Last Updated on 2018-05-20 by Joop Beris
Last week, I examined 7 fallacies about the theory of evolution that believers in creation often use in debates. This week, in the interests of fairness and curiosity, I have decided to look into some evidence for creation as an explanation for life on Earth. What evidence that would hold up in the court of science is there that supports creation as a viable explanation? It should be noted that I am not a believer so this article might be biased. Is there any evidence for creation?
The first thing we should note, is that there is not an official “Theory of Creation”. There are many creation stories or creation myths in the world today which all tell a different story. That means they can not all be true, though they could certainly all be false. Since the strongest advocates of creationism or “Intelligent Design” (ID) are found in the USA, I’ll focus on their explanations which means we’ll look at the Christian creation story found in Genesis.
One of the most active proponents of creationism in the USA, is the organisation called “Answers in Genesis“, “an apologetics (i.e., Christianity-defending) ministry, dedicated to enabling Christians to defend their faith” (taken literally from their website).
When we examine their website and look at their evidence for creation, one thing that stands out is that their primary focus appears to be refuting (parts of) the theory of evolution, not propagating an alternative theory that would explain life as we see it today. Thus, we find articles entitled “The Majesty of God”, “God on the brain” or “Finding God on the Galapagos”. Anything that can be used to undermine or refute evolution can be used in their arguments so it very hard to find out which, according to them, is considered the best evidence for creation. It certainly seems an odd way to go about promoting your alternative answer if all you do, is try to refute the opposing theory. Wouldn’t it be better to let your theory stand on its own, showing why it is such a good alternative?
Keeping in mind that we have lots of jumbled arguments for creation and jumbled refutations of evolution, let’s examine them in a bit more detail. We can see these arguments fall into several categories.
1. Irreducible complexity
We’ve seen this argument in last week’s post about creationisms fallacious understanding of evolution. We also saw that it is now classified as pseudo-science, meaning it sounds scientific but it isn’t considered really scientific. So exactly how convincing is this argument as evidence for creation?
The person who came up with irreducible complexity is Michael J. Behe, biochemist and author. His argument is that some biochemical structures found in nature, are too complex to have evolved naturally therefore they have had to be designed. Two examples he gives for this are the eye and the flagellum. He refers to the same quote from Darwin I have quoted in last week’s article, where Darwin appears to be expressing doubt that something like the complex eye could have evolved. However, Darwin was using a rhetorical device and goes on to say that nevertheless, the eye did evolve.
Evolutionary biology has made a lot of progress since Darwin and the evolution of the eye is fairly well understood. Moreover, it has been shown that the eye evolved independently not just once, but at least fifty times over the course of life on Earth. Which intelligent designer would design the same component fifty times over?
The flagellum is a lash-like appendage found attached to the cell body of certain prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells. Its primary function is that of locomotion. The organism “whips” the flagellum round, thereby propelling itself. Creationists argue that since the flagellum needs all protein components present to function, the flagellum is irreducibly complex. However, biology has shown that many protein parts can be removed from the flagellum without complete loss of function, which indicates that it probably involved from systems of lesser complexity. It is easy to see how even limited movement could benefit an organism.
It seems then that these two examples do not hold up in the court of science. Furthermore, most the scientific community have dismissed the notion of irreducible complexity. In fact, even Behe’s own colleagues at the department of biology at the university of Lehigh have issued a statement that they do not agree with his views.
Opponents of the notion of irreducible complexity have pointed out that it is basically an argument from incredulity, simply stated “I can’t believe that this is true, therefore it must be false”. Just because something may seem incredible to Michael Behe, doesn’t mean it is therefore untrue.
As far as irreducible complexity is concerned, it seems safe to conclude that it is not endorsed by the scientific community at large and as such has to be dismissed as evidence in the court of science.
2. No transitional fossils in the fossil record
Another fallacy that I have discussed last week and one that is simply not true. There are ample transitional fossils in the fossil record and more are being discovered each year. For an incomplete list, here is a link.
Anyone who seriously claims that this is evidence for creation, has never seen the inside of a proper museum. There is no way this argument holds up in the court of science.
3. Science doesn’t know how life began
The statement above is true, science has not been able to discover how life on Earth began. A whole lot of work has gone into this, is still going in to this and there are fascinating hypotheses about it but to date there is no definitive answer to this question from the realms of science.
However, is it true to state that because science can’t answer a specific question, it must be true that there is an intelligent agent at work? Basically, this is a “God of the gaps” argument, meaning any gaps in scientific knowledge are taken to be evidence of God or God’s work. As Neil deGrasse Tyson put it: “God is an ever receding pocket of scientific ignorance”. Every day, science learns more about our universe, about sub-atomic particles and about how things interact. So every day, there is less room for God. It is conceivable that one day, science will be able to answer how life began on this planet. So where would that leave God?
Just because science doesn’t know how to answer something yet, does not automatically mean that God must be involved. So this argument will not hold up in the court of science.
4. The Big Bang
Something that is not related directly to the theory of evolution or to how life on Earth began but that is still brought up frequently by the religious as evidence, is the Big Bang Theory, or to put it in scientific terms, the cosmological model that has the universe begin as a singularity from which it rapidly expanded until the state it is in now, roughly some 13.8 billion years later. Creationists see the Big Bang Theory as evidence for creatio ex nihilo, creation out of nothing. Their reasoning, as put forward by Thomas Aquinas, is as follows:
- Everything is caused by something other than itself
- Therefore, the universe was caused by something other than itself
- The string of causes can not be infinitely long
- If the string of causes can not be infinitely long, there must be a first cause
- Therefore, there must be a first cause, which is God
There are several objections to seeing God as the first cause, the cause that doesn’t need a cause. It sounds self-refuting to say that everything is caused by something other than itself, except for God. Why should there be an exception for God? Why should the first cause be unique in that it requires no cause? Why not simply say that the universe has no cause, so there is no need for a creator deity?
Another objection is that even if the universe has a first cause, there is nothing to suggest that this first cause has to be the God of the Bible (or any other god, for that matter). Thomas Aquinas imagined that it must be the God he believed in but it is actually a non sequitur to state it like that. If it could be proven that there was a god that caused the universe into being, all you would have achieved would be a deistic position which is still a far cry from a theistic position and a god resembling the one from the Bible.
Modern physics also has an objection to the traditional understanding of creatio ex nihilo. Quantum mechanics states that even in absolute nothingness, there is potential. While we can’t directly observe this potential, empty space is unstable and there are lots of things going on. Virtual particles are being created and destroyed constantly. These virtual particles arise continuously and uncaused so the original premise that everything is caused by something other than itself, is not always true. This seems to contradict common sense but that is what quantum mechanics tends to do all the time. If empty space is not a void, not a true “nothingness”, can the universe really be said to have come from nothing?
There is also a problem with the third proposition of Aquinas, the one that says there can not be an infinitely long causal chain. This is not a logical impossibility. It seems that Aquinas assumed that an infinitely long causal chain is just a very long finite one but this is not the case. If an infinitely long causal chain is not simply a very long finite one, there is no first cause but each event still has a cause that caused it to happen.
While the Big Bang seems to be an argument that could support creation, there are quite a few objections and problems that arise when you presume God to be the creator. The most important problem is that even if the universe had a creator, the Big Bang theory does not say anything about the identity or nature of this creator. There is nothing to suggest that this creator is the God of the Bible. Would this argument hold up in the court of science? No.
5. The Bible says that God created everything
In the first book of the Bible, Genesis, there is indeed an account that says that God created everything, from the stars to the smallest living creatures. To see if this should be given any credence, we must establish that the Bible has got it right when compared with science. If there are discrepancies in the story of creation and the scientific account, we have a problem. There is another problem too: are we to take the creation account in Genesis as literal or as a metaphor? Christians themselves are divided on the subject but the Answers in Genesis ministry is quite clear: the account in Genesis is the literal truth.
So let’s explore what Genesis has to say about the creation of everything:
Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”.
Science would disagree here, because there is abundant evidence that the universe formed billions of years before our sun and the Earth, the universe being some 13.8 billion years old, the Earth “only” 4.5 billion years.
5: And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
This is interesting because it shows the belief that day and night were created before there was even a sun. Since our daylight can only come from the sun, this can not possibly be true.
6: And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. 7: And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. 8: And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
Firmament refers to the idea of the sky as a solid dome set over the Earth. So the waters under the firmament refers to the waters on the Earth, the water above the firmament, the waters in heaven refers to rain. However, the Earth had no water on the surface after it had formed. Water didn’t appear until much later.
Also, we now know that the firmament isn’t there. There is no solid dome set over the Earth and the stars aren’t pinpricks in this dome.
11: And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. 12: And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good. 13: And the evening and the morning were the third day.
Genesis says explicitly that the first life on Earth were plants that grow on land. The fossil record shows that this is not true. Life began in Earth’s oceans and for the vast majority of time, life existed only in the oceans. The land was barren wasteland devoid of all life. The first plants on land were not grasses or fruit bearing trees either.
Since trees and grass rely on photosynthesis, they would have been in serious trouble regardless, since the sun had not yet been created.
14: And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years 15: And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. 16: And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. 17: And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, 18: And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good. 19: And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.
Lots of things here that don’t add up scientifically. First of all, the stars are created after the Earth, which, as we have seen above is simply not true. Second, the lights are placed in the firmament, which we know to be non-existent. The two great lights refer to the sun and moon, respectively. However, the moon is not a source of light, it merely reflects light from the sun. Also, the sun and moon are created together here but scientifically, we know that the sun formed about 4.57 billion years ago while the moon is about the same age as the Earth, some 4.5 billion years.
God again divides night and day, which he had already done.
20: And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. 21: And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good. 22: And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth. 23: And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.
On the fifth day, God creates the animals in the oceans, so quite a while after the land plants. As noted above, this order is wrong. We see whales (50 million years ago) created before birds (under debate but some 150 million years ago), which is the other way around. We also see birds formed before any land animals and this is incorrect as well according to an abundance of fossil evidence. Since whales evolved from terrestrial mammals, there can not have been whales before there were animals on land.
25: And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
According to the Genesis account, land animals were created a long time after grass, which is scientifically incorrect. Also, all terrestrial animals are created at the same time which is absolutely incorrect. The first animals on land according to the fossil record, were arthropods such as spiders, centipedes and mites, about 420 million years ago. By contrast, the first hoofed mammals are much younger, at 66 million years ago. Cattle are much later still, since they are generally considered domesticated forms of wild animals and thus require a human presence.
26: And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. 27: So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
Here, God creates man after all other living things, which is not entirely correct in terms of evolution. Humans are very recent but not the most recent. However, man and woman are created at the same time here in contrast to Genesis chapter 2, where woman is created after man, and from a rib taken out of the man, no less.
Genesis chapter 2 begins as follows:
1: Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2: And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. 3: And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.
This sounds like the work of creation is done, the Earth is finished. This has led creationists to believe that no new species have evolved since humans came about. This is not true, since speciation has taken place since humans appear in the fossil record. In the article about evolution theory fallacies, I have linked to two lists with speciation event. They are here and here. Some of these required human interference, some did not.
With this many contradictions and discrepancies with currently held scientific theories in cosmology, biology and palaeontology, it seems the Genesis creation account must be roundly rejected as something that would stand up in the court of science. In fact, the Roman Catholic church has already done so, saying that God set the universe in motion, governed by natural laws and using evolution to guide the development of organisms, which is a proposition they have fought ever since Charles Darwin published his book. In doing so, the Roman Catholic church has manoeuvred itself into a “God of the gaps” position. Should science ever discover the origin of life on Earth, the necessity for their creator God will vanish in a puff of smoke.
This article has been a brief and confusing foray into the evidence supporting divine creation as in the literal reading of the Genesis account in the Christian Bible. I say confusing because there is no competing theory put forth by proponents of creationism so it is very hard to know which evidence to examine and which evidence is considered strong. I’ve looked at five points that are brought up regularly by Christian apologists and backers of creationism to see if they would stand up in the court of modern science. These five points are attempts to refute the theory of evolution based on misinterpretation and misrepresentation, point out that science doesn’t know all the answers, provide an alternative interpretation of the Big Bang theory and of course the Bible itself. Each of these points fails to stand up in the court of modern science, simply because in all cases, science has a better, more elegant explanation that does not require the introduction of an omnipotent creator deity. I am forced to conclude that there is no scientific merit in the creationists’ standpoint. As science continues to work on finding answers to the fundamental question as to how everything came to be, creationism will continue to lose ground and it’s already untenable position will hopefully become an embarrassment.