Dispatches from the Creation Wars

I know it will come as a shock to hear that a Worldnutdaily columnist would say lots of stupid things about evolution. You could have bowled me over with a proverbial feather when I saw it (/sarcasm). But Robert Ringer wants you to know that he approaches the subject from a purely intellectual perspective:

I don’t have a religious dog in the evolution fight, so from a very young age I came at the theory of evolution from an intellectual, common-sense point of view. Even though I was predisposed to believing in evolution, what I found when I began reading up on the subject was that virtually every book began with the premise that evolution was a fact.

To my surprise, however, the more I read, the more evolution sounded like something out of “Aesop’s Fables.” Inanimate matter “evolving” into an animal, and an animal evolving into a human being? It seemed to me to be an idea that required a size extra-large imagination.

First of all, the notion of an “intellectual, common-sense point of view” should provoke much laughter. Secondly, this is little more than the old “goo to the zoo to you” formulation restated — just pretend that the first biological organisms jumped directly to being a kitten and then a kitten jumped directly into a human being. My goodness, how ridiculous! Well yes, it is ridiculous; good thing no one claims any such thing. A classic straw man argument.

This argument, said Murchie, is based on the premise that if you could sit enough billions of chimpanzees in front of computers for enough billions of years, random chance would allow them to write all the great works of literature.

Which is a fascinating thought until you consider the mathematics involved. There are approximately 50 possible letters, numbers and punctuation marks on a computer keyboard, and there are 65 character spaces per line in the average book. A chimp would therefore have one in 50 chances of getting the first space on the first line correct.

Since the same is true of the second space on that line, the chimp would have one chance in 50 x 50, or 502, of getting both spaces right (meaning just the first two letters of the first word of just one of the great works of literature). For all 65 spaces on the first line, the figure would jump to 5065, which is equal to 10110.

How big is 10110? According to physicist George Gamow, said Murchie, it is a thousand times greater than the total number of vibrations made by all of the atoms in the universe since the Big Bang!

One of the telltale signs of a creationist is their ability to ignore natural selection. Everything in evolution must be “random” because that leads to Really Big Numbers when you look at probability. But evolution is not a random process; the inputs are random but they are filtered through an algorithmic process. This isn’t really that difficult to understand.

And then there’s the quote mining. You knew there had to be quote mining, right?

The coup de grace for me was when I read a book in the mid ’90s titled “Ever Since Darwin,” written by Stephen Jay Gould, who was one of the world’s leading paleontologists and evolutionary biologists. Like virtually all pro-evolution authors, in “Ever Since Darwin” Gould discussed evolution in an a priori fashion – i.e., stated as a fact rather than a theory – yet, when he reached the last page of his book, he felt compelled to state the following:

“I hope that … Darwin’s own work will permeate more areas of evolutionary thought, where rigid dogmas still reign as a consequence of unquestioned preference, old habits, or social prejudice. My own favorite target is the belief in slow and steady evolutionary change preached by most paleontologists. … The fossil record does not support it; mass extinction and abrupt origin reign [my emphasis].”

Gould’s admission that all known evidence suggests that most, if not all, species have appeared on earth suddenly stunned me and gave me a great deal of respect for his intellectual honesty. It supported the scientific findings that Cro-Magnon man suddenly and mysteriously appeared, about 40,000 years ago, and populated the earth “like a bolt of lightning.”

*sigh* It’s the old, tired game of creationist whack-a-mole. No matter how many times you show how utterly dishonest it is to quote Gould talking about “sudden appearance,” you can be absolutely certain that some other ignorant git will pop out of a hole and do it all over again. Gould himself made perfectly clear that when he said appearance was “sudden” he was talking about the scale of tens of thousands of years, not “on a Tuesday morning.” And he was talking about how speciation appears to take place in the fossil record because it will almost always take place in peripherally isolated populations with much smaller numbers than the ancestral stock it splits off from.

But, Cro-Magnon’s sudden appearance aside, even if the theory of evolution were ultimately proven to be true beyond a reasonable doubt, there is still the problem of the billions of chimpanzees pecking away at computer keyboards for billions of years; i.e., evolution in a random universe would still appear to be a mathematical impossibility.

This is a lot like the claim that bumblebees can’t fly — even if you see them fly, we’ve already determined that it is impossible. So God did it. Or something.