The Conflict Over Origins

Frank L. Marsh 
Biologist, Professor, 
Founding Director of Geoscience Research Institute 
Author, Evolution or Special Creation?

Recent controversy in the United States over the teaching of "creation science" in the public schools has renewed public interest in the question of the origin of our planet and its life-forms. The public media describe the events as a conflict between science and religion.

But is it really so? Is the controversy between creation and evolutionary teachings really a choice between unprovable religious dogma and hard scientific fact? To answer that question, we need to be clear about two things: first, the nature of the origins problem itself, and second, the nature of the evidences we bring to bear on the question.

The Origins Problem

If the problem of the origin of living forms were of the same nature as that of the shape of the earth, careful scientists would have solved it long before this. But there is a very great difference between the problem of the shape and motions of our earth and that of the origin of plants and animals. The shape of the earth is a present condition which we can test, measure, and demonstrate scientifically. Likewise, we can examine its motions as an astronomical body. Because the earth is now round and is now moving, we can study its shape and motions in a scientific manner.

But the problem of the origin of living forms is of an entirely different nature. Basic types of plants and animals are not right now appearing, either by evolution or special creation. Hence, neither evolution nor special creation of basic types can be demonstrated today in the laboratory. Furthermore, this has been true as far back as authentic records extend. No human being has ever witnessed the emergence of a basic type of plant or animal life.

Scientists, then, who assert today that evolution of new basic types is as completely demonstrated as is the shape of our earth are completely wrong. If they would be truthful, they would have to say, "We cannot prove in the laboratory that evolution of new basic types has occurred or is occurring, but we believe such to be the case." Likewise, believers in the Bible account of origins will not be able to prove that it happened in that manner, though they may find much evidence for their belief.

The Nature of Evidence

Adherents of both the evolutionary and the creationist views need to remember the nature of the evidence that bears upon origins. A careful, open-minded student of the subject will find, perhaps to his amazement, that of the long list of evidences set forth to prove that evolution has occurred, not one item is coercive in quality.

What do we mean by coercive? Evidence quite generally can be placed in one of two categories. Either it is more or less coercive, or it is more or less persuasive. Coercive evidence admits of only one interpretation; persuasive evidence may point the researcher toward a certain conclusion, but it does not rule out other interpretations.

A good illustration of coercive evidence is found in the proof that our earth is round. Even before we had satellites orbiting the earth and photographs taken from the moon, there was just no other reasonable explanation of such phenomena as the appearance first of the tops of mountains when an observer approaches land from the ocean, or of the fact that if a world traveler will proceed in one direction he will eventually arrive back at the point from which he started. Because such evidence can be interpreted reasonably only by assuming that the earth is round, we say the evidence is coercive.

By contrast, every item on the list of evidences for evolution is of a very different sort. For example, let us take the order of the fossils in the rock layers. It is an observable fact that generally, wherever several fossil-bearing layers of sandstone, shale, limestone, and the like are found in contact with one another in an undisturbed vertical relationship, the fossils in the lower layers are of simpler animals (such as brachiopods and trilobites) than those in the higher layers, which may be reptiles or even mammals. Evolutionists proclaim this natural order of the fossils as one of the most powerful evidences that complex animals evolved from simpler animals. They consider it to be quite coercive in quality.

However, the careful student will see clearly that the order of the fossils does not constitute coercive evidence for evolution, since this arrangement could have occurred without evolution entering the picture whatsoever. A universal flood, as described in Genesis 6-8, could have produced the same results in a world upon which every kind of animal was living at the same time.

We read in Genesis that the Noachian Flood did not come as one great overwhelming tidal wave, but instead rose gradually over a period of about six weeks before it crested some twenty feet above the highest pre-Flood mountain. The waters were very tempestuous as they gradually crept higher and higher.

Animals such as brachiopods and trilobites, which could not flee from the boisterous waters, were covered with sediment first. The more complex creatures which could retreat to higher ground did so and were finally buried in layers above the trilobites. The powerful animals and those that were agile climbed above the noisy, tumultuous waves as long as high hills and mountains were available. But they were eventually overwhelmed and became entombed in the upper layers or were left dead upon the surface when the Flood retreated. It would have been a most unnatural and strange thing if one of the huge brontosaurs had permitted itself to be entombed with the trilobites in some low spot at the first onslaught of the flood waters.

Thus the present order of the fossils is not coercive for evolution or for special creation. For one who has strong faith in evolution, the fossil order, simple to complex, can be explained "reasonably and logically" by evolution. But likewise, the person who has strong faith in special creation sees the same arrangement explained "reasonably and logically" by the Flood. The believer in one doctrine may storm and rave about the strength of his own position and deride the supposed extreme weakness and even absurdity of the position of the other school of thought, but the fact remains that the evidence is subjective and capable of explanation from more than one point of view.

So the sincere student of origins must recognize that neither evolution nor special creation can be demonstrated. They are not continuing processes, else we could demonstrate one or the other. Variation is everywhere manifest today, but variation is not evolution. In order for evolution to occur, new basic types must appear. A hundred years of careful study has revealed that variation can do no more than erect new breeds or races or clusters within a basic type already on hand.

The controversies that we see today over origins are not, therefore, truly conflicts between proven scientific facts and religious speculations, but between two different statements of faith, neither of which is subject to proof in the full scientific sense. Belief in long ages of evolution, though supported (its adherents claim) by overwhelming scientific data, still requires faith, for its processes cannot be observed or duplicated today, and its evidences are not scientifically coercive.

Among what evolutionists consider to be their strongest evidence for organic evolution is what they call "the order of fossils in the rocks from simple upward to the complex and specialized." However, the situation which actually results here was pointed out long ago by Austin H. Clark, a prominent evolutionist (at one time a curator in the National Museum):1

"When we examine a series of fossils of any age, we may pick out one and say with confidence, ‘this is a crustacean’—or a starfish, or a brachiopod, or an annelid, or any other type of creature as the case may be. . . .

"Since all the fossils are determinable as members of their respective groups by the application of definitions of those groups drawn up from and based entirely on living types, and since none of these definitions of the phyla or major groups of animals need be in any way altered or expanded to include the fossils, it naturally follows that throughout the fossil record these major groups have remained essentially unchanged. This means that the interrelationships between them likewise have remained unchanged.

"Strange as it may seem, the animals of the very earliest fauna of which our knowledge is sufficient to enable us to speak with confidence, the fauna of the Cambrian period, were singularly similar to the animals of the present day."

Here is very strong evidence (coercive, possibly) encountered every time a fossil is picked up, from Cambrian (earliest) to recent, and its identification sought. Is there any wonder that this fossil situation is not noised abroad today? Most evolutionists are not aware that the scientific evidence here is actually all for special creation.

The believer in the Bible account of the origin of life need not be intimidated by claims that his belief conflicts with the established findings of science. Science is powerless to prove anything about the origin of the basic types of plants and animals. It still requires an act of faith from its adherents, even as belief in the Bible’s accounts requires faith. Though we do not have answers to every question, we may place our faith in the Word of God without sacrificing the intellect He has given us. If even an evolutionist must choose to believe his doctrine, why should we not choose to believe the word of the One in whom we have trusted for our salvation?


1. Austin H. Clark, The New Evolution (Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1930), pp. 100, 101, emphasis mine.