How Not To Argue Against Evolution

There are good arguments against naturalistic evolution, the belief that all species developed through unguided random variation and natural selection.[1. … and some other essentially statistical processes like genetic drift] There are also bad arguments. There are some that are so bad they do not qualify as arguments at all. Here are some things I’d really rather never hear anyone ever say again:

If we descended from the apes, why are there still apes?

Evolutionary theory does not require that descendant populations or species must replace their ancestral species. If the descendant species occupies a different ecological niche, there is no reason at all to expect that it would replace its ancestors. Even in the same niche, whether one replaces the other is a matter of relative fitness, competitive success, and probabilities that almost amount to luck.

If evolution is true, where are all the living links between us and the apes?

Applied correctly, I think this could be an interesting argument, but the way I stated it here (and the way I have heard it) doesn’t work. The reason is the converse of the preceding answer. While evolution does not require that predecessor species be eliminated, it certainly does allow for it. If early humans out-competed their ancestors in similar niches, their ancestors would certainly have gone extinct. And competition is not the only explanation. If our predecessors were unfortunate enough to be concentrated in a location where they suffered a natural disaster, they could have been wiped out that way, too.

(Where this argument gets interesting is that it seems that even if it doesn’t work for humans, somewhere in the natural world we should see a graduated transition from one species to the next. Ring species probably qualify, but I’d like to see a series where the beginning and end points are more distinct.)

If evolution is true, why are there homosexuals? They don’t reproduce, so natural selection should have eliminated them.

This objection misunderstands almost everything. It assumes that there is no homosexuality except by birth, and that homosexuality is a simple heritable trait. Even if that were (which it isn’t), the argument still would not go through on its own. It also assumes that homosexuality is associated with no other adaptive trait, no characteristic that might help the population at large in its reproductive success. (Think of how sickle-cell trait provides protection from malaria.) I could go on, but those few false and/or unexamined assumptions are enough to show that this argument assumes way too much.

The world was created 10,000 years ago, so there was no time for evolution to happen.

This is just begging the question. If we could establish that the world was only 10,000 years old, then we would also establish everything else that’s at issue in these kinds of arguments. But we won’t accomplish that. In fact I consider the premise false, so in my considered opinion the argument fails on that count alone. Suppose, however, the premise might be true: in actual practice, the argument could never go anywhere. No believer in evolution would give it a fraction of a moment’s thought. It’s a conclusion drawn from a source they do not trust, and it contradicts a lot of information that they do trust, so it’s a useless line to pursue.

The eye is too complex to have come about by chance.

First, no evolutionist thinks anything came about just by chance. It’s chance plus the power of natural selection. Second, this argument concerning complexity is just too simple to have any force to it. Suppose for the sake of argument that it’s true: the eye (actually there are many versions of “the eye” in nature) really is too complex to have come about through naturalistic evolution. As an argument this is still much too weak to be any good. It needs definitional rigor, field observation, laboratory study, and much more behind it. Maybe with that it could succeed, but most people who raise it have no clue what it would require to make it go through.

Evolution leads to immorality.

This one is wandering in the neighborhood of the truth, but not close enough to work.

Many thinkers have tried to explain morality on evolutionary foundations, and they have all failed, in my opinion. If naturalistic evolutionary theory is true, then there is no objective morality, no moral truths except the descriptive sort, such as, “we call this behavior good and that one bad.” There could be no prescriptive moral truths, such as, “This behavior is actually good, and that one actually bad,” where “good” and “bad” are objectively real, and not based on fortuitous evolutionary contingencies (things that could have turned out differently than they did).

(It will do no good to say that there are moral truths hard-wired in our species by virtue of their contribution to our reproductive success. If such things exist, they are behavioral inclinations/instincts/tendencies etc., not moral truths.)

So evolution cannot lead to immorality; it could only lead to a condition in which there is no objective morality or immorality. It’s impossible to be immoral if immorality is not real. That’s the first problem with that argument.

Second, it’s an assertion with no argument. Suppose evolution leads to immorality. Then what? It could still be true.

Third and most importantly, it’s often confused with a completely different assertion: Belief in evolution leads to immorality. That’s not the same thing at all, even if it sounds somewhat similar. Because it’s a different issue, I won’t spend a lot of time on it, except to say it has very little evidence behind it. It’s tantamount to, “You believe in evolution, therefore you must be a bad person,” which is prejudiced, annoying, and most of the time quite false.

(It’s worth noting, though, that naturalistic evolution doesn’t lend itself to belief in morality, either. Naturalistic evolutionists’ morality comes from someplace other than their core beliefs about what we are and where we all came from. No one has stated this more clearly than Richard Dawkins himself.)

And all the other arguments?

These are arguments that I myself hate to hear. It’s a list of bad arguments, for people who think there are good arguments. That’s what it is, and that’s who it’s for.

Still I know I have opened a door here for commenters to jump in and say every argument against evolution is wrong. Respectfully I disagree, but I’m sure we’ll have the discussion anyway. I do ask that you take at least a moment to recognize self-correction within a community when you see it.

P.S.: Don’t miss the follow-ups: How To Argue Against Evolution, and Why (and Why Not) Argue Against Evolution.

Comments

  1. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Because this post was about naturalistic evolution, I intentionally left out one other way that evolution-skeptics can make themselves needlessly look silly, which is by failing to define terms. This PDF explains other ways “evolution” is used, some of which are indisputably true, some of which are controversial.

  2. Jay Wile

    Excellent article, Tom. I can’t tell you how many times I get the first question when I give talks about evolution. Also, I shudder EVERY time I hear people claim that evolution leads to immorality. I hope lots of people read this!

  3. Post
    Author
  4. Sault

    Thank you, Tom. I can only hope that more people begin to realize how wrong and fallacious many of the arguments are that Creationists have used, and are still using, against evolution – maybe even long enough to come up with something substantive.

    If I had a nickel for every time I’ve seen “atheism debunked” or “evolution debunked” on YouTube using one or more of these tired old crackpot objections…

    I’ll skip past reading the propaganda from the “wedge documentarians” for now. Maybe some other time when I can muster more patience. I will say that they used the wrong form of “principle” on page 2, though, I thought that was pretty interesting.

  5. Jim

    Sault, I should point out that many Creationists have also spoken against many of these arguments.

    I think for example of the DVD: “10 arguments creationists should never use”. I think it is by Jonathon Sarfati (PhD). Sarfati is an incredible intellect and FIDE chess master by the way:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Sarfati

    Disclaimer: I am not a YEC.

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