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Austin Cline

If Evolution is Wrong, How Wrong Is It?

By January 10, 2007

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Creationism is wrong — not simply mistaken or misunderstood, but flat-out and unequivocally wrong. It's a denial of the reality of our world in order to make room for a discredited religious ideology that has no connection with reality. Creationists disagree, of course, but do they realize just how large their task is if they wish to demonstrate that evolution is wrong? I don’t think so.

Richard Dawkins explains the huge degree of error which scientists must be making if they are wrong about just the age of the earth alone:

McIntosh thinks, on biblical authority alone, that it is less than 10,000 years. We establishment fuddyduddies think, using mutually corroborating evidence from many sources including several different radioactive isotopes in the rocks, that it is about 4.6 billion years. I shall not say here why I think we are right and McIntosh wrong. Instead, I shall simply calculate the magnitude of the difference between the two estimates. We of the "establishment" think the Earth is 460,000 times older than McIntosh's estimate.

It is as though McIntosh estimated the height of a man as 6 feet and then accused the rest of us of believing that the same man was 460,000 times as tall, or 521 miles. Or, looking the other way, it is as though McIntosh looked at the establishment geographers' measurement of the distance from New York to San Francisco and claimed that the true distance from sea to shining sea was 460,000 times smaller, namely about ten yards. Maybe McIntosh is right and all the rest of us wrong. All I have done here is calculate how spectacularly wrong we would be, if McIntosh is right.

Source: Guardian

In theory, it's possible for the scientific establishment to be mistaken on the age of the earth — they know this too, which is one reason why they tend to give ranges of likely ages rather than precise ones (notice how creationists tend to give more precise numbers). If scientists are mistaken here, they might be mistaken by a little bit or they might be mistaken by a lot — but just how likely is it that they could be mistaken by a factor of 460,000??

If they were off by a factor of 10 or even 100, it would be something of a scandal — scientists would be incredibly embarrassed to be so wrong, and that's true even if it turned out that the earth is much older than scientists currently think. To be off by a factor of 460,000 is almost unthinkable in any scientific field, at least when you have multiple, independent lines of evidence that all point to the same conclusions. Just how likely is it that all those lines of evidence would all be so very, very wrong in the same way without anyone noticing it?

This, however, is precisely what creationists who deny the true age of the earth are claiming. They rely on a single, unreliable source of information to deny multiple lines of independent, reliable, and testable evidence in order to argue that Bronze Age writings provide a more accurate picture of the age (and origin) of the earth than the latest scientific tests. The chances of ever successfully arguing that such a position is true are probably incalculable.

Comments
January 11, 2007 at 11:54 pm
(1) Tom says:

[i]To be off by a factor of 460,000 is almost unthinkable in any scientific field, at least when you have multiple, independent lines of evidence that all point to the same conclusions. Just how likely is it that all those lines of evidence would all be so very, very wrong in the same way without anyone noticing it?[/i]

If they were all wrong in the exact same way, then I think it’s safe to say no one would notice it. What would be astonishing,on the other hand, is if these independent lines of evidence [i]are[/i] wrong in such a way as to so precisely confirm one another. Seriously, what is the likelihood? To me, it seems so remote that only rational alternative is to accept the information contained as accurate.

January 13, 2007 at 1:44 pm
(2) GrandmaVickie says:

That fact is, science is not wrong on this issue. Creationists can present no viable arguement so they attack evolution. Saying “The fossils prove nothing” or “We don’t accept it.” won’t make the evidence to away.

January 13, 2007 at 3:38 pm
(3) Paul Shen-Brown says:

As an anthropologist with some familiarity with both human evolution and human culture, I think I can safely say that the scientific evidence is pretty solid, but for social reasons the facts will never convince vast numbers of people. Humans evolved as social animals, and for a majority this means that our standards of proof are based more on our social relationships than physical evidence. In other words, most people will believe the people they know and love and have daily social relationships with, regardless of proof. Unless we can genetically engineer away millions of years of instinct, this will not change. Convincing people will take a much softer approach than Dawkins’ logic sledgehammer.

January 23, 2007 at 5:26 pm
(4) tuffy says:

paul ~Convincing people will take a much softer approach than Dawkins’ logic sledgehammer.~

why try to convince them? they are blissful in their ignorance. this will be a long, slow process for the general public. and in the long run, what difference does it make? we are headed for extinction, anyway.

August 26, 2009 at 5:40 pm
(5) Jon says:

It’s kind of odd I think, that this author doesn’t bring up any of the chalenges to evolution, as would be only fair. This whole article is rather vague and “we can’t possibly be wrong, and furthermore the creationists are ridiculous!” I would have expected him to present the evidences on both sides. Like, for example, how there have been no Documented cases of beneficial genetic mutations, or even if there have been cases, there are, percentage wise, vastly more cases of harmful mutations. And frankly, if you disprove, or prove unlikely, genetic mutations, you’ve kicked the main leg out from under evolution and have virtually made it impossible. So please, present the documented and verifiable evidence of beneficial mutations existing or happening more than, say, 1/100’000’000’000. Secondary evidence is more philosophical and abstract, but I’ll present it anyway. How It is even possible for information to evolve out of non-information. Information (ie DNA Double Helix) is not something that is even capable of evolving. It is seperate from matter, and is abstract, and generally has to be started by something already intelligent.

August 26, 2009 at 6:04 pm
(6) Austin Cline says:

It’s kind of odd I think, that this author doesn’t bring up any of the chalenges to evolution, as would be only fair.

There aren’t any scientific challenges to evolution.

In case you didn’t notice, though, this post was more about geology than about evolution. So to follow your logic, I would have to present “challenges to” an old earth, or “evidence against” an old earth. Once again, though, there are no scientific challenges to the earth being old and there is no evidence against the earth being old.

This whole article is rather vague and “we can’t possibly be wrong, and furthermore the creationists are ridiculous!”

That’s about what one would say about the earth orbiting the sun.

It’s interesting, by the way, that you seem unable or unwilling to comment on the substance of the above post. The math is pretty clear on just how wrong scientists have to be in order for them to be wrong about something like the age of the earth. Do you disagree with the math? Do you disagree with scientific conclusions about the age of the earth. If not, then you don’t really disagree with the above post and are just going off-topic. Why is that?

I would have expected him to present the evidences on both sides.

There is no evidence against evolution occurring.

Like, for example, how there have been no Documented cases of beneficial genetic mutations,

Resistance to antibiotics is beneficial. Well, it’s beneficial to the bacteria.

or even if there have been cases, there are, percentage wise, vastly more cases of harmful mutations.

Whether there are more harmful mutations than beneficial mutations or not is hardly “evidence” against evolution.

And frankly, if you disprove, or prove unlikely,  genetic mutations, you’ve kicked the main leg out from under evolution and have virtually made it impossible.

Genetic mutations happen. Some are beneficial. There’s lots and lots of time to work with. QED.

Secondary evidence is more philosophical and abstract, but I’ll present it anyway.  

Evidence is, necessarily, empirical — otherwise it’s just a philosophical argument and not actual evidence.

Information (ie DNA Double Helix) is not something that is even capable of evolving.

Really? Prove it.

February 7, 2010 at 12:04 am
(7) Justin says:

It’s kind of odd I think, that this author doesn’t bring up any of the chalenges to evolution, as would be only fair.

“There aren’t any scientific challenges to evolution.”

I stopped reading his comment right there. This guy is biased enough, but to not even consider the mass amount of evidence against macro evolution is absurd. To start, how about the fact that no scientist has ever been able to recreate earth 4 billion years ago with an atmosphere that would’ve allowed amino acids to form.

How about the cambrian explosion? Most life forms appeared in a very small window of time, there was no long evolutionary process that took place.

And how about just using your head? Design is apparent in the living world. There is no way this could’ve just been some huge mistake. I don’t care how many billions of years you say it took, it just could not happen by itself. If you shook a dismantled watch inside of a box, how many times would it take for you to assemble it and have it fully functional just by shaking the box? Infinite. The same concept could be applied to the creation of the earth and human beings, except creating the earth is infinitely more complex.

“Something” can’t come out of “Nothing.” I respect your opinion, but to say there are not any scientific challenges to evolution. If there weren’t any, why is it still a theory after all these years?

March 22, 2010 at 3:32 pm
(8) A Young scientist says:

What about the laws of thermodynamics! i think they have something to say about this, i mean energy CANNOT be created naturally. Which is what evolutionists are saying. Where did everything come from, where did it all start, i mean every thing has a origin. Ok, saying we did evolve from what some nonliving atom, well where did it come from.

March 22, 2010 at 4:49 pm
(9) Austin Cline says:

What about the laws of thermodynamics! i think they have something to say about this, i mean energy CANNOT be created naturally. Which is what evolutionists are saying.

Point out where in Evolutionary Theory it states that energy is “created naturally.”

I’m assuming that you’ve read what evolutionary theory is, so you know it isn’t there. You know that this isn’t what “evolutionists are saying.” So, once you admit to this falsehood, we can proceed with something more productive, like discussing what evolution actually is.

March 26, 2010 at 2:49 pm
(10) John Thomson says:

#7 You’re wrong on almost everything you’ve stated.Learn some real science,not crap from creationist websites.Intelligent design is an oxymoron.
#8 You insult the word scientist.Go outdoors during the day and look up.See the big yellow thing?Its the Sun,beaming energy at us constantly.

March 26, 2010 at 3:47 pm
(11) Todd says:

Maybe you should learn what evolution IS… and what it is NOT. Criticize evolution all you want. Science *wants* that. But criticize it for what it actually says instead of making up a hairbrained strawman to attack.

March 26, 2010 at 4:19 pm
(12) Ernie says:

To Justin:

“but to not even consider the mass amount of evidence against macro evolution is absurd”

Massive amount? Really? Where is it I’d like to see it.

“To start, how about the fact that no scientist has ever been able to recreate earth 4 billion years ago with an atmosphere that would’ve allowed amino acids to form.”

Irrelevant.

“How about the cambrian explosion? Most life forms appeared in a very small window of time, there was no long evolutionary process that took place.”

A small window? You mean like 5 to 10 million years?

“And how about just using your head? Design is apparent in the living world.”

Is it? It may look like design but the evidence suggests otherwise. Besides, what skilled designer would put a mass of cabling directly in the center of the optical assembly thereby creating a blind spot which must be compensated for?

“There is no way this could’ve just been some huge mistake.”

I don’t think so either.

“I don’t care how many billions of years you say it took, it just could not happen by itself.”

Why not? Because you say so?

“If you shook a dismantled watch inside of a box, how many times would it take for you to assemble it and have it fully functional just by shaking the box? Infinite.”

Irrelevant. Natural selection is non-random. The analogy also lacks reproduction and selection, two components of evolution. And besides, we are here and alive afterall.

“The same concept could be applied to the creation of the earth and human beings, except creating the earth is infinitely more complex.”

No it cannot. The concept is a fallacy and has been thoroughly refuted. Your wasting everyone’s time with it.

“Something” can’t come out of “Nothing.”

Science would not say that it could. Apparently it can come from some mud and a human rib though.

“why is it still a theory after all these years?”

Theory of Gravity, the Atomic Theory, the Cell Theory, the Germ Theory, the Theory of Plate Tectonics, the Theory of Special Relativity, the Theory of General Relativity, Newtonian theories of motion, ah heck the Theory of Music.

Are you prepared to discount all of these as well? Wait, I guess you already have. Do a little reserch on what a scientific theory actually is. It may just astound you if you are willing to accept it.

March 27, 2010 at 4:04 am
(13) Lisa says:

Justin, either you didn’t pay attention in middle school and high school science class or you had some really crappy teachers. A scientific “theory” is completely different from the way you use the word “theory” in everyday life. A scientific theory is the best possible explanation we have that fits all the evidence. Theorie are not “proven” and do not graduate to laws. Evidence either supports or does not support a theory, it does not prove or disprove it. A law is a mathematical expression of a natural phenomena, i.e. F=ma. Honestly, I don’t even understand why creationists use the argument about evolution being only a theory, other than that they really have no idea what the word really means.

March 28, 2010 at 6:40 pm
(14) Eddy K says:

Lisa, they more than likely never studied science and just repeat what they hear from other creationists. It’s sad in this day and age how robotic some people can be.

March 28, 2010 at 8:45 pm
(15) Lisa says:

This is one of the worst arguments creationists ever try to use. It shows how scientifically illiterate they are. I have been a science teacher at all levels and in every public school textbook I have ever used at any level, there is an explanation similar to mine above to explain the difference between hypotheses, theories, and laws.

March 28, 2010 at 8:55 pm
(16) Eddy K says:

I agree with you. I find myself correcting some of my colleagues as to the difference between a hypotheses and theory in the scientific realm. They get even more absurd when using laws in conjunction with a “law giver.” Obviously they just repeat what other creationists say. Keep up your good work teaching science. This country needs it.

March 29, 2010 at 12:00 pm
(17) Lisa says:

Thanks, Eddy! Will do. Looking for a job right now either at a community college or prep school. I really love teaching science and seeing light bulbs.

March 29, 2010 at 6:45 pm
(18) Eddie says:

To # 7 Mr Justin, where you claim:
“To start, how about the fact that no scientist has ever been able to recreate earth 4 billion years ago with an atmosphere that would’ve allowed amino acids to form.” Just look up the Miller-Urey experiment, where amino acids were produced simulating what is thought the early atmosphere of earth.

March 30, 2010 at 4:46 pm
(19) Ron says:

Lisa. Don’t you know, (them thar sinetis don’t no whut ther talking about!!!!)
Just repeating some information that I was once informed of. I thanked him for the enlightenment.

March 31, 2010 at 12:25 am
(20) MikeC says:

> “Besides, what skilled designer would put a mass of cabling directly in the center of the optical assembly thereby creating a blind spot which must be compensated for? ”

or an entertainment center in the middle of a sewer complex? :-)

April 6, 2012 at 10:53 pm
(21) Zuma says:

There is a shortfall of evolutionary theory. Evolutionary theory supports that all creatures have its derivation from a single cell in the beginning. However, there would be a number of new cells to be created in the beginning on the condition that the environmental condition at that time could be suitable for the production of new cell. Why should there be one and only cell to be created when the surrounding condition would seem best for the creation of living thing? If there could be one and only cell to be created at that time, what made it to be so so that there could only be one cell to be formed? If there would be more than a single cell to be created at that time due to the environmental condition, evolutionary theory is in question since how all creatures would have a common ancestor when there might be a number of cells to be created at that time.

April 7, 2012 at 2:03 pm
(22) Austin Cline says:

However, there would be a number of new cells to be created in the beginning on the condition that the environmental condition at that time could be suitable for the production of new cell. Why should there be one and only cell to be created when the surrounding condition would seem best for the creation of living thing?

If multiple cells arose independently, they wouldn’t all be the same with the same genetic structure. But all life today is related and, therefore, must be descended from the same ancestor.

Whatever other cells might have formed, they didn’t produce us and the rest of life on this planet.

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