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Evaluating Evolution: Using Philosophy, Psychology and Physics

Dr. Olson,

I read your article titled ‘Evaluating Evolution: Using Philosophy, Psychology and Physics' that is on the TCCSA web. As stated in the first paragraph of the article your purpose in writing the article is to “raise questions and stimulate thought”.

I read the article and it certainly stimulated my thoughts. I found a number of points that I believe to be in error. (In fact I don't believe that I found any valid points.) I wanted to share my opinions on those points with you.

I am a strong believer in evolution – so much so that I consider it to be right there with gravity (for example) as a scientific fact. As such I believe that I am a part of the intended audience for the article, especially since you say that you “hope to make everyone skeptical of those who say that evolution is a proven fact”. I am one of those people who believes that evolution is a proven fact.

I am a Christian who attends a Baptist Church regularly. About ten years ago, my family moved to a different community and we started to go to the church that we currently attend. We chose the church primarily because the preacher was capable of entertaining and moving sermons.

During one of the first few sermons that we listened to, the preacher made some comments against evolution. I had taken biology courses in high school and college and felt that evolution was pretty much a given fact of science and had never thought about it much. When I found out that a man that I respected very much had questions about evolution, I felt that I should look into those questions for myself.

So I did so.

The preacher loaned me three books and two pamphlets on creationism to read. I also read the Henry Morris book “Scientific Creationism”.

However I also read books on evolution. It wouldn't have been “fair and balanced” (to use a phrase seen on TV) to just get information and arguments from just one side of the issue.

My studies convinced me that evolution is a scientific fact. Creationism is primarily half-truths, exaggerations, out-of-context quotations and even outright lies.

Moreover, I found out that creationism is decidedly anti-God and anti-Christian. As a Christian I feel that it was my duty to fight against it.

I still attend the same church and the same preacher still gives powerful sermons nearly every Sunday. He still occasionally argues against evolution. However when he does so, he knows that he will get an email from me early the next week indicating where I believe that he is mistaken. In fact during his sermons he will often seek me out in the congregation and smile at me when he makes such a comment.

Early in your article, you ask two questions. First you ask, "Could I be wrong on this topic?" You also ask, "If I were wrong, could I be convinced?" These are good questions. As you can see, they are questions that I have asked myself regarding evolution. But they are also questions that creationists should ask themselves about creationism. Very few do that.

The preacher of our church is a wonderful man. When our daughter was sick a few years ago he was a source of strength for the entire family. Our prayers were answered and our daughter recovered.

However he is a man of God. He is not a scientist. He has never asked himself if he could be wrong on the subject of a literal interpretation of the Biblical stories of the Garden of Eden. He would never allow himself to be convinced to accept evolution. So it is with nearly all other creationists.

But that's enough about my background.

In your article you make this definition:

“By "evolution" I mean the notion that we and all living things come from non-living things, and have developed by completely natural means without any outside direction or power.”

I think that the first part of your definition is one that the majority or scientists would disagree with. I know that I disagree with it.

The creation of “life” from non-living things is called “abiogenesis” in the scientific community. There is a great deal of active research taking place on that subject. But the research is done by biochemists, not by biologists.

Most scientists would provide a different definition for “evolution”. One of the most respected evolutionary biologists has defined biological evolution as follows:

"In the broadest sense, evolution is merely change, and so is all-pervasive; galaxies, languages, and political systems all evolve. Biological evolution ... is change in the properties of populations of organisms that transcend the lifetime of a single individual. The ontogeny of an individual is not considered evolution; individual organisms do not evolve. The changes in populations that are considered evolutionary are those that are inheritable via the genetic material from one generation to the next. Biological evolution may be slight or substantial; it embraces everything from slight changes in the proportion of different alleles within a population (such as those determining blood types) to the successive alterations that led from the earliest protoorganism to snails, bees, giraffes, and dandelions."

- Douglas J. Futuyma in Evolutionary Biology, Sinauer Associates 1986

It is important to note that biological evolution refers to populations and not to individuals and that the changes must be passed on to the next generation. In practice this means that,

Evolution is a process that results in heritable changes in a population spread over many generations.

Note that “biological evolution” does not even necessarily mean “progress” in any definable sense.

By this definition, evolution is an indisputable fact. It has been observed both in laboratories and in nature. In fact “speciation” (evolution taking place to the extent where individuals evolving from the same common ancestor can no longer mate and are therefore different species) is also well documented in the scientific literature. Again this has been documented both in the laboratory and in nature.

But this evolution does not take place until there is already a living thing (a “protoorganism” as Dr. Futuyma calls it). Prior to that it is not generally considered to be evolution. This “protoorganism” could be the result of abiogenesis here on Earth or deliberately put on Earth by some space aliens. Regardless of where it came from, evolution does not begin until that first life form existed.

Abiogenesis is still something of a matter of conjecture. Though there is a great deal of progress taking place in that area of study, certainly no one has yet shown that such a thing can actually take place. Certainly if the current NASA adventures find life on Mars it becomes less a matter of conjecture. But that is really outside of a discussion of evolution. All life on Earth is surely descended from that first “protoorganism”, regardless of how that organism came into existence.

Of course, your arguments regarding abiogenesis, though not related to the subject or your article, are flawed.

For example, you give a long calculation regarding the likelihood that a particular amino acid sequence could be formed to create a typical protein.

Your calculations are basically correct, but your logic is incorrect.

On most Sundays, there are about 250 people in the congregation of my church. If I was to ask 60 of them to form a single line, the odds of them lining up in any particular sequence is 60 factorial (60 times 59 times 58, etc). That calculates to nearly ten to the 83rd power. That is a huge and extremely unlikely number.

Yet a few Sundays ago, we had a dinner attended by about 60 people at our church. Defying all apparent odds, they formed a single line 60 people long! How is that possible given those probabilities?

It is possible because I calculated the odds of a SPECIFIC sequence occurring at random. The odds of ANY sequence appearing are much lower. In this case the odds that the 60 people would line up in SOME sequence was essentially unity (especially since everybody had to pay to get something to eat).

Your calculations assume that there is one – and only one – amino acid sequence that will work. Is that a reasonable assumption?


Certainly the amino acid sequences that you speak of are required for humans to have the body chemistry we do. However there are many other sequences – analogous to the various possible sequences of people standing in line for dinner at my church – that are also possible.

For example there is one protein called "cytochrome c" that has been sequenced in more than 80 different species. Those sequences are all different but the protein performs basically the same function in all of those varied species.

Note that if you are arguing against evolution, you must look at this data as an evolutionist would and make arguments against that view and not some other view. Otherwise you are making a so-called “straw man” argument. Your argument that one and only one amino acid sequence is required for humans is correct. But evolutionists don't believe that humans were “fated” to have the specific biological makeup that we do. We could look completely different with a completely different sequence of amino acids forming our proteins.

To expand on Dr. Stephen J. Gould's quotation that you use later in your article, in his book “The Wonderful Life” he says that evolution is the result of "contingency" -- accident, happenstance, the particular way that events unfold. Things such as cosmic rays arriving at a particular time at a particular place can be factors. He suggests that if you were to rewind and then erase the tape of events to play evolution out once more then the odds are very much against anything like Homo sapiens developing. We're here because we're here -- not because we had to be here.

Completely different amino acid sequences would most certainly occur if we were to go back and restart evolution. However it is likely that SOME sequence would appear. Therefore the odds of complex living organisms appearing on Earth after the first “protoorganism” appeared is, in fact, close to a sure thing – much like the odds of SOME sequence of people standing in line for dinner at the church is close to a sure thing. For an evolutionist the odds are much different from what you calculate because your calculations are based on invalid assumptions – at least not assumptions that evolutionists make.

As one of your professors said, “your argument does not impress me”. Hopefully you understand the reason that it does not impress me (and possibly the reason that it did not impress your professor either).

Later in your article, you say this:

“I have since discovered that those who do not accept evolution are often given failing grades in science classes. Their degrees may be denied. Their papers may be withheld from publication. Tenure may be refused. They will be rejected and ostracized by their peers. Therefore, it becomes a matter of professional survival to accept evolution. If it is accepted irrationally, it will be defended irrationally. Nevertheless, it may be defended passionately since otherwise, a person would have to acknowledge his dishonesty or lack of courage.”

I believe that this is another misstatement of fact. I noticed that you are unable to give any examples of such behavior. Let me give examples of where such behavior does NOT take place.

Dr. Michael Behe, a professor at Lehigh University, wrote a book titled “Darwin's Black Box” that seriously challenged standard Darwinian evolutionary theories. Dr. Michael Denton, MD, PhD from the Manchester Business School in Australia wrote a book titled “Evolution: a Theory in Crisis” that offers sharp criticism of evolution itself. Dr. Phillip Johnson of UC Berkley has written a number of anti-evolutionary books. Others such as Dr. Robert Shapiro has questioned ideas about how life was formed on Earth in his book "Origins: A Skeptics Guide to the Creation of Life on Earth". Rather than being penalized, and contrary to your statement, these professors have all received tenure and grants and such. None of them has lost their university position.

It appears that you are engaging in a practice common to creationism – unsubstantiated claims. The evidence seems to indicate that you are exactly wrong.

You also fail to explain what possible benefit the scientific community gains from stifling ideas. New ideas, new theories and such offer new opportunities for grants and possibly lucrative job openings. All scientists benefit from an open and honest discussion of such new ideas and the very presence of such new ideas.

In fact the more established the scientific idea is, the more that new ideas are encouraged and rewarded. Evolution is probably the most entrenched idea in biology so challenges to that idea would offer the greatest rewards.

The man who won Time Magazine's award as “Man of the 20th Century” is Albert Einstein. He challenged Sir Isaac Newton's views on time and space. Newton's Laws were without doubt the most well established scientific views at the time that Einstein published his most important papers. For his heresies, Einstein received unmatched acclaim and esteem. Those new theories also opened many, many areas of research. Many scientists have careers that would have been much different without Einstein's ideas.

In actual fact, any scientist who could legitimately disprove evolution would be awarded the highest prizes and rewards. Most certainly they would receive the Nobel Prize (as did Einstein for his ideas). Other scientists would rush to embrace such new ideas.

The reason that creationist ideas are not published in scientific journals and that creationists are generally the subject of scorn and ridicule is because their ideas ARE NOT VALID! There is no valid evidence supporting their views.

Scientifically, creationism is a myth.

Your article then turns to theological topics. For example, you write this:

“…but he was indeed correct that if evolution is not true, the only other possibility is creation, which means there is a God. And if there is a God Who created us, then we are answerable to Him and ought to find out all we can about what He expects of us.”

That statement that "the only other possibility is creation" is incorrect.

There are other alternatives to divine creation if evolution is ever proven to be not true. There are certainly MANY, MANY alternatives to the creation stories in the Bible.

Consider the beliefs of the Raëllians. This is a group of about 50,000 people based primarily in France. They made some news a few months ago when they claimed to have cloned a human child.

The Raëllians believe that life came from another planet through the intervention of intelligent alien life forms – not from God. They also believe that apparent evolution is the result of new species being introduced, periodically, by these alien life forms. In their view, dinosaurs vanished not because of a meteor crashing into Earth. Rather the dinosaurs became "out of control" and were killed by the aliens. They do not believe that any of this is the result of mutations and natural selection, as mainstream science believes.

Fundamentally they believe that the Earth is a giant biological laboratory for these aliens.

These beliefs offer an alternative to both evolution and to creation by God. There are other examples available.

In terms of creation stories, there are more than 1000 different cultures with their own stories. Two good sources to see these many stories are the books "Primal Myths" by Barbara Sproul (HarperCollins, San Francisco, 1991) and "A Dictionary of Creation Myths" by David and Margaret Leeming (Oxford, 1994). Not all of these stories require a caring God who expects something from us.

You next make tell this story:

“Noted paleontologist, Stephen Gould of Harvard, once said something like this, ‘Evolution is a fact, because we are here.' I asked some young children what was wrong with this statement and one replied, ‘He thinks there is no God.…'”

In this story, you strongly imply that if you are an evolutionist you must be an atheist.

That is really silly reasoning.

You say that if you are a creationist then you believe in God.

I agree. I cannot conceive of an atheistic creationist.

However you also imply that the converse is true – if you are an evolutionist, then you are an atheist.

That is decidedly NOT true and absurd logic.

Look at this statement:

If you are pregnant, then you are a female.

No one can argue with this statement. But let's consider the converse statement:

If you are not pregnant, then you are a male.

That's ridiculous, right? It is certainly possible to be female and NOT pregnant at the same time. Yet the logic of the two sets of statements is identical.

It is indeed VERY possible to be a believer in evolution and a Christian at the same time.

There are numerous examples of this. I am one of them. You should also consider Pope John Paul II. He believes that evolution is “more than just a theory”. You may disagree with his theological views, but to call him an atheist or even anti-Christian is clearly absurd.

The next philosophical point that you make is this one:

“…the scope of science is limited to natural explanations.”

That is absolutely true. And, of course, evolution is a complete, accurate and indisputable, natural explanation for the variety of life that we see on Earth.

You then say this:

“Actually, there are many assumptions made by the scientist before he even starts to look at data.”

Once again this is absolutely true. All of science is based on assumptions. If I hold a coin out at arm's length and drop it, I ASSUME that it will fall down. It always has in the past, but it is merely an assumption that it will continue to do so.

Is that a valid assumption? I think it is. But it might not be.

Along the same lines, you then say this:

“Also, however, a scientist must assume: that the world exists and that his senses give accurate data about it; that he can manipulate that data with his mind and come up with true conclusions; that he can communicate true information with other people who are seeing the same world; and that the whole universe will not suddenly change tomorrow so that apples fall up instead of down.”

Once again, you are exactly right. Maybe the world doesn't exist as we sense it. Maybe we are trapped in the type of world depicted in the “Matrix” movies.


Saying something is an assumption does not make it invalid. I assume that the sun will rise tomorrow. I'll bet you a lot of money that it does.

God created a universe that causes us to make many assumptions. That's stimulating rather than confining. It's obviously a good thing rather than a bad thing.

In that same way, all of these statements are true:

“…a scientist must assume: that the world exists and that his senses give accurate data about it; that he can manipulate that data with his mind and come up with true conclusions; that he can communicate true information with other people who are seeing the same world; and that the whole universe will not suddenly change tomorrow so that apples fall up instead of down.”

I congratulate you on being able to so well summarize scientific intellectual life in the Earth as we know it.

It is worth pointing out that those same assumptions have been pretty powerful and accurate tools to this point in time. To use the ultimate cliché, those assumptions allowed us to put a man on the moon and, if the current President gets his way, we may also be able to put a man on Mars.

If you argue that this could all be a figment of our imagination, I say that you could be right. But I believe that you are probably wrong. I'm willing to take my chances.

You then say something that is not so easy to agree with. Specifically you say this:

“It is interesting in this regard to note that science has flourished under a Biblical/Christian world view, which sees the Universe as a rational creation of a rational God.”

I disagree with the word “flourish”. In fact the “Christian” worldview – at least as espoused by those who insist on Biblical literalism as do the creationists – has clearly been an impediment to scientific progress and thought.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, scientific progress effectively stopped for more than a millennium. Why? Because the Roman Catholic church – a Christian church – controlled the thinking of the Western world. No questions could be asked. If the Church interpreted the Bible to say that the Earth was the center of the universe, then that's what everyone had to believe. If scientific evidence appeared that said otherwise then it had to be ignored. People were literally burned at the stake if they argued against that view. Copernicus' heliocentric views were not published until after his death precisely because of this threat.

Certainly science did not “flourish” under this influence. In fact science only started to flourish again as the influence of the Christian church diminished.

What if we had that thousand years of scientific progress back? Probably cancer would be cured. Probably energy sources (such as fusion energy) that don't depend on fossil fuels would be common.

We can't probably even imagine the advances that we would have made.

Yet a minority of Christians – specifically creationists – continues to offer the same type of arguments that have proven to be invalid time after time in the past. To imply that such views have somehow caused science to “flourish” is absurd and ridiculous.

I do agree that we should believe that the Universe is a rational creation of a rational God. The real question is: why don't creationists believe that?

You then say this:

“From the naturalistic point of view, the human brain is just an accidental organ, whose evolutionary purpose is supposedly for improved survival. It was designed and programmed by chance and there is no guarantee that it can come up with truth any more than randomly generated letters will come up with meaningful ideas.

There is also no real mechanism for free will in a naturalistic world. The way the brain works, sensory input activates electrical-chemical pathways - predetermined by the present random state of the brain and the pathways taken by previous impulses - and produces a response. In other words, past experience and present happenstance determine what comes out. The person cannot help what he thinks or says. It was just the molecules bouncing around.”

I'm sorry to see that you feel that way about how our brains work, but if they do work that way it is not an indictment of evolution. After all exactly the same characteristics could be true if brains were “designed” by an Intelligent Designer.

Consider, if you will, computers. Those are intelligently designed “thinking” machines. They “cannot help what they think or say”. Their outputs are predetermined. If you run the same computer program with the same inputs 10,000 times you will EXACTLY the same result all 10,000 times.

I don't believe that brains work in the way that you describe. There is certainly no evidence that they are in a “random state” at any particular time and certainly evolution doesn't imply "random states" in our brain. But if they do work that way, it really doesn't make any difference whether they are the result of evolution or intelligent design. Either could be the case.

In fact, a belief in Biblical inerrancy creates a stronger argument towards predetermined states of the brain and a lack of free will, than does evolution.

People who believe in Biblical inerrancy believe in Biblical prophecies. If someone prophesizes something to occur in the future then it is predetermined and can't be changed. Especially if such things are prophesized for individual people, then those people are “fated” to arrive at the particular state or condition that was prophesized for them. They do not have free will to change that.

This is also true of the authors of the Bible. According to Biblical literalists they were divinely inspired to create inerrant texts. They were incapable of making any errors – even well intentioned “errors”. They did not have free will.

On the other hand, I've already shown how it is the view of evolutionists that we are not fated. If the tape of evolution was somehow rewound and then replayed forward the expectation is that we would be much different than we are now.

Evolutionists believe in free will.

It would appear that this is a criticism more appropriately applied to creationism than it is to evolution.

But you are really not talking about brains. Instead you are really talking about the presence of a soul – something beyond the physical brain.

In this you are simply showing a lack of imagination. You believe the Genesis stories of Adam and Eve. Those accounts describe how a soul was created. You feel that those accounts are the ONLY way that a soul could be created so if those stories are not true, then there are no souls.

Which, of course, is untrue.

I believe that we all have souls. Dr. Kenneth Miller, who is both a devout Christian and a biochemist, has written a wonderful book titled “Finding Darwin's God” that describes how he, too, believes that we all have souls. The Pope is another example. He accepts evolution but certainly also believes that we have immortal souls.

If you lack the imagination to understand how souls can become a part of us without the existence of a Garden of Eden, then I feel sorry for you.

Then a few paragraphs later, you say this:

“It is then possible to even see a credible case for a young universe.”

There is NO rational, credible case for a young universe – except for one possible consideration. That consideration is that God is a liar and a deceiver.

God created a universe that APPEARS to be about 15 Billion years old. He created a solar system that APPEARS to be about 4.5 Billion years old. He also created a fossil record that APPEARS to show an increase in biological complexity over time – in other words to show evolution.

On the other hand, God is capable of doing anything. Therefore God could have created the entire universe at 5:43 am this morning (CST) and placed in our heads the exact memories and thoughts that we have right now.

God COULD have done that.

But to do so would have been to create a universe in a way intended to deceive us.

If you believe in a young universe then you believe that God is a liar. There are no other possibilities.

You are thereby promoting an anti-God belief system. Creationism is such a system.

You then say this:

“Reason only brings us so far, for we see a creation that is not only intricately designed and beautiful, we also see evil and suffering.”

We do see evil and suffering. And not just in humans.

For example, there are over 100 species of parasitic wasps that sting and paralyze a host insect or worm. The wasp then inserts its eggs within the immobile victim. The eggs hatch and feed on the internal organs of the still living host until it dies and the eggs can pupate.

It would be difficult to imagine a more cruel system. Yet, according to creationists, God DESIGNED this system.

I could give many more examples of the cruelty of nature. These examples have nothing to do with free will (unless you believe that wasps have a brain and are making conscious decisions). It has everything to do with believing in a cruel rather than a caring God – that is if you believe that all of this was “intelligently designed”.

Once again, your view is anti-God. I believe that God is honest, kind and caring. You are a creationist. You must either believe that God is dishonest, cruel and uncaring or deal with those inconsistencies.

If one were to “Evaluate Creationism using philosophy, psychology and physics”, one would find the creationist belief system to be intellectually bankrupt, completely absent of any evidence supporting it and counter to the very things that it claims to support and promote.

It is certainly something that all true Christians should fight against.

R**** C****

Intellectual Respectability

Dr. Olson,

Thank your for you acknowledgement of receipt of my earlier email. I look forward to your comments.

One additional argument that I neglected to include in my original email related to this statement from the web site with your article:

“…the case against evolution removes the illusion that atheism is intellectually respectable…”

I disagree. I believe that in fact creationism does more to make atheism intellectually respectable than does evolution.

Allow me to begin my argument with a quotation from St. Augustine:

"Often a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other parts of the world, about the motions and orbits of the stars and even their sizes and distances,... and this knowledge he holds with certainty from reason and experience. It is thus offensive and disgraceful for an unbeliever to hear a Christian talk nonsense about such things, claiming that what he is saying is based in Scripture. We should do all that we can to avoid such an embarrassing situation, lest the unbeliever see only ignorance in the Christian and laugh to scorn."

-- St. Augustine, "De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim" (The Literal Meaning of Genesis)

Obviously St. Augustine was speaking of science other than evolution, but his comments are relevant to the evolution/creationism debate as well. Making claims based on Biblical interpretation that disagree with scientific evidence makes Christianity seem to be lacking in intellectual respectability. This strongly implies that opposing views, most specifically atheism, have more respectability than does Christianity.

I would like to share with you a personal experience or mine that reinforces this point.

When I was in college at the University of Minnesota, I had a friend and fellow student named Michael who was raised without any religious background. In fact he had never been inside a church except to attend a wedding or a funeral. We had a mutual acquaintance named Lee – I won't call him a mutual friend. Lee was the only die-hard creationist that either of us knew. When I tried to convince Michael to visit my church, he would laugh and, referring to Lee, say he didn't need to lose any of his brain cells in a place like church. Creationism – at least as represented by Lee – hindered the possible Christian conversion of someone.

The bottom line here – it is perfectly legitimate to argue against mainstream scientific views. However if you disagree with mainstream science – ESPECIALLY if you do so in the name of Christianity - you had better be right. If you are not right, your actions will lower the intellectual respectability of Christianity – the religious viewpoint that you are representing.

Yet it is extremely obvious that creationists are much more concerned about convincing people than they are about being right about the science. Read these words about the global flood written by Henry Morris, unquestionably a leader in the scientific creationist movement:

"But the main reason for insisting on the universal Flood as a fact of history and as the primary vehicle for geological interpretation is that God's Word plainly teaches it! No geologic difficulties, real or imagined, can be allowed to take precedence over the clear statements and necessary inferences of Scripture." Dr. Henry Morris, Biblical Cosmology and Modern Science (1970) p.32-33

Please pay special attention to the phrase “real or imagined”.

Dr. Morris isn't interested in being right. He says that even “real” geological difficulties should be ignored. This is an attitude that pervades creationism.

As long as most creationists share that attitude, creationism lends more intellectual respectability to atheism than evolution ever will.

Once again, creationism is something that all true Christians should fight against.

R**** C****

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