The Intersection

Okay, here’s round two of Bethell mania. Once again, I’m going to post several brief excerpts from his arguments (this time on evolution), and let you respond to them–thereby helping me out with my debate prep. You did a stellar job with global warming, so I expect no less this time around!

Here goes:

1. In the evolutionist worldview, life on earth evolved from inanimate matter over a long period as a result of random events. If it really is true that all creatures great and small appeared on earth in this fashion, then we have no reason to believe that life is anything other than a cosmic accident, purposeless and pointless. (p. 200)

2. Logically, no criterion of fitness can be identified that is independent of survival itself. In the end, Darwin’s theory of natural selection boils down to the bare claim that some organisms leave more offspring than others. (p. 207)

3. Even when there is a congruent pattern of similarities in different groups, as in the forelimbs of bat, porpoises, and human, and biologists attribute that similarity to common descent, they are guessing. Not only do we not possess the unbroken chain of fossils leading back to that shared ancestor, but we have hardly any links in the chain. (p. 222)

Enjoy….

Comments

  1. #1 Sean Carroll
    June 16, 2006

    Number 1. is completely true, given an appropriate definition of “pointless.” We are a cosmic accident, and there’s no external agency that created us for some specific purpose. The happy fact is that purpose is what we make it to be, whether it involves love or art or working for justice. Much better that than having to depend on a set of dimly-perceived instructions from a whimsical creator.

    (Okay, that’s not the most politically palatable answer. Perhaps a better one is — who cares? Scientific theories are judged by how well they fit the data, not whether they make you feel good about your place in the universe.)

    Numbers 2. and 3. are nonsense. But I’ll leave it to better-informed folks than myself to help phrase the answers.

  2. #2 Inoculated Mind
    June 16, 2006

    The first is easy. Besides the fact that there’s more than just randomness involved, i.e. natural selection, Bethel assumes that in his universe, there must be ultimate purpose. He is saying that because evolution does not confirm ultimate purpose, and arguably undermines it, that it cannot be true. This is an ad-hominem argument, attacking the implications of evolution and not the evidence for it.

    A simple response might be to ask him (yes/no) if he believes that he was created specifically with an intended purpose, exactly how he is. If he says yes, which he probably will, then tell him that he must deny Meiosis. during Meiosis 1, chromosomes exchange parts and segregate randomly. If he believes that he was specifically intended, then he must deny the randomness of meiosis. This is of course absurd, and it shows how absurd his logic is.

    Number 2 is false. Natural selection does not just boil down to the claim that some organisms JUST survive more than others. There must be HERITABLE VARIATION that leads to a DIFFERENCE IN SURVIVABILITY in a LIMITED POPULATION. Evolution will not occur unless heritable variations cause a difference in reproductive fitness.

    For example, if you had a field full of corn plants that were all genetically identical, and some of the corn plants near the edges or in dry areas were shorter and produced fewer kernels, you do indeed have a difference in survival and reproduction. However, these differences were entirely environmental because the corn is all identical, so none of their genetic traits had anything to do with their differences in fecundity. Thus, evolution will not occur. You probably don’t need to give this kind of example, just point out that he is dead WRONG.

    For the third, here’s something you can probably really slam him on. He probably doesn’t read anything younger than ten years, even amongst the creationist literature. So he probably knows nothing about the state of research.
    If an infinitely powerful and knowledgeable entity designed living organisms, then there is no reason why they should have the similarities that they do. Possessing such similarities while being designed would instead suggest that God the designer had limited knowledge and abilities. In the KvD case, Richard Thompson said with regards to the genetic sequence lineup between apes (incl. humans) that it just means that God built us out of the same nuts and bolts. The common traits = common designer argument only works for designers with limited abilities.

    That’s a bit of background. A good response would be three words, two terms: PSEUDOGENES and ENDOGENOUS RETROVIRUSES.
    For example, Humans have a non-functional gene for making Vitamin C, which we call a pseudogene. First, there’s the question of why some super-intelligent being would insert a broken Vitamin C gene in humans. Evolution has a straight-forward answer. With abundant fruits in the diet, humans have no need to maintain their V-C gene and so there is no selective advantage to keeping it, our copy readily lost its function. Now comes the prediction – evolution predicted that other primates that do not synthesize their own Vitamin C will also have this pseudogene, which they do. The exact same pseudogene. What this means is that the common ancestor of these groups lost the function of that gene, and the daughter species inherited the same broken gene. More info: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/section2.html#mol_vestiges

    Endogenous Retroviruses – a virus infects a germ line cell and inserts its genetic code into the DNA of the organism, and its descendents inherit that retrovirus, thus they are endogenous. Now, viral sequences are very distinct (easily detectable), and they insert into random places in the genome. So what can you reasonably conclude when you find two very similar organisms that have the exact same retroviral sequence inserted into the exact same position in their genomes? Their common ancestor was infected with that virus and passed it on to the daughter species. There is no other explanation, except the ad hoc (excuse), that God the designer just made it that way.

    Just stuck identical viral DNA sequences in identical places, that happen to confirm macroevolutionary patterns predicted by fossil relationships? Looks like a pretty aloof and tricky being. And a poor excuse. If Bethel believes this then he believes that his god is deceptive – not entirely unlikely, but he won’t like that.

    Carl Zimmer covered it recently:
    http://loom.corante.com/archives/2006/03/13/the_sixtymillionyear_virus.php

    Cream him, please. :)
    Karl

  3. #3 Ben M
    June 16, 2006

    #1: True. Not an argument that evolution is wrong, but rather statement of why he wants it to be wrong.

    #2: True, in an oversimplified way, but again not an actual critique of evolution.
    It looks like he’s fishing around for some circular reasoning. So, you might ask Mr. Bethell: do you think it is *incorrect* to say that some individuals leave more offspring than others? Do you think that the successful individuals have, on average, exactly the same gene frequencies as the unsuccessful individuals—i.e. that genetic variation doesn’t affect success at all? Suppose that a certain allele happens to double your odds of reproduction—would you deny that this allele coule become more abundant generation after generation?

    #3: The same old creationist falsehoods.

  4. #4 Gary Boyle-Holmes
    June 16, 2006

    #1: True, but in terms of a debate he’s trying to get you to take a stance that will offend “believers.” Instead, why not point out that isn’t it possible that a supreme being designed the universe with all of the right ingredients knowing that life would invevitably erupt somewhere. Why would an omnicient being have to trouble him/herself with all of the messy details? Perhaps this being likes a good suprise now and then.

    #2: Again, in terms of debate, why is it illogical that god would use evolution as a tool to ultimately bring humans into existence? What better plan that to take a basic blue print and then keep “improving” it. It’s probably pretty conceited to think of ourselves as the ultimate design, but that’s the mindset you’re dealing with.

    #3: True, the conditions for creating fossils aren’t that common. We do not have complete fossils for every species ever in existence, but what about our shared DNA? If we did not come about by belonging to evolving families, lines, groups, whatever, how did we come to have so much genetic similarity with our predecessors and the other species around us?

  5. #5 SLC
    June 16, 2006

    I would ask him if he believes that the human spine was designed by the intelligent designer. Since any good bridge engineer could design a human spine superior to the one we are stuck with, this implies that the intelligent designer is less competent then human bridge engineers.

  6. #6 Carlie
    June 16, 2006

    Sigh. Worn-out canards, anyone?
    You really don’t need any help on these – I know you could refute them in your sleep.

    1. Correct. And science has no business telling us why our lives should have meaning or what meaning that is, anyway. As the others have pointed out, though, that means that we make our own meaning and purpose. In fact, some interesting hypotheses indicate that our entire sense of meaning and interconnectedness is a result of evolution (e.g. Matt Ridley, popularizer thereof). I’d turn it around and say that in fact, people who believe this are more moral and just to their fellow man than others, because we aren’t doing it simply in fear of divine retribution if we don’t act nice (and conversely, don’t ever think that the allmighty is telling us to take over and exterminate heathens, as in the entire Old Testament).

    2. This makes absolutely no sense to me at all. Of course some organisms leave more offspring than others. Darwin was stating that there is a definite pattern in who exactly leaves more, and it can be explained by who exploits the environment the best, and if that tendency for using the environment is hereditary, the offspring will also be better at it. He’s missing the entire part about variability existing in populations, especially in sexually reproducing species. Better yet, it’s testable. Think the environment should favor certain traits? Then see if those individuals with those traits are the ones who reproduce more than others.

    3. They are not “guessing”. They are using Occam’s razor. If everything has exactly the same wrist structure, then it makes more sense to think they all inherited it from the same ancestor than to postulate an extraterrestrial being who poofed it into existence in each group in exactly the same way. And “hardly any links”??? How many does he want? There’s an awfully nice lineage of transitional whale fossils at pbs.org/wgbh/evolution, written for middle schoolers, so it shouldn’t be too difficult for him to understand. Then there are the recent discoveries of Tiktaalik and Najash, just to show off other charismatic megavertebrate transitionals. Given the improbability of things fossilizing and being recognizable and being unearthed by paleontologists who describe and publish them, we have an amazing number of transitional fossils for all major groups. There are incredible examples of documented evolution in plants, both in the fossil record and in real time, but of course I’m sure plants don’t count for people like him.

  7. #7 Kevin Klein
    June 16, 2006

    1. In the evolutionist worldview, life on earth evolved from inanimate matter over a long period as a result of random events. If it really is true that all creatures great and small appeared on earth in this fashion, then we have no reason to believe that life is anything other than a cosmic accident, purposeless and pointless. (p. 200)

    Evolution is not a worldview. It is a scientific theory to explain the origin of species. Evolution is no more a guide to the purpose or meaning of life than is organic chemistry.

    2. Logically, no criterion of fitness can be identified that is independent of survival itself. In the end, Darwin’s theory of natural selection boils down to the bare claim that some organisms leave more offspring than others. (p. 207)

    That’s half of it. The other half is that over time this differential reproduction will lead to the formation of new species.

    3. Even when there is a congruent pattern of similarities in different groups, as in the forelimbs of bat, porpoises, and human, and biologists attribute that similarity to common descent, they are guessing. Not only do we not possess the unbroken chain of fossils leading back to that shared ancestor, but we have hardly any links in the chain. (p. 222)

    What Bethel calls “guessing” the rest of us call “inductive reasoning.” It’s a common sense way of reasoning about the world that is common to scientists, economists, and homicide detectives. While it is true that we will never have *all* of the fossil links between species (fossilization just isn’t that common), the evidence so far has been completely consistent with common descent. See the reptile->mammal or whale or horse fossil sequences for examples.

  8. #8 Jim Lippard
    June 16, 2006
  9. #9 Chris D.
    June 16, 2006

    1. “In the evolutionist worldview, life on earth evolved from inanimate matter over a long period as a result of random events.” Not really true. Evolutionists don’t really take the argument back this far, do they? Some scientists do–particularly those who consider the Big Bang and develop unifying theories. Bethell is trying to discredit Evolution Theory by taking it out of its comfort zone and all the way back to the first inanimate particle, which no archaeological anthropologist will ever unearth. He’s needs to debate some sort of astronomical physicist on this point. Also, I fully support theistic evolution in the deistic sense of the prime mover who set the so-called big bang in motion. If Stephen J. Gould could do it, so can I. But, that still leaves me–rather than the Bible–to determine my own “purpose.” Science can disprove a creation story, but it can’t prove that some sort of super-natural entity didn’t do anything. God just gets pushed back into a smaller niche. Voltaire and Paine saw this without the benefit of Evolutionary Theory. He’s just railing against the Enlightenment in general, not evolution specifically.

    2. “In the end, Darwin’s theory of natural selection boils down to the bare claim that some organisms leave more offspring than others.” No, Darwin’s argument is that some organisms leave offspring that are more fit (with latent alleles) to survive the variables of existence better than others. What about turnover-pulse hyphothesis? Humans might have more offspring than alligators, but, given the right environmental shift, we could end up gone and alligators–who’ve been around quite a while longer than we have–could rule the Earth. Present population is no indicator of future success. The burden of proof is on us to show we’re more adaptable to extreme environmental shifts than alligators.

    3. “Not only do we not possess the unbroken chain of fossils leading back to that shared ancestor, but we have hardly any links in the chain.” Again, he tries to discredit Evolutionary Theory by ignoring neo-Darwinism. The future of the theory is in genetics, not fossils. Mitochondrial DNA will tell us more about human descent than fossils ever could–even if we could turn over every square foot of soil and rock on Earth. I’ve argued for years that we need to quit teaching evolution as some sort of mental game. Just spend more time on genetics, let evolution ride its coattails, and the rest will take care of itself. Besides, every citizen needs in-depth knowledge of genetics simply to function in society going into the future. It’s practical.

    All is know is what Colin Tudge taught me.

    Good luck!

  10. #10 Jon Winsor
    June 16, 2006

    #1. I would refer to Judge Jones’ decision where talks about science as deliberately not set up to deal with questions of purpose, non-material/metaphysical questions, etc.

    #2. The phrase “survival of the fittest” did not originate with Darwin, it originated with Herbert Spencer:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Survival_of_the_fittest

    Also:

    Evolutionary biologists criticize how the term is used by non-scientists and the connotations that have grown around the term in popular culture. The phrase also does not help in conveying the complex nature of natural selection and modern biologists prefer and almost exclusively use the term natural selection. Indeed, in modern biology, the term fitness measures reproductive success and is not explicit about the specific ways in which organisms can be “fit” as in “having phenotypic characteristics which enhance survival and reproduction” (which was the meaning that Spencer had in mind).

    #3. A “guess” implies that the theory has no ability to predict events in the natural world. But there are plenty of examples of adaptation in the contemporary world that are apparent and irrefutable. Also, I would flush out what Bethell thinks of the fossil record. Let him parody himself.

  11. #11 fisheye
    June 16, 2006

    People who think evolution disproves God are as closed minded and simple as those who think the existance of God disproves evolution. Throughout man’s tenure on earth he has sought through spirituality to explain his purpose and nature. So science attempts also to explain the origins and triggers of mans behavior. The idea that if God doesn’t exist as a little man in the sky then he doesn’t exist at all is just retarded thinking. If nothing else God exists semantically for the mystery of our being and search for our purpose and mode of cohabitating this planet. I guess if these things are of no interest then, well, go to sleep. But if they are perhaps some people should spend less time trying to validate themselves by dubunking their own puny perspectives on evolution or God with shallow self contradictory dogma and ask a few questions instead. Loa Tsu understood ultimatly humans are left with infinity, which leaves them in the dark, alone with only themselves to have knowledge of. Often people, I think, look to bash alternative perspectives because they dont really want to look to closely at theirselves.

    fisheye

  12. #12 Andy Peters
    June 16, 2006

    1. In the evolutionist worldview, life on earth evolved from inanimate matter over a long period as a result of random events. If it really is true that all creatures great and small appeared on earth in this fashion, then we have no reason to believe that life is anything other than a cosmic accident, purposeless and pointless. (p. 200)

    My favorite response to points like this is to use the analogy of a car. Just as random mutations are the ultimate driving force of evolution, exploding gasoline is the ultimate driving force of the car. Just because the direction and speed of any given molecule in an exploding bit of gasoline is random, that doesn’t make the direction and speed of the car random — because the randomness of the exploding gas is channeled through non-random processes to yield a non-random result. Similarly, the randomness of mutation is channeled through the non-random process of selection to yield a non-random result.

    2. Logically, no criterion of fitness can be identified that is independent of survival itself. In the end, Darwin’s theory of natural selection boils down to the bare claim that some organisms leave more offspring than others. (p. 207)

    At one level, the response to this is: exactly! So what’s the big deal? Welcome to the evolutionist family!

    At a more substantive level, the appropriate response is: in fact, Darwin realized that there’s a pattern to which organisms leave more offspring than others — and that this distinction makes a huge difference, because (assuming some transmission of traits from generation to generation, which Darwin predicted but didn’t understand) it allows a population to change directionally over time. Furthermore, this process in more than one population leads automatically to speciation, because different directions in different populations combined with the randomness of mutation (that horrible randomness again) potentially lead populations to become incompatible with each other.

    3. Even when there is a congruent pattern of similarities in different groups, as in the forelimbs of bat, porpoises, and human, and biologists attribute that similarity to common descent, they are guessing. Not only do we not possess the unbroken chain of fossils leading back to that shared ancestor, but we have hardly any links in the chain. (p. 222)

    Two points here: first, any single similarity (e.g., the forelimb example) might yield what coulud be described as a “guess” about common ancestry (though, of course, since there’s a solid scientific theory behind it, the appropriate term is “inference”). But that “guess” then becomes a hypothesis, which can be tested by patterns of similarity in other traits (the most powerful of which today, of course, is DNA similarity). Only under the hypothesis of common descent is a consistent pattern of similarity predicted among any set of traits. There’s no reason for a creator, for example, to cause organisms that share similar forelimb structures to also share similar DNA sequences at sites that don’t have anything to do with forelimbs. The power of shared similarity as evidence for evolution comes from the fact that the same pattern is repeated across many traits.

    Second, the “imperfect fossil record” argument is classic Creationist crap. Geology predicts that the vast majority of organisms won’t be fossilized, so the fact that many of them are missing is hardly evidence against evolution.

  13. #13 James R
    June 16, 2006

    #1 It is not purposeless and pointless. It is more of an unwritten book which we get to write. The original scriptures are such books from our long dead ancestors. They had the presense of mind to write down what they thought was going on in the world. They were in many cases just plain wrong. Dietary prohibitions etc. We as humanity have reached a point in time were we must move on beyond the narrow minded interpretations which explain bumps in the night as mysterious events from beyond this world.

    We live at a time were more and more scientific understanding is not only important for all people to understand it is mandatory for us to pursue to provide for the greater than 6 billion people who are living here. Never in the history of our planet has this been possible. And it is possible directly because of science and technology. And in many cases In Spite of religious doctrine.

    #2 #3 Both have been used successfully as denials of scientific progress. They are statements of the undiciplined mind and the lazy.

  14. #14 Phobos
    June 16, 2006

    1 – Plays the “randomness” canard (no “evolutionist” thinks the universe works randomly…biochemistry, heredity, natural selection, etc. are non-random processes). Also plays on people’s fear of an uncertain meaning-of-life and people’s reluctance to contradict religious beliefs.

    2 – “Darwin’s theory”? The current theory has greatly changed since then. And yes, some organisms leave more offspring than others…and there is a reason for that (variation and fitness) and a consequence from that (gene pool shifts = evolution).

    3 – Nonsense. Consider the convergence of various lines of evidence…anatomical, fossils (both through time and place/geography), genetics (similarities, tracing genetic markers, etc.), plus the direct observations of speciation events. Note the “chain” and “link” metaphor is outdated (evolution is not a simple linear progression). Finally, he is being willfully ignorant of the scores of transitional fossils that have been found (good to mention recent high-profile examples like Tiktaalik, etc.)

  15. #15 Chris Mooney
    June 16, 2006

    You guys are great, thank you so much for doing all of this. Believe me, I’m reading and processing it all….

  16. #16 Lizzy L
    June 16, 2006

    Re #1: I don’t recall which Catholic cardinal commented recently that what looks random to us is not necessarily random to God, but it made sense to me. There is no contradiction between the theory of evolution and faith. The Bible is not and was never meant to be a science text. If God exists, nothing we learn about our world through science can prove his nonexistence, and there is no reason not to learn everything we can!

    #2 & 3: are nonsense, as pointed out.

  17. #17 Richard Simons
    June 16, 2006

    2. Misses out the argument that those that do survive are likely to be better suited to their environment and to pass on these better features to their offspring.

    3. If you want to include some ridicule, you could point out that the concept of the chain of life was thoroughly discussed in the 16th to 18th centuries and is now discredited. On this general topic, there are many people who refer to humans as being more complex than other organisms. I agree human society is complex, but is there any reason to think that humans themselves are necessarily more complex? A beetle seems to have really complex mouthparts, and its life cycle with eggs, larvae and adults is far from straightforward.

  18. #18 RPM
    June 16, 2006

    I don’t have time to read everyone’s comment, so please excuse me if I’m being redundant. Here you go:

    1. The current state of life on earth is the product of a combination of stochastic and deterministic forces. The stochastic events are the accidents, whereas selection (a deterministic force) has let to the most fit individuals surviving.

    2. “Some organisms [should read individuals] leave more offspring than others” is the essence of evolution, not natural selection. Natural selection is a deterministic mechanism whereby some individuals leave more offspring that others. There are also stochastic mechanisms (ie, random sampling) going on in all natural populations.

    3. Common ancestry/descent is supported by so many congruent lines of evidence that it’s amazing people still dispute it. The fossil evidence jives with the anatomical evidence, which both agree with the developmental similarities, and they all are supported by molecular (DNA) phylogenies. The burdon of proof is on this idiot to provide evidence that refutes common descent, rather than on you to support a consensus reached by the scientific community long ago.

    Check out the discussion regarding the first two points that was initiated at GNXP.

  19. #19 Chris D.
    June 16, 2006

    A couple more points. Roaches persist not because there are so many of them, but because they thrive in a very wide range of environmental conditions, which, in turn, allows them to be geographically expansive and wildly reproductive. That’s your offspring argument. Also, as far as “fitness” goes, it is too often construed to mean strength, rapaciousness, or ferocity–as in social Darwinism. However, no one would argue that Koalas are more “fit” (in this sense) than Bengal Tigers. Yet, they could very well outlast them in the wild. Why? Because they generally live in places people don’t go. They don’t attack us or our livestock. They have no market value. And, they’re so darn cute! In short, they are more fit than tigers because the alleles they developed long before humans found them simply made them better suited to exist during this human bloom. Nothing else of any consequence has changed in their environment. That’s your fitness argument. Okay, I’m done. Godspeed, man.

  20. #20 Paul Decelles
    June 17, 2006

    As for point #3 I’ll add the example I give my students. Suppose I assign an essay to write and get two students who have identical paragraphs, maybe with only a few minor changes. What conclusion will I reach about the origin of the paragraphs? Of course they tell me the two students got the paragraphs from a common source. Certainly the conclusion that the paragraphs have a common origin is more than a mere guess.

  21. #21 BC
    June 17, 2006

    Aw, I guess I’m too late. I had looked though Bethell’s book a while back and wroteup a response (on Amazon) to a few things that he said in it – including the “survivial of the fittest is a tautology” part, which is your second question:

    2. Logically, no criterion of fitness can be identified that is independent of survival itself. In the end, Darwin’s theory of natural selection boils down to the bare claim that some organisms leave more offspring than others.

    My response was along the lines that:
    - Even the creationists and intelligent design folks acknowledge the existence of “survival of the fittest” when they bring up microevolution. In other words, “microevolution” implicitly requires that “survival of the fittest” actually work. Most creationists and IDists have to concede the fact.
    - In order to explain any strong shift in gene frequencies, you have to use “survival of the fittest”. So, in order to explain the fact that antibiotic-resistent strains of bacteria are becoming more common, you have to invoke survival of the fittest. In order to explain that drug-resistent forms of HIV are becoming more common requires survival of the fittest. In order to explain the prevalence of sickle-cell anemia among Subsaharan Africans (while noting the fact that carriers of sickle-cell anemia are 10 times less likely to die from malaria) requires survival of the fittest.

    To oversimplfy it to “Darwin’s theory of natural selection boils down to the bare claim that some organisms leave more offspring than others” would mean that these facts are inexplicable, just coincidence.

  22. #22 BC
    June 17, 2006

    1. In the evolutionist worldview, life on earth evolved from inanimate matter over a long period as a result of random events. If it really is true that all creatures great and small appeared on earth in this fashion, then we have no reason to believe that life is anything other than a cosmic accident, purposeless and pointless. (p. 200)

    I’ve heard this sort of thing before. The major problem with is a failure of imagination. Here’s one scenario that I’ve given to people who say this: God created the universe with the capacity to evolve life, life evolved, became intelligent, and God wants a relationship with that intelligent life. That scenario involves purely naturalistic evolution, purpose, and meaning. I haven’t heard anyone make any decent rebuttal to that scenario. (And while I don’t necessarily believe that scenario is true, it could be and that’s all that’s needed to show that Bethell’s argument has some serious holes.)

  23. #23 David Silverman
    June 17, 2006

    Hi Chris,
    As I live in Turkey, I satisfy my NPR habit days after the original broadcast. Still, it was good to hear you on Ira Flatow’s recent program.
    As an atheist, yea, even an antitheist, it occurs to me that I am in complete agreement with the anti-evolutionists. We all agree that their god is incapable of creating a world where life evolves in any way.
    Regards,
    Dave Silverman

  24. #24 SkookumPlanet
    June 19, 2006

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    Inspired by reality always,
    SkookumPlanet
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    Another quality assembly-line idea from Don’t-think, Inc. “Nothing but consistent.”[SM]
    ________________________________________________________________
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  25. #25 Noel P.
    June 26, 2006

    A point about #3. Assuming B represents a modern species descended from an ancient species A known to science because of the fossil record. Antievolutionists point out that a gap or missing link exists in the fossil record between species A and species B. At a later time, a fossil of species C is uncovered that shows the transitional form that existed between A and B. Antievolutionists now cry that there exist two missing links! Between A and C, and between C and B. At what point does this get too rediculous to go on? The fossil record will never be 100% complete. It doesn’t need to be, just as a puzzle does not need to have every single piece in place for the big picture to be observed.

    Just finished the book. Thanks for writing it.

  26. #26 James H. Swan
    July 5, 2006

    1. In the science worldview, life on earth developed from inanimate matter and then evolved over a long period as a result of natural processes and many essentially-random events. The former (abiogenesis) is hypothesis at best, the latter (evolution) well-supported theory. That all creatures great and small appeared on earth in this fashion tells us nothing about purpose or pointlessness. Science simply cannot address the issue of any possible purpose to life, including human life; nor can science say anything about whether the seemingly-natural and sometimes-random processes involved were truly ‘purposeless’ or somehow directed toward some purpose by God or any other ‘designer.’ Science has no ability to address, nor any business addressing, such questions.
    2. Logically, no criterion of fitness can be identified that is independent of survival itself, so that Spencer’s “survival of the fittest” sounds circular, although it was meant to crudely encapsulate Darwin’s more-inclusive concepts. In the end, Darwin’s theory of natural selection boils down to the bare claim that some organisms leave more offspring than others, many of whom leave none, thereby being the engine of massive change over long periods of time.
    3. Even when there is a congruent pattern of similarities in different groups, as in the forelimbs of bat, porpoises, and human, and biologists attribute that similarity to common descent, they are making reasonable conclusions, especially given support for such interpretations from DNA studies. Although only do we not possess the unbroken chain of fossils leading back to that shared ancestor, that is an impossible and irrelevant fact. We have few chains within species, but we have many chains within genuses, and have clear chains showing developments over long periods of time – e.g., among equines from early forms in the Americas to the modern horse, from ancestors of hippopotami to both today’s hippopotami and to whales, and so on.

  27. #27 Lance Harting
    July 7, 2006

    #1 as pointed out by others is largely a philosophical objection based on the wishes of believers rather than an objection based on observations. If life is the result of undirected naturalistic forces then it just is. There is nothing that says the universe has to behave in ways that are emotionally satisfying to humans.

    #2 attempts to simplify evolution into meaninglessness. Certainly there are myriad genetically determined traits, such as antibiotic resistance in bacterium for example, that falsify this claim.

    #3 ignores the large amount of genetic similarities that exist amongst the respectively “related” organism. Also biochemical pathways and processes are shared in these groups. There would be no discernible reason a “creator” would subdivide similar biochemical processes among groups that just happen to be linked by evolutionary theory.

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