It is always surprising when a seemingly intelligent person adopts a hopelessly indefensible position. This seems to be the case with Ben Stein’s new anti-evolution movie. It is still possible to argue that some kind of deity must have created the universe. What is not possible is to argue convincingly against the central elements of the theory of evolution: namely how mutation and selection drive change and how all life on earth is descended from a common ancestor. There is simply too much evidence for both claims, and it is too good:
- The fossil record shows overwhelming evidence for a branched tree of life, connecting existing organisms to ancient ones that preceded them.
- Comparative embryology provides good anatomical evidence of both evolution and common descent.
- Concrete examples of evolution on human timescales can be easily found. These include plant domestication, moths that darkened in response to coal soot, and antibiotic resistant bacteria.
- The geographic distribution of species provides evidence for speciation and adaptation to new biological niches.
- Both nucleic and mitochondrial DNA provide excellent evidence for both common descent and evolution through selection.
- Common aspects of biochemistry are demonstrative of both claims: especially those features which are arbitrary yet consistent among living things
I haven’t seen the film, and it probably argues something more sophisticated than “the world is 6,000 years old and every creature that has ever lived is alive now, in the exact form in which it was created.” Even so, it is depressing to see someone commonly associated with intelligence fuelling a false debate centred around ignorance.
There are certainly many incredible mysteries that remain in biology – including many of the details on how evolution functions and has proceeded. Similarly, a questioning attitude is essential to scientific advancement. Those things freely admitted, purporting to challenge things with so many strong and independent collections of evidence supporting them is much more likely to retard the advancement of human knowledge than it is to advance it. This is especially true when a contrived debate runs the risk of forcing sub-standard education on children.