Night Owl Mk. II

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This is the first of a four-part reply. Select the "Go to next reply" link at the end of each part to read the next part of the reply.

(In this reply, references to "Morris says..." will refer to Henry Morris' 1974 book, "Scientific Creationism". Morris is the director of the Institute for Creation Research and that book is the one which the Creationists wish to use in their quest to have Creationism granted "equal time" with evolution in school curricula.)

It is pointless to demand laboratory observation of evolution for organisms that would normally take thousands or millions of years to evolve noticeably. In any case, that is not necessary. If evolution occurs in lower forms of eukaryotic or prokaryotic life - which has been observed - then it must also occur in higher forms. It just takes longer for more complex organisms.
(R) This is a serious fallacy. It is not proper to assume that what may occur at one level of complexity will of necessity occur at another level. Small microevolutionary changes have been observed in the laboratory under carefully controlled conditions: this in no way means that such changes must be occurring in extremely complex organisms in nature today (or that they occurred in the past).
(MB) Morris says: "Even if modern scientists should ever actually achieve the artificial creation of life from non-life, or of higher kinds from lower kinds, in the laboratory, this would not prove in any way that such changes did, or even could, take place in the past by random natural processes".
What we have here is a standard method used by Creationists to summarily dismiss any experimental results that provide support for evolution. Besides the thoroughly unsupported idea that lab experiments and natural processes are mutually-exclusive, Morris cleverly uses the word "prove" in his statement. Technically, few experiments "prove" anything. They merely demonstrate that it is possible for a particular model to account for a given phenomenon. Creationists claim that evolution isn't even possible. When shown evidence to the contrary, they raise their objections to the level of "proof".

(R) A little modesty here would suit evolutionists very well as I find it surprising such unwarranted conclusions would be drawn from laboratory data. In fact, the immodest arrogance of evolutionists is one of the most galling aspects of the whole debate: I would think professional scientists would have been trained better.
(MB) They *are*. That's why evolution holds up under scrutiny. Creationists are *not* trained better. That's why their ideas do not hold up. There is nothing immodest about supporting a theory with solid evidence. There is something seriously wrong, however, with the tactics used by Creationists to attack science. Of course, this is all self-correcting. The simple fact that three decades of concerted Creationist effort has been a complete failure attests to the validity of their case.

Despite Creationist claims to the contrary, the fossil record and the sciences of comparative immunology, morphology, comparative embryology and biogeography all provide strong evidence (if not outright proof) in favor of evolution.
(R) Do the results of research in these areas show common ancestry or a common design? That there are similarities between different forms of life and in different locations is beyond dispute, but to find the meaning of these facts we tend to fall back on interpretative biases. Creationists see a designer, evolutionists see the common ancestor.
(MB) Morris says that the creation model: "...suggests an array of similarities and differences, so that similarities simply suggest similar purposes (e.g., both birds and bats needed to fly, so the Creator created wings for both of them). This concept would apply equally well to so-called convergent evolution and cases of mimicry. All were created as distinct kinds, with similar structures for similar purposes and different structures for different purposes".
The problem with Morris' argument is that it is completely retroactive and provides no explanations of *why* any structure should exist at all. It's merely a variation of "God said it, I believe it, that settles it". This has been recognized for over 300 years! Liebniz, in "Discourse on Metaphysics", puts Morris' argument in its proper perspective (even before it had been made): "In saying, therefore, that things are not good according to any standard of goodness, but simply by the will of God, it seems to me that one destroys, without realizing it, all the love of God and all his glory; for why praise him for what he has done, if he would be equally praiseworthy in doing the contrary?".
Creationists never say what the "Grand Design" is. They just know that it exists. This means that *anything* can be accounted for simply by saying that that's the way that God meant it to be. This approach solves nothing, it answers no questions, and provides no common thread of organization or purpose in the world. Questions about it are dismissed and contrary evidence or alternative explanations are denounced as "arrogant". Yet, the Creationists hold this up as "science". Why?

(R) If we start with an evolutionary framework, use it to interpret the findings of different areas of science, and then claim these interpretations to prove evolution, we are guilty of circular reasoning.
(MB) You are going in the wrong direction. Evolution doesn't create or support evidence. Evidence supports the theory of evolution. Any theory is an explanation for a set of observations and data and provides predictions for the results of future observations and experimentation. If those results are consistent with the predictions, the theory survives. If they are not, the theory fails. Data stands alone independently of theory.

(R) The most that can be said is that this evidence is not glaringly inconsistent with the theory of evolution, something that creationists can also claim regarding their ideas.
(MB) Unfortunately, Creationists have no basis upon which to make such a claim for their own ideas. Creationism is a notoriously vague set of ideas. Whenever they attempt to get specific and provide any level of detail, they always fail. That's why it always falls back upon religious faith and "God did it". Morris, himself, in a 1961 work says, "It is because the Bible itself teaches us these things that we are fully justified in appealing to the power of God".

Creationists have yet to provide one single legitimate example of contradiction or error to the findings of those sciences. They may correctly point out that the records and findings are not yet complete, but that, in and of itself, is no evidence of error.
(R) Why should they bother, since within their interpretational context most (if not all) of the scientific data can be used to bolster creation?
(MB) If they wish to be taken seriously, they *must* "bother". Is it not the height of arrogance to say things such as "we don't have to bother to prove our point" on the basis of a claim to be occupying some moral high ground?
By the way, Creationists like to claim that scientific data supports their ideas. However, that has yet to be demonstrated in so much as a single instance. This is a rather dreadful track record considering the claims of having so much "support". If you have any examples to the contrary, I would appreciate hearing about them.

If one could run a 10-million-year laboratory experiment on cats, we would see macroevolution in them, too.
(R) Would we? How do you know this, since no one has ever seen it? This is a statement that goes far beyond what evidence exists to support it.
(MB) Not at all. Just because a given process takes a long time to complete and is, therefore, inconvenient or even impossible to witness in its entirety, doesn't by any stretch of the imagination mean that that process is a fairy tale. How can one use such an argument against evolution and still believe in Creation? After all, nobody actually witnessed it directly, did they? Would somebody claim that stars and planets don't exist because we have never been able to create them in the laboratory?

(R) An example from statistics may prove instructive. In regression analysis (which fits a line to data) it is sometimes tempting to assume that the relationship observed between two variables can be extrapolated to values of the independent variable for which no data were collected. It is possible that the relationship observed at the range of variable values collected would hold at different ranges of the independent variable, but we have no evidence to tell us that it would. Hence, to state that it would is an error of interpretation.
(MB) It's only an error of the level of certainty involved in that interpretation. As more and more data points are collected, the equation governing the line which connects all data points becomes more accurate. It is not 100% accurate until all data points are accounted for, but we can reasonably assume that the final form of the equation will not vary significantly from the initial statistically-confident versions.
Applying this to the argument on evolution shows the difference between scientific and Creationistic interpretations. The scientist claims that the theory describing the known data is correct so long as future data continues to uphold it. He further claims that predictions can be made from the initial theory as to the nature of future data. The Creationist, on the other hand, claims that the entire theory is completely invalid and unworthy of consideration, despite any and all data which agree with it, because there are still data points outstanding. Since it is not possible to collect all possible data points, the Creationist will never accept the theory that defines their relationship. The scientist, however, will use the theory to do useful work and increase his understanding. If future data is discovered which show the theory to be in error, a new theory will be formed and the learning process continues. The Creationist will always be stuck with his basic premise and is incapable of advancement.

Homo sapiens is not likely to speciate again during our stay on this planet because our population has become so intermixed that mutations are "smoothed out". However, should we manage to colonize another planet, it is possible that the small, isolated population of that colony would evolve much more rapidly.
(R) I respond to this because it contains the phrase "it is possible." To be prudent,evolutionists should be including this phrase every time they make unwarranted generalizations from their lab experiments. My hunch is that they do, because they are trained scientists, and then others take their tentative conclusions and bombastically pronounce them to be indisputable facts.
(MB) You need to avoid the mistake of lumping degrees of proof for general statements such as "evolution occurs" with those for specific statements such as "this is *how* evolution occurs". General statements can, indeed, be indisputable facts, even if the exact mechanics underlying them are still open to debate. This applies to every theory of science. For example, "gravity" is a fact. How gravity is actually manifested in space-time is still under debate.

No one will claim that there are no holes or gaps in the fossil record. However, a "gap" does not mean an "error" - as Creationists would have us believe. Remember that the science of paleontology is less than two centuries old and only a fraction of the Earth has been examined for fossil remains.
(R) This is true as far as it goes. But consider that there have been millions of fossils found of all kinds of life forms. With that much evidence I would think that the holes should be pretty much filled.
(MB) Why? There are currently some 30 million species of animal life on planet Earth and 99% of all species that have *ever* existed are now extinct. We've filled some holes in the fossil record, but, by no means, have we filled all of them. Creationists incorrectly claim that "absence of evidence" means "evidence of absence". Combine this with their unwillingness to accept evolution until *all* data points are known and you get the main thrust of their argument against fossil record support for evolution.

(R) The latest evolutionary ideas, however, have been constructed in such a way to take these gaps into account: isolated populations mutating very rapidly, a sort of slow-motion hopeful monster.
(MB) This is lifted directly from Gish's combination of distortions of the punctuated equilibrium theory of Stephen J. Gould and Niles Eldridge with his ridiculing of the phrase "hopeful monsters" used in a paper by Richard Goldschmidt to describe the appearance and survival of macromutations. Gish tries to claim that scientists support the notion that, in his words, "that one time a reptile laid an egg and a bird was hatched from the egg!". In reality, nobody claims anything of the sort. Mutations are the engine of change in living things and they are more likely to survive when they occur in isolated populations where competitive pressures are lessened. In such an environment, the mutated creature (or "hopeful monster") has a much better chance of surviving to reproduce and pass along an overall change to future generations in that population.

(R) It may make the theory of evolution stronger in many eyes, but think of how many times we were confidently told that the holes would be filled!
(MB) This has never been claimed. To do so would require retrieving the fossilized remains of every single creature that had ever lived on this planet -- and that is simply impossible.

(R) These theories are likely to change, and who knows, they may continue to change in such a way as to evolve into something even closer to what creationists have been saying all along.
(MB) That is highly unlikely. For that to happen, there would already have to be some scientific support for Creationism -- and none exists. It is indeed a fantasy to think that an entirely unsupported idea will suddenly blossom into a bedrock of science in the face of all the evidence against it.

(R) Recent changes in evolutionary theory have taken creationist criticisms into account (or at least have taken into account the data inconsistencies that creationists have pointed out).
(MB) Could you detail a few of those changes and the Creationist argument that caused them?

New findings are made constantly and, to date, not a single one has contradicted evolution theory.
(R) What kind of fossil evidence would be interpreted as contradicting evolution theory?
(MB) Finding dinosaur fossils in pre-Cambrian strata. Finding human remains in Cretaceous strata. Finding mammal or bird fossils prior to the appearance of reptiles. Obvious things like that...

(R) I think that the response of the evolutionary community to a troublesome find would be to modify the theory of evolution without seriously considering the most obvious alternative at hand: special creation.
(MB) Why would nonsense merit serious consideration if an established theory was challenged by new data? Creationism is an idea that must sink or swim on its own merits (or lack of them). Argument against evolution is not also argument in favor of Creationism (discounting any ulterior motives of the one promoting the argument). The answers to questions concerning the nature of life on planet Earth are not found in a simple binary decision tree.
Actually, the Creationist argument is structured very much like a political campaign that concentrates almost exclusively on mud-slinging. In politics, a candidate can win votes either by making positive points about himself or by running down his opponent. Mud-slinging is easier, however, and that's why it's so widespread. All that's required are negative allegations. Few people will bother to check the facts and rebut the allegations. Even if they do so successfully, the "sting" of the allegations will linger and can be drawn upon in future arguments - usually made to a different audience. Cogent points against the mud-slinging candidate can be glossed over by appealing to the emotions of the voter in cleverly-worded speeches. Bill Clinton is a master of this technique and it's won him two terms in office.
Creationists understand this all very well. In fact, Morris' 1975 work, "Introducing Creationism in the Public Schools", is a primer on *how* to present Creationist argument for best effect. It has nothing to do with whether or not the arguments themselves are worth a load of fetid dingo's kidneys. Just as in the political campaign, image is everything. For example, he encourages students who believe in Creationism to advance questions in class, but to be "winsome and tactful, kind and patient" and that "cleanliness and neatness don't hurt either". Of course, those qualities contribute absolutely nothing to the truth or fiction of their arguments, but, then again, the Creationists aren't primarily concerned with such niggling details.

(R) The evolutionists seem to hold onto their theory with a great deal of tenacity, not any specific theory, but there is unquestioned loyalty to the idea of evolution. This betrays a rigidity and scientific intolerance which does not become these supposed searchers of truth.
(MB) Again, there seems to be some confusion here between the overall theory of evolution and the details of its mechanics. It is hardly "intolerant" to subscribe to a theory which has survived constant interrogation for over a century and for which there is no significant or serious competition. The search for truth is satisfied at that level, but continues at a feverish pace in the effort to answer all of the remaining component questions. That is where the only controversy lies. There is none about the overall grand theory. Even most Creationists agree on that point. They just try to claim that God is responsible for it all and that the Bible is a literal and accurate explanation for it.

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