By Phil Plait – Bad Astronomer, Slate Magazine
After writing yesterday about the now-famous/infamous debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, I don’t want to make this blog all creationism all the time, but indulge me this one more time, if you will. On BuzzFeed, there is a clever listicle that is a collection of 22 photos showing creationists holding up questions they have for people who “believe” in evolution.
These questions are fairly typically asked when evolution is questioned by creationists. Some are philosophical, and fun to think about, while others show a profound misunderstanding of how science works, and specifically what evolution is. I have found that most creationists who attack evolution have been taught about it by other creationists, so they really don’t understand what it is or how it works, instead they have a straw-man idea of it.
Because of this, it’s worth exploring and answering the questions presented. Some could be simply answered yes or no, but I’m all about going a bit deeper. With 22 questions I won’t go too deep, but if you have these questions yourself, or have been asked them, I hope this helps.
I’ll repeat the question below, and give my answers.
1) “Bill Nye, are you influencing the minds of children in a positive way?”
I’m not Bill, but I’d say yes, he is. More than just giving them facts to memorize, he is showing them how science works. Not only that, his clear love and enthusiasm for science is infectious, and that to me is his greatest gift.
2) “Are you scared of a Divine Creator?”
No. In fact, if there is a Judeo-Christian god, that would have fascinating implications for much of what we scientists study, and would be a rich vein to mine. Perhaps a more pertinent question is, “Are you scared there might not be a Divine Creator?” There is more room for a god in science than there is for no god in religious faith.
3) “Is it completely illogical that the Earth was created mature? i.e. trees created with rings … Adam created as an adult ….”
It might be internally consistent, even logical, but a bit of a stretch. After all, we can posit that God created the Universe last Thursday, looking exactly as it is, with all evidence pointing to it being old and your memories implanted such that you think you’re older than a mere few days. Consistent, sure, but plausible? Not really.
4) “Does not the second law of thermodynamics disprove evolution?”
No. The creationist argument assumes the Earth is a closed system, such that energy cannot escape or enter. But the Sun is the main source of energy for the Earth. This allows more order to be created, and for entropy to be locally lowered in some cases.
5) “How do you explain a sunset if their [sic] is no God?”
Angular momentum. OK, kidding aside, if you mean the beauty of a sunset, well, we have evolved to appreciate colors, shapes, and metaphors. And in my opinion understanding the science behind events like sunsets adds to their beauty.
Incidentally, some creationists are geocentrists.
6) “If the Big Bang Theory is true and taught as science along with evolution, why do the laws of thermodynamics debunk said theories?”
See No. 4. Also, as far as the Big Bang goes, we don’t know how or why the Universe came into being (though there are some interesting ideas). But “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer in science. It leads to asking more questions, which leads to more exploration, which leads to more understanding. Just being given an answer is like using the answer key to fill in a crossword puzzle. It’s no fun.
7) “What about noetics?”
Well, that depends on what you mean. There is a branch of philosophy called noetics, which deals with understanding the mind. That is also a scientific endeavor, since we know the mind is an effect of the brain—as many say, the mind is what the brain does. Scientists are studying that now, so I don’t think you can dismiss science out of hand and replace it with religion in that instance.
There is also a more New Age-y field called noetics, which posits that the mind can have an effect on matter (though there is more to it than that). I’m not sure what that had to do with God, except the idea that God gave humans mind. But for that claim to sway me I want evidence, not just a proclamation that it is so.
8) “Where do you derive objective meaning in life?”
We have evolved over millions of years to be social animals, tribal, supportive of others and willing to reach a common goal. This could explain much of the morality and meaning we see in life, without the need for it to be revealed by a divine presence. In fact, I object to the idea that humans need a supernatural parent figure to give us morals; I don’t need religion to know that murder is wrong. Note that there were laws against murder long, long before the Bible was around. I would also mention that the Bible has very conflicting morality, saying for example that it’s OK to stone people to death for all manners of minor infractions. I have no problem with the idea that people seek moral guidance or meaning in the Bible, but I do object when they ignore the parts that are clearly immoral.
Meaning in life is what you make of it. For me that’s love, beauty, art, science, and learning. For others it may be different, but those are what call to me.
9) “If God did not create everything, how did the first single-celled organism originate? By chance?”
This is an excellent question. It was partly by chance, but it wasn’t random. Chemistry shows us that atoms and molecules are like puzzle pieces, fitting together a certain way. This means some molecules can have astonishing complexity, including the ability to replicate. It’s not like taking all the pieces of a clock, throwing them in a box, shaking it, and getting a working timepiece. The pieces themselves built up over time, attaining more complexity.
And I might turn the question around. Who created God? If you say He has always been, then why not say the same about the Universe (or more properly, the multiverse)?
10) “I believe in the Big Bang Theory … God said it and BANG it happened.”
That’s fine by me. I might disagree with your explanation of the origin, but if from there you allow that the laws of the Universe are as we see them today, then it sounds to me like you are arguing more for science than creationism. I suggest reading about theistic evolution, which is a fascinating area of philosophical argument.
11) “Why do evolutionists/secularists/humanists/non-God believing people reject the idea of their [sic] being a Creator God but embrace the concept of intelligent design from aliens or other extra-terrestrial sources?”
Seriously, this is a profound misunderstanding of the secular stance. I’m open to any provable claim, as long as the evidence supports it. We know of no aliens, so how can we say they made us? However, I’ll note that the evidence that aliens may exist gets stronger every day; we see planets everywhere we look, and many may be Earth-like. That’s a big jump from extraterrestrial intelligent design, though!
And mind you, this is question confuses evolution with atheism. Those are two very different things.
12) “There is no in between … the only one found has been Lucy and there are only a few pieces of the hundreds necessary for an “’official proof’.”
This is incorrect on many levels; we have many bones from different individual ofAustralopithecus afarensis (Lucy’s species), and we have lots of bones from other ancient humans and their predecessors, including branches of hominids that did not lead to us. We also see huge numbers of transition fossils from various species, implying we too evolved from earlier species. And there aren’t hundreds needed; it’s not hard to draw conclusions from fewer samples. You might as well ask for every single bone from every single individual who ever lived, going back millions of years. It’s not needed.
13) “Does metamorphosis help support evolution?”
14) “If Evolution is a theory (like creationism or the Bible) why then is Evolution taught as a fact.”
First, creationism and the Bible aren’t theories. Second, evolution is a fact and a theory. If this question is an argument to allow creationism to be taught in schools,that’s a violation of the First Amendment anyway.
15) “Because science is “theory”–not testable, observable, nor repeatable, why do you object to creationism or intelligent design being taught in school?”
Actually, science is testable, observable, and repeatable! That’s the very definition of what science is! And if you actually mean evolution, that fits the criteria as well. There are countless examples. Here’s one.
Also, again, teaching religion in schools as being real is a violation of the First Amendment.
16) “What mechanism has science discovered that evidences an increase of genetic information seen in any genetic mutation or evolutionary process?”
Again, here you go.
17) “What purpose do you think you are here for if you don’t believe in salvation?”
That’s an interesting question, but why not ask it of people who are of a different religion? I expect a devout Jew might have a more interesting answer than I would.
I also don’t think there is a purpose granted from an outside agency. We are what we are, and create our own purpose. We should make the best of it.
18) “Why have we found only 1 ‘Lucy,’ when we have found more than 1 of everything else?”
19) “Can you believe in ‘the big bang’ without ‘faith’”?
20) “How can you look at the world and not believe someone created/thought of it? It’s amazing!!!”
I agree; it is amazing! I’ve written about this many times. But we know that complexity can arise naturally through the laws of physics. It doesn’t take very complex rules to create huge diversity. Look at poker; a simple set of rules creates a game that has so many combinations it’s essentially infinite to human experience. We can figure out the rules of nature by studying the way processes follow them, and deduce what’s going on behind the scenes. And whenever we do, we see science.
21) “Relating to the big bang theory … Where did the exploding star come from?”
A quibble: It wasn’t an exploding star, but an explosion of space and time. But as I said for No. 6, we don’t know, but that’s OK, because we learn more about it every day. Someday we will know, but until then, using a supernatural explanation without explaining why doesn’t give you any true understanding of it. That only leads to the stopping of learning, not the growth of it.
22) “If we came from monkeys then why are there still monkeys?”
Let me ask you this: If you came from parents, why are there still parents?
The answer is that evolution is not a line from one species to the next. Different species branch off from earlier ones, they don’t replace them. You can imagine a pair of primates (not monkeys; those are different form apes) had two children, one the same as the parents, and one slightly different. They both breed, passing down their genes. Sometimes mutations happen, sometimes they don’t. Over time, you can get two different species: One close to the original, and another distinct, both living at the same time. That’s a gross simplification, but this might help.
I’ll note that these are a small sample of the questions asked by creationists. But again, the vast majority of them are due to a misunderstanding of how evolution works rather than being pointed barbs striking at the heart of science. I suggest reading more aboutthe truth of evolution, and investigating the FAQs from creationists (especially the one from talk.origins). My most fervent hope is that this will lead to further understanding of science.
And one final note: At the very top of this article, I put the word believe in quotation marks when it was used in relation to evolution. Why? Because science isn’t a belief system. Scientists don’t believe in evolution; we trust that it’s the best way to describe how we came to be. And we do that because it’s earned that trust.