The Talk.Origins Archive: Exploring the Creation/Evolution Controversy

Selected Responses to the
September 1996 Post of the Month

Response by Andrew MacRae

John McCoy writes:

> FAQ Archive ( wrote:
> : [The FAQ Archive Announcement, Part 1 of 2]
> :         WWW:  
> :         FTP:  
> :         EMAIL:
> : Perhaps no other Usenet newsgroup generates more Frequently Asked
> : Questions (FAQs) -- or Frequently Rebutted Claims -- than
> :  It is for this reason that has come to


> : [Q.]   I thought evolution was just a theory.  Why do you call it a
> : fact?
> : [A.]   Evolution is a change in the genetic characteristics of a
> :        population over time.  That this happens is a fact.  The theory
> :        of evolution describes the mechanisms that cause these genetic
> :        changes, thereby accounting for the diversity of life on Earth.
> :        So evolution is both a fact and a theory.
> Truth: The definition of evolution differs according who is using the
> term.

The definition above is that used for biological evolution by most biologists.

> The extremely broad definition of evolution simply means "change."

Biological evolution is being discussed here, not stellar evolution or chemical evolution of igneous melts. Still, you may have a valid point. Perhaps Brett can change this to refer to biological evolution specifically.

> Under that definition even creationists agree that evolution is true.
> However,  evolutionists often use this flexibility in the definition of
> evolution to say that "evolution is both a fact and a theory."

No, the observation of genetic or morphological change is "fact", in any reasonable definition of the term, and evolution by natural selection is the current theory to account for it. I personally do not like the "fact" versus "theory" dichotomy, because everything is an interpretation, but evolution is definitely at the "fact" end of things if compared to other things people commonly refer to as "facts" (e.g., gravity).

> Creationists agree that "genetic characteristics of a population change
> in a population over time" and this change, however, is limited.

There has been no demonstration that there is a limit. What prevents further change?

> Dogs will always remain dogs, monkeys-monkeys, man-man.

What are australopithicines?

While categories like this may appear discrete at one instant of time, they still break down when comparing morphologies of many modern organisms (Are wolves dogs? Are similarities between great apes and humans mere coincidence?), and the distinctions get even more questionable when the record of fossil organisms is examined.

> When creationists say
> that evolution is false, they mean macro-evolution. Macro-evolution
> means the change of one kind (ape-forexample) to another kind (man).

What is a "kind"? Which "kind" are australopithicines? "Human" or "ape"? And speaking of definitions, this definition of "macroevolution" does not appear to be the same as the one usually used by biologists (usually supraspecific). Perhaps you should use another term to refer to this degree of change.

> Since there is no paleontological proof of macro-evolution,

Science does not deal with "proof", mathematics does. Science deals with testable hypotheses. The hypothesis that modern apes and modern humans are related by a common ancestor is testable by looking at the fossil record. The occurrence of ancient fossils that combine features of the two modern groups is a prediction of the theory. Since the 1800s, more and more examples of such fossils have been found.

> it is not a fact
> and doesn't qualify to become "theory" status, much less the
> "hypothesis" status.

You are interpreting the meaning of "theory" in science to mean an interpretation is tentative. Hypothesis gets that term. Theories can be quite definite. For example, there is the theory of relativity. Evolutionary theory was a hypothesis in Darwin's day. It graduated to "theory" status (a testable hypothesis with considerable evidence) quite some time ago.


> : [Q.]   Don't you have to be an atheist to accept evolution?
> : [A.]   No.  Many people of Christian and other faiths accept evolution
> :        as the scientific explanation for biodiversity.
> All creationists believe in "evolution" as broadly defined, but as I
> said above, most creationists reject macro-evolution.

I strongly disagree. I know many who accept it. Perhaps you can provide statistics that demonstrate more creationists reject macro-evolution (by your definition) than accept it. Even if so, the empirical fact remains -- a large number of creationists have absolutely no problem with evolutionary theory or most current scientific interpretations, and the Roman Catholic church has specifically made this statement. I think you are just projecting your opinion.

> : [Q.]   If evolution is true, then why are there so many gaps in the
> :        fossil record?  Shouldn't there be more transitional fossils?
> : [A.]   Due to the rarity of preservation and the likelihood that
> :        speciation occurs in small populations during geologically
> :        short periods of time, transitions between species are uncommon
> :        in the fossil record.
> :        Transitions at higher taxonomic levels, however, are abundant.
> :
> This is misleading.

No it is not. It raises valid points about what should be expected, and it fairly represents what is found -- uncommon transitions between species (but some are still observed), and more common examples between major groups.

> At every point of so called "transitional" proof,
> scientists disagree. So who is correct?

Any scientific interpretation is open to question, and new data often causes revision of older interpretations. This is the nature of science. The fact remains: there are many examples of transitional fossils between major and not-so-major groups of organisms, and, over time, formerly contentious interpretations do develop a consensus with the availability of more data. Even if you dispute all the interpretations that have been offered, and even with "gaps", the morphological trends are unmistakable. Evolutionary theory predicts such temporal trends in morphology, and it makes further testable predictions about their nature.


> : [Q.]   No one has ever directly observed evolution happening, so how
> :        do you know it's true?
> : [A.]   Evolution has been observed, both directly and indirectly.  It
> : is true.
> :
> Under the loose definition of evolution, evolution has been "observed,
> both directly and indirectly." For example, Darwin did observe diversity
> in finches.

He did not observe evolution in the sense discussed above, but subsequent workers have observed evolution in the Galapagos finches.

> There is a diversity in humans. But no one has documented a
> finch becoming anyhing other than a finch,

"Finch" is an arbitrary category. What you are really talking about is large degrees of morphologic change and coincident speciation that are big enough you would no longer call it a "finch", which has a fairly fuzzy definition anyway, and I have no idea what your definition is. Anyway, greater degrees of change usually requires significant periods of time and appropriate conditions. What you really mean is: "No one has documented drastic enough change to convince me." Fine, but for evolutionary theory (evolutionary change by natural selection) to be valid does not require radical degrees of change.

> and a human becoming anything
> but a human, or a ape becoming anything but an ape.

Changes to this degree took thousands to millions of years, according to evidence in the fossil record. There is no reason to expect that this degree of change could occur in human lifetimes, or even within the few hundred years that people have been paying attention to some of life on Earth.

There is some evidence for fairly drastic change, but it probably would not be good enough for you. For example, there is the evolution of corn from teosinte.

> There is a a variety
> of information in the gene pool, and evolution is limited to the
> information in the gene pool.

No. New mutations are introduced all the time. This can even be demonstrated in the lab.

> See the works of Mendel. Mendel proved
> evolution to be false. Mendel showed that you can cross a white flower
> with  a red one and produce pink ones. Thus the "new" change - pink in
> this instance - is limited to the colors in the genes. In other words,
> if the information to produce brown flowers is not in the genes of both
> flowers, you will never get brown offspring. Genetics, in other words,
> is a conservative process. It works well within defined limits, and that
> goes for the finches as well.

You are confusing the effect of mixing variations with the introduction and selection of entirely new traits. Mutation happens, so new information must be introduced.

> : [Q.]   Then why has no one ever seen a new species appear?
> : [A.]   Speciation has been observed both in the laboratory and in
> :        nature.
> Not true. Will be elaborated on in future post.

No doubt by defining species to exclude the examples that have been observed. Go ahead.

> : [Q.]   Doesn't the perfection of the human body prove Creation?
> : [A.]   No.  In fact, humans (and other animals) have many suboptimal
> :        characteristics.
> The human body is perfect according to it's purpose.

And what is the purpose of the human body? And if it is "perfect", what accounts for variations? Are people more or less "perfect"? Are people "perfected" in different ways?

> The humanistic
> evolutionists who wrote this FAQ is deceiving. Suboptimal is a
> subjective judgement. For example, if you defined man's inability to run
> 100 miles an hour as being "suboptimal" then man is suboptimal. If you
> defined the Panda's inability to fly, or use chopsticks as suboptimal,
> then it becomes "suboptimal."

Living organisms are always fundamentally limited to suboptimal features, yes.

> Secondly, creationism states that the second law of
> entropy has made humans "suboptimal."

The second law of thermodynamics is not easily applicable to open systems, as humans very clearly are.

> Thus, when the creationists define
> humans as being perfect, they mean relatively speaking.

Relative to what? First you say it is "perfect", now you say the degree of perfection is relative. It sounds like you are saying humans are suboptimal, relative to some undefined other configuration.

> Compared to a
> camera, the human eye is extremely complex, and will, in many cases,
> outlast a camera.

Compared to the features of some sorts of eyes found on other organisms, human eyes are suboptimal for certain tasks, and it arguable whether these other eyes are "more" or "less" complex than human ones.

> : [Q.]   According to evolution, life is a result of chance occurrence.
> :        Doesn't  that make evolution wildly improbable?
> : [A.]   Evolution is not simply a result of random chance.  It is also
> :        a result of non-random selection.
> Althought this is stated as fact, evolutionists still haven't been able
> to produce life in the laboratory,

Irrelevant. The issue is not the initiation of life, it is whether the inclusion of a "random" process in evolutionary theory makes the entire process "random". This claim is incorrect, because selection is involved, and, as you just finished explaining, Mendelian genetics yields predictable, non-random results (assuming no new genetic information is introduced).

> thus to say that life is a result of
> "non-random selection," begs the question.

Chemistry would also have been involved. It is not appropriate to call this "random", and once life was initiated, random mutations are only part of the process. Look up simulated annealing and genetic algorithms, which are optimisation techniques used in engineering and computer science. They intimately involve "random" processes to be effective. Is the discovery of optimal answers with these techniques a "chance" process?

> If life is the result of
> "non-random selective processes, then one could, therefore, watch the
> chemicals use these so called mythical processes work to create life.

Non-random processes do not have to be simple, easily understood, or easily reproducable processes. Look, if chemistry and selection was involved, the process was not purely "random" -- isn't that intuitive?

> Who wrote this faq anyway?

I'm not sure. Brett?


> : [Q.]   Doesn't evolution violate the second law of thermodynamics?
> :        After all, order cannot come from disorder.
> : [A.]   Evolution does not violate the second law of thermodynamics.
> :        Order emerges from disorder all the time.  Snowflakes form,
> :        trees grow, and embryos develop, etc.
> Snow flakes are not complex enough, trees grow from seeds that are
> already complex. We are talking about the origin of life here, and this
> faq evades the question.

It is addressing the claim that evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics. It clearly does not, because there are many systems which increase in *apparent* complexity. Basically, people's everyday concept of "complexity" and "order" does not easily map to the concept in the second law of thermodynamics, and the issue becomes more elaborate if not dealing with a closed system.


> : [Q.]   Didn't Darwin renounce evolution on his deathbed?
> : [A.]   The Darwin deathbed story is false.  And in any case, it is
> :        irrelevant.  A scientific theory stands or falls according to
> :        how well it is supported by the facts, not according to who
> :        believes it.
> Whether or not he did or not is irrelevant.

That is what it says. Nevertheless, he did not.

> Darwin died at a time when
> their was a lack in scientific knowledge.

Darwin died at a time when tremendous increase in scientific knowledge had occurred. We have more now, yes, but many fundamental interpretations (e.g., that the Earth was extremely old and that a global flood model did not account for the Earth's geology) had been demonstrated.

> Thus, Darwin believed evolution
> according to the LITTLE known facts

The "less known" facts than now. The big piece of missing information in Darwin's time was genetics, but plenty of other information was available (e.g., paleontological).

> that were evident at the time. That
> is faith - the abscence of facts.

You have to be joking. Less was known then than now, so people of that time were basing their interpretations on "faith"? By your definition, it seems we must be omniscient for anything not to be regarded as "faith".


> : [Q.]   Where can I learn more about evolution?
> : [A.]   You might start with the FAQs.  If, however, you
> :        want a better understanding of evolution, a library would be a
> :        more appropriate place to look. The FAQs listed below provide
> :        some good references.
> contact me after reading all this garbage and I can supply you with
> additional refutation.

Why not post it?


> : [Q.]   How do you know the earth is really old?  Lots of evidence says
> :        it's young.
> : [A.]   According to numerous, independent dating methods, the earth is
> :        known to be approximately 4.5 billion years old.  Most
> :        young-earth arguments rely on inappropriate extrapolations from
> :        a few carefully selected and
> :        often erroneous data points.
> Actually, the reverse is true. Evolutionists rely on the methods that
> guarantee and old earth and carefully ignore the evidence to suggest
> that it is young.

No, conventional geologists test hypotheses that could be used to date the age of the Earth. They accept only the ones that yield reliable results with "assumptions" that have been extensively tested. They toss methods that rely on assumptions known to be incorrect (e.g., assumptions about the rate of dissolved elemental input and output to and from the oceans).

> Evolutionists also make assumptions in their estimates. For
> example they assume that:

No, they do not "assume" these. Each of these has been extensively tested.

> 1. In various dating methods that the daughter
> product were not in the rock from the beginning, and it could have been
> the case.

No. Depending upon the method, virtually all initial daughter is physically excluded from the minerals that form, because of the elemental chemistry. This "assumption" can also be checked by examination of other stable isotope ratios (e.g., the atmospheric correction for K/Ar), and isochron techniques can avoid it entirely.

> 2. That uranium decay rates do not vary. There is evidence to
> suggest that it could have.

What evidence? Spontaneous decay rates are not known to vary except for electron capture, and this only an insignificant amount (<1%) for pressures not experienced for any geological sample that is dated (basically, you need pressures comparable to the core of the Earth for the entire time of decay), and electron capture only potentially applies to K/Ar. If it were a significant effect, there would be regular large discrepancies between multiple isotopic methods.

> 3. That decay rates exist in closed systems.

This "assumption" is testable with independent methods (e.g., if the mineral grain shows signs of chemical alteration), and isochron techniques can distinguish isotopic systems that have remained closed from those that have not. Using multiple methods and minerals with different succeptability to these processes can also identify systems that have not remained closed.

> Actually, heat, leaching and other factors can and do skew the results
> big time.

They also betray their occurrence with independent indications.


> : [Q.]   But radiometric dating methods rely on the assumptions of non-
> :        contamination and constant rates of decay.  What if these
> :        assumptions are wrong?
> : [A.]   Isochron dating techniques reveal whether contamination has
> :        occurred, while numerous theoretical calculations, experiments,
> :        and astronomical
> :
> In otherwords, if you can't rely on radiometric dating,

Isochron dating is radiometric dating. I'm guessing you do not understand what it is.

> rely on other
> techniques that rely on assumptions to verify other assumptions. This is
> the  typical circular argument.

The "assumptions" of isochron dating are quite reasonable and can be independently checked. And why not use other techniques to independently check eachother? If there is something wrong with the "assumption" that decay rates have remained constant, an entire class of potential errors is eliminated by the fact that geologically uncomplicated samples yield the same results for completely different isotopic systems with order of magnitude differences in decay rate.

Another example is the observation of decay rates of certain isotopes after the explosion of supernova 1987A, about 100000 light years away. The decay rates are the same as now.


> : [Q.]   I heard that the speed of light has changed a lot. This means
> :        that light
> :        from galaxies billions of light years away might not be
> :        billions of years old.  Is this true?
> : [A.]   Barry Setterfield's hypothesis of a decaying speed of light was
> :        based on flawed extrapolations from inaccurate measurements,
> :        many of which were taken hundreds of years ago.
> At any rate, evolutionists ASSUME that the speed of light has been
> constant.

No. This is a testable hypothesis. All sorts of physical constants would change if the speed of light had changed, and this would have a variety of obvious effects on present observations.

Besides that, "evolutionists" have nothing to do with it. It has nothing to do with evolutionary theory. It is physics.


> : [Q.]   If the Earth is so old, doesn't that mean the Earth's decaying
> :        magnetic field would have been unacceptably high at one time?
> : [A.]   No.  The Earth's magnetic field is known to have varied in
> :        intensity and reversed in polarity numerous times throughout
> :        the planet's history.
> NO. There is much in the assumptions made regarding "polarity
> reversals."

Like what? And this claim deals specifically with claims about magnetic intensity, which also has considerable evidence for secular changes that do not match a simple linear or exponential extrapolation.

> What mechanism would cause the reversals?


Glatzmaier, G.A. and Roberts, P.H., 1995 (21 Sept.). A three-dimensional self-consistent computer simulation of a geomagnetic field reversal. Nature, v.377, p.203-209.

For a computer model of the magnetohydrodynamics that may be involved. It works from first principles and does not explicitly have a magnetic reversal build in, yet the model experienced a spontaneous magnetic reversal during the run that is described in this paper.

> Evolutions haven't come up
> with a sufficient explanation yet.

Biologists are not usually concerned with paleomagnetism. "Evolutionists" is just a shorthand for "any scientists who happen to propose an interpretation I do not like", isn't it? It doesn't really have much to do with evolution, does it?


> : [Q.]   Isn't the fossil record a result of the global flood described
> :        in the Book of Genesis?
> : [A.]   No.  A global flood cannot explain the sorting of fossils
> :        observed in the geological record.  This was recognized even
> :        prior to the proposal of evolutionary theory.
> Yes it does. The sorting is explained by the diffrent environs of which
> the plants and animals had lived.

So, whales and ichthyosaurs lived in radically different environments from fish? Dinosaurs lived in completely distinct environments from humans? Giant lycopod trees lived in different types of swamps from bald cypress? And, of course, pollen and spores somehow managed to stick to the same environments as the trees and other plants that produced them, throughout much of the Earth's geology, as did the footprints of a variety of animals.

> Evolutionists, here, ignore contridictions in the fossil record. The
> Matterhorn, for example, is old strata on top of young strata.

This is not a "contradiction". The rocks of the Matterhorn were slid over the top of younger rocks across a fault surface. The fault structure post-dates the deposition of the sediments, and above and below the fault, the stratigraphy is in its original order. The fault structure is quite obvious, and has been recognized since the 19th century. It is not a "contradiction", because the principle of superposition applies to undeformed strata between structural complications.


> : [Q.]   What about those fossils that cut through multiple layers?
> : [A.]   They have natural explanations: tree-roots that grew into soft,
> :        underlying layers of clay, and fossils found in inclined
> :        strata.  They can also be observed forming in modern
> :        environments.
> Close, but no cigar. Fact. Many of these so-called trees don't have
> roots.

Some do not. Most do. Many have tiny, delicate rootlets as well. See the illustrations in the "polystrate" FAQ.

> Evidence shows that they were ripped out of joint and deposited.

They occur embedded in fossil soil horizons, and the rootlets are too delicate to survive being "ripped out" of the ground and transported.

> Evidence shows that trees, when dislodged, will stand vertically in the
> water due to various factors, and will be deposited upright.

Most are not deposited this way, and those that are have distinguishing features, including broken off rootlets and deformation of the sediment beneath the stump.

BTW, how would you explain upright tree stumps in lava flows?

> Ripped roots
> are evidence of this removal. Now, fossils found out of place in the
> fossil record are always assumed to have been caused by "natural
> explanations." In other words by ASSUMPTIONS.

No. The interpretations that are offered are testable. For example, reworking of older fossils into younger strata is expected (after all, fossils are eroding out of bedrock stratigraphy today, and being deposited in the sediment in rivers). The process of reworking causes abrasion of the fossils, which is often readily recognizable. Furthermore, there are many fossils found in life position which could not be transported after death.

> In other words, evolution
> can never be proved wrong because secondary explanations will always be
> invented to explain the contridictions.

No. "Contradictions" can always be tested. If any real "contradictions" existed, they would fail these tests, and there are some types of fossil preservation which exclude any potential of transport.


> : [Q.]   What about those human footprints that appear next to dinosaur
> :        footprints?
> : [A.]   The "man-tracks" of the Paluxy Riverbed in Glen Rose, Texas
> :        were not man tracks at all.  Some were eroded dinosaur tracks,
> :        and others were human carvings.
> Irrelevance.

Yes, irrelevant. But it was not considered irrelevant by some young-Earth creationists, and there are still some that use this interpretation as a supposed indication that conventional interpretations are wrong. It still gets mentioned here regularly, and Carl Baugh still sells this claim as correct.


> : [Q.]   Didn't they find Noah's Ark?  I saw something on TV about this.
> : [A.]   The producers of America's 1993 CBS television show, "The
> :        Incredible Discovery of Noah's Ark," were hoaxed.  Other ark
> :        discovery claims have not been substantiated.
> : [U.]
> Most creationists will say that the ark has not been found yet.

Yes, but some creationists will either say it has been found, or they have once said it has been found, and this has occurred many times.

> : [Q.]   The odds against a simple cell coming into being without divine
> :        intervention are staggering.
> : [A.]   And irrelevant.  Scientists don't claim that cells came into
> :        being through random processes.  They are thought to have
> :        evolved from more primitive precursors.
> The key word here is "thought."


> That is faith.

No. It is a testable hypothesis. For example, it has been demonstrated that replication is possible with a simpler chemical apparatus than most cells currently use.

> These primitive precursors
> are nothing but fiction and imagination.

No. Pieces of such systems have been experimentally demonstrated.

> Evolution is proved, for there
> were "primitive precursors," that we "thought" up to be true.

Every scientific hypothesis starts as a "thought". In this case, the FAQ is simply pointing out that conventional scientists do not claim the entire cellular apparatus came into being at once. If you do not think that claim is reasonable, fine.


> : [Q.]   Creationists are qualified and honest scientists.  How can they
> :        be wrong?
> : [A.]   The quality of an argument is not determined by the credentials
> :        of its author.  Even if it was, a number of well-known
> :        creationists have questionable credentials.  Furthermore, many
> :        creationists have engaged
> :        in dishonest tactics like quoting out of context or making up
> :        references.
> Like Duane Gish Phd in biochemistry?

The quality of an argument is not determined by the credentials of its author.

> Evolutionists tend to attack the
> person rather than to attack the ideas.

No. If scientific claims are presented, they are usually addressed.

> Nonetheless, here is more slander
> material from evolutionists.

No, these are documentable facts. "Dr." Carl Baugh, for example, has a diploma from a questionable institution (if you can even call it an institution). Some people may care, eventhough it is not relevant to the validity of Baugh's scientific claims.


> : [Q.]   What about Immanuel Velikovsky?  Didn't he show that the Earth
> :        has experienced a lot of major catastrophes?
> : [A.]   No, he simply claimed that certain written legends must have
> :        described real events.
> No creationist takes Velikovsky seriously.

According to you, but Velikovsky did discuss origins issues, this is, and Velikovsky's claims do get discussed here. Furthermore, some creationists have cited Velikovsky's "Earth in Upheaval" or evidence therein as "evidence of major catastrophes".

> It is the typical evolutionist strawman.

The question and answer does not imply that Velikovsky represents the opinion of most or any creationists. It implies that Velikovsky talks about something relevant to origins. You are the one erecting a straw man.


> : [Q.]   Where can I find more material on the Creation/Evolution
> : debate?
> : [A.]   Contact the National Center for Science Education
> :        (, or
> :        see the archive and its "Other links" page.
> In other words, consult a biased source for your information.

The "Other links" section of the t.o archive includes many links to creationist materials. If you think the suggestion of the NCSE is "biased", fine, but the "Other links" section contains a wide variety of other information, including the flavour you apparently prefer.

> Then spend
> your time losing debates on using this material.

Well, if you relied on some of the links in the "other links" section, yes, it would be a way to "lose debates".

Article originally posted September 9, 1996

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