Darwin's Sacred Imposter: Recognizing Missed Warning Signs | The Institute for Creation Research

Darwin's Sacred Imposter: Recognizing Missed Warning Signs

In order for a human brain to “see” something external, the data patterns captured by the eyes must be associated with related patterns stored in memory. When they match, the mind accurately perceives things. Thus, prior education greatly influences the correctness of what people see…or are blind to.

Liberty University paleontologist Dr. Marcus Ross referenced this type of flawed knowledge-based blindness as affecting the failure among creation scientists to look for soft tissue in Flood-deposited fossils:

And honestly, no young-earth creationists expected soft tissue to be found in dinosaurs. Perhaps that expectation was an artifact of our training (which is often in evolution-dominated schools). Sometimes evolutionary assumptions are in places we haven’t recognized.1

The lesson? Regularly evaluate all scientific ideas to ensure they are not rooted in unrecognized false assumptions and are instead fixed in reality. Case in point: “natural selection.”

Do the words “natural” and “selection” in any verifiable way accurately describe observable interactions between an organism and its environment? Have the words “natural” and “selection” been effectively employed to divert attention away from recognizing where the power to solve environmental problems really resides—i.e., strictly within well-designed innate capabilities of organisms? Is there a fixation on the apparent self-evident “selection” impacting a population of organisms, with disregard for the fact that the “selector” is simply a mental perception and not grounded on reality?

Since no ideas are exempt from scrutiny, it does help that those ideas grounded on false conjectures are frequently surrounded by warning signs.

Warning 1: Natural Selection Mysteriously Defined

Warning signs are key to identifying flaws in concepts. Ask critical questions, such as: Is the concept too slippery to define? Does the idea have little empirical evidence? Is this concept so plastic that it could very well explain conflicting observations? These are some of the very problems with the concept of natural selection, prompting one leading authority to acknowledge:

Natural selection has always been the most contested part of evolutionary theory. Many people who have no problem with evolution bridle at the thought that it’s all driven by a mindless and unguided natural process….[N]atural selection wasn’t widely accepted by biologists until about 1930. The main problem was, and still is, a paucity of evidence….It’s this difficulty that leads Dawkins to observe that natural selection is on wobblier legs than the other tenets of evolutionary theory.2

A survey of research documents reveals no consensus definition of natural selection. Darwin regularly called it a power.3 In a single paper, some sentences use natural selection as a cause and others as an effect.4 Some authorities say it is only a process,5 or a law, mechanism, or concept. A British expert on natural selection states the problem concisely:

A quite general issue has still received no canonical treatment: what kind of a thing is natural selection anyway? A law, a principle, a force, a cause, an agent, or all or some of these things? The view that natural selection is a law has been countered by the view that it is a principle, while that conclusion has been countered in turn by an insistence that it is neither.6

The ill-defined nature of selection contributes to fundamental, yet profoundly unanswered, questions by serious researchers. What does selection operate on? What exactly is natural selection doing at any moment to organisms? How does natural selection actually modify organisms via descent with modification? Is anything measurable at work? If selection is a process, do the conditions specified for its occurrence actually differ from the unfolding of abilities inherent to organisms themselves? Can this term be used ubiquitously in scientific literature and yet the term itself explain nothing? Something may certainly be real that dodges definition, has little evidence, or explains little, but those attributes are a stronger case against reality.

Yet another familiar warning that something may not be real is when “it” gets shrouded in ambiguous yet very emphatic statements of insistence, like “informed people know it’s real,” “it’s simply a phenomenon,” or “it’s just biblical.” A good example is when a prominent atheist protested attributions of non-real abilities to selection by insisting, “Selective breeding is something that somebody does. But natural selection is not; it is something that just happens.”7

Surprisingly, that common conclusion is echoed by creationists, such as one who contended, “Natural selection does not select anything; it simply happens.”8 Is the conclusion “it happens” scientifically satisfying? Shouldn’t that raise red flags about the validity of selection? And shouldn’t researchers be prompted to look for better explanations?

Warning 2: Natural Selection Contradicts Biblical Truth

This warning is obscured due to confusion about what natural selection is expected to do for evolutionary theory. Darwin made natural selection’s importance clear in his seminal book, where he maintains that selection explains origins. Striking squarely at God the Designer, natural selection is the evolutionist’s way to explain the origin of life’s design without appealing to God. Natural selection isn’t merely something to explain biological diversity. It plainly asserts that there is no intelligent design, that claims to such are lies, and what people see that looks like real design is all an illusion of design. Leading evolutionist Dr. Jerry Coyne boasts of selection’s power to dismiss intelligent design:

Everywhere we look in nature, we see animals that seem beautifully designed to fit their environment, whether that environment be the physical circumstances of life, like temperature and humidity, or the other organisms—competitors, predators, and prey—that every species must deal with. It is no surprise that early naturalists believed that animals were the product of celestial design, created by God to do their jobs.

Darwin dispelled this notion in The Origin. In a single chapter, he completely replaced centuries of certainty about divine design with the notion of a mindless, materialistic process—natural selection—that could accomplish the same result. It is hard to overestimate the effect that this insight had not only on biology, but on people’s world view. Many have not yet recovered from the shock, and the idea of natural selection still arouses fierce and irrational opposition.9

Coyne recognizes that the reach of natural selection into Christian theology is far deeper than just thoughts on diversity. He knows that “certainty” about divine design is crushed by a total substitute for the Divine Designer, a truth his colleague Douglas Futuyma correctly identifies:

Before Darwin, the adaptations and exquisite complexity were ascribed to creation by an omnipotent, beneficent designer, namely God, and indeed were among the major arguments for the existence of such a designer. Darwin’s (and Wallace’s) concept of natural selection made this “argument from design” completely superfluous. It accomplished for biology what Newton and his successors had accomplished in physics: it provided a purely natural explanation for order and the appearance of design.10

In absolute contrast, Romans 1:19-20 teaches that people can know—and are accountable to know—that God is the originator of nature’s design:

Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.

Key words are related to design, not biology. Everyone has seen that something that was created invariably had a creator, so the penetrating power of this biblical truth is that anybody in any culture at any time is capable of arriving at some true knowledge of God…not just people with Ph.D.’s in biological sciences.

To arrive at the true conclusion about God based on His creation, 1) people must truly affirm the reality they “clearly see”—namely, His intricate designs; and 2) must not falsely affirm seeing something that is not real—in this case, design abilities ascribed in times past to inanimate idols, or to present-day non-volitional things like Mother Nature, selfish genes, or natural selection. “Natural selection” induces thinking that fails both truth tests.

Creation scientists study the claims of evolution very carefully, but have often missed the significant role natural selection has played in chipping away at biblical truth.

Warning 3: Ascribing Intelligence Where None Exists

Naturalists, as noted above, know the immense hurdle they face in selling evolution: People “bridle at the thought that it’s all driven by a mindless” process. Charles Darwin’s extraordinarily difficult task was to find a source of intelligence—a substitute god—to explain how all of life could display countless features that clearly look like they were chosen for specific purposes by intelligence—but not God’s intelligence. “Natural selection” was his extraordinarily clever explanation.

People know that to “select” something is presumptive evidence of volition—a special choice-making capacity implicit in intelligence. Therefore, the word “select” is supremely important to Darwinism. By it, intelligence is appropriated from the living world and ascribed to non-thinking (but now selective) nature. His stroke of genius deflected attention away from an organism’s God-given power to reproduce heritable and variable traits that happen to fit changing environments, and invalidly labeled that as a selection of “nature.”

How could Darwin convince multitudes to accept a selection event without a real selector? By subtly flipping the attribution of power at the organism-environment interface from the proper place of the organism’s DNA and reproductive mechanisms to the environment instead. He extrapolated the idea that nature could make choices, which allows the conclusion that nature possesses a sort of innate intelligence. Darwin had effectively injected the attribute of intelligence into non-volitional nature—a feat many thought impossible.

Since the publication of The Origin of Species, the science literature from both evolutionists and creationists is rife with explanations that ascribe willful abilities to environments that not only “select” organisms, but also “favor,” “weed out,” “deem beneficial,” “punish,” and so on. Advocates of selection defend using these words as simply figures of speech or metaphors akin to how human breeders select for livestock traits.

However, two major problems oppose this thinking. First, “selection” doesn’t have a real mind analogous to a human breeder. Second, falsely ascribing choice-making ability to environments is the only believable way to promote the creative illusion that nature really does have a type of intelligence. And not just a simple intelligence, nature is portrayed as somehow thinking—a talented stand-in god that always “selects” the best traits and “saves” them to “build” things.

Warning 4: Metaphor Replaces Empirical Evidence

As Dr. Coyne noted, natural selection was resisted for decades by most scientists and is still not fully embraced due to an absence of empirical evidence. There is no evidence lacking that organisms generate traits that fit changing environments. But evidence is absent for a real “selector” or real selecting actions, given that “select” is the key word that gives natural selection its power. Lacking this evidence, evolutionary proponents of selection will, like Darwin, inevitably ease acceptance by appealing to the powerful analogy of artificial selection to natural selection. However, without evidence for a real selector, a continuous use of metaphors should be another warning for creation scientists to begin re-evaluation.

Darwin’s 1859 articulation of this analogy (still being promoted) is possibly the best:

I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term of Natural Selection, in order to mark its relation to man’s power of selection. We have seen that man by selection can certainly produce great results, and can adapt organic beings to his own uses, through the accumulation of slight but useful variations, given to him by the hand of Nature. But Natural Selection, as we shall hereafter see, is a power incessantly ready for action, and is as immeasurably superior to man’s feeble efforts.11

The difficulty with this analogy is the lack of anything in the environment that corresponds to the operation of a human mind. Nevertheless, taking the analogy as self-evident, Darwin’s metaphor describes natural selection’s “operation” with idealized god-like attributes:

It may be said that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinising, throughout the world, every variation, even the slightest; rejecting that which is bad, preserving and adding up all that is good; silently and insensibly working, whenever and wherever opportunity offers.12

Evolutionary approaches to metaphor may be polar opposites. Some, like Darwin, may stretch metaphors to the breaking point. Others express sharp opposition that these metaphors may not be based on reality, as UCLA professor Dr. Greg Graffin recently complained:

The trick is: How do you talk about natural selection without implying the rigidity of law? We use it as almost an active participant, almost like a god. In fact, you could substitute the word “god” for “natural selection” in a lot of evolutionary writings, and you’d think you were listening to a theologian. It’s a routine we know doesn’t exist, but we teach it anyway: genetic mutation and some active force choose the most favorable one.13

Warning 5: Admissions That Natural Selection Is Not Literally True

Illustrations by analogy and metaphor in scientific literature are commonly accepted—provided there are real, measurable properties of the things being likened. Since the publication of Origin, scientists have seen that the power of evolutionary scenarios to leap over any biological obstacle resides in how natural selection “acts” like a literal human agent. Discerning that it possesses nothing analogous to a human mind prompted early criticisms that “selection” was not literally true.

In Darwin’s 1872 edition of Origin, he responded to those calls for him to justify use of the word “selection.” Darwin admitted, like all evolutionists will when challenged, that calling the process of how organisms fit environments “selection” was not true. He confided, “In a literal sense of the word, no doubt, natural selection is a false term…it has been said that I speak of natural selection as an active power or Deity; but who objects to an author speaking of the attraction of gravity as ruling the planets?”14 No one objects to that metaphor, since attractive gravitational forces are real and measurable.

The same disconnect from reality is acknowledged in recent work focused on accurately describing evolution. For example, Harvard’s leading evolutionary authority, Ernst Mayr, in What Evolution Is disclosed the same veiled truth, “The conclusion that these favored individuals had been selected to survive requires an answer to the question, Who does the selecting? In the case of artificial selection, it is indeed the animal or plant breeder….But, strictly speaking, there is no such agent involved in natural selection.”15 Then in 2009, Jerry Coyne wrote in Why Evolution Is True, “And while I said that natural selection acts, this is not really accurate. Selection is not a mechanism imposed on a population from outside.”16

Though all of these authorities concede that tying “selection” to some real agent is “false” and “not really accurate,” they still minimize the magnitude of this inaccuracy through persistent use of words describing natural selection as if it really is “a mechanism imposed on a population from outside.”

A Better Approach

Continuing to argue against natural selection from within its false paradigm ignores the wise counsel of Proverbs 26:4: “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.” Why? Given that “selection” really is an inaccurate and false term, and since it is only a deceptive figure of speech that attributes selection ability where there is no selector, wouldn’t it be wise to point these facts out? Isn’t it wise to show that that use of the word “selection” has never been justified, but is just the ruse to slip intelligence back into a design process after taking God out? Likewise, it is wise to show that organisms are programmed to fill environments; natural selection steals glory from God.

Since proponents of natural selection erroneously view the organism-environment interface from the environment’s side, the crippled explanation “it just happens” is the best they have. Knowing, however, that things really don’t just happen should prompt a search for a real plan. Indeed, a “process” may be the best description of selection. Advocates of process always include three necessary conditions: 1) reproduction of traits 2) which differ in ability to solve environmental problems 3) and which are heritable.17 Immediately, a major disconnect should become evident in the minds of these believers. The conditions specified to be environmental “selection” are in reality the unfolding of genetic abilities programmed into the organisms themselves. True realization comes when recognizing that the power to solve ecological challenges has always resided in the organism and not in the environment.

The Lord’s purpose for programming capabilities into organisms to adapt to dynamic environments is clear. “And God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish [fill] the earth” (Genesis 1:22, 28; 8:17; 9:1, 7). He commanded organisms to fill all ecological niches. Adaptability is just a tool or stepping stone that enables the ultimate purpose of filling. As traits are expressed in a population of organisms, some will “fit” better to different environmental conditions. This means they are physiologically more suitable and better able to extract resources. Organisms with those traits fill, pioneer, or move into that environment—they are not “selected for.” The organism has the power and is active to either succeed or fail.

Organisms express remarkable diversity of traits and at times quite rapidly—but always within the limits of their “kind” (Genesis 1:11-12.) An organism-based paradigm is biblical. This explains how the process of organisms programmed to fit environments and fill them is the outworking of an intelligent plan, and not the product of an imaginary environment-based selector that “just happens.”

But the power that selection has to captivate a mind must never be underestimated—as it is only in the mind that this kind of “selection” actually takes place. Such a mind has been trained to see the environment as the primary mover in the organism-environment interface, in spite of the fact that there is no real “selector” in any adaptive chain of events. In contrast to this, organisms possess traits they generate to solve the problems of a new environment, ones that enable their descendants to pioneer into new niches. But when people with the “natural selection” mindset see the descendants of these organisms in those niches, paradoxically their minds “see” the environment “select for” the organism—a conclusion contrary to what is indicated by real external stimuli. As a result, they have ascribed intelligence to something inanimate, thereby raising serious scientific and theological implications.

After 150 years, Darwin’s sacred imposter—natural selection—still stands as the only accepted alternative to the design of God in nature. It is presented in most schools as absolutely true in spite of its ill-defined basis, its invisible operation, and the fact that there is no real “selector”—because attributes inherent to organisms actually do all the work. These warnings should influence creation scientists to step back and re-evaluate this convoluted evolutionary idea.

Those who extol the Creator must at some point reject any idea that robs God of His glory.

Click here for other articles in the Darwin's Sacred Imposter series.


  1. Ross, M. 2010. Those Not-So-Dry Bones. Answers. 5 (1): 45.
  2. Coyne, J. A. The Improbability Pump: Why has natural selection always been the most contested part of evolutionary theory? The Nation, May 10, 2010.
  3. Darwin, C. 1859. On the origin of species by means of natural selection. London: John Murray, 61.
  4. Calsbeek, R. and R. M. Cox. 2010. Experimentally assessing the relative importance of predation and competition as agents of selection. Nature. 465 (7298): 613-616.
  5. Endler, J. 1992. Natural Selection: Current Usages. Keywords in Evolutionary Biology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 220.
  6. Hodge, M. J. S. 1992. Natural Selection: Historical Perspectives. Keywords in Evolutionary Biology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 218.
  7. Fodor, J. A. 2010. What Darwin Got Wrong. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 155.
  8. Lester, L. P. 1989. The Natural Limits to Biological Change. Dallas, TX: Probe Books, 71.
  9. Coyne, J. A. 2009. Why Evolution Is True. New York: Viking, 115.
  10. Futuyma, D. Natural Selection: How Evolution Works, an ActionBioscience.org original interview. American Institute of Biological Sciences. Posted on actionbioscience.org December 2004.
  11. Darwin, On the origin of species, 61.
  12. Darwin, On the origin of species, 84.
  13. Biello, D. 2010. Darwin Was a Punk. Scientific American. 303 (5): 28.
  14. Darwin, C. 1872. The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, 6th ed. London: Senate, 63.
  15. Mayr, E. 2001. What Evolution Is. New York: Basic Books, 117.
  16. Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, 117.
  17. Endler, Keywords in Evolutionary Biology, 220.

* Dr. Guliuzza is ICR’s National Representative.

Cite this article: Guliuzza, R. 2011. Darwin’s Sacred Imposter: Recognizing Missed Warning Signs. Acts & Facts. 40 (5): 12-15.

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