Evolution vs. Creationism: The toaster argument

The I-95 turnpike is the epitome of New Jersey, an entire state that in itself is really just a way of getting between NYC and Philadelphia. But on one day, the New Jersey Turnpike was the stage for the unveiling of an innovation in the creationism vs. evolution debate.

My friends and I were driving back from a dinner party and we passed this billboard on I-95.


In what would be turn out to be a successful effort to make our tedious trip more interesting, one friend decided to call the phone number and argue with the spokesperson about the purportedly sinful status of homosexuality.

I seconded the idea. Now I would finally get a chance to try out my newest argument against creationism; a little analogy I call “the toaster argument”.

Once my friend was done with the man on the phone, who identified himself as a pastor, I took the reins. It explained a story like this…

The toaster argument

Your ordinary household toaster is on the fritz. There are two ways you can go about trying to repair it.

The first way would be to take the toaster apart. Deconstruct it. Use a combination of logic, intuition, trial and error, simple experiments, and prior knowledge of what a toaster does to figure out what each little piece might do.

With some playing around with the parts (perhaps shocking yourself once or twice along the way) you would finally determine the source of the problem with your toaster, and determine a remedy to it.

A second way to repair it, would be to obtain an instruction manual for the toaster. Using the direct guidance of the written manual you would figure out both the cause and solution to your problem fairly quickly.

You must realize, the purpose of this argument is not to comment on the availability of detailed toaster manuals, or to deny the existence of a toaster engineer or appliance repairmen. Anyone commenting on that is missing the point.

The point of this argument is that there two are ways of approaching a problem, and each is philosophically valid: 

  1. consult a guide
  2. figure it out yourself

For questions about the origins of humans: creationists consult a guide; scientists figure it out themselves, and have been doing so for almost 200 years.

toaster deconstructedLet’s go back to the toaster. What if you first tried to figure out the toaster for yourself? Perhaps you would determine that your toast was burning because the spring wasn’t triggering. You know this is the case because you’ve tested all the parts of the toaster individually and see that they all work fine except for the spring mechanism.

But now that you figured it out for yourself, out of curiosity you consult the guide. Using the guide you read that the problem must be because the grill is heating up too high. However, you know for a fact this isn’t the case because you tested that problem.

What conclusion do you come to? The guide is wrong. Maybe not everything in the guide, but that part definitely is.

The outcome

The pastor was unaffected by the profoundness of this argument. If you’re reading this from a creationists perspective I am sure you will find solace in the many imperfections of this analogy.

Regardless of any debate you may raise, my point still stands. Many people have spent many lifetimes figuring out how the parts of our life-toaster work. Their determination: the manual missed some important points.

Dominic Evangelista is a PhD candidate studying organismal evolution and ecology. Follow him on twitter @Roach_Brain or tweet him your un-informed complaints!