I can almost hear a substantial portion of the SC audience groan that this topic is still being brought up. Surely good sense has prevailed and we’ve stopped discussing creationism Vs. evolution? Haven’t we?
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Nope. Sadly not. The war wages on. And it’s a pretty weird war. One side has all of the evidence, good sense and grown up discussions and the other side has nothing but a bunch of 200-year-old arguments that were rebuffed centuries ago. These arguments get raised again and again. It’s as if they don’t want to listen to the answers.
I’m writing this post to clear up some of the most common arguments against evolution. If you’ve ever debated with a Creationist, you will no doubt have heard the following lines.
If you are pro-thought, pro-not being an idiot, and anti-backwardsness, you’d do well to read the following responses and commit them to memory; you never know when you might be called upon to defend good sense.
Some arguments given by Creationists will seem “reasonable” at first glance, and they will present them to you as if they are new, cutting-edge theories. In reality, they have been answered over and over again for the last century. There are no new arguments against evolution. It’s solid.
OK, so let’s go:
1) EVOLUTION IS JUST A THEORY, RIGHT?
Yes, evolution is “just a theory,” but the word “theory” means something a little deeper than your weird theory that Donald Trump is related to Boris Johnson. Yes, they’ve both got weird hair and they’re both dicks – that doesn’t make it any more likely to be true.
According to the National Academy of Sciences, a scientific theory is:
A well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.
In other words, a scientific theory has loads of evidence to back it up and it’s well established within the scientific community.
Theories are testable and stand up to in depth scrutiny. In the same way that atomic theory is not a “law.” Creationists are happy to believe atomic theory, even though the level of evidence for it is similar to evolution. It’s just that atomic theory doesn’t contradict the Bible, so they don’t argue against it.
You don’t have to be able to see something directly to gather evidence that it is correct. Atomic theory is well-accepted, but you can’t physically play around with atoms and see how they interact.
2) IF HUMANS DESCENDED FROM MONKEYS, WHY ARE THERE STILL MONKEYS?
This is an ooooooooooold argument. Even though the answer is actually pretty simple, Creationists always love wheeling it out. This is either because they don’t understand, or, more likely, they don’t want to understand. I’m not sure which is worse.
Man did not evolve from monkeys. That’s an important thing to get your head around, so I’ll say it again – monkeys did not evolve into humans. Monkeys and humans share an ancestor. The argument is like saying “if adults came from babies, why are there still babies?”
Millions of years ago, there was a human-ape-like creature. For some reason, this group of creatures became split – perhaps one group simply moved areas, perhaps a mountain steadily grew between them. We don’t know what happened, but they stopped interbreeding. Some of these human-ape relatives eventually evolved into humans, some eventually evolved into monkeys.
3) EVOLUTION IS “UNSCIENTIFIC”
This argument states that evolution is unscientific because it cannot be tested and cannot be observed. In reality there are two sorts of evolution; there’s so-called microevolution, where a species slowly changes over time. This has been observed in numerous species and most Creationists now concede that this is a real thing.
The second type is macroevolution – one species turning into another species; this is also referred to as speciation. This happens over thousands or millions of years and is not something that people are likely to witness very often, or at all, given that the theory of evolution is less old than the time it takes for speciation to occur.
But, there is still plenty of evidence that macroevolution has occurred. Also, speciation has now been observed in a number of species – but that won’t stop this argument from getting flung about willy nilly.
Another well-established theory that could be put in the same category as evolution is plate-tectonics – the grindingly slow movement of the earth’s crust and the continents that sit on it. Because we have plenty of evidence from observation, most people, including Creationists, are happy to believe that it is the case.
Evolution predicts that we will find fossils of human-like creatures that change over long periods of time, and that is exactly what has been found. Conversely, no modern-looking humans have ever been found from the Jurassic period, for instance.
4) LOADS OF SCIENTISTS ARE STARTING TO DOUBT EVOLUTION
This argument gets banded about quite a bit by Creationists. They say that evolution is slowly being picked apart by scientists and that there are huge numbers of scientists who think that evolution isn’t true anymore. However, there is quite literally zero evidence that this is the case. Peer-reviewed scientific journals are filled with articles that are about evolution or incorporate evolution.
On the other hand, there is almost no research published that attempts to disprove evolution. And this isn’t journals simply refusing to publish them, it’s just that nobody is writing them. The senior editors of Nature and Science, two heavyweight scientific journals, said that they would publish any research that was done correctly, it’s just that they never receive any papers from Creationists or people who believe in Intelligent Design.
Pretty much no scientists are anti-evolution, regardless of what the detractors want to believe.
5) EVOLUTION SCIENTISTS CAN’T EVEN AGREE ON HOW IT WORKS
Science is dependent on lively discussion. Theories are tested and debated and, over time, they are honed and become increasingly accurate. If no one was arguing about evolution, that would be much more worrying.
The “argument” that most Creationists will mention is the “punctuated equilibrium vs gradualism” discussion. This certainly is a lively debate and it has been roaring on for some time. The important thing to note here, which is often omitted by Creationists, is that neither side of this debate are denying evolution, and both teams are still 100% sure that evolution happens. The mechanisms behind evolution are not up for grabs.
It’s like two people arguing whether Pop Idol was better than X Factor – the debate might get pretty heated, but both sides still believe that Simon Cowell exists.
The punctuated equilibrium camp simply believes that macroevolution happens in bursts of activity i.e. there are long periods where not much evolution is happening and then relatively intense periods where loads of animals are changing. (When they talk about “bursts” they are still talking about geological time, so it’s still thousands or tens of thousands of years.)
On the other hand, gradualists think that evolution maintains a relatively steady pace and creatures slowly change at a constant rate. Neither side is saying evolution doesn’t happen or happens in a different way.
6) EVOLUTION CAN’T EXPLAIN HOW LIFE BEGAN ON EARTH
This is another very common argument against evolution, which is pretty strange. Evolution doesn’t pretend to explain how life started. It’s not even about that. Evolution explains what happened to life once it had already started. It explains how single-celled creatures eventually evolved into more complex beings.
It’s like saying that the theory that Louis Walsh is gay can’t be true because it doesn’t explain why Simon Cowell is heterosexual.
7) WHAT USE IS HALF AN EYE?
This argument states that evolution can’t be true because if the eye evolved, at some point in time, there must have been animals walking about with just half an eye. Half an eye would be no good to anyone, so that means that the eye can’t have evolved in the first place. This is another argument that shows a misunderstanding of evolution (or, more often, willful ignorance).
In fact, what we can tell from the fossil record (and even in animals still alive today) is that half an eye, or even one-hundredth of an eye is still very useful.
The most basic visual system in animals is just one light-sensitive cell. In comparison to our grand bits of ocular kit, that seems rubbish, but it’s still enough to detect changes from light to dark as a predator approaches. Other, slightly more complex animals, have evolved to have a bunch of light-sensitive cells.
Others still have millions of light-sensitive cells with different types of cells getting involved. It’s actually quite easy to see how each stage in the evolution of the eye was useful.
8) HOW CAN ANYTHING COMPLEX BE BUILT BY ACCIDENT?
Although evolution is based on random mutations, there is nothing else accidental about evolution. If a mutation occurs and it makes an individual less likely to survive and mate, that mutation is not passed on. If a mutation gives an animal an edge, that animal will survive and reproduce and that mutation will be carried on to the next generation.
So, although the mutation itself might be random, the way it is selected is not.
As an example of how this might work, let’s take this sequence of letters: “TOBEORNOTTOBE.” If you had 1 million monkeys, each tapping out one random phrase each second, it would take around 78,800 years to accidentally generate it.
However, a computer program designed in the 80s can beat that score with ease. The program generates phrases randomly, but, each time a correct letter is produced at random, it keeps it in place – as evolution does – it preserves the wins. On average, the program managed to re-create TOBEORNOTTOBE in just 336 goes, taking less than 90 seconds. Incredibly, it could reconstruct Shakespeare’s entire play in less than 5 days.
So there is a random “accidental” component to evolution, but it’s not the whole story by any means.
9) IF EVOLUTION IS TRUE WHY ARE THERE NO TRANSITIONAL FOSSILS?
A transitional fossil is a fossil of something that is, for instance, half lizard-half bird. Creationists say that because none of these halfway creatures exist, evolution can’t be true. The truth of the matter is that there are loads of transitional fossils.
One of the most famous is a half reptile-half bird type thing called archaeopteryx (above). There are also a myriad of fossils showing the gradual evolution of the modern horse. Also, four-legged, land-living relatives of whales have been found a number of times. And, whilst the evolution deniers scream “where’s the missing link between monkeys and man?” scientists have been busy examining at least 20 different species of early hominid that could all count as “missing links.”
The fossil record is so much more amazing than Creationists would have you believe.
Evolution is now the only scientific theory that is debated for religious reasons. For a while, the Christians hated the idea that we revolved around the sun, rather than the sun revolving around us. They didn’t like that at all. Then they realised they were wrong and gave up the fight. They thought the earth was flat for a bit, but they backed down when they realised they were wrong again.
Personally, I would love to see the same happen with evolution, but it doesn’t seem very likely at the moment. Many modern Christians are happy to believe that the universe was created in more than 6 days; the “6 days” thing is just a metaphor, they say. So why can’t they go one step further and say – evolution was “guided by God?”
If they said that, they would still be wrong (probably), but at least they would stop trying to undermine scientific education for our children and move on to their next weird battle with free thought.