What Are the Differences Between Evolution and Creationism, Creation Science, and Intelligent Design?
Creation Myths or Evolution
How is Science Different from Religion?
Science is based on facts; religion is based on faith. Science is based on observation, evidence, and experimentation; religion is based on revelation. They are two different things, and they cannot be reconciled. While they may sometimes reach the same conclusions, they come to these conclusions in entirely different ways.
Stephen Jay Gould is a paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and the author of several books on popular science. He tried to reconcile religion and science with his “non-overlapping magisterial principle (NOMA).”
- The science magisterium “covers the empirical realm: What the universe is made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory).”
- The religion magisterium “extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value.”
Gould’s view strikes me as trying to have your cake and eat it too. He was a man of science who made many important contributions to evolutionary science, but he evidently had a deep emotional attachment to his religion. NOMA cannot withstand close logical scrutiny.
NOMA was criticized by Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, in his book The God Delusion (pp 54-61). Dawkins makes the following arguments:
- Religion usually includes miracles which by definition violate the laws of science.
- NOMA is a two-way street. If science must not address claims made by religion, then religion must not try to use science to prove its claims.
Religion cannot be relied upon for morals and ethics. Many of the edicts for behavior in the Bible are morally odious. (For instance, killing your children if they are disobedient: Deuteronomy 21:18-21 and elsewhere)
Psuedoscience vs. Science
What is Creationism?
Creationism emerged in response to Charles Darwin’s publication of On the Origin of Species and the consequent emergence of the science of evolution.
Creationism is the religious belief that the universe and life were created by God. Charles Darwin was the first to use the term. In an 1856 letter, he described those who objected to the concept of evolution because it did not comport with the Biblical stories of creation as “creationists.”
There are variations in creationist beliefs. However, they fall into two main groups.
- Young Earth Creationism (YEC): This group takes an extremely literal interpretation of the biblical creation myth in Genesis. They believe that the Earth (and even the entire universe) is less than 10,000 years old. (Scientists believe the earth to be about 4.5 billion years old.) In order to explain geological evidence to the contrary, some claim that God, for some unknown reason, made the Earth to appear much older than it actually is. All life was created during the six days of creation exactly as it is today. Even fossils were created and buried during this act of creation (again for no known reason).
- Old Earth Creationism (OEC): This group believes that the universe and everything in it was created by God, but the description in Genesis is figurative rather than literal. It was done in six eons instead of six actual days. They accept the findings of geologists and astronomers as to the age of the Earth and the universe, but they deny that biological evolution took place. Life was created by God, exactly as it is today “in the beginning.”
What is Creation Science?
Creation science is not much different from creationism. It is an attempt to dress-up religious notions as science. It is a pseudoscience that mimics actual science as it tries to disprove the widely accepted scientific explanations that are based on empirical evidence.
It not only rejects evolution, the very basis for the science of biology, it rejects geology, cosmology, archaeology, and history.
It began in the United States in 1960's as a fundamentalist Christian concept to counter the scientific evidence for evolution. It has since gained a large following, not only in the United States, but also around the world.
Creation science views mainstream science, including evolution (which they sometimes call Darwinism), as an “atheist religion.” (This is a contradiction in terms, but never mind.) They believe that the religious supernatural explanations should be part of science. (Another contradiction in terms—science studies the natural world, the world that can be tested empirically, so how could the supernatural play a part. Oh well, never mind.)
Biblical Creation Stories
What is Intelligent Design (ID)?
Intelligent design (ID) is another pseudoscientific concept and another offshoot of creationism. The Discovery Institute, a politically conservative think tank based in the United States, is the leading proponent of ID.
The proponents of ID accept most of the facts determined by the various branches of science, but they maintain that they are not a result of natural causes. They claim there had to be an “intelligent designer” guiding the process. Some proponents of this ideology are careful not to state who the intelligent designer might be so as to avoid being labeled a religious doctrine; others quite firmly state that the intelligent designer is the Judeo-Christian deity.
ID is no more than the old “watchmaker” argument which goes back to the 15th century. The claim is that if an intricate watch exists, there must have been a watchmaker who designed and produced it.
A more modern version of the watchmaker analogy states that saying that life evolved from simple one-celled organisms to the complexity we can observe in human beings is “like saying that a hurricane could blow through a junk yard and produce a jet plane.”
These analogies sound reasonable at first, but for anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of the science of evolution, they are as flimsy as tissue paper and as easy to puncture. They are a total misrepresentation of the tenets of evolution science.
Another argument posited by ID, is “irreducible complexity.” They point to a complex anatomical feature, such as the eye, and say if any one part is removed, the eye is useless. Therefore, it had to be designed or built by a creator. As I will show in the following section, this argument also demonstrates a lack of understanding of the science of evolution.
The Watchmaker Analogy
What is Evolution?
In the 150 years since Darwin first proposed the theory of evolution, the theory has expanded way beyond what he could have imagined and thousands of experiments have confirmed it. Advances in molecular biology and the discovery of DNA have elucidated how evolution works.
In a nutshell, the following are the main tenets of the theory of evolution.
Natural selection: Natural selection is the primary force that drives evolution. It states that the individuals that are best suited to survive in the environment in which they find themselves have more reproductive success and so their traits become more common in the population.
“Survival of the fitest” does not mean that only the biggest or strongest individuals have an advantage; it is the individuals best suited to the environment that are the fittest.
Random mutation: Genetic mutations happen at random. Some make no difference to survival and reproductive success, some are harmful and have a negative effect, but some are useful. An individual with a useful mutation will be more likely to survive and have offspring and pass the mutation down into the next generation. Consequently, the mutation will become more common in the population.
Speciation: Eventually, enough mutations will occur so that a subset of the original population becomes a new species that can no longer reproduce with the original population. This is especially likely to happen if the subset is isolated from the main population due to a change in the environment--such as a major flood or earthquake--that creates a physical barrier or if the subset migrates to a new location.
The result is two species—the original species and the new species. The new species is not necessarily “better” than the original one. As long as the new species is well-suited to its environment, it will survive and reproduce and increase in number.
All of this occurs over billions of years. It is an incremental process over thousands of generations. This is the main flaw with the watchmaker theory--it presumes that there was single act of creation.
The genus homo first appeared on the Earth three million years ago. So far, at least nine different species have been found within this genus, although only one, homo- sapiens (us) still exists. Some of these different species of man lived during the same time period. Geneticists have found that most Europeans and Asians have between 1 to 2 percent Neanderthal DNA.
The Ascent of Man
Why Are the Arguments Against Evolution Flawed?
Richard Dawkins, in his book, The God Delusion, gives the analogy of “Mount Improbable.” He asks us to suppose that we want to reach the top of a mountain which has a sheer drop on one side and a gentle slope on the other. Leaping to the top of the mountain in a single jump—that is highly improbable. However, if you slowly climb up the side with the gentle slope, it is not improbable at all to eventually reach the top.
Dawkins also demolishes the “irreducible complexity” argument. The eye, for instance, evolved independently in several branches of the tree of life. It evolved from a simple eye spot that could discern only light and dark to the complex eye we see today. An inferior eye is better than no eye. Take me, for example. I am very near-sighted, but my inferior eye ,even without glasses, can see well enough to keep me from bumping into walls and tripping over tables.
Evolution does not remove all undesirable traits from a population (like nearsightedness). It does not make a species “perfect,” only good enough. The tree of life is not a single trunk leading to an apex. There are many branches and on some of those branches, you will find some remarkable species. I’ll mention just one here—honey bees. I have been researching these little insects and I have seen some amazing anatomical features, social organization, and intelligence (despite their tiny brains).
Why Evolution Is Real Science and Religious Concepts Are Not
Unlike the theory of evolution, ID has produced no testable hypotheses. Suffice it to say that if a claim cannot be tested empirically, it is not science, creation science and ID are commonly referred to as “junk science” which means something that tries to pass itself off as science when it does not follow scientific norms.
Just because science cannot explain everything, it doesn’t mean that it can’t explain anything. Just because science gets one thing wrong, it does not mean that it gets everything wrong. This is how science works. It is a steady advancement of knowledge. Hypotheses are constantly tested, and any bits that are shown to be wrong are dropped, while new bits are continually added.
When scientists come to an impasse, they don’t get to say, “God did it.” (Hence, the term “God of the Gaps.”) They continue to work to find the facts and evidence that will narrow this gap in their knowledge.
Scientists do not have “faith” in Darwin or in science in the same way that theists have faith in their God. The word “faith” also means trust. People who accept evolution trust the scientific method, and they trust the conclusions of experts in the field.
Lastly, the word “theory” in the scientific world does not have the same meaning as it does in everyday life. It does not mean an unconfirmed guess. Scientists use the word theory to mean a body of knowledge that explain certain facts. Evolution is a fact.
Please give your opinion in this poll.
Which of the explanation for life seems most plausible to you?
Questions & Answers
How does evolution explain the origin of the universe?
Evolution does not focus on the origin of life. It is about what happened after the earliest life came into existence. Biochemists study this question.
© 2017 Catherine Giordano