A simple answer to a common creationist question

This is from the “Overheard” section of the March issue of Freethought Today, the terrific publication of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. It’s part of Joseph Roberts’ response, published in the Monroe (Louisiana) News Star, to a “prayer warrior’s” letter to the editor, “Atheist unswayed by God’s wrath”:

[Although] he thinks it a “profound question” asking, “if we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?”, it’s actually quite cliché.  To use language he might understand, it’s like asking “if God created us from dust, why is there still dust?”


  1. republicanfaithchat
    Posted March 16, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    The problem has been described this way:

    “Arguing with creationists is a bit like trying to play chess with a pigeon. It doesn’t matter how good of a chess player you are; it walks around the board knocking over the pieces and pooping on the board and then sticks its chest out and struts as if it has won something.”

    • Marella
      Posted March 17, 2012 at 3:46 am | Permalink


    • Posted March 17, 2012 at 5:38 am | Permalink

      SOOO going to steal (and use) that! Hahahaha.

      • kingasaurus
        Posted March 17, 2012 at 5:46 am | Permalink

        The one I always heard ends with “it flies home and claims victory.”

    • Posted March 17, 2012 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      Hilarious and well said!

  2. Posted March 16, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    LOVE that! Similarly…

    If Protestants evolved from Catholics, why are there still Catholics?

    If Americans evolved from Europeans, why are there still Europeans?

    ———————– John Derbyshire

    • raven
      Posted March 17, 2012 at 3:10 am | Permalink

      If Protestants evolved from Catholics, why are there still Catholics?

      LOL. I use this one all the time. It stops them cold.

      Despite some religious sects hatred of the world “evolution”, they evolve and quite rapidly. Since religious beliefs aren’t anchored to reality and aren’t testable, there is nothing to stop them from changing.

      You see it with the Catholics. Not so long ago they were pro-social justice. A few decades later, the hierarchy are all right wing bigots and their big causes are anti-gays and anti-contraception.

      Or the Southern Baptists. In an important anti-creationist court case, they sided with the pro-science side, McLean vs Arkansas. Since then, they have been taken over by right wing extremists who purged the moderates, tossed most of their founding doctrines, and now they are going Calvinist.

    • yvrous
      Posted March 17, 2012 at 4:49 am | Permalink

      If Humans come from gods why the hell their is still one god left?

      • Claimthehighground
        Posted March 17, 2012 at 6:39 am | Permalink

        There’s still one left. I guess I didn’t get the memo.

        • George Atkinson
          Posted March 17, 2012 at 9:21 am | Permalink

          How did I learn there is no god? Blotter under tongue, smoked some inspirational, and there He was! “Foolish one,” he said, “argue me into existence, grant me omnipotence, and expect me to tarry in your universe? I’m gone.” And he was. I know there is no god because he told me so himself.

      • raven
        Posted March 17, 2012 at 9:39 am | Permalink

        There are thousands of gods.

        Most of them are dead. Seen Zeus, Odin, or Ahura Mazda around lately?

        The graveyard of the gods is getting pretty full.

  3. Posted March 16, 2012 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

    There’s that approach. It’s absolutely true that the appearance of a variation of a given thing doesn’t necessitate the disappearance of the original thing.

    You can also respond by explaining that humans did not evolve from modern monkeys. Monkeys and humans share a common ancestor that was neither a human nor a modern monkey.

    • AL
      Posted March 16, 2012 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

      If I came from my grandparents, why do I have cousins!?

      • salahhe
        Posted March 17, 2012 at 12:38 am | Permalink

        This is better than the dust one. Though not so ironically funny.

      • Niklas
        Posted March 17, 2012 at 1:35 am | Permalink

        Brilliant!!! +1

        One of the best analogies I have seen in a long time 🙂

        • Posted March 17, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

          If humans evolved intelligence from stupid creatures, how come there are still morons like (fill in name of creationist debating opponent here).

      • bacopa
        Posted March 17, 2012 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

        I’ve long used the cousins analogy. Species are extended groups of distant cousins with long dead grandparents and however many “greats” you want grandparents. The current configuration of life is a snapshot of the living, the dead are long gone. And no one intentionally recorded the family tree, so we have to work this out from available evidence.

        I have made some real breakthroughs using the cousins analogy, and I did so before it was explicitly used in Dawkins’ River out of Eden, which is my favorite Dawkins book.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted March 17, 2012 at 1:41 am | Permalink

      “You can also respond by explaining that…monkeys and humans share a common ancestor”

      True. But everything alive today has a common ancestor. Also, you are thinking too much and spoiling the joke. 😉

    • Posted March 17, 2012 at 3:39 am | Permalink

      There’s not much mileage in giving thinking answers like that. Creationists generally ask questions like this thinking they’ve made a real zinger you can’t possibly answer, and all of evolution thus falls apart. They have little interest in your answer at all, let alone in serious discussion of the issue. Any answer you bother with has to be virally concise.

      • Posted March 17, 2012 at 4:44 am | Permalink

        Diminishing Returns.

        The bane of optimisation.

      • Posted March 17, 2012 at 6:20 am | Permalink

        I don’t know – the “unfunny” explanation can be concise, as I think it is up there.

        The reason I thought the “funny” response might not be very effective is that it’s pretty obvious the responder is being glib. That, of course, doesn’t invalidate the point, but the creationist might retort: “don’t gimme none of yer lip, son!”

        When I was a theist, I would’ve been swayed more by having the particular misunderstanding of evolution in question explained.

        All that writ, I also enjoy wit (poetry!).
        I like the response in the OP. but if possible, both prongs should be employed, IMO.

  4. Yi
    Posted March 16, 2012 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    Such a wonderful response.

    Sometimes it is not too bad to talk in Christian sense. Once I discussed with a good christian friend (a senior) regarding my willingness to go to hell. At least, I told him, that’s where most brilliant scientists are and will be at. Who knows what we scientists are able to do; perhaps we can conspire to subvert the hell and have all “helled” freed, or create a heaven in hell.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted March 17, 2012 at 1:00 am | Permalink

      That’s very reminiscent of an old engineers’ joke:
      An engineer dies and due to clerical error, gets turned away from the Pearly Gates. Shortly thereafter, God and Satan are talking shop:
      God: How’s things with you.
      Satan: Oh, looking up. We’ve got this engineer, already he’s given us elevators and air conditioning, now he’s working on a swimming pool.
      God: You shouldn’t have an engineer. Send him back!
      Satan: No way. We found him, we’re keeping him.
      God: I’ll sue!
      Satan (laughing satanically): Yeah right. And just where are you going to get a lawyer?

  5. Posted March 16, 2012 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    “If we evolved into an educated society, why are there still idiots?”

    • Posted March 16, 2012 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

      Even better!

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 16, 2012 at 9:29 pm | Permalink


    • Sigh
      Posted March 16, 2012 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

      Idiocracy cometh

  6. Chris Granger
    Posted March 17, 2012 at 12:07 am | Permalink

    I found this at the same newspaper. In short order, the writer breaks out the claim that Genesis and evolution are saying the same thing, Pascal’s Wager, and the old canard that Albert Einstein was a theist.


  7. Posted March 17, 2012 at 1:44 am | Permalink

    This one is on the RationalWiki article under “Joking answers” (for when you’ve given up playing chess with a shitting pigeon and have proceeded to outright mockery) – but has anyone actually succeeded in creating a glimmer of thought in a creationist with the Genesis-and-dust example?

    • Pete Moulton
      Posted March 17, 2012 at 3:36 am | Permalink

      Probably not, sad to say. Creationists seem immune to facts and logic.

      • Posted March 17, 2012 at 9:20 am | Permalink

        Quite so — to borrow from Asimov, young-Earth creationists have been inoculated (by religious “faith”) and thus rendered immune to the feeble lance of mere reason

        Keep in mind, though, that when used as a reply to a creationist who utters the initial non sequitur as a challenge [“if humans evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?”], while it is not likely that THAT creationist will promptly find enlightening insight in that reply, quite likely interested observers who are less committed to anti-evolutionary creationism very well may find prompt enlightening insight in that reply.

        I never publicly debate with a creationist with the idea or expectation that what I say will immediately benefit him or her; I publicly debate creationists for the potential prompt thinking benefit of interested third-party observers who are not yet as committed to anti-evolutionary creationism as my debate disputants.

        Granted, it is nonetheless still a thankless, largely hopeless task, but SOMEbody’s gotta do it — and it might as well be you, so DO it every chance you get!

        • Niklas
          Posted March 18, 2012 at 3:07 am | Permalink

          Hear Hear!

          Very well put! And when you ever do run across a copied citation in a discussion or overhear a conversation with a remark or argument that you can recognize, it all pays off… and this cold, rainy and gloomy day is actually quite a good day 🙂

  8. Posted March 17, 2012 at 1:45 am | Permalink

    Oh, WordPress just required me to log in too. Ate my comment in the process, which was a bit rude. But the reason is sensible, i.e. “this email address has a WordPress.com account.”

    • Marella
      Posted March 17, 2012 at 4:03 am | Permalink

      So it’s not just me then. I tried again with a different email address (as Jerry suggested) and it worked, no idea why.

  9. Posted March 17, 2012 at 2:15 am | Permalink

    Very good! Reminds me of the old joke, worth repeating (I like terrible jokes)-

    Is it true that we all come from dust and go back to dust? If it is, there’s someone either coming or going under the bed.

  10. andreschuiteman
    Posted March 17, 2012 at 3:53 am | Permalink

    To a creationist, apes and monkeys are probably the same thing. So the answer to the question ‘Why are there still monkeys?’ should be: ‘Because you are one yourself.’

  11. Rudi
    Posted March 17, 2012 at 5:09 am | Permalink

    If Christianity evolved from Judiasm, why are there still Jews?

    • Posted March 17, 2012 at 5:52 am | Permalink

      The Christians have put a lot of effort over the past 2000 years into fixing that one …

      • republicanfaithchat
        Posted March 17, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

        Of course, believe it or not, many in the United States don’t know that Judaism is an older religion than Christianity.


        “Roughly half (53 percent) are aware that Judaism is an older religion than both Christianity and Islam (41 percent aren’t sure).”

        • MikeW
          Posted March 18, 2012 at 2:11 am | Permalink

          You hear this implication every time someone states that marriage is a 2000 year old Christian tradition … so no one in the Old Testament was married?

    • bacopa
      Posted March 17, 2012 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

      My father as a small child inferred that there must not still be Jews. A reasonable conclusion given the evidence he had. However, the reports of the scale of the Holocaust filtered down to him after the war and he came to understand that there are millions of Jews and that there had been a few million more in recent history.

      He said that was the first seed of doubt he had about religion. If Christ was the Messiah why were there still Jews?

  12. Alan
    Posted March 17, 2012 at 5:41 am | Permalink

    This exact question was posed on a church billboard next door to my kids’ school (in the suburbs of Toronto).

    I sent a very polite e-mail to the pastor explaining the logical fallacy of the statement, and offering to meet with him to explain the truth about human origins, but never heard back.

    • Posted March 17, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

      Was the question posted again?


  13. Lauri Törmä
    Posted March 18, 2012 at 4:05 am | Permalink

    If Christians came from Jews, why are there still Jews?

  14. Hybrid
    Posted March 18, 2012 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    The only place you can meet the Almighty God, HaShem. Not the generic God of man. It could be anything, but Almighty.

    “I am the Almighty God, and there is none else.”

    Try and find one. I double dare you.
    “Bruce Almighty doesn’t count”
    Allah coins himself as All Mighty in the Koran. Written 1500 A.D…

    An Omniscient angel, playing Omnipotent.

    Genesis 16…
    Meet that angel of God Almighty, in Isiah 14:12. He borne the wild ass Muslims through the seed of Ishmael. And is the adversary of HaShem.

    “And that’s the truth, raspbeeeeery”

    • Hybrid
      Posted March 19, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

      The only place you can meet the Almighty God, HaShem. Not the generic God of man. It could be anything, but Almighty.

  15. Posted March 20, 2012 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    This inspired me to make a motivational poster!


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  1. […] of a Historical Jesus…Why Is There Still Dust?Mar 21st, 2012 by James F. McGrath TweetInspired by a comment shared on Jerry Coyne’s blog. Presumably most will grasp that this is satire of the foolish question sometimes asked by […]

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