Sep 22 2015

44 Reasons Creationists Are Deceptive cont.

Part II: Sudden Appearance

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

From the NCSE:

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.

69 responses so far

69 thoughts on “44 Reasons Creationists Are Deceptive cont.”

  1. mumadadd says:

    This series of posts should carry a disclaimer: Warning, may cause concussion and facial contusions through repeated slamming of the heel of your hand into your head…

  2. I’m reminded of AronRa’s line: “Science doesn’t know everything; religion doesn’t know anything.”

    A lot of these “arguments” seem to boil down to “evolution is not a magically 100% complete theory which explains absolutely everything, therefore it is inferior to this baseless conjecture which explains and predicts absolutely nothing at all.” (And of course much of what evolution “does not explain” is actually well explained.)

  3. Willy says:

    Sadly, mummadad, very, very few creationists will feel the need to be “slamming” their heads.

  4. Banzai Otis says:

    Thanks Steve. For my two cents, I agree with the discussion in the last post supporting your effort here. All of this info is available, but is someone who is already inclined to believe Snyder going to spend the time and effort fact-checking every step in the gish gallop? Probably not. There is a lot of value in putting it all in one place. I hope someone who hasn’t seen a response to people like Snyder finds it.

  5. Willy says:

    The coelacanth is a perfect example of both the dishonesty and the gross ignorance of creationists. As Dr, Novella noted regarding the present day existence of the coelacanth “there really isn’t a coherent point here”. The living coelacanth represents no contradiction to evolutionary theory in the same way that the discovery of dinosaurs in some remote unexplored jungle would likewise present no contradiction.

    If creationists spent as much time dissecting the absurdities and contradictions is the Bible as they do picking nits in evolution, we wouldn’t have creationists anymore.

  6. BBBlue says:

    A bit off topic, but…

    As I was reading about the Rising Star project, I learned about the MorphoSource website, which has some pretty cool images and 3D scans of fossils including series on horse and human evolution (registration required, but free). MeshLab is open source software that can be used to open the 3D scan file formats found there.

  7. Willy says:

    It’s telling that creationists and their uptown ID cousins spend so much time and energy trying to knock down Darwin.

    Mikey: Name for us ONE scientist whose work didn’t depend on those who came before? Name for us one scientist whose ideas haven’t been modified to some extent since their origination. Just one.

    Even you must, deep down, grasp the fundamental dishonesty and evasiveness of your arguments.

  8. GWD says:


  9. GWD says:


    This tactic is actually common whenever someone wants to try and make God the answer to the question. I was debating a friend on the origins of the universe. His whole argument was that I said the Big Bang Theory might not be 100% correct or true but its the best we got with the current evidence and no God. This justified him believing in God because the answer was unknown and that it was at least as good as the Big Bang Theory. I tried explaining to him that you still need evidence to support your conclusion and that it is not a defeat if you modify your answer with new evidence. However he was not convinced and I find it frustrating that people like him cannot accept the fact that some questions have really hard answers that we are searching for.

    @Steve Novella
    Great articles. I really enjoyed the link to species that we have seen evolve. Very cool! Also the bookstore has a book that “debunks the myth” of the Geologic Timescale. Only positive thing is that it is called “Rocks Aren’t Clocks” which is not only sassy but technically true.

  10. Willy says:

    Ah, but rocks–some of them–are indeed clocks. We can use them to tell time.

  11. hardnose says:

    I can’t imagine why anyone wastes this much time and effort arguing that life really did evolve. There aren’t enough scientific people in the world who deny evolution to make it worth the trouble.

    The really hard, and interesting, question is why and how did life begin and evolve. Steve N pretends that everyone who doubts Darwin’s theory is an evolution-denying biblical creationist.

    The evidence for evolution is beyond doubt or debate. The evidence for Darwin’s theory — that random variations and natural selection can explain the increasing complexity of life — has no evidence at all.

    The evidence that supposedly supports Darwin’s theory actually just supports natural selection. And natural selection is a fact that can’t not be true.

    When people argue against evolution, very often they mean Darwin’s theory. So everyone gets confused. Actually arguing against evolution, or for it, is a stupid waste of time because evolution is obviously an established fact.

  12. Willy says:

    arnie: I’ve thought a lot about “feeding our troll” and I still think it’s worth interacting with Dr. Egnor. Just think, while Dr. Egnor isn’t a first tier Discovery Institute representative, he is a highly touted member of their “constellation”. And yet, what has he brought to this blog? I’d argue virtually nothing. Here is a respected member of the ID movement, but his contributions consist of bashing science in general. He blames population control efforts on “science”, yet the idea of population control and extermination of undesirables is documented in pre-scientific myths like the Book of Joshua. Killing those with whom you disagree ain’t rocket science. Steve blogs about the silliness of creationist lies, but Dr. Egnor can do no better than attack Darwin on very silly points.

    Dtr. Egnor claims to “know” that Jesus and Christianity are “real” through “personal revelation”, yet the very creator whom he claims communicates with him can’t even convince the Pope, the Vicar of Christ on earth, that AGW isn’t real or that capitalism isn’t an evil sin against man, positions that Dr. Egnor holds dear. The same creator can’t explain his “truth” to his believers well enough so that Jonathan Wells, William Lane Craig, and Dr. Egnor can sing from the same hymn book regarding messiahs and the literal–or not–truth of the Bible. How trustworthy can Dr. Egnor’s revelations be? Trustworthy enough to convince him, I guess. Same with Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden.

    Dr. Egnor picks and chooses among philosophical arguments supporting his ideas and simply ignores arguments against his positions. What real evidence has he brought to this blog? I’d suggest zero. He evades, he dodges, he ignores, and he pretends we are the fools, too stupid or evil to grasp the truths that are so evident to him–and his personal prejudices.

    Dr. Egnor has proclaimed that a doctor need not know evolution in order to practice medicine. Quite true, in the very same sense that a mechanic need not know physics or thermodynamics in order to fix your car. Of course, in order for medicine to continue to advance, an understanding of evolution is essential, but it isn’t essential for the mechanic who operates a scalpel. Dr. Egnor is a mechanic. Period!

    He’s a bigoted, biased blow hard and I think it is great that he exposes himself so willingly on Dr. Novella’s blog. It is satisfying to me to realize that a bright, shining star of the ID movement can offer nothing in the way of real evidence or concrete argument.

    I hope you can join with me in enjoying letting Mikey have enough rope to continue to hang himself, even if the hanging isn’t obvious to everyone. :«)

  13. arnie says:

    Willy: As I’m sure you know, I agree fully with your list critiquing Egnor,s MO in his comments on this blog. I also agree with your conclusion, stated in your first paragraph, that he has brought virtually nothing to this blog. At least, IMO, nothing of value. He has brought disrespect, even disdain for the blog, for Steve, for other commenters, and for science and critical thinking. He has demonstrated how deeply entrenched evidence-free ideologies can derail the minds of supposedly intelligent people who are apparently very competent in their very limited field of expertise and practice.

    I disagree with, however, that we are in a genuine interaction with him. Constructive interaction, meaningful dialogue, sound argument are all part of the “nothing” that he has brought to the blog.

    I appreciate your desire to let ME expose and “continue to hang himself”. I feel he and his ideological nonsense have been way overexposed and have resulted in repeated and non-productive diversion of the blog. I value the expression of disagreement and divergent points of view on blogs like this. They can be very stimulating and provide me with much learning and new ideas and ways of thinking about things. Egnore provides none of these.

    If Egnore is to “hang himself”, I think we can help more by simply letting him hang rather than by pumping oxygen into his irrational, anti-scientific, disrespectful diatribes which have brought nothing of value and truth to this blog.

    So, though I understand your thinking in regards to continuing the “feeding”, Willy, I can’t enjoy participating.

    Good luck!

  14. arnie says:

    i note a few typos. Sorry!

  15. RickK says:

    Hn said: “When people argue against evolution, very often they mean Darwin’s theory. So everyone gets confused. Actually arguing against evolution, or for it, is a stupid waste of time because evolution is obviously an established fact.”

    It’s not an established fact for ~45% of Americans, most southern rural high school students, leading members of congressional science committees or for the woman sitting next to me on this train.

    We have to keep offering thoughtful, evidence-based, rational rebuttals of every creationist claim to keep chipping away at creationism’s hold on so much of America.

  16. hardnose says:

    You are WRONG RickK. Most people who say they don’t believe in evolution are confused about terminology. And most people who say they do believe in evolution, like Steve N, are also confused about terminology.

    The word “evolution” does NOT mean Darwin’s proposal about how evolution may have happened. However, people on both sides of the debate are using it that way, leading to extreme confusion.

    Many people accept evolution as fact, but do not accept Darwinism as a complete explanation.

  17. mumadadd says:

    Fact = change over time
    Theory = genetic mutation and natural selection

    A lot of evolution deniers will admit to the fact but dispute the theory (e.g. Egnor).

    Just so criticism of hn’s nonsense stay on target… 🙂

  18. hardnose says:


    Yes, you get it, almost no one does. Steve N repeatedly makes this mistake (and ignores my repeated corrections). It’s easy to argue against naive unscientific evolution denial. Much harder to show evidence that Darwin’s theory completely explains evolution.

    There is even recent evidence that Lamarck was not completely wrong. Once Darwinism became the accepted mainstream dogma, anyone who believed in the possible inheritance of acquired traits was considered a lunatic. Now we know it can happen.

    Darwinism has become the central foundation of new atheism/materialism, and they will defend it like a mother ocelot defends her cubs.

    The evolution debate is difficult and complicated. Steve N distorts it so it seems idiotic.

  19. mumadadd says:


    You aren’t trying to conflate Lamarckism and epigenetics, are you?

  20. mumadadd says:

    Noooo, wait – “adaptive mutation”, Lynne Margulies, right?

    I never really believed that If you were also ME, but trot that one out and I might start to suspect that you do have a past life here under a different ‘nym. Wish I could remember the name… always banging on about adaptive mutation, he and BJ7 had a particular antipathy; also claimed to be a scientist. For some reason I’m thinking Chinese sounding name.

  21. Pete A says:

    Egnor/hardnose, Many thanks for your insightful contributions and your thoughtful insults. I’m sure that your tireless effort to disrupt Dr Novella’s blog will improve the quality of life for many people.

    I must congratulate you on the extraordinary level of intellectual ability and integrity that you have demonstrated throughout your many hundreds of comments — it truly defies the imagination!

  22. Willy says:

    Let’s see here, hardnose. You are claiming that Dr. Novella and many of the people on this blog are so ignorant of evolution and science that they can’t distinguish between the fact of evolution and the Darwinian idea of natural selection as an explanation of how evolution occurs, yet you claim the average person on the street does understand these concepts? Really? Really?

    The fact is, hardnose, roughly half of the American population believes we did not descend from other primates. They agree with “micro” evolution, but deny “macro” evolution. A large portion of them thinks the universe is 6,000-ish years old.

    I’d call that denying evolution.

  23. mumadadd says:


  24. RickK says:

    hardnose said: “You are WRONG RickK. Most people who say they don’t believe in evolution are confused about terminology. And most people who say they do believe in evolution, like Steve N, are also confused about terminology.”

    No, hardnose, again – you are wrong.

    The ~40% of Americans (and some presidential candidates) who claim they don’t believe in evolution are not confusing the fine points between neo-Darwinian evolution and Lamarck’s inherited traits. They’re not arguing against Dawkins’s selfish-gene versus epigenetics.

    They are arguing that humans did not evolve from earlier hominids. They are arguing that fossils from Neanderthal to Lucy are either fully human or fully ape, not transitional. They are arguing against common ancestry of life.

    Slight more sophisticated creationists will hem and haw and try to get away with whatever negative portrayal they can make of evolution while not openly defying irrefutable evidence. But typically they are speaking on behalf of people who would like to see Darwin and Lamarck and any concept related to evolution wiped from human knowledge and history. See the Discovery Institute for such lackeys hired by wealthy Young Earth creationists.

    To support my assertion, please refer to:

    … or to statements by Mike Huckabee on his lack of relation to primates.

    Now, hardnose – dare I ask? Where’s your support for your assertions?

  25. mumadadd says:


    Not really, of course — just reminded me of the line of argument I think might be about to be trotted out.


    Here’s my position on these kinds of fringe theories (and they are fringe, whether you like it or not): That’s interesting, let’s see how it pans out; in the mean time I’ll stick with the consensus of expert opinion on this because I am not an expert and do not have the background or knowledge of the field to evaluate this myself.

    You’re a lay person, right? So what possible special insight do you have that enables you to evaluate stuff like this, that is lacking within the consensus of expert opinion? If you were an expert, then you’d have the means to demonstrate the truth of these claims through the usual channels available to experts. Us lay people would probably behind the curve — it would take a while for the new best explanation for the mechanism of evolution to gain traction within the scientific community and be disseminated to the public — but such is life, when you’re a lay person.

    Have some humility, hn!

  26. mumadadd says:

    Oops, I mean Lynne Margulis, not Margulies — she appears to be a relatively unknown actress. Oh dear.

  27. hardnose says:


    You are saying what people always wind up saying at this kind of blog, that supports mainstream science and medicine. If someone mentions alternative ideas that actually make sense, the mainstream supporters say that can’t be true, or the mainstream experts would believe it.

    For one thing, people who did not get an official education in a specific field can still be curious. I know as much about certain fields outside the ones I have degrees in as I know about the ones I did officially go to school for. And the professors I knew during formal education certainly were not all-knowing, and were just as capable of being wrong and stupid as the rest of us.

    I also noticed a lot of pressure to conform and agree with the mainstream theories. If you didn’t, they got mad and could prevent you from graduating or getting a good job.

    I spent A LOT of time reading about evolution, and several other subjects. I became familiar with mainstream AND alternative ideas. When you get a formal education at a respected school, you ONLY hear about the mainstream ideas.

  28. Willy says:

    hardnose: What alternative view, or views, of evolution do you endorse?

  29. mumadadd says:


    I can’t factually dispute anything you said in your last post. And yet, I refer you back to my last post. Expert you ain’t.

    Curiosity is all well and good, and everyone here has it in abundance. But we also have standards, consistency and humility.

  30. mumadadd says:


    Please explain your understanding of why mainstream = mainstream and alternative = alternative.

  31. mumadadd says:


    “And the professors I knew during formal education certainly were not all-knowing, and were just as capable of being wrong and stupid as the rest of us.”

    Yes, of course. Why would you equate a lecturer’s ability to defend his subject against your attacks on materialism; vs. an actual deficiency in the (scientific) theoretical framework that explains all the agreed upon empirical evidence? Or are you working from different evidence?

  32. hardnose says:


    I said it already countless times, here it is again — there is no evidence that Darwin’s theory can explain evolution.

    People are confused, even the experts are confused. There is evidence for evolution, and there is evidence for Darwinism (variations and natural selection). There is NO evidence that Darwinism causes evolution. Yes, it causes changes, but changes are not necessarily evolution. Evolution proceeds towards greater complexity. Oh yes, there are materialists who insist that it doesn’t. But we all know that it does.

    We are all considering the same evidence. Different conclusions are drawn because of confusion and ideological bias.

    I went in to my investigation of evolution, and other things, as a materialist/atheist, because I had been taught the standard mainstream ideas. I wanted to be scientific and I did not want to believe things that are not based on logic and evidence.

  33. mumadadd says:


    I sincerely love a genuinely wobbly philosophical position. I keep coming back to it; reevaluating, checking my bases. I see your plight. However, when I’m unsure that I understand what I’m talking about I will make damn sure to defer to the consensus of expert opinion.

    What else can you do when you aren’t an expert?

    hn, you tell me and I’ll try it.

  34. Willy says:

    hn: What does explain evolution?

  35. hardnose says:

    “Please explain your understanding of why mainstream = mainstream and alternative = alternative.”

    Mainstream is whatever the current consensus happens to be on any subject. Then there are alternatives.

    Why does a consensus get formed? Sometimes it’s because something is obviously true. We all agree the earth is not flat, so that is a consensus. The opposing alternative idea is only held by loons.

    But other things are controversial, so the mainstream consensus is opposed by alternatives. In the case of evolution, a decision was made in the mid 20th century to accept Darwinism as the cause of evolution. When respected authorities make a decision that helps the consensus-forming process along. Other things contribute, and it becomes a snowball. After that, even respected authorities cannot oppose it.

  36. hardnose says:

    “What alternative view, or views, of evolution do you endorse?”

    I endorse the view that we don’t know the cause of evolution.

  37. mumadadd says:

    Mention alternatives/explain what they are ; who cares, what’s the difference?

  38. hardnose says:


    The average American has not thought about evolution. Maybe it was mentioned in a high school biology class, but they were daydreaming at the time.

    When people answer surveys about evolution they are answering questions about something they don’t think about and don’t care about. They don’t understand the question.

    Even highly educated scientists use the word evolution in confusing ways, so how can you expect non-scientists to understand what it means?

  39. HN – You are simply wrong on multiple counts. First, I completely understand the distinction between the various aspects of evolutionary theory. I have written about them before (for example, here I just don’t spend the time to make this distinction every time I address a creationist argument.

    When I am addressing a young earth creationist who doubts common descent, change over time, and an ancient Earth, then that is obviously the form of creationism I am addressing. This is usually what I am writing about because it is this type of creationist who generally are making public noise against evolution. There are those who admit to common descent (sometimes, although will still jab at it opportunistically) and focus more of the lack of a mechanism for evolution, and I will address those claims at times.

    For convenience we often just refer to creationists as anyone who denies evolution to some degree. I then deal with their specific claims. So your point that I don’t make this distinction is simply meaningless, and not true.

    I also have no reason to think that any significant number of experts lack this distinction either. They always seem to understand when it comes up.

    I acknowledge that common descent is a much more established fact that natural selection. Common descent is beyond any sliver of doubt.

    Natural selection is the best mechanism we have so far to explain evolution. It is consistent with the evidence we have and does not require making any new assumptions or introduces new forces in the universe. I disagree with you that there is no evidence that evolution occurs through natural selection. There are many situation in which selective pressure change gene frequencies, like with Lenski’s bacteria:

  40. Robney says:

    Misrepresenting the uncertainty regarding the exact causal mechanisms of evolution to sow doubt about common descent is a very well known creationist strategy. They constantly take quotes out of context to this very end.

    This was pretty much Steve’s point in his first post about creationists exploiting minor disagreements over details to discredit the big picture.

    It’s strange that someone would then accuse Steve of the same confusion.

  41. Robney says:

    Steve, I’m looking forward to your next post.

    I recently wrote a 60-page document detailing the evidence for evolution for a my Dad who is an Old-Earth/Day-Age creationist.

    My document covered a lot of the same creationist arguments and refutations you are covering but you have a great way of communicating concepts in a single sentence that would take took me entire paragraphs to explain!

    If only I had waited I probably would have just sent a link to you blog posts and save myself the effort. He was not persuaded even by Tiktaalik, ERVs, Human Chromosome 2 and converging phylogenetic trees in any case.

  42. Willy says:

    Aw, hardnose, the old “I don’t have a clue, but I know you are wrong” gambit.

    Surely you can provide a bit of speculation about what you think is the correct path, no?

  43. Davdoodles says:

    What this ‘hardnose’ character suggests is some innocent confusion between good-willed folk over nomenclature is in fact almost always a deliberate mis-construing of terms (and in many cases a whole-cloth creation of meaningless definitions, strawmen and the like), or the parroting of those deliberate deceptions by someone who knows no better.

    And that is part of the anti-science wheedler’s tactics. A feature, not a bug.

    Scientists can argue the science – that’s where they are strong. So the bronze-agers won’t fight them there. Instead, they squeeze out a crap-loaf about “Darwin” or “irreducible complexity” that sounds sciency.

    Their point, as Dr Novella has correctly identified, is to sow confusion, not to debate. To make lay folk less able to sort the wheat from the chaff, and more vulnerable to their nonsense.

    Beneath contempt, and unworthy of pity.

  44. mumadadd says:

    “We are all considering the same evidence. Different conclusions are drawn because of confusion and ideological bias.”

    This is an example of one of the key themes I’ve personally noticed from those pushing non evidence based ideologies — the false equivalence gambit. It speaks to the wider pattern of trying to poke holes in whatever well established theory contradicts the conclusions from which they are working backwards.

  45. Bruce says:


    I seem to always come back to Terry Pratchett, but the use of the false equivalence gambit always reminds me of how Discworlders will use the power of narrativium to skew statistical outcomes. For instance in one of the early Night’s Watch books they purposefully handicap someone to a stage where his shot is exactly 1 million to one in order to make it a certainty. The power of narrative will push people to draw remote conclusions where logic will point you in the other direction. HN and others at times remind me of Pratchett characters… except with inferior comic timing.

  46. mumadadd says:


    I’ve honestly considered that certain woo posters are in fact stooges (maybe even Bob Novella specifically) who are making a point of illustrating whatever the particular theme of Steve’s post was.

    Case in point, this post mentioned “sudden appearance”, and then ME goes on to trot out that very canard in the comments.

    I don’t actually believe they are stooges, but if you told me they were when I was tired or distracted, I might buy it.

  47. mumadadd says:

    Ps. It’s been donkey’s years since I read any Pratchett but I’ve recently got into audio books so might have to add him to my list.

  48. Bill Openthalt says:

    hardnose —

    I endorse the view that we don’t know the cause of evolution.

    I can see why people object to the “chance” aspect of natural selection. Humans don’t like chance, and it’s only recently that (a relative minority of) people accept the chance nature of many diseases. The attractiveness of woo is in no small way related to the elimination of chance, and many cultures still assume all disease is caused by “evil” actions of others (I grew up in Central Africa, where one of the major hurdles of treating sick people is the desire of their family to find the culprit who set the evil spirits onto the patient).

    At a very high level, it seems obvious that the cause of evolution is environmental change. If life would not be adaptable, it would not have survived the quite dramatic changes to Earth’s biosphere. Once we agree on the fundamental cause, what remains is discovering how it is done — preferably without invoking a non-observable entity (especially one with human character flaws).

  49. Bruce says:


    “I’ve honestly considered that certain woo posters are in fact stooges (maybe even Bob Novella specifically) who are making a point of illustrating whatever the particular theme of Steve’s post was.

    Case in point, this post mentioned “sudden appearance”, and then ME goes on to trot out that very canard in the comments. ”

    I would think Bob would be a little more sophisticated than that… maybe it is Jay?

    (PS, Jay knows we love him most)


    “I can see why people object to the “chance” aspect of natural selection. Humans don’t like chance, and it’s only recently that (a relative minority of) people accept the chance nature of many diseases.”

    I would go further and say that people do not understand chance intuitively, as has been shown many times in this blog. It is why people still buy lottery tickets, or pursue astrology or believe in most of alt-med.

  50. RickK says:

    hardnose said: “When people answer surveys about evolution they are answering questions about something they don’t think about and don’t care about. They don’t understand the question.”

    In reply, I offer Ben Carson

    He has clearly thought about it, clearly cares, and clearly speaks for a LOT of Americans.

    hardnose, please provide your evidence that people who are asked whether they think current species evolved from earlier species, that they don’t understand the question. Please provide your evidence that when asked if the world was created in a few days just as the Bible says it was, they don’t understand the question.

    You have a habit of making assertions that are simply wrong by any standards of evidence. Perhaps if you forced yourself to find evidence for your assertions (and to post it) you’d spend less time being demonstrably, objectively wrong.

  51. mumadadd says:


    From your link, Carson:

    “So I say what you’re telling me is if I blow a hurricane through a junkyard enough times over billions and billions of years, eventually after one of those hurricanes there will be a 747 fully loaded and ready to fly.”

    I know it’s just one example, but it really does seem that these people will keep on trotting out the same old “points” (or more accurately, complete misrepresentations of science) no matter how many times they have been refuted, corrected or discredited. How can Carson not have know by 2012 that this argument is total rubbish? Or does he know but decided to use it anyway? Jesus H. Christ.

  52. GrahamH says:

    You walk into a room, on the table are hundreds of oddly shaped pieces of card with unusual shapes and colours on the.
    HN looks intently at the pile but does nothing.
    Someone else comes in, pushes the pieces around, notices that some pieces have a straight side to them, and only four pieces have two straight sides to them.
    They sit down and continue to examine these strange objects. Suddenly it seems that 2 pieces fit together, slowly more pieces seem to fit together. Gradually a picture seems to emerge. Some pieces have to be separated as it becomes apparent they don’t really fit together despite initially seeming to in isolation.
    Progress is made.
    HN is sitting in the corner playing with himself ignoring everyone else.

  53. Willy says:

    mummadad: If you are enjoying audio books, check out The Great Courses. Lots of topics available in audio versions that can be downloaded quickly (downloadable video and CD and DVD formats too, but many courses don’t benefit appreciably from video and they cost a lot more). I’m loving them and have been for a couple of years. Their pricing is very weird, so DO NOT buy a course unless it is on sale (they’re frequently on sale) and don’t pay more per lecture than roughly $1.33 for audio, twice that for DVD.

  54. RickK says:

    mumaddad – I agree with Willy, Great Courses are awesome, as well as most anything by Simon Winchester and Erik Larsen, both of whom write science-rich histories. Also, the Disappearing Spoon, Poisoner’s Handbook and the Mary Roach books.

  55. RickK says:

    (I read 50+ audiobooks per year thanks to a very very very long commute.)

  56. Willy says:

    From 1990 through 2002, an ex-preacher named Farrell Till published a bimonthly “magazine” entitled “The Skeptical Review”. TSR was about all of the errors and BS contained in the “Good Book”. It can still be found here: One of the things I learned from Till is that whenever you are confronted with extraordinary claims of Biblical prophecies, be sure and get the precise passage so you can read it for yourself and pick up the broader context of the “prophecy”. You will find, in EVERY case, that the prophecy is not at all what it has been claimed to be. Take the time to thoroughly research the claims made made believers. An excellent case in point is the claim that Jesus was prophesied to be born of a virgin. Well, well, well, it turns out that 1) the word “virgin” is a mis-translation of a (Hebrew or Greek or whatever) word that actually meant “young woman”, and 2) the prophecy had zero to do with a coming Messiah and everything to do with how the current king (Ahaz, king centuries before Jesus’ time) would do in battle AT THAT TIME.

    The exact same situation applies to creationist and ID proponent claims. They are INVARIABLY distortions or downright lies, with the occasional “God of the gaps” type of argument thrown in for good measure. Thanks Dr. Novella for taking the time to address the claims in Snyder’s collection of fables and lies!

    For those of you with an interest in a detailed Biblical dissection you can do no better than read Till’s magazine. It takes a former believer to provide a through demolition of the (especially fundamentalist) interpretation of the BS contained in the Bible and Till delivered that in spades. Thanks to the Internet Infidels (motto: A Drop of Reason in a Pool of Confusion) for keeping Till’s work available to us all.

  57. SteveA says:

    Willy: “the word “virgin” is a mis-translation of a (Hebrew or Greek or whatever) word that actually meant “young woman””

    I’d also heard that, in the sense the word is used, ‘virgin birth’ might also refer to a ‘first birth’ i.e. a woman’s first baby (regardless of her previous sexual activity, or not).

    Either way, you’re right, the bible never prophesised anything, not even a tomato…

  58. Willy says:

    Steve A: Here’s what Wiki says:

  59. Johnny says:

    “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.”

    I now understand what the origin of this controversy is, and what Gould and Dawkins battled about. Thank you! 🙂

    (Just to clarify, I was NOT a creationist, or even a theist, before this. I just didn’t understand the origin of this dispute.)

  60. RickK says:


    Thanks for the Till link – am enjoying reading his articles. You might also like Bart Ehrman’s discussions of prophesies. He comes to similar conclusions and with unassailable scholarship.

  61. BillyJoe7 says:


    “I now understand what the origin of this controversy is, and what Gould and Dawkins battled about”

    Actually, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

    Dawkins does not deny stasis, he just thinks Gould oversold that idea giving a bit too much oxygen to religion. I think he is right, especially when Gould came out with his separate magisteria argument for religion. There did seem to be a bit of a religious kink in Gould’s armour. However, he did a great job of keeping creationism out of the school curriculum.

  62. Johnny says:

    @BillyJoe7: I might be missing something, but is punctuated equilibrium connected to NOMA, except that Gould spawned both ideas?

    I agree that NOMA is a very bad idea, and I like Dawkins and have a natural bias in his favor. But I don’t feel qualified to have an opinion on gradualism vs punctuated equilibrium.

  63. RickK says:


    They’re not connected.

    Gould was just trying to accommodate the religious world with NOMA. Alas, the magisteria do overlap. The religious (as characterized by everyone from the Disco’tute to the ICR) feel that telling the scientific truth about evolution, geology, astronomy, and the inherent methodological naturalism of science is an encroachment into their “magisterium” and we all know that religious intervention into school science curricula and government research funding is an encroachment into the world of science.

    To be fair, Gould was using NOMA as an argument to keep the religious out of science curriculum decisions, and it was effective – more effective than a Dawkins-style “religion is stupid” assault would have been.

    It’s not unlike the fundamentalists resorting to “Intelligent Design” and “Teach the Controversy” when they failed to get Genesis taught in science classes.

  64. Willy says:

    RickK: Do keep reading Till. He knew how to deal with fundamentalists. He had exchanges with the likes of Norman Geisler and other stars of the “fundament”. He was priceless. Even the exchanges in his letter bag (letters to the editor) are wonderful. As the Skeptical Review aged, it grew enormously. I miss him.

    I have several of Ehrman’s Great Courses lectures. He is also great–a former fundie who saw the light.

  65. mumadadd says:

    Willy & RickK,

    Thanks for the recommendation. I do have a couple of TGCs (including Dr. N’s second one) — unfortunately in though I can’t use any of the offer codes from my favourite podcasts to get 80% off etc.) I would buy more if they were better priced.

    Since I got a car, I basically have no time to actually read a physical book; audio is great, once you learn to stop obsessing about that slight detail you missed a minute ago and can’t skip back to because you’re driving… 🙂

  66. mumadadd says:

    Gah, omitted words.

    Willy & RickK,

    Thanks for the recommendation. I do have a couple of TGCs (including Dr. N’s second one) — unfortunately in though in the UK I can’t use any of the offer codes from my favourite podcasts to get 80% off etc.) I would buy more if they were better priced.

    Since I got a car, I basically have no time to actually read a physical book; audio is great, once you learn to stop obsessing about that slight detail you missed a minute ago and can’t skip back to because you’re driving… 🙂

  67. AmateurSkeptic says:

    mumadadd, if the reason why you can’t use these offer codes in the UK to get discounts has to do with the location of your IP address, you should be able to use private VPN services such as Private Internet Access to relocate your IP address to pretty much anyplace else. It’s a pay service but there are a number of situations where it can come in very handy.

    I love audiobooks and have literally hundreds.

    Are you anywhere near Oxford, by the way?

  68. AmateurSkeptic says:

    Simon Winchester lecture at Oxford October 13, 2015 The Map that Changed the World

  69. mumadadd says:


    I have considered using a proxy or VPN to get around geographical restrictions, but when it comes to computer stuff, I err on the side of paranoia — if I don’t understand it I don’t trust it.

    No, not near Oxford — I live in Leeds. I’ll be sunning myself in Cuba when that lecture takes place (well, hopefully given it’s the tail end of the rainy season there).


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