MadSci Network: Evolution

Re: Is Creationism so Wrong?

Date: Sun Jun 10 18:20:18 2001
Posted By: Paul Barrett, Staff, Science Demonstrator, Pacific Science Center
Area of science: Evolution
ID: 992023661.Ev


Before I answer you should understand that you have never read my views on Creationism. The Madsci Network is made up of many volunteers from many fields and different parts of the world who answer questions entered onto its website. Therefore each viewpoint is individual, and I cannot account for the article you read that mentioned that evolution is "superior". If you would like an answer from that person, try requesting them by name. But let me take a stab at some of your questions first:

"Is Creationism so Wrong?"
This is a difficult question to answer because it is an incomplete, seemingly rhetorical question. Wrong concerning what? There is nothing "wrong" with believing in Creationism if one has a mind to do it. If, by that question you mean "Is Creationism wrong about the origins of the Earth and the life on it" then we get into a very sensitive issue, as belief in a creator is a matter of faith- something that by its nature cannot be proven, which is what science always seeks to do- prove or disprove ideas.

Creationism (I assume you mean the Judeo-Christian creation story) is based on the origin story of a pastoral nomadic society that existed thousands of years ago, as laid out in the first book of the Bible, Genesis. Just about every religion has an explanation of how the Earth and it's inhabitants came to be. Here's a few other creation stories: aa010698b.htm. Creation stories like the one in Genesis offer possible explanations as to the origins of the Earth and life, but don't offer any evidence to confirm them. To say that the Earth was made in six days by an all-powerful creator who formed man out of mud and woman from one of man's ribs is quite an extraordinary claim, and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. That evidence has yet to be presented. Until it is, no science can say whether it is right or wrong, only that there is no evidence to support any of the hypotheses presented in Genesis.

In answer to your next question:

"Isn't it true that various 'Living Fossils' have appeared (very much alive) that were actually presented to the public as the 'links to the past'?"
Yes, it is true that several species of animals thought to be extinct were found to still be alive, and yes, they have been presented to the public as "links to the past", because they've existed in more or less their present form for hundreds of millions of years. Alligators, and horseshoe crabs are also "links to the past".

You bring up the Coelecanth as an example: I have never heard of any instance where this fish has been described as a transitional fossil from fish to amphibian- if that hypothesis was posited, it would have been debunked in 1938, when the first live Coelacanth was discovered. That is the process by which science works- hypotheses are presented, and then the scientific community attempts to disprove the hypothesis. Science is a self-correcting process- not an end product. Scientists are capable of being wrong, and when they find that they are, a good scientist will modify or toss out the existing hypothesis. When a hypothesis has endured years of scientific scrutiny, it is considered to be a theory.

You end your letter by saying:

"I have read that the very existence of a fossil implies catastrophic burial. You see, I've been taught that the fossil 'graveyards' (where thousands of animals where fossilized together) occurred because of the flood. I would be interested to learn what your hypthesis is."
Catastrophes have certainly created a plethora of fossils, because with their propensity to wipe out many organisms they increase the chance that at least some of them will be preserved. In the case of such an event like an avalanche or mud slide, animals and plants will not only be killed in mass quantities but will often also be preserved well.

Catastrophes are not the only sources of fossils, however. Fossils can occur for any number of reasons: Predators will leave large piles of bones from different animals they've eaten in lairs where the bones are easily preserved, burial grounds are rich sources of fossils, even though those in them did not, generally speaking, die of catastrophic occurrences, animals may leave tracks in mud which harden and outlast the animal. Fossils do not always imply catastrophe.

While many fossils are created by catastrophes, it is not reasonable to conclude that every fossil graveyard was created by a flood, as opposed to by a volcano, climate change, asteroid, earthquake or any other of myriad types of catastrophic events. Floods can cause mass destruction and burial, but countless floods have occurred and are occurring as we speak- it doesn't mean that they are evidence of the "Great Flood" described in the Bible.

This issue has been raging for almost 150 years - and you have only to type the word "Evolution" or "Creationism" into a search engine to find thousands of articles both for and against both subjects. Here's one you might find interesting with a variety of links to this rather expansive debate: In closing, I would like to say that I'm glad that you are thinking critically about science and posing tough questions- It's just this type of criticism that makes science progress. I would further challenge you to turn that same critical probing mind onto your own beliefs, and ask yourself why you believe what you believe and what evidence there is to support your views. But in so doing, do not attempt to prove yourself right or you'll bias the evidence to see what you want to see. Attempt to prove your views wrong, and see if they stand up to your own criticism.

-Paul Barrett

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