Why Evolution Works (and Creationism Fails)

Why Evolution Works (and Creationism Fails)

Matt Young
Paul K. Strode
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Why Evolution Works (and Creationism Fails)
    Book Description:

    Why Evolution Works (and Creationism Fails) is an impassioned argument in favor of science-primarily the theory of evolution-and against creationism. Why impassioned? Should not scientists be dispassionate in their work? "Perhaps," write the authors, "but it is impossible to remain neutral when our most successful scientific theories are under attack, for religious and other reasons, by laypeople and even some scientists who willfully distort scientific findings and use them for their own purposes."Focusing on what other books omit, how science works and how pseudoscience works, Matt Young and Paul K. Strode demonstrate the futility of "scientific" creationism. They debunk the notion of intelligent design and other arguments that show evolution could not have produced life in its present form.Concluding with a frank discussion of science and religion, Why Evolution Works (and Creationism Fails) argues that science by no means excludes religion, though it ought tocast doubt on certain religious claims that are contrary to known scientific fact.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4864-7
    Subjects: General Science, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Tables and Boxes
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Foreword
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    Kevin Padian

    Some time ago after a public lecture I gave, I had the pleasure of a long and fascinating conversation with several young men who were obviously very intelligent, educated, conservative Christians. They had good questions and they listened to what responses I could offer them, and in return, they were able to ponder some of my own questions for them and provide good answers.

    They asked me why, if evolution was governed by random processes, it was not completely incompatible with the idea that there was a purpose and meaning to life, one that could be directed by a divine...

  6. Preface
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  7. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  8. Part I The Basics and the History
    • Chapter 1 Introduction
      (pp. 3-13)

      The theory of evolution is one of the most successful in all of science. Its predictions have been verified countless times since the publication of Charles Darwin’sOn the Origin of Speciesin 1859. As we will see, the evidence is so stunning and complete that we are confident in saying thatdescent with modificationis an observed fact. Further, the modern theory of evolution, also called themodern synthesis, combines Darwin’s concept of descent with modification with the theory of genetics. The modern synthesis accounts for the observed facts better than any other theory.

      Biological, or organic, evolution refers...

    • Chapter 2 The Structure of This Book
      (pp. 14-19)

      A modest fraction of this book is devoted to refuting all varieties of creationism. Hence, we discuss, in chapter 3, a “History of Creationism and Evolutionary Science in the United States.” Before the development of modern science, nearly everyone was a creationist, in a sense. But even those who believed in the Bible literally saw the necessity to interpret it so that their understanding of the Bible was consistent with scientific facts as they were understood at the time. Thus, when the antiquity of the earth became apparent, theologians proposed, for example, that the days of the creation might have...

    • Chapter 3 History of Creationism and Evolutionary Science in the United States
      (pp. 20-34)

      In the beginning, nearly everyone was a creationist, in a manner of speaking. Much about the universe and the earth has the appearance of design, and the only designers we know (humans) are purposeful and intelligent. Lacking any other theory, we find it easy to ascribe the design we see in nature to a deity or, in the case of the Greeks, Romans, and others, deities. To Christian Europeans and Jews, the creator was God; Christian Europe accepted the Hebrew Bible as an accurate account of the creation of the earth. When the Scottish archbishop James Ussher in 1654 examined...

  9. Part II How Science Works (and Creationism Doesn’t)
    • Chapter 4 How Science Works
      (pp. 37-48)

      We will argue in this book that intelligent-design creationism (ID creationism) is not science but pseudoscience. That is, it uses the terminology of science, seemingly applies the tools of science, but in fact only masquerades as science. Before we can establish what is a pseudoscience and what is not, however, we need to examine how science works.

      What do scientists do when they want to find a new law? We’ll let you in on a little secret: They guess at it.

      What do scientists do when they want to find a new law? We’ll let you in on a little...

    • Chapter 5 How Pseudoscience Works
      (pp. 49-53)

      How can we distinguish pseudoscience from science? How can we tell that a field is pseudoscience rather than a daring and far-out yet valid approach to a specific scientific problem? The history of science is littered with heresies that were eventually accepted as correct. How do we recognize a pseudoscience and distinguish it from an honest but unlikely scientific theory?

      The short answer is that the boundary between what is science and what is not science is fuzzy, and sometimes cannot be located. Indeed, philosophers of science spend a great deal of effort on what they call thedemarcation problem,...

    • Chapter 6 Why Creationism Fails
      (pp. 54-58)

      This chapter discusses scientific creationism, under which heading we classify both young- and old-earth creationism. Young-earth creationists assume that the earth and indeed the universe are only thousands of years old, whereas old-earth creationists agree that the earth is billions of years old. Both use the Bible as their source of information, and both develop supposedly scientific arguments to reconcile what we know of science with their interpretations of the Bible and, in particular, the first few chapters of Genesis.

      Young-earth creationists, for example, search high and low for evidence of the Noachian flood and invent fake fields of study...

    • Chapter 7 The Argument from Design
      (pp. 59-63)

      These words by William Paley were written in 1800. They are the classic statement of the argument from design.

      In Paley’s time, most people believed in fixed species; that is, they thought that the species were set at the creation and remained unchanged thereafter. Many scientific creationists hold that view today, arguing thatkinds(see chapter 3) were created at once, and that, while there can be variation within kinds, there can be no crossing from one kind to another. Thus, the dog kind may originally have had only one or two members but now displays a number of breeds....

    • Chapter 8 Why Intelligent-Design Creationism Fails
      (pp. 64-78)

      Intelligent-design creationism is the successor to scientific creationism such as that practiced by the flood geologists. ID creationists argue, in a variation on the argument from design, that they can rigorously infer design, whereas William Paley more or less assumed design. The heart of their argument is the claim that organisms are too complex to have evolved by chance. ID creationism has two main planks: a logical procedure called theexplanatory filter, and analogies between living organisms and machines. The explanatory filter is said to never wrongly infer design where there is none. The analogy with machines is used to...

  10. Part III The Science of Evolution
    • Chapter 9 The Father of Evolution
      (pp. 81-85)

      When Charles Darwin was sixteen years old, his father decided to send him to school to study medicine, just as Darwin’s father and grandfather had. Darwin lasted two years before his father pulled his easily distracted son out of medical school and enrolled him in the University of Cambridge to study for the clergy. After three years at Christ’s College, Cambridge, Darwin graduated tenth out of 178 students with the intention of settling down somewhere as a country clergyman. While in school, however, Darwin had spent most of his free time taking courses on natural history from a Cambridge botany...

    • Chapter 10 How Evolution Works
      (pp. 86-98)

      Creationists like to stress chance, as if chance automatically ruled out evolutionary change. Chance is indeed a factor in evolution, but it is not the whole story. Indeed, chance can often lead to very predictable behavior. Thus, before we go on to discuss evolution, let us examine a physical phenomenon that, like evolution, is governed by chance but leads to very lawlike behavior: diffusion.

      Suppose that we prepare a shallow dish and fill it with water. In the dead center of the dish we inject a small droplet of dye (figure 7, left). With time, the droplet will spread out,...

    • Chapter 11 Recapitulation
      (pp. 99-102)

      In 1874, a german comparative embryologist and Darwin enthusiast, Ernst Haeckel, began publishing his drawings of vertebrate embryos in various stages of development to explain common ancestry and to support Darwin’s theory of evolution. Haeckel drew the first phylogenies and coined the term “tree of life” (see chapter 13). His skillful and detailed drawings clearly showed that the early-stage embryos of many species of vertebrates are nearly if not wholly identical. With his drawings and accompanying descriptions, Haeckel promoted the idea that “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny,” also called thebiogenic law. The biogenic law states that the path of an organism...

    • Chapter 12 Evo Devo: How Evolution Constantly Remodels
      (pp. 103-117)

      At the turn of the twentieth century, embryologist-turned-geneticist Thomas Hunt Morgan began work on understanding genetics using a tiny, neglected little insect called the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster; yes, the same one that’s on your bananas right now!). The normal eye color for fruit flies is brilliant red. One day, however, in his “fly room” at Columbia University, Morgan looked into the vial of fruit flies that had been living for almost a year and discovered that one of the males had white eyes. This is the first documentation of the now famous white-eye mutation. Morgan and his students’ relentless...

    • Chapter 13 Phylogenetics
      (pp. 118-130)

      Something happened over the last 3.8 billion years to create the biodiversity found on earth today. The job of evolutionary biologists and paleontologists is to ascertain what happened, how it happened, and why it happened. In other words, their challenge is to reconstruct the patterns and the history of evolution, and one of the most illustrative products to come out of this quest is the “tree of life,” a model of the evolutionary relationships among past and present organisms. The first trees were constructed not by Charles Darwin, but by Ernst Haeckel, who coined the phrase tree of life (see...

    • Chapter 14 Design by Committee: The Twists, Turns, and Flips of Human Anatomy
      (pp. 131-142)

      In his bookYour Inner Fish, Neil Shubin, a biologist at the University of Chicago, argues that “our humanity comes at a cost.” What Shubin is referring to are our numerous fumbled, frail, faulty, and often downright useless structures and functions, many of which have their origin in our fish ancestors. As our evolutionary tree grew and added branches, fish were the first group to evolve jaws, paired appendages, paired sensory organs, a backbone, and even a head. We humans can be thankful for most of these developments. Yet with our kinship to fish, we also inherited some characteristics that...

  11. Part IV The Universe
    • Chapter 15 How We Know the Age of the Earth
      (pp. 145-164)

      Darwin well knew that his theory would fall if the earth were not immensely old, far older than the few thousand years that Archbishop Ussher had predicted (see chapter 3). The view that the earth was young was comparatively recent and largely a result of Christians’ literalist reading of the Bible. Ancient Greek scholars, such as Xenophanes and Herodotus, recognized that fossils were the remains of organisms that had lived long ago and had somehow been preserved in rocks. Leonardo da Vinci in the late 1400s drew a similar conclusion when he examined the fossils of marine organisms that had...

    • Chapter 16 Is the Universe Fine-Tuned for Life?
      (pp. 165-172)

      The fundamental physical constants are the charge of the electron and the proton, the mass of the electron, the mass of the proton, the gravitational constant, and others. Every electron and every proton has the same mass and charge as every other. Likewise, the charge of the electron is exactly equal to that of the proton but opposite in sign; that is, the proton carries a positive charge, and the electron a negative charge. On the other hand, the mass of the earth and the acceleration due to gravity are not fundamental constants because we can, at least in principle,...

  12. Part V Evolution, Ethics, and Religion
    • Chapter 17 Evolution and Ethics
      (pp. 175-183)

      Evolution is amoral. The wasp parasitizes the caterpillar, the cheetah preys on the gazelle, and the bacterium infects the child, each without regard to its responsibility to the victim. Indeed, it has no responsibility to its victim. Nature, as Alfred, Lord Tennyson said, is “red in tooth and claw.” Survival of the fittest. It’s a dog-eat-dog world.

      That, at least, was once the prevailing view. Humans, unlike other animals and bacteria, are thought to behave uniquely ethically or morally, even altruistically. If evolution or natural selection is amoral, then where did morality come from? One of the important advances in...

    • Chapter 18 Why Science and Religion Are Compatible
      (pp. 184-193)

      Science and religion have more in common than many people think. According to the philosopher of religion Ian Barbour, both formulate hypotheses, both test their hypotheses, and both include an element of faith. Science, however, requires precise hypotheses, tested rigorously against empirical standards; if it relies on faith, it is a very different kind of faith from religious faith.

      In his bookThe Radical Reform of Christianity: A Focus on Catholicism, religious studies professor Edward Brennan of Cleveland State University argues that “both science and spiritual teaching are entirely problem-based.” But, Brennan explains, religious extremists commonly err when they think...

    • Chapter 19 Summary and Conclusion
      (pp. 194-196)

      This book has been a brief arguing in favor of evolution in particular and science in general, and against all forms of creationism. We began by demonstrating why evolution is important and also why people are, frankly, afraid of it. We noted, in particular, that scientific facts are true whether or not we like them and, indeed, whether or not we understand them. Further, we consider it intellectually dishonest to deny a well-supported scientific theory such as evolution on aesthetic grounds or by appealing to an inappropriate authority. Descent with modification is a fact that is supported by evidence from...

  13. Glossary
    (pp. 197-216)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 217-220)
  15. Index
    (pp. 221-242)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 243-244)