Sep 24 2015

44 Reasons Creationists are Deceptive, Final Installment

This week I have been making my way through a list of old and debunked creationist arguments put together by Michael Snyder (a young-earth creationist), giving the old arguments new life on social media. As science communicators we often have to play this game of whack-a-mole, persistently addressing points that have already been refuted. Each time is an opportunity to educate more people about the real science of evolution, about logic and critical thinking, about science in general, and the vacuous and deceptive arguments of the science deniers.

This is the fourth and final installment of this series of posts. You can find the others here: Part I, Part II, and Part III.

The next five points that Snyder raises are all variations on the same theme:

#30 Which evolved first: blood, the heart, or the blood vessels for the blood to travel through?

#31 Which evolved first: the mouth, the stomach, the digestive fluids, or the ability to poop?

#32 Which evolved first: the windpipe, the lungs, or the ability of the body to use oxygen?

#33 Which evolved first: the bones, ligaments, tendons, blood supply, or the muscles to move the bones?

#34 In order for blood to clot, more than 20 complex steps need to successfully be completed. How in the world did that process possibly evolve?

Snyder, of course, is asking a false question, one with an unstated major premise that is wrong, or at least misleading. The implication he is trying to make is essentially the debunked notion of irreducible complexity – that complex structures or biological systems could not have evolved because they could not have simpler functional states.

Every example brought up to support irreducible complexity, however, has been falsified.

The questions themselves are misleading because no one component had to evolve first. They co-evolved from simpler yet fully functional systems. Sometimes one mentioned component did arise before the others, but in a system that did not yet require the others.

For example, animals evolved to use oxygen before lungs evolved, even before gills, or before a circulatory system to distribute the oxygen. In the simplest oxygen-using creatures, they relied upon simple diffusion – oxygen would directly diffuse through tissue. This works, but only for small creatures. Insects still use this basic approach.

Oxygen carrying fluid can then evolve in an open circulatory system, where the fluid simply bathes the tissue. This fluid can be progressively isolated from other tissue by endothelium, which eventually evolves into vessels. Of course the endothelium would need to be thin enough to allow oxygen to diffuse across, as in modern capillaries.

We have not fully fleshed out the evolution of every organ system in the body, but we have made great progress in understanding many of the big steps. The diversity of extant life on Earth allows us to see examples of simpler systems that still work, providing a plausible pathway for such evolution to occur. Genetic and fossil evidence then tell us about the actual path that evolution took.

The same is true of blood clotting. There are simpler systems in nature, like the lobster’s clotting system, that work fine. The vertebrate clotting system is more complex, but simpler versions do work also, just not as efficiently. Complexity evolves over time, tweaking the system to optimize function – but this does not mean it could not function prior to the development of that complexity.

The bottom line, however, is that Snyder’s question is based upon the persistent creationist misunderstanding that modern complex systems and structures had to evolve directly to their complex form. This is clearly not the case, and is not what evolutionary biologists claim. The evidence, rather, indicates that complex forms evolved from simpler but fully functional forms.

#35 DNA is so incredibly complex that it is absolutely absurd to suggest that such a language system could have “evolved” all by itself by accident…

This is just another naked argument from personal incredulity. All that is necessary is for a molecule that can make a crude copy of itself. Once you have replication, variation, and differential survival and reproduction, you have evolution. This did not happen “by accident.” DNA is the end result of an incremental evolutionary process that probably took tens of millions of years.

Once again Snyder is completely ignoring the science that indicates that complex systems can spontaneously arise. Snyder could avail himself of one of the many resources for the layperson on spontaneous complexity in self-organizing systems.

#36 Can you solve the following riddle by Perry Marshall?…

1) DNA is not merely a molecule with a pattern; it is a code, a language, and an information storage mechanism.

2) All codes are created by a conscious mind; there is no natural process known to science that creates coded information.

3) Therefore DNA was designed by a mind.

If you can provide an empirical example of a code or language that occurs naturally, you’ve toppled my proof. All you need is one.

This is not a proof. It merely assumes its conclusion when it states as a premise, “All codes are created by a conscious mind.” That is actually the question, isn’t it?

This is a rigged challenge, because it is designed to make any example impossible. What creationists do is dismiss any example that involves life, because life uses DNA. They dismiss any example that does not involve life because it does not contain a coding and decoding system (even though complex information may be spontaneously stored in a natural process). In other words, it does not contain the kind of complexity we only see in life.

The deeper point is that the challenge itself is bogus. It does not have to be answered. DNA evolved so that the order of nucleic acids determines which amino acid is added to a polymer to make a protein. Let’s say that is the only example in the universe of such a system evolving naturally. So what? Just because something is unique that does not mean it did not evolve, or that it is impossible to have occurred spontaneously without deliberate design.

The premise is flawed.

Of course, it’s possible that we may find examples of life that evolved elsewhere, and they may contain DNA or something other than DNA that serves the same purpose. I have no doubt that such examples will do nothing to dissuade creationists from this line of faulty argument.

#37 Evolutionists simply cannot explain why our planet is so perfectly suited to support life.

This is another iteration of the anthropic principle. Actually Snyder has it backwards – it is not that the Earth is so perfectly suited for life, it’s that life is so perfectly suited to Earth. This is because life evolved on Earth and adapted to its environment.

This is known as the puddle fallacy – it is similar to a puddle of water being amazed at the fact that the hole it is in is so perfectly shaped to hold it, when obviously it is the water that is conforming to the hole. I write about this more extensively here.

#38 Shells from living snails have been “carbon dated” to be 27,000 years old.

Ah, the radiocarbon gambit again. No one dating method is perfect. In order to apply it properly you have to understand how it works. Radiocarbon dating is based on the spontaneous radioactive decay of carbon 14, an unstable isotope of carbon that spontaneously decays into carbon 12 or 13, which are stable isotopes. Carbon 14 is created in the upper atmosphere from cosmic rays crashing into nitrogen 14, which then gets into the carbon cycle of the planet as CO2.

When creatures are alive and breathing the atmosphere they incorporate a certain percentage of carbon 14 into their tissue. When they die they no longer are breathing and so are not incorporating any new carbon 14. Their carbon 14 then radioactively decays at a predictable rate. We can therefore use the ratio of carbon 14 to total carbon to date how long it has been since the creature died.

Once you understand how radiocarbon dating actually works you can then understand why it does not apply in all situations. I already discussed the fact that this dating method is useful to about 20,000 years ago. For older samples the amount of carbon 14 remaining is so little that any signal is lost in the noise.

There is another way, however, that this dating method breaks down. If you are a mollusk, for example, that lives in water which is particularly lacking in CO2 from the atmosphere, you will incorporate less carbon 14 into your tissue. This lower amount of carbon 14 will then make it look like you are older than you are. It may even make the shell from a living mollusk look like it is thousands of years old – because the starting point of carbon 14 is lower than for creatures breathing in carbon 14 from the atmosphere.

This is yet another example of Snyder throwing out an isolated factoid without putting it into the context of the actual science.

#39 If humans have been around for so long, where are all of the bones and all of the graves?

Snyder quotes Don Batten who calculated that there should be billions of human skeletons buried around the world. This, of course, assumes that all or most human remains would survive for tens of thousands of years. Batten glosses over this assumption by stating that older bones have been found, implying that therefore all younger bones should still be around.

However, whether or not bones are preserved depends highly on the conditions in which they end up. Most bones do decay over time, unless specific cultural practices or lucky conditions resulted in preservation. Batten has an out for that explanation also, writing: “However, even if the bodies had disintegrated, lots of artefacts should still be found.”

You know, there is an entire field of science dedicated to finding and digging up artifacts of past human civilization, called archaeology. There are vast numbers of archaeological finds all over the world, complete with large numbers of artifacts. Batten makes no attempt at a scholarly analysis of the density and number of archaeological finds compared to how many one would expect to find, given the extent of searching that has happened. He is just shooting from the hip and confirming his own bias based on nothing but ignorance.

Give me a peer-reviewed scholarly analysis and I’ll take it seriously.

#40 Evolutionists claim that just because it looks like we were designed that does not mean that we actually were.  They often speak of the “illusion of design”, but that is kind of like saying that it is an “illusion” that a 747 airplane or an Apple iPhone were designed.  And of course the human body is far more complex that a 747 or an iPhone.

This is the “design inference” gambit. Snyder is attempting to address the scientific response, but is only doing a terrible job of addressing a straw man version. The design inference is that because there is the appearance of design in nature, then nature was intelligently designed.

However, this is asking the wrong question. Scientists do not actually doubt the appearance of design in nature. It is not the “illusion of design” – it is actual design. But it is a bottom-up evolutionary design, not a top-down intelligent design.

That there is design is not questioned, it is the nature of that design that is at issue. Evolution is not a random process. It is a creative process, although without any evidence to suggest that there is anything guiding the creative process. If we ask the actual question – does life look like it was designed by a spontaneous bottom-up process, or a deliberate top-down process, the answer is overwhelming and obvious. The design of life looks evolved, not intelligent. I discuss this distinction in more detail here.

#41 If you want to be part of the “scientific community” today, you must accept the theory of evolution no matter how absurd it may seem to you.  Richard Lewontin of Harvard once made the following comment regarding this harsh reality…

We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, . . . in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated commitment to materialism. . . . we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.

This is wrong on multiple levels.  Science is not a priesthood – you don’t have to accept any particular conclusion of science in order to be accepted as a scientist. What you have to do, however, is demonstrate that you understand how science works.

Scientists propose new ideas that go against current beliefs all the time. That is how they make their careers, by discovering new stuff.

Scientists are dedicated to the scientific method. Scientists are judged by how rigorous their methods are, how valid their logic, and how sound their conclusions. If evolution were not true, as Snyder believes, then a scientist should be able to find evidence against evolution, or in favor of an alternative. If they had the evidence and logic, they could make their case. Other scientists could replicate their work.

What Snyder is demonstrating is nothing but his abject ignorance of science and scientists.

Lewontin’s statement is similarly problematic. I reject his assertion that scientists accept absurd conclusions out of nothing but a dedication to materialism. Scientists question everything. But we also have come to understand that our intuitions don’t always accord themselves accurately to the universe. Why should they?

At the core of Lewontin’s claim, which has become standard in the ID community, is that the game of science is rigged against “divine” causes. This is misleading, as it implies that this choice is arbitrary and unfair. As I have discussed extensively here before, methodological naturalism is a necessary premise for science. Science cannot function otherwise.

You cannot test a miracle. Supernatural notions do not lend themselves to falsification. Science can therefore not operate with such ideas. Science has to follow methodological naturalism by definition, or else it is not science.

Lewontin might as well complain that youth is wasted on the young, or that democracy gets bogged down in all those elections.

We haven’t had a quote taken out of context in a while, so here ya go:

#42 Time Magazine once made the following statement about the lack of evidence for the theory of evolution…

“Yet despite more than a century of digging, the fossil record remains maddeningly sparse. With so few clues, even a single bone that doesn’t fit into the picture can upset everything. Virtually every major discovery has put deep cracks in the conventional wisdom and forced scientists to concoct new theories, amid furious debate.”

The link Snyder provides does not go to the Time article, but an article by the Institute for Creation Research, which itself does not bother to provide the primary reference or even mention the author. I had to dig up the primary reference myself, which is an article by Michael D. Lemonick in 1994. The quote, therefore, is not even from a scientist but a science journalist, and is 21 years old.

It is also taken out of context. What the ICR is doing here is another common form of creationist misdirection. There are at least three main aspects to the science of evolution: the fact of common descent, the proposed mechanisms for evolutionary change, and the history of what evolved from what and when.

The article is specifically about human evolution. The main point it is making is that the history of hominins is one of a diverse branching bush of adaptive radiation.  Out of this complex web we have a few pieces here and there. If you count Homo naledi. there are now 9 known species in the genus Homo. There are also three genera closely related to humans after the split with chimpanzees – Kenyanthropus, Australopithecus and Paranthropus.

The picture is slowly coming into focus, but we are still at the point that a new fossil find adds significant complexity to our understanding of human evolution. Twenty-one years ago, when the article was written, there were far fewer known species, and it was even more true that each new discovery was redrawing the family tree.

Creationists are committing two levels of confusion. First they are confusing the details of evolutionary history with the fact of common descent. Each new fossils adds to our total evidence for common descent, and strengthens our understanding of the evolution of humans. Creationists pretend that each new discovery calls into question the underlying basic fact of common descent when they don’t.

They are also making the classic science denier mistake of pretending that arguments over the details call into question the bigger picture. Scientists can argue about whether or not Homo naledi is really its own species, and whether or not modern humans evolved from naledi, habilis, erectus, or some other species – without calling into question the bigger picture that all these species represent a diverse family tree of hominins that are closely related to modern humans.

#43 Malcolm Muggeridge, the world famous journalist and philosopher, once made the following statement about the absurdity of the theory of evolution…

“I myself am convinced that the theory of evolution, especially the extent to which it’s been applied, will be one of the great jokes in the history books of the future. Posterity will marvel that so very flimsy and dubious an hypothesis could be accepted with the incredible credulity that it has.”

A quote from a creationist criticizing evolution is worth literally nothing. Muggeridge is just invoking the unassailable authority of the future. Such appeals to the future cannot be directly countered, because everyone is free to project their own biases onto the future without the fear of being contradicted, at least anytime soon. Muggeridge gives himself even more protection by not giving any time frame.

I, of course, can find quotes to support whatever position I want. I can quote Michael Palin who said of Muggeridge:

“He was just being Muggeridge, preferring to have a very strong contrary opinion as opposed to none at all.”

Snyder concludes:

#44 In order to believe the theory of evolution, you must have enough blind faith to believe that life just popped into existence from nonlife, and that such life just happened to have the ability to take in the nourishment it needed, to expel waste, and to reproduce itself, all the while having everything it needed to survive in the environment in which it suddenly found itself. Do you have that much blind faith?

This is complete nonsense. No blind faith is required to accept the scientific consensus regarding the fact of evolution. The evidence is overwhelming. Snyder’s characterization is, typically, a straw man. No one believes that life just “popped into existence.” There is active research going on regarding the development of life from possible precursors. There was likely a period of chemical evolution prior to organic evolution.

It is also a non sequitur to say that life “just happened” to have the ability to take in energy, expel waste, and reproduce – these are characteristics of life. Living systems evolved over time, nothing just “popped into existence.” Life also did not just “find itself” on Earth – it evolved on Earth and therefore was adapted every step of the way to its environment.

Equating a well-established scientific theory to “blind faith” lies somewhere between abject intellectual dishonesty and complete ignorance about the nature of science.


Snyder actually has an epilogue to his 44 reasons – a challenge for anyone to lay out the evidence for evolution. This is also a completely disingenuous challenge. He can just put out the challenge, pretend that the evidence does not exist by simply ignoring it, and then claim victory.

If Snyder wants to see the evidence for evolution, he can start with Darwin’s Origin of Species. Darwin actually makes a very compelling argument. There are many more updated sources, however. He can read Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne.

Here is a free online reference that lays out the evidence for macroevolution. It is a slam dunk. He could even listen to the Evolution 101 podcast by Zachary Moore.

Snyder, of course, does not want to genuinely engage with scientists or the actual scientific evidence for the various aspects of evolutionary theory. Creationism is not a coherent belief system, and it is certainly not a science. It is nothing more than a campaign of doubt and confusion, trying to muddly the waters of the public understanding of evolution as much as possible.

As I have carefully documented over these four essays, they accomplish this goal of confusion by lying about the facts, giving partial information, quoting scientists and others out of context, and heavily employing logical fallacies.

What they never do is make a coherent scientific argument that accounts for the actual evidence and the current claims of scientists. They don’t do this because they can’t. That is because evolution is true, and creationism is not science.

By doing such a horrible job of attacking evolution, Snyder actually demonstrates how solid a scientific theory it is. If evolutionary science had any real weakness or vulnerabilities, creationists would be gleefully pointing it out.

I will end with a counter-challenge to Snyder. I will happily engage with him on any or all of his 44 reasons. He can simply respond in the comments, or send me a response which I will publish. It would probably be best to pick one or a few related points so that we can do a detailed analysis. He can choose. I have corrected him on many clear factual errors. Let’s see if he has the intellectual integrity to admit any of them.

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