Evolution and creationism

In addition to Mange, yes again.

You’re right. “Dismiss” was too strong a word. What I was (badly) trying to get at is, “Yeah the moths changed colour - that doesn’t prove evolution” is correct. By itself it does not. It is a helpful illustration that makes the idea of selection more accessible to the initiate. It is evidence that selection occurs. To dismiss this evidence is unfair.

Further, it is even more unfair to use “moths don’t prove evolution” (which is true) as a strawman to attack, thus “proving” young-earch-creation (which is untrue).

Thanks for the correction, Mangetout

Quickly scanned the two links from Mangetout and SentientMeat.

Thanks! I’m surprised at myself (and a little disappointed) that I hadn’t come across these before.

No, I don’t think it is too strong a word; ‘dismiss’ is exaclty what they try to do; by any means, fair or foul.
The most recent of these attempts being potshots at the photographic evidence itself - apparently some of the peppered moth photos were ‘posed’ - a light moth placed on a dark branch, or vice versa, to illustrate the contrast; some creationists have siezed upon this fact to try to imply that the whole thing is just a fabrication.

Because evolution happens to populations across very long spans of time, there’s never going to be a ‘directly’* observable case of speciation that is drastic enough to satisfy creationists - it can always be brushed aside as ‘simple variation within a ‘kind’’.
That’s not to say that speciation can’t be observed - it just takes examination of the evidence (and this is what creationism fights so hard to prevent); genetics being a very important smoking gun in this respect.
The study of fossils, anatomy, embryology, genetics and species distribution etc are every bit as valid forms of observation as watching fruit flies breed in a cage.

*There’s actually no such thing as ‘direct’ observation anyway; more on this if you want it…

I always “want it” ahem, I mean… yes.

Note that Young Earth Creationists, like the answersingenesis cult, often use rapid speciation as in the Faroe Island mouse as support for their own argument that today’s diversity could have come from a small number of “kinds” on the Ark: it is evolution of those “kinds” which they consider impossible (and, of course, it requires far more generations than a mere 250 years for dinosaurs to become Ornitholestes to become Archaeopteryx to become Sinornis to become what we might call a “bird”).

This is their hustle: ask for an observed speciation. If it’s in a directly observable timescale, say it’s allowed. Ask for a more dramatic instance, necessarily requiring a timescale which must appeal to the fossil record, and dismiss it as not being directly observable.

I consider that any debates with them should focus solely on the age of the Earth, which is crucial. Once they have proposed their 10000 year nonsense, the debate reduces to their claims about what Noah’s Flood could cause, which any reasonable person can see are utterly absurd on their face.

OK… you asked for it…

(BTW, these are my own words, C&P’ed from another forum)

**There is no such thing as direct contemporaneous observation of an event. **

Hold an apple at arm’s length, drop it and watch it fall; You think you directly observed it falling? Wrong:

  • For a start, you didn’t even see the apple itself - you saw photons that bounced off it a (very) short while ago.
  • And what do we mean by ‘see’ - the photons entered your eye and struck your retina, triggering nerve impulses which travelled to your brain, were interpreted by your perceptual systems - this process is far more complex than you might think and it is by no means perfect or instantaneous.
  • You ‘felt’ your fingers let go of the apple, when in fact the sensation of ‘touch’ is actually caused by the electromagnetic fields in the atoms in the apple and your fingers repelling each other (but never actually coming into contact)
  • The sensation of ‘touch’ again had to travel along the nerves in your arm and be processed by your brain - again, a process which isn’t simple, perfect or instantaneous.
  • You ‘heard’ the apple hit the floor, but did you? No; you didn’t hear the apple - you actually ‘heard’ fluctuations in air pressure, triggered by the interaction of the apple and the floor; these fluctuations took time to travel to your ear and the process by which these fluctuations travelled was by indirect transfer all the way.
  • Even on arrival at your ear, the fluctuations in air pressure go through several stages of transfer and mechanical amplification before triggering nerve impulses that, again, take time to travel to your brain where again, they are processed by perceptual systems that are not simple, perfect, or instantaneous.

Now all of this might seem like weaselly nitpicking, but the point is this: **there is no sharp delineation between events we think we have perceved directly and contemporaneously and those events that we know are indirect interpretations of something that happened some time in the past.

Still don’t believe me? OK:
A falling apple, one metre away from your head
An exploding firework, 100 metres away
An Earthquake on the other side of the world, sensed by a seismograph on the table next to you
A sunspot
An asteroid fallling into Jupiter
A supernova 5 thousand lightyears away
A supernova 500 million lightyears away

None of these events is qualitatively different from the others; There is no point at which observations stops being direct and contemporaneous and begins being something else; because it was never anything other than indirect and retrospective in the first place.

All observations are indirect and retrospective, they only differ by degree.

Look, you silly minions! Right here in River City, even without the actual servants of you know who, Creationist dogma being elevated to the level of human discourse.



To expand on the direct observation thing;

What this really means is that everything is based on inference; in order to read the words on a page in my Bible, it is necessary to assume that the photons bouncing off the page are still behaving in the way that I understand them to; it is necessary to assume that the cells in my retina are still responding to those photons in a consistent manner - it could be the case that there is no Bible, there are no photons, that my retina is in fact an inert layer of flesh and that the impressions of the page are therefore being etched in my brain by some unknowable supernatural process. But that doesn’t seem a very reasonable approach. Sometimes we’re so accustomed to the processes that we don’t even notice our brains performing these feats of inference (and so we make the incorrect assumption that they’re somehow different from other examples of inference).

In the same way, though, our interpretation of the fossil record is based on our understanding of the properties of minerals, geological processes, decomposition, anatomy etc; our interpretation of the genetic evidence is based on our understanding of heredity, viral infection, DNA replication etc; any one of these lines of evidence might seem shaky on its own, but when you get a whole load of them that all independently paint the same picture it becomes possible to have a lot more confidence in the process, and the results.

See, I never intended this to be a debate about evolution and creationism, which is why I put it in MPSIMS.

I’ve read talkorigins to great extent. I’ve read creationists arguments about the formation of the grand canyon and the change in the speed of light over time.

Is there a single person here who can refute every single creationist argument off the top of their head? If you can, I’d be surprised. As such, there is a small element of faith that evolutionists (this includes myself) must have. Namely, we must believe that all arguments in favor of creationism which seem to contradict evolution have a valid refutation.

Please don’t tangent this into a debate of evolution vs. creationism. If there is a debate here, it is whether or not being an evolution support does or does not entail a certain amount of faith: Faith that all counter arguments can be refuted, even if you can’t make that argument.

There are many here, including myself, who have never heard a Creationist argument that cannot be refuted to a level which the reasonable, honest observer would consider comprehensive. Try us.

Oh, I forgot…

How are we supposed to convince you that all Creationist arguments can be refuted if you don’t try us out? Are you asking us to imagine a convincing creationist argument we haven’t heard yet, and suggesting that its hypothetical existence necessitates “faith” on our part?

I’d be happy to point out the deliberate misinterpretation of basic geology and relativity which these “arguments” demand.

Huh? I’ve never seen a creationist argument that couldn’t be refuted. If you’ve got one (or more) that is particularly troubling, bring it on. And since all of them must ultimately depend on the existence of God, I think that about covers it, since there is not one single piece of scientific evidence to support the existence of God.

There are probably thousands. Any high school teacher of biology with some college work on formal and informal logic, for example… or anyone who’s just taken up the argument as a hobby.

I think the divine spark argument is even more far-fetched than flat-out young earth creationism, and betrays a lack of understanding of the random, non-deterministic, nature of evolutionary biology. A theistic stance on evolution presumes that living things keep getting “better,” through some divine plan, when in actuality they just keep changing to adapt to environments that also change.

The thing is, there are no new creationist arguments under the sun. I’m reading a book on creationism (and how to refute it) that was written in the early 80s. I’m astonished that the creationist arguments refuted back then are the same ones being used today. I’m beginning to think that they’ve got nothing left to argue. In that light, it doesn’t take a lot of faith to know that there is no argument strong enough to rock the evolution boat.

Is there any other position that purports to be scientific and depends so heartily on the ignorance of its adherents?

I disagree. The refutation, or even the assumption that all creationist arguments can be refuted, has little, if anything, to do with faith, per se. It has to do with the simple idea that creationists necessarily impose a metaphysical aspect on the origins of life’s diversity - an assumption which cannot be falsified, and is thus, pretty much by definition, non-scientific.

The reason this is important is that even if there is a nit properly picked regarding some “supposedly” evolutionary phenomenon, that in no way means creationism “wins” by default. Creationism has no positive evidence of its own, and that is why I can confidently claim that any creationist claim about evolution will never prove creationism. At best, because of the very nature of their beliefs (meaning, one can’t demonstrate that God exists, so one can’t demonstrate that special creation does, or even can, occur in the first place), creationists can only show that current evolutionary thought is flawed; however, the track record over the past 150-odd years shows that they haven’t done (and perhaps are incapable of doing) a very good job of even that.

Oh, I don’t know, let’s see…

“Alternative” medicine

One could go on…


Evolutionists (your term for evolutionary scientists) are not bound to “believe” in evolutiuon as Creationists are in Biblical (or otherwise) Creation. If, in fact, someone could put forth an argument for creationism that could not be refuted, or at least reasonably contested, then they would, by necessity, have to recant their stance on evolution. If we were to see species suddenly develop from nothing, with a unique genome, we would have to concede, at the very least, that there exists a phenomena that is not explained by evolutionary theory.

But we don’t; even in areas where we have incomplete data or lack the ability to explain exactly how developments transpired, we fail to see evidence of any activity that is in contradiction to the physical laws of nature and inexplicable by natural selection. We may argue how different mechanisms work and what the effect of their interplay is, but we don’t have to stand on the belief that there is no possibility of a supernatural impetus; we need only demonstrate that no such force is required to explain a phenomenon.

As for anyone capable of refuting every Creationist argument “off the top of their head”; no, there is probably not any one individual who, without references, can authoritatively gainsay every argument a Creationist can put forth. These arguments range in fields as diverse as biochemistry, zoology, cosmology, geology, geophysics, sociology, psychology, and particle physics (often erroneously conflating these fields together), seeking some small bit of as-yet unexplained behavior to expand into an all-embracing argument against evolution. The argument of Intelligent Design, for instance, has been levied from the smallest structures (the “perfection” of the Standard Model and it’s underlying theories) to the greatest expanse (the “design” of the Galaxy, solar system, and Earth as an ideal haven for life), hitting up biochemistry, physiology, and geophysics along the way.

This isn’t to say that some well-read and knowledgeable individual (the late Stephen J. Gould comes to mind) can’t effectively put to bed the vast majority of arguments for Creationist “theory”; but he did so by citing and referencing the work done in many other fields by people far more expert (in those areas) than himself. Unlike Creationists (who often make spurious claims that are so dramatically at odds with the observable Universe that they may as well be children’s fantasies) a scientist recognizes the limits of his knowledge and experience and does research and experimentation to formulate and validate (by repeated attempts as falsifiation) a hypothesis. Creationists form no hypothesis; they make sweeping, overarching claims based upon “how things have to be” in order to justify their deeply held beliefs, and then seek out evidence (and ignore contrarian data) to bolster their assertions.

In the end, there is no absolute refutation to Creationist dogma; while each individual claim can be refuted (or often more aptly described as debunked), it is always possible to put forth a new argument, espeically, as is often the case, when the argument isn’t based upon any observed evidence, leaving debaters to claw at the cotton candy of absurd axioms. When debating Creationism, we often find ourselves having to start by stating very fundamental principles and educating the opponent (and the audience) in theories that are universally accepted by the scientific community. It’s sort of like playing the “I know you are but what am I?” game with a three year old; eventually, you just get tired of the nonsensical, circular logic and wander away, leaving the Creationist to claim a bye victory. Often, they claim a successful challenge even without debate; as when arguments over specific mechanisms of natural selection are twisted into falsities like, “See, even scientists don’t agree on evolution”. :rolleyes: