A good friend who is a creationist recently offered me a creationist article to read (“or refute”). The article’s arguments against evolution are based on:
- a misstatement of, or failure to understand, the arguments for evolution itself
- a glossing over of arguments for evolution by misleading oversimplifications
- a failure to address the counter-evidence for evolution cited by evolutionary scientists
- “bait and switch” — “sloppy language leading to sloppy thinking”
The article my friend gave me is Tortoises of the Galapagos by Lita Cosner and Jonathan Sarfati, apparently found in creation.com.
Here is the critical passage:
Evolution from goo to you via the zoo would require new genes encoding encyclopedic amounts of new information. But the tortoises’ adaptation to various island environments can be explained by the sorting out of already existing genes with some of these then eliminated by natural selection. . . .
The two sentences here do not logically follow one another. The authors have created a false argument against evolution by juxtaposing two sentences that in fact address different questions: by placing them together they confuse the question and lead the uninformed reader to think the authors have cleverly rebutted the foundation of evolution’s case.
The irony here is that in the same article the authors accuse evolutionists themselves of “bait and switch”, of using “sloppy language” (“confusing” adaptation with evolution) to lead to “sloppy thinking”.
The first sentence mocks the argument for evolution by condensing a number of processes that occur over hundreds of millions of years over wider geographic areas into a decontextualized summary image that sounds implausible. This is then placed against an observably and obviously true statement about the adaptation of the tortoises.
By this means the authors avoid addressing the arguments of the evolutionists. They oversimplify the argument and place that oversimplification beside an only indirectly related example that does not address the evolutionist’s arguments that really do underly those in the first claim.
In other words, they avoid the arguments for evolution by using a falsely applied or misleading analogy.
How false? Evolution seeks to explain how different species arose. The Galapagos tortoises are not different species. Both types can interbreed according even to the creationist article.
The authors continue by explaining how one set of tortoises developed longer necks than the others:
This is definitely natural selection in action, but not evolution. The possibility for these variations was already coded in the DNA of the tortoises’ ancestors . . .
Since this process generally selects only from genes already available, creationists would expect there to be a limit to this variation. Such a process would not produce a neck as long as a brachiosaur’s, for example. Another possibility is mutation that inhibited a gene which controls growth factors for the neck. Without this control, the necks overgrow somewhat. On the grassless island this information-losing mutations would be beneficial. But with plenty of grass, such a mutation would not be so beneficial since it would waste resources growing a neck longer than required.
So the explanation given here is the loss of a gene limiting neck growth.
What the creationist article fails to address
Surprisingly absent from this creationist article was any mention of indifferent genetic mutation, those variations that are in the vast majority of cases useless or detrimental. It is the occasional one that offers a benefit in certain environments.
This sort of change cannot be seen in a lifetime — except in bacteria. Jerry Coyne and Allen Orr “calculated that, starting with one ancestor, it takes roughly between 100,000 and five million years to evolve two reproductively isolated descendants. . . . It turns out that if you started with a single species 3.5 billion hears ago, you could get 100 million species living today even if each ancestral species split into two descendants [through geographic isolation] only once every 130 million years.” (pp. 194-5 of Why Evolution is True)
Evolution happened. We have the observable evidence for that. Ring species are one observable illustration of how different species can and do emerge across geographic areas. A classic case is the Larus gull — Those in areas 1 and 2, with slight variations, can interbreed, but by the time we pass through the mutations to point 7, the two types, 1 and 7, cannot interbreed. They have become different species. (Given debates about some such traditionally regarded “ring species”, including the larus gull, I am only presenting this one as one illustration of the ring species concept.)
The fossil record
Jerry A. Coyne in Why Evolution is True lists three things that the fossil record shows us:
- The fossil record “confirms several predictions of evolutionary theory”:
- gradual change within lineages
- splitting of lineages
- existence of transitional forms between very different kinds of organisms
- When we find transitional forms, they occur in the fossil record precisely where they should.
- earliest birds appear after dinosaurs but before modern birds
- ancestral whales span the gap between their own landlubber ancestors and fully modern whales
- (“If evolution were not true, fossils would not occur in an order that makes evolutionary sense.”)
3. Evolutionary change, even of a major sort, nearly always involves remodeling the old into the new.
- legs of land animals are variations on the stout limbs of ancestral fish
- tiny middle ear bones of mammals are remodeled jawbones of reptilian ancestors
- wings of birds were fashioned from legs of dinosaurs
- whales are stretched out land animals whose forelimbs have become paddles and whose nostrils have moved atop their head
There is no reason why a celestial designer, fashioning organisms from scratch like an architect designs buildings, should make new species by remodeling the features of existing ones. Each species could be constructed from the ground up. But natural selection can act only by changing what already exists. It can’t produce new traits out of thin air. Darwinism predicts, then, that new species will be modified versions of older ones. The fossil record amply confirms this prediction. (p. 57)
Need I say it?
Given a little history recently of a certain associate professor of religion who demonstrates an inability to rise to the intellectual integrity of some of his peers, including a predecessor by the name of Albert Schweitzer, by lazily opting to associate Jesus mythicism with creationism, it is instructive to compare the creationist style of argument with that of, say, a Doherty, a Price, a Wells, a Thompson even.
The integrity of this professor would rise to a positive level if he could support his comparison by demonstrating where Jesus-mythicists such as those named above
- misstate, or failure to understand, the arguments for the historical Jesus
- gloss over of arguments for the historical Jesus by misleading oversimplifications
- failure to address the counter-evidence for the historical Jesus by historical Jesus scholars
- use “bait and switch” — “sloppy language leading to sloppy thinking”
On the other hand, as I have demonstrated in previous posts, including my critique of McGrath’s review of Price’s chapter in 5 Views, this scholar does regularly
- misstate and fail to grasp the arguments for Jesus mythicism (e.g. that there was a conspiracy to invent a myth from scratch and/or it was misunderstood by its immediate audiences; that literary antecedents and influences disprove historicity; that mythicism argues from silence)
- gloss over arguments for mythicism by misleading oversimplifications (e.g. conflating my discussion of primary and secondary evidence to mean literary evidence and physical artefacts; assuming mythicism relies on arguments for interpolations, etc.)
- fail to address counter-evidence for the mythicist hypothesis (e.g. refusal to respond to my critique of Sanders’ “evidence” for the historical Jesus when challenged to address this; demonstrated reliance on second hand rumour about Doherty’s arguments in preference to reading his books; bypassing Price’s main arguments by focussing on side-issues and red-herrings)
- goes silent or resorts to insult when circularities of argument are exposed, when inconsistencies with normal historical methods are demonstrated (e.g. Schweitzer’s and Hobsbawm’s and von Ranke’s and Lemche’s and Davies’ and Schwartz’s requirement for external controls to establish the historicity of narratives), and when erroneous or unsupportable claims are made about the evidence and exposed (e.g. that “there was a general expectation among Jews for a Davidic messiah in the early first century).
Does the old proverb of pots calling kettles a darker shade of white, or projection, or something Paul said in Romans about the accuser doing the thing he attempts to project on others, come to mind?
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