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…on what evolution explains

Ben Stein says …

Darwinism explains so little. It doesn’t explain how life began. It doesn’t explain how gravity works to keep the planets in their orbits. It doesn’t explain how thermodynamics works. It doesn’t explain how physics or the laws of motion work. – interview on Pat Robertson’s 700 Club, March 17, 2008

Darwinism doesn’t explain where gravity comes from. It doesn’t explain where thermodynamics comes from. It doesn’t explain where the laws of physics come from. It doesn’t explain where matter came from. – interview on Beliefnet, no date

We were concerned that Darwinism, which is a brilliant theory, just beyond words brilliant, and explains a great deal about microevolution [within] species, was being taught as the only scientific explanation for creation, for development of life, for development from inorganic to organic matter, for explanation of every kind of science. Even astronomy, even physics, even thermodynamics. – press conference at Missouri State Capitol, no date

And I would say to these people, well, how did life begin? “We don’t know, but it had to be by Darwinian means.” Well, how did gravity begin? “We don’t know, but it had to be by Darwinian means.” – interview on Fox News, no date

and Philippe Arquie answers

Darwinism isn’t a theory of the entire universe; it is only a theory explaining how the present species evolved from common ancestors in the past. No one expects the theory of gravitation to show how life evolved in the same way that Darwinism doesn’t explain why physics works.

and “Drae” from Michigan adds

Evolution doesn’t even try to answer where life came from or where physics came from, as these are completely different fields!

Elementary, my dear Stein!

and Matthew Seppanen adds

Only the first claim (that “Darwinism” doesn’t explain how life began) can even remotely be associated with evolution. The rest of the claims are just ridiculous; anyone who has taken even high school science courses can tell the difference between biology and physics.

and Mike Rosulek adds

I eagerly anticipate Stein’s sequel, in which he brings attention to the suppression of dissent from Newton’s dogmatic theory of gravity. After all, Newtonism, as a theory that explains the attraction between masses, is incredibly brilliant. But as a theory that explains everything in terms of forces, it doesn’t explain the diversity of life. It doesn’t explain where thermodynamics comes from, where the laws of physics come from, or where matter came from. And adding to the list of flaws, don’t forget that neither Newtonism nor Darwinism satisfactorily explain the popularity of Paris Hilton (a truly eternal mystery).

To Stein’s credit, it is true that evolution does not explain thermodynamics. But his “criticism” of evolution in this interview does nothing more than expose his own scientific illiteracy. It is a non sequitur to criticize a theory for its inability to explain things outside its scope, because no scientific theory explains everything. Surely any scientific alternative to evolution would also fail to explain the laws of physics, by the simple fact of being a theory about biology, not physics.

and Dave Thomas mysteriously cites the same mystery

Chemistry doesn’t explain how gravity works, or the laws of motion, so chemistry is wrong too.

Physics doesn’t explain why Paris Hilton is still popular, so it must be wrong also.

and Iain Inkster asks

Do I really need to spell it out? Germ theory is not meant to explain the origin of life or gravity or heat. Photosynthesis theory is not meant to explain the origin of life or gravity or heat. Evolution theory is not meant to explain the origin of life or gravity or heat. Evolution theory explains the diversification of species.

and “Physicalist” in Boston adds

Of course Darwin has nothing to say about how gravity works; that was Newton! Darwin offered a biological theory of evolution; it explains how, given a population of simple living things, that population could develop into extremely diverse populations of more complicated living things. It doesn’t pretend to say anything about gravity, thermodynamics, chemistry, or astronomy. Nor does it say anything about why my car wouldn’t start this morning, or about whether it’s going to rain next Tuesday, or about who is going to win American Idol, or about what’s being served for dinner in the cafeteria! It’s about biology!

and Bill Pogson adds

Were I to extend the same logic I might ask: Darwinism doesn’t explain why truth revealed within nature is so threatening to the faith of some. It doesn’t explain why those who deny the evidence of evolution have no evidence to support an alternate claim. It surely doesn’t explain where Stein’s irrational logic came from.

and Michael Reilly adds

Evolution, despite your delightful mangling of it, is simply the study of how species change over time. It, in fact, has very little to do with abiogenesis, the study of how life formed, and cosmology, the large-scale study of the universe. But I find your misconception fascinating – about how three very different fields of science, encompassing physics, chemistry, and biology, is supposed to be covered by our humble theory of evolution.

and Patrick May adds (with respect to the next-to-last quote)

Ben, Ben, Ben. You’ve swallowed the creationist dictionary, which makes it nearly impossible to communicate about the scientific concepts you misunderstand. That, of course, is the purpose of creationist terminology.

Evolution, the change in allele frequencies within populations of organisms over time, is an observed fact. Modern evolutionary theory, which is no more “Darwinism” than modern physics is “Newtonism,” explains the mechanisms by which evolution takes place. It says nothing about astronomy, physics, thermodynamics, or the origin of life.

Modern evolutionary theory does, however, explain a great deal about how evolution occurs. One observed fact that it explains is speciation. Despite the claims of creationists that only “microevolution” occurs, speciation has been observed both in the wild and in the laboratory.

Darwin’s original theory was indeed brilliant. That observation keeps your claims from being completely wrong. If you learned about the advances made in the 150 years since his theory was published, you could replace everything else you’ve said with correct statements as well.

and Kevin Miklasz adds (with respect to the last quote)

There are two points to Ben’s claim, first that scientists do not know how gravity/life originates, and second that scientists claim that “Darwinian means” must be responsible. Neither point is true. The origin and nature of gravity is explained in the Big Bang theory and other theories in physics. These explanations for the origin of gravity have no relation to evolutionary theory. The same goes for the origin of life. There are several theories of the origin of life, including the iron-sulfur world and the RNA world hypotheses. These hypotheses have little conceptual similarity to current evolutionary theory or “Darwinism.”

It is unclear why Ben Stein believes that Darwinism should explain all of science. Regardless, Darwinism describes how species change with time through a combination of natural selection, random mutations, and heredity. Neither Darwin nor the evolutionary biologists who have modified his theory in the last 150 years used this theory to explain the origin of gravity or life. In fact, it’s pretty unclear how an explanation of how species change with time could explain how planets move around the sun.