The Macroevolution Fallacy

One of the more common Creationist claims today is that while microevolution (variation at the species level) is possible, macroevolution (variation above this level) is not. This is another one of those odd Creationist arguments that get bandied around a lot but don’t really seem to have anything substantial at their core.

Claiming that microevolution does not imply macroevolution means that you’re suggesting some sort of mechanism by which small changes over short amounts of time do not lead to many more small changes over large amounts of time. If that seems ridiculous, keep in mind that no Creationist will ever phrase it that way. I’ve also never seen any mechanism proposed which prevents macroevolution from occurring, without which the entire argument makes no sense. 

A related objection is that we’ve never observed macroevolution, but we don’t expect to; if one species could change into another that quickly, it would be pretty strong evidence against evolution. Furthermore, nobody but Creationists have ever claimed that observing macroevolution is a source of evidence for evolution itself. 

A large part of this argument stems from incredulity: ‘I can imagine variation within species, but anything more than that sounds impossible.’ Unfortunately, science isn’t about how unlikely something sounds when you first hear about it.

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14 Responses to The Macroevolution Fallacy

  1. freidenker85 says:

    Actually, the scarier “anti-macroevolutionary arguments” are when well-educated creationists use complicated math/chemistry/genetics to deduce that macroevolution is impossible. Even though this does nothing to prove creation, it’s still baffling, and unfortunately, it hits a spot that i think is painful in science: There ARE a lot of things we don’t know.

    This is painful spot, but it’s also what makes science such a fascinating, exciting enterprise. The problem is that some creationists, or even some actual scientists can point out (and have pointed out) that there ARE gaps in our knowledge. We do NOT, in fact, know exactly how “chemicals eventually became animals” (to use a paraphrase of “chemicals to man”, sans the human speciesism).

    This lack of knowledge has always been painful to me, in a way. And very embarrassing whenever I confronted creationists arguments I truly (and no one else, really) had any way to address them. Creationists are right about one thing: we DON’T know how everything evolved. We’re making a compromise. We use mountains of evidence of what we almost certainly know as true and simply extrapolate this knowledge (which is what theories are for, aren’t they?) to the rest of the tree of life.

    The only way to soothe this pain is by the knowledge that I’ll always know a bit more tomorrow than I do today.

    I want to finish my reply by pointing out that our knowledge of genetics, right now, has lot of problems with common ancestry. By saying that, I mean that it’s very hard to use genetics as common ancestry and the rest of the compelling evidence for universal common descent is based on morphology and paleontology. I’ve always found these evidences as somewhat problematic, as they are based on interpretation more than on mere facts. Even though there are some morphological data that I continuously quote as they are truly of amazing quality (such as the morphological differences between particular verterbrate classes and arthropods in wing anatomy)

  2. forknowledge says:

    Thanks for the interesting comment! I’ve always known that there are gaps in evolutionary theory, but the only non-scientists who seem willing to talk about it are Creationists (and they obviously make a hash of it). Could you recommend somewhere where a non-scientists like myself could read about this in a way that would be understandable?

    I’m always interested in learning more about these things, so feel free to comment along similar lines in the future. I think it’s important to acknowledge the gaps in what we know freely, even on a blog like this (or especially on a blog like this).

  3. penguinfactory says:

    “by saying that, I mean that it’s very hard to use genetics as common ancestry”

    Genetics provides the strongest piece of evidence for common ancestry between humans and other apes- the fused chromosome and ERVs.

  4. Lee Bowman says:

    First, let me introduce myself. I’m a biomedical engineer and entrepreneur, and one who blogs a lot on the subject of origins. I am not a creationist, or one who has a faith based belief in supernatural creation by an omniscient entity. Further, I have no agenda to promote any kind of faith based belief structure.

    I am an ID proponent who accepts evolutionary processes, but for 1) adaptation, and 2) biological diversity within species. I disagree with microevolutionary alterations accumulating over time to produce complexity and novelty. My conclusion is based on anatomic observations (morphologies and synergistic functionalities), as well as the DNA coding, and other molecular complexities. My views are subject to change as time (and study/ research) goes on.

    My central argument against complex systems evolving is this: While sucessive incremental mutational changes that become fixed in a population is a viable ‘adaptive’ mechanism, a complex organ (or system of organs) would almost universally require incremental alterations that would offer no immediate reproductive advantage, and would thus have no reason to become fixed in a population.

    In addition, a needed alteration in the building process of a complex organ might never occur, given a finite time period. Further, even in the event that an unlikely but fortuitous mutation occurred that would aid a needed progression, there is no assurance that that individual would pass it on.

    Rather than taking a position of ‘incredulity’, I see the required events as mathematically improbable. I also see morphological features that have aesthetic qualities that offer no selection advantage as non-survivable, and the ‘attracting a mate’ proviso is overblown as a causative factor.

    The formation of RNA, then DNA, then complex cellular constructs, and of course monocelluar to multicellular, the arrival of sexual selection, and many other quandaries point to directed processes at points along the way. I see evolution itself as a designed in process, to minimize extinctions, and possibly to aid in speciation events.

    To summarily reject intervention as an a priori assumption, and thus striving to support an atheist viewpoint, is somewhat faith based as well. Faith, as we all know, is a ‘rational’ conclusion based on very little evidence.

    But why not consider Dawkins and Hitchens’ negations? Many of their args are a rehash of Bertrand Russell, Ann Rynd, and hundreds of others before them. If you count the Internet community of Skeptics, make that ‘thousands’ more. But while arguments against monotheistic religions don’t support atheism, they DO support a rejection of organized religion. Even if inspired, religious texts, dogmas and organizations are via the ‘man filter’, and one that obviously corrupts. Was Moses honest when he told his clan that God said to slaughter tribes, but steal their crops, flocks and young virgins for themselves? Consider his motives. Also, consider that mankind has used not only religions, but countless other means to control populations.

    So sure, reject organized religion, and even its entrenched concepts, but assume an agnostic position regarding intelligence(s) beyond your own, and believe me, there are many.

  5. forknowledge says:

    To summarily reject intervention as an a priori assumption, and thus striving to support an atheist viewpoint, is somewhat faith based as well. Faith, as we all know, is a ‘rational’ conclusion based on very little evidence.

    You’ve lost me here. A priori assumption? ‘Striving to support an atheistic viewpoint?’ I used to think ID proponents were at least good about not misrepresenting what evolution is all about, but apparently not.

    Ignoring what seems like a veiled sleight in your last line (albeit a nonsensical one – take an agnostic stance towards real people who are more intelligent than me? Well…if you insist), I do not see the ‘it’s really unlikely’ argument as compelling reason to assume the intervention of a divine being. There will always be gaps in our knowledge, but ignorance is not reason enough to make such a huge assumption as you’re suggesting.

  6. Lee Bowman says:

    “You’ve lost me here. A priori assumption? ‘Striving to support an atheistic viewpoint?’”

    The determination to assume an atheist viewpoint comes first (in most cases I’ve observed), as a stance that may seem desirable, rather than the more/ most logical. One would then logically cull and disseminate the evidences for that position.

    To be fair, the typical religionist does the same. The agnostic on the other hand, refrains from taking a hard position either way. I see the latter as being the most reasoned position.

    “I used to think ID proponents were at least good about not misrepresenting what evolution is all about, but apparently not.”

    Most ID proponents support evolution, common ancestry with its phylogenetic progressions. In that way, and in others, they diverge from the creationist’s views. The current ID synthesis, you could call it neoID, differs from earlier versions, which were religiously biased.

    If you mean by the above that I have misrepresented what evolution is about, I disagree. It was a thumbnail synopsis, rather than detailed, but the central point is that I agree with scientific data, but may interpret some of it from a teleologic, rather than a naturalistic viewpoint.

    ” Ignoring what seems like a veiled sleight in your last line (albeit a nonsensical one – take an agnostic stance towards real people who are more intelligent than me? Well…if you insist), I do not see the ‘it’s really unlikely’ argument as compelling reason to assume the intervention of a divine being.”

    I did not specify intervention by a divine being. Divine is a nebulous term, and in general connotes (by definition) an omniscient being. Since the evidence is for a gradual formation of life forms, over vast periods, and with multiple extinctions, creation of life by divine fiat, in a short time period, and in present forms, is not supported by the evidence. Again, by definition, ID does not specify a divine being.

    That does not preclude the existence of a higher intelligence, but if existent, with unknown qualities. The omni- pretexts are Biblical, from a pre-science time, and imply ‘infinite’ qualities, an unconfirmable premise. There is evidence of design, but not necessarily by a divine or infinite entity. More likely by surrogate entities.

    What’s your take on my opinion that problems with organized religion, and the evidence for non-corporeal intelligence(s) are separate issues? What are your arguments against the latter?

  7. forknowledge says:

    (It’s late, so this is going to be somewhat short.)

    I don’t see any connection at all between the problems with organized religion and the evidence for ‘non-corporeal intelligences’ (I’m just going to say ‘God’, since I don’t want to type that every time; you can assume I’m talking about any ‘non-corporeal intelligence’.) The two should be entirely separate, something which many atheists don’t seem to get.

    The reason why I don’t believe in God is because I see no reason to; no compelling evidence, no experience that has suggested such a thing exists, and no pressing need to assume such a thing’s existence. That’s about it.

  8. Lee Bowman says:

    That’s fine, and I accept that. Just a note to clarify my NCI descriptor. Not God, but surrogates, spirit entities, or however we may define them. In my case, their existence isn’t theoretical, but empirical.

    Later dude …

  9. forknowledge says:

    Forgive my skepticism, but this ought to be good.

    What empirical evidence is there that such ‘spirit entities’ exist?

  10. leebowman says:

    Your skepticism is understood; it’s what makes us rational, cognizant thinkers. My basis of ‘belief’, if you want to call it that, is based purely on reason, but coupled with empirical tests, where feasible.

    In my early 20’s, while living in the Anaheim CA area, riding bike, playing guitar, and working in Aerospace (Autonetics, mfr. of Minuteman missile guidance system, as well as SINS, Ships Inertial Navigation System for atomic subs), I did some experiments using a mind altering catalyst. Over a span of about a year, I was able to observe ‘the other side’, or a least a corner of it. I could write a 300 page book on the results, but won’t, since I’m not interested in foisting a belief in the spirit world on anyone. It’s probably intended to be a hidden realm, except, perhaps, for those who pursue it empirically, as I did.

    A little over a year ago I came across a Dinesh D’Souza piece regarding the topic of ‘what is consciousness’. Is it purely syanptical activity as the likes of Dan Dennett and others claim, or is it external from the bioform we think is us, i.e. our DNA construct? Based on a year of testing, some of it ‘double blind’, I know from experience that it is the former, rather than the latter. Here’s what I posted (see comment 58).
    http://tinyurl.com/6qzfwt

    Remember now, I’m not selling books, séances, or any other profit making agenda. Nor is it a call to pursue religion. It’s simply something to share with Skeptics.

    I’ve also had a few experiences with sensing something in the room that was unmistakablely a conscious entity of some sort. The first instance was after a parent died. Many have had similar experiences, but most shrug it off as just ‘imagined’, and that’s understandable. Materialistic logic applied.

    But the following experience was unmistakable, and to fit it to a conjectural spirit realm paradigm, makes sense. This happened out of the blue. No prior thought, no preconceived opinion of it being likely, it just happened. I posted this back in 2003 on a piano newsgroup:
    http://tinyurl.com/5nsdoy

    So to conclude, don’t summarily rule out your having a component that survives the physical. Given the size and complexity of the universe, is it logical that this planet, one grain of sand on all the beaches and sand dunes of space/time combined is the only place where life evolved?

    Further, why not allow that bioforms could be vehicles for the true conscious self to inhabit, to add to its experiences. Of all the things possible to partake in the physical (sports, sex, fighting, raising kids, steak dinner), none would be possible in a spirit form. A spirit entity, however, not constrained by a shit load of heavy matter, might be able to travel interstellularly.

    It’s even possible that sprit entities had something to do with the building of bio forms over time, with the intent of using them to add to their experiences. We do the same by building race cars, motorcycles and airplanes. We also get a kick out of ‘overseeing’ our kids and pets.

    If there’s any validity in the above, who are the ones we observe on those rare occasions? Overseers perhaps. Those just ‘passed’, who stick around for awhile to snoop (Matt Dennis). And now the age old question. Is there a ‘supreme’ one overseeing the myriad of those entities, you and I included?

    No comment.

  11. forknowledge says:

    I’m sure you’ve had experiences that were significant to you, but what you’re describing is identical to dozens of other similar stories that I’ve come across. I would like nothing more than to think that some part of my consciousness might one day explore the universe, but a collection of experiences that happened to somebody else – in part while under the influence of drugs – is not reason enough to convince me that this will actually happen.

  12. [...] Evolution and Biblical ‘Kind’ I’ve previously covered the fact that modern Creationists have more or less accepted evolutionary theory, even if they [...]

  13. [...] the magnitude thing; this one sits pretty low on the Creationist Richter Scale. We’ve got the macroevolution fallacy, for a start. (Of course evolution has never been observed on the ‘molecules to man’ [...]

  14. onein6billion says:

    “a complex organ (or system of organs) would almost universally require incremental alterations that would offer no immediate reproductive advantage, and would thus have no reason to become fixed in a population.”

    This creationist argument against evolution is nonsense of course.
    Lee Bowman is supposedly a contributor to UncommonDescent – all critical comments are suppressed at that fountain of nonsense.

    “I’ve also had a few experiences with sensing something in the room that was unmistakably a conscious entity of some sort.”

    Delusional as well as irrational.

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