“I’m no kin to the monkey” – The Attack on Evolution

Disclaimer: This post contains material on science. Science is built around theories, which are strongly supported by factual evidence. Everything in science should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.

“New knowledge leads us to recognize in the theory of evolution more than a hypothesis.” – Pope John Paul II

“Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” – Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker

“So powerful is the illusion of design, it took humanity until the mid-19th century to realize that it is an illusion.” – New Scientist, September 17, 2005, pg. 33

One would think that in the 21st century, in the most scientifically advanced country the world has ever seen, that evolution would be universally accepted and that science would be have long prevailed over unprovable belief. However, science once again finds itself under attack and a theory supported by multitudes of corroborating evidence is being questioned based on ideas supported by no evidence at all. I’m talking, of course, about Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection and the challenge mounted by Intelligent Design.

Percent accepting evolution

Many people and organizations have attempted to challenge evolution over the past few decades. From Kirk Cameron and his crockaduck to Kent Hovind and his theory of monkeys having humans to Ken Ham and his Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky One, there exists no shortage of faux scientists that try to dispute evolution by playing on misunderstanding of the theory. Bizarre stories and songs (such as the one at the end of this article) have even been invented to attack evolution in a battle of public opinion and propaganda. Some organizations, such as Concerned Women for America and its leader Wendy Wright, have made it a primary goal to insert creationist theory into public science classrooms under the guise of “teaching all the evidence” or “teaching competing views.” Even 13% of high school biology teachers now advocate creationism in the classroom (story on MSNBC). Normally, this view would be championed in science except that science requires a theory to be supported by one thing: evidence.

No matter how much I write or say, there has to be evidence for that which I assert. Whether I believe something or not has no impact on whether or not that thing it true. Luckily, science has uncovered massive amounts of evidence for evolution. For example, if evolution were true, we should see a nested hierarchy of organisms as is predicted by the theory. That is, if human and chimpanzees share a common ancestor, we should see genetic evidence for this. If we don’t, evolution is wrong and we have to revise the theory. As it turns out, the nested hierarchy is precisely what we see. Chimpanzees have 48 chromosomes whereas humans have 46. So, in order for a nested hierarchy to exist, we have to be able to explain what happened to the other chromosomes. The answer lies in chromosome 2. In humans, chromosome 2 resulted from the fusion of two primate chromosomes as evidenced by intrastrand telomeres and multiple centromeres with the inactivated centromere matching exactly to chimp chromosome 13. Evolution passes the test.

A common argument against evolution involves the second law of thermodynamics. The second law of thermodynamics states that systems must become more disordered over time. Living cells, creationist say, therefore could not have evolved from inanimate chemicals, and multicellular life could not have evolved from protozoa. However, this argument derives from a misunderstanding of the Second Law. If it were valid, mineral crystals and snowflakes would also be impossible, because they, too, are
complex structures that form spontaneously from disordered parts. The Second Law actually states that the total entropy of a closed system (one that no energy or matter leaves or enters) cannot decrease. Entropy is a physical concept often casually described as disorder, but it differs significantly from the conversational use of the word. More important, however, the Second Law permits parts of a system to decrease in entropy as long as other parts experience an offsetting increase. Thus, our planet as a whole can grow more complex because the sun pours heat and light onto it, and the greater entropy associated with the sun’s nuclear fusion more than rebalances the scales. Simple organisms can fuel their rise toward complexity by consuming other forms of life and nonliving materials.

A second argument I will address (and there are many from which I could have chosen) is that mathematically, it is inconceivable that anything as complex as a protein, let alone a living cell or a human, could spring up by chance. While it is true that chance plays a part in evolution (for example, in the random mutations that can give rise to new traits), evolution does not depend on chance alone to create organisms, proteins or other entities. Natural selection, the principal known mechanism of evolution, harnesses nonrandom change by preserving “desirable” (adaptive) features and eliminating “undesirable” (nonadaptive) ones. Indeed, one could say that evolution is the non-random survival of randomly varying replicators. As long as the forces of selection stay constant, natural selection can push evolution in one direction and produce sophisticated structures in surprisingly short times. As an analogy, consider the 13-letter sequence “TOBEORNOTTOBE.” A hypothetical million monkeys, each pecking out one phrase a second, could take as long as 78,800 years to find it among the 26^13 sequences of that length. However, Richard Hardison of Glendale College wrote a computer program in the 1980s that generated phrases randomly while preserving the positions of individual letters that happened to be correctly placed (in effect, selecting for phrases more like Hamlet’s). On average, the program re-created the phrase in just 336 iterations, less than 90 seconds. Even more amazing, it could reconstruct Shakespeare’s entire play in just four and a half days. This experiment elegantly demonstrates how evolution works and how complex structures can rapidly evolve. However, do not mistakenly assume that evolution has a goal (i.e. it wanted to make “TOBEORNOTTOBE”). Evolution has no such goal. Species are shaped based upon survivability characteristics and the members of a species best able to survive will reproduce and pass on their genes thus influencing the next generation and furthering evolution.

“Creation science” is simply a contradiction in terms. A central tenet of modern science is methodological naturalism—it seeks to explain the universe purely in terms of observed or testable natural mechanisms. In contrast, intelligent-design theorists invoke shadowy entities that conveniently have whatever unconstrained abilities are needed to solve the mystery at hand. Rather than expanding scientific inquiry, such answers shut it down. That is, the idea of postulating a designer really solves nothing, adds nothing to the debate and adds another level of complexity that would then have to be explained.

If one reads the writing of intelligent design supporters, once quickly comes to the conclusion that this approach offers few answers. For instance, when and how did a designing intelligence intervene in life’s history? By creating the first DNA? The first cell? The first human? Was every species designed, or just a few early ones? Proponents of intelligent-design theory frequently decline to be pinned down on these points. They do not even make real attempts to reconcile their disparate ideas about intelligent design. Instead they pursue argument by exclusion—that is, they belittle evolutionary explanations as far-fetched or incomplete and then imply that only design-based alternatives remain.

Time and again, science has shown that methodological naturalism can push back ignorance and misunderstanding, and find increasingly detailed and informative answers to mysteries that once seemed impenetrable, such as the nature of light, the causes of disease and how the brain works. Evolution is doing the same with the riddle of how the living world took shape and life arrived to state in which it now exists. Creationism, by any name, adds nothing of intellectual value to the effort.

This article derives some of its content from “15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense” by John Rennie which appeared in the July 2002 edition of Scientific American. Such content is the property of Scientific American which holds the copyright. The usage here is believed to be “fair use.

Bizarre Creationist Song LyricsDownload the MP3

I’m no kin to the monkey no no no,
The monkey’s no kin to me yeah yeah yeah,
I don’t know much about his ancestors,
But mine didn’t swing from a tree.

It seems so unbelievable,
And yet they say that it’s true,
They’re teaching us about it in school now,
That humans were monkeys once too.

Oooo I’m no kin to the monkey no no no,
The monkey’s no kin to me yeah yeah yeah,
I don’t know much about his ancestors,
But mine didn’t swing from a tree.

Although it’s so ridiculous,
They’re teaching us now that it’s true,
The teachers that came from a monkey,
Would be better off in a zoo.

Oooo I’m no kin to the monkey no no no,
The monkey’s no kin to me yeah yeah yeah,
I don’t know much about his ancestors,
But mine didn’t swing from a tree.

It seems so much more believable,
And surely, surely it’s true,
That God made Man in His image,
No monkey story will do.

Oooo I’m no kin to the monkey no no no,
The monkey’s no kin to me yeah yeah yeah,
I don’t know much about his ancestors,
But mine didn’t swing from a tree,

This monkey business has to go,
Because it just isn’t true,
It’s such a disgrace to the monkey,
A disgrace to the human race too.

Oooo I’m no kin to the monkey no no no,
The monkey’s no kin to me yeah yeah yeah,
I don’t know much about his ancestors,
But mine didn’t swing from a tree,
Mine didn’t swing from a tree,
Mine didn’t swing from a tree.

5 Responses

  1. You made several evidence-based, thoughtful points, but the anti-evolution song points out, in rhyme, that “this monkey business has to go.” Touché.

  2. Yeah. I mean, if it’s in a song or on TV, it /has/ to be true, right?!? I guess they got me there. Maybe the Earth really is 10,000 years old and created by a cosmic space man.

  3. The statistics presented about % of people supporting the religion of evolution or scientific naturalism or philosophy of science (uppss) are utter bullocks! Statistics of IPSOS a research center from the UK shows complete other stats.

    You are falsifying data which is against the law. If you dont remove these statistics we will make sure that you will be dragged to court within the next weeks.

    The choice is yours!

    • Your IP address indicates that you are located in Budapest, Hungary (89.223.255.86, apn-89-223-255-86.vodafone.hu), and your pattern of speech is suggestive of British nationality. While your stated legal interpretation may or may not be the case in Hungary or the UK (Hint: it’s not), it does not matter. I am not subject to Hungarian or British law or its legal interpretations. I assert that the information I have presented is accurate, and I will under no circumstance be threatened or change the article.

      IP address: 89.223.255.255
      IP country code: HU
      IP address country: Hungary
      IP address state: Budapest
      IP address city: Budapest
      IP address latitude: 47.5000
      IP address longitude: 19.0833
      ISP of this IP [?]: Vodafone Hungary Ltd.
      Organization: VODAFONE-HU
      Host of this IP: [?]: apn-89-223-255-255.vodafone.hu[Whois] [Trace]
      Local time in Hungary: 2012-02-05 19:36

  4. Great article! Had to read it again.

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