Editor’s note: This is a huge post. SciAm’s stupid article has, like seriously, 15 points(!), and I’ve interspersed my responses throughout it’s text (SciAm is in blue block quotes). So I’ve provided a contents page at the beginning of this post (with links to each section!), if you can’t bring yourself to read the whole thing… even if I think it’s awesome.
(Also what’s this green block quote? That’s fancy! After three years of blogging I’ve finally started dabbling in source code, so I’ve added some extra features to this post (like a contents page with links!), just as a taste.
So, just know the blue quotes are text taken from the Scientific American article. Green quotes are any other ordinary quotes from other sources, including my own little footnotes)
- Scientific American has fallen far from its staunchly Christian roots
- John Rennie has cowered away from answering actual creationist arguments, and has mostly resorted to tackling weak, outdated, even straw-man arguments such as ‘evolution is just a theory’
- SciAm’s cowardly refusal to even acknowledge Jonathan Sarfati’s stellar response to the original 2002 publication, proves my second point
- >15 years since it was originally published, the Scientific American’s article is still a huge pile of vitriolic hog wash
- Evolution is only a theory.
- Natural selection is based on circular reasoning.
- Evolution is unscientific because it is not testable or falsifiable.
- Increasingly, scientists doubt the truth of evolution.
- Disagreements among even evolutionary biologists show how little science supports evolution.
- If humans descended from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?
- Evolution cannot explain how life first appeared on Earth.
- Mathematically, it is inconceivable that anything as complex as a protein could spring up by chance.
- The Second Law of Thermodynamics.
- Mutations are essential to evolution theory, but mutations can only eliminate traits.
- Natural selection cannot explain the origin of higher orders of life.
- Nobody has ever seen a new species evolve.
- Evolutionists cannot point to any transitional fossils.
- Living things could not function if they were any less complex or sophisticated.
- Even at the microscopic level, life could not have come about through evolution.
Straw man fallacy
“misrepresenting an opponent’s position to make it easier to refute” – Grammarist
Scientific American is a long-standing, journalistic, popular science magazine. Founded in 1845 by Bible believing Christian Rufus Porter it now stands as the longest running continuously published magazine in the US and, most unfortunately, in recent years pushed toward heavily politicised, progressive publications which lack any real scientific rigour.
In 2002 John Rennie published the article 15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense in Scientific American which has been widely read ever since. It’s a very popular post amongst critics of young earth creationism, often being directly linked back to, by other atheist and pop science websites.
Unfortunately it leaves a lot to be desired.
Please find the article quoted directly in blue block quotes, with my responses in plain text.
When Charles Darwin introduced the theory of evolution through natural selection 158 years ago, the scientists of the day argued over it fiercely, but the massing evidence from paleontology, genetics, zoology, molecular biology and other fields gradually established evolution’s truth beyond reasonable doubt.
The concept of evolution did not originate with Charles Darwin.
Darwin was the first to really articulate the idea of natural selection and marry it with Charles Lyell’s uniformitarian geology and deep time, but he was influenced by others, including his grandfather and a creationist named Edward Blythe. Edward Blythe’s work in particular, on natural selection, inspired Darwin’s ideas.
“Mr, Blyth, whose opinion, from his large and varied stores of knowledge, I should value more than that of almost anyone,” – Charles Darwin,
On the Origin of Species
Darwin’s work took a while to gain traction, supported mostly by close friends, he encountered some serious opposition to his ideas, both on religious and scientific grounds.
Far from ‘massing evidence’, just as Darwin’s ideas became popular, the stellar genetic work of Gregor Mendel, a monk and biologist was published, and disregarded, throughout his life. However it was rediscovered in the early 20th century and noted for its stunning attention to detail. Mendel’s work (now a classic in the field of genetics, and quantitative genetics especially) detailed a model of genetic inheritance which is now fundamental to genetics. At the time, Mendel’s work appeared to put limitations on Darwin’s natural selection. Evolution was in crisis and lost popularity for a time.
Then another brilliant scientist named Sir Ronald Aylmer Fisher (a very important person you should know about) came along. Fisher is credited with essentially pioneering modern statistics (and he was also a strong advocate of eugenics so… that’s awkward, but hey that’s Darwinism for ya).
Fisher was also a geneticist, who applied his statistics to studying genetic variation. He published a landmark paper ‘The Correlation Between Relatives on the Supposition of Mendelian Inheritance’. This paper demonstrated how Mendel’s model of ‘independent assortment’ could be used to explain the gradual (continuous) differences in individuals for characteristics like height.
All of a sudden evolution was back on the table… but was it really?
What Fisher really showed was how to explain gradual differences in organisms, using Mendel’s laws of ‘independent assortment’.
Fishers impressive paper really didn’t demonstrate anything that creationists would disagree with. In fact it is the field of quantitative genetics which Dr John Sanford has shown, provides some of the strongest evidence against evolution.
All this is to say that, far from ‘massing evidence’, evolutions history had a rather rocky start for over half a century before it gained its current religiously dogmatic adherence in the secular community, credited in large part to the influence of its adherents, and no small amount of fraud over the years.
Today that battle has been won everywhere—except in the public imagination.
Yeah it ain’t over till it’s over.
And I got news for you:
24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. 25 For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.
1 Corinthians 15:24,25 – via Bible Gateway
Embarrassingly, in the 21st century, in the most scientifically advanced nation the world has ever known, creationists can still persuade politicians, judges and ordinary citizens that evolution is a flawed, poorly supported fantasy.
Maybe if evolution was less rhetoric, and more science, people might find it more convincing?
And how did it become the most scientifically advanced nation the world has ever known?
Surely it had nothing to do with being founded on a Christian ethical framework, fully equipped with the inherent worth of the individual, freedom of expression, freedom opportunity and the vast majority of great scientists of history who were bible believing Christians (just like the founder of Scientific American, Rufus Porter).
They lobby for creationist ideas such as “intelligent design” to be taught as alternatives to evolution in science classrooms.
Would you prefer a ‘bio-engineering’ syllabus?
For what it’s worth, ‘creationism’ is the (somewhat pejorative) term used to describe the belief that God created the whole universe from nothing, and most often is associated with Christians.
‘Intelligent design’ is the more general view which argues (from a purely scientific standpoint) that the best explanation of the scientific evidence is that biological life (and by extension, probably the universe) was designed by some conscious, intelligent agent.
In this way biblical creationists (young earth creationists) can be thought of as a subset of the ‘intelligent design’ movement, although creationists (as the label applies in the modern sense) have, more or less, been around for longer.
When this article first went to press in 2002, the Ohio Board of Education was debating whether to mandate such a change. Prominent antievolutionists of the day, such as Philip E. Johnson, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of Darwin on Trial, admitted that they intended for intelligent-design theory to serve as a “wedge” for reopening science classrooms to discussions of God.
Jonathan Sarfati published a stellar response to the original 2002 article within 72 hours, and Scientific American has now updated their article since 2005 and completely disregarded Sarfati’s response?
You would think 3+ years would be sufficient time to mount a strong counter argument… if you had one.
Then again, considering their desperate attempts to strong-arm CMI with legal harassment didn’t work, I suppose they would probably prefer not to bring attention to the well-reasoned, scientifically based refutation of their article. That would be much too honourable.
The good news is that in 2005 the landmark legal case Kitzmiller v. Dover in Harrisburg, Pa., set binding precedent that the teaching of intelligent design in U.S. public schools is unconstitutional because the idea is fundamentally religious, not scientific.
So much for the ‘politicians and judges’ being persuaded by those ‘pesky creationists’.
Apparently it’s still regarded as a virtue to silence the opposition on matters of scientific discourse. Science is progressing.
It’s a great way to teach children that it’s not what is true, and not true that really matters, it’s what the law says you’re allowed to know.
The bad news is that in response, creationists have reinvented their movement and pressed on.
Really? Well that’s news to me.
When they lost the ability to claim that creationist ideas are valid science, they switched to arguing that they were only supporting “academic freedom.”
First of all, creationist ideas are still valid science, but it’s always been about academic freedom. We’re looking at two completely separate issues here.
One is the issue of Orwellian indoctrination programs forcing children to learn about a worldview where nothing they ever do will matter in the long run, and that worldview being paraded as science.
The second issue is the actual science of creationists versus the secular scientific establishment.
Importantly, creationists make no effort to mask the ‘religious impetus’. In fact a fundamental assumption of biblical creationism is that the Bible is the true and inerrant Word of God. However both creationists, and adherent’s to ‘intelligent design’ emphatically and correctly insist that their arguments challenging the theory evolution are strictly scientific in nature.
Worse, to further obscure the religious roots of their resistance, they now push for “critical analysis” of climate change, cloning research and other scientific endeavors that they paint as culturally oppressive.
Wow really? You went there.
I’ve already talked a little about these subjects. But just to summarise.
A significant portion of the Climate Change science is heavily invested in the claim that earth is billions of years old. Hence, anyone skeptical of evolution and the Big Bang, has good reason to be skeptical of Climate Change.
Cloning human beings is a scary, cyberpunkish idea that sits on the bleeding edge of ethics and human rights discussions. Creationists concerns around human cloning is not inherently scientific (although it definitely concerns scientists and their research).
Oh and stem cell research is not ‘culturally oppressive’, it’s barbaric and un-ethical.
Consequently, besieged teachers and others are still likely to find themselves on the spot to defend evolution and refute creationism, by whatever name.
At best, this proves that teachers don’t understand evolution as well as they should, and if they’re not allowed to teach intelligent design because, y’kno… Big Brother is watching, they should at least be obligated to learn some of the creationist arguments against evolution, so that they’ll be better equipped to refute it than this article is.
Creationists’ arguments are typically specious and based on misunderstandings of (or outright lies about) evolution. Nevertheless, even if their objections are flimsy, the number and diversity of the objections can put even well-informed people at a disadvantage. The following list recaps and rebuts some of the most common “scientific” arguments raised against evolution.
At least they’re technically being honest here. Perhaps there are the ‘most common’ arguments raised against evolution by ordinary laymen Christians.
They are not however, the best and most convincing arguments (which skeptics appear to be much more hesitant to address).
But if creationist arguments are so ‘flimsy’ and ‘specious’ why didn’t Rennie make an effort to hunt down the best, most scientifically literate arguments, instead of the many outdated, basically straw-man arguments that appear in this article (as will be seen)?
It also directs readers to further sources for information and explains why creation science has no place in the classroom. These answers by themselves probably will not change the minds of those set against evolution. But they may help inform those who are genuinely open to argument, and they can aid anyone who wants to engage constructively in this important struggle for the scientific integrity of our civilization.
Well I guess I’ll just have to be content with being a closed-minded bigot.
1. Evolution is only a theory. It is not a fact or a scientific law.
Many people learned in elementary school that a theory falls in the middle of a hierarchy of certainty—above a mere hypothesis but below a law. Scientists do not use the terms that way, however. According to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), a scientific theory is “a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.” No amount of validation changes a theory into a law, which is a descriptive generalization about nature. So when scientists talk about the theory of evolution—or the atomic theory or the theory of relativity, for that matter—they are not expressing reservations about its truth.
A good explanation of the distinction between theory and law. Informed creationists do not dispute this. Rennie obviously hasn’t spent so much as five minutes figuring out what creationists actually believe, and say. Otherwise he would’ve come across a CMI article which explains which arguments creationists should not use.
Jonathan Sarfati wrote his response to this article within 72 hours, back in 2002, and clearly and emphatically explained that this is not an argument that informed creationists use when challenging evolution.
As of Jan 2019, Rennie has made no amendment to the text, despite the article having been updated since 2005.
In addition to the theory of evolution, meaning the idea of descent with modification, one may also speak of the fact of evolution. The NAS defines a fact as “an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and for all practical purposes is accepted as ‘true.’” The fossil record and abundant other evidence testify that organisms have evolved through time. Although no one observed those transformations, the indirect evidence is clear, unambiguous and compelling.
“no one observed those transformations” – this should tell you all you need to know.
However, there’s an important reason for why these changes have never been observed (besides never having taken place).
They are an attempt to explain history not observation. Rennie is trying to bamboozle the reader here too.
“Evolution, meaning the idea of descent with modification” – is a simplistic understanding of evolution and doesn’t capture the whole idea.
Rennie actually makes a distinction himself later in the article. But what’s important to understand here is that ‘descent with modification’ can describe how a small subset of organisms can pass on their genes to their offspring, or it can describe how all of life descended from a single common ancestor. These are not the same thing (this is known as a fallacy of equivocation).
The former does not guarantee the latter.
All sciences frequently rely on indirect evidence. Physicists cannot see subatomic particles directly, for instance, so they verify their existence by watching for telltale tracks that the particles leave in cloud chambers. The absence of direct observation does not make physicists’ conclusions less certain.
Indirect means two subtly different things here (another fallacy of equivocation).
Making ‘indirect’ observations of particles is not the same thing as making ‘indirect’ inferences about the past.
Drawing conclusions about particles based on indirect evidence means drawing conclusions about the particle interactions with other objects in real, observable time. Inferences which can be tested experimentally in the lab and verified by further experimentation.
This contrasts with ‘indirectly’ inferring a particular biological phenomenon occurred in the past in the same way it occurs in present day. There’s no direct, observable causal link between natural selection which occurred today, and whether or not the same thing occurred in the past.
2. Natural selection is based on circular reasoning: the fittest are those who survive, and those who survive are deemed fittest.
“Survival of the fittest” is a conversational way to describe natural selection, but a more technical description speaks of differential rates of survival and reproduction.
It’s a conversational, but generally accurate way of describing natural selection. Regardless, this argument doesn’t really have anything to do with evolution.
The central focus of the controversy between creationists and evolutionists is that natural selection does not prove that all life evolved from a single ancestor. So this whole point is kind of moot.
That is, rather than labeling species as more or less fit, one can describe how many offspring they are likely to leave under given circumstances. Drop a fast-breeding pair of small-beaked finches and a slower-breeding pair of large-beaked finches onto an island full of food seeds. Within a few generations the fast breeders may control more of the food resources. Yet if large beaks more easily crush seeds, the advantage may tip to the slow breeders. In pioneering studies of finches on the Galapagos Islands, Peter Grant and Rosemary Grant of Princeton University observed these kinds of population shifts in the wild.The key is that adaptive fitness can be defined without reference to survival: large beaks are better adapted for crushing seeds, irrespective of whether that trait has survival value under the circumstances.
An excellent example of how fitness is properly understood. What this section is explaining is that ‘fittest’ in the context of evolutionary biology, is the organism that has the ‘greatest selective advantage’. That is not necessarily always the ‘strongest’ or ‘fastest’. It simply means that the variety who is most apt to pass on their genes to the next generation is deemed the ‘fittest’.
However, this is only marginally relevant to the broader topic of how all of life arose from a single ancestor 3.5 billion years ago. This example shows that natural selection is extremely environment specific, and does not always favour evolution in the long-term. An organism which is overall, inferior to another, may simply out live its competitor because a specific environment happens to favour it (a goldfish would survive better in the ocean than a lion could!)
More importantly this example highlights how natural selection only acts on pre-existing genes where the changes at the genetic level are marginal, reversible and unimpressive. This is a far cry from the kind of increase in the complexity and amount of genetic meaning required for a single-celled bacterium to eventually evolve into a human.
Oh and for the record, I’ve never actually heard anyone use this argument before, so I don’t really know how it could be ‘one of the most common arguments creationists use’.
3. Evolution is unscientific because it is not testable or falsifiable. It makes claims about events that were not observed and can never be re-created.
This blanket dismissal of evolution ignores important distinctions that divide the field into at least two broad areas: microevolution and macroevolution. Microevolution looks at changes within species over time—changes that may be preludes to speciation, the origin of new species. Macroevolution studies how taxonomic groups above the level of species change. Its evidence draws frequently from the fossil record and DNA comparisons to reconstruct how various organisms may be related.
Comparing DNA of different genera of organisms to understand how they may be related assumes that they are related. Comparing DNA to ‘reconstruct’ how related they are is not evidence for evolution. If you already believe evolution is true, and you assume organisms are related, you can construct phylogenies.
Even creationists acknowledge that constructing phylogenies of the Genesis ‘kinds’ is still largely theoretical. The fact is, whether ‘kind’ or ‘species’, if we haven’t observed the relationships in nature, then understanding which organisms are related is ultimately theoretical.
It is fairly straightforward to understand that some organisms are almost certainly related, and DNA studies can show this. We use this technology for DNA testing, to determine biological fathers, and related individuals, and in constructing family history trees, ethnic ancestry and other cool stuff like that. But for what it’s worth, when finding a match for an offspring and its biological father, probabilities are somewhere in the realm of 99.9999% likelihood!
What? It is cool!
However, comparing DNA of increasingly dissimilar organisms, the question should no longer be ‘how related are they?’, but ‘are they actually related?’. I mean, if we’re trying to find evidence for evolution that is, we shouldn’t be assuming evolution is true.
These days even most creationists acknowledge that microevolution has been upheld by tests in the laboratory (as in studies of cells, plants and fruit flies) and in the field (as in the Grants’ studies of evolving beak shapes among Galápagos finches). Natural selection and other mechanisms—such as chromosomal changes, symbiosis and hybridization—can drive profound changes in populations over time.
I don’t know any informed, scientifically literate, creationist who ever disputed this in the first place. It was after all Edward Blythe, a creationist, who was one of the first to pioneer the concept of natural selection, and influenced Darwin’s formation of his theory (citation).
The historical nature of macroevolutionary study involves inference from fossils and DNA rather than direct observation.
Yet in the historical sciences (which include astronomy, geology and archaeology, as well as evolutionary biology), hypotheses can still be tested by checking whether they accord with physical evidence and whether they lead to verifiable predictions about future discoveries.
This is misleading. These theories cannot be tested, in the same way that theories in physical science can be rigorously scrutinised (and repeated) in the laboratory. More importantly, the frequency with which evolutionary hypotheses, or beliefs about evolutionary history are completely overturned by new evidence is staggering.
For instance, evolution implies that between the earliest known ancestors of humans (roughly five million years old) and the appearance of anatomically modern humans (about 200,000 years ago), one should find a succession of hominin creatures with features progressively less apelike and more modern, which is indeed what the fossil record shows. But one should not—and does not—find modern human fossils embedded in strata from the Jurassic period (65 million years ago). Evolutionary biology routinely makes predictions far more refined and precise than this, and researchers test them constantly.
Care to cite some examples?
Why do we think the oldest ancestor is 5MYA?
How do soft unfossilized T-rex blood vessels and collagen fibres fit into this narrative?
Evolution could be disproved in other ways, too.
You mean, other ways besides finding unfossilised dinosaur tissues in ’65 million year old strata’?
If we could document the spontaneous generation of just one complex life-form from inanimate matter, then at least a few creatures seen in the fossil record might have originated this way. If superintelligent aliens appeared and claimed credit for creating life on Earth (or even particular species), the purely evolutionary explanation would be cast in doubt. But no one has yet produced such evidence.
OK, so, what’s going on here is that Rennie is still living in the 19th century.
When Darwin first introduced the idea of Natural selection, he was living in a world where most people believed in an idea called ‘fixity of species’. Darwin’s idea was so controversial because most people back then believed that no species could evolve, or really change at all into any other organism. They knew that we could artificially select organisms and breed them to produce variety. However, they didn’t really believe this happened in nature, and believed instead that most individual species that we see, were all created by God exactly as they were.
What Darwin showed was the principles used in selective breeding to produce fatter livestock, faster hunting dogs, fuzzy feathered pigeons and all that, could also work in nature.
Of course he argued that these same principles could be extended all the way back through eons of time to explain how all organisms are related, and all of life originated with some single common ancestor.
However, and this is important, not everyone believe in ‘fixity of species’. More importantly, this was not an inherently ‘christian’ thing. It wasn’t a bunch of Bible thumping Christians telling Darwin that species ‘don’t change’ because that’s what the Bible says. It was most scientists of the day.
The problem is… Rennie seems to think that this is what creationists believe now. Or at least, Rennie thinks that creationists have ‘gradually become convinced’ that species can change. But that’s not true. Gregor Mendel’s experiments showed variation, they showed that this variation was predictable, and quantifiable, and showed a particular pattern, but it was variation nonetheless. Gregor Mendel was an Austrian monk.
Edward Blythe pioneered a theory of natural selection that heavily inspired Darwin’s theory as I’ve already shown. Edward Blythe was a creationist.
New species evolve by diverging away from established ones and acquire sufficient differences to remain forever distinct.
As I said, no scientifically literate creationist disputes this.
It should be noted that the idea of falsifiability as the defining characteristic of science originated with philosopher Karl Popper in the 1930s. More recent elaborations on his thinking have expanded the narrowest interpretation of his principle precisely because it would eliminate too many branches of clearly scientific endeavor.
Which shows that the philosophy of science is incomplete, and descriptive. It’s not set in stone, and appealing to naturalistic philosophy is only one particular attitude.
In the end, science is the pursuit of understanding the natural world. Detailing what counts as science, is for the purposes of ensuring that science is rigorous and its results valid, not for the purpose of ruling out a particular interpretation of the evidence.
4. Increasingly, scientists doubt the truth of evolution.
No evidence suggests that evolution is losing adherents.
Doesn’t make it true.
Pick up any issue of a peer-reviewed biological journal, and you will find articles that support and extend evolutionary studies or that embrace evolution as a fundamental concept.
Just because scientists believe it, doesn’t make it true. Extending a false premise, doesn’t make it less false.
Conversely, serious scientific publications disputing evolution are all but nonexistent.
In the mid-1990s George W. Gilchrist, then at the University of Washington, surveyed thousands of journals in the primary literature, seeking articles on intelligent design or creation science. Among those hundreds of thousands of scientific reports, he found none.
Surveys done independently by Barbara Forrest of Southeastern Louisiana University and Lawrence M. Krauss, now at Arizona State University, were similarly fruitless.
Creationists retort that a closed-minded scientific community rejects their evidence. Yet according to the editors of Nature, Science and other leading journals, few antievolution manuscripts are even submitted. Some antievolution authors have published papers in serious journals. Those papers, however, rarely attack evolution directly or advance creationist arguments; at best, they identify certain evolutionary problems as unsolved and difficult (which no one disputes). In short, creationists are not giving the scientific world good reason to take them seriously.
This whole section is bullshit faux honesty. Anyone who works in academia knows that admitting your views about creationism, or attempting to publish intelligent design literature in secular academic journals is professional suicide.
Scientific American is not innocent in this.
Few, if any, scientists would even attempt to publish creationist material in a secular journal for fear of losing their job, or for encountering other forms of persecution. Even the attempt to publish any material that defends or presents creationist material in a secular journal, the author understands that:
- the peer reviewers are likely to have an extreme philosophical bias against creationism
- the peer reviewers of the article will not have up to date knowledge of any work in this field as it pertains to creationist literature
- the almost zero likelihood of being published make it hardly worth the effort to even try
- they are putting their career at risk, making the effort counterproductive if anything
This is not a tough nut to crack. Creationists are regarded as scientific outcasts by the mainstream establishment. What Rennie saying here amounts to:
“Creationism is not real science, so we refuse to publish it in our journals. Also we never see any creationist publications in our journals, therefore creationism is not real science.”
Can you see the problem there?
In any case, there actually are perfectly good, high quality academic journals such as Journal of Creation (no affiliation) and Answers Research Journal (no affiliation), dedicated to publishing creationist literature.
Scientists publishing creation-centric material simply know that they’re better off submitting to these publications. They know that there work will be taken seriously, will be peer-reviewed by experts in their field who have up to date knowledge of the creationist perspective, and they have a much higher likelihood of their work being published.
5. The disagreements among even evolutionary biologists show how little solid science supports evolution.
Evolutionary biologists passionately debate diverse topics: how speciation happens, the rates of evolutionary change,the ancestral relationships of birds and dinosaurs, whether Neandertals were a species apart from modern humans, and much more. These disputes are like those found in all other branches of science. Acceptance of evolution as a factual occurrence and a guiding principle is nonetheless universal in biology.
You mean, universal apart from all the creationists with PhD’s in genetics, biology, ecology, medicine and biochemistry, and proponents of Intelligent design, and the scientists who are skeptical of evolution but hiding in the closet?
Unfortunately, dishonest creationists have shown a willingness to take scientists’ comments out of context to exaggerate and distort the disagreements. Anyone acquainted with the works of paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould of Harvard University knows that in addition to co-authoring the punctuated-equilibrium model, Gould was one of the most eloquent defenders and articulators of evolution. (Punctuated equilibrium explains patterns in the fossil record by suggesting that most evolutionary changes occur within geologically brief intervals—which may nonetheless amount to hundreds of generations.) Yet creationists delight in dissecting out phrases from Gould’s voluminous prose to make him sound as though he had doubted evolution, and they present punctuated equilibrium as though it allows new species to materialize overnight or birds to be born from reptile eggs.
I don’t know of any reputable creationist organization that has taken Gould’s comments out of context. Gould may not have doubted evolution, but what he definitely argued for was the lack of evidence for a purely gradual theory of evolution.
Punctuated equilibria was motivated by a desire to explain the large gaps in the fossil record, and the fact that forms appear often, and fully formed throughout, particularly during the ‘Cambrian explosion’.
Gould’s work in palaeontology did, in context, show at least these things:
- The evidence does not speak for itself.
- Even amongst evolutionary biologists evidence can be interpreted in multiple, dramatically different, ways
- Gould was particularly honest about the lack of transitional forms, something which seems noticeably absent from more recent evolutionary propaganda
Fossil record shows a succession of hominins, with features becoming progressively less apelike and more modern.
There’s something incomprehensibly ironic about this statement appearing immediately after the authors opining about Stephen J Gould who, as an ardent evolutionist, argued the exact opposite!
Also ‘succession’ is a huge (deliberate) stretch. What we actually have is a couple of speculative examples of skeletons, some which could be very convincingly argued, are just ape skeletons, and others which could be very convincingly argued, are just human skeletons. But when it’s convenient they could be fit into a narrative that magically transforms them into transitional forms.
6. If humans descended from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?
This surprisingly common argument reflects several levels of ignorance about evolution. The first mistake is that evolution does not teach that humans descended from monkeys; it states that both have a common ancestor.
The deeper error is that this objection is tantamount to asking, “If children descended from adults, why are there still adults?” New species evolve by splintering off from established ones, when populations of organisms become isolated from the main branch of their family and acquire sufficient differences to remain forever distinct.The parent species may survive indefinitely thereafter, or it may become extinct.
I’ve already answered this objection in my response to the Thinking Atheist.
Just to summarise here, this is not an argument that any informed, scientifically literate creationist uses, for the exact reasons stated above.
It may be true that this is a ‘common argument’ used by creationist lay-people, but it’s not considered a good one.
The real problem here though, is that is also one of the most common arguments that is addressed by opponents of creation. All Rennie has shown here is his dishonesty, and lack of any effort whatsoever to accurately represent his opponents.
7. Evolution cannot explain how life first appeared on Earth.
The origin of life remains very much a mystery,
No it isn’t, Rennie however refuses to accept the best, and possibly only, explanation and is instead forced to admit the blatant truth of this point. However, it should be reworded.
Atheism cannot explain how life first appeared on Earth.
but biochemists have learned about how primitive nucleic acids, amino acids and other building blocks of life could have formed and organized themselves into self-replicating, self-sustaining units, laying the foundation for cellular biochemistry. Astrochemical analyses hint that quantities of these compounds might have originated in space and fallen to Earth in comets, a scenario that may solve the problem of how those constituents arose under the conditions that prevailed when our planet was young.
Pay particular attention above to the words ‘could’, ‘hint’, ‘might’ and ‘may’. This is the most extreme wishful thinking. When someone says that life ‘might have originated in space’, you can safely assume that what they’re really saying is ‘we literally have absolutely no idea and are desperately willing to accept any explanation other than special creation’.
Creationists sometimes try to invalidate all of evolution by pointing to science’s current inability to explain the origin of life. But even if life on Earth turned out to have a nonevolutionary origin (for instance, if aliens introduced the first cells billions of years ago), evolution since then would be robustly confirmed by countless microevolutionary and macroevolutionary studies.
The problem is not that life has a ‘non evolutionary’ origin. The problem is that life begs for only one reasonable explanation, it was created by God.
8. Mathematically, it is inconceivable that anything as complex as a protein, let alone a living cell or a human, could spring up by chance.
Chance plays a part in evolution (for example, in the random mutations that can give rise to new traits), but evolution does not depend on chance to create organisms, proteins or other entities.
No but the origin of first life does. At best it relies on the chance chemical reactions slowly building on one another in non-random, non-arbitrary ways until you eventually reach an utterly irreducibly complex self replicating organism. But this is laughable.
Quite the opposite: natural selection, the principal known mechanism of evolution, harnesses nonrandom change by preserving “desirable” (adaptive) features and eliminating “undesirable” (nonadaptive) ones. As long as the forces of selection stay constant, natural selection can push evolution in one direction and produce sophisticated structures in surprisingly short times.
Natural selection doesn’t ‘harness’ anything. Natural selection is not a thing, it’s a theory which describes how slight changes in living creatures will slightly change their suitability to a given environment. Those creatures where the changes are favourable for a given environment will, over time, be preserved.
By ‘forces’, what Rennie (presumably) means is the surrounding environment of a population. As variation occurs in a population, in a stable environment, this provides a control measure which can work to favour either the newer variant, or eliminate it.
However, this demonstrably does not produce ‘sophisticated structures in surprisingly short times’. Far more likely is that the populations already present and stable within a given geographical environment will remain so, because they’ve already adapted to that environment. Rapid changes occur when changes occur in the environment.
And just FYI, the whole impetus of Darwin’s theory was not ‘surprisingly short times’ it was ‘extremely gradual, over long times’.
In reality, in real natural systems and environments there are innumerable combinations of environmental pressures and processes leading to varieties of changes. None of which have been demonstrated to lead to ‘sophisticated’ structures. A dazzling array of unique, sometimes very unique structures, but nothing sophisticated, especially not at the genetic level.
As an analogy, consider the 13-letter sequence “TOBEORNOTTOBE.” A million hypothetical monkeys,
each typing out one phrase a second on a keyboard, could take as long as 78,800 years to find it among the 2613 sequences of that length. But in the 1980s Richard Hardison, then at Glendale College, wrote a computer program that generated phrases randomly while preserving the positions of individual letters that happened to be correctly placed (in effect, selecting for phrases more like Hamlet’s). On average, the program re-created the phrase in just 336 iterations, less than 90 seconds. Even more amazing, it could reconstruct Shakespeare’s entire play in just four and a half days.
This analogy fails for several reasons.
- It assumes that there is a ‘correct’ answer, but if evolution is true, there is no ‘correct’ answer, and even if there was, evolution would not ‘know’ what the answer was
- Shakespeare’s play, at 29,551 words, is nothing compared the DNA of most living things (The human genome is 3 Billion base pairs).
- In the computer program, the correctly placed letter is programatically ‘fixed’ and unchangeable. Natural variation has no such luxury
- The computer program was (probably) generating iterations at maximum processing power, even bacteria such as E.coli have generation times of ~2hours, and have millions of base pairs in their DNA. That’s a difference of nanoseconds -> hours, and a difference of a few hundred thousand letters -> millions of letters
- The computer program was intelligently designed… so ironic
While the shortest genome so far discovered belongs to a bacterium and is only 160,000 base pairs long. which if we assume an average of ~10 letters per word, would be shorter than Shakespeare play, it’s important to point out that the program would have been generating numbers.
Finally, Rennie has actually missed the whole point of this argument. This whole argument is relevant to abiogenesis, not evolution. Evolutionists carry on like cry babies when creationists point out the problems that abiogenesis poses for evolution, because they are two different things.
“ugh, abiogenesis has nothing to do with evolution”
How many times have you heard that?
What am I talking about? This point has nothing to do with evolution, and everything to do with chance. We’re talking about the spontaneous generation of proteins, and life, from non life. Not evolution. Natural selection does not apply in this situation.
So yes, it is all about chance, and no, there is definitely no ‘correct’ answer, and there’s definitely no guarantee of anything being fixed in this scenario, so this whole monkey typing analogy is completely wrong.
9. The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that systems must become more disordered over time.
Living cells therefore could not have evolved from inanimate chemicals, and multicellular life could not have evolved from protozoa.
This argument derives from a misunderstanding of the Second Law. If it were valid, mineral crystals and snowflakes would also be impossible, because they, too, are complex structures that form spontaneously from disordered parts.
The Second Law actually states that the total entropy of a closed system (one that no energy or matter leaves or enters) cannot decrease. Entropy is a physical concept often casually described as disorder, but it differs significantly from the conversational use of the word.
More important, however, the Second Law permits parts of a system to decrease in entropy as long as other parts experience an offsetting increase. Thus, our planet as a whole can grow more complex because the sun pours heat and light onto it, and the greater entropy associated with the sun’s nuclear fusion more than rebalances the scales. Simple organisms can fuel their rise toward complexity by consuming other forms of life and nonliving materials.
I’ve already had a go at the Thinking Atheist, for getting thermodynamics wrong.
What I said about this previously still stands.
Earth is a closed system (which is a system where energy can pass across the boundary, but not matter! Because of earth’s massive size any transfer of matter, practically speaking, is insignificant).
If I were going to give Rennie the benefit of the doubt, I would say that what he meant to say was an isolated system, is a system where no energy or matter leaves or enters. He does state in the next paragraph that the ‘sun pours heat and light onto [earth]’, so he is correct about the transfer of energy, which would mean that he acknowledges that earth is not an isolated system so that’s correct.
All of which is completely moot however.
The reality is just because matter can theoretically increase in complexity at the expense of the total entropy of the universe, doesn’t mean it did, in the case of biological life. It’s not really even right to say ‘theoretically’, because ‘theoretically’ mathematics prohibits it, it just does. The best you can say is logically this can happen, but the laws of probability effectively prohibit it… completely… completely completely.
In order to get from chemicals in a soup, to a complex, self replicating organism requires more than just ‘energy’. To get amino acids that form into proteins they all need to be ‘left handed’, but every single demonstrated case of amino acids being spontaneously generated produce amino acids in ‘left and right handed’ form, in roughly equal amounts. And we’re talking about proteins which are hundreds of amino acids long, and are expertly constructed using impossibly complex cellular machinery, in an impossibly sensitive chemical environment that has to be the correct pH levels, and all sorts of other impossibly specific little details that need to be in place.
The key here is not just an increase in ‘complexity’, like a snowflake, but an increase in ‘information’. Information which has conceptual meaning beyond merely a ‘correct’ gene sequence. A snowflake has a ‘complex’ pattern, but contains no conceptual information content… it’s just pretty to look at. It can’t tell you a story, or provide the instructions for life.
The whole is idea is just laughable…
10. Mutations are essential to evolution theory, but mutations can only eliminate traits. They cannot produce new features.
On the contrary, biology has catalogued many traits produced by point mutations (changes at precise positions in an organism’s DNA)—bacterial resistance to antibiotics, for example.
Bacterial resistance is not the same as the processes involved in growing an arm, or even an arm bone.
Bacterial resistance often involves relatively simple mutations that eliminate some single process in the bacteria, which allows it to survive in the presence of antibiotics. This is like chopping your own arm off, to prevent gangrene spreading to your whole body, not quite the same as growing an arm from scratch.
But this argument is misleading anyway. Creationists do not argue that ‘mutations cannot produce new features’ the problem is the not physical result of mutations, the problem is the increase in information required to get from bacteria to humans.
Mutations that arise in the homeobox (Hox) family of development-regulating genes in animals can also have complex effects. Hox genes direct where legs, wings, antennae and body segments should grow. In fruit flies, for instance, the mutation called Antennapedia causes legs to sprout where antennae should grow. These abnormal limbs are not functional, but their existence demonstrates that genetic mistakes can produce complex structures, which natural selection can then test for possible uses.
Oh brother. I don’t know what the author is playing at here. It’s bad enough that they have almost no understanding of creationist’s arguments against evolution, but they appear to have a fairly poor understanding of evolution too really.
A mutation in a regulatory gene can have ‘complex effects’, in the sense that it will influence the expression of a large number of genes, and gene sequences. Effecting these switches, can have a dramatic effect on the organism. But there are several problems with using this as an argument in favour of evolution.
- Fundamental to evolutionary genetics is that the larger the effect of any individual mutation, the more likely, and more rapidly, it will be eliminated from the population (via natural selection). Natural adaptation favours small, gradual changes. As the saying goes, the nail that sticks out, gets hammered
- changes in the genome with such a startling and grotesque effect on the organism (like the example used here) will be universally detrimental to the organism. A fly with a wing growing out of its eye socket is not a ‘complex effect’ it’s a disastrous mutation that would be immediately eliminated from the population (RE my first point)
- These abnormal limbs prove that genetic mistakes, are exactly that, mistakes. This example proves that the genome, as is, is extremely complex, sensitive, and finely tuned and making ‘small’ changes, in the wrong places, can lead to large, almost always disastrous effects.
Moreover, molecular biology has discovered mechanisms for genetic change that go beyond point mutations, and these expand the ways in which new traits can appear. Functional modules within genes can be spliced together in novel ways. Whole genes can be accidentally duplicated in an organism’s DNA, and the duplicates are free to mutate into genes for new, complex features.
There’s an important point which this whole line of reasoning implicitly supports, which is that natural selection can only act on preexisting, pre-functioning genetic material. You cannot splice together non-existent DNA.
But another point that’s lost here is how delicate and complex this all is. You can’t just willy-nilly duplicate some gene, and then play around with it in nature.
- extra DNA, requires extra energy, which reduces the organisms fitness, making it less likely to pass on its genes
- Having extra DNA lying around does not have no consequences. An obvious example is downs syndrome, which is where a person has an extra copy of chromosome 13
Comparisons of the DNA from a wide variety of organisms indicate that this is how the globin family of blood proteins evolved over millions of years.
Note the word ‘comparison’. There is absolutely no observable, testable, evidence whatsoever that the ‘globin’ proteins evolved at all. All we have is speculation and theory. What they’re saying is sequences of DNA from different organisms within the globin genes are arranged differently. To say that this ‘indicates’ how they evolved over millions of years assumes evolution is true, it is not evidence for evolution.
11. Natural selection might explain microevolution, but it cannot explain the origin of new species and higher orders of life.
Evolutionary biologists have written extensively about how natural selection could produce new species. For instance, in the model called allopatry, developed by Ernst Mayr of Harvard University, if a population of organisms were isolated from the rest of its species by geographical boundaries, it might be subjected to different selective pressures. Changes would accumulate in the isolated population. If those changes became so significant that the splinter group could not or routinely would not breed with the original stock, then the splinter group would be reproductively isolated and on its way toward becoming a new species.
First of all this is not natural selection… this is a process known as ‘gene flow’, where two populations become geographically isolated, and thus due to the lack of interbreeding, and the differences in their environment, they adapt in different ways as the organisms genetically drift apart, and yes, can eventually become two different species.
Although it’s also worth pointing out the increasing number of examples of creatures that were thought to be ‘different species’, which are proving to be able to interbreed and produce healthy offspring. So it seems that even producing new species is more difficult than many biologists previously realised.
Anyway I’m splitting hairs.
The point here is that natural variation, and environmental changes can produce new species. Which is why this point, as with most of the points on this list so far are still not the arguments that most informed creationists use! Informed creationists know that natural selection can, in some cases, produce new species. Rennie is again showing his dishonesty, or his lack of understanding of creationism.
Species separating within a ‘kind’ (kind is the word used in the Bible, in Genesis to describe the different life forms God created) is completely plausible, and actually necessary to a valid creation model. If the great flood in Genesis is true, then when all the animals left the ark, they had to be able to change and adapt to new environments. Comparatively the changes required to separate two organisms into two species is nothing compared the kind of changes required to create a new protein, that didn’t exist before
Nautilus shell has become a symbol of evolution and biological change. As the creature that occupies the shell outgrows one chamber, it builds another, larger chamber next to it, creating a growing spiral pattern.
That sounds like a stroke of engineering genius!
Natural selection is the best studied of the evolutionary mechanisms, but biologists are open to other possibilities as well.
So long as we don’t question the basic idea of evolution, of course.
Biologists are constantly assessing the potential of unusual genetic mechanisms for causing speciation or for producing complex features in organisms. Lynn Margulis of the University of Massachusetts Amherst and others have persuasively argued that some cellular organelles, such as the energy-generating mitochondria, evolved through the symbiotic merger of ancient organisms.
Yes Lynn Margulis, a household name amongst biologists, pioneered the idea of ‘endosymbiosis’ which broadly speaking is an attempt to explain how eukaryotes (highly complex, structured cells) evolved from prokaryotes (slightly-less-complex-but-still-pretty-darn-complex, cells with less overall structure). Lyn argued that cells when in close contact could ‘engulf’ one another, sort of, and that this was how simpler cells eventually formed more complex cells, with designated compartments.
But this theory is not without its (quite serious) problems.
Lynn was also renowned for being a rebel of science, and often challenging the status quo. She was also a critic of ‘neo-darwinian’ evolution, which is just evolution, basically.
Thus, science welcomes the possibility of evolution resulting from forces beyond natural selection.
Well Lynn’s work was heavily criticised and marginalised for many years. So it’s probably more accurate to say that:
‘science heavily resists any challenge to the standard dogma, for a really long time, until it eventually becomes clear that the idea has merit, or it becomes clear that the dogma is failing, and then it reluctantly adopts alternative theories once it’s had enough time to twist the narrative to fit a naturalistic philosophy’.
Yet those forces must be natural;
I rest my case.
they cannot be attributed to the actions of mysterious creative intelligences whose existence, in scientific terms, is unproved.
We’ve moved away from actual science, and are now talking more about ‘what science is’, which from what I’ve read here is basically ‘anything that does not undermine the broad concept of life having a single universal common ancestor’.
However, it’s important to understand that, just because life has a divine origin, does not mean that the study of the natural world is beyond the scope of science. All it means is the origin of life is beyond the scope of science.
What this point demonstrates overall is evolution, far from being a ‘indisputable fact’, is far, far from proven.
12. Nobody has ever seen a new species evolve.
Speciation is probably fairly rare and in many cases might take centuries.
So much for ‘surprisingly short times’…
Another evolutionary assumption. Speciation (when a group of organisms diverge and become separate species) need not be slow and gradual. It can, and there are quite a few examples where it does, happen quite quickly (before you say anything, ‘slow gradual changes’ is an evolutionary idea. Creationists welcome the evidence which shows that speciation happens quickly.)
Furthermore, recognizing a new species during a formative stage can be difficult because biologists sometimes disagree about how best to define a species.
That’s putting it mildly.
The most widely used definition, Mayr’s Biological Species Concept, recognizes a species as a distinct community of reproductively isolated populations—sets of organisms that normally do not or cannot breed outside their community. In practice, this standard can be difficult to apply to organisms isolated by distance or terrain or to plants (and, of course, fossils do not breed).
“fossils do not breed” – an obvious but important point. It proves a-priori that fossils cannot be taxonomically categorised with any degree of scientific confidence. It’s impossible to conform them to any meaningful definition of species. It’s impossible to test their phylogeny using genetic data.
Biologists therefore usually use organisms’ physical and behavioral traits as clues to their species membership.
Which we know is problematic. Using physical appearances and behaviour to determine organisms relationships to one another is a convenient, and necessary limitation of studying these organisms in the field, but even those who do this, tend to acknowledge that it is only a matter of convenience. Rigorous taxonomy is best done using modern genetic techniques in the lab (which most field biologists don’t have access to when out in the field).
Nevertheless, the scientific literature does contain reports of apparent speciation events in plants, insects and worms. In most of these experiments, researchers subjected organisms to various types of selection—for anatomical differences, mating behaviors, habitat preferences and other traits—and found that they had created populations of organisms that did not breed with outsiders. For example, William R. Rice of the University of New Mexico and George W. Salt of the University of California, Davis, demonstrated that if they sorted a group of fruit flies by their preference for certain environments and bred those flies separately over 35 generations, the resulting flies would refuse to breed with those from a very different environment.
A good example of the ability to induce speciation in a controlled environment.
13. Evolutionists cannot point to any transitional fossils—creatures that are half reptile and half bird, for instance.
Actually, paleontologists know of many detailed examples of fossils intermediate in form between various taxonomic groups. One of the most famous fossils of all time is Archaeopteryx, which combines feathers and skeletal structures peculiar to birds with features of dinosaurs.
This is perfect. When I first became a Christian and a creationist, I would hear of this epic war.
“There are no transitional forms”
“Yes there are there are millions”
And for the longest time I wanted to know what the ‘millions of examples’ were, what was considered a transitional form.
The picture this brings to mind is exactly what you would expect. When someone says millions of transitional forms, you expect to see examples of really nice, straightforward transitions of similar but increasingly different and divergent life forms through time, using the fossil record.
However, the actual fossils, are not much more than what is described here.
Archaeopteryx is lauded as the ‘great transition’ between dinosaurs and birds and a few other disputable examples of ‘dinosaurs with feathers’ (which really just means large extinct birds).
Tiktaalik is lauded as the ‘great transition’ between sea dwelling creatures, and land dwelling creatures. That’s pretty much it. One fossil (again is this true, is the most/best evidence they have?).
200, 000 years of human evolution boasts something like, I dunno, a couple of ape-like fossils, a few famous frauds, and the famous bipedal, but oh wait actually maybe not bipedal, but oh wait actually she is bipedal, but we’re not 100% sure, but we reconstruct the fossil in museums to make it look bipedal… Lucy.
Of course we anthropomorphize the fossil with a very ordinary human name Lucy too, that certainly makes it more relatable and helps push the narrative.
Lucy is almost certainly an ape… and a quadruped (walked on all fours)… just saying.
Oh and there are millions upon millions of trilobites!
A flock’s worth of other feathered fossil species, some more avian and some less, has also been found.
A flock? You mean like, a dozen or so? Or maybe a hundred?
And this is representing what, like, 100 million years of dinosaur to bird evolution?
THAT’S SO CONVINCING I’M GOING TO FALL OFF MY FRIKKIN CHAIR!!
Evolutionists criticise creationists for being overly pedantic about transitional forms. ‘Every time we find a transitional fossil, creationists say that it’s not transitional enough’.
I’m sorry but that’s stupid. It’s the same as putting a pencil dot on one side of a piece of A4 paper, then a pencil dot on the other side, then a pencil dot in the middle, and saying hey look! That middle dot is joining the two other dots together, that’s amazing!
First of all, it’s cocky articles like this that insist that we have a ‘succession of transitional forms’, and ‘tons of evidence’, and then they’re the ones complaining when we call them out because, actually, there’s only like a few dozen fossils which we’re often not even sure if they’re that different.
Numerous examples of dinosaur fossils once thought to have been different species, have turned out to actually just be the exact same dinosaur, at a different age.
All this goes to prove is how totally subjective, and wishy-washy all this is. This is not how science is done.
A sequence of fossils spans the evolution of modern horses from the tiny Eohippus.
Seriously? Again, it’s like half a dozen different horse fossils (seriously).
An amazing fossil creature from 375 million years ago named Tiktaalik embodies the predicted and long-sought transition of certain fishes to life on land.
There’s absolutely no science to support this claim whatsoever. There is a fossil, which we call tiktaalik, which appears to have some land-like characteristics, and some sea-dwelling characteristics.
Even if tiktaalik was a ‘transitional’ form, we would have no way of knowing whether it was a water creature evolving into a land creature, or a land creature evolving into a sea creature. It’s assumed that it is transitioning from sea to land, because that’s what the theory of evolution says happened!
Note: If I haven’t already made it abundantly clear, the vast majority of ‘evidence’ for evolution, very often assumes evolution is true!
This is a frustrating as it is depressing. This garbage, parading itself as science is duping millions of people around the world.
Whales had four-legged ancestors that walked on land,
More storytelling, devoid of any convincing evidence.
and creatures known as Ambulocetus and Rodhocetus helped to make that transition. Fossil seashells trace the evolution of various mollusks through millions of years. Perhaps 20 or more hominins (not all of them our ancestors) fill the gap between Lucy the australopithecine and modern humans.
20? Over millions of years? Did I mention the dots on paper analogy?
Creationists, though, dismiss these fossil studies.
Yes we do.
They argue that Archaeopteryx is not a missing link between reptiles and birds—it is just an extinct bird with reptilian features. They want evolutionists to produce a weird, chimeric monster that cannot be classified as belonging to any known group.
No, we just want to stop seeing storytelling being passed off as science.
Even if a creationist does accept a fossil as transitional between two species, he or she may then insist on seeing other fossils intermediate between it and the first two. These frustrating requests can proceed ad infinitum and place an unreasonable burden on the always incomplete fossil record.
We don’t insist on anything. We argue that there is a characteristic overconfidence associated with the examples that exist. They are asserted with enormous creative license as being ‘transitional forms’ which are fit into a story with lots of extra padding.
Nevertheless, evolutionists can cite further supportive evidence from molecular biology. All organisms share most of the same genes, but as evolution predicts, the structures of these genes and their products diverge among species, in keeping with their evolutionary relationships.
Another unjustified, over confident claim. Constructing ‘relatedness’ by looking at the similarities between organisms at the genetic level is not an easy task, and implying that we have a ‘clear picture’ of the divergence of these structures is misleading at best.
14. Living things have fantastically intricate features—at the anatomical, cellular and molecular levels—that could not function if they were any less complex or sophisticated. The only prudent conclusion is that they are the products of intelligent design, not evolution.
This “argument from design” is the backbone of most recent attacks on evolution, but it is also one of the oldest. In 1802 theologian William Paley wrote that if one finds a pocket watch in a field, the most reasonable conclusion is that someone dropped it, not that natural forces created it there. By analogy, Paley argued, the complex structures of living things must be the handiwork of direct, divine invention. Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species as an answer to Paley: he explained how natural forces of selection, acting on inherited features, could gradually shape the evolution of ornate organic structures.
No, Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species as an answer to ‘fixity of species’ a popular and incorrect idea around his time, which was that there was essentially no (or very limited) variation within the created species (as I explained earlier).
Before Darwin’s theory of natural selection, most middle to upper class were Christians, or believed in creation. They also (incorrectly) believed that:
- The recently invented concept of the ‘species’ was the same as the word used in Genesis which was ‘kinds’
- That organisms could change only to a very limited extent, and these changes were never permanent (not unjustifiable by any means given that in nature many population groups are quite stable and well adapted to survive in stable environments)
- As popularised by James Hattin, and Charles Lyell, that ‘eons of time’ had transpired since God created the earth
Darwin in effect, had produced a sophisticated, and well articulated theory which challenged the status quo of the day, which was indeed incorrect. Darwin did explain the challenge of irreducible complexity in nature, and attempted to explain how such complexity could arise, but it was not his stated goal to challenge Paley’s argument from design. Darwin was more concerned with defending the view that species could over time evolve, and produce a variety of distinct forms as we see today.
Generations of creationists have tried to counter Darwin by citing the example of the eye as a structure that could not have evolved. The eye’s ability to provide vision depends on the perfect arrangement of its parts, these critics say. Natural selection could thus never favor the transitional forms needed during the eye’s evolution—what good is half an eye? Anticipating this criticism, Darwin suggested that even “incomplete” eyes might confer benefits (such as helping creatures orient toward light) and thereby survive for further evolutionary refinement. Biology has vindicated Darwin: researchers have identified primitive eyes and light-sensing organs throughout the animal kingdom and have even tracked the evolutionary history of eyes through comparative genetics. (It now appears that in various families of organisms, eyes have evolved independently.)
So we see a few things said here:
- organisms exist with photoreceptor panels which detect light, and they exist side by side with other living creatures providing no real evidence that these structures were the precursors to the human eye, or the eagle eye.
- another off-hand comment about how eyes have evolved ‘independently’
So forget about mathematical improbability of eyes evolving once, it probably happened numerous times, completely subverting the claim that photo sensing panels may have been the precursor to human eyes. It’s just as likely that they evolved independently… or something like that.
What Rennie is proving here, is that you can literally make up any bullshit you want, and call it evolution. If you can’t prove the evolutionary relationship between different eyes, well then ‘they must’ve evolved independently!’
This is the problem when you’re dealing with an idea like evolution that is unfalsifiable. Because you cannot test these ideas in a laboratory, there’s no end to the ways in which you can theorize a problem away.
Today’s intelligent-design advocates are more sophisticated than their predecessors, but their arguments and goals are not fundamentally different.
Why should they be? The arguments from design were fine the way they were, and they haven’t been refuted (despite Rennie’s insisting that they have).
It would be better to say that the science concerned with defending the creation model, has been debated and built upon, in much the same way that any theory in science has. Which is the way it should be.
They criticize evolution by trying to demonstrate that it could not account for life as we know it and then insist that the only tenable alternative is that life was designed by an unidentified intelligence.
Well… either life started in some simple way, and then gradually over time created the diversity that we see, or it didn’t.
If instead, it’s true that the diversity of life on earth is discontinuous, and fundamentally irreducibly complex, then the only tenable alternative is that life was designed. As Christians however, we can say that the intelligence is not unidentified, but is revealed to us through the historically accurate, stunningly well preserved Bible, which tells us that life was designed, and tells us a lot about the ‘intelligence’ that was behind it.
15. Recent discoveries prove that even at the microscopic level, life has a quality of complexity that could not have come about through evolution.
“Irreducible complexity” is the battle cry of Michael J. Behe of Lehigh University, author of Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. As a household example of irreducible complexity, Behe chooses the mousetrap—a machine that could not function if any of its pieces were missing and whose pieces have no value except as parts of the whole. What is true of the mousetrap, he says, is even truer of the bacterial flagellum, a whiplike cellular organelle used for propulsion that operates like an outboard motor. The proteins that make up a flagellum are uncannily arranged into motor components, a universal joint and other structures like those that a human engineer might specify. The possibility that this intricate array could have arisen through evolutionary modification is virtually nil, Behe argues, and that bespeaks intelligent design. He makes similar points about the blood’s clotting mechanism and other molecular systems.
Yet evolutionary biologists have answers to these objections. First, there exist flagellae with forms simpler than the one that Behe cites, so it is not necessary for all those components to be present for a flagellum to work. The sophisticated components of this flagellum all have precedents elsewhere in nature, as described by Kenneth R. Miller of Brown University and others. In fact, the entire flagellum assembly is extremely similar to an organelle that Yersinia pestis, the bubonic plague bacterium, uses to inject toxins into cells.
The key is that the flagellum’s component structures, which Behe suggests have no value apart from their role in propulsion, can serve multiple functions that would have helped favor their evolution.
The final evolution of the flagellum might then have involved only the novel recombination of sophisticated parts that initially evolved for other purposes. Similarly, the blood-clotting system seems to involve the modification and elaboration of proteins that were originally used in digestion, according to studies by Russell F. Doolittle of the University of California, San Diego. So some of the complexity that Behe calls proof of intelligent design is not irreducible at all.
Complexity of a different kind—“specified complexity”—is the cornerstone of the intelligent-design arguments of author William A. Dembski in his books The Design Inference and No Free Lunch. Essentially his argument is that living things are complex in a way that undirected, random processes could never produce. The only logical conclusion, Dembski asserts, in an echo of Paley 200 years ago, is that some superhuman intelligence created and shaped life.
True or not true, there’s nothing wrong with this argument. Naturalists like to insist that if some explanation is not naturalistic, it is unacceptable. That’s not true.
If some explanation is not naturalistic, it means that the subject matter is outside the scope of science. It does not mean that the explanation is false.
Rennie is bluffing here. These systems are irreducibly complex, despite his protests.
Dembski’s argument contains several holes. It is wrong to insinuate that the field of explanations consists only of random processes or designing intelligences. Researchers into nonlinear systems and cellular automata at the Santa Fe Institute and elsewhere have demonstrated that simple, undirected processes can yield extraordinarily complex patterns. Some of the complexity seen in organisms may therefore emerge through natural phenomena that we as yet barely understand. But that is far different from saying that the complexity could not have arisen naturally.
Rennie shows a lack of understanding of what Dembski means by ‘specified complexity’. This is the kind of complexity which contains information, and meaningful structures. We’re not talking about predictable mathematical patterns like snowflakes, however complex. We’re talking about systems with functional purpose, that cannot be reduced to mathematical algorithms, and cannot be spontaneously grown from simple starting point.
MISLEADING SEMANTICS OF CREATIONISM
Only methodological naturalism can determine how all life came to be “Creation science” is a contradiction in terms. A central tenet of modern science is methodological naturalism—it seeks to explain the universe purely in terms of observed or testable natural mechanisms.
That’s rubbish. methodological naturalism is a philosophical position that has nothing to do with science.
Modern science seeks to explain that which is within its scope to explain purely in terms of observed or testable natural mechanisms (man I’m starting to sound like a broken record)
If it’s simply true that God is real, and the Bible is true, just like it says, then this changes nothing about how the physical world currently works. If the whole world woke up tomorrow to discover that God created it, the earth would still rotate on its axis, and still revolve around our sun. Physics would still work exactly the same, and life would still work the same. Natural selection would still be occurring and taking place, and scientists would still be able to do science.
If evolution is simply not true, and it is true that biological life was created by God and is maintained by reliable, testable, natural laws and processes, then all that means is that biological science is limited in scope to the active processes in effect from this time. It means that the origin of life is beyond the scope of science, and is actually a subject of theology, or philosophy.
This in no way undermines the value of science to study the natural world and its laws. Isaac Newton understood this. So did the majority of great minds prior to the 19th Century (and very many afterwards too).
Of course I could remind the author that science is not concerned only with testable claims, but repeatable claims. The origin of first life is, in principle neither testable, nor repeatable, because it only happened once, and it’s in the past. The best we can do is attempt to simulate some life creating process in the lab, and speculate about the feasibility of such a model in the natural world (I’m not getting my hopes up).
Thus, physics describes the atomic nucleus with specific concepts governing matter and energy, and it tests those descriptions experimentally. Physicists introduce new particles, such as quarks, to flesh out their theories only when data show that the previous descriptions cannot adequately explain observed phenomena. The new particles do not have arbitrary properties, moreover—their definitions are tightly constrained, because the new particles must fit within the existing framework of physics. In contrast, intelligent-design theorists invoke shadowy entities that conveniently have whatever unconstrained abilities are needed to solve the mystery at hand. Rather than expanding scientific inquiry, such answers shut it down.
(How does one disprove the existence of omnipotent intelligences?)
Intelligent design offers few answers.
Again Rennie shows his ignorance here concerning the stark difference between ‘intelligent design’ proponents, and creationists.
For instance, when and how did a designing intelligence intervene in life’s history?
Creationists unambiguously assert that the God of the Bible, is the omnipotent intelligence.
God is always present in our lives, and He makes himself known to us through His Word.
By creating the first DNA? The first cell? The first human?
God created life the way Bible says, in six earth day’s. He created Adam a fully formed adult. He created all animals before Adam.
Was every species designed, or just a few early ones?
No not every single species was created initially, God made each animal “according to its kind”.
Proponents of intelligent-design theory frequently decline to be pinned down on these points. They do not even make real attempts to reconcile their disparate ideas about intelligent design. Instead they pursue argument by exclusion—that is, they belittle evolutionary explanations as far-fetched or incomplete and then imply that only design-based alternatives remain.
The intelligent design movement, is more agnostic than creationists. Which is fine.
Intelligent design proponents are concerned only with the scientific argument that biological life appears intelligently designed.
Besides, atheists routinely insist that they don’t need ‘all the answers’. So why is Rennie being so pedantic about ID proponents not having all the answers either? The same courtesy should be extended both ways.
Logically, this is misleading: even if one naturalistic explanation is flawed, it does not mean that all are. Moreover, it does not make one intelligent-design theory more reasonable than another. Listeners are essentially left to fill in the blanks for themselves, and some will undoubtedly do so by substituting their religious beliefs for scientific ideas. Time and again, science has shown that methodological naturalism can push back ignorance, finding increasingly detailed and informative answers to mysteries that once seemed impenetrable: the nature of light, the causes of disease, how the brain works. Evolution is doing the same with the riddle of how the living world took shape. Creationism, by any name, adds nothing of intellectual value to the effort. —J.R.
Rennie’s final attack, is perhaps the most egregious and demonstrably false of all “Creationism, by any name, adds nothing of intellectual value to the effort”. This is just a false blanket dismissal of all of the pioneering work done by creationists throughout history, who believed that the only reason you could science, was because God was trustworthy, and created a world that operated by His natural laws. It was the pursuit of understanding these natural laws that gave rise to modern science.
OTHER RESOURCES FOR DEFENDING EVOLUTION
How to Debate a Creationist: 25 Creationists’ Arguments and 25 Evolutionists’ Answers. Michael Shermer. Skeptics Society, 1997. This well-researched refutation of creationist claims deals in more depth with many of the same scientific arguments raised here, as well as other philosophical problems.
Skeptic magazine routinely covers creation/evolution debates and is a solid, thoughtful source on the subject: www.skeptic.com
Defending Evolution in the Classroom: A Guide to the Creation/Evolution Controversy. Brian J. Alters and Sandra M. Alters. Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 2001. This up-to-date overview of the creation/evolution controversy explores the issues clearly and readably, with a full appreciation of the cultural and religious influences that create resistance to teaching evolution. It, too, uses a question-and-answer format that should be particularly valuable for teachers.
Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences. Second edition. National Academy Press, 1999. This concise booklet has the backing of the country’s top scientific authorities. Although its goal of making a clear, brief statement necessarily limits the detail with which it can pursue its arguments, the publication serves as handy proof that the scientific establishment unwaveringly supports evolution. It is also available via www.nap.edu/catalog
The Triumph of Evolution and the Failure of Creationism. Niles Eldredge. W. H. Freeman and Company, 2000. The author, a leading contributor to evolution theory and a curator at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, offers a scathing critique of evolution’s opponents.
Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics. Edited by Robert T. Pennock. Bradford Books/MIT Press, 2001. For anyone who wishes to understand the “intelligent design” controversy in detail, this book is a terrific one-volume summary of the scientific, philosophical and theological issues. Philip E. Johnson, Michael J. Behe and William A. Dembski make the case for intelligent design in their chapters and are rebutted by evolutionists, including Pennock, Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins.
Talk. Origins archive (www.talkorigins.org). This wonderfully thorough online resource compiles useful essays and commentaries that have appeared in Usenet discussions about creationism and evolution. It offers detailed discussions (some of which may be too sophisticated for casual readers) and bibliographies relating to virtually any objection to evolution that creationists might raise.
National Center for Science Education Web site (www.ncseweb.org). The center is the only national organization that specializes in defending the teaching of evolution against creationist attacks. Offering resources for combating misinformation and monitoring antievolution legislation, it is ideal for staying current with the ongoing public debate.
PBS Web site for evolution (www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution). Produced as a companion to the seven-part television series Evolution, this site is an enjoyable guide to evolutionary science. It features multimedia tools for teaching evolution. The accompanying book, Evolution, by Carl Zimmer (HarperCollins, 2001), is also useful for explaining evolution to doubters.
Sigh… So much to do… so little time.
Thanks so much for reading this enormous post. If you enjoyed it then don’t forget to share it on social media, and never forget that Christianity is true, and God is real.
So don’t fear the critics.
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