Engaging with Creationism

Creationism doesn’t really come in many flavours: Young Earth, Old Earth and ‘science, but God did it’ are basically the groups. Each of them believes that God seeded life and the Universe. The first two believe that God created life as is, and that no evolution has ever taken place, but they disagree about how long ago that happened. The latter variety believes evolution happened, and that God was the cause of something analogous to abiogenesis. Each has faulty reasoning.

The ‘science, but God did it’ variety doesn’t believe that evolution is enough to create something as amazing as the human body. But ‘amazing’ is subjective. I don’t think my spinal cord is amazing, I think it gives me medically redundant headaches; I don’t think my shoulder is amazing, I think it’s a mess of tendons and nerves that keep getting injured; I don’t think my eyes are amazing, despite their singular purpose to see they have a blind spot. The archaic and defunct early forms of each of these things—the spinal cord and shoulder or a quadruped, and a pre-retina eye—explain this stuff. But evolution with foresight doesn’t.

On top of that, if your understanding of evolution requires an intelligent guidance then your understanding of evolution is flawed. Broad variations and selection by survival really does explain speciation.

Old Earth and Young Earth creationists basically have the same arguments. And they rely heavily on the misuse or misunderstanding of the terms, the science and even the theory itself. No one accepts the evolution as creationists present it as true. In fact, in light of everything we know about DNA, entropy and chaos, if evolution were to happen the way creations suppose then God would be an unavoidable conclusion.

A “transitional form” is one of those misunderstood terms. Everything is a transitional form: my dad is a transitional form between my grandparents and me. What we really want, though, is an example of a species that falls between a modern species and an older species. So we radiometrically date some fossils and we find that the order by age of the series of fossils is A > B > C > D. The age is not the only thing that gives that pattern, if we put them in a progressive order the series is still A > B > C > D for cranial size, locomotive dynamics of the pelvis, jaw bones, teeth etc. We see this pattern in the late Ardipithecines > Australopithecus africanus > Australopithecus afarensis > Homo habilis. We see that pattern a lot, if you care to research it. Evolution is the mechanism by which we can explain why a series of fossils put in age order can show gradual progression. But for many creationists, that is not what they’re looking for. A lot of creationists are looking for a ‘Crocoduck’; an intermediate between two existing animals. That is not what evolution does.

Another misunderstanding is a “kind”. Do you agree that there are many types of mammal? Yep. There are. Mammals are a “kind”. What about canines? Yep. There are many types of them too. Canine is also a “kind”. “Kind” is a term that can refer to any point in a taxonomic hierarchy (see here), and so is too flexible to actually have any meaning. Yet, still we hear “bacteria only gives us bacteria” and “dogs only ever give us dogs”, so how do we have so many “kinds” of life? And evolution is meant to be stumped by that question as if diversity (and complexity) isn’t exactly what evolution does explain. The first mammal only ever gave more mammals. The first primate only ever gave more primates. The first chordate only ever gave more chordates. The first feline only ever gave more felines. That is what evolution expects. If octopi started giving birth to mosquitoes we’d have to throw the theory of evolution out. The origin of species then would be absolute chaos.

The problem is that this misunderstanding is a creationist’s real understanding of evolution. They think a cat should birth a daffodil, and that a half-Plankton/half-Earthworm creature should exist according to evolutionary theory. Their misunderstanding is foundational, at the very basic level of what evolution is and how it works. And someone has taught them to tie that ridiculous idea up with their theology, on an emotional level.

This is why I no longer engage with creationism.

Related reading from this blog

Evolution and the Piltdown Man

On the Illusion of Species

How Can the Religious Explain Evolution?

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2 thoughts on “Engaging with Creationism”

  1. Our Living Language : Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection assumed that tiny adaptations occur in organisms constantly over millions of years. Gradually, a new species develops that is distinct from its ancestors. In the 1970s, however, biologists Niles Eldridge and Stephen Jay Gould proposed that evolution by natural selection may not have been such a smooth and consistent process. Based on fossils from around the world that showed the abrupt appearance of new species, Eldridge and Gould suggested that evolution is better described through punctuated equilibrium. That is, for long periods of time species remain virtually unchanged, not even gradually adapting. They are in equilibrium, in balance with the environment. But when confronted with environmental challenges—sudden climate change , for example—organisms adapt quite quickly, perhaps in only a few thousand years. These active periods are punctuations, after which a new equilibrium exists and species remain stable until the next punctuation.

    1. True. It’s difficult to make immediate sense of Eldridge and Gould’s evidence; in places the idea of approximate equilibrium followed by punctuation makes good sense of the evidence (like the E. coli experiment, led by Richard Lenski), where in others (like Homo ergaster/Homo erectus) it makes no sense at all.
      Even for the E. coli experiment, all populations adapted to the limited glucose supply to some level. But one population had two beneficial mutations that massively increased their ability to use glucose; that one population looks more like a punctuated equilibrium event, but the other populations look like gradual evolution.
      Speciation events, especially “Ring Species” also look gradual. But the emergence of Homo sapiens on the African planes looks punctuated. It is a messy debate.

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