“The defense never rests” (Irreducible complexity)


There are a few problems with the creation vs. evolution debate. The first is how fundamentally it misrepresents what evolution is. As I’ve had to explain to a depressing number of 21st Century adults, it is the change in inherited characteristics of biological populations over time. It never addresses how the first living form developed, which is a separate field of study, abiogenesis.

Creation vs. abiogenesis would make more sense. Creation vs. evolution is something of a false dilemma since a higher power could have created the first single-celled organism, then either guided evolution or let nature take over. A few enterprising souls (or soulless ones, depending on which side of the debate one is on) have used this notion to try and marry creation and evolution. This attempt is rejected by biologists for its total lack of evidence, while most creationists reject it because it dismisses the narrative of fully-formed, upright, walking, Hebrew-speaking homo sapiens being zapped into existence 5,000 years ago.

As far as I know, no one has attempted to fuse evolution with any creation myth except Genesis, which likely speaks to motivation. Those doing so have likely accepted the scientific evidence for evolution and the age of the universe, but are desperately trying to cram Genesis into the equation. This is possible if the book is taken as a figurative tale of Mankind’s fall and redemption. But reading Genesis literally, it is impossible to square it with what we know about evolution and astronomy.

A small sampling of the mountain of evidence we have for evolution would include: 1. Islands that have never been a part of a continent having no terrestrial mammals, amphibians, or freshwater fish; 2. All but one marsupial being native only to Australia; 3. The Geologic Column containing less-evolved fossils the farther down it goes; 4. Richard Lenski’s ongoing e. coli experiment; 5. Comparative anatomy between species; 6. Transitional fossils such as Archaeopteryx, Tiktaalik, and Lucy; 7. The Florida lizard that was observed developing a beneficial toe pad that enabled it to escape an invasive species; 8. Vestigial traits;  9. And species that exist only on isolated locales such as Iceland, Palau, and Madagascar.

Which brings me to the second problem of the creation vs. evolution debate, which is how lopsided it is. I refer not to the massive amount of evidence for one side over the other. I am referring to how virtually every piece of “proof” that creationists offer is instead a question about, or objection to, evolution. They are almost never asked to provide evidence for their side. Even if there is a legitimate question raised about evolution, that is not a point for creationism any more than it is proof that aliens left behind eggs when they visited 5 billion years ago.

Perhaps evolution, creation, and alien eggs are all wrong ideas and no one has yet come up with the right one. But I don’t build support for my position by challenging alien egg believers about the lack of verifiable wormhole travel, I bring up the evidence raised in the previous paragraph. By contrast, creationists almost invariably frame their argument not from a pro-creation standpoint, but from an anti-evolution one.

These arguments almost always take the form of questions that have been successfully answered many times. For instance, a meme shows chimpanzees and humans on an evolutionary path chart, with four alleged transition creatures in between. The meme’s author notes there are plenty of living chimps and humans, yet none of the other four creatures, and he then triumphantly asks why this is.

The answer: Because your chart is all wrong. Humans did not evolve from chimps, but Man and chimps share a common ancestor, which we know due to comparative anatomy and the animals having 98 percent identical DNA. Man and chimps became independently isolated from the main family they split from and both eventually gained characteristics that make them distinct. That is why humans and chimpanzees are very similar, but still have notable differences.

Though infrequent, sometimes a genuine problem about how evolution works can arise. For instance, the Two-Fold Cost of Sex is an evolutionary conundrum that has yet to be definitively answered. Since an asexual population has an innate ability to grow more rapidly with each generation, it would seem to be evolutionarily disadvantageous for a species to develop two sexes. Yet all the most successful species, including the most advanced by far, do not reproduce asexually.

But whereas biologists (most notably George Williams) have researched this and conducted experiments to try and unravel the answer, Ken Ham and his ilk are content to declare victory. However, “I don’t know, let’s find out,” is more admirable than, “I don’t know, therefore God did it.”

There are many examples of challenges to evolution and I cannot go through them all here. My point is that even in the infrequent instances that a legitimate question about evolutionary mechanisms is raised, it is not a point for creationism. To achieve that, one would need to find evidence for creation through employment of the Scientific Method.

This is why Bryan Fischer was mistaken to gloat, “Evolutionists have no answer as to why there is something instead of nothing. We have an answer; they don’t.” An answer, yes. Evidence, no. The Kuba people have an answer that Mbombo vomited the stars, planets, and animals into existence. The Cherokee have an answer that Earth began as a floating island suspended by cords until a beetle investigated what was in the water, displaced the muddy bottom, and caused Earth to expand to its current shape. The Serer in Senegal have an answer that Roog created water, air, and soil, then eventually got around to forming this into a round rocky ball, adding oceans, rotational axis, and critters as the whims set in. By quoting Genesis, Fischer is providing an answer, but not evidence. And most certainly not evidence arrived at through defining the question, developing a hypothesis, making a prediction, testing it, analyzing the results, replicating it, submitting it for peer review, and making his data publicly available.

Due to laboratory test results, there is some speculation among abiogenists that a lightning bolt may have struck a body of water, resulting in the first life form. Fischer answered this by asking where the lightning bolt came from. One could (and Fischer certainly does) keep this up ad infinitum, responding to each answer with yet another question as to what caused still earlier actions. But he is guilty of Special Pleading. He insists each effect must have a cause, yet needs to carve out an exception for the Abrahamic god in order for his position to work.

Which brings me back to the outrageously lopsided nature of this debate. Creationist websites and Facebook posts never put forth any argument for their position using the Scientific Method I outlined two paragraphs ago. They merely bring up supposed deficiencies in evolution. I sometimes answer these challenges, as do many of my fellow science enthusiasts, and many famous scientists like Phil Plait, Stephen Jay Gould, and Neil Tyson have written detailed essays on the subject.

But all this is not like playing football 20-on-5, it’s like a football game in which only one team is ever permitted to have the ball. When the evolutionist manages the equivalent of an interception by answering the chimps-man meme challenge, the play is blown dead and the ball is handed back to the creationist team, which then asks a misinformed question about the Second Law of Thermodynamics. On and on it goes, play after play, week after week, year after year. One side is the only one ever expected to give an answer. I visited the Institute for Creation Research page and under “Creationist News,” there was no such news, but just the expected railings against evolution. Under “Evidence for Creation,” they offered only Bible verses and such observations as “Saturn’s rings still look new and shiny.”

Last week, I saw a creationist on Facebook who belittled peer review, likening it to an echo chamber since there was such strong agreement on evolution. But science reserves its greatest praise and awards for those who upend traditional thinking. Peer review is an essential part of the Scientific Method and without it, one is failing to do complete science. It is woefully inadequate to present one’s finding to a sympathetic audience of lay persons. It is much more impressive to make the same pitch to 100 persons with Ph.Ds in the field. Ph.D.s who then analyze your findings, attempt to replicate them, and ask you detailed questions about them. Someone doing science invites challenges rather than runs from them. Peer review is crucial so that mistakes can be highlighted, incomplete answers refined, and new knowledge confirmed.

I have seen many instances of persons claiming to have disproven evolution, but these are in books, DVDs, or YouTube videos, not in peer-reviewed journals. If evolution is ever disproven, it will be announced by the Nobel Prize committee chairman, not by someone hawking Darwin’s Black Box.

This Michael Behe book is a favorite among creationists. But it presents zero evidence for creation, fails to differentiate between abiogenesis and evolution, and has as its focal point a question that has been answered many times, beginning with Charles Darwin.

That focus is the notion of Irreducible Complexity, which states that some systems are too complex to have evolved through natural selection. The book declares that some systems have multiple parts, each of which must be in place for the part to function, meaning the system could not have evolved that way.

It is true that there are evolved systems that would not function if just one piece was missing. But those parts could have served a different function when the system was less evolved. Biological populations adjust as needed and evolution does not have a goal in mind or an end point. If a random mutation is beneficial, it likely will stick around. Another random mutation may lead to that earlier mutation combining with the new one to serve a different purpose.

Behe uses bacterial flagellum as the poster appendage for his argument. This structure propels bacteria through their environment in a motion akin to a small motor. In most species, it requires 42 proteins to work, and if any one of them is missing, it will not function as a flagellum. But microbiologists know useful functions that these proteins perform elsewhere in the cell. This means each protein could have initially been selected to perform a different function than its current one of helping propel flagellum. As the Logic of Science blog noted, “Mutations do not need to be useful for some ultimate endpoint in order to be selected, they just have to be useful at the time they evolve.”

The Irreducible Complexity argument also relies on Special Pleading. It asserts that organisms are too complex to have not been created. But whatever would have created that complex system would have to be still more complex and adherents have no problem with that creator just being there without explanation or cause. 

I got tired of playing defense all the time, so I designed an offensive play. When someone claims proof for creationism, I challenge them to, “Describe the Scientific Method and use it to explain how creationism works.” I’ve used it dozens of times and have yet to receive an answer. If I ever do get a response, I hope it incorporates alien eggs. 

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