Why Darwinism Is False

Jerry A. Coyne is a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at The University of Chicago. In Why Evolution is True, he summarizes Darwinism — the modern theory of evolution — as follows: “Life on earth evolved gradually beginning with one primitive species — perhaps a self-replicating molecule — that lived more than 3.5 billion years ago; it then branched out over time, throwing off many new and diverse species; and the mechanism for most (but not all) of evolutionary change is natural selection.”1

Coyne further explains that evolution “simply means that a species undergoes genetic change over time. That is, over many generations a species can evolve into something quite different, and those differences are based on changes in the DNA, which originate as mutations. The species of animals and plants living today weren’t around in the past, but are descended from those that lived earlier.”2

According to Coyne, however, “if evolution meant only gradual genetic change within a species, we’d have only one species today — a single highly evolved descendant of the first species. Yet we have many… How does this diversity arise from one ancestral form?” It arises because of “splitting, or, more accurately, speciation,” which “simply means the evolution of different groups that can’t interbreed.”3

If Darwinian theory were true, “we should be able to find some cases of speciation in the fossil record, with one line of descent dividing into two or more. And we should be able to find new species forming in the wild.” Furthermore, “we should be able to find examples of species that link together major groups suspected to have common ancestry, like birds with reptiles and fish with amphibians.” Finally, there are facts that “make sense only in light of the theory of evolution” but do not make sense in the light of creation or design. These include “patterns of species distribution on the earth’s surface, peculiarities of how organisms develop from embryos, and the existence of vestigial features that are of no apparent use.” Coyne concludes his introduction with the bold statement that “all the evidence — both old and new — leads ineluctably to the conclusion that evolution is true.”4

Of course, “evolution” is undeniably true if it means simply that existing species can change in minor ways over time, or that many species living today did not exist in the past. But Darwin’s claim that all species are modified descendants of a common ancestor, and Coyne’s claim that DNA mutations and natural selection have produced those modifications, are not so undeniably true. Coyne devotes the remainder of his book to providing evidence for them.

Fossils

Coyne turns first to the fossil record. “We should be able,” he writes, “to find some evidence for evolutionary change in the fossil record. The deepest (and oldest) layers of rock would contain the fossils of more primitive species, and some fossils should become more complex as the layers of rock become younger, with organisms resembling present-day species found in the most recent layers. And we should be able to see some species changing over time, forming lineages showing ‘descent with modification’ (adaptation).” In particular, “later species should have traits that make them look like the descendants of earlier ones.”5

In The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin acknowledged that the fossil record presented difficulties for his theory. “By the theory of natural selection,” he wrote, “all living species have been connected with the parent-species of each genus, by differences not greater than we see between the natural and domestic varieties of the same species at the present day.” Thus in the past “the number of intermediate and transitional links, between all living and extinct species, must have been inconceivably great.” But Darwin knew that the major animal groups — which modern biologists call “phyla” — appeared fully formed in what were at the time the earliest known fossil-bearing rocks, deposited during a geological period known as the Cambrian. He considered this a “serious” difficulty for his theory, since “if the theory be true, it is indisputable that before the lowest Cambrian stratum was deposited long periods elapsed… and that during these vast periods the world swarmed with living creatures.” And “to the question why we do not find rich fossiliferous deposits belonging to these assumed earliest periods prior to the Cambrian system, I can give no satisfactory answer.” So “the case at present must remain inexplicable; and may be truly urged as a valid argument against the views here entertained.”6

Darwin defended his theory by citing the imperfection of the geological record. In particular, he argued that Precambrian fossils had been destroyed by heat, pressure, and erosion. Some of Darwin’s modern followers have likewise argued that Precambrian fossils existed but were later destroyed, or that Precambrian organisms were too small or too soft to have fossilized in the first place. Since 1859, however, paleontologists have discovered many Precambrian fossils, many of them microscopic or soft-bodied. As American paleobiologist William Schopf wrote in 1994, “The long-held notion that Precambrian organisms must have been too small or too delicate to have been preserved in geological materials… [is] now recognized as incorrect.” If anything, the abrupt appearance of the major animal phyla about 540 million years ago — which modern biologists call “the Cambrian explosion” or “biology’s Big Bang” — is better documented now than in Darwin’s time. According to Berkeley paleontologist James Valentine and his colleagues, the “explosion is real, it is too big to be masked by flaws in the fossil record.” Indeed, as more fossils are discovered it becomes clear that the Cambrian explosion was “even more abrupt and extensive than previously envisioned.”7

What does Coyne’s book have to say about this?

“Around 600 million years ago,” Coyne writes, “a whole gamut of relatively simple but multicelled organisms arise, including worms, jellyfish, and sponges. These groups diversify over the next several million years, with terrestrial plants and tetrapods (four-legged animals, the earliest of which were lobe-finned fish) appearing about 400 million years ago.”8

In other words, Coyne’s account of evolutionary history jumps from 600 to 400 million years ago without mentioning the 540 million year-old Cambrian explosion. In this respect, Coyne’s book reads like a modern biology textbook that has been written to indoctrinate students in Darwinian evolution rather than provide them with the facts.

Coyne goes on to discuss several “transitional” forms. “One of our best examples of an evolutionary transition,” he writes, is the fossil record of whales, “since we have a chronologically ordered series of fossils, perhaps a lineage of ancestors and descendants, showing their movement from land to water.”9

“The sequence begins,” Coyne writes, “with the recently discovered fossil of a close relative of whales, a raccoon-sized animal called Indohyus. Living 48 million years ago, Indohyus was… probably very close to what the whale ancestor looked like.” In the next paragraph, Coyne writes, “Indohyus was not the ancestor of whales, but was almost certainly its cousin. But if we go back 4 million more years, to 52 million years ago, we see what might well be that ancestor. It is a fossil skull from a wolf-sized creature called Pakicetus, which is bit more whalelike than Indohyus.” On the page separating these two paragraphs is a figure captioned “Transitional forms in the evolution of modern whales,” which shows Indohyus as the first in the series and Pakicetus as the second.10

But Pakicetus — as Coyne just told us — is 4 million years older than Indohyus. To a Darwinist, this doesn’t matter: Pakicetus is “more whalelike” than Indohyus, so it must fall between Indohyus and modern whales, regardless of the fossil evidence.

(Coyne performs the same trick with fossils that are supposedly ancestral to modern birds. The textbook icon Archaeopteryx, with feathered wings like a modern bird but teeth and a tail like a reptile, is dated at 145 million years. But what Coyne calls the “nonflying feathered dinosaur fossils” — which should have come before Archaeopteryx — are tens of millions of years younger. Like Darwinists Kevin Padian and Luis Chiappe eleven years earlier, Coyne simply rearranges the evidence to fit Darwinian theory.)11

So much for Coyne’s prediction that “later species should have traits that make them look like the descendants of earlier ones.” And so much for his argument that “if evolution were not true, fossils would not occur in an order that makes evolutionary sense.” Ignoring the facts he himself has just presented, Coyne brazenly concludes: “When we find transitional forms, they occur in the fossil record precisely where they should.” If Coyne’s book were turned into a movie, this scene might feature Chico Marx saying, “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?”12

There is another problem with the whale series (and every other series of fossils) that Coyne fails to address: No species in the series could possibly be the ancestor of any other, because all of them possess characteristics they would first have to lose before evolving into a subsequent form. This is why the scientific literature typically shows each species branching off a supposed lineage.

In the figure below, all the lines are hypothetical. The diagram on the left is a representation of evolutionary theory: Species A is ancestral to B, which is ancestral to C, which is ancestral to D, which is ancestral to E. But the diagram on the right is a better representation of the evidence: Species A, B, C and D are not in the actual lineage leading to E, which remains unknown.

It turns out that no series of fossils can provide evidence for Darwinian descent with modification. Even in the case of living species, buried remains cannot generally be used to establish ancestor-descendant relationships. Imagine finding two human skeletons in the same grave, one about thirty years older than the other. Was the older individual the parent of the younger? Without written genealogical records and identifying marks (or in some cases DNA), it is impossible to answer the question. And in this case we would be dealing with two skeletons from the same species that are only a generation apart and from the same location. With fossils from different species that are now extinct, and widely separated in time and space, there is no way to establish that one is the ancestor of another—no matter how many transitional fossils we find.

In 1978, Gareth Nelson of the American Museum of Natural History wrote: “The idea that one can go to the fossil record and expect to empirically recover an ancestor-descendant sequence, be it of species, genera, families, or whatever, has been, and continues to be, a pernicious illusion.”13 Nature science writer Henry Gee wrote in 1999 that “no fossil is buried with its birth certificate.” When we call new fossil discoveries “missing links,” it is “as if the chain of ancestry and descent were a real object for our contemplation, and not what it really is: a completely human invention created after the fact, shaped to accord with human prejudices.” Gee concluded: “To take a line of fossils and claim that they represent a lineage is not a scientific hypothesis that can be tested, but an assertion that carries the same validity as a bedtime story — amusing, perhaps even instructive, but not scientific.”14

Embryos

So evolutionary theory needs better evidence than the fossil record can provide. Coyne correctly notes: “When he wrote The Origin, Darwin considered embryology his strongest evidence for evolution.” Darwin had written that the evidence seemed to show that “the embryos of the most distinct species belonging to the same class are closely similar, but become, when fully developed, widely dissimilar,” a pattern that “reveals community of descent.” Indeed, Darwin thought that early embryos “show us, more or less completely, the condition of the progenitor of the whole group in its adult state.”15

But Darwin was not an embryologist. In The Origin of Species he supported his contention by citing a passage by German embryologist Karl Ernst von Baer:

“The embryos of mammals, birds, lizards and snakes, and probably chelonia [turtles] are in their earliest states exceedingly like one another. … In my possession are two little embryos in spirit, whose names I have omitted to attach, and at present I am quite unable to say to what class they belong. They may be lizards or small birds, or very young mammals, so complete is the similarity in the mode of formation of the head and trunk in these animals.”16

Coyne claims that this is something von Baer “wrote to Darwin,” but Coyne’s history is as unreliable as his paleontology. The passage Darwin cited was from a work written in German by von Baer in 1828; Thomas Henry Huxley translated it into English and published it in 1853. Darwin didn’t even realize at first that it was from von Baer: In the first two editions of The Origin of Species he incorrectly attributed the passage to Louis Agassiz.17

Ironically, von Baer was a strong critic of Darwin’s theory, rejecting the idea that all vertebrates share a common ancestor. According to historian of science Timothy Lenoir, von Baer feared that Darwin and his followers had “already accepted the Darwinian evolutionary hypothesis as true before they set to the task of observing embryos.” The myth that von Baer’s work supported Darwin’s theory was due primarily to another German biologist, Ernst Haeckel.”18 Haeckel maintained not only that all vertebrate embryos evolved from a common ancestor, but also that in their development (“ontogeny”) they replay (“recapitulate”) their evolutionary history (“phylogeny”). He called this The Biogenetic Law: Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.

In Why Evolution Is True, Coyne writes that “the ‘recapitulation’ of an evolutionary sequence is seen in the developmental sequence” of various organs. “Each vertebrate undergoes development in a series of stages, and the sequence of those stages happens to follow the evolutionary sequence of its ancestors.” The probable reason for this is that “as one species evolves into another, the descendant inherits the developmental program of its ancestor.” So the descendant tacks changes “onto what is already a robust and basic developmental plan. It is best for things that evolved later to be programmed to develop later in the embryo. This ‘adding new stuff onto old’ principle also explains why the sequence of developmental stages mirrors the evolutionary sequence of organisms. As one group evolves from another, it often adds its developmental program on top of the old one.” Thus “all vertebrates begin development looking like embryonic fish because we all descended from a fishlike ancestor.”19

Nevertheless, Coyne writes, Haeckel’s Biogenetic Law “wasn’t strictly true,” because “embryonic stages don’t look like the adult forms of their ancestors,” as Haeckel (and Darwin) believed, “but like the embryonic forms of their ancestors.” But this reformulation of The Biogenetic Law doesn’t solve the problem. First, fossil embryos are extremely rare,20 so the reformulated law has to rely on embryos of modern organisms that are assumed to resemble ancestral forms. The result is a circular argument: According to Darwin’s theory, fish are our ancestors; human embryos (allegedly) look like fish embryos; therefore, human embryos look like the embryos of our ancestors. Theory first, observation later — just as von Baer had objected.

Second, the idea that later evolutionary stages can simply be tacked onto development is biologically unrealistic. A human is not just a fish embryo with some added features. As British embryologist Walter Garstang pointed out in 1922, “a house is not a cottage with an extra story on the top. A house represents a higher grade in the evolution of a residence, but the whole building is altered — foundations, timbers, and roof — even if the bricks are the same.”21

Third, and most important, vertebrate embryos are not most similar in their earliest stages. In the 1860s, Haeckel made some drawings to show that vertebrate embryos look almost identical in their first stage — but his drawings were faked. Not only had he distorted the embryos by making them appear more similar than they really are, but he had also omitted earlier stages in which the embryos are strikingly different from each other. A human embryo in its earliest stages looks nothing like a fish embryo.

Only after vertebrate embryos have progressed halfway through their development do they reach the stage that Darwin and Haeckel treated as the first. Developmental biologists call this different-similar-different pattern the “developmental hourglass.” Vertebrate embryos do not resemble each other in their earliest stages, but they converge somewhat in appearance midway through development before diverging again. If ontogeny were a recapitulation of phylogeny, such a pattern would be more consistent with separate origins than with common ancestry. Modern Darwinists attempt to salvage their theory by assuming that the common ancestry of vertebrates is obscured because early development can evolve easily, but there is no justification for this assumption other than the theory itself.22

Although Haeckel’s drawings were exposed as fakes by his own contemporaries, biology textbooks used them throughout the twentieth century to convince students that humans share a common ancestor with fish. Then, in 1997, a scientific journal published an article comparing photos of vertebrate embryos to Haeckel’s drawings, which the lead author described as “one of the most famous fakes in biology.” In 2000, Harvard evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould called Haeckel’s drawings “fraudulent” and wrote that biologists should “be both astonished and ashamed by the century of mindless recycling that has led to the persistence of these drawings in a large number, if not a majority, of modern textbooks.”23

But Coyne is not ashamed. He defends Haeckel’s drawings “Haeckel was accused, largely unjustly,” Coyne writes, “of fudging some drawings of early embryos to make them look more similar than they really are. Yet we shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bath water.”24 The “baby” is Darwin’s theory, which Coyne stubbornly defends regardless of the evidence.

Vestiges and Bad Design

Darwin argued in The Origin of Species that the widespread occurrence of vestigial organs—organs that may have once had a function but are now useless—is evidence against creation. “On the view of each organism with all its separate parts having been specially created, how utterly inexplicable is it that organs bearing the plain stamp of inutility… should so frequently occur.” But such organs, he argued, are readily explained by his theory: “On the view of descent with modification, we may conclude that the existence of organs in a rudimentary, imperfect, and useless condition, or quite aborted, far from presenting a strange difficulty, as they assuredly do on the old doctrine of creation, might even have been anticipated in accordance with the views here explained.”25

In The Descent of Man, Darwin cited the human appendix as an example of a vestigial organ. But Darwin was mistaken: The appendix is now known to be an important source of antibody-producing blood cells and thus an integral part of the human immune system. It may also serve as a compartment for beneficial bacteria that are needed for normal digestion. So the appendix is not useless at all.26

In 1981, Canadian biologist Steven Scadding argued that although he had no objection to Darwinism, “vestigial organs provide no evidence for evolutionary theory.” The primarily reason is that “it is difficult, if not impossible, to unambiguously identify organs totally lacking in function.” Scadding cited the human appendix as an organ previously thought to be vestigial but now known to have a function. Another Canadian biologist, Bruce Naylor, countered that an organ with some function can still be considered vestigial. Furthermore, Naylor argued, “perfectly designed organisms necessitated the existence of a creator,” but “organisms are often something less than perfectly designed” and thus better explained by evolution. Scadding replied: “The entire argument of Darwin and others regarding vestigial organs hinges on their uselessness and inutility.” Otherwise, the argument from vestigiality is nothing more than an argument from homology, and “Darwin treated these arguments separately recognizing that they were in fact independent.” Scadding also objected that Naylor’s “less than perfectly designed” argument was “based on a theological assumption about the nature of God, i.e. that he would not create useless structures. Whatever the validity of this theological claim, it certainly cannot be defended as a scientific statement, and thus should be given no place in a scientific discussion of evolution.”27

In Why Evolution Is True, Coyne (like Darwin) cites the human appendix as an example of a vestigial organ. Unlike Darwin, however, Coyne concedes that “it may be of some small use. The appendix contains patches of tissue that may function as part of the immune system. It has also been suggested that it provides a refuge for useful gut bacteria. But these minor benefits are surely outweighed by the severe problems that come with the human appendix.” In any case, Coyne argues, “the appendix is still vestigial, for it no longer performs the function for which it evolved.”28

As Scadding had pointed out nearly thirty years ago, however, Darwin’s argument rested on lack of function, not change of function. Furthermore, if vestigiality were redefined as Coyne proposes, it would include many features never before thought to be vestigial. For example, if the human arm evolved from the leg of a four-footed mammal (as Darwinists claim), then the human arm is vestigial. And if (as Coyne argues) the wings of flying birds evolved from feathered forelimbs of dinosaurs that used them for other purposes, then the wings of flying birds are vestigial. This is the opposite of what most people mean by “vestigial.”29

Coyne also ignores Scadding’s other criticism, arguing that whether the human appendix is useless or not, it is an example of imperfect or bad design. “What I mean by ‘bad design’,” Coyne writes, “is the notion that if organisms were built from scratch by a designer — one who used the biological building blocks or nerves, muscles, bone, and so on — they would not have such imperfections. Perfect design would truly be the sign of a skilled and intelligent designer. Imperfect design is the mark of evolution; in fact, it’s precisely what we expect from evolution.”30

An even better example of bad design, Coyne argues, is the prevalence of “dead genes.” According to the modern version of Darwinism that Coyne defends, DNA carries a genetic program that encodes proteins that direct embryo development; mutations occasionally alter the genetic program to produce new proteins (or change their locations); and natural selection then sorts those mutations to produce evolution. In the 1970s, however, molecular biologists discovered that most of our DNA does not encode proteins. In 1972 Susumu Ohno called this “junk,” and in 1976 Richard Dawkins wrote: “A large fraction of the DNA is never translated into protein. From the point of view of the individual organism this seems paradoxical. If the ‘purpose’ of DNA is to supervise the building of bodies, it is surprising to find a large quantity of DNA which does no such thing.” From the point of view of Darwinian evolution, however, there is no paradox. “The true ‘purpose’ of DNA is to survive, no more and no less. The simplest way to explain the surplus DNA is to suppose that it is a parasite, or at best a harmless but useless passenger, hitching a ride in the survival machines created by the other DNA.”31

Like Dawkins, Coyne regards much of our DNA as parasitic. He writes in Why Evolution Is True: “When a trait is no longer used, or becomes reduced, the genes that make it don’t instantly disappear from the genome: evolution stops their action by inactivating them, not snipping them out of the DNA. From this we can make a prediction. We expect to find, in the genomes of many species, silenced, or ‘dead,’ genes: genes that once were useful but are no longer intact or expressed. In other words, there should be vestigial genes. In contrast, the idea that all species were created from scratch predicts that no such genes would exist.” Coyne continues: “Thirty years ago we couldn’t test this prediction because we had no way to read the DNA code. Now, however, it’s quite easy to sequence the complete genome of species, and it’s been done for many of them, including humans. This gives us a unique tool to study evolution when we realize that the normal function of a gene is to make a protein—a protein whose sequence of amino acids is determined by the sequence of nucleotide bases that make up the DNA. And once we have the DNA sequence of a given gene, we can usually tell if it is expressed normally — that is, whether it makes a functional protein — or whether it is silenced and makes nothing. We can see, for example, whether mutations have changed the gene so that a usable protein can no longer be made, or whether the ‘control’ regions responsible for turning on a gene have been inactivated. A gene that doesn’t function is called a pseudogene. And the evolutionary prediction that we’ll find pseudogenes has been fulfilled — amply. Virtually every species harbors dead genes, many of them still active in its relatives. This implies that those genes were also active in a common ancestor, and were killed off in some descendants but not in others. Out of about thirty thousand genes, for example, we humans carry more than two thousand pseudogenes. Our genome — and that of other species — are truly well populated graveyards of dead genes.”32

But Coyne is dead wrong.

Evidence pouring in from genome-sequencing projects shows that virtually all of an organism’s DNA is transcribed into RNA, and that even though most of that RNA is not translated into proteins, it performs essential regulatory functions. Every month, science journals publish articles describing more such functions. And this is not late-breaking news: The evidence has been accumulating since 2003 (when scientists finished sequencing the human genome) that “pseudogenes” and other so-called “junk DNA” sequences are not useless after all.33 Why Evolution Is True ignores this enormous body of evidence, which decisively refutes Coyne’s Darwinian prediction that our genome should contain lots of “dead” DNA. It’s no wonder that Coyne falls back again and again on the sort of theological arguments that Scadding wrote “should be given no place in a scientific discussion of evolution.”

Biogeography

Theological arguments are also prominent in The Origin of Species. For example, Darwin argued that the geographic distribution of living things made no sense if species had been separately created, but it did make sense in the context of his theory. Cases such as “the presence of peculiar species of bats on oceanic islands and the absence of all other terrestrial mammals,” Darwin wrote, “are facts utterly inexplicable on the theory of independent acts of creation.” In particular: “Why, it may be asked, has the supposed creative force produced bats and no other mammals on remote islands?” According to Darwin, “on my view this question can easily be answered; for no terrestrial mammal can be transported across a wide space of sea, but bats can fly across.”34

But Darwin knew that migration cannot account for all patterns of geographic distribution. He wrote in The Origin of Species that “the identity of many plants and animals, on mountain-summits, separated from each other by hundreds of miles of lowlands, where Alpine species could not possibly exist, is one of the most striking cases known of the same species living at distant points without the apparent possibility of their having migrated from one point to the other.” Darwin argued that the recent ice age “affords a simple explanation of these facts.” Arctic plants and animals that were “nearly the same” could have flourished everywhere in Europe and North America, but “when the warmth had fully returned, the same species, which had lately lived together on the European and North American lowlands, would again be found in the arctic regions of the Old and New Worlds, and on many isolated mountain-summits far distant from each other.”35

So some cases of geographic distribution may not be due to migration, but to the splitting of a formerly large, widespread population into small, isolated populations — what modern biologists call “vicariance.” Darwin argued that all modern distributions of species could be explained by these two possibilities. Yet there are many cases of geographic distribution that neither migration nor vicariance seem able to explain.

One example is the worldwide distribution of flightless birds, or “ratites.” These include ostriches in Africa, rheas in South America, emus and cassowaries in Australia, and kiwis in New Zealand. Since the birds are flightless, explanations based on migration over vast oceanic distances are implausible. After continental drift was discovered in the twentieth century, it was thought that the various populations might have separated with the landmasses. But ostriches and kiwis are much too recent; the continents had already drifted apart when these species originated. So neither migration nor vicariance explain ratite biogeography.36

Another example is freshwater crabs. Studied intensively by Italian biologist Giuseppe Colosi in the 1920s, these animals complete their life cycles exclusively in freshwater habitats and are incapable of surviving prolonged exposure to salt water. Today, very similar species are found in widely separated lakes and rivers in Central and South America, Africa, Madagascar, southern Europe, India, Asia and Australia. Fossil and molecular evidence indicates that these animals originated long after the continents separated, so their distribution is inconsistent with the vicariance hypothesis. Some biologists speculate that the crabs may have migrated by “transoceanic rafting” in hollow logs, but this seems unlikely given their inability to tolerate salt water. So neither vicariance nor migration provides a convincing explanation for the biogeography of these animals.37

An alternative explanation was suggested in the mid-twentieth century by Léon Croizat, a French biologist raised in Italy. Croizat found that Darwin’s theory did “not seem to agree at all with certain important facts of nature,” especially the facts of biogeography. Indeed, he concluded, “Darwinism is by now only a straitjacket… a thoroughly decrepit skin to hold new wine.” Croizat did not argue for independent acts of creation; instead, he proposed that in many cases a widespread primitive species was split into fragments, then its remnants evolved in parallel, in separate locations, into new species that were remarkably similar. Croizat called this process of parallel evolution “orthogenesis.” Neo-Darwinists such as Ernst Mayr, however, pointed out that there is no mechanism for orthogenesis, which implies — contrary to Darwinism — that evolution is guided in certain directions; so they rejected Croizat’s hypothesis.38

In Why Evolution Is True, Coyne (like Darwin) attributes the biogeography of oceanic islands to migration, and certain other distributions to vicariance. But Coyne (unlike Darwin) acknowledges that these two processes cannot explain everything. For example, the internal anatomy of marsupial mammals is so different from the internal anatomy of placental mammals that the two groups are thought to have split a long time ago. Yet there are marsupial flying squirrels, anteaters and moles in Australia that strikingly resemble placental flying squirrels, anteaters and moles on other continents, and these forms originated long after the continents had separated.

Coyne attributes the similarities to “a well-known process called convergent evolution.” According to Coyne. “It’s really quite simple. Species that live in similar habitats will experience similar selection pressures from their environment, so they may evolve similar adaptations, or converge, coming to look and behave very much alike even though they are unrelated.” Put together common ancestry, natural selection, and the origin of species (“speciation”), “add in the fact that distant areas of the world can have similar habitats, and you get convergent evolution — and a simple explanation of a major geographic pattern.”39

This is not the same as Croizat’s “orthogenesis,” according to which populations of a single species, after becoming separated from each other, evolve in parallel due to some internal directive force. According to Coyne’s “convergent evolution,” organisms that are fundamentally different from each other evolve through natural selection to become superficially similar because they inhabit similar environments. The mechanism for orthogenesis is internal, whereas the mechanism for convergence is external. In both cases, however, mechanism is crucial: Without it, orthogenesis and convergence are simply words describing biogeographical patterns, not explanations of how those patterns originated.

So the same question can be asked of convergence that was asked of orthogenesis: What is the evidence for the proposed mechanism? According to Coyne, the mechanism of convergence involves natural selection and speciation.

Selection and Speciation

Coyne writes that Darwin “had little direct evidence for selection acting in natural populations.” Actually, Darwin had no direct evidence for natural selection; the best he could do in The Origin of Species was “give one or two imaginary illustrations.” It wasn’t until a century later that Bernard Kettlewell provided what he called “Darwin’s missing evidence” for natural selection — a shift in the proportion of light- and dark-colored peppered moths that Kettlewell attributed to camouflage and bird predation.40

Since then, biologists have found lots of direct evidence for natural selection. Coyne describes some of it, including an increase in average beak depth of finches on the Galápagos Islands and a change in flowering time in wild mustard plants in Southern California — both due to drought. Like Darwin, Coyne also compares natural selection to the artificial selection used in plant and animal breeding.

But these examples of selection — natural as well as artificial — involve only minor changes within existing species. Breeders were familiar with such changes before 1859, which is why Darwin did not write a book titled How Existing Species Change Over Time; he wrote a book titled The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. “Darwin called his great work On the Origin of Species,” wrote Harvard evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr in 1982, “for he was fully conscious of the fact that the change from one species into another was the most fundamental problem of evolution.” Yet, Mayr had written earlier, “Darwin failed to solve the problem indicated by the title of his work.” In 1997, evolutionary biologist Keith Stewart Thomson wrote: “A matter of unfinished business for biologists is the identification of evolution’s smoking gun,” and “the smoking gun of evolution is speciation, not local adaptation and differentiation of populations.” Before Darwin, the consensus was that species can vary only within certain limits; indeed, centuries of artificial selection had seemingly demonstrated such limits experimentally. “Darwin had to show that the limits could be broken,” wrote Thomson, “so do we.”41

In 2004, Coyne and H. Allen Orr published a detailed book titled Speciation, in which they noted that biologists have not been able to agree on a definition of “species” because no single definition fits every case. For example, a definition applicable to living, sexually reproducing organisms might make no sense when applied to fossils or bacteria. In fact, there are more than 25 definitions of “species.” What definition is best? Coyne and Orr argued that, “when deciding on a species concept, one should first identify the nature of one’s ‘species problem,’ and then choose the concept best at solving that problem.” Like most other Darwinists, Coyne and Orr favor Ernst Mayr’s “biological species concept” (BSC), according to which “species are groups of interbreeding natural populations that are reproductively isolated from other such groups.” In Why Evolution Is True, Coyne explains that the biological species concept is “the one that evolutionists prefer when studying speciation, because it gets you to the heart of the evolutionary question. Under the BSC, if you can explain how reproductive barriers evolve, you’ve explained the origin of species.”42

Theoretically, reproductive barriers arise when geographically separated populations diverge genetically. But Coyne describes five “cases of real-time speciation” that involve a different mechanism: chromosome doubling, or “polyploidy.”43 This usually follows hybridization between two existing plant species. Most hybrids are sterile because their mismatched chromosomes can’t separate properly to produce fertile pollen and ovaries; occasionally, however, the chromosomes in a hybrid spontaneously double, producing two perfectly matched sets and making reproduction possible. The result is a fertile plant that is reproductively isolated from the two parents—a new species, according to the BSC.

But speciation by polyploidy (“secondary speciation”) has been observed only in plants. It does not provide evidence for Darwin’s theory that species originate through natural selection, nor for the neo-Darwinian theory of speciation by geographic separation and genetic divergence. Indeed, according to evolutionary biologist Douglas J. Futuyma, polyploidy “does not confer major new morphological characteristics… [and] does not cause the evolution of new genera” or higher levels in the biological hierarchy.44

So secondary speciation does not solve Darwin’s problem. Only primary speciation — the splitting of one species into two by natural selection — would be capable of producing the branching-tree pattern of Darwinian evolution. But no one has ever observed primary speciation. Evolution’s smoking gun has never been found.45

Or has it?

In Why Evolution Is True, Coyne claims that primary speciation was observed in an experiment reported in 1998. Curiously, Coyne did not mention it in the 2004 book he co-authored with Orr, but his 2009 account of it is worth quoting in full:

“We can even see the origin of a new, ecologically diverse bacterial species, all within a single laboratory flask. Paul Rainey and his colleagues at Oxford University placed a strain of the bacteria Pseudomonas fluorescens in a small vessel containing nutrient broth, and simply watched it. (It’s surprising but true that such a vessel actually contains diverse environments. Oxygen concentration, for example, is highest on the top and lowest on the bottom.) Within ten days — no more than a few hundred generations — the ancestral free-floating ‘smooth’ bacterium had evolved into two additional forms occupying different parts of the beaker. One, called ‘wrinkly spreader,’ formed a mat on top of the broth. The other, called ‘fuzzy spreader,’ formed a carpet on the bottom. The smooth ancestral type persisted in the liquid environment in the middle. Each of the two new forms was genetically different from the ancestor, having evolved through mutation and natural selection to reproduce best in their respective environments. Here, then, is not only evolution but speciation occurring in the lab: the ancestral form produced, and coexisted with, two ecologically different descendants, and in bacteria such forms are considered distinct species. Over a very short time, natural selection in Pseudomonas yielded a small-scale ‘adaptive radiation,’ the equivalent of how animals or plants form species when they encounter new environments on an oceanic island.”46

But Coyne omits the fact that when the ecologically different forms were placed back into the same environment, they “suffered a rapid loss of diversity,” according to Rainey. In bacteria, an ecologically distinct population (called an “ecotype”) may constitute a separate species, but only if the distinction is permanent. As evolutionary microbiologist Frederick Cohan wrote in 2002, species in bacteria “are ecologically distinct from one another; and they are irreversibly separate.”47 The rapid reversal of ecological distinctions when the bacterial populations in Rainey’s experiment were put back into the same environment refutes Coyne’s claim that the experiment demonstrated the origin of a new species.

Exaggerating the evidence to prop up Darwinism is not new. In the Galápagos finches, average beak depth reverted to normal after the drought ended. There was no net evolution, much less speciation. Yet Coyne writes in Why Evolution Is True that “everything we require of evolution by natural selection was amply documented” by the finch studies. Since scientific theories stand or fall on the evidence, Coyne’s tendency to exaggerate the evidence does not speak well for the theory he is defending. When a 1999 booklet published by The U. S. National Academy of Sciences called the change in finch beaks “a particularly compelling example of speciation,” Berkeley law professor and Darwin critic Phillip E. Johnson wrote in The Wall Street Journal: “When our leading scientists have to resort to the sort of distortion that would land a stock promoter in jail, you know they are in trouble.”48

So there are observed instances of secondary speciation — which is not what Darwinism needs — but no observed instances of primary speciation, not even in bacteria. British bacteriologist Alan H. Linton looked for confirmed reports of primary speciation and concluded in 2001: “None exists in the literature claiming that one species has been shown to evolve into another. Bacteria, the simplest form of independent life, are ideal for this kind of study, with generation times of twenty to thirty minutes, and populations achieved after eighteen hours. But throughout 150 years of the science of bacteriology, there is no evidence that one species of bacteria has changed into another.”49

Conclusions

Darwin called The Origin of Species “one long argument” for his theory, but Jerry Coyne has given us one long bluff. Why Evolution Is True tries to defend Darwinian evolution by rearranging the fossil record; by misrepresenting the development of vertebrate embryos; by ignoring evidence for the functionality of allegedly vestigial organs and non-coding DNA, then propping up Darwinism with theological arguments about “bad design;” by attributing some biogeographical patterns to convergence due to the supposedly “well-known” processes of natural selection and speciation; and then exaggerating the evidence for selection and speciation to make it seem as though they could accomplish what Darwinism requires of them.

The actual evidence shows that major features of the fossil record are an embarrassment to Darwinian evolution; that early development in vertebrate embryos is more consistent with separate origins than with common ancestry; that non-coding DNA is fully functional, contrary to neo-Darwinian predictions; and that natural selection can accomplish nothing more than artificial selection — which is to say, minor changes within existing species.

Faced with such evidence, any other scientific theory would probably have been abandoned long ago. Judged by the normal criteria of empirical science, Darwinism is false. Its persists in spite of the evidence, and the eagerness of Darwin and his followers to defend it with theological arguments about creation and design suggests that its persistence has nothing to do with science at all.50

Nevertheless, biology students might find Coyne’s book useful. Given accurate information and the freedom to exercise critical thinking, students could learn from Why Evolution Is True how Darwinists manipulate the evidence and mix it with theology to recycle a false theory that should have been discarded long ago.

Notes

  1. Jerry A. Coyne, Why Evolution Is True (New York: Viking, 2009), p. 3.
  2. Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, pp. 3-4.
  3. Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, pp. 5-6.
  4. Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, pp. 18-19.
  5. Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, pp. 17-18, 25.
  6. Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, Sixth Edition (London: John Murray, 1872), Chapter X, pp. 266, 285-288. Available online (2009) here.
    • J. William Schopf, “The early evolution of life: solution to Darwin’s dilemma,” Trends in Ecology and Evolution 9 (1994): 375-377.
    • James W. Valentine, Stanley M. Awramik, Philip W. Signor & M. Sadler, “The Biological Explosion at the Precambrian-Cambrian Boundary,” Evolutionary Biology 25 (1991): 279-356.
    • James W. Valentine & Douglas H. Erwin, “Interpreting Great Developmental Experiments: The Fossil Record,” pp. 71-107 in Rudolf A. Raff & Elizabeth C. Raff, (editors), Development as an Evolutionary Process (New York: Alan R. Liss, 1987).
    • Jeffrey S. Levinton, “The Big Bang of Animal Evolution,” Scientific American 267 (November, 1992): 84-91.
    • “The Scientific Controversy Over the Cambrian Explosion,” Discovery Institute. Available online (2009) here.
    • Jonathan Wells, Icons of Evolution (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2002), Chapter 3. More information available online (2009) here.
    • Stephen C. Meyer, “The Cambrian Explosion: Biology’s Big Bang,” pp. 323-402 in John Angus Campbell & Stephen C. Meyer (editors), Darwinism, Design, and Public Education (East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 2003). More information available online (2009) here.
  7. Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, p. 28.
  8. Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, p. 48.
  9. Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, pp. 49-51.
    • Kevin Padian & Luis M. Chiappe, “The origin and early evolution of birds,” Biological Reviews 73 (1998): 1-42. Available online (2009) here.
    • Wells, Icons of Evolution, pp. 119-122.
    • Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, pp. 25, 53.
    • Chico Marx in Duck Soup (Paramount Pictures, 1933). This and other Marx Brothers quotations are available online (2009) here.
  10. Gareth Nelson, “Presentation to the American Museum of Natural History (1969),” in David M. Williams & Malte C. Ebach, “The reform of palaeontology and the rise of biogeography—25 years after ‘ontogeny, phylogeny, palaeontology and the biogenetic law’ (Nelson, 1978),” Journal of Biogeography 31 (2004): 685-712.
  11. Henry Gee, In Search of Deep Time. New York: Free Press, 1999, pp. 5, 32, 113-117.
    Jonathan Wells, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2006). More information available online (2009) here.
  12. Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, p. 79.
    Darwin, The Origin of Species, Chapter XIV, pp. 386-396. Available online (2009) here.
  13. Darwin, The Origin of Species, Chapter XIV, pp. 387-388. Available online (2009) here.
  14. Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, p. 73.
    Karl Ernst von Baer, “On the Development of Animals, with Observations and Reflections: The Fifth Scholium,” translated by Thomas Henry Huxley, pp. 186-237 in Arthur Henfrey & Thomas H. Huxley (editors), Scientific Memoirs: Selected from the Transactions of Foreign Academies of Science and from Foreign Journals: Natural History (London, 1853; reprinted 1966 by Johnson Reprint Corporation, New York). The passage quoted by Darwin is on p. 210.
    Jane M. Oppenheimer, “An Embryological Enigma in the Origin of Species,” pp. 221-255 in Jane M. Oppenheimer, Essays in the History of Embryology and Biology (Cambridge, MA: The M.I.T. Press, 1967).
  15. Timothy Lenoir, The Strategy of Life (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1982), p. 258.
    Frederick B. Churchill, “The Rise of Classical Descriptive Embryology,” pp. 1-29 in Scott F. Gilbert (editor), A Conceptual History of Modern Embryology (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), pp. 19-20.
  16. Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, pp. 77-79.
  17. Simon Conway Morris, “Fossil Embryos,” pp. 703-711 in Claudio D. Stern (editor), Gastrulation: From Cells to Embryos (Cold Spring Harbor, NY: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 2004).
  18. Walter Garstang, “The theory of recapitulation: a critical restatement of the biogenetic law,” Journal of the Linnean Society (Zoology), 35 (1922): 81-101.
  19. See Chapter Five and accompanying references in Wells, Icons of Evolution.
    See Chapter Three and accompanying references in Wells, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design.
  20. Michael K. Richardson, J. Hanken, M. L. Gooneratne, C. Pieau, A. Raynaud, L. Selwood & G. M. Wright, “There is no highly conserved embryonic stage in the vertebrates: implications for current theories of evolution and development,” Anatomy & Embryology 196 (1997): 91-106.
    Michael K. Richardson, quoted in Elizabeth Pennisi, “Haeckel’s Embryos: Fraud Rediscovered,” Science 277 (1997): 1435.
    Stephen Jay Gould, “Abscheulich! Atrocious!” Natural History (March, 2000), pp. 42-49.
    “Hoax of Dodos” (2007). Available online (2009) here.
  21. Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, p. 78.Notes
  22. Darwin, The Origin of Species, Chapters XIV (p. 402) and XV (p. 420). Available online (2009) here.
  23. Darwin, Charles. The Descent of Man, First Edition (London: John Murray, 1871), Chapter I (p. 27). Available online (2009) here.
    Kohtaro Fujihashi, J.R. McGhee, C. Lue, K.W. Beagley, T. Taga, T. Hirano, T. Kishimoto, J. Mestecky & H. Kiyono, “Human Appendix B Cells Naturally Express Receptors for and Respond to Interleukin 6 with Selective IgA1 and IgA2 Synthesis,” Journal of Clinical Investigations 88 (1991): 248-252. Available online (2009) here.
    J.A. Laissue, B.B. Chappuis, C. Müller, J.C. Reubi & J.O. Gebbers, “The intestinal immune system and its relation to disease,” Digestive Diseases (Basel) 11 (1993): 298-312. Abstract available online (2009) here.
    Loren G. Martin, “What is the function of the human appendix?” Scientific American (October 21, 1999), Available online (2009) here.
    R. Randal Bollinger, Andrew S. Barbas, Errol L. Bush, Shu S. Lin & William Parker, “Biofilms in the large bowel suggest an apparent function of the human vermiform appendix,” Journal of Theoretical Biology 249 (2007): 826-831. Available online (2009) here.
    Duke University Medical Center, “Appendix Isn’t Useless At All: It’s A Safe House For Good Bacteria,” ScienceDaily (October 8, 2007). Available online (2009) here.
  24. Steven R. Scadding, “Do ‘vestigial organs’ provide evidence for evolution?” Evolutionary Theory 5 (1981): 173-176.
    Bruce G. Naylor, “Vestigial organs are evidence of evolution,” Evolutionary Theory 6 (1982): 91-96.
    Steven R. Scadding, “Vestigial organs do not provide scientific evidence for evolution,” Evolutionary Theory 6 (1982): 171-173.
  25. Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, pp. 61-62.
  26. Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, p. 46.
  27. Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, pp. 81.
  28. Susumu Ohno, “So much ‘junk’ DNA in our genome,” Brookhaven Symposia in Biology 23 (1972): 366-70.
    Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), p. 47.
  29. Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, pp. 66-67.
  30. A few of the many scientific articles published since 2003 that document the function of so-called “junk” DNA are:
    • E.S Balakirev & F.J. Ayala, “Pseudogenes: are they ‘junk’ or functional DNA?” Annual Review of Genetics 37 (2003): 123-151.
    • A. Hüttenhofer, P. Schattner & N. Polacek, “Non-coding RNAs: hope or hype?” Trends in Genetics 21 (2005): 289-297.
    • J.S. Mattick & I.V. Makunin, “Non-coding RNA,” Human Molecular Genetics 15 (2006): R17-R29.
    • R.K. Slotkin & R. Martienssen, “Transposable elements and the epigenetic regulation of the genome,” Nature Reviews Genetics 8 (2007): 272-285.
    • P. Carninci, J. Yasuda & Y Hayashizaki, “Multifaceted mammalian transcriptome,” Current Opinion in Cell Biology 20 (2008): 274-80.
    • C.D. Malone & G.J. Hannon, “Small RNAs as Guardians of the Genome,” Cell 136 (2009): 656–668.
    • C.P. Ponting, P.L. Oliver & W. Reik, “Evolution and Functions of Long Noncoding RNAs,” Cell 136 (2009): 629–641.
  31. Darwin, The Origin of Species, Chapters XIII (pp. 347-352) and XV (p. 419). Available online (2009) here.
  32. Darwin, The Origin of Species, Chapters XII (pp. 330-332). Available online (2009) here.
  33. Alan Cooper, et al., C. Mourer-Chauviré, C.K. Chambers, A. von Haeseler, A.C. Wilson & S. Paabo, “Independent origins of New Zealand moas and kiwis,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 89 (1992): 8741-8744. Available online (2008) here.
    Oliver Haddrath & Allan J. Baker, “Complete mitochondrial DNA genome sequences of extinct birds: ratite phylogenetics and the vicariance biogeography hypothesis,” Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 268 (2001): 939-945.
    John Harshman, E.L. Braun, M.J. Braun, C.J. Huddleston, R.C.K. Bowie,
    J.L. Chojnowski, S.J. Hackett, K.-L. Han, R.T. Kimball, B.D. Marks, K.J. Miglia,
    W.S. Moore, S. Reddy, F.H. Sheldon, D.W. Steadman, S.J. Steppan, C.C. Witt & T. Yuri, “Phylogenomic evidence for multiple losses of flight in ratite birds,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 105 (2008): 13462-13467. Abstract available online (2008) here.
    Giuseppe Sermonti, “L’evoluzione in Italia – La via torinese / How Evolution Came to Italy – The Turin Connection,” Rivista di Biologia/Biology Forum 94 (2001): 5-12. Available online (2008) here.
  34. Giuseppe Colosi, “La distribuzione geografica dei Potamonidae,” Rivista di Biologia 3 (1921): 294-301. Available online (2009) here.
    Savel R. Daniels, N. Cumberlidge, M. Pérez-Losada, S.A.E. Marijnissen &
    K.A. Crandall, “Evolution of Afrotropical freshwater crab lineages obscured by morphological convergence,” Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 40 (2006): 227–235. Available online (2009) here.
    R. von Sternberg, N. Cumberlidge & G. Rodriguez. “On the marine sister groups of the freshwater crabs (Crustacea: Decapoda: Brachyura),” Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research 37 (1999): 19–38.
    Darren C.J. Yeo, et al., “Global diversity of crabs (Crustacea: Decapoda: Brachyura) in freshwater,” Hydrobiologia 595 (2008): 275-286.
  35. Léon Croizat, Space, Time, Form: The Biological Synthesis. Published by the author (Deventer, Netherlands: N. V. Drukkerij Salland, 1962), p. iii.
    Robin C. Craw, “Léon Croizat’s Biogeographic Work: A Personal Appreciation,” Tuatara 27:1 (August 1984): 8-13. Available online (2009) here.
    John R. Grehan, “Evolution By Law: Croizat’s ‘Orthogeny’ and Darwin’s ‘Laws of Growth’,” Tuatara 27:1 (August 1984): 14-19. Available online (2009) here.
    Carmen Colacino, “Léon Croizat’s Biogeography and Macroevolution, or… ‘Out of Nothing, Nothing Comes’,” The Philippine Scientist 34 (1997): 73-88.
    Ernst Mayr, The Growth of Biological Thought (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982), pp. 529-530.
  36. Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, pp. 92-94.
  37. Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, p. 116.
    Darwin, The Origin of Species, Chapter IV (p. 70). Available online (2009) here.
    H. B. D. Kettlewell, “Darwin’s Missing Evidence,” Scientific American 200 (March, 1959): 48-53.
  38. Ernst Mayr, The Growth of Biological Thought (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982), p. 403.
    Ernst Mayr, Populations, Species and Evolution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963), p. 10.
    Keith Stewart Thomson, “Natural Selection and Evolution’s Smoking Gun,” American Scientist 85 (1997): 516-518.
  39. Jerry A. Coyne & H. Allen Orr, Speciation (Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, 2004), p. 25-39.
    Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, p. 174.
  40. Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, p. 188.
  41. Douglas J. Futuyma, Evolution (Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, 2005), p. 398.
  42. Wells, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, Chapter Five (“The Ultimate Missing Link”), pp. 49-59.
  43. Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, pp. 129-130.
  44. Paul B. Rainey & Michael Travisano. “Adaptive radiation in a heterogeneous environment,” Nature 394 (1998): 69-72.
    Frederick M. Cohan, “What Are Bacterial Species?” Annual Review of Microbiology 56 (2002): 457-482. Available online (2009) here.
  45. Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, p. 134.
    National Academy of Sciences, Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences, Second edition (Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences Press, 1999), Chapter on “Evidence Supporting Biological Evolution,” p. 10. Available online (2009) here.
    Phillip E. Johnson, “The Church of Darwin,” The Wall Street Journal (August 16, 1999): A14. Available online (2009) here.
  46. Alan H. Linton, “Scant Search for the Maker,” The Times Higher Education Supplement (April 20, 2001), Book Section, p. 29.
  47. Frederick M. Cohan, “What Are Bacterial Species?” Annual Review of Microbiology 56 (2002): 457-482. Available online (2009) here.
  48. Paul A. Nelson, “The role of theology in current evolutionary reasoning,” Biology and Philosophy 11 (October 1996): 493 – 517. Abstract available online (2009) here.
    Jonathan Wells, “Darwin’s Straw God Argument,” Discovery Institute (December 2008). Available online (2009) here. Jonathan Wells, “Darwin’s Straw God Argument,” Discovery Institute (December 2008). Available online (2009) here.

Jonathan Wells

Prove Evolution Is False – Even Without the Bible

by Mario Seiglie

There are logical reasons apart from Scripture’s direct testimony to reject the theory of evolution and accept creation and a Creator.

Trilobite fossil
Trilobite fossil

Can we prove that evolution is false without using the Bible? Certainly we can! Evolution is a scientific theory that stands or falls on the physical evidence. In fact, one can be an atheist, a person who doesn’t believe in God, and still not believe in evolution!

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, as taught at school, is a biological explanation of how creatures have supposedly “evolved” or developed progressively through natural selection and variation (now known as mutation) over eons of time from the tiny cell to the largest creatures on earth today. What is taught in classrooms is not mere microevolution—small changes within a species—but macroevolution, the change from one type of creature to another quite distinct life form.

What many evolutionists are trying to convince you of is that there is no need for a Creator since, as they say, evolution can substitute as the mechanism for creating and transforming life. They teach that life arose from non-life and evolved from simpler creatures to more complex life forms. In other words, the tiny cell eventually became an amoeba, then a lizard, then a monkey, and finally—you!

In order to remember key points that disprove Darwinian evolution—the “molecules to man” theory—we’ll use the acronym FALSE. (A few of these points also disprove the compromise of theistic evolution—the notion that God employed macroevolution over eons in forming the creatures we see on earth today.)

F for Fossils

A fossil is the preserved remains of a living thing. The fossil record around the earth extends an average of one mile deep. Below this level we come up with a blank slate as far as living, complex creatures are concerned.

I collect fossils of what are deemed the earliest type of complex creatures with hard bodies—trilobites. No previous ancestors of these arthropods have been found. Similar to some marine “bugs” we see today on the seashore that disappear into the sand when the waves retreat, trilobites had hard shells, all the basic organs, and complex eyes like those of flies, with hundreds of sophisticated lenses connected to the optic nerve going to the brain. Trilobite fossils are found around the earth, and in all cases the level of rock beneath them does not reveal other creatures with similar features.

As one source states: “The dominant life form was the now-extinct sea creature known as a trilobite, up to a foot long, with a distinctive head and tail, a body made up of several parts, and a complex respiratory system. But although there are many places on earth where 5,000 feet of sedimentary rock stretch unbroken and uniformly beneath the Cambrian [layer], not a single indisputable multi-celled fossil has been found there. It is ‘the enigma of paleontological [fossil studies] enigmas,’ according to Stephen Gould. Darwin himself said he could give ‘no satisfactory answer’ to why no fossils had been discovered. Today’s scientists are none the wiser” (Francis Hitching, The Neck of the Giraffe, 1982, pp. 26-27).

Question: If, after almost two centuries of digging beneath all the world’s continents, no previous ancestor of this first hard-bodied creature has been found, how then did the ubiquitous trilobite evolve? There should be some previous ancestor if evolution were true.

It’s like finding an exquisite watch on the seashore and yet never finding any previous primitive models of the watch on earth. If you reasoned as an evolutionist, you would deny there was a need for a watchmaker at all, maintaining that time, water, sand, minerals and actions of the elements are sufficient to producing a fully functional watch that runs. This is part of the reason it takes more faith to believe in evolution than in a Creator!

Further important evidence from the fossil record is the absence of transitional forms between species. Darwin was concerned that the thousands of intermediate stages between creatures needed to prove his theory were not in evidence, but he expected they would eventually be found. Yet those thousands of missing transitional forms are still missing!

Another reference explains: “If throughout past ages life was actually drifting over in one continual stream from one form to another, it is to be expected that as many samples of the intermediate stages between species should be discovered in fossil condition as of the species themselves … All should be in a state of flux. But these missing links are wanting. There are no fossils of creatures whose scales were changing into feathers or whose feet were changing into wings, no fossils of fish getting legs or of reptiles getting hair. The real task of the geological evolutionist is not to find ‘the’ missing link, as if there were only one. The task is to find those thousands upon thousands of missing links that connect the many fossil species with one another” (Byron Nelson, After Its Kind, 1970, pp. 60-62).

The absence of transitional forms is an insurmountable hurdle for theistic evolutionists as well. It also fits with our next point.

A for Assumption

When there is no real evidence, evolutionary scientists simply make assumptions.

If evolution were true, then where is the evidence of different types of animals now “evolving” into other types? Where is the evidence of cats, dogs and horses gradually turning into something else? We do see changes within species, but we do not see any changes into other species. And, as mentioned, we see no evidence of gradual change in the fossil record either. Yet evolutionists continue to assume that transitional forms must have existed.

In Darwin’s landmark book On the Origin of Species there are some 800 subjective clauses, with uncertainty repeatedly admitted instead of proof. Words such as “could,” “perhaps” and “possibly” plague the entire book.

Evolution is still called a theory—a possible explanation or assumption—because it is not testable according to the scientific method, as this would require thousands or millions of years. Evolutionists will counter that a theory is not a mere hypothesis but is a widely affirmed intellectual construct that generally appears to fit all the facts. Yet evolution in no way fits all the facts available. Evidence does not support it—and in many respects runs counter to it.

L for Life

The law of biogenesis as taught in biology class states that only life can produce life.

You’ve probably heard the famous question: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? It’s a real dilemma for an evolutionist to answer. An egg comes from a chicken, yet the chicken comes from an egg. How can there be one without the other?

To complicate matters even more, the chicken has to come from a fertilized egg that has the mixture of two different genetic strains from both its parents. So the problem of the origin of life and initial reproduction is still a mystery that evolutionary science cannot adequately answer.

Yet for someone who believes in special creation by a Creator, there is no dilemma here. First God made the male and female chickens, which produced the first fertilized egg—and the rest is history.

S for Symbiosis

When one living thing needs another different living thing to survive, it’s called a symbiotic relationship.

A good example of this is the relationship between bees and flowers. The bees need the nectar from some types of flowers to feed while these flowers need bees to pollinate them. Both depend on each other to exist and survive. The question for evolutionists is: How did these plants exist without the bees, and how did the bees exist without these plants?

Again, atheistic scientists are stumped. Theistic evolutionists are perplexed as well. Yet if you believe in a Creator who specially created the various forms of life on earth, the answer is simple—both were created at about the same time.

E for Engineering

All living things are exquisitely engineered or designed. Qualitatively, a bacterium is as majestically built for its purpose as a human body is for its function. Yet evolution says it’s only an illusion of design—that there is no real designer behind it. Reality is not an illusion! Living things are multi-functional, which means they do many complex things at the same time, something evolution with its step-by-step process has never been able to demonstrate.

One example of a living thing with exquisite engineering is the tree. It provides breathable oxygen for us while processing carbon dioxide, which would in high amounts in the air be toxic to us. It supplies wood, housing for birds, roots to limit erosion, fruit and seeds to eat, is biodegradable and gives shade. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “A healthy tree provides a cooling effect that is equivalent to 10 room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.” How could something so complex arise from a random, undirected evolutionary process?

Again, you need more “faith” to believe in blind evolution than in an all-knowing Creator who designed the marvelous tree in the first place.

Now you have five proofs that evolution is F-A-L-S-E and that special creation is true—and we didn’t even use the Bible. Remember the acronym FALSE when you read or hear about evolution—and do take time to read our Creator’s great book of truth! It has much to say regarding origins.

10 Crucial Archaeological Discoveries Related to the Bible

by: John D. Currid

The following article is adapted from the ESV Archaeology Study Bible—a new study tool that roots biblical text in its cultural and historical context.

1. Rosetta Stone

In 1798, Napoleon invaded Egypt. He brought with him a scientific team of scholars and draftsmen to survey the monuments of the land. The most important find of the expedition was the Rosetta Stone. It proved to be valuable as the key to deciphering ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.

The stone dated to the period of Ptolemy V (204–180 BC) and was inscribed in three scripts: demotic, Greek, and hieroglyphic. The Greek, well known to scholars at the time, proved to be a translation of the ancient Egyptian language on the stone. Translation of hieroglyphics marked the beginning of the study of ancient Egyptian texts and grammar and provided the basis for modern Egyptology studies.

2. Dead Sea Scrolls

In 1947, shepherds stumbled upon a cave in a rugged, arid area on the western side of the Dead Sea. What they discovered was soon proclaimed the greatest archaeological find of the twentieth century. Over the next few years, other, similar remote caves in the area were found. What did these caves contain? Over 800 fragmentary documents, mainly consisting of Hebrew writings on leather (with a few on parchment), including fragments of 190 biblical scrolls. Most of these are small, containing no more than one-tenth of a book; however, a complete Isaiah scroll has been found. Almost every OT book is present, and there are also other writings valued by the community that dwelt in those caves. It appears the earliest scrolls date to the mid-third century BC, and most to the first or second centuries BC.

Perhaps the greatest contribution of this find is to our understanding of the transmission of the biblical text. It is encouraging to note that the differences are minimal between the OT texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls and various editions of the Hebrew texts produced a thousand years later and used today, involving the smallest textual details. The meaning of the text itself is not affected by these differences.

3. Tel Dan Inscription

In 1993, excavators at Tel Da uncovered an inscription with the word BYTDWD on it. They convincingly argued that the word means “house of David” and dates to the ninth century BC. The inscription had been sealed by a later Assyrian destruction layer firmly dated to 733/722 BC. An ash layer is an archaeologist’s dream. Anything sealed beneath it must be dated earlier, because there is no possibility of intrusion by later artifacts. Pottery directly beneath the destruction level dates to the ninth and eighth centuries BC, and from this period the so-called House of David inscription must have come.

Although some scholars have attempted to explain away the inscription by asserting BYTDWD is either a place-name or a designation for a temple of a deity, it probably refers to the house of lineage of David, the second king of the united monarchy and arguably the most significant ruler in the history of Israel. Additional evidence is the likely appearance of the term BYTDWD on the Mesha Stela/Moabite Stone, also dating to the ninth century BC.

4. Ketef Hinnom Scrolls

In 1979, Israeli archaeologist Gabriel Barkay was excavating a burial cave at Ketef Hinnom, just southwest of Jerusalem. The tomb was a typical Late Iron Age (c. late 7th century BC) burial structure. The typical Judean burial at this time took place in a rock-cut cave. When a person died, he was placed on a burial bench in the tomb along with personal items such as vases, jewelry, or trinkets. Once the body decayed, the bones of the person were placed in a box beneath the burial bench. When the team began to excavate the box, they came upon two small silver scrolls. Since the scrolls were metal, the archaeologists had a difficult time unrolling and deciphering their text. They began with the larger of the two scrolls, which took three years to unroll. When unrolled, it measured only three inches (7.6 centimeters) long. When they finished, they noticed the scroll was covered with very delicately etched characters. The first word they were able to decipher was the name “Yahweh.” After much work, they were able to read the entire scroll. It contained the priestly benediction from Numbers 6. The smaller scroll also contained the benediction from Numbers 6. It took so long to unroll and decipher the scrolls that the material was not published until 1989.

These two scrolls are relatively unknown, but they can be seen today in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. They are the earliest known citations of biblical texts in Hebrew. They predate the earliest Dead Sea Scrolls by more than four hundred years and are thus helpful in matters of textual criticism. Many authors have argued that the priestly benediction was written after the exile, with its earliest date from the fourth century BC. Now we have physical examples of the benediction from the late seventh century BC. In addition, the discovery of two plaques with the same benediction in a buried site underscores the centrality of the priestly benediction to the religion of the Israelites.

5. Moabite Stone

In 1868, a missionary in Jerusalem found a stone tablet for sale that appeared to be from ancient times. The sellers broke the tablet into a number of pieces to sell them one at a time to make more money. Fortunately, a copy of the tablet was made prior to the break (this copy is in the Louvre today). On the tablet is a text written in Moabite dating to the ninth century BC. It was perhaps a victory stone erected by King Mesha to commemorate his military achievements. The text begins, “I am Mesha son of Chemosh, king of Moab.”

Prominent in the text is the king’s version of a war fought with Israel in 850 BC, in which Moab revolted against King Jehoram of the northern kingdom of Israel soon after the death of Ahab. Of particular interest is that the Bible records the same incident in 2 Kings 3. The two accounts differ in perspective. Mesha emphasizes his victories over Israel in capturing cities under Israelite control. The biblical writer, to the contrary, highlights Israel’s successful counter attacks against the Moabites.

6. Lachish Letters

In the 1930s, J. L. Starkey excavated the site of Lachish. He discovered a layer of debris heavily destroyed and burned with fire at the hands of the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar in 589/588 BC. Starkey unearthed eighteen ostraca in the burnt debris of a guardroom between the inner and outer gates of the city. An ostracon is an inscription written in ink on pottery sherds. Most of the ostraca were correspondence, although a few were lists of names. The contents of the ostraca were fragmentary, and only a third of them are sufficiently preserved to be intelligible. The date of the ostraca is generally immediately prior to the destruction of Lachish by the Babylonians.

A number of the letters are written by a man named Hoshaiah to a military commander named Yaosh. The common interpretation is that Hoshaiah was the commander of a fortress outside Lachish writing to Yaosh, the commander of Lachish. Other commentators believe Hoshaiah was the military chief of Lachish and Yaosh a high official in Jerusalem. One of the letters closes with the statement, “Let [my lord] know that we are watching for the signals of Lachish, according to all the indications which my lord hath given, for we cannot see Azekah.” Hoshaiah was referring to signal fires from one Judean city to another, and the context appears to be the Babylonian assault soon to come.

7. Epic of Gilgamesh

In 1872, George Smith announced he had discovered an Assyrian account of a flood among tablets stored in the British Museum from excavations of mid-seventh-century-BC Nineveh. Called the Epic of Gilgamesh, the story comprises twelve tablets, with one tablet containing a tale of a great deluge. The hero of the flood, a man named Utnapishtim, relates an episode to Gilgamesh. He explains how the god Ea warned him about an approaching judgment and told him to build a boat to save his life from the watery onslaught. As the tale unfolds, the epic in some respects is nearly identical to the biblical narrative of Noah in Genesis 6–9. This discovery created quite a stir among biblical scholars of the nineteenth century, and even today scholars continue to puzzle over and debate the obvious parallels between the two.

ESV Archaeology Study Bible

ESV Archaeology Study Bible

The ESV Archaeology Study Bible roots the biblical text in its historical and cultural context, giving Bible readers a framework for better understanding the people, places, and events recorded in Scripture.

8. Hezekiah’s Tunnel

The most dependable water source for the city of Jerusalem during the Israelite settlement was the Gihon Spring. However, its location outside the city walls was problematic. During an attack or siege, the inhabitants were cut off from their vital water source. In 1867, explorer Charles Warren discovered a vertical shaft cut through bedrock allowing the people of Jerusalem to reach the waters of the Gihon Spring from behind the city walls. This shaft was probably built originally by the Jebusites and may be how David’s soldiers captured the city from them (2 Sam. 5:6–8). A new water system employing part of the earlier one was built by Hezekiah near the end of the eighth century BC due to an Assyrian military threat. Hezekiah’s tunnel sloped gently away from the Gihon Spring to allow water to flow from it to the Pool of Siloam inside the city walls.

Hezekiah’s tunnel was cut by two teams digging toward each other from opposite ends. It was not chiseled in a straight line but was serpentine due to frequent shifts in terrain. The two teams made adjustments as they drew near each other and heard the picks of the other team. An inscription twenty feet (six meters) from the Siloam Pool has been discovered that describes the meeting of the two cutting teams.

9. Crucified Man at Givat Hamivtar

We are well aware of Roman methods of crucifixion of the first century AD—not only from written records, but also from the remains of a crucified man discovered at Givat Hamivtar, a site just outside Jerusalem. The cross consisted of two parts: the upright bar, called the stipes crucis, and the horizontal bar, called the patibulum. The crucified man was placed with his back over the stipes crucis, and his hands were nailed to the patibulum. According to archaeologists, the nails must have been driven through the wrist because the palms could not have supported the man’s weight.

He was affixed to the cross also by his feet, in a way different from what is commonly thought. The Roman executioner made a crude, rectangular frame of wood in which the heels of the victim were pressed. Then an iron nail was driven through the right part of the frame, through the man’s calcanei—the largest tarsal bones in the foot—and then through the left part of the frame. The free end of the nail was then bent by hammer blows. This find gives archaeologists further insight into Roman crucifixions.

10. Ugaritic Texts

A great majority of Canaanite texts come from the site of Ugarit (modern-day Ras Shamra), on
the northern coast of Syria along the Mediterranean Sea. Ugarit was a prominent Canaanite city-state of the second millennium BC. Major excavations have taken place at the site since 1929. A most important find at Ugarit are hundreds of texts discovered in the palace and temple areas. More than 1,500 of those tablets have been published. Ugarit reached its height in the fifteenth to thirteenth centuries BC, the period in which written literature at the site flourished.

The city met its final fate at the hands of Mediterranean enemies, who destroyed the site around 1200 BC. The importance of the Ugaritic texts is the material they provide concerning Canaanite religion. Their mythic texts help us understand the religious context of the OT, including many parallels between Canaanite and Israelite religious practices. In addition, the languages of Ugaritic and Hebrew are quite similar, and thus Ugaritic provides insight into the development and grammar of Hebrew.

This article is adapted from the ESV Archaeology Study Bible edited by Dr. John Currid and Dr. David Chapman.


John D. Currid

John D. Currid (PhD, University of Chicago) is the Carl W. McMurray Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary. He is currently an adjunct faculty member at the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies in Jerusalem, Israel, and serves as project director of the Bethsaida Excavations Project in Israel (1995-present). He lectures and preaches worldwide.

Is the Bible supported by modern archaeology?

David H. Bailey
Updated 20 April 2021 (c) 2021

Introduction

The Bible is accepted as an inspired chronicle of mankind’s search for existence, meaning and moral guidance by virtually all Christian denominations and also by the Jewish faith, who read the Old Testament. Muslims also read portions of the Old Testament, although these are secondary to the Qur’an. Even many secular, nonbelieving scholars have expressed great respect for the Bible. The present author has read and carefully studied the Bible least ten times, and has gained valuable new insights with each reading, not only for biblical history but also for understanding the human condition.

Several of the “New Atheist” school of writers dismiss the Bible as without scientific foundation. Richard Dawkins, in his book The God Delusion dismisses much of the Bible as fiction [Dawkins2006]. Similarly, Christopher Hitchens, in his book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, asserts that modern archaeology has disproved most of older biblical history, saying “none of the religious myths has any truth to it, or in it” [Hitchens2006, pg. 102]. Hitchens subsequently qualifies this statement to refer mainly to the Exodus and pre-Exodus stories, but he also remains highly skeptical about the historicity of much of the rest of the Old Testament. Chris Sosa extends this to the New Testament: “The Jesus of Christianity is clearly a mythological figure” [Sosa2014].

In part, these writers reflect the thinking of the “minimalist” or “Copenhagen” approach to biblical scholarship that was popular during the 1990s and the 2000s. This school of thought has argued, for example, that essentially all of the Old Testament prior to the Babylonian captivity in 586 BCE is fictional. A similarly “minimalist” school of thought has argued that Jesus of Nazareth was not a historical person — all of the teachings and activities ascribed to him are completely legendary. Theologian Robert Price, for instance, argues that Jesus did not exist — “he was mythic all the way down” [Price2012, pg. 17]. Similarly, George Wells argues that the accounts of Jesus are better explained as Jewish “wisdom literature” [Wells1996, pg. xxvii].

Part of the disagreement here stems from differing approaches to the Bible and biblical history. It is true that many leading creationist and intelligent design writers, among others, espouse the “literal-inerrant” approach to biblical scholarship. However, the majority of mainstream Judeo-Christian denominations and biblical scholars (including many denominations that hold the Bible to be the word of God), agree that the literal-inerrant approach is not a productive way to view the Bible. There are simply too many difficulties with this approach, such as translation errors, missing books and passages, internal discrepancies and others (see Bible-inerrant). Only a rather small minority of faith traditions holds to such a rigid, idealistic view of the Bible. Other denominations espouse a more flexible approach to the Bible that acknowledges the human element in the Bible along with the divine.

Questionable and fraudulent archaeological claims

So what archaeological evidence is there for the Bible?

Just as there is no point in claiming that biological or physical evidence “proves” that evolution is false (as creationist and intelligent design writers are prone to do), when in fact the consensus of peer-reviewed scientific research holds otherwise, similarly there is no point in trumpeting “archaeological evidence” as confirming some biblical event or figure, when such evidence is either nonexistent or considered highly questionable in peer-reviewed biblical studies literature. Indeed, the field of biblical archaeology is replete with claims and findings that were later discredited, so considerable caution is in order. Some of the more prominent examples are the following:

  1. Noah’s ark. Claims that remnants of Noah’s ark have been found have been repeatedly refuted. See, for example: [Cline2009, pg. 75].
  2. Inscribed pomegranate. In 1979, an archaeologist announced the discovery of the inscription “Belonging to the Tem[ple of the Lor]d [Yahweh], holy to the priests,” but this was later found to be a recent forgery [Cline2009, pg. 117].
  3. Jehoash tablet. Also in 2002, a Jerusalem researcher announced the discovery of a black stone mentioning of Jehoash, a king who ruled in Judah from 836 to 798 BCE, but subsequent analysis found that the lettering and patina were artificially created [Cline2009, pg. 123-125].
  4. James ossuary. In 2002, an Israeli antiquities collector announced the discovery of a chalk box with the inscription “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus,” but this was shown to be a recent forgery [James2014].
  5. Tomb with bones of Jesus’ family. In 2007, the announcement of the finding of a tomb with the bones of Jesus’ family was subsequently rejected by knowledgeable archaeologists [Rollston2007].
  6. Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. In 2012, a scholar announced the discovery of the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife,” but this has been criticized by scholars; at the least, additional analysis will be required [Goodstein2014].
  7. The Nazareth tablet. In 2020, a scientific analysis of the “Nazareth tablet,” which contains an inscription suggestive that it represented official first century reaction to news that Jesus’ body had gone missing from its tomb, and which had been thought by many to be the oldest physical artifact connected to Christianity, was shown to have been fashioned from marble mined a quarry on the Greek Island of Kos, and most likely was inscribed a decade or two before Jesus’ death.

Early Old Testament history

There is, admittedly, very little evidence in support of the early Old Testament history. But from an archaeological point of view, there is no way that scientific research can comment one way or the other on the existence of an individual such as Abraham, who, according to the biblical account, left his home in Ur (probably near modern-day Baghdad in Iraq) to head to modern-day Palestine. Genesis also tells of Jacob’s son Joseph being sold by his brothers to traders, who took him to Egypt where he lived in the royal court for at least 14 years, after which Joseph’s brothers and families (70 persons in total) joined him in Egypt. Again, science in general, and archaeology in particular, can say nothing one way or the other about a small and relatively obscure group of people such as this. With regards to Noah’s flood, see Noah’s flood.

The Exodus

The biblical chronology of the Exodus period is problematic. Exodus 12:40 states that the Israelites left Egypt 430 years after Joseph’s family migrated to Egypt, and 1 Kings 6:1 says that the work on Solomon’s temple began 480 years after the Exodus. Most scholars today date the Solomon’s temple to roughly 970 BCE, so this traditional reckoning places Joseph’s family’s migration to Egypt at 1880 BCE, and the Exodus at 1450 BCE. But there is no mention in Egyptian records of any exodus of slaves in this time frame, and, more importantly, the cities Pithom and Ramses, which the Israelites settled (Gen. 47:11) and helped build (Exod. 1:11, 12:37), were not built until roughly 1300 BCE, according to well-established Egyptian records [Cline2007]. Also, the 430-year sojourn in Egypt is inconsistent with the genealogy of Moses, as given in several places (Exod. 6:16-20, Num. 26:59, 1 Chron. 6:1-3 and 1 Chron 23:6; see also Gen. 15:16), since Moses is the great-grandson of Levi (Levi-Kohath-Amram-Moses) via his paternal line, and the grandson of Levi via his maternal line (Levi-Jochebed-Moses). Needless to say, two or three generations do not span 430 years, even if one accepts at face value the exceedingly old ages stated for these persons, and presumes, most implausibly, that each generation was sired only in the last year of life of the previous generation. Similarly, the 480-year period given in 1 Kings 6:1 for the Exodus to the foundation of Solomon’s temple appears inconsistent with the genealogical record in 1 Chron. 2:1-15, which gives only ten generations from Judah (the brother of Joseph and Levi) to David (Solomon’s father, born roughly 1040 BCE), since a generation in Old Testament times was only about 24 years on average. See Bible chronology for additional details.

Many biblical scholars today favor a 13th century BCE setting for the Exodus (see, for instance, [Cline2007]; [Coogan2001]), since indeed it was Seti I (reigned 1291-1278) who directed the construction of the cities Pithom and Rameses, as described in Exod. 1:11. Seti’s son was Ramses II (reigned 1279-1212 BCE), which fits with the Exodus in 1250 BCE, although Merneptah (reigned 1213-1203 BCE) is also a possibility. This general reckoning also fits nicely with the Merneptah stele, an artifact found in Egypt, dated to 1207 BCE, which indicates that the nation of Israel was established in the Palestine area by this date (see below). There is still no clear archaeological evidence for Moses or the Exodus in Egyptian records, but on the other hand the Egyptians seldom mentioned setbacks or defeats in their records, so perhaps this is not surprising [Cline2007].

With regards to the Exodus, Exod. 12:37 says that “about 600,000” Hebrew men (i.e., 2-3 million persons, including women and children) left Egypt in the Exodus. Exodus 38:26 and Num. 1:46 are more specific: 603,550 men. Such a huge proceeding should have left a significant body of evidence, yet none has been found. However, there are indications from other passages within the Old Testament itself that the actual number was much smaller. For example, counting Levi’s male descendants through Moses, based on Exod. 6:16-20, gives just 21 men. Multiplying by 12 to estimate for the 12 sons of Jacob gives just 252 men through Moses’ generation at the Exodus (even assuming they were all still alive at the Exodus), which is a far cry indeed from 600,000. Also, Exod. 1:15-17 says there were only two midwives for the Israelites; this places an upper limit of about 5,000 on the size of the Hebrew nation at the time of the birth of Moses — see Bible-inerrant. If there were only a few hundred or a few thousand Hebrews at the time, then the lack of solid archaeological evidence for their existence in Egypt and their journey through Sinai is not a major issue. See Bible chronology for further details.

With regards to the story of the crossing of the Red Sea, as recounted in Exodus 14, it is worth mentioning a 2010 scientific study that suggested that “wind setdown,” namely the drop in water level caused by wind stress acting on the surface of a body of water for an extended period of time, may have been the cause of the drying up of the sea where the ancient Hebrews crossed [McAlpine2010Drews2010].

In short, the Exodus period is highly problematic — the biblical record is itself inconsistent, and there is little archaeological evidence one way or the other to corroborate this history.

Post-Exodus Old Testament history

Once we move past the Exodus period, then there is some evidence of at least a few of the persons and events in the Old Testament account. Along this line, some critics of biblical history, as noted above, have argued that from archaeological evidence the rise of the Jewish nation in Holy Land was gradual, rather than a rapid and total heroic conquest as described in the Bible. But while some biblical passages suggest rapid and total conquest, others do not. Exodus 23:30, for instance, says “By little and little I will drive them out from before thee, until thou be increased, and inherit the land.” Similarly, Josh. 15:63 says that the Israelites did not succeed in forcing the Jebusites out of Jerusalem, but instead co-existed with them. Joshua 16:10 and 17:11-13 say essentially the same thing about Canaanites living in the Palestine area.

Here is a brief summary some archaeological evidence for this period of Old Testament history, listed in approximate chronological order:

  1. Destruction of Hazor. Joshua 11:13-25 describes the destruction of the city of Hazor. In the 1950s, Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin found, at a site previously identified as Hazor, remains of a city dating to the 13th century BCE, which had been destroyed by fire [Cline2009, pg. 44].
  2. Merneptah stele. In 1896, an archaeological team lead by William Petrie found an inscription on an Egyptian stele, dated to 1207 BCE, now known as the Israel stele or the Merneptah stele and dated to 1207 BCE, which reads “Israel is laid waste, his seed is no more.” This is the earliest mention of Israel outside of the Bible, and is considered one of the most important archaeological finds in the biblical studies field [Cline2009, pg. 23].
  3. Structures at Megiddo, Hazor, Gezer. We read in 1 Kings 9:15 that King Solomon levied a tax to build defensive structures at Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer. Structures matching this description, in the tenth century BCE, have been found in archaeological digs in these three cities [Cline2009, pg. 45].
  4. Pharaoh Sheshonq. Inscriptions have been found in Karnak, Egypt describing the Pharaoh Sheshonq’s conquest of Israel in the 10th century BCE (925 BCE). This matches the account in 1 Kings 14:25, where Pharaoh Shishak carried away “the treasures of the house of the LORD.” Although some scholars are skeptical of a connection here, most are convinced that Sheshonq and Shishak are the same person [Cline2009, pg. 81].
  5. Kuntillet Ajrud inscription. In 1976, an Israeli archaeologist searching in the northeastern part of the Sinai Peninsula discovered a fortress-like building with two rooms, dated to the late 9th century BCE. Inscriptions were found on the walls, written in early Hebrew and Phoenician script, invoking the Hebrew God Yahweh, along with the pagan deities El and Baal [Kuntillet2014].
  6. Mesha inscription. An artifact, now known as the Moabite stone or the Mesha inscription, found in Jordan and dated to the 9th century BCE, names the Israelite king Omri: “Omri, king of Israel, humbled Moab many days…, but I have triumphed over him and over his house and Israel has perished forever.” This conflict is described in 2 Kings 3 [Cline2009, pg. 16].
  7. Monoliths of Shalmaneser III. A monolith inscription of Neo-Assyrian king Shalmaneser III, dated to 853 BCE, mentions the Israelite king Ahab: “10,000 soldiers of Ahab, the Israelite, … came against me.” A similar obelisk, black in color, mentions the Israelite king Jehu [Cline2009, pg. 82-83].
  8. Tel Dan stele. The Tel Dan stele, found in Northern Israel, and dated to the 9th century BCE, mentions the “House of David”: “[And I killed Jo]ram, son of A[hab], king of Ksrael, and [I] killed [Ahazi]yahu, son of [Joram, kin]g of the House of David.” This is the earliest known mention of David, who reigned in Jerusalem from roughly 1010 to 970 BCE [TelDan2014Cline2009, pg. 61].
  9. Bethlehem. In May 2012, a research team led by Eli Shukron of the Israel Antiquities Authority, excavating a site near the ancient wall of Jerusalem, found a small seal, 1.5cm in size, with the words “Beit Lechem”, namely Bethlehem, thus confirming the existence of this city in the eighth century BCE [Bob2012].
  10. Sennacherib’s attacks. 2 Kings 18:13 mentions Neo-Assyrian King Sennacherib’s attacks on the fortified cities of Judah in 701 BCE. These attacks are mentioned in archaeological finds at Lachish in Israel and the ancient site of Ninevah in Iraq. Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem is also mentioned: “Himself [Hezekiah] I shut up as a prisoner within Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage.” Curiously, this bravado account acknowledges that Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem was unsuccessful (he never got inside the city walls), thus confirming the biblical account, as described in detail in 2 Chron. 32:9-22, which says that after several days of siege, a plague struck Sennacherib’s forces and he was forced to retreat [Cline2009, pg. 85].
  11. Hezekiah’s tunnel. 2 Kings 20:20 describes an underground culvert, designed to transport water to inside the Jerusalem city walls, that was constructed during the reign of King Hezekiah (8th century BCE). This culvert, now known as Hezekiah’s tunnel, was discovered in 1838. In 1880, two boys exploring Hezekiah’s tunnel found an inscription on the ceiling describing the construction process, where workers cut through rock from both ends until they met [Cline2009, pg. 19].
  12. Pool of Siloam. The Pool of Siloam, mentioned both in the Old Testament (Isa. 8:6, 22:9) and in the New Testament (John 9:7), collected water as it emptied from the southern end of Hezekiah’s tunnel. This was discovered in 2004 as part of a sewer excavation in Jerusalem [Pool2014].
  13. First Temple period seal. In 2008, Israeli archaeologists discovered a seal with an image of a warrior shooting an arrow, belonging to a warrior named Habag. The seal was discovered in a building being excavated that dates to the First Temple period, in particular to the seventh century BCE, when the kings Manasseh and Josiah reigned [Israel2008]. Related excavations in Jerusalem have also uncovered what appears to be the foundation of the First Temple’s retaining wall.
  14. Destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of tremendous destruction in Jerusalem in 586 BC (described, for instance, in Eze. 5), including ash and debris piled high, blocks of stone torn and broken, and arrowheads of a type specifically used by the Neo-Babylonians at this time [Cline2009, pg. 72].
  15. Dead Sea scrolls. The Dead Sea scrolls, dated to the 3rd century BCE to the 1st century CE, have been found to contain portions of all books of the Old Testament except for the Book of Esther. These manuscripts thus constitute by far the oldest copies of Old Testament text [Cline2009, pg. 96].

The New Testament

Although the New Testament covers a much more recent time period (roughly 100 BCE to 100 CE), archaeological analysis is, if anything, more difficult, because unlike the Old Testament, the key events in the New Testament were the spread of Christianity, not kings, wars or the construction of cities. Indeed, there is no mention of Jesus himself in any contemporary non-biblical source, except for a very brief mention in the writings of Flavius Josephus that some have disputed. On the other hand, as emphasized above, one should not expect that archaeology can say anything one way or the other about persons who were relatively obscure on the world stage during their lifetimes.

However, there are numerous archaeological findings that confirm at least a few key facts of New Testament history:

  1. Temple Mount platform. As is well known, the present-day “wailing wall” in Jersualem is a remnant of the second temple. Also, recent archeological evidence confirms that the Jerusalem temple mount platform was expanded by Herod the Great. The temple mount was mentioned several times in the New Testament, for example in Matt. 21:12-14, when Jesus overturned tables of money-changers [Cline2009, pg. 83].
  2. Inscription mentioning Pontius Pilate. One of the most important finds is a Latin inscription, dating to 30 CE, which explicitly mentions Pontius Pilate, the governor of Palestine who sentenced Jesus to death. This was found in the theater at Caesarea during excavations by an Italian-led expedition in 1961. It reads, “Pontius Pilate, the Prefect of Judaea, has dedicated to the people of Caesarea a temple in honor of Tiberius.” [Cline2009, pg. 100].
  3. Jesus’ trial site. In January 2015, archaeologists exploring ruins under the floor of an abandoned building adjacent to the Tower of David Museum found what appears to be the remains of Herod’s palace in the city, which is described in the New Testament as the site of Jesus’ trial [Eglash2015].
  4. Sea of Galilee boat. In 1986, during a severe drought in Palestine, the remains of an ancient fishing boat was discovered near the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee in Israel. Radiocarbon measurements dated the artifact to 40 BCE, plus or minus 80 years, while analyses of pottery dated the item to between 50 BCE and 50 CE. While no one fancies that this was the actual boat used by Jesus and his disciples, it is entirely similar to those mentioned in the New Testament and known to be used in the region [Sea2014].
  5. Nazareth. In 2009 a house was discovered on the hills at Nazareth that contains pottery shards dated to between 100 BCE and 100 CE. The analysis concludes that “the dwelling and older discoveries of nearby tombs in burial caves suggest that Nazareth was an out-of-the-way hamlet of around 50 houses on a patch of about four acres … populated by Jews of modest means.” These discoveries effectively refute the claims of those who have argued that Nazareth was uninhabited at the time of Jesus’ childhood, and that the mention of Nazareth in the New Testament was a mythic creation of later writers and editors [Ehrman2012, pg. 216].
  6. Capernaum. Several archaeological investigations have uncovered the remains of cities near the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus lived and preached, including Sepphoris, Capernaum and Magdala. These excavations have confirmed that not only were these areas inhabited during the first century CE, but they were largely Jewish rather than Greek or Roman. For example, excavations have uncovered a Jewish synagogue in Magdala (near Capernaum), dating to the first century, and a simple home in Capernaum, also dating to the first century, that appeared to have been modified to serve as a place for gatherings. [Cline2009, pg. 105].
  7. Ossuary of Caiaphas. John 11:49-53; 18:14 mentions Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest who presided over the trial of Jesus. In 1990 archaeologists discovered a stone ossuary with the inscription “Yehosef bar Qafa” (Aramaic for Joseph, son of Caiaphas). According to Josephus, Caiaphas’ full name was Joseph Caiaphas [Cline2009, pg. 112].
  8. Christians in Suetonius. The Roman historian Suetonius briefly mentions the early Christians in his book The Lives of the Twelve Caesars. In his recounting of the reign of Emperor Claudius, who reigned 41 to 54 CE, Suetonius refers to the expulsion of Christian Jews by Claudius: “Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [Claudius] expelled them from Rome.” Since it is highly unlikely that a later Christian scribe or anyone else partial to Christianity would have called Jesus “Chrestus” or mistakenly described him as living in Rome in 49 CE, or called him a troublemaker, most historians agree that the passage is genuine [Suetonius2014].
  9. Megiddo prison mosaic. In 2005, an inscription mentioning Jesus Christ was found on a mosaic at the Megiddo prison site in northern Israel, dated to the third century CE. This is the earliest known archaeological artifact that explicitly mentions Jesus [Cline2009, pg. 100].

Summary

Many writers of the “minimalist” or “Copenhagen” school of biblical scholarship, popular during the 1990s and 2000s, have argued that much of the Old Testament, and essentially all of the history prior to the Babylonian captivity in 586 BCE, is a fictional creation of later Jewish writers. But such claims can no longer be defended in light of numerous items of evidence (e.g., the Tel Dan stele), which specifically mention ancient kings such as David and ancient battles such as the wars with Sennacherib. Indeed, numerous Old Testament events are supported by archaeological evidence.

Similarly, claims that Jesus was not a historical figure have largely been defeated and, at the present time, have no standing in peer-reviewed biblical studies literature. This field, by the way, includes Jews, Christians and secular scholars, such as Bart Ehrman, who have no personal or religious stake in the matter. Ehrman summarizes the consensus of the field in these terms [Ehrman2012, pg. 1]:

Despite this enormous range of opinion, there are several points on virtually all scholars of antiquity agree. Jesus was a Jewish man, known to be a preacher and teacher, who was crucified (a Roman form of execution) in Jerusalem during the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was the governor of Judea.

Many devout believers will nonetheless be disappointed to learn that there is no clear-cut contemporary archaeological evidence for many of the key figures and events in the Bible, especially prior to roughly the reign of David (1010 BCE). But archaeology can say nothing one way or the other about persons who, like almost all figures in biblical history, were relatively obscure on the world stage during their lifetimes. And scientific research in general, and archaeology in particular, can say nothing about miraculous events that are presumed to be beyond the realm of natural, physical processes that can be studied by laboratory experimentation.

In any event, as was emphasized above, there is no point in claiming that archaeological evidence “proves” some biblical event or figure, when such evidence does not exist or is considered highly questionable in peer-reviewed biblical studies literature. As we read in the New Testament, “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” (1 Cor. 14:8).

More Evidence of Mass Extinction Event Challenging Evolutionary Models

by Hugh Ross September 19, 2016

Mass extinction and mass speciation events are prominently featured in creation vs. evolution debates.1 Evolutionists argue that the mass extinction events were sufficiently tepid and allowed enough life-forms to survive so that they could naturally evolve during the mass speciation events occurring thereafter. Creationists respond by pointing out that the mass extinction events appear to be too catastrophic for the mass speciation events to be explained by naturalistic evolution. They also point out that at least some of the time windows between the mass extinction and mass speciation events are too narrow for naturalistic evolution. Thus, some major points of contention between creationists and evolutionists are over the questions of, Just how catastrophic were the mass extinction events? And how long were the time windows between the mass extinction events and the mass speciation events?

The second greatest—and best researched—of all the known mass extinction events is the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event (CPEE). It occurred 66.043 ± 0.043 million years ago when an asteroid at least 10 kilometers (6 miles) in diameter crashed into Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.2While geologists have agreed (since 1980) that this asteroid collision was a major factor in the extinction of both the dinosaurs and 75 percent or more of all species on Earth at that time, for more than two decades many geologists have argued that supervolcanic eruptions in the Deccan region of India were an even bigger factor.

The debate over whether the asteroid or supervolcanoes were most responsible for the CPEE was resolved a year ago by the work of two independent research teams. The first team performed precision dating measurements that established that the Deccan supervolcanoes’ eruptions were dramatically accelerated within 0.05 million years of the asteroid collision and that such accelerated eruptions were “consistent with transient effects of impact-induced seismic energy” arising from the asteroid collision.3 The second team performed detailed seismic modeling of the geophysical consequences of a large asteroid colliding with Earth.4 The second team showed that the seismic energy generated by the CPEE asteroid collision was more than sufficient to trigger volcanic eruptions worldwide. This team concluded that the asteroidal impactor would have greatly accelerated (and sustained for at least hundreds of years) the eruption of lava, dust, and gas from the Deccan supervolcanoes.

The second team’s seismic modeling strongly suggested that the ash, dust, and gas generated by both the asteroid collision and the Deccan supervolcanoes should have produced an enduring “winter” that would have killed off all the large-bodied animals on the face of the earth. In such a winter, so much dust, ash, and gas is forced into Earth’s atmosphere that most of the sun’s light is blocked from reaching Earth’s surface. With so little light reaching Earth’s surface, photosynthesis shuts down to such a degree that large-bodied animals (animals with adult body sizes larger than about a pound) would have hardly anything to eat and would starve to death. Many scientists have also pointed out that the gas, dust, and ash likely resulted in all aboveground terrestrial animals dying of pulmonary failure long before they would have starved to death.

While the theoretical evidence for a several-years-long winter resulting from the asteroid collision and the supervolcanoes is strong, until recently there has existed little observational evidence to support such an outcome. Now, for the first time, a team of eight geologists presents such evidence.5 Their evidence, reported in the latest issue of Geology, comes from high-resolution organic paleothermometry that the team performed on three shallow cores in the paleoshelf of New Jersey. These measurements established that severe climatic cooling immediately followed the CPEE impactor. Furthermore, their measurements showed that the “‘impact winter’ occurred superimposed on a long-term cooling trend that followed a warm phase in the latest Cretaceous” period.6 That is, before the asteroid collision, the Deccan supervolcanoes were ejecting so much gas, dust, and ash into the atmosphere that it brought about a global cooling trend. The asteroid collision by itself blasted an enormous amount of gas, dust, and ash into the atmosphere. It also greatly accelerated the eruption of yet more gas, dust, and ash from volcanoes all over the world, including the Deccan supervolcanoes.

The removal of any reasonable doubt about the impact winter associated with the CPEE settles the debate about the severity of the CPEE and what it implies about the mass extinction of Earth’s life at that time. No large-bodied terrestrial animals would have survived. Furthermore, new research establishes that mass speciation followed rapidly after the CPEE. Within just 0.07 million years after the CPEE, a radiation of placental mammals occurred.7 Within 0.9 million years after the CPEE, a complete restoration of the taxonomic richness, and then some, that existed at the height of the Cretaceous occurred.8

Thus, advancing research findings on the CPEE affirm the conclusion that at least some of the mass extinction events were far too catastrophic for the mass speciation events that follow them to be explained by naturalistic evolution. As I explain and document in chapter 12 of Improbable Planet, this conclusion is all the more confirmed in noting that the mass extinction and mass speciation events throughout Earth’s history perfectly compensate for the ongoing brightening of the sun and optimally prepare Earth for the entry of human beings.9

Endnotes
  1. Several chapters in my new book discuss the mass extinction and mass speciation events that occurred in life’s history. See Hugh Ross, Improbable Planet: How Earth Became Humanity’s Home (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2016), 171–97.
  2. Courtney Sprain et al., “High-Resolution Chronostratigraphy of the Terrestrial Cretaceous-Paleogene Transition and Recovery Interval in the Hell Creek Region, Montana,” Geological Society of America Bulletin 127 (March 2015): 393–409, doi:10.1130/B31076.1.
  3. Paul Renne et al., “State Shift in Deccan Volcanism at the Cretaceous-Paleogene Boundary, Possibly Induced by Impact,” Science 350 (October 2015): 76–78, doi:10.1126/science.aac7549.
  4. Mark Richards et al., “Triggering of the Largest Deccan Eruptions by the Chicxulub Impact,” Geological Society of America Bulletin 127 (November 2015): 1507–20, doi:10.1130/B31167.1.
  5. Johan Vellekoop et al., “Evidence for Cretaceous-Paleogene Boundary Bolide ‘Impact Winter’ Conditions from New Jersey, USA,” Geology 44 (August 2016): 619–22, doi:10.1130/G37961.1.
  6. Vellekoop et al., “Evidence for Cretaceous-Paleogene,” 619.
  7. Sprain et al., “High-Resolution Chronostratigraphy,” 393.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ross, Improbable Planet, 143–64.

(original link)

Q&A: Is Evolution Falsifiable?

by Fazale Rana October 5, 2016

I expected to get a reaction—and I did.

Last week I posted the below ‘meme’ on my Facebook page and Twitter account, claiming that the evolutionary paradigm is unfalsifiable because of the stranglehold that methodological naturalism has on the operation of science.

And of course, it elicited a rather negative reaction by at least one atheist who listed a number of ways to falsify biological evolution, delineated by evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne.

So, is biological evolution falsifiable? Was it unwarranted on my part to claim that biological evolution is unfalsifiable? Am I “full of it,” as this skeptic asserted?

My response: In principle, chemical and biological evolution are falsifiable, as are all scientific theories. But in reality, the evolutionary paradigm is unfalsifiable—because of the influence of methodological naturalism.

In effect, methodological naturalism restricts the available explanations for the universe and phenomena within the universe such as the origin and history of life. Certain explanations are off the table, a priori. As a consequence, intelligent design/creationism cannot be part of the construct of science.

The Effect of Methodological Naturalism on Scientific Inquiry

Methodological naturalism provides the philosophical framework for science. This concept is distinct, yet related to philosophical naturalism. According to philosophical naturalism, all that exists is the material, physical universe. There is no supernatural. There is no reality outside of the universe itself. There is no God. As the late astronomer Carl Sagan once quipped, “The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.”

In contradistinction to philosophical naturalism, methodological naturalism claims to be metaphysically neutral on the question of God’s existence. According to the tenets of methodological naturalism, when one engages in the scientific enterprise it is necessary to suspend belief in God, regardless of one’s personal convictions. The only allowed explanations for the universe and phenomena within the universe are natural process, mechanistic explanations. One cannot appeal to the supernatural. But that doesn’t mean the supernatural doesn’t exist. Simply put, the supernatural is not given a place in the scientific project.

In other words, if you believe that God exists, your views cannot influence the way in which you conduct science. Methodologically speaking, you must function as if God does not exist. Sometimes methodological naturalism is called provisional atheism or benchtop atheism. This restriction makes methodological naturalism functionally equivalent to philosophical naturalism, rendering science an inherently atheistic enterprise, though, again, its practitioners may well believe God exists.

In effect, methodological naturalism restricts the available explanations for the universe and phenomena within the universe such as the origin and history of life. Certain explanations are off the table, a priori. As a consequence, intelligent design/creationism cannot be part of the construct of science. Any explanation that states an intelligent agent is responsible for, say, the origin of life, is prohibited. As a result, chemical and biological evolution are the only available alternatives for someone who’s trying to scientifically account for the origin and history of life.

The net effect is this: Chemical and biological evolution are true by default, regardless of the evidence at hand. No matter how much evidence exists challenging the evolutionary paradigm, it cannot be supplanted because there is no other alternative explanation that is allowed.

A Failed Prediction for the Evolutionary Paradigm

As it turns out, discordant phylogenies plague evolutionary biologists. On this basis alone, one could conclude that the evolutionary paradigm has been falsified.

As an illustration of this point, consider one of the ways that Jerry Coyne thinks biological evolution can be falsified:

“Complete discordance between phylogenies based on morphology/fossils and on DNA. While individual genes can show discordance by lateral transfer—rotifers, for example, have incorporated into their genome from DNA from very unrelated organisms, and this is also common for bacteria. But lateral transfer of genes, as opposed to their direct descent from parent to offspring, is relatively uncommon. So, for example, if we sequenced the genome of a blue whale and found that on the whole the species was more closely related to fish than to mammals, we’d have a serious problem for the theory of evolution.”

Coyne’s prediction is similar to one made by the late evolutionary biologist Morris Goodman. According to Goodman, one of the founders of the discipline of molecular anthropology:

“If the biblical account of creation were true, then independent features of morphology, proteins, and DNA sequences would not be expected to be congruent with each other. Chaotic patterns, with different proteins and different DNA sequences failing to indicate any consistent set of species relationships, would contradict the theory of evolution.”1

As it turns out, discordant phylogenies plague evolutionary biologists. It is not uncommon for evolutionary trees built from morphological features to disagree with evolutionary trees built from DNA sequence data. Again, it is not uncommon for molecular phylogenies to disagree with one another when constructed using different regions of the genome. (For examples, see the articles listed below under Resources.) On this basis alone, one could conclude that the evolutionary paradigm has been falsified—or at minimum one would be justified to express skepticism about the capacity of the evolutionary paradigm to account for the origin, history, and design of life.

Again, these are not predictions made by intelligent design proponents or creationists. These are predictions made by evolutionary biologists, both of whom are (or were) skeptics. And on the basis of these predictions, the evolutionary paradigm has failed.

But Wait—Not So Fast

How do evolutionary biologists respond to the pervasive problem of discordant phylogenies?

By arguing that the discordance can be dismissed because morphological data is an unreliable indicator of evolutionary history. How do they know this is the case? Because morphological and molecular phylogenies disagree.

Or they claim that the discordance results from incomplete lineage sorting. How do they know incomplete lineage sorting has occurred? Because evolutionary trees built using different genes (or genomic regions) disagree.

Another way evolutionary biologists dismiss the discordant trees is to assert that some regions of the genomes are phylogenetically uninformative. That is, these regions of the genome don’t issue a phylogenetically reliable signal. How do evolutionary biologists know this to be the case? Because evolutionary trees built from certain regions of the genome don’t yield the expected results—and consequently, produce discordant phylogenies.

These responses are classical instances of circular reasoning. In effect, evolutionary biologists are using discordant evolutionary trees as a way to explain why discordant evolutionary trees result when they attempt to build phylogenies using different data sets.

Is Evolution Falsifiable?

Why the circular reasoning? Because if one adheres to methodological naturalism, the only valid scientific explanation for the origin and history of life is through some type of evolutionary process. Evolution must be true by default. Why? Because if the evolutionary paradigm is falsified, then the only other alternative is intelligent design/creationism. And this approach to biology is prohibited, a priori, because of philosophical commitments to a materialistic approach to the life sciences. This state of affairs can only lead to tautologies when failed predictions arise, though the tautologies are draped in scientific jargon.

So, is biological evolution falsifiable? Yes, in principle. But no, in reality.

I suspect that when evolutionary biologists list “if-they-are-true” observations that would disprove biological evolution, it doesn’t mean they are necessarily willing to consider another paradigm. Because if they were, they would readily see the evolutionary paradigm’s many shortcomings.

Resources

Origin of Complex Cells: A Big Event for Evolution or Creation?” by Fazale Rana (article)
DNA Sequences: More Is Not Better” by Fazale Rana (article)
Birds Terrorize Evolutionary Biologists” by Fazale Rana (article)

Endnotes
  1. Morris Goodman, “Reconstructing Human Evolution from Proteins,” chap. 8.4 in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Evolution, Steve Jones et al., eds. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 307–13.

(original link)

Does Oxytocin Cause Spiritual Experiences?

by Fazale Rana October 12, 2016

Why do people believe in God?

In 1998, Michael Shermer, the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, and sociologist Frank Sulloway sought to answer this “Why?” question. Surveying 10,000 individuals from the United States, Shermer and Sulloway learned that nearly 30 percent said the beauty, design, and complexity of the universe justified belief in God, and nearly 20 percent said they were convinced of God’s existence because they experienced God in everyday lives.

In many ways, this finding isn’t surprising—if Christianity is true. Both the Old and New Testaments teach that God has made himself known through creation. This revelation would be reflected in the beauty, design, and complexity of the natural realm. Scripture also teaches that the Holy Spirit draws nonbelievers to Christ and intervenes in the life of believers.

In other words, according to this survey, many people hold to belief in God for both rational and experiential reasons.

Still, a number of skeptics argue that belief in God is a biological phenomenon, exclusively. They maintain that people who believe in God delude themselves into thinking that they hold their belief for rational reasons. Skeptics argue that belief in God instead has to do more with our biology than anything else.

In 2005, human geneticist Dean Hamer created quite a stir when he published The God Gene. In this book, he claims to have discovered an association between the VMAT2 gene and self-transcendence, a composite of three psychological attributes that presumably reflect an individual’s propensity toward spirituality. As a result of his research, Hamer dubbed VMAT2 “the God gene.” (The VMAT2 gene encodes a membrane-embedded protein that transports monoamines, such as serotonin and dopamine, from the cytosol of nerve cells into synaptic vesicles.) Hamer claims this discovery helps explain why spirituality is heritable and suggests there is a genetic, and, hence, strictly biological basis for why some people believe in God and why others don’t. In other words, our spirituality is biologically determined.

Added to this claim is recent work by researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC).1 These investigators claim that when men are administered oxytocin, they develop a heightened orientation toward spirituality and enhanced positive experiences during religious practices, such as meditation. (They define spirituality as the feeling of being connected to other living things and to a higher power.) These responses to oxytocin occurred for both believers and nonbelievers alike, and most closely correlate to variants of two genes that encode proteins involved in the release of oxytocin from the hypothalamus and its transmission between neurons. In other words, the subjects’ responses to oxytocin had more to do with their genetics than their beliefs about God’s existence. The researchers conclude that the growing evidence indicates that “humans—and perhaps some more than others—are biologically predisposed to be receptive to spiritual experiences.”2

Prior to this study, neuroscientists had indirect evidence that oxytocin release impacted spirituality. For example, researchers observed that people who had transformative religious experiences had elevated levels of oxytocin in their blood. But, thanks to this latest study, a causal connection between oxytocin release and spiritual experience has been established.

Oxytocin’s Physical Effects

Oxytocin is a peptide produced by the hypothalamus. This compound serves as a hormone when released into the bloodstream and a neurotransmitter when released into the forebrain.

Oxytocin has been nicknamed the “love hormone” and the “cuddle chemical.” Exposure to oxytocin enhances empathy and trust. Exposure also reduces self-focus and elicits altruistic responses. To put it another way, oxytocin exposure promotes social bonding.

This compound is also released during childbirth and breast-feeding, helping mothers and infants to bond. It is also released during sex, promoting a connection between lovers.3

Does Oxytocin’s Role in Spiritual Experiences Invalidate the Christian Faith?

Does oxytocin’s role in spiritual experiences invalidate the Christian faith? Hardly. In fact, this discovery and previous work identifying the role oxytocin plays in social bonding, mother-infant bonding, and bonding between mates makes perfect sense within a Christian worldview.

In his book The Biology of Sin, neuroscientist Matthew Stanford presents a model that helps make sense of these types of discoveries.4 Stanford points out that Scripture teaches that human beings are created as both material and immaterial beings, possessing a physical body and nonphysical mind and spirit. Instead of being a “ghost in the machine,” our material and immaterial natures are intertwined, interacting with each other. It is through our bodies (including our brain), that we interact with the physical world around us. The activities of our brain influence the activities of our mind (where our thoughts, feelings, and emotions are housed), and vice versa. It is through our spirit that we have union with God. Spiritual transformation can influence our brain’s activities and how we think, and how and what we think can influence our spirit.

If God created human beings to (1) be in a relationship with him, (2) form monogamous relationships with the opposite sex, (3) multiply and fill the Earth, and (4) be in community with one another, wouldn’t it make sense that he would have created biological mechanisms to ensure bonding between members of a community, between mother and child, between husband and wife, and between each of us and God? Oxytocin appears to be just such a mechanism. Having a biological mechanism that promotes bonding between members of a community, between mothers and children, and between husbands and wives makes added sense when considering how difficult these relationships are. Oxytocin’s influence ensures that parents won’t abandon their children when they become a burden. It helps marriages remain intact during challenging times in the relationship.

But what about the observation that some people seem to have a greater biological propensity for spiritual experiences than others? Doesn’t that seem unfair? Does that mean that God created some people to respond to him and others not to?

This question assumes that the only basis for belief is spiritual experience. There are rational reasons to think God exists. Scholars have developed compelling philosophical and scientific arguments for God’s existence. There is historical and archaeological evidence that supports the credibility of the Old and New Testaments. A powerful case can be made for the historicity of Christ, including his death and resurrection. Scripture also teaches that God has written his law on our hearts. We know there is an inherent right and wrong, and we are well aware that we don’t conform to that standard. In other words, even if we don’t have a propensity for spiritual experiences at all, we still have the capacity to recognize the truth of the Christian faith and our desperate need for forgiveness. Whether we have spiritual experiences or not, we all have the ability to understand and respond to the gospel.

Scripture teaches that each person possesses a unique set of gifts. Each of us has distinct strengths and weakness. Scripture also teaches that when we come together, each of our gifts contribute to the community, and our collective strengths and weaknesses complement each other. If what Scripture teaches on this point is true, wouldn’t we expect God to create humans (as a population) with biological variability? I know many Christians for whom the life of the mind is far more important to their faith than spiritual experiences. I also know many Christians for whom religious experiences are central to their faith. Both types of people play critical roles in the church. To put it another way, our Creator may have had good reasons to design humans with varying biological propensities to spirituality.

One final point: Skeptics need to be careful when they assert that oxytocin release into the forebrain causes spiritual experiences, and, ultimately, conclude that belief is a biological phenomenon. The knife cuts both ways. If belief in God has a strictly biological basis, that means so does atheism. In other words, atheists can’t claim that they reject belief in God for rational reasons, or because they have superior intellect. In their model, they are just as much victims of their biology as they claim Christians are.

Resources

Magnets and Morality” by Fazale Rana (article)
Does Human Morality Arise from Brain Chemistry?” by Fazale Rana (article)
Is There a Biological Basis for Belief?” by Fazale Rana (article)
Is There a Biological Basis for Belief? A Follow Up” by Fazale Rana (article)
Epigenetics—Sins of the Father” by Fazale Rana (article)
Sex Does Bring a Man Closer to God—Science Is Proving It!” with Fazale Rana (a Wenz World radio interview)

Endnotes
  1. Patty Van Cappellen et al., “Effects of Oxytocin Administration on Spirituality and Emotional Responses to Meditation,” Social, Cognitive, and Affective Neuroscience 11 (June 2016): 1579–87, doi:10.1093/scan/nsw078.
  2. Ibid.
  3. This observation prompted the headline “Having Sex Makes Men More Likely to Believe in God.” It is tempting to inquire if the converse is true.
  4. Matthew Stanford, The Biology of Sin: Grace, Hope, and Healing for Those Who Feel Trapped (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010), 15–19.

(original link)

From the Big Bang to Humans

by Jeff Zweerink January 6, 2017

Life abounds on planet Earth. We are familiar with numerous forms, like people, pets, insects, and fish. Using microscopes, we see a host of bacterial and viral organisms. Digging in the dirt reveals bones of enormous dinosaurs. Life takes many different shapes, sizes, and lifetimes. Scientists find life in virtually every environment where they suspect life could live, and even in many they once thought life impossible. Bacteria thrive in boiling water, bubbling tar, extremely dry deserts, frozen glaciers, rocks two miles below Earth’s surface, and even in environments with radiation that would destroy cockroaches. The ubiquity of life on Earth can make it seem like life should also abound in the universe.

Over the past few decades, scientists have realized that both Earth and the universe underwent significant changes to permit life’s existence on Earth. In the beginning, the universe could not host life. When Earth first formed, it was also hostile to life. To evaluate the possibility of life “out there,” it is useful to remember what transpired from the beginning of the universe until today. This post provides an overview that briefly describes the important, life-critical transitions that occurred since the creation of the universe.

The Creation of the Universe

Fourteen billion years ago (13.8 billion, to be specific), our universe began. During the earliest moments of the universe, it expanded at a tremendous rate. This period of inflation ended with two important consequences. First, the total amount of stuff that astronomers can see (around 100 billion trillion stars spanning a sphere roughly 46 billion light-years in radius) constitutes just a small fraction of the amount of stuff out there. Second, as this epoch of inflation ended, it released an enormous amount of energy that heated the universe to unfathomable temperatures. As the universe cooled from this hot, dense state, a number of transitions that are important to the discussion of extraterrestrial life occurred.

The First Few Minutes

During the first fractions of a second, the quantum gravitational force governing all of the interactions in the universe separated into the distinct forces we see at work today—the gravitational, strong nuclear, electromagnetic, and weak nuclear forces. The gravitational force, operating among things with mass, affects how the universe expands, the sizes and lifetimes of stars, and the atmospheres of planets.

The strong nuclear force keeps the protons and neutrons bound inside a nucleus. The strength of this force influences the amount of various elements of the universe in two ways. First, during the first few minutes of the universe, temperatures and densities are high enough for hydrogen (the lightest element) to fuse into heavier elements. Second, stars also experience conditions where lighter elements (like carbon) fuse into heavier ones (like oxygen).

The electromagnetic force affects anything with charge as well as all forms of light. Consequently, it affects the sizes and lifetimes of stars as well as every chemical interaction necessary for life.

The weak nuclear force determines how heavier elements decay into lighter elements. It plays a critical role in how stars fuse hydrogen into helium as well as in the generation of heat in Earth’s interior (radioactive decay produces lots of heat).

At the end of four minutes, the universe had cooled significantly—its temperature had dropped below 1 billion degrees. Enough hydrogen had fused into helium that these two elements composed 75 percent and 25 percent of all the nuclei in the universe. Only trace amounts of beryllium and boron existed.

The Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation

Not much changed over the next 400,000 years, except that the universe continued to cool. Around 380,000 years, the temperature fell low enough that the hydrogen and helium nuclei could combine with the surrounding electrons to form atoms. As the atoms formed, they emitted a specific distribution of light that we now measure as the cosmic microwave background radiation. Scientists use this light to determine the age, mass density, expansion rate, size, and many other important characteristics of the universe.

The First and Later Generations of Stars

Over the next billion years, a couple of important changes occurred. The most significant one happened around 200 million years when stars started to form. For the first time since the early minutes of the universe, conditions for producing elements heavier than hydrogen and helium existed. These original stars contained hundreds of times more mass than that of the sun. Consequently, they burned their nuclear fuel very quickly (a few million years), exploded in dramatic supernova events, and scattered copious amounts of elements as heavy as uranium, neptunium, and plutonium into the material that would form future stars.

During the next few hundred million years, galaxies started to form as well. Later generations of stars formed from the ashes of the first stars. This continued to enrich galaxies with the heavier elements throughout the three generations of stars that astronomers have identified. While gas giant planets can form around stars with lesser amounts of heavy elements, only this third generation of stars had sufficient quantities of carbon, oxygen, uranium, and plutonium to make planets capable of supporting life.

The Formation of the Sun and Planets

Four and a half billion years ago, a supernova explosion sent a shock wave into a cloud of gas. This shock wave led to the collapse of the cloud, making the sun and planets in the process. For 5 to 10 million years, the planets grew by gathering gas, dust, and ice until the wind emitted by the young Sun drove all the planet growth material from the solar system. Two critical events happened over the next 500 million years. First, around 100 million years, a large, Mars-sized object collided with Earth. This impact event increased Earth’s mass, added radioactive elements to Earth’s interior, and most importantly, made our Moon. Second, during this 500-million-year period, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune migrated from the places where they formed to their current locations. This period of migration moved the gas giants farther from the sun and likely caused Neptune and Uranus to switch positions.

Life’s Development on Earth

Earth’s original atmosphere contained no free oxygen, little (if any) land rose above the oceans, and large objects frequently collided with the planet. In spite of this rather hostile environment, evidence for life on Earth dates back to almost 4 billion years ago. Scientists have found fossilized life from 3.5 billion years ago and chemical evidence from another 300 million years earlier. Admittedly, this life is simple by today’s standards.

As mentioned above, the orbits of the gas giants changed significantly. The rate of comets and asteroids impacting Earth (as well as Mars, the moon, Mercury, and Venus) dramatically increased as the gas giant planets migrated to their current positions. Many of these impact events probably sterilized Earth’s surface, but the period of bombardment cleared the solar system of debris. Subsequently, the frequency of objects colliding with Earth decreased by a factor of 1,000. The evidence indicates that life appeared on Earth in abundance shortly after this “late heavy bombardment” (scientists’ designation for this period).

Over the next 2 to 3 billion years, the amount of land covering Earth’s surface increased. As scientists dated the formation of continental rocks, they discovered that the rocks clustered around a few ages—specifically, 1.2, 1.9, 2.7, and 3.3 billion years ago. The growth of continental land mass provided new environments for life to thrive as well as a thermostat that regulates Earth’s temperature. This thermostat function featured prominently when photosynthetic organisms started producing enough free oxygen so that Earth’s oceans and atmosphere began to contain a permanent oxygen component, roughly 2.5 billion years ago.

The Cambrian Explosion

One of the most dramatic changes in the history of life on Earth occurred about 540 million years ago. During a geologically short period of time, a wealth of multicellular organisms showed up in the fossil record in an event referred to as the “Cambrian explosion.” Before this time, the fossil record shows only the presence of single-celled life that occasionally organized into colonies. While animal life has changed significantly over the last 540 million years, almost all the different body plans (distinguished by different phyla) show up during the Cambrian explosion.

Humanity Arrives

Humanity, the most unique form of life ever seen on Earth, arrived much more recently. Fossil, genetic, and archaeological evidence indicate that human beings started living about 100,000 years ago. While other animals share physiological features with humans, we are the only creatures that have a deep-seated capacity to relate to one another and an awareness of our own existence. One way this awareness manifests itself is the universal sense that God exists and that we must figure out how to properly relate to him.

A Match with Genesis

Even this brief description demonstrates a correspondence between our best scientific understanding of Earth’s history and the creation account given in Genesis 1. Both begin with the origin of the universe (the big bang, see Genesis 1:1) before moving to the initial stages of planet Earth, which is hostile to life at this time (Genesis 1:2). The bombardment period of Earth’s early history transformed the atmosphere so that light reached the planet’s surface (Genesis 1:3–5, the first day brings the day-night cycle to the surface). It also brought the water that is so critical to a stable water cycle (Genesis 1:6–8). In the middle of Earth’s history (Genesis 1:9–13, day three of six), most of the continents formed, which would also allow plants to grow. Complex, multicellular life appeared explosively during the Cambrian explosion (mirroring day five in Genesis 1:20–23). And humanity arrives very recently (at the end of day six, Genesis 1:24–31). Clearly, scientists have learned far more detail than the overview given in Genesis 1. However, it is remarkable that a book authored thousands of years before humanity had a thriving scientific enterprise gets the important details of Earth’s history correct!

(original link)

More Archaeological Evidence for the Bible’s Historical Accuracy

by Hugh Ross January 16, 2017

For over two centuries liberal skeptics of an inerrant Bible have challenged the Bible’s historical accounts. Archaeological digs in Israel over the past hundred years, however, have been silencing these critics, artifact discovery by artifact discovery, making an ever stronger case for the complete reliability and inerrancy of the Bible’s historical narratives and geographical descriptions.

In the February 2017 issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports three archaeologists, Erez Ben-Yosef, Dafna Langgut, and Lidar Sapir-Hen, announced their findings from excavations they performed in one of the most inhospitable regions in southern Israel.1 They excavated a gatehouse and livestock pens in Timna, Israel. The red dot in the figure below marks the location of Timna, approximately 19 miles north of the northernmost point of the Gulf of Aqaba. It is in one of the most arid and desolate parts of the Negev Desert.

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Figure: Location of Timna in Southern Israel
Map credit: NASA

The excavated gatehouse and livestock pens were part of one of the largest copper smelting camps in the Timna Valley. The dating of several recovered artifacts established that the camp supported a community of copper metalworkers in the tenth century BC.

This dating resolved a major historical controversy. While there is abundant historical evidence that the rich copper ore in the region had been mined since the fifth century BC, historians expressed considerable skepticism about whether the mines and smelters were active during the reign of Israel’s King Solomon. The new dating measurements remove that skepticism. The mines and smelting camps in the Timna Valley indeed are the fabled King Solomon’s mines.

Because of the extreme aridity of the camp region, organic materials were extraordinarily preserved. Ben-Yosef, Langgut, and Sapir-Hen were able to recover animal bones and seeds and pollen in donkey dung piles. Analysis of the dung revealed that the donkeys were fed grape pomace and hay rather than straw.

The grape pomace and hay diet shows that the donkeys were well cared for. This care would have been critically important for the donkeys to be effective draft animals for the hauling of copper from the camp to central and northern Israel and for the transport of supplies to the camp. Analysis of the animal bones and seeds shows that the metalworkers ate a rich diet that would have enabled them to engage in highly productive labor.

Ben-Yosef, Langgut, and Sapir-Hen also noted that donkey dung was piled against the inner face of walled structures. This piling indicates that the dung was used as a fuel for the initial heating of the smelting furnaces. The three archaeologists also discovered artifacts demonstrating that the metalworkers engaged in secondary metallurgy. That is, they not only smelted copper ore, but also further refined it and manufactured ingots.

The gatehouse and walls evidently were for defense. They show that the Israelites of Solomon’s time invested heavily in military deterrence. The three archaeologists commented that their excavation revealed the camp’s “complexity and centralized organization, as well as its involvement in inter-regional trade.”2

The Bible devotes twenty-one chapters to describing the history of King Solomon’s reign and the extent, wealth, power, and organization of Solomon’s empire. Many scholars presumed that these descriptions were just as exaggerated and embellished as are the annals of famous kings in the nations bordering Israel during the BC era. What Ben-Yosef, Langgut, and Sapir-Hen discovered in Timna is that these biblical descriptions are not exaggerated. They are entirely consistent with everything the Bible describes about the reign of King Solomon.

Featured image: This formation in Israel’s Timna Valley is known as King Solomon’s Pillars.

Endnotes
  1. Erez Ben-Yosef, Dafna Langgut, and Lidar Sapir-Hen, “Beyond Smelting: New Insights on Iron Age (10th C. BCE) Metalworkers Community from Excavations at a Gatehouse and Associated Livestock Pens in Timna, Israel,” Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 11 (February 2017): 411–26, doi:10.1016/j.jasrep.2016.12.010.
  2. Ibid., 411.

(original link)

What Does the Discovery of Earth’s Oldest Fossils Mean for Evolutionary Models?

by Fazale Rana March 29, 2017

Communication can be a complex undertaking. Often, people don’t say what they really mean. And if they do, their meaning is often veiled in what they say. That’s why it’s important to learn how to read between the lines. Understanding the real meaning when something isn’t explicitly stated usually requires experience and some insider’s knowledge.

Thanks to my expertise in biochemistry and origin-of-life research and 20 years of experience as a Christian apologist, I can usually read between the lines when scientists respond to discoveries that challenge the evolutionary paradigm, such as the recently reported discovery of Earth’s oldest fossils. Because of their fear that intelligent design proponents and creationists will make use of these types of discoveries to advance the case for a Creator, scientists can be adept at masking their concern when they discuss the implications of these discoveries. But if you know how to read between the lines, their consternation is as plain as day.

Earth’s Oldest Fossils

An international team made up of scientists from the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, and Australia recently reported on the discovery of microfossils from a geological formation in the northern part of Quebec, Canada.1 Formed from ancient hydrothermal vents, this iron-rich geological system dates somewhere between 3.77 and 4.3 billion years in age.

The putative microfossils consist of microscopic hematite filaments and tubes, like those found in modern hydrothermal vents. Today, iron-oxidizing microbes produce hematite filaments and tubes when sheaths of extracellular materials become coated by iron oxyhydroxide. Added evidence for the biogenicity of these microfossils comes from carbonate and apatite associated with the hematite structures. These compounds can also be produced as by-products of the metabolic activity of microorganisms. The research team also discovered graphite inclusions enriched in carbon-12, a geochemical signature of life. Finally, the Raman spectrum of the carbonaceous deposits display features that also point to the biological origin of this material.

Matthew Dodd, one of the research team members, argues that “we can think of alternative explanations for each of these singular observations, but why all of these features occur together can really only be explained by one thing, which is a biological interpretation.”2

The discovery of these microfossils comes on the heels of the discovery of stromatolites in newly exposed rock outcroppings in Greenland, dating at 3.7 billion years.3 Both recent discoveries corroborate earlier work that yielded several different geochemical markers for biological activity. In short, an impressive weight of evidence points to the early appearance of complex and diverse microbial life on Earth.

Skepticism about Bioauthenticity

Despite this impressive collection of evidence, several scientists have expressed skepticism about the bioauthenticity of the fossils. Journalist Sarah Kaplan explains why: “Findings like these are subject to intense scrutiny because they have potentially far-reaching implications for the study of early organisms on Earth and other planets.”4

As I have discussed previously when the discovery of 3.7-billion-year-old stromatolite fossils were unearthed in Greenland, one of the implications of the early appearance of metabolically complex and diverse microbial life on Earth is that it calls into question evolutionary explanations for the origin of life. These discoveries indicate that life appeared suddenly on Earth, in a geological instant. Yet traditionally, origin-of-life researchers maintained that life’s origin via chemical evolution would have required hundreds of millions of years, perhaps even a billion years.

This concern can be read between the lines in the objections raised by scientists responding to this discovery.

Some argue that the research team hasn’t amassed enough evidence to convince them of the biogenicity of the fossils, pointing out that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. But the claim that life appeared early in Earth’s history is only extraordinary within the evolutionary paradigm. To view these microfossils as extraordinary highlights the trouble these fossil finds cause for an evolutionary approach to the origin-of-life question.

Others argue that iron-oxidizing microbes are too complex to have appeared this early in Earth’s history. Some assert that the rock layers containing the fossils are much younger than 3.77 billion years, raising concerns about the dating methods used to determine the age of the rocks harboring the microfossils. Again, both complaints reveal concerns about the impact that this fossil find has on the evolutionary explanation for life’s beginning. The hope is that by forcing the fossils to appear much later in Earth’s history, scientists can explain the metabolic complexity of the organisms that produced the hematite deposits by giving evolutionary processes more time. Yet there is no reason to dispute the dates for the rock formations in northern Canada, and the case for the biogenicity of the fossils is strong.

Some dismiss the bioauthenticity of the microfossils because it would require life to originate under hostile conditions, caused by the late heavy bombardment. These hostile conditions would have frustrated the origin-of-life process, potentially sterilizing Earth, making it difficult to imagine how life could have emerged, let alone diversified, at 3.77 billion years ago—at least from an evolutionary vantage point. If these fossils aren’t authentic, then scientists don’t have to confront the counterintuitive fact that life appeared under hostile conditions.

It seems to me that these scientists are dangerously close to evaluating the validity of the 3.77-billion-year-old microfossils based on how well they fit into the evolutionary paradigm, instead of evaluating evolutionary explanations for the origin of life based on the fossil evidence—a complete reversal of the way that the scientific method is supposed to work.

Nevertheless, a quick read between the lines reveals just how awkwardly this fossil find fits within the evolutionary paradigm.

Implications for Creation Models

Though the discovery of 3.77-billion-year-old microfossils confounds evolutionary origin-of-life models, it affirms RTB’s origin-of-life model. As described in Origins of Life, two key predictions of this model include (1) life appearing on Earth soon after the planet’s formation and (2) first life possessing intrinsic complexity. And these predictions are satisfied by this latest advance.

The writing is on the wall: the case for a Creator’s role in the origin of life is becoming more and more evident.

Resources

Endnotes
  1. Matthew S. Dodd et al., Evidence for Early Life in Earth’s Oldest Hydrothermal Vent Precipitates,”Nature 543 (March 2017): 60–64, doi:10.1038/nature21377.
  2. Sarah Kaplan, “Newfound 3.77-Billion-Year-Old Fossils Could Be Earliest Evidence of Life on Earth,” Washington Post, March 1, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2017/03/01/newfound-3-77-billion-year-old-fossils-could-be-earliest-evidence-of-life-on-earth.
  3. Allen P. Nutman et al., “Rapid Emergence of Life Shown by Discovery of 3,700-Million-Year-Old Microbial Structures,” Nature 537 (September 2016): 535–38, doi:10.1038/nature19355.
  4. Kaplan, “Newfound 3.77-Billion-Year-Old Fossils.”

(original link)