February 12th is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. This year is also the 150th anniversary of the publication of Origin of the Species – arguably one of the most important scientific publications ever. In honor of Darwin’s idea and the subsequent scientific triumph of evolutionary theory, I am posting my refutation of a popular creationist internet meme. Creationists love to imagine that they have dismantled evolution or discovered it’s “major flaws,” however they only succeed in exposing the major flaws in their understanding of evolution and ability to reason.
TEN MAJOR FLAWS OF EVOLUTION – REVISED
by Randy Alcorn (with additional editing by Jim Darnall). I wrote the following article many years ago, but it needed to be thoroughly revised and updated. Thanks to Jim Darnall for adding some important new information.
1) The complexity of living systems could never evolve by chance—they had to be designed and created. A system that is irreducibly complex has precise components working together to perform the basic function of the system. (A mousetrap is a simple example.) If any part of that system were missing, the system would cease to function. Gradual additions could not account for the origin of such a system. It would have to come together fully formed and integrated. Many living systems exhibit this (vision, blood-clotting, etc.). When you look at a watch, you assume there was a watchmaker. A watch is too complex to “happen” by chance. Yet such living systems are almost infinitely more complex than a watch. They could not be random—they simply had to be designed and created.
This statement is not an argument at all, but merely an assertion. It is simply asserting what appears to be the point of this list of supposed arguments – that evolution through natural forces is impossible. But it contains many implied claims. It refers to irreducible complexity and gives the examples of vision and blood clotting. It does not address the century and a half old refutation of this argument – that biological systems could have evolved from simpler systems that were functional but served a different purpose from their current one. Further, all the examples (stated here and elsewhere) of supposed irreducibly complex systems have been shown to have simpler antecedents.
The statement also implies that evolution is “random.” This is false. Mutations are random, and variation may be random, but natural selection is decidedly not random, and therefore evolution is not random. Evolution is the non-random survival of those traits that provide an advantage to survival and reproduction in the current environment. Evolution is a designing force.
The watch analogy is not valid because a watch is an inanimate object. Biological evolution occurs within systems that are self-reproducing and contain variation and differential survival and reproduction. Life can use energy to grow, reproduce, and therefore evolve. Watches do not.
2) The high information content of DNA could only have come from intelligence. Information science teaches that in all known cases, complex information requires an intelligent message sender. This is at the core of the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI). DNA is by far the most compact information storage/retrieval system known. A pinhead of DNA has a billion times more information capacity than a 4-gigabit hard drive. Ironically, evolutionists scan the heavens using massive radio telescopes hoping for relatively simple signal patterns that might have originated in outer space, all the while ignoring the incredibly complex evidence of superior intelligence built into every human’s DNA. While we’re waiting to hear signs of intelligence behind interstellar communication, we’re ignoring those built into us.
Information science does NOT say that all complex information has an intelligent source. In fact, it has been shown that complex information can emerge spontaneously out of blind and natural processes following relatively simple rules. Creationists abuse information theory by making claims about information without ever defining the term. They then drift as needed from one definition to another in order to make false analogies – like the one here about SETI.
3) No mutation that increases genetic information has ever been discovered. Mutations which increase genetic information would be the raw material necessary for evolution. To get from “amoeba” to “man” would require a massive net increase in information. There are many examples of supposed evolution given by proponents. Variation within a species (finch beak, for example), bacteria which acquire antibiotic resistance, people born with an extra chromosome, etc. However, none of the examples demonstrate the development of new information. Instead, they demonstrate either preprogrammed variation, multiple copies of existing information, or even loss of information (natural selection and adaptation involve loss of information). The total lack of any such evidence refutes evolutionary theory.
All mutations increase genetic information (again we see the misuse without proper operational definition of the term “information”). If you start with one version of a gene and then it mutates in one offspring but not in another – now you have two versions of that gene. That represents an increase in information. Also, entire genes may be duplicated in the reproductive process. If you start with one copy of a gene and end up with two copies – that is an increase in information. This is especially pertinent to evolution, because one copy can continue to perform its original function while the redundant copy is free to mutate and evolve a new function.
The statement that such increases in the raw amount of information actually represent “preprogrammed variation” is nonsensical. This is a meaningless statement that has no bearing on information. How, exactly, are new mutations “preprogrammed.” If this statement is meant to refer to recombination – the formation of new combinations of genes without mutations – that absolutely increases information by increasing variation, which is the raw material for natural selection.
The idea that natural selection removes variation from the gene pool is true but a non sequitur. Mutations, duplication, and recombination increase information and increase variation and then natural selection causes differential survival of that variation which is better adapted to its niche.
Here is an article by me further discussing the abuse of information theory by creationists.
4) Evolution flies directly in the face of entropy, the second law of thermodynamics. This law of physics states that all systems, whether open or closed, have a tendency to disorder (or “the least energetic state”). There are some special cases where local order can increase, but this is at the expense of greater disorder elsewhere. Raw energy cannot generate the complex systems in living things, or the information required to build them. Undirected energy just speeds up destruction. Yet, evolution is a building-up process, suggesting that things tend to become more complex and advanced over time. This is directly opposed to the law of entropy.
I can see by the above paragraph that at least the author is making the attempt to account for prior criticisms of the “violates the second law of thermodynamics” argument, but in so doing he has simply included more misconceptions, factual errors, and logical fallacies. In this extremely confused statement, however, are the kernels of truth where the correct analysis lies. The author admits that “local order can increase, but at the expense of greater disorder elsewhere.” If I set aside the fact that the author is grossly oversimplifying thermodynamics and falsely equating entropy with disorder, the statement is essentially correct. What this means is that the biosphere of the Earth can experience a local increase in order because it is being more than offset by a decrease in thermodynamic order (an increase in entropy) in the sun. The sun is burning through its fuel and spewing energy at the earth. The entropy of the sun-earth system (and the universe as a whole) IS increasing, but there is nothing in thermodynamics that states that the Earth cannot use energy from the sun to create a local decrease in entropy.
The author has a glimmer of awareness of this fallacy, which is why he anticipates and tries to refute this argument by stating that “Raw energy cannot generate the complex systems in living things, or the information required to build them. Undirected energy just speeds up destruction.” This is a gross misdirection. Biological systems on the Earth are not just being cooked by “raw” (whatever that means) energy. Biological systems use solar and other energy in a very directed and purposeful way. They use energy to grow, reproduce, and evolve. Energy by itself may not be able to generate information, but a biological system that can use energy in the processes of life can.
An acorn can grow into an oak tree. According to the author, energy could only cook an acorn.
Here is a longer article by me on the second law of thermodynamics.
5) There is a total lack of undisputed examples (fossilized or living) of the millions of transitional forms (“missing links”) required for evolution to be true. Evolution does not require a single missing link but innumerable ones. We should be surrounded by a zoo of transitional forms that cannot be categorized as one particular life form. But we don’t see this—there are different kinds of dogs, but all are clearly dogs. The fossils show different sizes of horses, but all are clearly horses. None is on the verge of being some other life form. The fossil record shows complex fossilized life suddenly appearing, and there are major gaps between the fossilized “kinds.” Darwin acknowledged that if his theory were true, it would require millions of transitional forms. He believed they would be found in fossil records. They haven’t been.
The “there are no transitional forms” argument is a simple lie – and a lie that is getting more bold and desperate as more and more fossils are discovered. In reality – all species are transitional. Transitional does not mean some impossible monster or bizarre hybrid (like Kirk Cameron’s ridiculous crockoduck). Transitional just means that one species can be seen to bridge two other species (morphologically, genetically). All the transitional species can both be extant, or the transitional species can be ancestral to the other two, or three species may lie in a temporal sequence.
The notion that the categories of living things can be cleanly divided into “kinds” (without, by the way, ever defining what a “kind” is) is patently wrong. The categories of life are frustratingly fuzzy – precisely because evolution is a chaotic process. Are duck-billed platypus mammals? What about fish with lungs, are they fish or terrestrial vertebrates. The notion that dogs are dogs is nonsensical, because there is no objective demarcation line. What about wolves, coyotes, hyenas, foxes, etc.? There is no objective place to draw a line and proclaim that you have a “kind.” There is rather a branching order of relatedness.
The fossil record has served to fill in the morphological gaps between extant species, as evolutionary theory predicts. We have discovered early mammals that are part reptile and part mammal, early birds that are still half theropod dinosaur, early terrestrial vertebrates that are still part fish (Tiktalik). We have discovered walking whales (Ambulocetus) that are only half-way adapted to aquatic life. We have even discovered numerous hominid species that are a mixture of modern human and ape ancestor features. Only the willfully blind can deny the transitional nature of these fossil species.
6) Pictures of ape-to-human “missing links” are extremely subjective and based on evolutionists’ already-formed assumptions. Often they are simply contrived. The series of pictures or models that show progressive development from a little monkey to modern man are an insult to scientific research. These are often based on fragmentary remains that can be “reconstructed” a hundred different ways. The fact is, many supposed “ape-men” are very clearly apes. Evolutionists now admit that other so-called “ape-men” would be able to have children by modern humans, which makes them the same species as humans. The main species said to bridge this gap, Homo habilis, is thought by many to be a mixture of ape and human fossils. In other words, the “missing link” (in reality there would have to be millions of them) is still missing. The body hair and the blank expressions of sub-humans in these models doesn’t come from the bones, but the assumptions of the artist. Virtually nothing can be determined about hair and the look in someone’s eyes based on a few old bones.
This is a monster straw man. The evidence for the transitional status of hominid species is not dependent upon the artists’ reconstruction or interpretation of what these species may have looked like. That is a monumental bit of scientific illiteracy. Paleontologists have published countless careful and detailed anatomical analyses of the fossils. They clearly show transitional ape-human species. The species that have been clearly established are not based upon mixed ape and human fossils, but multiple specimens collected and documented in such a way as to prove they are one species.
What creationists do with any such sequence is simply take the first half and declare them members of the ancestral group (in this case apes) and the second half and declare them members of the derived group (in this case humans). They have done the same for dinosaurs and birds. But this is just misdirection through labeling. Calling a Homo erectus a human will not change the fact that it has features not seen in any modern human, and has a brain capacity for its size that is comfortably between that of modern humans and modern apes. That is the very definition of transitional.
7) The dating methods that evolutionists rely upon to assign millions and billions of years to rocks are very inconsistent and based on unproven (and questionable) assumptions. Dating methods that use radioactive decay to determine age assume that radioactive decay rates have always been constant. Yet, research has shown that decay rates can change according to the chemical environment of the material being tested. In fact, decay rates have been increased in the laboratory by a factor of a billion. All such dating methods also assume a closed system—that no isotopes were gained or lost by the rock since it formed. It’s common knowledge that hydrothermal waters, at temperatures of only a few hundred degrees Centigrade, can create an open system where chemicals move easily from one rock system to another. In fact, this process is one of the excuses used by evolutionists to reject dates that don’t fit their expectations. What’s not commonly known is that the majority of dates are not even consistent for the same rock. Furthermore, 20th century lava flows often register dates in the millions to billions of years. There are many different ways of dating the earth, and many of them point to an earth much too young for evolution to have had a chance. All age-dating methods rely on unprovable assumptions.
This is nothing more than a collection of unreferenced false assertions. The reality is that dating methods are very accurate and reliable. There are error bars, like everything in science, but multiple methods can be used on multiple samples and an average can be taken to make a very accurate estimate of the ages of various rocks, strata, and fossils. Dating methods are generally in very good agreement. Typically what creationists do is say that because one dating method yields a result of 3 billion years and another of 2.5 billion years – the two dates do not agree (again, without defining what that means - agree to what degree?) and therefore argue that the true age could be thousands of years. That there may be problems with some samples does not invalidate the dating of all samples. For example, moon rocks taken from the highlands (which geologically likely represented the oldest lunar crust) have been dated to about 4.6 billion years old, and none of the processes discussed above have been present during that time on the moon.
Also, much more than our dating methods for rocks points to an ancient Earth and universe. All of cosmology, astronomy, stellar science, physics, etc. points to the same timescale for the age of the Earth, the solar system, and the universe.
8) Uses continue to be found for supposedly “leftover” body structures. Evolutionists point to useless and vestigial (leftover) body structures as evidence of evolution. However, it’s impossible to prove that an organ is useless, because there’s always the possibility that a use may be discovered in the future. That’s been the case for over 100 supposedly useless organs which are now known to be essential. Scientists continue to discover uses for such organs. It’s worth noting that even if an organ were no longer needed ( e.g., eyes of blind creatures in caves), it would prove devolution not evolution. The evolutionary hypothesis needs to find examples of developing organs—those that are increasing in complexity.
The existence of vestigial organs is not an essential line of evidence for the fact of evolution, but it is further evidence for evolution. It is true that conclusions about the lack of utility of an organ are always tentative and can be overturned if a use is discovered. It is probable that few organs or structures will be found to be totally useless, for such structures tend to be quickly selected against and removed.
It is funny that the author brought up the subject of blind cave species that still have vestigial and useless eyes. (Eventually such species lose their eyes entirely, but species recently adapted to the dark environment of caves still retain vestigial eyes.) In a laughable non sequitur the author admits such structures are vestigial (even though his premise was that there are no vestigial organs) but then changes criteria mid-stream to say that vestigial organs are only evidence of “devolution” not evolution. What is “devolution?” This is based on a misconception of evolution – that it must produce greater complexity. Evolution only adapts creatures to their local environment, and there is nothing that states that such evolution cannot produce a simplification or elimination of structures if that is what is advantageous.
So the author admits vestigial organs exist, and that they are evidence of evolution, but then dodges the whole issue with an ignorant misconception about the nature of evolution.
I will also point out that genetic analysis has given us another window on vestigial parts -namely vestigial genes. For example, chickens, who do not have teeth at any part of their life cycle, still retain the vestigial genes for teeth that can be reactivated. Chickens with inactivated genes for teeth – it doesn’t get more vestigial than that.
9) Evolution is said to have begun by spontaneous generation—a concept ridiculed by biology. When I was a sophomore in high school, and a brand new Christian, my biology class spent the first semester discussing how ignorant people used to believe that garbage gave rise to rats, and raw meat produced maggots. This now disproven concept was called “spontaneous generation.” Louis Pasteur proved that life only comes from life—this is the law of biogenesis. The next semester we studied evolution, where we learned that the first living cell came from a freak combination of nonliving material (where that nonliving material came from we were not told). “Chemical Evolution” is just another way of saying “spontaneous generation”—life comes from nonlife. Evolution is therefore built on a fallacy science long ago proved to be impossible.
This paragraph proves that no argument is so bad or often disputed to be discarded by creationists. Evolution is NOT about the origin of life but the subsequent change in life over time. It is not even dependent upon the naturalistic origin of life. They are completely separate scientific questions.
But that non sequitur aside, it is also ridiculous to compare the quaint notion of “spontaneous generation” with the science of life origins. It is true that we do not yet have a complete model of how life arose (lack of knowledge does not render something impossible – that’s the unknown equals unknowable logical fallacy). But we have figured out many interesting pieces to the puzzle – amino acids are readily made and are abundant, for example. The raw material of life was abundant on the early Earth, as was energy for organic chemical reactions.
The only thing that really would have had to happen spontaneously is the formation of a molecule that could make crude copies of itself. That’s it – that is enough to get a foothold in evolution. The rest is not random, but the very non-random accumulation of improvements by evolutionary processes.
10) Evolutionists admit that the chances of evolutionary progress are extremely low. Yet, they believe that given enough time, the apparently impossible becomes possible. If I flip a coin, I have a 50/50 chance of getting heads. To get five “heads” in a row is unlikely but possible. If I flipped the coin long enough, I would eventually get five in a row. If I flipped it for years nonstop, I might get 50 or even 100 in a row. But this is only because getting heads is an inherent possibility. What are the chances of me flipping a coin, and then seeing it sprout arms and legs, and go sit in a corner and read a magazine? No chance. Given billions of years, the chances would never increase. Great periods of time make the possible likely but never make the impossible possible. No matter how long it’s given, non-life will not become alive.
The author – like all prominent creationists – has proven himself to be a master of the non sequitur. The pattern should be entirely clear, now. Start with one criterion then subtly shift to another. The paragraph starts out talking about probability, and then after essentially proving the case for evolution by acknowledging that time (and multiple opportunities, I would add) does render low probability events probable, he then shifts to another point entirely. So then we discover that his real premise is that evolutionary change is inherently impossible (a point that has nothing to do with probability). But this is just asserting his premise – the point he is allegedly trying to prove. Evolution does not require coins to sprout legs.
11) The scientific method can only test existing data—it cannot draw conclusions about origins. Micro-evolution, changes within a species on a small scale, is observable. But evidence for macro-evolution, changes transcending species, is conspicuous by its absence. To prove the possibility of anything, science must be able to reproduce exact original conditions. Even when it proves something is possible, it doesn’t mean it therefore happened. Since no man was there to record or even witness the beginning, conclusions must be made only on the basis of interpreting presently available information. If I put on rose-colored glasses, I will always see red. I accept the Bible’s teaching on creation, and see the evidence as being consistently supportive of that belief. When dealing with origins, everyone who believes anything does so by faith, whether faith in God, the Bible, himself, modern science, or the dependability of his own subjective interpretations of existing data. I would rather put my faith in God’s revealed Word.
by Randy Alcorn, Eternal Perspective Ministries, 2229 E. Burnside #23, Gresham, OR 97030, 503-663-6481, http://www.epm.org
Ah – the last refuge of the truly desperate. Unable to provide a single cogent argument against evolution the author tries to do away with all historical sciences. Since no one was around millions of years ago, the lame argument goes, we can never scientifically explore the past, and so we must rely upon faith. This is the ultimate moving back of the goalpost.
But science is not limited to direct observation. We can scientifically infer what happened in the past by the traces it has left in the present. Life itself is a record of its own history. The past is recorded in our genes, in our anatomy, and our development, and in our physiology. It is recorded in the fossils that our ancestors left behind.
But to get more directly to the point – the core quality of science is that it makes testable predictions. Evolutionary theory makes many testable predictions about what we should find when we look at the world – and so far it has passed every predictive test with flying colors.
What does creationism predict? It depends on how you formulate it, but in practice, it predicts nothing because any possible observation can be interpreted as the unfathomable and unlimited will of the creator. What we can say about an alleged creator by looking at life is that, of all the possible designs and patterns for life a creator might have chosen, they appear to have chosen to create life to look exactly as if it had evolved.
So the ten (really 11) major flaws in evolution turn out to be major flaws in the understanding of evolution, the logic, and the intellectual integrity of creationists. And this is really the best they have.
Happy Darwin Day, everyone.