When we look at nature, we can hardly miss the design that is everywhere so apparent in living creatures. We recognize it every time we see aspect of an organism that are elegant, beautiful and useful. There are many famous examples of design in nature, traits that are not only beautiful, but which work beautifully as well….but one can look anywhere! Some examples are more interesting to us than others, but all are worth considering.
DESIGN DONE BIG
Consider for example the difficulties that the largest animals on earth, the rorqual whales must overcome to obtain enough food. The blue whale is the most famous and largest example of a rorqual. Another is the humpback. Such big animals are not going to be good at chasing smaller more agile prey. Their solution is to find very thick schools of small fish, and then to lunge forward and gulp in a huge mouthful of water containing lots of fish.
The whales engulf the water and fish before the latter have a chance to panic and escape. The whales then push the water back out of their mouths through a special filtering system like venetian blinds, which in this case is called baleen. What is left in the mouth, the whale swallows.
It all sounds relatively uncomplicated, but it is not. Without a number of special and unique design features, these whales would starve.
1. Pleated throats
The rorqual whales are named for their specially pleated throats (extending from mouth to navel) which can expand tremendously to accommodate 60 – 80 cubic meters of water and prey, “a volume equal to or greater than that of the individual rorqual itself” (Pyenson et al. Nature, 2012 p. 498, emphasis mine).
2. Filtration system
The prey must now be separated out from all that water. What the whale does is push the water out of its mouth through a sieve-like structure which replaces teeth. This filtering system or baleen, consists of keratin, like our fingernails and hair.
The baleen whale’s “suspension feeding system” – which involved feeding on, and straining out, suspended food particles from water – is unique among mammals and the pleated throat of the rorquals is unique to this even smaller group of baleen whales. That is not the end of the story. Without further special design features these whales would still be “dead in the water.”
No group other than the rorqual whales engulfs a massive volume of water in a single gulp. In order to do this, the animal lunges forward, accelerating to high speed, and then gulping in that huge volume of water, all within six seconds. But how does the whale know what volume of water to engulf? And how does it manage to engulf a volume larger than its own body? How does it know what water to gulp? If the whale just went around gulping random volumes of water, it would certainly starve – schools of fish are patchy in their distribution, and thus cannot be found in any old place.
3. The hair of their chinny chin
For a start, the whale has bristles on its chin which function sort of like whiskers. These allow the animal to identify schools of fish that are sufficiently dense. Now the whale must take advantage of this dense concentration of fish. To do this, the rorqaul must control the rate of mouth opening and throat-pouch expansion so as to maximize the intake volume. All this must happen while the whale is lunging forward at high speed.
4. Jaw that splits down the middle
We now discover more unique design features of the rorquals. The lower jaw consists of left and right halves which are only loosely connected by fibres, and also are only loosely connected to the skull. This allows for great flexibility of the mouth opening. As the rorquals lunge forward, they rotate the components of the jaw so that the opening is close to 90 degrees at the peak of the lunge. The tongue becomes convex and the throat pleats expand. Soon the jaws clamp around a huge volume of water and the whale begins the process of expelling the water and retaining the fishy harvest.
5. Always new wonders to find
New research has shown that the rorquals enjoy the benefits of yet another design feature which enables them to be successful in this unusual life style. In the centre of the lower jaw (between the two loosely connected halves) is a special and completely unique sensory organ. In its basic design it is something like the semicircular canals in our inner ear which allow us to figure out the orientation of our bodies. Inside the canals in our ears, there is clear gel and particles which occupy one position or another.
Similarly in the jaws of these whales there is a structure which has papillae (soft projections) surrounded by a gel-like matrix. This seems much like the mechanoreceptors in our inner ears. Apparently this organ in the whale jaw informs the animal as to the extent of the rotation of the jaws and the expansion of the pleats during mouth opening. The rorquals alone possess this organ between the unfused halves of the lower jaw.
Scientists consider that this sensory organ plays a fundamental role in the extreme feeding method of these largest animals on earth.
It is evident from details of the lifestyle of the rorquals that even apparently uncomplicated methods of feeding require special design features. The rorquals are certainly an example of irreducible complexity. Even with baleen instead of teeth, if they didn’t have the unique unfused lower jaw, pleats in the throat, the special sensory organ in the jaw, and the sensitive bristles on their chin, these largest of animals could never survive. Evolutionists have no adequate explanations for how these unique features could have developed through spontaneous processes.
This is an excerpt from Dr. Margaret Helder’s “No Christian Silence on Science” which you can buy here. This article first appeared in Reformed Perspective.
One of the most famous molecular machines is the rotary bacterial flagellum made famous by Michael Behe in his book Darwin’s Black Box (1996). This miniature mechanical biological wonder is like a miniature outboard motor for the cell going at 100,000 rpm!
While this motor is only found in some bacteria another rotary motor has been discovered and that is universally found in all living cells. It is called the ATP synthase motor. ATP or adenosine triphosphate provides the chemical energy that drives the metabolic reactions of the living cell. If the cell has no ATP, it is dead.
But of course ATP gets used up and more has to be provided. The “burning” (oxidation) of food provides the energy to produce more ATP. The motor that achieves this is extremely tiny, only 10 nanometers (billionths of a meter) in diameter compared to 50 for the bacterial flagellum. The motor is very simple in its structure. As the motor spins, it squeezes two components (adenosine diphosphate and phosphate) together forming the finished ATP molecule. Apparently the motor’s efficiency is “uncannily high: nearly 100%”
So this motor that spins at 10,000 rpm is almost 100% efficient! Not only is this rotary machine elegant in its design, but it is also unusual. None of this sounds like a phenomenon that came about spontaneously!
This is an excerpt from Dr. Margaret Helder’s “No Christian Silence on Science” which you can buy here. It first appeared on ReformedPerspective.ca.
What a difference 65 years makes. It was in April of 1953 that a one-page letter appeared in the journal Nature. Two young scientists believed that they had figured out the double helical structure of deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA. In their communication to the journal, these men remarked with masterful understatement that, “This structure has novel features which are of considerable biological interest.” This was indeed the case.
What these two men had achieved was to explain how the long DNA molecule in chromosomes stores information which can be accurately duplicated. This discovery has led directly to DNA fingerprinting, biotechnology, the sequencing of the human genome and evolutionary theories based on DNA sequences in various organisms. Although 65 years ago it was much too soon to foresee all these developments, nevertheless informed individuals understood that a significant milestone had been achieved.
NOBODIES ARE SOMEBODY TOO
The big surprise in 1953 was not that the structure, and by implication the function, of DNA had been discovered, but rather who had done it. With established scientists like American Linus Pauling of Caltech in Pasadena, and British scientists Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin at King’s College, University of London, carrying out such research, it was expected that the problem would soon be solved. These scientists all had research funds, equipment and established names in science.
On the other hand, the British Francis Crick (1916-2004) and American James Watson (b. 1928) were basically nobodies in the scientific community. Crick for his part, his career having been interrupted by war service, was still a graduate student in 1953. Four years earlier, he had come to the Cambridge Medical Research Council Unit. His base of operations was the Cavendish physics lab where Nobel laureate Ernest Rutherford had achieved great things in the 1930s. Crick might be merely a graduate student, but he was nevertheless skilled in the methods of X-ray diffraction, so useful in searching for the structure of large organic molecules. Moreover he had devised a theoretical method for interpreting X-ray derived images of long chain molecules (polymers). This was a highly significant skill.
REBELS WITH A CAUSE
The lead author of the April 1953 letter was James Watson. He had actually already earned his doctorate in bacterial genetics. Then in 1951 at age 23, he arrived at the Cavendish lab to carry out post-doctoral work on myoglobin, an oxygen storing protein found in muscles. Crick, for his part, had been assigned to carry out X-ray diffraction work on hemoglobin (the all important oxygen carrying molecule in red blood cells). Although they came from different backgrounds, Watson and Crick were alike in many ways. Both of them had, for example, read the 1944 book What is Life? by quantum physicist Erwin Schrodinger (1887-1961). In this work, far outside the author’s field of expertise, Schrodinger had speculated that there must be a code of some kind in cells that allows molecules to carry information.
Watson and Crick both suspected that DNA was such a molecule. They were fixated on the problem of DNA structure. It mattered little that they had been forbidden to work on this problem. By gentleman’s agreement between laboratories, the DNA problem had been allocated to the people at King’s College in London. Nevertheless nobody could forbid this irrepressible duo from bouncing ideas off each other, could they?
JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE PARANOID DOESN’T MEAN YOU’RE WRONG
Meanwhile at King’s College, the most capable person carrying out research there in X-ray diffraction was Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958). She was a shy, very work oriented Jewish young lady who suspected that her male Anglo-Saxon fellow scientists were trying to steal the results of her research. In this suspicion she was entirely correct. Unfortunately as a result of her attitude, she had few people-handling skills and thus she found herself isolated and unprotected. She was one of two people allocated to research DNA structure. The other was Maurice Wilkins, who was much better known in the scientific community. He hardly ever spoke to his female colleague.
It was Rosalind Franklin who managed to overcome the difficulties of working with DNA. She designed a special X-ray camera for this work and protocols for handling the molecule. Soon enough, she began to produce X-ray images. What they meant however, she refused to speculate upon until her entire program had been carried out. It was X-ray images that would provide vital clues about DNA structure. She was quite sure about one thing; the images did not suggest a helical structure in DNA.
TWO’S COMPANY, THREE HELIXES IS A CROWD
It is traditional for scientists involved in research to occasionally give lectures to update colleagues on what they are doing. Rosalind Franklin delivered such a seminar in November 1951. Her colleague Maurice Wilkins invited his friend James Watson from Cambridge. Francis Crick did not come because his interest in DNA was too well known. Watson listened carefully, but he did not bother to take notes. That might look too eager. Watson’s recall of what he had heard proved faulty however and progress on the issue was very slow. Then in January 1953, word came that American Linus Pauling was about to publish a proposed structure. This man sent a preprint to his son at Cambridge. The son showed it to friends Watson and Crick. They were relieved to see that Pauling had made a simple but significant error in the chemistry and was proposing a triple helix structure. They had a reprieve which might last a few weeks.
Two days later Watson visited Franklin. The exchange of views did not go well. Watson taunted her that she was inept at X-ray interpretation. He then encountered Wilkins who showed Watson the best image Franklin had ever taken. From it Watson was able to see clear indications of helical structure and even measurements of angles. Wilkins also showed Watson a Franklin research proposal which contained further crucial details. Based on these insights, Watson and Crick solved the DNA conundrum within four weeks, proposed a double helix, and the rest is history.
When they published, they failed to acknowledge any contribution of Rosalind Franklin. She died five years later, never having heard of her contribution to this story. In 1962 Crick, Watson and Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine. The achievement of Watson and Crick reveals how important theoretical analysis is to the solving of many scientific problems. However they could not have done it without the experimental foundation of Rosalind Franklin. Theory and empirical research go hand in hand.
DRIVEN BY AN AGENDA
In the decades that have followed, both Watson and Crick enjoyed long careers. Interestingly, both attribute their success to their atheistic views. James Watson went on to a faculty position at Harvard University where he soon proved himself adept at fund raising and administration. Eventually he became director of the Human Genome Project.
Francis Crick also enjoyed a long career and in his later years turned his attention to the seemingly unrelated issue of human consciousness. In Crick’s mind, however, there was a connection between the human brain and the DNA helix. During an interview with Matt Ridley, Dr. Crick described the connection. Apparently his interest in science came entirely from his atheistic views. Because of his distaste for religion, Dr. Crick said, he set out to research the two main topics often cited as support for religion: namely the gulf between life and nonlife, and the phenomenon of consciousness. As a hardcore materialist, it was Crick’s objective to explain both these phenomena in chemical terms. His hope was to dispense with any excuse for attributing natural phenomena to the work of God. After all, as colleague James Watson once remarked “Every time you understand something, religion becomes less likely” (or so they would both like to believe).
A DESCRIPTION ISN’T AN EXPLANATION
A little reflection on our part, however, will show that Watson and Crick had in no way explained the gulf between living cells and mere organic compounds. Indeed what they had achieved was to describe how information is stored in DNA but they had not explained how that information came to be stored in the DNA molecule in the first place.
Nevertheless, under the mistaken assumption that their explanation did away with the need for a Creator of living cells, Dr. Crick turned his attention to the problem of consciousness. He wrestled with the problem for more than twenty-five years, but still the solution eluded him. One might imagine that after all that time, he might concluded that his program has no hope of success – that he might even grow discouraged with his atheistic agenda. On the contrary, right up until his death, Dr. Crick remained as firmly committed to his position as ever.
Throughout his career, James Watson too has steadfastly declared his atheism. In an interview with editor John Rennie of Scientific American, Dr. Watson confided: “I never thought there was a spiritual basis for life; I was lucky to be brought up by a father who had no religious beliefs.” In another interview he suggested that one of the benefits of DNA research was to provide mankind with godlike powers. Thus he remarked:
“Only with the discovery of the double helix and the ensuing genetic revolution have we grounds for thinking that the powers held traditionally to be the exclusive property of the gods might one day be ours.”
When it was pointed out to him that his sentiments were a far cry from those of the founding Pilgrim fathers, he replied: “America isn’t what it was like when the Pilgrims came here. We’ve changed everything. We’ve never tried to respect the past, we’ve tried to improve on it….”
That’s his opinion at any rate.
NO END TO THE WONDERS TO EXPLORE
It is apparent that from the start, the objectives of Drs. Watson and Crick were atheistic in nature. They were bitterly opposed to religious faith of any sort. For example, Francis Crick resigned as a fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge when that college embarked on plans to build a chapel. He suggested alternatively that a brothel would be nice, a not too subtle put down of places of worship.
The ultimate objective of these two men then was to explain both life itself and consciousness in chemical terms which would completely exclude any supernatural element. Of course in neither instance have they succeeded. The mystery of life cannot be explained in chemical terms. It is indeed ironic that our understanding of DNA has led to a greater appreciation of the gulf between nonliving chemicals and the living cell. No spontaneous or natural process can ever explain how a code such as DNA came to be, or the astonishingly concentrated storage of its contained information. Instead of providing us with an explanation of how we could have come about without God, their discoveries have only help show that we are more “fearfully and wonderfully made” than was understood before.
Thus this objective of atheists Watson and Crick has been met with utter failure. In addition even Dr. Crick admitted that the search for an explanation for consciousness had been frustrating. No solution is in sight even after all those years of study.
Christians for their part, still celebrate the achievements of April 1953. The motives of Watson and Crick were all wrong, but the nature of their information does not depend on attitude whether good or bad.
What follows are very brief bios of four prominent Reformed figures who have accepted evolution and gone on to accept increasingly unorthodox positions.
Enns once taught at Westminster Theological Seminary (1994- 2008) from where the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) gets many of their ministerial candidates. After accepting evolution he now has a very different understanding of the Bible, claiming, “God never told the Israelites to kill the Canaanites. The Israelites believed that God told them to kill the Canaanites.”
Howard Van Till
Van Till taught at the Christian Reformed Calvin College (1967-1998) and was for a time one of the best-known Reformed defenders of evolution.
He no longer holds to the Reformed confessions, and, according to a 2008 piece in The Grand Rapids Press seems to have migrated to some form of pantheism, seeing “God not as a transcendent, separate creator, but an active presence within and inseparable from creation.”
Walhout is a retired Christian Reformed Church (CRC) pastor, and was once the denomination’s Editor of Adult Education. In 1972 he suggested
…it may well be that science can give us insights into the way in which God created man, but it can hardly discover or disclaim that man is an image of God.
In a 2013 Banner article “Tomorrow’s Theology,” he was far more definitive, proposing that in light of evolution the CRC needs to re-examine the doctrines of Creation, Original Sin, the Fall and Salvation, as well as whether Adam and Eve were real historical people.
Haarsma was a professor at Calvin College from 1999 until 2012. In 2007, along with her husband, she authored a book that discussed various views on origins and, while endorsing none, treated evolution as at least credible.
She is now the president of Biologos, a think tank that aggressively promotes evolution as true and that questions Original Sin, the Flood, the Fall into Sin, and whether Adam and Eve were actually historical people.
Moving in just one direction?
Does this mean that accepting evolution always leads to liberalism? Couldn’t we counter this list by coming up with one made up of Reformed luminaries who have accepted evolution and stayed generally orthodox?
We could come up with such a list and Tim Keller might be at the top of it. But the problem is that twenty years ago Peter Enns might also have been on such a list. He didn’t reject orthodoxy immediately. Any such “counterlist” might simply be a list of evolution-believing Reformed figures who don’t reject orthodoxy yet. Only time will tell.
No, if we’re going to try to make the case that evolution and orthodoxy are a natural fit, then the better counterlist would be that of liberals who, after embracing evolution, moved in a more orthodox direction. That would be a good answer to this list.
But does that ever happen?
This article first appeared in Reformed Perspective and is reprinted here with permission. You can also find a Dutch version of this article here.
Two hundred years ago a bishop, by the name of William Paley, wrote a book in which he used a watch to illustrate how clear it was that God is real. He pointed out how many intricate parts a watch had; and how only a skilled watchmaker could put these parts together. He described how the watch was designed so that each small part had a purpose. He then argued that the watch, because it had so many parts, had to have a planner and that, because the watch had a purpose – to tell time – it had to be an intelligent planner.
And then Bishop Paley also pointed out that there were many creatures much more complex and wonderful than the watch.
CONSIDER THE WOODPECKER
One of these creatures is the woodpecker — a bright, feathered hammerhead, whom we often nickname Woody. And if we look at the complex, awesome parts of the woodpecker, we cannot help but stand in awe of our Creator.
1. Shock-absorbing beak
The woodpecker, is a marvelous bird and far from ordinary. Take his bill, for example. Isn’t it amazing how he can ram it into a tree thousands of times a minute without having to replace it or getting a terrific headache? Well, his head is equipped with shock absorbers. And these shock absorbers cushion the blows so that the skull and brain of the woodpecker do not suffer.
2. Feet that grip
Now consider his feet. Have you ever wondered how this bird could stand sideways against the tree for such a long time without slipping off? Well, God equipped the woodpecker with very stiff tail feathers with which he can brace himself. Also, his feet have four claw-like toes. Two toes point up and two point down — so that he can get a good grip on bark.
3. Glue the grips
Now, once he’s drilled his little hole, how does he manage to reach inside the tree for his supper? Again, our God and his Creator has equipped him well. The woodpecker has a wonderful tongue. It’s long, with special glands on it which secrete a substance that bugs stick to like glue. When the woodpecker pulls his tongue out of the drilled hole it’s covered with a smorgasbord of insects.
4. Tongue that curls
The woodpecker’s tongue is worth even closer scrutiny. Most birds have tongues that are fastened to the back of their beak. The woodpecker would choke if this was the case because his tongue is far too long. So do you know where God fastened it? In his right nostril. Yes, when the woodpecker is not using his tongue, he rolls it up and stores it in his nose. Coming from the right nostril, the tongue divides into two halves. Each half passes over each side of the skull, (under the skin), comes around and up underneath the beak and enters the beak through a hole. And at this point the two halves combine and come out of his mouth. You have to agree that the woodpecker’s tongue is a most intricate and complicated piece of equipment.
BLIND TO THE WONDER
Not everyone believes that God created “every winged bird according to its kind.” (Genesis 1:21b) Some evolutionists believe that birds were first reptiles. A 1980 Science Yearbook states that
“paleontologists assume that the bird’s ancestors learned to climb trees to escape from predators and to seek insect food. Once the ‘bird’ was in a tree, feathers and wings evolved (grew) to aid in guiding from branch to branch.”
Isn’t it funny to think of so-called scientific men who believe this? If evolution were really true, why don’t we see lizards sitting in trees today sprouting little feathers? Doesn’t the thought alone make you chuckle? Actually, some evolutionists themselves are even aware that this is not really true. In 1985 an evolutionist named Feduccia said, “Feathers are features unique to birds, and there are no known intermediate structures between reptilian scales and feather.”
So why do people continue to believe and teach evolution? Romans 1:18-20 tells us why. Some people choose to suppress the truth. They have no faith in God’s marvelous creation, even though it is all around them, and these people are “without excuse” (v. 20) before God.
No, we are wise to stick to our faith in Scripture. The complexity of birds, certainly including the woodpecker, point to an intelligent Creator. And Bishop Paley’s argument is good because today, 200 years later, we can point to many other living creatures also, (even tiny microscopic forms of life are infinitely complex), who could never have come about by any chance process of evolution. We praise and thank God for His marvelous creation. With the four and twenty elders of Revelations 4:11 we can say:
“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they were created and have their being.”
Christine Farenhorst is the author of many books, including her new historical fiction novel, Katharina, Katharina, about the times of Martin Luther. This article first appeared in the February 1991 issue of Reformed Perspective.
Revolutionary: Michael Behe and the Mystery of Molecular Machines
60 minutes / 2016
RATING: 7/10 Revolutionary is a fantastic documentary about what a quiet professor did to get Darwinian evolutionists very, very upset with him.
Michael Behe is not a creationist – he seems to believe in an old earth and that some sort of evolution may well have occurred.
So why would Darwinians be so very disturbed by him? Because Behe doesn’t believe the world came about by chance. While studying the human cell he realized the microscopic machines within it are so intricate and complex it’s inconceivable they could have come about via only random mutation and natural selection.
The cell’s outboard motor and “irreducible complexity”
While Behe is the subject of this documentary, the real “star” of the show is one of those “micro-machines” that so fascinated him: the bacterial flagellum motor. As the documentary’s narration explains:
“Perhaps the most amazing propulsion system on our entire planet is one that exists in bacteria. It is called the flagellum, a miniature propellor driven by a motor with many distinct mechanical parts, each made of proteins. The flagellum’s motor resembles a human-designed rotary engine. It has a universal joint, bushings, a stator, and a rotor. It has a drive shaft and even its own clutch and braking system. In some bacteria the flagellum motor has been clocked at a 100,000 revolutions per minute. The motor is bi-directional and can shift from forward to reverse almost instantaneously. Some scientists suggest it operates at near-100% energy efficiency. All of this is done on a microscopic scale that is hard to imagine. The diameter of the flagellum motor is no more than 5 millionths of a centimeter.”
In his book, Darwin’s Black Box, Behe argued that Darwinian evolution could not account for micro-machines like this because Darwin required all complex living things to have evolved through a step-by-step process from simpler lifeforms. Behe couldn’t see how these micro-machines could have developed in stages. They were, as he put it, “irreducibly complex” – take one piece out, and they don’t simply function less efficiently, but instead seize functioning at all.
The flagellum motor is astonishing, and yet it’s only one of many “molecular machines” scientists have discovered in the last several decades, all of them operating with a single cell. Some of the others include: “energy-producing turbines, information-copying machines, and even robotic walking motors.”
(The title of Behe’s book, Darwin’s Black Box, is a reference to how, when Darwin presented his theory, he didn’t know how incredibly complex the inner workings of the cell were – they were only a “black box” to him. Would Darwin have ever suggested his theory if he’d had an inkling of how complex even the simplest life really is?)
The documentary shows that since Behe first poised the problem of “irreducible complexity” many have tried to address it, but with no real success. CAUTIONS The ID movement is sometimes caricatured as being creationism in disguise. But it is made up of a very diverse group of scientists. There are Christians, cultists and atheists too, and while it seems most believe in an ancient earth, there are also 6-day creationists. What unites the ID movement is the shared belief that the evidence shows there must have been intelligence – an Intelligent Designer – behind the formation of the universe. But because they are trying to avoid being labelled as a religious movement they won’t name the “Intelligent Designer.” This is the ID movement’s greatest flaw: in this refusal they are not giving God the glory that is His due!
Since the “good guys” in this film hold to a wide variety of views on the age of the Earth, Who made it, and to what extent He made use of evolution, this is not a film for the undiscerning.
CONCLUSION That said, this is an important and well-made documentary. Revolutionary shows how Behe became one of the fathers of the Intelligent Design (ID), and in documenting his history, they also provide a overview of ID movement itself. That’s the best reason to see this film – to get a good introduction to a movement that questions unguided, Darwinian evolution, on scientific grounds. In just one hour it traces the impact Behe has had on the Darwinian debate since his pivotal book, Darwin’s Black Box, was published two decades ago. There’s a lot packed in here, and it is well worth repeated viewings.
While Revolutionary is important and has some wonderful computer animations of the inner workings of the cell, it is not for everyone. Since the central figure is a mild-mannered sort, it just isn’t going to grab the attention of children or other casual viewers.
However, for anyone interested in the sciences and the origins debate, it is a must-see!
And – bonus! – it is now available to be viewed online for free (at the top of this review) and if you want to explore further, their website – http://revolutionarybehe.com – has a wealth of information.
Last year I spent some time reading through Richard Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution with a friend. As Dawkins explains in his preface, while he has written a number of books about evolution, “I realized that the evidence for evolution itself was nowhere explicitly set out, and this is a serious gap that I needed to close.” So in this book he sets forth his best case for evolution, making it an intriguing book to contend with.
Some of his arguments have ready answers, and some do not, and my hope in sharing both the answered and the unanswered is that readers may be better prepared to contend with evolution, neither overestimating nor underestimating the challenge it presents.
At some point I hope to include a chapter by chapter response, but I’m going to begin with Chapter 5, because it is one of the most interesting. Dawkins titled this chapter “Before our very eyes,” and it is here that he shares what he sees as examples of evolution that occurred “so fast…we can see evolution happening with our own eyes during one human lifetime.”
Today we’ll take a look at the first example he gives, about elephant’s tusks.
Chapter 5: Example #1 – THE CASE OF THE SHRINKING ELEPHANT TUSK
Dawkins believes the African elephant may have “evolved” a smaller tusk size in the space of 33 years. From 1925-1958 the Uganda Games Department monitored tusk size and noticed a decrease in size that was “highly statistically significant, which means that it is almost certainly a real trend, not a random chance effect.”
Why are elephant tusks shrinking? Dawkins proposes that, because “hunters tend to pick on the individuals with the largest tusks” this “means that, at least in theory, smaller-tusked individuals will be at a selective advantage.”
While acknowledging this is merely a plausible explanation, and there may be others unrelated to natural selection he concludes “I am inclined to take seriously the possibility that this is a true evolutionary trend.”
Dawkins repeatedly speaks of creationists in his book – Greatest Show on Earth is supposed to be an answer to them – but this example left me wondering just how familiar he was with creationists and their arguments.
So if elephant tusks are trending smaller over the course of a generation or two, that fits in well with the creationist model.
What it doesn’t do is offer any sort of evidence for the molecule-to-man form of evolution Dawkins supports. A smaller average for tusk-size is a horizontalchange – no new information is needed, just selection from what’s already present. But for evolution of the sort Dawkins defends we need an explanation for a vertical change – how beings can grow in complexity, evolving from that single-celled creature to something elephant-size.
Either Dawkins is unaware of that fact creationists also believe in natural selection – which would mean he really needs to do his homework! – or he is knowingly and deliberately pulling a bait and switch here, presenting one form “evolution” in which the word means little more than “change” and offering that up as if it were proof for the very different sort of “molecule-to-man” evolution.