The case of the shrinking elephant tusks

elephantLast 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.


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.


Because this example of “evolution in action” is one creationists could use to support our position. Creationists don’t find natural selection controversial. We believe change does happen, and quickly – after all, we’re the folks who believe that the vast variety of dogs we see today came from just a few kinds present on the ark!

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 horizontal change – 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.

For more on this point see:

Operational vs. historical science

Evolution is just a theory.
Then again, so is gravity.
– as seen on a t-shirt.

Is the theory of evolution like the theory of gravity? How are they different? This is just one of the topics that professors John Byl and Tom Goss cover in their book, How Should Christians Approach Origins? In this excerpt they note that there are two very different sorts of science happening here.


It is sometimes argued that it is inconsistent to use modern medicine and technology originswhile rejecting evolution, since both are products of mainstream science. However, we must be careful to distinguish between two types of science: operational science and historical science.

  1. OPERATIONAL SCIENCE is the experimental science done in the lab or in the field. It investigates repeatable events in the present. This concerns most of physics, chemistry, and biology, as well as observational geology, astronomy, and the like. It gives us all the science needed for technology, such as in developing smartphones, satellites, cars, planes, cures for diseases, and so on. It studies the present material reality and how it normally functions.
  2. HISTORICAL SCIENCE, on the other hand, is concerned with extrapolating from present observations to the distant, unobserved, and unrepeatable past. This includes various theories and explanations in archaeology, cosmology, historical geology, paleontology, biological evolutionary development, and so on.

These two types of science differ significantly:

  1. Operational science aims to discover the universal laws by which nature generally operates, whereas historical science aims to establish ancient conditions or past causes. Operational science explains present events by reference to general laws, whereas historical science explains present events in terms of presumed past events.
  2. Operational science calculates forward, deducing effects from causes, whereas historical science calculates backwards, inferring past causes from present clues. One problem here is that more than one possible historical cause can give rise to the same effect. For example, in a murder trial, the prosecution and defense may present very different historical scenarios to explain the material evidence.
  3. Operational science assumes methodological naturalism. Since it is concerned with what normally happens, in the absence of miracles, it is reasonable to consider only natural causes. Historical science, on the other hand, seeks to find what actually happened in the past. Constraining ourselves to natural causes amounts to metaphysical naturalism – the further assumption that no miracles have in fact happened in the past.¹

The well-known evolutionist Ernst Mayr acknowledged,

Evolutionary biology, in contrast with physics and chemistry, is a historical science – the evolutionist attempts to explain events and processes that have already taken place. Laws and experiments are inappropriate techniques for the explication of such events and processes. Instead one constructs a historical narrative, consisting of a tentative reconstruction of the particular scenario that led to the events one is trying to explain.²

In short, the scientific know-how needed to make smartphones is much better established than, say, the claim that humans evolved from [some chimp-like creature].

End notes
¹ Stephen Meyer, Signature in the Cell (New York: NY, HarperCollins, 2009), 150–172.
² Ernst Mayr, “Darwin’s Influence on Modern Thought.” Scientific American, November 24, 2009 (

This excerpt reprint with permission. How Should Christians Approach Origins? can be purchased at Inquiries about bulk pricing can be directed to Tom Goss at

Keller on Creation, now in Dutch

For our Dutch readers, they’ll want to know that Dr. Ted Van Raalte’s four posts earlier this year about Tim Keller’s views on Creation, has been translated into Dutch. You can find it the original four posts in English here:


And the Dutch translation, which compiles all the posts can be found here:

10 Fantastic creationist/ID clips

There’s something to be said for short and sweet. Each of the following 10 clips is just 10 minutes or less, with some taking down evolution, some celebrating the Bible’s trustworthiness, and others exploring just how “fearfully and wonderfully” we are made (Psalm 139:14).

1. Our cells’ microscopic power generators – 3 minutes

2. Evolutionary “proofs” that actually show devolution – 1 minute

3. Mutations are causing us to devolve, not evolve – 2 minutes

4. Even the simplest cell is insanely complex – 3 minutes

5. Even a bird’s feathers are amazingly designed! – 2 minutes

6. An introduction to irreducible complexity – 4 minutes

7. Is antibiotic resistance evidence for evolution? – 6 minutes

8. Noah’s Ark – a real boat that was really big…and seaworthy – 10 minutes

9. Dolphins are designed to “see” and hear underwater – 4 minutes

10. Starling murmuration is stunning! – 4 minutes

BOOK REVIEW: “How Should Christians Approach Origins?”

by John Byl and Tom Gossorigins
42 pages / 2015

Blaise Pascal once quipped that he had written a long letter because he hadn’t had time to write a short one. In this booklet it is evident that authors John Byl (who blogs on evolution and creation at Bylogos) and Tom Goss put an enormous amount of time and effort to boil down the key issues of the origin debate.

In just 42 pages they gave an overview of:

  • the difference between historical and operation science
  • why secular scientists deny miracles as a matter of dogma
  • why many professing Christian scientists do, but shouldn’t, deny miracles
  • the basics of materialism and naturalism
  • what the various origins positions are
  • why Christianity is incompatible with any form of evolution
  • how dating methods can be unreliable
  • what books would be good for further reading

And that isn’t even all of it!

Both authors are professors, and one, John Byl, is Canadian Reformed. He has his Ph.D in astronomy, and if this slim book has you ready for more, then you’ll want to take a look at his larger and more comprehensive God and Cosmos: A Christian View of Time, Space, and the Universe. But this smaller book, at just 42 pages, is an ideal size to give to any university student, or anyone looking for an introduction to the origins debate. You won’t find any better!

The book concludes with Resource Pages that list two dozen books – these are the very best books on various aspects of the origins debate. So not only is this is an excellent introduction, it also points you to where you can go for much much more.

You can pick up a copy – or two or three (these would make such a great give away!) – at or

This review first appeared on

Biology vs. evolution


by Jon Dykstra

There’s no shortage of books poking holes in evolution, but books that blow it up are more rare. But even among the second sort Douglas Axe’s Undeniable is special – he explains why evolution isn’t merely wrong, but is, in fact, so completely inadequate an explanation for life’s origins that even children can see through it.


In Romans 1:20 God tells that through His creation He has made His presence known to all – none have an excuse. So it shouldn’t surprise us that from the earliest age children intuitively disbelieve Darwin’s theory. Axe quotes Berkley professor Alison Gopnik speaking on the challenge for teachers of evolution:

“By elementary-school age children start to invoke an ultimate God-like designer to explain the complexity of the world around them – even children brought up as atheists.”

And it isn’t only children who see God behind creation. Trained, and evolution-professing, scientists also have problems denying what they intuitively know to be so. Deborah Kelemen, a psychology professor is quoted explaining:

“Even though advanced scientific training can reduce acceptance of scientifically inaccurate teleological explanations, it cannot erase a tenacious early-emerging human tendency to find purpose in nature.”

Or, in other words, even those who claim that everything came about without purpose or design have a hard time talking that way. They keep speaking about evolution as if it had intent.

Why is that?

It’s because it’s hard not to see how well crafted creation is. We’re confronted with the undeniable reality that the marvelous animals we see – from the salmon to the spider to the orca – are so amazing and polished and complete. When an evolutionist looks at an orca whale breaking out of the ocean surface – “five tons of slick black and white launching out of the water with implausible ease” – he has to profess that this wonder is merely the current manifestation of a creature that was radically different in the past, and will be radically changed in the future. They have to insist there is nothing especially whole, or finished, about how it is now. But we all know better. As Axe puts it, “some things are so good that they cannot be other than what they are.” An orca is not incomplete – it is a finished work of art.

This intuition is available to all. As he’s says elsewhere even a child can spots holes like this. For example, they know:

“The same instantaneous reasoning that tells us origami cranes can’t happen by accident tells us real cranes can’t either — not even in billions of years.”


There has always been a gaping hole in evolutionary theory. Back in 1904, in his book Species and Varieties: Their Origin by Mutation, a Dutchman, botanist Hugo De Vries, pointed out:

“Natural selection may explain the survival of the fittest, but it cannot explain the arrival of the fittest.”

It’s no different today:

“[Evolutionist Dan Tawfik’s] own diagnosis…is admirably frank: ‘Evolution has this catch-22: Nothing evolves unless it already exists.’”

As Axe puts it,

“What’s left of a theory of origins once it has been conceded that it doesn’t explain how things originate?”


Killer whale jumping out of water
“…five tons of slick black and white launching out of the water with implausible ease.”

Axe is a microbiologist, and as such has done research on the limits of what natural selection can do with enzymes. Try as they might, biologists can’t get innovation even on this tiny scale – enzymes will not, via random processes, come up with new abilities. And if evolution fails on this microscopic scale why would we think it can do bigger things?

“The claim that evolution did invent proteins, cell types, organs, and life forms is scientifically legitimate only if we know evolution can invent these things. Consequently our demonstration of evolutionary incompetence for an example of the least of these inventions – a new function for an existing enzyme – undercuts the whole project of inferring evolutionary histories. If nothing can evolve its way into existence, then nothing did.”

Evolution isn’t living up to its big claims. Axe gives an apt analogy:

“Imagine a group of people insisting that a certain man can jump to the moon. We, being skeptical, challenge this man to dunk a basketball, and we find that he comes well short of reaching the rim. When we publish our findings, we get lots of complaints, all of the kind ‘We never said he could dunk a basketball…or at least not that kind of basketball, on that rim.’”

Yes, we can see finches get big beaks, and then return to having small ones. We can see dogs diverge into any number of different sizes and types. Natural selection can improve an enzyme’s efficiency. But it can’t make anything new. As Axe puts it, “As a finder of inventions, Darwin’s evolutionary mechanism is a complete bust, but…it sometimes come in handy as a fiddler.”

So how did we get the amazing abilities we have? While evolution claims we came about by a unintelligent, purposeless process we all know that:

Invention can’t happen by accident. Invention requires know-how, and there is no substitute for know-how…. What the inventor can do – seeing possibilities that are otherwise not there and seizing opportunities that only exist because they are imagined – cannot be done by accident.”


Perhaps the most remarkable claim the Theory of Evolution makes is that this unguided, unintelligent, uninspired process managed to do what even our most brilliant engineers, scientists and designers can’t begin to do. At one point Axe compares one of the “more advanced products of human technology” with one of Creation’s simplest creatures.

“Tavros 2 was designed to conduct month-long missions in the Gulf of Mexico, measuring and reporting water depth and temperature. What makes this vehicle particularly sophisticated is that it operates autonomously, under the complete control of its onboard computer. Tavros 2 is programmed to rise to the surface when it needs a solar recharge, after which it dives to its previous location and resumes data collection.”

This is a remarkable machine, designed and created by some of the world’s most intelligent and clever people. But it pales in comparison to the common, tiny, cyanobacteria. Both are solar powered, but while the Tavros 2 “needs a solar collector the size of a coffee table,” its living rival “does very well with a collector roughly one-trillionth that size.”

“The contrast becomes even more extreme when we consider the manufacturing capabilities. Tavros 2 has none, whereas every cyanobacterium houses an entire manufacturing plant within its microscopic walls.”

Axe goes on for 9 pages giving an overview (only an overview) of how much more complex and incredible the lowly cyanobacteria is than the Tavros 2, one of man’s more impressive accomplishments.

So our best work, by our most brilliant designers, doesn’t compare to the simple cyanobacteria that evolutionists say came about through mindless, purposeless, mutation and selection.

This is ridiculous.

Evolutionists point to time as their theory’s savior – inventiveness on the scale of the cyanobacteria may seem impossible in the short term, but what if we add in countless trials and experiments conducted over millions of years?

What’s behind this objection is only another example of why even a child can know better than to believe in evolution. After all, from the earliest age we all know that, “Tasks that we would need knowledge to accomplish can be accomplished only by someone who has that knowledge.” Even if we grant time and countless trials we still know ingenuity – especially on the scale of living things! – can’t manifest itself. Creativity needs a creator. Inventions aren’t created by accident.

“The action of bulldozers moving junk heaps at the dump…may well cause a ball bearing to find a makeshift socket or a lever to find a crude fulcrum or a cable to wrap around a cylinder, but none of these simple arrangements do anything significant enough to rise above the junk. Not even on a trillion, trillion planets covered with junk would an accidental robot ever rise up and flee from the bulldozers, much less scurry around looking for parts to build a copy of itself.”


Axe set out to show that doubting Darwin is a matter of simple common sense, and he’s done a good job of it. This is going to be a pivotal book – the sort to get people riled up and talking for years to come.

Axe is an Intelligent Design proponent, not a creationist, but this is a book that creationist can embrace. His argument is that biology blows up evolution – to that we can all agree. Unlike most in the ID community, he isn’t hesitant about naming God as the Intelligent Designer – that comes out clearly in the last quarter of the book.

This is an accessible book for anyone who has any appreciation for biology. He’s written this for the non-scientist, and yes, there were a few spots where I found it tough slogging, but once I got through them the rest of the book was a breeze. I’d recommend this for anyone with an interest in biology and the evolution/creation debate – this is an exciting, and more than anything else, encouraging book. God has created all of life as a wonder beyond explanation! Axe wants us all to be confident that, no matter how much and how often mainstream science ridicules those who don’t believe in evolution, it is the Darwin’s doubters who are on solid scientific ground.

This review first appeared in the September 2016 issue of Reformed Perspective.

Mutations: a problem for evolution

We’re breaking down.

As Dr. John Sanford outlines in this presentation, there are two conflicting worldviews at battle in out culture:

1) we as a species are naturally going up
2) we as a species are naturally going down

The first is the theory of evolution: Mankind is supposed to the end result of a long process of beneficial mutations that changed us, improved us, from our origins as a single cell, simple organism, to become the incredibly complex creatures that we are today. We as a species are improving.

The second is the Biblical worldview. After the Fall into Sin we know that the world was put under a curse. Things started off perfect, but are broken now. We as a species, like all of creation, are breaking down.

So which is it?

Well, what Dr. Sanford explains is that the supposed driver of evolution – mutations – are hurting, not helping us. While an occasional beneficial mutation can happen, Sanford discovered that the rate at which we are mutating, from one generation to the next, is so rapid that we, as a species, are not long for this world. These mutations are accumulating like rust does on a car. Just as a little rust doesn’t harm a vehicle, so too a few mutations won’t harm our genome much. But rust spreading across a car will eventually cause the whole vehicle to fall apart, and in this same way accumulating mutations are eventually going to do Mankind in. Roughly 100 mutations are being passed on per generation – we, as a species are going down. We are slowly rusting out.

To find out more, watch this very intriguing 1 hour presentation. Or you can visit, a site run by Dr. Sanford and a number of other scientists. Who is Dr. Sanford? He is a geneticist, a former professor at Cornell University, and one of the inventors of the gene gun. He was once an atheist and an evolutionist, but after bowing his knee to God he first investigated theistic evolution, then Old Earth Creationism, and finally settled on Young Earth Creationism.