My Case Against God Revisit: Imagine There's No Evolution...
What if the entire scientific community is wrong? What if Darwinian evolution by natural selection, convincing though it has been since the time of Charles Darwin, has not occurred? Indeed, what if, far from modern notions of common descent, all species were specially created—all at once—by a supernatural Creator who personally designed every creature’s form? This Creator would be responsible for Homo sapiens sapiens, of course, but also for Drosophila melanogaster, Apatosaurus excelsus, Ornithorhynchus anatinus and Dendroaspis polylepis, along with every other species of living thing that has ever populated the Earth. Going down this particular rabbit hole is rather difficult; after all, Darwinian evolution by natural selection is scientific fact, a truth as well attested and irrefragable as the germ theory of disease or the heliocentric theory of the solar system. Nevertheless, if we take the enormous leap of faith required to reject Darwinian evolution, we can examine the world as we find it and, I shall argue, discern important qualities of the Creator. These qualities should offer no comfort to the religious.
And so, down the rabbit hole we go, looking at Earth not as an extremely ancient planet whose antiquity is confirmed by several converging lines of evidence but, rather, as a baby planet whose considerable biodiversity can be entirely explained within a several-thousand-year history. Yes, now we must look at Earth as the backyard garden of the Creator. But what kind of a Creator? Looking at the available evidence, I shall explain why we can conclude such a Creator is (1) a devious being, who wishes to trick humans into believing Earth is extremely ancient and the species have an evolutionary history, (2) remarkably odd, because the distribution of species on Earth, if consciously arranged, speaks to an extraordinarily queer mind, (3) peerlessly wasteful, given the presence of nonfunctional pseudogenes, and (4) idiotic, as evidenced by the utterly incompetent design that can be found throughout the creation, in humans as well as other species.
The majority of my material, as well as my initial inspiration, comes from The Greatest Show on Earth, by Richard Dawkins, and Why Evolution is True, by Jerry A. Coyne. When I use either author’s exact words, I shall quote him directly; if, however, I simply summarize a discussion in either text, I might not make a specific citation. Thus, let it be clear that Dawkins and Coyne’s fertile minds contributed invaluably to the whole of this piece.
First, then, surveying the evidence at our disposal, we can be certain that the Creator is devious, deliberately setting out to create a false impression of Earth’s antiquity and evolution’s occurrence. The first way in which this characteristic manifests itself is in the theory of plate tectonics, a geological theory that states the lithosphere of the Earth is divided into a small number of plates that float on and travel independently over the mantle. We now understand that the continents have not always existed as we currently know them. For example, Gondwana was an ancient supercontinent encompassing our present South America, Africa,
Our principal interest is when Africa and South America began breaking apart, which, according to current scientific thinking, was about 140 million years ago. The two continents are now separated by some 3000 miles, with the speed of separation being a couple of inches per year. If, however, Earth is actually quite young—merely several thousand years old—and the product of a Creator, such a snail-like speed would not be nearly enough to separate the continents to their current distance. Indeed, if, as some have proposed, Gondwana broke up during the Noachian flood, the continents would positively have had to hurtle away from each other. Because the speed of separation can be measured, and it is remarkably slow, we can be confident that any Creator who separated the continents at a very quick speed sometime in the last few thousand years is trying to deceive us into believing Earth is ancient. The Creator is deceptive.
The Creator’s trickster tendencies are also apparent in our radioactive clocks. Radioactive isotopes in igneous rocks (rocks formed by magma cooling down and becoming solid) are used for dating purposes, because the isotopes decay at a constant rate. It is important to note that there are several radioactive isotopes scientists use, and they often co-exist within the same rocks. The decay rate used is typically the half-life, that being how long it takes for half of the unstable isotope present to decay to something stable (to go from 100 to 50, 50 to 25 and so forth). Carbon-14 decays to Nitrogen-14; its half-life is 5730 years. Uranium-238 decays to Lead-206; its half-life is 4.5 billion years. Uranium-235 decays to Lead-207; its half-life is 704 million years. Other unstable isotopes include Potassium-40, Thorium-232, Rubidium-87 and Samarium-147. Importantly, as Jerry Coyne writes, “Several radioisotopes usually occur together, so the dates can be cross-checked, and the ages invariably agree.”
This is important because, with our half-life figures calibrated, we can use radioactive clocks to converge on an approximation of Earth’s age. In fact, scientists have done just that. Richard Dawkins writes, “The currently agreed age of 4.6 billion years is the estimate upon which several different clocks converge.” This fact surely means the Creator—who created Earth merely several thousand years ago—is devious beyond compare. Not only did he change the half-life figures of every radioactive isotope that we use for historical dating, but he also changed them in such a way that each one converges on the same ancient age—4.6 billion years—for Earth! To be sure, for every clock to converge on, say, 6000 years, every half-life would have to be tweaked differently.
Dawkins makes this point: “Bear in mind the huge differences in timescales of the different clocks, and think of the amount of contrived and complicated fiddling with the laws of physics that would be needed in order to make all the clocks agree with each other, across the orders of magnitude, that the Earth is 6000 years old and not 4.6 billion!” To do such fiddling, thus making every radioactive isotope that we use all agree that Earth is 4.6 billion years old, attests to a Creator who deliberately attempts to trick humans undertaking scientific study. The Creator is devious.
This deviousness extends to evolution, which, clearly, the Creator wants scientists to accept; that is the only explanation for the fossil record. When we talk about “dating fossils,” what we nearly always mean is dating the rocks around which the fossils are found. This is where the geologic strata become important. The geologic strata (singular is “stratum”) are layers of rock, one on top of the other, with the oldest rocks the deepest down and the youngest rocks the highest up. The scientific community refers to this layering as the geologic column, and it is extremely well evidenced. The salient point for our purposes here is that, when dating fossils (actually, the rocks around which fossils are found), they appear in a strict evolutionary order. When questioned by a creationist as to what observation could possibly disprove Darwinian evolution, the late J. B. S. Haldane famously answered, “Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian!” On the evolutionary view, the Precambrian spans from Earth’s formation about 4.6 billion years ago to approximately 542 million years ago; rabbits are mammals, and the first mammals do not come onto the scene until about 250 million years ago. As Coyne writes, “Needless to say, no Precambrian rabbits, or any other anachronistic fossils, have ever been found.”
The complete absence of anachronistic fossils lends considerable credence to the evolutionary view. To reconcile it with a Creator, one absolutely must assume a devious trickster. Dawkins writes, “It is a fact that literally nothing that you could remotely call a mammal has ever been found in Devonian rock or in any older stratum. They are not just statistically rarer in Devonian than in later rocks. They literally never occur in rocks older than a certain date.” He continues, “There are literally no trilobites above Permian strata, literally no dinosaurs (except birds) above Cretaceous strata.” At the considerable risk of deceased equine flogging, Dawkins sums it up: “All the fossils that we have, and there are very very many indeed, occur, without a single authenticated exception, in the right temporal sequence.” How many dinosaur fossils have we found in the same rocks as Australopithecine fossils? Zero. How many zebra fossils have we found in the same rocks as trilobite fossils? Zero. How many anachronistic fossils have been authenticated? Zero. The only explanation is that the deceptive Creator is fudging the fossils to make Darwinian evolution an inescapable conclusion.
On creationism, the distribution of species on Earth makes very little sense, attesting to a Creator with an extremely odd mind, bordering on completely inscrutable. Nowhere is this sheer oddness more evident than in island biogeography. With respect to islands, there is an important distinction that is material to our discussion: the difference between continental islands and oceanic islands. Continental islands are those that once were connected to a continent but later became separated. An example would be
On a creationist theory positing a Creator who is not a weirdo, there is little reason to suppose there would be much difference vis-à-vis biogeography between continental and oceanic islands. However, the differences are dramatic, which has led many scientists to accept evolution and, in our case, for us to conclude the Creator is simply an odd duck. Coyne writes, “Oceanic islands are missing many types of native species that we see on both continents and continental islands. Take
It takes only a moment of thought to recognize that plants, birds, and insects and other arthropods “can colonize an oceanic island through long-distance dispersal.” By contrast, land mammals, reptiles, amphibians and freshwater fish would have extreme difficulty colonizing an oceanic island unless, for example, some reptiles made it onto a log that happened to “raft” onto one. The topic of island biogeography is rich, and a great deal more could be said, but it exceeds the scope of this paper. Suffice it to note that, on creationism, with anything but an extraordinarily queer Creator, we would not expect such differential biodiversity on continental versus oceanic islands.
The peculiarity with which the species are dispersed cannot be overstated, and Dawkins asks the questions as well as anyone does. He writes, “Why would all those marsupials—ranging from tiny pouched mice through koalas and bilbys to giant kangaroos and Diprotodonts—why would all those marsupials, but no placentals at all, have migrated en masse from Mount Ararat to Australia? Which route did they take? And why did not a single member of their straggling caravan pause on the way, and settle—in India, perhaps, or China, or some haven along the Great Silk Road? Why did the entire order Edentata (all twenty species of armadillo, including the extinct giant armadillo, all six species of sloth, including extinct giant sloths, and all four species of anteater) troop off unerringly for South America, leaving not a rack behind, leaving no hide nor hair nor armour plate of settlers somewhere along the way? Why were they joined by the entire infraorder of caviomorph rodents, including guinea pigs, agoutis, pacas, maras, capybaras, chinchillas and lots of others, a large group of characteristically South American rodents found nowhere else?” Dawkins notes that lemurs are endemic to
The next two Creator characteristics can be discerned more briefly, and I shall do so to keep the information easily digestible. The third characteristic of a Creator is that he is peerlessly wasteful, and this fact is never more clear than in examining the pseudogene, which is defined as a sequence of DNA that is very similar to a normal gene but that has been altered slightly so that it is not expressed; by definition, they are incapable of producing a protein product. Coyne writes, “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.” For what possible reason would the Creator litter the genome with pseudogenes—a gene that, by definition, does entirely nothing? Because, as I say, the Creator must be prodigal in the extreme. Perhaps shameless wastefulness is a virtue.
Finally, the evidence clearly shows that the Creator, far from being a designer of formidable intelligence, is rather idiotic. In so declaring, I am not referencing the mindless wastefulness of pseudogenes; rather, I refer to the shoddy engineering and craftsmanship of the species themselves. A classic example—indeed, it has been well mined by Darwinians—is the recurrent laryngeal nerve of mammals. Coyne writes, “Running from the brain to the larynx, this nerve helps us speak and swallow. The curious thing is that it is much longer than it needs to be. Rather than taking a direct route from the brain to the larynx, a distance of about a foot in humans, the nerve runs down into our chest, loops around the aorta and a ligament derived from an artery, and then travels back up (‘recurs’) to connect to the larynx. It winds up being three feet long. In giraffes the nerve takes a similar path, but one that runs all the way down that long neck and back up again: a distance fifteen feet longer than the direct route!” Of course, on an evolutionary view, this presents some evidence of common mammalian descent; on our creationist view, it simply reveals a Creator whose stupidity is reliable.
The examples I could mine in the vein of the Creator’s idiocy would fill a book—perhaps several. The vas deferens takes a similar nonsensical detour in its route from testis to penis. In his inimitable way, Dawkins writes, “It takes a ridiculous detour around the ureter, the pipe that carries urine from the kidney to the bladder. If this were designed, nobody could seriously deny that the designer had made a bad error.” Yet another example of idiocy comes in the form of goose bumps. In species with a full coat of hair, piloerection makes sense. If the creature is cold, it results in the erect hairs trapping air to create a layer of insulation. Additionally, if the creature is threatened, “puffing up” its body hair can create the impression that the animal is larger. In short, then, piloerection, though completely sensible for hair-covered animals, is utterly senseless in humans—the naked ape. It is as though the Creator, in a fit of idiocy, attached a steering wheel to a refrigerator. Thus, we can be assured that the Creator, responsible for humans and bats, dandelions and plesiosaurs, is formidably moronic.
Is this really what creationists seek? Do they really want a Creator who is devious, weird, wasteful and idiotic? We must go where the evidence takes us; we must look at the simple facts and draw our conclusions directly from them—we must never let the conclusion dictate the facts we choose to recognize. The facts that we find as we examine and analyze the natural order all lead directly to Darwinian evolution by natural selection. To make any creationism hypothesis work, we must (a) endow the Creator with numerous negative attributes that fundamentally contradict the holy books from which creationists lift their science and (b) flagrantly violate the principle of parsimony. Is the simplest, most parsimonious explanation for the recurrent laryngeal nerve of mammals really that the Creator’s idiocy was in full force when designing, for example, humans and giraffes? What about the geologic strata and the complete absence of anachronistic fossils? What about the radioactive clocks? Did the Creator really tinker with all the half-life values, making them all converge on a fictitious ancient age for Earth?
Some creationist worries are legitimate. On evolution, humans indeed are just another species of animal. Knowing our place in the single tree of life robs us of our specialness, to some considerable extent. It also undermines objective morality. A polar bear might eat its own young. Do concepts of “moral” or “immoral” apply to that situation? If not, why would such concepts apply to humans, who are a twig on the tree of life just as much as polar bears are? Natural selection might have favored “moral instincts,” but such inclinations are hardly objective or prescriptive in any conventional sense. Evolution provides no morality-oriented “ought to” or “ought not to” as far as behavior.
More than anything else, evolution puts us in our place. We are just another species of animal. One day we shall go extinct. Our universe shall not miss us—at least, not any more than it misses trilobites or the giant armadillo. The significance we attach to…well, everything…is overdone when one looks from a grand, cosmic perspective.
There is no devious, weird, wasteful and idiotic Creator. There is no Creator of any variety. There is only nature, of which we are a sliver. We can be happy—and, really, this is enough—that evolution has granted us brains that are sufficiently large and complex to understand from where we came, along with constitutions strong enough to accept, in the last analysis, our species’—indeed, our world’s—final destination.