Fallacy of “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution,”

Here’s a good article on this often cited yet absolutely illogical phrase:

I was reminded of this while reading another funny piece of fiction: “The story of the human body”.

Dobzhansky’s famous quip was always meant to be hyperbolic, so there is no need to get all in a huff about it. The fact remains that the theory of evolution does make sense of massive sections of biology, even if it doesn’t explain every iota of data. For example, nothing in comparative genetics makes sense except in the light of evolution. Nothing in the fossil record makes sense except in the light of evolution. Nothing about the distribution of morphological characteristics in living species makes sense except in the light of evolution. This isn’t some sort of metaphysical axiom. This is a demonstrable fact.


Little about inguinal hernias makes sense except in the light of evolution. Ditto the ability to asphyxiate from food getting stuck in one’s throat.


Or more precisely, the fact that human testes start out in the stomach region during embryonic development only makes sense in the light of evolution with reference to the anatomy of our fish cousins.


Hunter is basically trumping Dobzhansky’s hyperbole with his own hyperbole.

“Earlier, we saw that by wholeheartedly embracing and promoting Theodosius Dobzhansky’s famous phrase, “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution,” evolutionists have backed themselves into a corner from which they cannot escape.”

And a little bit later…

“But Dobzhansky’s famous phrase is not the only way evolutionists have self-destructed.”

The implication is that if Dobzhansky’s statement is inaccurate (or even exaggerated) in any way, the theory of evolution is in great peril. Such claims are just plain silly.



Brilliant observation!!!

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He chomps all over this quote from the NABT:
“Evolutionary biology rests on the same scientific methodologies the rest of science uses, appealing only to natural events and processes to describe and explain phenomena in the natural world. Science teachers must reject calls to account for the diversity of life or describe the mechanisms of evolution by invoking non-naturalistic or supernatural notions … Ideas such as these are outside the scope of science and should not be presented as part of the science curriculum. These notions do not adhere to the shared scientific standards of evidence gathering and interpretation.”

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The sacred aspect of Evolution, promoted by our friends here at BioLogos, must remain outside of the public classrooms. And he will never understand why.

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Yep. Whereas truck nutz are examples of reified, intelligent design.


Apparently some pro-BioLogos readers have read my post above, and they wonder what I was writing about.
I have been asked “. . . just why God must remain outside of the public classrooms?”

The short answer comes in some of the memes that float around the internet all year long . Maybe memes inspired by Ultra-Patriotic serialized animated espionage shows really do say it best …

@cwhenderson, maybe you want to add this one to your collection of memes?


Hyperbolic is not the same as illogical. Do you admit it’s ‘illogical’? And if so, why do I read this in a very recent book and other recent books promoting evolution?


  1. And that is a “nothing in biology makes sense…”? Wow!
  2. If a “defective” part of your body is same as your “cousins”, how comes other parts, say brain, are not the same?
  3. What does this tell you about Tesla having the same basic four wheels as some thousands of year old wagon?

This is an “if”? You must be kidding.
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Until @T_aquaticus has a chance to respond, let me point out that the famous quip:

Theodosius Dobzhansky’s famous quip:

“Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution…”

is certainly not illogical. It’s a sweeping generality. We could certainly make sense out of little pieces of biology here and there … without having recourse to Evolution.

The early biologists certainly did so. But from the perspective of what all these little pieces of biological fact have to do with each other - - Evolution certainly provides the greater context.

Just look at the fact that in the sedimentary stacks of rock all over the world… there is no explanation for why we find no large mammals mingled with dinosaurs … and we find no dinosaurs in the upper levels of the stacks.

No Creationist can explain that. There is no Flood scientist that can explain that. In the midst of the stacks, not just once but many times, we find fossil traces of rain drops, of small animals making calm predatory traces through mud … mud that hardens into rock onto which new mud is deposited with more traces of animal lives calmly proceeding over the course of eons.

Only Evolutionary theory has the scope, breadth and internal coherence to make all this observations sensible to the human mind.



The point of analyzing the defective parts of a life form shared by close relatives to the life form is to deduce the sequence of which population came first, and which came next.

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But here you need to explain your assertions…

What exactly to you think you mean when you write:

“If a “defective” part of your body is same as your “cousins”, how comes other parts, say brain, are not the same?”

What is it you mean here? Where do you detect a logical problem? Can you explain the logical problem?

If you still don’t understand what “natural selection” means (in a fish tank, in a bacteria culture, or in the jungles of the world) - - how do you hope to make a dent in the minds of people who are pretty comfortable examining these intricacies?

As to your ruffling of @cwhenderson stance …

What exactly can you describe to us that makes what his statement a convincing case of illogic? It is easy enough for any of us to see that it is a “sweeping generalization” - - which by definition makes it an exaggeration.

But you haven’t begun to touch the issue of whether it is illogical or not.


My comment was on Hunter’s argument, not whether or not Dobzhansky’s claim is an exaggeration. I agree it’s an exaggeration, and I’m fairly certain you can recognize that Hunter’s argument is, as well.

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This all makes a lot of sense to me, so I appreciate you sharing. I would like my own stab at the title of the post…

“Nothing @NonlinOrg says makes sense except when you believe the Discovery Institute does real science”


I don’t find it illogical that the theory of evolution explains biology. Why would that be illogical?

It is hyperbolic to say that NOTHING in biology makes sense without evolution, but it is not illogical to say that massive portions of biology do make sense in the light of evolution.


I say that Doby’s quip can essentially mean, “No essential or basic feature of biology can be made sense of except under the idea that higher life forms ultimately are the biogenetic descendants of lower”.

Therefore, given merely the verbatim of the quip itself, it is not self-evident that Doby meant a hyperbole at all.

And if I believed that the origin of the various levels of life forms is from biogenetic progress of life forms, then I would not mean any hyperbole by saying, 'Nothing in biology makes sense except in light of idea of progressive biogenetic change.

But, as long as we are dealing here with logical nuances, I would hope that it is agreed by all here that there is a genuine, and important, distinction between a species’ biological acquisition of:

(a) an effective improvement in regard to a specific narrow challenge,


(b) an actual improvement in over-all adaptability potential

This difference can be clarified by how it is instantiated in familiar, comparatively very simple, non-biological systems. In such systems, a case of (a) is very easily understood not to necessarily be a case of (b). Moreover, in such systems, it is easily determined that many, if not most or all, cases of (a) are in fact not cases of (b), but are, rather, the opposite of (b).

Take a brand new, standard four-part pencil. It has a certain finite set of possible uses (not just pencil uses, but all possible uses). That set is determined by the four materials and the shape they each have: Wood as long hexagonal linear, graphite as core round linear, rubber as stubby round on one end of the wood, steel as thin-gauge, short band holding rubber to wood.

Only when the rubber is all gone is the rim of the steel band fully exposed for, say, some serious scratching usage. For instance, say the pencil’s environment does not include any of the kinds of surfaces that easily bear a graphite mark, but does include an endless supply of surfaces that easily are scratched by the steel (but not easily scratched or impressed by the graphite or the wood).

Yet the loss of the rubber has decreased the the pencil’s usage potential.

The loss of the rubber has resulted in the addition of a “new” usage. But that “new” usage was already there in potentia, and is realized only with the loss of information.

A slightly more complex example would be, say, a standard electric motored circular saw. If the entire saw assembly is disassembled, the total number of uses for the total of the individual parts is far in excess of that for the whole saw. But this disassembling of the saw has resulted in a very great decrease in the total power available for a given task requiring cutting.

Indeed, even though a single atom has far great power than can be applied by a hammer, the most important tasks of the hammer are not the trivial ones that are being accomplished by the countless atoms that make up the hammer. Take the hammer head off the wood handle, and you have two different tools, but neither of which is very effective in hammering nails all day.

And a box of cereal (the kind that has no airtight plastic bag inside) may make a great very temporary flotation device of the sort that, in a sewage pool, is needed only very temporarily. But, in principle, that box of cereal is far better used to keep from starving to death—as long, that is, as that nutritional use actually is employed, and not left in a meaningless abstraction of the verbatim. For, a sign on a public bike that says, ‘This will help you get where you are going’ is not realizable by simply hauling the bike around over your shoulder on the belief that the bike is some kind of talisman.

So, in order for us humans to access the power of the atom for important tasks, a whole lot of information must be applied. There is no information needed to wear down an eraser. In fact, for its ability to erase information, a truly most crucial kind of information can simply be erased by the unknowing wind-blown sand. The biological organism must be equal to such trivial forces, and in the exact kind of informational way by which its own proper total potential is maintained.

So if I have no hard sharp point, but I need one just to stay alive, I can break my arm, compound, so that the raw bone juts out with sharp point. But then my arm is broken, compound. This is not progressive biogenetic evolution. So the question is whether such evolution exists at all, not whether it can be imagined to be witnessed in action.

…And until such evolution actually is witnessed, other sense-making is already available for basic biological facts (including long dead, and often fossilized, biology). Yes, the complexity of other explanations may be unappealing. But I presume that you have to admit, at least, that (a) is not necessarily (b).

“Changes to the program that questions everything.”

When someone uses absolutes like “everything” or “nothing” it should be understood as hyperbole, especially when you are dealing with scientists.[quote=“Daniel_Pech, post:16, topic:36621”]
This difference can be clarified by how it is instantiated in familiar, comparatively very simple, non-biological systems. In such systems, a case of (a) is very easily understood not to necessarily be a case of (b). Moreover, in such systems, it is easily determined that many, if not most or all, cases of (a) are in fact not cases of (b), but are, rather, the opposite of (b).

The examples you gave are not analogous to the examples found in biology. Here are a few:

  1. Why do birds have feathers and a single middle ear bone? Why do mammals have fur and three middle ear bones? Why do we find completely independent features that are consistently found together, and why do those shared features produce a phylogeny?

  2. When we compare genomes, why do exons share more sequence than introns?

  3. Why does a comparison of DNA produce the same phylogeny as a comparison of physical features?

Those are three massive sets of data that only evolution can explain.



“Nothing” is not an absolute. It requires an appropriate context to be an absolute. In other words, it is rarely meant as The Absolute Nothing. When someone answers the question, ‘What are you looking for?’ with ‘Nothing’, it is not hyperbole so much as it means ‘I don’t care to get into a discussion with you over what I am looking for.’

That is, normally, “nothing” has some context. Consider how context normally works: When I say ‘I got four hours of sleep last year’, unsuspecting people normally take me to be saying 'My total amount of sleep for last year amounted to only several hours (as opposed to the normal thousands).

But it is possible for one to mean the utterly trivial fact that one got ‘four hours’ of sleep, and then to add this trivial fact to yet another trivial context, such as ‘last year’. This in no way implies a limit to four hours of sleep that year, but is simply a statement of pointless fact. It can, for example, be meant as joke, or as a trick-joke. One can imagine a discussion between Curly and Moe that begins with Curly saying such a trivial thing. But it rarely, by anyone, is meant simply as-is. Not even I am here using it simply as is, because I am, rather, using it as an example for making a point about normativity of implied context.


If you are right, I fail to detect that normal scientific thinking is so big on hyperbole. My impression has always been that hyperbole is rarely meant. Rather, what usually is meant, it seems to me, is something more implied. If I say, ‘I hate the sun’, the normal context of such an utterance will show that I do not mean that which can be determined only from the words. It is not hyperbole. Rather, it is the normal, condition-specific utterance of, say, my getting blinded from having the Sunlight shining into my face as I sit otherwise comfortably in the window seat a jam-packed train on a miles and miles long straight stretch of track.

And, since implied context in normal, as opposed the trivial lack if any, it would be absurd to insist that I meant that which can be determined only from the words, ‘I hate the Sun.’

So my point is that I think most people who might ever sincerely say the words that Doby said, and that many here think he meant as hyperbole, would not normally mean it in either a hyperbolic or absolute sense.

The term “Everything in biology”, when uttered in the context of some single espoused idea of how biology broadly functions for its own origins, does not seem to me to normally be meant as anything more than “Every essential thing in biology”. It is not as if the person is trying to make a point by way of exaggeration, such as when a parent, in moment of frustration, utters, “I hate all children!”

I hate the Sun. I love the Sun. (I have not materially contradicted myself here.)

Nothing essential about biology makes sense except in light of…

Are you saying that there is no analogue to this in say, automobiles?

The following quote is from ‘Is the evolutionary tree turning into a creationist orchard?’ by Pierre Jerlström, Journal of Creation 14(2):11–13 August 2000.

Evolutionists often infer that all organisms are related based on similarities at the physiological and anatomical level and, more recently, on ribosomal RNA (rRNA) homology at the gene level. Eldredge has highlighted this in his statement: ‘ … the major prediction of evolutionary theory is that there is one single nested pattern of resemblance linking all organisms’. As a result, there has been an attempt to group all life into one phylogenetic or family tree. But the large gaps between many supposed relatives have been a constant headache.

The recent elucidation of the complete genome sequences of 20 microorganisms has given fresh hope that this new data will help to reduce the gaps and strengthen the rRNA tree of life. But the data is instead proving to be a Trojan horse, as sequence comparison between homologous genes is yielding unexpected relatives and evolutionary lines, and different trees from the one originally predicted.

If someone responds to a question about exons and introns with a 17-year-old quote-mining specimen from a creationist “journal,” referencing complete genome sequences of “20 microorganisms” (in this case bacteria), then they don’t know what exons are and don’t know how to distinguish science from nonsense.


“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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