Creationism is not science

To anybody of a rational, scientific mindset, the title of this article should invoke thoughts somewhat along the lines of, “No shit, Sherlock”. Evolutionary science has underpinned the efforts of biologists for decades or even centuries, providing an observable, tested mechanism for the diversity of species. Through the allied efforts of geneticists, it has given us a stronger grasp on how we can improve efforts towards artificial selection. Yet, in all of this, small but vocal groups, many situated within the United States, deny evolutionary science. Instead, they wish to implant their own unscientific creationist hypotheses into the education system, subverting the scientific consensus with their theologically-driven political charges.

Creationism appears to be driven by some sort of offence and insecurity at the idea that humans might have been derived from what creationists see as lower species, or that we might be related in some way to apes and monkeys. Christian creationism, the most vocal kind in the Western world, professes that a creator God designed humans in his own image – although I have to ask whether any creator God would actually want to claim a species with such a variety of known flaws as Homo sapiens as being in his or her image.

The most egregiously and brutally unscientific of the creationist hypotheses is that of Young Earth creationism, a ridiculously bizarre hypothesis that contravenes most of the major branches of natural science, along with many humanities disciplines and a couple of branches of mathematics to boot. Essentially, Young Earth creationism states that the world, in accordance with various calculations on figures given in the Bible, is somewhere in the region of six thousand years old. The recent, controversial debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham was conducted at the Creation Museum, an establishment which claims Young Earth creationism to be true and accurate.

There are so many things wrong with this that it’s difficult to know where to begin, but how about beginning by stating that there are human settlements which have been dated more than five thousand years before that? I have a back-dated copy of National Geographic beside me (June 2011, if anybody’s interested in reading it) that discusses the archaeological site of Göbekli Tepe in Turkey, an elaborate and intricately designed religious site that is estimated to date back to 9600 BC.

That immediately puts a rather inconvenient stumbling block in front of Young Earth creationism, and I haven’t even got to the science yet. Aside from myriad fields of biology, including genetics, botany, zoology, biochemistry and more, all of which must be denied in order to claim Young Earth creationism as correct, we have various elements of physics, such as astronomy and radiometric dating which peg the Earth at somewhere near 4.5 billion years old, with the universe at least 13.7 billion years old.

Not only are creationists willing to deny reams of scientific evidence from fields all over the scientific spectrum, but they’re also willing to try to twist actual science to fit their demands. Among the most absurd arguments for creationism is the idea that evolution somehow violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics – a claim that could only be made by somebody who either doesn’t understand the Second Law of Thermodynamics or who thinks little enough of their audience to believe that the audience won’t understand it.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics, in a paraphrased form, states that in a closed system, all elements tend towards entropy. In more practical terms, it states that heat cannot flow from a cold object to a hot object without external work being applied to the system. The Earth is not a closed system. Heat is transferred between the Earth and its surroundings; heat flows into the Earth’s atmosphere from the Sun, while heat flows out of it via radiation. As for biological organisms, they must and do conduct external work on their own systems to maintain local order. Much of the energetic requirements of a human being are expended as heat in order to stave off localised entropy, with the brain being the prime example of this use of energy. None of this works in any way like the creationists explain – and their attempted perversion of science in this way demonstrates a ruthless and worrying disregard for the role of observation and experiment in their aims to push their pet hypotheses.

Young Earth creationism is, as a scientific hypothesis, a sad joke with no observable evidence behind it whatsoever and the works of several dozen fields of science and the humanities against it. However, creationism doesn’t stop there, as it has another, more presentable face in the form of so-called “Intelligent Design” – but this face is just as odious from a scientific perspective, since unlike the patently absurd Young Earth hypotheses, Intelligent Design pays lip-service to science while simultaneously ignoring many of its core tenets.

Intelligent Design, just as with any other form of creationism, posits the idea of a creator entity. The word “intelligent” in the name appears to relate to an intelligent entity rather than the design itself being intelligent – for, as I’ve intimated above, it would be pretty difficult to suggest that human anatomy, for example, is particularly intelligent. You know, with the backwards eye where light shines in through the wiring, the hip design which causes labouring mothers to experience a lot of pain, so on, so forth. The hypothesis appears on the surface to provide answers that other forms of creationism just can’t answer, like accountability for the actual, observed microevolution occurring in bacteria at this very moment – and probably including some of the bacteria living on the bodies of the readers. Yet, Intelligent Design still contravenes scientific consensus – largely for the reason that it is not falsifiable.

Falsifiability is a very important concept in science and plays a major role in the scientific method which underpins research in the physical sciences. The scientific method involves the use of a chain of steps, taking the rough form of observation-hypothesis-prediction-experimentation-reproduction, in order to test a hypothesis and attempt to produce observable, testable results which can then be reproduced by other scientists in order to eliminate any bias or contamination that may affect your experimentation procedure. A hypothesis with sufficiently large observed evidence for its correctness may then become a theory (a word which has become rather loaded when it comes to reporting science to non-practitioners, often being confused with a hypothesis in the sense described above). The principle of falsifiability plays deep into this process, since for an experiment to be useful, there must be a chance for the hypothesis that it tests to be invalided by the experiment.

This is not the case with Intelligent Design. An advocate for Intelligent Design could claim, if an experiment was ever undertaken to attempt to disprove the hypothesis, that the experimental conditions were themselves incorrect for any variety of experimental conditions. As a result, Intelligent Design, just as with any other form of creationism, is of no scientific value and therefore its teaching in a scientific curriculum would not only be useless but deleterious to other scientific disciplines.

Unfortunately, creationism is being peddled by a mixture of slick operators who play on a perceived public distrust of science and religiously motivated preachers who decry any attack on their religion – or at least the way in which they interpret their religion, since evolution does not inherently discount the idea of the existence of a god – even when that perceived attack relates to issues which should not have religious motivations behind them anyway.

This isn’t helped by the difficulty for scientists facing off against creationists; by debating them face to face, evolution scientists give creationists an air of scientific respectability that their beliefs do not deserve, while those who openly decry creationist teaching are often vocal atheists as well, creating a perspective that evolution marches in lockstep with atheism. Ignoring creationists might well magnify the erroneous idea of an ivory-tower scientific elite. In my eyes, the best thing to do would be to contest the principles of any school where creationist teachings are being given scientific credence either as an alternative or replacement for evolutionary theory, while trying to keep the vocal attacks on religion away from the subject while doing so. I may be an atheist myself, but I see having people conflating evolutionary science with atheism as a problem waiting to happen – the science should come first.

E.V.O.: Search for Eden – A Retrospective Review

Chrono Trigger is one of the SNES’s best-loved role-playing games, with beautiful graphics, enchanting music and a sweeping story which encompassed time travel between many different eras of its world’s history. It wasn’t, however, the only SNES game with a focus on multiple eras. For instance, Maxis released a version of SimEarth: The Living Planet on the SNES, although as an awkward port of a mediocre title, it languishes in deserved obscurity. A more interesting title is E.V.O.: Search for Eden, a title developed by the Japanese developer, Almanic Corporation, and published by Enix in 1992.

It’s difficult to pin down E.V.O.: Search for Eden‘s exact genre, given that it encompasses elements from many different game genres. I think it would be best to describe it as a side-scrolling action RPG with platforming elements. By killing other creatures and eating their remains, you gain points which can be spent on developing your body to better suit the conditions of the era. Eventually, at the end of each time period, you face off against the most threatening creature of the era and progress to a later time period, often evolving into a different form.

The story, which is very much secondary to the gameplay, combines evolutionary theory with a sort of creation myth, where the Sun creates the nine planets (this being developed at a time before Pluto was demoted), and names one of them “Gaia”. Gaia is told that creatures may challenge to progress to Eden, but must complete the challenges before them through the multiple eras of the Earth. Your creature, as Gaia’s apparent favourite, is given guidance and challenged to progress through the different eras of Earth’s development, starting with the Cambrian era. The game begins with you playing a fish in the Cambrian period of the geological timescale, progressing to an amphibian, then to a reptile, before you are given a choice to progress into a bird or a mammal later on. However, some time during the amphibian stage, you are given some indication that there is outside interference in the evolutionary process, which could have dire consequences for the development of Gaia’s wildlife.

The more interesting part of the game lies in the gameplay. In each stage of your evolution, you begin with a weak example of the creature in question, such as a fish without a dorsal or pectoral fin, or an ichthyostega-like amphibian with puny frog-like jaws. In each evolutionary stage, you have a number of attacks which can be used to kill opponents, such as the bite or ram in the fish stage, or the kick available to mammals. Defeating and consuming other creatures gives you Evolution Points, which may be used to purchase more powerful body parts, such as more powerful jaws, a stronger tail or a more well-armoured body. Some of these improvements enhance your combative abilities, giving the ability to bite or ram more effectively, while others give you more protection against attacks, or more hit points to absorb damage. Not every improvement is entirely positive, and there is occasionally a trade off of protection against agility.

When you start out as a fish, the evolutionary system can seem somewhat like a gimmick, as there is fairly obviously a most effective path to take, and all of the other improvements are merely transitional. This gimmicky feel persists until the reptilian stage, where you begin to get mutually exclusive evolutionary paths which allow different body forms. It is in this stage where the system begins to show real promise, and while it’s somewhat disappointing that it takes until about two-fifths through the game for the system to really work, it’s imaginative and fun.

Unfortunately, the system, along with the fact that many of the levels are a linear affair and most of the creatures are easy to defeat with a simple strategy, encourages grinding over transitional evolutions. Indeed, grinding is often the only way to get your creature strong enough to take on the game’s bosses, who are substantially more powerful than the other creatures in the game. The difficulty of the bosses compared to the other creatures can occasionally halt progress as you try to figure out how to defeat them before they destroy you. It’s most unfortunate that perhaps the strongest boss in the game aside from the final boss comes at the end of the amphibian stage, before the multiple evolutionary paths have been unveiled and at a stage where the most effective body parts for defeating the boss also lead to low hit points and fragility.

There is, however, a way to subvert the battle system in your favour. The evolutionary system has a peculiar quirk where any evolutionary change leads to the regaining of life, leading to a way to cheese your way through fights by evolving cheap horns and removing them when your life gets low, or the four-legged mammal trick of shortening or extending your neck for low cost and little in-game effect. Given how cheap some of the boss fights can be, it can hardly be protested if you use a cheap trick in your favour to counter some of these tricks.

One of the most frustrating elements in the game which contributes to the cheapness of some of the boss fights is the near-lack of mercy invulnerability when one is hit. This is especially frustrating when it comes to collision damage, which can be a major pain not only during boss fights, but also during some fights with standard creatures, especially near the start of the game. I even would have accepted more powerful hits from creatures in exchange for some mercy invulnerability, as it would be a fairer prospect all round.

Graphically, the game is nice, with decently coloured environments and sprites, although it doesn’t match the best on the SNES. There is a sort of cartoonish look to the game which suits it well; it’s not entirely serious, and merits something a bit out of the ordinary. This especially comes into play with some of the early stages of evolution for each creature type, which happen to look a lot softer and squishier than the ultimate progressions. The environments are, for the most part, attractive enough, but they’re hardly memorable, and really serve as a place for the action rather than being a centrepiece of the game.

The game’s music, composed by Koichi Sugiyama of Dragon Quest fame, is again for the most part nice, but inconsistent and not particularly memorable. The music ranges from the great, but not exceptional, final boss theme which reappeared in I Wanna Be The Guy, to the mediocre overworld theme, or annoying “Amphibian’s Land” theme. None of it is terrible, but the soundtrack is hardly up there with Chrono Trigger, Super Metroid or Final Fantasy VI.

Before I give the game a final assessment, perhaps I should delve deeper into the science of the game, given that it does have an evolutionary theme. The game does appear to contain a fair deal of the archetypical creatures of each geological period, such as ichthyostega and early dragonflies and proto-cockroaches in the amphibian stage and Tyrannosaurus rex, stegosaurus and pterosaurs in the dinosaur stages, although these are often out of sync with their real development. The evolutionary process is also stated on occasion to be tampered with, which perhaps explains some of the differences, but the game doesn’t entirely stick to the plan even during the early fish period.

All in all, the game probably presents a better view of evolutionary biology than most other computer games, or for that matter, cinema or television, but that says more about how bad the representation of science is in computer games than anything else. What is notable (and sad), however, is that looking up Wikipedia to see how accurate the game was taught me more about evolutionary biology than anything else I’d done since I last studied evolution at a second year university level two years ago. In that way, at least, there is some educational value in the game.

Looking on the game as a whole, it’s pretty easy to see why E.V.O.: Search for Eden is obscure. That’s not to say that it’s a bad game, because it’s not – although it can be very frustrating, especially considering the boss fights and the lack of mercy invulnerability. However, neither is it a brilliant game, and in an era of exceptional and excellent RPGs such as the aforementioned Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI, or the likes of EarthBound and Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, that would be enough to guarantee some degree of obscurity. Something that can’t be denied, though, is the game’s innovative structure and imaginative progression.

Bottom Line:Innovative, interesting, although occasionally frustrating, it’s easy to see why E.V.O.: Search for Eden is obscure, but it’s very different and perhaps deserves mention for its imaginative system of play at least.

Recommendation: This is not a game which you’d be running off to eBay to order immediately, but it would be a decent buy in a bargain bin, and perhaps deserves a rerelease on the likes of the Wii Virtual Console. If you can find it without too much effort or expense, and you’re in the market for a different RPG, you might want to consider a try.