I am currently a few chapters into The Everlasting Man, and I have to say I am happy to find, as we all are I'm sure in such cases, someone whom I agree with who can say the things I wish I were able to say as well as they do. Mr. Chesterton is speaking about evolution, specifically the evolution of man as a thinking being but also about evolution as a scientific theory.
His most significant point is that evolution is not a particularly scientific theory, something that the science community would be all up in arms about. Yet the Englishman is right: if science, as we were all taught in school, is based upon observation over time, then what is truly observed when bone fragments and skeletons and fossils are discovered and catalogued?
Bone fragments and skeletons and fossils, that's what. These things do not actually tell us anything about evolution: they only tell us, in and of themselves, that we have artifacts of the past. To put in place a grand scheme of evolutionary development in an attempt to explain a connection between them is putting the cart ahead of the horse; it is presumption. That so many skeletons have similar structure may well be a hint that we are in fact linked: the skeletal structures of the human hand, bird wing, and whale fin are somewhat near to one another. Yet it may be that an Intelligent Designer knew that a certain basic bone structure was what worked best in putting together flesh and blood creatures and thus employed it across the board, with certain variances.
Can we prove either of these from the standpoint of scientific evidence? No; it's that simple. We must step outside of science and into philosophy: we must get metaphysical about the origins of man and look at what science gives us under the light of a reason.
What science is doing is superimposing a belief system upon its discoveries of human and animal remains while assuming that all the questions will be one day answered. Scientists at one time spoke of the Missing Link which will tie it all together: yet that must, at this point in time at least, be seen as unscientific talk. It is like discussing in a literature class the play Shakespeare never wrote. What can we usefully say about what is not there? Or at least, not there yet?
We may well find it someday. Or we may not. But do we want to make the very unscientific mistake of assuming something's already present? How might that cloud our science, particularly if, as I've long understood, the real scientist is expected to put as much effort into disproving his theories as affirming them?
The short story is that too many moderns want evolution to be true, so they go about purporting that it is. And it may well be: my point here is only that I must agree with Chesterton and say that for any objective study of the truth about evolutionary theory, the jury is still out. Science is going beyond the evidence present, a fact which should not be overlooked in the consideration of our origins.
I am not saying that a certain amount of useful conjecture is not a good scientific tool. I am saying however that it must be seen as conjecture only, until and if something more concrete appears. A hammer is all well and good when you want to drive a nail, but I should much rather have a wrench when I am tightening a bolt. I will abandon in a second the wrong tool if need be. Will science, I ask, ever consider dropping the hammer?