Common Creationist Claims Confuted

ALMOST every conceivable creationist claim is listed and debunked at the TalkOrigins website: Index to Creationist Claims. We link to that resource often; but like everyone else on the sane side of The Controversy between evolution and creationism, we’ve done some of our own debunking.

We’ve collected a few of our humble efforts into this post, so that we’ll have them in one place to which we can refer in the future. That should be far more convenient than scrambling through our archives when the need arises. We’ll be adding additional items from time to time, so perhaps the utility of this post — at least to us — will increase.

Micro-yes, Macro-no

Creationists acknowledge what they call “micro-evolution” (observed changes due to mutation and selection, as with Darwin’s finches) but they insist that what they call “macro-evolution” (the result of cumulative changes over time) is impossible. We sometimes call this the “micro-macro mambo.”

If you ask a creationist why “macro” changes are impossible you’ll be told that it’s just impossible — some magic barrier interferes to preserve the integrity of scriptural “kinds.” Because of that unevidenced magical mechanism, which only the magic designer — blessed be he! — can overcome, creationists flatly assert that regardless of time, one species cannot evolve into another — despite the abundant fossil evidence to the contrary. Therefore, creationism requires belief in a two-part dogma consisting of: (1) the Great Barrier; and (2) the miracle that breaks through the barrier.

The error is enormous, because first it involves accepting, at the scale of a few visible generations, both the fact of and the mechanism for evolution (variation and natural selection), and then rejecting the inevitable consequences of what has been accepted. We’ve previously posted Micro Macro, Tutti Frutti. See also: Discoveroids Dance the Micro-Macro Mambo. And for an analogy to compound interest, see Ben Franklin, Compound Interest, and Evolution.

The odds are against evolution

Here, being clueless as to how anything might have come to be, the creationist quotes some big number he copied from somewhere to claim that the universe (or a protein molecule, or life, or DNA, or human evolution) coming into existence or happening “by chance” is improbable, therefore … Oogity Boogity! But ignorance isn’t evidence of anything, except the need to get to work trying to figure it out.

The typical “odds” argument is easily rebutted. Here’s how we do it: There are 52 playing cards in a deck. The odds against the sequence resulting from a good shuffle are — as the mathematicians say — 52 factorial. You need to multiply 52 x 51 x 50, etc., and keep going until you get to the last card. That’s what factorial means. Fifty-two factorial is a big number. It works out to be 8.06581752 × 1067. That’s 8 (and a tad more) times 10 to the 67th power, a far larger number than the creationist usually quotes (or makes up) to “prove” that the odds are against evolution. For comparison, 52 factorial is much larger than the estimated number of stars in the universe, which is “only” 1021 (source: this NASA webpage). But there are decks of cards all over the place; and each of them is arranged in an extremely improbable sequence. Further, as we explained three years ago, the algorithm of evolution can easily defeat those odds. See The Inevitability of Evolution (Part III).

No transitional fossils

This is related to the micro-macro issue. Creationists seem unaware of this list of transitional fossils. They claim that a transitional creature is impossible, because — and here they regurgitate comic-book creationism — such a creature would have one fin and one leg, or one lung and one gill, or half an eyeball, or some other ridiculous and impossible set of features. No creature like the creationists’ caricatures ever existed, and no biologist thinks otherwise. Gross genetic deformities sometimes occur, but are rarely viable. What we now recognize as transitional creatures were fully-functional and fully-formed members of a breeding population of similar creatures, entirely capable of surviving in their environment. Except for lines that suffered extinction, each ancient species was a link in the long chain of life between its ancestors and its descendants.

In one sense, every creature that produces offspring is transitional, but in a brief time-span there are no visible evolutionary effects. For example, your father is obviously transitional between you and your grandfather, but you’re all clearly the same species. However, if we find a fossil from the middle of a long evolutionary chain that stretches over millions of generations, changes are evident. The fossil will have some characteristics that were common to its early ancestors but that don’t appear later, and some other characteristics that its ancestors didn’t have, but which are common to its distant descendants. That’s the value of the fossil record — with enough specimens, each is like a single frame in time-lapse photography, or a page in a flip-book.

As for the rarity of transitional fossils, yes, they are indeed rare. Fossilization itself is rare. Not every organism conveniently dies in a bog, mudslide, or glacier where its remains will be preserved, and not all that do so are later found. It’s a big world to search, and there are geological upheavals that can destroy fossils. Nevertheless, transitional fossils definitely do exist — there must be over a hundred of them in Wikipedia’s list, and according to creationism there shouldn’t be any.

Piltdown Man and Nebraska Man

We’ve devoted an entire post to Piltdown Man. As for Nebraska Man, that’s well debunked here by TalkOrigins, but there’s more to say. Nebraska Man is one of the biggest non-frauds in history. His fanciful image that was briefly seen in the press was created by a newspaper illustrator, and it was promptly criticized by the biologist who first suggested the tooth he found might be hominid. He reportedly called the illustration “a figment of the imagination of no scientific value, and undoubtedly inaccurate.” The error in identifying the tooth was discovered three years later. Nebraska Man should be in a category of honest errors, like the canals on Mars.

Law of Biogenesis

That so-called “law” which allegedly disproves evolution is a childish misunderstanding of Louis Pasteur’s work on spontaneous generation. This distortion of Louis Pasteur’s work is found only in creationist literature. Pasteur demonstrated that sealing food from airborne contamination would end the supposed “spontaneous generation” of mold and such. This has nothing to do with Darwin’s theory of evolution or with the ultimate origin of living things. Some fool or freak or fraud posted a crazed misinterpretation of Pasteur’s work at a creationist website and it’s been endlessly repeated ever since. Also, see Abiogenesis FAQs: Articles on the Origin of Life.

Anthropic Principle

The Anthropic Principle — that the laws of nature and the fundamental physical constants seem remarkably suited to our own existence — is an interesting speculation; but as a scientific hypothesis pointing toward a Designer it’s a bit of a dead end because it’s utterly untestable. It shouldn’t surprise us that everything we discover about the universe is consistent with our existence — were it otherwise we wouldn’t exist. But it doesn’t follow that the universe exists for the purpose of our existence.

But if the universe were such that life could not exist, yet we found ourselves in a miracle bubble with unique physical laws, that would argue for a Designer — at least of our bubble. But as no bubble is required, it seems to us that such is also true for the hypothetical Designer. (And no, the Earth isn’t a miracle — it’s an entirely natural planet.)

If the laws of nature actually were fine-tuned for life, then life is — by definition — a natural process, wholly in accord with the laws of nature, and everything can be figured out by the procedures of science. Universal fine-tuning is, at best, an argument for Deism, which is so abstract that there’s nothing to talk about — unless one day someone figures out a natural reason why the laws of nature are way they are. But that’s probably a long way off, so universal fine-tuning is a safe position. Unfortunately for creationists, it obviates all the intelligent design or miraculous arguments for life.

Whenever the Anthropic Principle is mentioned, we find ourselves compelled to ask: What makes you think that without supernatural tinkering, the universe would have been different? How does one compute the odds against this specific universe? From where we sit, the odds favoring the universe seem to be 100%. Where is the evidence suggesting that this particular universe shouldn’t exist, or that its attributes should have been different from what they are?

The fundamental constants are either accidental or they’re not. If they’re an accident, so be it. We can accept that (and the universe wouldn’t care if we didn’t). But if they’re not accidental, that doesn’t establish that they were designed. In the absence of the Designer himself, the only verifiable alternative to accident would be a demonstration that the fundamental constants exist as they are because of physical necessity. It may be that we will eventually discover some deep principle that governs these fundamental values, such that they couldn’t have been anything other than what they are. We have no idea how to investigate this, and such a deep organizing principle may never be discovered even if it does exist. But while: (a) there is that alternative; and (b) there is no evidence (other than our own existence) to suspect that the universe is in any way unusual; it seems that (c) the magical mystery designer is an unlikely and unnecessary “explanation” for a contrived problem.

However, we’re never upset by someone’s choosing to believe in something for which there is no evidence. In such cases one is free to indulge his personal preferences. Being a Curmudgeon, we’ve spoofed the idea: Intelligent Design: The Dung Beetle’s Tale.

On the fine tuning issue, see also: The Multiverse or God-Did-It?

Copying Nature Requires Intelligence

Creationists claim that because copying something found in nature requires conscious effort on our part, this means that nature required intelligence to produce the results we try to copy. However, genetic algorithms are excellent evidence of nature’s ability to produce spectacular design results without thought. The everyday use of genetic algorithms to solve difficult problems clearly demonstrates, again and again, that the unthinking processes (mutation and natural selection) identified by Darwin are quite sufficient for the task.

There are numerous applications. Here are more specific examples of genetic algorithms being used to solve a variety of engineering problems. We posted about this here: Nature Doesn’t Need To Think. See also: The Woodpecker and the Intelligent Designer.

The Universe is 6,000 Years Old

This creationist claim is easily refuted by the distant starlight problem — if the universe were only around 6,000 years old, then how is it possible that we see light coming from stars and galaxies that are millions of light-years away from us?

Their attempt to side-step that problem by claiming — without evidence — that the speed of light used to be much faster in the past is spectacularly refuted by our observation of supernova SN1987A, which undeniably indicates that lightspeed hasn’t changed for more than 168,000 years. There’s no way the universe we observe could be only 6,000 years old. We posted about this here: How Old Is The Creationists’ Universe?

Evolution is Racism

This is the claim that Darwin’s most famous book, Origin of Species, is racist, and so was he. It’s one of the dumbest of all criticisms. We debunked all versions of that here: Racism, Eugenics, and Darwin. In particular we mentioned the most common slur, and by far the most ignorant one:

Such attacks on Darwin often rely on the title of his best-known book: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. That title is often the only thing by Darwin the creationists ever read, and they mindlessly misinterpret it.

That book doesn’t even discuss the evolution of humans, so the charge of racism — based solely on that title — is grotesquely misinformed. We also said:

In the on-line text of that book, we see that Darwin, like his contemporaries, uses the terms “race,” “sub-species,” “variety,” and similar expressions interchangeably in connection with a great number of animals (dogs, horses, etc.) and also plants (flowers, cabbages, etc.), sometimes intermixing them in the same context.

In that same post we also discuss Darwin’s alleged (but non-existent) connection with eugenics and selective breeding of humans. Those ideas are at least as old as Athens and Sparta. Unless Darwin had a time machine which enabled him to instruct the Spartans about destroying defective infants, and to encourage Plato to write about a selective breeding program for the republic, he’s innocent of the charges so unthinkingly made by creationists.

Great scientists of old were creationists

A list is given of pre-Darwin scientists, which always includes Isaac Newton. Before Darwin, there wasn’t much of an alternative to creationism. But the belief those men may have had in the Genesis creation account didn’t result in anything of scientific value. Nor have those beliefs produced anything since, nor will they ever. No scientific theory is based on six-day creation or Noah’s Ark. The accomplishments of science in the past have occurred in spite of scripture, and whenever there was a conflict — as with the Galileo affair — it was a disaster. There are a few present-day scientists who are also creationists, but like their predecessors, their work isn’t based on scripture.

We addressed this in greater detail in this post, where we said:

First, not one of those scientists accomplished anything of scientific merit using any specific creationist doctrine or data. We challenge any creationist (or Discoveroid) to name anything Galileo or the others did that depends on uniquely scriptural doctrine.

Second, what have the Discoveroids accomplished with their “theory”? It hasn’t produced any results, and it never will.

Third, what industry or productive enterprise (we exclude religious theme parks) employ any specifically creationist (or Discoveroid) doctrine in any technical aspect of their work?

See also: Did Science Originate with Creationists?

Evolution is only a theory

Specialized fields have their own specialized vocabularies. For example, when a lawyer or an auditor provides an “opinion” to a client, it’s not a casual expression of personal feelings. In science, a “theory” isn’t a hunch or a wild guess. Scientifically recognized facts don’t start out as theories, and then get promoted to facts. They’re two different things.

Scientific theories are well-supported explanations of facts. See Evolution as Fact and Theory by Stephen Jay Gould. Then see the Definitions of Evolutionary Terms provided by the National Academy of Sciences. The National Center for Science Education also defines those terms here: Definitions of Fact, Theory, and Law in Scientific Work.

Science requires as much faith as religion

This presumption of epistemological equivalence is utterly erroneous. Religion and science are totally different activities, and they have completely different definitions:

Science: The use of evidence to construct testable explanations and predictions of natural phenomena, as well as the knowledge generated through this process. [Source: National Academy of Sciences.] Faith: Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. [Source: Hebrews 11:1 (King James Version)] See: Creationist Wisdom #283: The Truth.

“Operational” science vs. “Historical” (origins) science

That’s a completely bogus distinction. It’s true that there are many historical sciences, such as cosmology, geology, climatology, plate tectonics, anthropology, paleontology, and of course evolution. This is in contrast to the “experimental sciences” like chemistry, that can be mostly conducted with lab experiments. Although historical events can’t be re-created in the lab, historical sciences are indeed scientific, because they’re based on verifiable observations and they produce theories that are testable. See: ICR Says Scientists Don’t Understand Science, and also Creationism and Science.

The creationists’ claim is that “historical” science is a belief system based on unproven assumptions, and there is no way to go back in time and use observational science to prove these assumptions are correct. But in a way, there is — by looking at the evidence to see if it fits in with what we’ve predicted based on everything else we know. See The Lessons of Tiktaalik.

As for being unproven, that’s true of all science. Unlike geometric theorems, scientific theories (and the propositions upon which they rely) are never literally proven. But they’re constantly being tested by experiments and observations; and those that fail are rejected (see Superseded scientific theories). Accepted theories are supported by all the available evidence, and contradicted by none.

Further, the different branches of science don’t exist in independent bubbles. Biology is consistent with geology and chemistry, and those — along with astronomy and cosmology — are consistent with physics. The strongest theories are cross-confirmed by independent lines of evidence, and they don’t contradict other branches of science; therefore we can be confident that all of science is describing the same reality.

Science is the only globally consistent view of reality. In contrast, the doctrines of one religion irreconcilably conflict with those of competing religions — and there are denominational conflicts within religions too. Were there no such unresolvable conflicts, then there would be only one religion, and it would have no long-lasting denominational disputes. The great variety of religious beliefs compared to the consistency of science is perhaps the most compelling argument of all.

Is reality — the natural, observable world — just a belief system? Maybe so, but it’s the only game in town that plays by a dependable set of rules we can understand and use, so that’s where to place your bets.

Evolution isn’t repeatable, so it’s not science

We see that claim all the time. What does it mean? Usually it means that if you weren’t there to see an event for yourself, and if you can’t repeat it in the lab, then you have no idea, for example, what made Arizona’s big crater in the ground, or what made the Hawaiian Islands rise from the ocean. No one can ever know about past ice ages or the movement of continents. Astronomers can’t know the cause of supernovae, because no one can blow up a star in the lab. It also implies that detectives can never solve crimes they didn’t witness.

Do we have to re-create the the universe before the Big Bang can be considered a scientific theory? Do we have to re-create the Earth’s biosphere in order to demonstrate evolution? How about the meteor strike that killed off the dinosaurs? Do we need to repeat that too? Creationists say that we do.

The Index to Creationist Claims at the TalkOrigins website has a brief item on this: Science requires experiments that can be replicated. Evolution can not be replicated, so it is not science.. They say the source of that clunker is old Henry Morris, the founder of the Institute for Creation Research. But old Henry got it all wrong. The scientific method requires repeatable observations or experiments to test the predicted outcome of hypothesized causes of events — not that actual events from the past be repeated.

A few quickies

Complexity suggests design: it’s William Paley’s watchmaker argument.

Tornado in a junk yard: That one has its own Wikipedia article: Hoyle’s fallacy.

Evolution of the eye: Darwin is often quote-mined. We wrote Evolution of the Eye. Wikipedia has an article on it: evolution of the eye.

Mutations produce no new “information”: There are abundant examples to the contrary. See: Creationism and Nylon-Eating Bacteria. See also How One Gene Becomes Two Different Genes, and also Human Brain Gene “Sprang From Nowhere”?

Evolution = leftist politics: Not necessarily. Your Curmudgeon certainly isn’t of that persuasion, and the Institute for Creation Research is openly communistic. See: Creationist Wisdom — Example 68: Communism.

Laws of nature require divine will: Not really. So-called scientific laws are descriptions of observed regularities. They are observed because everything that exists has specific characteristics and acts accordingly — e.g., an electron always acts like an electron, and not a neutron. The laws of nature are an inevitable corollary of existence itself — not a capricious afterthought. See: Answers in Genesis Explains Science to Us.

Evolution (and all of science) is naturalism, which is atheism: That’s a common blunder which equates philosophical materialism with something very different — methodological materialism. See: Bring Me An Angel Detector!

“Were you there?”: This is related to the creationists’ claim that the past is unknowable — except through scripture. We dealt with it here: Hey, Ken Ham: “Were You There?”

Intelligent Design is a scientific theory: No it’s not, it’s not even close — see The “Science” of Intelligent Design.

See also: The Mystery of the Cambrian “Explosion”.

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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12 responses to “Common Creationist Claims Confuted

  1. For whatever reason, creationists flatly assert that one species cannot, over time, evolve into another — despite the abundant fossil evidence to the contrary.

    Two quibbles about this:

    Creationists assert that one “kind” cannot evolve into another. Many of them insist that Noah’s Ark had pairs of each kind (or baramin), and that there was some kind of super-micro-evolution since then.

    It isn’t so much the fossil evidence, as the evidence right before our eyes, that supports speciation. Even Linnaeus accepted species change (which he attributed to crosses within a genus). The fossil record is generally not fine-grained enough for that – it is better for the origins of larger taxa.

  2. If you ask a creationist why “macro” changes are impossible you’ll be told that it’s just impossible — some magic barrier interferes to preserve the integrity of scriptural “kinds.”

    They can never even figure out where the line is, and yet they’ll accept the genetic, morphological, and (very rarely) fossil evidence that points to “microevolution” as good solid evidence for descent with modification by mutation + natural selection, and deny exactly the same kind of evidence for “macroevolution” (scare quotes because their “microevolution” is generally not that of biology).

    So similar evidence points to dissimilar processes causing those respective evidences. It’s the height of the denial of even the possibility for using science to decide matters, because if similar evidence is understood dissimilarly (without good reason to do so), we cannot make sense of our world at all.

  3. OK, if you’re so smart, if we descended from monkeys, why am I still a monkey?

  4. Tundra Boy asks: “why am I still a monkey?”

    A million consecutive generations of incest will keep you true to your kind.

  5. Thanks for the list. One can never have enough fast answers for stupid assertions.

  6. retiredsciguy

    Nice piece of writing, Curmy — as usual.

  7. Thanks, retiredsciguy, but it was mostly scavenged from old posts.

  8. Curmy, do you still have your work from ‘that other other’ site?

    Some of it was dynamite and would be nice to see here with the rest of your stuff.

  9. Tundra Boy asks:

    Curmy, do you still have your work from ‘that other other’ site?

    There’s the List-O-Links, which is always accessible from a tab at the top of the blog. As for various posts, I have some of that, somewhere. It would take a lot of time to dig it out.

  10. The “light speed used to be different” is an interesting argument, coming as it does from the same folks who marvel at how necessary it is for the physical constants to all be their precise values in order for the universe to exist…

  11. SY says:

    … the same folks who marvel at how necessary it is for the physical constants to all be their precise values in order for the universe to exist…

    Yeah, well, in creation science the speed of light isn’t all that important. It can vary with no consequences at all.

  12. Two things:

    Don’t forget the sidestep that when gawd created the universe 6013 years ago, he made it with all the light already on the way or some such bull..

    And I would also like to have you visit for more on the list (especially if you check out some of the sub-menu items like “creationists read this” bit. 🙂 Thanks.