email - June 2015

Alternatives

If not evolution, what?

The criticism we most often receive is that we just debunk evolution and don’t provide any evidence for creation. Yes, we don’t address creation because our website is about science in general, and evolution in particular—not religion in general, or creation in particular.

Rules of Logic

People who write this criticism erroneously believe that disproving one thing proves another. Disproving evolution does not prove that Greek Mythology is true, and disproving Greek Mythology does not prove that evolution is true. The same logic applies to Christianity or any other religion. Proving that something is false does not necessarily prove something else is true.

In our last few newsletters we have shared emails from Sam and Chris who, when asked to defend the theory of evolution, argued that evolution must be true because the Bible is false. Famous evolutionists, Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne in particular, have written books based on that same premise.

On the other side, creationist organizations (Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research) tend to argue that evolution must be false because the Bible is true. Logically, this is different because proving one mutually exclusive situation is true does actually prove the contradictory one false.

Proving that Jim is taller Bill proves that Bill is not the tallest boy in class. But proving that Bill isn’t the tallest boy in class does not prove that Jim is the tallest (perhaps Fred is taller than both).

In a murder trial, the defense attorney might win the case by proving someone else did it—but that is extremely rare. The law does not require the defense to identify the real killer to win the case. Generally, the verdict is based on evidence for and against the defendant alone.

For nearly 20 years we have argued against the theory of evolution from a purely scientific viewpoint because the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly against the theory of evolution. Because the facts are on our side, there is no need to use debate tricks (personal attacks, straw man arguments, or changing the subject) to make our case. We don’t need to prove any alternative theory to prove the theory of evolution is false.

Insurmountable Bias

We have received many emails from people arguing that evolution must be true because the Bible is false; but in the course of writing the last newsletter, it finally occurred to us that it might not be possible for an atheist to reject the theory of evolution and retain his atheistic beliefs. If that is true, no amount of scientific evidence disproving the theory of evolution can ever overcome his atheistic bias.

Since we didn’t know for sure, we sent an email to 191 people we know who have an interest in evolution because they have written to us recently. Our email said,

We know:

  • There are Christians who believe in evolution.
  • There are Christians who don’t believe in evolution.
  • There are atheists who believe in evolution.

Do you know of any atheists who don’t believe in evolution?  If so, what do they believe instead of evolution?

We received too many responses to print; but we want to thank all those people who did respond, even those whose emails we didn’t print. Our goal this month (and this month only) is to present several alternatives to Darwinian evolution succinctly and accurately, without championing any one more than the others.

Both Sides

K.C. gave us this response containing four links making the argument for both sides.

Alexander Mebane [is an atheist who rejects evolution].  I don't know if he is living.  See http://thecreationclub.com/book-review-of-darwins-creation-myth-by-alexander-mebane/   The reviewer qualifies also. Another review of his book (http://newbeing.org/NB_Myth.html) lists some others (such as Crick) at the bottom. Also, see comments at http://www.quora.com/Are-there-atheists-who-dont-accept-formerly-believe-in-evolution and http://www.thethinkingatheist.com/forum/Thread-Can-one-be-an-atheist-and-not-believe-in-evolution?page=2 – K.C.

K.C.’s first link goes to The Creation Club website, maintained by Tom Shipley. Tom says he was raised an atheist, but became a Christian after he realized that the theory of evolution is scientifically bankrupt. He could not continue to be an atheist after he realized Darwin’s theory is unscientific.

On his website Shipley quotes Mebane’s quote of Huxley.

“Even if Darwinism is false above the microevolutionary level, it is nevertheless the only scientific [emphasis in the original] theory of cladogenesis now available; and that is more important than the question of truth or falsity.” –Thomas Henry Huxley, quote from pg. 73, “Darwin’s Creation Myth” by Alexander Mebane 1

Let that thought sink in. A false scientific theory is better than a true one, if the true explanation is religious. That certainly does support the proposition that an atheist must believe in evolution, even if he knows the theory is wrong.

The second link goes to the New Being Project. The home page contains the transcript of an interview with David Pursglove, who claims to be a “Post-Darwinist,” not a creationist. I found the website to be rather confusing, perhaps because I don’t know what “non-linear intelligence” is. (It just seemed a little bit twisted to me. )

The third link, to Quora is a blog asking if there are atheists who don’t “believe” in evolution. But the argument got so tangled up in the word “believe” that they changed it to ask if there are atheists who don’t “accept” evolution. That discussion got bogged down, too, without any compelling answer to the question.

The last link goes to a blog at The Thinking Atheist. The bloggers there didn’t take the question too seriously. One said,

Can one be an atheist and not believe in evolution?

I don't understand the question. Atheism and evolution have nothing to do with each other. Your question is like asking "Can one disbelieve in Santa Clause but still believe in gravity?" Your question, like mine, is simply nonsense.

Another person wrote,

You can be an atheist and believe or not believe anything you want. So long as deities are not included.

Then, like most blogs, the discussion got off-track and degenerated into personal attacks. We were hoping for a good, logical explanation of what an atheist who doesn’t believe in evolution thinks. We certainly didn’t find it here.

It is significant to note that the contributors to The Thinking Atheist didn’t really think about the question. They just dismissed the question as foolish without even considering it. They do the same with any question about evolution. They take the attitude that everybody knows that evolution is true, so any question about it isn’t worth thinking about.

On the other hand, our readers all gave careful consideration to the question, and gave examples of an alternative that atheists could accept.

I know agnostics that speculate on an inventive mechanism in organisms, a level of internal intelligent preplanning on the part of the organism itself. – Richard

The only example that comes to mind is John Lennon, who believed life just goes on and what we see now is how it always was.  He professed no God and no evolution.  Though I admit he really didn't know the issues seriously enough. – Patrick

There were atheists, people who did not believe in a god or the gods, long before Darwinian-style evolution. If they gave any thought to how the cosmos and living organisms came to be, there are only two choices: 1) the cosmos originated from nothing, or 2) the cosmos is eternal. – Kelly

The only atheists that I’ve found that don’t believe in evolution believe it was some sort of space alien doing the creating/design. (These are the same sort that sleep with tin foil over their heads in order to block government control.) – Tom

Sir Anthony Flew is an atheist that rejected evolution. He took to believing that life started on another planet. He's hated for rejecting the theory. – Mick

To answer your question, my friend George who is an atheist, doesn't believe in evolution. Instead, he believes that aliens started life on planet earth. He keeps reminding me of the South American Indians and their symbols. – Nick

Apparently, an atheist can reject evolution if he believes that life came from outer space, which invites questions such as, “How did life evolve from non-life in outer space?” and “If you don’t believe that life evolved on Earth, why would you believe it evolved in outer space?” But let’s not get distracted by those questions. Let’s examine the extraterrestrial alternative.

Flew believes in panspermia; George believes in something that is very close to panspermia, but not exactly the same.

Panspermia is the belief that life began somewhere out in space, came to Earth accidentally, and then evolved. 2 It is believed by Sir Fred Hoyle, and others, because the notion that chemicals on Earth could accidentally form the right amino acids, proteins, et cetera, and form a living cell, is just too ridiculous to take seriously. Moving the origin of life to someplace else, where conditions are completely unknown, allows the very remote possibility that the conditions there could form life spontaneously.

With that in mind, let’s consider the opinions of Anthony Flew and George, and see how they differ.

Anthony Flew was an atheist most of his life; but famously became a deist (not a Christian) a few years before his death. A deist is someone who believes that there must be some sort of higher power, some sort of god, but that god is not Allah, Jesus Christ or the God of Abraham. Here’s why Flew became a deist.

Flew also said: "My one and only piece of relevant evidence [for an Aristotelian God] is the apparent impossibility of providing a naturalistic theory of the origin from DNA of the first reproducing species... [In fact] the only reason which I have for beginning to think of believing in a First Cause god is the impossibility of providing a naturalistic account of the origin of the first reproducing organisms." 3

Biology textbooks tend to divide the theory of evolution into two parts: the origin of life and the diversity of life. The origin of life is called “abiogenesis” from the Greek phrase “beginning (genesis) without (a) life (bio).” The diversity of life is explained by “descent with modification,” which depends upon random mutations filtered by natural selection. Evolutionists include abiogenesis as part of the definition of “evolution” when it suits their purposes, but exclude it when it doesn’t. We always include abiogenesis as a necessary part of the theory because, without it, Darwinian evolution is literally dead on arrival. The evolutionary tale begins with a dead planet.

Our initial question was whether or not one could be an atheist and reject the theory of evolution. In the case of Anthony Flew, when he rejected abiogenesis, a key aspect of evolution, he could no longer remain an atheist, and became a deist. So, Mick’s email supports the idea that one cannot be an atheist without believing in evolution.

Nick’s email (not to be confused with Mick’s email) says his friend George is an atheist who believes in aliens instead of evolution. I don’t know George, so I don’t know exactly what he believes; but I do have a close atheist friend named Dave who holds a very similar view.

Dave is a mathematical genius, one of the smartest people I know. He has written some data encryption algorithms that are as cryptic as the cipher text they produce. After he joined our work group (coming from a group which designed nuclear weapons) it was part of my job to document, and try to explain how some of his computer programs work. His social skills are as bad as his mathematical skills are good. Before he retired he used to get in trouble for harassing a devout Catholic co-worker about his religion. He loves to push the buttons of anyone who believes in God.

Because he is so smart, and knows so much about science, he recognizes that the theory of evolution is utter foolishness. Instead, Dave believes that there is (or was) an advanced civilization somewhere outside our solar system. This civilization decided to do an experiment by putting an ecosystem (complete with human beings) on Earth, and has been secretly observing it ever since to see what happens. Occasionally the aliens manipulate things to see how life reacts; but they may have become bored with the experiment and no longer monitor us, and may just let us drive ourselves to extinction.

I asked him once what the name of this advanced civilization is, but he could not tell me. I asked Dave, “Why not call this civilization, ‘God’?” He would not answer me; but it is clear to me that his notion of superior aliens creating life on Earth, and watching over it, does not differ significantly from the Christian notion of God creating life on Earth and watching over it. The main difference is that Dave’s aliens did not give us ten commandments to live by.

Although Dave considers himself to be an atheist, his belief in an advanced celestial civilization controlling our world isn’t much different from deism. He insists he doesn’t believe in beings with supernatural powers—just alien beings with much more highly advanced technology. Those aliens put life on Earth pretty much the way it is now. (Some life forms have gone extinct since then, and some have undergone microevolution.) How those aliens came to life, and developed such advanced technology, is a question he can’t answer.

Some Say It Can’t Be Done

Most of the people who answered our email said it isn’t possible to be an atheist and not believe in evolution.

No, I don’t know any atheists that don’t believe in evolution. The two go hand in hand. I think that evolution is, to them, the “evidence” that supports their unbelief. In the end, it is all vanity. – Kirk

I have not met any Atheist who doesn’t believe in evolution (whether Darwinian or Lamarckian etc.), although I met many and work with many, and that’s most likely to be due to the fact that there isn’t yet any other credible “scenario” that explains life and the immense variety of life on this planet. They are clinging on the evolutionary storey because it’s their only “way out” to disbelieve in the Creator. – Selim

Wow, you must have gotten some interesting feedback ;o) Indeed, I have Atheists tell me all the time that Atheism is just _____________ (fill in the blank with the favorite pop definition de jour) and that is all. However, yes; they all seem to agree on just about everything else including and especially evolution.
Shalom,
Ken

Mick sent us a follow-up email in which he said,

Like you, I know evolution-believing Christians but not creation-believing atheists. So much for atheists being the most (only?) open-minded ones.

A radio DJ told us this week about breaking news that our fingers and toes wrinkle in the bath for 'evolutionary' reasons. It happens because it let our ancestors grip trees better in the wet, according to scientists. Their thinking is that as it's involuntary, it must have an evolutionary background. What would be their evolutionary reason for the knee-jerk?

As with so many other evolutionary matters, they make it sound like an intention. I don't believe that DNA has enough of a mind to have intentions. Furthermore, I've never seen a primate grip boughs with only its fingertips, and we were taught in school that sweaty palms let our ancestors grip trees better—more contradictory teaching.

Besides that, googling shows that the wrinkling-fingertip hypothesis was being talked about as fact at least two years ago. – Mick

Some Say It Can

Some atheists say they don’t believe in evolution. One of these people is Aaron (despite his Biblical name).

I'd say I fit in that category. But not too extreme, I think it's possible there's some kind of intelligence greater than ourselves, but it hasn't been discovered yet, and may not fit the traditional definition of "God." What do I believe instead of evolution? Your pages lead me to believe there's very little chance it all started by accidental random events. But I don't have an answer. I think some sort of design, but by who, or why, is a mystery. –Aaron

Although Aaron self-identifies as an atheist, he sounds more like an agnostic to us.

Chris, Again

Chris and Sam started this whole discussion by arguing that evolution must be true because the Bible is false. Chris wrote to us again—this time much more respectfully and coherently. Not all of it is on point; but here is his whole email, unedited.

Hello again.

Okay, so here's the deal. That is a very good question. I will tell you that I have a few friends who consider themselves atheists, which I feel you shouldn't worry too much about. After all, this is a nation where you decide what religion you want to follow. Anyway, I never engaged in a conversation with them on evolution, but I would say that they most likely do or don't believe in evolution, depending on who you ask. It's bad enough I have to hear this gobbledygook about a 6,000 year old and 10,000 year old universe with a side of a special designer who made everything in six days. Some of my atheist buddies think that aliens created us and all life that existed is just a mad science experiment from extraterrestrial life forms. And to be honest, that sounds even more stupid than the Genesis narrative (which is just as false, by the way).

So, in short, I have atheists who accept evolution, and then I have the wingnut friends who are atheist that believe something as stupid as a kitten riding a unicycle made life. But you shouldn't dwell on ignorance. You don't have to be atheist to approve of evolution. Even the most devoted followers of Jesus would frown upon a week's worth of creation. You either look at the Bible literally or figuratively. Some information in it is false, though. For example, we all celebrate Christmas because Jesus was supposedly born on that day. It turns out in reality, he was born somewhere between late September and early October, but that's for another day.

Hope this answers your question. Have a good day, and please keep my name disclosed. – Chris

Specific Examples

Harley reminded us that some famous atheists (like Jerry Fodor) believe evolution is true, even if it is wrong.

I haven’t taken the time to read it yet, but http://www.examiner.com/article/atheists-attack-darwinian-evolution-new-book. A little more on that article is at http://www.salon.com/2010/02/23/what_darwin_got_wrong_jerry_fodor/ – Harley

We reviewed Jerry Fodor’s book five years ago, when it came out. 4 His book says, essentially, that the theory of evolution is generally true, but many specific details are wrong. The Publishers Weekly review on Amazon said,

The authors of this scattershot treatise believe in evolution, but think that the Darwinian model of adaptationism—that random genetic mutations, filtered by natural selection, produce traits that enhance fitness for a particular biological niche—is fatally flawed. 5

There are some well-known stories about atheists who have rejected the theory of evolution, and consequently became Christians.

In a YouTube video, Richard Lumsden claims to have been a famous, ardent evolutionist who found God after rejecting evolution.

Dr. Richard Lumsden was professor of parasitology and cell biology at Tulane University.  He served as dean of the graduate school, and published hundreds of scientific papers. 6

We decided check out his “hundreds of scientific papers” to see how strongly he believed in evolution. We searched all the papers published by Nature and Science, and did not find a single paper authored by him. Nor did we find a single paper that referenced his work in other periodicals. Therefore we reject Richard Lumsden’s story as a hoax.

Please read our Apology to Dr. Lumsden for making the incorrect statement above.

On the other hand, Dean Kenyon’s story is unquestionably true. He really was an atheist who co-wrote a critically acclaimed book about the spontaneous origin of life when he was 30 years old. He became a Christian seven years later after trying to disprove the writings of A.E. Wilder Smith. I had the honor of talking privately with Dr. Kenyon for about an hour in 1998. I heard his story first hand.

Dean H. Kenyon (born c. 1939) is Professor Emeritus of Biology at San Francisco State University, a young Earth creationist, and one of the instigators of the intelligent design movement. He is the author of Biochemical Predestination. He became a creationist around 1976.

In 1969, Kenyon co-authored Biochemical Predestination with Gary Steinman.

Kenyon received a BSc in physics from the University of Chicago in 1961 and a Ph.D. in biophysics from Stanford University in 1965. In 1965-1966 he was a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow in Chemical Biodynamics at the University of California, Berkeley, a Research Associate at Ames Research Center. In 1966, he started as an Assistant Professor of Biology at San Francisco State University and became Emeritus in 2001. 7

Conclusion

Perhaps some of the evolutionists who ask us for an alternative aren’t (as we previously thought) simply trying to change the subject. Apparently they believe in evolution despite all the overwhelming scientific evidence against it simply because they don’t have any better alternative, and really want to find one.

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Footnotes:

1 http://thecreationclub.com/book-review-of-darwins-creation-myth-by-alexander-mebane/
2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panspermia
3 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antony_Flew
4 Disclosure, April 2010, “What Darwin Got Wrong”, http://scienceagainstevolution.info/v14i7b.htm
5 http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0374288798?ie=UTF8&tag=saloncom08-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0374288798
6 http://crev.info/?scientists=richard-lumsden
7 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dean_H._Kenyon