Sep 22 2015
This is a continuation of my blog post from yesterday, deconstructing 44 alleged reasons to doubt evolutionary theory. In Part I I addressed the claim that there are no transitional fossils, which is a bold creationist lie they maintain despite the copious evidence and the fact that their misinterpretations have been publicly corrected.
The next series of “reasons” #7-12, attempt to support the claim that species appear suddenly, as if they are created. Snyder begins:
If the theory of evolution was true, we should not see a sudden explosion of fully formed complex life in the fossil record. Instead, that is precisely what we find.
Once again we see the creationist tactic of giving partial selected information, rather than putting the entire picture into perspective. They are not looking for proper perspective – they are looking for deception.
I assume by this statement he is referring to the Cambrian “explosion.” This explosion represents the first appearance of multicellular creatures in the fossil record, at least those that led to extant life. There are also the Ediacaran fauna which immediately predate the Cambrian. It is not clear if these creatures were an evolutionary dead-end or if they had descendants in the Cambrian. The Cambrian period lasted from about 540 to 490 million years ago, 53 million years. In the early Cambrian we “suddenly” (in geological terms) see many multicellular creatures. Of course “sudden” in this context means millions of years.
The Cambrian explosion represents a genuine period of rapid evolutionary change. This makes perfect evolutionary sense – prior to the Cambrian the world was occupied entirely by single-celled and colony creatures, but no multi-cellular creatures. When cells starting to specialize and form complex organisms, this new strategy had tremendous potential and evolution took off in many directions. Further, because basic body plans had not yet been worked out evolutionary change was not constrained, and so was free to experiment in many directions.
Another reason for the suddenness of the Cambrian explosion is likely an artifact of the fossil record. Soft part don’t fossilize well – they only leave behind trace fossils. But hard part do fossilize. When hard parts, like shells and bones, first evolved this would suddenly “turn on” the fossil record.
Finally, Snyder uses the term “complex” without ever putting it into perspective. Cambrian fauna was complex, but not relative to modern life. We don’t see horses in the Cambrian, we see relatively small creatures with a relatively simple body plan. Some creatures are clearly the ancestors to later groups, while others seem to have left no descendants behind. Again – it’s pretty much what you would expect to find (broadly speaking, not in detail) with the first appearance of multicellular life.
Snyder then follows with more quotes taken out of context, including one from Richard Dawkins:
“It is as though they [fossils] were just planted there, without any evolutionary history. Needless to say this appearance of sudden planting has delighted creationists. Both schools of thought (Punctuationists and Gradualists) despise so-called scientific creationists equally, and both agree that the major gaps are real, that they are true imperfections in the fossil record. The only alternative explanation of the sudden appearance of so many complex animal types in the Cambrian era is divine creation and both reject this alternative.”
As I discussed in part I, evolutionary biologists are still debating about gaps in the fossil record and whether or not they are entirely due to the imperfection of the fossil record or represent the general pace of evolution (punctuated equilibrium). That is the context of this quote from Dawkins. He is saying that the gaps are due to the imperfections in the fossil record.
And again Snyder never makes a coherent argument. He never discusses what the fossil record actual looks like, or addresses the scientific explanations for the data. If we look at the overall fossil record what we see are continuous changes over time in an exquisitely evolutionary pattern – meaning that the relationship between fossil species maps out in time and geological range in a pattern that supports evolution. Species survive for a while then disappear. New species appear that always have plausible ancestors.
All of the debate is about the fine level of detail, not the broad picture. When you get down to a single species over a short period of time geologically speaking, 1-2 million years, we see that most species (not all) are relatively stable over their life on earth. Dawkins would say this is a limitation of the fossil record, Gould would say this is punctuated equilibrium, but both agree (with almost all other scientists in the world) that the big picture is obviously one of evolution.
We can also discuss what we don’t see in the fossil record. We don’t see species out of sequence – no horses in the Cambrian, no dinosaurs surviving past the Cretaceous period. In fact, the periods and epochs of the Earth are defined by what fossils we find there, because it is very predictable. If evolution were not true, fossils would not be so neatly organized by period and location, with clear lines of ancestors and descendants (again, broadly speaking).
We also don’t see the sudden appearance of creatures that have no possible ancestors. Once basic body plans were worked out in the Cambrian, we continue to see those same body plans in later evolution. We don’t suddenly see six-limbed terrestrial vertebrates.
In fact, in those lines in which we have good fossil evidence, we seen in small detail the evolutionarily contiguous nature of anatomy. We see specific body parts evolving into other body parts. We don’t see new parts arising and disappearing willy-nilly.
And still we are just talking about one line of evidence for evolution – the fossil record. The evidence from genetics is even stronger. There is also evidence from developmental biology, and also from modern observation, which brings us to the next point. The flip side of the claim that species appear “suddenly” is that “macroevolution” has never been observed.
Nobody has ever observed macroevolution take place in the laboratory or in nature. In other words, nobody has ever observed one kind of creature turn into another kind of creature. The entire theory of evolution is based on blind faith.
This may have something to do with the fact that speciation takes thousands of years. No one has observed the formation of a planetary system from a cloud of dust either, the raising of mountains through tectonic activity, or the carving of a canyon by a river. Some natural processes take thousands or millions of years to occur, so we cannot observe them happening in real time. But we can infer they happened through other lines of evidence.
I would also add that evolutionary change has been directly observed.
Part III: Misc.
Snyder next makes some individual points, all incoherent but let’s take a look.
#13 Anyone that believes that the theory of evolution has “scientific origins” is fooling themselves. It is actually a deeply pagan religious philosophy that can be traced back for thousands of years.
This is a non-sequitur, specifically the genetic fallacy – judging something by its origins. It actually doesn’t matter what the origins of the idea of evolution were. Proto-evolutionary thinking does go back to the ancient Greeks, who pretty much came up with every idea. Evolution as a scientific theory predates Darwin. Darwin’s main contribution was to propose variation and natural selection as the mechanism for evolutionary change. He also is credited with making a persuasive argument for evolutionary theory, and essentially convincing the scientific community.
So what? Chemistry has its roots in alchemy. Astronomy has its roots in astrology. Modern medicine developed from Galenic medicine (the four humors), which is pure pseudoscience. None of this says anything about the scientific status of evolutionary theory today.
#14 Anything that we dig up that is supposedly more than 250,000 years old should have absolutely no radiocarbon in it whatsoever. But instead, we find it in everything that we dig up – even dinosaur bones. This is clear evidence that the “millions of years” theory is simply a bunch of nonsense…
Very simply. Radiocarbon dating doesn’t work well on objects much older than twenty thousand years, because such objects have so little C-14 left that their beta radiation is swamped out by the background radiation of cosmic rays and potassium-40 (K-40) decay. Younger objects can easily be dated, because they still emit plenty of beta radiation, enough to be measured after the background radiation has been subtracted out of the total beta radiation. However, in either case, the background beta radiation has to be compensated for, and, in the older objects, the amount of C-14 they have left is less than the margin of error in measuring background radiation.
There are many many lines of evidence supporting an ancient Earth and the age of life on Earth. Radiocarbon dating is one method that is often a target of creationists, because it is a limited method. It is only reliable in certain conditions and only out to about 20,000 years. We don’t use radiocarbon dating to date fossils or anything older than 20,000 years. This is another great example of how creationists tend to provide only some information without ever giving the entire picture – because the big picture does not support their pseudoscience.
#15 The odds of even a single sell [sic] “assembling itself” by chance are so low that they aren’t even worth talking about.
This is a straw man. Evolutionary theory does not require that a single cell assembled itself by chance. A single celled creature living today is the result of several billion years of evolution – that’s billion. So I agree – this is not worth even talking about.
#16 How did life learn to reproduce itself? This is a question that evolutionists do not have an answer for.
This is a vague question. What type of reproduction? Mitosis? The strategy here, however, is to say that because current evolutionary theory does not have a specific explanation for every evolutionary development, that calls the theory into question. No one ever claimed that we have an explanation for everything, down to the arbitrarily tiniest detail. Inferring how a slow and complex process worked millions of years ago is very difficult. It’s amazing we can infer as much as we do.
This is yet another logical fallacy – confusing unexplained with unexplainable. Scientists are making progress understanding the evolution of sexual reproduction. We don’t have a full explanation. This does not mean evolution is impossible, as creationists would like to suggest.
#17 In 2007, fishermen caught a very rare creature known as a Coelacanth. Evolutionists originally told us that this “living fossil” had gone extinct 70 million years ago. It turns out that they were only off by 70 million years.
The Coelacanth was first known from fossils, with the most recent being from about 65 million year ago. It was not until 1938 that a living specimen was found. This is because they are a deep sea fish and are rarely encountered.
The implication here is that because the Coelacanth survived into modern times that… Well, there really isn’t a coherent point here. It is just trying to imply something vague to sow confusion. If we try to extract a coherent point it could be that Coelacanths survived for millions of years, therefore they did not evolve.
Snyder, however, is implying a common confusion, likely because he is confused on the facts himself. The Coelacanth is not a specific species of fish. It is an order of fish. An “order” is a level of taxonomic classification that is fairly high up the chain. Primates are an order. So the modern Coelacanth has roughly as much of a relationship to the fossil Coelacanths as lemurs do to humans. To clarify – the modern living Coelacanth is not the same species as the fossil Coelacanths. They are just in the same order, the way that monkeys and gorillas are in the same order.
I’m not even half way there. As you can see, it takes much more space to correct a misconception than to create it. This is what leads to the “Gish gallop” – a term named for Duane Gish, who would debate scientists about evolution and overwhelm them with a rapid series of misconceptions that the scientist could not hope to counter in the time allowed.
Snyder has created a Gish gallop of creationist nonsense in his list of 44 reasons. Answers to his claims are already out there, and I linked to some good resources in the first two parts of my posts. I do think it is useful, however, to have a thorough response in one location, social media being what it is.
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