Sep 24 2015
This is the third post dealing with a recent aggregation of old creationist arguments that has been making the rounds on social media, 44 Reasons Why Evolution Is Just A Fairy Tale For Adults. The author, Michael Snyder, has shown a typical level of horrific scholarship and reasoning. Post 1 is here, and post 2 is here.
In the last article I discussed the claim that the Coelacanth is a “living fossil” (a term I despise because it is ripe for confusion). Essentially Snyder and other creationists treat the Coelacanth as if it is a specific species, when in fact it is an order of fish. An order surviving for hundreds of millions of years is not at all unusual.
In the next of Snyder’s reasons he commits the same mistake:
#18 According to evolutionists, the Ancient Greenling Damselfly last showed up in the fossil record about 300 million years ago. But it still exists today. So why hasn’t it evolved at all over the time frame?
This claim is entirely wrong, demonstrating sloppy research. Actually I suspect that Snyder did no research (and here I am just referring to looking up reliable references). He seems to have just swallowed a creationist meme whole from the Institute for Creation Research, specifically an article by their “science writer” Brian Thomas.
Thomas claims that there are fossils of the Ancient Greenling Damselfly, unchanged from the modern species, that are 300 million years old. This is simply not true, and Thomas provides no primary references to back up his claim.
I spent some time digging up primary references to find out what is really going on. The Ancient Greenling Damselfly is the sole surviving species of a rare family of Damselfly, the Hemiphlebiidae. Damselflies in turn are closely related to dragonflies, the most obvious difference being that when dragonflies are at rest their double wings are spread out, creating the iconic shape of a dragonfly, while damselflies fold up their wings flat against their body.
Briefly, the order Odonata includes the suborder Anisoptera (dragonflies) and Zygoptera (damselflies), which in turn contains many families, one of which is the Hemiphlebiidae, which includes the Ancient Greenling Damselfly. There are at least two fossil species of Hemiphlebiidae, Parahemiphlebia and Cretarchistigma , from the Lower Cretaceous of England and Brazil.
These species date to as old as 140 million years ago, not 300 million years. Further, while they are in the same family as the extant Ancient Greenling Damselfly, they are in different genera. But Thomas writes:
“But this particular insect is part of another tale, for the same species has been found fossilized from Brazil to Siberia.”
This is wrong – it is not the same species. It is a different species, different genus, but same family.
The bigger point here is that creationists often use apparent stability of living groups over long periods of time to argue against evolution. However, large successful groups (like the Odonata) can be relatively stable over tens or even hundreds of millions of years. However, we will still see adaptive radiation and evolution at lower taxonomic levels, like families, genera, and species.
#19 Darwinists believe that the human brain developed without the assistance of any designer. This is so laughable it is amazing that there are any people out there that still believe this stuff. The truth is that the human brain is amazingly complex. The following is how a PBS documentary described the complexity of the human brain: “It contains over 100 billion cells, each with over 50,000 neuron connections to other brain cells.”
This is the argument from personally incredulity, otherwise known as the, “Aw, shucks, that sure is complicated,” fallacy. The human brain is certainly complex (I can say this with some authority, being a neurologist). Actually the best current estimate is that there are about 86 billion neurons in the adult human brain, but this is a minor point.
The claim here is that complexity on this order of magnitude could not arise without a designer, but that is a vacuous claim without scientific support. Self organizing systems following relatively simple rules can generate fantastic amounts of complexity. The vertebrate brain, for example, has a great deal of repetition in its anatomy, with millions of cortical columns composed of 100 or so neurons. The brain also undergoes what is called somatotopic organization during development – sensory input and feedback from the body follows simple rules to produce a mapping of the brain onto the world and the body.
The brain, in other words, looks like something that evolved from the bottom up, not something that was designed from the top down. Either process can produce complexity. In fact, bottom up organization is associated, if anything, with greater potential complexity.
Time for another quote from a scientist taken entirely out of context:
#20 The following is how one evolutionist pessimistically assessed the lack of evidence for the evolution of humanity…
“Even with DNA sequence data, we have no direct access to the processes of evolution, so objective reconstruction of the vanished past can be achieved only by creative imagination.”
Again Snyder does not provide any primary reference, just a secondary creationist source. This does contain the primary reference, however: A Genetic Perspective on the Origin and History of Humans, by N. Takahata. In this fairly narrow technical paper Takahata is attempting to use molecular genetics to infer the branching order of gorillas, chimpanzees, and humans and to estimate their historical population sizes. The point he is making in that quote is simply that we cannot directly observe what was happening in these populations in the past, but we can infer what happened by testing hypotheses (generated through his poetically referenced imagination) with objective molecular data. Wow, how devastating.
Also, imagine the quote-mining they must be doing to select that one quote from that one obscure and narrow technical paper.
#21 Perhaps the most famous fossil in the history of the theory of evolution, “Piltdown Man”, turned out to be a giant hoax.
Piltdown is famous for being a hoax. There are other famous fossils, such as Lucy and the Berlin specimen. Fossil fame, however, is irrelevant. The creationists are never going to let go of Piltdown man, because they can use it to make the implication (often without stating it outright) that fossils in general are fake. This, of course, is an absurd claim and is not true.
The scientific community was indeed punked by Piltdown in 1912. Paleoanthropology was a very young science, with few specimens, and they were presented with a carefully crafted hoax that confirmed all their current biases. As more and more human fossils were discovered, however, Piltdown man became progressively sidelined and ignored, because it did not fit with the rest of the evidence. Eventually this conflict prompted a reexamination of the original specimen, and they were found in 1953 to be a modern hoax. Science was a bit slow this time, but in the end it self-corrected.
There are plenty of online resources cataloguing the growing list of human fossils. Homo naledi was just added to that list. Once again Snyder just puts out an isolated factoid without putting it into any context.
The next two points are essentially the same:
#22 If the neutron were not about 1.001 times the mass of the proton, all protons would have decayed into neutrons or all neutrons would have decayed into protons, and therefore life would not be possible. How can we account for this?
#23 If gravity was stronger or weaker by the slimmest of margins, then life sustaining stars like the sun could not exist. This would also make life impossible. How can we account for this?
This is the anthropic principle. There are many physical constants that, if they were even slightly different, the universe could not exist as it does. This, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with evolution. Whatever the reason for the current physical laws of the universe, they allow for evolution, and the evidence strongly suggests it did happen. I write more about the anthropic principle, and why it is not an argument for god, here.
Every few points, apparently, he has to throw in a quote out of context. This one, however, is worse than usual:
#24 Why did evolutionist Dr. Lyall Watson make the following statement?…
“The fossils that decorate our family tree are so scarce that there are still more scientists than specimens. The remarkable fact is that all of the physical evidence we have for human evolution can still be placed, with room to spare, inside a single coffin!”
Watson is not an evolutionary scientist. He had no science degree. He was an author of dubious supernatural books who was writing in a popular magazine (Science Digest) and not in the peer-reviewed literature. He is most famous for his “hundredth monkey” theory, which is complete nonsense. Further, the claim is just wrong. Again – here is a partial list. It is way more than Watson said.
I am starting to get repetitive, but that is because Snyder is repetitive – what Snyder is doing is quoting a secondary hostile creationist source, which in turn quoted a pseudoscientist, in order to make a claim about the state of human fossils. He did not research how many fossils of human ancestors we have or link to actual scientific or reliable sources.
#25 Apes and humans are very different genetically. As DarwinConspiracy.com explains, “the human Y chromosome has twice as many genes as the chimpanzee Y chromosome and the chromosome structures are not at all similar.”
Wrong (again, notice his source), we are genetically very similar. I wrote about the science of comparing human and chimp DNA here. Read that article for a full treatment. Bottom line – if you make the correct kind of comparison, one that is meaningful for degree of evolutionary separation, then humans and chimps share 96% of their DNA. This fits well with the fossil evidence about time of divergence, of about 8 million years ago.
Using the Y chromosome as evidence for divergence is highly misleading. It is true that human and chimp Y chromosomes are divergent, but it is misleading to imply from this that we are not genetically similar overall. Chromosomes are capable of massive reorganization, and even in a single generation they can fuse or split. The Y chromosome is also special, because of its role in determining sex. It is particularly subject to gene loss and alterations. Read the technical reference if you want the details.
#26 How can we explain the creation of new information that is required for one animal to turn into another animal? No evolutionary process has ever been shown to be able to create new biological information.
This is the information argument that intelligent design creationists are so fond of. It is nothing but a lie. There are known mechanisms to create new information. Gene duplication is the most obvious – one gene can be duplicated during reproduction, now you have two copies of the same gene. While one gene continues its original function, the second gene is free to evolve in novel directions. You just doubled the genetic information of that gene. In fact, there is tremendous evidence of analysis of the gene structures of many species that gene duplication is a primary mechanism of increasing genetic information. This has been known since 1930, so Snyder is only 85 years behind the times.
There are other mechanisms as well, such as horizontal gene transfer. The DNA from a virus can get stuck in the DNA of a host organism, and then become part of the genome. These insertions actually make up a significant portion of our DNA (about 8%), and sometimes they can be used for raw material for the evolution of new genes.
I would also add that mutations create new biological information.
#27 Evolutionists would have us believe that there are nice, neat fossil layers with older fossils being found in the deepest layers and newer fossils being found in the newest layers. This simply is not true at all…
The fossil layers are not found in the ground in the nice neat clean order that evolutionists illustrate them to be in their textbooks. There is not one place on the surface of the earth where you may dig straight down and pass through the fossil layers in the order shown in the textbooks. The neat order of one layer upon another does not exist in nature. The fossil bearing layers are actually found out of order, upside down (backwards according to evolutionary theory), missing (from where evolutionists would expect them to be) or interlaced (“younger” and “older” layers found in repeating sequences). “Out of place” fossils are the rule and not the exception throughout the fossil record.
This is once again partial information crafted to deceive. The Earth is geologically active. Land is being moved around all the time, heaving up, eroding away, crashing into each other, etc. However, there are different geological strata, with different geological characteristics and different fossils. These different strata and their fossils do consistently occur in ordered layers. However, they get moved around a lot.
The result is like a puzzle – but we can put the pieces of that puzzle together to construct an entire geological column. Because a complete column does not occur all in one place is irrelevant. For example, we may find the following sequences in different locations: A-B-C-D; J-K-L-M-N; D-E-F-G-H; G-H-I-J-K-L, etc. We can use the overlaps in the sequences to place them in order. Also, don’t forget, we can directly date many layers so we can use their ages to sequence them also.
Further, the overwhelming fact is that fossil species do exist in the various strata in a consistent order. We never ever see dinosaur fossils in strata younger than the K-Pg boundary 65 million years ago, for example. The only exceptions are when there are obvious geological processes that caused mixing of layers. We simply construct the geological column from areas where mixing has not occurred.
If you want to see nice neat geological layers then visit the Grand Canyon.
#28 Evolutionists believe that the ancestors of birds developed hollow bones over thousands of generations so that they would eventually be light enough to fly. This makes absolutely no sense and is beyond ridiculous.
That is not even an argument, it is a statement of personal incredulity. The probable implication he is trying to make is that birds could not fly until they had evolved hollow bones over thousands of generations, but this is simply not true. Here it is clear that Snyder simply does not know what he is talking about, and made no effort to educate himself on bird bones as an adaptation of flight.
First, bird bones are not necessary lighter than mammalian bones. Some bird bones are light, some are heavier, and overall there is not much of a difference. Bird bones, however, have become highly specialized for flight. They are stiffer, stronger where they need to be, and have been simplified to eliminate bones where possible. They also demonstrate varying degrees of “pneumatization” – air sacs like in the lungs, which do make them hollow in places. This adaptation provide more oxygen to the blood quicker, which is an advantage for flight.
What we see with bird evolution is the slow adaptation of the theropod skeleton to the bird skeleton, with multiple optimizations for flight.
It seems that the core misunderstanding of Snyder is the false premise that birds could not fly at all until their skeletons were optimized for flight, but there is no reason at all to suppose this. Archaeopteryx could fly, and yet lacked many modern bird adaptations for flight. Function is not all or nothing. Often species will do something poorly, because it is still useful, and then will evolve adaptations to optimize the function.
#29 If dinosaurs really are tens of millions of years old, why have scientists found dinosaur bones with soft tissue still in them?
The finding of soft tissue inside the fossilized bones of T-rex has been highly controversial, for obvious reasons. While there is interesting evidence to support the claim, I don’t think we are there yet. Even if we acknowledge the presence of soft tissue in dinosaur bones tens of millions of years old, that does not mean their age is incorrect. There are already findings that can help explain this extreme preservation, such as the presence of iron which can act as a preservative.
As we work our way through these 44 creationist arguments, the patterns become more and more clear. In each case Snyder (who is just copying standard creationist arguments) is not referencing scientific sources or giving a reasonable overview of the actual evidence. In each case he is giving a highly selected tiny slice of the picture, crafted to create a deceptive implication. Sometimes his claims are outright incorrect.
There is a simple reason why creationist arguments are so transparently terrible – they have no good arguments.
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