Jonathan Sarfati

CMI’s response to PBS-TV series Evolution

Episode 1: Darwin’s Dangerous Idea


The two-hour premier episode of the PBS/Nova series Evolution tries to set the tone for this propaganda effort. Much of it involves a dramatization of the life of Charles Darwin (1809–1882), interspersed with alleged evidence for evolution and against creation. Of course, they provide no space to scientific criticisms, giving the impression that there is only ‘religious’ criticism of evolution. They also ignore the rabidly atheistic faith of many of evolution’s proponents, including many of those involved in the series, e.g. Daniel Dennett, Stephen Jay Gould, Edward O. Wilson and Eugenie Scott (see also A Who's Who of evolutionists). To try to deflect the charge that the series is anti-Christian they try to pretend that evolution and ‘religion’ are compatible, with the aid of compromising churchians who deliberately overlook many key points of conflict.

To avoid the impression that this was one-sided propaganda, they claim that the Discovery Institute, part of the Intelligent Design Movement, was invited for ‘balance’. But the Discovery Institute pointed out that they declined because they would have been slotted in to the ‘religious’ objections sections whereas their objections to evolution are purely scientific. Our website also features on Episode 7: ‘What about God?’ but again the scientific objections were not shown.

It opens with a drama of Darwin and starts with Darwin’s voyage on HMS Beagle. Darwin introduces himself and Captain FitzRoy in broken Spanish to villagers in South America. They lead him to the skull of an extinct ground sloth, and this conversation occurs:

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Darwin: I wonder why these creatures no longer exist.

FitzRoy: Perhaps the Ark was too small to allow them entry and they perished in the Flood.

D: [laughs]

F: What is there to laugh at?

D: Nothing, nothing.

F: Do you mock me or the Bible?

D: Neither.

F: What sort of clergyman will you be, Mr Darwin?

D: Dreadful, dreadful.

Then the drama moves to a scene on the Beagle, where Capt. FitzRoy was reading from Genesis 1, and Darwin was below deck rolling his eyes.

There we have it—the alleged struggle between science and ‘fundamentalist’ religion. Of course, the representative of ‘fundamentalism’, Captain FitzRoy, is made to spout a silly straw man argument. Nowhere in the series is there any hint that there could be any scientific objections to evolution.

But ‘FitzRoy’s’ argument is unbiblical—the Bible clearly states that two of every kind of land vertebrate animal was on the Ark, and the Ark had plenty of room for all the required animals—see How did all the animals fit on Noah’s Ark?

But then—not that we should be surprised—these supposed incidents go well beyond artistic license, and actually falsify history. Darwin’s anti-Christianity hadn’t fully developed by the time of the Beagle voyage, and he even attended church services, while FitzRoy likely didn’t believe in a global Flood during that voyage.

Another likely fiction is the famous ‘grandfather’ quip in the Huxley-Wilberforce debate, although the program showed this as Huxley’s recollection when talking with Darwin—Did Wilberforce really say it?

Darwinism’s philosophical implications

Daniel Dennett, the author of Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (which presumably inspired the title of this episode), said that Darwin should be ranked ahead of Newton and Einstein, because he united the disparate world of purposelessness and meaninglessness with the world of purpose and meaning. They omitted his famous statement that Darwinism was ‘universal acid’, eating through every traditional idea, especially ‘meaning coming from on high and being ordained from the top down.’ Presumably that would have alerted the intended Christian audience too soon.

Stephen Jay Gould said that Darwinism answers who we are, as far as science can answer that. A biologist Schneider said that it ‘stirs the soul’. The series ends with Moore’s conclusion, ‘Darwin’s vision of nature was, I believe, fundamentally a religious vision.’ In the light of this, it’s amazing that the series still persists in claiming that evolution is ‘science’ rather than ‘religion’.

Is Darwinism anti-Christian?

Annie’s death and the problem of evil

The episode dramatizes the sickness and death of Darwin’s beloved daughter Annie. Darwin’s biographer James Moore says that this destroyed the truth of Christianity in his mind. How could there be a good God if He allowed this to happen? Instead, Annie was an unfortunate victim of the laws of nature, i.e. she lost the struggle for existence.

The Bible says that God created everything ‘very good’ (Genesis 1:31), while death is an intruder, called ‘the last enemy’ (1 Corinthians 15:26). Death and suffering are the result of Adam’s sin (Genesis 2:17, 3:19, Romans 5:12–19, 8:20–22, 1 Cor. 15:21–22). This entails that the fossil record, a record of death, disease and suffering, must date after Adam’s sin.

Alas, the prevailing churchian views were ‘long age’, which place fossils millions of years before Adam. This entails that death and suffering were both around for millions of years before Adam, and were called ‘very good’. Such a view evidently didn’t appeal to Darwin. It’s sad that many churchians today promote theistic evolution and progressive creation, which have this insuperable problem of death before sin, and even claim that they are more acceptable to unbelievers than the literal Genesis view held by CMI. They fail to realize that this battle was already lost in Darwin’s day.

Darwin also claimed that Christianity is a ‘damnable doctrine’ because his unbelieving father would be condemned to Hell, but of course the PBS episode doesn’t mention this! They do, however, show Darwin’s older brother Erasmus (named after their evolutionary grandfather) mocking hymn singing in church.

Kenneth Miller, Roman Catholic evolutionist

Darwin’s obvious anti-Christianity doesn’t stop Kenneth Miller claiming to be ‘an orthodox Catholic and an orthodox Darwinist’. He wrote a book, Finding Darwin’s God (2000), an anti-creationist polemic, to try to reconcile God and evolution. Miller has had a long history of joining forces with leading humanists against Creation, and his book is full of straw-man arguments, misinformation and outright deception.1 The last sentences in his book are revealing: ‘What kind of God do I believe in? … I believe in Darwin’s God.’ Since Darwin was anti-Christian as shown above, this is not the God any Christian can believe in. But the episode shows Miller attending Mass and taking communion, hoping that this show of outward religiosity will convince people who prefer outward appearances to inward convictions (cf. Matthew 23:25–28). Hopefully Bible-believing Christians will also realize that the Mass/transubstantiation contradicts the clear teaching that Christ was sacrificed once for all (Hebrews 9:26–28, 10:12–14).

Stephen Jay Gould and NOMA

Despite Darwin’s obvious anti-Christianity, Gould claimed on this program that Darwin didn’t intend to disparage ideas of God. This is consistent with Gould’s widely publicized claims that religion and science are ‘non-overlapping magisteria’ (NOMA).2 That is, science deals with facts of the real world, while religion deals with ethics, values, morals, and what it means to be human.

However, this is based on the philosophically fallacious fact-value distinction, and is really an anti-Christian claim. For example, the Resurrection of Christ is an essential part of the Christian faith (1 Corinthians 15:12–19), but it is also a matter of history; it passed the ‘testable’ claim that the tomb would be empty on the third day, and impinges on science because it demonstrated the power of God over so-called ‘natural laws’ that dead bodies decay, they do not return to life. Christians should be made aware that this is not only a theoretical argument about the anti-Christian nature of NOMA—Gould actually dismisses John’s historical narrative of Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearance to doubting Thomas as a ‘moral tale’.3

This NOMA distinction really teaches that religion is just in one’s head, which seems to dull the senses of many Christians more than an overt declaration that Christianity is false. So this is even more dangerous.

Christians should not fall for this. Christ is the Lord of the universe, and the Bible is accurate on everything it touches, not just faith and morality, but history, science and geography also. So Christians should not give up any part of the ‘real world’ to those with a materialistic agenda. Especially when atheists are happy to let their own faith influence their science, by promoting evolution.

Gould’s real sentiments are shown by his 1990 lecture at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, which I attended. The whole theme of his lecture was that Darwin deliberately tried to counter the argument from design, and Gould speculated that this was because FitzRoy had browbeaten him with this argument. Gould also pointed out that some people reconcile religion and purpose with the mistaken idea that evolution is ‘progress’. Gould slammed this idea, saying that evolution was just a blind, purposeless struggle for existence. For an accurate account of Gould’s lecture, see Darwin’s real message: have you missed it? It seems that Gould claims that science and ‘God’ are compatible only when trying to pacify concerned Christians, but at other times he makes it clear that there’s no room for God, at least in the ‘real world’.

None other than Kenneth Miller, who was impressed by Gould’s NOMA idea, when he saw documentation of Gould’s true feelings about belief in God, conceded that creationists had a point when they accused Gould of double talk:

Some wonder if Gould, in his heart, really believes these words. Late in 1997, Phillip Johnson described Gould’s essay as ‘a tissue of half-truths aimed at putting the religious people to sleep, or luring them into a “dialogue” on terms set by the materialists’. Had Johnson seen Gould on television a year later, his sense of Gould’s duplicity might have been dramatically confirmed:

INTERVIEWER: Gould disputes the religious claim that man is at the center of the universe. The idea of a science-religious dialogue, he says, is ‘sweet’ but unhelpful.

[Speaking to Gould]: Why is it sweet?

Gould: Because it gives comfort to many people. I think that notion that we are all in the bosom of Abraham or are in God’s embracing love is-look, it’s a tough life and if you can delude yourself into thinking that there’s all some warm and fuzzy meaning to it all, it’s enormously comforting. But I do think it’s just a story we tell ourselves.

Hard to see how something Gould regards as ‘just a story we tell ourselves’ could also be an obligatory step in ‘the attainment of wisdom’ (Finding Darwin’s God, p. 170).

Darwin, Lyell and billions of years

Not mentioned in the PBS episode is the great influence on Darwin by one book he took on the Beagle voyage, but it explains a number of ‘Darwin’s’ statements in the dramatization. This was Principles of Geology by Charles Lyell. This book pushed the idea of slow and gradual geological processes occurring over millions of years, and denied Noah’s Flood. But Gould wrote:

‘Charles Lyell was a lawyer by profession, and his book is one of the most brilliant briefs published by an advocate. … Lyell relied upon true bits of cunning to establish his uniformitarian views as the only true geology. First, he set up a straw man to demolish. In fact, the catastrophists were much more empirically minded than Lyell. The geologic record does seem to require catastrophes: rocks are fractured and contorted; whole faunas are wiped out. To circumvent this literal appearance, Lyell imposed his imagination upon the evidence. The geologic record, he argued, is extremely imperfect and we must interpolate into it what we can reasonably infer but cannot see. The catastrophists were the hard-nosed empiricists of their day, not the blinded theological apologists.’4

One example is Lyell’s ignoring eyewitness accounts of the rate of erosion of the Niagara Falls, and publishing a different figure to suit his purpose—see Niagara Falls and the Bible.

But Lyell convinced Darwin, and in the program, he explicitly linked slow and gradual geological processes with slow and gradual biological processes. For example, he said that mountains were products of thousands of small rises, and ‘Time, unimaginable tracts of time, is the key.’ So just as small changes over ages can throw up mountains, why couldn’t small changes accumulate over ages in animals to produce new structures?

Not only Darwin, but also the prevailing churchian views had capitulated to Lyell’s ideas. So ‘FitzRoy’ expressed the prominent view that God created organisms in their present locations. Darwin wondered why God would create not-quite-identical finches in almost identical islands. It’s notable that Darwin often used pseudo-theological arguments against design rather than direct arguments for evolution. But this presupposes the ‘two-model approach’, i.e. that creation and evolution are the only alternatives. However, many evolutionists scream loudly if creationists say that, and if they use the same logic as Darwin, i.e. evidence against evolution is support for creation!

In this case, Darwin rightly thought that the island animals were descended from mainland ones. But this is what Biblical creationists would believe too, with a global Flood and subsequent migration from Ararat via continents to islands. So Darwin’s arguments only work against a compromised creationist view, not the Biblical view. Present-day ‘progressive creationists’ hold essentially the same view as Darwin’s opponents, so they are trying to fight a battle that was lost 150 years ago, but wouldn’t have been if Christians had not compromised on age and the global Flood.

This also backs up what CMI emphasizes: that facts do not speak for themselves, but are always interpreted within a framework. We don’t deny a single observation an evolutionist makes, but find that they always make better sense when interpreted within the Biblical framework, as opposed to a compromised one. Therefore it shouldn’t be surprising that many of the alleged ‘evidences’ for evolution adduced by the PBS series actually turn out to support the Biblical model. (See Evolution & creation, science & religion, facts & bias and Presuppositionalism vs evidentialism.)

What is Evolution?

It is vitally important that words should be used accurately and consistently. The theory that the PBS series is really promoting, and which creationists oppose, is the idea that particles turned into people over time, without any need for an intelligent designer. The evolutionist Kerkut defined this ‘General Theory of Evolution’ (GTE) as ‘the theory that all the living forms in the world have arisen from a single source which itself came from an inorganic form.’ He continued: ‘the evidence which supports this is not sufficiently strong to allow us to consider it as anything more than a working hypothesis.’5

However, many evolutionary propagandists are guilty of the deceitful practice of equivocation, that is, switching the meaning of a single word (evolution) part-way through an argument. A common tactic, ‘bait-and-switch’, is simply to produce examples of change over time, call this ‘evolution’, then imply that the GTE is thereby proven or even essential, and Creation disproved. The PBS series is full of this, as shown below.

The information problem

The main scientific objection to the GTE is not that changes occur through time, and neither is it about the size of the change (so we would discourage use of the terms micro- and macro-evolution). The key issue is the type of change required—to change microbes into men requires changes that increase the genetic information content. The three billion DNA ‘letters’ stored in each human cell nucleus convey a great deal more information (specified complexity) than the over half a million DNA ‘letters’ of the ‘simplest’ self-reproducing organism. The DNA sequences in a ‘higher’ organism such as a human being, or a horse, for instance, code for structures and functions unknown in the sort of ‘primitive first cell’ from which all other organisms are said to have evolved. As will be shown, none of the alleged proofs of ‘evolution in action’ adduced in this series provide a single example of functional new information being added. Rather, they all involve sorting and loss of information. To claim that mere change proves that information-increasing change can occur is like saying that because a merchant can sell goods, he can sell them for a profit. The origin of information is a major problem for the GTE—see the articles Beetle Bloopers, How would you answer?, Information: A modern scientific design argument and DNA: marvellous messages or mostly mess?

What is the Biblical creationist model?

Many of these bait-and-switch arguments imply that creationists believe in ‘fixity of species’. The glossary listed on the Online Course for Teachers: Teaching Evolution is explicit; ‘In Creationism, species are described as “fixed” in the sense that they are believed not to change their form, or appearance, through time.’ But CMI does not deny speciation—in fact, it is an important part of creationist biology—see Q&A: Speciation. Creationists, starting from the Bible, believe that God created different kinds of organisms, which reproduced ‘after their kinds’ (Gen. 1:11, 12, 21, 24, 25). Thus the Biblical kinds would have originally been distinct biological species, i.e. a population of organisms that can interbreed to produce fertile offspring, but that cannot so breed with a different biological species.

But creationists point out that the kind is larger than one of today’s ‘species’. This is because each of the original kinds was created with a vast amount of information. There was enough variety in the information in the original creatures so their descendants could adapt to a wide variety of environments.

Based on the Biblical criterion for kinds, creationists deduce that as long as two creatures can hybridize with true fertilization, the two creatures are (i.e. descended from) the same kind.6 Also, if two creatures can hybridize with the same third creature, they are all members of the same kind.7 The hybridization criterion is a valid operational definition, which could in principle enable researchers to list all the kinds. The implication is one-way—hybridization is evidence that they are the same kind, but it does not necessarily follow that if hybridization cannot occur then they are not members of the same kind (failure to hybridize could be due to degenerative mutations). After all, there are couples who can’t have children, and we don’t classify them as a different species, let alone a different kind.

The boundaries of the ‘kind’ do not always correspond to any given man-made classification such as ‘species’, genus, family, etc. But this is not the fault of the term ‘kind’, it is actually due to inconsistencies in the man-made classification system, not the term ‘kind’. That is, several organisms classified as different ‘species’, and even different genera or higher groupings, can produce fertile offspring. This means that they are really the same species that has several varieties, hence a polytypic (many types) species. A number of examples are presented in Ref. 6, and in the article Ligers and wholphins? What next?, including Kekaimalu the wholphin, a fertile hybrid of two different so-called genera.

Loss of information through mutations (copying mistakes), e.g. in proteins recognizing ‘imprinting’ marks, ‘jumping genes’, natural selection, and genetic drift, can sometimes result in different small populations losing such different information that the offspring from crossing different varieties (hybrids) may be sterile, or not survive. Or changes in song or color might result in birds no longer recognizing a mate, so they no longer interbreed. Either way, a new ‘species’ is formed. Thus each created kind may have been the ancestor of several present-day species.

But again, it’s important to stress that speciation has nothing to do with real evolution (GTE), because it involves sorting and loss of genetic information, rather than new information.

The Biblical Creation/Fall/Flood/Migration model would also predict rapid formation of new varieties and even species. This is because the different varieties of land vertebrates have descended from comparatively few kinds of animals that disembarked from the Ark about 4500 years ago. Conversely, Darwin thought that this process would normally take eons. It turns out that the Biblical model has been supported by the very evidence claimed by evolutionists to support their theory, as mentioned before. One example is a new species of mosquitoes, i.e. one that can’t interbreed with the parent population, arising in the London Underground train system (the ‘Tube’) in only 100 years. The rapid change ‘astonished’ evolutionists, but should delight creationists—see Brisk Biters.

Evolution in Action?

Galápagos finches

This episode makes much of these birds, but admits that Darwin didn’t even realize that they were finches, and failed to label which island they came from. All the same, he managed to acquire this information, and as previously mentioned, he thought that they had descended from mainland finches with modification, just as the Biblical Creation/Fall/Flood/Migration model would predict! He correctly realized that finch beak size was the result of adaptation to different food sources.

The problem is that he and the PBS series taught that this adaptation could explain the GTE. But the finch beak variation is merely the result of selection of existing genetic information, while the GTE requires new information. Also, an 18-year study by zoologist Peter Grant showed that a new species could arise in only 200 years,8 which is inadvertent support for the Biblical model of rapid speciation—see Darwin’s Finches: Evidence supporting rapid post-Flood adaptation. However, another problem with using these finches is that the variation seems to be cyclic—while a drought resulted in a slight increase in beak size, the change was reversed when the rains returned. So it looks more like built-in adaptability to various climatic conditions than anything to do with the GTE.

This episode also discusses the change in beak length of hummingbirds, to adapt to changes in the lengths of flowers where they obtain nectar. But the same points apply—no evidence was produced that any new information is required for these changes, as opposed to selection of already-existing information.

HIV resistance to drugs

This episode claims that Darwin didn’t really see evolution in action, but now we do. Supposedly the HIV, the cause of AIDS, evolves resistance to drugs faster than we can make them. Because the virus can produce billions of copies per day, it can ‘evolve’ in minutes to hours. One researcher said that this rapid change would be a ‘surprise’ if we didn’t have the concept of evolution. There were also attempts to tug heartstrings, by portraying AIDS patients as ‘victims of evolution’.

First, we see the equivocation—HIV producing HIV is supposed to show that particles could turn into people; but they're still HIV—they haven't changed into something else. Second, in Episode 4, it’s made clear that the related phenomenon of antibiotic resistance in bacteria took the medical community by surprise—this means that it wasn’t a prediction of evolution, except after the fact. Third, they fail to demonstrate that new information is involved, and the next segment shows that the opposite is true:

Veronica Miller of Goethe University in Germany experimented by ceasing all antiviral drug treatments to a patient. Then the few surviving original (‘wild’) types easily out-competed the vast numbers of resistant forms. She said this was a risk, because the wild types were also more dangerous, more efficient. The superior efficiency and reproductive success of the wild type implies that the others have acquired resistance due to a loss of information somewhere. This should not be surprising, because the same is true of many examples of antibiotic resistance in bacteria. E.g. the bacterium has an enzyme that usually has a useful purpose, but it also turns an antibiotic into a poison. So a mutation disabling this enzyme would render the antibiotic harmless. But this bacterium is still disabled, because the useful process the enzyme usually enables is now hindered, so it would be unable to compete in the wild with non-resistant ones. The information loss in both HIV and the bacterium is the opposite of what evolution requires. CMI has already explained antibiotic resistance in Superbugs: Not super after all, and answers the question Has AIDS evolved?

Is there bad design?

Kenneth Miller claimed that the eye has ‘profound optical imperfections’, so was proof of ‘tinkering’ and ‘blind’ natural selection. Miller hasn’t presented an argument for evolution per se at all—because he presents no step-by-step way for the retina to have evolved—but it is purely an attack on a designer. Which is of course also an attack on Miller’s own Darwinian version of ‘god’, one who has chosen to create indirectly (via evolution).

Miller raised the old canard of the backwardly wired vertebrate retina, as he has done elsewhere. The narrator (Liam Neeson) even claimed that the eye’s ‘nerves interfere with images’, and that the so-called ‘blind spot’ is a serious problem. But these arguments have been refuted before, as shown below.

It would be nice if anti-creationists actually learnt something about the eye before making such claims (Miller is unqualified in both physical optics and eye anatomy), or even showed that the eye didn’t function properly as a result. In fact, any engineer who designed something remotely as good as the eye would probably win a Nobel Prize! If Miller and the PBS producers disagree, then I challenge them to design a better eye with all the versatility of the vertebrate eye (color perception, resolution, coping with range of light intensity, night vision as well as day vision, etc.)! And this must be done under the constraints of embryonic development.

The retina can detect a single photon of light, and it’s impossible to improve on this sensitivity! More than that, it has a dynamic range of 10 billion (1010) to one; that is, it will still work well in an intensity of 10 billion photons. Modern photographic film has a dynamic range of only 1,000 to one. Even specialist equipment hasn’t anywhere near the dynamic range of the eye, and I have considerable experience in state-of-the-art supersensitive photomultipliers. My Ph.D. thesis and published papers in secular journals largely involve a technique called Raman spectroscopy, which analyses extremely weak scattering at a slightly different frequency from that of the incident laser radiation. The major equipment hazard for Raman spectroscopists is scanning at the incident frequency—the still weak Rayleigh scattering at the same frequency would blow the photomultiplier (the newer ones have an automatic shut-off). I managed to safely scan the Rayleigh line (for calibration) only by using filters to attenuate the intensity of light entering the photomultiplier by a factor of 10-7 to 10-8. But having to take such an extreme safety precaution made me envious and admiring of the way the eye is so brilliantly designed to cope with a far wider range of intensities.

Another amazing design feature of the retina is the signal processing that occurs even before the information is transmitted to the brain, in the retinal layers between the ganglion cells and the photoreceptors. For example, a process called edge extraction enhances the recognition of edges of objects. Dr John Stevens, an associate professor of physiology and biomedical engineering, pointed out that it would take ‘a minimum of a hundred years of Cray [supercomputer] time to simulate what takes place in your eye many times each second.’ [Byte, April 1985]. And the retina’s analog computing needs far less power than the digital supercomputers and is elegant in its simplicity. Once again, the eye outstrips any human technology, this time in another area.

Someone who does know about eye design is the ophthalmologist Dr George Marshall, who said:

‘The idea that the eye is wired backward comes from a lack of knowledge of eye function and anatomy.’

He explained that the nerves could not go behind the eye, because that space is reserved for the choroid, which provides the rich blood supply needed for the very metabolically active retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). This is necessary to regenerate the photoreceptors, and to absorb excess heat. So it is necessary for the nerves to go in front instead. The claim on the program that they interfere with the image is blatantly false, because the nerves are virtually transparent because of their small size and also having about the same refractive index as the surrounding vitreous humour. In fact, what limits the eye’s resolution is the diffraction of light waves at the pupil (proportional to the wavelength and inversely proportional to the pupil’s size); so alleged improvements of the retina would make no difference.

It’s important to note that the ‘superior’ design of Miller with the (virtually transparent) nerves behind the photoreceptors would require either:

  • The choroid in front of the retina—but the choroid is opaque because of all the red blood cells, so this design would be as useless as an eye with a hemorrhage!
  • Photoreceptors not in contact with the RPE and choroid at all—but then it would probably take months before we could drive after we were photographed with a flashbulb.

Some evolutionists claim that the cephalopod eye is somehow ‘right’, i.e. with nerves behind the receptor, and the program showed photographs of these creatures (e.g. octopus, squid) during this segment. But no one who has actually bothered to study these eyes could make such claims with integrity. In fact, cephalopods don’t see as well as humans, and the octopus eye structure is totally different and much simpler. It’s more like ‘a compound eye with a single lens’.

See also the detailed response by the ophthalmologist Peter Gurney to the question Is the inverted retina really ‘bad design’? This article addresses the claim that the blind spot is bad design, by pointing out that the blind spot occupies only 0.25% of the visual field, and is far (15°) from the visual axis so the visual acuity of the region is only about 15% of the foveola, the most sensitive area of the retina right on the visual axis. So the alleged defect is only theoretical, not practical. The blind spot is not considered handicap enough to stop a one-eyed person from driving a private motor vehicle. The main problem with only one eye is the lack of stereoscopic vision.

The program also alleges that the retina is badly designed because it can detach and cause blindness. But this doesn’t happen with the vast majority of people, indicating that the design is pretty good. In fact, retinal detachment is more due to the vitreous (‘glassy’) humour liquefying from its normally fairly rigid gel state with advancing age. Then the remaining gel pulls away from the retina, leaving tiny holes, so the other liquefied humour can lift off the retina. So one recent treatment is draining the liquid and injecting magnetized silicone gel which can be moved into place with a magnetic field, to push the retina back and block the holes [New Scientist 174(2338):18, 13 April 2002]. The occasional failures in the eye with increasing age reflect the fact that we live in a fallen world—so what we observe today may have deteriorated from the original physically perfect state, where for example deterioration with age didn’t occur.

To answer other alleged ‘bad design’ arguments, there are two principles to consider:

  1. Do we have all the information/knowledge on the issue?

  2. Could this particular biological system have gone downhill since the Fall?

For more information about related evolutionary arguments, see Vestigial Organs: What do they prove? and The panda thumbs its nose at the dysteleological arguments of the atheist Stephen Jay Gould.

Could the eye have evolved?

The program would have us believe it did. Dan Nilsson explained a simplistic computer simulation he published in a widely publicized paper.9 When ‘explaining’ the origin of the eye, Darwin started with a light-sensitive spot. This simulation starts with a light-sensitive layer, with a transparent coating in front and a light-absorbing layer behind.

Firstly, this layer bends gradually into a cup, so it can tell the direction of light rays increasingly well. This continues until it is curved into a hemisphere filled with the transparent substance. Secondly, bringing the ends together, closing the aperture, would gradually increase the sharpness of the image, as a pinhole camera does, because a smaller hole cuts out light, and as there are diffraction effects if the hole is too small, there is a limit to this process. So thirdly, the shape and refractive index gradient of the transparent cover change gradually to a finely focusing lens. Even if we were generous and presumed that computer simulations really have anything to do with the real world of biochemistry, there are more serious problems.

However, the biochemist Michael Behe has shown that even a ‘simple’ light sensitive spot requires a dazzling array of biochemicals in the right place and time to function. He states that each of its cells makes the complexity of a motorcycle or television set look paltry in comparison and describes a small part of what’s involved:10

‘When light first strikes the retina a photon interacts with a molecule called 11-cis-retinal, which rearranges within picoseconds to trans-retinal. (A picosecond [10-12 sec] is about the time it takes light to travel the breadth of a single human hair.) The change in the shape of the retinal molecule forces a change in the shape of the protein, rhodopsin, to which the retinal is tightly bound. The protein’s metamorphosis alters its behavior. Now called metarhodopsin II, the protein sticks to another protein, called transducin. Before bumping into metarhodopsin II, transducin had tightly bound a small molecule called GDP. But when transducin interacts with metarhodopsin II, the GDP falls off, and a molecule called GTP binds to transducin. (GTP is closely related to, but different from, GDP.)

‘GTP-transducin-metarhodopsin II now binds to a protein called phosphodiesterase, located in the inner membrane of the cell. When attached to metarhodopsin II and its entourage, the phosphodiesterase acquires the chemical ability to “cut” a molecule called cGMP (a chemical relative of both GDP and GTP). Initially there are a lot of cGMP molecules in the cell, but the phosphodiesterase lowers its concentration, just as a pulled plug lowers the water level in a bathtub.’

A transparent layer is also far more difficult to obtain than they think. The best explanation for the cornea’s transparency is diffraction theory, which shows that light is not scattered if the refractive index doesn’t vary over distances more than half the wavelength of light. This in turn requires a certain very finely organized structure of the corneal fibers, which in turn requires complicated chemical pumps to make sure there is exactly the right water content.11

Therefore, these simulations do not start from simple beginnings but presuppose vast complexity even to begin with. Also, in their original paper, they admitted ‘an eye makes little sense on its own’, because the ability to perceive light is meaningless unless the organism has sophisticated computational machinery to make use of this information. For example, it must have the ability to translate ‘attenuation of photon intensity’ to ‘a shadow of a predator is responsible’ to ‘I must take evasive measures’, and be able to act on this information for it to have any selective value. Similarly, the first curving, with its slight ability to detect the direction of light, would only work if the creature had the appropriate ‘software’ to interpret this. Perceiving actual images is more complicated still. And having the right hardware and software may not be enough—people who have their sight restored after years of blindness take some time to learn to see properly. It should be noted that much information processing occurs in the retina before the signal reaches the brain.

It is also fallacious to point to a series of more complex eyes in nature, and then argue that this presents an evolutionary sequence. This is like arranging a number of different types of aircraft in order of complexity, then claiming that the simple aircraft evolved into complex ones, as opposed to being designed. For one thing, eyes can’t descend from other eyes per se; rather, organisms pass on genes for eyes to their descendants. This is important when considering the nautilus eye, a pinhole camera. This cannot possibly be an ancestor of the vertebrate lens/camera eye, because the nautilus as a whole is not an ancestor of the vertebrates, even according to the evolutionists!

Have humans evolved from ape-like creatures?

The PBS series shouts ‘yes’, and even showed a number of fossils of alleged ‘ape men’ for cumulative effect. But this was very deceptive—some of the alleged ‘ape-men’ they showed are not even accepted by evolutionists as genuine intermediates anymore. For example, it showed an old photograph of Louis Leakey with Zinjanthropus (now Paranthropus) boisei or ‘Nutcracker Man’, sometimes called a robust australopithecine. But this was long ago placed in a side branch on man’s alleged evolutionary tree.

The program also claimed that the DNA of chimps and humans was ‘98%’ similar, and they said it’s ‘only a couple of spelling errors’. While the 98% is debatable, claiming a ‘couple’ of differences is outright deception—humans have 3 billion ‘letters’ (base pairs) of DNA information in each cell, so 2% difference is actually 60 million ‘spelling errors’! Of course, this is not ‘error’ but twenty 500-page books worth of new information that needs to be explained by mutation and selection. Even if we grant 10 million years to the evolutionists, population genetics studies show that animals with human-like generation times of about 20 years could accumulate only about 1700 mutations in their genome in that time.12 See also Human/chimp DNA similarity: Evidence for evolutionary relationship?

Common structures = common ancestry?

Frog and human digit development
Diagram showing the difference in developmental patterns of frog and human digits.
Left: In humans, programmed cell death (apoptosis) divides the ridge into five regions that then develop into digits (fingers and toes) [after Sadler, T.W., ed., Langman’s Medical Embryology, 7th Ed., Williams and Wilkins, Baltimore, Maryland, USA, pp. 154–157, 1995].
Right: In frogs, the digits grow outwards from buds as cells divide [after Tyler, M.J., Australian Frogs: a natural history, Reed New Holland, Sydney, Australia, p. 80, 1999].

Darwin mocked the idea, proposed by Richard Owen on the dramatization, that common structures (homologies) were due to a common creator rather than a common ancestor. But the common designer explanation makes more sense. If there was no commonality, then we might think there were many designers rather than one. Under evolution, it’s genes that are inherited, not structures per se. So one would expect the similarities, if they were the result of evolutionary common ancestry, to be produced by a common genetic program (this may or may not be the case for common design). But in many cases, this is clearly not so.

One of the most commonly argued proofs of evolution is the pentadactyl limb pattern, i.e. the five-digit limbs found in amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. However, they develop in a completely different manner in amphibians and the other groups. To illustrate, the human embryo develops a thickening on the limb tip called the AER (apical ectodermal ridge), then programmed cell death (apoptosis) divides the AER into five regions that then develop into digits (fingers and toes). By contrast, in frogs, the digits grow outwards from buds as cells divide (see diagram, right). This argues strongly against the ‘common ancestry’ evolutionary explanation for the similarity.

This program claimed that the DNA code is universal, and proof of a common ancestor. But this is false—there are exceptions, some known since the 1970s, not only in mitochondrial but also nuclear DNA sequencing. An example is Paramecium, where a few of the 64 codons code for different amino acids. More examples are being found constantly, as listed by the NationalInstitutes of Health. The Discovery Institute pointed out this clear factual error at PBS Charged with “False Claim” on “Universal Genetic Code”.

The reaction by the PBS spokeswoman Eugenie Scott (17 Sept) shows how the evolutionary establishment is more concerned with promoting evolution than scientific accuracy. Instead of conceding that the PBS show was wrong, she attacked the messengers, citing statements calling their (correct!) claim ‘so bizarre as to be almost beyond belief’. Then she even implicitly conceded the truth of the claim by citing this explanation: ‘Those exceptions, however, are known to have derived from organisms that had the standard code.’

To paraphrase: ‘It was wrong to point out that there really are exceptions, even though it’s true; and it was right for the PBS to imply something that wasn’t true because we can explain why it’s not always true.’ But assuming the truth of Darwinism as ‘evidence’ for their explanation is begging the question. There is no experimental evidence, since we lack the DNA code of these alleged ancestors. There is also the theoretical problem that if we change the code, then the wrong proteins would be made, and the organism would die—so once a code is settled on, we’re stuck with it. The Discovery Institute also demonstrated the illogic of Scott’s claims at PBS Spokesperson Tries to Tar Scientific Critics who are Ignored.

Certainly most of the code is universal, but this is again best explained by common design. Of all the millions of genetic codes possible, ours, or something almost like it, is optimal for protecting against errors.13 But the exceptions thwart evolutionary explanations.


  1. A review of Finding Darwin’s God by John Woodmorappe and me is in press, TJ 15(3), 2001. Return to text.
  2. Gould, S.J., Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life (Ballantyne, NY, 1999). Return to text.
  3. Gould, Ref. 2, p. 14. Return to text.
  4. Gould, S.J., Natural History February 1975, p. 16. Return to text.
  5. Kerkut, G.A., Implications of Evolution, Pergamon, Oxford, UK, p. 157, 1960. Return to text.
  6. Marsh, F.L., Variation and Fixity in Nature, Pacific Press, Mountain View, CA, USA, p. 37, 1976. Return to text.
  7. Scherer, S., Basic Types of Life, p. 197; ch. 8 of Dembski, Wm. A., Mere Creation: Science, faith and intelligent design, Downers Grove, IL, 1998. Return to text.
  8. Grant, P.R., Natural Selection and Darwin’s Finches, Scientific American 265(4):60–65, October 1991. Return to text.
  9. Nilsson, D.-E. and Pelger, S., A pessimistic estimate of the time required for an eye to evolve. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 256:53–58, 1994. Return to text.
  10. Behe, M. J., Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, pp. 46, 18–20, The Free Press, New York, 1996. Return to text.
  11. Gurney, P.W.V., Dawkins’ Eye Revisited, TJ 15(3), 2001 (in press). Return to text.
  12. ReMine, W.J., The Biotic Message, Ch. 8, St. Paul Science, St. Paul, MN, 1993. Return to text.
  13. Knight, J., Top translator, New Scientist 158(2130):15, 18 April 1998. Natural selection cannot explain this code optimality, since there is no way to replace the first functional code with a ‘better’ one without destroying functionality. Return to text.

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