Religious fundamentalists who still espouse belief in a geocentric Universe are now met with ridicule and scorn; not due to discrimination but a lack of evidence for their cause. Unfortunately, the same can not be said about the 40-50% of Americans who, despite a near unanimous consensus among scientists, refuse to accept the theory of evolution. Ever since Darwin published The Origin of the Species in 1859, the idea of common descent has been hard for many religious individuals to swallow. The refusal to accept anything as truth that contradicts the Biblical account of creation has resulted in a massive war of misinformation waged by anti-evolutionists in our courts, schools, and places of worship.Operating under the banners of Creation Science and Intelligent Design, religious individuals have managed to confuse the public about evolution and its supporting evidence while sneaking theology into science classrooms. By educating ourselves about the truth behind evolution, we can put a stop to this degenerative sleight of hand.
Claim: Evolution is only a theory, and therefore uncertain.
In the context of science, the word theory does not imply uncertainty. It is basically defined as a set of general propositions used to explain a class of phenomena. If the fact that evolution is “only a theory” is objectionable, then creationists should be calling into doubt the theory of gravity, atomic theory, and the germ theory of disease – to name a few. The theory of evolution is a package of ideas used to describe how the observable fact of evolution functions, much as the theory of gravity describes how the observable fact of gravity functions. The fact that evolution occurs was recognized well before Darwin’s time. Darwin’s theory only sought to explain that fact. Today less than 0.15 percent of American scientists working in fields relevant to evolution are creationists. In other industrialized nations, that number drops to less than one tenth of one percent.
Claim: Evolution cannot be directly observed and therefore cannot be proven.
While it is impossible to prove anything with absolute certainty, high degrees of certainty can be reached. Evolution has reached a position of near-certainty among scientists because of vast amounts of data from a diversity of fields supporting it. While listing all of the observable evidence of evolution would take volumes, we can briefly document some of the most compelling supportive evidence. All life shows a fundamental unity in the mechanisms of replication, heredity, and metabolism. The fossil record shows species appearing in a chronological order, demonstrating change consistent with common descent over hundreds of millions of years and inconsistent with sudden creation. Evolution predicts that new biological structures adapt from existing structures, thus the similarity between structures should fall along the lines of evolutionary history and not function. This is precisely what has been observed. For example, human hands, bat wings, horse legs, whale flippers, and mole forelimbs all have similar bone structures despite their different functions. The wings of birds, bats, pterosaurs, and insects all have different structures but similar functions. Many organisms even possess rudimentary, vestigial characteristics, such as sightless eyes or wings useless for flight. Microevolution within species is virtually undeniable and thoroughly documented (Darwin’s finches, etc.), however, even macroevolution or speciation has been observed in isolated ecosystems. If you are interested in learning about more about the extensive factual backup for evolution, please visit your local library.
Claim: Transitional forms are missing from the fossil record.
As good fossilization requires a number of very precise environmental factors, it makes sense that finding a fossil of any specific species, especially a short-lived species, should be extremely rare. Evolution is often misconceived as a constant, slow and gradual process, but this is far from what’s been observed. When a species migrates into a new geographic location, evolutionary changes can take place relatively rapidly and then stabilize once an optimal adaptation has been achieved. As such, transitions do not often show up in the fossil record. Sudden appearances in the fossil record simply indicate that an existing species moved into a new region. Other gaps are due to environmental factors, such as erosion and periods unfavorable to fossil preservation. Nonetheless, there are still many fossilized transitional forms that clearly demonstrate the evolution of one species into another over time. These include: Fossils demonstrating human ancestry; transitions between species of Phacops (a type of trilobite); appearance of the horns of titanotheres (extinct Cenozoic mammals) in progressively larger sizes, from nothing to prominence; fossils of the diatom Rhizosolenia that show a continuous record of almost two million years which includes a speciation event; Gryphaea (coiled oysters), which become larger and broader but thinner and flatter during the Early Jurassic; dinosaur-bird transitions; transitions between fish and tetrapods (vertebrates with four limbs); transitions from condylarths (land mammal) to fully aquatic modern manatees; Haasiophis terrasanctus (a primitive marine snake with well-developed hind limbs); and the list goes on and on.
Claim: The second law of thermodynamics says that everything tends toward disorder, making evolution impossible.
The second law of thermodynamics says no such thing. It says that heat can not spontaneously flow from a colder body to a warmer one, or that the total entropy ( a measure of useful energy) in a closed system will not decrease. This doesn’t prohibit evolution because the Earth is not a closed system, meaning entropy can decrease within it. Further, entropy is not the same thing as disorder. Sometimes they correspond, but sometimes order increases with entropy. Entropy can even be used to produce order, such as in the sorting of molecules by size. As the only physical processes necessary for evolution to occur are reproduction, heritable variation, and selection – all of which are seen to occur constantly – obviously no physical laws are preventing evolution from occurring. You can see examples of increasing order occurring in nature all the time. Snowflakes, cloud formations, dust devils, ripples in sand dunes, and eddies or whirlpools in streams are some of these.
Claim: The Universe/Earth is only 6,000 to 10,000 years old, so there hasn’t been enough time for evolution to occur.
Measurements based on the brightness of supernovae and galaxies indicate distances of up to billions of light-years, which means the Universe must be at least billions of years old for the light to have reached us. Some white dwarf stars have been found to be twelve to thirteen billion years old, based on their cooling rate. In the case of the Earth, radiometric dating shows it to be 4.5 billion years old. (Despite claims to the contrary, radiometric dating has been consistently proven to be reliable – unless misused by creationists to intentionally yield bad results.) Radiometric dating is consistent with the length of time geologists give for the formation of the geological column. Geological formations also indicate an old Earth. For example, Loess deposits (wind-blown silt) in China are 300 m thick and give a continuous climate record for 7.2 million years. Varves (annual sediment layers that occur in large lakes) are simple to measure, account for millions of years, and correlate well with other forms of dating. Some formations contain millions of annual layers, such as the five million layers found in Lake Baikal and the 20 million layers in the Green River. Known climate cycles occurring at 400,000-, 600,000-, and 1,000,000-year intervals are accounted for in geological strata. Creationists who argue that the Universe and Earth were created with an “apparent age” are basically asking us to believe that God intentionally deceives us.
Claim: (fill in the blank) is too complex to have occurred naturally, and therefore must have been designed/created.
This argument, also referred to as the “god of the gaps,” is implicit in many different creationist arguments, particularly today’s claims of intelligent design. What is being claimed is “I can’t conceive that blank happened, therefore God did it.” In reality, others might be able to find a natural explanation. Because nobody knows everything, it is unreasonable to conclude that something is impossible just because you do not know it. Gods were responsible for lightning until we determined natural causes, for infectious diseases until we found bacteria and viruses, and for mental illness until we found biochemical causes. The “god of the gaps” is confined to those parts of the Universe we do not know about, and that keeps shrinking. Complexity is poorly defined by creationists, and occurs in natural systems all the time without the need for an “intelligent designer.” In the sort of design we know about, simplicity is the end goal. Complexity arises through carelessness or necessity, and this is very different from what we see in biology.
For more information on debunking the claims of creationists, please visit the extensive index of creationist claims at www.talkorigins.org.