How To Argue Against Evolution

I just posted on how not to argue against evolution. I want to add a brief word now on how to argue against it. I’m not trying to make this comprehensive, just to list a few quick points covering categories that count against evolution. (I’m still speaking strictly of naturalistic evolution.)

Can’t you just see by looking that this world is designed?

This objection will suffer snickers from evolutionary scientists, because it lacks testability and definitional rigor. It’s unscientific, they say (rightly), to draw such a sweeping conclusion unless we have (for example) an undesigned world and a designed world next to each other so we can compare their broad features.

There is, however, knowledge other than scientific knowledge, and we really can see design in all of reality. It takes a strong contrary metaphysical view to deny it. It’s not science that denies design, it’s persons’ philosophies.

Evolutionists will also object that some of reality looks undesigned: that there are apparent mistakes, evil, and so on. Still it takes some sense of the reality of design to detect anomalies in it.

We know from Scripture that God created the world, including all of its life.

This is valid—even if evolutionists laugh at it—as long as we establish that God’s revelation is a genuine source of knowledge. To explain the many ways we can do that would fill more than a book, but it can be done.

Once we know that God is Creator, we know that naturalistic evolution—the theory that everything came to be by unguided natural processes—simply can’t be true. We can go on from there to discuss exactly what it is that Scripture teaches about creation, its days and its order and so on, though I strongly advise humility on that point. Regardless of those controversies, clearly God has ruled over nature from the beginning.

Naturalism is false, therefore naturalistic evolution is false.

Naturalistic evolution is joined at the hip with philosophical naturalism, the view that nothing exists but matter and energy interacting according to law (necessity) and chance. If you know how to argue (philosophically) against this naturalism, you can extend the argument to count against naturalistic evolution as well.

Finally: Know what you’re talking about.

For those who want to dig into the discussions deeper than this, digging in deeper is exactly what you need to do. Learn evolutionary theory. Learn it well—as well as you can, given your educational background and opportunities. Study it from the evolutionists’ sources. Study contrary views, too, but don’t base your knowledge of evolution on creationists or Intelligent Design proponents. Learn its best arguments from its best proponents. If you can still mount an argument against naturalistic evolution after that—and I think you can—it will be a strong one.

The same goes for the philosophical discussions on naturalism, and for explaining how we can trust Scripture as a source of knowledge: dig in! You’ll be well rewarded by your efforts.

P.S.: An important follow-up: Why (and Why Not) Argue Against Evolution

Comments

  1. Doug

    One thing that Mike Gene (among others) gets, and so many of the New Atheists miss, is that even if every claim about undirected evolution and abiogenesis were true, this means that life is embedded in the laws of physics and we need to ask “how did that get there?” While the teleology implicit in the question is beyond science (NB: not anti-science) it is still legitimate philosophy, and materialistic attempts to address it amount to “it just is” (the counter-part to “God did it”, but ultimately much much less informative!)

  2. G. Rodrigues

    @Doug:

    One thing that Mike Gene (among others) gets, and so many of the New Atheists miss, is that even if every claim about undirected evolution and abiogenesis are true, this means that life is embedded in the laws of physics and we need to ask “how did that get there?” While the teleology implicit in the question is beyond science (NB: not anti-science) it is still legitimate philosophy, and materialistic attempts to address it amount to “it just is” (the counter-part to “God did it”, but ultimately much much less informative!)

    Exactly.

    On the positive side, this leads to Aquinas’ Fifth way. On the negative side, we can point out that the metaphysical naturalist is *bound* to posit brute facts: there is a bottom level beyond which he cannot go on pain of infinite regress and things at that level (e.g. some sort of natural laws) are what they are because they are what they are and there is no rhyme or reason to that. But I think if this claim is unpacked, this is simply incoherent. If you say that A explains B, that B explains C, etc. in a (necessarily finite) explanatory chain, but that at the same time A itself is not explainable, not even in principle, have you really explained anything? If there is no rhyme or reason to A, can it really be said that B (and C, D, etc.) are explained and made intelligible? The only way out is if A is necessary, that is, it can be no other way other than to be what it is, but that is *not* what a brute fact is. And of course, necessary is precisely what God, as subsistent existence itself, is, as He could not but be and could not, not even in principle, not be.

  3. Doug

    @G,
    Quite so. Or as Tom put it elsewhere so succinctly (sorry, can’t find the link) “There is no explanation for explanation without God!”

  4. d

    It’s interesting to me that none of these points actually argue against any facts of evolution, just the philosophical/metaphysical implications that many people take from it. So can they said to really be points against evolution, per se? I guess they are points against purely unguided, naturalistic evolution.

    But all in all, they concede to the mechanical facts of evolution as evolutionists describe them, even though they might differ on the metaphysics behind them, which sure beats the heck out of YEC.

  5. The Dandler

    Hi there! Thanks for this blog – I love it’s thoughtful writing and in-depth analysis of important Christian issues. The evolution debate has often made me wonder. How do I deal with this? I’m a scientist but also a Christian, and I don’t particularly buy the theory, but I’ve found many Christians who really do. I don’t think their faith is in jeopardy: they still believe God created the world, but they believe He did it differently than how many Christians do. I’ve found that talking to atheists and agnostics and affirming the possibility that evolution might be true surprises them and makes them willing to listen. They dismiss all Creationists as ignorant, so to find some kind of common ground with them makes them more willing to hear. Presenting the gospel (and maybe laying the foundation that simply God made it all) might cause them to believe in Christ. Once belief in Christ and His word is established in the heart, THEN questions about evolution and other specifics can be wrestled with. The Holy Spirit teaches them the rest that they need to know. Often Creationists make the issue a stumbling block to belief. We’re not called to spread the message of Creation. We’re called to spread the message of “Re-creation” through Christ and then work backwards from there.

  6. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    You’re half right, d. These are categories of arguments against naturalistic evolution, and they point mostly to the philosophical side of it.

    In my previous post on this issue I mentioned the importance of clarifying terms. What you’re saying is that evolution in one sense could be true even while in a naturalistic sense it cannot (if these arguments succeed, which I think they do). And you are right, based on what I’ve written here. To undermine evolution in any other sense really does require the “digging in deeper” I encouraged at the end.

    My only (partial) disagreement with you is that I think many people bring their philosophical/metaphysical beliefs in to this issue, rather than drawing them out from it as implications. Not all do this, but many do.

    I would also want to make the point that while what I wrote in this article could possibly concede to what you call the “mechanical facts” of evolution, they do not necessarily concede to them, and I think that digging in deeper calls those “facts” into question as well. But that’s not to disagree with your observation here, it’s just to guard against people running further with it than is warranted.

  7. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Good points, Dandler. When you say, “We’re not called to spread the message of Creation,” I assume that does not mean, “We’re not called to teach people that God rules over all Creation.” I think you mean, “We’re not called to spread the message of Creation in some specific young-earth or old-earth sense that people have to buy into, in order to be Christians,” or, “We’re not telling people they have to put down evolution before they can take up Christ.” I’m asking for you to correct me if I got that wrong, because I know I’m reading into what you wrote.

    I wrote something on this a while ago, called, “Young Earth, Old Earth, and Not Having to Know the Answer.” For a deeper look I would recommend the book edited by Jay Richards, God and Evolution.

  8. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Further clarifying what I wrote to d,

    What I really mean to say is that if someone wants to raise scientific arguments against evolution (naturalistic or otherwise), they had better know what they’re talking about. I’ve done a lot of the kind of study I recommend here, and my impression is that Stephen Meyer’s work in Signature in the Cell is very strong and persuasive with respect to the origin of life; Michael Behe’s work in Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution has not yet been refuted in spite of loud claims to the contrary; and the same is probably also true for his book The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism. I think the lack of observed evolution in Lenski’s laboratory is pretty interesting. There are other problems with evolution I am aware of.

    Still I don’t consider myself qualified to argue these issues, and I avoid raising those kinds of arguments for just that reason. I’m not saying I follow that rule absolutely, but for the most part I stay out of those discussions. They are technical, and they are for people who know what they’re talking about.

  9. Doug

    @d,

    none of these points actually argue against any facts of evolution

    What do you consider the salient “facts of evolution”?

  10. d

    Doug,

    The “facts” would be the content of the purely scientific narrative of the process that resulted in the diversity of life, sans any theological or (metaphysical) naturalist presumptions, sort of like describing the journey of a car going down the road, without making any claims about the intentions (or lackthereof) of its driver.

  11. Doug

    The fascinating thing about the debate is that Dawkins and Behe both use the Lenski results to make their case. In The Greatest Show on Earth, Dawkins claims that this is “the real deal” (most of the book presents evidence for the scientific evolution that everyone agrees happens, i.e., what some folks call “microevolution”) and even claims “the Lenski experiments are distressing to creationists”. If that’s true then either IDers like Behe aren’t creationists, or they didn’t get the memo. In The Edge of Evolution, Behe’s far more rigorous analysis of the Lenski experiments provides quite a challenge indeed to Dawkins’ simplistic form of evolution!

  12. Doug

    @d,
    Since when does a narrative constitute “facts”?
    Since when does a process that is incapable of assessing teleology get to conclude that “there is no teleology”?

  13. d

    Any narrative that consists of true statements is a narrative of facts, right?

    That’s something scientists are interested in producing – a factually correct discriptive narrative (or maybe “account” is a better word) of some state of affairs or process in the world.

    Also, I didnt make any argument with the conclusion “there is no teleology” – nor did I assert it here.

  14. Doug

    @d,
    The facts (actual, scientific facts) known about “the process that resulted in the diversity of life” are insufficient to produce a “narrative”, I’m afraid. If you disagree, it would bring me back to the original question: “What do you consider the salient ‘facts of evolution’?”

  15. SteveK

    I’m surprised that Nick hasn’t commented yet. This is his favorite subject.

  16. BillT

    “But all in all, they concede to the mechanical facts of evolution as evolutionists describe them, even though they might differ on the metaphysics behind them, which sure beats the heck out of YEC.”

    I’m not sure I would have anticipated saying this about a post of yours d but I hope you will accept it in the spirit it is given,

    Amen!

  17. Jim

    If I was still an atheist / Darwinist I would argue from the fossils.

    Except that Philip Johnson tore that to pieces in “Darwin on Trial”. And appealing to “we may find them with more digging…” is science of the gaps.

    I would also argue that random mutations and natural selection must be capable of producing new information.

    Except that there is no evidence that I know of showing that this could happen. There are no known self organizing or information producing principles that could produce complexity.

    I would also say that life’s beginnings will probably one day be discovered or modeled.

    However this is a faith statement and given the complexities involved, it seems rather rather rather unlikely.

  18. d

    Suggestion for Tom: Add the “natural selection/random mutation cannot produce new information” to the list of ways to NOT argue against evolution.
    ——————–
    Also, Jim: The “Science of the gaps” position is often warranted (through induction), given that science HAS actually filled so many gaps.

  19. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    d,

    I’ll need better evidence than I’ve seen for RV/NS being able to do that, considering just how much new information has been supposedly generated that way.

    Science fills gaps. You know also that there comes a time when a prediction’s not coming to pass does begin to undermine an hypothesis. The continuing lack of fossil evidence for transitional organisms seems impervious to that, however.

    Has anyone ever quantified how many fossils we actually should find of how many species related to one another to degree? I’m asking the question as a question, not as a challenge. It seems to me someone must have done it, so I’d be interested to know about it. That’s the kind of thing that would be essential to evolution’s theoretical falsifiability.

  20. Jim

    d,

    You wrote: ‘…Add the “natural selection/random mutation cannot produce new information” to the list of ways to NOT argue against evolution….’.

    Mmmm, that seems a rather strange comment on my comment. So you think that new information can be produced using RM+NS?

    Could you provide evidence that RM+NS can produce new information?

  21. Doug

    When Dawkins wants to show that RM+NS can produce new information, he invokes the Lenski bacteria experiments(!)
    But as Behe correctly argues, even if these results could be construed as information-generating (it really isn’t that clear, since it was well known that the information in question pre-existed), the ratio of (near-infinitessimal) quantity of new information to the (immense) time required to achieve it invites skepticism on the ability of RM-NS to achieve significant new information in the available historic time-frames.

  22. Doug

    One of my favorite examples of the failures of existing models of evolution (NB: the argument that “the existing models of evolution are inadequate” is different from the argument that “evolution didn’t happen”):
    In 1986, Richard Dawkins participated in a debate at Oxford — resolved:”The doctrine of creation is more valid than the theory of evolution” (result of which was embarrassing for Team Reason).
    In that debate (available for purchase online, btw) he says that the “most persuasive evidence” (and repeats that it is is “exceedingly persuasive evidence”) is that genetic heredity (i.e., molecular similarity) always matches (proposed) phenotypic heredity.
    Unfortunately, Dawkins was making this claim based on his own optimism (and the predictive power of his model), since genomic research was in its earliest stages in 1986.
    Since that time, of course, we have a great deal of evidence that bears on this topic, (including these recent results, on which Nature comments: “Scally and colleagues found that in 30% of the western-lowland-gorilla genome, the DNA sequences are more similar to the corresponding sequences from the human or chimpanzee genomes than the sequences of these two species are to each other — although humans and chimpanzees are expected to have shared a more recent common ancestor with each other than either does with gorillas.”) and the claim has shown to be quite false.
    In 2009, in The Greatest Show on Earth the support for the claim (in spite of a truck-load of genomic research that was supposed to support it in the intervening 23 years) hasn’t changed, and the claim itself is mitigated with “[o]f course, the adding up is not quite perfect. Numerical expectations in biology are seldom realized with better than approximate accuracy”.

  23. Fleegman

    @Tom,

    What would count to you as a transitional fossil? I’m sure you’ve been directed in the past to what are considered to be transitional forms by the scientific community, so what was it that you found unconvincing? What do you expect to see in a transitional form? 

    @Doug

    Since that time, of course, we have a great deal of evidence that bears on this topic, (including these recent results, on which Nature comments: “Scally and colleagues found that in 30% of the western-lowland-gorilla genome, the DNA sequences are more similar to the corresponding sequences from the human or chimpanzee genomes than the sequences of these two species are to each other — although humans and chimpanzees are expected to have shared a more recent common ancestor with each other than either does with gorillas.”) and the claim has shown to be quite false.

    This has been covered, in detail, in many places. The people saying this is a problem for evolutionary biology, are people who don’t understand the evolutionary biology involved.

    Where has the claim you’re talking about been shown to be quite false?

  24. Doug

    @Fleegman,
    It was an example of many. And you misrepresent my claim. The point was that these are results that were not predicted by the likes of Myers and Dawkins. And while Myers can write:

    the creationists rely on their proponents having a foolishly cartoonish version of evolution in their heads in order to raise a false objection.

    the facts of history are embedded in the recording of the 1986 debate: if Richard Dawkins himself invokes a “foolishly cartoon version of evolution” — going so far as calling it “the most persuasive evidence” for evolution, surely “creationists” should be given some slack for taking him seriously!!

  25. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    I hate to say it but I don’t know if I’ll have time to respond to much of anything here today or tomorrow. Life is happening offline. (That’s a good thing.)

  26. Fleegman

    @Doug

    It was an example of many…

    Then it should be no problem for you to produce a good example, rather than one that doesn’t pose a problem for evolutionary biology.

    There’s a difference between Dawkins invoking a cartoonish version of evolution in a debate to make a point, and a creationist using that cartoonish version as some kind of argument that natural selection is false because of a pattern of genetic relatedness that doesn’t fit that overly simplistic model. 

  27. Doug

    @Fleegman,
    If you were willing to read carefully what I wrote, you will notice that I never claimed to pose a problem for evolutionary biology. In fact, I very clearly “NB’ed” that I was addressing “existing models” of evolution.

    The point (once again) was that the cartoonish version of evolution was the one espoused by evolution’s primary supporters before the evidence arose to call it into question!

  28. Otto Tellick

    There is … knowledge other than scientific knowledge, and we really can see design in all of reality.

    How is this non-scientific knowledge confirmed? If two people make conflicting assertions based on their respective non-scientific knowledge, how would a third party assess their relative merits?

    As for the assumption of design, in what sense does positing a supernatural and purposeful designer of the natural world actually answer “why”-type questions? Again, if different people offer different assertions about the designer’s purpose, what is the basis for resolving their differences?

    As I see it, those who ascribe the purpose of our existence to God actually fail to provide any real sense of God’s purpose, which, as some scriptures and theists point out, cannot be known. You may tell yourself (and others) that you know something about it, maybe because it “just makes sense this way”, but unless you’re intent on a life of theologically-imposed isolation or theocratic authority, you have to recognize that others may come up with different yet equally valid “knowledge” on the issue. That, in part, is what the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is about.

    Naturalistic evolution is joined at the hip with philosophical naturalism, the view that nothing exists but matter and energy interacting according to law (necessity) and chance.

    I would disagree with that assessment. Naturalism does not rely on an assertion that “nothing exists but matter and energy … law … and chance”. It does rely crucially on the principle (the simple fact) that nothing about nature can be known with any useful degree of accuracy unless the knowledge is founded on observable evidence. Even with evidence, the degree of accuracy in our knowledge is limited, and that’s why we continue to look for more evidence, and revise/refine our knowledge accordingly.

    The question of “what exists” (or what can exist, or doesn’t or can’t exist) is utterly open-ended. There’s no conceivable limit to the range things that might exist even though we haven’t found any way to observe them yet. But until we find a way to observe them, we can’t really have any sensible basis for describing specific properties they might have or actions they might cause. To make such assertions, with no empirical foundation, is to follow the path toward pursuing either witchcraft or witch hunts.

    (If you honestly believe in witchcraft, let me know, because in that case I’ll stop posting here and spare both of us further waste and embarrassment.)

    As for absolute knowledge based on biblical scripture, I’m sorry, but that simply is not at all compelling. That book is too old, its authors are too uninformed and inconsistent, and the translations are too problematic and incomplete.

    Why would I call bible translations incomplete? It strikes me as strange that apologists argue against atheists’ citations of mutually contradictory passages, by complaining that the quotes are “taken out of context”, yet whole chapters have been translated with an imperfect knowledge of the languages spoken by original authors/speakers, and even less knowledge of the broader context in which they wrote or spoke.

    Different readers can look at different aspects of the broader context surrounding the initial telling or writing of a given passage, and arrive at different “contextualized” interpretations of the text. Some might be closer to what “really” happened than others, but can any of them be uniquely and fully correct?

  29. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Quick response, Otto, with more to come after breakfast. You said,

    I would disagree with that assessment. Naturalism does not rely on an assertion that “nothing exists but matter and energy … law … and chance”. It does rely crucially on the principle (the simple fact) that nothing about nature can be known with any useful degree of accuracy unless the knowledge is founded on observable evidence.

    You are describing methodological naturalism here. Philosophical naturalism is what I was talking about, and the definition I gave is a pretty close to the standard understanding of the term. It’s not 100% technically accurate with respect to the possible existence of abstract objects like numbers, but it’s close. You might want to look up the difference between the two kinds of naturalism.

  30. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Otto, you ask,

    How is this non-scientific knowledge confirmed? If two people make conflicting assertions based on their respective non-scientific knowledge, how would a third party assess their relative merits?

    Let me give you an example. Smith says “all knowledge is scientific knowledge.” Jones says, “no there is some knowledge that is not scientific.” How would Williams assess the relative merits of those views? By noting that Smith’s statement is self-defeating. It is non-scientific, so if it were true, it could not be known to be true. Williams can use non-empirical logic to judge the difference between Smith’s and Jones’ statement.

    Suppose Smith says “Locatelli was a better composer than Bach.” Jones say, “No, Bach was better than Locatelli.” Williams might ask Smith and Jones to play recordings of Locatelli and Bach, and make a judgment based on the aesthetic qualities of their work.

    Suppose Smith says, “Murder is not objectively wrong.” Suppose Jones says, “Murder is objectively wrong.” Davis might come along and say, “Murder is not objectively wrong, because there is no scientific reason to suppose that it is objectively wrong.” I happen to disagree with Davis, but suppose Davis were right, as many secularists I’ve interacted with here believe (they take it that rightness and wrongness are not objective features of reality but subjective opinions of sentient creatures). If Davis were right, though, then he would be right based on the premise, “rightness and wrongness exist only if they can be shown scientifically to exist.” This is not a statement of science; it is not empirical.

    Three examples. Does that help any?

    And then there is the fact that you take it that other persons have minds. That’s not empirically provable. Occam’s razor is not empirically provable. There’s lots and lots of stuff like that.

    As for the assumption of design, in what sense does positing a supernatural and purposeful designer of the natural world actually answer “why”-type questions?

    I think you’re going to have to ask that again in a more specific manner. You see, I’m having trouble seeing how you could even ask it. God as designer answers lots of “why”-type questions, and I think obviously.

    As I see it, those who ascribe the purpose of our existence to God actually fail to provide any real sense of God’s purpose, which, as some scriptures and theists point out, cannot be known.

    Not this theist, and not the Christian scriptures.

    You may tell yourself (and others) that you know something about it, maybe because it “just makes sense this way”, but unless you’re intent on a life of theologically-imposed isolation or theocratic authority, you have to recognize that others may come up with different yet equally valid “knowledge” on the issue. That, in part, is what the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is about.

    Huh? How did politics get involved in this all of a sudden? I’m just saying that the design explanation makes sense. I didn’t say it had to be imposed on everyone! “Theocratic”?!!!??? What does that word even mean in this context?

    I don’t honestly believe in witchcraft. Sheesh. Spare yourself embarrassment. Please.

    Why would I call bible translations incomplete? It strikes me as strange that apologists argue against atheists’ citations of mutually contradictory passages, by complaining that the quotes are “taken out of context”, yet whole chapters have been translated with an imperfect knowledge of the languages spoken by original authors/speakers, and even less knowledge of the broader context in which they wrote or spoke.

    Your ignorance on this would again be excusable if you were not pretending with such perfect confidence to know what you’re talking about.

    Different readers can look at different aspects of the broader context surrounding the initial telling or writing of a given passage, and arrive at different “contextualized” interpretations of the text. Some might be closer to what “really” happened than others, but can any of them be uniquely and fully correct?

    Yes. They can. For example, it is unambiguous in the text that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Anyone who claims the text says otherwise is wrong. It is what the text says really happened.

  31. Doug

    @Autotelic,

    If two people make conflicting assertions based on their respective non-scientific knowledge, how would a third party assess their relative merits?

    This used to happen all the time to me when my children were younger. They would bring a conflict to me, and I (a third party) would assess the relative merits of their assertions. Often, it was a matter of considering the personality of the child. A sibling is often both playing and projecting control-games, and a parent develops a control-game-detector. Attempts to see common ground are the first/best indicator that control games aren’t in play. Funny: that’s what I also look for in blog comments…

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