Alternatives to evolution
Alternatives to evolution - are they scientific?
Scientific literature reflects what scientists do. Scott and Cole (1985) searched scientific literature databases for "creationism" and found only faint traces. Since creationists often claim to be unfairly excluded by scientific journals, Scott and Cole surveyed journal editors to see how many creationist articles were actually submitted. Creationist submissions were few (18) and were largely by nonscientific authors and of poor quality.

Since 1985, additional alternatives to evolution such as "intelligent design" (ID) and "teaching the controversy" have appeared. In preparing to testify before the Nebraska State Board of Education, I searched the literature for "intelligent design". Several things were apparent. First, online databases greatly simplify searches. Second, the volume of scientific literature has increased dramatically. Third, contrary to what creationists often claim, evolution thrives in the scientific literature, and fourth, as we shall see, scientific literature is nearly devoid of "alternatives to evolution."

I used online Science Citation Index. This is a large database which covers the most important scientific journals. It was established by Eugene Garfield who recognized the value of indexing articles by their bibliographies. The most obvious virtue is that one can determine how often an item is cited. This is a good, though not definitive, indicator of its value to other scientists. Another virtue is that it shows connections among items. These define fields of scientific research and interrelationships among them.

If alternatives to evolution are legitimate scientific concepts, one should find many scientific articles that use terms specific to the "alternatives." Furthermore if these concepts are important enough to include in textbooks, one should find networks of citations, i.e. groups of articles which cite important "primordial" publications, i.e. those which define the field.

As of December 9, 2002 there were 11,200,000 articles from 5,300 journals in the SCI database for the years 1990-2002. To begin I searched "scientific creationism" and "creation science" (in titles, keywords and abstracts). The former hit 3 items and the latter 11. None were in research journals. On Google the former hits 8500 sites and the latter 58,000. A favorite creationist topic, "polonium halos" which hits 750 sites on Google hit only one item in SCI, a brief article in Geotimes, a geosciences news magazine (not a research journal). A creationist web site notes two "important creationist works;" Siegfried Scherer, Basic Functional States in the Evolution of Light-driven Cyclic Electron Transport, Journal of Theoretical Biology 104 [1983]: 289-299 and Grant Lambert, Enzymic Editing Mechanisms and the Origin of Biological Information Transfer, Journal of Theoretical Biology 107 [1984]: 387-403. The former is cited only once in the past 12 years, a self citation, and the latter is not cited at all. Though creationism is a popular concept, it has contributed negligibly to scientific literature.

A Google search for "Intelligent design" hit 68,000 sites. Judging from the first few pages these are largely biological ID sites. Clearly ID is a prominent popular concept, but is it a scientific concept?

In SCI the phrase "intelligent design" hit 109 items in titles, keywords or abstracts. Of these 75 refer to intelligent design in engineering. Of the 28 articles on biological ID (which first appear in 1999) most are critical of ID. The most recent items are largely letters to the editor in response to critical articles in Physics Today. Of the 3 articles which promote ID all are in non-research journals (Natural History, Philosophy of Science, Biological Philosophy). There is one item with the key ID concept "specified complexity," a book review. There are no items with "irreducible complexity" another key ID concept. Since there are no ID research articles, there is obviously no citation network defining the concept.

The keyword "evolution*" appears 56,000 times (in titles) over the same period. I estimate a quarter to a third refer to biological evolution. "Evolution*" appears 2900 times in 1991, 4200 times in 1996, and 5900 times in 2001. Obviously evolution is not on its way out. Opponents of evolution, nonetheless, promote "teaching the controversy." A Google search for this phrase hits 370 sites. This implies that evolution is controversial. The popular book "Icons of Evolution" by Jonathan Wells supports this notion. The phrase "teaching the controversy," however doesn't appear in the SCI database. A search of titles for items which contain both "evolution*" and "controvers*" returns 19 items. Of these, 7 refer to controversies within evolution and 11 refer to cultural conflict. The only ambiguous title is a 1992 article in an Italian journal. SCI contains no citations of this article so it clearly doesn't define an important trend.

The take-home message is that evolution is highly cited and an important scientific concept. In the scientific literature, alternatives to evolution rank in importance with "flat earth" which hits 54 items in the SCI database. The few references to "alternatives" are in peripheral (nonresearch) journals. A science curriculum which discusses concepts in proportion to their importance in scientific literature, should not mention alternatives to evolution. More generally, database searches provide useful justification for excluding pseudoscience from curricula.

Groups that oppose evolution such as the Discovery Institute and the Institute for Creation Research publish apologetics for their followers and talk little to scientists or to each other. Both groups are anxious to have their positions recognized as science, but their audiences are more interested in discrediting evolution rather than in advancing science. They have developed no hypotheses which would support productive experimental research.


Scott EC, and Cole HP. The elusive basis of creation "science". Quarterly Review of Biology 1985; 60: 21-30