CREATIONISM: THEORY OR MYTHOLOGY?

BY PAUL SOON, TCNJ PROTESTANT BIBLE FELLOWSHIP OUTREACH COORDINATOR

Before the average reader reads the title and brands this article as some fairy tale written by some hick from the woods, please consider the appropriate background. Contrary to popular belief, all Cre­ationists are not logically-impaired, reason-deprived, brainwashed zombies. We’re academics. So before you brand me as someone not familiar with the scientific method or empirical studies, keep in mind that I am actually a biology major. Or if you prefer to preclude Cre­ationism as an antiquated philosophical system, please keep in mind that I am also a philosophy major. The point is not to flaunt creden­tials, but to illustrate the most important point about Creationism or naturalism (the idea that life arose out of only natural causes without divine intervention), that people in both camps are intelligent, ana­lytical, but far too often perilously closed-minded. The most impor­tant thing is to approach both sides with an open-minded, scientific mindset, forsaking the burning urge to label our opponents. I write this piece partially as a student of biology, partially as a student of philosophy, partially as a theologian, but most importantly as a fel­low TCNJ student.

So first of all, as an unashamed Creationist I do not pretend that evolution has no evidence, nor do I think that all who believe in evolution are close-minded God-haters. As a student of biology I am well acquainted with many of the arguments for evolution and admit they can be convincing. However, in my opinion they are not enough. Two broad camps exist in this debate: Evolution vs. Creationism. However, more broadly, the camps of Naturalism vs. God-believing are created. Above all my intellectual might, I believe in Creationism because I believe that the Word of God is true. This is where your adrenaline pumps up and the temptation to brand this article as the work of a Bible-thumper shoots up precipitously. So don’t worry – I’m a science student too. Above any science, above any philosophy, above any popular fad of man­kind I believe that God holds the truth. Even before any scientific or philosophical argument, I confidently reject naturalism on the simple self-evident assumption that humanity is more than just chemicals. It is something sacred. Some might take exception to that statement, and I will accept arguments on one condition: That you are a strict vegan. Anyone who is not a strict vegan will­ingly accepts the assumption that our lives are worth more than any other quantitative life. If you believe in evolution you must reconcile the idea that humans are different than other life with the idea that, well, we’re no different from other life. If you believe in evolution you must accept that humans are nothing more than very advanced animals, nothing more than the most finely-tuned genetically regulated product of nature. You must accept that hu­manity has no intrinsic rights or value above that which is granted by evolution.

That proposition leads to some serious problems.  One is the problem of the normativity of ethics.  Normative ethics supposes that ethics has the power to deem whether acts are wrong or right.  If ethics are not normative then it can be said that murder results in death, but it cannot be said that murder is wrong.  I don’t know about you, but I believe that murder is intrinsically wrong.  If you believe that humans are the products of evolution you must find a convincing entity that has the authority to administer right and wrong.  We can do this with various philosophical theories but these can run into problems.  Utilitarianism has no need for God.  Yet philosophical theories of ethics that do not rely on God run into problems, such as “Why should we listen to your system of right and wrong?” Utilitarianism itself creates certain ethical dilemmas such as, it is okay to cheat on your boyfriend or girlfriend as long as they don’t find out, it doesn’t hurt your relationship, and total happiness is increased.  Now I believe that most of you would believe cheating is inherently bad (what I mean is that if you found out that your significant other was cheating on you would feel deeply hurt and feel wronged.)  Now as someone who would prefer not getting cheated on (as I am sure you are as well) I believe in a normative, objective system of ethics.  Evolution has no rules save one.  Survival of the fittest.  Sounds altruistic to you, no?  Actually I can think of few things less altruistic than survival of the fittest. It appears rather intuitive that evolution by survival of the fittest would preclude the existence of morality as we know it, a morality where sacrificing for others is praised and being selfish is denounced. So how then could a normative objective ethical theory evolve through evolution?  I believe that an ethical theory that is the product of evolving from survival of the fittest to be a system most bereft of any morals at all. But some scientists have proposed a system where altruism may have been introduced through evolution. This is where I will finally turn to science.

Evolution is the selection of traits that give a population reproductive advantage. So if a new trait is introduced into a population of organisms it can be ether beneficial, neutral, or deleterious to the reproduction of the population. So if some organism exhibits a trait that gives them an advantage they survive, reproduce and pass on their traits.  Evolutionists surmise that because altruism is beneficial to a population it was selected for and not against.  Possible, perhaps.  But how does this work?  If one has a trait which causes them to be self-sacrificial (altruistic) it may be good for the population if they sacrifice their life for the good of the population, but how does that sacrificial individual pass on their traits if they are well, dead.  Doesn’t work too good.  The only way that altruistic traits could be selected for if evolution somehow knew that those traits were good and thoughtfully selected them.  Any science teacher worth their salt will say that evolution doesn’t know anything, it has no mind!  But I have several times sat through class hearing the teacher proclaim, “It’s remarkable, it’s as if evolution knew this would be beneficial!”  This is one of my major gripes about evolution.  There is considerable circumstantial evidence that organisms may have evolved from each other.  However, scientists have no clue how it happened, just that it appears to have happened.

Take for example, sexual reproduction.  Asexual reproduction is easy, clean, and pretty safe.  You live so why not make more of you.  Most bacteria utilize asexual reproduction.  Sexual reproduction is a totally different beast.  Sexual reproduction is risky (might not have mates!), costly (more energy used than asexual), and dangerous (deadly if you’re eaten!).  Now we know that sexual reproduction is an essential component of evolution, in that it increases genetic variation.   But how did sexual reproduction arise?  As aforementioned, the world of sexual reproduction can be a scary thing! (I’m talking about microscopic organisms and the origin of sexual reproduction, not humans, although I’m sure it might also ring true to us geeks who are awkward with the opposite sex).  In early organisms sexually reproduction should have been selected against.  Yes, it’s useful for future explanations but who would know that?  The only explanation is that somehow evolution knew that sexual reproduction would be useful in the future and made the sacrifices to create it.  But evolution doesn’t know anything!

One more example, and this one isn’t just one I created.  Creationists call it irreducible complexity.  The basic premise is this: all organisms, even to the simplest cellular level, are extraordinarily complex.  Without getting into the specifics (that’s the pain of biology majors), the idea is that things are so amazingly complex that if just one thing went wrong the entire organism might die.  There is only one right way for biological complexes to work, but billions of wrong ways.  Irreducible complexity states that in light of the aforementioned statements, it seems exceedingly unlikely and probably impossible for evolution to create such complex structures.  Take for example the origin of life.  “Simple” life is really, really, complex.  For basic life, DNA, RNA, proteins, nucleotides, and thousands of enzymes are needed.  Each protein is coded for by thousands of “letters” of DNA.  If only four or five of those letters are incorrect, the protein would almost certainly be doomed.  So how in the world could primordial soup somehow create such stunning complexity?  Most likely it can’t. Evolution must have somehow known what complexity to make.

Evolution works best (or in my opinion at all) if it is directed by some all knowing being. If you believe in evolution you must exhibit remarkable faith in the possible explanations of how certain things evolve. Evolution must be a powerful force indeed if it can know how to direct organisms’ evolution and has the power and creativity to craft complex structures out of nothing. So if you believe that evolution is so powerful and so wise, then I think that it makes perfect sense for evolution to be your God. You must have faith that evolution is so knowledgeable as to create us.

Comments

7 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Glans,

    The “problems” with evolution that you talk about aren’t mysteries. Altruistic behavior probably arose because early human populations were so small that any altruistic behaviors were likely to be reciprocated; the altruistic behavior we see today is a remnant of these earlier drives. And evolution doesn’t “know” ahead of time, as you say, which behaviors or traits will be beneficial. If you are dealing with millions or billions of individual organisms then invariably some of them, by chance, will acquire these traits randomly and be selected for. You are describing the process as if the population size were one. Additionally, the “irreducible complexity” argument, made popular by Michael Behe, has been demonstrated to be completely bankrupt. What it always boils down to is the argument from ignorance; if the arguer can’t conceive of how complex structures developed from simpler ones, the structure is called “irreducibly complex.” Anyhow, you summed it up best yourself: “Above all my intellectual might, I believe in Creationism because I believe that the Word of God is true.” Let’s not pretend that creationism has any intellectual content, in the end it comes down to faith. Creationist “theories” are not equivalent to scientific ones in any respect, because they can’t be tested by experiment and they postulate the existence of supernatural entities. Creationism, at best, belongs in a philosophy course, never in a science one.

  2. Marlowe,

    Ok I won’t get into what you say about the “problems” of evolution, but your vegan argument in paragraph 2 was laughable. If you’re not vegan you could simply believe that humans should be able to eat animals because you’re human and it’s survival of the fittest. In fact if you are a vegan you’re more likely to believe that ethics have normative values. You say that without normative ethics murder can result in death but not be wrong, well killing a cow without normative ethics is not necessarily wrong then is it? The only way veganism makes sense isn’t if you think that humans aren’t better than any other animal, but if you think the lives and suffering of other animals for the benefit of humans is wrong. You can be vegan and still think humans are better but that it’s wrong to make animals suffer. Your understanding of normative ethics and veganism is clearly in question based on that analogy

  3. Marlowe,

    Yeah and also irreducible complexity has been proven faulty many many times. It’s simply logically incorrect as a “student of philosophy” you must have heard of argumentum ad ignorantiam. All your saying is “because I can’t see how this happened it must be wrong.” You aren’t looking for answers, your simply saying that there are none and relying on peoples’ ignorance allow that argument to work.

  4. Alex,

    Glans, you said: “Let’s not pretend that creationism has any intellectual content, in the end it comes down to faith.”

    I admire the faith of an atheist! And does it not require faith to believe in one common ancestor?

    Glans, you then said: “Creationist ‘theories’ are not equivalent to scientific ones in any respect, because they can’t be tested by experiment and they postulate the existence of supernatural entities.”

    The inability to prove something by experimental testing does not make that thing inferior to the thing that cannot be proven by those tests. Can love be tested in an experiment? I highly doubt it, but there are people who believe in it. Does that make those people foolish? Or can you just dismiss them as you do anyone else who has naught but faith to rely on?

    Paul, thanks for writing this!

    • Glenn,

      Yes. Love can be proven by a test. Chemicals in the brain make a person happier when they are in love. This can definitely be studied.

      I absolutely do believe that a theory that has provable evidence is far more valid than a theory which does not.

  5. Glans,

    Alex, believing that there is one common ancestor does not require the kind of faith that it does to believe the Bible absolutely. It’s a scientific theory based on a considerable amount of genetic and fossil evidence. How can you seriously suggest that believing we originated from one common ancestor is epistemologically equivalent to believing the biblical story of creation? I am simply stating that the religious should not make claims in disciplines that they have no business, philosophically.

  6. finsionnach,

    If one has a trait which causes them to be self-sacrificial “(altruistic) it may be good for the population if they sacrifice their life for the good of the population, but how does that sacrificial individual pass on their traits if they are well, dead. Doesn’t work too good. The only way that altruistic traits could be selected for if evolution somehow knew that those traits were good and thoughtfully selected them.”

    Surely a biology major should be aware of bill hamlitons work on kin selection?
    http://lis.epfl.ch/~markus/References/Hamilton75.pdf

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