The Science of Evolution - Anti-Evolution Creationism: An Assault on All of Science, in the Name of God

Part 7d: Refuting the Old-School "Scientific Creationists"

by Ardea Skybreak

Revolutionary Worker #1219, November 16, 2003, posted at

There is nothing "scientific" about "Scientific Creationism." As opposed to science, so-called "Scientific Creationism" consists of a set of religious beliefs . It bases itself on these religious beliefs and uses them as its starting point and sets out to impose them on reality. A good scientist goes out in the world looking for the truth of things with an open mind and willing to follow the evidence wherever it might lead. Genuine scientists also use well-established scientific methods to come up with very specific predictions (hypotheses) about the way things might be in the world, and then go out and systematically collect data and make repeated observations and experiments --all of which is aimed at actually testing and verifying whether the initial predictions do, or do not, conform to material reality (and if they don't, then scientific theories have to be revised, new predictions made, and the whole process starts all over again). In addition, genuine scientists can't simply "proclaim" their findings and expect everyone to just believe them: before they can publish their results in scientific journals, they have to explain their research methods and how they obtained their results and drew their conclusions to other scientists familiar with their area of work. This method of "peer review" prevents a lot of bogus work from being presented as serious science. It's not a perfect system obviously--mistakes are sometimes made, and there are even cases of fraud and outright fabrication of results from time to time; and of course all working scientists (like everyone else) bring to their work their own individual methods and outlooks and assorted socially conditioned prejudices and preconceptions, which can lead them to put forward or accept results and conclusions that have little to do with what things are like in the real world. But other scientists (and people more broadly) are always around to critique and challenge and, over time, fact tends to get separated from fiction and human knowledge accumulates and advances. Some once popular scientific theories get discarded, while others end up being backed up by so much evidence that they become broadly accepted and are able to serve as platforms from which human knowledge can be even further extended and developed.

This is never a straight-line process, and human knowledge takes many wrong or dead-end turns and perfectly good ideas and understanding (which actually do correspond to material reality) are sometimes wrongly ignored or discarded--or outright suppressed--often to the detriment of humanity. But overall through the course of history, through fits and starts and the always somewhat "messy" process of theory-practice-theory, human knowledge of the actual workings of the natural as well as the social world has actually increased and developed--and the more humans have systematically (and consciously) applied materialist scientific methods of exploration and investigation, the more this has been the case.

The Creationists take themselves outside of this scientific process. They put forward stories about imagined supernatural forces which they themselves define as being outside the reach of human scientific exploration: by definition impossible to directly or indirectly detect, test or verify by the means that are available to and can be developed by human beings. It's a funny thing about spiritual beliefs, including the various forms of Creationism: they declare their subject "above and beyond" the natural material world (and therefore outside the realm of science) but they themselves, and their ideas, are not actually able to escape the scientific spotlight--tried and true methods of materialist science applied to the social arena can in fact reveal a great deal about the historical and material basis of their thinking and about their past and current social purposes and motivations. (And understood in that sense, it should actually be pretty obvious that science does in fact have a great deal to say about religion--and in my opinion should in fact say it! But this is a subject for another time.)

Ever since Darwin proposed his revolutionary theory that all life on this planet had evolved out of a series of common ancestors over millions of years thanks to a purely natural mechanism he called natural selection, scientists have been going out and checking it out to see if this holds up in the real world. Does the fossil evidence conform to the predictions of the theory of evolution?--check. Does the molecular genetic evidence conform to the predictions of the theory of evolution?--check. Does the evidence from similarities and differences of body parts and functions among living species conform to the predictions of the theory of evolution?--check. Does the evidence from the geographic distribution of species around the world and their networks of ecological relationships correspond to the predictions of the theory of evolution?--check. Can evolutionists provide examples of the kinds of things we should not expect to find if the theory of evolution is correct?--check. Well, has there ever been a single discovery, in any field of science, which constitutes evidence of something that does not conform to the predictions of the theory of evolution? No, not one--there is a ton of concrete data in support of evolution that has been met with broad scientific agreement but not a single piece of actual scientific evidence has ever been found to disprove the theory of evolution. Not one. Seriously, what more do we need?

By contrast the "Scientific Creationists" start off with a religious assumption: that God made the earth and the universe and everything in it and that the living species of plants and animals did not evolve out of any pre-existing different species because, as the Biblical literalist Creationists see it, species were created by god separately and all at once only a few thousand years ago, and they are still today just like god created them. Human beings in particular, say the Creationists, were god's "special" creation, and so there is no way humans could have evolved out of non-human ape- like ancestor species. But, once again, this is not science : it is a religious or spiritual belief , rooted in a myth--the Genesis story of Creation which people who lived more than 2,000 years ago wrote down and which became the first part of a religious text, the Bible.

So that's what the traditional Creationists start off with. They want to believe what they want to believe, and scientific facts be damned! Some of them on occasion go out in the world and try to find "evidence" which would fit their theory, while of course insisting that their theory cannot possibly be disproved, no matter what. A few of them actually go looking for remains of Noah's Ark, or try to find fossil footprints of dinosaurs in rock layers containing fossilized human bones in an effort to show dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time (which would have to be the case if the Genesis creation story of all species being created at once were true). Or they try to make calculations to show that the Grand Canyon could have been formed by water erosion in just a few thousand years, rather than the millions of years all the geologists agree upon.

Biblical literalist Creationists don't use any of the well established scientific methods, don't publish in any scientific journals and have never been able to come up with a single piece of actual scientific evidence in support of their religious theory. But that doesn't keep many of them from still wanting to "appear" to be "scientific," especially when they are trying to get their religious beliefs smuggled into science classrooms in an attempt to confuse people and undermine evolution science, and science more generally. So what do they do? Well, they spend a good deal of time trying to make themselves look and sound "scientific" (at least enough to try to fool people who have been denied a decent science education). For instance, the Institute of Creation Research (ICR),one of the main headquarters of the more traditional Biblical literalist Creationists, even has a museum near San Diego that people can visit and which tries to look like a natural history museum! People can go there and see colorful dioramas and displays about the supposed shaping of earth's landscapes and the supposed origins of past and present life-forms, and read professional-looking museum signs which "explain" (as if these were proven scientific facts) that people are descended from Adam and Eve, that there once was a global Flood which covered the whole earth, that all the species of animals alive today are descended from the animals Noah managed to herd onto his one boat when God sent the Flood, what Noah's Ark probably looked like (complete with diagrams!) etc, etc. Of course none of what they show is supported by any scientific evidence (and all of it is actually contradicted by tons of scientific evidence), but hey, what the hell, these displays are in a "museum," so there must be some truth to it, right? Well, no, not right. As the old saying goes, caveat emptor (buyer beware)!

It is important to keep pointing out that the preferred method of the so-called "scientific" Creationists is not actually to do any real science of their own: they don't conduct any experiments and investigations in keeping with scientific standards or accumulate and present any actual scientific evidence of their own. They are in fact unable to present any evidence that could withstand any recognized scientific process of testing and verification. So what they do instead is resort to just trying to "poke some holes" in their nemesis, the science of evolution. They figure that by doing this they might be able to convince people that evolution science rests on shaky ground. They seem to think that if they could only get people to at least have a few doubts about evolution--to start wondering a little about whether evolution might not just be a hyped up and unproven fantasy of non-believer scientists--then people might be willing to conclude that life never evolved after all and instead accept the Genesis story of divine Creation as the only possible alternative explanation of how life came to be the way it is.

Let's look at some examples:

The Second Law of Thermodynamics

Many Creationists like to claim evolution can't be true because it would violate the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics: Wow, are you impressed yet? This sure sounds scientific, doesn't it? Only one problem: they don't know what the hell they're talking about! The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics refers to scientists' understanding that matter left to its own devices has a natural tendency to move towards states of increasing disorder (this is referred to as an "increase in entropy"). The Creationists say that the theory that all life-forms evolved out of different pre-existing ancestor species presents life on earth evolving towards increased biological order (not disorder), going from the more simple (early one- celled bacteria, for instance) to the more complex (multi-cellular birds or people, for instance). The Creationists like to say that such an increase over time in the degree of order and complexity of natural systems would have violated what scientists understand about how the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics operates, and therefore evolution must be wrong.

There are basically two problems with their reasoning: first of all, the evolution of life on earth is not actually one simple straight-line highway steadily progressing over time from the simplest bacteria to big- brained humans, or anything remotely like that--evolution just doesn't work that way. We know that life on this planet did start off with just simple one-celled microorganisms like bacteria (because we can still find traces of these early bacteria in rocks that we know are some 3.5 billion years old) and we also know that it did take hundreds of millions of years of evolutionary modifications before even the first complex multi- cellular animals evolved. But the evolution of life has always looked more like a "branching bush" than like any kind of simple straight-line process. An evolving system doesn't march off towards ever greater "progress" or "perfection" of form or function, or even necessarily towards ever greater complexity. (An evolutionary loss of complexity can be seen, for example, in blind cave fish. These are known to have evolved out of pre-existing [earlier] species of fish which had more complex and functional [seeing] eyes. But these eyes and their ability to see were later "lost" through evolutionary modifications as some of the descendants of these ancestor fish took to living their entire lives in underwater caves where there is no light.)

It is a human-centered bias which often makes people think that all life always evolved from simpler to more complex and towards us humans at the very top of the complexity heap. But, in reality, life on earth has evolved in many different directions over the past 3.5 billion years, back and forth along a number of different tracks, including along a lot of short-lived side branches which, as it turned out, ended up in evolutionary dead-ends. And the evolution of life has also been frequently punctuated with extinctions (the going out of existence) of species--including mass die-offs of a high proportion of all the species alive at the time, a phenomenon which has occurred at least five different times in earth's history. One might say that extinction is not exactly reflective of a uniform trend towards ever-increasing biological order and complexity!

In addition, many very simple organisms still thrive on this planet. For instance, there are so many different species of bacteria, and their population numbers are so great, that many biologists like to say the bacteria still rule the earth! Similarly, it can be fun (and somewhat humbling!) to ponder the fact that the estimated total weight (biomass) of the many different known species of ants (and more ant species are still being discovered!) adds up to roughly the collective weight of all the individuals who make up our one single remaining species of humans.

But even if by "increase in complexity" we simply mean that, in the course of 3.5 billion years, life on this planet evolved features and mechanisms which are much more complex than what existed in the simplest bacteria, and that, in the overall course of evolving, life has diversified into a tremendous variety of species and complex ecosystems, this still doesn't "violate the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics". Why? Because this natural law predicts that matter will tend to move towards increasing disorder only in self-contained "closed" systems. But life on this planet is not in fact a "closed" system-- it continually takes in energy from an outside source (the sun). As long as this external input of energy continues, there is no reason to think that natural systems on this planet could not continue to produce and organize additional biological "order" and complexity.

This false "objection" to evolution (the accusation that evolution supposedly runs counter to the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics) is typical of the methods of the supposedly "scientific" Creationists: they don't even know what they're talking about, but they throw a little dust in the air and make claims that sure "sound" scientific, and of course this can have the effect of confusing people.

Another typical example of Creationist methods:

God in the Gaps?

Creationists like to say that if evolution is true and every species of plant and animal (including people) evolved out of an earlier pre-existing species, there should be no "gaps" or missing links between species in the fossil record. They say we should be able to look at fossils preserved in the rocks and see a perfect uninterrupted sequence of every single ancestor and descendant species, accounting in perfect order for every single life-form and evolutionary modification. They then point out that there are actually lots of gaps in the fossil record (and of course there are some gaps, though not nearly as many as they think, and there are fewer all the time as new fossil discoveries are made) and they then conclude that any such gaps in the fossil record are clear proof that evolution never occurred.

Interestingly, this is not just something that these old-style Biblical literalist Creationists say. It is also put forth as evidence against evolution by one of the most sophisticated and influential representatives of the new school of Intelligent Design Creationism--in fact pretty much their leading ideologue--the Berkeley law professor emeritus Philip Johnson. (At Berkeley?!? Come on!)

But once again these Creationists don't know what they're talking about. As discussed earlier in this series, here's what is basically wrong with this "gap" argument.

First of all, the theory of evolution predicts that there will always be some remaining "gaps" in the fossil record. Why? Well, for one thing, because we can't expect to find all the links connecting all the species in any given ancestor-descendant sequence, especially since only a fraction of dead plants and animals ever formed hardened fossils in the first place! That being said, there certainly are not as many "gaps" as the Creationists would like us to believe. In particular, it is absolutely not true, as they like to claim, that there are "no intermediate species" bridging and linking ancestor and descendant lines. Anybody who looks into this even just a little bit will be able to tell that's just a flat-out lie. I really don't know what else to call it. As shown earlier in this series, the fossil record preserved in rocks of different ages has actually revealed quite a few chronological (time-ordered) sequences of ancestor and descendant species (in both plant and animal lines) that clearly show step-wise evolutionary modifications, taking place over millions of years. In fact, our own human evolutionary line over the past 4 million years is especially rich in intermediate fossil species!

But one thing you can quickly learn if you listen to what the old-style Creationists have to say is that there is absolutely nothing you could possibly explain to them and absolutely nothing you could possibly show them that could cause them to let go of their unshakable religious belief (that God created all the species separately and all at once). So if Creationists point to an actual existing "gap" between evolutionary lines in the fossil record, and scientists later do find fossils of intermediate species that clearly fill that gap and reveal even more clearly the evolutionary connections between ancestors and descendants (as has happened many times), do you think the Creationists are willing to change their position? Of course not. They simply act like, OK, that gap may be gone, but now there's two gaps--because now there's one on either side of the new fossil discovery! And if those two gaps later get "filled" by the discovery of even more missing link intermediates, they'll just act as if there are now four gaps that need to be filled...and so of course this little game of theirs could go on forever. The Creationists will do everything in their power to try to divert people's attention from such things as the already overwhelming, and constantly growing, evidence which connects modern humans back to earlier primate ancestors through a long step- wise series of intermediates (or, just to use another example, the evidence which connects modern-day legless whales to earlier four-legged land ancestors through a long series of step-wise evolutionary modifications taking place over millions of years).

In addition to flat-out lying about how there are supposedly no "intermediates" showing step-wise evolutionary modifications in the fossil record (when any biologist or paleontologist can point to quite a few such series!), the Creationists also fail to understand a fundamental point, which is that the theory of evolution itself actually predicts that it should be difficult and likely even impossible to find fossilized remains of clear intermediate species representing every single evolutionary modification in neat step-wise fashion. Why? Well, for a combination of reasons. First of all, as mentioned earlier (and as discussed a number of times in this series) very few individual plants and animals ever leave any kind of trace in the fossil record--most dead bodies simply break up and decompose without leaving any hardened imprint or calcified bones in the rocks, especially if they didn't get covered over by mud or other sediments really quickly after death. Given this, it is nothing short of amazing that so many millions of fossils of so many different species have been found and continue to be found in growing numbers on a daily basis.

But in addition to this, our current understanding of how evolution actually works tells us that brand new species often evolve out of really small and geographically isolated populations which are reproductively cut off from the bigger ancestral population from which they were most recently derived. For reasons that were reviewed earlier in this series (having to do, among other things, with the disproportionate influence on small populations of mutations and other changes in gene frequencies in a population), it seems that major evolutionary innovations (dramatically different features of form and function) are much more likely to appear at first in really small populations than in a larger and more stable ancestral gene pool. And once these evolutionary modifications appear, it takes a lot of time for them to spread to significant numbers of individuals and to generate even more diverse variations on a theme, so to speak. All this should make it pretty clear why finding fossils of those very first small pockets of individuals (which represent the first appearance of a brand new species) is actually very unlikely--we tend to "catch" the evolutionary modifications that have happened only a bit further down the time line, once they have become more solidly established and widespread and have come to represent a larger evolutionary branch. Given all this, it is even more amazing that so many clearly intermediate life- forms have been found in the fossil record!

So Creationists, at one and the same time, lie about "gaps" in the fossil record that have long been filled by linked series of ancestors and descendants, and also reveal their ignorance of how evolution actually works in not understanding some of the basic reasons why the theory of evolution actually predicts that not every single "gap" in the fossil record will ever likely be filled.

Another example of step-wise evolution:

The Evolution of Elephants

Earlier in this series, I provided a number of examples of "intermediates" which are increasingly filling out the fossil record in all sorts of ancestor-descendant lines. Here's just one more: the evolution of elephants. If you look into rock layers going back about 50 million years, you will see all sorts of fossils of animals whose skulls, trunks and tusks show that they are clearly related to modern-day elephants (of which only two species survive). Then, as you move forward through time from 50 million years ago, you can see that evolutionary pathways diverged (split) a number of times, forming a "branching bush" pattern. Some of the branching pathways are represented by fossil sequences that become more and more like the modern-day elephants as you move forward through time. Paleontologists have by now discovered the fossilized remains of at least 22 different but still "elephant-like" species which lived in just the last 6 million years!

Ask yourself this: is it really reasonable to imagine (as do the Creationists) that some kind of god or other supernatural "intelligent designer" created all these different but still elephant-like species completely separately from each other? And that this designer did the same thing (completely separate acts of Creation) with each of the millions of different known species of insects, for instance? How can anyone seriously entertain such a thought--at least anyone who is, or who claims to be, familiar with what evolution teaches--especially since so many of the mechanisms through which new species are naturally produced, out of different pre-existing ancestors, are now well understood?

"Mutants Are Not Monsters!"

Creationists often like to say that mutations can't possibly have contributed to the evolution of life-forms because all genetic mutations are harmful to life and so could not possibly be a source of sustainable new forms of life. Once again, you guessed it--they don't know what they're talking about. When living plants and animals reproduce, their DNA (the genetic material that contains chemical information that can be passed on to descendants) undergoes a complicated process through which chemical strands separate and reassemble multiple times. It's not a perfect system, and at each step in this molecular process "copying errors" (mutations) can (and frequently do) occur. Many of them are minor enough not to have any significant effect on an organism's offspring. But sometimes mutations cause functional abnormalities that are severe enough to cause the malformation or even death of egg or sperm cells or of an entire offspring. Genetic mutations that are severe enough to kill an offspring or prevent it from ever reproducing obviously cannot continue to spread from generation to generation. But not all mutations are harmful , and so it is important to remember the old saying: mutants are not monsters!

There are in fact many genetic mutations that don't cause significant harm to descendants, and some of these even contribute to helpful new features or capacities that may provide descendants with some kind of new reproductive advantage in a particular environment (especially if the environment happens to be changing in important ways). These kinds of more favorable new features will tend to spread by natural selection to increasing numbers of individuals over the generations. For instance, the very first bipedal (upright-walking) hominids were no doubt "genetic freaks" in one sense (relative to the non- bipedal apes from which they were descended) but bipedalism must have provided some major reproductive advantages for these early ancestors of ours (and the environments do seem to have been changing in significant ways around the time bipedalism emerged, as discussed earlier in this series) because it is evident from the fossil record that, once it emerged, bipedalism took hold and spread and it was a distinguishing feature of a great many successful new hominid species over the next few million years. This is just one of countless examples of how mutations and other genetic reconfigurations are not always harmful and how they can sometimes open up whole new reproductively advantageous evolutionary pathways.

I won't repeat here everything that was said in earlier installments of this series about how new species can come into being. I simply want to remind readers that many of the changes involved in this process have actually been directly observed (even if only on a relatively modest scale) both in the lab and in the wild (where whole new species of plants have been observed to evolve simply through chance doublings of chromosomes, for instance, or in cases where geographically separated species of animals have been shown to accumulate sufficient genetic differences over many generations that they have become--or are in the process of becoming--wholly separate species). And it is important to realize that population geneticists and other evolutionary biologists are routinely able to actually measure such things as the rates at which genetic changes are taking place in living populations, and the degree to which these genetic changes are being sorted out by natural selection in a given environment, producing descendant populations that are different in measurably significant ways from their ancestors going back a number of generations.

Again, especially when environments change, genetic mutations, instead of being harmful, can actually be very beneficial to individual organisms (and the same can be said of the kind of new genetic combinations which can come about through the mixing and reshuffling of parental genes that always occurs through sexual reproduction, and through the kind of change in gene frequencies in whole populations that can come about simply through "genetic drift," when individuals migrate in and out of natural populations, for instance). All this provides a constantly changing genetic pool in the living populations of any species--and it is this that serves as the raw material of evolutionary change.

The Creationists don't have a leg to stand on and just reveal their gross ignorance when they insist that mutations are always harmful, that nobody understands the mechanisms through which life evolves, and that the only thing that could possibly explain why so many species seem so well adapted to their environments is because a designer god made them that way. All of these ideas have long been disproved by actual concrete scientific evidence .

The Age of the Earth (and of the Universe)--A Big Problem for the Creationists

The so-called Young Earth Creationists (YECs), such as the ones centered around Duane Gish and the San Diego-based Institute for Creation Research, have for years spearheaded school board take-overs and legal suits to try to get so-called "scientific Creationism" smuggled into science classrooms and textbooks.

As we will discuss later, their influence may have begun to fade as they've been broadly denounced and ridiculed by the scientific community, and as a generational and ideological shift is bringing the Intelligent Design version of Creationism more to the foreground, including in the mass media. But it would be wrong to assume from this that the Biblical literalist Young Earth Creationists have been rendered toothless and irrelevant and that it is no longer necessary to work to expose their lies and distortions.*

For Biblical literalist Young Earth Creationists it is a matter of unshakable religious faith that the Earth can only be a few thousand years old (and certainly not more than 10,000 years old). Anything older than that would contradict the sense given in the Bible of when God supposedly created the "heavens" and the earth and everything on it. These Creationists couldn't care less that it is now a well-established scientific fact that the earth is about 4.5 billion years old, and that this understanding is a cornerstone of all modern geology (could it be that all the working geologists are wrong and everything they have accomplished in the past two centuries or so is nothing more than illusion?). And the Creationists also couldn't care less that astronomers today can peer into distant space to study stars, galaxies, super- nova explosions and so on, and can calculate that many are billions of light-years away (they are so far away from us that often what we are detecting now is actually how those stars and so on appeared and what they were doing billions of years ago!).

The Young Earth Creationists respond to all this by claiming that either the physicists are simply making mistakes in all their calculations of the age of the earth and the universe, or else the divine Creator, for reasons known only to him, decided to make the universe measurably look like it's billions of years old, even though, these Creationists insist, it really isn't (because if it really is that old the Bible is factually wrong , and they just can't accept that possibility).

It's important to understand that if these Young Earth Creationists were right, and the earth really weren't much older than what the Bible suggests, it wouldn't just be the entire science of modern biology which would go down the tubes; it would also be all of modern physics, chemistry, geology, and astronomy as well. All of these sciences, and much of what they have accomplished in the past couple of centuries, is built on a foundation that includes the understanding that the earth and its elements and what we know so far about the larger universe is billions (not thousands or even millions) of years old.

The idea that all these fields of modern science could be so fundamentally wrong (as the YECs insist is the case) is obviously ridiculous to anyone who stops to think about it, and this seems to be part of what is driving the emergence of the new school of Creationists who promote Intelligent Design theory. As we will see, at least some of the Intelligent Design Creationists (IDCs) are willing to set aside a rigidly literal reading of the Bible, accept the scientific evidence that the earth and the universe are much older than what is indicated in the Bible, and to recognize many of the advances made by modern astronomy, physics, geology, etc. But when it comes to biological evolution, they try to argue that the natural processes of biological evolution can't possibly account for all the features of living organisms (such as the complex structures of some biochemical systems functioning inside of cells) and so they too end up imagining that a supernatural higher power, a divine designer, had to be involved at least at some point in the process. (The IDCs and their mistaken beliefs will be discussed more a little later in this series.)

But the Young Earth Creationists (including most of the so-called "scientific" Creationists lobbying to change laws to enforce the teaching of Creationism in the science classrooms) aren't willing to give up on any of their core beliefs, including the age of the earth and the fossils within it. Never mind that geologists can take many different kinds of repeated measurements of the age of different kinds of rocks (and of different elements within a given rock) and double-check and triple-check their age calculations many different ways. The YECs say all the scientists are simply wrong in calculating the age of the earth at roughly 4.5 billion years. They say that evolutionists arrived at this figure through circular reasoning: dating the age of rocks by the fossils they contain, and then dating the fossils according to what rock layers they are found in. This sure makes it sound like the evolutionists are applying bad scientific methods doesn't it? But the truth is that there really is a consistent, time-ordered sequence of similar fossils that are found in similar rock layers all over the world--layers of sediments which were deposited and hardened into rock in different time periods of this planet's history (different geological "eras"). This ordered chronology or sequence of different kinds of rock layers and their associated fossils (known as the "geological column") is so familiar to geologists that they knew about it even before Darwin's time. Geologists realized that the different layers in the geological column had formed and accumulated at different times in the past and so represented different eras in the geological history of the earth long before anyone knew anything about the evolution of life. And there is a real (not imagined) correlation between certain kinds of rock layers and certain kinds of fossils, which is repeated all around the world; and the more 19th-century geologists and early naturalists thought about this, the more this started to suggest to some of them that what they were looking at was evidence that not only the shape and form of the inanimate earth but also the living creatures themselves had actually changed over time, had in some way evolved .

How do the Young Earth Creationists explain the fact that different collections of fossils are consistently found in different kinds of rock layers? By saying ridiculously absurd things like: the distribution patterns of fossils found in various rock sequences reflect the fact that, during the supposed 40- day Biblical Flood, some creatures drowned earlier on (and those are the ones which sank to the bottom and are now found in the deepest layers of sediments) while some others (the better swimmers and the more intelligent ones) managed to survive longer and therefore their remains are found in the upper layers of sediments deposited by the Flood. I find it actually incredible that adult human beings of supposedly sound mind--especially people claiming to practice some kind of "science"--could actually say such things with a straight face! Of course, these Creationists are completely unable to explain why not a single fossil organism is ever found "out of place" in the geological layering:were they all such equally bad, or equally good, swimmers?

Many biologists have a lot of fun exposing this nonsense. For instance, Brown University biologist Ken Miller (a Catholic and a religious believer who tries in various ways to reconcile science and religion, but who has no doubts about the evolution of life) often makes the point that not a single fossil of the flowering plants is found in the first 2 billion years of the geological record--"not a dandelion, not a rose, not an acorn, not so much as a mustard seed."And so he poses the obvious question: wouldn't the churning waters of the supposed Biblical Flood have mixed together many of these seeds and plant parts and deposited them throughout the layers of muddy sediments which later turned to rock? One would think so, but as it turns out only plants that produce leaves (but no flowers), such as club-mosses and giant ferns, are found in the older (lower) sediments. The distribution patterns of fossils in the different rock layers has nothing to do with any global Flood that supposedly covered the whole earth (and for which there is also absolutely no evidence either): the real reason not even a single one of the flowering plants has ever been found in the "lower" 2 billion years of sediments is simply because flowering plants hadn't yet evolved back then. In fact, even though flowering plants dominate the earth today, they evolved fairly recently--less than 100 million years ago--in what is known as the Cretaceous era.

The Creationists also don't have a good explanation for why all the human fossils are found only in the very top layers of sediments--as Ken Miller humorously points out, for the Creationist Flood theory to be right, it would have to be the case that all the humans alive at the time of the supposed 40-day global Flood managed to swim or tread water for something like 39 days, drowning only on the very last day!

And of course, as has been spoken to earlier in the series, the age of things and the time at which they lived is something which is not just a matter of speculation but which can now be quite accurately and consistently determined through a great many scientific dating techniques, including various forms of radiometric dating based on the known rates of decay of radioactive elements in the earth as well as newer techniques of molecular dating. There are so many dating techniques now, and it is so clear that scientists can get reliable approximations of the age of just about anything by using a combination of such techniques (to see whether they keep coming up with the same age), that it is getting harder and harder for anyone to take seriously the Creationists' so-called "critique" of actual scientific dating or to entertain seriously the Creationists' notion of the Biblical Flood being responsible for the orderly distribution of species in the geological layers.

While the YECs still stubbornly cling to the literal Biblical view of a young earth and a divine creation of everything all at once (and no more than 10,000 years ago), more and more Creationists seem to be willing to abandon this view, accepting the old age of the earth, accepting that the fossils reveal that different plants and animals lived in different eras, but then concluding either that God must have engaged in multiple acts of creation at different times, or, alternatively, that God simply created the beginnings of life but then allowed life to evolve.

Because this kind of "modified" Creationist view is in stark conflict with what is said in the Bible, it is a source of great tension and disagreement within Creationist circles.

"Maybe God just made it look old, and maybe God also just made it look like life has evolved"

One thing's for sure: human beings often have a hard time letting go of age-old traditions and cherished beliefs, especially when they reinforce deeply entrenched social relations, customs, values, etc. In struggling with the tenets of their religious faith at the same time that they are being relentlessly confronted with scientific evidence demonstrating the old age of the earth and the indisputable evidence that life has evolved and is continuing to evolve, some of the Creationists try to argue that what really happened is just that God made the universe and the earth look a lot older than they really are. These types of Creationists offer no explanation for why God would do such a thing. Same with the living species: God just made them look like they evolved in an orderly unfolding of ancestor species out of which emerged modified descendant species--it looks like life evolved, but it really didn't. For some reason God made it look , for instance, as if the plant and animal species on the Galapagos islands are closely related to some similar species on the nearby South American mainland, and look like plant and animal species on the Cape Verde islands are closely related to some similar species on the nearby African mainland. God can get pretty tricky in the imagination of these Creationists!

Evolutionists, by contrast, have very simple explanations for why island species often have many features in common with similar species on the nearest mainland--they evolved out of mainland ancestors (as discussed previously in this series). But the Creationists can only imagine that it's some mysterious thing that a designer god must have somehow just felt like doing.

Would an all-knowing God make sloppy designs?

A real "intelligent designer"--especially one with all-encompassing knowledge and power--would be unlikely to make a lot of mistakes or produce sloppy or inefficient designs. And yet all life-forms can be shown to have "oddities and imperfections" which don't make sense as ideal designs but which evolutionists can easily explain as "carry-overs" from preceding species because evolution, when it produces a new species, can only work with genetic variation and biological material which already existed in pre-existing ancestor lines, and can't just tailor new species to some kind of state of perfect adaptedness. We humans tend to have back problems as we age because the evolutionary modification that created a new skeletal alignment, and allowed us to walk fully upright, had a slight downside--it created some new strains on our bones and muscles which are not found in four-legged mammals or knuckle-walking apes. And human and other mammal embryos in early stages of development temporarily have gills slits (like our distant fish ancestors) and useless yolk-sacks (like our distant reptilian ancestors) not because we need them (we don't) and not because they make sense from the standpoint of any kind of conscious and intelligent "design" (they don't) but simply because these are left-overs from an earlier evolutionary time,the kind of marks and reminders of past history and of distant ancestors which all living species (including people) carry within them to this day. Creationists don't have any good explanations for these kinds of features--once again they can only attribute these apparent "design flaws" to the capricious and mysterious mind of God.

Not surprisingly, one of the reasons many religious people in modern times reject such Creationism and actually recognize and accept the scientific evidence of evolution (even if they choose to still believe in God) is because they don't particularly like the idea of conceiving of God as some kind of "deceiving trickster" who made everything in just the right way to fool people into believing that things are older than they are and that life evolved when it really didn't. They'd rather try to "redefine" God in some new ways--ways which don't involve rejecting the accumulated scientific evidence about the great age of the earth and the universe or the evidence that all life has evolved and that even people evolved from non-human ancestors.

Unfortunately Creationism remains far from a dead issue among other sectors of people. In fact the new breed of Creationists known as the Intelligent Design Creationists (IDCs) are currently growing in influence, in part because they are perfectly willing to completely abandon much of what is said in the Bible which science has long proven to be factually incorrect, while still clinging to the belief that living species could not have come to be the way they are merely through natural evolutionary processes and insisting that some kind of supernatural "intelligent designer" (in other words, God) had been involved at some point in the process. We will further discuss the Intelligent Design Creationists and their baseless attacks on evolution science (and science more generally) in the next installment of this series.


*And this is especially true because, while Intelligent Design Creationists work to undermine evolution science (and in fact all of secular science) with arguments which seem designed to hoodwink more educated audiences, the Young Earth, Biblical literalist Creationists will likely continue to target and have disproportionate influence among the most poor and the most oppressed sectors of society-- those who have traditionally been denied the opportunity to learn much about science and the scientific methods which can be used to uncover the actual workings of the material world, and who at the same time often feel the need to fiercely hold on to long-standing traditions of spirituality and religious faith through which past generations sought both a will to endure and a sense of community.

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