Refutation of New Scientist’s Evolution: 24 myths and misconceptions
Creation alternatives and intermediate forms?
Published: 29 December 2008 (GMT+10)
Ed. Note: this is the fifth instalment of a detailed critique of a major New Scientist anti-creationist diatribe (see introduction and index page). This one deals with its word games with creationist alternatives and intermediate forms.
Creationism provides a coherent alternative to evolution
The only thing that creationists agree on is that they don’t like evolution. Even Genesis gives two contradictory accounts of creation
This silly old canard? Once again LePage has not done his homework—see the articles under Do Genesis 1 and 2 contradict each other? See also the previous instalment refuting New Scientist’s claim of Bible contradictions.
If someone tells you that creationism provides a better explanation for life on Earth than the theory of evolution, ask them which version of creationism.
Among creationists, there is an extraordinary range of beliefs about how life came to be. A few creationists accept that evolution produced the great diversity of life on Earth—apart from humans. Others think all life evolved but that the process was guided by a supernatural being.
Other creationists accept that evolution can lead to minor changes (microevolution) but deny that lots of little changes can result in new species or even new groups of organisms (macroevolution).
We advise against this distinction in our Don’t Use page, the eighth most widely read page on our site:
These terms, which focus on ‘small’ v. ‘large’ changes, distract from the key issue of information. That is, particles-to-people evolution requires changes that increase genetic information, but all we observe is sorting and loss of information. We have yet to see even a ‘micro’ increase in information, although such changes should be frequent if evolution were true. Conversely, we do observe quite ‘macro’ changes that involve no new information, e.g. when a control gene is switched on or off.
I.e. it’s not that the changes are too small, but that the change is actually going in the opposite direction to what evolution requires—see The evolution train’s a-comin (Sorry, a-goin in the wrong direction).
Some think a deity created the very first life but then left it to evolve by itself.
Once again, this is a form of theistic evolution, not biblical creation. But it acknowledges the intractable problem of the origin of first life by any supposed chemical evolutionary process, since natural selection can’t be invoked till there is already a self-replicating entity, as leading evolutionist Dobzhansky pointed out.
Then there’s the vexed issue of timing. Young Earth Creationists regard the Genesis account as ‘inerrant’ despite its contradictions (see Evolution is wrong because the Bible is inerrant),
And we showed in a previous instalment how contextually ignorant the New Scientist writer is, easily explaining the alleged contradictions.
and claim the planet was created about 6000 years ago. ‘Old Earth Creationists’ meanwhile accept the hundreds of lines of evidence suggesting otherwise.
In any case, all the above New Scientist paragraphs comprise a disingenuous tactic: lump a whole lot of mutually incompatible beliefs under a single broad label, then crow about how this label encompasses so much contradiction!
The same of course can be done with evolutionists, given the differences between atheistic evolutionists, theistic evolutionists (whom atheists co-opt as ‘useful idiots’ but regard with complete contempt), New Age evolutionists, astrology-believing evolutionists (New Age astrologers nearly all have an evolutionary mindset), crystal-power–invoking evolutionists, undirected panspermists who think spores came from outer space naturally, directed panspermists like Crick who think aliens seeded us, those who propose the Gaia hypothesis (that the earth is a living organism that has an innate natural tendency to form life), gradualist evolutionists (like Darwin and Dawkins) versus saltationists (such as Goldschmidt and Gould), and even flat-earth–believing evolutionists such as the leader of the Flat Earth Society1 …
Of course, logically the differences merely show that they can’t all be right; they don’t show that they are all wrong. And any true proposition might have thousands of similar-sounding propositions that are wrong, but it is crass to use these wrong ones as an argument against the right one. Or does New Scientist think that 3745 x 921 can’t possibly be 3449145, because other students gave answers like 3449144, 3449146, 3449135 etc.?
This schism is just the beginning. Some don’t dispute the earth’s apparent age but believe it is an illusion (the omphalos hypothesis,
The Greek word for ‘navel’, after a strange theory of the leading 19th century naturalist and very popular writer Philip Gosse, who was also a devout Christian. New Scientist, like many critics, doesn’t understand what exactly it was that Gosse proposed. Gosse’s failure was unfortunately to invent the unbiblical idea that time moved in a circle, which God interrupted when He created. The time of real history since creation he called ‘diachronic’, while ‘before’ creation, the cycling time was unreal, ‘virtual’ time he called ‘prochronic’. Thus Adam and Eve would have been created with a navel to reflect a prochronic history of growing from a mother’s womb, even though there was no real ‘diachronic’ history of such a thing. Indeed, no evidence in the present could differentiate features produced in diachronic or prochronic time:
‘ … we cannot avoid the conclusion that each organism was from the first marked with the records of a previous being. But since creation and previous history are inconsistent with each other; as the very idea of the creation of an organism excludes the idea of pre-existence of that organism, or any part of it; it follows, that such records are false, so far as they testify to time; that the developments and processes thus recorded have been produced without time, or are what I call “prochronic”.’
which some summarise as ‘God faked it’).
As shown above, that was not Gosse’s intention. However, he won not a single convert to his views at the time, precisely because it would make God a deceiver. Nor has any modern creationist ever accepted the idea of God faking it, or planting evidence to test faith or such rubbish—which is a rather dishonest misotheistic caricature. But under an atheistic morality, what’s wrong with deception—evolutionists are even on record claiming that it’s OK to deceive kids into believing in evolution.
Note also, most creationists today believe that Adam and Eve would have lacked navels precisely because they didn’t have mothers—see Did Adam have a belly-button? Creationists also realize that the Bible teaches a real linear history, and this was one feature that led to the blossoming of modern science in Christianized Europe. Conversely, a cyclical view of history goes back to the pagan Greek philosophers and it still followed by Eastern religions.
Yet others claim that the planet itself is billions of years old but that life on it was created only recently.
The ‘soft gap theory’ is indeed incoherent on both biblical and scientific grounds—see Soft gap sophistry. It’s hardly a reflection on biblical creation that some people have strange ideas.
Creationists do at least all believe in a creator. But who is it: God, Allah, Yahweh, Brahma, Zeus, Olorun, aliens or a giant hermaphrodite?
So which one of these religions has a live resurrected Saviour instead of founders who rotted in their tombs? Of course, this would mean that LePage would have to deal with the evidence, instead of generalities and elephant hurling and attempts at ‘guilt by association’ (see Did Jesus Christ really rise from the dead? and Holy books? Which one are you going to trust?). Merely mentioning these beliefs is silly without analysing the specific arguments for or against them. Indeed, God = Yahweh anyway, and the other deities can be seen as arising from the corruption of the true knowledge of the Creator of all.
Those who have studied our planet and the life on it, however, have come to very clear conclusions: the Earth is around 4 billion years old and all the life on it gradually evolved from much simpler forms.
I doubt that the New Scientist writer LePage has studied much of this, but some of those who have studied it come to very different conclusions. See for example Young age of the Earth & Universe Q&A.
There is no evidence of any kind of outside intervention, and no need to invoke it to explain what is known.
Ipse dixit, common among misotheists to rule out theistic explanations by decree (see The rules of the game), since as Lewontin admits, ‘tolerance of just-so stories’ is better than ‘allowing a divine foot in the door.’
Yes, there are many debates among biologists, geologists and cosmologists over the finer details, but these will be resolved sooner or later by new discoveries or experiments. Reality is the ultimate arbiter.
But we would go further and say that contingent reality is dependent on a necessary reality: God knows all true propositions, while we know only a part. Systematic theologian Louis Berkhof approvingly explained about the views of some leading theologians:
‘… Since the entrance of sin into the world, man can gather true knowledge about God from His general revelation only if he studies it in the light of Scripture, in which the elements of God’s original self-revelation, which were obscured and perverted by the blight of sin, are republished, corrected, and interpreted.’2
Berkhof’s own view was:
‘Some are inclined to speak of God’s general revelation [i.e., ‘nature’] as a second source; but this is hardly correct in view of the fact that nature can come into consideration here only as interpreted in the light of Scripture.’3
By contrast, there is no way to resolve the often vast differences between the numerous forms of creationism. Anyone can come up with their own version of creationism (and many do). How do you convince the followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, for instance, that his noodle is not the real creator?
How about providing some serious arguments for this viewpoint that are enough to convince you to become a devotee, before expecting the rest of us to take them seriously? E.g. can it provide as good an explanation for the survival of Christianity in the ancient world in the face of 17 major hurdles, as indisputable evidence of the resurrection of Jesus does (see The Impossible Faith). This in turn validates Jesus’ claims, e.g. about Scripture and the history it provides.
Indeed, Christian apologist William Lane Craig points out another problem in God and the Flying Spaghetti Monster:
Moreover, it’s plausible that any ultimate explanation must involve a personal being which is incorporeal. For any being composed of material stuff will exhibit precisely that specified complexity that we are trying to explain. The old “Who designed the Designer?” objection thus presses hard against any construal of the Designer as a physical object (see my “Richard Dawkins Argument for Atheism in The God Delusion” in the Question of the Week Archive [or see CMI’s answer, The old Who created God? canard revisited]). That immediately rules out the Flying Spaghetti Monster as a final explanation.
Half a wing is no use to anyone
Just as objects designed for one purpose can be used for another, so genes, structures and behaviours that evolve for one purpose become adapted to do another
Ever used a newspaper to light fires or mop up spills? Stood on a chair to reach something? Or swatted flies with a rolled-up copy of New Scientist? Just as objects designed for a specific purpose can be co-opted for something quite different, so features that evolved to do one task can be used for another – and often are.
That brings up a point in a previous instalment: It’s not surprising that complex machinery could be adapted to simpler uses; e.g. a TV with a blown CRT tube could still be used as an audio system like a radio, but it wouldn’t mean that a TV evolved from a radio. Similarly, using a rolled up copy of New Scientist to swat flies (an appropriate use for this issue) means merely using the material substrate while dispensing with the information (or misinformation in this case) therein. It would be quite another thing to find the opposite: information (e.g. a Shakespearean sonnet) somehow encoded the cross-hatching of a purpose-built fly swat.
But what use is half a wing? It’s a question that those who doubt evolution first asked more than a century ago. When it comes to insects, rowing and skimming could be the answer. Stonefly nymphs have flapping gills for extracting oxygen from water. When standing on the water’s surface, early insects could have used these gills for getting oxygen and propulsion rowing simultaneously. Some stoneflies still stand on the surface and row across water using their wings.
Hmm, nice little switch from gills to wings when no one was looking. And lots of ‘could be’, ‘could have’, then on to ‘may have’ into the next paragraph. But all these just-so scenarios are then taken to be actual evidence. But the fossil record indicates that the earliest (by evolutionary ‘dating’) winged insects were already capable fliers; there is no evidence to support this story. Nor is there any fossil support for the rival story that flight evolved from gliding silverfish-like ancestors who evolved flattened bodies then new membranes. Expert evolutionary entomologist Ellington writes:
The origins of insect flight are shrouded in the past, and studies of the fossil record and extant insects have provided few answers. Speculations abound with no hard facts to check them, and we are left in a rather unconvincing muddle.4
Much evolutionary propaganda commits a basic fallacy in modal logic: if p is (imagined to be) possible, then p happened, and not-p is thereby disproved.
Over time, flapping could have replaced rowing as the main means of propulsion, allowing insects to skim across the water’s surface: low levels of friction on this scale mean proto-wings would not have had to generate much air flow to be useful for skimming.
Yet now we know that insects breathe actively through their spiracles and don’t have to rely on diffusion—see Insect inspiration solves giant bug mystery. With such a good system for obtaining oxygen, the reliance on hypothetical gills that supposedly became wings becomes even less plausible.
As these proto-wings became more efficient and specialised, early insects may have taken further steps towards flying. While some skimming insects keep all six legs on the water’s surface, faster skimmers keep just four legs or two legs on the water. This surface-skimming hypothesis concerning the evolution of insect flight shows how flapping gills could gradually have turned into wings while remained useful at every stage.
Notice again the ‘could have’ and ‘may have’, etc. There is no evidence whatever for this conjecture. It might sound superficially fancy, but not with what we now know about insect flight and the incredibly intricate wing movements required to sustain the leading-edge vortices essential for lift. See for example Why a fly can fly like a fly and Why a butterfly flutters by.
From T-rex to sparrow
What about the wings of birds? In some dinosaurs, the scales covering their bodies evolved into hair-like feathers, most likely to insulate warm-blooded bodies or help keep eggs warm.
LePage should have been aware that modern feather research has largely discounted the scale origin of feathers, because they come from follicles not folds in the skin. See Scientific American admits creationists hit a sore spot: Need for a new paradigm in bird evolution.
Also, when feathers are not needed for flight, as in flightless birds, they tend to devolve and lose much of their structure, and become hair-like. Indeed, downy feathers, well known as very good insulators (cf. eiderdown), lack the hooks that are needed for flight feathers. See more on feathers.
Those dinosaurs with feathers on their limbs might then have started to exploit the aerodynamic properties offered by feathers, perhaps gliding between trees or running faster along the ground. Fossils show a gradual transition from downy, hair-like feathers into the rigid flight feathers that form the key part of birds’ wings.
Yet there are many things wrong with this idea (of Kenneth Dial), as I explained in Yet another flap about dino-to-bird evolution:
Here, Dial uses undoubted birds to postulate a theory about their origin. It makes sense that birds, which already have the musculature and great control over flying wings, should also have programmed instincts to use them to aid traction. But it makes no sense that natural selection for traction should lead to flight. Rather, on the face of it, traction would require the opposite force to lift, so the selective direction would be away from flight. So Dial proposes that somehow the motions that lead to traction must be redirected to produce the movement required for flight.
However, if running up slopes were a major selective factor, then one would expect increased musculature in the hindquarters to drive the legs. Then greater slopes could be scaled simply by momentum. Also, the extra weight of the muscles would increase traction automatically. These effects are probably the main reason the older birds are better slope climbers. However, increasing the weight on the hindquarters of a dinosaur is precisely the wrong way to turn it into a bird. In fact, the heaviness of dinosaur hindquarters is a major argument, even by evolutionists, against the theropod ancestry of birds.5
Without a time machine it is difficult to prove exactly what early birds or insects used ‘half a wing’ for. But it is now clear that half a wing can have all sorts of uses. Indeed, there are numerous examples of physical structures and behaviours that evolved for one purpose acquiring another one, a process called exaptation.
Evo-devo—evolutionary developmental biology—is even starting to identify the precise mutations that underlie such changes. For instance, the forelimbs of the ancestor of bats turned into wings partly thanks to a change in a gene called BMP2 that made its ‘fingers’ far longer than normal.
This would be very harmful in its alleged transitional state, because it would be a fragile hindrance to movement. And the oldest known bats (by evolutionary dating) were fully-formed fliers (and even echolocators, as documented in a previous instalment). See also Pterosaurs and bats have always been pterosaurs and bats!
The webbing between the extra long digits that makes up the bat wing is a reappearance of a long-lost feature: as embryos, all tetrapods initially develop webbed digits, a hangover from our fish ancestors. Normally, this webbing kills itself off at an early stage, but in bats this cell suicide is blocked.
Indeed, webbing can be the result of information loss for the designed process of apoptosis (programmed cell death) that normally clears the webbing to make the digits separate. This would explain the webbing in polar bears. But bat wings are far more than webbing. As we have pointed out in Going batty over evolution: Flexible, highly articulated wings leave bats without evolutionary ancestors:
The stretchy skin on a bat’s wings interacts with air differently compared to the firmer wings of birds and insects. This elasticity, combined with dozens of joints (even more than in a human hand), allows bats to generate unusual wing shapes and motions, e.g. that give more lift at higher angles of attack—the angle at which the wing meets the air on the downstroke. This may allow bats to fly at low speeds with less risk of stalling.
And the bats’ multiple-jointed wings not only allow for subtle adjustments to the wing shape during flight—thus improving efficiency—but can also be folded very close to the body to reduce drag. This means that the upstroke of a bat’s wing is very different to that of birds. ‘The bat almost completely collapses its wings,’ said one of the researchers, Kenneth Breuer of Brown University (USA).
Repurposing a structure does not have to involve the loss of the original structure. Reptilian jaw bones turned into mammalian ear bones, without the loss of the jaw. The neural circuitry that allows us to make fine limb movements may have been adapted to produce speech as well.
‘May have’, again … Indeed, the reason for our manual dexterity is that we can quickly switch the muscle coordination pattern from motion to force, as in tapping a surface where we first move then press—see Fingertip control. But where is the evidence that the language centres in the brain are related? See the difference in human and ape minds and origin of language.
In fact, almost every feature of complex organisms can be seen as a variation on a theme. Switching off one gene in fruit flies, for instance, can turn their antennae into legs.
This strange antennapedia is caused by a mutation that caused the information for legs to be expressed where an antenna’s information should have been expressed instead. It doesn’t at all explain where the information for legs or antennae came from in the first place. Similarly, one could plug a TV into a socket normally used for a computer, but this doesn’t explain how the TV and computer arose.
On the shoulders of fish
Sometimes just one aspect of a feature can be co-opted for another use. The first hard mineralised structures to evolve in our ancestors were the teeth of early fishes known as conodonts. Once the ability to form hard hydroxyapatite had evolved, it could be exploited elsewhere in the body and may have been the basis of the bony skeletons of all vertebrates.
No hint here of the complexity of bone formation, including the protein osteocalcin, precisely tuned to the mineral hydroxyapatite.
As these examples show, there are all kinds of routes by which structures and behaviours that evolved for one purpose can contribute to new structures and abilities. Just because it is not immediately obvious how something as complex as a bacterial flagellum evolved (see The bacterial flagellum is irreducibly complex) does not prove it did not evolve.
We dealt with this in a previous instalment: evolutionary propagandists claim that they evolved from a secretory apparatus, yet even evolutionary experts argue that the flagellum came first and the secretory apparatus evolved (or rather, devolved) from it.
This section is devoid of evidence of any kind; it is a good example of the ‘just-so’ story telling that now afflicts biology and historical geology because of the hegemony of the evolutionary paradigm.
- “The Flat Earth Society is an active organization currently led by a Virginian man named Daniel Shenton. Though Shenton believes in evolution and global warming, he and his hundreds, if not thousands, of followers worldwide also believe that the Earth is a disc that you can fall off of.” Wolchover, N., Ingenious ‘Flat Earth’ Theory Revealed In Old Map, Live Science, 23 June 2011. Return to text.
- L. Berkhof, Introductory volume to Systematic Theology, p. 60. Return to text.
- Berkhof, Ref. , p. 96. Return to text.
- C.P. Ellington, Aerodynamics and the Origin of Insect Flight, Advances in Insect Physiology 23, 1991. Return to text.
- Feduccia, A.; cited in Ann Gibbons, A., New Feathered Fossil Brings Dinosaurs and Birds Closer, Science 274 :720–721, 1996. Return to text.