After high school, I was an evangelical Christian living in the Midwestern United States. So naturally, I was also a young earth creationist. I regarded evolution as a fairy tale for grownups and was baffled that so many people fell for it. How could anyone believe simple molecules evolved into the complex brains we have today? I even suspected that Satan and his demons were behind all this talk of evolution, and that scientists were either lying or brainwashed.
Yea, I was pretty deep down the Christian rabbit hole. I even gave a speech to my college speech class about how evolution is a lie. I mostly copied things I heard from Kent Hovind videos: “Do you really believe that your great great great great great great great great great great great great great great grandfather was a starfish? Come on!” I still cringe when I think about it.
It wasn’t until after I deconverted that I started learning about evolution. I still thought it was “just a theory” and a very far fetched one at that, but I was open minded enough to do a little reading from secular science books. What I discovered blew my mind. I realized I didn’t know the first thing about evolution.
Creationists often point out that we all have the same evidence and that they just interpret it differently. But the truth is, most of them aren’t even aware of the evidence. They have no idea that there is more evidence for evolution than for most scientific theories. Even worse, they don’t understand how evolution works. And even worse than that, they don’t understand how science works.
In this post, I’m going to explain just a few lines of evidence for evolution. Most of my readers are probably already familiar with these concepts, but I’m hoping this post reaches some new ex-creationists and current creationists. I want to start by talking about Answers in Genesis.
In case you don’t know, Answers in Genesis (AiG) is a creationist apologetics ministry that claims science supports a literal interpretation of Genesis. They believe God created the universe in six days, that evolution is false, and that Noah’s flood really happened. Ken Ham, the president of AiG, claims his organization is not anti-science, but it clearly is. Look at this excerpt from the official AiG Statement of Faith:
“By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record.”
That means they are starting with the conclusion that the Bible is true then working backwards to make the evidence fit. This is not how science works. The purpose of the scientific method is to discover the truth, whatever that may be. If the evidence led scientists to the conclusion that Genesis is literally true, then the vast majority of scientific journals would say so. But in reality, the evidence has led scientists to different conclusions: The universe is billions of years old, evolution really happened, and there was never a flood that covered the entire planet.
Scientists don’t believe these things because they want them to be true; they believe them because the evidence suggests they are true. Of course, scientific theories are subject to revision, so if eventually there is more evidence against evolution than there is for it, any honest scientist would gladly change his or her belief. But at this point, the evidence for evolution is so overwhelming that this is extremely unlikely. In fact, we can now safely call it a fact (not just a theory).
What is the Evidence?
It’s not just the evidence, it’s the multiple lines of evidence.
Let’s say you want to find out the age of the famous tree outside Hofburg Palace. First you use carbon dating and discover it is about 300 years old. But it’s possible the dating method is inaccurate or that you made an error. So you check historical documents and discover this tree was planted the day Leopold I died, which was in 1705. Still, the historical documents could be wrong. Finally, you count tree rings and again find that it is about 300 years old. With each independent method of data collection, it becomes more and more likely that the tree is 300 years old. (Thanks to DonExodus2 for this example.)
This is called independent verification, and evolution has been independently verified by biochemistry, biogeography, comparative anatomy, comparative embryology, molecular biology, paleontolgy, and radioisotope dating. Now on to the evidence.
The first and most obvious is the fossil record. Paleontologists have found tens of thousands of fossils that appear to be transitional forms. Creationists continue to complain that there are gaps in the fossil record, and they are right. The problem is that every time a new transitional form is discovered, two gaps are created–one before and one after. Today there are more gaps than ever before!
The hominid fossils are particularly compelling. What are we to make of these ape-like creatures? The ones in the middle appear to be half ape and half human, exactly what creationists have been asking for (technically, humans are a type of ape). And yet some creationists insist they are apes while others insist they are deformed humans. They can’t even agree with each other on what they are.
Fossilization is very rare, so it is safe to assume there were many more hominids like these. Why would God create so many different types of apes only to have them go extinct within the first few thousand years? And if they are deformed humans, why were there so many of them and how come we don’t see these types of deformities in people today?
If you think the missing link is still missing, you need to watch this video. If you refuse to believe these are transitional forms, then you have to wonder about God’s creativity. If these animals aren’t related, why are there so many similarities among them? And why are they always found in the exact layers predicted by paleontologists?
Ken Ham is fond of saying that “if Noah’s flood were true you would expect to find millions of dead things buried in rock layers laid down by water all over the earth. And what do we actually see in the fossil record? Millions of dead things buried in rock layers laid down by water all over the earth!”
True, but in that case you would expect to find them all in the same rock layer. That is not what paleontologists have discovered. Instead they’ve found simpler organisms in the deepest layers and increasingly complex organisms in higher layers. As far as I know, creationists have yet to explain this. If someone found a rabbit in the Precambrian layer, it would be a huge problem for evolution. But so far no animals have been found in the wrong layer.
Most creationists accept the validity of DNA evidence in paternity testing, and rightly so because it is nearly 100% accurate. By comparing the genomes of people, we can find out how closely related they are. In fact, researchers have used genomes to construct a tree of life that shows how every living thing is related.
Geneticists have discovered that humans share 98% of genes with chimpanzees, 85% with zebra fish, 36% with fruit flies, 15% with mustard grass, and 7% with bacteria. Notice we have more genes in common with creatures that resemble us and less genes in common with those that don’t. This makes perfect sense in light of evolution. In fact, the genetic tree of life perfectly mirrors the taxonomic trees that were created using comparative anatomy.
Another strong piece of evidence is human chromosome 2. All other apes have 24 pairs of chromosomes, but humans have 23. So if evolution is true then at some point in our evolutionary history, two chromosomes must have fused together. That is exactly what geneticists find when they look at human chromosome 2. They can tell a fusion took place because chromosomes normally have telomeres on the end, but in human chromosome 2 there are also telomeres in the center.
Using biogeography, researchers found that groups of closely related animals are clustered in the same areas while more distantly related animals are farther apart. If the story of Noah were true, you would expect to find all types of animals going in all directions away from Mount Ararat, but that’s not what they’ve found at all. Instead, certain species (and their fossils) are usually only found in certain areas.
Madagascar and Australia are two great examples. They have millions of species not found anywhere else on Earth (the most famous example is the kangaroo). Most of these species would thrive on other continents, but instead they all live in very specific locations. If creationists are correct, how did all these animals get from Mount Ararat to their respective environments without leaving a single fossil in between? Why didn’t some of them stop and settle in Africa or Asia?
Evolution has a simple explanation. After the break up of Pangea, these massive islands became isolated which allowed evolution to go in a different direction for tens of millions of years, producing indigenous species.
I’ve mentioned three lines of evidence here, but there are many more. I could talk about biochemistry, comparative embryology, dating methods, speciation, vestigial organs, etc. The more I learn about evolution, the more convinced I am that it’s true. At this point it would take a leap of faith for me to stop believing evolution.
To all the creationists out there, before you dismiss evolution you should take time to learn about it from the experts. It won’t be easy. Evolution draws from many different fields. It will take weeks or perhaps months of study before you have a handle on it. But if you’re willing to do this, at least you’ll understand what you’re arguing against.
I highly recommend the site CreationTheory.org for beginners. I also recommend the book Why Evolution Is True by Jerry Coyne, Why Darwin Matters by Michael Shermer, and The Greatest Show On Earth by Richard Dawkins.
I’ll leave you with one final question: If creationists are right, then why did God make it look as though evolution occurred?
In my next post I’ll respond to some common objections.