Refuting a refutation of supposed attacks on evolution

On my joint-owned blog, The Truth About Macroevolution, we had a comment left by a John Connolly that, instead of giving evidence for evolutionism, gave 15 rebuttals of what he considered to be creationist attacks on evolution.

As far as we can tell, he copied the article verbatim from The Scientific American. John Rennie, the editor in chief of the Scientific American, wrote the article in early 2002. The full editorial can be viewed here.

Since this article is rather long, I won't post the entire thing here. Instead, I'll respond point-by-point, email style, significantly cutting down the original.

When Charles Darwin introduced the theory of evolution through natural selection 143 years ago, the scientists of the day argued over it fiercely, but the massing evidence from paleontology, genetics, zoology, molecular biology and other fields gradually established evolution's truth beyond reasonable doubt.

"Massing evidence.". Isn't it strange that no matter how much I beg them, evolutionists have yet to present one valid point of evidence that can even come close to holding water?

Some anti-evolutionists, such as Philip E. Johnson, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley and author of Darwin on Trial admit that they intend for intelligent-design theory to serve as a "wedge" for reopening science classrooms to discussions of God.

Schools are supposed to teach objective truth. If it is obvious to the reasonable person (scientist, layman, etc.) that it is objectively true that God created the universe, shouldn't it be taught in schools?

Besieged teachers and others may increasingly find themselves on the spot to defend evolution and refute creationism.

It is of interest that the majority of cases concerning this issue deal with teachers that are "besieged" by the government and by secular science in an attempt to stop them from teaching the truth of Creation.

Next, The Scientific American lists 15 common arguments against evolution and their summary "refutations".

1. Evolution is only a theory. It is not a fact or a scientific law.

He goes on to give a long analysis explaining that when scientists call something a "theory", it doesn't mean that it is a theory along the lines of the scientific method or that they distrust it; it is a theory just like the Theory of General Relativity. I understand that. However, we contend that evolution never even made it past hypothesis level; it is a theory along the lines of the scientific method only if you give it quite a bit of slack (see my article for further explanation). In subsequent defense against the allegation that evolution relies on indirect evidence:

All sciences frequently rely on indirect evidence. Physicists cannot see subatomic particles directly, for instance, so they verify their existence by watching for telltale tracks that the particles leave in cloud chambers. The absence of direct observation does not make physicists' conclusions less certain.

This fails to realize that the so-called "evidences" for evolution are much more indirect than subatomic particle theory. The difference is this: subatomic particles exist in the present. Evolutionism is a speculation that states that, in the past, natural selection and mutations combined to turn molecules into monkeys into men. Since we don't see this happening today, this is an unobservable speculation about the past; it has nothing to do with repeatable natural processes that we see around us (like subatomic particles).

2. Natural selection is based on circular reasoning: the fittest are those who survive, and those who survive are deemed fittest.

Personally, I have never heard this argument raised. But obviously, this addresses natural selection or microevolution, changes within a species. Change within a species is observed today (like Darwin's finches), so any argument like this is already fundamentally flawed. But the truth of natural selection in no wise confirms or even supports macroevolution, which requires massive uphill trans-species changes.

3. Evolution is unscientific, because it is not testable or falsifiable. It makes claims about events that were not observed and can never be re-created.

This blanket dismissal of evolution ignores important distinctions that divide the field into at least two broad areas: microevolution and macroevolution. Microevolution looks at changes within species over time--changes that may be preludes to speciation, the origin of new species. Macroevolution studies how taxonomic groups above the level of species change. Its evidence draws frequently from the fossil record and DNA comparisons to reconstruct how various organisms may be related.

". . . studies how. . . ." What a nice way of saying nothing. Evolutionists make that same fatal assumption that Darwin made: microevolution, given enough time, leads to macroevolution. Then, they assume that since it did happen, there must be evidence for it in the fossil record. Finally, they shove down my throat the blanket statement that the fossil record is evidence for evolution . . . without one shred of solid evidence!

Natural selection and other mechanisms--such as chromosomal changes, symbiosis and hybridization--can drive profound changes in populations over time.

So who gets to define "profound"?

The historical nature of macroevolutionary study involves inference from fossils and DNA rather than direct observation. Yet in the historical sciences (which include astronomy, geology and archaeology, as well as evolutionary biology), hypotheses can still be tested by checking whether they accord with physical evidence and whether they lead to verifiable predictions about future discoveries.

See, there they go admitting that all the evidence that can exist comes from historical records, not current findings. This sets these forensic sciences (the study of astronomical history, the study of geological history, and the study of life's history) apart from empirical, observable sciences such as physics, chemistry, and biology. But do that have these elusive "verifiable predictions"?

For instance, evolution implies that between the earliest-known ancestors of humans (roughly five million years old) and the appearance of anatomically modern humans (about 100,000 years ago), one should find a succession of hominid creatures with features progressively less apelike and more modern, which is indeed what the fossil record shows. But one should not--and does not--find modern human fossils embedded in strata from the Jurassic period (144 million years ago).

Note that the evolutionists themselves assign ages and values to all of the "periods". I have pointed out myriads of times that in a catastrophic burial event capable of producing the fossil record, the level of a creature in the strata layers indicates logical order of burial, not age! It makes sense that smaller, marine creatures would be buried first, and the mammals and large reptiles more able to survive would be buried last in something similar to a flood.

Evolutionary biology routinely makes predictions far more refined and precise than this, and researchers test them constantly.

The study of microevolution, perhaps. But as Dr. David Menton has said, "The theory of macroevolution contributes nothing to our understanding of biology or any other science."

4. Increasingly, scientists doubt the truth of evolution. No evidence suggests that evolution is losing adherents. Pick up any issue of a peer-reviewed biological journal, and you will find articles that support and extend evolutionary studies or that embrace evolution as a fundamental concept.

So who determines what is "peer-reviewed"? Answers In Genesis' peer-reviewed technical journal, TJ, is 100% peer-reviewed but evolutionists just won't accept it.

Creationists retort that a closed-minded scientific community rejects their evidence. Yet according to the editors of Nature, Science and other leading journals, few antievolution manuscripts are even submitted. Some antievolution authors have published papers in serious journals. In short, creationists are not giving the scientific world good reason to take them seriously.

Here's one good reason: AiG. Here's another: ICR.

5. The disagreements among even evolutionary biologists show how little solid science supports evolution. Anyone acquainted with the works of paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould of Harvard University knows that in addition to co-authoring the punctuated-equilibrium model, Gould was one of the most eloquent defenders and articulators of evolution. (Punctuated equilibrium explains patterns in the fossil record by suggesting that most evolutionary changes occur within geologically brief intervals--which may nonetheless amount to hundreds of generations.) Yet creationists delight in dissecting out phrases from Gould's voluminous prose to make him sound as though he had doubted evolution, and they present punctuated equilibrium as though it allows new species to materialize overnight or birds to be born from reptile eggs.

The crux of this issue is that Gould points out, not "patterns" in the fossil record, but the lack of intermediate species. He proposes his own model to cope with the "missing links" that remain missing. On the other hand, someone like Dawkins points out that without gradual change, macroevolution cannot occur . . . smashing Gould out of the water.

6. If humans descended from monkeys, why are there still monkeys? This surprisingly common argument reflects several levels of ignorance about evolution. The first mistake is that evolution does not teach that humans descended from monkeys; it states that both have a common ancestor.

I admit that this attack is untenetable. But I have never used it, and neither has anyone at AiG.

7. Evolution cannot explain how life first appeared on earth. The origin of life remains very much a mystery, but biochemists have learned about how primitive nucleic acids, amino acids and other building blocks of life could have formed and organized themselves into self-replicating, self-sustaining units, laying the foundation for cellular biochemistry. Astrochemical analyses hint that quantities of these compounds might have originated in space and fallen to earth in comets, a scenario that may solve the problem of how those constituents arose under the conditions that prevailed when our planet was young.

Huh? This is the fallacy of using big words to cover up a lack of content. Rennie starts by admitting that the origin of life is a mystery, but then covers it up by using a string of complex verbiage to basically say "we know how it might have happened, but we aren't telling you" when in reality they have no idea. "Astrochemical analyses." Sure.

Even if life on earth turned out to have a nonevolutionary origin, evolution since then would be robustly confirmed by countless microevolutionary and macroevolutionary studies.

As in. . . ?

8. Mathematically, it is inconceivable that anything as complex as a protein, let alone a living cell or a human, could spring up by Chance. Chance plays a part in evolution (for example, in the random mutations that can give rise to new traits), but evolution does not depend on chance to create organisms, proteins or other entities. Quite the opposite: natural selection, the principal known mechanism of evolution, harnesses nonrandom change by preserving "desirable" (adaptive) features and eliminating "undesirable" (nonadaptive) ones. As long as the forces of selection stay constant, natural selection can push evolution in one direction and produce sophisticated structures in surprisingly short times.

This ignores the fact that until a fully functional living cell is created, natural selection cannot take place. Natural selection weeds out bad reproductions of an original; unless the cell is already reproducing "by chance" microevolution cannot step in and help.

As an analogy, consider the 13-letter sequence "TOBEORNOTTOBE." Those hypothetical million monkeys, each pecking out one phrase a second, could take as long as 78,800 years to find it among the 26(13) sequences of that length. But in the 1980s Richard Hardison of Glendale College wrote a computer program that generated phrases randomly while preserving the positions of individual letters that happened to be correctly placed (in effect, selecting for phrases more like Hamlet's). On average, the program re-created the phrase in just 336 iterations, less than 90 seconds. Even more amazing, it could reconstruct Shakespeare's entire play in just four and a half days.

Those computer programs had one flaw: they already had Shakespeare's play! Blind chance, which is our only recourse before complete reproduction, has no memory, no goals, and no common sense.

9. The Second Law of Thermodynamics (2LOT) says that systems must become more disordered over time. Living cells therefore could not have evolved from inanimate chemicals, and multicellular life could not have evolved from protozoa.

This is an argument that is purported by many who simply don't understand it. The 2LOT states that any increase in complexity within a closed system must be balanced by a decrease in order within the same system. Information systems like DNA are inherently closed; each "byte" of information is its own closed system. This invalidates evolution. But I agree with the author that the blanket "2LOT forbids increase in complexity" statement is flawed.

10. Mutations are essential to evolution theory, but mutations can only eliminate traits. They cannot produce new features. On the contrary, biology has catalogued many traits produced by point mutations (changes at precise positions in an organism's DNA)--bacterial resistance to antibiotics, for example.

Such "produced traits" are as follows: a bacterium loses its ability to eat properly. Thus, it cannot ingest the antibiotic meant to kill it. A definite loss of information.

11. Natural selection might explain microevolution, but it cannot explain the origin of new species and higher orders of life. Evolutionary biologists have written extensively about how natural selection could produce new species. For instance, in the model called allopatry, developed by Ernst Mayr of Harvard University, if a population of organisms were isolated from the rest of its species by geographical boundaries, it might be subjected to different selective pressures. Changes would accumulate in the isolated population. If those changes became so significant that the splinter group could not or routinely would not breed with the original stock, then the splinter group would be reproductively isolated and on its way toward becoming a new species. 12. Nobody has ever seen a new species evolve. Speciation is probably fairly rare and in many cases might take centuries. Furthermore, recognizing a new species during a formative stage can be difficult, because biologists sometimes disagree about how best to define a species. Biologists therefore usually use organisms' physical and behavioral traits as clues to their species membership. Nevertheless, the scientific literature does contain reports of apparent speciation events in plants, insects and worms. For example, William R. Rice of the University of New Mexico and George W. Salt of the University of California at Davis demonstrated that if they sorted a group of fruit flies by their preference for certain environments and bred those flies separately over 35 generations, the resulting flies would refuse to breed with those from a very different environment.

Speciation happens; splinter groups do become isolated and lose the ability to mate with the original group. But again, speciation is the loss of information. In order for true macroevolution to occur, a splinter group must gain uphill information that makes breeding impossible (scales to feathers, not just shortening of legs).

13. Evolutionists cannot point to any transitional fossils--creatures that are half reptile and half bird, for instance. Actually, paleontologists know of many detailed examples of fossils intermediate in form between various taxonomic groups. One of the most famous fossils of all time is Archaeopteryx which combines feathers and skeletal structures peculiar to birds with features of dinosaurs.

Features of dinosaurs? Wing claws and a toothed beak. Many indisputed avian fossils show toothed beaks and clawed wings. Besides, modern birds were found below Archaeopteryx. Ol' Archie is obviously fully avian. I won't list the other examples that are given for intermediate species due to lack of space, but none of them hold any more significance than Archie.

Even if a creationist does accept a fossil as transitional between two species, he or she may then insist on seeing other fossils intermediate between it and the first two. These frustrating requests can proceed ad infinitum and place an unreasonable burden on the always incomplete fossil record.

The very concept of Darwinian evolution states that there should be no species differentiations in the fossil record at all, as species never actually stop evolving.

The rest of the article gives arguments that have either already been addressed or are irrelevant to the topic. But I'll refute the last few paragraphs:

"Creation science" is a contradiction in terms. A central tenet of modern science is methodological naturalism--it seeks to explain the universe purely in terms of observed or testable natural mechanisms. Thus, physics describes the atomic nucleus with specific concepts governing matter and energy, and it tests those descriptions experimentally. Physicists introduce new particles, such as quarks, to flesh out their theories only when data show that the previous descriptions cannot adequately explain observed phenomena. The new particles do not have arbitrary properties, moreover--their definitions are tightly constrained, because the new particles must fit within the existing framework of physics.

Again, Rennie fails to note the difference between historical science and empirical science. An autopsy (forensic, historical science) is done to determine the cause of death: whether it was natural or by the hand of man. In the same way, our study of natural history must seek to discover whether natural processes shaped the world around us. While empirical scientific disciplines like physics deal with natural processes, the lie that "methodological naturalism" is a "central tenet" of historical science is as ridiculous as it comes. You might as well limit autopsy doctors to finding natural causes only, since anything else might "cast blame".

In contrast, intelligent-design theorists invoke shadowy entities that conveniently have whatever unconstrained abilities are needed to solve the mystery at hand. Rather than expanding scientific inquiry, such answers shut it down. (How does one disprove the existence of omnipotent intelligences?) Intelligent design offers few answers. For instance, when and how did a designing intelligence intervene in life's history? By creating the first DNA? The first cell? The first human? Was every species designed, or just a few early ones? Proponents of intelligent-design theory frequently decline to be pinned down on these points. They do not even make real attempts to reconcile their disparate ideas about intelligent design. Instead they pursue argument by exclusion--that is, they belittle evolutionary explanations as far-fetched or incomplete and then imply that only design-based alternatives remain.

If naturalistic explanations are untenetable, then only supernatural explanations for natural history are feasible, right?

Moreover, it does not make one intelligent-design theory more reasonable than another. Listeners are essentially left to fill in the blanks for themselves, and some will undoubtedly do so by substituting their religious beliefs for scientific ideas.

Darwinism is a faith-based model of Philosophical Historical Naturalism. Creation is a faith-based model of Intelligent Design. Once we have studied the possibilities of ID or PHN as theories, we can decipher based on fossil or other forensic evidence which model of ID or PHN best fits the facts.

Time and again, science has shown that methodological naturalism can push back ignorance, finding increasingly detailed and informative answers to mysteries that once seemed impenetrable: the nature of light, the causes of disease, how the brain works. Evolution is doing the same with the riddle of how the living world took shape.

Again, the Scientific American throws out the distinction between forensics and empirical science. When will they learn?

In Him,


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