The January 8, 1997 issue of the Washington Post newspaper contained an article in the 'Horizon' Section entitled 'How Science Responds When Creationists Criticize Evolution'. Unfortunately, this article contains many questionable statements. We sent the following response to Mr. Boyce Rensberger, editor of the Horizon Section and the author of the article. Lines from the original article are prefixed with a '>'. The other lines (in red) are our response.
> The Washington Post > 1150 15th Street, NW > Washington, DC 20071 > 202-334-6000 > > Jan 8, 1997 Horizon Section > > HOW SCIENCE RESPONDS WHEN CREATIONISTS CRITICIZE EVOLUTION > > Maybe you've encountered them, the perfectly nice > people who stop you with a statement like, "Well, you > know, evolution is just a theory, and it's very > controversial, even among scientists." > Or maybe they say, "There's no way a bunch of gears > and springs in a junk pile could suddenly fall together > by accident and become a working watch. The existence of > a watch. The existence of a watch tells you there had to > be an intelligent watchmaker." > Sometimes, they'll stump you by asserting that, on > his deathbed, Charles Darwin renounced his theory of > evolution.
The historical question of whether Charles Darwin renounced his theory does not determine it's scientific validity.
> Usually, the people who say these things mean well. > But the statements are based on a faulty understanding of > biology.
No, they understand biology, they disagree with current dogma.
> Unfortunately, many of us challenged by those > who call themselves creationists are not well prepared to > respond. > But science has good answers to these challenges to > the theory of evolution. > First, there's absolutely no controversy within > science about the reality of evolution. There is a well > accepted, solidly established body of evidence showing > that evolution is real and, although knowledge of some > mechanisms is incomplete, much is known about how > evolution works.
This depends on how you define evolution. True, if you mean natural selection where a population shifts composition like the famous moths in industrial era England. Or, if you mean "micro-evolution" where speciation (species defined as interbreeding populations) occurs. The controversy arises when the claim is made that molecules became man by naturalistic means. The main areas of contention are the origin of life and "macro-evolution" - the origin of major kinds of organisms.
> From this body of information, we've > drawn answers to some of the most common challenges > issued by creationists. > Take that last one, about Darwin on his deathbed. > Not only is it irrelevant to whether evolution is true, > the statement is false. For on thing, Darwin would have > had no motive to recant. Before the great naturalist > died in 1882, he had the satisfaction of knowing that the > Church of England and several other Christian > denominations had declared there to be no conflict > between his theory and the churches' teachings. Indeed, > Darwin, an evolutionists to the end, was laid to rest in > the hallowed ground of Westminster Abbey. > In the generations since, most major denominations > within the Christian, Jewish and Islamic traditions have > found Darwinian evolution compatible with their religious > beliefs. The statement by Pope John Paul II in November > that evolution was more than a hypothesis was the fourth > acceptance of evolution by the Roman Catholic Church. > For some people, fundamentalist Protestants most > prominently, the issue likewise has been settled but with > the opposite verdict.
There are religious and prominent figures on both side of the argument. Popularity does not determine the scientific validity of the evolutionary concept.
> For them, Genesis, however poetic, never uses > metaphor or simile to tell the story of how the world and > its inhabitants came to be. To them, the Bible is a > scientific document to be taken literally. If science > makes a claim counter to the Bible, creationists say it > is automatically understood that science is wrong and a > literal reading of the scripture is right. > Creationists believer that God created each living > thing independently and instantaneously about 6,000 years > ago and all during the first six days. Evolutionists > believe that all living things are descended, through a > cumulative series of genetic changes, from one common > ancestor, or perhaps a few ancestors. The forest > ancestors would have been primitive, self-replicating, > cell-like structures that arose more than 3.5 billion > years ago. Evolutionists are, however, quite far from > explaining how the first living thing arose.
This is not a problem? Is understanding how life arose just a minor detail?
> Herewith are the criticism you may hear, drawn from > creationists and their literature, and responses based > on what scientist have learned. What follows is not an > attack on creationism but a defense of evolutionism. > > EVOLUTION IS JUST A THEORY; IT HASN'T BEEN PROVED. > > Well, yes, evolution is theory, but not in the way > that critics think. When scientists refer to it as the > "theory of evolution," the wording does not mean that > they doubt it's true. Evolution has been nailed down > about as solidly as anything can be in science.
No. F = ma is easily verified by experiment, so is natural selection. Can you say the same about the origin of a new phyla or man? In practice, evolution is "nailed down" by airbrush pictures of primordial soup and photos of wildlife.
> The confusion arises because in science "theory" > means more than "hypothesis." A hypothesis is > speculation or a prediction. Experiments or observations > are needed to verify it. A theory, on the other hand, is > a broad explanation for a class of phenomena. It > generally is bigger and grander than a single hypothesis, > even one that has passed all tests. > Thus, the atomic theory is the coherent set of > explanations of the structure and behavior of atoms. > Einstein's theory of relativity has passed every > experimental test but still is called a theory. > In science, an explanation becomes a theory if it is > internally consistent, always agrees with observations > and can be used to make testable predictions > (hypothesis). Within a theory may be "laws," which can > be expressed more tersely, often with mathematical > equations. > So, has evolution been proved true? Strictly > speaking, no. It is an accepted fact of scientific logic > that you can never prove something true. Experiments and > observations can only falsify theories or hypotheses. > Scientists insist on many tests of a hypothesis, the > results all tending in the same direction before they > accept it as probably true. the more evidence, the more > acceptable it is and the higher the probability of truth. > Still, in science there is no such thing as 100 > percent certainty. The evidence for evolution is so > overwhelming that scientists say the probability of it > being true approaches 100 percent. The fact that > creationists say they are fully 100 percent certain of > their view is based not on scientific evidence but, as > their own literature says, on their faith in the literal > truth of Genesis, which gives rise to doubts about the > scientific case.
There are people who don't believe in the historical validity of Genesis, nor have strong religious beliefs that do not accept the theory of evolution. They are aware of the limitations and shortcomings of the theory and realize that it is insufficient to describe our origins.
> In fact, evolution has massive amounts of supporting > evidence from many fields of science -- anatomy, geology, > animal behavior, paleontology and even molecular biology.
State a few. A lot of this so called evidence fits the creation model better.
> THE ODDS AGAINST RANDOM CHANCE PRODUCING > A COMPLEX ORGANISM FROM LIFELESS > INGREDIENTS ARE ASTRONOMICAL > > If chance were the only factor, this would be true. > But chance is only on of two key players, and the other, > natural selection, is decidedly not random. It favors > species better adapted to their environments and kills > off those less suitable. The process applies to all > living things.
This makes a whopping assumption - that there is an evolutionary pathway composed of small iterative steps that can be accepted or rejected by natural selection. The problem is parallel simultaneous change. That is, several changes must be made at the same time to make a new useful structure. The question here is how many genes have to change in coordination at the same time? One, ten, a hundred ? The odds of simultaneous change is a conditional probability calculation where the probability goes as (1/P(i))**N where P(i) is the probability of event i happening and N is the number of genes. For example, how many genes did take to make the long neck of the giraffe? If you say more than a few, the probabilities are hopelessly small.
> Here's how it works. Every generation usually > produces more offspring than can survive, given limited > supplies of food, water, space and other resources in a > given habitat. For no species are Earth's natural > resources unlimited. Individuals must compete with other > members of their own species for these resources. > The offspring, however, hare slightly different from > on another in genetic endowment. Because of mutations in > genes -- here's the only random part -- siblings > differing various subtle ways. > As a result, individuals that happen to inherit > traits that give them an advantage automatically will be > more likely to survive than their relatives lacking the > trait. > They probably will have more offspring, and the > offspring will inherit the genetic trait. > Far from being random, natural selection ensures > that the only players in what Darwin call the "struggle > for existence" are those that have passed all previous > tests.
Again, the problem is parallel simultaneous genetic change, not natural selection.
> THERE ARE NO TRANSITIONAL FOSSILS. > THE FOSSIL RECORD IS RIFE WITH GAPS > WHERE EVOLUTION SAYS THERE SHOULD BE > INTERMEDIATE FORMS > > Far from it. Paleontologists have found many > transitional fossils representing intermediate forms in > the evolution of one major form of life into another. > There are, for example, excellent skeletons of > extinct animals showing the transitions from primitive > fish to bony fish, from fish to amphibian (the first > four-legged creatures walked on the ocean bottom, not on > land),
Hold-it, this is plain exaggeration. Take the fish-to-amphibian "transition" for example. The closest amphibian to a fish is missing the entire pelvis! Is that what you call a smooth change? Did this happen in one generation?
> from amphibian to reptile,
Amphibians and reptiles are anatomically close in skeletal design. Major change is not expected here.
> from reptile to mammal > (it happened about the time the first dinosaurs were > arising), from the reptile to bird (the bird sized > Archaeopteryx specimen from southern German, for example, > has feathers and dinosaur like teeth) and even from land > animal to whale (there are fossil whales with four legs,
The Archaeopteryx is not an example of evolution . It is a mosaic which has features from different types of animals, like the duck-billed platypus. The feathers of Archaeopteryx are fully formed. A valid transitional form would have half-scales, half- feathers; there is no such fossil.
> and modern whales still have remnants of hind legs buried > in their flesh; their from legs have changed into > flippers).
Do these "legs" have other useful functions? Like reproduction? If so, the claim that they are vestigial organs is hard to make.
> There is abundant fossil evidence showing > transitional diversifications among mammals into rodents, > bats, rabbits, carnivores, horses, elephants, manatee, > deer, cows and many others.
No. Look at the fossils. What is the difference between a rodent and bat? Only a set of wings? Is this a trivial genetic change? Did a rat give birth to a bat?
> One of the most finely > divided sequences of transitions documents the evolution > of apelike creatures through half a dozen intermediate > forms into modern humans.
Pre-men fall into Australopithecines, Neanderthals and homo erectus. There is evidence that these all were contemporaries (See Lubenow, Bones of Contention...).
> Perhaps the oldest known transitional sequence > involves the horse. It starts about 55 million years ago > with a terrier sized creature that had four toes in front > and three in back. This is the famous species once > called Eohippus, but now, for technical reasons, renamed > Hyracotherium. > The lineage evolved through at least 14 steps, each > represented in the fossil record by a successful species, > until the modern horse, a pony sized Equus, the genus to > which modern horses belong, appeared about 4 million > years ago.
The horse series is presently discredited and an "outmoded" exhibit was removed from the Museum of Natural History (See Milner's The Encyclopedia of Evolution). Among the difficulties with this series is that there are no horses with partial toes as should be observed in the smooth transition case and the series is in reverse order in South America! (See Gish, Evolution: The Fossils Still Say No!).
> Still, gaps in the fossil record will keep > paleontologist busy for decades. Most kinds of fossils > are extremely rare. After all, to become a fossil, the > species not only must exist, but individuals also must > die in places where conditions are right for > preservation. In other words, the skeleton must be > buried in sediments with preservative properties before > Scavengers or weathering can destroy it. Then only a few > of those places will undergo erosion or uplifting that > exposes the long buried remains.
This is the standard excuse when the lack of transitions is comprehended. Consider the probability of finding multiple examples of a given organism while missing the transitionals. It's like eating M&Ms and only having the red ones come out of the hole in the bag. Probabilistically, if there are other colors, they will emerge as well. Would this not apply to fossil discovery as well?
Also, there are many examples of soft-bodied creatures preserved in amber or rock. Could it be that transitional forms are not found because they never existed in the first place?
> THE FOSSIL RECORD SHOWS THAT SPECIES > DO NOT EVOLVE BUT EXIST FOR MILLIONS > OF YEARS WITHOUT CHANGING. > > It is true that most species appear to persist > unchanged through time. Although some evolutionists once > thought that continuous gradual change might be the rule, > it now is clear that species are more stable. > They come into existence after relatively brief > periods of rapid change in a small subpopulation of a > preexisting species. After only a few centuries or a few > millennia of change, the new species persists with little > further change for long periods, sometimes millions of > years. This varying tempo is called "punctuated > equilibrium." > The periods of change generally coincide with the > episodes of environmental instability such as sudden > climate change. A desert may become a wetland; a warm > climate may turn cool. The change may wipe out species > not suited to the new conditions and create opportunities > for new "lifestyles" to emerge. > So if individuals happen to have inherited a > mutation that "pre-adapted" them to the new regime, they > automatically prosper at the expense of their brothers. > Once the environment stabilizes, so do the species > in it.
The concept of punctuated equilibrium puts a fancy phrase on sudden change. Are the mechanisms of change the same as the neo-Darwinian model, i.e. mutation and natural selection ... or is your claim here that some other process is at work? How do you differentiate a supposed "punctuated equilibrium" event from the case where there was a true absence of transitionals? Was there a rapid series of transitionals that were never fossilized or discovered? Punctuated equilibrium is an argument posed to cover a lack of data.
> EVOLUTION HAS NEVER BEEN OBSERVED. > > Yes, it has, and not just the rise of minor changes > but of whole new species. > Strictly speaking, evolution is simply a change in > the frequency with which specific genes occur in > population. By this token, there is the well known > example of the peppered moth of Britain. > In 1848, 98 percent of these moths were gray, a color > that hid them from birds when they perched on gray > lichens that covered tree trunks. Darker winged variants > were rare and tended to be eaten by birds. then as the > Industrial Revolution's smokestacks killed the lichens > and darkened tree trunks, the gray moths stood out and > were eaten while the darker mutants survived. > Gradually, the moth became a predominantly > darkwinged species and, by 1898, gray individuals were > less than 5 percent of the total. Now that air pollution > controls have taken effect, lichens are growing back, and > the peppered moth again is becoming a chiefly gray > species. > In that case, evolution by natural selection > occurred but did not create a new species. Grey moths > still could interbreed with black moths, proving that > they belonged to the same species.
This is classic "bait and switch". You are discussing natural selection here which is not an issue. Once more, natural selection is SELECTING things that are already there, not making new things of greater complexity.
> The rise of bona fide new species has, however, been > documented in such laboratory reared species as the fruit > fly, of which eight new species have been found.
How are you defining a species? By the limits of population interbreeding? There are new "species" of fruit flies (as defined by non-interbreeding behavior) that are visually the same as other "species". Is this the emergence of something new, or just pushing a population to its' sterility limit?
> Also, six new species of other insects have been seen to form. > In such free living species as mice, a new species has > emerged on the Faeroe Islands in the last 250 years. > In recent years, scientists also have documented > evolution of a new species of marine worm, called > polychate. And among plants, a least a dozen new species > have been seen to arise over the last 50 years, including > a new species of corn.
Change at the "species" level is unimportant to the question of evolution, as no increase in complexity has occurred.
> NATURAL SELECTION CANNOT CHANGE ONE > SPECIES INTO ANOTHER BECAUSE IT CAN > WORK ONLY ON VARIATION ALREADY PRESENT > IN THE SPECIES. > > Yes, but new variation is being generated > continuously by mutations. In the case of the peppered > moth, genes for light and dark wings were present in the > population, and nature merely favored one over the other. > Nonetheless, the variation had to have arisen at some > point in the past.
The question still remains ... how ?
> Each gene is the code telling a cell how to make a > particular protein. Once make, the protein carries out > specific functions that make one kind of cell different > from another and, sometimes, one organism different from > another. Thus, mutations can change the whole organism's > form and function. > Although creationists sometimes assert that all > mutations are harmful, this is not so.
Is your claim here that ONE mutation can convert a dog to a cat? No, there must be several in unison, that's why beneficial mutations are rare if they exist at all.
> Mutations happen all the time, primarily as a result > of simple errors in gene copying process that makes sperm > and eggs. Not only can a tiny change be introduced into > a gene, but an entire functional module from one gene can > be copied and inserted into a different gene, creating in > one step a protein with radically new properties. This > is one way in which very large changes can occur > suddenly. > Most mutations are neutral because most of the > genome is noncoding DNA -- the so called "junk DNA." > Most of the rest are harmful, killing the cell or perhaps > the whole embryo long before birth. But the rare > mutation will confer an advantage. Quite often, however, > the advantage will be irrelevant in the current > environment of the species. > But consider this scenario. Suppose that the world > of the chicken suddenly became flooded and the hapless > birds had to float on the water and paddle about. > Because most chickens don't have much webbing between > their toes, they wouldn't move very fast. But if one odd > chicken happened to be born with a little webbing between > its toes, a trait perhaps disadvantageous on land, it > could paddle faster and maybe escape predators more > easily. Obviously, this chicken would be more likely to > survive and to raise a family webtoed chicks.
This is a repetition of earlier assertions, see prior remarks on natural selection.
> LOVE CONTAINS STRUCTURES AND SYSTEMS > TOO COMPLEX TO HAVE EVOLVED GRADUALLY, > STEP BY STEP. > > This is one of the oldest criticisms made by > creationists, and recently it had been revived. Darwin > himself anticipated it, citing the eye with all of its > "inimitable contrivances" as a structure that may seem > too complex to have arisen through a series of steps, > each conferring sufficient advantage that it would be > favored for survival. > Darwin said that, if it could be demonstrated that > any structure exists in nature that could not have arisen > by natural selection, "my theory would absolutely break > down." > Since then, biologists have vindicated Darwin by > discovering many example of primitive eyes among various > species, ranging from the simplest eye spots of a few > light sensitive cells through progressively more complex > forms to the complete, highly sophisticated mammalian > eye. Together, these discoveries show how a series of > many cumulative steps could create a human eye. In fact, > biologists now know that eyes arose and evolved > independently at least 40 times.
In how many steps? Are you suggesting that there is a gradual evolutionary pathway to the human eye? Behe documents how even the development of a "light sensitive spot" is very complex. Just because various animals have the same feature implemented with a different degree of sophistication does not mean that one developed from the other! Each animal has just what it needs to function.
> Last year, Michael Behe, a biochemist, published > "Darwin's black Box", raising the argument again. Within > science, it was widely dismissed for its tactic of > argument from ignorance. > Behe essentially contends that, if you can't imagine > how something could have happened naturally, then that is > proof that the thing must have happened supernaturally. > In science, ignorance is no more evidence than was > Darwin's astonishment about the eye. > Behe cites several structures and processes, some > inside cells and some involving whole organ systems, that > he says are "irreducibly complex" and therefore must have > arisen by special creation, by God creating the whole > thing at one stroke.
Science deals with hypothesis testing. The problem here is the claim made by scientists that they KNOW life arose natualistically - why not admit that it is an enigma? Science in the 90's is not in a position to definitively explain the origin of life nor demonstrate organic evolution (emergence of new kinds).
By the way, it is also presumptuous to say that if we don't know, it must be God.
> One, for example, is a series of at least seven > chemical reactions that must occur within blood for it to > clot and stop a wound from bleeding. In this > scientifically well known "cascade" of reactions, > substance A first acts on substance B, changing it into > a form that can act on substance C, which then is changed > so it can act on substance D and so on. Obviously, the > system works well. > Behe argues, however, that it is inconceivable that > the cascade could have evolved from some simpler form > with fewer steps because all steps now are essential. > Since each step requires the participation of several > components, Behe writes, not only is the entire blood > clotting system irreducibly complex, but so is each step > in the cascade. > As it happens, scientists have deduced the nature of > an evolutionary path that a primitive blood clotting > mechanism could have followed to evolve the more complex > cascade. The process is biologically plausible and uses > well known mechanisms that exist in all cells for > duplication and modification of existing genes followed > by inactivation of the old gene. > The mutations required at the beginning of the > process are neither beneficial nor deleterious, but once > they occur, they produce a blood clotting system that can > be controlled more precisely. This is beneficial since > a run away blood clotting mechanism could turn the entire > bloodstream into one massive clot. > The same events that turn a one step process into a > two step process could be repeated indefinitely, > scientists have found, adding still finer control at each > step, conferring yet greater advantage.
Anything is "plausible" on the blackboard. Are there experiments that demonstrate that this actually works?
> The fact that this problem had been addressed, > incidentally refutes one of Behe's contentions. He says > evolutionists never try to explain how complex systems might > have arisen through incremental changes. In fact, > scientific literature includes numerous such instances.
Numerous examples of wrestling with the incremental question? Are these all Gedankenexperiments? In fact, there are not even many detailed thought experiments describing how complex organs and other living systems developed. How many proof-of-concept demonstrations are there? Is asking for a laboratory demonstration too much to ask? If evolution has turned molecules into men, it surely must be demonstrable in the lab, yet many years of experiments with fruit flies have produced nothing but more (deformed) fruit flies, with no signs of upward evolution occurring!
> EVOLUTION VIOLATES THE SECOND LAW > OF THERMODYNAMICS. > > A complete answer would require lots of mathematics > and a deeper understanding of the Second Law than can be > described here. The short answer, however, is; no, it > doesn't.
How is the answer "no" arrived at? You can supply the mathematics. Some of us creationists have advance degrees in these fields. The thermodynamics arguments against evolution are actually very sound.
> The Second Law can be stated in many different ways, > but the most relevant is that order cannot emerge from > disorder in a closed system. In other words, a random > jumble cannot spontaneously assemble itself into some > orderly structure without tapping some outside energy > source. Some creationists say this means that life > cannot evolve from simple to complex. Complex life forms > would have to have been created separately. > Earth, however, is not a closed system. It receives > huge amounts of energy from the sun and from chemical > bonds within compounds, and this energy allows life to > evolve.
Good. Can you assemble a bicycle with a blowtorch? You need DIRECTED energy.
> If the Second Law truly prohibited local emergence > of increased order, there would be no ice cubes. The > greater orderliness of water molecules in ice crystals > than in the liquid state is purchased with the > expenditure of energy at the generator that made the > electricity to run the freezer. And that makes it legal > under the Second Law.
Notice that this is DIRECTED energy, that's the difference.
> CREATION SCIENCE IS GENUINE SCIENCE. > > The philosophical underpinnings of creation science > automatically place it in a very different realm from > natural science. The natural sciences (biology, > chemistry,. physics and the like) begin with the > assumption that nothing should be accepted as true for > purposes of research unless it can be demonstrated > reliably through observation or experiment.
So why doesn't mainstream science publicize the fact that they just don't know how life started, etc. ?
> Creation science starts with the assumption that > Genesis is literally true. > "God's inerrant word," as recorded in the Bible, > "must always prevail" over anything that natural science > says, according to Henry M. Morris, founder and recently > retired director of the country's largest and most > influential creationist organization, the Institute for > Creation Research in El Cajon, Calif. > The institute's literature describes the institute > as "a Christ focused creation ministry."
It is just as biased to start with the assumption that everything has a naturalistic explanation. As stated earlier, there are non-Christians who realize the shortcomings of naturalistic evolution as an explanation for our origins. Since many people including scientists have no philosophical or theological stake in the issue they accept the evolutionary explanation of origins uncritically. The conflict between Genesis and pop science often acts as a catalyst for Christians to ask detailed questions about origins, and thus revealing the philosophy behind the mask of science.
> FOR MORE INFORMATION > > To read the full text of Darwin's Origin of the > Species or to visit the most comprehensive website on > evolutionary biology, especially as it relates to > creationism, visit Horizon's site on the World Wide Web.
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