Scientific Alternatives To Evolution Abrupt Appearance Theory

Creation science is of course the original scientific alternative to evolution, but it had been identified as a religious view in both McLean and Edwards and could not constitutionally be advocated in the public schools. The lawyer Wendell Bird, who had advised the Institute for Creation Research on legal matters and who was appointed to argue Louisiana's position before the Supreme Court in the Edwards case, proposed a new scientific alternative to evolution that he claimed was distinct from creation science. His view, which he dubbed "abrupt appearance theory," was, however, indistinguishable in content from creation science.

While a graduate student at Yale University in the mid-1970s, Bird had written an article for the Yale Law Journal arguing for the constitutionality of teaching creation science. It was this article and Bird's later work as staff attorney for ICR that shaped the argument that creation science was a legal alternative to evolution, which, as a supposedly purely scientific position, could be taught without violating the Establishment Clause. Although this argument was unpersuasive to judges in both the McLean and the Edwards cases, both the district and state supreme courts recognized that it is indeed legal to teach a secular, nonreligious, truly scientific alternative to evolution. Although neither courts nor scientists have recognized such an alternative, Bird's abrupt appearance theory was the creationist's first public post-Edwards attempt to formulate such an alternative.

The phrase abrupt appearance in fact was part of the creationist's definition of creation science in the Edwards v. Aguillard case. Creation science was defined in Edwards as including "the scientific evidences for creation and inferences from those scientific evidences" (at 578), but also including "origin through abrupt appearance in complex form" (at 579). Bird reworked his brief for the Edwards case into a two-volume publication, The Origin of Species Revisited, published in 1987. Abrupt appearance theory was held to be the scientific evidence for the sudden appearance of all living things—in fact, the entire universe—in essentially its present form. No material or transcendent agent was identified as causing this event; Bird was meticulous in avoiding any references that could be interpreted as religious and would therefore expose abrupt appearance theory to the same First Amendment challenges as creation science.

Consciously attempting to distance himself from religious creationism, Bird identified two scientific alternatives to explain "origins": evolution and abrupt appearance theory. Evolution was defined broadly as encompassing cosmological (stellar) evolution, biochemical evolution (the origin of life), and biological evolution (the common ancestry of living things) (Bird 1987a: 17). Abrupt appearance theory contrasts sharply with the continuous unfolding of the universe expressed in evolutionary theory: "The theory of abrupt appearance involves the scientific evidence that natural groups of plants and animals appeared abruptly but discontinuously in complex form, and also that the first life and the universe appeared abruptly but discontinuously in complex form" (Bird 1987a: 13).

The essence of abrupt appearance theory, therefore, is discontinuity: stars and galaxies appear abruptly, and life and groups of living things appear abruptly, much as in the religious view of special creation. Abrupt appearance theory thus encompasses creation science and other religious views—though it is claimed to have a "totally empirical basis" (Bird 1987a: 13): "This theory of abrupt appearance is different from the theories of creation, vitalism, panspermia, and similar concepts. Discontinuous abrupt appearance is a more general theory and a more scientific approach than scientific views of creation, vitalism, or panspermia, although they can be formulated as submodels of abrupt appearance" (Bird 1987a: 20).

Although mammoth in its scope (its two volumes purport to summarize scientific, pedagogical, philosophical, and legal aspects of the creationism versus evolution debate) and prodigious in the number of citations from both the scientific and the creationist literature, The Origin of Species Revisited is rarely cited today in creationist literature. It was, and remains, ignored in the scientific literature, and after the mid-1990s it virtually disappeared from the political realm as well. It has been supplanted by another "alternative" to evolution that was evolving parallel to it and that expresses some of the same ideas.

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