Response to Rusty on the "Testable Creation Model"

Rusty Lopez of the New Covenant blog has stated that his latest response to me regarding the "testable creation model" that he advocates will be his last. I thank him for an engaging dialogue on these issues, and regret that he chooses not to continue the conversation. He says he does not have the time, and I take him at his word. These kinds of posts can indeed, as he says, become very complex and time consuming, as this one already has. In my case, I think it's worth the time and effort, both to stimulate one's own mind and perhaps educate others. So presuming that he chooses not to continue, this will be my final response as well.

The one thing that jumps out from Rusty's last word on the subject is that he seems to have given up on most of the ongoing areas of dispute and chooses not to respond at all to the arguments I made in the post he was responding to. You will recall that I had divided my last rebuttal into 5 parts, each reflecting a specific issue on which we had disagreed. I think I'll do that again and then deal with some of the new positions he took in his last response.

Those 5 areas were:

1. The definition of testability

Rusty chose not to respond to this at all. I think it has become very obvious in this discussion that what Rusty and Hugh Ross mean by "testable" is something entirely different than what scientists mean when they say that a theory must be testable. In science, testability is intrinsically tied to falsifiability - there must be some set of data that could exist that would falsify the model, usually in the form of a prediction that is either true or not true, and if it's not true, the theory must be rejected or modified. Time and time again in this discussion, Rusty has claimed that the model "predicts" this or that, but if the opposite was true, he would just as easily claim that it predicted that instead. For example, I discussed the biostratigraphic order of the fossil record at great length. If evolution is true, then the order in which not only the major animal groups appear (fish -> amphibian -> reptile -> mammals and birds) but the order in which each of the species within each of those groups appear simply must be the way it is. If it looked any other way than it does, evolution would fail as a theory. If the first birds to appear did not look like slightly modified versions of the already existing reptiles, then evolution is falsified. From a creationist perspective, however, there is no prediction that could be made. Indeed, an omnipotent creator could have simply brought fully modern birds into being in an instant, there was no need to have the first birds look like dinosaurs with feathers and thereafter have new species appear successively less and less reptile-like over the course of 85 million years as though he was tinkering with a design. If the fossil record showed that fully modern birds just popped into existence 150 million years ago, there is no way that this could be explained by evolutionary theory and the "creation model" would say, "Of course it looks that way, God chose to create birds 150 million years ago." But it doesn't look that way, and Rusty just as easily dismisses that fact with the claim that God was enjoying the process of creation so that's why it looks like that. This is undeniable proof that what he claims is a "testable creation model" is in fact not testable at all - no matter what the evidence says, it can be explained by the whim of God. In science, falsifiability is the key to testability. If a "model" can explain data set X and data set ~X just as easily, it is by definition not testable.

Just look at all of the different statements Rusty has made in this exchange about "predictions", all of which fit one of three possibilities:

A. It's a "prediction" that is consistent with evolution as well
B. If the opposite was true, it would still be explainable by the "testable creation model", or
C. It's outright false

To wit:

Therefore, the Biblical prediction for God's actions in creating would posit that we should find events occurring as soon as possible or at the precise time they need to occur.

True of any explanation, including evolution. To claim that life only appears after the conditions allow life to occur is to say, well, nothing. Of course life appeared only after the conditions allow it to occur - by definition. This is a meaningless tautology, hardly a prediction - it MUST be true, regardless of the explanatory model.

The prediction made by RTB's model is that life, in its earliest and simplest form, will be complex.

This fits B above. If the opposite was true, it would in now way disprove the "testable creation model" - they would simply say that God was "enjoying the process of creation" and started with simple life forms first.

Where are the dino-birds with scales forming into feathers? The evolutionary model predicts they will be found; the Creation model predicts they won't.

Outright false. The evolutionary model does not predict that animals with "half-formed feathers" will be found, for reasons I explained in my second reply and Rusty does not deny. And here again, it fits B as well - if an animal WAS found with "half-formed feathers", Rusty would simply say, as he did with all of the intermediate species between miocene primates and humans, that God chose to create that way and we can't question his motives because that would be "conjecture". And never mind that he appeals to the motives of God several times in his arguments prior to that - you can only ask questions like that when they have a ready answer that supports their position. If it doesn't make sense, then they dismiss it as "God doesn't have to make sense".

The fossil record shows species appearing fully formed and functional with long periods of stasis - as the Creation model would predict.

This one fits all three! Long periods of stasis (in terms of a species remaining relatively unchanged) is entirely consistent with evolutionary theory. Indeed, given what we know about population genetics and allopatric speciation, it is exactly what the fossil record should show because speciation is far more likely to take place in a relatively small peripheral isolate than to have an entire species evolve to become a new species. Also, there is no doubt that if the opposite was true and the fossil record did not show long periods of stasis in most lineages, those who advocate this "testable creation model" would simply say that God was creating new species very rapidly. There is simply no logical reason why the "creation model" would predict stasis in the fossil record.

2. An unconstrained designer and complex vs simple life

This is the one issue that he did make a long response to in his last post on the subject, but as I mention above, is there really any doubt that if the first life forms that we found were simply self-replicating molecules (which they may well have been, but there's virtually no chance they would have been preserved in the rocks), the creationists would simply argue that God chose to create in that order?

Additionally, Rusty's entire argument as to why we should expect that God would start with complex life forms rather than simple is based upon an analogy with human designers and he cites the Wright Brothers. But analogies between an unconstrained and omnipotent God and constrained human designers are rather silly to make, especially when he so often appeals to God's whims in other arguments to explain away precise predictions that must be true for evolution to be valid. We could just as easily point to situations in which human designers began with very simple designs and ended up with complex ones - arrowheads and tools for digging, for example. Just because there are examples of human designers who start with the complex rather than the simple, that doesn't mean that all human designers do that, and it certainly doesn't mean that God has to do that. I'm sure Rusty would scoff at any such analogy if it was used to predict God's creation in a manner that he didn't agree with; it hardly seems compelling to hear him using an argument he would undoubtedly reject in any other context.

3. Are early earth conditions consistent with the bible?

This is an absolutely perfect example of the lack of testability for this "model". Here is Rusty's statement about it:

The early conditions of the Earth are compatible with the Bible. I claimed that the early Earth was covered with water, as stated in the Bible. Ed states that the conditions on the early Earth were molten, as I also stated. Here we just have a misunderstanding about what is being stated.

"The early Earth was covered with water."

"The early Earth was in a molten state."

Both statements of course are true; the key issue being how broad the definition of "early" is. Nowhere have I stated that the Bible directly records the molten state of the Earth or the late heavy bombardment. This is not the issue. What I am addressing is that the conditions for the early Earth described in the Bible over 2,000 years ago conform to the conditions we now know to be the case. The Genesis account describes a world covered with water with the land eventually rising out of the water.

From this single verse:

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness [was] upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

Hugh Ross and Rusty claim that this single verse is consistent with 600 million years of the earth being molten and bombarded with asteroids (making liquid water impossible) and THEN having water appear on the earth. Again, an absolutely perfect example of how they can simply read anything they want into the text. If the evidence showed that the early earth was covered in water immediately after it came into existence, they would say that the bible predicts this - after all, the verse clearly says that immediately after the earth was formed, the earth was dark and quiet and covered in water. Instead, the evidence says that immediately after the earth was formed, it was a raging inferno of molten rock and asteroid bombardment. No problem, they just read that into the text where it goes completely unmentioned and gloss over 600 million years of history that doesn't fit the story by combining it all as "the early earth".

This just goes to show what I've been saying all along in this exchange - there is no way to falsify this model, and if it can't be falsified, it can't be tested. And frankly, I think it is intellectually dishonest to continue to trumpet it as a "testable creation model".

4. The order of appearance of life on earth

On this, Rusty says:

But what about the movement from primitive to advanced? The ORDER of appearance in the fossil record, as Ed has stated. Yes Evolution posits that this is what should appear in the fossil record. But remember that even if this were the case, and I'm not conceding that it is, it would not mandate that evolution be true. Why? Consider the movement from primitive Wright flyer to advanced 747. While this change is compatible with an evolutionary sequence, it is entirely compatible within a design scenario as well!

Here is a great example of the difference between the two "models". The order of the fossil record, as I laid out in great detail in previous postings, is precisely what evolution predicts. It might be consistent with the creation model, but it certainly isn't predicted by it, and as Rusty notes, the creation model can explain any order. Evolution explains it; creation can only explain it away by saying, "Well God can create in any order he wants". But as Rusty keeps arguing in other contexts, God is unconstrained. There was no need for God to create nothing but bacteria for 3 billion years and then create simple multicellular life, then marine invertebrates, and so forth, in the exact order that must be true for evolution to be true. Being unconstrained, God could have created without making it appear as though he was tinkering with previous designs, or mimicking evolution. He could have created humans outright, at the beginning. He could have created completely modern birds 150 million years ago rather than creating birds that looked like slightly modified reptiles. This is an order that absolutely has to be true in order for evolution to have any validity, but creation can explain ANY order. Again, evolution explains it while creation can only explain it away by saying, "God can do anything he wants". But of course they will not concede that God could have used evolution to create life on earth. He can do anything he wants, it seems, except A) what they disagree with and B) what the evidence supports.

5. How long have humans been around?

On this, Rusty chooses not to respond at all after my last post, which contained a great deal of evidence refuting his claim that humans have only been here for less than 50,000 years. Here is what he did say:

This post has become excessively long so I will not spend any more space refuting the claims that Ed makes as to the validity of my claims regarding dinosaurs to birds, early humans, bipedalism, or human expression. I stand by my claims and one can do their own research to further their understanding. Check my post regarding the list of books I've read related to this field.

I find this a very odd statement. First, because he hasn't actually attempted to refute any claims I've made on those subjects. He claims that there is no evidence for humans being around more than 50,000 years, and I've replied with references to specific human fossils that date back older than that and even include links to pictures of them and the geological context in which they were found. He claims that bipedalism and human brain size appeared "suddenly" and I posted the average cranial capacity figures for the series of hominid species from the miocene primates to modern humans showing a gradual increase, just as evolution predicts, as well as a gradual change in the degree of bipedality in just the right anatomical and temporal sequence. He claims that there is no evidence of any creative expression or ritual in any species other than Homo sapiens and I gave references to specific works of art and evidence of burial rituals and religious expression among pre-Homo sapiens. He has not replied at all to any of that, much less refuted it, and indeed says here that he will not reply.

Second, the list of books one has read has no bearing on the truth of statements that have been refuted with evidence that one chooses not to rebut or address. If listing the books we've read would settle who is right, I dare say I'd win that battle. I assure you that the list of books he has read on the subject is a fraction of the list I could post. But truth is determined by evidence, not by how many books one has read. But there is one thing that I think should be said about the list of books he has read. Virtually every book on it is from a creationist. He seems to have made no effort whatsoever to learn about evolution from evolutionary biologists. He read Origin of Species, but that is 150 years out of date. He read Ken Miller's Finding Darwin's God, which contains an excellent review of the lines of evidence for evolution in the first half, but the primary purpose of that book was theological (which I regard as a very important thing for Ken to have written). Other than that, every book about biological evolution he has read was written by creationists trying to poke holes in evolution.

Rusty did go on to give several new one-line arguments at the end, which I will briefly discuss. No point in going into a great deal of detail if the exchange is going to end anyway. I'll put his claim in italics and my response in normal type.

To put it bluntly, the fossil record, in terms of supporting evolutionary claims, is a dismal failure. Darwin predicted countless transitional forms would be found - there are none. The purported transitional forms are always fully functional and are more frequently larger animals that had smaller populations - understand that the very types of animals most susceptible to extinction are the ones usually purported to be the best examples of evolution (e.g., whales and horses).

Several responses. First, it is false to claim that Darwin predicted that "countless transtional forms" would be found. He said that countless transitional forms must have existed, which is not the same as will be found. There are fewer fossil species identified than there are species on earth right now, and what is on earth right now is a fraction of the number of species that have existed. And more importantly, what we know about speciation from studies of population genetics tells us that speciation events will nearly always take place in a peripheral isolate, not in the main body of organisms in a given species. Those things tend to limit the number of transitional forms that will be preserved.

Second, I think the entire creationist argument on transitional forms is disingenuous. They will not accept any fossil as being transitional, no matter how perfectly it fits the temporal and anatomical sequence. This is true even when they publicly tell us what a transitional form must have looked like and then one is found that looks just like it.

A great example of this is the therapsid-to-mammal transition. Creationists loved to talk about the impossibility of this transition occuring, and particularly loved to talk about how the jaw configuration couldn't possibly have evolved from a reptilian configuration to a mammalian one. Duane Gish wrote in 1978,

"The two most distinguishable osteological differences between reptiles and mammals, however, have never been bridged by a transitional series. All mammals, living or fossil, have a single bone, the dentary, on each side of the lower jaw, and all mammals, living or fossil, have three auditory ossicles or ear bones, the malleus, incus and stapes. In some fossil reptiles the number and size of the lower jaw bones are reduced compared to living reptiles. Every reptile, living or fossil, however, has at least four bones in the lower jaw and only one auditory ossicle, the stapes. . . There are no transitional fossil forms showing, for instance, three or two jawbones, or two ear bones. No one has explained yet, for that matter, how the transitional form would have managed to chew while his jaw was being unhinged and rearticulated, or how he would hear while dragging two of his jaw bones up into his ear."

Alas, Gish was wrong. As Gould pointed out in 1994,

The lower jaw of reptiles contains several bones, that of mammals only one. The non-mammalian jawbones are reduced, step by step, in mammalian ancestors until they become tiny nubbins located at the back of the jaw. The "hammer" and "anvil" bones of the mammalian ear are descendants of these nubbins. How could such a transition be accomplished, the creationists ask. Surely a bone is either entirely in the jaw or in the ear. Yet paleontologists have discovered two transitional lineages of therapsids (the so-called mammal-like reptiles) with a double jaw joint - one composed of the old quadrate and articular bones (soon to become the hammer and anvil), the other of the squamosal and dentary bones (as in modern mammals).

And here again, these forms appear exactly where and when you would expect them to if evolution is true, in exactly the right temporal and anatomical order. But having claimed that the gap was impossible to bridge, and then having been shown the bridge, do the creationists admit that this is indeed a transitional fossil? Of course not. They just change the subject to another lineage, saying, in essence, "Okay, so you found it there...but what about here?". Or they simply resort to the general argument that just because you found something that looks like a transition between those two types, and just because it looks just like what we said it would have to look to be transitional, and just because it was found in the right temporal sequence that we demanded, that doesn't prove that this is how it happened - after all, God may have just decided to create a creature that looked like that, and who are you to question God? The last answer is at least honest, because it tells us what we already know is true - that no matter what kind of fossil evidence we show them, they will never agree that any species was transitional in nature. Even if it looks just like what they claimed last week would be necessary in order to be called transitional. The goalposts will always move.

The aforementioned Cambrian Explosion gave us scores of phyla of which many have gone extinct, with no new ones added - that's evolution in reverse!

No, that's extinction. Creationists love to bring up the Cambrian "explosion", but they frequently misstate the evidence considerably. They typically do this by understating the extent of precambrian precursors to the cambrian fauna that have been found, by overstating the "sudden" nature of what took place (in reality, the "explosion" took about 20 million years), and by talking only about the phylum-level and nothing below that. They continually claim that every extant "phylum" came about in the cambrian explosion, which would imply that all modern life forms did, right? Wrong. The single alleged representative of the phylum chordata (which includes vertebrates like us) is a tiny worm-like creature called Pikaia. Two of my colleagues with the NCSE, both of whom I've had the pleasure to meet, have dealt with these arguments very effectively already. The Christian geologist Keith Miller has an excellent article on the Cambrian explosion and Alan Gishlick puts creationist arguments about it to rest here.

The point of fact is that even the simplest forms of life are still so complex (e.g., ~ 750 proteins) that origins of life researchers concede that their chance organization is virtually impossible.

This is an outright silly statement. Does he really believe that abiogenesis researchers have decided that what they are seeking is "virtually impossible", but they continue to search for it anyway? I'd love to hear a name of a single origin or life researcher who "concedes" any such thing. Also not that no abiogenesis researcher thinks that the organization of proto-cellular life would be due exclusively to "chance". This is a red herring.

Within 10,000 years after the K-T Extinction event we see entirely new and large animal species appear in the fossil record - suddenly, not in a gradual progression.

Another claim for which I would love to see some actual evidence for. We have no means of even dating something that old within 10,000 years, making it simply impossible to support this claim, even hypothetically. Rocks from the K/T extinction are 65 million years old and they are dated with radiometric techniques. No radiometric technique that is capable of measuring on that large a time scale can narrow down ages within 10,000 years. It's true that we did see lots of new species occur after the K/t extinction, but this is hardly a problem for evolution. With the extinction of the dinosaurs, who basically ruled the planet, the few species of mammals spread out and into all sorts of new environmental niches that they previously could not inhabit because of the predation of dinosaurs. This results in a relatively rapid burst of new species (relatively rapid meaning tens of thousands to millions of years, hardly instantaneous). This is called adaptive radiation. It's not only not a problem for evolution, it must be true if evolution is true.

There is the already mentioned temporal paradox with regards to theropod dinosaurs and birds

Which has already been refuted. There is no "temporal paradox" because the only "birds" that appear 150 million years ago are the ones that Rusty has already proclaimed to be merely dinosaurs with feathers. Modern birds do not appear until about 65 million years ago.

The fossil record shows examples of convergent evolution - while the paradigm is supposed to be historically contingent.

I'm at a loss to understand why on earth Rusty thinks that convergent evolution - the evolution of similar traits in species not closely related to each other, such as wings in insects, birds and bats - is a problem for evolutionary theory in general. Different animals still face similar problems, and often will find similar solutions to them, solutions which are preserved through natural selection. This is in no way difficult to explain for evolutionary biology.

Early primate fossils are so disjointed that single discoveries alter entire evolutionary pathways with paleontologists arguing over whether the find belongs to Australopithecus or Kenyanthropus or Paranthropus - this should be an immediate warning flag of a poor model.

Quite the opposite is true. The reason why exact designations are sometimes difficult to draw for specific hominid fossils is not because the fossils are "disjointed" (whatever that means), but because there are so many intermediate forms that overlap in terms of specific traits that it's difficult to know where exactly to draw the line. Rusty seems to want to think that the record shows "primates" and then, suddenly, "humans". It shows nothing of the sort, of course. It shows numerous species that are intermediate between the miocene primates (NOT modern primates) and modern humans. The fact that it is not easy to tell where one species stops and another begins is testament to the intermediate nature of so many species showing changes in so many of the traits that distinguish humans from primates.

Evidence for modern humans dating to 100,000 years ago is disputable, and the fossil record in this area goes strangely silent between 80,000 - 40,000 years ago and then - an explosion of fossils for modern humans.

Anything is "disputable". Anyone can stand up and say "I dispute that", but do they actually have a logical or evidential basis for doing so? Simply calling something "disputable" is utterly meaningless. If there is a good reason to dispute the evidence for Homo sapiens dating back at least 120,000 years, then let's hear it. The references have been provided. If every single anthropologist in the world is wrong, then it takes a lot more to make a compelling argument for WHY they are wrong than a vague "that's open to dispute".

Notable paleontologists freely admit the lack of continuity in the fossil record and that is why the concept of Punctuated Equilibrium was born - it's what we'd expect to find in the fossil record if evolution is true - that's simply a convenient way to get around the data in the fossil record.

This is something we hear from creationists a lot, but it's a complete distortion of why the Punctuated Equilibrium model was developed. It was not developed to "get around the data", it was developed to apply what we knew about genetics to what we should then expect in terms of fossilization. Contrary to the aspersions cast by creationists, all Gould and Eldredge did was take Mayr's work on allopatric speciation (speciation among subgroups that become isolated from the larger species stock) and then apply it to the paleontological record. If most speciation is allopatric, what would we expect to see in terms of the fossil record? Lo and behold, pretty much what it does look like. This is a model with great explanatory power, and the basis in Mayr's work is undeniably solid. All the sneering and presumptions about sinister motives in the world isn't going to change that.

This list as well could go on and on.

Indeed it could. There is no shortage of one-line claims, sans evidence, that one can throw out. But unless they are developed, explained and supported with evidence, they are useless. The few arguments that Rusty attempted to develop in some detail, he decided to drop and stop responding to counter-arguments on. I know that this can be time-consuming, and I certainly don't blame Rusty for deciding not to continue it. But by its very nature, this is a very complex subject. It involves a dozen fields of science and numerous lines of evidence comprising an incredible amount of data. It always astonishes me that someone can think that all it takes to show that virtually every single scientist in the relevant fields is wrong about biological evolution is a few quick little one line arguments of the "Oh, there's just no reason to believe this" variety. It's not by coincidence that virtually every single geologist, biologist, anthropologist, geneticist, biochemist, and other scientists in relevant fields, regardless of their religious beliefs, accepts evolution as the central explanation for the data in their area of study. Nor is it a coincidence that every single one of the tiny group of scientists in those fields who reject evolution share a common religious position that requires them to reject evolution for theological reasons, regardless of what the evidence says. Evolution is accepted because it successfully explains the evidence in nearly a dozen fields of science. It is rejected, for that small number who reject it, in spite of this fact.

Tags
Categories

More like this

To continue the dialogue with Rusty Lopez from the New Covenant blog, let's examine his latest posting. I'm going to do this one a bit differently so as not to lose the threads of each specific point of dispute. I'm going to divide this post by those areas and label them as such, and I will put my…
Rusty posted a brief response to my last entry on the testable creation model. I'll paste the comments here because it allows a bit more space to respond: Ed, you really are tempting me to respond... I really think a good, long conversation on this topic would clear a lot of things up. We would…
Rusty Lopez of the New Covenant blog has an entry in reply to a comment I left him. In a post a few days ago, he made a reference to a new Hugh Ross book that he said contained a "testable creation model approach to the issue of the origin of life". I left a comment on his blog saying that I could…
Rusty has again left comments on a post below. Unfortunately, the comments only allow a short message and the issues he raises may require more than 300 words, so I'll copy them here and respond in more detail. Rusty's words are in italics, my responses are in plain type. I will take a different…