12 Arguments Evolutionists Should Avoid

12 Arguments Evolutionists Should Avoid is a follow-up to Answers in Genesis' list of arguments creationists shouldn't use.[1]

While it is true that many of these arguments are perhaps best avoided, "evolutionists" don't really use all of them. (At least scientists well versed in the biology of the theory generally don't use the more doubtful ones, although they turn up frequently on YouTube.) Unsurprisingly, AiG's refutations of these arguments and reasons why they should be avoided are lacking in substance and smell quite badly of straw man fallacies.

In fact, the list might be better titled a list of arguments that AiG would rather not hear.

Contents

 For years, we’ve maintained a list of arguments creationists should avoid. There are enough good arguments for biblical accuracy and a young earth that dubious claims can safely be discarded. Translation: "For years, we've maintained a list of really embarrassing arguments whose only value is comedic; now that we've learned how to use bullshit we can avoid such outright lies."
 Now we want to address a similar topic: arguments evolutionists should avoid. These worn-out tropes have not only passed their expiration date, but they never should have been made to begin with. Replace "evolutionists" with "creationists" and the statement is true.

Argument 1: Evolution is a fact

 When our core beliefs are attacked, it’s often easy for humans to retreat to statements such as this: “My belief is a fact, and yours is wrong.” It is true that creationists and evolution supporters are both guilty of this. Declaring something to be a fact can be fallacious, as it's technically impossible to provide the complete and total certainty that it requires, but it can be a useful rhetorical flourish. The difference is evidence; evolution has plenty, enough to say with an almost-certain level of confidence that the basic idea proposed by evolution is correct, while creationists stop at the claim itself and rely on making easily refuted attacks on evolution. Stating "evolution is a fact" is fairly justifiable.
 That’s exactly why we cannot trust mere human understanding to explain the unobservable past—emotion and pride get in the way. The only "emotion" and "pride" involved in this question are the emotion felt by creationists as they desperately clutch at straws to uphold their fallacious theology, and the pride creationists take in deluding themselves (based on this theology) that they will spend an eternity strumming harps and everyone who disagrees with them will spend an eternity being barbecued and eaten by worms. This sounds harsh, but it's pretty true. Science demands that individuals get over their personal pride or emotional attachment to ideas should they be proved wrong, religion and creationism less so. This is precisely because most scientists don't accept things as "facts" while creationists do.
 Evolution is not a fact, no matter how many times evolutionists say it is. It’s a framework built on assumptions about the past—assumptions that will never have direct, first-hand, observational proof. It's usually very difficult for creationists to define what they mean by "direct, first-hand, observational proof" of evolution that doesn't also completely sink young Earth creationism as not having "direct, first-hand, observational proof" either. They will ignore Richard Lenski's results, for example, when they are observational evidence for evolution. For instance, they may ask "were you there?" about events millions of years ago but neglect the same question for the supposed 6000 year age of the young Earth. All evidence is, to a degree, indirect and not "first hand" and science always takes this into account. While it's difficult to say that an idea is a "fact", we can far more easily say when it isn't a "fact" because we can spot when a proposed theory predicts evidence that doesn't match up with the evidence observed. There is very strong evidence against a recent creation available to say that creationism, as proposed, is not a fact and nor does it have any basis in fact. Similarly, flood geology, which is one of their proposed replacements for modern uniformitarianism, is also patently false and demonstrably not a fact. The same is true for their claims that natural selection and mutation have some hazily defined "limits". Meanwhile, evidence continues to mount in favour of evolution - it may never by the hard 100% fact that people demand of it, but it hasn't yet been proved wrong as creationism certainly has been.

Argument 2: Only the uneducated reject evolution

 Besides the arrogance of such statements, this argument has no footing and should be cast off. Mainly, those who make this claim usually define “educated people” as those who accept evolution. It would be fallacious to define educated people as those who accept evolution - as anyone can argue by definition and get away with it. However, acceptance in evolution does tend to correlate with a scientific education and this is simply an observed statistical trend. Not all people with a high degree of education accept evolution (it's only a statistical trend, after all), but those who have studied both the theory and evidence properly don't tend to doubt it at all. While creationist organisations like to tout the same few scientists that back them up as strong evidence, these lists are rarely populated by qualified biologists (see "engineers and woo") and are heavily outnumbered by lists like Project Steve. Given the extremely high prevalence of creationist arguments that are flat-out false, it is completely legitimate to conclude that they have not been presented with the information that shows that their claims are false (and therefore uneducated), have been presented with the information but did not understand it (and are therefore lacking in intelligence), or have been presented with the information and understand it, but choose to make false claims anyway (and are therefore being dishonest). Thus, evolutionists are being charitable in assuming that anyone who claims to not believe in evolution is uneducated, rather than stupid or a liar.
 Anyone who disagrees fails the test, no matter what their background (e.g., if we follow this ideology, Isaac Newton must have been uneducated). This is moving the goalposts, obviously; for evolution theory to be rejected, it must necessarily exist, which it did not in Newton's time. In fact, this is often one of the most common misrepresentations of evolution. While creationists love to cite Darwin repeatedly (as if evolutionary theory hasn't changed thanks to things like genetics), they forget that natural selection was quite revolutionary in its time. Brilliant scientists of the 17th and 18th centuries were as unaware of evolution by natural selection as the brilliant scientists of the 20th and 21st centuries will be unaware of what will be known in hundreds of years' time. Ironically, the example of Newton actually supports the evolutionist's position: Newton was, indeed, as far as the theory of evolution is concerned, uneducated.
 There are many lists of well-educated scholars who look to the Bible for answers We would hazard a guess that these lists mostly contain theologians, rather than biologists, and certainly Christian ones at that if they're looking to the Bible. Even in the days when the Bible went completely unchallenged, scientists did not "look to the Bible for answers" in the course of their scientific work. In fact, no one has ever made a successful scientific prediction from a holy book—they simply shoehorn Bible verses into already known theories.
 (here’s one)— That is Answers in Genesis's little laundry-list of creation scientists. This list cannot be trusted as it includes "scientists" such as Steve Austin working for pressure groups such as the Institute for Creation Research, and people who either have little to no involvement with hard science (e.g. Jerry Bergman or Jack W. Cuozzo, D.D.S.), or who are not trained in the relevant scientific disciplines (e.g., Angela Meyer).
 and we could point out Darwin’s own deficit of formal education (he earned a bachelor’s in theology). As noted above, science in the past was an entirely different animal—we had a different level of knowledge and a different ability to understand the world. Darwin was a naturalist by trade, and at the time such activity was carried out by clergy in their copious spare time. These days, aspiring scientists who jump in without education usually get things wrong, because without an education they are entirely unaware of the mounds of data collected over the last century and a half that falsifies most "alternative" theories. It's quite mind-boggling to think that cutting-edge research was being done by people in their 20s a century ago, and now it takes people long into their 20s just to learn what they all did! Still, Darwin's clerical aspirations, as well as his documented antipathy toward the idea that the world came about "by chance", work against some creationist claims about him. It isn't compatible with the often cited claim that he was deliberately pushing an agenda of atheism with his work, and attempting to "destroy God" by coming up with a naturalistic theory. He simply saw the evidence, and built his theory with meticulous supporting detail.
 But the bigger issue is that education—or lack—does not guarantee the validity of a person’s position. True; however, burying one's head in the sand and ignoring contradictory evidence, as creationists do, does not guarantee it either, and it is fairly difficult (though not impossible) to get an education in science if one has a blinkered outlook. If people who learn about evolution believe in it, while the vast majority of people who say they disagree with evolution don't actually understand what the theory consists of, that's a very big clue that disbelief in evolution does not have a valid basis.

Argument 3: Overwhelming evidence in all fields of science supports evolution

 The irony, of course, is that for centuries prior to Darwin’s publication of On the Origin of Species, the majority of scientists found the opposite to be true: the "evidence" supported creation. What changed? Not the evidence. Rather, the starting point changed (i.e., moving from the Bible, God’s Word, to humanism, man’s word). Creationists continue to see everything in light of God’s Word and all evidence as supporting the biblical account. The interesting thing about "evidence" is that it's only as good as what evidence you can get access to. Without particle accelerators most of modern physics would be off limits; without MRI the inner workings of the brain would have been a mystery. Back in Elizabethan England, no one would have had the faintest clue about quantum mechanics, or special relativity - yet this doesn't mean that the world didn't obey the Schrodinger equation at the time. So this line from AiG seems to be using "evidence" in two different ways; firstly it tries to imply that "evidence" is what we can see, and then it switches to implying the "evidence" is the world around us and so must be unchanging (this is a rhetorical trick of language that's common to most fallacious arguments, not just those from creationists). The world didn't change, but what we were able to observe and how our ability to look at it and piece it together inside a more consistent framework did change. Darwin made detailed observations of animals, their appearances, their interactions and their environments. This was research that no one had bothered to do before, and so was effectively "new" even though the world didn't really change.
 In reality, there is no “neutral” starting point; everyone—whether they acknowledge it or not—interprets the “facts” according to a particular way of thinking (i.e., worldview). AiG is big on the "worldview" thing, that starting from one starting point determines how you view the world. In some respects this is correct, as prior knowledge and opinion is often a big deciding factor in what people think and what they conclude. In other respects it is wrong; as evidence mounts, opinion should shift to match it, and not diverge dramatically just because of a worldview. This is particularly ironic because by dismissing evolution as merely a "worldview", it must also dismiss creationism as a mere "worldview" too. Also, the idea that there is no "neutral" choice between creationism and evolution is absurd; AiG admits that they start with the assumption that the Bible is literally true. Clearly, not starting with locked-in beliefs about the world is the neutral starting point.

Argument 4: Doubting evolution is like doubting gravity

 Why does this argument fail? We’ll show you. Take a pencil or pen. Hold it in the air. Then drop it to the floor. That’s gravity. Next, make a single-celled organism—like an amoeba—turn into a goat. Go ahead. We’ll wait. . . . No? As you can see, there’s a fundamental difference between operational science, which can be tested through repeatable experimentation, and historical science, which cannot. In terms of observations and evidence, dropping a pencil shows that falling - some kind of force in the direction of the Earth's center - exists, not gravity as a theory. The major theories of gravity are what was proposed by Newton, and then what was proposed by general relativity - with newer formulations attempting to marry up relativistic physics with quantum theory. These theories will propose what evidence (observations) needs to be found for them, and then they will be tested. Although these are clearly a naturalistic conspiracy to take God out of the picture by claiming that some "random force" causes it to fall. This interplay between observation, prediction and theory is essential to science - but is almost universally misused by creationists, and this accusation here is no exception. There is a difference between doubting the theory and doubting the evidence that we observe to back it up. Historical science can be, and has been, falsified through repeatable experimentation, and so theories change based on these observations. Really, this distinction between "historical" and "operational" science is a fiction invented for this argument. Creationists have for many years ignored or fudged their way around the evidence falsifying their young-earth theories — not to mention evidence in favor of evolutionary theories - in order to preserve their beliefs. We know Newtonian mechanics didn't fully explain the workings of the world because of things like time dilation and the orbit of Mercury, we know relativity doesn't fully explain it because it doesn't marry up with quantum theory. In much the same way that we spotted evidence that could show the limits of gravitational theories, there are a number of ways in which one could attempt to falsify evolution - though none have yet shown the overall theory to be false. Perhaps ironically, an ameoba turning into a goat would be something that would very quickly falsify the gradual changes proposed by evolution by natural selection.

Argument 5: Doubting evolution is like believing the earth is flat

 Ironically, the Bible describes the earth as round and hanging in space—long before this could have been directly observed (Job 26:10; Isaiah 40:22). Ironically, this is far from true. One can tell that the Earth is round by many observations; how a ship drops off the horizon as it sails away, or how the sun's position changes very specifically, depending on your location, in a way that isn't consistent with a flat Earth. One also needs to cherry-pick biblical verses with exquisite care to find ones which suggest the earth is "round" - it's just as easy to find ones which imply the earth is flat, or fixed in place, and indeed people have done this! The fact that you can use the Bible like this to apparently prove either is very strong evidence that you can't really use it at all. Again, like most Bible science, such claims are made entirely after the facts have been established separately by science.
 The appeal of this claim is that it stereotypes creationists as stuck in the past, since the common assumption is that people once universally believed the earth was flat before science “proved” otherwise (which wasn't the case—only a few bought into the idea that the earth was flat). This is, at least, mostly true. It is a popular myth that educated people believed in a flat Earth in Christopher Columbus's time. Despite the popularity of it, it is entirely a modern legend, and most of the motive behind it is indeed about making people in the religion-dominated past look silly. However, there were times in the past long before this where people believed that the Earth was flat. Many ancient cultures recorded beliefs in a flat Earth. It wasn't until the classical period in ancient Greece where it determined that the Earth was spherical, with Aristotle providing some of the first observational evidence on the subject. But, creationists will believe in just about anything, and the creationist and Flat Earther Charles K. Johnson believed that spherical-Earth theories were an anti-Biblical conspiracy. You really can use the Bible to prove whatever you like.
 But even if this were true (it’s not), direct, repeatable observation shows us the earth is round and orbiting the sun. Evolutionary stories about fossils are not direct observations; they’re assumption-based beliefs. A more appropriate comparison is that "doubting evolution is like believing the sun revolves around the Earth", since the most notable proponent of this now falsified idea was the magisterium of the Church. But Answers in Genesis is loath to bring this one up, since they have seen fit to publish geocentrist ravings in their so-called "scientific" journals on occasion.[2] Anyway, if the point is that comparing creationists to flat Earthers is because both beliefs fly in the face of actual evidence, this is one piece of rhetoric "evolutionists" can get away with.

Argument 6: It’s here, so it must have evolved

 A conclusion does not prove the premises are true. That is, if the answer is “four,” we could arrive at that any number of ways: 2 + 2, 5 - 1, etc. In the same way, evolutionists often assume that since certain species or traits exist, this is proof of evolution because that’s how it must have happened. This argument, however, is self-reflexive and useless. The Bible offers another (and more sound) framework for how those traits and species came to be. We take this to be a misinterpretation of an argument used to answer the creationists' question, "What are the chances that we could have evolved?" The assumption that something must have evolved if it exists happens in biology all the time because evolution has so much evidence supporting it—it's almost moved on from a simple explanatory theory into a tool and founding principle of modern biology. But that isn't quite what this is trying to address. Does evolution work using circular logic? If it evolved it exists, so if it exists it evolved? In simple terms, if evolution does this, then creationism works using practically spherical logic. Using the Bible as a basis for proving how the world works despite any evidence against it is not a good starting point for any kind of respectable science. In slightly more technical terms and using conditional probability we can explain the two situations of "evolved therefore exists" and "exists therefore evolved": Let the random variable $X$ represent the event of some species coming to be (either it does, $exists$, or it does not), and the random variable $E$ represents the event of their evolving into existence by natural selection and mutation (again, either it does, $evolved$ or does not). $X$ and $E$ are not statistically independent, since $P(exists|evolved)$, the probability that the species exists given that it evolved, is 100%. The original creationist argument is that $P(evolved)$ is very low, but this is pretty much just an assertion at this stage. The authentic counterargument is that we are not talking about $P(evolved)$, but about $P(evolved|exists)$, the probability that the species evolved given that it exists, which is significantly higher because of the evidence for evolution. In the straw-man version Answers in Genesis is talking about here, the counterargument is instead that $P(evolved|exists) = P(exists|evolved)$ — indeed a fallacy, known as confusion of the inverse. This exact same argument (which would still be fallacious, though) could be very easily adapted to refute Argument from design.

Argument 7: Natural selection is evolution

 This is likely the most abused argument on the list—and most in need of being scrapped. Often evolutionists bait people into showing them a change that is merely natural selection and then switch to say this proves molecules-to-man evolution. Natural selection and evolution are, in principle, separate entities. The distinction is that evolution is a grand scale theory combining mutability of species, genetics, selection and change over time, while natural selection is a method by which evolution can be driven naturally. But neither are the two concepts completely inseparable. Descent with modification implies evolution that is driven by a selection process. The only leap with "natural selection", which was made by Darwin, is that there is a selection process inherent in nature whereby the most suitable organisms survive long enough to reproduce, passing on the traits that made them survive. The fact is that we've known about artificial selection for centuries before Darwin and the process is identical; the difference is that in artificial selection, a person controls what organisms breed and what don't, not nature. There is a slight undertone of microevolution and macroevolution in AiG's argument here; some creationists do accept certain aspects of natural selection and evolution but deny others. However there has never been any concrete distinction between them in the creationist definition.
 However, this is quite misleading. Natural selection, even according to evolutionists, does not have the power to generate anything "new". This is mostly false. Only in the straw man version of evolution, as put forward by creationists, is the power of natural selection artificially limited. This is where the "micro" and "macro" evolution concepts come in handy for creationists, but their lack of firm definition causes a problem. What does AiG mean by "new" here? New traits, new abilities or simply existing abilities done in more efficient ways or being transferred to become useful at other tasks? It's very easy to fall for this sort of handwaving, but the lack of rigor is damaging. Evolution has been shown to develop new information in the lab, perhaps most recently in the case of Lenski's bacteria, which began to consume citrate—a process certainly not observed in the original strain—after being grown in such a medium for thousands of generations. Every time an experiment is carried out in the lab, new evidence comes to light about what evolution can do. Creationists seek to say "evolution can't do this"... but would they abandon their beliefs if evolution did do that? Evidence suggests otherwise, and they'd simply move the goalposts again.
 The observable process can only act upon existing characteristics so that some members of a species are more likely to survive. In fact, it's an important component of the biblical worldview. Survival of the fittest, an "important component of the biblical worldview"? What happened to all the squawking about how this satanic concept led in a direct line to Hitler and the Holocaust?

Argument 8: Common design means common ancestry

 Historical common descent is not and cannot be confirmed through observation. Rather, certain observations are explained by assumptions about the past. These observations, we might add, have alternative explanations. Common body plans (homology), for example, do not prove common descent—that’s an assumption. Those so-called "assumptions" are called scientific theories. Competing ones are always differentiated by what observations and evidence they do propose. The best ones are those having the most supporting evidence and no falsifying evidence—no "assumptions", as AiG implies it to mean, involved.
 A common Designer fits the evidence just as well, if not better. This is a bold statement. Any theory can fit the evidence "just as well". We can say anything from atomic theory to analytical chemistry is explained by magic goblins—the question is "what evidence differentiates this theory from more established theory?" In other words, what evidence is exclusive to that new theory and so what do we expect from a common designer that we don't expect to see from common descent? Where such differences can't be spotted either because the theory is not sufficiently powerful, or those proposing it are deliberately not providing these details, then we can refer to Occam's razor, which lets us discount a designer as an unnecessary complication for which the burden of proof has not been satisfied. Common descent would predict a mix of creatures with DNA similarities between organisms that matched both their fossil records and their physical appearance. It would predict vestigial organs and certain conditions for speciation too as it forms a core part of taxonomy. If we believe in an intelligent designer, we expect to see intelligent design and a lack of the appearance of common ancestry and naturalistic refinement. A simple "it looks designed" as creationists tend to use doesn't cut it—such a proposition needs tightly defined specifics, not mere handwaves. Something like "it looks designed"—that is, an organism appears suited to its environment—is exactly what natural selection would predict too. In short, we don't see sufficient evidence of intelligent design. Why is every single cephalopod eye wired differently than every single vertebrate eye despite the fact that they serve the same function? Common descent explains this neatly through all cephalopod eyes being closely related, and all vertebrate eyes being closely related, but them not being closely related to each other. That's just one basic example; there are many others. A common designer explanation can only posit a whimsical designer who "just felt" like handing out different designs for different creatures. This makes for a nice story, but doesn't amount to sufficient evidence to differentiate a designer and common descent.

Argument 9: Sedimentary layers show millions of years of geological activity

 Sedimentary layers show one thing: sedimentary layers. To suggest that "evolutionists should avoid" saying "Sedimentary layers show millions of years of geological activity" is the height of absurdity. In other words, scientists should avoid mentioning facts which contradict Answers in Genesis's interpretation of the Bible. It's fully understandable that they don't want to hear about these facts—but suggesting that others therefore shouldn't say them is specious.
 In other words, we can—and should—study the rocks, but the claim that rocks prove the earth must be billions of years old ignores one important point: such an interpretation is built upon a stack of assumptions. When we start from the Bible and examine the rocks within the framework of a global Flood, the need for long ages vanishes. The overriding assumption of geology is that the laws of physics and chemistry have have been uniform over time for the same conditions. The Law of Superposition states that newer rocks are laid on top of older rocks—hardly a major leap of faith. If you accept a Biblical framework for global geology then you can eliminate the need for long ages, but you also need to eliminate any coherent explanation of how all the world's rocks and their strata came to be in the configuration that we now observe.

Argument 10: Mutations drive evolution

 Perhaps because of movies and fiction, the popular idea is that mutations make evolution go. Given enough time, shifts in the genetic code will produce all the variety of plants and animals on earth—and beyond. The problem? Mutations cannot produce the types of changes evolution requires—not even close. Some may benefit an organism (e.g., beetles on a windy island losing wings), but virtually every time mutations come with a cost. See our article on mutation.

Argument 11: The Scopes trial

 Misconceptions about the Scopes trial run rampant. Often, accounts sound something like this: Fundamentalist Christian bigots arrested an innocent biology teacher fighting for scientific freedom, and while they won the court case, they ultimately lost the public perception battle to the well reasoned presentation of the defense. Thanks to the play Inherit the Wind, this common—though completely flawed—perception of the event continues to be used against creationists. But real history presents a much different account. Inherit the Wind was, like so many dramatic works of its time, an allegory against McCarthyism. Unfortunately it has often been assumed to be accurate history. However, let us not forget one crucial detail: the law that was being challenged at that trial, the Butler Act, did prohibit the teachers of the state from teaching what was then the established science curriculum.

Argument 12: Science vs. religion

 News stories thrive on conflict and intrigue, and one common meme presents science and religion as opposing forces—reason struggling to overcome draconian divine revelation. It grabs attention, but it’s bunk. Many atheists and humanists oppose biblical Christianity, but science does not. This is true (if one removes the fallaciously placed "biblical" qualifier), and it is unfortunate that some atheists, such as Richard Dawkins, have seized upon evolution theory as confirming their views, instead of merely falsifying a very narrow range of Christian theological positions. However, the modern-day conception of this dispute is mostly due to creationists framing it as a question of evolution theory versus Christianity, the better to pry cash out of the faithful of the world. Also, it is an often-overlooked fact that this is not a question of science versus religion, but science versus creationism: most mainstream Christian denominations accept evolution, and have actively supported science against the onslaught of creationists, as evidenced by the Clergy Letter Project.

 After all, the truth of a risen Savior and an inerrant Bible puts quite the damper on the belief that God cannot exist. However, science, as a tool for research, works quite well within (and, in fact, requires) a God-created universe. Otherwise, there’d be no reason to do science in the first place. This is one of the AiG/CMI group's endless repetitions of the old presuppositionalist line that "the only proof for the existence of God is that without God you couldn't prove anything." We have replied to one of their longer attempts to argue this point, "Not Circular Reasoning" by Jonathan Sarfati.

 Answers in Genesis wants to show the world that the creation-gospel message and the book that contains it are trustworthy from the first word to the last. We don’t try to hide that. Most of the attacks against the Bible and those who trust in it are based on flawed premises and faulty logic, which is why we point out the arguments above as just a sampling. It is hard to see the Bible as being wholly trustworthy when one considers the contradictions, flawed science, and other imperfections in it. And if one is approaching the subject from the point of view that anything the Bible says is factually true (even, say, that pi is exactly equal to 3), then any argument against it will necessarily appear flawed and faulty, regardless of merit.
 Beliefs about the past—and arguments against what God says—have real consequences. If we do demolish such strongholds, it’s because we want as many as possible to experience the fullness of God in Christ. Such beliefs certainly do have real-world consequences. People have hurt, even killed, others over matters of faith. And while it's also true that religion has inspired good deeds, such a mixed track record suggests that faith in the Abrahamic God is hardly of unambiguous benefit to society. AIG's argument would hold more water if Christianity had an unblemished record.

 Footnotes

1. "Arguments Evolutionists Should Avoid." Answers in Genesis. accessed 2010 September 28.
2. M. Bowden. "A geocentrist replies to 'Geocentrism and Creation'." Journal of Creation, Volume 16:2. August 2002.