I'll attempt to summarise the creationist myths and add my refutations of them here. As one would expect of creationism, some of them are blatant lies whilst others stem from scientific ignorance about which many creationists seem inordinately proud as though they imagine their god appreciates ignorance about the world they believe it created. All of them pander to the desire of creationists to elevate themselves to a level of importance which requires a Universe to be created especially for them and for them to have a close personal relationship with their imagined creator of it.
The theory is wrong because the Bible is inerrant and says all living things were created.The Bible contains mutually exclusive contradictions and demonstrable factual inaccuracies which means it cannot possibly be regarded as inerrant. For example, the Bible says Earth is fixed and immoveable, that the sky is solid with the stars stuck to it and the stars can be shaken off by earthquakes. It also says the Moon shines with its own light; Earth is flat and the highest mountain would be covered by water covering the entire Earth to a depth of only 15 cubits (about 45 feet).
Clearly, the Bible cannot be both inerrant and wrong, and if it can be wrong about cosmology and and geology it can also be wrong about biology.
Accepting evolution undermines morality.In fact, highly religious societies tend to be highly aggressive and intolerant of those who disagree with them. Religion has been used to excuse racism including slavery, repression and ill-treatment of women, denial of opportunity to disabled and handicapped people, genocide, imperialism, autocracy and denial of basic human rights.
On the other hand, secular societies and societies such as Sweden, where non-belief and acceptance of evolution is the norm, are more peaceful and have less crime than highly religious societies such as the USA.
Where Darwinian evolution has been used to justify racism it has invariably been a perverted version called 'social Darwinism' which, ironically, was the only form of Darwinism embraced by the same political right who now purport to be Christian fundamentalist creationists.
Whether or not Darwinian evolution does or doesn't support this or that political cause has nothing to do with whether it's right or wrong. Atomic theory is no less right because nuclear war would be undesirable and the Theory of Gravity is no less true because falling off high buildings is harmful. The consequences of a fact do not speak to the validity of that fact. The Universe is not obliged to conform to our desires. It takes a special form of arrogance to argue that facts must be wrong because one doesn't like the consequences. It's as though creationists are under the impression that they have some control over reality and can declare it to be as they wish it to be, and if they ignore it it will change or go away.
But the evidence is that people do not become selfish or psychopathic when they learn about evolution and societies do not break down irretrievably when evolution is taught in schools. The argument that humans need threats and rewards to behave decently says far more about the morality of those who argue it than it does about those whom they falsely assume would behave the way they would if they weren't too afraid to.
Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be blasphemed. Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful to them on the ground that they are members of the church; rather they must serve them all the more, since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved.
Evolutionary theory leads to racism and genocide.This is another form of the argument from consequences which we saw above. Evolution theory is descriptive, not prescriptive. It does not tell us what is ethical or unethical - and neither does the Theory of Gravity.
Some political vested interest groups have exploited ignorant populations into following murderous and racist policies by selling them a spurious scientific rationale based on a perverted form of Darwinian evolutionary theory. At other times and in other places the same political vested interest groups have used religion as the pretext for their inhumanity as can be seen from the history of the growth of Fascism in Europe and Japan in the early twentieth century which owed far more to political Catholicism and Shintoism than to science.
The commonality here is the credulous and ignorant population they are fooling into following them. Remaining ignorant of something like biology can do nothing the rectify that problem.
In fact a basic understanding of evolution shows that cooperation is far more likely to be the successful strategy than ruthless competition. Replicators only formed simple cells by cooperating with other replicators and complex cells only evolved as cooperative alliances of simple cells. Complex multicellular animals evolved as cooperative alliances of complex single cells and almost all species rely on various degrees of cooperative alliances with other species to form ecosystems. From the 'point of view' of a successful alliance of genes, even predation is a form of cooperation since predators differentially remove competing alleles. Altruism is a consequence of 'selfish' genes because it tends to lead to more survivors of those genes in future generations and human societies only succeed as cooperative societies.
As to human ethics and innate human morality, that can be understood in evolutionary terms as the successful memes of an evolving, intelligent ape evolving in a hostile environment, where memes are the cultural equivalent of the biological genes subject to analogous selection pressures and so tending towards fitness for purpose in that environment.
But the basic flaw in this argument is the same as the one above: the consequences of a fact have no bearing on its factuality. Evolution by natural selection will occur regardless of whether anyone like it or not and regardless of whether unscrupulous people use it to exploit and manipulate people's ignorance of it.
Religion and evolution are incompatible.I don't propose to spend much time on this argument which is yet another form of the argument from consequences seen above. It is the equivalent of arguing that reality is incompatible with the way I would like it to be. If this line of argument didn't have the cloak of religious respectability it would be seen as a form of insanity.
Since religions are man-made dogmas with no supporting evidence, they can be compatible with reality to the degree to which the believer wants them to be. If any science, not just evolution, is incompatible with any religion then that is a valid reason for arguing that the religion is wrong. Indeed, how else are we to tell if a religion is right or wrong about anything if we don't compare it to reality?
We know that creationism isn't compatible with biological science. When creationists complain that their religion isn't compatible with science they are telling us their religion is wrong. We know that already.
Half a wing is no use.Well, yes it is, actually.
In the ancestors of birds, the bipedal theropod dinosaurs, feathers evolved from scales, probably for heat conservation or for incubating eggs. Later, the feathers of the forelimbs could have been used when running or climbing and then for gliding and then for powered flight. Each stage would have conveyed a benefit and each would have been useful.
Insect wings could have evolved from gills or aids to gliding on the surface of water, much as stoneflies do today. No stage would have been useless and each would have conveyed a benefit.
Bats could have evolved elongated phalanges on their forelimbs and retained the embryonic webbing all mammals have, as an aid to gliding between trees or to reduce the danger of injury when falling. Again, a series of small steps can be seen, each of which would have been beneficial and none of which would have involved a loss of function.
Another way complex structures can evolve is by exaptation of existing structures. This is the utilisation of a structure evolved for one purpose for an unrelated function. This can explain the evolution of structures such as the flagellum in early cells and and the other 'irreducibly complex' structures so beloved of 'Intelligent Design' creationists. Structures can be assembled from other pre-existing structures, all of which evolved independently for other purposes. Presumably a creationist would look at a chair being used to stand on to reach a high shelf and conclude that it was designed for reaching high shelves, or that a screwdriver being used to open a paint tin was designed as a paint tin opener.
In fact, this argument is merely an argument from ignorance and a god of the gaps. Even if we did not know how structures like wings, eyes and flagella evolved, this ignorance would not be evidence that a magic man in the sky made them.
Evolution is not predictive.Well no, not in the same sense that we can predict the trajectory of a missile from Newtonian Laws of Motion or the orbit of a planet from Einsteinian Relativity.
But then we can't tell from our knowledge of geology and plate tectonics exactly what Earth will be like in 10 million years time or what the weather will be in London, Moscow or New York this time next year. However, we know that weather patterns are as you would expect them to be according to chaos theory, and that part of that pattern is unpredictability which increases with time.
Similarly, we know that what we see today as diversified life forms are what we would expect to see given the effects of small changes accumulated over time with environmental pressures acting on small variations in the genome. We also know that organisms subjected to experimental selection pressures in laboratories will diversify from the original type in similar patterns.
However, evolution theory has made predictions which could be tested and which have proved correct. Darwin himself realised that Earth must be far older than the accepted religious dogma of his day said for there to have been enough time for life to have evolved to it's present level of diversity. In fact, it turned out to be even older that he realised and far older than the few thousand years Christianity claimed on the basis of some primitive Bronze-Age creation myths.
When Lord Kelvin wrongly calculated that Earth was only about 30 million years old because he thought it would have cooled down by now if any older, this was thought by some to have falsified evolution by natural selection because 30 million years wasn't long enough. As predicted by the Theory of Evolution, Lord Kelvin turned out to be wrong and Earth turned out to have a heat source from radioactive decay about which he knew nothing. Earth is now known to have an age which is entirely compatible with the TOE.
Other scientists had calculated that the sun was only some 20 million years old, again not enough time for evolution of life on Earth as we now see it. It turned out that they were wrong because they had not known about nuclear fusion. The sun was the age predicted by the TOE and the physics was naive.
For the sun's heat to be formed by nuclear fusion it had to form in a very much older Universe and not one in which the sun was formed at the same time as the Universe. It has turned out that the Universe is as old as the theory predicts.
For related terrestrial species to be living on unconnected land-masses and yet to have evolved from a common ancestor the land-masses must once have been in contact. When Darwin and Wallace made their discoveries known to science it was assumed that Earth had been created pretty much as we see it today. The idea that land-masses move about over time was not generally accepted until the mid twentieth-century. We now know that land-masses split and move by plate tectonics and that the splits occurred at exactly the right time for related species to become separated at the right time in their evolution.
Other instances of the TOE making accurate predictions are the evolution of drug-resistant bacterial pathogens, the discovery of Tiktaalik fossils of the right type and in the right rock formations, and the prediction that 'Piltdown Man' would turn out to be a forgery, made by a friend of mine, the Late Professor Sir Wilfred Le Gros Clarke, the leading evolutionary palaeoanthropologist of his day.
Evolution cannot be disproved so is not science.It seems creationists confuse not being falsified with not being falsifiable.
It's certainly true that the Theory of Evolution has never been falsified. On the contrary, every discovery of every fossil has been entirely consistent with the theory. It would take just a few fossils clearly out of kilter with what the TOE predicts for it to be falsified. Mammals with feathers; boney fish older than cartilaginous fish; amphibians older than boney fish; arthropods with vertebrate bones or muscles or flowering plants predating insects. None of these have ever been found.
By contrast there is not a single piece of evidence for intelligent design such as one might expect of an intelligent designer. Organisms have masses of redundancy in their genomes and in vestigial structures which serve no purpose and there is no evidence of a designer developing something like flight, vision or a central nervous system for one order of living things then using it for another order. For example, bat and bird wings serve the same purpose so why design them twice?
Nor is there evidence of an improved design such as the cephalopod eye being used to benefit mammals with their less efficient eyes or mammals benefitting from the improved visual acuity of birds such as eagles and hawks or from the much more efficient respiratory systems of birds. Even within the mammals, sonar navigation in bats and dolphins appears to have evolved twice and none of the aquatic mammals or reptiles such as whales and turtles have evolved gills or even lungs suitable for breathing water.
The simple reason for this is because evolution going in reverse means a loss of function and the driving mechanism of undirected, unintelligent, natural selection makes this impossible. This is not a problem for an intelligent designer and would be a sure-fire sign of intelligence being involved, and yet we never see it happening.
Evolution is just so unlikely to produce complex organisms.This argument plays to an ignorant audience, especially one which assumes the process of evolution is a single event happening by pure random chance. This is the same audience which believes the fact that chimpanzees never give birth to human babies or the fact that chimpanzees never suddenly turn into humans, are arguments against evolution. In reality, of course, it's an argument against the ignorance and stupidity which causes creationism.
Ironically, the TOE is the best available explanation of just how improbabilities are concentrated up an improbability gradient by a series of small steps, each of which is subjected to selection by the environment in which evolution is happening.
All that is required for evolution to be inevitable is three things to occur:
Does anyone doubt that all these are present in nature?
In a population of several million, a million to one chance mutation will occur on average several time every generation. If this gives an advantage to the carrier then the chances of it being inherited by the next generation is better than the chances of the non-mutated allele so the chances of that mutation appearing in the next generation are now better than a million to one. As each generation passes through the sieve of natural selection so favourable improbabilities are concentrated until they become the norm in the genepool.
What creationists are doing here is the equivalent of taking a pack of cards and shuffling it, then calculating the odds of achieving exactly that sequence at any single shuffle. The odds are so small that you will almost certainly never achieve that same sequence again. They then conclude that it must have been done by magic.
And yet you did it once with no magic involved and by a perfectly rational process.
The trick creationist pseudo-scientists are pulling is to assume that life had to be just as we see it today rather like assuming the sequence obtained by the first shuffle of the deck of cards had to be that particular sequence.
Evolution is a purely random process.It's amusing to see creationists redefining some aspect or other of science in order to ridicule it. No matter how often you explain what evolution is they invariably fall back on an infantile parody definition because they find that easier to attack.
This favourite parody allows them to argue that evolution theory is the equivalent of claiming that a tornado blowing through a junkyard will assemble a Boeing 747, as the astronomer Chandra Wickramasinghe once told an Arkansas court, quoting without credit another astronomer, Fred Hoyle. But which evolutionary scientists ever argued that evolution is a process by which species spontaneously assemble from a jumble of parts?
Which just goes to show that if you want to know what evolution is, ask a biologist, not an astronomer, especially one who fails to credit the person he is plagiarising.
Perhaps a good way to answer this particular parody is to quote Michael Le Page of the New Scientist:
A somewhat better analogy would be starting with a million junkyards, painstakingly testing the wreckage left in each one after the tornado to find the most flight worthy, making a million exact copies of that junkyard, unleashing another million tornadoes, running another series of exhaustive tests, and so on, until you produce some kind of machine - no matter how crude and un-Boeing-747-like - capable of flying at least a few yards.
The only thing I would disagree with here is the phrase, 'making a million exact copies'. In fact it's occasional slight imperfections in replication that gives the variation on which natural selection operates. But of course there is still the assumption that the process is intended to produce a flying machine. All Evolution produces is something which is more likely to produce copies of itself. There is no plan to make something in particular.
|Frequency of lactase persistence|
Mutations can only destroy information, not create it.This claim is nonsense and flies in the face of evidence and reason. The confusion seems to come from a confusion over the difference between information, as it applies to Claude Channon's information theory, and meaning. At its basic level, a simple mutation in DNA substituting one base for another simply means insert this amino acid in a protein chain instead of that amino acid. The amount of information in the DNA is the same but the meaning has changed.
If that new protein happens to be better at doing whatever the protein being coded for does, then the mutation will be advantageous. If, as is more likely, it makes it worse or inactivates it completely, and that proves to be disadvantageous to the carrier, the mutation will be quickly eliminated by natural selection. The other possibility is that the mutation will make no difference at all, so its frequency in the genepool over time will tend to drift in no particular direction.
Another way in which new information can arise is by accidental duplication of a chunk of DNA. If this includes an active gene then there will now be two copies of that gene, one of which can continue to code for whatever it originally coded for while the other can mutate without any loss of function.
Examples of mutations creating new information in human evolution, or in the evolution of our ancestors, are the evolution of lactase persistence by which infants fail to become lactose intolerant (and so stop breast-feeding, switching off a natural contraception in mothers). In the presence of milk from domesticated cattle this allowed populations to benefit from the available cattle milk especially as a substitute for breast milk, so women could have more babies and adults had a ready source of nutrition. The incidence of the lactase persistence mutation closely follows the incidence of cattle domestication, which in turn closely follows the absence of tsetse flies which are vectors for a parasite which is harmful to domestic cattle. The meaning of the information produced by the mutation is different in different environments.
Incidentally, lactase persistence is an example of the same process evolving more than once in the same species as different lactase persistent populations have different mutations causing it. Where is the intelligent design there?
Similarly, the presence of a mutation which broke the synthesis of Vitamin C in one of our fruit-eating simian ancestors with a high level of Vitamin C in their diet meant they didn't need to actively excrete so much surplus Vitamin C. So now, all the descendants of that species need to eat a Vitamin C-rich diet or they get scurvy and this defect maps exactly onto the particular branch of the family tree based on other evidence. All of the members of that particular branch, including humans still have the first three stages of the metabolic pathway for making Vitamin C that nearly all other mammals have, but the process fails because a single enzyme used in the fourth stage is broken due to a mutation in the gene which codes for it.
Other relatively recent examples include a mutation which allowed Han Chinese to live at high altitude on the Tibetan Plateau and a mutation which conveyed a resistance to the prion causing kuru in a New Guinea tribe, which is closely related to the prion causing mad cow disease in cows, scrapie in sheep and Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease in humans. In the absence of this diseases, that mutation would be entirely meaningless although the amount of 'information' in the DNA would be unchanged.
If creationists argue that new information cannot arise in DNA because it would contravene information theory and the laws of thermodynamics then you can be sure they haven't understood the nature of information in DNA, Information Theory and/or the Laws of Thermodynamics, most probably all three.
All biologists are Darwinists and Darwin is the ultimate authority on Evolution.This probably comes from the tendency of creationists to assume all scientists, like creationists, defer to a book, or the author of a book as the ultimate source of all knowledge, and that what that book says is sacrosanct.
No serious scientists would argue that any earlier scientist was infallible and some sort of ultimate authority, otherwise science would never progress. All science is open to review, revision and reassessment in the light of new information. The way to fame and fortune, or at least to international recognition, possible prizes and good job offers, is to challenge an established theory. In fact, the progress of science can be seen as a Darwinian struggle between ideas, battling for dominance in the memepool of scientific opinion.
Darwin knew nothing of genes or Mendelian Laws of Inheritance and was very much a child of his time complete with many cultural assumptions then prevalent in middle class English society, most of which had a foundation in Christianity and especially Anglicanism. It's not surprising therefore that he was wrong about a number of things.
What modern biologist acknowledge however is that Darwin's and Wallace's ideas on evolution by descent with modification produced by natural selection is the great unifying theory underpinning all of biology. Other scientists are also belatedly coming to accept that any system in which there is replication, variation and selection is also subject to evolution and that Darwinian Evolution can explain how small differences, accumulated over time, can lead to large changes and explains how systems can have the appearance of being designed without the need to invoke magic, intelligence or a directing agent of any sort.
The bacterial flagellum is irreducibly complex.This of course was the creationist biochemist Michael Behe's version of the argument from ignorance and the god of the gaps. In his book, Darwin's Black Box he stated (wrongly) that science could not explain how a structure like the flagellum of the Escherichia coli bacteria could not have evolved in stages because it only works when fully assembled. Although not explicitly stated, given his Christian fundamentalism and close association with the Discovery Institute, the conclusion was obvious - it must have been designed and created by the Christian god.
In fact we know that thousands of different flagella are to be found in nature and that they vary considerably in design and structure. However, only 23 of the 40 or so proteins found in the E. coli flagellum are common to all these so, contrary to creationist claims, far from being irreducibly complex, the flagellum structure can obviously be considerably changed and still function. The alternative is to conclude that the intelligent designer designed the same thing thousands of times and came up with a different design each time.
A far more parsimonious explanation is that flagella evolved from assemblies of pre-existing structures evolved to do something else - a process of exaptation. It is known that some of the proteins involved also have other functions within the cell, and the proton motor which rotates the flagellum could have evolved from a proton pump.
A useful analogy is to think of a stone arch which is held up only when the keystone in the centre of the arch is inserted. Presumably, a creationist would look at such an arch and conclude that it couldn't have been assembled one brick at a time and must have magically come together as a single event. In fact, it is built one stone at a time around a scaffold which is then removed because once the keystone is in place, the scaffolding is redundant. There is no reason at all why the flagellum could not have evolved by such a process as a refinement to a pre-existing structure which evolved earlier and has since atrophied or been exapted to some other function because the organism could do without it.
One amusing consequence of Behe's notion regarding E. coli, given his unswerving devotion to the notion of an omnibenevolent, omniscient god, is that he is actually arguing that this god, whom he believes loves his special creation, humanity and created a Universe just for them, with all other life there simple for mankind's benefit, is that some strains of E. coli are harmful and some can be lethal. They are aided in this by their flagella. Behe is arguing that the omnibenevolent intelligent designer must have designed the E. coli flagellum to make it easier for them to do us harm.
Evolution is just a theory.This lie appeals to the scientifically illiterate who don't understand the difference between the different meaning of the word 'theory' as used by science and colloquially. Colloquially, a theory is an idea or notion which need not have any supporting evidence and which may or may not explain something real. For example, "I have a theory that green fairies grow apple trees on top of Mount Everest", "I have a theory that all conspiracy theories are invented by a secret Pentagon committee".
In science, a theory is an explanation, supported by evidence, observation and experimental data to explain an observed phenomenon. The Theory of Evolution is a scientific theory which explain the observed fact of evolution.
Darwin recanted on his deathbed.This is a lie. It was a claim first made by Lady Hope who was not present when Darwin died. Others who were present confirmed that no such event ever took place.
But it is irelevent to the truth anyway. It would not change the way the Universe works if Einstein had recanted Relativity or Newton had recanted Principia Mathematica and it would not change how evolution works if Darwin had changed his mind. Scientific theories stand or fall by the evidence for or against them, not on the authority of one man.
There are no transitional fossils.This lie simply flies in the face of the evidence. Anyone making this claim is either too ignorant to be taken seriously or is an outright liar. In fact, one of the current problem with working out the precise details of the evolution of modern humans is that there are too many transitional fossils if anything. Every fossil ever found is in fact transitional in that it represents a snapshot of the species at that point in time.
There are serious problems with the theory of evolution.Creationists like to present any disagreement or uncertainty about the finer details of the TOE as fatal flaws. In fact, science is currently unable to resolve the differences between Relativity and Quantum mechanics but no sane person would happily step off a high building confident that gravity isn't true because there is a flaw in the theory explaining it. The TOE has withstood every advance in scientific knowledge since it was first proposed. Almost all advances in biology have strengthened and confirmed the theory and none of them have seriously challenged the basic principles. This claim can be made for few other scientific theories including Newton's Laws of Motion and the Law of the Conservation of Matter, both of which were overthrown by Relativity.
If we all evolved from apes, why are there still apes around in this world?This question barely deserves an answer. The only conclusion one can draw about those who ask it is that they are appallingly ignorant of the subject and highly unlikely to want an answer.
Evolution can occur independently in populations which become geographically isolated and according to local conditions. This is almost certainly what happened when the Australopithecines diverged from chimpanzees and evolved in South and East African savannah whilst the chimpanzees evolved in the jungles of West Africa. Australopithecines then diverged into several species, one of which was ancestral to the Homo genus.
Evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics.To quote Michael Le Page:
The second law of thermodynamics states that entropy, a measure of randomness, cannot decrease in an isolated system. Our planet is not an isolated system.
Er, that's it. There are longer ways of saying the same thing if you prefer.
Incidentally, it's good to see the great P. Z. Myers' blog Pharyngula linked to in a New Scientist article.