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Evolution

An Immediate Counter to the Same Old Tired Arguments

25 Creationists' Arguments, and 25 Evolutionists' Answers


"Copyright 1997 Michael Shermer, reprinted with permission from the author and www.skeptic.com"

 

1. Creation-science is scientific and therefore should be taught in public school science courses.

Creation science is scientific in name only. It is a thinly disguised religious position espousing the doctrine of special creation, and therefore is not appropriate for public school science courses, any more than calling something Muslim-science or Buddha-science or Christian-science would require equal time. The following statement from the Institute for Creation Research, the "research" arm of Christian Heritage College and to which all faculty members and researchers adhere, is proof of their true beliefs. There is nothing scientific about "creation-science":

"we believe in the absolute integrity of holy scripture and its plenary verbal inspiration by the holy spirit as originally written by men prepared for god for this purpose. The scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, are inerrant in relation to any subject with which they deal, and are to be accepted in their natural and intended sense . . . all things in the universe were created and made by god in the six days of special creation described in Genesis. The creationist account is accepted as factual, historical and perspicuous and is thus fundamental in the understanding of every fact and phenomenon in the created universe."

 

2. Neither creationism nor evolutionary theory is scientific because "science only deals with the here-and-now and cannot answer historical questions about the creation of the universe and the origins of life and man."

This, of course, undermines the entire superstructure of "creation-science" and argument #1, but is untrue anyway because science does deal with past phenomena, as found in the historical sciences of cosmology, geology, paleontology, paleoanthropology, and archaeology. There are experimental sciences and historical sciences, using different methodologies but equal in their ability to understand causality, and evolutionary biology is a valid and legitimate historical science. If this statement were true, much of science, not just evolutionary theory, would be sterile.

 

3. Since education is a process of learning all sides of an issue, it is appropriate for both creationism and evolution to be taught side-by-side in public school classrooms. Not to do so is a violation of the philosophy of education, and of the civil liberties of creationists. I.e., we have a "right" to be heard. Besides, what is the harm in hearing both sides?

The multiple sides of issues is indeed a part of the general educational process, and it might be appropriate to discuss creationism in courses on religion, history, or even philosophy, but most certainly not science, any more than biology courses should include lectures on American Indian creation-myths. Not to do so violates no rights, since nowhere in nature or the Constitution does it say everyone has a right to teach creationism in public schools. Rights do not exist in nature. Rights are a concept constructed by humans to protect certain freedoms, but have degenerated into pleas for special privilege by nearly every group and individual in America who want something they do not have. Finally, there is considerable harm in teaching "creation-science" as science because it is an attack on all the sciences, not just evolutionary biology. If the universe and Earth are only about 10,000 years old, cosmology, astronomy, physics, chemistry, geology, paleontology, et al, would be invalidated. Creationism cannot even be partially correct. As soon as supernatural causation is allowed in the creation of even one species, they could all be created this way, and the assumption of natural laws in nature is voided and science becomes meaningless.

 

4. There is an amazing correlation between the "facts" of nature and the "acts" of the bible. It is therefore appropriate to cross-reference creation-science books with the bible, and to look to study the bible, as a book of science, along with the book of nature.

The true stripes of the creationists can be seen in the following quote from Henry Morris, head of the Institute for Creation Research, that reveals his preference for faith in authority over any possible contradictory empirical evidence (and thus demonstrating their lack of scientific methodology):

"The main reason for insisting on the universal Flood as a fact of history and as the primary vehicle for geological interpretation is that god's Word plainly teaches it! No geological difficulties, real or imagined, can be allowed to take precedence over the clear statements and necessary inferences of Scripture."

It would be ludicrous to imagine professors at CALTECH, for example, making a similar statement of belief in Darwin's Origin or Newton's Principia, such that no difficulties could take precedence over the authority of the book.

 

5. The theory of natural selection is tautological, or a form of circular reasoning. Those that survive are the best adapted. Who are the best adapted? Those that survive. Likewise, rocks are used to date fossils, and fossils are used to date rocks. Tautologies do not make a science.

Creationists have a very simplistic and naive understanding of the workings of natural selection and geological forces. First of all, natural selection is by no means the only mechanism of organic change (e.g. Darwin wrote an entire book about sexual selection). Second, population genetics demonstrates quite clearly, and with mathematical prediction, when natural selection will and will not effect change on a population. Third, one can make predictions based on the theory of natural selection, and then test them, as the geneticist does in the example above, or the paleontologist does in interpreting the fossil record.

Natural selection and the theory of evolution are testable and falsifiable. Finding hominid fossils in the same geological strata as trilobites, for example would be evidence against the theory. The dating of fossils with rocks and vice versa could only be done after the geological column was established. The geological column exists nowhere in its entirety because strata are disrupted, convoluted, and always incomplete for a variety of reasons. But strata order is unmistakably non-random and chronological order can be accurately pieced together using a variety of techniques only one of which is fossils.

 

6. There are "only two explanations for the origins of life and existence of man, plants and animals: It was either the work of a creator or it was not." Since evolution theory is unsupported by the evidence (i.e. it is wrong), creationism must be correct. Any evidence "which fails to support the theory of evolution is necessarily scientific evidence in support of creationism."

Beware of anyone who says, "there are only two . . ." It is the classic mistake of logic known as the either-or fallacy, or the fallacy of false alternatives. If A is false, B must be true. Oh? Why? Plus, should not B stand on its own regardless of A? Of course. So even if evolutionary theory turns out to be completely wrong and the whole thing was a big mistake, that does not mean that, ergo, creationism is right. There may be alternatives C, D, and E we have yet to consider. There is, however, a true dichotomy in the case of natural v. supernatural explanations. Either life was created and changed by natural means or it did not. Scientists assume natural causation, and evolutionists debate the various natural causal agents involved, not whether it happened by natural or supernatural means.

 

7. Evolutionary theory is the basis of Marxism, communism, atheism, immorality, and the general decline of the morals and culture of America, and therefore is bad for our children.

In this argument we begin to see the cultural background of creationism as a social and political movement, not a scientific one. This is, in part, why they have turned to the legal system to try to get the state to force their "science" on students. But legislation cannot make a belief system scientific; only scientists can do that.

The theory of evolution in particular, and science in general, is no more the basis of these "isms" than the printing press is responsible for Hitler's Mein Kampf. The fact that the science of genetics has been used to buttress racial theories of the innate inferiority of certain groups does not mean we should abandon the study of genes. There may well be Marxist, communist, atheist, and even immoral (however defined) evolutionists, but there are probably just as many capitalist, theist (or agnostic), and moral evolutionists. As for the theory itself, it can be used to support Marxist, communist, and atheist ideologies, and it has; but so has it been used (especially in America), to lend scientific credence to laissez-faire capitalism. Linking scientific theories to political ideologies is tricky business and we must be cautious of making connections that do not necessarily follow.

 

8. Evolutionary theory, along with its bed-partner secular humanism, is really a religion, so it is not appropriate to teach it in public schools.

To call the science of evolutionary biology a religion is to so broaden the definition of religion as to make it totally meaningless. Science is a set of methods designed to describe and interpret observed or inferred phenomenon, past or present, aimed at building a testable body of knowledge open to rejection or confirmation. Religion - whatever it is - is certainly not "testable," nor is it "open to rejection or confirmation." Similarly, the "secular" of secular humanism expressly means "not religious," and therefore cannot be considered a religion. In their methodologies science and religion are 180 degrees out of phase with each other.

 

9. Many leading evolutionists are skeptical of the theory and find it problematic. E.g., Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge have proven that Darwin was wrong through their theory of punctuated equilibrium. If the world's leading evolutionists cannot agree on the theory, the whole thing must be a wash.

It is particularly ironic that the creationists would quote the leading spokesman against creationism - Gould - in their attempts to marshal the forces of science on their side. Creationists have misunderstood, either naively or intentionally, the healthy scientific debate amongst evolutionists about the causal agents or organic change. They apparently perceive this normal exchange of ideas and self-correcting nature of science as evidence that the field is coming apart at the seams. Of the many things evolutionists argue and debate about within the field, one thing they are certain of and all agree upon is that evolution has occurred. Exactly how it happened, and what the relative strengths of the various causal mechanisms are, continues to be discussed. Eldredge and Gould's theory of punctuated equilibrium is a refinement of and improvement upon Darwin's larger theory of evolution. It no more proves Darwin wrong than Einsteinian relativity proves Newton wrong.

 

10. "The bible is the written Word of god...all of its assertions are historically and scientifically true. The great Flood described in Genesis was an historical event, worldwide in its extent and effect. We are an organization of christian men of science, who accept Jesus. The account of the special creation of Adam and Eve as one man and one woman, and their subsequent Fall into sin, is the basis for our belief in the necessity of a Savior for all mankind."

Such a statement of belief is clearly religious and not scientific. This does not make it wrong, but it does mean that creation-science is clearly creation-religion and to this extent breaches the wall separating church and state. In private schools funded or controlled by creationists, they are free to teach whatever they like to their children. But one cannot make the events in any text historically and scientifically true by fiat, only by testing the evidence, and to ask the state to direct teachers to teach a particular religious doctrine as sience is unreasonable and onerous.

 

11. All causes have effects. The cause of "X" must be "X-like." That is, the cause of intelligence must be intelligent. Also, regress all causes in time and you must conclude that there was a first cause - god. Likewise with motion (all things in motion proves that there must have been a prime mover, a mover who needs no other mover to be moved - god); and purpose (all things in the universe have a purpose, therefore there must be an intelligent designer).

If this were true, should not nature then have a natural cause, not a supernatural cause?! But it is not true: causes of "X" do not have to be "X-like." The "cause" of green paint is blue mixed with yellow paint, neither one of which is green like. Animal manure makes fruit trees grow better. Fruit is delicious to eat and is, therefore, very unmanure-like! The first-cause and prime-mover argument, brilliantly proffered by St. Thomas Aquinas in the 14th Century and still more brilliantly refuted by David Hume in the 18th century, is easily answered with just one more question: who or what caused and moved god? Finally, as Hume demonstrated, "purposefulness" is often illusory and subjective. "The early bird gets the worm" is a clever design if you are the bird, not so good if you are the worm. Two eyes may seem like the ideal number, but, as Richard Hardison notes with levity, "wouldn't it be desirable to have an additional eye in the back of one's head, and certainly an eye attached to our forefinger would be helpful when we're working behind the instrument panels of automobiles."

Purpose is, in part, what we are accustomed to perceiving. Finally, not everything is so purposeful and beautifully designed. In addition to the problems of evil, disease, and deformities that creationists conveniently overlook, nature is filled with the bizarre and seemingly unpurposeful. Male nipples and the Panda's thumb are just two examples that Gould is fond of flaunting as purposeless and poorly designed structures. If god so graciously designed life to fit neatly together like a jigsaw puzzle, then how do you explain these oddities?

 

12. Something cannot be created out of nothing, say scientists. Therefore, from where did the material for the Big Bang come? And, from where did the first life forms originate that provided the raw material for evolution? And the Stanley Miller experiment of creating amino acids out of an inorganic "soup" and other biogenic molecules is not the creation of life.

Science is not equipped to answer certain "ultimate" type questions, such as: "what was there before the beginning of the universe?" "What time was it before time began?" "Where did the matter come from for the Big Bang?" These are philosophical or religious questions, not scientific ones, and therefore are not part of science. Evolutionary theory attempts to understand the causality of change after time and matter were "created" (whatever that means). As for the origins of life, biochemists do have a very rational and scientific explanation for the evolution from inorganic to organic compounds, the creation of amino acids and the construction of protein chains, the first crude cells, and so on. (And Miller never claimed to have created life, just some building blocks of life.) While these theories are by no means robust and still subject to lively scientific debate, there is a reasonable explanation for how you get from the Big Bang to the Big Brain in the know universe.

 

13. Population statistics demonstrate that at the present population and rate of growth, there were only two people living approximately 6,300 years before present, or 4,300 B.C.  This proves that humans and civilization are quite young.  If the earth were old, say one million years, over the course of 25,000 generations at 1/2% rate of population growth and an average of 2.5 children per family, the present population would be 10 to the power of 2100 people, which is impossible since there are only 10 to the power of 130 electrons in the known universe.

As Disraeli observed (and Mark Twain reiterated), there are three types of lies: "lies, damn lies, and statistics."  But if you want to play the numbers game, here are a few: by this analysis, in 2,600 B.C. there would have been a total population on Earth of around 600 people.  We know with a high degree of certainty that in 2,600 B.C. there were flourishing civilizations in Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Indus River Valley, China, etc.  Giving Egypt an extremely generous 1/6th of the world's population, for 60 people to have built the pyramids, not to mention all the other architectural monuments, they most certainly would have needed a miracle or two, or perhaps the assistance of ancient astronauts!  The fact is, populations do not grow in a steady manner.  There are booms and busts, and the history of the human population before the Industrial Revolution is one of prosperity and growth, followed by famine and decline.  As humans struggled for millennia to fend off extinction, the population curve was one of peaks and valleys as it climbed steadily, though uncertainly upward.  It is only since the 19th century that the rate of increase has been accelerating.

 

14. Natural selection can never account for anything other than minor changes within species-microevolution.  Mutations used by evolutionists to explain microevolution are always harmful, rare, and random, and cannot be the driving force of evolutionary change.

I shall never forget the four words pounded into the brains of us students of evolutionary biologist Bayard Bratstram at California State University, Fullerton-"Mutants are not monsters."  His point was that the public perception of mutations at the county fair-two headed cows and the like-is not the sort of mutations evolutionists are discussing.  Clearly it would be unreasonable to argue that these sorts of mutations are beneficial.  But most mutations are small genetic or chromosomal aberrations that have small effects.  Some of these small effects may provide benefits to an organism in an ever-changing environment.  Also, the modern theory of "allopatric speciation," first proffered by Ernst Mayr and integrated into paleontology by Eldredge and Gould, demonstrates precisely how natural selection, in conjunction with other forces and contingencies of nature, can and does produce new species.

 

15. There are no transitional forms in the fossil record, anywhere, including and especially humans.  The whole fossil record is an embarrassment to evolutionists.  What about Neanderthals?  These are all diseased skeletons-arthritis, rickets, etc., that create the bowed legs, brow ridge, and larger skeletal structure.  Homo erectus, and Australopithecus, are just apes.

Creationists always quote Darwin's famous passage in the Origin of Species in which he asks: "Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links?  Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the gravest objection which can be urged against my theory."  One answer is that there are plenty of examples of transitional forms that have been discovered since Darwin's time.  Just look in any paleontology text.  A second answer was provided in 1972 by Eldredge and Gould when they demonstrated that gaps in the fossil record do not indicate missing data of slow and stately change; rather, it is evidence of rapid and episodic change.  Using Mayr's "allopatric speciation," where small and unstable "founder" populations are isolated at the periphery of the larger populations's range, they show that the relatively rapid change in this smaller gene pool creates new species but leaves behind few, if any, fossils.  The process of fossilization is rare and infrequent anyway.  It is almost nonexistent during these times of rapid speciation.  A lack of fossils is evidence for rapid change, not missing evidence for gradual evolution.

 

16. The Second Law of Thermodynamics proves that evolution cannot be true since evolutionists state that the universe and life moves from chaos to order and simple to complex, the exact opposite of the entropy predicted by the Second Law.

First of all, on any scale other than the grandest of all-600 million years of life on Earth-species do not evolve from simple to complex, and life does not simply move from chaos to order.  The history of life is checkered with false starts, failed experiments, small and mass extinctions, and chaotic restarts.  It is anything but the Time/Life-book foldout from single cells to humans.  But even in the big picture, the Second Law allows for such change because the Earth is enveloped within a system that includes a constant input of energy from the sun.  As long as the sun is burning, life may continue thriving and evolving, just like automobiles may be prevented from rusting, burgers can be heated in ovens, and all manner of things in apparent violation of the Second Law's rule of entropy may continue.  But as soon as the sun burns out entropy would take its course, and life would cease.  The Second Law of Thermodynamics applies to closed, isolated systems.  Since the Earth receives a constant input of energy from the sum, entropy may decrease and order  increase (though the sun itself is running down in the process).  Thus, the Earth is not strictly a closed system and life may evolve without violating natural law.  In addition, recent research in chaos theory is demonstrating that order can and does spontaneously generate out of apparent chaos, all without violating the Second Law of Thermodynamics.  Evolution no more breaks the Second Law of Thermodynamics than one breaks the law of gravity by jumping up.

 

17. Even the simplest of life forms are too complex to have come together by random chance.  Take a simple organism consisting of merely 100 parts.  Mathematically there are 10 to the power of 158 possible ways for the parts to link up.  There are not enough molecules in the universe or time since the beginning to account for these possible ways to come together in even this simple life form, let alone human beings.  The human eye alone defies explanation by the randomness of evolution.  It is the equivalent of the monkey typing Hamlet, or even "to be or not to be."  It will not happen by random change.

Natural selection is not "random" nor does it operate by "chance."  Natural selection preserves the gains and eradicates the mistakes.  The eye evolved from a single, light-sensitive cell into the complex eye of today through hundreds if not thousands of intermediate steps, many of which still exist in nature.  In order for the monkey to type the first 13 letters of Hamlet's soliloquy by chance, it would take 26 to the power of 13 number of trials for success.  This is 16 times as great as the total number of seconds that have elapsed in the lifetime of the solar system.  But if each correct letter is preserved and each incorrect letter eradicated, the process operates much faster.  How much faster?  Richard Hardison constructed a computer program in which letters were "selected" for or against, and it took an average of only 335.2 trials to produce the sequence of letters TOBEORNOTTOBE.  This takes the computer less than 90 seconds.  The entire play can be done in about 4.5 days!

 

18. Hydrodynamic sorting during the Flood explains the apparent progression of fossils in geological strata.  The simple, ignorant organisms died in the sea and are on the bottom layers, while more complex, smarter, and faster organisms dies higher up.

Not one trilobite floated upward to a higher strata?  Not one dumb horse was on the beach and drowned in a lower strata?  Not one flying pterodactyl made it above the Cretaceous layer?  Not one moronic human did not come in out of the rain?  Speaking of absurd arguments, consider how a ship 450 feet long by 75 feet wide by 45 feet high could house two each of the 10 to 100 million species on Earth.  Even creationists have trouble with this one, so they claim it was only 30,000 species, the rest "developing" from this initial stock, making creationists the greatest proponents of rapid evolution!  In addition, how do you feed 60,000 animals for 371 days?  Still more complicated, how do you keep 60,000 animals from feeding on each other?  Worst of all, who was in charge of clean up?

 

19. The dating techniques of evolutionists are inconsistent, unreliable, and wrong.  They give false impressions of an old Earth, when in fact it is no older than 10,000 years, which is proven by Dr. Thomas Barnes from the University of Texas at El Paso, who demonstrates that the half-life of the Earth's magnetic field is 1,400 years.

First of all, Barnes' magnetic field argument falsely assumes that the decay of the magnetic field is linear when in fact geophysics demonstrates that it fluctuates through time.  In addition, it is amusing that creationists dismiss all dating techniques with the sweep of the hand, except for those that purportedly support their position.  The various dating techniques, however, are found not only to be quite reliable, but there is considerable independent corroboration between them.  For example, there are radiometric dates for different elements from the same rock that all converge on the same date.

 

20. Classification of organisms above the species level is arbitrary and man-made.  Taxonomy proves nothing.

The science of classification is indeed, man-made, like all the sciences.  But its grouping of organisms is anything but arbitrary, even though there is an element of subjectivity to it.  The very goal of cladistics, in fact, is to make taxonomy non-subjective.  Nested hierarchies of classification is one of the strongest sources of evidence for evolution.  There is nothing arbitrary, for example, about a separate classification of humans and chimpanzees.  No one gets them confused.  An interesting cross-cultural test of this claim is the fact that western-trained biologists and native peoples from New Guinea identify the same types of birds as separate species.  Such groupings really do exist in nature.

 

21. If evolution is gradual, there should be no gaps between species, and classification (taxonomy) is impossible.

Evolution is not always gradual.  It is often quite sporadic.  And evolutionists never said there should not be gaps.  Gaps do not prove creation any more than blank spots in human history prove that all civilizations were spontaneously created.

 

22. "Living fossils" like the coelacanth and horseshoe crab prove that all life was created at once.

Then what about all the extinct species?  Are these god's mistakes?  Living fossils (organisms that have not changed for millions of years) simply means that they evolved an adequate structure for a relatively static and unchanging environment, good enough to maintain a niche.

 

23. The incipient structure problem completely refutes natural selection:  a new structure that evolves slowly over time would not provide an advantage to the organism in its beginning or intermediate stages, only when it is completely developed, which can only happen by special creation.  E.g., what good is 5% of a wing, or 55%?  You need all or nothing.

A poorly developed wing may have been a well-developed something else, like a thermoregulator for ectothermic reptiles (who depend on external sources of heat).  And, it is not true that incipient stages are completely useless.  It is better to have partial sight versus complete blindness, or the ability to glide, even if you cannot sustain controlled flight.

 

24. Homologous structures (the wing of the bat, flipper of a whale, the arm of man) are proof of intelligent design.

By invoking miracles and special providence, of course, the creationist can pick and choose anything in nature as proof of god's work, and then ignore the rest.  Homologous structures, on the other hand, make no sense from a special creation paradigm.  Why should a whale have the same bones in its flipper as a human has in its arm and a bat has in its wing?  The answer is: none whatsoever.  Surely an intelligent designer could have done better than that.  These structures are indicative of descent with modification, not divine creation.

 

25. "The whole history of evolutionary theory in particular, and science in general, is a history of mistaken theories and overthrown ideas. Nebraska Man, Piltdown Man, Calaveras Man, and Hesperopithecus are just a few of the blunders scientists have made. Clearly science cannot be trusted and modern theories are no better than past ones."

Again, it is paradoxical for creationists to simultaneously draw on the authority of science and attack the basic working of science. Furthermore, this argument reveals a gross misunderstanding of the nature of science. Science does not just change. It constantly builds upon the ideas of the past, and is cumulative toward the future. Scientists do make mistakes aplenty, and in fact, this is how science progresses. The self-correcting feature of the scientific method is one of its most beautiful features. Hoaxes like Piltdown Man and honest mistakes like Hesperopithecus are, in time, exposed. Science picks itself up, shakes itself off, and moves on.

As Einstein said, science may be "primitive and childlike," but "it is the most precious thing we have."

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