Exploring the ‘Evidence for Evolution’ … in 1970
Published: 6 October 2020 (GMT+10)
1970 was an interesting year: a gallon of gas (petrol) cost $0.36 in the USA, the average new house cost just over $20,000, and the average income per year was just over $9,000. Imagine that: the average yearly income was almost half the cost of a house! In that year, it was first announced that The Beatles were disbanded. The first jumbo-jet, the 747, made its first commercial flight.1 Darwin’s theory of evolution had been published for over a century. That’s over a century’s worth of time to iron out the details, and, importantly, to cement the supposedly rock-hard evidence for evolution. If the world hadn’t figured out the strong reasons why evolution is “true” by 1970, then I think we should all agree there is a big problem with the theory!
So, why all this focus on the year 1970? It is because I happen to have in my possession a copy of the World Book Encyclopedia from that year, and it includes an entry on the theory of evolution (it lacks, however, any entry for creationism). It is the section under the heading, ‘Evidence for Evolution’ that particularly interests us for the purposes of this investigation. Are the evidences used for evolution in 1970 the same as those being put forward today? Do any of them stand up to scrutiny? We’ll look at each heading provided, and some relevant quotes.
“ Belief in evolution is based on several quite different kinds of evidence. Five of these kinds of evidence are discussed below because they show the chief bases on which the whole theory of evolution now rests.”2
Variation and Change
“Everyone knows that living things vary.”
Yes, including creationists! The real question is, are there natural limits to that variation, or can it turn a single cell into a human? Darwin simply asserted it could, saying he could “see no reason” why this change couldn’t proceed without limits. But real genetics and biology show us that there are certainly limits, the main limiting factor being information content. Mutations gradually destroy that content, rather than building it up.3
“Some [variations] are called acquired characteristics, and are caused by outside conditions—by warm weather, rich soil, special food, and so on. As far as we know, ordinary acquired characteristics are not inherited. This means they cannot be passed on from one generation to another. If that is true they cannot help in the process of evolution.”
It turns out this is only partially correct. Through the emerging science of epigenetics, we now know that sometimes acquired characteristics caused by environmental factors can indeed have an impact on future generations (even though the genome itself has not changed). Rather than being helpful for evolution, this is a very big problem, since this process will work, in effect, to ‘fool’ natural selection. What appears to be an improvement (or degradation) in the genome may in fact only be an epigenetic change. Selection for such epigenetic changes is effectively wasted, since these types of changes can be temporary and are not related to actual genetic modifications.
“In 1849, for example, a wild grapevine suddenly produced big, sweet grapes which were named Concord. Other sports, or mutations, as such variations are called, have produced hornless cattle, short-legged sheep, “double” flowers, and new varieties of seeds.”
This anecdote about the concord grape is highly misleading. This variety was created by human effort in mass-planting and artificial selection:
“ …Boston-born Ephraim Wales Bull developed the Concord grape in 1849. On his farm outside Concord … he planted some 22,000 seedlings in all, before he had produced the ideal grape.”4
Artificial selection and plant breeding is not “evolution”. Fenton (the encyclopedia entry’s author) misleadingly stated, “suddenly produced”, while conveniently ignoring the human agency involved. Even so, slight variations from one type of grape to another are certainly not something creationists deem impossible; the same goes for all the other examples listed above. None of these examples serve to show increases in functional information content, or changes from one basic kind to another.
“Most authorities also agree that natural selection has controlled the results of inherited variations, just as Darwin supposed. That is, selection has preserved those living things which had new, helpful characters. It has helped them to crowd out neighbors which either lacked those advantages or developed harmful variations. When the new forms reproduced, the process was repeated, and so on through countless generations. Since the earth offers all sorts of places and conditions for life, this process may have produced things as different as seaweeds, insects, and men.” 2
The logical hole here is so large that one could drive a train right through it. Yes, variations happen, and in some cases, natural selection can act on them (although the above quote wrongly implies that selection is all-powerful and acts on all variations no matter the size—see ref. 3). But just because there are a lot of different environments on earth, we’re now supposed to accept that tiny chance variations produced things “as different as seaweeds, insects, and men”? “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” is the mantra of most skeptics, yet they blindly swallow this camel.
“A different sort of variation takes place when two species (kinds) cross and produce a new one. This has happened at least twice among horse chestnuts, as well as in hemp nettles, grasses, roses, and some snails. One new grass which developed from a cross grew so fast and so tall that it crowded out both its parent species. This was progressive evolution, for the new form was superior to its ancestors.”
Here we’ve missed the boat completely, since in these examples we clearly are not getting anything new (these aren’t mutations), but rather we’re getting new combinations of pre-existing genetic content. This is called hybrid vigor. Since you can’t recombine what you don’t already possess in the gene pool, this is not the type of process that could turn a single cell into a man.
There’s some rich irony also in the fact that we see the use of the term ‘kinds’ by an evolutionist here: something for which they now regularly attack and lampoon creationists. Yet here we see that both sides use this term, we simply put it at a different level (creationists tend to put ‘kinds’ at around the ‘family’ level, and represent the most basic originally-created grouping within which variation is possible). Our example of two types of grass crossing to produce a new variety of grass falls well within a creationist worldview, and thus cannot be considered “evidence for evolution”.
“Fossils are the remains or traces of things that lived ages ago. … When fossils are collected from one layer they reveal variations like those shown by plants and animals today. When fossils from other strata are studied in turn, those variations often form series which record the stages by which new or larger groups developed while old ones disappeared. … Scientists admit that this evidence is not complete. Many things lived without leaving fossils. Many types of fossils have not yet been found. Still, the general record is convincing and indicates orderly change throughout the history of living things. It also indicates relationships, since older and older fossils are more and more alike.”
Reading the above, a neophyte would certainly get the impression that the fossil record gives us a pretty clear evolutionary picture; but the problem is, that has never been true. Given that Fenton was a paleontologist and a geologist, one must ask, was this deliberately deceptive on his part? Famed paleontologist and evolutionary biologist Steven J. Gould wrote with quite a bit more honesty in 1977 (and as a result has been very frequently quoted by creationists, rightly so):
‘The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology. The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches … in any local area, a species does not arise gradually by the gradual transformation of its ancestors; it appears all at once and “fully formed.”’5
Clearly, one of these two ‘authorities’ (Fenton or Gould) must be either grossly misinformed about their own area of expertise, or they must be attempting to deceive their audience. But deceivers have no motive to reveal facts that are embarrassing to their own worldview, as Gould did above, which leads me to the conclusion that Fenton was doing his part to keep that ‘trade secret of paleontology’ under wraps. Contrary to what he wrote, it’s not true to say that older and older fossils look more and more alike. Instead, we have the famous Cambrian Explosion: where the vast majority of biological body plans simply burst into existence with no ancestors! We also have the less famous but still startling Ediacaran explosion, which evolutionists ‘date’ even earlier than the Cambrian.
It’s not wrong to say that there is a ‘general progression’ present in the fossil record, with different types of animals being preserved at different levels. But this picture is far from looking like Darwinists would have expected! It doesn’t show a gradual series of evolutionary changes. It looks more like what creationists would expect, with a global flood progressively washing over different areas (and different habitats) on the earth and burying different types of organisms as it goes. This is a far better explanation for out-of-place fossils.
“Much evidence for our ideas of evolution comes from the development of individual living things, especially animals. Such development is much like stages through which large groups of animals have passed during the earth’s long history. … Today an unborn mammal, such as a dog, … develops gills like a fish, loses them, and builds up two lungs. At the same time, the dog’s heart develops through fish, amphibian, and reptilian stages until it becomes the four-chambered organ which pumps blood so efficiently that the animal can keep warm. … [C]haracteristics long lost by adults still are inherited. This means that there is a real relationship between modern and earliest forms of animals.”
There is little to be said about this claim that hasn’t already been said many times before: namely, this idea, called Embryonic Recapitulation, is based almost entirely on the ideas and fraudulent illustrations of the 19th century German zoologist Ernst Haeckel,6 who later issued a quasi-apologetic remark that fell short of accepting full responsibility. His embryonic comparisons (upon which the above claims are based) bear next to no resemblance to reality, as seen here.
Shockingly, however, modern sources are still playing politics to whitewash over this fiasco. The world’s source of information, Wikipedia, currently (as of the time of writing) states:
“While it has been widely claimed that Haeckel was charged with fraud by five professors and convicted by a university court at Jena, there does not appear to be an independently verifiable source for this claim. … There were multiple versions of the embryo drawings, and Haeckel rejected the claims of fraud.”7
Not so! He was forced to admit that he falsified the drawings in order to make his case. Elsewhere, over on the page concerning Recapitulation Theory, we see even more politicians’ doublespeak:
“The Haeckelian form of recapitulation theory is considered defunct. … The modern view is summarised by the University of California Museum of Paleontology:
‘Embryos do reflect the course of evolution, but that course is far more intricate and quirky than Haeckel claimed. Different parts of the same embryo can even evolve in different directions. As a result, the Biogenetic Law was abandoned, and its fall freed scientists to appreciate the full range of embryonic changes that evolution can produce—an appreciation that has yielded spectacular results in recent years as scientists have discovered some of the specific genes that control development.’ … ”8
Different parts of the same embryo can evolve in different directions? Do words even have meaning anymore? This gibberish is the result of establishment scientists becoming embarrassed and trying to cover for their past lies and blunders. I have written about the dangers of trusting Wikipedia, and this is another great case in point. Yet, as we see, the danger didn’t really begin with Wikipedia at all. World Book 1970 was just as dangerous if not more so.
“Suppose we compare a human arm with the front leg of an alligator and a horse, the flipper of a whale, and a bat’s skin-covered wing. At first they seem utterly different. Yet they actually show the same arrangement of bones, muscles, blood vessels, and nerves.“
Let’s take this claim (called homology) at face value. Even if totally true, what does it evidence? One could say it argues against multiple independent origins of life (since ‘convergent evolution’ is even less likely than regular evolution). But does it help us to decide between special creation and evolution? Certainly not. Just as many different automobiles share common design elements, we should not be surprised if different kinds of life forms might share common design elements as well. Comparative anatomical similarities could be explained by either creation or universal common descent, and as such this qualifies as non-discriminating information, to use Dr Carter’s term.
“Much evidence of evolution comes from plants and animals that live on islands far from continents. The Galapagos Islands, for example, lie about 600 miles from South America, and are surrounded by the Pacific Ocean. They have twenty-six kinds of land birds, all resembling species found in western South America. But twenty-three of these species seem to have changed since they reached the islands, for the Galapagos birds are distinct species. … They apparently developed there because of changes that took place after their ancestors drifted from the mainland of South America.”
This refutes the doctrine of fixity of species, promoted by Charles Lyell and Hugh Ross, but not biblical creation. As already discussed here at length, creationists don’t reject the idea that animals can change and diversify. We do deny that basic created kinds can vary so much that they become a different basic kind; but none of this would even come close to demonstrating such a radical change. This, too, is non-discriminating information. The evidence is also consistent with animals coming off the Ark then migrating to their current location. So we would not be surprised that Galápagos creatures resemble South American ones—South America was the migration route by their ancestors.
And this concludes Fenton’s five kinds of evidence. None of them are even remotely convincing, and more than one of them included blatantly false information. Was this the best evolutionists had to offer over a century after Darwin published his ideas? Simply put, Darwinists have never shouldered the burden of proof for their grand scheme. It has always been advanced by a combination of intimidation, bluffing, smokescreens, irrelevant facts, and even outright fraud. Fenton writes, “No one should make the mistake of saying that evolution is fully understood.” This evasion tactic is still regularly used today. How convenient it is for them, that the details of the theory always remain murky and uncertain, yet the overall claim of universal common descent is always said to be on such a firm foundation that questioning it is akin to rejecting science altogether. We can see here, however, that this foundation is nothing at all when placed under scrutiny.
A final (surprising) section: Objections to the Theory of Evolution
Fenton ends the entry by very honestly admitting that ‘many persons object to the theory of evolution because it conflicts with their religious beliefs’.
“The religious objection to evolution stems from at least three convictions:
A conviction regarding the Bible. Many persons believe the account of Creation in the Book of Genesis to be a historical fact. Hence it is considered that God not only made the world by separate Almighty acts, but that He also created man, animals, and plants in such a way that they only would “yield fruit after their kind.” Persons who hold this conviction usually do not believe in evolution from lower forms.”
This is a surprisingly accurate portrayal, coming from somebody who was known to be an outspoken evolutionist and critic of creationists. Today’s evolutionists are generally less forthright, preferring to downplay the obvious conflict between Scripture and the evolutionary story. For example, evolutionist Dr Joshua Swamidass claims to take Genesis “literally”, yet he also believes in evolution at the same time!9 Evidently he is one of those who has a non-literal understanding of “literally”.
A conviction regarding God. In the Bible, God is held to be the Creator, the Sustainer, and the Ultimate End of all things. Many Christians believe that it is impossible to reconcile this conviction with the idea that evolutionary development has been brought about by natural forces present in organic life.
A conviction regarding the Gospel of the Christian religion. The reality of sin, and of redemption from sin, is held to be essential to the Christian faith. But if man is in the process of evolving from a lower state, sin tends to become mere imperfection, and the Gospel of redemption from the guilt of sin tends to lose all meaning.
This is a surprisingly astute comment, coming from an opponent of biblical creation and published in a secular encyclopedia. My, how times have changed in the past 50 years! This is exactly what we biblical creationists have been pointing out; yet it was clearly understood 50 years ago even by the detractors themselves. This statement more or less amounts to an admission that belief in evolution contradicts the Gospel. To be consistent, one must choose between Christianity or evolution.
Some persons also object to the theory of evolution on scientific grounds. Scientists themselves have disagreed on certain facts about evolution. The opponents of evolution say that in view of these disagreements the theory is far from being proved. It is denied that the facts of fossil arrangement, comparative anatomy, of embryology, and so on, are evidence for the descent of species. Most scientists believe, for example, that the fact that the vertebrates all have many structures on the same plan proves that vertebrates all evolved from some common lower ancestor. But the opponents of the theory believe that this fact merely indicates that the Creator used the same pattern in making species of the same class.”
Yea, verily! Spot on assessment, and in 50 years virtually nothing has changed, other than the fact that today, proponents of evolution writing in the public space would generally never dare to give the above clarifying remarks, for fear of granting some legitimacy to these opponents. Today, we are not being debated against, by and large: we are being ignored. What, other than the return of our Lord, will it take to break through this wall of deceit?
References and notes
- The People History, 1970. thepeoplehistory.com/1970.html, accessed 8 Sep 2020. Return to text.
- Fenton, C., “Evolution”, The World Book Encyclopedia 6:331–334, Field Enterprises Educational Corp., 1970. Return to text.
- Price, P., Genetic Entropy: The Silent Killer, Creation 41(4):48–50, 2019. Return to text.
- The History, concordgrape.org, accessed 8 Sep 2020. Return to text.
- Gould S., Evolution’s erratic pace, Natural History 86(5):14, May 1977. Return to text.
- van Niekerk, E., Countering revisionism part 1: Ernst Haeckel, fraud is proven, J. Creation 25(3):89–95, 2011; part 2: Ernst Haeckel and his triple-woodcut print, J. Creation 27(1):78–84, 2013. Return to text.
- Ernst Haeckel, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernst_Haeckel, accessed 10 September 2020. Return to text.
- Recapitulation Theory, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recapitulation_theory, accessed 10 September 2020. Return to text.
- See Dr Swamidass’ comment on our article dealing with his recent interview of Dr W.L. Craig, at the bottom of the page. Return to text.