Responses to our 15 Questions: part 1
General objections and attempted answers to questions 1–3
Published: 7 September 2011 (GMT+10)
Since we kicked off our Question Evolution campaign, responses have been pouring in from evolutionists and skeptics attempting to answer our 15 Questions for Evolutionists (by Dr Don Batten). We’ve compiled many of the answers that we’ve received to date (paraphrased to cover as many versions of the objection we’ve received as possible), along with our refutations. Several of CMI’s staff have contributed to this response, including Jonathan Sarfati, Rob Carter, Don Batten and Lita Cosner.
Note: many of the answers published here cover far more ground than the pamphlet could, since it necessarily dealt with the topics in an abbreviated form.
General Objections: These are objections which may deal with the pamphlet in general.
Objection 1: These questions are only unanswerable because our science isn’t advanced enough.
Rebuttal: But if science has not yet advanced, then how could materialistic scientists possibly know what can be answered in the future? They tend to discount predictive prophecy, at least when it’s in the Bible. If more questions about evolution were answered by scientific advance, the skeptics may have a point. But exactly the opposite has been true in the past. The more our biological knowledge expands, the more problems evolution has. For example, Darwin’s friend Haeckel thought that the cell was just a blob of goo; now we know it is a miniature city with advanced nanotechnology, including machines and factories such as ATP synthase and kinesin.
Objection 2: CMI uses a misleading definition of evolution. Evolution is only the change in allele frequency in a population over time.
Rebuttal: Evolution is often used to describe anything from the slight change of a species over time (for instance, changes in finch beak size) to molecules-to-man evolution. If evolution is just changes in allele frequency, then CMI would be an evolutionary organization! Our detractors are committing the logical fallacy of equivocation, also known as bait-and-switch. What is really misleading is imputing that CMI denies that allele frequencies change—but then, under an evolutionary belief system, why shouldn’t evolutionists mislead, as one bragged about?
CMI’s definition of evolution for the purposes of this pamphlet is the ‘General Theory of Evolution’ (GTE). The evolutionist Gerald Kerkut defined this as ‘the theory that all the living forms in the world have arisen from a single source which itself came from an inorganic form.’1 This is a perfectly justifiable definition, and one that secular scientists would agree with—and this is what the dispute is about!
Objection 3: Even if science cannot explain the origin of life, to say that God must have done it is an argument from ignorance.
Rebuttal: We do not argue from what we don’t know, but from what we do know about the nature of the information encoded in the DNA, the complexity of life, etc. Our argument is, to quote from a previous response:
“In objects of known origin, there are certain features—specified complex information—that occur only in those made by an intelligent designer (or an intelligently designed program). So by the normal analogical reasoning we use in science, when we see these features in an object where the origin is unknown, we can likewise conclude that this object had an intelligent designer.
“These features are those that an archaeologist would use to determine whether an object was designed by an intelligent designer, or that a SETI devotee would use to argue that a signal from space came from an intelligent alien, or whether a ballot or card game was fixed, or whether a sequence of letters was the result of intelligence or monkeys on a keyboard.
“In the first two cases above, it would be perverse to complain that the archaeologist didn’t discuss whether the object’s designer itself had a designer, or that the SETI researcher didn’t tell us who designed the alien. It would be even sillier to argue from this that we should simply drop the idea of design, and conclude that the object or hypothetical space signal had no designer.”
Saying, “We don’t know, but evolution did it somehow,” on the other hand, is an argument from ignorance aka ‘evolution of the gaps’.
Objection 4: Many of these questions involve things that are very improbable. But we know that improbable events happen all the time.
Rebuttal: In the analogies that evolutionists use, such as the lottery, a series of coin flips, etc., there will be an outcome. Someone will win the lottery, the coin flips must be some arrangement of heads or tails, etc. These evolutionists are cheating with chance. But when it comes to the origin of first life, the probability is against any outcome—see Answering another uninformed atheist: Galileo, Miller—Urey, probability.
Objection 5: CMI uses quote mining, citing scientists as part of their argument against evolution even though these scientists are evolutionists. CMI quotes scientists out-of-context.
Rebuttal: Any quote that is less than the entire work of which it is a part could be smeared as ‘out of context’. We take care not to take any quote in a manner that is other than what would be intended in the context. It is acceptable to use ‘hostile witness’ quotes to show how even people who believe evolution admit its difficulties.
An example of a genuinely out-of-context quote would be Darwin’s on the eye, where Darwin was talking about its seeming absurdity but then said that after all it was quite easy to imagine that the eye could be built step-by-step (in his opinion, with which we obviously disagree). This is why it’s on our Don’t Use page, one of the most read on our site (and even praised by Richard Dawkins himself).
But it is not ‘out of context’, say, to quote an evolutionary bird expert against the dino-to-bird theory specifically, or to cite evolutionist Ernst Haeckel to show that he believed that the Bible opposed racism and that the Bible was wrong to do so, or to cite an evolutionist who makes a controversial admission in public or in print, even if he tries to paper over that statement later.
Some of our opponents seem to think that quoting an evolutionist who has conceded a problem with evolution (even if he actually made such a concession) is ‘quoting out of context’ simply because the evolutionist would not agree with our position in toto. But this is a quite bizarre understanding of misquoting.
1. How did life originate?
Answer 1: Abiogenesis is not relevant to the discussion of evolution—it is a separate topic (this has been a very common claim).
Rebuttal: No one claimed that abiogenesis was irrelevant to the evolution debate until evolutionists realized they were losing the debate on it. Indeed, abiogenesis is also often called ‘chemical evolution’ (see Natural selection cannot explain the origin of life and here just one example of a paper by evolutionists proving the point, titled, “On the applicability of Darwinian principles to chemical evolution that led to life”, International Journal of Astrobiology 3:45-53, 2004). It doesn’t matter how well one can or can’t explain how the first life could evolve, if you can’t explain how it got there in the first place, the theory is literally dead in the water (or the (non-existent) primordial soup, as the case may be). Notice also that, as we stated clearly above, creationists believe in changing allele frequencies over time. Therefore, since both sides claim this as part of their model, the debate must lie outside this area. Hence, the origin of life is fair game for discussions on whether or not evolution is true.
See our Origin of Life Q&A for more information.
Answer 2: Life/non-life isn’t a dichotomy. Rather, there are many examples of ‘proto-life’ such as viruses, prions, etc.
Rebuttal: These intriguing sub-life entities have nothing to help evolutionists explain the origin of genuine life, because they can’t reproduce without the presence of genuinely living creatures. But see Did God make pathogenic viruses? And Even a tiny virus has a powerful mini-motor.
Answer 3: Some experiments show that the early earth’s atmosphere was optimal for life.
Rebuttal: And which studies would those be? The Miller-Urey experiment which used the wrong sort of atmosphere and produced more sludge than amino acids? Or the studies which show that the early atmosphere was oxygen-rich—not friendly for the origin of life. Or the ones that show that water would impede the formation of the hypothetical earliest cell, because it would favour hydrolysis over polymerization. Or the ones that show that information is a crucial component for life—the ‘software’ is just as important as the ‘hardware’, in other words—which gives the evolutionists the burden of showing how something so mind-bogglingly complex (such that we only are beginning to unravel some of the code) came about by random chance?
2. How did the DNA code originate?
Answer 1: This is not an evolution question, because evolution starts with an already-reproducing organism.
Rebuttal: But this is something evolution must assume. Leading philosopher Antony Flew lost his atheistic faith by considering (among other things):
“It seems to me that Richard Dawkins constantly overlooks the fact that Darwin himself, in the fourteenth chapter of The Origin of Species, pointed out that his whole argument began with a being which already possessed reproductive powers. This is the creature the evolution of which a truly comprehensive theory of evolution must give some account.
“Darwin himself was well aware that he had not produced such an account. It now seems to me that the findings of more than fifty years of DNA research have provided materials for a new and enormously powerful argument to design.”2
If there’s no way for the DNA code to come about via natural processes, evolution is impossible. A huge problem is this: the DNA information requires complex decoding machines, including the ribosome, so it can be decoded into the specifications to build the proteins required for life, including enzymes. But the information required to build ribosomes is itself encoded on the DNA. So DNA information can’t be decoded without products of its translation, forming a ‘vicious circle’. And decoding machinery requires energy from ATP, built by ATP-synthase motors, built from instructions in the DNA decoded by ribosomes … ‘vicious circles’ for any materialistic origin theory.
Answer 2: Originally, life used RNA instead of DNA to encode information.
Rebuttal: First, where is the evidence for this, such as fossilized ancestral RNA life? Second, the RNA world hypothesis is fraught with difficulties. RNA is even less stable than DNA, and that is saying something—about a million DNA ‘letters’ are damaged in a typical cell on a good day, which then requires repair mechanisms to be in place (another problem for origin-of-life scenarios). And it is extremely unlikely that the building blocks for RNA would come about by undirected chemical interactions, and even if this happened, it would be even more improbable that the building blocks would self-assemble into any RNA molecule, let alone an informational one. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. See this article for more details, which discusses the objections of a major origin-of-life researcher to the ‘RNA world’ hypothesis.
Answer 3: It is disingenuous to argue from the current DNA code, because the original code would have been much simpler.
Rebuttal: This is most disingenuous. So many evolutionists have appealed to the common DNA code to “prove” common ancestry. But now they are claiming that the first life had a different code not possessed by any living creature! But how could we go from the hypothetical simpler coding system to the current one? It would be like switching keys on a computer keyboard—the messages would become scrambled (as anyone who is accustomed to a QWERTY keyboard who has tried to use a non-QWERTY Latin keyboard would know only too well).
Actually, it has long been known that there are exceptions to the code, as we have pointed out (see The Unity of Life) and that is a problem for evolutionists. Richard Dawkins was recently stumped when “life-creator” Craig Venter pointed out that there were different codes—Dawkins has long taught that evolution was supported by a single code and used this to argue for the single (evolutionary, of course) origin of all life.
There is a certain minimum amount of information which would have to be encoded for any living thing to survive. Currently, the self-replicating organism with the least amount of genetic information is the Mycoplasma genitalium with 580,000 ‘letters’ coding for 482 proteins. But this can only survive as a parasite, so non-parasitical life would have to encode even more information. See How simple can life be?
Answer 4: The question of how the modern code emerged from these early predecessors is evolution itself. Random deviations in the nucleic acid structure would change the by-product produced, if the by-product was more efficient at replicating, it would overwhelm less efficient codes. This gradual change in the complexity of the underlying code is useful in explaining many aspects of biological theory. Such as why RNA is used as an intermediate between DNA and protein synthesis.
Rebuttal: Random deviations would randomly change the “by-product produced”, so they would disrupt all the proteins encoded. RNA is used as an intermediate because it is more labile; it’s optimal for the short time frames needed for cell communications. It is a hopeless candidate for hypothetical eons in a primordial soup.
Answer 5: The words ‘code’ and ‘language’ are only metaphors when applied to the DNA code, and they have no reality outside our own mental constructs. In reality, the whole thing is dependent on chemical properties.
Rebuttal: Secular scientists refer to the nucleobases of DNA as ‘letters’, so it’s hardly original to us. And we would agree that the workings of the code are due to chemical properties—we are not vitalists (see also Naturalism, Origins and Operational Science). But this doesn’t explain the origin of the code. Similarly, we believe that the workings of computer decoders can be explained totally by the laws of semi-conductor electron levels and other electrical properties, but these laws didn’t make the computer. Should we say then that there is no difference between a 500 GB hard drive and an old 2 MB one, because it has no reality outside our mind? Also, this is a rather petty thing to dispute, since it does not address any of the arguments from the pamphlet. One wonders why we received several objections of this nature.
Answer 6: It is easy to create amino acids and the building blocks for RNA by running an electrical charge through mineral-rich water.
Rebuttal: If you could actually get all the amino acids needed for life, and the sugars for RNA, from those conditions (which you can’t, since the conditions are incompatible, so this is a baseless assertion), that would be only the very first step. You then have to polymerize the amino acids in the right sequences into proteins (don’t forget about folding the proteins into precisely the right shape with chaperonins, because even one wrongly-folded protein can wreak havoc), and assemble all those proteins into micro-compartments to prevent the wrong things from reacting, then combine these compartments together to make the first cell. That is why such experiments never go beyond these simple “building blocks”; they are too dilute, contaminated, cross-reactive, and racemic (instead of being ‘one-handed’), to build anything. See Origin of life: instability of building blocks and Origin of life: the chirality problem. We have already covered the problems for the RNA world.
3. How could mutations—accidental copying mistakes—create the huge volumes of information in the DNA of living things?
Answer 1: If only eight mutations per year were passed on for three billion years, that gives 3 gigabytes of information.
Rebuttal: This assumes that those information-gaining mutations occur—which hasn’t been shown. Second, as a population grows larger, it is harder to fix new mutations in the population, because the cost of substitution is greater (this is Haldane’s Dilemma).3 Third, it assumes that the mutations that will be fixed are the sort that create new structures, such as lungs, feathers and wings. But it is becoming the consensus even among evolutionist geneticists that mutations are like spelling mistakes in an instruction manual, which overwhelmingly degrade information. These changes can be adaptive (helpful to survival or ‘beneficial’) in certain circumstances, but they are still heading in the wrong direction to make evolution tenable. This includes antibiotic resistance, wingless beetles on windswept islands, blind fish in caves, and chloroquine resistance in malarial parasites. A recent paper shows that even the “beneficial” mutations work against each other—it’s called antagonistic epistasis.
Answer 2: Computer models have shown how mutations can lead to large-scale change.
Rebuttal: Every computer simulation of information-gaining mutations known to us stacks the deck in favour of evolution and in no way simulates what actually happens in real life. You might as well argue from the computer game Spore (although some do). See the articles on genetic algorithms and Dawkins’s Weasel program at our Natural Selection Q&A, as well as the more sophisticated Mendel’s Accountant, which does simulate (model) the real world genetics of living organisms. We know that mutations break things—and it’s far easier to break something than to make it.
Note also, that the issue is not the size of the change: dogs and cabbages both exhibit enormous variety, but they are still dogs (wolves, coyotes, German shepherds, etc.) and cabbages (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc.). These changes can occur within an animal or plant type (kind/baramin). Evolutionists need to find a mechanism for ‘nature’ to invent new genetic instructions for complex new features such as feathers for reptiles, if evolution did really change a reptile into a bird, for example.
Answer 3: Using words such as ‘accidental’ and ‘mistakes’ is misleading and misses the point entirely.
Rebuttal: Again, this sort of language is used by secular scientists, so take it up with them. But an assertion is not an argument—our opponents didn’t even defend this assertion. Carl Sagan, an ardent evolutionist, admitted: “ … mutations occur at random and are almost uniformly harmful—it is rare that a precision machine is improved by a random change in the instructions for making it.”4 How can random changes be anything but ‘accidental’ and ‘mistakes’?
Well so far our evolution defenders have not delivered the goods. Keep tuned for the next installment of attempts to answer the 15 questions.
- Kerkut, G.A., Implications of Evolution, Pergamon, Oxford, UK, p. 157, 1960. He continued: “the evidence which supports this is not sufficiently strong to allow us to consider it as anything more than a working hypothesis.” Return to text.
- Flew went on to say that such DNA research “has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved.” My Pilgrimage from Atheism to Theism: an exclusive interview with former British atheist Professor Antony Flew by Gary Habermas, Philosophia Christi, Winter 2005. Return to text.
- According to the theoretical mathematics of population genetics, if a beneficial mutation has a selective advantage, its probability of survival is about 2s/(1–e–2sN), where s = selection coefficient and N is the population size. See Spetner, L.M., Not By Chance, The Judaica Press, Brooklyn, NY, 1996, 1997; see online review. Return to text.
- Sagan, C., The Dragons of Eden, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1977, p. 28. Return to text.