Thursday, June 12, 2008

Evolution for Creationists

Darwin's finches don't ruffle creationist's feathers. They really ought not. What Darwin saw was what creationists call microevolution, adaptation due to genetic drift and natural selection. I've never met a creationist who denies this. I've never even met a creationist that doesn't know that mutation occurs, but they do say that beneficial mutations do not occur enough for macroevolution--what they call the formation of new species.

Modern biology doesn't even make the distinction between macro- and microevolution, which is appropriate, in terms of developing the science. However, this is harmful in talking with creationists, because most of the cases of evolution cited by evolutionists creationists explain in terms of microevolution. 

One time, when Matthew and I were young earth creationists, we showed up late at a talk and discussion on evolution on campus. I asked the speaker for an example of evolution; her work is in physical anthropology, so she talked about the proliferation of genes tied to schizophrenia. Never mind that schizophrenia is a bad thing, unlikely to sell evolution; when we asked her if we could tell at one point the genes for schizophrenia were not there, and then they were, we got an answer about how the genes spread, when we were really interested in knowing if new genetic information had been introduced. This just made us more convinced creationists, because she didn't even realize what we disagreed with her on. Ironically enough, Matthew and I saw this as a cop-out fueled by cognitive dissonance. Then, we talked until late at night about complementarianism, but that's another story.

A recent article in New Scientist helps refute creationism by addressing its actual claim: that helpful mutations do not occur enough to form new species. The article talks not about a whole new species, but it does talk about how, in the lab, a biologist, Richard Lenski observed a beneficial new gene occur by mutation in e. coli, where it hadn't been before--macroevolution. The ones after a certain point had a mutation that allowed them to metabolize citrate, while the ones before this point didn't have that gene. Bob Holmes, the author of the article, did an amazing job of explaining exactly what happened, so that the creationist dismissal of macroevolution does not hold.


  1. How appropriate that I was just discussing evolution with someone just a few hours ago.

  2. From JJ Seymour on Facebook:
    This is a very interesting read, but I don't understand enough on Creationism's view on Micro- and Macro- evolution to be able to really get a grasp of what this means to beliefs of people in general.

    However, I feel the need to point out that some Creationists will be stubborn, and not believe these facts, which is possibly wrong? It doesn't mean God doesn't exist, it just means He exists in a different way than some believe. And of course, our pitiful human knowledge can't really grasp his infinite power and wisdom anyway, so we probably don't know exactly why God's plan for us as a species in coming about was through evolution.

    Also, I just woke up :] Good morning Alex!

  3. To get what I'm really talking about here, you do need to get the micro/macro evolution distinction. Darwin's big idea was natural selection, he didn't really know about genetics, which is another huge part of evolution. Evolutionists tend to talk about natural selection and the proliferation of genes in a population, almost taking for granted that mutations occur enough. A big creationist objection is that beneficial mutations do not occur often enough for new species to form (this is not true).

    The problem here is that because mutations are so well established as being able to account for speciation that this isn't really even talked about in materials available to lay readers, so creationists are rarely confronted with an appropriate counter-argument.

  4. Wow, this was a very enlightening blog post. I have to be honest, I've always satisfied my conscience with the teaching that maybe God did kinda just set things in motion and then sits back (not to be confused with Deism)...after all, He rested on the seventh day. Find a good answer to the question of the human soul and you're set.

  5. oh ps!!! Can we exchange links??? Your blog is more than worthy of my own small blogroll.

  6. are all creationists also 'young earth' creationists?

  7. deathtotheworld--Good question. No, not all creationists are young earth creationists, and in talking about evolution, one needs to appropriately consider each position on the creation-evolution spectrum. However, here, I don't really clarify, because I find it tedious to do so.