HUNTINGDON - Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin are considered to be among the most influential scientists in history.
Yet, their opposing views about the cause of life may explain the reason for today's divisive evolution vs. intelligent design debate.
Biology Professor Doug Glazier argued during a lecture Wednesday at Juniata College that Darwin and Newton's worldviews explain a lot about why the controversy exists.
He said scientists on both sides would benefit by trying to understand how foundational a person's worldview is to their interpretation of the universe.
The professor began his lecture by pointing out how similar the two scientists' lives were.
Seventeenth-century Newton and 19th century Darwin both came from wealthy families, grew up without a mother and attended Cambridge. Oddly enough, both Newton and Darwin tried to enter the clergy. Neither succeeded.
Both spurred major scientific revolutions, and their discoveries continue to be cited by scientists today.
But their views of science and the universe basically are opposite.
Newton believed the world functions through universal laws set in motion by a creator. These laws can be seen as predictable patterns, sometimes with minor deviations. Simply, the universe works like a complex machine created by God for a purpose.
Darwin, on the other hand, believed the universe is a diverse menagerie arising by blind process with no purpose. Many variables including environment, population and process cause diversity in the universe.
To illustrate, Glazier described two different views of the way species evolve.
Newton's concept is like a ladder showing a medium-sized animal slowly growing and developing new features, while staying within its species, to become a large elephant. Its evolution is driven by physical forces that progress toward a specific direction, a purpose.
The professor compared Darwin's concept to a tree with many branches. An elephant could branch off and due to varying circumstances evolve into any
process occurs without a force driving specific direction toward a goal, without a specific pattern.
Another example of the conflicting beliefs is the issue of metabolic rate, Glazier said.
Metabolic rate, or the speed at which an organism uses energy, is believed to follow a universal law. When organisms' are graphed based on the mass and metabolic rate, they show a uniform slope pattern, supporting Newton's belief in laws or patterns that govern nature.
Recently, though, Glazier said he found an exception to the law in a water flea. When he later studied krill and squid, Glazier said he found their rates also branched out away from the law.
Other studies have shown that while adult humans' metabolic rates are consistent, children's rates are not, Glazier said.
"I thought this must be more than physical design," Glazier said, pointing out how the new research supports Darwin's view of diversity rather than Newton's belief in predictable patterns.
Glazier ended his lecture by questioning whether the clash of views will stimulate a new concept of scientific causality.
The professor proposed his own idea of meta-mechanism as a new starting point for explaining causes within the universe. His idea combines some of both Darwin and Newton's views, without ruling out intelligent design or entirely random causation.
Meta-mechanism describes the world as functioning through many complex mechanism-like processes that vary depending on their contextual state, he said.
Glazier pushed for a more open understanding of differing scientific viewpoints, saying there is a tendency today to say one side of the evolution debate is wrong rather than to see it as two different views of science.
"It's become one of the most contentious areas of biology I've ever encountered," Glazier said.
His lecture was part of the Juniata College Bookend Seminars, which allow faculty to discuss research or make presentations to a general audience. The lectures are free and open to the public. For more information, visit www.juniata.edu.