Is evolution pseudoscience?
The Skeptic’s Dictionary contains an entry on ‘pseudoscience’ that includes ten characteristic fallacies of pseudoscientific theories.1 The list’s compiler clearly did not have evolution in mind, as the very first group the article identifies as pseudoscientific is ‘creationists’. Ironically, evolution has almost every characteristic on this list. Let’s look at how evolution exhibits the fallacies listed by these self-proclaimed skeptics, with just one example of each.
Some pseudoscientific theories are based upon an authoritative text rather than observation or empirical investigation.
In almost every debate about origins, the first argument given by the evolutionists is an appeal to authority. The National Academy of Sciences flatly asserts, ‘While the mechanisms of evolution are still under investigation, scientists universally accept that the cosmos, our planet, and life evolved and continue to evolve.’2 [our emphasis]
We are supposed to respect these scientists because science has proven so powerful. But the people who preach evolution didn’t discover gravity or pasteurization or semiconductors. They just call themselves by the same name, ‘scientist’.
Some pseudoscientific theories explain what non-believers cannot even observe.
The web site of the US Department of Energy admits that no one has observed evolution happen in nature or the laboratory, but explains, ‘As for the fact that we haven’t made evolving life in the laboratory yet, I think that you’re expecting too much of your species. Let’s say, as a first guess, that it took blind Nature a billion years to make evolving life on earth. … How much faster do you want us to go? Even if you give us an advantage of a factor of a MILLION in speed, it would still take us a thousand years to catch up … ’.3
So it is totally unrealistic to expect to actually observe evolution, even under artificially accelerated conditions.
Richard Dawkins, Professor of Zoology, Oxford University, said, ‘Evolution has been observed. It’s just that it has not been observed while it’s happening.’4
Some can’t be tested because they are consistent with every imaginable state of affairs in the empirical world.
The next is essentially the same:
… [or] are so vague and malleable that anything relevant can be shoehorned to fit the theory.
Evolutionists are always ready with a story to explain any observed trait of a species. Why do some birds, like peacocks and birds of paradise, have beautiful and elaborate tails? Evolutionists explain, ‘If a peacock can … find food and evade predators while dragging around a bigger and more conspicuous tail than his rivals do’ this demonstrates that he is particularly strong and capable, and thus makes a better mate. So evolution selects females that prefer males with the most elaborate tails.5
But the same article also says, ‘it’s hard to figure what possible advantage these eye-catching but burdensome appendages offer … in the grim business of survival.’ If peacocks had small, streamlined tails, evolutionist would surely be explaining that an efficient tail gives an advantage in the struggle for survival (in escaping from predators, for example).
Evolution is just as good at ‘predicting’ things that never happened as it is at predicting things that actually did happen. A theory that can explain anything, predicts nothing and proves nothing.
Some theories have been empirically tested and rather than being confirmed they seem either to have been falsified or to require numerous ad hoc hypotheses to sustain them.
Evolutionists are forced to admit that the fossil evidence for their theory is slim to non-existent. For example, almost all major groups of creatures appear in the fossil record with no evolutionary past. ‘Something quite bizarre happened at the end of the Precambrian Era. Rocks from that time show evidence of an astounding variety of multicelled and hard-shelled life forms that seemingly appeared all at once. Scientists have long pondered the causes of this sudden appearance of new life forms, known as the Cambrian explosion.’6
So the evolutionists offer ad hoc hypotheses to explain the lack of evidence. One popular theory is ‘punctuated equilibrium’, which says that sometimes evolution happens so fast that there are too few ‘intermediate’ generations for any to have much chance of being fossilized.
We cannot see evolution happening today because it goes so slowly, and we cannot see evidence of it in the past because it happened too quickly!
Some pseudoscientific theories rely on ancient myths and legends …
Okay, one that doesn’t particularly describe evolution, although evolutionary notions can be traced back to ancient pagan Greek philosophers such as Empedocles (c. 490–430 BC).7
Some pseudoscientific theories are supported mainly by selective use of anecdotes, intuition, and examples of confirming instances.
Evolutionists try to find animals that fit into their ‘evolutionary tree’. In the classic ‘horse story’, they arrange a group of animals with similar body shapes in order by size and say it shows the evolution of the horse. But is this actual ancestry or just a contrived arrangement? Except for the supposed ‘first horse’, which it probably isn’t, far from being an example of evolution, the fossils show the wide variation within a created kind. As the biologist Heribert-Nilsson said, ‘The family tree of the horse is beautiful and continuous only in the textbooks’.8
Most of the creatures that would have had to exist if evolution were true have never been found, and some creatures have been found that don’t fit in the evolutionary tree at all, like the platypus. But evolutionists seize on a few creatures that sort of look like they might be halfway between a badger and a horse, or between a reptile and a bird. These rare apparent fits ‘prove’ evolution as much as occasional good guesses by a psychic ‘prove’ that he can read your mind.
Some pseudoscientific theories confuse metaphysical claims with empirical claims.
Some evolutionists insist that evolution has no metaphysical implications. ‘Evolution does not have moral consequences, and does not make cosmic purpose impossible.’9
But others make dogmatic metaphysical applications. The American Academy for the Advancement of Science website includes a whole section on ‘Science, Ethics, and Religion’, with statements like, ‘Evolution is the creation myth of our age. By telling us our origins it shapes our views of what we are. … In calling it a myth I am not saying that it is a false story. I mean that it has great symbolic power, which is independent of its truth. Is the word religion appropriate to it? This depends on the sense in which we understand that very elastic word. I have chosen it deliberately.’10
Richard Dawkins said that ‘Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist’.11
Some pseudoscientific theories … contradict known scientific laws and use ad hoc hypotheses to explain their belief.
A pro-evolution web site states, ‘Until the 19th century, it was commonly believed that life frequently arose from non-life under certain circumstances, a process known as “spontaneous generation”. This belief was due to the common observation that maggots or mould appeared to arise spontaneously when organic matter was left exposed. It was later discovered that under all these circumstances commonly observed, life only arises from life. … No life has ever been observed to arise from dead matter.’12
But evolutionists dismiss the fact that their theory requires the violation of this well-established law of science. ‘Did [Pasteur] prove that no life can ever come from non-living things? No, he didn’t, and this is because you cannot disprove something like that experimentally … ’.13
The fact that all the experimental evidence of the past 200 years contradicts their theory is irrelevant, because they speculate that it’s possible that there is some experiment that no one has yet tried where it might work.
Pseudoscientists claim to base their theories on empirical evidence, and they may even use some scientific methods, though often their understanding of a controlled experiment is inadequate.
Evolutionists claim that their theory is science, but the National Center for Science Education, which is an anti-creationist lobbying group, admits that there’s a problem: ‘The failure of many students to understand and accept the fact of evolution is often a consequence of the naïve views they hold of the nature of science … . According to this naïve view, the key to the unique success of science at producing true knowledge is “The Scientific Method”, which, on the standard account, involves formulating hypotheses, making predictions, and then going into the laboratory to perform the crucial experiment. … In contrast, the work of many evolutionary biologists involves the reconstruction of the past. The methods they use do not conform to the standard view of “The Scientific Method”.’14
So if you can’t actually prove your theory using the scientific method, which actually uses controlled experiment, as distinct from plausible story telling, simply declare that only ‘naïve’ people think that the scientific method has anything to do with ‘science’.
Thus, of the ten characteristics of pseudoscience listed in the Skeptic’s Dictionary, evolution meets nine. Few other pseudosciences—astrology, astral projection, alien abduction, crystal power, or whatever—would meet so many.
“It’s not science” (How the claim that evolution is science and creation is religion does not stack up.)
References and notes
- Carroll, R.T., Pseudoscience, The Skeptic’s Dictionary, <skepdic.com/pseudosc.html>, 19 June 2006. Return to text.
- National Academy of Sciences, Evolution resources from the National Academies, <nationalacademies.org/evolution>, 19 June 2006. Return to text.
- Barrans Jr., R., Ask a scientist: microevolution [sic—the article is actually about macroevolution] United States Department of Energy, <www.newton.dep.anl.gov/askasci/bio99/bio99509.htm>, 19 June 2006. Return to text.
- Richard Dawkins, PBS interview with Bill Moyers, 3 December 2004, <www.pbs.org/now/transcript/transcript349_full.html>, 8 November 2006. Return to text.
- Stewart, D., The importance of being flashy—feathers, International Wildlife, September 1995, <www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1170/is_n5_v25/ai_1738 6021>, 8 November 2006. Return to text.
- Friedman, R., The Cambrian explosion: tooth and claw, Astrobiology Magazine, April 2002, <www.astrobio.net/news/print.php?sid=134>. Return to text.
- Duggan, G.H., Review of The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins, Apologia, 6(1):121–122, 1997. Return to text.
- For details on the horse story, see Sarfati, J., The non-evolution of the horse, Creation 21(3):28–31, 1999. <creation.com/horse>. Return to text.
- Wilkins, J.S., Evolution and philosophy: does evolution make might right?’ The Talk.Origins Archive, 1997, <www.talkorigins.org/faqs/evolphil/social.html>, 19 June 2006. Return to text.
- Midgley, M., Evolution as a religion: a comparison of prophecies, science, ethics, and religion, <www.aaas.org/spp/dser/03_Areas/evolution/perspectives/midgley_ 1987shtml>, October 2005. Return to text.
- Dawkins R., The Blind Watchmaker, Penguin, London, p. 6, 1991. Return to text.
- Absolute Astronomy. Biogenesis, <www.absoluteastronomy.com/encyclopedia/b/bi/biogenesis.htm>, 19 June 2006. Return to text.
- See Wilkins, John S., Spontaneous Generation and the Origin of Life, The Talk.Origins Archive, April 2004, <www.talkorigins.org/faqs/abioprob/spontaneous-generation.html>, 19 June 2006. Return to text.
- Cooper, R.A., The goal of evolutionary instruction: belief or literacy?, National Center for Science Education, <www.ncseweb.org/resources/rncse_content/vol21/1132_the_goal_of_evolution_instruct_12_30_1899.asp>, 19 June 2006. Return to text.