Arguments evolution supporters shouldn't use

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Philip J. Rayment, owner of the moribund creationist Wiki A Storehouse of Knowledge, has opined that since the creationist organizations Creation Ministries International and Answers in Genesis have published lists of "arguments that creationists shouldn't use," it is "notable" that "there is no known such equivalent list published by the evolutionist side."[1]

One could point out that such lists are not needed, because those who peer-review real scientific work can tell the difference between a good argument and a mound of bullshit. One could point out that due to this process of weeding the bad arguments out, there are very few bad arguments favoring evolution currently circulating.

However, when laymen argue in favor of evolution, philosophy is often mixed in with science, leading to a greater possibility for bad arguments; hence, such a list might be useful in that instance and we have compiled this one.

Several of the arguments below are not to do with evolution per se, but with the manner in which it is presented, fallaciously linking its truth with certain philosophical propositions that might cause people to reject the entire theory out of hand.


Life evolves toward perfection[edit]

Often, in response to a creationist statement that complex forms of life are like a fine hand-made Swiss watch, a perfect thing that had to have been designed, the evolution supporter may argue that natural selection is a method for producing such perfection by degrees.

This is not the view generally taken by biologists. Firstly, "perfection" is a highly subjective term that has little place in scientific discussions. Secondly, no one would call the extant results of natural selection and mutation "perfect", even by the criteria of "optimally fit for the relevant habitat." In reality, evolution produces organisms which are "good enough" — a "perfect" organism would, in fact, be evidence for special creation, but no such organisms are found.

This form of teleology in evolutionary theory was opposed (and debunked) by Charles Darwin, but supported by other early evolutionary theorists such as Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Herbert Spencer. The idea of evolution toward perfection was adapted from the earlier theological conception of a "Great Chain of Being" which consisted of a hierarchical "natural order."[2]

It's God or evolution; take your pick[edit]

Scientists, in that capacity, make no statement on the compatibility of Christian beliefs with evolution, although they would certainly eschew the idea of supernatural intervention in evolution. Most mainstream theologians, including those of the Catholic Church and most mainline Protestant denominations, hold that evolution is compatible with Christian beliefs (see theistic evolution). The Clergy Letter Project, a statement signed by over 12,000 clergymen and endorsed by the Methodist, Episcopal, and Lutheran churches,[3] maintains that evolution is not only compatible with Christian beliefs, but is a scientific truth.

Indeed, there are only two groups of people who will insist that Christianity and evolution are incompatible: creationists and atheist thumpers.

Paul Woolley, the director of the Christian Theos think tank, lamented this when he said:

Given the false choice between evolution or God, people are rejecting evolution. Darwin has become caught up in the crossfire between creationists on one side and certain public atheists on the other. It’s a battle in which everybody suffers.[4]

Also, according to Nick Spencer, of the same think tank, Charles Darwin himself, although an agnostic, did not think that theism was incompatible with evolution and personally thought that the universe could not have been the result of chance.[5]

Evolution obviates the need for God[edit]

One claim often made is that evolution obviates the need for God to exist.

The truth of evolution in fact refutes only one argument for God's existence, the teleological argument, and only one particular form of that argument. There are various arguments for the existence of a god or gods, and they may be valid or invalid, but the truth of evolution does not automatically make the lot of them invalid.

"Survival of the fittest!"[edit]

This phrase was notably coined by Spencer and not Darwin. It is a dangerous phrase for the amateur "evolutionist" to use, as it leaves them open to criticism on the grounds of social Darwinism and the "tautology objection" if they are uninformed on these topics.[6] The statement "survival of the fittest" also gives the false impression that only the fittest of organisms survive, when in fact the organisms that survive are those that are just "fit enough" to do so. It is semantics, but it is an important distinction, and it is why organisms do not evolve towards perfection.

Carbon dating proves millions of years[edit]

The first problem with this argument is the length of time asserted. No method of radiometric dating is reliable when the time involved is more than several times the half-life of the radioisotope. Since the half-life of carbon-14 is 5730 years, there is no way carbon dating, as opposed to any of the many other methods of radiometric dating, could prove an age of more than a few tens of thousands of years.

But the real problem is deeper than this. In other methods of radiometric dating, there are ways to determine how much of the radioisotope was originally in the sample. With radiocarbon dating, this is not possible to do directly, i.e. solely on the basis of measurements on the object in question. Creationists will argue that the ratio of carbon-14 to carbon-12 was drastically smaller in the past, and even secular scientists claim that the ratio has varied substantially in the past few tens of thousands of years. How do they know this? By comparing the apparent radiocarbon age (i.e., the age calculated on the assumption that the ratio has always been what it is now) with the ages calculated by other methods, such as historical dates (for the last few thousand years), tree rings (dendrochronology), regular layers of sediment (varves), layers in coral, dating of speleothems (stalagtites) by other radiometric methods, etc. The point is that the proof of the absolute age does not come ultimately from radiocarbon, but from these other methods.

While carbon dating is useful for many purposes, including increasing the confidence of other absolute dating methods by enabling them to be correlated with one another, it is a lousy method to use when you want to know how old the Earth is.

See also[edit]