“On the Origin of Specious” (Creationism)

Creation Ministries International runs a “Question Evolution!” campaign. Presumably the “Question Gravity!” campaign will follow. I have no doubts about evolution’s legitimacy, although I wonder about its efficacy when members of its most advanced species are joining Creation Ministries International.

There have been a couple of bizarre, albeit tasty, attempts to disprove evolution through bananas or jars of peanut butter. The answers to those challenges might be worth a quick Google search, but we won’t be addressing those here. Instead, we will start by touching on a few ideas that are still put out by neophyte Young Earth Creationists, then work our way to, how shall we say, more evolved ideas. Young Earth Creationists, by the way, are those who maintain God created animals in their present form less than 10,000 years ago. The term does not refer to those who believe in a creator who oversees evolution, and who accept the scientific evidence for the age of the universe.

Sometimes the existence of gorillas or similar apes is presented as evidence against evolution. The thinking, if you can call it that, is if these animals evolved into humans, they would no longer be around. This represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept, which posits that man and apes have a common ancestor. The evidence of a common ancestor is shown by the similarity of our bone and muscle structure to that of the chimpanzee and other apes. The farther back the common ancestor, the fewer shared traits there are.

Another tactic is to claim evolution violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics. But this Law applies only to closed, isolated system. Since Earth receives continual energy from the sun, it is an open system.

A third point is that there are animals which have changed little in millions of years. But environment drives the change, or lack thereof. Creatures like sharks or the coelacanth have evolved adequately for their mostly static surroundings.

A relatively recent attack on evolution centers on the idea of irreducible complexity. This argues a system is irreducibly complex if its function is lost when a part is removed, and claims that evolution could not work this way. But evolution involves more than adding parts. It also involves changing or removing parts. An irreducibly complex system can evolve from a precursor by adding a part and making it necessary. This has been demonstrated in the attempt to combat Pentachlorophenol, a toxic chemical.

A few soil bacteria devised a method to destroy Pentachlorophenol, and they did it in an irreducibly complex way. The bacteria use three enzymes in succession to break down the toxic chemical. The first enzyme replaces one chlorine with OH. The resulting compound is toxic, but not as much as the original. The second enzyme acts on this compound to replace two chlorines with hydrogen. The resulting compound is much easier to handle, allowing the third enzyme to break open Pentachlorophenol. By now, what had been a toxic chemical is food for the bacterium. All three enzymes are required, so we have irreducible complexity, arrived at through evolution.

Another frequent Young Earth Creationist line is that evolution has never been observed. Yet it is on display every day at Michigan State University, where Richard Lenski continues his ongoing e. coli long-term evolution experiment. Since 1988, he has been tracking genetic changes in 12 initially identical groups. The population has now topped 60,000, and Lenski has observed many genetic changes along the way.

Natural selection leading to evolution can also be shown in a Petri dish of bacteria. When an antibiotic is introduced, most of the bacteria dies, but a few are immune. The subsequent generation will inherit that immunity from the survivors.

Most Young Earth Creationists begrudgingly concede this point. They allow that these changes take place on what they call the microevolution scale. They are OK with a butterfly’s wings becoming more efficient, but deny that whales developed in a series of changes that included Pakicetus evolving into Ambulocetus. Microevolution and macroevolution are terms used almost exclusively by Young Earth Creationists, and are intended to create a false chasm between the two. Macroevolution is nothing more than a series of microevolutions.

For many decades, Young Earth Creationists claimed there were no transitional fossils, even though were many, with Lucy and Archaeopteryx the most prominent. A biologist would announce a new fossil, and present this find as being a link from an earlier animal to a later one. Young Earth Creationists would insist the fossil was merely a microevolved example of the earlier animal, or a not-quite-as-microevolved example of the later creature. So whenever biologists presented a transitional fossil, creationists would insist this was instead two more gaps to fill in. They could keep up this charade indefinitely. Or so they thought.

Then Tiktaalik came along. This is probably the biggest find in evolution history. Tiktaalik has features of both the fish it swam with and the four-legged tetrapods that came along 12 million years later. It has fins, scales, and gills like fish. It also has a flat head and body, and eyes on the top of its skull, like a crocodile. Unlike fish, it has a functional neck, and it has ribs resembling those of early tetrapods. These ribs helped support Tiktaalik and allowed it live and breathe out of water.

In what seemed more like a skeptic’s satire than a serious position, some Young Earth Creationists argued Tiktaalik was a crocodile that ate a fish. Others opined it proved creation. You see, since there was no other creature like it, God made it special. Young Earth Creationists, it seems, have an unmatched ability to adapt to their environment.

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