Where are the emperor’s clothes?
Telling tall tales about evolution
Published: 10 January 2007 (GMT+10)
In the November 2006 issue of National Geographic prominent science writer Carl Zimmer wrote an article extolling the virtues of evolution for producing the wide variety of body plans and limb structures that we see today1. The article in its title claims to describe ‘how evolution fashioned its masterworks’. However, amid the well crafted storytelling, there is very little substance to the arguments.
Clear as mud
Zimmer describes some of the intricate and beautiful arrangements in biological structures, marvelling at the intricate complexity of biology: ‘ … the exquisite optical mechanism of the eye, the masterly engineering of the arm, the architecture of a flower or a feather, the choreography that allows trillions of cells to cooperate in a single organism.’ So, according to Zimmer, how did these structures and plans come about? ‘The fundamental answer is clear: In one way or another, all these wonders evolved.’
The capacity that humans have for willing ignorance is astounding at times. Zimmer is well aware that creationists describe these structures using the same language he uses, with the full weight of their descriptions implying design: ‘[Creationists] often cite the virtuoso engineering of the bacterial tail [emphasis added]’, compared to Zimmer’s ‘masterly engineering of the arm [emphasis added]’. And yet, he uses such descriptions and then turns around and says that they made themselves. It amounts to saying: ‘If it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck and feels like a duck, it’s clearly a rock.’
The same arguments used in any field related to human history would attribute such structures and plans to human design. Yet despite human-made structures falling far short of the intricacy of the engineering seen in biology, evolutionists like Zimmer have to postulate that biological structures made themselves. They assume that, because these structures operate according to the laws of physics and chemistry, they must have been made directly by them. However, this clearly does not follow because it confuses origin (how something got here) with operation (how something works) (See Science Questions and Answers). When we find consistent physical explanations of why processes work, as operational (experimental) science does, it tells us nothing about how those processes originated, and indeed it cannot (See Origin of Life Questions and Answers).
An eyeful of bad design
A common red herring often used to support evolution and deny creation that seems to go along with these design analogies is the accusation of ‘bad design’ 2. Supposedly, ‘a creator wouldn’t do it that way’ (never mind that this is a theological argument, which they lambast creationists for using)! For example, Zimmer wheels out the old canard of the bad design of the eye:
‘Yet the eye is actually far from perfect. The retina is so loosely attached to the back of the eye in humans that a sharp punch to the head may be enough to detach it. Its light-gathering cells point inward, toward the brain, not out toward the light. And the optic nerve starts out in front of the retina and then plunges through it to go to the brain. The place where the optic nerve burrows through the retina becomes the eye’s blind spot.’
Time and again, those who make such accusations are proven hopelessly wrong because they fail to do their research3–7. So often, we find that biological structures are designed the way they are because they provide solutions to design problems and issues that we hadn’t fathomed yet.
For example, the old canard that the human eye is badly designed because it is wired backwards. It actually turns out to be brilliant design for the human eye, which is a camera eye design. Wiring the camera eye ‘backwards’ enables the blood supply to regenerate the photoreceptors (light-receiving cells) and carry away excess heat from the focussed light. A camera eye wired according to Zimmer’s allegedly superior design would be blinded for ages by a flash of light because of the delay in regenerating the photoreceptors, if they could even be regenerated at all after the heat damage. Cephalopods, such as the octopus, though they have a retina that’s wired ‘forwards’, have a completely different eye design to humans. They have a compound eye with a single lens, which doesn’t need ‘backward’ wiring. They also don’t see as creatures with the supposedly badly wired eyes, hence the expressions for sharp eyesight, ‘eyes like a hawk’ and ‘eagle-eyed’, not ‘eyes like an octopus’ or ‘squid-eyed’.6
How does evolution occur?
So, despite all the smoke and mirrors, is there actually any substance to the storytelling in the National Geographic article? Zimmer approvingly quotes Sean Carroll, a biologist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, as saying, ‘Evolution is a tinkerer, an improviser [emphasis added].’ To back this up, Zimmer often cites similar developmental ‘toolbox’ genes called homeobox (hox) genes to prove common ancestry. However, mutations in these genes are unable to produce new structures—they merely halt the development or place existing structures in unusual places. This has been demonstrated in the many experiments done on hox gene mutations in the rather unfortunate fruit fly Drosophila. However, all Carroll’s ‘tinkering’ and hox genes offer are examples of common design, not common ancestry8.
The problem for evolution goes far deeper. Despite the continued outcries of evolutionists, the analogy between human design and biological design is a valid analogy. This is because biological structures possess specified complexity, that is, complex structures arranged a specific way for a particular function, or information. This is precisely where evolution fails: how do the vast amounts of information needed for molecules-to-man evolution arise by chance (‘fiddling around’, to use Zimmerian language)? Despite attempts to avoid this fundamental problem by invoking hox gene mutations, the information for the new structures still needs to be produced from scratch through random mutations. And after decades of experimentation and observation, no watertight case for a random mutation that increases genetic information has been demonstrated, yet evolutionary biology predicts we should see them happening in droves.
Evolution, when stripped of the sophistry used to bolster it in the public eye, is a concept readily seen to be false. Evolution has no power to explain how such vast increases in information that are required for evolution to occur, which includes the vast variety in genetic expression as well as genetic coding, happened by chance. Evolution and naturalism cannot describe how life arose from non-life without the input of a designer. Romans 1:20 (ESV) is clear enough: ‘For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse [emphasis added].’ The trick is getting past the sophisticated and exalted language used to describe evolution. As impressive as the emperor’s procession may be, we need to remind ourselves that his clothes are still absent.
- Zimmer, C., A fin is a limb is a wing: how evolution fashioned its masterworks, National Geographic 210(5):110–135, 2006. Return to text.
- Woodmorappe, J., Panda thumbs its nose at the dysteleological arguments of the atheist Stephen Jay Gould, J. Creation 13(1):45–48, 1999. Return to text.
- Wagner, T., Darwin vs. the eye, Creation 16(4):10–13, 1994. Return to text.
- Wieland, C., Seeing back to front: Are evolutionists right when they say our eyes are wired the wrong way? Creation 18(2):38–40, 1996. Return to text.
- An eye for creation: An interview with eye-disease researcher Dr George Marshall, University of Glasgow, Scotland, Creation 18(4):19–21, 1996. Return to text.
- Gurney, P.W.V., Is our ‘inverted’ retina really ‘bad design’? Journal of Creation 13(1):37–44, 1999.Return to text.
- Catchpoole, D. and Sarfati, J., Excellent Eye: Better than any camera—the eye’s response to light, 21 June 2006. Return to text.
- Williams, A., Evo Devo refutes neo-Darwinism, supports creation: A review of Endless Forms Most Beautiful: the New Science of Evo Devo by Sean Carroll, J. Creation 19(3):40–44, 2005. Return to text.