Jul 24 2007
I promise my blog will not turn into all creationism all the time – but that has been a recent theme. I just can’t resist a juicy bit of illogical nonsense, and the creationists just keep serving them up.
In response to yesterday’s blog entry, reader James Collins wrote a pro-creationist response chock full of logical fallacies, ambiguous statements, misstatements of fact, and internal inconsistencies. Before anyone accuses me of picking on an easy target that is not representative of creationist arguments in general, or the best the creationists have to offer, read my other posts dealing with Michael Egnor and other prominent ID/creationists featured by the Discovery Institute. This kind of sloppy reasoning and lack of respect for facts is quite representative of creationists and is about as good as it gets.
Collins primary argument is this:
“If evolutionists want to end the arguments all they have to do is, get their brilliant heads together and assemble a ‘simple’ living cell. This should be possible, since they certainly have a very great amount of knowledge about what is inside the ‘simple’ cell.
After all, shouldn’t all the combined Intelligence of all the worlds scientist be able the do what chance encounters with random chemicals, without a set of instructions, accomplished about 4 billion years ago, according to the evolutionists, having no intelligence at all available to help them along in their quest to become a living entity. Surely then the evolutionists scientists today should be able to make us a ‘simple’ cell.”
Lest anyone thinks for a moment this is a sincere, if incredibly misguided, challenge, Collins concludes his comment with;
“Of course they are trying desperately now to do just that, and if by chance they were ever successful it would only prove that it could never have happen by ‘accident.’”
So, Collins tells us, if you want to prove evolution then build a cell, but if you do that it will only disprove evolution. Gotcha.
Of course, both premises are wrong. This silly challenge is a false premise (it’s false because it is based upon a non sequitur) – that if scientists understand the biology and evolution of a living cell then they should be able to construct one from scratch. The one does not follow from the other.
It is quite possible to have an understanding of how something works without having the technology to build it. This is equivalent to challenging the current scientific model of the sun because physicists and astronomers can’t build a sun for themselves.
It is also fallacious because it assumes that anything short of perfect knowledge is equal to no knowledge. Collins would have us believe that unless biologists have such a complete and thorough knowledge of the workings of a cell that they can create one from scratch, all of their knowledge and claims about life can and should be rejected as false.
This sentiment is extremely naïve toward the methods and history of science. It is possible, and historically typical, for our knowledge of a topic to progress from more superficial to more deep and complex. However, the superficial knowledge may still work and be scientifically valid as far as they go. The most common example given of this is Newtonian mechanics vs relativity. Newtonian mechanics still works, and it is scientifically correct and valid as far as it goes – as long as extreme relative velocities or gravities are not involved. Relativity did not make classical mechanics false, it just gave us a more complete picture.
In the same way, our knowledge of biology progresses by deepening our understanding of how biological organisms work. Our knowledge is very incomplete, but that does not mean that the parts we have worked out so far are not reliably correct.
The challenge from Collins is also an example of moving the goalpost. He is rejecting all the current evidence for evolution, and substituting an arbitrary, illogical, and unreasonably difficult criterion. As I pointed out, even this setting of the goal post is not enough, for if scientists happen to meet this goal Collins has already pushed it back further.
Finally, none of this has anything to do with evolution. It is a giant non sequitur. Life origins is a distinct question from the subsequent change in life over time. Creationists refuse to get this point, to their perpetual discredit. Collins himself writes:
“Please don’t bother me with the thought that evolutionists are no longer interested in proof of first cause. Without an explanation for first cause the evolutionists do not have anything at all. Just wishful thinking.”
Yes, organic evolution requires life, but that does not mean that explaining life origins is necessary for evolution to be correct. The non sequiturs are just piling up. It is possible, for example, that simple life originated on earth through any number of mechanisms, and then subsequently evolved over 4 billion years into all the variety of life we have today. Life could have formed spontaneously, been seeded from space, or been poofed into existence by magic – it doesn’t matter as far as the question of evolution is concerned.
So, what Collins is really arguing is that unless biologists can create a cell they should accept on faith that life began by magic. He then confuses this, on purpose, with evolution.
Collins sprinkles in a few other incredibly ridiculous points, seemingly at random. For example, he writes:
“Beyond doubt, the main reason people believe in evolution is that sources they admire, say it is so. It would pay for these people to do a thorough examination of all the evidence CONTRARY to evolution that is readily available: Try answersingenesis.org. The evolutionists should honestly examine the SUPPOSED evidence ‘FOR’ evolution for THEMSELVES.”
This is nothing but a self-serving and unsupported assertion – that evolutionists don’t know the facts, they are just blindly following authority. This is an ad hominem logical fallacy – attacking the claimant instead of the claim. I referenced yesterday a good summary of the evidence for common descent. I find that most people who accept evolution (especially those bothering to write about it) have a very solid knowledge of the evidence – which is overwhelming, by the way.
By contrast creationists display an incredible ignorance of the facts. They demonstrate what happens when you rely entirely on secondary hostile sources for your information – all the information is false, distorted, and incomplete.
So here is a challenge back at James Collins or any other creationist out there. Actually read what biologists say about the molecular genetic evidence for common descent – amino acid sequence redundancy and homology, genetic code redundancy and homology, transposons, redundant pseudogenes, and endogenous retroviruses. This is an absolute slam dunk for evolution. So I am throwing down the gauntlet – give me a legitimate criticism of the evolutionary interpretation of this evidence, and propose a viable and testable alternative. Do that, or admit defeat. For if you can’t do the former, and don’t do the latter, you are being dishonest.
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