Dr. Ray Bohlin reviews a second science critique of Theistic Evolution, asking if universal common descent is real. The evidence says no.

The Fossil Record and Universal Common Ancestry

In a previous article, I examined the failure of neo-darwinism on the basis of the landmark book Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique.{1}

download-podcastIn this article, I’m reviewing the second science critique of theistic evolution. This section asks whether universal common descent or UCD is real. Universal common descent simply states that all organisms today are descended from one or a few early organisms by Darwinian evolution. UCD is usually if not always vigorously defended by theistic evolutionists, or, as they now prefer, “evolutionary creationists.” UCD is considered beyond question. And doubters of UCD are compared to flat earthers and those who believe the sun and planets revolve around the earth. In this section I’ll review the first chapter in this section by Gunter Bechly and Stephen C. Meyer.

Bechly and Meyer simply ask if the fossil record records this smooth transition from a single common ancestor to all life forms today. They survey numerous gaps in the fossils where certain large groups appear suddenly again, and again, and again. When a variety of new forms appear, the fossil record is full of gaps. In an old earth perspective, which theistic evolutionists adopt, one of these gaps goes back to the earliest life on earth. Fossils of bacteria show up 3.8 billion years ago right after the Late Heavy Bombardment of the earth by asteroids from 4.1 billion years ago to 3.8 billion years ago. This leaves virtually no time for the origin of that first life.

Let’s jump ahead to the Cambrian Explosion where nearly all animal Phyla show up in the fossil record suddenly, with no ancestors, 450 million years ago. Arthropods, Mollusks, Annelids, Chordates, and many others just show up, already fully differentiated from each other, with few
clues of which phyla are most closely related to other phyla.

Then there is the Silurian-Devonian Radiation of Terrestrial Biotas. Here vascular land plants show up suddenly with no clue as to how and when they transitioned from marine plants to land plants.

Then there are the flowering plants. Charles Darwin called their sudden appearance in the Cretaceous period “an abominable mystery.”

There are more problems in the animal kingdom. All the orders of mammals with placentas suddenly show up in a narrow time window, too narrow to have evolved from earlier animals. A paleontologist said, “Within approximately 15 million years of dinosaur extinction most of the 20 orders of placentals had appeared.” And last, the orders of modern birds show up all at once in the fossil record around the same time. Whew, more tomorrow.

Universal Common Descent: A Comprehensive Critique (Part 1)

In this section I’m reviewing Casey Luskin’s chapter called “Universal Common Descent: A
Comprehensive Critique.”

In this chapter, Luskin covers four main topics:

• evidence against common descent from biogeography,
• the fossil record,
• molecular phylogenies, and
• embryology.

Since I covered the fossil record in the above section, I’ll focus on biogeography here and molecular phylogenies in the next.

Why would biogeography even be considered by theistic evolutionists as evidence of common ancestry? Well, it was used by Darwin, when he saw that the fossil mammals in South America resembled the animals living on the continent today. Luskin looks at a most glaring example of a severe problem in this category, Platyrrhine monkeys. Two families have prehensile tails, which
can grasp things like tree branches while their four limbs perform other tasks. While some old-world monkeys have tails, they are not prehensile.

The new world monkeys are said to have arrived in South America about 30 million years ago. At that time however, Africa and South America were at least 600 miles apart. So how did the platyrrhine monkeys, supposedly recently evolved from old-world monkeys, cross the ocean? The usual response is to suggest that a group or even a single pregnant female rafted on some fallen trees and brush.

This seems incredibly improbable. First, it would require these branches or shrubs to provide food for at least one pregnant female. This drifting pile of branches would take several weeks or most probably months to drift from Africa to South America. This incredible hypothesis is offered because these two groups of monkeys are supposedly related by common ancestry, but on different sides of the ocean. So, there must be a way to preserve common ancestry of these two groups of monkeys no matter how improbable.

Biogeography hurts UCD far more than it helps.

Universal Common Descent: A Comprehensive Critique – (Part 2)

In this section on Casey Luskin’s chapter on Universal Common Descent, my focus is on evidence from molecular phylogenies, where molecules like genes and proteins are compared to create trees based on molecules, not anatomy. Scientists can now determine the amino acid sequence of
proteins and the nucleotide sequence of the gene that codes for the protein.

Previously, Darwin’s tree of life was constructed by comparing anatomical similarities and differences to determine where a species or group of species belonged in the tree. And since it was thought that genes determine the anatomical structure of an organism, a tree constructed by
comparing the gene sequences of a protein should give the same tree as the anatomical tree. This was the expectation of numerous scholars.

However, there has been no agreement between anatomical and gene sequence trees except with very closely related species. Molecular phylogenies for different proteins reveal contradictory trees. Now, many scientists have abandoned Darwin’s tree of life. In 1999, W. Ford Doolittle
offered that “Molecular phylogenists will have failed to find the ‘true tree’ . . . because the history of life cannot properly be represented as a tree.” The problem has only gotten worse. Several authors over the last 25 years are quoted by Luskin{2}: one said that “Different proteins generate different trees” (1998); another said, “Evolutionary trees from different genes often have conflicting branching patterns,” (2009). A third author wrote, “The problem was that different genes told contradictory evolutionary stories” (2009). And finally, a fourth author said, “Evolutionary trees constructed by studying biological molecules often don’t resemble those drawn up from morphology.”

Many evolutionists have abandoned the tree model altogether, which leaves Universal Common Descent in grave trouble.

Missing Transitions: Human Origins and the Fossil Record

Theistic evolutionists agree that humans show clear evidence of having a common ancestor with chimpanzees. But if humans evolved from an ape-like ancestor, was there a real Adam and Eve? Was there an actual fall? Many evolutionary creationists would say no. They hold that humans evolved from a population of at least 1,000 individuals, not two, and that humans were already sinful and therefore never fell into sin.

Casey Luskin explores whether the fossil record documents a steady series of fossils transforming an ape-like ancestor into humans over the last 6-7 million years.

Luskin focuses on three critical questions about the hominin fossils: first, are there candidates for something very close to the common ancestor of humans and chimps; second, are the australopithecines intermediates between our ape-like ancestor and us; and last, is there a series of fossils linking australopithecines and humans?

Fragmentary fossils of three possible candidates for a common ancestor between chimps and humans have been found between 6.6 to 4.4 million years ago. But all three were eventually dismissed as simple apes or too fragmentary to draw any conclusions. All these fossils would easily fit inside a child’s shoe box.

The second question is, were the australopithecines intermediates between our ape-like ancestor and us? The australopithecines ranged from 4 to 1 million years ago and have long been advertised as on the road to humans. But paleoanthropologists cannot agree about the roles, if any, the australopithecines had in human origins.

The third question asks, is there a series of fossils linking australopithecines and humans?

Homo erectus, the first species in the genus Homo, appeared about 1.8 million years ago, but we haven’t found any potential intermediates between australopithecines and Homo. “Although the transition from Australopithecus to Homo is usually thought of as a momentous transformation, the fossil record bearing on the origin and earliest evolution of Homo is virtually undocumented.” The so-called evolution of the human species is fragmentary and blotchy.

Evidence for Human Uniqueness

Most evolutionary creationists believe that humans and chimpanzees share a common ancestor around 6-7 million years ago. Above, I addressed the lack of fossil evidence for the human descent from this common ancestor. But equally, evolutionary creationists claim there is powerful evidence linking humans and chimpanzees, that there is only a 1-2% difference of our DNA, indicating humans and chimps are closely related. Ann Gauger, Ola Hossjer, and Colin
Reaves deal with this claim in their chapter, Evidence for Human Uniqueness.

This chapter uses an abundance of technical terminology. I will be avoiding many of those terms to save time needing to define them for you. I will be generalizing their discussion as much as

If you simply compare the individual building blocks of DNA called nucleotides, where the sequences match up between human and chimp DNA, there is only a 1.23% difference between humans and chimps. But when you begin to include insertions, deletions, the number and location of repeated elements, as well as the extreme differences between the Y chromosomes of humans and chimps, the difference rises to at least 5%.

It’s estimated that there are about 60 genes found in humans that have no similar genes in chimps. It’s difficult to get just one unique gene in 6 million years, but 60? Impossible!! There are differences in non-coding DNA, how chromosomes are arranged in the nucleus in cells of
different tissues, how genes are regulated, etc. Many of these differences are found in genes expressed in brain tissues.

These genetic differences bring about dozens of anatomical and physiological differences. Our brains are larger and constructed differently; our feet, necks, and location of the skull on the spine are different.

We think about past and future, we play, dance, make music, communicate through language, use symbolic logic, we write novels and poetry, use math and art, and show empathy for others. There are so many more differences. We do not share a common ancestor with chimps. There is not enough time for evolution bring about all these differences.

I hope that now you are convinced that evolutionary creationist insistence that Universal Common Descent be fully accepted is not based on evidence, just a belief that evolution is true.


1. J.P. Moreland, Stephen C. Meyer, Christopher Shaw, Ann K. Gauger, and Wayne Grudem, Editors. Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017.

2. Pp. 380-382.

©2023 Probe Ministries

Raymond G. Bohlin is Vice President at Probe Ministries. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois (B.S., zoology), North Texas State University (M.S., population genetics), and the University of Texas at Dallas (M.S., Ph.D., molecular biology). He is the co-author of the book The Natural Limits to Biological Change, served as general editor of Creation, Evolution and Modern Science, co-author of Basic Questions on Genetics, Stem Cell Research and Cloning (The BioBasics Series), and has published numerous journal articles. Dr. Bohlin was named a Research Fellow of the Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture in 1997, 2000 and 2012.

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