Answering Evolution’s Critics
Creationists’ Arguments Are Wrong
Many religious conservatives believe that the science of evolution is a hoax or an elaborate fantasy of liberal scientists. Many of these believers are Fundamentalists, meaning that they believe their particular sacred text (e.g., the Bible; the Qu’ran) is infallibly true because it is the direct Truth handed down by God, whom they see as an all-knowing and all-powerful super-man who physically created the world and all the creatures in it during the span of seven days. People who believe the world was physically created by God in seven days are called Creationists, and their belief is called “Creationism,” or “Intelligent-Design.”
“Creationism” is Not “Continuing Creation”
“Creationism” is not at all the same as The Path of Continuing Creation. “Creationists” (advocates of “Intelligent-Design”) are definitely not the same as people who follow the Path of Continuing Creation. In fact, these two groups are opposed on the question of “creation.” “Creationists” think that God created all the creatures in one fell swoop. Followers of Continuing Creation, on the other hand, clearly understand that all Earth’s creatures are the products of millions of years of Evolution. The Process of Continuing Creation only accomplishes deliberate design and planned construction on Earth through the agency of Humans (and, to a lesser extent, through certain other conscious animal species).
Advocates of Intelligent-Design have been heatedly arguing against the science of biological evolution ever since Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859. Naturalists, biologists, paleontologists, geneticists and scientists in general have been equally vociferous in refuting the Creationist arguments.
“If I had to pick just a single fact that best proves evolution, it would be the pattern found in comparing the genes of organisms. Using modern DNA-mapping techniques, compare the genes of a selection of animals, or of plants, and plot out the gene resemblances and differences. They fall on a perfect branched-hierarchy, a perfect family tree.”
— Richard Dawkins. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjxZ6MrBl9E
Landmark Collections of the Counter-Arguments Against “Intelligent-Design”
In the1970’s, scientists began to publish books and articles using the latest advances in biology to refute the Creationists point by point. They wrote in direct, clear language that everyone could understand. Among these publications, the Practice of Continuing Creation: The Growing, Organizing, Direction of the Cosmos singles out four as landmarks (listed here in chronological order):
- The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design, by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins of Oxford University, 1986, W.W. Norton & Co.
- “Fifteen  Answers to Creationist Nonsense,” by John Rennie (the seventh Editor-in-Chief of) Scientific American, July 2002, pp 78-85. Available in libraries, and from Scientific American for a fee.
- The Online Index to Creationist Claims, edited by Mark Isaak, Copyright 2005, last updated 2006. The Online Index is part of the TalkOrigins Archive: Exploring the Creation/Evolution Controversy. Online at http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/list.html.
- “Top 10 Myths About Evolution (And How We Know It Really Happened),” written and published by Skeptics Society, 2010. This article is downloadable as a free PDF document, at the Skeptics Society website: skeptic.com; www.skeptic.com/downloads/top-10-evolution-myths.pdf.
Publications #1, #2, and #4 are all entertaining and very well-written, and the Way of Continuing Creation recommends them to general readers. Publication #3, equally well-written, is an excellent tool for research.
The Online Index to Creationist Claims presents a list of over 580 common objections that Creationists have to the Science of Evolution. The 580 are set forth in 10 categories and 53 sub-categories. Each Creationist Objection is answered clearly and succinctly, with multiple scientific reverence cited for the Answer to each Objection. TalkOrigins is a Usenet newsgroup devoted to the discussion and debate of biological and physical origins. The Talk Origins Archive has received praise from the journal Science, Scientific American, and the National Academy of Sciences. (See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TalkOrigins_Archive.)
Like sources #2 and #4, our Essay here also presents a list of responses to false intelligent-design assertions. Our list draws on the above four sources and others, taking care to give credit to authors at every turn. We have three aims: a) to integrate the evidence from our sources, b) to shorten their explanations where possible, and c) to include some more recent scientific findings.
Common Intelligent-Design Arguments, and The Book of Continuing Creation’s Refutations
Fundamentalist Creationists argue: “Something as complicated as an eye must have been designed and/or made by a super-intelligent Creator.”
Note: This argument is sometimes called “The Argument of Irreducible Complexity.”
We respond: In fact, “The eye evolved from a single, light sensitive spot in a cell into the complex eye of today not by chance, but through thousands of intermediate steps, each preserved because they made a better eye. Many of these steps still exist in nature in simpler organisms.” (Skeptics Society, “Top 10 Myths,” #4 above)
“Darwin suggested that even ‘incomplete’ eyes might confer benefits (such as helping creatures orient toward light) and thereby survive for further evolutionary refinement. Biology has vindicated Darwin: researchers have identified primitive eyes and light-sensing organs throughout the animal kingdom and have even tracked the evolutionary history of eyes through comparative genetics. (It now appears that in various families of organisms, eyes have evolved independently.)” (John Rennie, “Fifteen Answers,” #2 above.)
Richard Dawkins gives us a more complete counter argument in his book, The Blind Watchmaker. In fact, there are many creatures out there today which have and make use of very primitive “‘eyes.” Dr. Watkins writes, “Some single-celled animals have a light sensitive spot with a little pigment screen behind it. The screen shields it from light coming from one direction, which gives it some ‘idea’ of where the light is coming from. Among many-celled animals, various types of worms and some shellfish have a similar arrangement, but the pigment-backed light sensiti*ve cells are set in a little cup. This gives slightly better direction-finding capability…
… Now, if you make a cup very deep and turn the sides over, you eventually make a lens-less pinhole camera…The swimming mollusk Nautilus… has a pair of pinhole cameras for eyes… When you have a cup for an eye, almost any vaguely convex, vaguely transparent or even translucent material over its opening will constitute an improvement, because of its slight lens-like properties.” Alternatives to eyes have also evolved. “For instance, the curved dish-reflector principle (we use it in radio-telescopes) has been independently ‘invented’ by various mollusks and crustaceans. Other crustaceans have a compound eye like insects. (Actually, it’s a bank of lots of tiny eyes.)” (Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, #1 above, pp. 85-6.)
We must also point out that the eye is actually poorly designed. It involves too many steps, too many organ structures in the eye and brain, too many translations from light to chemical reactions, to electrical signals. This “Rube Goldberg” apparatus snows that the eye was put together out of whatever biological parts were at hand at each step of the eye’s evolution, over a very long timespan. (Skeptics Society, “Top 10 Myths,” #4 above.)
Fundamentalist Creationists argue: “Something as complicated as a flagellum must have been designed and/or made by a super-intelligent Creator.”
While the history of the eye was being documented, champions of intelligent design have put forward other biological organs and organelles as being irreducibly complex. Michael J. Behe of Lehigh University, author of Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (1996 and 2006 Simon & Schuster) argues that a bacteria’s flagellum (the whip-like “tail” that propels it though water) is too complex to have arisen through evolution. Behe contends that the proteins that make up a flagellum are uncannily arranged into motor components, a universal joint and other structures like those that a human engineer might specify. (Paraphrased from John Rennie, “Fifteen Answers,” #2 above)
We respond: “There exist flagellae with forms simpler than the one that Behe cites, proving it is not necessary for all those components to be present for a flagellum to work… The key is that the flagellum’s component structures, which Behe suggests have no value apart from their role in propulsion, can serve multiple functions that would have helped favor their evolution.” (John Rennie, “Fifteen Answers,” #2 above)
Nature is full of creatures with inefficient features. For example, humans, like all mammals, breathe and eat through the same tube, making it easy to choke to death. Also, the laryngeal nerve descends below the larynx, loops around an artery in the chest, and then goes back up to the larynx. As Richard Dawkins has pointed out, this setup is not very efficient, especially if you are a giraffe. 1
The human body suffers many common and chronic ailments which reflect poor “design.” We humans have weak backs that are prone to injury, spinal discs that could use better cushioning, knees that become arthritic from work or sports relatively early in life; bones that lose minerals after the age of 30, brains that too often clog up with plaque causing Alzheimer’s disease, teeth that often quickly decay without constant dental care, a urethra in men that runs through the prostate and therefore gets squeezed when the prostate enlarges with age, and many other “design problems.” 2
The Way of Continuing Creation says: If God is responsible for the “fine design” of us humans, then he must also be responsible for the “fine design” of the myriad microbes, viruses, and fungi that attack us so relentlessly and successfully. (For more, see our Essay, Suffering and Evil – Causes and Responses)
Evolution by Symbiotic Merger (or “Engulfment,” or “Encapsulation”)
Still, there are very early cell structures that do not seem to have been created by the step-by-step process of evolution. For example, virtually all species today are made of cells that each have a nucleus in them. But the earliest life on Earth – the single-celled microbes called bacteria and archaea – did not have nuclei in them. Biologists are still working to explain the sudden appearance on Earth of the first nucleated cell (the first Eukaryote) that was the ancestor of all complex life forms (plants, animals, fungi, algae, and protists like the amoeba). And why did the earliest known Eukaryotes appear on Earth seemingly fully-formed, with nearly all its many organelles (the nucleus and other internal structures) in place? 3
Biologists Lynn Margulis of the University of Massachusetts, Nick Lane of the University College of London, and others have persuasively argued that some cellular organelles, such as the mitochondria, evolved through the symbiotic merger (or endosymbiosis) of ancient one-celled organisms. This process involved one bacterium engulfing or encapsulating another and using it to do specialized work within the “mother-ship” cell in exchange for more reliable oxygen, water, food, and security. The mitochondria (the energy-transducing organelles of eukaryotic cells) “were derived [encapsulated] from alpha-proteobacteria; and the chloroplasts (the photosynthetic machinery of plant cells) were derived [encapsulated] from cyanobacteria.” 4
Note: “Science welcomes the possibility of evolution resulting from forces such as symbiotic merger beyond Darwinian natural selection. Yet those forces must be natural; they cannot be attributed to the actions of mysterious creative intelligences whose existence, in scientific terms, is unproved.” (John Rennie, “Fifteen Answers,” #2 above.)
The Practice of Continuing Creation says — Since we know that humans can’t create complex things in a single step, it is curious why we would want to imagine that a divine being, God, would create natural things – bees and leaves — in a single step. Wouldn’t it be more reasonable to say that God created initial conditions, natural laws, and natural processes which created bees and leaves?
Elsewhere in this Book we have said that it is impossible to prove that a super-being, God, did not somehow create the universe. But if God did do that, He or She did it by setting the initial of physics and supplying the initial impetus of creation. After that, the systems have proceeded on “autopilot,” following the laws of physics, chemistry, complexity, probability, and evolution.
Fundamentalist Creationists argue: “How can evolution create so many wondrous creatures just by chance?”
We Respond: Evolution does not operate by chance alone. Gene mutations happen by chance, but whether or not a mutation survives depends on whether or not it is “selected” by the organism’s environment. And the environment is very rational about which mutated organisms it allows to survive, to reproduce, and to pass that mutation on to subsequent generations.
Perhaps a creature (say, a cheetah) has a random genetic mutation occurs that causes the cheetah to limp. Such a creature would likely die before it can reproduce. But sooner or later, another mutation occurs producing faster running. This difference helps the creature survive and reproduce, and that gene is passed down to the next generation.
So, while the mutation is random, the selection is not. The environmental selection – “faster running is almost always good” — is constant, not random, for cheetahs. (Plus, we also get evolution from the very early symbiotic mergers of single-cell creatures, as we have discussed above.)
“As an analogy, consider the 13-letter sequence “TOBEORNOTTOBE” (famously spoken by Prince Hamlet in Shakespeare’s play). How likely is it that this exact sequence of letters could emerge purely by chance? Say there were a million monkeys each typing out random 13-letter sequences on typewriters. “Those hypothetical million monkeys, each pecking out one [13-letter sequence] a second, could take as long as 78,800 years to find TOBEORNOTTOBE among the 2613 letter sequences of that length.” (John Rennie, “Fifteen Answers,” #2 above.)
But in the 1980s Richard Hardison of Glendale College wrote a computer program that generated [letter sequences] randomly while preserving the positions of individual letters that happened to be correctly placed (in effect, selecting for phrases more like Hamlet’s). On average, the program re-created the phrase in just 336 iterations, less than 90 seconds. Even more amazing, it could reconstruct Shakespeare’s entire play in just four and a half days.” (John Rennie, “Fifteen Answers,” #2 above.)
Fundamentalist Creationists argue: “There are too many gaps in the fossil record for evolution to be true.”
We Respond: In fact, there are lots of intermediate fossils. Archaeopteryx, for example, is one of the earliest known fossil birds with a reptilian skeleton and feathers. There is now evidence that some dinosaurs had hair and feathers. Fossil seashells trace the evolution of various mollusks through millions of years.
A sequence of fossils links the modern horse back to its most distant known ancestor, the small Eohippus. A chain of Therapsids are the intermediates between reptiles and mammals, Tiktaalik is an extinct lobe-finned fish intermediate to amphibians, and there are now at least six intermediate fossil stages in the evolution of whales. (John Rennie, “Fifteen Answers,” #2; and Skeptics Society, “Top 10 Myths,” #4 above.)
Tiktaalik – lobe-finned walking fish:
In the late 1800s, Darwin’s opponent clamored to be shown the so-called “Missing Link between Apes and Man.” Today, there are at least a dozen intermediate fossil stages since hominids branched off from the great apes six million years ago. (John Rennie, “Fifteen Answers,” #2 above) Today we know that the family tree of modern humans contains:
- ancestor species that died out (including the extinct Neanderthals, who made a small contribution of DNA to many modern humans),
- living species (such as the chimpanzees and bonobos) that humans are not descended from but who share an ape-like ancestor with us, and
- extinct species that humans are not descended from but who share an ape-like ancestor with us.
The Primate Family Tree:
(Amended Primate Family Tree, Frontiers of Zoology. March, 2012. 3cefc8408cb375b63ef1427672e3fe1e–human-evolution-tree-human-evolution-timeline.
“Perhaps 20 or more hominids (not all of them our ancestors) fill the gap between our fossil of Lucy the Australopithecine and modern humans.” (Skeptics Society, “Top 10 Myths,” #4 above.) New discoveries continue to be made almost every year, and the most significant developments are usually documented in the pages of Scientific American Magazine.
Michael Shermer, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, writes, “When I debate creationists, they present not one fact in favor of creation and instead demand “just one transitional fossil” that proves evolution. When I do offer evidence (for example, Ambulocetus natans, a transitional fossil between ancient land mammals and modern whales), they respond that there are now two gaps in the fossil record.” 5
Fundamentalist Creationists argue: “Why is evolution so slow that we can never see it happen?”
We Respond: Evolution is not always slow. Micro-evolution (the evolution of very small creatures) can happen very quickly. Inside Human beings, harmful bacteria can evolve over just a few days, developing new cell structures that make them resistant to antibiotics. 6
Or, take the common fruit fly, a creature that is easily seen with the naked eye. William R. Rice of the University of New Mexico and G.W. Salt of the University of California at Davis “demonstrated that if they sorted a group of fruit flies by their preference for certain environments and bred those flies separately over 35 generations, the resulting flies would refuse to breed with those from a very different environment,” thus becoming a new and distinct species of fruit fly. Clearly, we can and do see evolution happen. (John Rennie, “Fifteen Answers,” #2 above)
Fundamentalist Creationists argue: “If evolution happened gradually over millions of years, why doesn’t the fossil record show gradual change?”
We Respond: Amazingly, this Creationist argument is the exact opposite of their prior argument! But we’ll answer it anyway.
Usually, evolution is very gradual, because larger, more established populations have found their competitive niche. Under little pressure to change, such populations have achieved security and stability. Living as they do through large spans of geologic time, these creatures leave plenty of fossils in the geologic strata that show only small refinements their structures. (paraphrased from John Rennie, “Fifteen Answers,” #2 above.)
On the other hand, a whole new species or set of species can develop relatively quickly — quickly in geological time — but still very slowly in Human time.
In the process of allopatry, developed by Ernst Mayr of Harvard University, when a small founder group of mutated plants or animals becomes isolated from its ancestral group, and is subject to new environmental and competitive pressure, the group may undergo relatively rapid change and become a new species. The process can happen rapidly enough that few or even no fossils remain to show intermediary steps. Thereafter, if the new species finds and grows into its own competitive niche, the species will attain its own equilibrium and thereafter undergo only minor “fine-tuning” changes. Over many thousands of years, these stable populations can leave behind many well-preserved fossils. This general pattern of longer-term stability interrupted by brief times of intense new speciation is called punctuated equilibrium. (paraphrased from John Rennie, “Fifteen Answers,” #2; and Skeptics Society, “Top 10 Myths,” #4 above.)
The Cambrian Explosion
The most famous occurrence of punctuated equilibrium is called The Cambrian Explosion, or Cambrian Radiation, which took place around 580-530 million years ago. Before the Cambrian Explosion, most organisms were simple individual cells occasionally organized into colonies. Over the following 70 or 80 million years, the rate of evolution accelerated by an order of magnitude and the diversity of life began to flower into the myriad biosphere that we have on Earth today. Most major animal phyla that now exist appeared within the first 20 million years of the period. 7
The Cambrian Explosion also led to major diversification of marine life that forever changed the marine biosphere. 8
Note: The Taxonomic Ranks are named (from top-largest down to bottom-smallest): Life, Domain, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species. However, there are aspects of taxonomy that are still under dispute. (see Wikipedia article on Kingdom, biology.) Humans are in the Phylum Chordate, along with fish, birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and others — because we all have spinal cords.
There have been two similar “explosions” in evolution since the Cambrian. First, land plants underwent a uniquely rapid adaptive radiation during the Devonian period, about 400 million years ago. Second, flowering plants (Angiosperms) originated and rapidly diversified during the Cretaceous period, from 146 to 66 million years ago. 9
Major Technological Innovations Are Similar to “Explosions” in Evolution
The patterns and processes of biological evolution are strongly supported by the analogous patterns and processes of technological evolution. (See our Essay, Complexity and Continuing Creation.)
When a new species evolves, the overall event is called a speciation. Theoretical biologist Stuart Kaufman writes that an explosion like the Cambrian, i.e., a “punctuation” in the usual equilibrium, is the typical of pattern of both major new speciations and of major technological inventions, because they both grow out of the laws of complexity. 10
The history of bicycle technology is a good example of the steps of a major new “speciation.” It describes stages of change that are generally the same for both a new species and a major new man-made invention.
Steps in the Invention (the Technological “Explosion”) of the Bicycle
- First, humans discovered we could place a fixed frame over and around a moving wheel.
- Then came the complementary invention of the wire spoke, permitting the wheel to be strong yet extremely lightweight. (With the wire spoke, all the strength is obtained from pulling, i.e. from tension, not from pushing, on the spoke.)
- We humans then discovered that we have enough balance to sit on the frame, and we are delighted to find that our contraption actually gains stability as it moves faster!
- When bicycles first went into production there was an explosion of all different kinds of bikes – huge and tiny wheels; tall and short frames. Many of them were fairly ridiculous. In this stage the bike was exploring its competitive landscape, trying out new niches to occupy.
- Next, the bicycle mated with the industrial technology of a big gear using a chain to turn a smaller rear gear. This technology did away with the clumsy structure of having a huge bike wheel in front and a tiny bike wheel in the back.
- So far, then, usage and competition have pushed bicycle design to settle down on the most useful and practical version — equal-sized wheels, spokes, gears connected by a chain. We now had standardization of design, high production (“population growth,”) and declining cost.
- For a long while after that, the only changes were refinements – making the bike incrementally better and better: lighter weight, better brakes, shift-able gears.
- After a while, bicycle variations “evolved,” giving us specialized bikes for specialized environments: street bikes, velodrome racing bikes, and mountain bikes.
- Also, two existing disparate inventions merged to create a new “creature:” The bicycle and the gasoline motor enter into a symbiotic relationship (or perhaps “breed”) to generate an offspring called the motorcycle.
What Gave Rise to the Cambrian Explosion?
Scientists have suggested the following range of possible causes for the Cambrian Explosion:
- The emergence of simple multicellular forms in the pre-Cambrian era provided a changed context and spatial scale in which novel physical processes and effects were mobilized by the genes that had previously evolved to serve unicellular functions. Morphological complexity arose, in this view, by self-organization.” 11
- The marked rise in the amount of oxygen on Earth stimulated the evolution of lungs and gills to handle it more fully. And/or maybe the rise in calcium content of seawater permitted the evolution of protective shells.
- An organism’s new traits could have stimulated the co-evolution of different new traits in other organisms. “For example, the evolution of predation may have caused one prey-animal to develop (co-evolve) a defense, while a different prey-animal developed (co-evolved) motion to flee. Those two co-evolutions could then cause the predator lineage to split into two species: one that was good at breaking through defenses, and another that was good at chasing prey. Actual co-evolution is somewhat more subtle; but, in this fashion, great diversity can arise: three quarters of living species are animals, and most of the rest have formed by co-evolution with animals.” 12
Whatever triggered the early Cambrian diversification opened up an exceptionally wide range of previously unavailable ecological niches. When these were all occupied, limited space existed for such wide-ranging diversifications to occur again. And so, the Cambrian Explosion ended.
Fundamentalist Creationists argue: “Evolution is just a theory”
We Respond: First, the word “theory” has a much, much stronger meaning in science than it does in ordinary language. scientific theories are grounded in testable hypotheses and explain a large and diverse body of facts about the world.
All sciences frequently rely on indirect evidence. Physicists cannot see subatomic particles directly, for instance, so they verify their existence by watching for telltale tracks that the particles leave in cloud chambers. The absence of direct observation does not make physicists’ conclusions less certain.
Einstein’s theory of relativity has been proven again and again over the decades but it is still referred to as the theory of Relativity. The Weave of Continuing Creation says that The Theory of Relativity should really be named The Principles of Relativity, and The Theory of Evolution should really be named The Principles of Evolution.
The science of Evolutionary Biology is an historical science — as are astronomy, geology and archaeology. In the historical sciences, laboratory experiments are rarer than in, say, chemistry. “But hypotheses are still tested by (a) seeing if they accord with the physical-historical evidence and (b) seeing if they lead to verifiable predictions about future discoveries…
“For instance, evolution implies that between the earliest-known ancestors of humans (roughly five million years old) and the appearance of anatomically modern humans (about 100,000 years ago), one should find a succession of hominid creatures with features progressively less apelike and more modern, which is indeed what the fossil record shows… Evolutionary biology routinely makes predictions far more refined and precise than this, and researchers test them constantly.” (John Rennie, “Fifteen Answers,” #2 above.)
Fundamentalist Creationists argue: The only type of evidence offered for evolution are long-dead fossils.”
We Respond: No, many independent lines of scientific evidence converge to support Evolution. “Independent sets of data from geology, paleontology, botany, zoology, biogeography, comparative anatomy and physiology, genetics, molecular biology, developmental biology, embryology, population genetics, genome sequencing, carbon dating, DNA analysis, and many other sciences each point to the conclusion that life evolved.” (Skeptics Society, “Top 10 Myths,” #4 above.)
Example: Geology Provides Evidence for Evolution
No single fossil proves the path of a creature’s descendance. The fossil record proves evolution because the fossils of the earliest and most primitive creatures are in the oldest geologic strata, with younger and younger strata containing increasingly complex plants and animals. If you can find fossil mammals (which are geologically young) in the same geological strata as trilobites (which are geologically ancient), then evolution would be falsified. No one has ever found such contradictory data.
Creationists usually attribute the existence of fossils to the Great Flood in the Old Testaments story of Noah and the Ark (Genesis 5:32-10:1). They say that the Great Flood killed all creatures on Earth except two of every species. When we see fossils, we are merely seeing the preserved skeletons of creatures that dies in the Great Flood. However, as Geology Professor David Gregor writes, “What you find in the rocks is that more than 99% of all species entombed [as fossils] in the rock record are extinct,” they are not fossils of species still alive today. “This simple fact offers a stark contrast to what you would expect to find based on a literal reading of the biblical story.” 13
Example: Evolutionary Developmental Biology Provides Evidence for Evolution
Since the time of Darwin, scientists have understood that the early embryos of very different animals look remarkably the same when inside the mother’s egg or womb. Since an early embryo of a human looks so much like an early embryo of a snake, the implication was that humans somehow developed “out of” more pre-historic animals.
Today, the study of embryo development and its relationship to evolution is called Evolutionary Developmental Biology, or “Evo-Devo” for short. Since the mid-1970’s, much has been discovered in this field.
It turns out that every animal has a “toolkit of evo-devo genes,” and that these toolkits are remarkably similar among all animals, from the oldest pre-fish to us recently-evolved humans. All these toolkits include very ancient genes called names like “Hox genes” and “Pax-6 genes.” These genes have been around as far back as the first single-celled animals. (e.g., the amoeba).
Just one of the gene-tools in a kit controls the development of eyes, no matter whether they eventually become advanced human eyes or the compound-eyes of honeybees. Another gene-tool controls whether an appendage becomes a fish’s fin, a human’s arm, a bird’s wing, or the appendage of a sea urchin known as a tube-foot. These very different final outcomes are caused by where the gene-tool turns on, when the gene-tool turns on, how long it stays on, and how it interacts with other genes. The outcomes also depend on how the gene-tool interacts with proteins that do things like switching, transcribing, reception, and adhesion. 14
Example: Epigenetics Supports Evolution
For decades, it had been thought that biological evolution could only happen if one or more of a creature’s genes changed (mutated.)
Today, we know that evolution can also result from changes in the chemical structures that assist in a gene’s expression. The new science of Epigenetics (“on-top-of-genetics”) studies how factors in the development of a creature, including factors in its external environment, can cause modifications in where, when, and for how long a “tool-kit gene” is expressed. Epigenetic changes modify the activation of certain genes, but not the genetic code sequence of the gene’s actual DNA. This can happen when the microstructure DNA or its associated chromatin proteins are be modified, causing activation or silencing. This mechanism enables differentiated cells in a multicellular organism to express only the genes that are necessary for their own particular activity.
Like mutations in a gene, epigenetic changes can also be preserved when cells divide. Most epigenetic changes only occur within the course of one individual organism’s lifetime; however, these epigenetic changes can be transmitted to the organism’s offspring through a process called transgenerational epigenetic inheritance. 15
Example: Cellular Automatons Support Evolution
Another piece of evidence for evolution comes from simple computer simulations called cellular automatons. These include “The Game of Life,” (available online) which can yield complex life-like patterns using markers on a checkerboard, just by applying a few simple game rules over several rounds of the game. (See our Essay, COMPLEXITY PRINCIPLES & PROCESSES. Also, Google “Game of Life.”)
Example: Technological Invention Follows the Same Step-Pattern as Does Evolution
See our example of the stages in the invention of the bicycle, discussed above in our Section of the Cambrian Explosion.
Fundamentalist Creationists argue: “If humans came from apes, why aren’t apes evolving into humans?”… or, “If humans evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?”
We Respond: Evolution does not teach that humans descended from apes; it states that both have a common ancestor that was neither ape nor human, and which lived millions of years ago.
When a group of creatures becomes isolated from its main population, it begins to evolve on its own. If that evolution goes on long enough, its descendants can become a new species, unable to mate with any of the creatures from the old parent species.
But this does not mean that the parent species necessarily dies out. They may die out (and it could be soon or much later), or they may live on unchanged, or they may evolve into one or more other kinds of new species. (Then, any of those new species just mentioned above could live on, and/or give birth to still newer species, and/or die out.)
In our own case, the evolutionary tree for Homo sapiens (“Rational Man,” i.e. today’s Human Beings) has grown increasingly complex as new fossils are discovered year-by-year. “During the last seven million years many human-like species have evolved; including Homo habilis (“Handy Man”), Homo erectus (“Upright Man”), and Homo neanderthalensis (“Man from Neanderthal Valley in Germany”). All of these went extinct at different times, leaving just us to share the planet with a handful of other primates.” (Skeptics Society, “Top 10 Myths,” #4 above, and John Rennie, “Fifteen Answers,” #2 above.) Fairly recent DNA analysis shows that the Neanderthals lived alongside Homo sapiens in Europe for a time, and selectively interbred with them, leaving Humans living today with 1% to 4% of their DNA having come from Neanderthals. 16
The best way to grasp the pattern of “apes-and-humans” evolution is to take a close look at a drawing of the Human (Homo Sapiens) Family Tree. A number of charts are available online. Periodically, Scientific American Magazine will publish an updated chart of the Evolution of Homo Sapiens Family Tree. In 2003, Scientific American devoted an entire Special Issue to “New Look at Human Evolution,” which contained a number of related charts, graphs, and tables. (available at www.sciam.com).
Human Evolution Timeline and Human Evolution Tree:
Fundamentalist Creationists argue: “ Evolution can’t account for morality. Morality was given to humans by God.”
We Respond: No, this is not at all true. Morality itself is a product of evolution, and that evolution started way before Moses climbed up Mount Sinai; even before pre-humans walked the Earth. Morality is not “given by God,” but has instead evolved over time by the Processes of Continuing Creation: The Growing, Organizing, Direction of the Cosmos.
We plan to devote entire Essays to The Evolution of Cooperation and The Evolution of Morality. Here, let us just remark that even wolves, who live and hunt in packs, have a morality. Through instinct and/or learning, they understand that needless murdering of other wolves in the pack is wrong, and failure to share food is wrong, because those behaviors lower the survival efficiency of the pack as a whole. Wolf morality is reinforced and policed by the alpha-wolves of the pack. Even honeybees, who operate entirely by instinct, know not to murder other healthy productive honeybees in the hive.
As the Skeptics Society has written, “As a social primate species we [Humans] evolved a deep sense of right and wrong in order to accentuate and reward reciprocity and cooperation, and to attenuate and punish excessive selfishness and free riding. As well, evolution created the moral emotions that tell us that lying, adultery, and stealing are wrong because they destroy trust in human relationships that depend on truth-telling, fidelity, and respect for property. It would not be possible for a social primate species to survive without some moral sense. On the constitution of human nature is built the constitutions of human societies.” (Skeptics Society, “Top 10 Myths,” #4 above.)
Fundamentalist Creationists argue: “Evolution can’t explain how life started on Earth.”
We Respond: John Rennie answered this question perfectly in his Scientific American article. He wrote, “The origin of life remains very much a mystery, but biochemists have learned about how primitive nucleic acids, amino acids and other building blocks of life could have formed and organized themselves into self-replicating, self-sustaining units, laying the foundation for cellular biochemistry. Astrochemical analyses hint that quantities of these compounds might have originated in space and fallen to earth in comets, a scenario that may solve the problem of how those constituents arose under the conditions that prevailed when our planet was young.” (John Rennie, “Fifteen Answers,” #2 above.)
“Creationists sometimes try to invalidate all of evolution by pointing to science’s current inability to explain the origin of life. But even if life on earth turned out to have a non-evolutionary origin (for instance, if aliens introduced the first cells billions of years ago), evolution since then would be robustly confirmed by countless micro-evolutionary and macro-evolutionary studies.” (John Rennie, “Fifteen Answers,” #2 above.)
Fundamentalist Creationists argue: “The second law of thermodynamics says that evolution is impossible.”
We respond: In Physics, The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that all systems – including all living things – eventually run out of energy, wind down, and collapse into disorder. In science, disorder is called “entropy,” and “maximum entropy” means complete and total disorder.
However, the Second Law applies to closed, isolated systems. Those are systems that are not continually receiving new energy from the outside. When their energy runs out, such systems die. For example, if a pocket watch stops periodically receiving new energy by having someone wind its mainspring, the watch stops. Over enough time, the watch will also rust and fall apart. You can delay the rust by sealing the watch in a concrete bunker, but over eons of time both the bunker and the watch will inevitably decay into the soil of the Earth.
Open systems, on the other hand, do continually receive new energy from some external source, and they can use that energy to build order and structure within themselves. (In other words, they can use the energy to decrease their entropy.) The Earth is one of these open systems, because it continually receives new energy from the Sun. Specifically, Earth receives both light and heat generated by the continual thermo-nuclear explosions within the star we call the Sun. (John Rennie, “Fifteen Answers,” #2; and Skeptics Society, “Top 10 Myths,” #4 above.)
On Earth, the Sun’s energy is used to build mineral crystals, assemble snowflakes, and to construct and run every living thing that has ever existed on our planet. While it is true that the sun is running down and will eventually die, as long as it continues to shine (expected to be billions of years) the Earth will receive the energy input it needs to sustain life [and life’s technology], and in fact to fuel life’s [and technology’s] progression on Earth. The Path of Continuing Creation says – Our continuing energy throughput from the Sun, and the creative evolutionary processes it powers, are what We call “The Growing, Organizing, Direction at work here on Earth.” (John Rennie, “Fifteen Answers,” #2; and Skeptics Society, “Top 10 Myths,” #4 above.)
Hopefully, when our Sun does die out, billions of years from now, we humans will have colonized other solar systems whose suns have long remaining lives.
- C. Rowe, “Playboy interview of Richard Dawkins,” August 20, 2012. Playboy Magazine, http://www.playboy.com/articles)
- S. Jay Olshansky, B.A. Carnes, and R.N. Butler, “If Humans Were Built to Last,” Scientific American, 2003 updated from March 2001, pp. 94-100
- Nick Lane, The Vital Question: Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life, 2015, W.W. Norton, pp. 34-52.
- Nick Lane, The Vital Question: Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life, 2015, W.W. Norton, p. 36.
- Michael Shermer, “The Fossil Fallacy: Creationists’ Demand for Fossils that Represent ‘Missing Links’ Reveals a Deep Misunderstanding of Science,” Scientific American, March, 2005, pg. 32.
- Leslie Pray, “Antibiotic Resistance, Mutation Rates and MRSA,” 2008, Nature Education 1(1):30.
- A.C. Maloof, S.M. Porter, et. al., “The Earliest Cambrian Record of Animals and Ocean Geochemical Change, 2010, Geological Society of America Bulletin. 201. 122 (11–12): 1731–1774. Bibcode:2010GSAB..122.1731M. doi:10.1130/B30346.1. Also, New Timeline for Appearances of Skeletal Animals in Fossil Record Developed by UCSB Researchers, 2010, The Regents of the University of California.
- A. Zhuravlev and R. Riding, The Ecology of the Cambrian Radiation, 2000. Columbia University Press, ISBN 978-0-231-10613-9.
- R. Cowen, History of Life, 2002, Blackwell Science. ISBN 1-4051-1756-7.
- Stuart Kauffman, At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity, 1995, Oxford University Press, p. 14.
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- C.R. Marshall, C.R. (2006). “Explaining the Cambrian ‘Explosion’ of Animals,” 2006, Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences. (abstract). 34: 355–384. Bibcode:2006AREPS..34..355M. doi:10.1146/annurev.earth.33.031504.103001.4.
- David R. Montgomery, Even Setting Evolution Aside, Basic Geology Disproves Creationism, published online in The Conversation: Academic Rigor, journalistic flair. April 28, 2015.
- Sean B. Carroll, “Evo-Devo and an Expanding Evolutionary Synthesis: A Genetic Theory of Morphological Evolution,” 2008, Cell. 134 (1): 25–36. PMID 18614008. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2008.06.030. Also, S. B. Carroll, “The Origins of Form,” Natural History, Retrieved 9 October 2016.
- V.l. Chandler, “Paramutation: From Maize to Mice,” Cell, 128 (4): 641–5. PMID 17320501. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2007.02.007.
- J. Pinkowski, “Neanderthal DNA Lives on in Modern Humans, “Time Magazine, 5-6-2010.