What exactly is natural selection? Is it the same as evolution? Does it really occur? And who came up with the idea? This is an important topic in the origins debate because natural selection is often claimed to be the mechanism by which Darwinian evolution occurs. And yet the scientific evidence shows that natural selection is actually the opposite of evolution. Fortunately, creation scientists have made great strides in educating people on the topic of natural selection. Unfortunately, a few creationists have greatly misunderstood natural selection, and have used faulty arguments to try to convince others of their misunderstanding. It is important that we understand this topic properly, both from a scientific perspective and from a biblical perspective, so that we do not inadvertently promote error.
What is Natural Selection?
To avoid straw-man fallacies, it is always helpful to look up the definitions of key terms so that we do not “talk past each other.” The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines natural selection as “a natural process that results in the survival and reproductive success of individuals or groups best adjusted to their environment and that leads to the perpetuation of genetic qualities best suited to that particular environment.” Other dictionaries and biology textbooks also support this definition. Basically, natural selection is the principle that organisms that have traits well-suited to their environment tend to survive and reproduce in greater numbers than organisms with traits that are not well-suited to their environment. In extreme cases, the organisms that are less suited to their environment are driven to extinction.
For example, imagine a plant that is well-suited to a tropical climate, and another plant that is well-suited to a very cold climate. If seeds from each of these are planted in a tropical climate, the tropical plant will be more likely to survive than the other. Conversely, if seeds from each of these are planted in a cold environment, the plant with traits well-suited to a cold environment will be more likely to survive than the tropical plant. We know from experience that this is true. You can do an experiment yourself to confirm the truth of natural selection. Notice that natural selection in itself has absolutely nothing to do with evolution in the Darwinian sense. In experiments such as the above, neither plant changes in any way. There is no evolution: only survival or extinction.
Natural selection is an analytic truth. An analytic truth is a principle that can be proven to be true by the definitions of the words without having to perform an experiment. For example, consider the claim, “water is wet.” Do we need to do an experiment to test this claim? We could, but it would be unnecessary. We know that the claim must be true because of the definitions. ‘Wet’ is defined as “consisting of, containing, covered with, or soaked with liquid (such as water).” Water, by its very nature consists of liquid, and is therefore wet by definition. Of course, we could do an experiment to verify this. But we already know what the outcome will be. Since the criterion by which we measure “wetness” (consisting of liquid) is the same as the criterion for water (liquid H2O), any experiment must confirm that water is always wet.
Likewise, natural selection can be proven to be true by the definition of the words. Namely, natural selection is the principle that organisms with traits best suited to their environment are more likely to survive and reproduce in greater numbers than those organisms that have traits not suited to their environment. But what constitutes traits that are well-suited to the environment? Obviously, traits that help an organism survive and reproduce in a given environment are traits well-suited to that environment.
So how do we measure whether an organism has suitable traits? We see whether or not it is able to survive and reproduce in greater numbers than its competitors. And natural selection is the claim that those organisms with suitable traits survive and reproduce in greater numbers. We could perform an experiment to see if indeed those organisms with suitable traits multiply in greater numbers than their competitors. But we already know what the outcome of that experiment would be. The criterion by which we measure suitable traits (survival and reproduction in greater numbers) is exactly the same criterion by which we measure survival and reproduction in greater numbers. Therefore, to deny natural selection would be the same as denying that water is wet. It would be absurd.
The Opposite of Evolution
Those who understand natural selection recognize that it cannot drive evolution and in fact is the opposite of Darwinian evolution. According to Darwinism, all life on earth is descended from a single-celled microbe. As this microbe reproduced, errors in the genetic code gave rise to different versions, which gave rise to further differences, eventually resulting in the wide variety of organisms we observe today. The genetic instructions humans have to produce eyes, bones, skin, and so on are not present in microbes such as bacteria which is why bacteria cannot produce such traits. So, evolution requires (among other things) a vast increase in the genetic information if single-celled microbes are ever to give rise to plants, animals, and people. Evolution requires a vast increase in genetic information.
But natural selection by itself can only involve a decrease in genetic information. Consider those two plants mentioned above: one with traits suited for a cold climate and the other with traits suited for a warm climate. The reason plants have such traits is because they have genetic information in their DNA to produce such traits. So, when the two plants are placed in a cold climate, the plant with genes (and hence traits) for a tropical environment dies and therefore cannot pass on its genes. In that environment, the genes for traits suitable to a tropical climate are eliminated, and hence that genetic information is lost. The other plant has no more genetic information than it had to begin with.
Conversely, if we take the two plants and put them in a tropical environment, the plant with traits suitable for the cold will not compete well against the native tropical plants and will likely die. In that event, it cannot pass on its genes, and the genetic information is again reduced. This is a great example of natural selection because in each case the plants with traits suitable to their environment survived, and those plants with unsuitable traits perished. But this cannot be evolution in the Darwinian sense because no new genetic information was acquired. On the contrary, substantial genetic information was lost. Natural selection is the opposite of Darwinian evolution in principle. It cannot possibly drive evolution anymore than you can make money by constantly losing it.
How do evolutionists explain the vast quantity of information in the genes of humans, plants, and animals, if all these are descended from microbes? The answer is mutations. A mutation is a mistake in the genome. It can occur as the genome is being copied when cells replicate. This causes a damaged gene to manifest in the offspring. And since genes control traits, the offspring can suffer a damaged trait due to mutations. Clearly, the vast majority of mutations are harmful (or neutral at best) because they randomly scramble the genetic instructions that control trait production and maintenance. But might a mutation occasionally result in an error that actually results in an improved trait?
This is where natural selection comes in. Modern evolutionists believe that, while most mutations are not helpful, natural selection will tend to eliminate harmful ones since they often result in traits that are not conducive to survival. The rare helpful mutations will likely be preserved in the given environment since they help the organism survive. Hence, natural selection is said to “guide” evolution.
It sounds reasonable until you stop and think about it. There are many obstacles that would prevent mutations from ever turning one kind of organism into a fundamentally different kind. For one, we have never observed mutations adding copious amounts of brand-new information to the genetic code – and yet this is exactly what evolution needs to proceed. But the point here is that mutations – not natural selection – are supposed to be responsible for the variety of genetic instructions we find in the modern world. Natural selection cannot produce any new traits at all. It merely refers to the differential reproduction of organisms that already have the given traits. Hence, it is opposite in principle to Darwinian evolution.
Biblical Examples of Natural Selection
The Bible contains a number of examples of natural selection. We won’t find the phrase ‘natural selection’ in the text of Scripture because the Bible was translated into English centuries before the term ‘natural selection’ was coined. But the concept is definitely found in Scripture. That is, there are many examples in Scripture where an organism with traits well-suited to its environment survives while an organism with traits unsuitable to that same environment perishes.
Consider the global flood as described in Genesis 6-8. According to Scripture God brought two of every air breathing land animal (and seven of some) aboard the ark to preserve life (Genesis 6:19-20, 7:2-3). All air-breathing land animals outside the ark perished during the flood (Genesis 6:17, 7:21-23). Why did the land animals outside the ark perish during the flood, while the land animals aboard the ark survived? If you understand natural selection, you know the answer. Land animals are not well-suited to an aquatic environment and hence perished in the water. But land animals survived on board Noah’s ark because they were well-suited to that environment.
Likewise, why did God refrain from bringing whales, fish, and other aquatic creatures aboard the ark? If you understand natural selection, the answer is obvious. Aquatic animals are well-suited to the watery conditions of the flood, and are not well-suited to the terrestrial conditions aboard Noah’s ark. The animals that perished during the flood did so because they were not well-suited to the environment in which they existed. Those that survived were well-suited to their conditions. Hence, they were able to reproduce in greater numbers than those that perished. This is the dictionary definition of natural selection.
Jesus Himself gave another example of natural selection in one of His parables found in Luke 8:5-8, Matthew 13:3-8, and Mark 4:3-8. Two types of plants are mentioned in this parable: the plant that the person was sowing and thorns. Four different environments are mentioned: beside the road, rocky soil, ground with thorns, and ground with good soil. According to natural selection, plants well-suited to their environment survive and multiply in greater numbers than those with traits not well-suited to their environment. Is this what we find in the parable?
The seeds planted along the road perish; they are trampled on and eaten by birds (Luke 8:5). These plants are not designed for such an environment and therefore perish. The seeds that fell on rocky soil were unable to obtain sufficient moisture, and perished (Luke 8:6). These were not desert plants and were not suited to a low-moisture environment. The seeds that fell among thorns were choked out by the thorns (Luke 8:7). In this instance, the thorns were better suited to that environment than these other plants, and hence the thorns survived while the other plants perished. Finally, the seeds that fell in good soil grew and multiplied (Luke 8:8). These plants were well-suited to the soil, and multiplied in greater numbers.
Note that Jesus here is not attempting to prove the principle of natural selection. He was speaking to people in an agrarian society and they understood that certain plants thrive only in certain environments. Rather, Jesus is using the principle of natural selection to explain a Kingdom principle. Jesus assumes that natural selection is true, and then uses this principle to explain how the Gospel will thrive only in certain spiritual environments. This is one of the few parables where Jesus explicitly explains what it means (Luke 8:11-15), so there can be no doubt. Hence, if natural selection were not true, then Christ’s reasoning here would be fallacious.
Given that the Bible contains examples of natural selection, we can see why a secularist might be inclined to deny this principle. After all, our observations of natural selection confirm that the Bible is true. And natural selection is the opposite of evolution in terms of genetic information.
Conversely, Christians should embrace what the Bible teaches, including its examples of organisms surviving in environments for which they are well-suited and reproducing in greater numbers than those that perish in environments for which they are not well-suited – the definition of natural selection. But amazingly, the primary opposition to this biblical concept comes not from atheists, but from a very few (but very vocal) professing Christians. Why? Why would a Christian deny that which is taught in the Bible and confirmed through logic and science?
One reason might be the ingenious way in which Charles Darwin attempted to persuade people of his version of evolution. Darwin did not invent the idea of evolution, nor of natural selection. Rather, he attempted to link the two together. Basically, Darwin attempted to convince people that natural selection was part of the mechanism of evolution – that it could guide the process. He tried to get people to think that natural selection inevitably leads to evolution. That way, when he showed them evidence of natural selection (which is easily observed), they would believe in evolution too. It is a clever trap: to persuade someone of something that is false by linking it to something that is true.
Darwin’s trap worked. Many people were fooled into believing in evolution by falsely thinking that it was the same thing as (or at least a logical consequence of) natural selection. But as we have seen above, they are opposites. This is the same technique that modern evolutionists use with dinosaurs. Dinosaurs are linked with evolution – always taught from an evolutionary point of view. Hence, if you can show people the obvious evidence that dinosaurs existed, then they will tend to assume that evolution is true.
Many believers and non-believers have been fooled by these kinds of traps. But there is another way in which some Christians are duped by Darwin’s trap. These believers rightly reject Darwinian evolution, but since they have uncritically accepted Darwin’s linking of natural selection to evolution, they then reject natural selection too! They are afraid that if they accept natural selection, it might lead to evolution. It is really the same phenomenon as those Christians who reject evolution, who have uncritically accepted the evolutionist’s interpretation of dinosaurs or astronomy, and who therefore reject the existence of dinosaurs, or deny a round earth.
These reactions are pendulum swings, and not a carefully reasoned response. And frankly, evolutionists are just as pleased if they can get a Christian to reject the existence of dinosaurs or natural selection. This makes it far easier for them to mock Christians as being unthinking buffoons who reject observable evidence. After all, dinosaur fossils are quite real. And it is easy to observe that some organisms reproduce in greater numbers than others in a given environment. The rejection of observable facts by a small but vocal minority of Christians makes all Christians look foolish, and makes it much more difficult to spread the Gospel. Those of us who care about the Gospel must stand against these errors.
Since the denial of natural selection is not the result of careful thinking, you will find that the arguments coming from natural-selection-deniers are very, very bad. They are on the same level of absurdity as those arguments against a round earth or against the existence of dinosaurs. Fortunately, the most reputable creationist organizations have published scholarly refutations of these bad arguments. Such organizations include Answers in Genesis, Creation Ministries International, and the Biblical Science Institute. You can read the Answers in Genesis refutations here, and here, the CMI refutation here, and the Biblical Science Institute refutation here, with a follow-up here.
Unfortunately, the deniers of natural selection have ignored such refutations and continue to promote the same bad arguments. Sound familiar? This is exactly what many evolutionists do. You can show them the fallacies in their arguments, their factual errors, where their claims contradict the Bible, and they will simply continue to make the same disproven claims. Let’s examine some of the arguments that have been put forth by those professing Christians who deny the biblically and scientifically provable principle of natural selection.
What’s in a Name?
One argument that has been put forward against the existence of natural selection is that the term is not well-defined, that there is “no consensus definition of natural selection.” Apparently, the person making this claim never actually bothered to check – never opened a dictionary or a biology textbook. In fact, if you consult literally any dictionary or biology textbook, you will find that they all give the same definition of natural selection. The exact wording will differ of course because different people can express the same idea using different words. But the meaning is the same. You will find that any dictionary gives the same basic definition of ‘natural selection’ as the Merriam-Webster definition I listed above. So, when we actually bother to check, we find that clearly there is indeed a consensus definition.
How would a natural-selection-denier try to get around this? I suppose he or she could claim that all the dictionaries and biology textbooks in the world are wrong. This is the same kind of conspiracy-theory type thinking exhibited by the flat-earthers. Just think of how many people would have to be in on the conspiracy to give a false definition for every dictionary and biology textbook in the world!
A dictionary is really a history book. It records the recent history (and sometimes a more in-depth etymology) of how people have used words. While an individual dictionary might have an error, to claim that all dictionaries are wrong is to declare all history books are wrong. But how could anyone know this? Suppose someone claimed that the American Civil War never happened – that all the history books are wrong. How could a person support such a claim? The only way we definitively know about history is to consult history books. To claim that all history books are wrong really just indicates that the person making the claim doesn’t know history. Likewise, to claim that all the dictionaries are wrong is really to indicate that the person making the claim does not understand the meaning of the word.
The meaning of a word is conventional. That is, the meaning of a word is determined by common usage. Dictionaries simply record the way people commonly use words. Thus, to insist that all the dictionaries are wrong is basically to say “I refuse to use words the same way as other people.” If followed consistently, this attitude would make communication impossible, because communication requires that the speaker and listener are both using the same definitions of words.
Interestingly, although natural-selection-deniers claim that ‘natural selection’ is not well-defined, they then go on to argue that it must not exist; that natural “‘selection’ is not really real.” But if the term were not well-defined, then how could anyone make any claims about its referent at all? How can you make any claims about something if you don’t know what the word means? And even more amazingly, the natural-selection-deniers never produce their own definition of what they think the term ‘natural selection’ means. They then go on to argue about something that they apparently have no idea what it is. How is that even remotely rational? How can you make any rational claims whatsoever about something if you don’t know what it is?
I have to believe that natural-selection-deniers don’t accept the standard definition of natural selection, and that they have some other meaning in their mind. This is the only way I can make sense of their rejection of an analytic truth. But since they never specify what they mean when they use the term, meaningful dialogue with them is not possible. A rational conversation requires that all parties use the established definitions of words, or at least explain any deviation from the standard definition. And biblically, we are not supposed to argue by distorting the meaning of words. 2 Timothy 2:14 states, “Keep reminding them of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.” (NIV84)
Definition vs. Effects
A related error concerns claims about what natural selection does. Evolutionists claim that natural selection guides the evolution of one kind of organism into another. They claim that mutations accumulate as organisms multiply and that natural selection weeds out those that are not suited to the environment, eventually allowing one kind of organism to evolve into another. Although informed creationists would agree that mutations occur and that natural selection weeds out some of them, we deny that this process could ever result in one kind of organism becoming another.
But since evolutionists claim that natural selection can lead to something that we deny (particles-to-people evolution), some natural-selection-deniers assert that they must be using a different definition of natural selection. But this doesn’t follow logically. Consider a parallel situation:
Secular astronomers believe that gravity can cause a nebula (a vast cloud of hydrogen and helium gas) to become a star. I am very skeptical that gravity can do this because the outward force of gas pressure is normally far greater than the meager inward pull of gravity in a nebula. So secular astronomers believe that gravity can do something that I don’t believe it can do. But does this mean that they are using a different definition of gravity?
Clearly not. We both define gravity as a fundamental attractive force between masses. We use exactly the same definition. But we disagree on what gravity can do – what it can accomplish over time. Similarly, evolutionists believe that unaided chemicals can form living cells, and that this happened billions of years ago. I disagree. But is that because I am using a different definition of “chemicals?” No. We simply disagree on what chemicals can do over time. Likewise, informed scientists are all using the same definition of ‘natural selection.’ The disagreement is about what natural selection can lead to over time.
Who is the Selector?
Another argument against the reality of natural selection is that the term is not descriptive. For example, “Do the words ‘natural’ and ‘selection’ in any verifiable way accurately describe observable interactions between an organism and its environment?” Presumably we are supposed to answer, “no” and then conclude, “hence, natural selection isn’t real.” But how would that make any sense whatsoever?
Most terms do not describe their referent. Consider the term “blue.” Does the word “blue” in any verifiable way describe the color? Of course not. It’s just a name. Can we therefore conclude that “blue” does not exist? In what way does the word “tree” describe the object we call a tree? Well, it doesn’t. Can we therefore conclude that trees “are not really real?” Even certain phrases do not necessarily describe what they represent. A black hole is not actually a hole in any way. Should we therefore conclude that black holes do not exist? It is fundamentally irrational to reject the existence of something on the basis that its term is not descriptive.
Imagine that someone argued “Given that [a ‘black hole’] really is an inaccurate and false term, and since it is only a deceptive figure of speech, wouldn’t it be wise to point these facts out? [Black holes] are not really real.” Wouldn’t that be a ridiculous argument? To reject the existence of something because you don’t like the name that humans assigned to it is quite silly. Yet, this very argument was put forward by a natural-selection-denier, and even appears in a creationist publication! Friends, we need to be far more discerning about such things. When advocates of Christianity use such fallacious arguments, it makes us all look foolish and hinders the advancement of the Gospel.
One claim is that if natural selection is real, then “show me the selector!” Well, at best, that’s like saying “if black holes are real, then show me the hole!” There is no actual hole in a black hole; yet they do exist. But the really odd thing about this argument is that it was made by someone who professes to be a Christian. I can understand why an atheist might say “show me the selector” because they claim there isn’t one. But as Christians, we have a selector: God. The Lord God upholds all creation by the Word of His power (Hebrews 1:3), sovereignly controlling history (Isaiah 46:9-10). God normally selects animals for survival and reproduction in greater numbers if they have traits well-suited to their environment. And since this is the normal / natural way that God selects (as opposed to a supernatural/unusual/miraculous way), it makes perfect sense to call this “natural selection.” If someone says to you “show me the selector” simply respond as follows: “His name is Jesus. I would love to tell you about Him!”
It is the atheist who should object to the supposedly non-descriptive nature of the term, not the Christian. But then again, many professing Christians are secular in their thinking. And we will find that this is a common feature among deniers of natural selection. They tend to think of God in human terms, as if God had the same engineering limitations as man. We will explore this in the next article.
Another argument that deniers use is to claim that natural selection was Darwin’s idea and hence must be false. There are two rather obvious problems with this argument. Students of logic will immediately recognize that the argument commits the genetic fallacy. This is the error of rejecting a claim on the basis of its source, rather than evaluating it on its merit. For example, the discoverers of DNA were professing atheists. Now, should we reject the existence of DNA merely on the basis of the faulty worldview of Watson and Crick? That would be absurd. Though they were professed atheists, their discovery was perfectly legitimate.
The second problem with the argument is that the premise is false. Natural selection was not invented by Charles Darwin. We have already seen that the concept is found in Scripture, and therefore predates Darwin by millennia. Furthermore, a scholarly treatment of the concept of natural selection was written by Edward Blyth in 1835 – and he was a creationist.
Indeed, when we examine Blyth’s writings from 1835-1837 we see all of the elements of natural selection, decades before the publication of Darwin’s “Origin of Species” and all from a creationist perspective. For example, Blyth recognized that species had the capacity to diversify such that offspring are not identical to the parents. Yet, those individuals with traits best suited to their environment (which Blyth calls the “most typical and perfect individuals”) were most likely to survive and reproduce in greater numbers. He states the following:
“There would almost seem, in some species, to be a tendency, in every separate family, to some particular kind of deviation; which is only counteracted by the various crossings which, in a state of nature, must take place, and by the above-mentioned law, which causes each race to be chiefly propagated by the most typical and perfect individuals.” (Blyth, 1835)
But does natural selection drive kinds of animals to constantly evolve? No. Blyth saw it as a conservative principle, one that would tend to preserve animals and disallow extreme deviations. He states, “The original form of a species is unquestionably better adapted to its natural habits than any modification of that form; …and the stronger must always prevail over the weaker, the latter, in a state of nature, is allowed but few opportunities of continuing its race. (Blyth 1835, italics in the original)
Blyth then gives a specific example:
“In a large herd of cattle, the strongest bull drives from him all the younger and weaker individuals of his own sex, and remains sole master of the herd; so that all the young which are produced must have had their origin from one which possessed the maximum of power and physical strength; and which, consequently, in the struggle for existence, was the best able to maintain his ground, and defend himself from every enemy.” (Blyth 1835)
Blyth saw the principle of natural selection as an act of Divine Providence that maintained life by preserving the typical traits which are best suited to the environment. And he recognized that this principle could be harnessed by man (via artificial selection) to produce different varieties. He states:
“In like manner, among animals which procure their food by means of their agility, strength, or delicacy of sense, the one best organized must always obtain the greatest quantity; and must, therefore, become physically the strongest, and be thus enabled, by routing its opponents, to transmit its superior qualities to a greater number of offspring. The same law which was intended by Providence to keep up the typical qualities of a species, can be easily converted by man into a means of raising different varieties” (Blyth 1835 underline added).
Blyth recognized that the variations in organisms most likely to be preserved would depend on the environment – the particular localities. This is an important aspect of natural selection. But since he saw it as a conservative principle rather than an evolutionary one, Blyth absolutely denied that natural selection could drive evolution because he believed (and rightly so) that variation had natural limits. He states that organisms may change,
“but still retaining, to the very ultimate limits, certain fixed and constant distinctive characters, by which the true affinities of species may be always known; the modifications of each successive type being always in direct relation to particular localities, or to peculiar modes of procuring sustenance; in short, to the particular circumstances under which a species was appointed to exist in the locality which it indigenously inhabits.” (Blyth 1836 B)
It is clear from these writings that Edward Blyth was a creationist who affirmed God as the Creator. He refers to God as the awesome “Being who first awakened man into existence, in common with the meanest atom, who appointed his destiny upon earth to be so diverse from that of his other creatures, who endowed him alone with a capacity to reflect upon his Maker’s goodness and power” (Blyth 1836 A).
Clearly, the concept of natural selection was not Darwin’s idea. The principles were articulated by a creationist; this was decades earlier and without any connection to evolution. Those who claim that natural selection is Darwin’s idea simply do not know history. Perhaps they think it is easier to villainize natural selection if they present it as Darwin’s idea; but that approach is simply dishonest. Hence, if you hear someone using a phrase such as “Darwinian natural selection,” this is a clear indication that the individual does not know what he or she is talking about.
Selection Exists and it Doesn’t Exist?
The same author that wrote “selection isn’t really real” because there is no conscious selector (in his view) goes on to discuss how selection does occur. He states, “One fascinating aspect of innate self-adjusting mechanisms appears to be a programmed ‘strategy’ for adaptation that corresponds in function to programs that human engineers produce. This aspect could be described as immanent selection. Immanent refers to something inherently within—i.e., built in. So, immanent selection is a type of internal selection.” In the same article the author then derides ‘selection,’ saying, “Since engineering causality exposes the mysticism of belief in ‘selection events’ or “nature exercises agency,” it reveals what doesn’t happen.” He just can’t seem to make up his mind as to whether selection exists or does not exist, even within the same article.
In some places the argument against natural selection seems to be that there is no conscious selector. We have already seen that this is false because God is the conscious selector. But perhaps the person thinks that selection is okay if it is internal, since the organism can consciously select its own adaptations. But of course, most organisms on earth are not capable of conscious selection because they have no mind. Consider plants or microbes, which adapt to their environment. Are they thinking over the various options and then consciously selecting the best? Clearly not. Frankly, most adaptations in conscious creatures are not a result of the creature’s conscious deliberation. A person doesn’t choose to become tan to avoid sunburn; it happens automatically as a result of his or her internal design under exposure to sunlight. To be clear, I am not opposed to the use of the word ‘selection’ for non-thinking entities. But it is illogical to claim that natural selection cannot occur because there is no conscious mind and also claim that “immanent selection” can occur even when there is no conscious mind.
So, apparently selection isn’t real, and it is real. Contradictory thinking is a staple of the natural-selection-denier. We will see many other examples of this going forward.
The straw-man fallacy is an unethical (but often effective) form of argumentation. This occurs when a person misrepresents the position of his or her opponent, and then proceeds to show how silly this (misrepresented) position is. Here is an example of a misrepresentation of natural selection:
“Darwin dubbed his process ‘natural selection.’ The soul of selectionism is the affirmation that the environment exercises agency through volitional selective powers. But although nature is full of living things, nature itself is not alive. It possesses nothing equivalent to a volitional brain that would allow a legitimate application of the word ‘selection’ to it…. Organisms are seen as modeling clay passively driven through time while slowly being crafted by the whims of nature as the environment exercises selective and absolute volitional agency.” (underline added)
We see here the aforementioned false claim of attributing the process of natural selection to Darwin, making it easier to villainize this biblical principle. Furthermore, we see the assertion that natural selection ascribes “volitional” powers to the environment. Volition involves making a conscious choice or decision. Then the critic points out how silly it is to ascribe volition to the environment. But does any biologist actually do this? People who understand natural selection do not assert that the environment literally has any conscious volition. Of course, God, who sovereignly controls the environment, has volition. The straw-man fallacy may be effective in winning people over. But is it honest or ethical to misrepresent one’s opponent in this way?
In another example, the same denier of natural selection states that Darwin “envisioned nature exercising agency over organisms through a projected volitional ability to ‘select’ or ‘favor’ some.” Did Darwin really believe that nature had volitional agency? Actually, Darwin specifically stated that he did not. He wrote, “The term ‘natural selection’ is in some respects a bad one, as it seems to imply conscious choice; but this will be disregarded after a little familiarity” (Darwin 1868, underline added). Darwin makes clear that any personification of nature in his writings was non-literal. He says, “I have, also, often personified the word Nature; for I have found it difficult to avoid this ambiguity; but I mean by nature only the aggregate action and product of many natural laws,—and by laws only the ascertained sequence of events” (Darwin 1868). Why did the natural-selection-denier so egregiously misrepresent Darwin’s position?
Clearly Darwin did not believe what the natural-selection-denier ascribes to him – that nature has volitional power. I’m very much against Darwin’s claims of evolution. But unlike the individual making the above statements, I believe that we should correctly represent the position of our opponents, and then refute that position rather than resort to a dishonest straw-man.
This same natural-selection-denier also misrepresents scientists who accept the biblical concept of natural selection. In discussing physiological adaptation that is possibly epigenetically passed on, he states, “First, this type of adaptation conflicts with the scenario of adaptation embraced by both atheistic and theistic selectionists.” That claim is demonstrably false. In fact, informed creationists and evolutionists accept that physiological adaptation occurs and are well-aware that some epigenetic changes are heritable (to be discussed later). However, these are in no way contrary to natural selection. The natural-selection-denier has blatantly misrepresented the standard position.
It is a pity these errors were not corrected by peer-review, and are published in creationist literature. It may give unbelievers the impression that creationists are either woefully ignorant, or dishonest.
More to Come
So far, we have seen that natural selection is (1) a biblical principle, (2) an analytic truth, (3) scientifically observable, and (4) a creationist concept. We have seen that some Christians have been duped by Darwin’s trap – his linking of the truth of natural selection to the false idea of evolution. Perhaps they think they are helping the creationist cause by denying the principle of natural selection, while failing to realize that natural selection is a creationist principle and the opposite of evolution since it reduces genetic information. Hence, the denial of natural selection represents a pendulum swing, a knee-jerk reaction rather than a thoughtful analysis. Consequently, the arguments against natural selection do not stand up to rational scrutiny.
In particular, natural-selection-deniers commit the genetic fallacy in rejecting natural selection because they think it was Darwin’s idea – which isn’t even true. We have seen the concept of natural selection is clearly expressed in the creationist writings of Blyth, and examples are provided in Scripture. Many of the bad arguments asserted by the deniers involve fallacious use of terminology. They confuse what natural selection is with what natural selection is claimed to accomplish. This error is along the lines of the following argument: “Evolutionists claim that non-living chemicals can randomly produce life. But chemicals can’t do this. Therefore, chemicals are not real.” Similarly, we have seen some rather silly arguments that fallaciously assume that a term must describe its referent. These are along the lines of “Tomboys are not actually ‘Toms’ nor are they ‘boys’, therefore tomboys do not exist.” None of the arguments expressed by natural-selection-deniers are even remotely rational.
It is important that we understand the concept of natural selection and the extremely silly arguments that have been waged against it so that (1) we do not repeat these errors and (2) we can gently correct those who have been fooled by these arguments. We have so far covered only a small portion of these bad arguments. Many of the errors promoted by natural-selection-deniers involve misunderstandings of biological adaptation. We will cover these errors in the next article. It is crucial that we defend creation in a truthful and rational fashion – in a way that is faithful to the Bible. This is necessary if we are to promote and defend the Gospel. More in the next article.
Blyth, Edward, “An Attempt to Classify the ‘Varieties’ of Animals with Observations on the Marked Seasonal and Other Changes Which Naturally Take Place in Various British Species, and Which Do Not Constitute Varieties” The Magazine of Natural History Vol. 8, No. 1. January, 1835. pp.40-53.
Blyth, Edward, “Observations on the Various Seasonal and Other External Changes Which Regularly Take Place in Birds”, The Magazine of Natural History Vol. 9. 1836 A.
Blyth, Edward, “Seasonal and Other Changes in Birds – Part 2”, The Magazine of Natural History Vol. 9. 1836 B.
Darwin, Charles, The Variation of Animals and Plants
Under Domestication, London, First edition, Volume I. 1868.
 There is one other possibility. Rather than being based on ignorance of history, the claim that natural selection is a Darwinian concept may be intentional deception. I have seen some evolutionists use the phrase in this way.