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Creation or Evolution Analysed
 

Chapter 1:

Society's Dramatic Shift

Evolution or Creation Booklet Analysis Verdict
Why has evolution become so widely accepted, and why has the Bible come to be viewed with such hostility? What has changed? There are actually three questions here. Doubtless all are about to be explored, but I'll answer them briefly now:

(1) Evolution is so widely accepted because of the mountains of data that support it, and because the theory is extremely effective as an explanation.

(2) Is the Bible viewed with hostility? By whom, and in what circumstances? This depends on many things, but they boil down to the interpretation of the Bible being proposed. But at this point, I'll just note that the assertion 'the Bible is viewed with hostility' is contentious.

(3) What has changed is that many people -- including theologians and many, perhaps most, Christians -- no longer regard the Bible as literally correct in all details. They contend that it contains a different sort of truth.

Dubious rhetoric
In this booklet we examine the foundational premises of evolution. Good. So do biology textbooks.  
We consider the evidence evolutionists cite to support the theory. It may be worth noting that even if evolution were wrong, showing it to be so does nothing to support creationism. To support something, you need to posit argument and evidence in favour of the claim.

For example, suppose I say that Gerald lives in Glasgow. Demonstrating that he does not live in Glasgow -- perhaps by a search of the electoral register -- in no way supports the contention that he lives in Plymouth. He might not live in Plymouth either!

Here is the danger of confusing contrary with contradictory propositions. "Of two contradictory propositions, exactly one will be true; but of two contrary propositions, at most one will be true, but both may be false.

Thus, the book is on the table and the book is not on the table are contradictories (only one can be correct); while the book is on the table and the book is on the shelf are contraries: it could be on the table or on the shelf or in neither place.

Similarly, evolution is true and evolution is false are contradictories; while God created and evolution occurred are, at most, contraries.

And what's more, many many theists disagree that God created and evolution occurred are contrary propositions at all! God could have created by using evolution as His chosen mechanism, for instance.

Thus, refuting evolution would only refute evolution. It would not show creationism to be true by default. It will be interesting to see what evidence the booklet's authors put forward to support creationism.

It is also worth noting that many biologists and palaeontologists dislike the term 'evolutionist'. It makes about as much sense as calling a physicist a gravitationist or a chemist an 'atomist'.

 
Perhaps most important, we look at the scientific facts evolutionists don't discuss in public—for reasons that will become clear. These 'facts' should prove interesting. Evolution is a scientific theory. Those who study any science operate by publishing their findings. So it is odd to allude to some "scientific facts" as being hushed up. If it is being kept quiet, it is not a scientific fact.  Assertion
You can know whether evolution is true. We hope you'll examine the evidence carefully. Agreed!  
What you believe does matter. Science does not demand or desire belief. It provides facts and offers explanations of the facts, and you accept these twin offerings or come up with something that fits better.  
Only a few generations ago laws prevented the teaching of the theory of evolution in some communities and regions in the United States. It seems a strange sort of belief system that requires that those who disagree be silenced. Is creationism so weak that it requires legal protection to flourish?

Moreover, the job of a science teacher is surely to teach science; preventing science teachers from doing so would seem to be a violation of the First Amendment's insistence on freedom of speech.

 
The Bible was commonly accepted as true and a reliable account of our origins. But now almost the opposite is true. The Bible is banned from classrooms in American schools, Whether or not the Bible is banned in classrooms I cannot (as an Englishman) easily tell. If so, I would say that is a shame, as the Bible is at the very least an important source of cultural reference.

But one thing is clear though: if so, this is due to an emphasis on so-called Church-State Separation, and has nothing to do with a conspiracy to eliminate its alleged truth.

 
and serious discussion of the biblical view of the creation of our universe—and our human origins—is forbidden. This too seems a shame. Comparative Religion is the obvious class in which to have such serious discussions.

However -- and guessing that by "biblical view" the authors are meaning a literal interpretation of Genesis -- such discussions have no place in science class, since they in no way accord with scientific fact and theory.

And note that none of this makes the slightest difference to the validity of evolution. There are two fallacies lurking here: Ad Consequentiam and Red Herring. These assertions would lead us to discussion of the alleged (and dubious) consequences of evolutionary theory (which do not matter a jot to evolution's veracity), and so off the topic of its veracity.

More sarcastically, one is tempted to offer them a little cheese to go with their whine.

Fallacy: Ad Consequentiam

Fallacy: Red herring

 

 
At the same time, criticism of the theory of evolution is at times ruthlessly suppressed in academic and scientific circles. Bare assertion. This requires considerable substantiation. Assertion
Certainly not all scientists agree that no Creator exists This is correct (assuming that "Creator" is a synonym for 'God').

And this tells us something, something important to remember: that science neither requires nor denies gods. Science is about the empirical world, and gods are not empirical.

And this also means that the point is irrelevant. These same theist scientists would also, I suspect, note that science is not about what they believe, but only about what they can demonstrate.

 
and that we as human beings are the product of random chance. Here we have the first complete misunderstanding of evolution (or perhaps piece of misdirection). One would be very hard pressed indeed to find even the staunchest atheist scientist who would claim human beings were the product of random chance: in fact, I would personally call them fools to their faces if they did.

Evolution by natural selection is not a theory of chance.

We'll doubtless come back to this point, so for now, what the authors have there is the fallacy known as a 'straw man argument'.

Fallacy: Straw man
In 1972 the California State Board of Education asked NASA director Wernher von Braun, who has been called the father of the American space program, for his thoughts on the origin of the universe, life and the human race. Here's how he responded: "For me, the idea of a creation is not conceivable without invoking the necessity of design. This is the fallacy known as 'argument from inappropriate authority'. Why on earth should a rocket scientist be an expert on cosmology, abiogenesis, biology and palaeoanthropology? Perhaps they might also have asked for his views on plate tectonics, and on whether baking soda is needed for making strawberry shortcake.

Now, to be fair, perhaps von Braun had studied these matters. But without substantiation, his views carry no more weight than those of Joe the Plumber.

Fallacy: inappropriate authority
One cannot be exposed to the law and order of the universe without concluding that there must be design and purpose behind it all. In the world around us, we can behold the obvious manifestations of an ordered, structured plan or design . . ."

[...]

And with this, von Braun demonstrates that, whatever else he was expert in, it was not evolutionary biology. For he brings up that old chestnut known as Paley's Watch. Which happens to be a very seductive argument... and very well refuted by Charles Darwin's mechanism for evolution. A mechanism that produces design-like results by repeatedly sieving variation and keeping only what works. But more on that later.  
"To be forced to believe only one conclusion—that everything in the universe happened by chance—would violate the very objectivity of science itself. Certainly there are those who argue that the universe evolved out of a random process, but what random process could produce the brain of a man or the system of the human eye?"

[Remainder of quote in the same vein snipped for brevity; full text of von Braun's letter here.]

Correct: no random process could produce brains and eyes.

Which is why nobody with a clue about the matter thinks that is what evolution proposes!

Or as Richard Dawkins has said:

...To this day, and in quarters where they should know better, Darwinism is widely regarded as a theory of 'chance'. It is grindingly, creakingly, crashingly obvious that, if Darwinism were really a theory of chance, it couldn't work. You don't need to be a mathematician or physicist to calculate that an eye or a haemoglobin molecule would take from here to infinity to self-assemble by sheer higgledy-piggledy luck. Far from being a difficulty peculiar to Darwinism, the astronomic improbability of eyes and knees, enzymes and elbow joints and the other living wonders is precisely the problem that any theory of life must solve, and that Darwinism uniquely does solve.

In other words, von Braun might have had a point if that was what evolutionary theory claimed. Instead, we have another stunning straw man argument.

Fallacy: Straw man
Many educated people accept the theory of evolution. Curiously, for those who educated in what it really says, you could change "many" to 'virtually all'. Hopefully the above will have warned you about arguing with what someone actually says rather than what you think or would like them to have said.  
But is it true? Those who have studied it think so.  
Curiously enough, our existence as humans is one of the best arguments against it. Assertion. Assertion
According to evolutionary theory, the traits that offer the greatest advantage for survival are passed from generation to generation. Straw man.

(1) A trait has to be heritable: no 'I got my fingers stuck together with superglue, but look how they help me swim' stuff.

(2) It is not the greatest traits possible that are predicted to spread through a population, only those that are as good or better than the competition at the time. So evolution does not predict the best of all possible worlds (and traits), just adequate ones.

Fallacy: Straw man
Yet human reproduction itself argues powerfully against this fundamental premise of evolution. Assertion. Assertion based on straw man

 

If evolution is the guiding force in human development, how is it that higher forms of life evolved with male and female sexes? If humans are the pinnacle of the evolutionary process, how is it that we have the disadvantage of requiring a member of the opposite sex to reproduce, when lower forms of life—such as bacteria, viruses and protozoa—are sexless and far more prolific? If they can reproduce by far simpler methods, why can't we? This argument is truly bizarre. Principally, it's our old friend the straw man again.

Not only is evolution not teleological (implying purpose, aiming for an end-point); even if it were, evolution is a  process, and that means we happen to be just its latest products. Even if evolution were aiming at some goal (which it does not, as both Gould and Dawkins, for instance, repeatedly stress), we have no way of knowing if we've reached that goal. Thus, nobody in their right mind would say that we are the evolutionary pinnacle of anything.

But what makes this so weird an argument is that it can be reversed, sans straw men. Creation by a god would obviously be teleological. Creation by a god would also be expected to be amazingly good. And yet, the Creator's creations -- humans included -- contain many design flaws.

The argument is gobsmackingly perverse, because in the fallacy-free reversed version, it is precisely the one I have made implicitly throughout this page. If we are the pinnacles of God's purpose, why do we have an appendix, inefficient lungs, and the 'ability' to choke and get scurvy, to name but a few? If creation is true, what went wrong?

Seriously, when I first read this, I did a double-take, because I misread it as 'pinnacle of creation', precisely the words I have often used in discussions with creationists.

As for sex, we are stuck with it because we inherited this 'problem' from the common ancestor we share with everything else that has separate sexes. And that is a long, long way back. But note that sex actually has a major advantage over asexuality: it is genetic mixing, and so allows new advantageous mutations to spread quickly through the population.

Fallacy: Straw man 
Let's take it a step further. If humans are the result of evolution continually reinforcing characteristics that offer a survival advantage while eliminating those that hinder perpetuation, how can we explain a human infant? Um, now let me see. Perhaps because our babies seem to be an effective way of continuing the lineage? Sheesh.

I am truly stunned that these folks think the Argument from Poor Design can be used against evolution!

 
Among thousands of species the newly born (or newly hatched) are capable of survival within a matter of days or, in some cases, only minutes. Many never even see their parents. "Young animals that are well developed at birth, requiring little parental care (e.g. pronghorn)" are referred to as precocial.  
Yet, among humans, an infant is utterly helpless—not for days but for up to several years after birth. A human baby is reliant on adults for the nourishment, shelter and care he or she needs to survive. "Neonates that are born relatively helpless and require extended periods of parental care" are called altricial.

Note that there are words for these reproductive strategies... because both are common.

The implication here, that humans are somehow unique, is plain false.

Human infants are altricial... but so, to a greater or lesser extent, are the infants of all mammals! Have these people never heard of that defining feature of mammals called milk? All mammals rely on their parents' lactation. Young hooded seals (Cystophora cristata) are weaned at just four days, but chimpanzees and orang-utans are not weaned until about 900 days.

Although extremely short lactation lengths (<10 d) are rare, long lactation lengths (>500 d) are common for large-bodied species with singleton offspring, such as kangaroos, great apes, walruses, whales, sirenians, elephants, and rhinoceroses. Overall, 50% of known lactation lengths range from 29 to 135 d.

(Hayssen, V (1993): 'Empirical and Theoretical Constraints on the Evolution of Lactation'. Journal of Dairy Science 76:3213-3233. PDF here.)

In other words, humans are not unusual in producing helpless offspring. The whole subclass of mammals, the metatherians (marsupials), give birth to tiny pink jelly-bean babies that can do little more than crawl to a teat and attach to it. (And what a lousy design that is too!)

Compared to something like a baby sand tiger shark, which eats its less developed siblings while still inside its mother and so is born already a fully efficient (and practised) predator, just about everything's babies are altricial!

There are many reasons why having altricial offspring may be advantageous. For kangaroos, it increases their baby-making productivity. At any one point, a female can have a joey in her pouch, another older one that visits her regularly for a drink, and a fertilised egg in embryonic diapause awaiting pouch space... and if times become hard (eg drought), she can shove the older joey off to fend for itself, abort the one in the pouch, and then, when the rains return, the fertilised egg is ready to go.

For humans, the advantage is clear. Our babies' big-brained heads are almost too large to fit through the pelvis as it is; a more precocial baby just could not be born!

False implication
Meanwhile, caring for that helpless infant is a distinct survival disadvantage for adults, since giving of their time and energy lessens their own prospects for survival. This is a complete misunderstanding of evolutionary theory. An organism's fitness is measured, not by its own survival, but by how many offspring it has that survive long enough to reproduce. (It is therefore sometimes phrased as the number of grandchildren an organism succeeds in having.) Survival counts for nothing if you do not leave descendants, because if you die without issue your genes die with you.

Therefore, caring for offspring is a worthwhile investment for many organisms.

Parental care is a characteristic of all mammal species, not just humans. Mammals are referred to as being K-selected: that is, they produce few offspring and look after them, compared to, say, cod, which produce millions of eggs in the hope that some will survive (known as r-selection).

It is as if organisms are on a finite budget (indeed, they are, an energy budget). If one has, say, £100 to spend on your offspring, you could have a hundred kids but only spend a pound each on them, or just the one, and lavish the full hundred on him (or her).

Both strategies can work, and are to some extent seen in mammals (tenrecs, opossums etc often have over ten infants per litter), but the general mammalian rule is 'have few and invest lots in them'. Our order, the Primates, are strongly K-selected, and apes even more so, generally having only one or two offspring at a time.

The investment manifests itself in several ways in mammals: gestation, nutritional care (milk), protection from predators, protection from pathogens (eg antibodies in milk), and learning -- mammals are smart animals. All of these things increase the parents' inclusive fitness, and are therefore in complete accord with -- indeed, are predicted by -- evolutionary theory.

Gross misunderstanding
If evolution is true, and humans are the pinnacle of the evolutionary process, why does a process as basic as human reproduction fly in the face of everything that evolution holds true? It is, they are not, and it doesn't.

My, they're getting through a lot of straw men, and we're only on the first chapter!

And of course, again: if creation is true, and humans are the pinnacle of God's creation, why does a process as basic as human reproduction fly in the face of everything that creationists hold true?

Fallacy: Straw man 
Regrettably, such obvious flaws in the theory are too often overlooked. Regrettably, such foolish arguments may sound plausible to those ignorant of what evolutionary theory really says on the matter. The question is, are the authors themselves honestly that ignorant too? Empty rhetoric
Even Charles Darwin, whose theories about evolution took the world by storm, had second thoughts. In his later years he reflected on what he had started: "I was a young man with unformed ideas. I threw out queries, suggestions, wondering all the time over everything; and to my astonishment the ideas took like wildfire. People made a religion of them" This is completely false. The quote derives from Lady Hope, infamous for the story of Darwin's alleged deathbed recantation of evolution. It is twaddle.

Or put it this way: it appears top of the list of Answers in Genesis's Arguments we think creationists should NOT use:

Which arguments should definitely not be used?

Darwin recanted on his deathbed
Many people use this story, originally from a Lady Hope. However, it is almost certainly not true, and there is no corroboration from those who were closest to him, even from Darwin’s wife Emma, who never liked evolutionary ideas. [...] There is no value to this argument whatever.

The most obvious objection, however, is that what is attributed to Darwin is palpable nonsense. He was not a "young man" when On the Origin of Species was published, he was 49. Not even the modest Darwin could sanely call Origin's contents "unformed ideas". He had no reason to be surprised at the acceptance of his ideas, since he argued them so closely, anticipated objections from the start and responded to further ones in each subsequent edition. And because he had argued the case so thoroughly, it would be bizarre of him to say people had accepted the ideas in any sort of religious manner: he had laid the evidence out in front of them.

False and nonsense

 

(William Federer, America's God and Country, 1996, p. 199, emphasis added) Which just goes to show what happens when you get biographical information from a book of quotations. Shame on both Federer and the Creation or Evolution authors for such poor scholarship. Poor scholarship
Now, almost a century and a half after the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species, we can see where his thinking has led. Apart from this being a post hoc fallacy, what of it? Fallacy: Post Hoc
In Europe in particular, belief in a personal God has plummeted. In the United States, court decisions have interpreted constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion as freedom from religion—effectively banning public expression of religious beliefs and denying the country's rich religious heritage. If people want to draw from evolution some metaphysical ideas, that is their problem, but evolution, like any science, says precisely nothing about metaphysics.

The fallacy this time is an appeal to the consequences of a belief: fallacious because the consequences of a belief have no bearing on whether the belief is true or false.

Fallacy: Ad Consequentiam
Meanwhile, the world languishes in the sorrow and suffering resulting from rejecting absolute moral standards. With no absolute standards, we have no reason to care what happens to our fellowman. A couple of non sequiturs and an obvious falsehood. It is by no means obvious that sorrow and suffering are the result of lack of morals; it is by no means obvious that there is even such a thing as absolute moral standards. And it is plainly false to assert that without absolute morals people do not care for others. See for instance the Morality section from The Bible of the Good and Moral Atheist.

See also Evolution is the foundation of an immoral worldview.

Unsupported assertions and empty rhetoric
We should seek only our personal gain regardless of the cost to others—acting exactly as evolutionary theory says we should. Evolution says precisely nothing about what people should or should not do, and anyone who thinks it offers moral guidance is committing the Argumentum ad Naturam fallacy. Wearing socks is also unnatural, but it is surely not automatically immoral.

And just to show how silly the claim is, note that evolutionary theory also explains how altruism can flourish in the right circumstances. So we could just as well say that evolutionary theory says we should help others at our own cost!

We are built as gene machines and cultured as meme machines, but we have the power to turn against our own creators. We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators.

(Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, Chapter 11)

See also Does evolution make might right?

Fallacy: Ad Consequentiam
Could man create a religion with no god? It seems so.  
The widespread acceptance of evolution shows that we have done just that. Evolution is no more a religion than any other scientific theory. See here.  
The Bible teaches us that God created man. Evolution teaches us that man created God. Evolutionary theory "teaches" precisely nothing about gods. Fallacy: Straw man 
If God created man we have no right to ignore Him. If man created God we can easily ignore Him. What man has made he can do away with. Thus we are free to act as though God doesn't exist, free to dismiss the Bible, free to determine for ourselves what is right and wrong and how we will choose to live. Are these meant to be bad things? It is far from clear that they are bad. Empty rhetoric
Which is the myth, God or evolution? As discussed above, it is not an either-or question: the two are not mutually exclusive. God could not exist and evolution still be false; evolution could be true and there still be a god -- in fact, the latter is what many Christians and other theists do believe. Fallacy: False choice
Louis Bounoure, director of France's Strasbourg Zoological Museum and professor of biology at the University of Strasbourg, stated: "Evolution is a fairy tale for grown-ups. This theory has helped nothing in the progress of science. It is useless" (Federer, p. 61). Again, Federer's scholarship is appallingly bad. The quote is an amalgam of at least two out of context quotes by different people. See here for details.

But even if the quote were accurate, it would still be false on all counts. Unlike any fairy tale, evolution has a mountain of evidence behind it; it has numerous practical applications, and as the single unifying concept in biology it is patently not useless.

Evolutionary biology is widely perceived as a discipline with relevance that lies purely in academia. Until recently, that perception was largely true, except for the often neglected role of evolutionary biology in the improvement of agricultural crops and animals. In the past two decades, however, evolutionary biology has assumed a broad relevance extending far outside its original bounds. Phylogenetics, the study of Darwin's theory of "descent with modification," is now the foundation of disease tracking and of the identification of species in medical, pharmacological, or conservation settings. It further underlies bioinformatics approaches to the analysis of genomes. Darwin's "evolution by natural selection" is being used in many contexts, from the design of biotechnology protocols to create new drugs and industrial enzymes, to the avoidance of resistant pests and microbes, to the development of new computer technologies. These examples present opportunities for education of the public and for nontraditional career paths in evolutionary biology. They also provide new research material for people trained in classical approaches.

(Bull, J J and Wichman, H A (2001): 'Applied evolution'. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 32: 183-217.)

Poor scholarship

False assertions

Professor Bounoure, though right about evolution, was wrong about one thing. Rather than being useless, evolution is quite useful if one wants to reject the idea of God. Evolution says precisely nothing about gods. All it does contradict is a literal interpretation of Genesis. It is perfectly possible to be a fervent believer in God and accept evolution, as all the mainstream churches advise.  
In this booklet we examine the foundational premises of evolution. We consider the evidence evolutionists cite to support the theory. Perhaps most important, we look at the scientific facts evolutionists don't discuss in public—for reasons that will become clear. This first chapter does not auger well for their project.  
You can know whether evolution is true. Yes, one can look at the evidence, and understand what the theory actually states.  
We hope you'll examine the evidence carefully. Agreed!  
 What you believe does matter. Only if you are interested in believing the truth. But on the evidence of this chapter, truth does not seem to be high on the authors' list of priorities.  

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Next chapter: Science, the Bible and Wrong Assumptions (in progress, partly complete)


© Oolon Colluphid 2006. The contents of this site may be freely used for educational purposes provided they are attributed - only so that Oolon himself is not accused of plagiarism!