Why do creationists still argue about evolution?
Over the years I’ve participated in countless discussions on evolution versus creationism. My background is in basic science, but I later moved to computer programming analysis and design. Among many of my friends who pursued careers in science, there was a basic belief that evolution was such an established fact that there was no need to engage in discussions with those who denied evolution. Unfortunately, as the decades have passed, there are still many otherwise intelligent people who remain ignorant of the basic fact of evolution.
If this were simply a personal preference or belief, it wouldn’t be troubling. But today’s world requires citizens to make decisions based on science when voting, serving on juries, or setting educational standards. We can’t afford to remain the only developed nation in which such a large portion of the population rejects evolution. We are destroying our environment as the right wing continues to ignore the FACT of global warming and the US loses its once high standards of education, especially with sustained attacks on curricula, books and even plays that schools are allowed to present to students.
When creationists enter the argument, they invariably use a variety of devices – some rhetorical, some seemingly logical or scientific. But in just about every case these arguments turn out to be misleading, lacking evidence, misstated or outright lies. The following is a presentation of some of creationism’s biggest hits(actually misfires & firing blanks)
Most of these creationist canards are logical fallacies,
so studying them can help understand and expose fallacies in other fields, especially given the ‘alternate facts’ approach of the Trump presidency, anti-vaxers, UFO cultists, lizard laser theorists & other Q based conspiracies, and astrology. An analysis of creationist ploys reveals a style of thinking displayed in many other fringe ideas percolating on the internet.
The internet can be a powerful tool, but it also makes it easier to perpetuate misinformation, distortions and outright lies. My primary purpose here is to provide some analysis of creationist arguments for when you’re presented with these common ploys when you encounter these arguments.
Here I address many of the common objections proposed by creationists, from multiple online discussion over the years. Quotes in italics are from actual posts by creationists, names withheld to avoid embarrassment.
As always, comments from ALL sides are welcome here, and you can include related links.
Evolution has no Direction or Purpose
This is a common argument from religion, since the Bible declares man as the pinnacle of creation.
It’s true, there is no direction to evolution – it’s neutral. If complexity works, it survives, but ‘primitive’ lifeforms like the microorganisms of the black smokers may remain essentially the same for billions of years. If we ran the same ‘experiment’ of the last billion years, it’s unlikely the world would look like it does today.
Steampunk stegosaur dinosaur with erupting volcano in background, generative AI
An interesting lesson of Wright’s “The Evolution of God” is that religion may be just the artifact of natural evolutionary processes without being predictable or required. It’ a description of religion that does not require the assumption of anything supernatural. An example of using Occam’s Razor – choose the simplest of several choices first. it does complicate matters for those who insist there cannot be morality without a god. In particular teleological explanations of evolution like Teohard de Chardin’s just aren’t needed. [book link]
This randomness of evolution has paid huge dividends
Recent years have seen some amazing discoveries at the nexus of molecular biology, genetics, and evolutionary research. It has been discovered that jumping genes, or DNA fragments that migrate throughout the chromosomes, have a significant impact. Mutations can be caused by parasites that dwell inside DNA. Many biologists, including UCLA professor Wills, think that because some species have specific gene patterns that make them more adept at adapting to environmental changes, evolution has become easier over the ages. Some fascinating phenomena include how butterflies imitate their cousins’ appearances, the coexistence of placental and marsupial mammals in Australia and South America, and the dominance of therapsids over the 50 million years before the dinosaurs.
Ad hominem attacks are often used
against scientists consider as if that would disprove e volution:
“Scientists are wishy washy”
Creationists want a definitive answer. During the discussion there was this lament:
Why must evolutionists ALWAYS have to include ‘may’ ‘could’ possibly’ and any other number of less than definitive words in their statements?
In something as relevant as this, ‘may’ is not satisfactory, can you say a definite does, or will?
Scientists must be PRECISE, so those terms are appropriate for discussing science – unlike those who KNOW there is a god [and often also know all others are false]. For example, entropy truly MAY decrease in some places while overall it will increase, as expected. Many facts of science are based on probabilities – eg, while no individual weather event can definitely be blamed on human- caused global warming, the FACT of significant global warming, combined with the known FACTS of the human contributions to global warming justifies the conclusion that some/many/most of the extreme weather events witnessed over the last decade MAY be caused by such human intervention. this gets back to OP’s constant demand for unambiguous ‘proof’ which is impossible
I realize it’s tough for some people to realize that there are few black & white issues in the world, but that’s just the way it ‘may’ be [possibly].
The atheist paleontologist, Stephen Jay Gould, once said:
‘Our ways of learning about the world are strongly influenced by the social preconceptions and biased modes of thinking that each scientist must apply to any problem. The stereotype of a fully rational and objective “scientific method”, with individual scientists as logical (and interchangeable) robots is self-serving mythology.’
Anyone who has actually read the works of Stephen Jay Gouldwould realize this was not a refutation of evolution, as Gould was one of the most avid advocates for evolution, both as a scientist and a popular author for the general public.
This sort of argument is dishonest. In this case the writer was quoting out of context [using a creationist website rather than the actual source] then extrapolating from a old quote to claim something for which the writer presents no evidence.
“Scientists don’t respond to creationists”
In truth, proponents of evolution know that it cannot withstand open criticism. Furthermore, they know that evolution cannot be tested nor is it any more scientific than intelligent design; in fact, it is less so. Therefore, in order for them to keep it ensconced in textbooks, they must suppress criticism of it and not allow its varied and numerous flaws to be considered critically. The situation that has arisen due to this irrational adherence to evolution is nothing short of “abnormal and undesirable in science.”
Where is there such evidence of suppression? In fact the movement is on the creationist side as they push to eliminate the teaching of evolution in Florida and m,any other satates. Texas textbook committees refusing to let evolution even be discussed in American science textbooks. (Unfortunately the size of its purchases means publishers often use Texas’ proposals and those books become standard texts for all schools. ) The next sentence often concludes that since they won’t debate, evolution must be false.
It is true that most scientists 50 years ago were/are disparaging of creationist critics. A big reason for this is that they understood that any educated person could not possibly fail to see the reality of evolution. They underestimated the willful ignorance of the American public, especially when fueled by fundamentalist rantings, so they didn’t see the need to react more positively.
But ultimately, none of these creationist out of context quotes address the fact that evolution is true, offering no evidence against it and less evidence FOR intelligent design (or whatever they’re calling it now when previous iterations have been discredited and declared illegal in court cases) . In particular, none of creationism’s proponents offer evidence for their argument that creationism is scientific. In politics (unfortunately), you can win with a negative campaign that proposes no ideas of its own, but that’s not how science works.
“Distortions of science”
Once again, we join the discussion in progress:
…which in turn causes people to become immune to antibiotics, which in turn allows for mutation of the virus, which is actually a genetic loss, not improvement. Bacteria becomes resistant to drugs because they lost information… The antibiotic cannot lock onto the ribosome of the bacteria because that ribosome is lost in mutation… resistant only to the particular drug that caused the mutation.
This is scientific gibberish
- Firstly, antibiotic do not combat viruses (nor does drinking bleach)
- people don’t become ‘immune’ to antibiotics – the attacking organisms become resistant
* that does NOT lead to the virus mutating
* for neither virus nor bacteria is this a loss – rather it’s a gain in function
* antibiotics do not work by attaching to ribosomes or they would also kill the infected host
* if a bacteria ‘lost’ its ribosomes it would die
“Evolution can’t explain how something came from nothing”
Typical argument: If you can answer how, life EVOLVED out of NOTHING. … not beginning with that one-celled organism that is proclaimed to be the first fruit of the tree of life, but THE NOTHING THAT CAME BEFORE the one-celled organism…. HOW DID NOTHING COME ALIVE?…
Creationists often confuse evolution and origin of species with origin of life itself. Evolution ONLY deals with what happens after life is present. There are theories of how life began, but that is an ongoing and separate area of research. Evolution will not be affected by the outcome since it concerns how life changes after its emergence.
“One swallow means it’s spring”
Creationists are somehow able to ignore thousands of scientists who agree about the fact of evolution, but then grasp at statements from some one person who disagrees, concluding that therefore evolution must be wrong.
I might have selected Anthony Flew, a former atheist, but I chose another rather highly esteemed authority on the subject: Dr. Richard Lumsden, whose degrees were earned at Harvard.
What I also know is that: Darwin was ‘just one man’ too. Moreover, the scientific facts structured during his lifetime were not ‘evolved’ enough to prove or disprove his “THEORIES” at that time. Since then, the fabric of science has developed in such leaps and bounds now that another HUGE SCIENTIFIC Ex-Atheist Figure “Anthony Flew” has also changed his mind based on the findings related to genetic DNA/RNA structures.
A particularly unfortunate choice of heroes, since Flew, an atheist turned deist did not reject evolution, but merely held the entirely rational & logical belief that a ‘god’ was behind what we perceive as science. Like Einstein, this is a philosophical argument, ultimately about the origin of the universe, and doesn’t affect the story of billions of years of evolution. It’s also necessary that the idea of evolution, unlike faith-based sources like the bible, are constantly updated by emerging research & facts.
“Give both a chance”
Similar to the previous argument, this one makes the seemingly reasonable argument that fairness dictates we present ‘both sides’. I’d be willing to agree with this, as long as we weight the arguments – I’d guess there are more than 1000 scientists for every 1 who believes in creation. So if we give equal daily time to each ‘side’, we’d have science present its case for years before we’d hear from an isolated creationist/scientist.
This is the usual argument over teaching creationism in schools. Creationism ultimately requires a god and thus not falsifiable; it is a religious, not scientific theory. When they are offered the chance to present creationism in a philosophy or comparative religion class studying various creation myths (with creationism one of several options), creationists invariably decline – insisting they be part of a science curriculum.
A wonky postscript – some stats:
Overall about 62% accept evolution as fact, though half of those also believe evolution is directed by a god (an idea that can’t be tested as it’s not falsifiable). About 30% of Americans believe in astrology &22% are unsure
Given that 30% of Americans believe in astrology, it’s no surprise that some nontrivial percentage of influential American psychology professors are going to have the sort of attitude toward scientific theory and evidence that would lead them to have strong belief in weak theories supported by no good evidence
The Roman Catholic Church has long accepted – or at least not objected to – evolutionary theory. About a quarter of white American Catholics (26%) say that they do not believe in evolution of any kind,
Belief in astrology (or, for that matter, belief in heaven, the law of gravity, or the square-cube law) is essentially costless. Some beliefs are essentially private, while others have more direct policy implications. Why not believe, or disbelieve, these things? Because denying evolution or climate change or systemic racial bias has large social or political effects. Some beliefs are essentially private, while others have more direct policy implications..
“Thinking about evolution, which comes closer to your view? Humans and other living things have evolved over time [or] Humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time?”
The proportion of respondents in the United States who answered “Evolved over time,” 64%, was below the median of 74% Acceptance of evolution was lower only in Poland (59%), Singapore (59%), India (56%), Brazil (54%), and Malaysia (43%), while it was higher in South Korea (70%), Russia (71%), Australia (72%), the United Kingdom (73%), Taiwan (74%), Italy (75%), Canada (77%), the Netherlands (77%), France (81%), Germany (81%), the Czech Republic (82%), Sweden (85%), Spain (87%), and Japan (88%).