Essay:A Response to CP's 'Evolution Is More Vulnerable than Ever'

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In response to Conservapedia's "Essay:Evolution Is More Vulnerable than Ever" by TerryH


TerryH's original arguments

The recent (April 18, 2008) release of Ben Stein's new documentary, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, has brought the evolution/creation debate to a fever pitch—possibly the highest fever pitch since Tennessee vs. (sic) John Scopes. Indeed, the recent move of the Institute for Creation Research and its graduate school from California to Texas has actually prompted the higher-education authorities in that State to take the unusual step of inviting public comment on an application for accreditation—almost a "Scopes Trial in reverse."

All this extra attention can mean only one thing: the evolutionary paradigm is more vulnerable to abandonment than it has been since Charles Darwin first proposed it.

Irrational Atheist's Response

One would wonder how TerryH could have forgotten the global phenomenon of Kitzmiller v. Dover of 2005? This trial put Intelligent Design on the stand, so to speak. The presiding judge found that proponents of Intelligent Design brought forth to testify as experts were not credible in establishing that Intelligent Design was anything more than a reworked version of Creationism. Arguably, having a modern-day "Tennessee v. Scopes" trial would be just as much a fever pitch as the original.

The Institute of Creation Research did ask for accreditation for a graduate program in Texas in late 2007.[1] TerryH published his essay on April 18, 2008. Five days later, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board rejected ICR's request to be an accredited university in the state.[2] As the Dallas Morning News says, "A lawyer for the Bible-based group also warned that the coordinating board could eventually face legal action for suppressing the free-speech rights of the institute." Thus ends, for now, the "Scopes Trial in reverse."

So would this indicate that "the evolutionary paradigm" is not more vulnerable to abandonment?

By "the evolutionary paradigm" I mean more than the theory of evolution. After all, evolution, properly understood, means change over time. And such change does occur, even to the development of new species. Creation biology takes the position (which I share) that the ancestors of life were not one, but many—at least one species per taxonomic family and possibly one species per taxonomic genus. But the evolutionary paradigm insists that natural selection and speciation are all that was required to create the astounding diversity of life from one common ancestor, a doctrine known as "common descent."

TerryH here argues that his belief (and apparently the belief of "Creation biology") is different from biology in that the diversity of life we have today did not come from a single originating living organism, but from an ancestor for each genera that exists. In the mammalian order alone, there are over 1100 distinct genera.[3] Arguing that there were over 1100 ancestors with no ancestors of their own just in the mammalian world is a bit far-fetched.

Why would they share so much commonality in form and in genetic material, but not share ancestry? Why would there be thousands of other genera with less commonality? If the animals were created in the first place, why have so many at all?

Words like "doctrine" and "paradigm" show a pattern of contempt TerryH holds for the science of biology.

Now to assert, as Charles Darwin did, that all of life derives from a single ancestor, necessarily requires a great deal of time—deep time, to be specific. Enter Sir Charles Lyell, a geologist and a lawyer who used his considerable skill as a rhetorician, more than any true scientific insight, to argue that the same processes in operation today for the formation and laying down of rock have always operated for all eternity. This is the classic position of uniformitarianism. Technically, uniformitarianism is a concept unique to geology. But astronomy largely copied Lyell's ideas and came up with uniformitarian ideas of their own.

Here TerryH makes leaps from Darwin, to Lyell, to astronomists. Let's see where this leads.

Near the beginning of the twentieth century, the notion that the earth and the universe were infinitely old became untenable. So uniformitarianism no longer holds to that idea. But it does hold to the basic idea of deep time, in space and on the earth, with ages for the universe and the earth measured in the billions of years. Astronomers invented a new cosmology called the Big Bang to explain the universe, and the nebula hypothesis to explain the sun, the earth, the moon, and all the planets (to paraphrase Harry Truman). But in fact, the only reason why astronomers date the solar system at 4.6 billion years old is that the geologists date the earth at 4.5 billion years old.

Just who held the notion that the earth and the universe were infinitely old? Not Charles Darwin or Charles Lyell. Why would TerryH include this notion? He argues that uniformitarianism's concept requires an infinite history, but no such respected work ever claims this.

TerryH also argues that astronomers date the solar system based only on arguments of geologists. However, astronomers don't need to listen to geologists to get an estimate on the age of the solar system. Parts of space fall to earth all the time, and these objects are what scientists can test for age verification. Using similar methods geologists use to measure the age of rock formations on earth, scientists can measure how old meteorites are and how long ago they formed into solid matter from gasses.[4]

Finally, neither Darwin nor any of his contemporaries bothered to assert how life began to begin with. But modern proponents of the paradigm now boldly assert that life began from non-life, a principle that they call abiogenesis. (Others have flirted briefly with concepts like panspermia and even directed panspermia, but they are in the minority, and many of them, like Francis Crick, have since abandoned such ideas as untenable, or perhaps unsaleable.)

This is a staple argument of Creationists in general. Biology cannot explain definitely how life arose, therefore it is a flaw that invalidates (or calls into question) everything else of evolutionary biology. However, except for the forces of supernatural intelligence, Creationists have yet to propose a definite process of how life arose, either. Would this mean that Creationist biology would also be invalid, by definition? Of course, it's invalid for other reasons, but it is food for thought.

Life had to arise from non-life. Just as cells had to arise from non-cells, and proteins from non-proteins, and so forth. Again, Creationists argue that life arising from non-life is not valid, but hold that life arose from nothing by the will and want of a supernatural force. The arguments are the same, but the processes are different.

Thus the evolutionary paradigm rests on three legs, the removal of any one of which would cause it to fall:

  • Uniformitarianism
  • Abiogenesis
  • Common descent

Evolution does not require abiogenesis in its tenets. Evolution explains life once it existed, not before it existed. So even if life arose another way, evolution's tenets would still be intact.

Uniformitarianism is more of an argument for or against standards of dating fossils within rock formations, not of evolution itself. So this, too, is not a solid argument that if it were invalidated, it would also invalidate evolution.

The only one left is common descent.

Consistent biblical creationists have always taken the position (which, again, I share) that the acceptance of any one of the three legs of the evolutionary paradigm would fatally compromise the Bible. Uniformitarianism, with its concept of deep time, violates three prime tenets of Scripture:

  1. The absence of physical death before the fall of man
  2. The clear genealogical record from Jesus Christ back to Adam, that virtually determines the date of creation to be no earlier than 4219 BC or much later than 4004 BC.[5]
  3. The specific historicity not only of a six-day creation but also of the Great Flood, to which Jesus Christ Himself specifically attested on more than one occasion.

Abiogenesis contradicts Scripture by implying that any form of life could now, or could ever have, generated itself with no intelligent input. Common descent contradicts the repeated references to created kinds of life, found in the Creation and Great Flood accounts.

Here TerryH argues that accepting evolution would invalidate one's belief in the Bible. This is not a strong argument for dismissing evolution. If TerryH is arguing that the Bible is a science book, then his statement is accurate. If one believes the Bible to be a book of stories and fables meant to help people learn how to live in a decent society, then his statement is invalid.

His argument of dismissal of evolution's "three legs" is based on works written thousands of years ago before the advent of complex technology. With our better understanding of the natural world, we have enhanced and refined classic scientific theories (gravity, evolution, magnetism, etc.). No longer do we teach the same principles Newton laid out as he understood them in his day. We do not teach Darwin's hypothesis as he wrote it in 1859. These scientists wrote complex and detailed accounts and conclusions based on experiments and evidence available to them. Since their time, we have discovered far more, and have taken their work and refined it to fit all evidence related to the fields.

The Bible, arguably, is very broad and general in its explanations, taken mostly as quick sentences too open to interpretation. These are not sound scientific rationales, and do not invalidate our understanding of the world today.

Abiogenesis has never been very secure. No scientist has yet demonstrated abiogenesis even in the laboratory, much less in the wild. The best that any proponent of the paradigm has been able to claim thus far is:

  1. Self-replicating molecules, which still have none of the tremendous information that a single DNA strand contains, and which did not come together by themselves, and have never been observed in the wild.
  2. The Miller-Urey lightning-in-reducing-atmosphere experiment. Here, Drs. Miller and Urey created conditions that turned out to be most conducive to the synthesis and harvesting of amino acids. But they had to harvest the acids rapidly in order to preserve them. More to the point, they presented no evidence that the conditions they produced in their experimental apparatus even approximated conditions that have ever existed on earth.

This is another staple argument of Creationists. Because the method is not definitively understood now, means it will never be known. 150 years ago, man still struggled with how animals adapted to their environments. Now we know (mutation and natural selection).

Miller-Urey gave insight into the formation of amino acids. Because of their work, scientists know that more complex structures can form from simple chemicals if given the proper conditions. It is not proof of the origins of life, but like so many researchers in the past, their work started future scientists in new potential directions. No one would argue that Gregor Mendel figured out chromosomal genetics with his plants, but his work did begin the path for countless others.

The usual rejoinder of any evolutionist (I use this term strictly to describe a proponent of the full three-legged evolutionary paradigm), when challenged to produce an example of abiogenesis, is, "Wait and see, and stop praying for ignorance." Now any creationist could observe, and quite reasonably, that the scientific community has been "waiting and seeing" for centuries, without result. This, in fact, is what Michael Behe asserted in Darwin's Black Box. But in fact, the idea of spontaneous generation of life is as old as Aristotle, and has been suffering disproof by one counterexample after another ever since. Francisco Redi, Anton van Leeuwenhoek, and finally Louis Pasteur delivered three devastating critiques of the idea of spontaneous generation, so that no serious scientist looks for such a thing in the wild today. Instead they assert that any such organism that did form in the wild would be rapidly consumed by "modern" bacteria.

TerryH now insists that evolutionists are proponents of his argument of what evolutionary theory is. He is right on another point, that when challenged to produce an example of abiogenesis, biologists can only say, "We don't know yet." See above, just because we do not know now how something operates, does not mean we will never know. Until the mid-20th Century, no scientist knew exactly the shape of DNA in a cell; would anyone argue now that we do not know? So yes, give scientists time to continue researching. A Nobel Prize awaits the person or people who discover the process of how life arose on this planet.

Science has been wrong in the past. No reasonable scientist today would argue otherwise. But how do we ever get to know that our understanding of the world is wrong? Through science. Spontaneous generation (which seems like the argument of Creationists) is not scientific because it has never been shown to happen. There is no plausible physical means for an organism to exist from nothing. So we do not bother with such ideas in the course of research.

So why would TerryH make an argument that strengthens scientific discovery? That we discard old ideas which do not work when we have a better understanding of the world?

Francis Crick, as previously mentioned, at first abandoned abiogenesis after he realized how much information a single strand of DNA contained. He then proposed that an advanced civilization, perhaps in another galaxy, fired a brace of missiles, each laden with payloads of bacteria and blue-green algae, in all directions. One such missile crash-landed on earth, and we are its by-product. He does not believe in directed panspermia today, primarily because that idea has even more logical problems with it than does abiogenesis.

Francis Crick, in the early 70s, did assert that it seemed impossible for complexities in the synthesis of proteins in cells to have arisen in the fashion assumed within abiogenesis. And in the early 90s did dismiss his assumptions. It was not because his newer ideas were less logical, but because we understood more of how DNA worked.

He and chemist Leslie E. Orgel wrote,[6]

Was RNA the first genetic material? Twenty five years ago a system based on polypeptide replication seemed to be the only reasonable alternative. We recognized that a complementary system based, for example, on the interaction of positively and negatively charged amino acids might be possible; however, we did not consider it likely that such a system ever existed on the primitive earth. Nowadays we would have a more open mind about the nature of the first replicating system. It may have been RNA, but a number of alternative polymers are possible, including polypeptides. We did not seriously consider the possibility that there was a midwife, a replicating pre-RNA world of quite different chemistry based, for example, on clays, as suggested by Cairns-Smith,[7] or an alternative organic polymer.[8] Such a pre-RNA world would have possessed the catalytic activity necessary to start the RNA world but it may not have needed to transfer its genetic information directly to that of the new (RNA) replication system. We now find this idea attractive. Whether molecular relics of a pre-RNA world still exist remains to be seen.

So Francis Crick, who came to an erroneous conclusion during the infancy of understanding of DNA and protein synthesis, concluded, through more research into the subject, that his arguments for problems in DNA and protein synthesis were unraveled. This, again, makes an argument for the strength of scientific research and further study, and not for any argument against science itself.

Common descent has always rested on the shaky assumption of "missing links"—hypothetical transitional forms that are supposed to show that all of life has a single taxonomic tree with multiple branches, and not an "orchard" with each tree representing a particular created kind. The problem: that transitional forms still have the sobriquet "missing links" implies that they are still missing. Many have claimed to have found transitional forms; most of those claims have since been abandoned as frankly fraudulent. Two prominent exceptions remain:

  1. Archaeopteryx, a fossilized bird repeatedly said to be a transitional form between dinosaur and bird.
  2. Tiktaalik, an alleged not-quite-amphibian having four legs. Evolutionists make much of its discovery in the very geologic stratum where they predicted that they would find it.

Two species, out of the myriads that exist, cannot be said to carry the load for defending common descent without additional evidence. Archaeopteryx is probably a true bird, not a dinosaur-bird transitional form. (The similar "find" called Archaeoraptor is a deliberate fraud, and almost no evolutionists defend it today.) Similarly, tiktaalik is simply a fish with slightly better-than-usually-developed pectoral and pelvic fins.

Here TerryH makes another argument favored by Creationists, the "goalposts" argument. The argument goes as such:

  • Creationist: There is no transitional fossil between A and B.
  • Scientist: Here is one we found. It clearly shows a form between A and B, and lived between the times of A and B. We shall call it C.
  • Creationist: Not so fast. You now have no transitional fossil between A and C, and C and B.

In this logical fallacy, regardless of how many transitional fossils are found, holes will continue to exist. Scientists accept that not every species who has ever existed died and left a fossil still available for scientists to find. There are far too many species in history, and fossilization is too rare for it to have preserved everything. Therefore, the goalposts are always moved back, and scientists are expected to reset everything and solve the problem again.

But here he argues that scientists have two prominent examples of transitional fossils. Remember, TerryH just argued that scientists are on shaky ground on the assumption that transitional fossils exist.

He also uses the term "prominent." Is he arguing that there are other transitional fossils that just aren't as well known? If he is, he would be correct.

Here's a very short and partial list of transitional fossils:

  • Bactrida
  • Arandaspis
  • Hylonomus
  • Jeholodens
  • Ambulocetus

These are all transitionals between a developed order of animals and the proto-forms of the new order.

TerryH also argues that evolutionists made much of tiktaalik's discovery in the stratum of rock where it was predicted to be. This admission is a strong case that evolution is predictable. Based on the fossils already known, and the gap between them, plus the climate assumed for the creature, scientists uncovered the species in the very stratum they assumed one would be found. No such predictable nature of finding fossils exists in "Creationist biology."

Of the three pillars of the evolutionary paradigm, uniformitarianism is the most vulnerable of all. Uniformitarianism has come under attack from at least three directions.

Archaeology

The least-well-known attack against uniformitarianism has come from archaeology. The specific attack takes the form of out-of-place artifacts, that include examples of modern technology found in ancient ruins, or even found "buried in deep time." For a full discussion of this point, see Essay: Out-of-place Artifacts, ET's, and the Great Flood.

TerryH is arguing that man-made items that do not fit in a perfect geological record invalidate uniformitarianism? This would be more in the realm of geology and archaeology, and even if it were a valid argument, would still not diminish evolution as a science.

Out-of-place artifacts found "buried in deep time" are also a problem for uniformitarian geology. But geologists have at least three major problems with the so-called "fossil column":

  1. Polystrate fossils, or fossils that bridge more than one geologic stratum and hence more than one "era."
  2. Out-of-place strata, or even regions where fossils are found at random without regard to their "era." This latter most likely came from the formation of whirlpools in the flood waters.
  3. Recent formations of stratified canyons within days, always in association with a volcanic event. Mount Saint Helens produced one such canyon.

These are not issues which invalidate geology at all. Fossils do often bridge more than one geological stratum. Coelacanth fossils date back as far as 400 million years ago, but for the most part, have not been found in the fossil record since around 70 million years ago. During the late 1930s, a living specimen was found, and since that time scientists have observed these fish even today. These fish span many geological eras, and as such, geological stratum. But they do not invalidate geology or evolution at all. Some organisms change very little, if at all, and still manage to survive in their niche for millions of years.

Measuring date of fossils based on other species found in the same strata which may have lived through many eras, like the coelacanth, is not the method paleontologists use. Though it can help, there are many other factors used in dating. If this was TerryH's argument, that using species which lived a long period of time to measure the timeframe for another species, then it ignores several other methods used regularly in dating fossils.

The second problem TerryH proposes is not well explained how it invalidates science. Plate tectonics and volcanic disturbances can shift strata in an area. Erosion also can disturb and distribute parts of geological formations. These do not invalidate geology, and likewise, evolution.

As with the second problem, the third does not seem to give any explanations on how it would invalidate science. So there is little to argue against it.

Since the development of nuclear physics, geologists have relied upon radiometric dating to defend the proposition that layered rocks show an age in millions or billions of years. But this type of dating suffers from several key flaws:[9]

  1. Uniformitarian-minded geologists routinely report only the radiometric dates that agree with the overarching model, and discard the rest.
  2. Dating of objects found in the same region is often inconsistent, often by hundreds of thousands or even millions of years.
  3. Historically dated igneous rock has been dated as hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of years old when submitted "blindly" to a dating laboratory.[10]
  4. The "youngest" rocks in the records of the United States Geological Survey have an apparent age of 700,000 years. Geologists therefore would not be able to date the eruption of, say, Mount Vesuvius did not ample historical evidence exist to date it independently.

More to the point, the RATE (Radioisotopes and the Age of The Earth) group at the Institute for Creation Research has developed an ever-growing body of evidence that the earth is in fact much younger than uniformitarianism insists it to be.

Scientists discard dating methods that cannot accurately measure the age of the rock. Since certain radiometric dating is only valid for certain spans of time, using a method that would be very imprecise of a rock around ten million years old would result in very imprecise measurements.

Given an item that weighs between 150 and 250 Kg, would one measure that item with a scale that can be precise between 100 and 500 Kg, one that is precise between 50 and 200 Kg, one that is precise between 10 and 75 Kg, or one that is precise between 1000 Kg and 5000 Kg? Each of these scales could measure a weight for the item (unless the smaller scales broke under the weight), but would they be valid measurements?

This is exactly why less precise measurements for a timeframe of a rock are not used, or their measurements retained.

Precision of dating is not to the nearest year or hundred years. If a rock is about 3.2 billion years old, a million or two years in either direction does not matter. If a rock is 30 million years old, 100 or 200 thousand in either direction also does not matter.

For the third point, no examples are given. Just an assertion and a criticism of defenses, without any acknowledge of where either comes from.

The fourth point is invalid on its premise. According to an article from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory in 2003, radiocarbon dating places a volcanic eruption (and subsequent volcanic rocks) at 400 years old.[11] 400-year-old rocks are much younger than 700,000 ones.

Astronomy [section removed, see right]

As far as TerryH's astronomy arguments, a subject I have not researched thoroughly, I cannot properly respond. It does appear he argues for a lack of an old universe to nullify evolution, contrary to evidence otherwise.

The increasing weight of contrary evidence continues to assail all three pillars of the evolutionary paradigm. This might explain the raft of adverse attention that the evolutionists are paying to projects like Ben Stein's documentary, and to a specialized graduate school seeking to relocate to, and win accreditation in, another State within the United States.

Excepting that two of the three "pillars of the evolutionary paradigm" seem to misrepresent biological science, nothing besides ignoring evidence was brought up that would dismiss the final pillar, common descent. I suppose if someone made up aspects of a subject, defined these as the falsifiable aspects of that science, then found quotes and select evidence that would invalidate those aspects, then yes, that someone would make a good case of upsetting the made up aspects of the science. But it does nothing more than cloud the issue, and does not put forward any criticisms of the actual subject itself.

The reason evolutionists are upset about Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed is that it is dishonest and misleading. The National Center for Science Education's website on debunking the dishonest and misleading claims in Expelled is thorough in representing its claims and criticisms of the so-called documentary.[12]

Accreditation is a serious affair. How strong would a person's degree be if there was no method to determine the education behind that degree? If a school does not require the proper classes agreed upon by its state board, then the state board should not lend credence to the effectiveness of the education of that school. A school can still offer degrees without being an accredited organization, but its degrees are not as valuable to the general population.

This is why people fight schools who wish to offer degrees in science, but require more religious study than actual science. Lending credence to such schools on the same level as schools which teach the practices, methods and ethics of the scientific field without religious indoctrination, would diminish the value and weight those accredited schools have with the general population.

It also explains the continued funding of various projects seeking to gather evidence in support of the evolutionary paradigm. Some of these projects, like Project SETI, are complete wastes of time. Others, like the Hadron Supercollider, stand a remote chance of finding something useful, but are not likely to find anything that is, as lawyers like to say, dispositive. Happily, some other projects, like NASA's ongoing program of robotic deep-space exploration, hold great promise to yield a wealth of data—but these data are likely to militate for creation and not for the evolutionary paradigm.

TerryH has now determined what is a waste of time and what isn't in scientific experiments, after showing no apparent ability to determine what the sciences are about. Project SETI is a science experiment to study radio signals captured from space, to see if there are any signs of anomalies that could only be explained by sentient life. Trying to figure out if there is another area of the universe where life could exist is hardly a waste of time, even if, in our lifetimes, no evidence is found.

The LHC at the CERN facilities is another example of testing hypotheses. Instead of assuming the answer based on an idea, and never experimenting, scientists constructed the LHC to do what normally would be impossible to observe and collect data to understand. Even if there were a remote chance of getting knowledge, valid hypotheses should be followed.

TerryH then concludes another explorative experiment, NASA's deep-space exploration, will "yield a wealth of data." Why the difference in opinion from the first two experiments to the third? As TerryH argues, but does not explain, the data collected with NASA's program "are likely to militate (sic) for creation" and not for evolution. What, exactly, is being brought about for change or have an effect, is not clear.

It's unclear just how much understanding TerryH has of evolution, but his constant confusion and strange opinions on the subject itself indicates a lack of study in the field. As I have little study in astronomy, I do not argue for or against it. It would benefit TerryH's credibility if he did the same with scientific studies, like evolution, of which he has little understanding.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/education/stories/121507dnmetcreation.2b0d011.html
  2. http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/localnews/stories/042408dntexcreationscience2.917bf873.html
  3. http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/118951493/abstract?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0
  4. http://www.universetoday.com/2005/09/20/oldest-meteorites-hint-at-early-solar-system/
  5. TerryH happens to believe that the Julian calendar year of creation was 4159 BC.
  6. http://www.fasebj.org/cgi/reprint/7/1/238.pdf
  7. Cairns-Smith, A. G. (1982) Genetic Takeover and the Mineral Origins of Life. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, Great Britain
  8. Cairns-Smith, A. G., and Davies, C. J.(1977) The design of novel replicating polymers. In Encyclopaedia of Ignorance Duncan, R., and Weston-Smith, M., eds) Pergamon Press, Oxford/New York
  9. Wieland, Carl. Stones and Bones: Powerful Evidence Against Evolution, 3rd ed. Queensland, New South Wales, Australia: Creation Ministries International, 2006.
  10. When challenged on this, geologists sometimes assert that the submitters asked for an inappropriate dating method. But this defense begs the question of why the laboratories involved reported tremendous geological ages instead of merely reporting that the age was too soon to resolve.
  11. http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/volcanowatch/2003/03_07_31.html
  12. http://www.expelledexposed.com/