"Creation or Evolution - do we have to choose?" by Dr. Denis Alexander - A critical review

A review of: "Creation of evolution: Do we have to choose?" by Dr. Denis Alexander, Monarch Books, Oxford, 2008. Download PDF version. Download Microsoft Word version.

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Chapter 5: Speciation, fossils and the question of information

Chapter five is the third and final seeking to explain "What do we mean by evolution?". After that there is a chapter seeking to answer some objections; at 37 pages, it is also the longest chapter in the book.


If you've been following this extended review, you'll know by now that Dr. Alexander is quite good at side-stepping difficult questions for the Darwinian position by the use of a carefully crafted word fallacy. His section on "speciation", extending for several pages, is another classic example.

The key question as regards Darwinism versus creationism when it comes to speciation is this: do evolutionary mechanisms have limited or unlimited potential? To sharpen it still more, are the processes which are active and observable in the natural world today able to generate the entire "tree of life" from a single common ancestor, or not? The creationist model is that God created several distinct kinds (Hebrew, "baramin"), in which the life-forms had the potential to diversify within certain limits. The Biblical text does not give us much specific information about the limits of these "kinds"; but there are some - for example, trees and birds belong to different kinds (Genesis 1:11-12, 20-21). There is variation, but within limits, and what we end up with is not a single genetic tree of life, but an orchard - several trees in which the descendents express the potential that was latent in the original ancestor individuals.

DA, though, decides to answer a conveniently different question, and gives an irrelevant answer which does not touch upon the actual creationist case, whilst, as before, giving the impression that presumably he must be talking about something relevant and probably refuting it. To what extent he's conscious that he sidesteps the issues or not, I don't know - he never refers to any creationist publication; beliefs contrary to Darwinism are always couched in terms of "many people think" or "some Christians believe". In fact Henry Morris gets a special guest mention in a later chapter, but that sudden freak appearance will be as good as it gets.

The question DA answers is this one: is speciation possible beyond the limits set by today's definition of a biological species? i.e., is it possible for new species to form under the specific definition of "species" in contemporary science? DA introduces this question in terms of the commonly used distinction between "microevolution" and "macroevolution", defining them in terms of variation within a species, or changes above the species level, then going on to define just what "species" means - it is defined in terms of reproductive compatibility. A species is a population where the individuals can interbreed with each other but not other organisms. This is clearly a related question to the real issue, but only a smaller part of it. If "macroevolution" as DA has defined is not possible, then this would imply the creationist position is right; but whilst being a sufficient condition, it is not a necessary one. In fact, no mainline creationist believes that the limits of the Genesis "kinds" coincide or are even close to being as restricted as the definition of "species" which DA gives. . Hence again we simply have the ritual disembowelling of another straw man, whilst hood-winking the uninformed reader into thinking that he's reading a refutation of something at least similar to creationism.

Having thus set up this uncontroversial non-question, over the next pages DA explains various ways in which speciation can occur in the animal and plant kingdoms, da de dum yawn, and concludes that the macro/micro-evolution distinction isn't as useful as it seems at first glance. Along similar lines, he also discusses other interesting ways in which modern biological findings are raising questions over our idea of what a "species" is. As with other parts of the book, that would all be OK and useful, were there somewhere else in the tome where he actually addresses the real question - but he doesn't.

One point of interest was to see a Bible verse actually thrown into the chapter. What we've seen before is that in practice DA believes that the world of the Bible and the world of science have no real overlap as far as the evolutionary history of the planet goes. In particular, the Bible does not set any real limits on what conclusions science is allowed to give - contrary to an authentic Christian worldview in which the Bible is the foundation and ultimate arbiter for all true knowledge. DA's verse in this chapter, though, doesn't contradict this position - it's thrown in as an aside. We're told this:

No one actually knows the exact number of species on earth. the number already classified is around 2 million. ... Adam was brought by God in Genesis 2:19-20 to name all the animals, but we have a long way to go in finally fulfilling that command!

DA has not very closely read Genesis 2:20, because it actually states that Adam did in fact do the task which God charged him with; "And Adam gave names to all livestock, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an helper suitable for him." DA's interpretation seems to be that this command was part of the "creation mandate" to govern man for all time - part of the ongoing task to explore and harness the wonders of God's creation. Note, though, that DA assumes that Genesis 2:19-20 actually means species, as defined in modern biology, in terms of reproductive isolation - hence the task is to catalogue millions of species, not just to give generic names to a much smaller number of larger groupings. This muddle is truly ironic given the stern warnings in previous chapters that we must not read Genesis in terms of modern biology.

In reading through the examples that DA gives, it's noticeable that in the examples of processes involved in the production of new species, there are no examples of changes which are genuinely productive. They are all neutral or degenerative. That is, it is in terms of some change which prevented reproduction where it had previously been possible, and led to the isolation of a particular subset of creatures. This is obviously inconsistent with the key Darwinian assertion of upward progress. This is related to the key question of information, which DA addresses later in the chapter.

Comparing paradigms

The major argument which Dr. Alexander relies upon as the most solid proof of Darwinism is from genetics. On page 119, he says that the importance of fossils to the case for proving evolution has been relativised in recent years, and that we are now able to reconstruct evolutionary history just from genetics.

In the event, though, the proof offered falls down once more because of the invalidity of the method he uses. Put simply, DA argues that Darwinism can give a coherent explanation of this or that, and so there it is. Again, we look in vain to find DA educating his readers as to the concept of competing paradigms, and showing that the Darwinian paradigm can give a more coherent explanation of certain phenomena than a competing one. No - it's just that Darwinism explains this bunch of stuff, therefore it must be true.

So, there's a carton of orange juice on my table. You know I visited the supermarket last week, and the theory that the carton came from that trip fits with this bit of data, therefore it's definitely true that that's where it came from. But, it's not - in fact the carton was brought by a guest who came for tea. Again, DA doesn't give us a word to explain how a creationist might explain the phenomena he describes; there's no comparison, simply the naked assertion that as his model gives a coherent explanation, therefore it's proved to be true. As the book goes on it becomes increasingly clear that DA is as much marshalling rhetorical tactics as he is actual science - don't give opposing views the oxygen of publicity, and perhaps your readers will simply believe your naked assertions instead because they don't realise there's another game in town.

So, DA brings out various arguments - from what is often called "junk DNA", and genetic similarities found in different species that Darwinism claims are related by common ancestry, and so on. "Junk DNA", however described, is basically an argument from ignorance; DA gives no proof that these bits of DNA have no function, he just argues from the fact that we don't know their function. He is good enough to concede that the "junk DNA" label has turned out to be unfortunate as functions are being increasingly found for parts of the genome previously so labelled. This is a "Darwin of the gaps" argument - as our knowledge increases, so the argument begins to vanish.

What is much more worthy of notice, though, is the implied theological, and not scientific, argument which underlines both of the arguments mentioned above. The rarely spoken assumption behind them is that "a Creator who made these things in a short time period wouldn't have done it this way". The argument being made is "these DNA similarities between different creatures are too much to be a coincidence - if a Creator had done this without common ancestry he would be tricking us with misleading evidence: I think he wouldn't have done things this way, therefore he didn't."

Seeing as this is a theological argument and not one provable by empirical observation, it's equally capable of theological refutation. Genetic similarities can be explained through a common designer as well as being explained by common descent. If the Bible is true, then we expect the world to be discoverable - this was part of the basis for modern science. We believe that the universe operates by principles that human minds can investigate and describe, because we believe that the designer of the universe also designed human minds and did so with the desire that we should explore and subdue his creation, as the Genesis mandate states. As such, then, we might anticipate that there will be a great deal of similarity and re-use of similar principles and designs in different animals. What kind of headway could we make in exploration if each of the millions of species of animal was put together in a totally different way and required a whole new branch of science to investigate it?

Thus it's too easy and glib for DA simply to assert that genetic similarity is predicted by Darwinism and so Darwinism is proved. Genetic similarity is also predicted by creationism, which is what DA is trying to disprove. If, though, you never mention or explore the predictions of the system of thought you're trying to disprove, then you'll have to excuse reviewers like this one who don't think that you succeeded.


DA's section on fossils is a bit thin; lots of dogmatic assertions (this is 35 million years old, that happened 1.2 billion years ago), but not much by way of meat in terms of arguments. More of a summary of evolutionary claims that arguments for them. Fair enough; I suppose from the fact of DA's specialism in genetics and biochemistry that he's going to major in those areas and minor in others. Tiktaalik is given the starring role as a great example of a transitional form.


The sections in this chapter on the question of information were the most disappointing to me. Perhaps that is because of my background in mathematics I'm more "on the ball" here than when reading paragraphs about theories of fossilised fish. From whatever angle, though, DA's discussion of these questions is particularly poor.

The question of information does not have to be a painful one for a theistic evolutionist per se. The idea of common ancestry is not essentially incompatible with the ideas of complex, coded information and intentional design. It is a problem, though, for a believer in Darwinian evolution, and it's surely DA's thorough going acceptance of Darwinism specifically and not just common descent in general that makes it impossible for him to give these questions good answers.

The arguments that can be launched from information by a Christian are simple to understand. Information that is complex and finely tuned is a strong indication of a mind. We could say it more strongly; in our recorded experience, we have never known such information to come from anywhere else but a mind. Systems of inter-dependent components working together for a common goal are a signature of intelligence. That is our intuitive experience. The science of information theory looks to translate this intuitive experience into the language of science, and back it up with real research and intellectual rigour. Where this interacts with biology is in the fact that we now know what Darwin didn't - that human DNA and the biological systems for interpreting and using it (which are themselves also encoded in DNA) are the most complex and highly specified information systems known in the universe. They vastly exceed anything that human minds have, with all their millions of man-hours of research and labour, managed to produce. As such, they are an overwhelming testimony to a divine mind for its origin. Codes, coupled with systems for decoding and encoding and translating into physical results, are the work of intelligence. DNA is such a system on a scale that is orders of magnitude beyond what man's finest intelligence has concocted. DNA testifies to us of our true origin: in the mind and will of God.

None of that should be painful for a believer in common ancestry per se to accept. It's impossible, though, for a Darwinist to accept it. Darwinism is at heart a mechanism which fundamentally denies teleology, i.e. the concepts of intentional design and purpose. It's an attempt to describe how one animal can give rise to another of a different type without there being a conscious intention on behalf of any agent that such a thing should happen. The external pressures and difficulties of survival alone account for the improvements at each stage - there is no inevitable final goal to be reached. In short, there is no need for a mind that designs and directs: the sheer redness in tooth and claw of nature brings it about. These contradictions are why many, such as myself, feel that to describe oneself both as a Darwinist and a theist is a logical contradiction, however sincere a person may be in affirming both.

DA starts his discussion on the question of information by admitting that mathematicians, engineers and computer scientists are often puzzled when they listen to biologists' (he means Darwinists') explanations of information. We agree there. DA's explanation for this phenomenon is that it comes from a misguided attempt to force the meaning of "information" from one field into another. This explanation is basically a concession that DA has no real idea what he's talking about, isn't going to talk about information in a meaningful way as defined by information theory, and is going to allow himself a free hand to redefine that area of study as it suits him. This won't do. Information theory is a universal theory; it applies to information as information, wherever it is found. It is independent of the mediums and mechanisms by which the information is stored or translated into some useful end product. To give a simple example, a telephone number has the same information content whether I store it on my mobile phone or memorise it - whether it's silicon, brain cells or paper that are recording the number, whether by 1s and 0s, neuron configurations, or patterns of ink upon papyrus, it makes no difference. The information content is the same. If DNA stores information, then it matters not one jot what other theories concerning DNA are floating around - information theory either applies to DNA, or information theory is itself in error. It cannot be correct when talking about other kinds of storage system, but not DNA. Hence, by this ad hoc explanation in which he attempts to tell the information theorists to get off his turf and allow him to write his own theory, DA betrays the fact that he doesn't know what he's talking about.

DA seeks to explain some ways by which new information can be generated in a genome, but these further give away his lack of understanding. DA never actually explains how new information arises, except to play with the definitions. He repeats some arguments about alleged Darwinian mechanisms, and then waves the wand and says "bingo - since we now have new capabilities in the organism that must mean there's more information!" But this is simply arguing in a circle and missing the point. Information theory poses a serious challenge to Darwinian orthodoxy - to simply argue that Darwinism alleges that this happens, and this would have to generate new information, therefore there's no problem, is to shove the problem under the carpet. You've got to show us the mechanisms and what they do to the information content at each stage. To just tell us the mechanisms again and insist that they are correct and so therefore must, is ducking the challenge.

DA points to gene duplications, and then says that the duplicated gene is under less selective pressure so can accumulate new mutations without danger to the organism. Fine, but what has this to do with an actual mechanism for the increase of information? That's the crucial question, but the one DA doesn't answer. It's all left to randomness - there will be lots of mutations, some will be useless, some will be good, and those good ones must have more information because that's why they're good. Randomness, though, is precisely what information theory tells us does not generate a reliable source of information. A tightly specified system is not likely to be improved, but ruined, by random alterations. Throw a cup of water over your computer to randomly alter some of its logic circuits to see what I mean. How likely is that procedure to result in an upgrade of your hardware to future technology, compare to the likelihood it'll mean you need to go and buy a new computer? The Darwinist insists that what happens in biology is a unique exception to these kinds of laws, but such a significant assertion needs significant supplies of proof, not mere hand-waving and complaining that computer scientists are bringing in their own ideas which should not be allowed to apply.

DA gives us a somewhat humorous example of his confusion beginning on page 114, when he explains how a gene duplication in mice is thought to have resulted in two genes with slightly different functions - and yet that biologists found that the original gene could be made to cover both functions, only with less room for manoeuvre. So, says DA, the duplication didn't lead to an increase in information in one sense, but did in another - and thus DA seeks to equate information content with survival capacity. This may be missed by the layman coming to the whole area for the first time, but to anyone else, it just reads like a confused man trying to answer a question that has stumped him and he doesn't really know how to begin with. In a similarly inept way we read on page 117 that sexual reproduction produces new information because the offspring are different to their parents because their genes are combined in new ways - and DA concludes "The process of recombination... is just another way of introducing variation into the genome." This confusion between new information and mere shuffling of existing information is symptomatic of the whole section. DA does not seem to know what he means by information and hence never defines it - and then proceeds to lead the reader on a tour of confusion as one implicit definition gives way to another in a magnificent but ultimately vacuous display of Darwinian hand-waving.


This review plods through the whole book. If you have time only to read some, look at the chapters on the theology of the Adam and Eve, the fall, suffering, evil, etc. These are the ones that most clearly reveal the non-evangelical methodology and resulting theology. Logical and scientific mistakes in other places are interesting, but the fundamental issues come out most clearly in the more theological chapters.
  1. Introduction to the review
  2. The Preface
  3. Chapter 1 - What Do We Mean By Creation?
  4. Chapter 2- The Biblical Doctrine of Creation
  5. Chapter 3 - What Do We Mean By Evolution? Dating, DNA and Genes
  6. Chapter 4 - What do we mean by evolution? Natural Selection and Reproductive Success
  7. Chapter 5 - Speciation, Fossils and the Question of Information
  8. Chapter 6 - Objections to Evolution
  9. Chapter 7 - What about Genesis?
  10. Chapter 8 - Evolutionary Creationism
  11. Chapter 9 - Who were Adam and Eve? The Background
  12. Chapter 10 - Who were Adam and Eve? Genesis and science in conversation
  13. Chapter 11 - Evolution and the Biblical understanding of death
  14. Chapter 12 - Evolution and the Fall
  15. Chapter 13 - Evolution, natural evil and the theodicy question
  16. Chapter 14 - Intelligent Design and Creation's Order
  17. Chapter 15 - Evolution - Intelligent and Designed?
  18. Chapter 16 - The origin of life
  19. The revealing postscript!
  20. Appendix: A synopsis giving a "big picture" overview of the philosophy/theology of this book.

© David Anderson 2008-10. Please copy and redistribute as widely as you please (no modifications are permitted without permission; you must distribute complete chapters, and always include this copyright notice). Last updated: 29/03/2010. Feedback: use the e-mail address on my homepage. Or for more open discussion, use the comments facility on my blog.