Defender's Guide to Science and Creationism

Mark Vuletic

Assertion

There are many theories of evolution, each of which disproves the others.

Analysis

I. No scientific controversy over common descent of all species

According to the late, eminent evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr, the five major elements of Darwinian theory are:

  • The notion that organisms transformed over time.
  • The common descent of all organisms.
  • The multiplication of species through speciation.
  • Gradual as opposed to saltationary change of populations.
  • Natural selection as the driving force behind the change. (Mayr 1991:36-37)

All evolutionists accept the first three elements. There is some very slight disagreement about the fourth, and somewhat more disagreement about the fifth—both of which are blown far out of proportion by creationists and sensationalistic popular media—but disputes about the exact tempo of evolution or the exact balance of mechanisms that drive it are not relevant to the creationism vs. evolution debate. The key element in the creationism vs. evolution debate is the second element, and there is no scientific controversy about that.

II. Compatibility of gradualism and punctuated equilibrium

One might construe the debate between proponents of gradualism and proponents of punctuated equilibrium as a mild form of disagreement about Mayr's fourth element above—mild, because not even proponents of punctuated equilibrium believe in true saltations, despite creationist misrepresentations to the contrary. However, the current consensus is that there really is no conflict between the two evolutionary camps. Michael Rose explains:

With time, the controversy [between punctuated equilibrium and Darwinian gradualism] diffused. Population geneticists showed that even gradual selection within populations could produce evolutionary change that would appear virtually instantaneous on a geological time-scale, such as that defined by the fossil record. [Stephen Jay] Gould [one of the originators of punctuated equilibrium] backed away from some of his flirtations with non-Darwinian evolution. The main people who felt that something big had really happened were the editors who put together cover stories for popular magazines, as well as the rabble of anti-Darwinians, including creationists, who are so often happy to celebrate confusion among the Darwinians.

The consensus now is pretty much where Darwin was. We expect evolution to be sedate in biological time, but its results can be fairly abrupt and disjointed in the fossil record. (Rose 1998:88-89)

III. Many mutually exclusive creationist camps

Anyone inclined to view the shades of disagreement among evolutionists as a serious problem for evolution as a whole, surely must consider creationism completely bankrupt given how much greater the disagreements are among creationists. To name a few mutually exclusive creationist camps within the Christian tradition alone, who divide according to their contradictory interpretations of the supposedly clear Word of God, there are:

  • Day/age creationists such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, who believe that each "day" in the first chapter of Genesis may represent hundreds of millions of years.
  • Gap theorists who follow the Scofield Reference Bible in asserting that there were two creations. According to this view, Genesis 1:1 describes an initial creation which involved all of the extinct life now found in the fossil record, while the later verses describe a second creation involving the life forms that are alive today.
  • Progressive creationists who believe in "a series of numerous separate creations, each interrupted by a gap in the fossil record" (Edwords 1983:305).
  • Special creationists such as the members of the Institute for Creation Research, who hold that all life was created in six 24-hour periods around 6,000 years ago, and that Noah's Flood is responsible for everything from the fossil record to radiometric dates.

There also are individual creationists who do not fit neatly into any the categories above. For instance, Michael Behe—one of the most well-known contemporary creationists—openly acknowledges his belief in common descent:

I find the idea of common descent (that all organisms share a common ancestry) fairly convincing, and have no particular reason to doubt it. I greatly respect the work of my colleagues who study the development and behavior of organisms within an evolutionary framework, and I think that evolutionary biologists have contributed enormously to our understanding of the world. (Behe 1996:5)

As reported by Kenneth R. Miller, Behe does not share even the primary quarrel of most creationists, namely the common descent of humans and the great apes:

In a 1995 debate, I presented [Behe] with molecular evidence indicating that humans and the great apes shared a recent, common ancestor, wondering how he would refute the obvious. Without skipping a beat, he pronounced the evidence to be convincing, and stated categorically that he had absolutely no problem with the common ancestry of humans and great apes. Creationists around the room—who had viewed him as their new champion—were dismayed. (Miller 1999:164)

It is worth noting, finally, that all of the above are only a sample of Christian varieties of creationism. There are other religions with their own brands of creationism (see, for instance, Edis 2007, for an in-depth account of Islamic creationism).

References

Behe M. 1996. Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. New York: Free Press.

Edis T. 2007. An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam. Amherst, NY: Prometheus.

Edwords F. 1983. Is it really fair to give creationism equal time? In Godfrey 1983:11-32.

Mayr E. 1991. One Long Argument. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Miller KR. 1999. Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution. New York: Cliff Street Books.

Rose MR. 1998. Darwin's Spectre: Evolutionary Biology in the Modern World. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Last updated: 18 Jan 2016

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