Answering Creationist Feedback

Rob McEwen has left a comment on a post that has slipped way down the page, and as it's worth responding to and fisking in some detail, I thought I'd bring it up top to answer it.

Pre-script: Turns out this guy left this same comment, word for word and breathless exclamation point for breathless exclamation point, on Paul Myers' blog. Hilarious.

In his comment, Rob pretty much pulls out the first 3 chapters of what I facetiously refer to as the Creationist Jokebook. This consists of a laundry list of arguments that anyone who has followed this dispute for any period of time has heard over and over again. It is generally made up of out-of-context quotations, half-truths, distortions and sometimes outright lies, which get passed around from creationist to creationist, each quoting the other, as more pamphlets get written and more webpages get put up. Each new person who finds one of those pages thinks that he has stumbled upon incontrovertible proof that scientists are lying to us, but they never bother to actually research it for themselves to see if what they're being told is true or not. And typically they do what Rob has done, which is copy them pretty much verbatim, usually with lots of EMPHASIS with all caps and lots of exclamation points to give the proper "oh my god, we've been lied to!" attitude. I know this because I used to be one of those people. In my late teen years, I read all of the creationist pamphlets and books from the ICR and I'd throw that material out at people too. After all, these were Real Scientists and they told me that the Real Evidence proves that God created everything just a few thousand years ago, unlike what those infernal atheistic humanist pagan infidel scientists want you to believe. But as time went on, and I learned more, I found that the ones who weren't presenting the evidence honestly were the creationists that I was relying upon. In most cases, they probably aren't really lying, just fooling themselves because of an a priori attachment to a faith that they will allow nothing to question. But the result is the same. Now, on to the specific issues raised in Rob's feedback comment.

Darwinistic Evolution is scientifically impossible!

I don't mean to start this out rudely, and I really will try to reign in my sarcasm on this post, but I just got a chuckle out of this. The word "Darwinistic" just sounds like such a Bushism, doesn't it? On a slightly deeper level, perhaps it's worth noting that one of the best clues one can get for whether someone actually understands the material they're discussing or if they're just cribbing from someone else who claims to is to watch their use of language. They almost always will use words and phrases that don't really make much sense, but that sound technical and sophisticated because they have a lot of syllables. The key is not the use of big words or technical words, but whether they're used correctly or not. And in this case, there simply is no such word as "Darwinistic" and the phrase "Darwinistic evolution" is fairly meaningless.

(1) The random assimilation of the first single-celled organism is mathematically impossible. The simplest known single-celled organism has about 200 proteins. Due to know necessities, scientists can scale this back (in theory) to a bare MINIMUM of about 100 proteins. The chances of just A SINGLE protein coming together by chance is roughly 1 over 10 to the 60th power. To put this in perspective:

(number of atoms in the universe)
(number of seconds universe existed)
(number of metabolic processes in a cell per second) a number with about ONLY 125 zeros.

To get 100 of these proteins to come together in the simplest single-celled organism imaginable would need the following chances:

at best, one over 10 to the 600th power!

I presume he means 1 x 10600 and not 1/10600. This is what we refer to as the Argument from Really Big Numbers, or as Tim Sandefur calls it, the Argument from Wow. It's a very common argument, repeated even by creationist scientists like John Baumgardner who should know better. There are a lot of variations on this, Baumgardner's version goes like this:

A protein molecule is like a long chain of Legos of 20 different types that folds into a complex 3D structure. For a chain with 300 such Lego-like pieces, there are 10 to the 390th power possible configurations. Studies indicate, however, that for a given biological functionality only one out of every 10 to the 195th power of these possibilities has any level of that functionality. Are there enough generations in the history of life on earth to search through the possibilities and have any reasonable shot at finding a viable candidate? The quick answer is an emphatic no! If one compares with an estimate for the maximum number of molecules that could possibly existed in all the history of the cosmos, assuming every atom in the cosmos interacts with another atom once every femtosecond (a thousand million million times per second) for a span of 30 billion years,one would require 10 to the 82nd power such universes to have enough rolls of the die!

Sounds impressive, doesn't it? Makes you say "Wow! That's a Really Big Number!", doesn't it? Well it shouldn't. Why? Because it presumes pure randomness, which does not apply when we're talking about the combining of amino acids to form a protein, and because it misunderstands basic probability. My friend Marshall Berman, who worked with Baumgardner at Los Alamos labs, shows the problems with this kind of reasoning:

Mark Twain said: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics." Baumgardner purports to calculate the probability of life arising due to random interactions over the life of the universe. If true, Baumgardner would turn the scientific world upside down. But it is not true. Baumgardner uses statistics and probability theory improperly. He assumes randomness that doesn't exist. Indeed, by assuming randomness for non-random processes, one can show that almost any event is extremely improbable.

Let's run a scientific experiment. Go outside and pick up a small rock. The probability of that rock being on that spot on the earth *by chance alone* is roughly the area of the stone divided by the surface area of the earth, or about one chance in 10 to the 18th power (one followed by 18 zeros). If picking up the stone took one second, the probability of such an event occurring at this precise moment over the lifetime of the universe is now even smaller by another factor 10 to the 18th power! This simple event is so incredibly unlikely (essentially zero probability) that one wonders how it could be accomplished!

How can such an "unlikely" event occur? The problem is our initial false assumption of randomness. The rock and you arrived at that spot at that time by mechanistic processes.

Ian Musgrave also has an excellent response to creationist probability arguments in the Talk.Origins Archive.

(2) Mutations have NEVER produced additional DNA structures. NEVER! Even as scientists study mutations in fruit flies or viruses... the mutations sometime just scramble existing DNA... but MORE OFTEN, they DELETE DNA structures. Certainly, "survival of the fittest" is a means by which nature purges the gene pool of bad mutations, but NO evolution occurs here. (This alone is a DEATH BLOW to Evolution.) I repeat... not a SINGLE scientist in the entire world has EVER recorded a mutation which produced additional DNA structures or material.... but DELETIONS are recorded ALL THE TIME!!!

One of the things that I find myself saying quite often to creationists is that the number of exclamation points one puts at the end of a sentence has no more bearing on the truth of that sentence than the volume of someone's voice has to the truth of what they're saying. Grand rhetorical declarations of "death blows" don't lend any more credibility to a claim, and in fact tend to reduce it. And in this claim we have yet another fancy-sounding but superfluous phrase - "additional DNA structures". What on earth does that mean? Is he claiming that no mutation has ever resulted in a higher number of base pairs in a genome? A higher number of chromosomes? A higher number of nucleotide sequences? Frankly, I doubt if he knows what he means by it because he is likely just copying it from somewhere else. Regardless, it's flat wrong. We observe increases in the size of the genome from mutations all the time. All he has to do is look up "gene duplication" or "polyploidy" in a good science book and he will see lots and lots of examples. The argument also presumes, of course, that "additional DNA structures" are required in order for a new trait to emerge, but that isn't true. We have also observed how a simple reorganization of the genome through frame shift mutations can result in new traits emerging that didn't exist previously. Rearrange a few amino acids and entirely new protein functions can result. The nylon-eating bacteria is a textbook example of this.

(3) As a result, when evolutionists say that mutations combined with natural selection only requires a great deal of time to produce Evolution... this is like a storekeeper who loses a little bit of money on each sale and then says, "don't worry, I'll make it up on volume".

Quasi-clever, but it's merely a rhetorical conclusion based upon the two false statements that were debunked above.

(4) Because the process of Evolution depends on mutations adding DNA and being "selected" through survival of the fittest... it is, by definition, a very, very slow process. Too many mutations in one generation and who is that creature going to mate with? (not to mention, this usually produces a "miscarriage"). As a result of this process being SO slow, the fossil record should have so many imperceptible different variations on each species that paleontologists should have extreme difficulty even classifying ANY newly dug up fossil ("this is 40% the way from creature A to creature B", for example). Instead, in the fossil record, we find fully formed types with little to no variation in between these forms.

First, it doesn't rely on mutations "adding DNA", that was already shown to be false above in this post. Second, this prediction of what we should find is a non sequitur. The speed of evolution has nothing to do with the rate or probability of fossilization. It also ignores the fact that speciation will almost always take place in peripheral isolates (smaller subsets of a population that have been reproductively isolated from the bulk of the species), which reduces the chance of fossilization considerably. But even with all of those caveats and corrections, his claim is simply false. The fossil record falls into the only pattern that it could fall into for evolution to be validated. Let me copy what I wrote a couple of months ago in response to a similar claim:

If evolution is true, and each of these major animal groups split off from the previous one, then what would we expect? Well, we would expect that since each of these new groups split off from an already existing one, the order of appearance within those groups should be as conspicuous as the order of appearance in general. If the first amphibians split off from fish, then the first amphibians could only be slightly different than fish; if birds evolved from reptiles, then the first birds must have been very similar to reptiles; and so forth. And what does the fossil record show? Precisely that. The first amphibians to appear are the most fish-like, so much so that they retained internal gills and were still primarily aquatic. Over time, amphibians become more and more diversified and less fish-like, with later forms being successively more terrestrial and less aquatic. The first birds to appear are so reptile-like that they would be classified as theropod dinosaurs if not for the feathers. We now have multiple feathered theropod species to bridge the gap, and they all appear very early and share most of their traits with reptiles, not with modern birds. Over time, they diversified and became less reptile-like. The same can be said of the first mammals, which are so identical to the therapsid reptiles that they evolved from that where exactly you draw the line between the two groups is largely academic. And just like the other lineages, they start out with only one or two species that looks just like their presumed ancestor, then over time new branches appear that are successively less like those ancestors and more like modern mammals. This is exactly what evolution would predict. Indeed, if it wasn't that way, evolution would be falsified. If modern birds appeared all at once in the fossil record, with entirely avian skeletal structure and feathers and fully adapted for powered flight, there would be no way to link them to reptiles, and the same is true of every other major animal group. But they don't appear that way, and the order in which they do appear is precisely what evolution predicts.

(5) The whole dating process is deceptive. The geologists use the fossils found nearby to date their rocks. The paleontologists use the nearby rocks to date their fossils. Circular reasoning! Also, carbon dating only goes back a couple of thousand years. Radiometric dating is a joke because it DEPENDS on several factors being a certain way and these factors are conveniently assumed and are NOT provable or testable.

Not a single one of these 3 statements is true. Geologists do not use fossils found "nearby" to date their rocks, and paleontologists do not use the rocks "nearby" to date their fossils. It is true that index fossils are used to approximate the age of a sedimentary unit while in the field, but that's based upon a mountain of geological data and is entirely testable. The principle of superposition can be checked against radiometric dates and when they are, the two always match up (the lower strata show dates far older than the upper strata) except in those rare circumstances in which a fault thrust or overthrust has taken place (and those instances are easily discernable because they leave behind a great deal of evidence of the event).

Second, carbon dating is good to about 50,000 years, with more recent technological advances perhaps pushing that to 70,000+ years, not "a couple of thousand years" as Rob claims. And carbon dating isn't used to determine the age of the earth or of fossils, so it's pretty much irrelevant to the discussion.

Third, his claim about the assumptions of radiometric dating is simply false. Every "assumption" can and has been tested, including the consistency of decay rates under every conceivable condition.

As a paranthetical aside, I'm not sure I'll ever understand what drives people to make such bold and dogmatic assertions about issues that they simply have no understanding of. Is it ego? I just don't get it. I mean, I suppose I did the same thing, and on the same issue, when I was a teenager. But I grew out of it.

I'm going to have to split the next one into multiple parts, it contains so many different claims.

(6) Regarding dating, many, many things are found in the "wrong" layers all the time.

For example? What is a "thing" found in the wrong layer? If you're referring to silly claims like a spark plug being found in 50 million year old rock or the Meiner footprint, please do some research before you throw them out. They've all been debunked, most of them by creationists themselves. Only outright frauds like Kent Hovind and Carl Baugh continue to use such material.

Also, Charles Lyell's geological layers are almost always in the wrong order or have missing layers.

I didn't realize the layers belonged to Lyell. Odd, since he's been dead for a century and a half. This is truly a bizarre statement all the way around. In what specific place do we find geological layers "in the wrong order" other than the obvious few places where thrusting has occured? And again, before you start throwing out claims like the allegedly fake fault thrust at Glacier National Park, do some research first. It will likely save you a bit of embarrassment.

As far as missing layers are concerned, why is this a problem? Deposition doesn't take place at all places on the earth at all times. If there were NOT "missing layers", then virtually everything we know about geology would be wrong because there has to be room for erosion to take place, right?

The geological record we have is better explained by a flood (as in Noah) rather than millions of years and with an Ice Age. A world-wide & roughly year-long flood would "lay down" sedimentary layers in a very inconsistent way... many strong tendencies, but with a lot of inconsistencies. Millions of years, on the other hand, would be MUCH more uniform. The geological evidence, therefore, points more to a flood.

This is simply gibberish. Flood geology fails entirely to explain the geological record. Let's just take the Grand Canyon, which preserves most of the earth's history all in one big geologic column. Please explain how a global flood could, in one year, lay down alternating layers of sandstone, shale and limestone, each of which requires an entirely different depositional environement when a flood only affords a single depositional environment. 2/3 of the way up the canyon we find tracks and burrows and nesting sites in a desert sandstone formation left by terrestrial animals. Did they manage to tread water for 6 months, live without food and sleep, and avoid drowning in the raging waters that were depositing sediments at several feet per hour beneath them so they could wait for a desert environment to bust out in the middle of this global flood? Sorry, this is just a silly claim.

Also, the EXCELLENT PRESERVATION of so many fossils is better explained by a huge flood.

This might be true if all fossils were found in flood deposits, but they're not. In fact most fossils are found in deposits that could not possibly have formed during a flood.

Ironically, the largest major dinosaur parks across the world claim that their dinosaurs died in a catastrophic flood.

More silliness. I suspect he is referring to Jack Horner's discovery of a dinosaur boneyard in Montana where a huge herd of Maiasaurs was killed by a volcanic eruption and then washed out by a resulting flood from a dammed up lake being breeched and deposited into a pit. But this is a local event that explains the data locally. Globally, there is not only no evidence that dinosaurs were killed in a great flood, there is powerful evidence against it. The existence of dinosaur nesting sites alone, many of which have also been found by Horner, disproves this ridiculous claim. Such sites are found in numerous strata of different ages throughout the triassic, jurassic and cretaceous, all of which were allegedly laid down during the flood. How on earth did dinosaurs manage to build nesting sites to tend to their young in the middle of a global flood?

(7) As a result of these things, the science of evolution has degenerated into a pseudo-science. Unlike REAL science, it fails to make risky predictions.

Refer to my earlier statement about predictions on the patterns found in the fossil record. If that pattern did not show what it shows, evolution would be falsified. If the patterns of life did not show nested heirarchies, evolution would be falsified. Find a single mammalian fossil in precambrian rock, and evolution is falsified. But none of those things are found.

Now I'm sure Rob really believes that the claims he made here are true. I once believed them too. But I really do recommend doing some serious research, and that means more than just copying from creationist webpages. Most of the arguments that he has made here would be laughed out of class even by smarter and better educated creationists like Kurt Wise or Art Chadwick. They tend to cringe when they see such absurdities get repeated over and over again. There's a reason for that.


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Does anyone have a theory to explain why America, uniquely in the civilized world, keeps producing fresh generations of reactionaries, neocons, paleocons, religious cranks and creationists? How is it that Europeans, however efete they may appear to gun-toting, God-fearing Americans, are able to go with the flow of history, that is, into the future, while we Yanks keep regressing?

By eric collier (not verified) on 14 Apr 2004 #permalink

Does anyone have a theory to explain why America, uniquely in the civilized world, keeps producing fresh generations of reactionaries, neocons, paleocons, religious cranks and creationists? How is it that Europeans, however efete they may appear to gun-toting, God-fearing Americans, are able to go with the flow of history, that is, into the future, while we Yanks keep regressing?

By eric collier (not verified) on 14 Apr 2004 #permalink