Study Resources for Evolution

On this page, we will offer some recommendations of books that are useful for the reader in researching evolution and intelligent design. We refer the reader to Creation Ministries International for more resource recommendations.

Michael Behe, Darwin's Black Box

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The idea that all life on earth developed gradually (evolved) over millions of years from a few common ancestors was not a novel thesis when Charles Darwin began his research in 1836. From those studies, he postulated several related theories to explain the diversity as well as commonality of life: evolution did occur; evolutionary change was gradual process that required thousands to millions of years; the primary mechanism for evolution was a process called natural selection; and, the myriad of species alive today arose from a single, original life form via a branching process called "specialization."

Those theories, and his research that culminated in them, were presented in his On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Today, his tome is normally referred to by its shortened title, "The Origin of the Species," within which he wrote:

If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.

Thus, he presents a "black box" to allow for the falsification of his theories. In science, a black box is a machine or system that functions, but it's workings are completely mysterious. Such mystery may be due to the inability of the observer to see inside it or simply result from the ability to comprehend it. For Darwin and his 19th century contemporaries the cell was a black box. The cell was simply too small in the absence of essential tools to thoroughly investigate it (microscopes of that time were still very crude) Thus, many scientists of that day thought of the cell in simplistic terms, like microscopic jelly. Since that time, science has demonstrated that the cell is an extremely complex system of biochemical pathways and machines.

Within the scientific community, any debate over the macroevolutionary model has generally been confined to the details of the model. As such, strong challenges to the mechanism of evolution have been scarce. However, that is precisely the challenge that Michael Behe has accepted.

Dr. Behe, an associate professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University, makes two points in Darwin's Black Box: first, that science is unable to explain the phenomena of “irreducably complex” systems at the biochemical level of biological organization; second, he concludes from inductive logical arguments that such systems are best explained as the result of deliberate intelligent design. From a scientific perspective, Behe presents a composite theory that cannont be falsified--an airtight theory that cannot be proven wrong--around which his critics will undoubtedly rally.

Macroevolution, as Dr. Behe points out, seems to be a very logical theory when the anatomical simalarities between species are examined. He writes that “I find the idea of common descent...fairly convincing, and have no particular reason to doubt it.” [5] However, he argues that Darwin's mechanistic model to also describe sub-cellular evolution collapses under the weight of 20th century scientific knowledge: “Each of the anatomical steps and structures that Darwin thought were so simple actually involve staggeringly complicated biochemical processes.” [22] Moreover, Behe also addresses what may be referred to as a Neo-Darwinian model--a synthesis of the interdisciplinary findings of molecular genetics, embryology, biogeography, paleontology, and anatomy that postualte explaining the diversity of life as resulting from the survival of hereditary variations that arise, by chance, at the chemical level of biological organization: genes. Despite the interdisciplinary assimilation of ideas, Neo-Darwinists have virtually no evidence to support their conclusions. As such, in the absence of testable evidence Behe asserts that “molecular evolution is not based on scientific authority” [185].

It is important to note for the Christian reader that Behe does not argue against biological evolution, but only the presuppositions of Darwinism that life began naturally: “Darwin's mechanism [natural selection]...might explain many things, [but not] molecular life.”

Behe's answer to Darwin's “numerous, successive, slight modifications” is: any system that is irreducibly complex. The concept of irreducible complexity: a single system of interacting parts that cease to function when any one part is removed, is the crux of Behe's thesis. He does a masterful job in five chapters of very lively prose combined with vivid illustrations describing different types of irreducible complexity:

  • “mousetrap systems;” i.e., those intact systems that consist of interdependent parts that must be assembled all at once. Using the example of hair-like cilium that function like an oar and require an interplay of more than 200 different proteins
  • “recognition systems” such as vesicular protein transport that depend on delicate recognition signals; for example, certain molecules that act as transport vessels that must recognize the correct “pick-up” and “drop-off” zones within the cell.
  • "sequential systems” aiken to a Rube Goldberg apparatus typified by the blood-clotting mechanism that is the result of numerous, sequential and exquisitely timed series of catalytic reactions.
He also describes other biochemical mechanisms such as vision, bacterial flagellum, ion channels within the plasma membranes of cells, DNA replication, and the immune system. And he presents statistical examples in lay language that allow the reader to understand the complexity of molecular systems. For example, he asks what the chances are of the anticlotting enzyme TPA (Tissue Plasminogen Activator) evolving naturally by "various shuffling.” Then he points out the staggering odds of getting TPA's four domains together via randomness as being 1x1018. Using the Irish Sweepstakes as a bridge to understanding that probabilty, he demonstrates that if the odds of winning were identical, and if one million people played that lottery each year, it would take an average of approximately one thousand billion years before anyone, not just a particular person, won the lottery. [DBB.MB, p. 94 (italics Behe's)]

Dr. Behe does a masterful job presenting his thesis of irreducibly complex systems that cannot be explained with a Darwinian model. Further, he rejects Gould's punctuated equillibrium, Dawkins' blind watchmaker, Kauffman's complexity theory, Margulis' symbiosis, and Crick's extra-terrestrial seeding to account for his thesis. Since the scientific method is concerned only with investigating and explaining the phenomenon of the natural universe, there is an underlying priori philosophical committment to materialism with the scientific community. It is here that Behe departs from his colleagues and the scientific method to present (not very cogently in this writers opinion) a teleological or intelligent design argument.

The classic Christian teleological argument may be formulated as:

  1. The universe manifests evidence of design.
  2. All design demands a designer (which entails x,y, & z characteristics).
  3. Therefore, the universe must have a designer.
  4. This designer is the God of the Bible.
A difficulty one encounters with the teleological argument is the effort required to frame it as an inescapable deductive proof of theism. However, it would be much more effective to frame this argument as an inductive argument that points to the presence of a designer as one of the more likely explanations for apparent design. This is just what Behe makes an effort at in the last quarter of Darwin's Black Box.

Dr. Behe identifies himself as a theist (Roman Catholic), but he notes that he is not a creationist. He doesn't have any a priori theological objections for life beginning by a completely natural process. Such a position is not contradictory to Catholic teaching, but will leave many traditional Bible believing evangelicals questioning to the strength of his argument for design. Yet he does in fact play a major role in the emerging "intelligent design movement” that offers theists alternatives to the "Young-Earth" creationist model postulated by the Institute for Creation Research. Indeed, Dr. Behe was a major speaker at Bioloa University's November 1996 "Mere Creation: Reclaiming the Book of Nature Conference on Design and Origins."

Behe is very careful to limit his own discussion to the data itself. With such a tight focus on scientific data he must treat philosophical and historical issues gingerly. Thus, he denies that from design one can infer the existence of the Christian God and so departs from the classic teleological argument. In his words, "inferences to design do not require that we have a candidate for the role of designer." He offers only that a design candidate may be selected based on theological or philosophical grounds, but not on a scientific basis.

On the surface, such statements can leave the bible believing Christain shaking their heads in confusion: "Does he believe in the God of the Bible as the designer or nor?" But, to this reviewer, Behe has embarked on a path of revealing crucial scientific information that is not widely reported becuase it does not fit the materialistic presuppositions of his peers. In a sense Behe is advocating a pardigm shift in science that is perhaps best described by echoing the thoughts of Phillip E. Johnson (Darwin on Trial, Reason in the Balance); i.e., one that separates the philosophies of materialistism and naturalism from empirical science...a science that considers only its data, but is careful to consider alternative explanations as that is not ruled by philosophical or theistic agendas...a science that does not allow its investigators to believe what they want to believe; in short, scientists that do not attempt to fool themselves and the public. In that vein Behe has blazed a well marked trail.

In conclusion, this book is recommended as very enlightening reading for Christians who are curious about the facts of cutting-edge biological inquiry at the sub-cellular level. Behe's prose and ability to communicate complex technical concepts and knowledge are excellent.

-J. W. Moore

Lee Spetner, Not by Chance

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The mainstream scientific community proclaims that evolution is a fact, as well established as the fact that the earth goes round the sun. Dissenters from the orthodoxy are presented by the media as extreme religious fanatics who reject Darwinism solely on the basis of emotional appeals to the Bible. Some evolutionary scientists appear to be sympathetic toward religion, even if they themselves are not theists, and assert that evolution and religion are compatible. They claim that science and religion are different, deal with different questions, and should not encroach on each other's territory. Creationists are seen as attacking science itself, their irrational objections to evolution all the more unintelligible in light of the fact that evolution and religion are compatible anyway.

The effect has been to protect the theory of evolution from scrutiny. The arguments of those who find fault with evolution are dismissed as "religion" and for those who might be doubtful, the "both are compatible" strategy convinces many that a critical examination of the evidence is not necessary. However, one does not need to follow the creation/evolution controversy for long to notice that those very same evolutionists who claim that evolution and religion are compatible maintain that the idea of God's existence is itself a product of evolution. And if, as Steven Jay Gould has written, science deals with factual reality while religion struggles with morality, why do evolutionary scientists claim authority on a whole host of moral issues, such as abortion, infanticide and rape? And if God isn't factually real, then what basis is there for religion?

Often Darwinism is communicated to the public in such a vague way that one might get the impression that evolutionists actually find it plausible that God created the world through evolution. On closer examination, and from the example of outspoken atheists like Richard Dawkins, it becomes clear that Darwinism proposes that God had nothing to do with creating at all. Many Christians seem to think that the theory of evolution teaches that the Genesis account of creation is a myth, and stops there. They have devised all kinds of techniques of getting round this, and there is no end of interpretations of Genesis that have been suggested. However, the theory really teaches that the whole concept of creation is a myth, and this is where Darwinism's power lies.

Unbeknownst to the general public, while the scientific community declares that evolution is a fact, evolutionists within that community do hold differing opinions. For instance, some look at the fossil record and explain the lack of transitional forms by declaring the record to be hopelessly incomplete, consisting of mere snapshots from enormously long stretches of time. This was Darwin's approach. Others declare that a lack of transitional forms is to be expected, that it would even be predicted by evolution rightly understood. However, all agree that the variation required for evolution to occur is random and many use the theory to justify atheism. Often evolutionists will say that evolution is not really a random process because natural selection preserves the fittest organisms. However, this is a fudge. The variation is supposed to be random; therefore it is essentially a random process.

In fact, this randomness is of great importance because it is precisely this element of the two-fold mechanism which is used to support and justify atheism. A God-guided evolutionary process, or a process whereby the potential for variation was not random but was already "built in" to the organism, would not support the view that the existence of life, especially man, can be explained without reference to God.

It is this randomness that Dr. Spetner seeks to refute in his book. The book is technical, and deals with mathematical probabilities, genetics and the like, but I have no background in the natural sciences and I could follow Dr.Spetner's argument without difficulty. When it comes to the subject of probabilities, he provides analogies so that one can at least get some kind of grasp of how minuscule the probabilities are.

The book begins with a good concise overview of the history of the argument from design and ideas about evolution, which establishes the context for what is to follow. The layout is logical and explains the Neo-Darwinian Theory well, so that it is not necessary to have an intimate knowledge of Darwinism to begin with.

When I was younger I used to read a lot of thrillers, but nowadays I confine myself to non-fiction. I also used to read a lot of Michael Crichton (author of Jurassic Park) books, which were always a blend of science and action. This book took me back to the days of reading such books; from the start there was a buzz of anticipation as I realised that Dr. Spetner was unveiling something very important, something that a lot of people will find philosophically threatening. This was the excitement. And the science? I have read books that refute evolution before. What made this book different was that Dr. Spetner calculates. Without calculations, whether one can believe in evolution or not may in a large part be subjective. But when one sees the impossibility - and I use that word in its extreme sense - of Darwinism mathematically then it is different, and rather than the dissenter being ridiculed for doubting evolution, the evolutionist must be shamed for not believing mathematics.

The main premise of the book is that if macroevolution has occurred, it could not have come about randomly. That is, the favourable genetic mutations required for natural selection to accumulate could not appear by chance. Dr. Spetner makes some very important points, such as that if evolution occurred in small groups (the punctuated equilibrium model), so that favourable mutations could spread through the population more quickly, the probability of a favourable mutation occurring in the group will be smaller because there are less organisms to develop a mutation. Of course, the only reason the punctuated equilibrium model exists is because of the lack of transitional fossils. Often Dr. Spetner demonstrates the kind of critical thinking skills that I admire. A section on the nature of Darwin's arguments in the Origin of Species (which I have read) was a real eye-opener and also explained some things I had noticed but couldn't quite articulate.

I don't really want to spoil the book for you, but here's an example of one of Dr. Spetner's conclusions (based on a quantitative analysis):

"If copying errors are the variation of the NDT [Neo-Darwinian theory], then the theory predicts the important events of evolution to be nearly impossible. If a theory predicts events to be nearly impossible then one cannot justifiably say that it explains those events." [Page 120]

Dr. Spetner goes into a lot of detail about the information contained in organisms' DNA and states that if Darwinism really purports to explain the origin of life, it must explain how the information gets into the genome. Suffice to say, evolutionists are unable to meet the challenge. Dr. Spetner devotes a chapter to refuting Richard Dawkins, and his weasel, which I unashamedly confess I found entertaining.

Debunked "examples" of evolution such as the peppered moth quietly fade into the background, but evolutionists claim that we now have powerful evidence of evolution we can observe taking place. Bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics and insects becoming resistant to insecticides are commonly offered as proof of evolution, but Dr. Spetner shows that in all such examples, information is lost from the genome. In order for evolution (in the molecule to man sense) to occur, information needs to be built up. He writes:

"Whoever thinks macroevolution can be made by mutations that lose information is like the merchant who lost a little money on every sale but thought he could make it up on volume." [Page 160]

To summarize, this book was hard to put down and when I read it I was on holiday so I didn't put it down. It was thoroughly enjoyable and, more than that, it was important. I currently have a growing collection of books refuting evolution, but the reason I bought this one was because of the negative reviews it had received on the Amazon website. The reviewers objected to Dr. Spetner's conclusions on the basis of their (the reviewers') religious prejudices (Dr. Spetner is Jewish; the book is published by a reputable Jewish publishing house) and by use of allegedly unintelligible gibberish. But no one has been able to refute the book scientifically, and if evolution is truly "science" and not "religion", this is what evolutionists must do.

I don't think it is possible to overstate the significance that the examples of bacteria and insects do not offer evidence of macroevolution because they do not add information to the genome, especially when these examples continue to promoted strongly by Darwinists as proof of their theory. Dr. Spetner documents that there are no examples of adaptations that add information, and I am glad to say he goes further:

"Not even one mutation has been observed that adds a little information to the genome. That surely shows that there are not the millions upon millions of potential mutations the theory demands...The failure to observe even one mutation that adds information is more than just a failure to find support for the theory. It is evidence against the theory." [Page 160]

The above excerpt reminded me of a quote in Phillip Johnson's Darwin On Trial. The statement is by evolutionist Niles Eldredge:

"...But insofar as evolution itself is concerned, paleontologists usually saw stasis as "no results" rather than as a contradiction of the prediction of gradual, progressive evolutionary change." [Johnson, Darwin on Trial, Page 60]

If more evolutionists recognised evidence not supporting the theory as evidence against the theory, and acknowledged that evolution can't be random, then who knows where it would end? Similarities between different organisms are attributed to either common ancestry or convergence. In this book, Dr. Spetner shows that convergence is impossible, if variation is indeed random. If evolutionists could accept Dr. Spetner's conclusions, however philosophically threatening, who knows where it could lead? Maybe similarities could be due to that long tabooed concept of common design. How many of the assumptions of evolutionists rest entirely upon the presupposition of atheism? How might the evidence be interpreted differently if assumptions changed?

I began this review with a discussion of the religious/philosophical implications of evolution, and I end with an appropriate quote. At the end of the chapter refuting Richard Dawkins, Dr. Spetner writes:

"There may be good reasons for being an atheist, but the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution isn't one of them." [Page 174]

-Jonathan Smith

H. Wayne House, Intelligent Design 101

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Informative introductory volume on Intelligent Design. Christians can glean plenty of good insight from it whether you favor the YEC position as we do here, or somewhere else on the ladder.