

One thought on “Sunderland and the Enigma

  1. The reason Popper doubted that evolution could be called scientific was in its inherent laboratory-unfriendly properties, in that it dealt with random mutations and time frames for speciation in the thousands of years, but he subsequently recanted (as mentioned in the comment section of another thread) when he understood that allelic or genetic drift was an important part of the modern synthesis and it was no longer just a matter of testing for the emergence of another species, such as a branch of pepper moth that is unable to breed with the original stock. There is an unfortunate tendency for the folks on the creation side of the debate to quote-mine from what they perceive to be celebrities on the materialist side, such as when Anthony Flew got frightened at the end of his life and seemed to have a change of heart. This is an easy way to score points with a low-information constituency but it does nothing to contribute to the dialogue, being a variation of the fallacy of the argument from authority.

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