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.
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.