Last week, “Toy Story” (1995) actor Tim Allen, one of the few Christians in Hollywood, tried to attack the scientific theory of evolution. It backfired badly, not because evolution is itself “settled science,” but because Tim Allen used one of the dumbest arguments against it.
“If we evolved from apes, why are there still apes,” Allen tweeted. This message received 15,000 “retweets” and 50,000 “likes.”
If we evolved from apes why are there still apes.
— Tim Allen (@ofctimallen) August 16, 2017
Allen received mockery and criticism for this question, and he deserved it. Questioning evolution is a good thing — it advances the progress of science and helps remind people that while this theory of human origins may have the best evidence right now, it is by no means fully settled. Furthermore, it can help explain why Darwinistic evolution is not a good philosophical position, and why Christianity is better at answering deep human questions.
But constructing straw-man arguments against evolution is just as unhelpful as constructing straw-man arguments against Christianity.
These kind of attacks get people nowhere. To demonstrate, here’s a straw-man argument against Christianity that is just as irrational as the question Allen asked: “If God is all-powerful, could He create a boulder too big for Him to lift?”
The great Christian scholar and author C.S. Lewis powerfully debunked this ridiculous question in The Problem of Pain. “[God’s] Omnipotence means power to do all that is intrinsically possible, not to do the intrinsically impossible. You may attribute miracles to Him, but not nonsense. There is no limit to His power,” Lewis wrote.
“If you choose to say, ‘God can give a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it,’ you have not succeeded in saying anything about God: meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix to them the two other words, ‘God can,'” Lewis explained. “It remains true that all things are possible with God: the intrinsic impossibilities are not things but nonentities.”
“It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God,” the author concluded.
On the same token, nonsense about evolution remains nonsense, even when applied to evolution. The quip, “if we evolved from apes, why are there still apes?” seems clever to a creationist, but it is fundamentally a dodge. There are good reasons to doubt evolution, but this is not one of them.
Allen has not crafted a powerful argument against evolution, he has made a category mistake. Evolution never claims that today’s humans evolved from today’s apes. The theory suggests that both today’s humans and today’s apes evolved from a common ancestor.
Screenwriter Max Landis was right to mock this argument, asking, “if there are orangutangs why are there also gorillas? You’re right, makes ZERO sense, if there are lions why are there tigers?” Sarcastically, he added, “WHY IS THERE MORE THAN ONE TYPE OF FISH?”
Joe Hanson, a Ph.D. biologist, presented a helpful diagram to explain the point.
🐒 🦍 🤦♂️
Because apes are still good at being apes. Call it "Hominid Improvement"
— Joe Hanson (@DrJoeHanson) August 16, 2017
Many articles — here’s one in Scientific American — debunk this silly objection to evolution.
Again, the problem with this argument is not that evolution is unassailable, just that this is an extremely dumb argument. Like the question about God’s omnipotence, it’s not a contradiction within the theory, it only appears like a contradiction from the outside.
The current version of the theory of evolution has many problems, challenged most notably by the science of DNA. Discoveries in genetics have cast grave doubts on the ability of random mutations to create more complex and nuanced genetic information. This is a serious scientific problem for Darwinian evolution.
The biggest problems come when Darwinian evolution becomes a philosophical cornerstone for atheistic belief. Many (falsely) argue that if evolution is true, God does not exist. This is also a category mistake — if science explains away the origin of human beings from life, it still has not explained why life began, what caused the universe to come into existence, and why humans have moral minds.
Furthermore, Darwinism opens a philosophical Pandora’s box which makes life exceedingly uncomfortable. If humans (and most importantly their minds and moral sentiments) randomly evolved from natural selection, they have no basis for thinking their minds are suited to discovering truth or objective morality.
It is impossible to overstate how big a problem that is. Suddenly, there is no justification for calling the Nazis truly evil, in an absolute sense. A committed Darwinist must admit that his moral sentiments evolved randomly, and are nothing but a mechanism for making sure his genes make it to the next generation. He has no moral ground to judge one action worse than any other.
Furthermore, he must conclude that even his mind is designed to maximize his chances of survival, not his ability to discover the truth. This means that if evolution is fundamentally true, there is no guarantee that the human mind is the kind of thing that could discover it.
Christianity has powerful answers to these problems. Christians (and Jews) say humans are made in the image of God, and therefore their minds are attuned to the Mind which created the universe and set up the moral law. Human minds are hardwired to see the truth and to discover what is truly moral.
Both science and morality rest on the ability of human minds to grasp the ultimate truth and the ultimate good. A Christian can condemn Nazis as evil, because he has a standard (God’s perfect justice) from which to do so. A Christian can declare that science is true in a deep sense, whereas a Darwinist has to admit that science just seems to work, but his mind is not the kind of thing that can discover objective truth.
Tim Allen’s objection to evolution was silly, and it distracted from the real deep-seated problems with evolution and the Darwinistic worldview. Next time, the Christian actor should ask, “If evolution is true, and there is no God, how can you condemn Nazis?” or “If evolution is true, and our minds are evolved for survival, how do you know science is true?” or “If evolution is true, how did random mutations create entirely new DNA information?”
These are the kind of questions that drive to the heart of the matter, that take evolution seriously and do not reduce it to a straw-man. These are the questions that make Christianity more convincing, not less. Please, Tim Allen, ask these questions instead.