The Top 10 + 1 Signs You Don’t Understand Evolution At All

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

A theologian prominent in the blogosphere has posted an article Why People Reject Evolution. It is a re-post of one of those flippant smart-alec type blog-posts that put-downs with ridicule those with views the theologian in question himself once held. We can only wonder why he shows so little compassion or understanding as he now mercilessly mocks and taunts those who continue to stand fast where he once stood. Is this some sort of Freudian attempt to suggest one was once a total idiot and therefore deserving of mockery? I’d prefer to think that once we emerge from views we now find embarrassing that we’d attempt to approach others with those views with more depth of understanding and compassion.

The first thing that hit me about the list of reasons people reject evolution was that they bizarrely omitted the central fact about the theory of evolution that probably all the books of evolutionary scientists I have ever read stress most emphatically. How can a list of reasons people reject evolution omit the one thing about the theory of evolution that is most central according to the view of nearly all evolutionists?

Here are the “top ten” reasons in headline form from the linked article. See if you can see the one key fact missing:

1. You think “it hasn’t been observed” is a good argument against it.

2. You think we’ve never found a transitional fossil.

3. You think macroevolution is an inherently different process than microevolution.

4. You think mutations are always negative.

5. You think it has anything to do with the origin of life, let alone the origins of the universe.

6. You use the phrase “it’s only a theory” and think you’ve made some kind of substantive statement.

7. You think acceptance of evolution is the same as religious faith.

8. You think our modern understanding of it rests on a long series of hoaxes perpetuated by scientists.

9. You don’t like Pokémon because you think it “promotes” evolution.

10. You think it’s inherently opposed to Christianity or the Bible.

Hang on! Did the author(s) of Genesis really write account(s) they (if only they knew) would be consistent with evolution?

Ah, the author of this blog-post comes to the rescue and explains:  Continue reading “The Top 10 + 1 Signs You Don’t Understand Evolution At All”


Bright Simon’s Guide to Being Smarter Than God

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Tip Hillman has launched a new atheist Kickstarter project called Bright Simon’s Guide to Being Smarter Than God in an effort to

  • 1. inspire non-believers and
  • 2. encourage fence-sitters to embrace science and rational thinking.

It’s for a younger audience, and begins:

Kick scientific truth forward! Let’s produce Bright Simon’s first book, posters and t-shirts to promote freethinking, facts, and fun.

Thanks for stopping by to take a look at Bright Simon’s Guide to Being Smarter Than God. It’s a multi-faceted project that includes a printed book, posters, stickers, and T-shirts, all designed to promote science and rational thinking. It revolves around an atheist character, Simon, who contrasts the dubious claims of beliefs with the verifiable proof of science. His motto is “Aren’t You Curious?” and his goal is to promote knowledge and secular-based virtues in a friendly way through popular culture.

To fund the project $8000 needs to be pledged by August 30th.

Check out the details and how you can help, and see the carrots on offer at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/tiphillman/bright-simons-guide-to-being-smarter-than-god



Science and Religion: Four Fundamental Differences

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Religion has not gone away since the end of the Europe’s religious wars and the ensuing Age of Enlightenment. Indeed, scientific advances and the rise of secularism may even be largely responsible for religious revivals. Anthropologist Scott Atran writes about current research on religion, including his own. One of his online 2012 articles, God and the Ivory Tower: What we don’t understand about religion just might kill us. Now I used to love Richard Dawkins’ colourful critique of religion. Who could possibly argue with:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. (God Delusion, p. 51)


Scott Atran

But Scott Atran is one scholar who is forcing me into a rethink lately. He argues that it is misguided to think that religion will go away if we can rationally disprove all of its beliefs and premises. Fighting religion with reason and facts just doesn’t work because that sort of tactic completely misunderstands what religion is. Religious people know their beliefs are counter-intuitive and do not conform to the commonsense systems of thought that govern our everyday functioning in the physical world. Indeed, Atran argues, that’s the point of religion, and there is a clear benefit to groups and individuals within groups because of this. I will explain the arguments and evidence in future posts.

Till then, there is a clue to Atran’s conclusions in the following observation:

Thus, a century ago, while visiting the United States, Max Weber (1946:46) observed that even the most hard-headed capitalist would make it his business to advertise his faith in order to display his trustworthiness to others. . . . [P]eople apparently infer that explicit professions of faith carry the implicit message that trustworthiness matters — in the unblinking and forever watchful eyes of God — and commitments will be met even at great cost and even when there is no hope of reward. Science and secular ideology are poor competitors in this regard. (In Gods We Trust, p. 276. )

I expect to post more articles referencing Scott Atran’s works (In Gods We Trust is only one of his titles that I have beside me to read) on the nature of religion in the coming year and more) but till I start in earnest I leave here his concluding distinctions between Science and Religion. Continue reading “Science and Religion: Four Fundamental Differences”


Strange Bedfellows — Evolution and Christianity

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Tim Widowfield

Illuminated parchment, Spain, circa AD 950-955...
Illuminated parchment, Spain, circa AD 950-955, depicting the Fall of Man, the scientific cause of original sin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Grants for serious studies

Yesterday (13 February), James McGrath posted a congratulatory note to two winners of the latest Evolution & Christian Faith (ECF) grant competition. [biologos blog is undergoing reorganizing: hopefully the link (currently at http://biologos.org/blog/evolution-and-christian-faith-grantees-announced?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication)  will be restored before too long. Neil – 23rd July, 2019]. The ECF panel faced some hard choices. They fielded requests from scores of applicants, but had only about $3 million to shell out.

You’ll be happy to learn that a number of the fortunate grantees will be working on important projects related to “questions about Adam and Eve, the Fall, human identity, and Original Sin—some of the most critical interpretive issues for evangelical theology.

BioLogos: Who are these guys?

I suppose on the face of it, nonbelievers shouldn’t care if Christians want to embrace biological evolution. In fact, it sounds like a promising idea. However, if that embrace suffocates the scientific method, then we can hardly call it a victory. Indeed, if we look at the BioLogos charter do we find science and religion viewed as a partnership of equals? Hardly.

Under the heading “What We Believe,” they state:

7. We believe that the methods of science are an important and reliable means to investigate and describe the world God has made. In this, we stand with a long tradition of Christians for whom Christian faith and science are mutually hospitable. Therefore, we reject ideologies such as Materialism and Scientism that claim science is the sole source of knowledge and truth, that science has debunked God and religion, or that the physical world constitutes the whole of reality. (emphasis added)

All right. It isn’t something I would sign onto. And I confess I get a little uncomfortable when Christians use the term Scientism, since it’s clearly an invented derogatory term that doesn’t mean much outside their echo chamber.

Science is useful, as long as it conforms to what we already “know”

But it’s their deal. So if it gets them on board, “no harm, no foul,” right? Maybe not.

Continue reading “Strange Bedfellows — Evolution and Christianity”


Theistic evolutionists are creationists

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

From Jerry Coyne’s comments on responses to Bill Nye’s attack on creationism (reformatted), posted on his blog, Why Evolution Is True:

Theistic evolutionists are creationists, pure and simple; they differ from straight fundamentalist creationists only in how much of life God was involved in creating, ranging from

  • those who think God set the whole plan in motion, knowing it would culminate in that most awesome of species, US,
  • to those who think that God tinkered with mutations to create the right species (see the philosophical work of Elliott Sober),
  • to those who think that humans are set apart from other species because God inserted a soul in our lineage (that’s the official view of the Vatican). 

That is being anti-evolution as scientists understand it, since we see evolution as a naturalistic process that has nothing to do with deities.

Sadly, far more Americans are theistic evolutionists than naturalistic evolutionists: the proportions among all Americans are 38% to 16% respectively (40% are straight creationists, 6% are unsure). We have a long way to go.


Evolved Morality

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

I  loved this video clip of Frans de Waal’s talk, Moral Behavior in Animals. (It was recently linked on Jerry Coyne’s Evolution is True blog.) It demonstrates that more animals than humans have evolved moral attributes of empathizing with others, offering others consolation, “prosocial” tendencies such as caring for the welfare of others, and a sense of fairness. The talk begins by balancing the themes we used to hear so often about our nearest animal relatives being so aggressive and territorial by showing that they also “believe in” reconciling after fights.

Or if you are short of time and want to jump to the funniest part where we see outrage over an unfair deal . . . . .


Evolution and Christianity are not compatible

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Darwin fish
Darwin fish (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thanks to Jerry Coyne’s latest post at Why Evolution Is True many of us have been directed to a Mike Aus article on RichardDawkins.net that confronts what should be obvious to all thinking people: evolution and Christianity and other Abrahamic faiths are not compatible.

Some excerpts:

If there is no original ancestor who transmitted hereditary sin to the whole species, then there is no Fall, no need for redemption, and Jesus’ death as a sacrifice efficacious for the salvation of humanity is pointless. The whole raison d’etre for the Christian plan of salvation disappears. . . . .

Science has now shown us that both selfish behavior and altruistic impulses are at least partially heritable traits. The instinct for self-preservation and a concern for the well-being of other individuals appear to have both played a role in the survival and evolution of our species. If that is the case, then the tension between “sin” and selflessness might actually help define who we are as humans. The project of religion has been sin eradication, and that approach now appears to be a fundamental denial of human nature. . . . . Continue reading “Evolution and Christianity are not compatible”


Evolution and God go together like Newtonian physics and Hobgoblins

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

I tried to explain a technical computer fix to someone once over the phone. I ended up saying something like, “Press the X and Y keys, and a little man inside the computer will do ABC for you.”

Isn’t that the sort of fantasy nonsense that is required to reconcile evolution with a belief in a personal God who has a special thing for humans?

How does evolution work?

The combined effects of mutation, natural selection and the random processes of genetic drift cause changes in the composition of a population. Over a sufficiently long period of time, these cumulative effects alter the population’s genetic make-up, and can thus greatly change the species’ characteristics from those of its ancestors.

That’s from Evolution: A Very Short Introduction by Brian and Deborah Charlesworth. The back cover blurb contains a panegyric by Richard Dawkins.

Now that makes humans no more unique, or pre-ordained, than sponges. There is no room for supernatural intervention in the terms “natural selection” or “random processes.”

If we like to think we can believe in evolution BUT God somehow guided it to make sure it produced us for Jesus Christ or Jehovah or Allah, then aren’t we kind of copping out, kidding ourselves, and really no different from the person who believes a computer works because there is a little man inside the thing making it work just right?

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...
Image via Wikipedia


Evolution, creationism, civil discourse and “you know what”

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Yesterday I was browsing in a bookshop the many shelves of books about evolution (or “life sciences” — but most books were about evolution). I was slightly amazed how many of those books were scholarly publications that their cover blurbs explained were addressing Creationists or Intelligent Design proponents. Every one of those that I opened up was a serious, respectful, direct and fact-based book explaining the evidence for evolution and addressing Creationist’s objections and arguments. All were written by scientists.

Not one was a ridiculing or derisively putting down Creationists or their arguments.

Now I believe that Creationist arguments should not be taught in public schools. I am sure most of those scientist authors would believe the same. But it was obvious that they also believed that those arguments “deserved to be heard”. Why else would they write respectful books about them?

It is one thing to exclude certain arguments and speech from forums marked off for certain purposes that exclude that form of speech for justifiable reasons. It is quite another to say someone who is not inciting harm or invading privacy and such does not deserve to be heard. (It is also obviously legitimate to speak out strongly against ideas that we do believe to be harmful.)

Having just caught up with McGrath’s recent post, I should be clear and let it be known that I am very sure that not all scientists are always so tolerant and civil in their approach to Creationism. But fortunately in the “free market of books and ideas”, the jerks were not published and on the shelf for sale. At least not in Borders’ Singapore’s Orchard Road branch.

At the same time I have no reason to think that even those who publish respectful books are always the model of decorum, even in private company, when the topic is raised. But that’s fine. Farting is always best kept private.

I can’t speak for others, but one reason I think that even arguments, for example, about alien abductions and Atlantis and even Christianity “deserve to be heard” is because they are very often sincerely entertained by my brothers and sisters, fellow humans. It’s about respect and simply trying to be a decent human getting along with others as vulnerable as myself. I was introduced to Enlightenment literature when quite young and I still feel attached to the idea of hearing people out and sharing what I can with them and respecting them enough to continue with their own journey. And always — literally always — in the back of my mind is how wrong I have been before when I was so sure I was right, and how tentative human knowledge and understanding have always been.

Thus when people bring up the topic of alien abductions I am able to share with them my experience with sleep paralysis, and how during those years, being religious, I then understood the experience described today by some “alien abductees” to be demonic. In the case of the talk of Atlantis, I am able to share my knowledge of the history of the idea itself and origin as a myth.

Probably most of us who have had the benefit of more education than others, or some experiences that have enabled insights from uncommon perspectives, feel our lives are more worthwhile if we can give back to the community, to others, something of what we have gained. It’s all about sharing experiences and ideas and trusting enough people to make the more justifiable choices and responses.

I tend to think of creationists as being the ones who do the ridiculing and play the avoidance games and latch on to side-irrelevancies (sophistry), and of the scientists being the ones who engage in a serious, direct, respectful, evidence-based argument.

Street sign for Orchard Road in Singapore.
Image via Wikipedia


What sort of God is compatible with evolution?

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Phylogenetic Tree of Life
Image via Wikipedia

The fact of evolution means that humans are not some sort of distinctive “end product” any more than elephant grass or grasshoppers or lichen are “end products”. The fact that we have evolved language makes us no more unique in the grand evolutionary scheme of things than elephants that have evolved trunks. Humans have not been here very long, and given the nature of evolution, there is no reason to assume they will be around forever. Self-conscious life with our level of intelligence may even prove not to be such a good idea in evolutionary terms if it ends up wiping out most other species and even ends up extinct through destroying its own environment or through advanced technological warfare. Or if it does survive, it may find it does so in something no longer human as we understand human — in another species yet again. Evolutionary history surely guarantees it.

Yet most religions as I understand them, at least those big 3 “of the Book”, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, give a special place to humans above all other species. The more enlightened adherents of these religions claim to believe in evolution, but I try not to think too much about how they can do that. If they are thinking that there is nothing really random about the mutations or anything truly natural about the conditions that affect survival, that God somehow did pull a few strings here and there along the way, or started it in a way so that it would turn out just so, then they are no longer evolutionists but closet supernaturalists, creationists, or Intelligent Designers — only trying to be less “in your face” about it.

Or if they say that mankind is made in the image of God then they are declaring evolution has somehow come to an end with us, and they are not evolutionists at all. They are creationists who try to keep the little angels tinkering with things along the way hidden from view. Will Abraham or Jesus be relevant once a new species replaces humans as the dominant one on the planet?

The problem of evil multiplies, too. The unspeakable evil inflicted by some humans on their own kind and other animals is bad enough. But evolution has bred evils of terror and suffering too painful to contemplate among so many species, not only humans. What sort of God is opting to tinker this but not that along the way?

I can understand the need for God. Religion is one of those “human universals” I think humans by nature will always have to live with. Some religions had a hard time adjusting to relocating the Earth to a lower place in the heavens, and today the “religions of the book” are continuing to be challenged by new understandings in genetics and human nature.

If human cultures by nature are destined to always have religion of some kind, a religion that is genuinely compatible with the facts of evolution, and what we know of genetics today, will have to discard any holy book that implies homo sapiens is somehow the ‘end’ (in both the sense of finality and goal) of evolution.


The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence for Evolution

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

I have just completed Richard Dawkins’ latest book, The Greatest Show on Earth: the Evidence for Evolution. Loved just about all of it, but a few particular themes have left their mark in my mind more than others.

1. The idea of essentialism. We think of dogs and pigs and fish as having an essential character of dogs and pigs and fish. This is, after all, at the very heart of basic concept building from our earliest years that equips us with the tools we need to get by in the world. (Dawkins traces the notion back to Plato — who was of course the arch essentialist with his theory of Ideas (Essences?) — but I see the idea as having a more immediate necessity for our mental makeup.)

But we are like a mayfly trying to make sense of the world in its short 30 minute to 24 hour lifespan. While we can see changes in dog shapes we cannot expand our faculties far enough to see how what appears to be essentially a dog now was a million years earlier something we would not call a dog at all. Yet in the meantime, the chain from that earlier non-dog to our “essential” dog is smooth and we could never find a spot where one animal was a dog and the preceding one wasn’t. Every animal next in line would be classified as a natural offspring of its parent. The differences from one generation to the next would never be so great as to prove otherwise. It is only when we look back through incomprehenible millions of years that we can see that there have been such dramatic changes. Slightest changes (that would never be so great as to enable us to say a parent gave birth to a different species) accumulated over millions of years really can lead to the appearance of something quite different from what was in the family tree at the beginning.

The corollary of this concept is that change does not occur at the outward level of appearance, but at the embryological level. So a lizard like thing 50 million years ago might have two offspring, and each one of those another offspring, and no-one would have been able to see anything about them that made any of them a different species. But one of those final offspring would be the progenitor of what was to become a new species. But for this to occur there would have to be a geographical separation of some of that offspring’s descendants in order to narrow the range of genetic mix — either by being swept on a log to another land mass, or changes from earthquake etc.

But getting around our presumptions that each species has a certain “essential” character to it that sets it within the boundaries of that species is something that one can understand makes the idea of evolution difficult for anyone not familiar with the evidence.

2. Dating the rocks and fossils. I once was led to believe that evolutionists were so dumb that they failed to acknowledge that their methods of dating were circular. Rocks were dated by the fossils in them and fossils were dated by the rocks that housed them. Dawkins trashes this nonsense completely by discussing lucidly the wide range of dating techniques used by archaeologists and paleontologists, and how they are used for cross checking and correcting each other. For God to have somehow changed so many laws of nature after the flood to make the whole gammut of these different clocks all get out of whack to mislead us to thinking that the earth’s age is in billions of years is a bit much to swallow.

  1. I had not fully appreciated the UNimportance of the fossil record for establishing the fact of evolution. Not that there isn’t an abundance of fossil evidence, especially for humans. But even if there were no fossils surviving we would be compelled to believe in evolution nonetheless. By comparing the structures of species around the world, and examining their geographical locations, it is clear that the evidence points to common ancestors of species (and a common ancestor of all life) and non-random natural selection. (Fossils are still important, of course, for understanding the pathways of evolution.)

  2. One creationist in the film, Voyage that Shook the World (link is to my earlier blogpost), argued that because some finches on Galapagos Islands changed very rapidly, we ought to see them as evidence for a young earth and recent creation. Yet Dawkins cites several examples of rapid evolution alongside more common glacial changes.


Our Unintelligent Design

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Robyn Williams is a widely recognized and highly honoured (United Nations Media Peace Prize, Australian Humanist of the Year, various honorary doctorates, etc etc) science journalist in Australia. I can never resist his radio programs and nor could I resist a book title of his I stumbled across, Unintelligent Design: Why God isn’t as smart as she thinks she is.

I’d rather quote a few passages than ditch his style with my own summaries.


Take guts. The plan in mammals was to have a table-like arrangement: four legs set at each corner, with the belly horizontal to the ground. The digestive system — long for herbivores, shorter for meat eaters — is then slung from the spine. Works well. But then our ancestors, for some daft reason best known to themselves, decided to stand up. Horrors: the peritoneum, the bag of membrane containing our guts and reproductive organs is now hanging from a vertical broomstick, with pressures at the lower end, where there are too many exits and entrances and they are compromised by gravity. Result: piles, hernias, prolapses and squashed babies. (p.60)

The female pelvic girdle

Take the female pelvic girdle, which needs to be narrow enough for walking and to excite the admiration of men, but wide enough to allow a baby’s melon-sized head through. A system for inducing pliability via hormones is the compromise, and it works quite well, but it also fails rather often. Fistulas, caused by rips during childbirth, lead to leaks from the bowel into the vagina. They may last for years. Not nice. (p.60)


Here Robyn Williams cites another quoting Gray’s Anatomy. “The normal opening of the maxillary sinus is high above its floor and is poorly placed for natural drainage.” Sinuses give so many so much trouble because the drainage outlet is at the top! Gravity can’t do much to help compensate for that design.

Bad backs

Then there are bad backs. You and I are supposed to have been created in the image of God, so I presume He’s got one. I hope He’s a little better at looking after His than the vast number of us mortals happen to be. When mine is really bad it takes me twenty minutes to get out of bed, so severe are the muscle spasms. According to different accounts, we originally stood up: to peer over the tall grass, as meercats do; or to be able to wade through streams; or, the latest theory, to provide a smaller target for huge predatory eagles hunting for our ancestors. I suspect God did not have to go through the standing-up process and so has a back designed for upright living . . . . Backs can’t be an example of ID. They must, like Sir Humphrey Appleby of Yes, Minister, be a triumph of compromise. (pp. 61-62)

And finally

Halitosis, farting, vaginal discharge, reflux, snoring, rheumatism, warts, smelly armpits, varicose veins, menopause, brewer’s droop . . . these are not the marks of a designer at the top of his game. They are the trademarks of a natural process giving us only as much as we need to stay alive. (p. 71)

The compromised koala

Williams writes that his favourite example of compromise is the koala — with the female’s pouch for its young placed upside down! The explanation is that the koala evolved from a wombat like marsupial ancestor. Wombats are built to dig underground tunnels furiously. The flick dirt backwards with their front paws. An open pouch facing frontwards would be inviting the mothers to bury their young with dirt.

So backwards it was and, when one day the creature moved up a tree, perhaps to exploit a fresh food source, the ‘design’ came with it, too complicated to change. Yet in a few squillion years’ time adjustments may be forthcoming, if they are important enough. I suspect koala pouches may well stay as they are: as humans do with piles and hernias, koalas simply put up with the inconveniences and get on with life. (p. 63)

Koala Pouch - photo from https://www.savethekoala.com
Koala Pouch - photo from https://www.savethekoala.com


The Voyage That Shook the World

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

2009, the 150th anniversary year since the publication of Darwin’s On The Origin of Species, Creation Ministries International have released a documentary film on Darwin, The Voyage That Shook the World, through Fathom Media, their specially created “nonreligious-looking” front organization. A Christian fundamentalist friend asked me to view it, which I eventually did. Unfortunately, predictably, there is nothing new in it as far as creationist anti-evolution arguments are concerned.

Deceptions from childhood?

The film is bracketed by references to Darwin’s own admission that he loved to fabricate (“lie”) tall stories as a child and his ability, or “gift”, to create an illusion that a simple story of origins could explain all there was to know about nature. In between (approx 45 minutes) there are numerous references to Darwin being so fixated on Lyell‘s uniformitarian ideas that he simply failed to see, or ignored, or “shoehorned” evidence that did not support what he was “looking for”. In other words, the film’s tenor portrays Darwin as entrapped by self-deceit. This is entrenched from the outset with references to both Charles Darwin’s grandfathers, Erasmus Darwin and Josiah Wedgewood, as “free-thinking rationalists and humanists”, and regular reminders that Charles was influenced by Erasmus’s writings on evolutionary ideas. And finally it is noted that a notable contribution of Darwin was his ability to tell a story that could appeal to the public, and an ability to persuade readers to at least entertain some of his ideas for a while.

This, of course, is calculated to imply that the whole theory of evolution is itself grounded in delusion and denial. There is little if anything in this film to remind or alert audiences that scientific enquiry itself is all about constantly examining and questioning the assumptions underlying its interpretations of the evidence, let alone taking on board new evidence for testing.

Genesis more scientific than science?

Rather, the film attempts to convince viewers that it is the creationists who are the more scientific than evolutionists. Twice the film asserts that scientists from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries traced back to Greek philosophers their conviction of fixity of the species. Against these it is claimed that anyone who believes in the story of the Flood and Noah’s ark is also likely to believe in the adaptation of species. The message is that the wisdom of science, grounded in pagan philosophy, had either no explanation for the variation of species across geographical spans, or could only erroneously deduce that each variation had its own discrete origins. The Bible, on the other hand, is said to oblige one to believe that since all animals today originated from Noah’s ark, all the variations of species that we see “proves” that species are not fixed but can and do adapt. Within limits, of course.

The Debate rages?

The film also strongly implies that the primary debates over evolution within the scientific community are currently “raging” between those who support evolution and those who do not. Firstly the narration boldly claims that just such a debate “rages” today. The film also presents mainstream scientists who believe in evolution alongside other “doctors” and “professors” who are Christian creationists, yet without informing viewers of this distinction. Against this obfuscation it is amusing to compare the film’s consistent description of Charles Lyell as “a lawyer”, as if that disqualified him from being taken seriously as a geologist in his day!

Thus when an evolutionist (Peter Bowler) is quoted as saying that the evidence for Darwin’s theory today “stands up pretty well — with lots of additions and modifications”, another name (Cornelius Hunter) with similar academic titles is quoted to make his words sound like an indirect admission that the substantive evidence on which evolution was originally founded has since crumbled into uncertainty. The audience is left with the impression that it is the mainstream scientific community that is struggling in self-deception — evidence supposedly failing to support evolution is said to be euphemistically circuited by describing it all as “research problems” — in order to continue upholding the theory.

Mainstream scholars who are interviewed have protested that they were initially misled into appearing in a Creationist film. See their public statement in the History of Science Society Newsletter. They were unaware of the context through which their statements were being filtered and presented.

Additions and modifications are bad signs?

The film is similarly deceptive towards its viewing audience for conveying the impression that “lots of additions and modifications” to a theory represents serious foundational trouble for a theory. They are not presented with the evidence for evolution that has emerged in truckloads since Darwin. They are not, for example, informed of the predictive power of the theory of evolution and how such power establishes its superlative strength as a theory. Shubin, for example, discusses this in his recently published Your Inner Fish (to which I referred in another recent post). The similar pattern in limb bone structures across different species today, if interpreted according to evolutionary theory, means one is entitled to predict that the same structures will be found back in the fossil record in species that predated those with limbs. This is indeed the case, as with the bone structures of fins in the earliest fish. Conversely, inefficiencies in mammalian design today, such as the wastefully convoluted nerve path from the rear of the brain to the eye, for example, can be shown to be the result of gradual “stretchings” as species adapted further away from the simplest and most direct pathway in earlier marine species.

Further, although the mechanisms of the evolutionary process are debated today, this is the inevitable result of deeper understanding of cell structures and behaviours that were simply unavailable in Darwin’s time. Further explorations, discoveries and questions about processes do not undermine the substantial evidence for the fact of evolution.

Randomness again?

The idea of “randomness” makes a solitary appearance through creationist and biochemist, Matti Leisola. To the less well informed, one would be left with the impression that evolution itself is based on the notion that all changes are random. (“We cannot change bacteria into anything other than bacteria.”) Randomness is, of course, only a part of the picture. And the creationist notion that evolution is comparable to a Jumbo jet being assembled by chance from junkyard materials is simply misinformed. (Not saying Leisola himself drew this comparison but it is common enough among creationists, and his discussion of randomness was surely enough to remind creationist audiences of such arguments.) Without further qualification I found this snippet in the film conveying yet another misleading message.

Uniformitarianism versus catastrophism?

Uniformitarianism takes a heavy beating. Darwin is chastised for not taking more account of catastrophic changes that can be introduced by earthquakes or “dam bursts” from the transition from the glacial eras. But it is misleading to suggest that one must choose between the basic ideas of uniformitarianism and catastrophism. Both have played their parts in the shaping of the earth. And there can be no doubt that the former has been at work over spans of “deep time” despite punctuations of major instabilities in the earth’s crust.

Getting personal

Finally, The Voyage addresses Darwin’s deep conflicts over the idea of suffering in nature (from the loss of three of his own children to the wasp that lays its eggs in a living caterpillar it has paralyzed) and the notion of a good God. The film makes the point several times that Darwin was seeking to remove God from the workings of nature, as if his motivation was in some sense anti-theistic or anti-biblical. No suggestion is made in the film that his motivation could have been “pro-science”. It is a pity that the film did not take up the discussion we find in Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design by Michael Shermer that Darwin made a point of avoiding public religious debate. One major reason was that he had no wish to cause personal offence to religious members of his own close family — his wife in particular.

Such a positive personal trait would have made a nice balance to the film’s readiness to elaborate on some remarks of Darwin that today are racially offensive against nonwhite races. It is also regrettable that the film neglected to point out that the modern falsification of the notion that “race” is a manifestation of core biological differences has been the work of biologists who are themselves predominantly evolutionists.

Among other reviews online are:

The Lippard Blog review

By PZ Myers – Pharyngula

The Dispersal of Darwin


Fearfully and wonderfully or weirdly and clumsily made?

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

I suspect one part of the reason some find evolution difficult to accept is their failure to appreciate “deep time”. We can have some notion of “deep space” by looking out at the stars and through telescopes and seeing the evidence of incomprensible distances. But to appreciate “deep time” when we can only know human history of a few thousand years is not so “easy” to grasp. The evidence tells us that species have evolved through time – but we need to think of deep time. It is somehow easier for us to imagine space extending for light years into the distance than to appreciate what is meant by a few hundred million years back in time.

But the evidence is there and cannot be denied (at least not scientifically). One small facet of that evidence, from Why Darwin Matters by Michael Shermer: 

“Vestigial structures stand as evidence of the mistakes, the misstarts, and, especially, the leftover traces of evolutionary history. The cretaceous snake Pachyrhachis problematicus, for example, had small hind limbs used for locomotion that it inherited from its quadrupal ancestors, gone in today’s snakes.

“Modern whales retain a tiny pelvis for hind legs that existed in their land mammal ancestors but have disappeared today. Likewise, there are wings on flightless birds, and of course humans are replete with useless vestigial structures, a distinctive sign of our evolutionary ancestory. A short list of just ten vestigial strucutures in humans leaves one musing: Why would an Intelligent Designer have created these?” (pp 17-18)

1. Male nipples

“Men have nipples because females need them, and the overall architecture of the human body is more efficiently developed in the uterus from a single developmental structure.”

2. Male uterus

“Men have the remnant of an undeveloped female reproductive organ that hangs off the prostrate gland for the same reason.”

3. Thirteenth rib

Most humans have 12 sets of ribs, but 8% of of us have a thirteenth set, just as chimps and gorillas do. We share a common ancestry with chimps and gorillas, and our 13th set is retained from the time chimps/gorillas and human lineages branched apart 6 million years ago.

4. Coccyx

This tailbone is all that is left of the tails our common ancestors had for grasping branches and maintaining balance.

5. Wisdom teeth

Before the discovery of tools and fire, hominids were primarily vegetarians. Chewing lots of plants required an extra set of grinding molars. Today our jaws are smaller, but many people still have the extra teeth.

6. Appendix

“This muscular tube connected to the large intestine was once used for digesting cellulose in our largely vegetarian diet before we became meat eaters.”

7. Body hair

Another leftover from our ancestry with thick-haired apes and hominids.

8. Goose bumps (Erector pili)

“We retain the ability of our ancestows to puff up their fur for heat insulation, or as a threat gesture to potential predators.”

9. Extrinsic ear muscles

Some of us, including yours truly, can wiggle our ears. Our primate ancestors “evolved the ability to move their ears independently of their heads as a more efficient means of discriminating precise sound directionality and location.”

(Okay, so what about those people who can curl their tongues and cross their eyes??)

10. Third eyelid

“Many animals have a nictitating membrane that covers the eye for added protection; we retain this “third eyelid” in the corner of our eye as a tiny fold of flesh.”



There are dozens more. Everyone knows our backs were not designed right. Neil Shubin’s Your Inner Fish includes discussions on how evolutionary genetic studies can help identify specific malfunctions that cause certain modern deformities and illnesses — and how such knowledge can help find treatments and cures.

The above are from pp 18-19 of Michael Shermer’s Why Darwin Matters (2006)

%d bloggers like this: