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Question Evolution! - CMI's Rebuttals to General Objections to the 15 Questions

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Creation Ministries International's Rebuttals to General Objections to its 15 Questions for Evolutionists[edit]

Introduction[edit]

On September 22, 2011, Creation Ministries International(CMI) posted rebuttals to various general objections to the "15 Questions for Evolutionists" that form the core of its Question Evolution! Campaign.

As with the questions themselves, CMI's rebuttals illustrate the great epistemological gulf between the discussants. The Question Evolution! Campaign is not concerned with justifying the truth claims that underlie CMI's religious objections to the Theory of Evolution. Rather, CMI engages in negative apologetics calculated to cast as much doubt as possible on the Theory of Evolution. At times, by doggedly relying on cherry-picked and sometimes dated sources, CMI's rebuttals run contrary to its own interests by illustrating one of the most powerful central features of doing science: it's an iterative process that necessarily depends on continual critical evaluation of theories and data as the state of the art and knowledge advance. Creationists generally take the position that unanswered questions pose serious problems for the Theory of Evolution, rather than providing opportunities for the advancement of knowledge. While creationists occasionally make truth claims that are susceptible to scientific investigation, their overall program is rooted in an unwavering belief in the truth of scripture. It is primarily concerned with finding evidence consistent with its interpretations of an ancient religious text and, therefore, will always lack the explanatory power of modern secular science.

This round of CMI's rebuttals was drafted by Jonathan Sarfati, a PhD physical chemist and prolific creationist author with a number of papers published in secular peer reviewed journals; Robert Carter, a PhD marine biologist; Don Batten, a PhD agronomist and horticultural scientist with many secular peer reviewed papers on non-creationist subjects relevant to his field; and Lita Cosner, MA theology.

See our replies to CMI's rebuttals to:

Objection 1: the current state of science[edit]

CMIRationalWiki

Objection 1: These questions are only unanswerable because our science isn’t advanced enough.

Rebuttal: But if science has not yet advanced, then how could materialistic scientists possibly know what can be answered in the future? They tend to discount predictive prophecy, at least when it’s in the Bible. If more questions about evolution were answered by scientific advance, the skeptics may have a point. But exactly the opposite has been true in the past. The more our biological knowledge expands, the more problems evolution has. For example, Darwin’s friend Haeckel thought that the cell was just a blob of goo; now we know it is a miniature city with advanced nanotechnology, including machines and factories such as ATP synthase and kinesin.

"But if science has not yet advanced, then how could materialistic scientists possibly know what can be answered in the future?"

All science proceeds on the basis that it will eventually unravel whatever problem it is trying to solve. Thus far science has proved to be pretty good at this, having investigated and eventually solved the one-time mysteries of lightning, fire, sunlight, gravity, the tides, the plague, earthquakes, volcanos, etc. For those currently unresolved questions in science (such as how life originated), people are, of course, free to assert that science will never find an answer. Only time will tell.

Implicit in this statement is the belief that science can never answer this question. In fact, the textbook of Intelligent Design "Of Pandas and People" is quite explicit on this point: "On its own science cannot answer this question. It must leave it to religion and philosophy."[1]

"They tend to discount predictive prophecy, at least when it’s in the Bible."

From a scientific perspective there are no known cases of "predictive prophecy", in the Bible or anywhere else. A "prediction" in scientific terms is a statement about what will happen if a certain observation or repeatable process is undertaken. Accurate predictions then shape the body of theory in a topic. Famous examples are Einstein's prediction that gravity bends light, and Wegener's prediction that the continents will be found to drift. Of the numerous statements in the Bible, none have led to any scientific discoveries or advanced scientific thought. There have been many attempts to back-interpret statements in the Bible as being prescient of current modern scientific thought. This may or may not be true, but none of these are "predictions" in the scientific sense, they had no impact on the path followed by successful research, they made no testable predictions, and they are typically couched in metaphor or other literary devices which render their technical meaning ambiguous.

Another key point here is that this is a discussion about science and the behavior of scientists, hence it is obligatory to use terminology in the scientific sense. The words "prophecy" and "prediction" may have a variety of meanings on other contexts, but that is irrelevant to science - scientists can only use "predictions" which accord to the scientific usage of the word. This applies to all scientific terminology - a common tactic of creationists is to equivocate the lay meaning of the word "theory" with the scientific meaning (typically by dismissing evolution as "just a theory"), although they are quite different. A scientific "theory" is not idle speculation, but a large body of knowledge for which there is broad consensus and agreement. Likewise, there are numerous usages of the word "energy" across various contexts, but science has a rigid definition of the term, and it would be meaningless to ask a physicist to discuss energy in the same context that a "spiritual healer" might use the word.

A final point is that this statement seems inherently opposed to methodological naturalism, and thus, is inherently anti-science. Science does not permit supernatural explanations. This is not to say it denies them either, they are simply not open for consideration, positively or negatively. It is a publicly acknowledged objective of some pro-creationist groups such as the Discovery Institute to "change the ground rules of science to allow supernatural causation of the natural world"(ref = [1]). If that were to happen, then science would cease to be science. Any individual is free to reject science outright. But to claim to fully accept science, while openly seeking to change its fundamental nature is self-contradictory, and essentially a canard.

"If more questions about evolution were answered by scientific advance, the skeptics may have a point. But exactly the opposite has been true in the past. The more our biological knowledge expands, the more problems evolution has. For example, Darwin’s friend Haeckel thought that the cell was just a blob of goo; now we know it is a miniature city with advanced nanotechnology, including machines and factories such as ATP synthase and kinesin."

This appears to be stating "the cell is more complicated that people thought in 1870, therefore evolution has problems" and that "science has been unable to progress very far in understanding this complexity". It is certainly true that the cell is far more complicated than anyone prior to 1900 would have imagined.

What is not true is the assertion of ignorance, the cell is also incredibly well understood. The unresolved issues in modern biology are all of the form "did X evolve this way or that way?", and not of the form "is evolution in doubt?". Any discovery which even slightly weakened the consensus on evolution would be an enormous discovery that would reverberate through the entire academic world, and would surely attract major media attention.

As regards the specifics of the examples, there are many known mechanisms which explain the seemingly enormous level of complexity of the cell, such as molecular self-assembly.

To address this point any further, some actual identification of these "problems in evolution" would need to be made, otherwise it is little more than hand-waving.

  1. Davis, Kenyon Of Pandas and People - FTE Press, 2nd Ed, 1993, p. 7

Objection 2: no agreement on an acceptable definition of "evolution"[edit]

CMIRationalWiki

Objection 2: CMI uses a misleading definition of evolution. Evolution is only the change in allele frequency in a population over time.

Rebuttal: Evolution is often used to describe anything from the slight change of a species over time (for instance, changes in finch beak size) to molecules-to-man evolution. If evolution is just changes in allele frequency, then CMI would be an evolutionary organization! Our detractors are committing the logical fallacy of equivocation, also known as bait-and-switch. What is really misleading is imputing that CMI denies that allele frequencies change—but then, under an evolutionary belief system, why shouldn’t evolutionists mislead, as one bragged about?

CMI’s definition of evolution for the purposes of this pamphlet is the ‘General Theory of Evolution’ (GTE). The evolutionist Gerald Kerkut defined this as ‘the theory that all the living forms in the world have arisen from a single source which itself came from an inorganic form.’[1] This is a perfectly justifiable definition, and one that secular scientists would agree with—and this is what the dispute is about!

  1. Kerkut, G.A., Implications of Evolution, Pergamon, Oxford, UK, p. 157, 1960. He continued: “the evidence which supports this is not sufficiently strong to allow us to consider it as anything more than a working hypothesis.”
CMI itself pulls a "bait-and-switch" by claiming to engage the scientific definition of evolution, while in actuality cherry-picking a particular incorrect misconception of evolution (or a badly outdated definition) where it suits them.

The Kerkut quote provided here was written in 1960, a mere few years after the structure of DNA was identified. No biologist engaged in research today would regard it as a workable definition.

A more current definition of evolution would be "[the] changes in the heritable traits of a population of organisms as successive generations replace one another" (as used by the National Academy of Sciences).[1]

If the complaint then becomes "science changes its definitions", well that is simply how science works. That is what science does - improves itself.


Objection 3: unanswered questions and finger pointing[edit]

CMIRationalWiki

Objection 3: Even if science cannot explain the origin of life, to say that God must have done it is an argument from ignorance.

Rebuttal: We do not argue from what we don’t know, but from what we do know about the nature of the information encoded in the DNA, the complexity of life, etc. Our argument is, to quote from a previous response:

“In objects of known origin, there are certain features—specified complex information—that occur only in those made by an intelligent designer (or an intelligently designed program). So by the normal analogical reasoning we use in science, when we see these features in an object where the origin is unknown, we can likewise conclude that this object had an intelligent designer.

“These features are those that an archaeologist would use to determine whether an object was designed by an intelligent designer, or that a SETI devotee would use to argue that a signal from space came from an intelligent alien, or whether a ballot or card game was fixed, or whether a sequence of letters was the result of intelligence or monkeys on a keyboard.

“In the first two cases above, it would be perverse to complain that the archaeologist didn’t discuss whether the object’s designer itself had a designer, or that the SETI researcher didn’t tell us who designed the alien. It would be even sillier to argue from this that we should simply drop the idea of design, and conclude that the object or hypothetical space signal had no designer.”

Saying, “We don’t know, but evolution did it somehow,” on the other hand, is an argument from ignorance aka ‘evolution of the gaps’.

Science does not deal with analogical reasoning, but inductive reasoning. Evolution has been shown to be a source of this type of complex specified informationWikipedia's W.svg without an intelligent agent (and William Dembski's version has been thoroughly debunked). It is clear that mutations and natural selection can generate proteins with new function, such as nylonase. It's not clear why complex specified information is better evidence for creationism than evolution, and CMI provides no observational evidence or analysis to demonstrate it, while evolution has several lines of evidence (genetics, biogeography, etc.). Furthermore CMI's criteria for determining design is flawed. SETI is looking for narrow-band signals; it's a known form of design. Archaeologists can determine design when they see it, because they know something about the design process; e.g. all known objects from archaeology point to human design, whereas life does not look man-made. To use an example of design of unknown origin: Stonehenge. We may not know everything about the construction of Stonehenge: who built it, what purpose it served, how it was constructed, etc. But most would reasonably conclude it had a human origin and there are experiments being conducted that further support this. Saying God did it or aliens did it, as some have, under the claim that we don't know how humans could have built it, is an argument from ignorance. The only way one can objectively conclude that God or Aliens designed something is if one knows something about the mechanisms under which they operate and of course we don't; one could easily say leprechauns were equally likely for the origin of "complex information" based on what we know or don't know of them. That's why when a natural mechanism is found, say lightning, there's no longer a pressing need to say "God did it".

Objection 4: probabilty and arguments from incredulity[edit]

CMIRationalWiki

Objection 4: Many of these questions involve things that are very improbable. But we know that improbable events happen all the time.

Rebuttal: In the analogies that evolutionists use, such as the lottery, a series of coin flips, etc., there will be an outcome. Someone will win the lottery, the coin flips must be some arrangement of heads or tails, etc. These evolutionists are cheating with chance. But when it comes to the origin of first life, the probability is against any outcome—see Answering another uninformed atheist: Galileo, Miller—Urey, probability.

CMI's response is a bit bizarre, as improbable things do happen à la Littlewood's law, and also that they just link to a page of links which is not an argument. (There is little argument in the paragraph itself.) The only "factual" assessment of probability is in the last link:

"
  • 20 amino acids
  • 387 proteins for the simplest possible life
  • 10 conserved amino acids on average
  • ∴ chance is 20–3870 = 10–3870.log20 = 10–5035
This is one chance in one followed by over 5000 zeroes. So it would be harder than guessing a correct 5000-digit PIN on the first go!"

There are a couple problems here. Cumulative selection is different than the creationist's chance. There is an element of certainty to natural selection, even though it is occurring in an environment with a lot of noise. It has the previous generation to work with. An advantageous change will be inherited preferentially, and hence it's not solely a random occurrence. It's also clear that amino acids are not formed by taking them out of a bin one at a time, which is what the calculation implies. Hence, you are asking about a type of conditional probability in which the previous generation is taken into account which leads to a higher probability than randomly selecting amino acids.

In addition, it's the creationists who assume that life started with a fully functioning organism, and all of the abiogenesis scenarios start with self-replicating molecular system. It's hard to evaluate the actual probability without knowing exactly what you are evaluating. Under certain conditions, replication occurs with near certainty, and there are molecular systems with an element of selection. And then you have billions of years of single cell organisms to work with.

And then do we assess the probability of God poofing all of life into existence? How do we do that?


Objection 5: on quotemining[edit]

CMIRationalWiki

Objection 5: CMI uses quote mining, citing scientists as part of their argument against evolution even though these scientists are evolutionists. CMI quotes scientists out-of-context.

Rebuttal: Any quote that is less than the entire work of which it is a part could be smeared as ‘out of context’. We take care not to take any quote in a manner that is other than what would be intended in the context. It is acceptable to use ‘hostile witness’ quotes to show how even people who believe evolution admit its difficulties.

An example of a genuinely out-of-context quote would be Darwin’s on the eye, where Darwin was talking about its seeming absurdity but then said that after all it was quite easy to imagine that the eye could be built step-by-step (in his opinion, with which we obviously disagree). This is why it’s on our Don’t Use page, one of the most read on our site (and even praised by Richard Dawkins himself).

But it is not ‘out of context’, say, to quote an evolutionary bird expert against the dino-to-bird theory specifically, or to cite evolutionist Ernst Haeckel to show that he believed that the Bible opposed racism and that the Bible was wrong to do so, or to cite an evolutionist who makes a controversial admission in public or in print, even if he tries to paper over that statement later.

Some of our opponents seem to think that quoting an evolutionist who has conceded a problem with evolution (even if he actually made such a concession) is ‘quoting out of context’ simply because the evolutionist would not agree with our position in toto. But this is a quite bizarre understanding of misquoting.

Without a specific example cited, it's difficult to assess this claim. Otherwise, it comes across as a backhanded character attack, that "evolutionists" make accusations unfairly without actual evidence they are doing so. It is true that CMI and other creationists quotemine, and we give specific examples of this on this very wiki.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]