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Second Round Of Discussions Between R**** C**** and Ross Olson

Installments sent by R**** C**** between 2/16/04 and 2/23/04, Answered by Ross Olson 2/21/04 and 2/23/04

Personal religious views

Dr. Olson,

In your email you asked me some questions about my personal religious views. I wanted to let you know that I will not go into detail about those views.

It is not because I am ashamed of them. Neither is it because my views are substantially different from yours - they are probably pretty close. My motives are different.

I debate other creationists. I have been exchanging email messages with one for over three years.

The second one that I engaged in a debate asked me about my religious views, so I told him what they were. Our debate then became a theological debate and we really only discussed evolution peripherally. I'm afraid that will happen again.

The 'S' in your organization's name - TCCSA - stands for Science. Your organization is not named the Twin Cities Christian THEOLOGY Association (or TCCTA). Science is a more objective field of study than is theology. I think that you are wrong about your science and I believe that I can objectively show that. Debating individual theological views is interesting but less clear-cut and, ultimately, it is irrelevant to science. I hope that we can agree on that.

While I believe that personal theological views aren't relevant, general theological views can be. For example, a statement beginning with phrases such as "most evolutionists" or "the majority of creationists" may be relevant and I will respond to such statements. (I may also make such statements.)

I feel that general theological views should be permitted primarily because I feel that creationists effectively feel that they have a "free pass". They may not always tell the truth but because they are trying to promote, at least in their own minds, some pro-God viewpoint such falsehoods should be forgiven.

Martin Luther once said:

""What harm would it do, if a man told a good strong lie for the sake of the good and for the Christian church...a lie out of necessity, a useful lie, a helpful lie, such lies would not be against God, He would accept them."

I believe that most creationists accept this viewpoint. On the other hand I believe that the exact opposite is true.

An atheist speaks only for himself or herself. If they tell lies or exaggerate or take quotations out of context they only harm their own credibility.

On the other hand if a theistic person tells a lie or exaggerates or takes a quotation out of context when they are claiming to speak for God they diminish that very God that they aim to speak for. In your own words, such actions make "atheism more intellectually respectable".

I consider it to be hugely ironic that they consider it important for the Bible to be inerrant but they don't consider errors in their own actions or arguments to be particularly important.

It is my own view that they should be made aware that their actions are important. Integrity - when you claim to speak for God - is even more important than a person's integrity when speaking only for themselves.

R**** C****

Personal religious views

Mr. C****,

Since you are calling me "Dr. Olson" even though I said you could call me "Ross," I will respond calling you "Mr. C****."

You are not making a whole lot of sense in this message. You claim to be a Christian and say that your views are probably close to mine, but you have said you think that the Bible must be full of errors. You say that if Biblical prophecies are true, there could be no free will. You claim that the Creation position is harmful and drives people away from God while I think that it is a turning point for many people to realize that we cannot

have come about by chance. On that point the apostle Paul in the first chapter of his letter to the Romans agrees with me – and I think that is also God's opinion. And when I point out that the core of the gospel, according to the Bible, is that we are sinners and need Jesus to be our Savior, you have so far been unwilling to endorse that position. I cannot tell so far if you are really a Christian or even know what it means!

The reason for asking what you believe is that there is a whole separate track that needs to be explored when a Christian believes in evolution (as I once did.) This involves the nature of the Bible which is the only source of our knowledge concerning the plan of salvation, as well as the nature of God -- is He a distant, hands-off God Who uses clumsy, wasteful, destructive methods to create and might be expected to act similarly in the present and future, or is He a God Who created decisively to make free moral agents who had a choice of rejecting His will, and is now taking the evil consequences of that fallen human will and weaving it into eternal glory for those who turn to Him in humility. You don't seem to have much respect for the Bible although you feel that prayer helped heal your child. I cannot tell from your own testimony what your spiritual temperature is or even if you are truly spiritually alive. But you ask to not discuss theology and I will honor that request except where you bring up the topic.

You decry the telling of lies for a good cause. I agree. I also believe that a person can tell untrue things because he sincerely is wrong and would put you in that category. We need to proceed with the discussion to clarify whether or not I am right.

Ross Olson

A definition

Dr. Olson,

Thank you for your detailed response.

What I would like to do -- with your permission -- is to break our discussion into multiple threads. The reason I recommend this is simply a practical one. I tend to be, for better or worse, somewhat verbose - as you have no doubt noted already. Professionally I spend a fair amount of my time writing technical specifications. In such specifications no details are left out. That carries over to some extent to my other correspondence. Each of our posts may end up being many printed pages long if we didn't break it up into separate topics.

This is especially true because you also appear to be somewhat verbose - something for which I'm grateful.

Therefore I would like to use this email to focus on what is probably most appropriate - a definition of what we are talking about.

The title of the article at TCCSA.COM that I commented on is titled "Evaluating Evolution". At that web site you offer your definition of evolution. I pointed out that your definition disagrees with the definition that I have seen proposed by evolutionists.

In your email to me in response you said this:

"Either things are here because of natural processes alone, or because - in part or in whole - of supernatural causes. Either life came about altogether by chance and the laws of nature or there was intelligent intervention. These are the only two logical possibilities. For the atheist, it has to be the former. They will tolerate no 'divine foot in the door'. Of course there are theists, even Christians, who believe in evolution. Some even believe in spontaneous abiogenesis as I once did. But the comprehensive atheistic worldview has to explain everything without resort to God. Thus the hard-core naturalists claim that the Big Bang originated from a 'quantum fluctuation of nothingness' in which 'nothing' spontaneously became 'something' and essentially 'blew up.' They then believe that the entire universe developed from that point on into stars, planets, life and ultimately human beings."

I think that you are being a little simplistic. There is a very wide range of opinions about how much divine intervention is required - just within the creationist community. There are young-Earth creationists, old-Earth creationists, theistic evolutionists, Intelligent Design advocates and a wide range of other viewpoints. Certainly none of these are atheists, but it is not simply black and white as to whether any scientific discovery involves divine intervention or not.

But what you are talking about is a MUCH broader subject than just evolution. You are lumping everything from the way that the universe was created (the "Big Bang") to how stars and planets, life on Earth and everything else was created. Scientifically - though possibly not philosophically -- those are MANY different topics involving different and very diverse fields of science. The Big Bang and the creation of stars and planets -- Physics. The creation of life -- chemistry. Evolution -- biology. If that is what you meant in your title then you shouldn't title it "Evaluating Evolution". Instead you should call it something like "Evaluating the Atheistic View of Things".

You want to argue philosophical issues. Yet you are doing it in an article with a scientific word in the title: "evolution".

If, indeed, you wish to discuss topics with the word "evolution" in the title and specifically argue against the views of mainstream science on that subject, then you must adhere to the definitions of those whom you argue against. Otherwise you are arguing against a "straw-man" -- a made-up point of view. You may prove the theory that you are arguing against to be incorrect but to what end? Unless you are arguing against a theory that other people actually believe you are simply making yourself feel good -- you're not actually convincing anyone.

Evolution -- according to evolutionists -- is the cause of the diversity in life that has occurred since life arrived on Earth. It has nothing to do with the "Big Bang". It also has nothing to do with abiogenesis.

If it were proven that stars were created from acorns and planets created from cashews and life arrived on Earth from outer space, not a single word of Darwin's "Origin of Species" would have to be rewritten.

To be frank, your email is completely typical of those written by creationists. You put the word "evolution" in the title of your article because you understand the emotional appeal of that word. But in actual fact you don't want to talk about evolution. You want to talk about atheists. People know -- as I do -- that atheism is wrong. By linking the two topics you are trying to convince people that evolution is also wrong through simple guilt by association.

So I anxiously wait for you response. Do you want to talk about evolution? Or do you want to talk about something else? Since you mention evolution so prevalently in your articles at the TCCSA.COM web site, I would think that you would want to talk about that but it appears that I could be wrong.

R**** C****

A definition

Mr. C****,

Since you write technical specifications for a living it is not surprising that you would want to get technical. To get even more technical, what you want to call "evolution" should be properly called "Darwinism." If you have looked through the TCCSA website and the linked sites, you will have noticed that it contains a great deal of critique of Darwinism.

I admit that in the paper you critiqued to begin this discussion, I was talking about naturalism and used evolution as a more generally understood short hand term. The term evolution has been used, though, for many kinds of change including stellar evolution. The bait and switch technique, however, is standard procedure for evolutionists and you did it yourself, claiming that evolution is just change in populations and since nobody argues with that, discussion is closed.

There are major problems with Darwinism from a genetic perspective and a fossil perspective. The same mathematical principles that rule out abiogenesis rule out the spontaneous generation of new features. Natural selection is not a creative force. It only acts on what is there. Do you expect random forces, like a two year old child at the keyboard, to write the great American novel or a better operating system for your PC? The vast majority of changes in populations are not due to new mutations but to re-sorting of the characteristics that were already in the genome. Darwin's finches have beaks appropriate to their environment. But when the environment changes, in the next few generations they change back. None of them develop prehensile thumbs or start playing chess. Look at my discussions with Tom Lawson and Dr. Edward Max ( and ) as well as letters to an unnamed theistic evolutionist. See and .

The fossil record, even using the genetically untenable "punctuated equilibrium" model of Gould, ought to have left millions of transitional forms. Even if the changes took place "relatively rapidly in isolated populations" because there are so many millions of transitions that have to be made, statistically we ought to see thousands of those transitions between phyla, classes, orders and families in the fossil record.

Ross Olson

Abusing Kitcher

Dr. Olson,

In your thoughtful response to my initial email message on evolution, you said this:

"Prominent anti-creationist Philip Kitcher's Abusing Science made elaborate arguments that sounded impressive but on close examination did not hold water. See"

Based on your recommendation I looked at that web site.

I think that I now know why you were not impressed by Kitcher's book. It appears that you really don't understand evolution very well.

For example, you use this example:

"Consider a typewriter with 20 keys including the punctuation and space. What is the probability of typing, by accident, the following: NOW IS THE TIME FOR ALL GOOD MEN TO COME TO THE AID OF THE PARTY...TO COME TO THE AID OF THE PARTY. This happens to be 100 characters long using 20 different characters."

You calculate the odds of someone typing that at random as 1 in 10130.


Your calculations are completely wrong relative to evolution because they don't factor in natural selection! Natural Selection is the single most important concept of evolution and none of your examples factor that in. Natural selection depends on positive mutations. Those mutations are "kept" and passed on to an organism's descendents. Negative mutations also occur but they are cast aside.

But your example can be slightly modified to include something like natural selection. So let's do that in order to see the effect of natural selection.

Let's say that every time the person doing the typing randomly types the correct key in the proper position, then that is considered to be a "positive mutation" which is then kept. The typist does not need to type a character at that position any more.

For example, if the person happens to randomly type the letter 'O' in the second position - which is the correct character for that position - then that character no longer needs to be typed. The keyboard will "skip" over that position as the typist types.

If the person typed the wrong character in any position, then that would be considered to be a "negative" mutation and would be discarded by forcing the person to type another random character in that same position.

This would be somewhat analogous to natural selection. It would be a long-term process involving a series of individual minor changes including both positive and negative "mutations" with the majority of those "mutations" being negative. The positive "mutations" are kept and the "negative" mutations are discarded.

There are 100 characters in the message. In each position there are, you say, 20 possibilities. The odds that any "mutation" is positive are only 5% (1 in 20). All other "mutations" are negative.

Let's say that the first time this line is typed using these rules, three correct characters are found in their proper position. (In other words there are three "positive" mutations.) That's slightly below our expectation (100 locations each of which have a 1/20 chance of being correct should average five hits). But now the next time that we type we only have 97 characters that have to be typed correctly.

The next time six characters (6 out of 97) are found to be correct. This leaves 91 characters to be typed next time. This is slightly higher than we would expect.

The next time only one character is correct. This is disappointing but it leaves only 90 characters left to be found.

I could go on, but I think that you get the idea.

In actual fact, if you include something like natural selection as described here, the message would on average appear correctly after about 2000 total keystrokes. A fast typist could type that in a just a few minutes.

That number is about 126 orders of magnitude below the value that you calculate.

I hope that this gives you some idea of the power of natural selection.

This all may seem to be theoretical, but artificial natural selection actually has a practical application.

Let me ask you this question, "What are the odds that a computer -- producing design components purely at random -- could put those components together to form a well designed complex computer circuit?"

Those are difficult odds to calculate, but whatever they are -- random components put together to form a well designed complex circuit -- have to have very long odds indeed.

And they would be - unless you factor in natural selection.

There is something in computer programming called genetic algorithms. The web site explains them like this:

"Scientists and engineers around the world have started looking at evolutionary biology as an example of a new way of designing hardware and software. There are few 'market ready' applications yet, but the results so far have been encouraging. Using evolution-type methods, computers have come up with novel approaches for circuit designs, signal-processing software, even antennas.

"Evolutionary design -- sometimes called 'genetic algorithms' when done just in software -- relies on the same notions of natural selection and mutation that underlie biological evolution. Take a large number of individuals, each slightly different. Introduce some mutation, either by randomizing small bits or mixing elements from individuals (the electronic version of sexual reproduction). Check the resulting generation against the goal -- how well do the various designs accomplish the needed task? Get rid of some of the designs that do very poorly, add more of the designs that do fairly well. Now repeat the process. Many thousands of times.

"In nature, repeating thousands of generations can take millions of years; evolution is a very long-term process. In a computer, however, many thousands of generations can go by in a day, letting scientists watch the evolution of new 'species' of technology right on their screens."

That web site goes on to describe some of the results that have been found:

"Sometimes, however, evolutionary systems come up with surprises. A researcher at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England, used a set of chips called a 'field programmable gate array', which can be reprogrammed on the fly, and actually had the circuits evolve (rather than evolving the design in a software simulation). His goal was relatively simple: have the chips be able to recognize two distinct sounds. But the result stunned researchers. Not only did the eventual design use fewer than one-half the circuits that a human-engineered layout used, it did so in a way that took the researcher months to unravel. The evolutionary process had used analog elements (such as heat buildup and circuit pathways) of otherwise digital chips to accomplish the task."

So there you have it - evidence that random components can be combined together to form a well designed complex circuit within a relatively short period of time. But only if natural selection is used. Without natural selection this process would take forever.

In fact this form of "natural selection" may do a better job of designing than humans can do. Some feel that at some point in the future -- when computers are even faster than they are now -- organic algorithms may be able to do a better and faster job of "design" than humans can do. The "designer" need only enter the parameters of what the design should do and then sit back and watch that design -- based on random changes fed through the sieve of natural selection -- create brilliance.

Natural selection is powerful indeed! The fact that God used natural selection to let humans evolve is just another sign of His greatness.

You have two misconceptions about evolution that is evidenced in your calculations. Your primary misconception about evolution is that you believe that it is a random process. Your calculations would be valid only if the process was completely random. However it is most definitely NOT a random PROCESS. It is based on random inputs -- mutations that are randomly negative, positive or neutral -- but the PROCESS that handles those random inputs is far from random. That process, named "natural selection" favors positive mutations over negative mutations EVERY SINGLE TIME. If the PROCESS itself was random it would occasionally favor negative mutations and other times favor positive mutations and it would make those choices randomly. Because it doesn't act that way evolution is not a random process.

Your second misconception is that you don't seem to think that natural selection is even important, because you don't factor that in to any of your calculations. Any calculation that is attempting to emulate evolution that does NOT add some factor to duplicate natural selection is simply irrelevant and will yield numbers that are much too large.

I can tell that you like to use numerical calculations in your arguments. If you really wish to use such examples they would be more persuasive if they actually reflected evolutionary theory in some way. So far the examples that I have seen from you don't do that.

R**** C****

PS If you are interested in learning more about genetic algorithms, you can search the Internet. I did a Google search on "genetic algorithm" and found 254,000 hits. Of particular interest is the site titled "The Genetic Algorithms Archive". (Note: in 2007 this information was found on It includes abstracts of PhD dissertations on the subject as well as announcements about upcoming international conferences in Zurich, San Francisco, Athens, Singapore and Lake Como in Italy. This is obviously an area of very active research indeed.

Abusing Kitcher

Mr. C****,

Your appeal to a computer model of natural selection is a common strategy, but misses several key points. In your own example of typing, you grossly overestimate the percentages of changes that are "beneficial." As an example, try making truly random changes in the source code for Windows XP and see how long it takes to produce a beneficial change.

In the computer model, the selection is based on an intelligently designed program with a goal. Successive approximations are selected on the basis of their progress towards that goal. I dealt with this in my letter to Edward Max regarding the Richard Dawkins METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL program. See

In natural selection, each change would have to produce a noticeable benefit to be preserved and that is nearly impossible because new features need integrated complex changes. You are familiar with but really need to read and think about Michael Behe's "Darwin's Black Box" because you seem to have an irrational faith in the magical powers of natural selection. Instead you need to try it on specific real situations. Read also Dembski on specified complexity,

Are you able to think of all the features necessary for the change of reptiles to birds? In addition to feathers, a masterful piece of design, you need the appropriate muscular development, weight reduction including hollow bones, a total revamping of the respiratory system with air flowing through the hollow bones which doubles as a cooling mechanism, not to mention the balance and navigation systems needed for flight. Try to come up with a scenario where these are added one by one with advantage along the way enough to preserve them. Forget how complex each of them is with megabytes of new information needed and just see what would happen if a creature by some means devotes a great deal of brain space to navigation and balance before it can fly. It would be over-engineered and the excess would by dropped by natural selection. But if you wait until afterwards to come up with these features, the poor creature would self-destruct!

Edward Max also called up a mechanism by which the immune system first shuffles genes then turns on hypermutation to come up with the right design for an antibody to fend off a new pathogen. But ultimately even he admits that this is no help for Darwinism and to me it shows incredible design. See and .

Ross Olson

Cytochrome - C

Dr. Olson,

In your response to my email where I offered arguments against the opinions you cited in your article titled "Evaluating Evolution", you said this:

"Let me illustrate. You mention Cytochrome C which has 208 amino acids and is found to have 80 active variations. In my article, I did the math for a 100 amino acid protein and found the odds of putting it together correctly to be 1 in 10130. For simplicity, let's consider Cytochrome C to be 200 amino acids long, in which case the odds of assembling in the correct order would be 1 in 10260. Let's say there are 100 active variations or 102. Therefore if there are 100 possible correct answers, the odds now improve to 10260-2 which is 10258. Does it help? Hey! I'll even give you a trillion possible correct answers. Then the odds improve to one in 10248. It doesn't help you! There are only 1080 atoms in the universe. But you say there are other proteins that we also might make by chance. OK, there are perhaps 60,000 genes coding for 100,000 proteins (105 ) in the human body and there are many that other organisms have that may not be found in humans. How many proteins should we say, a billion? A trillion? A trillion-trillion, which is 1024? "

No. You missed my point completely. I was saying that there is no reason to say that we had to evolve into an organism needing anything like cytochrome-c.

Our body chemistries are the way that they are because we EVOLVED that way. We have some form of the cytochrome-c protein because one of our ancestors had a mutation that created that protein (in some form). If that ancestor had not had that mutation - or had died before being able to pass it on to its descendents - it is extremely likely that we would not have anything like cytochrome-c.

In my original argument, I related your calculations to the type of calculations that could be made regarding the odds of a particular sequence of people lining up in a church dinner buffet line. I tried to point out that nearly any sequence of people would be possible. My family may have been at the beginning of the line, or at the end of the line, or somewhere in the middle. The Olson family could have also been at the front of the line, at the end or somewhere in the middle. It could also have been possible to have more or fewer people in line than there actually were. Rather than about 60 people maybe 70 people would have shown up. Or maybe only 50. All of these alternatives are possible. So if we were to calculate the odds of the particular sequence of people occurring that actually DID occur we would calculate odds with many zeroes in them. Based only on that calculation we would say that it was impossible to have the buffet dinner.

Your argument is valid, relative to this example, if my family HAD to be in the front of the line and the only possible variation was in the ways that the individuals in my family lined up. That's not what I'm saying at all.

You are hung up on the idea that, in some way, our biochemistry HAD to be exactly or nearly exactly what it is. Evolutionists don't believe that's true. If we turned back the clock of evolution and allowed it to run forward again with a different set of random mutations and other environmental conditions we might not have any proteins that even remotely resemble cytochrome-c. We might be green. We might have three eyes and six arms and eight legs. Each of those arms might have ten fingers on it. Or only three fingers. We might have spines growing down our back. We might have feathers. Or scales. Or fur. We might be 20 feet tall. Or only two feet tall.

You say that not all biological sequences are possible. You're right. Not all of them are possible. In the same way not all sequences of people standing in line at the church dinner are really possible. Certainly small children would not be far from their parents. We can exclude those possibilities from our calculations if we wish and we might remove a few zeroes to the left of the decimal point. But the odds that we would calculate for the exact sequence of people that we saw at the church buffet would still have so many zeroes in them that we would expect that it would not be possible to have the sequence of people at the church buffet that we actually had - but I was there to witness it!

But it is not nearly enough to say that not all possibilities are possible. Your calculations are only valid if you can calculate the EXACT number of possibilities that ARE possible. Are there only 100 or so possibilities? What if we had eight arms instead of two? How many additional possibilities are introduced in that case? What if we had fur? Or scales? Or feathers? How many added possibilities are there in those cases?

You say, "Any system, like any computer operating system, must meet minimal requirements to function and will run into similar odds".

What a wonderful example! Thank you for suggesting it. I wish that I had thought of it.

And how many possible computer operating systems are there? There are literally millions of lines of code in an operating system like Windows. EXACTLY how many variations are possible? As a computer programmer myself I can tell you that nearly any one of those millions of lines of code could be modified in some way and you would still have a working OS. It might run a little slower, or even a little faster. It might change the size of a control on a dialog window. But it would still work.

At the next higher level - the procedure, function or "method" level - an even larger number of possibilities are possible. In some cases you could get 100 programmers to write the same procedure 100 different ways. Each of which would work.

Code in programs -- particularly operating systems -- are very intricately integrated. A change in one area will often necessitate a change in another area. How many possibilities are there for that secondary change? The total number of ways the lines of code could have been written and still have a working OS is easily as large as the 10130 number that you calculate for a particular protein. Yet even given those huge odds against it, a single particular sequence of lines of code that generated the OS in the computer that you are using as you read this did in fact came about - how could that be?

But there's more. You speak of a functioning system. What is that? When Windows NT was released it had thousands of what Microsoft called "anomalies" (and what you and I would call "bugs"). They could have decided to delay the release, saying that it did not "meet minimal requirements". They chose to release it even with those "anomalies". Was it a minimally functional system? The decision is somewhat arbitrary isn't it?

And there's even more than that. How many different operating systems are there? How many could there be? What if some of the earlier operating systems hadn't been beaten out by Microsoft. How would they look now? What would their code look like? They might not even be written in the same programming language. You talk about "minimum requirements". What are those minimums? DOS had fewer capabilities than Windows but it still was a functioning operating system. There have been operating systems with even fewer capabilities than DOS. Exactly how many other possibilities of working code are there for the varying possible functioning operating systems? The number - though not infinite - is in fact effectively so.

Creationists say that even the most complex computer is less complex than any living organism.

And they're right.

Yet the more complex the operating system the more possible ways that it could be written. Organisms are more complex than operating systems so there are even more possibilities for how they could come about.

Even though not all sequences are possible, the total number of possibilities of how we could have evolved is still nearly endless. Yet your calculations are only valid if, instead of considering this extremely large set of variations - no doubt much higher than 10130 power - we have instead only a very narrow set of possibilities - 100 or so. Since that is NOT the view of evolutionists (check my original email for references) you are indeed making another straw-man argument. Once again your calculations have no relevance whatsoever for evolutionary theory.

R**** C****

Cytochrome - C

Mr. C****,

You still do not have a concept of how complex living systems really are. You also have bought into the idea that there are nearly infinite numbers of possible ways to come up with life. For life, there must be minimum requirements just as there would be minimum requirements for a motorized vehicle. There are many ways of doing it but you still have to produce the desired result of getting from here to there.

A living cell must be able to maintain its integrity, extract energy and material from the environment and reproduce. There are not an infinite number of ways to do that. For energy management, if there were not Cytochrome C and ATP, there would have had to be something else that made up an integrated system. Darwin believed that variation was unlimited in all directions around the characteristics of the parental generation. He was wrong. There are absolute limits. You seem to think that there are unlimited pathways to biologic processes. There are not and the odds are not helped by tweaking them, even as far as you want to go. Run the math!

As far as altering computer codes, you also have a jaded view. You make the following statement without even thinking it through:

“Code in programs -- particularly operating systems -- are very intricately integrated. A change in one area will often necessitate a change in another area. How many possibilities are there for that secondary change?”

You seem convinced that because this increases the number of potential changes, somehow that helps your case, conveniently ignoring the fact that each of those integrated changes needs to be done with intelligence. In reality it makes it even less likely that the random change in are will be made simultaneously with an appropriate change in the other.

As an unskilled programmer, I know that I can make changes that totally jam things up, as when I used to alter config.sys on my old DOS system. You talk about many ways of doing things but assume that the changes are made intelligently. You cannot appeal to that in your evolutionary scenario -- unless you want to invoke God's help.

Picture not only a computer system, but a physical arrangement of component parts, such as the space shuttle or an aircraft carrier. The parts have to be made right and put together right in the proper three dimensional configuration to work. You are appealing to all sorts of “pie in the sky” "what ifs" in your answer and that is not science. Try to make a PT Boat into a missile cruiser by small changes, each step seaworthy and more capable than its predecessor.

If evolution really worked, we should see major changes in the rapidly reproducing organisms such as fruit flies or bacteria. No, don't say that antibiotic or pesticide resistance is progress because that is usually due to loss of a structure or process and is not progress in the long run. See my comments to Dr. Max .


Ross Olson

Micro vs. Macroevolution

Dr. Olson,

In your thoughtful response to my email response to your article on the web site you said this:

"But the immediate application of that principle is to your quote of Douglas Futuyama that 'evolution is merely change.' This is a trivial definition and not helpful for your cause, but it illustrates the fallacy so commonly employed by evolutionists, that of equivocation, or 'bait and switch.' Of course change takes place. Everyone agrees with that but it does not mean that the change taking place is going to make fish into amphibians or dinosaurs into birds, much less bacteria into biologists."

First, since you don't specifically disagree with it, I have to feel that you agree with this statement that I made in my original email:

Evolution, as defined by the evolutionist Douglas Futuyama, is an indisputable fact.

Please confirm for me that you agree with this statement.

What you are really saying is that micro-evolution or "merely change" does take place and that we can all agree on that. However you also say that does not imply macroevolution -- change from "fish into amphibians or dinosaurs into birds" or "bacteria into biologists".

Actually, it does make that exact implication. There is no "bait and switch" tactic at all involved.

Now that we know how to measure DNA we can see how mutations take place. How populations of organisms diverge from each other. It happens gradually and it happens at a fairly consistent rate. Biologists can measure the DNA of various human populations and see how recently those populations separated from each other. In exactly the same way biologists can measure the DNA of various different species and closely approximate when those species shared a common ancestor. Fossil finds, often discovered after these estimates are made, confirm these calculations.

This is a case where the burden of proof is on the creationist. You are really hypothesizing a barrier of some type. Yet we certainly see DNA variation. If that variation cannot change a bacterium into a biologist then there must be some point at which DNA variation can no longer take place. There must be some point at which a cosmic ray coming from space cannot cause an additional mutation. If that mutation does take place, then it must, in some way, revert back to the DNA of the ancestor of that organism. If there is no such barrier then the type of change that Dr. Futuyama speaks of -- if given time enough -- will indeed change a bacterium into a biologist.

Why are you -- or more properly the creationist community -- obligated to provide the mechanism for the barrier? Because you are the ones proposing that one exists. It is simply the way that science works.

Probably the most well understood and well-accepted scientific concept is gravity. Since it was discovered by Newton, the presumption has always been that it works consistently throughout the universe -- that there are no barriers. I believe this to be true. Let's say, hypothetically, that you insist that there is a barrier. Would it be my responsibility to disprove your barrier? Or is it first your responsibility to provide some evidence supporting your view?

Obviously the responsibility would be yours.

Let's consider another example where an actual barrier has been proposed to a scientific principle. That example relates to the concept of the expansion of the universe. (I know that this expansion relates to the concept of the "Big Bang" but it does so only indirectly. Even if you don't accept the concept that the universe is expanding I think that this example is relevant because it shows how science works.)

When this expansion was initially discovered, science presumed that it would continue forever. However some other scientists suggested that there is a barrier to this expansion -- much as you suggest that there is a barrier to evolution as defined by Futuyama. However, unlike you, they proposed a mechanism for that barrier -- gravity. They propose that there is sufficient mass in the universe to cause this expansion to slow down, stop and then reverse so that the universe would then start to contract towards something that some scientists call the "Big Crunch". Having proposed a barrier to this universal expansion those same scientists are now estimating the mass in the universe and the distribution or that mass in order to calculate whether their proposal is valid.

In other words, when proposing that a barrier exists they realize that it is their obligation to define the mechanism through which that barrier operates and accumulate supporting evidence that the barrier exists.

Once they have found some supporting evidence, they would offer experiments that could falsify the existence of this barrier. For example, they would show how to measure the speed of the expansion. Over time that speed of expansion should be slowing down.

What you are proposing is exactly analogous. Scientists believe that the mechanism of evolution will continue as demonstrated. You are proposing a barrier. Therefore you have the obligation to define the mechanism through which that barrier operates and provide supporting evidence. You need to also provide experiments that could be run to possibly falsify your hypothesis.

This barrier -- required by your statements -- is an interesting hypothesis. There must be some memory involved. But that memory must not be just of the current organism's genome. No. There must be some memory, deep in the bowels of all of our DNA, of the first ancestor of every organism that existed in the Garden of Eden.

It is an interesting hypothesis. Scientifically, what evidence do you have that is exists? What experiment can you offer that we can perform to attempt to falsify your hypothesis?

Because that's what science is all about -- generating hypotheses, showing supporting evidence and devising experiments that can be performed to falsify those hypotheses.

I would also be interested in seeing your supporting evidence. After all there is significant evidence supporting the viewpoint that there is no barrier.

Specifically you should view the web site That site gives 29+ evidences of macroevolution -- the very thing that you say can't happen. In each of those 29 cases it describes the evidence, provides confirmation and then offers experimental evidence which, if found, would falsify that piece of evidence.

You are offering a hypothesis -- that there is some type of barrier to evolutionary change. I would like to have you offer your arguments in the same way as these 29 evidences for macroevolution -- state the form of this barrier, show confirming evidence that such a barrier exists and then offer one or more experiments which could be performed to falsify the existence of the barrier that you hypothesize. Lacking that information I'm forced to consider your statements to be nothing more than wishful thinking on your part.

As stated earlier in this email, I think that we agree that evolution, as defined by Dr. Futuyama, is an indisputable fact. If you cannot show that there is a barrier to this form of evolution, then we have to say that this is a reasonable definition for all evolution. That leads us to logically conclude that all evolution is an indisputable fact.

R**** C****

PS I would also like to see you falsify those 29 evidences of macroevolution. No other creationists have been able to do so. Maybe you will have better luck.

Micro vs. Macroevolution

Mr. C****,

You are so committed to the evolutionary scenario that you cannot even distinguish fact from interpretation. There are differences in the DNA of human populations, particularly mitochondrial DNA which comes only from the mother and is not combined with that of the father. The differences that survive are those that are not harmful or fatal. I have a few patients with mitochondrial diseases who are terribly disabled, although alive. Differences can be interpreted as time if you know the spontaneous mutation rate. These rates are debated and often combined with what the evolutionists "know" about human origins before a date is attached. The tracking of changes between species as time is even more speculative and can also be interpreted as similar design for similar functions. Just because two things are similar, does not mean that one is derived from the other. See the highly technical debate between Dave Thomas and Walter Remine .

But you also must have totally forgotten your high school and college biology. Small changes multiplied by long ages sounds like a great recipe for large changes but it does not happen that way. In practice you can breed sugar beets for sugar content and keep increasing until you get to a maximum. You can see tall people marry each other and they will tend to have tall children, but if your mother and dad were 6' and 7' tall respectively, the chances are overwhelmingly high that you will be shorter than your same gender parent. This is called regression towards the mean. It happens. It is scientifically verifiable.

Between kinds of organisms there are different numbers of chromosomes. Do you remember that? The arrangement of genes is different and in some cases the same genes have different functions in other organisms. Put another way, you can tinker with your car and soup it up by changing parts and even altering parts, but you still do not have an airplane. Yes, if you completely rebuild it, you could change it into a flying machine, but that is not tinkering and requires major structural alterations.

In the case of biologic variation, the substrate for that variation is the genetic diversity built into the organisms. You seem to believe as Darwin did that it is new and spontaneous in each generation. Mendel showed almost 150 years ago that even hidden characteristics breed true and can be seen in future generations. (Darwinreceived a copy of Mendel's work but did not deal with it – it would have required major changes in his own theory.)

For an example of change within limits, consider dogs. All the breeds came from the ancestral coyote-like original dog. There are many genes controlling size, for instance, and many that affect hair color and texture, snout shape, running speed and temperament. You can breed to a certain size but no further and you always have dogs, not monkeys. And to prove that this is not due to new mutations at each step, it happens the same way whenever a breeder follows the same steps any time or place. But even more significantly, to a certain extent you can also go the other way and hybridize back towards the ancestral type. Some genes are lost in certain breeds, which is why they are less vigorous and more prone to diseases. Also, there may be problems recovering all variation, for example to combine St. Bernard genes with Maltese genes, you may run into problems getting the prospective parents properly introduced.

As to the "proofs" of evolution, there are several general categories and I will only have time to go into them in outline. If you are actually interested in learning, the things I have already referred to should give you pause in your enthusiasm for evolution. If not, I will not be dragged into a land war in Asia. Unity of life can be accounted for by a designer who uses similar structures for similar purposes. The so called remnants of past evolution are expressions of ignorance on the part of the skeptic. All "vestigial organs" catalogued over 100 years ago are now known to have functions. Pseudogenes and "Junk DNA" are rapidly being found important after all. If you take apart a CD Player and see a few pieces you can't identify, do you throw them away? That would be the height of arrogance. And if evolution were true, there should be "incipient features" evident, the next stages of evolution getting ready to leap to a new function.

Ross Olson

Other causes

Dr. Olson,

In your response to my original email, among other topics, we discussed alternatives to both creationism and evolution. You said this:

“Your statements about whether there are only two possibilities, creation or evolution, indicate that you really did not understand what I meant. I did not say ‘evolution or six day Biblical creation.' ‘Creation' means the purposeful assembly of the component parts by an intelligent designer. ‘Evolution' is intended to mean assembly by undirected natural processes and chance. These are the only two possibilities. Think about it. Either it was natural or it was supernatural. Maybe you don't like dichotomies. But there are only two kinds of people in the world, the kind that think there are two kinds of people and those who don't.

“As I said before, claiming life came from outer space is no help for the naturalist. How did it start there? You, by the way, seem to be willing to allow God to have created the first life, which you then think improved itself by natural selection. This has implications for how we see the nature of God and whether it is compatible with the picture we see in the Bible, something I hope you will seriously consider.”

You are being more than a little bit disingenuous here. Are you saying that you are NOT trying to promote “six-day Biblical creation” at the web site?

Also, evolution most definitely is NOT “intended to mean assembly by undirected natural processes and chance”. The process that “controls” (if that's the right word) evolution is natural selection. That is clearly not an “undirected natural process”. Instead it is a directed natural process – though not directed by a supernatural force. It is directed by natural laws.

And it has NOTHING to do with the creation of life on Earth.

In regard to your statement that “claiming life came from outer space is no help for the naturalist” is really an irrelevant comment. I was not speaking for naturalists. I was speaking for the Raëllians (though certainly I'm NOT endorsing their views). Their hypothesized aliens are controlling our evolution without any necessary relationship between their own biology and the biology of life on Earth. We might simply be some alien's High School science project testing to see if carbon based life is possible. This alien life might be based on silicon rather than carbon as some science fiction authors have speculated is possible. It might require very high temperatures, or very low temperatures. These space aliens may not even have anything like RNA or DNA. There could be innumerable other factors making the two types of biology different. So anything that we have found out so far in our experiments regarding abiogenesis is irrelevant, because those experiments are examining a different type of biological chemistry than what these aliens hypothetically possess.

Note that the Raëllians do not offer any evidence supporting their claims. Instead they only offer speculation. In that regard they are identical to creationists.

You cannot argue against their theories or say that the same problems regarding the existence of life exist because they don't make any specific claims that can be falsified. They believe such things as a matter of faith.

Just as creationists do.

I would love to see a debate between a creationist and a Raëllian. It would be nothing but an exposition of one speculative idea after another. Evidence would be meaningless. After all creationists and Raëllians only use evidence to try to disprove evolution, they never use it to show that their own speculations are valid. Creationists never show scientific evidence that there was once a Garden of Eden. Raëllians never show evidence of the biology of these supposed aliens. If evolution were not a factor in the debate, there would be no use for evidence.

R**** C****

Other causes

Mr. C****,

You really seem to have trouble with abstract thinking and I am not sure how fruitful this discussion is going to be. I want people to be able to see your arguments in the daylight so I answer them, but without much hope that you really understand what I am saying. Also, although you say that you are not arguing for abiogenesis, you keep coming back to it.

There really are only two possibilities to explain any phenomenon, either it has a natural cause or a supernatural cause. Although you claim that you don't care about the ultimate origin of life, you try to fudge down the odds by claiming that there might be many paths to life and that this makes it all reachable. The answer to that is, "No." Life is so far out of reach that there is no way it can happen anywhere in the universe, using any chemical basis. You can speculate that there might be some other laws of physics or some back door to life somewhere else in the universe, but that is purely science fiction. Perhaps you like the genre, but please don't imagine that you are providing a scientific answer. Actually, if you want to use the word "pseudoscience," this would be a place for it. So, barring any natural explanation for life, the working hypothesis is that is must be supernatural. Of course new evidence can be sought, but as of now there is none.

You say I am disingenuous in saying this because I actually believe in 6 day young age Biblical creation? Well, yes I do believe that and have reasons for it. But one thing at a time. First admit that there must be an intelligent creator -- and one is needed both for abiogesis as well as for the diversity of life -- then we proceed to the next step. Could there be many different creation scenarios that explain design? Of course, but they each need to be evaluated on their merit.

I hope by now that you have begun to question your faith in omnipotent natural selection but if you haven't, I cannot help you any further. You seem to be unable to think things through and would rather just accept on faith the pronouncements of academic heavyweights that this is the way it happens.

Ross Olson


Dr. Olson,

I sent you an extra email that you were kind enough to respond to. I will, in turn, respond to your comments.

First you say this:

"I believe that evolution is both bad science and bad Biblical interpretation."

An interesting comment, as I believe that creationism is both bad science and bad Biblical interpretation. We are obviously at opposite ends of the spectrum here.

I told you of a friend, Michael, who was so turned off by a creationist that he wouldn't even consider visiting my Church. I was a Christian at the time, that's why I wanted him to go to my church. I did explain to him how Jesus could save him, but I felt the best way to convince him was to go to church and meet others who had been saved. He refused to do so because our mutual acquaintance, named Lee, had already convinced him through his insistence that the Earth was only about 6000 years old, that Christianity was a complete myth since he knew, as do I, that the Earth is MUCH older than 6000 years.

You say,

"On the other hand, I have seen many people come to Christ when they realize that the world could not have come about by chance. I do not hear about many whose lives are changed by a belief in evolution."

This is counter to my own experience. I know of people who are already Christians who feel that their faith is strengthened by creationist arguments. But I have never -- even in my own church -- met people who became a creationist first and then became a Christian.

I don't think that ever happens.

Obviously I have not met every Christian so I could be wrong here, but if this does occur it is the exception rather than the rule.

On the other hand, in regard to people's lives being changed by evolution, I believe that evolution is the truth. If people find that the truth does not contradict Christianity they are certainly much more likely to consider Christianity seriously. If people find a contradiction between the truth and Christianity they will reject Christianity in favor of the truth.

You might want to review the feedback pages at You will find there a number of personal stories about people who were raised to believe in a literal Bible. When they find that, for example, there never was a global flood they don't just lose their belief in a literal Bible, they ALWAYS seem to lose their faith in Christianity as well. This is because creationists tie those two beliefs so inextricably together - for no apparent reason.

Creationism, in my own view, makes a person's Christian beliefs very fragile indeed. A person who is a Christian AND an evolutionist has his beliefs mounted firmly on top of a stone of granite that is a mile wide in all directions. NOTHING can seriously threaten that person's beliefs. On the other hand, a person who is a Christian AND a creationist is balancing his beliefs on the head of a tiny needle over the abyss of atheism. A push in any direction causes that person to plunge into that abyss.

You say this about my quotation from Henry Morris:

"You berate Henry Morris for his firm belief in the flood, on the basis of the Biblical record, even if there are 'geologic difficulties.'"


I berate Henry Morris for saying that we should IGNORE those geological difficulties.

We should all face difficulties squarely in the face. If those difficulties show that we are wrong, we should admit that we are wrong. That's what scientists do. That's not what creationists do. Henry Morris would approve of ignoring those difficulties.

In regard to evidence in favor of creationism, you say things like this:

"There is also pollen in PreCambrian rocks in the Grand Canyon."

I checked into this. It is a completely false claim.

As evidence, see the web sites , and .

C. L. Burdick made this claim originally in 1966 in the "Creation Research" annual report. The claim has been repeated in numerous creationist sources since then including the TCCSA web site.

The author of the first reference above, Arthur V. Chadwick, an Associate Professor of Biology at Loma Linda University, accompanied Burdick, the original author, back to where he had collected his samples. Additional samples were taken of rocks at each of the sites that Burdick took his initial samples. A total of 50 samples were taken. As the author states, "No single example of an authentic pollen grain was obtained from any of these samples. In fact, the slides produced from the Hakatai Formation were in most cases completely free from any material of biologic origin, modern or fossil".

It seems that when Burdick had taken his initial samples, he had not cleaned the rocks after collecting them. They were simply contaminated. What Burdick saw was modern pollen that had attached itself to the rocks.

There are many ways of telling modern pollen from fossilized pollen. Color is one method. Pollen darkens as it ages. Burdick's pollen was yellow indicating that it was recent. Also rocks will flatten fossilized pollen. Burdick's pollen was round.

Before doing a test for fossilized pollen, it is proper procedure to clean the rock samples first. Such cleaning will not remove fossilized pollen. It will only remove loose, modern pollen. In his initial tests, Burdick did not do such a cleaning.

There have been other such tests for pollen performed in the same area that Burdick's samples came from - most recently in 1981. Those tests have also been negative.

This is simply a typical creationist claim - it is false.

But, more to the point, this argument, like all of those espoused by creationists nips at the very peripheries of the real issues.

There are much more significant questions to be answered. Your pollen reference was in reference to the global flood which you claim once took place. If that was true, then even a ten-year old child is likely to ask questions such as these about it:

1. Where did the water come from?

2. Where did the water go?

Pollen in rocks in the Grand Canyon? How about the water that caused the flood? Isn't that quite a bit more central to the issue of whether there was a global flood and, therefore, whether or not the Biblical accounts can be trusted?

Creationism will never be considered a respectable intellectual viewpoint until it can answer big questions (where did the water come from and where did it go) as well as ask small ones (why is there pollen in the Precambrian rocks of the Grand Canyon).

Right now, they have no answers.

Evolution is obviously a fact and creationism is, even more obviously, a myth.

R**** C****


Mr. C****,

If you want to make your faith safe from scientific falsification, then you will have to give up belief in Jesus' resurrection because scientifically "it doesn't happen." I don't know, maybe you don't believe in the resurrection after all. But do you trust Jesus for your salvation?

He believed in creation of humans "at the beginning:"

Matthew 19:4-6 "Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."

Jesus believed in the flood:

Luke 17:26 - 27 "Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.

He even believed in Jonah!

Matthew 12:40-41 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.

So if he were wrong about that, how can you trust him about heaven? Or perhaps you just say the Bible has it all wrong? But then how do you know anything about Jesus? Maybe you had better stop being a Christian after all?

The theistic evolutionist may have a firm foundation for his belief in God but it turns out to be a concept of God very different from that given in the Bible. You seem to believe in a God who has very little to do with His creation. See what theological path has been taken by prominent theistic evolutionist Howard Van Till at Actually, it seems that since you do not trust the Bible, you have no way of testing your own concept of God.

Regarding the pollen question, instead of just reading the skeptics, read the CRSQ articles that are reproduced on the TCCSA site. See and you will notice that the specimens were properly cleaned. There is also evidence that Chadwick did not duplicate Burdick's method of removing the pollen from the rock and actually used two acids, which could have dissolved the pollen as well as the rock. Chadwick apparently had a change of heart somewhere along the path to his article disavowing the presence of the ancient pollen because there are discrepancies between his early and late comments on the matter. Why might this be? Probably threat of persecution. And, by the way, I see no comments on my examples that refute your statement that creationists are never persecuted. Do agree that you were wrong on that point?

Regarding Henry Morris and geologic difficulties, he believes in the accuracy of the Bible in the things it describes. I know this may be hard for you to understand, but there are those of us who have found the Bible to be trustworthy as a guide for life and verifiable in many different ways. Thus, when someone claims to have disproved the Bible, we do not jump to accept it. I mentioned Jericho before – it was a “real difficulty but in the end the Biblical literalists were right and the professional archeologists were wrong!

As to the mechanisms for the flood, the Bible speaks of "windows of heaven" and "fountains of the great deep." There are many possible scenarios but one of the most comprehensive, with a great deal of empiric confirmation, is that of Walter Brown. His entire book is viewable on the web at .

Ross Olson

Peer Review

Dr. Olson,

I read your article at the TCCSA web site titled "Peer Review and Scientific Progress" I disagreed with basically the entire article.

As evidence that peer review is not necessary for distributing new scientific ideas, you say this:

“Even Isaac Newton did not publish in the academic Journals of the Universities, but used an alternative method of dissemination for his revolutionary ideas. They were eventually accepted because there had been several generations of preparation.”

According to the article "Patterns of Evaluation in Science: Institutionalization, Structure, and Functions of the Referee System" by H. Zuckerman and R. K. Merton (Minerva, vol. 9, no. 1 (January) pp. 66-100,

1971) the first peer-reviewed scientific journal was published by the Royal Society of London and was named the Philosophical Transactions. This journal was first published in 1665. According to that same article, Henry Oldenburg was assigned by the Society the task of recruiting members to publish in the journal at its inception. During the early stages, Oldenburg found many members were concerned that reviewers and subscribers to the Transactions may steal their intellectual property before or after publication. This attitude severely limited the number of articles submitted for publishing.

Newton received his Bachelor's Degree in 1665 - the same year that this first peer-reviewed journal was published. Most of research for which Newton is so well known was completed by 1687 when the "Principia" was published. In 1689 he was elected to Parliament and his research effectively ended. In 1692 he formally retired from doing research.

Newton's paranoia is legendary. He spent the last decades of his life showing that he, rather than Leibniz, discovered the calculus. It's not really surprising that he didn't use a peer-reviewed journal to announce his discoveries since those journals had not achieved their current stature during the time of his research --and there was this widely held concern about the theft of new ideas. These are the same reasons that, during Newton's time, other scientists did not look exclusively in peer-reviewed journals for information about new discoveries that others had made.

You also talk about Francis Bacon. Bacon died in 1634 -- decades before the first peer-reviewed journal appeared.

I would think that we could agree that science has changed quite a bit in the last three centuries. Your examples would be more impressive if they came from, let's say, the last hundred years or so -- since 1900 for example. There has been quite a bit of science done in the last 104 years and there have been many Nobel Prize winners during that time. Possibly you can use one of them as an example of someone who announced his or her ideas in something other than a peer-reviewed journal.

Such an example would be much more impressive than that of Sir Isaac Newton.

Publishing in scientific journals IS important and has been for quite some time. It is a reasonable expectation that scientific ideas be published first in this manner.

R**** C****

Free Will

Dr. Olson,

At one point in your response to my original email commenting on your article titled "Evaluating Evolution", you talk about free will. Specifically you say this:

"What goes on in the brain is thus basically molecules bouncing around in response to the input of stimuli, occasionally producing a response. There is no room for free will in this mechanism. One molecule cannot tell another to go the other way. Free will is only an illusion. When B. F. Skinner wrote his book “Beyond Freedom and Dignity,” he really had no choice. The previous configuration of his brain influenced by past experience combined with the stimuli of the time period involved produced a sequence of letters, words and thoughts that became his book. Is this the way we live? And if it were, our words and actions would have no necessary resemblance to truth."

I feel that your comments are wrong in three ways. First they are not relevant to a discussion of evolution or of science in general. Secondly evolution, the topic that we are focusing on, does not in any way hinder a belief in free will. Third, a belief in Biblical inerrancy DOES offer serious questions about whether or not we have free will.

First, any scientific hypothesis, theory, principle, law or whatever has be judged solely on the basis of the objective scientific evidence that supports it or falsifies it. If it were supported by valid scientific evidence it must be accepted even if there are philosophical reasons why we would prefer not to.

As a physician, you are surely confronted with such issues regularly. If someone is diagnosed with a serious, even fatal disease, certainly we would all prefer that not be the case. But if the scientific evidence -- as based on the medical tests that were performed -- point to such a diagnosis then we are all better off if we deal with it as a fact. Simply wishing that it would go away does not make it so.

I guess I don't understand why you think there is any relevance here. What do you think will happen if you convince everyone that evolution results in a lack of free will? Will the amount of DNA variation between humans and chimpanzees suddenly triple? Will valid fossil evidence suddenly appear indicating that humans and dinosaurs coexisted? Of course not. Yet it is the DNA, fossil and other evidence that will either confirm or falsify evolution, not some wishful thinking and hand wringing about free will. But, to address your basic point, and my second argument, evolution does NOT imply a lack of free will.

I think that you confuse naturalism and atheism. Naturalism does not absolutely preclude the intervention of God in our lives or in the natural world around us. Instead it simply means that God does not intervene in ways that contradict the natural laws that science measures.

For example, some believe that the uncertainty of the universe as defined by quantum physics provides God a mechanism through which He can work miracles without contradicting any natural laws.

Also consider the viewpoint of the Roman Catholic Church. In summary, at some point in the evolutionary process an organism became "self-aware". No one can deny this. Even the most adamant atheist -- someone like Richard Dawkins perhaps -- can deny this. The Catholics say that it was at that point that free will became a part of us. It was at that point that we received souls. They believe that we received those souls from God.

In regard to souls and minds in a naturalistic environment, the Pope said this in 1996 in the same announcement where he admitted that evolution is more than a theory:

"Consequently, theories of evolution which, in accordance with the philosophies inspiring them, consider the mind as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a mere epiphenomenon of this matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. Nor are they able to ground the dignity of the person."

It is possible to believe in naturalistic evolution and still believe in a divinely created mind.

Another viewpoint is that of Paul Davies, an Australian Physicist. In his many books, such as "The Mind of God", Dr. Davies describes a sort of revised Deism in which God designed the world to operate both by law and by chance. This theology allows for human free will, evil in the world and chance evolution. In his view there is no conflict between naturalism, free will and the existence of God.

Another variation on this theme is found in Dr. Kenneth Miller's book, "Finding Darwin's God".

And there are many others.

It seems that you are once again creating a straw man. You are defining naturalism very narrowly -- as being compatible only with atheism or at least the complete absence of anything but an uncaring and absent God -- and then arguing against that. But there are many, many philosophical viewpoints where naturalism is compatible with a caring God and with free will. If you choose to ignore all of those viewpoints you are arguing only against atheism, not against naturalism.

It is possible to believe in God and also believe in evolution. It is possible to believe in God and not believe in evolution. It is possible to believe in evolution and also believe in God. It is possible to believe in evolution and not believe in God. Since all of these are possible, there is no correlation between the two views. If there is a God, there is free will. Evolution is a non-factor. Evolution is an irrelevant belief relative to a belief in free will.

On the other hand, there is a serious conflict between free will and a belief that the Bible is inerrant. This is a point that I made in my original email that you didn't respond to.

There are two reasons for this conflict. Biblical literalists believe that the authors of the Bible acted inerrantly. Inerrant behavior is incompatible with free will. Biblical literalists also believe that Biblical Prophecy cannot be changed. This is also incompatible with free will..

Consider, if you will, the story of Lot. This is a section of the Bible that troubles the pastor of my church.

I'm speaking of course about Genesis 19, where God is about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah but sends two angels to tell Lot, because he is a righteous man, to take his family and flee from the city. However there is an event that takes place as the angels arrive at Lot's home:

"4Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom-both young and old-surrounded the house. 5 They called to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.'

"6 Lotwent outside to meet them and shut the door behind him 7 and said, ‘No, my friends. Don't do this wicked thing. 8 Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don't do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.'"

Lot was willing to be an accessory to rape! Not just that, but the rape of his own daughters! All of this and Lot is supposed to be a very righteous man.

How can this be explained?

This portion of scripture came up during a Wednesday night Bible study class that I attended at our church. Our pastor pointed out that during the time that this happened women were considered to be of little worth. Therefore giving his daughters up to the mob was not the same type of sin that it would be now. However, in an email later that week, I pointed out that his explanation is only valid if you believe in relative morality – that some things are moral depending on the current culture. My pastor does not believe in that as it would allow things such as abortion to be justified, so he admits that he has no explanation for Lot's actions.

One possible explanation is that this event didn't actually happen. The author of that part of the Bible - based on his own cultural views regarding women as my pastor pointed out -- added that little anecdote in order to emphasize, to the people of his time, how "righteous" Lot was. He was just elaborating. All human storytellers do that. Certainly the author of this section of the Bible -- as well as the authors of the rest of the Bible -- had free will. It is likely that the author added this anecdote with the best possible intentions. But we know in the 21st century that women have, or should have, equal worth to men. Therefore offering your daughters up to rape is NOT a righteous thing to do.

The point that I'm trying to make is not that this is necessarily good theology or bad theology. My point is to say that those who do not believe in an inerrant Bible can at least consider such an explanation. Why? Because they believe in free will. On the other hand, those that believe in an inerrant Bible CANNOT even consider such an explanation. Why not? Because the authors of the Bible didn't have sufficient free will to make such embellishments.

Biblical prophecy is another belief arguing against free will.

Consider these words from 2 Peter:

"20Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. 21For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit."

Note the phrase, "never had its origin in the will of man". So prophets do not have free will.

But it is more complicated than that.

One of the prophecies in the Bible is found in Isaiah 44, together with chapter 45:1ff. This prophecy has to do with Cyrus, king of Persia at about 550 BC. This prophecy says that a ruler named Cyrus would return the Jews to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple. The prophecy was made some 150 years before Cyrus came to power and, obviously, well before Cyrus was born. (See the web site .)

Cyrus in fact did these things. This is an amazingly accurate prophecy.


If this was a Biblical prophecy that could not have been changed, then Cyrus did not have the free will to decide NOT to build a temple. This is particularly interesting because Cyrus "was a pagan in sentiment and practice" according to the web site that I reference above. So he was presumably not acting under the influence of the prophecy itself.

In the same way his parents did not have the free will to name him something other than Cyrus (since that specific name is given in Isaiah's prophecy). If they had brought him up differently he may not have had the desire to rebuild the temple. His parents didn't have the free will to raise him differently. It is also likely that Cyrus had one or more teachers. If those teachers had been different, possibly Cyrus may have had a different attitude towards the Jews. Those teachers didn't have the free will to teach him differently.

There is something called "the Butterfly Principle". It says that very, very small things can have significant effects. (The principle is given this name by the hypothetical example of having a butterfly flap its wings in the Amazon forest that can cause a hurricane in the Caribbean two months later.)

I recall reading a science fiction story in my youth where a space traveler went back into time and stepped on a cockroach. That caused a chain of events that led to the destruction of all mankind. That's "the Butterfly Principle" in action.

While those may be exaggerations, things do have very subtle influences that can cause profound repercussions.

In the case of Cyrus, his parents, teachers and probably even his friends were significant influences on his attitudes that resulted in him fulfilling the prophecy. If they had been different people with different influences, the prophecy might not have been fulfilled. Therefore the parents, teachers and friends of Cyrus had limited, at best, free will.

In order for the parents, teachers and friends to be the positive influences they were, they must have had their own parents, teachers and friends.

It goes on and on.

You can make a strong case that in order to have Biblical prophecies such as this actually be fulfilled, none of us can have free will.

However, you can't make the case that evolution results in a loss of free will.

If free will is as important as you make it out to be, then you should give up a belief in Biblical inerrancy.

R**** C****

Free Will

Mr. C****,

You say that you don't understand why free will relates to the topic, and it is true, you do not. If we are only molecules in motion, then there is no mechanism for free will and there have even been naturalistic scientific thinkers who have brought this up. You say that you do not preclude the intervention of God as long as He does not break natural laws. This is Deism and means that God does not do anything meaningful, including answering prayer. If you really mean that, you would not let God produce a means for us to actually change the configuration of our brains by our will because that would contradict natural laws. Or are you a dualist who believes that the soul is completely separate? You seem to leave room for God to supernaturally allow free will, but almost seem embarrassed by it. It seems to me that you want desperately to be considered "with it" regarding all the things that our culture currently believes.

As to the sins of Lot, he was a man deeply affected by the society around him, leading eventually, beyond the situation you relate, to incest. Hebrews says he was a righteous man and that has to be because it was accounted to him by faith because his actions were despicable. But all of us do awful things and God chooses to forgive if we approach Him with a faith that makes a difference in our lives. See the examples of faith in Hebrews being accounted for righteousness, even Rahab the prostitute, and Abraham himself was a rascal! If you are interested, I wrote a Biblical monologue based on the life of Lot viewable at .

To conclude, although you said you wanted to stay away from theological considerations and stick to the science, here you are again talking about theology. Your notion that an inerrant Scripture nullifies free will is even more bizarre than I attempted to answer in the first reply. There has been for generations the question of God's sovereignty and man's free will, but the short answer is that God chose to give us free will. The idea that God's foreknowledge trumps free will is also one that trips up many. Yet God exists in eternity and we live in time, which He created. He gives us free will but sees all of time from beginning to end, looking down from the perspective of eternity, and thus knows and can foretell the future. He does not tell us everything because that would muddy the waters of everyday life (and I don't think we could handle knowing the future in detail). But He tells some things in order to give credibility to His messengers.

Inspiration implies that for those writings, God saw to it that what He wanted was conveyed. But His messengers sinned in other areas of their lives, like David, Solomon and Peter. God takes special care to bring certain things about and, in your example of Cyrus, influenced all the people necessary to make it happen, just as He made sure that Jesus was born of a virgin at the proper time and place, even though that seems to have involved getting the Roman Empire to call an extra census. (see But all the people involved had free will in all other areas of their lives.

I think you give yourself away in your description of the "Butterfly Principle," for you seem to take more stock in science fiction than you do in the Bible and hold more strongly to the fleeting ideas of contemporary culture than the eternal truths of Scripture. I hope to see you in heaven when we can continue the discussion and by which time you will have some new insights. But I fear that you may not be there if your heart is not right with the Lord Jesus Christ. You do not have to agree with me to get there, but you do have to agree with the God Who made heaven and earth. I hope you do, but you are the only one who can pray, "Search me O God and know my heart. Try me and know my thoughts and see if there be any wicked way in me." I need to pray that prayer regularly and do so. I hope you have not become such a judge of Scripture that you cannot apply it.

I will not write any more after this. You may respond and I will post your final comments but I simply refer you back to all that has been said and referenced.

Ross Olson

One More Came In

Common Sense Science

Dr. Olson,

In your response to my original email on your article titled “Evaluating Evolution”, one of your comments is shown below:

“You idolize Albert Einstein as an innovator and point out that his radical theories were eventually accepted. Do you realize that there is a group of physicists who have come up with a new model for the atom as well as explanations for all the things that relativity and quantum theory were supposedly needed to explain, using only classical physics? They have shown the mistakes in Maxwell's equations that were based on the notion that elementary particles were points – which is impossible to start with. Their model of elementary particles as spinning rings of charge explains the nuclear forces as electromagnetic and predicts not only the possible stable configurations that make up the periodic table, but the spectral emissions of each element (including some not seen before their prediction) and the half lives of radioactive elements. And do you think they have been welcomed to the table to discuss these things? Not at all! See and click on “Foundations of Science Newsletters.””

This comment confused me in a number of ways.

First, while I freely admit that Albert Einstein is a hero of mine, the reference in my email related to his selection by the editors of Time Magazine as “Man of the Century”. Therefore my views on Einstein were completely irrelevant – it was the views of those editors that were significant. Believe me, I had no influence on Einstein's selection.

Secondly, I have no idea how this relates to evolution. My original reference showed how science encourages innovation and new ideas and that anyone who falsified evolution would receive massive acclaim. Einstein was undoubtedly innovative and had many new ideas. I have no idea how your reference about atomic structure relates to evolution.

Thirdly, the articles argue primarily against quantum physics. Einstein spent most of his life also arguing against quantum physics, most famously saying, “God does not play dice with the Universe” in opposition. So I'm not sure how your reference relates to Einstein.

But finally, and most importantly, the hypotheses expressed on the web site have been falsified.

For example, the 1990 Nobel Prize in Physics was jointly awarded to Jerome Freidman and Henry Kendall of MIT and Richard Taylor from Stanford for PROVING – yes PROVING – that quarks exist. Experiments by those scientists conducted from 1966 to 1978 studied how high-energy electrons bounce off of the protons and neutrons in a target. Their results showed MORE electrons bouncing back with high energy at large angles than could be explained if protons and neutrons were uniform spheres of matter. The hypothesized existence of quarks, on the other hand, exactly explained the results that they saw.

These results have been duplicated by other experimenters.

This is far from the only experimental evidence that protons and neutrons and electrons are not uniform spheres of matter as the “common sense science” web site insists they are. But it is probably the most important because it resulted in a Nobel Prize.

If the "common sense science" web site wishes to be considered seriously, it must at least show SPECIFICALLY how these experiments are flawed. It fails to even mention such experiments.

It is one thing to show how some evidence is explained by a particular hypothesis. For example, the appearance of the sun rising in the east and setting in the west every day would provide evidence of a geocentric solar system. But science depends on testing hypotheses. Those tests must be formed in such a way that a particular experimental result could falsify the hypothesis. Many scientific phenomena - such as relativity - have been subjected to numerous tests that would falsify them. Those phenomena have passed every such test. This single test that won the Nobel Prize falsifies the hypothesis expressed at the “common sense science” web site.

In fact, and I have to be perfectly frank here, this is an example of exactly why creationism makes atheism intellectually responsible. You said in your email response to me said that this “common sense science” web site, which ignores a massive amount of EXPERIMENTAL evidence against it, would make all of us rethink our opinions of Einstein – one of the true icons of science!

This isn't just silly; it is falling down, rolling on the ground, laughing until our sides ache hilarious!

(At the web site the New Mexicans for Science and Reason call the "common sense science" web site "hysterical".)

R**** C****

PS At the web site a scientist named Glenn Morton, who knew and worked with the authors of the "common sense science" web site, mentions that one of those authors, Dr. Thomas Barnes, told him that he was unable to build a cyclotron without using relativistic equations - despite the fact that he didn't believe in relativity! He couldn't use his own theories in his own work! What's wrong with this picture?

Common Sense Science

Dear Mr. C****

As I said in my last response, I will not go on to a round 3, but since you seem to be still in round 2, I will give you my counter-punch.

My point about Einstein is that although his work is widely accepted, it is based on a shaky foundation – solving a conundrum with a mathematical abstraction. The Michaelson-Morely experiment looking for the velocity that earth was moving through the “ether” – the medium through which light was thought to travel -- showed that light took the same time to travel a given distance regardless of the direction. Einstein took the equation d=vt and reasoned that because earth must be moving and the path would therefore be shorter in the direction of movement and since velocity was the same, either distance or time changed. There was qualified opposition in his own day and there is today although as it is in the case of evolution, the ideas are so deeply entrenched that to oppose them endangers a scientific career.

CSS also deals with relativity and has shown that the measurable “time dilatation” can be explained by the physical forces of a charged particle moving through its own electromagnetic field. They hypothesize that light travels in the electromagnetic fields of all the particles in the universe. Thus it would be tied to the strong field of the earth in the near earth environment. CSS has spent most of its resources on a new model of the atom since the Bohr model is generally agreed to be faulty. After all, there are only three people in their core organization and they cannot do everything at once. They have experimentally verified their rotating charged ring model of elementary particles.

Since you refer to CSS model of elementary particles as being “uniform spheres of matter,” I can only assume that you not only did not read the Foundations of Science Newsletters, you also did not take their popular level “tour” of the site or even look at the graphics! (Hint: they claim that elementary particles are rotating rings of charge.) And then in answer to their very detailed scientific data and arguments, you simply quote the New Mexicans for Science and Reason who call the "common sense science" web site "hysterical".

I am beginning to see why you apparently do not want your name attached to your postings for the world to see. Do you remember when you stated that atheism is clearly wrong? NMSR is a group of atheists. Can atheists be right about things? Of course they can, in many -- even most – areas of inquiry. But in areas that touch on their philosophical and spiritual position, they can be blind. If you , as a Christian, had any faith in the Bible, you would know that and would avoid following blind guides off the edge of the abyss.

You are like the movie-goer who only reads the reviews and never sees the shows. Let me qualify that by saying that there are very few good movies today and reading the reviews is a good guide to which ones to see. If the critics loved it, it will nearly always be trash and if they panned it, it may be very worthwhile. But if you really want to know what something is like you have to check it out yourself.

As to Glenn Morton's anecdote, the late Thomas Barnes was a forerunner in the recent move to re-establish physics on a classical basis and entitled one of his books Physics of the Future because he had not worked it all out. Yes, the old classical equations did not work and the relativistic and quantum equations were useful. They include fudge factors and impossibilities like “point particles.” When CSS went back and redid the classical equations, making the particles rotating rings of charge instead of points, they now work.

Ross Olson

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