Evolution in the Junkyard
It's one of the most oft repeated arguments against Evolution out there, the argument that you can't get the complexity and order of a life-form out of the chaos and random chance of nature. The two most common versions of this argument, which may in fact be taken as separate arguments expressing the same general idea, are the Tornado in a Junkyard Argument and the Watch-Maker Argument.
I plan to spend most of the hub on the so-called Junkyard argument because I've partially covered the Watch-Maker in a previous hub but I think both are worth touching on here as both showcase the unfortunate ignorance Creationists show toward both science and how nature actually works.
The Watch-Maker Re-visited
Both of these arguments suffer from a shared assumption about nature that often plagues Creationist thinking, the assumption that without divine intervention everything in the Universe is chaotic or entropic. Usually this brings with it mentions of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics which, in brief, states that in a CLOSED SYSTEM things will always tend toward entropy. Both the Watch-Maker and Junkyard argument offer us a window into how Creationists view nature and how they misunderstand evolution.
In the watch-maker argument what we are dealing with is essentially a version of the Teleological Argument. The argument goes as follows, imagine you are a native of a culture that has no modern technology and you come across a watch that has washed up on the beach. You would recognize, even if you had little idea of what it was used for, that it was likely designed by someone - that it is NOT the product of nature. The watch is clearly made with a purpose and precision even if that purpose is unclear and the maker is not immediately discernible.
Naturally Creationists view life this way, as having been designed with a specific purpose by a divine Creator even if the identity of that Creator is not immediately discernible. The precision and grandeur or life cannot, they argue, be explained by the blind processes of nature.
The problems with this are numerous but among the most obvious is that life has been studied extensively by science and not only can we find no evidence of any purpose for which we are designed but we find absolutely no hallmarks we'd expect of something designed with precision in mind. In fact every piece of evidence in biology comports with the theory of Evolution which is why it is one of the strongest and most well-vetted theories in science to date.
One of the biggest problems is the assumption that nature has no order, precision or complexity to it or COULD not have such things without supernatural intervention. Of course it makes sense that a Creationist would have a TOP DOWN view of the Universe, as if any godless Universe would necessarily be random and chaotic with no complexity and certainly no life in it. The problem is that when we investigate things with a desire to actually discover truths about reality we must discard the assumption that things are decided upon from the top down by a God.
The assumption of a God, a watch-maker, was one many of the world's early practitioners of science clung to, but they still had the wherewithal to invoke God in a primarily Deistic sense. There was a form of naturalistic Deism that saw science as a method to learn the mind of God that I actually find quite admirable as opposed to modern proponents of Creation who seem to view science as an anti-god conspiracy of the godless Left.
747 in a Junkyard?
The second argument I want to talk about and the one I want to spend the most time on is the Junkyard argument (mostly because I covered Teleological Arguments in past hubs). The Junkyard argument doubles-down on the idea that without an active supernatural agency to give it order nature is as chaotic as a tornado going through a junkyard. For the Creationist it seems absurdly improbable to think that such random chaos as is apparently present in nature could bring about life as complex as what exists on Earth - so improbable that they express this improbability by saying that life evolving naturally from non-living material over billions of years is like a Tornado blowing through a Junkyard and assembling a fully functioning fueled up Seven Forty Seven passenger Jet.
Unpacking why this argument is so wrong is going to take a bit of doing.
Nature Isn't Chaotic
The first thing I want to establish is the fact that chaos and order are largely subjective. Take an asteroid impact as an example. When an asteroid is headed for Earth and hits the planet it does so according to the laws of nature (laws which I should point out are DESCRIPTIVE, not PROSCRIPTIVE).
Gravity, mass, momentum, energy, basic physics - The laws of nature are descriptions of how nature is observed to behave, behavior which is typically so consistent it can be expressed mathematically. So an asteroid impact on the planet Earth would cause chaos, the randomness of it seemingly coming out of nowhere to strike on a seemingly random part of our surface would seem quite disorderly... but in actuality what is happening is in perfect concordance with the natural order.
Nature is not actually random or chaotic rather it is observed to behave in ways that create order and beauty and even complex patterns. When debris and gasses and the rocky remnants of some exploded star form together under the duress of gravity to become a planet there aren't many Creationists who would demand that a God MUST be involved there.
Many of the people who use this argument aren't even hardcore fundamentalists and will concede that things like the Grand Canyon, the Giant's Causeway, and even whole Galaxies with billions of suns and planets, were simply formed naturally. They are happy to admit God was not directly involved in hand-crafting SOME things and that the Universe itself (which they claim was created by God of course) was designed for these things to form NATURALLY. Yet they do not extend this same reasoning to conclude that life ALSO formed naturally in this same manner.
So if nature is not chaotic and in fact order, beauty and complexity can emerge from it where does that leave the Junkyard argument?
Replication with Variation
Part of the problem with the Tornado in a Junkyard argument is that it truncates the vast amounts of time evolution takes into on singular event. The argument takes billions of years of incremental chemical (natural) steps forward and attempts to compare them to what would seem like a nearly supernatural event. Of course trying to compare Evolution to something so miraculous as to be impossible is the whole point of their argument though the irony that they themselves subscribe to a miraculous belief about the origin of life seems wholly lost on them.
Another hurdle the argument fails to clear is in its comparison of the complexity of a 747 to that of life on Earth. However when we factor in the massive amounts of time with our understanding of chemistry, biology, Natural Selection and indeed everything we know to be true of nature, we can see how, gradually, an increase in complexity is perfectly reasonable.
The very first self-replicating molecules, the precursors to everything alive on Earth today, were not nearly so complex as to be comparable to a 747. Self-replicating protein chains are hardly similar to a piece of high tech commercial aviation technology.The very first living cells, the descendants of those self-replicating proteins, were themselves not much different from what they had come from. Each generation that passes moves evolution only a minuscule amount and, contrary to whatever misconceptions Creationists might have, there is absolutely NO demand that evolution deliver a BETTER organism or even a more complex one.
Each new species to emerge is simply a slightly modified version of the one before it and all of this takes place chemically through reproduction. However magical it might seem to create and raise a child, or to watch a mother bird feed and care for her nestlings, there is no actual magic there, simply the continued march of a parade of life that stretches back over 3 billion years.
Cause, Effect and Probability
As a former Creationist putting myself back in those shoes I can see the appeal of the Junkyard argument, it makes evolution seem really REALLY improbable and the 'argument' itself was actually invented by an atheist. However any event is simply the effect of a prior cause. Most, if not all, events in our Universe seem to have a cause and if we follow back a chain or cause and effect far enough from any point the outcome of what we got would seem ridiculous no matter what.
For example for you to be reading this your parents, at some point in the past, had to meet and at the very least hook-up for you to exist. Now think about all of the vast number of variables involved in this chance meeting, now their parents had to meet and your great grandparents had to meet and so on and so forth down through ages of history.
Each event leads to new events, cause and effect, so to pick the current state of affairs and say, “wow it's improbable that things turned out this way” is meaningless. If things hadn't turned out this way they would be different but they did turn out this way, there is no cause to invoke the supernatural doings of a Creator anymore than there is to invoke the Greek Fates or astrology. Any mundane modern truth has behind it a long chain of causes, it doesn't make sense to take the whole chain and declare that truth impossible.
Such arguments of probability may seem impressive and may flash big hefty numbers to make them seem sound but none of them are convincing.
At base level life is replicating proteins that function just fine without the need to invoke supernatural agents or forces in order to explain how we got here. If Galaxies and stars and canyons and cliffs and hurricanes and thunderbolts and black holes and planets can all form without the direct intervention of the supernatural than life can as well.
For many believers however evolution continues to be the gap in which they place their God in order to help justify their beliefs. The more hardcore among them treat evolution as a hard line in the sand and refuse to even grant it as a possibility. To do so they use arguments such as the Watch-Maker argument and the Junkyard argument but in using them they misunderstand or misrepresent science and propagate ignorance about how nature and the Universe work.
Whether or not there is an unseen hand, a God, pulling the strings of this Universe, science has helped humanity by revealing how nature and the Universe operate. It has taken us to the moon, it has wiped out certain diseases wholesale, and it has propelled us from mere primates to building skyscrapers and yes even constructing 747s.
The evidence is out there in hundreds and hundreds of scientific papers, in fossil beds, in museums, even in the food you eat and the pets you keep. We no longer need the magic spark that God reached his hand down through the clouds to be a literal magic spark from a literal hand, if there is a God we know now that he could have let nature do it for him – no miracles required.
If you are a Christian and you are reading this you have nothing to fear from studying and fully understanding evolution and there is nothing to be gained from ignorance.
More by this Author
Some claim that the Bible contains advanced scientific knowledge far ahead of its time. This hub explores what the Bible authors actually believed and wrote about the natural world.
A hub about plot holes in the Biblical story of Noah's Ark suggesting that no intelligent human being should take the story as a literal historical event.
A brief journey into the bizarre branch of New Age woo called Spirit Science. Can you tell real Spirit Science from stuff I just made up—take the quiz!