In Defense of Evolution (2003)
Published on Darwin Day (February 12, 2006)
When we look at the world, we encounter vast evidence confirming the evolutionary account of the history of life, and nothing even remotely resembling a disproof of it. This is an inexplicable mystery if, as creationists insist, God created the variety of life through a means other than evolution. Had God done so, it would scarcely be possible for the world not to abound with clear evidence decisively refuting evolution--it would, in fact, be possible only if God deliberately went about after creation carefully rearranging the world to make it look as though evolution had occurred, so that His poor creations might be misled, and thereby condemn themselves to an eternity in Hell. In other words, assuming God exists in the first place, either He used evolution as His means of creating the diversity of life on Earth, or else He is an abhorrent liar and deceiver--titles which have traditionally been reserved for the Devil.
What are some of the places in which creationists should expect to find a smoking gun against evolution?
The Fossil Record
One of the crucial predictions made by evolution is that one should find a general progression of increasingly diverse and complex life forms when one traces the fossil record through progressively higher strata of sedimentary rock. This is not to say that there cannot be major extinctions on the one hand, or on the other hand that simpler life forms are expected not to persist alongside more complex ones, but simply that one will not find the most complex ones appearing alongside the earliest appearance of the least complex ones--the appearance of organisms in the fossil record should reflect the branching treelike structure of evolution.
Had God wished to supply humanity with decisive evidence refuting evolution, He therefore could easily have done so by depositing, preserving, and later exposing to paleontologists numerous mammalian fossils in the oldest rock strata--no difficult feat for the omnipotent creator of the universe. In fact, had God desired, He could have inverted the entire sequence of fossils with no more than a twitch of His little toe, placing all of the fossils of austalopithecines and rhinosceri in the oldest strata, and every last vestige of blue-green algae in the newest.
Yet, when we look at the fossil record we find the one kind of distribution that matches the predictions of evolution, not one of the countless distributions that would not. Creationist spokesmen are forced to seize upon any ad hoc explanation they can think of to explain this--for instance, that Noah's Flood somehow sorted out all of the fossils into exactly the pattern consistent with evolution, and that God did not care about the fact that this would cause us to be deceived; or that for some strange reason God decided to create life over the course of aeons, in just the right kind of sequence that would fit the predictions of evolution, and that He once again did not care that this would cause us to be deceived. Surely it is more sensible simply to conclude that evolution has occurred.
A second prediction of evolution is that the fossil record should yield transitional forms. Evolution does not require the fossil record to yield transitional forms as plentiful as the stars, since the conditions of fossilization are severe, and some organisms fossilize less easily than others, but one would reasonably become very suspicious of evolution if, after more than a century of work, paleontologists had not discovered any transitional forms at all. A complete absence of transitional forms, in fact, is precisely what creationists should expect. Paleontology, however, has yielded plentiful transitional forms, of which a mere handful is listed here:
From fish to amphibian: The fish Eusthenopteron and the early amphibian Icthyostega share so many characteristics as to constitute a virtual bridge between fishes and amphibians.
From amphibian to reptile: Seymouria, according to Alfred Romer, "exhibits such a combination of amphibian and reptilian characters that its proper position in the classification of vertebrates has been much disputed" (Romer 1966:94).
From reptile to bird: Archaeopteryx displays a distinct blend of major reptilian and avian characteristics, and highly resembles the theropod reptiles of its time.
From reptile to mammal: Probelesedon and Massetognathus exhibit both reptilian and mammalian characteristics. Probainognathus even has two sets of jaw joints--one reptilian and one mammalian.
If we look to some of the less prominent transitions in life, we find equally astounding transitional forms. For instance, evolutionists have hypothesized that whales evolved from the cow-like mesonychids. This is a hypothesis which many creationists have ridiculed, and virtually all seem to have thought implausible. A prominent creationist once complained about the lack of transitional forms demonstrating this transition, thinking it a problem for evolution:
if random evolution is true, there must have been a large number of transitional forms between the Mesonychid and the ancient whale. Where are they? It seems like quite a coincidence that of all the intermediate species that must have existed between the Mesonychid and whale, only species that are very similar to the end species have been found. (Behe 1994:61)
However, no sooner had this creationist spoken than his smoking gun vanished into thin air:
By 1994, [Phillip] Gingerich and fellow paleontologists, including Hans Thweissen, had found not one, but three intermediate species [Pakicetus inachus, Ambulocetus natans, and Rodhocetus kasrani] linking land mammals to the archeocetes, the oldest swimming mammals. The midpoint of the series, a marvelous animal called ambulocetus natans (the "swimming whale who walks"), displayed exactly the combination of terrestrial and aquatic adaptations that critics of evolution had called impossible, even in principle. (Miller 1999:264)
Given that creatures such as these--which creationists expect not to exist at all--exhibit obvious transitional characteristics and exist in the places and time periods in which evolutionists expect to find them, we again have no option but to conclude either that evolution took place, whether through God's design or not, or else that God created all of these creatures directly, transitional characteristics and all, so that man might be deceived into rejecting the true history of creation.
Patterns in Genetic Material
Had God created life through means other than evolution, He could have used the faintest whisper of his boundless power to endow each kind of creature with a different form of genetic material, or a completely different genetic code. But all life forms on Earth use DNA and RNA as genetic material, with a code that admits of only very rare and insignificant alterations, which is what one would expect had all life evolved from a common ancestor.
DNA, moreover, does not appear to have been engineered for functionality. Species that look virtually identical and live in equivalent climates on separate continents often exhibit highly dissimilar DNA, while their DNA actually more closely resembles that of different-looking species living in adjacent environments. This is impossible to reconcile with the expectation that God would design the DNA of every species to enable it to best function within its environment, but matches exactly the expectation of evolutionists: adjacent species have more similar DNA because these species share closer common ancestry with one another than they do with creatures on different continents, regardless of their adaptation to particular environments. Similar-looking species with dissimilar DNA are the result of convergent evolution--they are not necessarily closely related, but they have managed to adapt in the same way to their environments, resulting in similar appearance.
As if this were not enough, the DNA of many organisms contains introns--segments of genetic material that are transcribed into mRNA, but are then excised before the mRNA is translated into protein. In plain English, introns constitute genetic garbage. We might expect meaningless but nonharmful sequences to accumulate in the genome of an species as it evolves, but there is no discernible reason for a creator to have put nonfunctional sequences into the genome of any species.
And all of this does not even go into the high degree of correspondence between molecular phylogenies and evolutionary expectations, even for nonfunctional changes in DNA--independent confirmation of evolutionary predictions that would serve absolutely no purpose but deception in a world in which all life was created directly by God.
Surely, a God that wished for us to believe in special creation would have eliminated all of the evidence for evolution that we have gathered through genetic research.
Evolution and Atheism?
Sometimes--most often when they are addressing religious audiences, from whom they draw the most funding and political clout--creationist spokesmen drop their scientific pretenses and reveal their narrow religious motivations by attacking evolution as atheistic. These creationists would have one believe that evolution presupposes and promotes atheism simply because it contradicts their particular interpretation of the Book of Genesis. Apparently they have decreed through their own infallible, godlike powers, that their human interpretation of Genesis is infallible, and that all who disagree with them must therefore be atheists and enemies of religion, or at least the unthinking dupes of such sinister forces, which they alone have had the moral and intellectual fortitude to resist.
Evolution, however, poses no special problem for the religious believer, as demonstrated by the fact that most evolutionists have not felt any difficulty reconciling their scientific knowledge with their belief in God. Creationist leaders attempt to frighten the believers they address by pointing to atheistic evolutionists such as Richard Dawkins, William Provine, and E. O. Wilson. Seldom, however, do they seem to mention believing evolutionists such Kenneth R. Miller (1999), James F. Haught, or Robert T. Pennock (1999). They ignore statements by church assemblies supporting evolution. Nor do they point out polls that show that a full 40% of scientists believe that a god guided the process of evolution (Witham 2002:54). Even many of those who believe that evolution proceeds without divine input simply do not understand what evolution is supposed to have to do with whether or not God created the universe, whether or not He forgives us our sins, or whether or not He was incarnated, crucified, and resurrected. While it is true that evolution knocks down one traditional argument for the existence of God--the argument from biological design--there are still plenty of other arguments left over upon which evolution has no bearing. Apparently, what creationist spokesmen really mean when they aver that evolution is atheistic, is that evolution is incompatible with the exact doctrines which they have chosen to enshrine as infallible. But most people consider it rather arrogant to declare that deviation from your own exact doctrines is tantamount to atheism.
But isn't the wastefulness and arbitrariness of evolution incompatible with the existence of God? Atheistic evolutionists, naturally enough, tend to think so; but for the believer, the wastefulness and arbitrariness of evolution presents no special problem not already presented by the events of everyday life. Consider, for instance, the wastefulness and arbitrariness present in the rape and murder of a child: on the one hand, a person who is inclined to view such things as incompatible with the existence of a loving god is already at the doorstep of atheism, and will hardly be moved by the comparative tameness of the evolutionary history of life. On the other hand, it would be a sick joke beyond measure to suggest that anyone capable of genuflecting at the altar of God after considering the rape and murder of a child could possibly have his or her faith shaken by the cruelty of the evolutionary process. As far as the matter of atheism versus theism goes, the wastefulness and arbitrariness of evolution is either redundant or irrelevant.
The Bible and Creationism
Creationist leaders conclude from their interpretation of the Book of Genesis that evolution cannot have occurred. However, in doing so they presuppose that their personal interpretative powers are infallible. In asserting that God must have inspired the creation stories in Genesis, that He could not have inspired for any purpose mythological creation stories, and that He could not have meant for the creation stories in question to be interpreted in any other way than that which the creationist leader finds most intuitive, these creationists seem to place very severe constraints upon what God can and cannot do. What is even more strange is that these people are typically the same ones who loudly berate evolutionists for ostensibly trusting human reason over the word of God. These creationists do not seem to realize that their judgement that Genesis is the word of God, and their judgement about how Genesis is to be interpreted, are both products of their own distinctly human reasoning. To reason is inescapable, whether there is a god or not.
Hence, instead of immediately declaring our first impressions about the Book of Genesis to be infallible, and then refusing to budge regardless of evidence, let us not be afraid to embrace the faculty of reasoning which, if God exists, can have come from no one but Him. Let us consider what our most cautious scholarship tells us at this point about the creation stories in the Book of Genesis.
The current consensus among biblical scholars regarding the first five books of the Bible is embodied in what is known as the Documentary Hypothesis. For the purposes of our discussion, we need only note that the Documentary Hypothesis detects the hands of four distinct authors (or sets of authors) in the Book of Genesis--authors who are abbreviated to J, P, E, and R, for reasons we need not get into. According to Richard Elliott Friedman, P is responsible for the first creation story in Genesis, which runs from 1:1 to 2:3, and J is responsible for the second one, which runs from 2:4b to 25 (Friedman 1996:246). When P wrote his account, he was apparently familiar with, and in fact following a synthesis of, J and E (JE) which contained the J creation story (Friedman 1996:188). But P was intended as an alternative to--not a supplement of--JE (Friedman 1996:188-206). A later editor (R) fused together the JE and P accounts while adding a few sentences of his own. If you have ever noticed how uneasily Genesis 1:1-2:3 and Genesis 2:4-2:30 sit together, and how different they sound from one another, this is why: they are, in fact, two distinct creation stories--the former being written as a later alternative to the latter.
It is, of course, always possible with sufficient ingenuity to interpret any two passages of any two texts so that they form a single narrative, and this is the standard strategy among creationists with respect to the J and P creation stories. The question is whether this is the right strategy. Supposing God wished to give us the one true account of creation, and that it was an important matter for salvation, why would He give what creationists consider the first part of the story to J, and then, later on, give what creationists consider the second part of the story to P--even though P was trying to write something to replace JE--and then leave it to the human ingenuity of R to later fuse the two accounts together as well as he could? If it were important to God that intelligent people believe the creationist interpretation of Genesis, wouldn't He give the entire account to a single person all at once (like to Moses, as tradition has it)? Instead, we are left with a process that has all of the hallmarks of human political maneuvering and none of the appearance of inspiration by God.
The problem is exacerbated when we notice that some of the statements in Genesis directly contradict modern science beyond evolution. Genesis 1, for instance, places waters above the stars, and has the Earth, grass, herbs, and fruit trees existing before both the sun and the stars. Of course, if we have decided in advance that we are willing to fit the words of Genesis to the findings of modern science by any means possible, we can certainly make the fit. However, given that every religious person denies the rationality of this method when people of other religions use it to demonstrate the truth of their holy texts, the attitude that the method is reasonable when considering one's own holy text constitutes a double standard. And if we refuse to embrace this double standard, then we must concede that the Genesis creation stories have the appearance of prescientific mythology. Therefore, again, if the creation stories of Genesis were inspired by God in the first place, it is apparent that they were not likely intended by Him to offer an entirely true account of creation.
What, then, could their function be, if they were inspired by God? I can only speculate. Perhaps they were meant to give the ancient Jews another strong element of culture to rally to in times of crisis. The Jewish people and culture have survived through conditions in which countless others have been destroyed or assimilated, and their shared creation myths may be part of the reason why. Perhaps these myths have served their purpose, and were never meant to be collected into a book and preached as infallible truth forever. I do not know--I am not a theologian, and am personally content to accept the stories as myths in which no god had a hand. But were I a believer, I would see some wisdom in the old dictum that Scripture tells us how to go to Heaven, not how the heavens go. I would recognize that I would still have faults and shortcomings even if there had been no historical Adam and Eve to somehow pass their own sinfulness to their descendants. I would recognize that the arrival of a Messiah--or the return of a once-resurrected one--would be no less possible even if God never said "Let there be light." And I would recognize, above all, that to insist upon binding God to one's first impression of a text, disregarding His gift of reason, would be a sign of arrogance rather than piety.
To the rational believer, science is a means of using the God-given gift of reason to understand how God has actually done things. At one point in history, believers used to think that the Sun revolved around the Earth, because they thought the Bible revealed this infallible truth. Science, however, revealed that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Although some believers resisted this discovery bitterly at first, mistaking their own interpretations for the infallible word of God, virtually all eventually came to understand that God simply could not have set things up the way they had thought. While believers will find the scientific view of the world enhanced and enriched by their religious beliefs, it is sheer folly to insist upon a point of doctrine, grounded in intuition and the authority of tradition, when scientific evidence indicates its falsity. The time will hopefully come when the creationists, like the geocentrists of old, set aside their dogmas and follow the light of reason so that they, too, may learn the great wonders science teaches of the universe, and--if He exists--of God.
This article is a revision of a pamphlet I wrote in 1994. I have rewritten it in part to clarify my main line of argument and to offer new lines of argument and exposition where my thinking has changed, but primarily to correct parts where the tone of the pamphlet was overly hostile. The reader should understand that I was reacting to creationists who painted evolutionists as inveterate sinners and arrogant buffoons who hated God and loved sin, and were responsible for every single evil, real or imaginary, that had ever appeared on the face of the Earth. In light of such creationist excesses, I hope I may be forgiven for retaliating in kind in my youthful exuberance. I continue to believe that such creationists, who unfortunately still seem to comprise a substantial proportion of the creationist vanguard, deserve every insult I have thrown back at them. However, I have also come to realize that the average creationists on the street are just like anyone else--people who are simply trying their best to discover the truth and navigate an uncertain world with the limited time and resources they have at their disposal. I do not believe such people are stupid, even when they have been convinced by self-important propagandists in their religious communities to reject sound science, and I therefore regret that the earlier version tarred all creationists with the same brush.
 What follows is not by any means intended to be a comprehensive catalogue of such places--instead, it offers only a couple of representative examples, which more or less make the point.
 mRNA (messenger RNA) is an intermediary which carries the instructions in DNA to ribosomes, which together with tRNA (transfer DNA), constructs proteins according to those instructions.
 One example among many: the 214th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) passed a resolution the second article of which "Reaffirms that there is no contradiction between an evolutionary theory of human origins and the doctrine of God as Creator" (National Center for Science Education 2002:7).
 Friedman's book is highly recommended to those who want to understand who the different writers were, what their different concerns and motivations were, and how this is known.
 This article is, of course, brief, based as it is upon a mere pamphlet. I have not come even close to listing all of the lines of evidence for evolution, nor have I taken up creationist objections and replies. For the first, I would recommend visiting the Talk.origins archive at www.talkorigins.org. For the second, I have done extensive work at www.vuletic.com/hume/cefec/.
M. J. Behe. 1994. Experimental support for regarding functional classes of proteins to be highly isolated from each other. pp. 60-71 in Buell and Hearn 1994.
J. Buell and V. Hearn. 1994. Darwinism: Science or Philosophy? Richardson, TX: Foundation for Thought and Ethics.
R. E. Friedman. 1997. Who Wrote the Bible? San Francisco: Harper San Francisco.
K. R. Miller. 1999. Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution. New York: Cliff Street Books.
National Center for Science Education. 2002. Presbyterian Resolution on Evolution. Reports of the National Center for Science Education 22(4):7.
R. T. Pennock. 1999. Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
A. Romer. 1966. Vertebrate Paleontology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
L. A. Witham. 2002. Where Darwin Meets the Bible: Creationists and Evolutionists in America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Mark I. Vuletic is the MP, United States Marine Corps. He is the member of National Center for Science Education and former Secretary of Internet Infidels, Inc. These files, and many more are available at the Secular Web: http://www.infidels.org/