“Creation science” Is a Contradiction in Terms

Here’s a great article at Scientific American that was sent to me by a friend regarding arguments that Creationists use to “battle” evolution. His comments along with sending the article were “Isn’t religion…kind of a “theory?” I’ve summarized the main points of the article here. My paraphrasing and editorial comments are in italics.
Creationism Evolution

1. Evolution is only a theory. It is not a fact or a scientific law. When Creationists use this term, “theory,” they are not using the term as scientists use it.

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.”

2. Natural selection is based on circular reasoning: the fittest are those who survive, and those who survive are deemed fittest. Natural selection has much more to it than just “survival of the 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.

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. The believer in evolution, a.k.a. “student of reality” might be quick to play the point that the same can be said for Creation. This logic won’t go anywhere with Creationists. Scientific American argues a better point through discussion micro- and macro-evolution.

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.

4. Increasingly, scientists doubt the truth of evolution. Yes, you’re right. Christian wacko scientists doubt the truth of evolution.

Conversely, serious scientific publications disputing evolution are all but nonexistent. In the mid-1990s George W. Gilchrist of 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. In the past two years, surveys done independently by Barbara Forrest of Southeastern Louisiana University and Lawrence M. Krauss of Case Western Reserve University have been similarly fruitless.

5. The disagreements among even evolutionary biologists show how little solid science supports evolution. Science books didn’t just miraculously appear in scientists’ laps. Science has always has debate and discussion. That breeds new ideas.

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.

6. If humans descended from monkeys, why are there still monkeys? This argument is pretty common and it gets under my skin. It’s a typical example of Creationists making up what they want about evolution and spewing it forth as the “other side of the argument.”

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.

7. Evolution cannot explain how life first appeared on earth. No, and it doesn’t claim to. That’s like saying the starter on my car makes it go faster.

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.

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. And it’s pretty mathematically conceivable that an invisible man in the sky made you out of play dough and happy thoughts.

…natural selection, the principal known mechanism of evolution, harnesses nonrandom change by preserving “desirable” (adaptive) features and eliminating “undesirable” (nonadaptive) ones.

and even more interestingly:

As an analogy, consider the 13-letter sequence “TOBEORNOTTOBE.” Those hypothetical million monkeys, each pecking out one phrase a second, could take as long as 78,800 years to find it among the 2613 sequences of that length. But in the 1980s Richard Hardison of 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.

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. I’ve never heard this argument. The SA article does a pretty good job of shutting it down.

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.

10. Mutations are essential to evolution theory, but mutations can only eliminate traits. They cannot produce new features. Tell that to the bunions on grandma’s feet.

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.

11. Natural selection might explain microevolution, but it cannot explain the origin of new species and higher orders of life.

Lynn Margulis of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and others have persuasively argued that some cellular organelles, such as the energy-generating mitochondria, evolved through the symbiotic merger of ancient organisms. Thus, science welcomes the possibility of evolution resulting from forces beyond natural selection. Yet those forces must be natural; they cannot be attributed to the actions of mysterious creative intelligences whose existence, in scientific terms, is unproved.

12. Nobody has ever seen a new species evolve. Wow. I recently had a Christian say to me, “You can’t see the air you breathe, but you know it’s there” to try to prove the existence of God. I wanted to say “How do you know the air is there?” to make the person explain to me that they know because science tells them so.

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. Geneticists speak of the “molecular clock” that records the passage of time. These molecular data also show how various organisms are transitional within evolution

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. I would say personally, this is one of the better arguments that Creationists have. Our internal structure, like the way my guts are packed inside my body seems so complex. It turns out Darwin took care of the argument.

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.)

15. Recent discoveries prove that even at the microscopic level, life has a quality of complexity that could not have come about through evolution. My phone has a 512MB “Transflash” card in it. It’s smaller than any of my fingernails. That must mean God made my phone.

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.

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3 Responses to “Creation science” Is a Contradiction in Terms

  1. Bill says:

    7. The article talks about space aliens starting life on Earth. You’re much better at coming up with condescending remarks than I am. Go to town.

    11. Ms. Margulis acknowledges that no matter how unlikely a natural explanation seems, scientists have to choose the natural explanation. What if God really did something? (Some) scientists will have to explain it away.

    14. In order to have even an extremely simple eye, you need light receptive cells, optic nerves, and the brain’s ability to interpret the data. All of this has to come about in the same animal. Let’s say a kid is born with an optic nerve, and not the other two faculties. Why does he have an optic nerve?

    The problem with this isn’t just with eyes. It extends to all of the systems. For example, veins, blood and heart have to come together. Any of the two, without the third means they’re useless.

    A few questions remain. Let’s say the first male mutated into existence. I hope for his sake that he found a female, or his kind would cease to exist. What about the first fish to crawl up on land. Did he have gills or lungs? I hope he had lungs, so that he doesn’t suffocate on the beach. But I guess if he had lungs, then he wouldn’t have lived long enough to crawl up on land.

    Where is the amazing amounts of fossils of these in-between animals? Why did scientists feel like they had to fabricate evidence, such as Piltdown Man, Nebraska Man, Java Man, Heidelberg Man and Neanderthal Man, all proven to be hoaxes?

    If I told you the F-16 sitting on the tarmac came together when a tornado passed through a junk yard, you’d be right to make fun of me. We know there is a creator, because there is so much design. We know there is a creator because there is a creation.

    There are a ton of problems with evolution. I guess I can throw out my questions about the beginning of life, and where the matter in the universe came from. Where our conscience came from, where the scientific laws came from, and a hundred other questions. The space aliens caused it all.

    I think it all stems from the fact that the space aliens idea is much less offensive than a God we’re going to have to stand before on Judgment Day. A Judge who is infinitely righteous and just, and has to punish sin wherever it is found. A Judge who said that all liars will have their part in the lake of fire. Who said that no thief, fornicator or blasphemer can enter the kingdom of heaven. Who isn’t on those lists? Who isn’t being told to change their life or face the eternal consequences? I see the attraction to the idea of space aliens, since it allows people to live life any way they want, but maybe it would be beneficial to find the truth–no matter how offensive or silly you might think it is.

  2. Rob says:

    @Bill,

    I cannot argue as pervasively or as elegantly as others so I would at least suggest that you read Richard Dawkin’s “The Blind Watchmaker” or Daniel Dennett’s “Freedom Evolves” as they address the misconceptions you seem to have with evolution.

    As for fraudulent science; there are plenty of other nonreligious factors to explain why scientists would fabricate evidence, the most compelling being monetary factors. Finding a “missing link” that would strengthen macro-evolution would bring fame and fortune. This alone is enough to motivate one to cheat without the need to suggest there is a scientific conspiracy to prove evolution as an alternative to God.

    Your objection to number fourteen seems to suggest you lack a certain sense of imagination. To take your fish out of water example. It isn’t as though amphibians were suddenly spontaneously created, their ability to transition to breathing air a noted improvement instead being bound to the water. Instead there was (most likely) a plethora of transition stages that occurred. First it would have stuck in the shallows to avoid larger predators, then those with rigid fins with strong muscles that could use its fins to move about in the muddy shallows. Then those that were strong enough to move about by their fins alone in the mud. This followed by fish that could hold their breathe by escaping onto land from predators for short periods. Then those that could do it long and better. Eventually you would get something like a weak amphibian that still needs to be near the water but can breathe air.

    Certainly the ability to process air for O² even in the minutest amount is a HUGE advantage as it provides the ability to escape predators for much longer than predecessors. Dawkins addresses this exact scenario in much greater detail illustrating how such steps make sense.

    More importantly positing that a divine and perfect creator comes with its own costs in argument. If God created the human eye, why did he create it as a flawed device? Why cannot see observe the entire spectrum of light? Why can we not see better in failing light, or in almost complete darkness? More importantly why is the actual design imperfect if created by a perfect being? The optic nerve attaches to the eye in such a way as to make a blind spot in each eye. This is not a requirement for the design of an eye. The optic nerve could attach so as not to create a blind spot. why does it connect this way? Evolution suggests that it was an imperfect process that made an amazingly complex but ultimately imperfect organ. Creationists would have us believe a perfect deity created an imperfect organ or perhaps that it only appear to be imperfect because we are too feeble to understand it’s perfection. Which view makes the most sense?

    More importantly though you seem to misunderstand the intentional view of the world, which is a limitation of being human. When viewing events, we as intentional beings are quick to assume (and ascribe) intentional viewpoints to everything. My thermostat “senses” that my home is cool cold and “tells” the furnace to turn on and heat my home. This is a terribly misleading representation of facts. My thermostat has a small piece of metal that shrinks as it cools (with the room temp) which at a point I’ve chosen completes a circuit that sends and electrical signal to the furnace. That’s is all it does, it has no intention, it is responding as it is required to do because of its design.

    However not everything is designed that seems intentional. If every time I perform a ritual it rains doesn’t mean that I cause it to rain only that I have the luck to have it rain when I perform a ritual.

    Dawkin uses this example to prove his point. If one sees an arch made from rock in nature the mind leaps to the conclusion that some designer, some builder must have made that arch. The concept that these rocks fell randomly into such an alignment is laughable as any minor deviation in position of any of the rocks would cause it to tumble apart. This is fault of our minds. It is easy to imagine that heavy rocks covered a hillside. The hill being softer than rock erodes quickly (relatively speaking) compared to the rock, thus after a significant amount of time the hill is gone and all that remains is the rock having covered the hill. It is no improbably that the rocks that remain might form an arch.

    It is not a reasonable thing to think that without an immediate explanation of some complex thing that one describe a creator as the cause. However once the means are better understood the true cause is often impressive in its simplicity.

    I’ve always thought it similar to those persons who claim that Stonehenge was created by aliens because there was no technology available at the time to explain how they lifted such large rocks atop such massive pillars. The simple solution is that they piled dirt into ramps so all they had to do was push the stone into position, rather than lift. Having removed the dirt the task seems impossible, but it actually rather simple.

    In much the same way often seemingly complex natural events seem impossible but I think you’ll find more often than not their explanation is neither supernatural or super-complex.

  3. billphillips says:

    Sorry it took me so long to respond.

    I’m sure we could argue about evolution for a long time, and never convince each other. I am impressed with the amount of faith you have that all of the highly improbable things that had to happen really did happen, though. I’ll try to read the Dawkins book. I would reccommend “Darwin’s Black Box” by Michael Behe. Behe isn’t a Christian, and even believes in parts of evolution, but he’s come to the conclusion that there must be either space aliens or a creator.

    As far as the imperfectly designed eye, the perfect Creator made Adam to live forever. I don’t know how much better Adam’s design was than ours, but he lived to be about 900 years old. He disobeyed God, and death was brought into the world, where God never intended it. If God is going to make a finite being, there has to be limitations somewhere.

    The imperfect design leads to the question of why anything bad happens. Why are people born blind? Not because they sinned, but because we’re all suffering from the disease of sin. Why does God let a drunk driver kill a family? God could have stopped it. I don’t know why He allowed it, but the family and everything else belongs to God, and He decided it was time for them to die. If the drunk didn’t get drunk or drive, that family would have survived the night. His sin cost that family their lives. He made a choice for evil.

    God allows us all to make choices. Whether we live to be 15 or 90, the result is the same. God is going to make sure that justice is served. Every person that’s done something bad to us will face the consequences. The problem is that we’re also going to face God for the bad things we’ve done.

    We live in a time when God is patiently waiting for everyone to repent. He’s given us a conscience, and every time we sin, we do it with knowledge. Who among us hasn’t lied, stolen, looked at a woman with lust, or taken God’s name in vain? Anyone who has done those things has broken God’s law, and just like a criminal in America (who gets caught) must be punished, God can’t let guilty lawbreakers go free. His place of punishment is hell.

    I know you don’t believe all of that, but I hope you’ll think about your conscience, and how many times you’ve broken God’s law.

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