email - April 2015

Jenn’s Concerns

It is time to address Jenn’s concerns about our review of Why Evolution is True.

Last month we shared portions of some emails from Jenn 1 about our review of Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne. We didn’t have space last month to address her specific issues because there was a broader issue that needed to be discussed.

The broader issue last month was, “If the scientific evidence is so strongly against evolution, why is there still a controversy about it?” Our answer was, “Because it often isn’t about science—it’s about religion and politics.” That topic was inspired by the comments of a politician about evolution, and portions of Jenn’s email telling us about her experience at a Catholic university. We tried our best to remain politically and religiously neutral while explaining how politics and religion can affect one’s belief about evolution. This month we want to return to our usual approach of looking at evolution from a purely scientific standpoint.

Before we share Jenn’s specific concerns, let’s set the stage with this background. Our two-part review of Why Evolution is True was published in the 2009 April and May newsletters. It has been more than six years since I wrote it. That was so long ago that reading it again was, for me, like reading it for the first time. It was almost as if I were reading something someone else had written. This allows me to make the honest, unbiased, objective, and modest observation that it is one of the best articles ever written! There isn’t much room for improvement.

Here’s the last paragraph of Jenn’s first email to us, which we did not share with you last month.

It also appears you contradict yourself and provide unfounded criticisms of the book.  Will you be publishing another, more substantial, critique of the book?  I am curious to read your more educated and thoughtful views on this book if you have any.  It was a little fascinating to me that you attacked his relatively minor assaults on creationism yet attacked him directly.  Still, you state that "creationists are more polite".  Sorry, I'm not seeing the "politeness" there.

The four areas we need to address are creationism, politeness, contradictions, and unfounded criticisms.

Creationism

We believe the main argument of Coyne’s book can be accurately summarized in this one sentence. “Evolution is true because creationism is nonsense.” Our main observation about his book is that, despite the title, hardly any of the book attempts to explain why evolution is true. It would be better titled, “Why Creation is False.” We still invite our readers to go to the library and check out the book (don’t waste your money buying it) and see for yourself. You will see his assaults on creationism are not “relatively minor.”

Politeness

Here is the passage about politeness to which she was referring:

We hoped there might be some merit to Coyne’s book, but were somewhat skeptical when Pigliucci made this comment about what he thought was the most compelling argument in the book: “But it takes a particularly obtuse mind to look at the figure [showing human, Australopithecus afarensis, and chimpanzee] and reject the notions that A. afarensis is a member of the human lineage and that we and chimps have evolved from a common ancestor. Then again, there is no dearth of obtuse minds when it comes to creationism.” 2 A creationist might well say, “But it takes a particularly obtuse mind to look at the complexity of living things and reject the notions that life is the product of conscious design. Then again, there is no dearth of obtuse minds when it comes to evolutionism.” But a creationist probably would not say that, because creationists tend to be more polite. 3

Pigliucci’s comment about “no dearth of obtuse minds” struck me as being rude, and I tried to point that out by turning it around. Almost all of the email we get from evolutionists is rude. (Jenn’s email is the rare exception.) If you read creation/evolution blogs, I think you will find that evolutionists tend to make many more personal attacks than creationists do. You can judge for yourself whether the generalization is true or not.

Despite that, we must admit Jenn’s point is valid. “No generalization is worth a damn—including this one!” 4 Even if it is generally true that evolutionists tend to be less polite than creationists, it isn’t relevant. I could have found a way to note Pigliucci’s rudeness without being rude myself. I apologize.

Contradictions

I re-read our review, looking carefully for contradictions. I could not find any, so I asked her for a specific one. She wrote,

There are several unfounded, and even contradictory, comments made in the article on Coyne's book.  For example, it is stated, "He thinks he sees macroevolution in the fossil record. This is remarkable because he spends so many pages trying to explain why there are no missing links in the fossil record!"  This is absolutely false as it is stated repeatedly in the book that there are indeed missing links in the fossil record.

Unfortunately the statement, “There are no missing links in the fossil record,” is ambiguous. It can have two opposite meanings. One could understand that sentence to mean, “All the expected evolutionary links are in the fossil record—none are missing,” or “There are none of the expected links in the fossil record.”

As Jenn correctly points out, Coyne said repeatedly that the presumed evolutionary links in the fossil record are all missing, and tried to explain why. That’s what we meant to say; but we didn’t realize the confusion until Jenn brought it up.

In the section, “Why There Are No Missing Links,” 5 we tried to point out Coyne’s contradictions. For example, in one sentence he said the fossil record is “indisputable evidence” for evolution, and in the next sentence he said the fossil record is so sparse and incomplete that “we can’t yet trace out a continuous lineage.” We reported that (1) he said the fossil record is good enough to prove evolution beyond any doubt and (2) he said the fossil record isn’t good enough to actually show evolution.

It is easy to see how it might appear that we were making contradictory reports. One would naturally assume that Coyne consistently said the fossil record is sufficient or insufficient. So, when we reported Coyne’s contradictory positions on the fossil record, it might have appeared that we were the ones making contradictory statements.

Sarcasm

Sometimes we use sarcasm to point out the invalid logic of evolutionists. For example, near the end of Why Evolution is False we quoted Coyne’s foolish argument about why all the disagreement among evolutionists proves the theory must be true, and then summarized his argument by saying, “The fact that there is so much ignorance and controversy about evolution proves how true it must be. ” The smiley face is intended to convey the notion, “This is silly.” It is silly to say that ignorance and controversy prove that evolution is true—but Coyne said it with a straight face. He really meant it. We were pointing out the contradiction sarcastically. We don’t think ignorance proves evolution is true.

Perhaps we use sarcasm too much. It is easy to misunderstand. But sarcasm is a powerful tool for exposing foolish arguments. We would hate to give it up.

Unfounded Criticisms

We don’t know what Jenn thinks the “unfounded criticisms” are. We always document the evolutionary position carefully. There were 12 footnotes in part one of our review, and 22 footnotes in part two. We do this so that you can read the source material for yourself to verify that we are not misrepresenting the evolutionary position. We have no reason to challenge anything evolutionists don’t really believe. We strive to accurately portray the current evolutionary thinking, and then explain why we think it is wrong. In the end, it is really up to you to decide whether our criticisms are valid or not.

We criticize ideas—not people. Granted, some ideas are closely associated with certain people—but we don’t attack the idea by attacking the honesty, intelligence, education, or religion of the people who champion that idea. Unfortunately, it is hard to show how foolish an idea is without some of that foolishness transferring accidentally to the people holding that foolish idea. That’s why we use humor to try to soften the blows.

Jenn’s Specific Issues

We really appreciate email from evolutionists like Jenn who have sincere comments or questions. Unfortunately, most of the email we get from evolutionists is too vulgar to print. We asked Jenn to elaborate on the debates she heard in her class, and she kindly obliged.

There are also unexplainable issues in creationism that have sparked debates.  Atavism and vestigial features, as well as homologous features, were among these issues.  There is absolutely no reason a creature would possess such features were it created.  As an example, some snakes are born with tiny pelvic bones.  What would the point of this be?  If every creature were truly created, would they not be perfect?  Of course, I am biased since I do not believe in a creator.

God Would Not Do That

The fundamental proposition that sparked debates in Jenn’s biology class is, “I don’t believe that the God I don’t believe in, would have done it that way.” It is a religious, not scientific, argument. She asks, “If every creature were truly created, would they not be perfect?” Biblical creationists have a religious answer for that. They say that every creature was created perfect, but when Adam and Eve sinned, the world was cursed (causing thorns and weeds to appear). Biblical creationists use Genesis 3 to explain imperfection. We don’t.

What does any speculation about the God of Abraham have to do with evolution? Why isn't Zeus mentioned? Why don’t evolutionists argue that evolution must be true because Zeus would not have put certain bones in a snake? What one thinks of Zeus, or the God of Abraham, has nothing to do with whether or not the theory of evolution is true. But evolutionists can’t help bringing religion into it because if they are constrained to defend evolution with purely scientific arguments, they don’t have much to say.

That’s why we, on the other hand, use the Second Law of Thermodynamics to answer Jenn’s question. The Second Law encapsulates the scientific observation that things naturally fall apart—they don’t naturally fall together. For example, my old truck has an entertainment system in which the CD player no longer works (but the radio still does). The CD player doesn’t work anymore because of the Second Law, not because of God’s curse. Why did Ford put a CD player that doesn’t work in my truck? Ford didn’t. The CD player just broke because things naturally break.

The living things we observe today are imperfect because every generation provides an opportunity for imperfection to creep in and make them fall apart. Just as every time a manuscript is copied, it creates an opportunity for an error to be made. Every time a cell reproduces there is an opportunity for a mistake to be made in the DNA.

Vestigial organs (such as the human appendix, which now seems to play only a minor role in human health) might at one time have served a much greater purpose, but no longer do because of devolution (not evolution). That is, some random mutation to a particular gene might have prevented the appendix from reaching its full potential, and that random mutation was inherited by subsequent human beings because the degradation was not sufficiently harmful for natural selection to weed it out.

It is certainly possible that a future mutation might reverse the genetic error which has inhibited the original function of the appendix, causing the appendix to regain the ability to do something it cannot do now. Sometimes two wrongs do make a right. (This is called “atavism” or “throwback.”)

But even if a mutation restores a capability that previously had been lost, the question still remains, “How did that functionality arise in the first place?” The functionality had to exist before a minor genetic error caused it to be lost before an opposite genetic error corrected the mistake.

If the CD player in my truck doesn’t work because a connection came loose, it is possible that a bump in the road might make the loose wires touch, and the CD player might start working again. That’s atavism—but that doesn’t prove that driving over a bumpy road created the CD player in the first place.

Jeff’s excellent response to the atavism argument is found in his email, “Does Atavism Prove Evolution?” in our January, 2013, newsletter. 6

Jenn’s question, “Why would God create something imperfect?” can be turned around. Why would evolution create something imperfect? Evolutionists generally argue that, since evolution is an unguided, accidental process, one should not expect it to produce anything perfect. If evolution stumbles upon something that is good enough to survive, there is no reason for it to continue on toward perfection. (That was the evolutionist’s point in last month’s Evolution in the News column. 7) Good enough is good enough. But then, at other times, evolutionists recognize the amazing ability of some living thing, and then claim this is proof of how powerful evolution is—it can produce something far better than “good enough to survive.”

Homology

The homology argument just says things that are similar must have evolved from a close common ancestor. The last several newsletters have addressed the homology issue, usually at the genetic level. We devoted an entire article 8 to the issue 11 years ago, so there isn’t anything more we want to say about it this month.

Old Arguments

We’ve been publishing this newsletter for more than 18 years. The answers to all the old standard evolutionists’ arguments (like atavism, vestigial organs, and homology) can be found in past newsletters. You can go to the Topical Index of our website 9 and use the search box to search our website for keywords (like “atavism”), or take one of the links to 9 topic areas (Age of the Earth, Astronomy, Biology, Evolution in General, Faith or Science?, Human Evolution, Humor, Origin of Life, or Rocks and Fossils) for lists of titles of well over 600 articles in past newsletters.

Each month we like to alert you to the latest research, rather than rehashing the same old arguments. But, if you are a new reader, and those old arguments are new to you, we hope you will go back and read our past issues dealing with old evolutionary problems. 

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Footnotes:

1 Disclosure, March 2015, “Jenn”, http://scienceagainstevolution.info/v19i6e2.htm
2 Massimo Pigliucci, Science, 5 February 2009, “EVOLUTION: The Overwhelming Evidence”, page 716 
3 Disclosure, April 2009, “Why Evolution is True”, http://scienceagainstevolution.info/v13i7b.htm
4 This quote has been attributed to Mark Twain and Oliver Wendell Holmes. We don’t know who actually deserves the credit.
5 Disclosure, May 2009, “Why Evolution is False”, http://scienceagainstevolution.info/v13i8f.htm
6 Disclosure, January 2013, “Does Atavism Prove Evolution?”, http://scienceagainstevolution.info/v17i4e.htm
7 Disclosure, March 2015, “Unchanging Bacteria”, http://scienceagainstevolution.info/v19i6n.htm
8 Disclosure, March, 2004, “Comparative Anatomy”, http://scienceagainstevolution.info/v8i6f.htm
9 http://scienceagainstevolution.info/topics.htm