Refutation of Boyce Rensberger's anti-creationist Washington Post article:
‘How Science Responds When Creationists Criticize Evolution’, Jan. 8, 1997.
With point-by-point response by Dr Jonathan D. Sarfati, Ph.D., F.M. on behalf of the Creation Ministries International, Brisbane, Australia.
This article has been the subject of many questions by readers of the CMI site. It is not surprising that Christians should be concerned when a major newspaper prints such an article, by an author who has been writing about science for laymen for 30 years. However, it's disappointing that an experienced science writer seems not to have researched most creationist literature, and his arguments are not hard to rebut.
The main headings come from Rensberger's article, as supposedly typical creationist arguments he purports to refute. Throughout the article are links to other sites with more information. The books referred to are available from the online bookstore.
[Boyce Rensberger] Maybe you've encountered them, the perfectly nice people who stop you with a statement like, 'Well, you know, evolution is just a theory, and it's very controversial, even among scientists.' Or maybe they say, 'There's no way a bunch of gears and springs in a junk pile could suddenly fall together by accident and become a working watch. The existence of a watch tells you there had to be an intelligent watchmaker.'
[Jonathan Sarfati] Ever seen a watch which didn't arise from a watchmaker?
[BR] Sometimes, they'll stump you by asserting that, on his deathbed, Charles Darwin renounced his theory of evolution.
[JS] Some would, many wouldn't. See below.
[BR] Usually the people who say these things mean well. But the statements are based on a faulty understanding of biology.
[JS] Well, we'll see ...
[BR] Unfortunately, many of us challenged by those who call themselves creationists are not well prepared to respond.
[JS] Yes, the level of ignorance of the creationist arguments, thanks to the atheistic censorship of ideas in biology education, means that people aren't used to them.
[BR] But science has good answers to these challenges to the theory of evolution.
[JS] Note the language of propaganda. 'Science' is equated with evolution/naturalism, i.e. everything made itself. 'God', if He even exists, had nothing to do with it.
However, the whole basis for modern science depends on the assumption that the universe was made by a rational creator. Dr Stanley Jaki has documented how the scientific method was still-born in all cultures apart from the Judeo-Christian culture in Europe [Stanley Jaki, Science and Creation (Edinburgh and London: Scottish Academic Press, 1974)]. An orderly universe makes perfect sense if it was made by an orderly Creator. But if there is no creator, or if Zeus and his gang were in charge, why should there be any order at all? Loren Eiseley stated:
‘The philosophy of experimental science … began its discoveries and made use of its methods in the faith, not the knowledge, that it was dealing with a rational universe controlled by a creator who did not act upon whim nor interfere with the forces He had set in operation … It is surely one of the curious paradoxes of history that science, which professionally has little to do with faith, owes its origins to an act of faith that the universe can be rationally interpreted, and that science today is sustained by that assumption.’
Loren Eiseley: Darwin's Century: Evolution and the Men who Discovered It, Doubleday, Anchor, NY (1961).
Most branches of modern science were founded by believers in creation. The list of creationist scientists is impressive. A sample:
- Physics: Newton, Faraday, Maxwell, Kelvin
- Chemistry: Boyle, Dalton, Ramsay
- Biology: Ray, Linnaeus, Mendel, Pasteur, Virchow, Agassiz
- Geology: Steno, Woodward, Brewster, Buckland, Cuvier
- Astronomy: Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Herschel, Maunder
- Mathematics: Pascal, Leibnitz
Even today, many scientists reject particles-to-people evolution (i.e. everything made itself). The staff scientists working at the Creation Science Foundation have published many scientific papers in our own fields. Dr Russell Humphreys, a physicist working with Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, has over 20 articles in physics journals, while Dr John Baumgardner's catastrophic plate tectonics theory was published in Nature. Dr Edward Boudreaux of the University of New Orleans has published 26 articles and four books in physical chemistry. Dr Maciej Giertych, Head of the Department of Genetics at the Institute of Dendrology of the Polish Academy of Sciences, has published 90 papers in scientific journals. Dr Aw Swee-Eng was Associate Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Singapore, and is now Head of the Department of Nuclear Medicine and Director of Clinical Research at Singapore General Hospital. So an oft-repeated charge that no real scientist rejects evolution is completely without foundation.
C.S. Lewis pointed out that even our ability to reason would be called into question if atheistic evolution were true:
‘If the solar system was brought about by an accidental collision, then the appearance of organic life on this planet was also an accident, and the whole evolution of Man was an accident too. If so, then all our thought processes are mere accidents — the accidental by-product of the movement of atoms. And this holds for the materialists and astronomers as well as for anyone else's. But if their thoughts — i.e. of Materialism and — are merely accidental by-products, why should we believe them to be true? I see no reason for believing that one accident should be able to give a correct account of all the other accidents.’
C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970) pp. 52–53.
Ed. note: see also the Creationist Biographies page, published long after this reply was written.
[BR] First, there's absolutely no controversy within science about the reality of evolution.
[JS] Rensberger really means 'within evolutionary science'. As shown above, there are many well-qualified scientists who disagree with him.
[BR] There is a well accepted, solidly established body of evidence showing that evolution is real and, although knowledge of some mechanisms is incomplete, much is known about how evolution works.
[JS] That's a common argument. 'We know for a fact that evolution occurred. We just aren't sure how it occurred'. Well, creationists 'know for a fact that creation has occurred. We just aren't sure how it occurred'. Yet because we can't be sure of the mechanism God used to create, we are chided for invoking something unscientific. Yet evolutionists are in the same boat.
[BR] From this body of information we've drawn answers to some of the most common challenges issued by creationists. Take that last one, about Darwin on his deathbed. Not only is it irrelevant to whether evolution is true, the statement is false.
[JS] Actually, Rensberger is shooting down a straw man here. Most creationist organisations would agree with that. See Russell M. Grigg, Did Darwin Recant?, Creation18(1):36–37, Dec. 1995-Feb. 96.
[BR] For one thing, Darwin would have had no motive to recant. Before the great naturalist died in 1882, he had the satisfaction of knowing that the Church of England and several other Christian denominations had declared there to be no conflict between his theory and the church's teachings. Indeed, Darwin, an evolutionist to the end, was laid to rest in the hallowed ground of Westminster Abbey.
[JS] Yes, this is unfortunately true. Darwin was laid in the foundation of the Abbey, although as Rensberger has pointed out elsewhere, ‘he was the arch unbeliever of his age.’ So instead of God's written Word, the 66 books of Scripture, Darwinism is now foundational to much of Anglican Church teaching. No wonder many of its leaders are now apostate (although there are still many sound Anglican churches). Doubting the doctrine of Creation leads to doubting other vital doctrines, like the Fall and Redemption. Bishops like John A.T. Robinson and David Jenkins even deny the Virginal Conception and Resurrection of Jesus Christ! The Anglican Confirmation Notebook shows the baneful effects of evolution on Christianity.
‘The Garden of Eden is a “myth” from the viewpoint of anthropology it is exceedingly unlikely that there ever was a First Man and Woman.
‘Human beings are the result of evolution, and shaped by natural selection. Self-centredness and aggression were essential at every stage of evolution. Human beings naturally inherit this self-centredness (“original sin’).
‘What the Cross is not The Son standing in my place to take the punishment that I ought to have. Such a view is immoral. In any case no one person could suffer the whole world's punishments.’
Bishop Hugh Montefiore, editor, Confirmation Notebook, SPCK, 1984
[BR] In the generations since, most major denominations within the Christian, Jewish and Islamic traditions have found Darwinian evolution compatible with their religious beliefs.
[JS] Unfortunately, many so-called versions of these religions are really perversions, and are little distinguishable from atheism. For more information, see the question: 'Creation / Evolution - What are the issues for the Church?', at the Christian Answers Network.
[BR] The statement by Pope John Paul II in November that evolution was more than a hypothesis was the fourth acceptance of evolution by the Roman Catholic Church.
[JS] See the above site, question 'What is the significance of the Pope's recent support of evolution?'. However, although the pope is known to have evolutionary ideas, it's probable that the secular media misinterpreted the Pope's address. The original French address says:
'Aujourd'hui, près d'un demisiècle après la parution de l'encyclique, de nouvelles connaisances conduisent a reconnaître dans la théorie de l'évolution plus qu'une hypothèse.'
'Today, almost half a century after the publication of the Encyclical [Humani generis, 1950], new knowledge has led to the recognition of more than one hypothesis in the theory of evolution.'
The trouble is, the French word 'une' can mean 'a' or 'one'. The secular media translated it 'a' hypothesis, while the official RC newspaper L'Osservatore Romano translated it as 'one'. There are RC creationist groups in the US, Europe and Australia. Prominent living RC creationists include Drs Boudreaux and Giertych (see above).
[BR] For some people, fundamentalist Protestants most prominently, the issue likewise has been settled but with the opposite verdict. For them, Genesis, however poetic, never uses metaphor or simile to tell the story of how the world and its inhabitants came to be. To them, the Bible is a scientific document to be taken literally. If science makes a claim counter to the Bible, creationists say it is automatically understood that science is wrong and a literal reading of the Scripture is right.
[JS] Again, this is a straw man. Creationists do not always take the bible 'literally'. We prefer the term ‘plain’ interpretation. Plain interpretation does not exclude the use of figures of speech. Indeed, a figure of speech may communicate more clearly, but what it communicates is plain. In other words, behind every figure of speech is a plain meaning, and that is what the interpreter seeks.
But there is good reason to believe that the plain meaning of Genesis is a straightforward historical account of creation in six normal earth-rotation days. In fact, this is the justification for the Fourth Commandment in Exodus 20:11. See the question ‘Six days? Honestly!’ on the above site for more information.
[BR] Creationists believe that God created each kind of living thing independently and instantaneously about 6,000 years ago and all during the first six days.
[JS] That's correct, since that is what a plain reading of Scripture teaches.
[BR] Evolutionists believe that all living things are descended, through a cumulative series of genetic changes, from one common ancestor, or perhaps a few ancestors. The first ancestors would have been primitive, self-replicating, cell-like structures that arose more than 3.5 billion years ago. Evolutionists are, however, quite far from explaining how the first living thing arose.
[JS] Not surprising, because the fundamental law of biology, the Law of Biogenesis, says that life comes only from other life. There are many chemical hurdles to be overcome before non-living matter could organise itself into life. Normal chemistry moves in the opposite direction - living things die when they lose the battle against normal chemical degradation. For a very thorough treatment of chemical and thermodynamic objections to evolutionary origin-of-life theories, see Thaxton, C. B., Bradley, W. L. & Olsen, R. L., The Mystery of Life’s Origin, Copyright 1984, Foundation for thought and Ethics, published by Lewis & Stanley, Dallas, TX. An excellent and up-to-date summary is Aw, S.E., The Origin of Life: A Critique of Current Scientific Models, Journal of Creation 10(3):300–314, 1996. See also the book excerpts by Dr A.E. Wilder-Smith on Technical/In-depth [Creationist] Papers at: papers
[BR] Herewith are criticisms you may hear, drawn from creationists and their literature, and responses based on what scientists have learned. What follows is not an attack on creationism but a defence of evolutionism.
Evolution is just a theory; it hasn't been proved
[BR] Well, yes, evolution is a theory, but not in the way that critics think. When scientists refer to it as the 'theory of evolution,' the wording does not mean that they doubt it's true. Evolution has been nailed down about as solidly as anything can be in science. The confusion arises because in science 'theory' means more than 'hypothesis.' A hypothesis is a speculation or a prediction. Experiments or observations are needed to verify it. A theory, on the other hand, is a broad explanation for a class of phenomena. It generally is bigger and grander than a single hypothesis, even one that has passed all tests.
Thus, atomic theory is the coherent set of explanations of the structure and behavior of atoms. Einstein's theory of relativity has passed every experimental test but still is called a theory.
In science, an explanation becomes a theory if it is internally consistent, always agrees with observations and can be used to make testable predictions (hypotheses). Within a theory may be 'laws,' which can be expressed more tersely, often with mathematical equations.
[JS] I also think that creationists should not say 'Evolution is just a theory'. The problem about calling evolution 'a theory' is that scientists use the word differently from laymen, as shown above. It should be noted that many publications of ICR and CSF point this out, so Rensberger is knocking down another straw man. I don't like to group the evolution conjecture alongside the Theory of Relativity, Newton's Theory of Gravity, the Debye-Hückel theory of electrolytes, etc. All of these have strong experimental support, although Newton's theory has been augmented by Einstein's. In contrast, evolution of life from non-living matter and from one type of organism to a different type has not the slightest experimental/observational support.
[BR] So, has evolution been proved true? Strictly speaking, no. It is an accepted fact of scientific logic that you can never prove something true. Experiments and observations can only falsify theories or hypotheses.
Scientists insist on many tests of a hypothesis, the results all tending in the same direction before they accept it as probably true. The more evidence, the more acceptable it is and the higher the probability of truth.
Still, in science there is no such thing as 100 percent certainty. The evidence for evolution is so overwhelming that scientists say the probability of it being true approaches 100 percent. The fact that creationists say they are fully 100 percent certain of their view is based not on scientific evidence but, as their own literature says, on their faith in the literal truth of Genesis, which gives rise to doubts about the scientific case.
[JS] Quite so. Therefore it makes good sense to base our life on what was revealed by One who was there and who knows everything, than on unbelieving scientists who weren't there and don't know everything.
[BR] In fact, evolution has massive amounts of supporting evidence from many fields of science--anatomy, geology, animal behavior, paleontology and even molecular biology.
[JS] Like many evolutionists, Rensberger is fond of bald assertions and arguments from authority, just the thing he chides creationists for.
The odds against random chance producing a complex organism from lifeless ingredients are astronomic
[BR] If chance were the only factor, this would be true. But chance is only one of two key players, and the other, natural selection, is decidedly not random. It favors species better adapted to their environments and kills off those less suitable. The process applies to all living things.
[JS] But natural selection as (more or less correctly) described by Rensberger below works only with self-reproducing entities. It therefore cannot explain the origin of these self-reproducing entities. Even the simplest self-reproducing organism has 482 genes coding for enzymes about 400 amino acids long on average. Each enzyme must have a precise sequence to function properly. There are 20 different types of amino acid used in enzymes. Even if only 10 units had to be exactly right in each enzyme, the chance of getting the full set by ordinary random polymerisation reactions is one in 106271 (one followed by 6271 zeroes). This is indeed effectively nil when one realises that the number of atoms in the universe is only about 1080 (one followed by 80 zeroes).
(Actually, it is questionable whether a parasite like Mycoplasma is really self-reproducing. Many evolutionists and creationists argue that it arose by degeneration from a more advanced bacterium which was truly self-reproducing. If so, the odds are stacked even more against evolutionists.)
[BR] Here's how it works. Every generation usually produces more offspring than can survive, given limited supplies of food, water, space and other resources in a given habitat. For no species are Earth's natural resources unlimited. Individuals must compete with other members of their own species for these resources.
The offspring, however, are slightly different from one another in genetic endowment. Because of mutations in genes—here's the only random part—siblings differ in various subtle ways.
As a result, individuals that happen to inherit traits that give them an advantage automatically will be more likely to survive than their relatives lacking the trait.
They probably will have more offspring, and the offspring will inherit the genetic trait.
Far from being random, natural selection ensures that the only players in what Darwin called the 'struggle for existence' are those that have passed all previous tests.
[JS] See — natural selection requires entities complex enough to reproduce themselves. Note that creationists accept natural selection, and even discussed it before Darwin. But natural selection is not evolution. Evolution requires the generation of new information, while natural selection sorts and can remove information due to loss of genetic diversity. Natural selection can select variation, but cannot account for the origin of variation.
[BR] The fossil record is rife with gaps where evolution says there should be intermediate forms.
Far from it. Paleontologists have found many transitional fossils representing intermediate forms in the evolution of one major form of life into another.
[JS] This is pure assertion. Dr Colin Patterson, Senior Paleontologist at the British Museum of Natural History, was asked why he had included no transitional forms in his book on evolution. He replied:
'… I fully agree with your comments on the lack of direct illustration of evolutionary transitions in my book. If I knew of any, fossil or living, I would certainly have included them … Yet Gould and the American Museum people are hard to contradict when they say there are no transitional fossils … I will lay it on the line there is not one such fossil for which one could make a watertight argument.'
Dr Colin Patterson, letter to Luther D. Sunderland, 10 April, 1979, as published in Darwin's Enigma, Master Books, 1984, p.89.
Rensberger avoids discussing the vast gulf between non-living matter and the first living cell, single-celled and multicelled creatures, and invertebrates and vertebrates. The gaps between these groups should be enough to show that molecules-to-man evolution is without foundation. But most evolutionists concentrate on a few specimens which they claim are intermediate, as below:
[BR] There are, for example, excellent skeletons of extinct animals showing the transitions from primitive fish to bony fish,
[JS] This is asserted, not documented. But according to Todd,
'All three divisions of the bony fishes appear in the fossil record at approximately the same time. They are already widely divergent morphologically, and they are heavily armoured. How did they originate? What allowed them to diverge so widely? How did they all come to have heavy armor? And why is there no trace of earlier intermediate forms?'
G. T. Todd, American Scientist20(4):757, 1980.
[BR] from fish to amphibian (the first four-legged creatures walked on the ocean bottom, not on land),
[JS] Presumably Rensberger is referring to the Rhipidistian fish, e.g. Coelacanth. Actually, it was pure conjecture that they walked on the ocean bottom. When a living Coelacanth was found, the fins were not used for walking but for deft manoeuvring when swimming. The earliest amphibian, Ichthyostega, already has fully formed legs and shoulder and pelvic girdles, while there is no trace of these in the Rhipidistians. See Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, Adler & Adler, 1986, pp. 218-9.
[BR] from amphibian to reptile,
[JS] Rensberger may be referring to Seymouria, a commonly touted intermediate between amphibians and reptiles. But this creature is dated (by evolutionary dating methods) at 280 million years ago, about 30 million years younger than the earliest true reptiles Hylonomus and Paleothyris. Also, it was probably completely amphibian in its reproduction - the jump from amphibian to reptile eggs requires the development of a number of new structures and a change in biochemistry.
[BR] from reptile to mammal (it happened about the time the first dinosaurs were arising),
[JS] The 'mammal-like reptiles' are commonly asserted to be transitional. But according to a specialist on these creatures:
'each species of mammal-like reptile that has been found appears suddenly in the fossil record and is not preceded by the species that is directly ancestral to it. It disappears some time later, without leaving a directly descended species …'
Tom Kemp, 'The Reptiles that Became Mammals', New Scientist92:583, 4 March 1982
[BR] from reptile to bird (the bird-sized Archaeopteryx specimen from southern Germany, for example, has feathers and dinosaurlike teeth)
[JS] Of course Archaeopteryx was 'bird-sized' — it was a true bird! This is probably the evolutionists' favourite claim of a transitional form, supposedly half-way between a reptile and a bird. But Alan Feduccia, an ornithologist of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, claims:
'Paleontologists have tried to turn Archaeopteryx into an earth-bound, feathered dinosaur. But it's not. It is a bird, a perching bird. And no amount of 'paleobabble' is going to change that.'
Cited in Virginia Morell, Archaeopteryx: Early Bird Catches a Can of Worms, Science259:764–65.
Archaeopteryx had fully-formed flying feathers (including asymmetric vanes and ventral, reinforcing furrows as in modern flying birds), the classical elliptical wings of modern woodland birds, and a wishbone for attachment of muscles responsible for the downstroke of the wings. Its brain was essentially that of a flying bird, with a large cerebellum and visual cortex. The fact that it had teeth is irrelevant to its alleged transitional status — a number of extinct birds had teeth, while many reptiles do not. Furthermore, like other birds, both its maxilla (upper jaw) and mandible (lower jaw) moved. In most vertebrates, including reptiles, only the mandible moves. Feduccia further criticises the dinosaur-to-bird theory:
'It's biophysically impossible to evolve flight from such large bipeds with foreshortened forelimbs and heavy, balancing tails', exactly the wrong anatomy for flight.'
Alan Feduccia, 'Evidence from Claw Geometry Indicating Arboreal Habits of Archaeopteryx, Science259:790–793
David Menton, Bird evolution flies out the window, Creation Ex Nihilo16(4):16–19, 1996
Cited in Ann Gibbons, 'New Feathered Fossil Brings Dinosaurs and Birds Closer', Science274:720–721, 1996
[BR] and even from land animal to whale (there are fossil whales with four legs, …
[JS] A reference or even a name would have been nice. The oldest whale fossils show they were completely aquatic from the first time they appeared. Rensberger could be thinking about the so-called Ambulocetus natans ('walking whale that swims'). The secular media and more 'popular' science journals often present nice neat stories to readers, not the ins and outs of the research methodology, including its limitations. The nice pictures of Ambulocetus natans in these publications are based on artists' imaginations, and should be compared with the actual bones found! The difference is illustrated well in Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal 8(1):2–3, Perspectives: A Whale of a Tale?, 1994. Furthermore, as this article shows, the critical skeletal elements necessary to establish the transition from non-swimming land mammal to whale are (conveniently) missing so that grand claims about the significance of the fossils cannot be critically evaluated. Finally, it is dated later (by evolutionary dating methods) than undisputed whales, so is unlikely to be a walking ancestor of whales.
Basilosaurus is another postulated transitional form. It was a serpent-like sea mammal up to 25 m long. However, this creature was fully aquatic, so hardly transitional between land mammals and whales. Its peculiar body shape shows that it was not ancestral to modern whales. It did have small hind limbs, but they were probably used as accessories for copulation, according to evolutionists themselves.
Pakicetus is yet another candidate in the eyes of some evolutionists. However, since they only have some cheek teeth fragments of the skull and lower jaw, we have no way of knowing whether its locomotion was transitional. But we do know that its hearing mechanism was that of a land mammal and that it was found in non-marine creatures. So the evidence shows that it was probably a land mammal, not a transitional form. [Ed. note: see how more recent fossil discoveries conclusively prove that Pakicetus was a running land animal at Whale evolution?]
[BR] …and modern whales still have remnants of hind legs buried in their flesh; their front legs have changed into flippers).
[JS] Bergman and Howe's book “Vestigial Organs” are Fully Functional (Creation Research Society Monograph No. 4) points out that the bones of these so-called 'remnants' are different in the male and female whales. They are not useless at all, but help penis erection in the males and vaginal contraction in the females.
[BR] There is abundant fossil evidence showing transitional diversifications among mammals into rodents, bats, rabbits, carnivores, horses, elephants, manatee, deer, cows and many others.
[JS] The evidence is skimpy, usually based on a few bones and teeth. But the best this could show is the sorting of existing information. But the origin of the distinct types, requires the origin of new information (see discussion below), and this is not supported by the fossils. There are gaps between all 32 mammal orders, as the evolutionist paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson said:
'The earliest and most primitive members of every order already have the basic ordinal characters, and in no case is an approximately continuous series from one order to another known. In most cases the break is so sharp and the gap so large that the origin of the order is speculative and much disputed.'
G.G. Simpson, Tempo and Mode in Evolution (1944), pp. 105–6.
For example, the first (according to evolutionary 'dating') bat, Icaronycteris index, was essentially identical to modern bats, with fully developed wings and sonar.
[BR] One of the most finely divided sequences of transitions documents the evolution of apelike creatures through half a dozen intermediate forms into modern humans.
[JS] What does Rensberger have in mind? Probably not a fraud like Piltdown Man or a pig's tooth like Nebraska Man. Presumably not Ramapithecus—first identified as a bipedal human ancestor solely on its jaws and teeth. When more of its skeleton was found, it was shown to be essentially identical to a modern orangutan. Not Australopithecus africanus, which is usually regarded as a unique type of ape, not on the line of direct human ancestry. Maybe 'Lucy' (Australopithecus afarensis), although this strongly resembles a pygmy chimpanzee. Of course there's no glory for its discoverers to claim 'Look! We have found the earliest known pygmy chimpanzee!'.
Maybe Neandertal Man, but the specimens most people think of suffered from rickets and arthritis, giving them their stooped appearance. Now they are classified as Homo sapiens, and a discovery in Israel showed that they interbred with undoubted modern-looking Homo sapiens. Homo erectus characteristics are well within the bounds of real humans, and their times (according to evolutionary dating methods) overlapped with fossils classified as Homo sapiens. So there is no proof they are 'missing links' between humans and ape-like ancestors. A recent find of Homo erectus fossils dated (by evolutionists) at only 25,000 years old adds more strength to this view. It means it is likely that they interbred with modern-looking Homo sapiens, meaning that they were the same species by definition.
For more information on alleged human ancestors, see Marvin Lubenow's book Bones of Contention.
[BR] Perhaps the oldest known transitional sequence involves the horse. It starts about 55 million years ago with a terrier-sized creature that had four toes in front and three in back. This is the famous species once called Eohippus, but now, for technical reasons, renamed Hyracotherium.
The lineage evolved through at least 14 steps, each represented in the fossil record by a successful species, until the modern horse, a pony-sized Equus, the genus to which modern horses belong, appeared about 4 million years ago.
[JS] There are actually some very good technical reasons for calling the so-called Eohippus ('dawn horse') Hyracotherium. It is practically identical to a modern Hyrax, which is why its discoverer, Richard Owen, gave it that name. The evolutionist Niles Eldredge has called the usual textbook presentation (just as presented by Rensberger) of the story of horse evolution 'lamentable'. For more information, see The Non-Evolution of the Horse.
[BR] Still, gaps in the fossil record will keep paleontologists busy for decades.
[JS] Well said! Of course, there would be no need for paleontologists keeping busy if they realised that the gaps are missing because they never existed! An up-to-date book covering much of the above information in greater detail is Evolution: The fossils STILL say NO! by Duane T Gish, 1995.
[BR] Most kinds of fossils are extremely rare. After all, to become a fossil, the species not only must exist, but individuals also must die in places where conditions are right for preservation. In other words, the skeleton must be buried in sediments with preservative properties before scavengers or weathering can destroy it. Then only a few of those places will undergo erosion or uplifting that exposes the long-buried remains.
[JS] True. Fossilisation requires rapid burial and cementing agents. Just the sort of conditions a global flood would provide…
The fossil record shows that species do not evolve but exist for millions of years without changing
[BR] It is true that most species appear to persist unchanged through time. Although some evolutionists once thought that continuous gradual change might be the rule, it is now clear that species are more stable.
They come into existence after relatively brief periods of rapid change in a small sub-population of a preexisting species. After only a few centuries or a few millennia of change, the new species persists with little further change for long periods, sometimes millions of years. This varying tempo is called 'punctuated equilibrium.'
The periods of change generally coincide with episodes of environmental instability such as sudden climate change. A desert may become a wetland; a warm climate may turn cool. The change may wipe out species not suited to the new conditions and create opportunities for new 'lifestyles' to emerge.
So, if individuals happen to have inherited a mutation that 'pre-adapted' them to the new regime, they automatically prosper at the expense of their brothers.
Once the environment stabilizes, so do the species in it.
[JS] Note that the only real evidence for this theory is the absence of transitional forms, which is more suggestive of special creation. However, it is possible that splitting into small populations could cause a single species to branch into two relatively quickly. But this does not account for the large gaps between orders, classes, phyla and kingdoms (the higher categories/taxa). This would require thousands of speciation events, and the production of new genetic information.
Also, since we've already agreed that Biblical creationists believe the Earth is only about 6000 years old, obviously we can't believe that any species have existed for millions of years, changing or not!
Evolution has never been observed
[BR] Yes, it has, and not just the rise of minor changes but of whole new species.
[JS] Many creationists would agree with that, but would not call it 'evolution', because this would mislead. But these new species result from the sorting and loss of genetic information. Molecules-to-man evolution requires the production of new genes.
[BR] Strictly speaking, evolution is simply a change in the frequency with which specific genes occur in a population.
[JS] If that's what you mean by 'evolution', then no creationist doubts that. Rensberger is setting up a straw man again. Like many evolutionists, he is guilty of the fallacy of equivocation. He uses the word 'evolution' in two different ways:
1) A change in gene frequency with time
2) The theory that all living organisms have a single common ancestor, which itself came from non-living matter.
He proves #1, which no creationist doubts, and implies that #2 follows.
[BR] By this token, there is the well known example of the peppered moth of Britain. In 1848, 98 percent of these moths were gray, a color that hid them from birds when they perched on gray lichens that covered tree trunks. Darker-winged variants were rare and tended to be eaten by birds. Then as the Industrial Revolution's smokestacks killed the lichens and darkened tree trunks, the gray moths stood out and were eaten while the darker mutants survived.
Gradually, the moth became a predominantly dark-winged species and, by 1898, gray individuals were less than 5 percent of the total. Now that air pollution controls have taken effect, lichens are growing back, and the peppered moth again is becoming a chiefly gray species.
In that case, evolution by natural selection occurred but did not create a new species. Gray moths still could interbreed with black moths, proving that they belonged to the same species.
[JS] This is usually the best 'evidence' of 'evolution in action' that evolutionists produce. But black and light forms were always in the population. Sometimes black ones do better, sometimes light ones do better. But nothing new is produced. This is a nice example of change in (pre-existing) gene frequencies, but not molecules-to-man evolution.
Add: [Ed. Note: After this rebuttal was written, it was revealed that the moths never actually rest on the tree trunks, the famous photos were actually forged. See Goodbye, peppered moths.]
[BR] The rise of bona fide new species has, however, been documented in such laboratory-reared species as the fruit fly, of which eight new species have been found. Also, six new species of other insects have been seen to form. In such free-living species as mice, a new species has emerged on the Faeroe Islands in the last 250 years.
[JS] But these are still fruit flies and mice, not something with new information. Speciation (breeding isolation) can occur without any new genetic information. No new type has been formed, despite the best efforts of experimenters and thousands of generations. These processes would not turn fruit lies into Fenec foxes or mice into mammoths, no matter how many millions of years are postulated. Creationists do not deny that speciation occurs, but it does not involve the natural formation of new complex genetic information. ( Carl Wieland, 'Variation, Information and the Created Kind', Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal, 5(1):42-47, 1991.)
In fact, creationists with evidence for speciation, because it means that all modern species could have arisen quite rapidly from comparatively few kinds on board the Ark. John Woodmorappe's book Noah's Ark: a Feasibility Study points out that only about 8000 genera, including extinct genera, thus about 16,000 individual animals, needed to be aboard.
[BR] In recent years, scientists also have documented evolution of a new species of marine worm, called a polychate. And among plants, a least a dozen new species have been seen to arise over the last 50 years, including a new species of corn.
[JS] Some documentation would be nice. Anyway, none of these examples are the result of new genetic information. In plants, for example, a mistake in copying the chromosomes can result in twice the number being present (polyploidy). This then can be a 'new species' because it cannot interbreed with the parent species. But again, there is no new information, just a repetitious doubling of the same information.
Natural selection cannot change one species into another
[BR] Yes, but new variation is being generated continuously by mutations.
[JS] Mutations are copying errors. As such, they reduce the information content, or at best leave it unchanged.
[BR] In the case of the peppered moth, genes for light and dark wings were present in the population, and nature merely favored one over the other. Nonetheless, the variation had to have arisen at some point in the past.
[JS] Or else God created each kind with enough genetic variability to adapt to different environments.
[BR] Each gene is the code telling a cell how to make a particular protein. Once made, the protein carries out specific functions that make one kind of cell different from another and, sometimes, one organism different from another. Thus mutations can change the whole organism's form and function.
[JS] To believe that copying errors can generate new functional information is like believing that new computer programs arise from old computer programs by copying errors. In reality, the resulting program usually jams. There is also no experimental evidence that the precise function of proteins arose by random copying errors in the DNA.
[BR] Although creationists sometimes assert that all mutations are harmful, this is not so.
[JS] I agree. Informed creationist literature asserts that mutations do not produce an increase in information. But sometimes a loss of information can be beneficial. An example is flightless insects on a windy island. A mutation which caused loss of flying ability could be beneficial, since the insects would be less likely to be swept into the sea. Similarly, many animals in caves are blind, with shrivelled eyes. A mutation causing shrivelling of the eye and loss of sight would not harm the individual in a cave with no light to see by anyway. And it could be even be beneficial, since there is less chance of injuring a delicate eyeball if it is already shrivelled. But in the light, such blind mutants would be eliminated by natural selection.
Note that this doesn't explain the origin of flight or sight in the first place.
[BR] Mutations happen all the time, primarily as a result of simple errors in the gene-copying process that makes sperm and eggs. Not only can a tiny change be introduced into a gene, but an entire functional module from one gene can be copied and inserted into a different gene, creating in one step a protein with radically new properties. This is one way in which very large changes can occur suddenly.
[JS] In all known cases, this large change is a severe corruption of information, and is harmful. The burden of proof is on the evolutionists to document one example of an increase in functional, specified information has been produced by mutation. And even that would be the exception, not the rule.
[BR] Most mutations are neutral because most of the genome is noncoding DNA ...
Agreed, most mutations are neutral, not just for the reason stated. There is redundancy in the genetic code, so some mutations don't even change the amino acid in the protein. Also, while the active site of an enzyme must be very specific, some of the out regions of the enzyme do not need to be so specific. Therefore a change in that region will not greatly affect the enzyme's performance.
[BR] ... --the so-called 'junk DNA.'
[JS] This term is a cop-out, and is a biochemical echo of the old 'vestigial organs' argument for evolution. The implication is, we don't know the function, so it must be useless junk left over from our evolutionary past. Actually, much of the so-called 'junk DNA' is located in introns, with hints of a language structure. This suggests that it does have a role, perhaps error-checking. Furthermore, it's difficult to see how such a burden (perhaps 97% of the DNA of a human) would be faithfully copied, if it really was 'junk'. There are also elaborate splicing mechanisms to separate out the coding sequences.
[BR] Most of the rest are harmful, killing the cell or perhaps the whole embryo long before birth. But the rare mutation will confer an advantage. Quite often, however, the advantage will be irrelevant in the current environment of the species.
But consider this scenario. Suppose that the world of the chicken suddenly became flooded and the hapless birds had to float on the water and paddle about. Because most chickens don't have much webbing between their toes, they wouldn't move very fast. But if one odd chicken happened to be born with a little webbing between its toes, a trait perhaps disadvantageous on land, it could paddle faster and maybe escape predators more easily. Obviously, this chicken would be more likely to survive and to raise a family of web-toed chicks.
[JS] Evolutionists are fond of such 'just so' stories. However, while such hypothetical webbing may be an advantage, without the coordinated adaptations for swimming, the chicken would probably die anyway.
Life contains structures and systems too complex to have evolved gradually, step by step
[BR] This is one of the oldest criticisms made by creationists, and recently it has been revived. Darwin himself anticipated it, citing the eye with all its 'inimitable contrivances' as a structure that may seem too complex to have arisen through a series of steps, each conferring sufficient advantage that it would be favored for survival.
Darwin said that, if it could be demonstrated that any structure exists in nature that could not have arisen by natural selection, 'my theory would absolutely break down.'
Since then, biologists have vindicated Darwin by discovering many examples of primitive eyes among various species, ranging from the simplest eye spots of a few light-sensitive cells through progressively more complex forms to the complete, highly sophisticated mammalian eye.
Together, these discoveries show how a series of many cumulative steps could create a human eye.
[JS] Not so. The fact of a gradation in existing complexity does not prove that the simple could involve into the complex. He also fails to account for the biochemical complexity required for light sensitivity, and the neural structures required to interpret that data and do something with it. This is the bare minimum required for an eye, and already it requires many parts working together.
[BR] In fact, biologists now know that eyes arose and evolved independently at least 40 times.
[JS] No, what they know is that eyes appeared independently in at least 40 different creatures. They haven't the slightest proof that they evolved. In fact, they appear in the fossil record fully formed. The trilobite, supposedly one of the oldest multicellular animals, had one of the most complex eyes of any animal which ever lived.
[BR] Last year, Michael Behe, a biochemist, published Darwin's Black Box, raising the argument again. Within science it was widely dismissed for its tactic of argument from ignorance.
[JS] Again, he means 'within evolutionary science'. Of course, if a designer is automatically rejected a priori as an explanation, then all we have left is crass ignorance.
[BR] Behe essentially contends that if you can't imagine how something could have happened naturally, then that is proof that the thing must have happened supernaturally.
[JS] Rensberger's anti-supernaturalistic bias is showing through here.
[BR] In science, ignorance is no more evidence than was Darwin's astonishment about the eye.
[JS]Actually, Behe and creationists are not arguing from ignorance, or 'God of the gaps'. Their arguments are always based on known properties of matter, of which there is much experimental support. In particular, that highly integrated complex structures do not arise spontaneously.
[BR] Behe cites several structures and processes, some inside cells and some involving whole organ systems, that he says are 'irreducibly complex' and therefore must have arisen by special creation, by God creating the whole thing at one stroke.
One, for example, is a series of at least seven chemical reactions that must occur within blood for it to clot and stop a wound from bleeding. In this scientifically well-known 'cascade' of reactions, substance A first acts on substance B, changing it into a form that can act on substance C, which then is changed so it can act on substance D and so on. Obviously, the system works well.
Behe argues, however, that it is inconceivable that the cascade could have evolved from some simpler form with fewer steps because all steps now are essential. Since each step requires the participation of several components, Behe writes, not only is the entire blood-clotting system irreducibly complex, but so is each step in the cascade.
As it happens, scientists have deduced the nature of an evolutionary path that a primitive blood-clotting mechanism could have followed to evolve the more complex cascade. The process is biologically plausible and uses well-known mechanisms that exist in all cells for duplication and modification of existing genes followed by inactivation of the old gene.
The mutations required at the beginning of the process are neither beneficial nor deleterious, but once they occur, they produce a blood-clotting system that can be controlled more precisely. This is beneficial since a runaway blood-clotting mechanism could turn the entire bloodstream into one massive clot.
The same events that turn a one-step process into a two-step process could be repeated indefinitely, scientists have found, adding still finer control at each step, conferring yet greater advantage.
[JS] Rensberger doesn't say what exactly he has in mind. But it's one thing to make up stories, but quite another to test them experimentally. Behe has pointed out all the components needed at the right place and the right time to make a blood clotting system work. If one is missing, the animal is either a hemophiliac, or else suffers blood clots in vital vessels. Either way, it's dead. It is small consolation to have a small edge over another animal if both die quickly.
[BR] The fact that this problem has been addressed, incidentally, refutes one of Behe's contentions. He says evolutionists never try to explain how complex systems might have arisen through incremental changes. In fact, scientific literature includes numerous such instances.
[JS] Behe's argument, based on extensive searches of scientific journals, was that a plausible naturalist origin of many of the complex biochemical systems had not been addressed. Most of Behe's critics admit that little work has been done on the postulated evolutionary origins of biochemical machinery. They wouldn't have said that if the evidence was as prevalent as Rensberger claims. Rensberger makes lots of grand assertions, but Behe documents his claims.
Evolution violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics
[BR] A complete answer would require lots of mathematics and a deeper understanding of the Second Law than can be described here.
The short answer, however, is: no, it doesn't.
The Second Law can be stated in many different ways, but the most relevant is that order cannot emerge from disorder in a closed system. In other words, a random jumble cannot spontaneously assemble itself into some orderly structure without tapping some outside energy source. Some creationists say this means that life cannot evolve from simple to complex. Complex life forms would have to have been created separately.
Earth, however, is not a closed system. It receives huge amounts of energy from the sun and from chemical bonds within compounds, and this energy allows life to evolve.
If the Second Law truly prohibited local emergence of increased order, there would be no ice cubes. The greater orderliness of water molecules in ice crystals than in the liquid state is purchased with the expenditure of energy at the generator that made the electricity to run the freezer. And that makes it legal under the Second Law.
[JS] Obviously Rensberger is ignorant of the creationist responses to this argument. An energy source is not enough to produce the specified complexity of life. The energy must be directed in some way. The ice cubes of his example would not form if the electrical energy was just wired into liquid water! Instead, we would get lots of heat, and the water breaking up into simpler components, hydrogen and oxygen.
The ice example is thermodynamically irrelevant to the origin of life. When ice freezes, it releases heat energy into the environment. This causes an entropy increase in the surroundings. If the temperature is low enough, this entropy increase is greater than the loss of entropy in forming the crystal. But the formation of proteins and nucleic acids from amino acids and nucleotides not only lowers their entropy, but it removes heat energy (and entropy) from their surroundings. Thus ordinary amino acids and nucleotides will not spontaneously form proteins and nucleic acids at any temperature.
Rensberger also fails to distinguish between order and complexity. A periodic (repeating) signal, e.g. ABABABABABAB, is an example of order. However, it carries little information: only "AB", and "print 6 times".
A crystal is analogous to that sequence; it is a regular, repeating network of atoms. Like that sequence, a crystal contains little information: the coordinates of a few atoms (i.e. those which make up the unit cell), and instructions "more of the same" x times. A crystal forms because this regular arrangement, determined by directional forces in the atoms, has the lowest energy. Thus the maximum amount of heat is released into the surrounding, so the overall entropy is increased.
Random signals, e.g. WEKJHDF BK LKGJUES KIYFV NBUY, are not ordered, but complex. But a random signal contains no useful information. A non-random aperiodic (non-repeating) signal - specified complexity - e.g. "I love you", may carry useful information. However, it would be useless unless the receiver of the information understood the English language convention. The amorous thoughts have no relationship to that letter sequence apart from the agreed language convention. The language convention is imposed onto the letter sequence.
Proteins and DNA are also non-random aperiodic sequences. The sequences are not caused by the properties of the constituent amino acids and proteins themselves. The sequence has to be imposed from outside by some intelligent process. This has been shown by many scientific experiments. When the building blocks are simply combined, a random sequence results. To make a protein, scientists need to add one unit at a time, and each unit requires a number of chemical steps to ensure that the wrong type of reaction doesn't occur. The same goes for preparing a DNA strand in a correct sequence.
The Mystery of Life's Origin (see above) has a detailed analysis of the Second Law arguments against the evolutionary origin of the first life.
Creation science is genuine science
[BR] The philosophical underpinnings of creation science automatically place it in a very different realm from natural science. The natural sciences (biology, chemistry, physics and the like) begin with the assumption that nothing should be accepted as true for purposes of research unless it can be demonstrated reliably through observation or experiment.
[JS] This should also apply to evolution!
[BR] Creation science starts with the assumption that Genesis is literally true. ‘God's inerrant word,’ as recorded in the Bible, ‘must always prevail’ over anything that natural science says, according to Henry M. Morris, founder and recently retired director of the country's largest and most influential creationist organization, the Institute for Creation Research in El Cajon, California.
The institute's literature describes the institute as ‘a Christ-focused creation ministry.’
[JS] Yes, ICR (and CSF [now CMI]) scientists are unashamedly Christian. I'm a little puzzled here — does Mr Rensberger think that this automatically disqualifies them from having valid opinions? Presumably the ardent atheism of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Stephen Jay Gould, Eugenie Scott, and the late Sir Julian Huxley, Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov means they are/were the epitome of objectivity? As Rensberger has written elsewhere:
‘At this point, it is necessary to reveal a little inside information about how scientists work, something the textbooks don't usually tell you. The fact is that scientists are not really as objective and dispassionate in their work as they would like you to think. Most scientists first get their ideas about how the world works not through rigorously logical processes but through hunches and wild guesses. As individuals they often come to believe something to be true long before they assemble the hard evidence that will convince somebody else that it is. Motivated by faith in his own ideas and a desire for acceptance by his peers, a scientist will labor for years knowing in his heart that his theory is correct but devising experiment after experiment whose results he hopes will support his position.’
Boyce Rensberger, How the World Works, William Morrow, NY, 1986, pp. 17–18.
It's not really a question of who is biased, but which bias is the correct bias with which to be biased!
Natural processes will never generate the incredible amounts of information in even the simplest living things. Every day, new discoveries make a naturalistic origin more and more untenable. Rensberger's straw man arguments will only confuse the ignorant and those who find the alternative, creation, personally objectionable.