Saturday, February 09, 2019

Overwhelming evidence for evolution

In this post I'll interact with Darrel Falk's chapter on "Overwhelming Evidence" for evolution in The Fool and the Heretic (Zondervan 2019). Falk is a leading propagandist for theistic evolution. 

It's now time to return to the question of just how solid the evidence for evolution is. In my narrative, I gave one clear example of evolutionary theory leading to a prediction  [about] animals intermediate between fish and four-legged land animals (135).

I understand how that's consistent with evolution, but how do intermediate forms provide evidence for evolution? How is that distinguishable from animals with hybrid features because it reflects the ecological zone in which they live (e.g. amphibians)?

Rocks that are greater than one billion years old have never revealed a fossil of a multicellular plant or animal…But there is a progression as we move through time to examine rocks that are younger and younger. Fish first appear in rocks of about 500 million years…Amphibians appear beginning in rocks of about 370 million years…Reptiles appear a little later (about 320 million years) and mammals (230) million years) a little later still…The first primates are not found in the fossil record until rocks dated at 55 million years ago…thousands of hominid fossils have now been found, none are found in rocks older than about five million years (pp136-7).

i) What's the point of contrast? I see how that might be a problem for young-earth creationism, although YEC can appeal to mature creation or Omphalism. 

ii) However, I don't see how that's a problem for old-earth creationism. To my knowledge, OEC takes the position that God makes natural kinds ex nihilo, but makes them at different times, phasing them into natural history. The fact that organisms appear at different stages in natural history is consistent with OEC.  

iii) Moreover, that's not just a face-saving explanation to harmonize the natural record with Genesis. Rather, they say the evidence supports OEC. As a matter of fact, organisms with new body plans appear in the fossil record with no evolutionary precursors. 

Rock formations of between two million and five million years of age contain no hominin fossils the world over, except on one continent–Africa. Indeed, no hominin fossils have ever been found in North or South America that are older than about eighteen thousand years…In Asia, hominin fossils are found beginning at about 18 million years and in Europe about one million years. This regional localization is consistent with the hypothesis that hominins were created through a single evolutionary lineage in one area of the world (Africa)…the findings suggest that a group migrated out of African (perhaps over many generations) into Asia a little less than two million years ago, and that some of their descendants in turn eventually made it into Europe. The oceans presented a barrier, of course, to arrival in North and South America… (138).

i) How is that evidence for evolution? Notice that Falk is using an evolutionary narrative and evolutionary categories to interpret the evidence. To classify them as hominins and say hominins appear in the record at particular times takes for granted that these animals are ancestors to modern man. But that's the very question at issue! So his appeal is circular. He hasn't show how that's independent evidence for evolution. To the contrary, he uses the theory of evolution to explain the pattern.

ii) He ignores the multiregional alternative hypothesis. 

iii) Is there evidence that the reputed hominins display recognizably humanoid intelligence, viz. art, music, human problem-solving skills? At what date?

iv) Why would it take them so long to migrate out of Africa? Africa is a fairly inhospitable place to live. There'd be an incentive to explore other regions. 

v) The fact that we find evidence of human occupation in the Old World earlier than evidence for human occupation in the New World is what Genesis would lead us to expect. According to Genesis, man originated in the Old World (Mesopotamia) and fanned out from there.

I've written elsewhere that "the living process of a single cell, and the unfolding and coordination of the plan of a developing embryo, is like a magnificent symphony…Its beauty and process are exactly what we would expect if a loving God…works through time to bring about his purposes. God's initial design and God's providential oversight work through life's processes to bring about creation of new life forms (139). 

Embryology is awesome. How is that comparable to the haphazard evolutionary process, with its many dead-ends?

In chimpanzees and humans, many of the genetic elements are in the exact same location. (Functionally, it has been shown that there is no specific reason that they need to be in the same location.) This is consistent with the hypothesis that chimpanzees and humans descend from a common ancestral species that existed about five or six million years ago and that given how slowly the genetic elements jumped to a new location, most are still in the same location in that common ancestry. If one compares the position of these jumping elements in orangutans, there is a higher percentage that don't occupy the same position in the chromosomes. This is consistent with the hypothesis that orangutans and humans share a common ancestral species…but one that existed deeper in the past…If we examine the distribution of the jumping genetic elements in gibbons, many are still in  the exact same positions as in humans but a higher percentage have shifted. This is consistent with the hypothesis that gibbons and humans decend from a common ancestral species even deeper in the past, allowing even greater time for elements to jump (140-41).

I see how that's consistent with evolution, but it is that evidence for evolution? Suppose it's God's intention to create a world that reflects diversity. In that event, creatures will range along a continuum from most similar to most dissimilar. 

To take a comparison, a deck of cards has different possible combinations. In poker, some hands are more similar while others are more dissimilar, viz. royal flesh, straight flush, four of a kind, full house, flush, straight three of a kind, two pair. Given diversity, there's bound to be spectrum where some are more alike while others are less alike. Where some are closer to the middle while others occupy the opposite ends of the spectrum. The fact that hands can be grouped that way is the logical result of diversity. By the same token, species can be sorted by degrees of similarity and dissimilarity. How are such variations evidence for common ancestry rather than the principle of the plenitude or adaptation to habitat? 

Todd and other young-earth creationists cannot bring themselves to make what I consider to be a very small shift in the way they read the early chapters of Genesis (146).

i) Falk acts as though the only reason evolution leads some people to be atheists is perceived conflict with the Bible. But even if Gen 1-3 (or Rom 5/1 Cor 15) never existed, evolution would still drive some people into atheism because they think the evolutionary record in itself is an indication that we inhabit a godless universe. They see no evidence of transcendent intelligence, benevolence, planning, or prevision in the evolutionary record. No evidence of a mind behind the process, guiding the process. William Provine is a good example. 

Indeed, many theistic evolutionists are antagonistic towards intelligent design theory. They read the evolutionary record the same way as secular evolutionary biologists and paleontologists. They reject the idea that we can detect divine intervention or direction in the record of natural history. 

ii) I can see how Falk's evidence for evolution would be devastating to Christians who are exposed to it for the first time. Christians who are intellectually defenseless.

iii) When I invoke mature creation, Omphalism, and/or the principle of plenitude, an evolutionist might object that this has nothing to do with science. That's pseudo-science.

However, the question at issue isn't just a scientific claim but a theological claim. The idea of divine creation. Special creation. Creation ex nihilo. It's not out of place to bring philosophical theology to bear when evaluating a theological claim. Indeed, that's unavoidable. 

So there's a methodological question. What's the starting-point? You can have a bottom-up starting-point. Look at the extant evidence and attempt to reconstruct the past from the surviving trace evidence. Reconstruct the past from lingering effects of past events. And that's a legitimate approach.

But there's a top-down starting-point. If the world is the result of divine creation, then we need to consider the nature of creativity. For human agents, that begins with an idea. We make something that corresponds to our idea. The idea comes first. 

From that perspective, mature creation, Omphalism, and/or the principle of plenitude can't be ruled out. Suppose, in God's imagination, he has the concept of a world-history. How could he not? But the point at which the plot begins is arbitrary, in the sense that the plot could always begin a little sooner or a little later. The plot could end a little sooner or a little later. The challenge for a storyteller or screenwriter is how to begin the story and how to end the story.

Likewise, is there an antecedent metaphysical  presumption that the principle of plenitude is false?

iv) I can see how some people find young-earth creationism ad hoc. And maybe it is ad hoc to some degree. I myself an not committed to YEC. But even if I was, that's not a fatal concession or a damaging concession. That's because I can see how some people find old-earth creationism ad hoc. 

What is more, theistic evolution is ad hoc. The foundation of theistic evolution is naturalistic evolution. Many or most theistic evolutionists think the evolutionary record is indistinguishable from naturalistic evolution. They don't think there's any discernible evidence of God's providential hand in natural history. That's why they attack intelligent design theory with such implacable ferocity. Instead, they appeal to evidence for God from disciplines outside evolutionary biology and paleontology.

So theistic evolution has a theistic tile floor on a foundation of naturalistic evolution. Some Christian theology (often progressive) tacked onto the framework of an empirically godless process. 

Finally, naturalistic evolution is ad hoc. For instance, it spawns a plethora of harmonistic devices, viz. analogy, ancestral homology, convergent evolution, derived homology, evolutionary reversal, exaptation, homoplasy, spandrel. 

Is it the natural record that yields these distinctions and categories? Or do evolutionists devise them to make the theory of evolution consistent with disparate evidence? So every side in this dispute as the appearance of makeshift explanations.  

v) I can see how evolution seems to be a reasonable explanation for the evidence he presents. Mind you, something can seem reasonable in isolation, but unreasonable when we take additional factors into consideration.

One problem is that his presentation is so one-sided. He cites prima facie evidence for evolution, but fails to mention prima facie evidence to the contrary.

vi) Here's another major problem with evolutionary theory: the evolutionary process is a physical process. The effects of the process are physical products. 

But that raises the question of whether human reason can be the result of evolution. Can something physical generate consciousness? Ironically, the hard problem of consciousness has been formulated by secular philosophers. Card-carrying physicalists. But they admit that the problem is inexplicable. As a matter of principle, mental properties are irreducible to physical operations. If so, that's a fundamental defeater for evolution. If it has no room for human minds, then it's drastically flawed.

A theistic evolutionist might posit evolutionary Cartesian dualism, where, once the brain evolved to a certain level of complexity, that furnishes the platform for embodied souls. But what is that if not a stopgap explanation? 


  1. "Rocks that are greater than one billion years old have never revealed a fossil of a multicellular plant or animal…But there is a progression as we move through time to examine rocks that are younger and younger. Fish first appear in rocks of about 500 million years…Amphibians appear beginning in rocks of about 370 million years…Reptiles appear a little later (about 320 million years) and mammals (230) million years) a little later still…The first primates are not found in the fossil record until rocks dated at 55 million years ago…thousands of hominid fossils have now been found, none are found in rocks older than about five million years (pp136-7)."

    I'm YEC. I completely believe that YEC is what Scripture teaches, but I'm troubled by this evidence. Is there evidence to support the idea that the fossil record is ordered from least to most complex due to the world-wide flood and the way the organisms died?

    1. 1. I like Darrell Falk as a person (along with his BioLogos co-founder Francis Collins). In addition, Falk is a theistic evolutionist (though he prefers the term evolutionary creationist if I remember correctly), but Falk is more honest than most other theistic evolutionists. For example, I recall Falk positively reviewed Stephen Meyer's Darwin's Doubt and even conceded that Meyer was correct in many if not most of his criticisms against neo-Darwinism. And Falk conceded that Meyer was in the main correct about neo-Darwinian explanations for the Cambrian explosion not working.

      At the same time, judging by the quotations in Steve's post, it sounds like Falk is regurgitating common theistic evolutionary talking points. At least I don't see anything that hasn't already been addressed by others (e.g. ID theorists).

      2. As far as the quotation you cite, I think it's more of a wishful narrative that the order of the fossil record is so neat and tidy. There are significant debates over the ordering of the fossil record. It's quite arguable the fossil record (such as vis-a-vis stratigraphic columns) is a lot more random than Falk presents. For example, you might consider the work of a fellow YEC, Andrew Snelling, who is a geologist.

      3. Another example is the issue of JBS Haldane's Precambrian rabbits. Haldane said (paraphrasing) if a Precambrian rabbit could be found in the fossil record, then that would disprove evolutionary theory. That's because one wouldn't expect a rabbit in the Precambrian era. That would be out of place, out of order, not in the right sequence. A rabbit couldn't have evolved at this point. Modern evolutionists like Dawkins and Coyne have echoed the same sentiment.

      In fact, there are indeed examples of Precambrian rabbits in the fossil record. However, the issue is neo-Darwinists keep moving the goalposts. For example, when it's pointed out a Precambrian rabbit has been found, neo-Darwinists will argue from ghost lineages. A ghost lineage is a phylogenetic lineage that has left no trace of its existence in the fossil record, but is inferred to exist. That might be possible in certain cases, but another thing neo-Darwinists do is they extend the range of time for that period so that it encompasses the Precambrian rabbit counterexample.

      4. There's lots more examples, but this is probably long enough for now!

    2. Hi,

      I don't know this theory in detail. There is one thing that intrigues me. In the theory of naturalistic evolution there is no such thing as a primordial human couple. What was the event that in the worldview of theistic evolutionism caused the fall of man and a fallen world?

    3. "What was the event that in the worldview of theistic evolutionism caused the fall of man and a fallen world?"

      Of course, it depends on the theistic evolutionist. For instance, some theistic evolutionists believe that God set two hominids aside and endowed them with his image so that they became Adam and Eve, then the Fall would've played out as described in the Bible. Biblically, it's certainly wonky, to say the least, but that's what they argue.

      However, I presume you're referring to Y-chromosomal Adam and mitochondrial Eve. That is, while our Y-chromosome traces back to a single male, and our mDNA traces back to a single female, it's true some theistic evolutionists don't believe they were an actual couple. Rather, they were separated from one another by thousands of years. In that case, you have a good point: it would stretch the biblical narrative about the Fall to breaking point.

    4. Or maybe I should've said it'd break their theory into thousands of pieces when it collides with the biblical narrative.

    5. I think evolutionary theism combines the theory of evolution with an abstract theism, but with Christian theism that makes more specific statements about reality does not work.

      In the end, it's neither consistent with the Bible nor with the theory of evolution.

    6. Hard to disagree with your assessment! :)

  2. At some point in time, I've been a theistic evolutionist, YEC, and OEC. I'm currently an Old-Earth Creationist.

    I think the biggest problem theistic evolution has is math. If naturalistic evolution isn't plausible, neither is theistic evolution. So all critiques of naturalistic evolution count against it. So all the critiques from Michael Behe (who may technically count as a theistic evolutionist) would go against this view.

    The main problem is computational. You can't find proteins that match in a blind process that easily.

    1. As you know, theistic evolution is the mainstream view on modern Catholicism.

  3. I just finished reading this book (A Fool and a heretic), and I'm disappointed. I wanted to read a Christian (YEC) defense of creation, but it was mostly a book about how the two men could still get along despite how much they disagree. Worst of all, in one of the chapters, the evolutionist presented a TON of specific evidence for evolution thru 10 pages, and the creationist replied with a mere 5-page summary of only 2 specific evidences for creation. I was left with more questions than answers, thinking, "Wow, I wonder how a Bible-believer would answer or understand this piece of evidence." And I was discouraged when Todd (the Creationist) said he was puzzled by dino nests in the layers of rock that showed a global flood didn't deposit them there...he never told his readers how came to an explanation for the nests.

    1. I agree with you that that's a serious weakness of the book.

    2. I don't own the book, but (I might be getting myself in over my head) if you want to post any excerpts from the book, due to questions or concerns you might have, I'd be willing to try to tackle them. :)

  4. steve or epitsle, do either of you have a recommendation for a YEC book?


    2. That's a good question.

      To my knowledge, there's not a single up-to-date book that defends the major distinctive ideas of YEC (e.g. a mature universe and earth, predation before the fall, a global flood). The closest I can think of right now is The New Creationism by Paul Garner, which I own and have read but not all of it. However, I wasn't particularly impressed from what I read to be honest. I thought it was a mixed bag. Perhaps I'll have to give it a second look. That said, if you want a broadly based introduction to YEC, then it's a reasonable place to start.

      I think someone like Henry Morris might've done so in the past, but I've never read him, for better or worse. More to the point, I think he had his heyday well before my time so I'm not sure how worthwhile it would be to read him in light of modern challenges. Not only in terms of scientific challenges (e.g. molecular and cell biology, chemistry including radiocarbon dating methods, astrophysics, the geological and paleontological sciences), but biblical and philosophical and other challenges too.

      Just to be clear I'm not suggesting that's entirely due to intrinsic issues in YEC. Rather, I suspect a large reason I don't see a single such book is because it would take something of a polymath to do it justice. Merely consider the science alone: science has become so subdivided and super specialized that I don't see how it's possible to master well enough the major relevant scientific issues to make a systematic case for YEC. To be fair, that's not limited to YEC either, I don't think, but applies broadly to Christian apologetics as a whole.

      So I suppose the ideal today would be to read different scholars on different topics. In that respect, I very much appreciate Steve's list.

      Short of this, say if you have time or other constraints, I think a reasonable gateway into YEC would be through philosophy since philosophy is able to intelligently cover such a broad range of topics. Among philosophers, I think Paul Nelson is one of the best philosophers who argues for YEC. I've even seen Nelson take on the biological issues involved in a defense of YEC. I believe Nelson has published a short ebook in defense of YEC (along with John Mark Reynolds).