by Frank R. Zindler
The Probing Mind, October, 1987
In the words of Harvard biologist-paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, "Creation science is an oxymoron." An oxymoron (lit., "a wise fool") is a contradiction in terms. Just as it is impossible for a fool to be wise, so too is it impossible for creationism to be science. Anyone concerned about the meanings of words must concur with Professor Gould in his judgment.
Because any intelligible use of the term creation must imply the existence of a creator, and because the creator of all of nature must be, quite literally, super-natural, we see that the fundamental force operating in "creation science" is a super-natural force - which is a polite term for magic. Science, however, involves the study of natural forces only, and ceases to be science when it attempts to explain phenomena by means of super-natural forces.
It should not be surprising, therefore, that creationists do almost nothing at all that even imitates scientific research . Almost all their "research" is done in libraries, not laboratories, and all their "evidence" for creation is really nothing more than intentionally or unintentionally garbled evidence against evolution - as if they could prove the Genesis mythology by disproving Darwin!
As a matter of fact, most creationists are so devoid of any understanding of logic that it is not at all rare to hear one claim, "If I can disprove Darwin's theory of natural selection, the only thing left is the biblical theory."
At least three things are wrong with this statement:
(1) It confuses the question, "Has evolution occurred?" with the question, "What is the mechanism of evolutionary change?" Darwin's theory concerning how evolution takes place is but one of several attempts to account in natural terms for evolutionary change (descent with modification). Disproof of Darwin's theory, which identifies natural selection as the mechanism of evolutionary change would still leave other naturalistic (i.e., scientific) theories, such as the theory of genetic drift. It would also leave certain almost-scientific explanations, such as theistic evolution, which accepts the fact of evolutionary change but posits divine acts of alteration as its motive force. Of course, even if one could show that all available explanations for how evolutionary change occurs were incorrect, the evidences showing that evolution has occurred would remain.
(2) It falsely presumes that the Genesis creation myths (there are two!) are the only existing supernatural accounts of origins, and ignores the contradictions between these two accounts. Of course, every primitive culture in the world has produced its own account of human origins, and creationists are obliged, after they "disprove" naturalistic, evolutionary theories, to show that their own mythology is true. They must produce evidence that green plants existed before the sun was "created," and that all life and all of nature came into existence in six days.  They should show the superiority of their myth to the Native American story about Old Man Coyote and the Chinese myth of the cosmic egg. If they wish us to accept the notion that any type of supernatural account is to be taken seriously, they must be willing to show how the Jewish "theory" is superior to the Egyptian "theory" that the world began with masturbatory activity on the part of the sun god. Indeed, once they abandon the canons of proof standard in the natural sciences and allow the possibility of supernatural shenanigans, it would seem that they are obligated to show that all other mythologies known are false. However the logicians may come down on this question, the fact remains that the creation myths recorded in the first and second chapters of Genesis are but two of a myriad of such myths, and creationists must find evidence to support one or the other of the mutually exclusive biblical accounts. The burden of proof now rests with the creationists.
(3) It misuses the term theory. Creationists either use the term pejoratively ("evolution is only a theory"), or they misapply the term to creationism. In scientific usage, a theory is the highest form of scientific understanding. A theory is an explanatory hypothesis which has passed test after test, and is still the best available explanation of the facts in question. In the case of creationism, however, those components of the apology which can be tested (e.g., the idea that the earth is only six thousand years old and was covered by a shell of water in the year 2,348 B.C.E.) have been tested and found to be demonstrably false - showing that creationism is not a viable theory, because viable theories have to pass tests. On the other hand, those components of creationism which involve certain types of magical events (e.g., the divine creation of a young universe with all of its components bearing the false imprint of great age) make the claims of creationism untestable - making creationism not a theory at all, because theories must be testable!
We have pointed out that creationists confuse the question "Has evolution occurred?" with the question "What is the cause of evolution?" The scientific answer to the first question is, of course, "yes," and the answer to the second question (at least in part) is "natural selection." What logic and evidence leads scientists - and Atheists - to these answers?
The Logic Of Evolution
The conclusion that evolution has occurred is drawn from two simple observations:
Observation 1: Living things come only from living things. Spontaneous generation is not possible when living things are already in existence .
Observation 2: Fossil remains show that living things in the remote past were very different from living things today.
Conclusion: Life has changed through time (evolved).
A dramatic proof of the thesis that life has changed through time is seen in the fossil record of the vertebrates, animals having a segmented backbone. At the beginning of the Cambrian Period (570-500 million years ago), there were no vertebrates at all. Later in the Cambrian, problematic forms appeared which seem to have been related to the vertebrates, but showed distant affinities with the echinoderms as well. (Echinoderms today are represented by starfish, sea lilies, sea cucumbers, etc.; embryologically they appear to compose the phylum most closely related to the Chordata, the phylum to which vertebrates belong.) Toward the end of the Cambrian Period, the first vertebrates appeared: the ostracoderms, jawless fishes possessed of a bony armor plate and having flattened bodies apparently adapted to a bottom-feeding way of life.
According to the fossil record, vertebrates went without jaws for many millions of years. Finally, at the beginning of the Devonian Period (395-345 million years ago), the first fish with jaws entered their remains into the record in the rocks. At the very end of the Devonian or the beginning of the Carboniferous Period (345-280 million years ago), the first primitive amphibians arose. These fish-like animals differed from their air-breathing fish ancestors mostly in their elaboration of the bony structure of the paired appendages - converting fins into hands and feet - and in reinforcement of the structures attaching the paired appendages to the spinal column. The first reptiles did not appear until the last half of the Carboniferous Period.
To give the lie to creationist claims that there are no connecting-link fossils to join the vertebrate classes, the Permian Period (280-225 million years ago) saw the appearance of an entire order of animals, the mammal-like reptiles (Therapsida), which can be seen to change with time from typical, primitive reptiles, into primitive mammals. It was not until late in the Triassic Period (225-190 million years ago) that the therapsid-mammal transmutation was complete. Contrary to the first chapter of Genesis, which claims that the first mammals appeared on the earth a mere twenty-four hours after the first fish, the first mammals did not appear on earth until more than 300 million years of fish evolution had transpired!
Birds, which, according to both creation myths in Genesis, were created on the same day as fish, do not enter the fossil record until the Jurassic Period (190-136 million years ago). Representing an ultimate variation on the dinosaur theme, birds trace their descent from reptiles quite different from those ancestral to the mammals. Contrary to the claims of some creationists, evolutionists do not claim that reptiles evolved into birds, and birds evolved into mammals!
Even though the first mammals appeared in the Triassic Period, forms for which the English language has names would not appear until the late Cretaceous (136-65 million years ago), when opossum-like forms appeared, the Eocene Epoch (60-40 million years ago), when primitive whales originated, and the Oligocene Epoch (40-25 million years ago), when apes, monkeys, and primitive grazing mammals appeared.
The record in the rocks, thus, is evidence either for fishes evolving into birds and mammals, or it is evidence of thousands of successive "special creations" - magical replacements of successive faunas by slightly different ones. Curiously, the latter interpretation is as unbiblical as it is unscientific.
If either of the biblical myths were true, all types of vertebrates - living types of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fishes - would be found along with bacteria and trilobites at the very beginning of the fossil record and would be extractable from all rock layers of later ages. But of course, nothing could be farther from reality. The infamous "gaps in the fossil record," adduced by creationists as evidence against evolution, are actually a devastating refutation of the idea that all forms of life were miraculously zapped onto the earth at the same time!
The Logic Of Natural Selection
Since creationists in their attacks of evolution in general, and of natural selection in particular, usually obfuscate the scientific principles involved and generally substitute a straw man which is easier to ridicule, it is important that we state clearly just what it is that science has to say on the topic of how new species come to be. The modern ("synthetic") theory of natural selection consists of a tightly interwoven fabric of observations and logical conclusions drawn from them. In a nutshell, the structure of the theory is the following:
Observation 1: All living things tend to reproduce in geometric progression, so that if all offspring survived, the entire earth would be overrun by them.
Observation 2: In fact, however, the earth is NOT so overrun. The populations of various species remain approximately constant in size from century to century, due to the finite resources of the environment.
Conclusion A: There must be a competition for the available resources of the environment, a "struggle for existence."
Observation 3: Heritable variations (mutations) are observed to occur spontaneously, from time to time, in populations of all species.
Observation 4: In a given environment, some of these variations are helpful in the struggle for existence, and others are harmful or neutral.
Conclusion B: A natural selection of individuals will result. Those with helpful mutations will survive and expand in numbers, and those with harmful mutations will tend to perish and be reduced in numbers.
Observation 5: The source of inheritable changes is either (1) change in the sequence of chemical "bases" in the DNA molecules making up an organism's genes, (2) rearrangement of genes on chromosomes, or (3) multiplication or deletion of genes or chromosomes.
Observation 6: Physically and chemically speaking, there is no limit to the amount of base changing possible in DNA or the amount of gene rearrangement which can take place.
Conclusion C: There will be no limit to the amount of variation possible in any given species. Given enough time, and changing environmental conditions , mutation will add to mutation, and any species will gradually change into one or more new species. As mutations cause greater and greater cumulative change, and as sexual recombination assembles novel hereditary ensembles, species will turn into new genera, genera into new families, etc.
With the exception of the observations concerning changes in DNA and chromosomes as the source of evolutionary variation, the theory above was discovered by Charles Darwin in the middle of the last century. Darwin came to his theory grudgingly - he had originally been a creationist himself. But the facts of nature which he uncovered in his trip around the world on H.M.S. Beagle forced him to give up the Genesis mythology in favor of evolutionary science, and made him formulate the theory of natural selection.
It is not often remembered that Darwin was not the only person to discover the principle of natural selection. At the same time that Darwin was formulating his theory, Alfred Russell Wallace - completely independent of Darwin, and half a world away - was forced by his study of the plants and animals of the Malay Archipelago to conclude that evolution had occurred, and that natural selection was the motive force!
The lesson to be learned from this is that the facts of nature compel unbiased minds to conclude that evolution has occurred, and that natural selection is at least a part of the cause of evolutionary change. (Population size and genetic isolation of populations are also important factors affecting the degree to which evolutionary change will occur.)
As we examine the bizarre details of the Genesis creation myth, however, we must ask: Is it conceivable that any person not already aware of the first Genesis myth could go out into the world of nature and conclude that green plants came into existence before the sun? That birds existed before reptiles? Without knowledge of the second Genesis myth, who would come up with the idea that man is older than both plants and animals, but that woman did not come into existence until the last animal species had appeared? Without being brainwashed by the Noah's Ark tale, what geologist would conclude that the whole planet was covered by a shell of water 4,334 years ago? What independent observer would conclude that the kiwi, which can neither swim nor fly, came to New Zealand from Mt. Ararat in Turkey, but couldn't make it to Greece or Australia? Could anyone conclude that there was once a "firmament" in the sky -- with windows in it, and water above it?
Of course not. But we can be quite sure that even if the creationist legions of darkness should succeed in eradicating all knowledge of Darwin's theory, honest men and women of the future studying the facts of nature would discover it anew. This is because evolutionary science is science, and is true in the sense that it is testable and accords with the facts of nature. The creationist dogmas, however, are not science and - to the extent that they are testable - are contradicted by the testimony of nature.
While it is nothing less than scandalous that creationist beliefs have survived into the Twentieth Century, we must also express our embarrassment at the fact that there are many people who, despite the fact that they are relatively well schooled in evolutionary science, believe in something known as theistic evolution. This is the view that evolution has, in fact, occurred, but it has been directed by a supernatural power. The long road from jawless fishes, to fishes with jaws, to amphibians, to reptiles, to mammal-like reptiles, to mammals, to Adolf Hitler or the Ayatollah Khomeini was, they must avow, all the unfolding of a divinely guided plan. Theists must accept the plagues produced by evolution as part of their god's plan. Not only can such a view be a bar to progress, it can be a direct road to madness of the type exemplified by the case of Simon "Stylites," the quintessential "saint" who lived atop a pillar until he developed maggoty, purulent wounds in his flesh. When a maggot got pushed out of one of the pullulating wounds in his body, he put it back into the wound and preached it a sermon. God had given the "worm" his flesh to eat, he admonished, and the creature should not be ungrateful!
The best thing that can be said about the theistic evolution idea is that it is not contradicted by the facts of nature. But of course, it could not be contradicted by any facts, if all the facts of nature are precisely what a god has ordained. Alas for the theistic evolutionists, this places the "theory" outside the realm of science, since scientific statements must be testable.
The idea of theistic evolution suffers from still another serious defect: it violates Ockham's Razor. This is the principle in logic that basic assumptions should not be multiplied beyond necessity. If natural forces alone are adequate to account for the course of evolution, why posit additional supernatural forces? Such forces are superfluous. It is simpler to stick with the observable, measurable forces of nature.
The idea of theistic evolution is associated, it would appear, with an emotional immaturity that makes men and women unable to accept the fact that they are probably alone in the universe, that they must find meaning and fulfillment among the comrades - both human and nonhuman - with whom they share the planet. Mature personalities can accept the world for what it is: uncreated and unconscious. Constrained only by the limits of the laws of nature, the mature mind may do all in its power "To grasp this sorry scheme of things entire," and then "remold it nearer to the heart's desire" . Atheists know that cancer and tapeworms are not parts of a divine plan. Atheists are completely free to do something about such plagues - and they are doing it!
 According to Bishop Ussher's chronology, often printed in the margins of King James Bibles, this occurred in the year 4,004 BC. Recently, however, Ussher's chronology has been corrected by Eugene Faulstich, a creationist at the "Chronology-History Research Institute," in Spencer, Iowa. Using a computer, and ignoring various contradictory dates found in his bible, Faulstich has computed that the world began on a Sunday, 18/19 March, 4001 B.C.E.!
 Practically the only known apparent exception to this has been the ridiculous attempts of creationists to find fossil human footprints in the Cretaceous rocks of the Paluxy Creek-Glen Rose region of Texas. This work has been of such embarrassingly low quality that even the creationist leaders have been forced to admit that no human tracks have been recovered, despite the enormous numbers of bible-believers who have swarmed over the countryside, destroying scientifically valuable dinosaur trails in their quest for antediluvian traces of Homo Sapiens.
 Or in one day, if the second creation story in Genesis (Chapter 2, verse 4 et seq.) be the one believed.
 Life cannot originate spontaneously now for at least two reasons: (1) The oxidizing atmosphere rapidly degrades any organic compounds before they can aggregate to form prebiotic complexes with life-like properties. (2) Existing microbes and other life-forms consume as food any prebiotic molecules starting out on the long biochemical pathway leading to truly living systems. Neither of these roadblocks to spontaneous generation existed before life had formed. The oxygen in our atmosphere is placed there by photosynthetic organisms such as plants and algae, so the primordial terrestrial atmosphere was almost completely devoid of oxygen until these types of organisms arose.
 Without changing conditions, the rate of evolutionary change is likely to be slow and the extent of change small. This is because helpful mutations will often tend to be disbursed in large populations and because natural selection will tend to produce organisms optimally adapted - or nearly so - to particular conditions. In such circumstances, further changes arising will tend to be maladaptive, and evolutionary stasis (stagnation) will result. Only when circumstances change, and new "job openings" appear, will natural selection proceed rapidly to produce significant changes. The theory of "Punctuated Equilibria," an updated version of Darwin's theory universally misunderstood and misrepresented by creationists, holds that natural selection does not proceed at a slow, uniform rate. Rather, evolution involves long periods of little or no measurable change (stasis) "punctuated" by brief periods of intense changes - guided, of course, by natural selection.
 Edward Fitzgerald, The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám.