Reports of the National Center for Science Education

Review: Fatal Flaws

Fatal Flaws: What Evolutionists Don't Want You to Know
Hank Hanegraaff
Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2003. 112 pages
Reviewed by
Michael Buratovich, Spring Arbor University
Hank Hanegraaff's book Fatal Flaws is an abbreviation of his earlier book The Face that Demonstrates the Farce of Evolution (Nashville: Word, 1998). For the most part, the book reiterates standard creationist arguments. Previous work by Hanegraaff's Christian Research Institute shows that he and his staff have little tolerance for hucksters and thieves in preachers' clothing (notice their exposés on Benny Hinn), which makes the mistakes and poor research in this book somewhat surprising. There is only room to discuss a few of the many errors in this book.

In the introductory chapter of this book, Hanegraaff, who is a very clever designer of mnemonic acronyms, fashions the acronym FARCE to help the reader remember the alleged problems with the theory of evolution. The letters of FARCE represent Fossil follies, Ape-men fiction, fraud, and fantasy, Recapitulation, Chance, and Empirical science.

In his chapter on "fossil follies", Hanegraaff quotes David Raup, the curator of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago: "We are now about 120 years after Darwin, and the knowledge of the fossil record has been greatly expanded. We now have a quarter of a million fossil species, but the situation hasn't changed much. ... We have even fewer examples of evolutionary transition than we had in Darwin's time" (p 17). Hanegraaff's reference for this quotation is Paul Taylor's Illustrated Origins Answer Book. If he had read Raup's original article ("Conflicts between Darwin and paleontology," Field Museum of Natural History Bulletin 1979; 50 [1]: 22–9), he would have discovered what Raup really said on page 25 was this, with the portions quoted by Hanegraaff italicized:
Well, we are now about 120 years after Darwin and the knowledge of the fossil record has been greatly expanded. We now have a quarter of a million fossil species but the situation hasn't changed much. The record of evolution is still surprisingly jerky and, ironically, we have even fewer examples of evolutionary transitions than we had in Darwin's time. By this I mean that some of the classic cases of Darwinian change in the fossil record, such as the evolution of the horse in North America, have had to be discarded or modified as a result of more detailed information — what appeared to be a nice simple progression when relatively few data were available now appear to be much more complex and much less gradualistic. So Darwin's problem has not been alleviated in the last 120 years and we still have a record which does show change but one that can hardly be looked upon as the most reasonable consequence of natural selection.
In contrast to the impression that Hanegraaff is trying to give, Raup is discussing how — not whether — evolutionary change has occurred. Raup clearly accepts evolution, but he is not convinced that the paleontological record supports Darwinian gradualism.

Hanegraaff proceeds to attack Archaeopteryx as a "false link between reptiles (such as dinosaurs) and birds" (p 17–8). He dismisses the reptilian features of Archaeopteryx with a reference to Duane Gish, who has neither formal training nor any record of serious field experience in paleontology. Unfortunately Hanegraaff's glib attitude toward the reptilian characteristics in the skull, vertebrae, ribs, tail and limbs of Archaeopteryx will not make them go away. Archaeopteryx also possesses some bird-like features, but these reptilian and bird-like features are found in the same fossil animal. If this does not make Archaeopteryx a transitional form linking reptiles and birds, then one is left to wonder what Hanegraaff considers a transitional creature.

Hanegraaff's chapter on human fossils has even more problems. His description of Nebraska Man is riddled with errors. The mistaken identification of the tooth by Henry Fairfield Osborn as an ape tooth was largely due to the similarity of cheek teeth in humans and pigs and the worn condition of the tooth. Furthermore, Osborn never designated Hesperopithecus as a human ancestor; there was a healthy skepticism surrounding the validity of Nebraska Man, and the literature of the day makes it clear that Nebraska Man received little backing from other paleoanthropologists.

Hanegraaff does no better with Dubois' discovery of Pithecanthropus erectus ("Java Man"; today known as Homo erectus). Hanegraaff perpetuates the often-repeated creationist conviction that Dubois suppressed evidence from the Wadjak skulls found nearby that would contradict his interpretation of Homo erectus as a potential ancestor to modern humans. However, Dubois did write formal descriptions of these skulls that were published in legitimate journals that were cited by researchers who continued to work on the Wadjak skulls. Furthermore, Trinil, the site where Dubois found Pithecanthropus, and Wadjak, where he found the more modern Wadjak skulls, are about 100 miles apart. Clearly these are not "in close proximity" as Hanegraaff would have us believe. In addition, further discoveries of Homo erectus skeletons have confirmed the validity of Dubois's Pithecanthropus erectus skull cap.

Finally, Hanegraaff's chapter on embryonic recapitulation constructs a straw man. Darwin did not endorse the extreme developmental recapitulationalism of Ernst Haeckel ("ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny") but instead endorsed a modified version of the views of the great German embryologist Karl Ernst von Baer. One of von Baer's famous "laws of development" asserted that the embryo of a higher animal is never like the adult of a lower animal, but does resemble the embryo of a lower animal. This principle influenced Darwin during his seminal work on barnacle classification. The common embryological stage shared by other recognized crustaceans and barnacles, the nauplius stage, convinced Darwin that barnacles were crustaceans and not mollusks, a taxonomic deduction that holds to this day.

Hanegraaff's book contains a great dependence on secondary sources, which leads to a perpetuation of common errors found in the works of many recent creationists. For a better book from a recent creationist perspective, see Ariel A Roth's Origins (Hagerstown [MD]: Review and Herald, 1998).

This version might differ slightly from the print publication.