Defending Evolution from ID Distortions

Posts tagged “Bible

Modern Geology and the Principle of Uniformity

The principle of uniformity holds that “the present if the key to the past.”  That is to say that the processes that are in motion today were also in motion in the distant past. There are various reasons why Young Earth Creationists object to this particular geologic principle arguing that it is both inaccurate and untenable; several of their reasons being based on misunderstandings of how this principle is applied in modern geology.  Creationist publications from organizations from the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) and Creation Ministries International (CMI) represent the principle of uniformity (uniformitarianism) as a concept that “evolutionists” need. The reasoning behind this is that this principle demands that the earth be much older that 6,000 years, and that nobody would “believe” in Darwinian evolution if the earth were to be believed to be so young.

The two main objections to the principle of uniformity are:

  1. The concept rules out a priory the possibility that any unusual events could possibly have happened. That is to say, YECs argue that uniformity, from the get-go, rules out  large-scale cataclysmic events such as the “global” flood of Noah. They then argue that events like the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens as well as the remains of so called “polystrate” fossils are inconsistent with conventional geology and therefore prove the YEC alternative “catastrophic” model.
  2. The principle does not allow for change in rates such as erosion rates, sedimentation rates, etcetera. The impression is that if it can be shown that certain rates have been demonstrated to have changed, then the principle is therefore false which, in their minds, would be a major blow to evolutionary theory as well as conventional geology. 

On the first objection, YECs seem frustrated that their universal, global deluge is not acknowledged by conventional geology, and so they have proposed their catastrophic model as an alternative. YECs tend to present the modern geologists as blinded by their uniformitarian principle that rules out unusual events in the past, and therefore blinded to the evidence of a global deluge that occurred at around 5,000 years ago. — However, a little research combined with logic shows that this particular objection to uniformity is misguided and based on a misunderstanding. That is to say, conventional geologists do not rule out that global cataclysmic events can happen. Certainly there is the fact that the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago would have been a universal disaster. We also have the geologic evidence for the event; the remains of the impact crater in the Yucatan Peninsula, and a layer of iridium found at the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary which has been found in numerous locations throughout the world.  — Other mass extinctions have also been detected as happening in the last 440 million years:

The fact that mass extinction events have been proposed based on pieces of geologic evidence is by itself an indication that conventional scientists do not rule out the possible occurrence of unusual events and global disasters. If the evidence demands such an interpretation, then it is proposed. The reason that a universal deluge dating back to about 5,000 years has never been acknowledged has more to do with the lack of evidence than a preconceived notion that it could not have happened.

Also, contrary to claims that the Mount St. Helens’ 1980 eruption disproves the principle, it actually fits well within it; that is, we see volcanic eruptions happening today, therefore we know they happened in the past, the Santorini eruption in the 17th century BC being a good example. When a certain process happens, like a volcanic eruption, a mudslide, or a flood, it leaves a certain fingerprint, so if we find a similar or identical fingerprint in the geologic strata, then we can assume that a similar process or event was in play at the time as it was laid down. — “The present is the key to the past.”

As for the second objection about the “rates” always being constant, this other particular understanding of uniformity has been applied by YECs in their arguments against an old earth (i.e., the magnetic field decay, continental erosion, ocean sediments, etc.). They reason that if the current rates we see today in these other processes could not possibly be accommodated to suit a 4.5 billion year old earth, then this would count as evidence for a somewhat younger earth. In an online podcast from CMI, YEC speaker Calvin Smith then argues that this is problematic for assuming that Radiometric decay had remained constant saying that it is not right to pick and chose when rates may or may not have changed. 

Well, of course, this logic is flawed for several reasons; one of them being that there is evidence that the rates of erosion, sedimentation, and the magnetic field decay rate have indeed varied. However, the rate of radiometric decay is another story; it has been tested and observed under numerous, extreme conditions and yet the rate hadn’t been altered. There were three instances where half-lives have been altered, but they are irrelevant to the conventional dating methods and do not affect the dates of rocks either on earth or on other planets, as two of them are extraterrestrial (i.e., fast-moving matter in space though no rock in our solar system is moving fast enough to affect the date, and physical conditions at the center of stars).

What this shows is that YECs have a distorted view of the uniformitarian principle… It would be unfair to say that these criticisms of the principle would never have been true, since they would have been earlier when modern geology was coming around. What has to be mentioned is that before, geologists had practiced a variety of uniformity now called substantive uniformitarianism. Today, however, geologists have long rejected that version in favor of another called methodological uniformitarianism… The variety that YECs spend their time knocking down is the one no longer practiced. Today’s geology does not rule out the possibility of unusual events and massive disasters; in fact they fit in well with uniformity.  Also, the idea that all rate accumulations must have been the same for all times in all cases is not a concept in uniformity either; the process in play may have existed, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they constantly happen with the same intensity. 

References:
The Dinosaur Extinction Page
Historical Perspectives: This Dynamic Earth. From the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Increased sedimentation rates and grain sizes 2-4 myr years ago due to the influence of climate change on erosion rates, (2 March 2001) by Zhang Peizhen, Peter Molnar, and William R. Downs. From Nature.
Reversals: Magnetic Flip, From the British Geological Survey
Radiometric Dating: A Christian Perspective , by  Dr. Roger C. Wiens (2002) From the American Scientific Affiliation.
Flood Geology is Uniformitarian!, by Davis A. Young (1979). From the American Scientific Affiliation. Published in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith.

Recommended Reading:
Twelve Fallacies of Uniformitarianism, by James H. Shea (September, 1982). From the Geological Society of America.
Uniformitarianism: World of Earth Science. From Enotes.com
Catastrophism or Uniformitarianism?,  by Greg Neyman (29 January 2003). From Answers in Creation.
G321: Many Geologic Features are Catastrophic in Nature, by Greg Neyman (2005). From Answers in Creation.
CD200: Uniformitarian assumption is untenable, by Mark Isaak (2004). From the Talk.Origins Archive.


YECs Misquoting Hebrew Scholars on the Genesis Interpretation

In a former post, I argue that the original Hebrew in Genesis required a completely literal understanding of a creation week consisting of literal twenty-four hour days. I also pointed out that for the last two-thousand years, both Jews and Christians had read and understood in non-literalistic ways, and that their views were quite diverse. (See: On the Interpretation of Genesis.”) However, this itself does not do away with some of the comebacks that many Young Earth Creationists have. Some of them insist that a literal six day creation with a young earth and a global flood is a requirement by the actual Hebrew grammar, and that therefore any other interpretation that doesn’t fit in with the young earth is invalid.

One Hebrew Scholar that is often appealed to by young earth Creationists is James Barr from Oxford. In an article from Creation Ministries International,  a 1984 letter he wrote is quoted as saying:

‘ … probably, so far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Gen. 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that

  1. creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience
  2. the figures contained in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to later stages in the biblical story
  3. Noah’s flood was understood to be world-wide and extinguish all human and animal life except for those in the ark.’

After this, the writers claim that James Barr “understood what the Hebrew writer clearly intended to be understood. Some criticize our use of the Barr quote, because he does not believe in the historicity of Genesis,” essentially implying that Barr is claiming that the grammar demands the young earth interpretation. To strengthen their case, they point out that since he doesn’t believe Genesis is to believed as history that he is a “hostile witness.”

Oh, ouch! I guess this is bad news for me, being a Christian “Theistic-Evolutionist,” since I do not see the Bible was ever intended to give a complete record of natural history, and for believing (as I do) that if the flood of Noah happened, that it was a local event (See: The ‘Global’ Deluge: Is it Unbiblical?). Well, considering what Barr says, to remain consistent, I guess I should re-evaluate my view, shouldn’t I? 

Well, not so fast. There is another portion of the letter that they “neglected” to quote where Barr clarifies his position:

The only thing I would say to qualify this is that most professors may avoid much involvement in that sort of argument and so may not say much explicitly about it one way or the other. But I think what I say would represent their position correctly. However, you might find one or two people who would take the contrary point of view and are competent in the languages, in Assyriology, and so on: it’s really not so much a matter of technical linguistic competence, as of appreciation of the sort of text that Genesis is.

Notice Barr says that the conclusion he drew upon was “not so much a matter of technical linguistic competence,” which by itself demolishes the argument that the YECs are making that their interpretation is demanded by the Hebrew text itself; not to mention he adds that most of the professors would tend to avoid this issue not saying anything on the topic on one side or the other. He then adds that he “thinks” he represents the position of the others in his field, but that indicates that he really doesn’t know. Ultimately, he ends up making several qualifications; as such, his letter cannot be cited as viable support for the young earth position.

References:

James Barr letter (23 April 1984) available at: http://members.iinet.com.au/~sejones/barrlett.html

Recommended Link:

Whitefield, Rodney. Genesis One and the Age of the Earth: What Does the Bible Say? Available online at: http://www.creationingenesis.com/Genesis_One_and_the_Age_of_the_Earth.pdf


On the Interpretation of Genesis

“When God began to create heaven and earth–” (Genesis 1:1)

The verse that drives every Creationist to object to scientific discoveries of natural causes which would be responsible for formation of the world as we know it, and drives them  to commit the either/or fallacy that if natural causes could have done it, God is therefore unnecessary: “God either did it directly, or not at all.”  In my opinion, and being a Christian myself, I don’t see why that has to follow. When I was a Creationist, I would frequently hear anti-scientific arguments that a six-day creation was central to Christian doctrine, and that if the earth were 4.5 billion years old, then therefore Jesus would be mythologized. More recently, I got into an argument with a Creationist who insinuated that if I accepted that natural processes can be credited with how our species came about, then I therefore would have no basis to believe in the resurrection. Hmmm, so not invoking the supernatural in one instance of scientific matters therefore disqualifies the supernatural in non-scientific matters? I would also wonder how would even a natural explanation disqualify God from authoring the natural laws that lead to the result.

The typical view taken by Creationists, particularly Young-Earth Creationists, is that the Bible is infallible and that therefore the universe, the earth, and life on this planet had to have been created within six twenty-four hour days. The Creationists see the infallibility of the Bible depends on this interpretation,– and yes, it is just an interpretation since there are several other acceptable views that can be taken on how to read the first few chapters of Genesis. They do not seem to understand that it is possible to believe the inerrancy of the Bible and still not accept a literal six day creation, though I would argue that even if the Bible were an infallible document, that wouldn’t disqualify their interpretation as fallible. In fact, I have read several other interpretations of the book of Genesis which seem much more plausible than the one that YECs cling onto. For example, there is one written by Glenn Moore (See: Does Old Earth Creationism Contradict Genesis 1?)

First, on the six days of creation– YECs acknowledge that the Hebrew word יום (pronounced as “yom”) is not necessarily a twenty-four hour day, but that  in Genesis 1 the Hebrew grammar demands it because of the ordinal number given with each creation day. Interestingly enough, Hebrew linguists contradict this view. Rodney Whitefield, for example, shows that there is no such grammatical rule in Hebrew, and that the wording does not rule an “extended age.”  More likely than not, this “rule” was invented by Young-Earth Creationists in order to prove their point. 

Perhaps one of the main problems with view that the creation days are an actual, literal chronological sequence of events is that Genesis seems to say that the sun was created on the fourth day after the first living things appear. (Genesis 1: 14, 19) Since living things cannot exist without the sun in the first place, the sun had to have been created first. But some YECs insist that there was an alternate light source before the creation of the sun. For example, Jonathan Sarfati makes the claim that,

On the fourth day the present system was instituted as the Earth’s temporary light-bearers were made, so the diffused light from the first day was no longer needed.

Overlooking the fact that this is an untestable claim, this begs the question: If God had created a different light source before the fourth day, what would the point have been in God obliterating the first light source in order to create the sun? — Further more, Jeff A. Benner of the Ancient Hebrew Research Center points out that Genesis chapter one was not written with the intention of it being chronological. He points out,

It must be remembered that modern western thinkers view events in step logic. This is the idea that each event comes after the previous forming a series of events in a linear timeline. But, the Hebrews did not think in step logic but in block logic. This is the grouping together of similar ideas together and not in chronological order. Most people read Genesis chapter one from a step logic perspective or chronological, rather than from the block logic so prevalent in Hebrew poetry.

Although we do not see it, Genesis 1 is actually composed of six separate stories, one story per day. This itself can be taken to mean that the six creation “days” were not intended as literal. And the fact that it has been pointed out that they are “not in chronological order” would itself harmonize the apparent contradiction between science and scripture about whether the sun was created before the earth or after. — Another interesting detain, as Whitefield points out, is that the usual translation of Genesis 1: 16 is misleading. He shows that the Hebrew for “made” in the context of the creation of the sun on the fourth day is more correctly translated as “had made,” implying that the sun had been created before the fourth creation day. With this in mind, even if Genesis 1 were intended to be chronological which I personally do not believe, this particular matter would be a non-issue. Whatever the case may be, it shows that the YEC perspective on this matter is based on an over-literalistic, modern English reading of the text which is actually contradicted by Hebrew linguists.

The YEC interpretation also begs another question since on this particular matter since their position is that the “lesser and greater lights” were created on the fourth day. One of their main points is that the term “evening and morning” is associated with each “creation day,” and therefore it can only indicate a twenty-four hour period.  Because evening and morning are defined by the cycles of the sun and the moon, how would one define what “evening and morning” was before they had even existed? This could logically indicate that, at the very least, the first three days themselves were not literal twenty-four hour periods meaning that “evening and morning” is simply an indication of a time interval. In fact, there are other uses of evening and morning in the Bible that are indicators of non-literal days (for example: Psalms 90: 6).

A common criticism made by Yong-Earthers and “Hard” Atheists against Christians that accept an old earth and Evolutionary theory is that they are compromisers; that they attempt to harmonize their beliefs in God and the Bible with irreconcilable views, and judging by how their arguments coincide, it makes me wonder if the “hard” atheists have been reading articles from Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Reasearch. Many of these criticisms have mostly to do with, of course, the creation days. Both of these groups tend to claim that before Darwin believed that the earth was young, and that they also believed that the creation days were literal 24 hour days. Even if this was the standard view, the linguistic evidence by itself debunks the literal day view, however it is not true that all Christians and Jews before Darwin believed in an overtly literal interpretation of Genesis 1. In fact, there are many examples of non-literalistic interpretations of Genesis stretching over the last two-thousand years:

  1. Philo Judeaus, also called Philo of Alexandria (20 BC to 50 AD), who was a Jewish philosopher and apologist, didn’t believe that the creation days necessarily had a literal meaning. In his writings, he said:

    When, therefore, Moses says, “God completed his works on the sixth day,” we must understand that he is speaking not of a number of days, but that he takes six as a perfect number. Since it is the first number which is equal in its parts, in the half, and the third and sixth parts, and since it is produced by the multiplication of two unequal factors, two and three. (Treatise 1:2)

  2. St. Cyprian of Carthage (Birth: unknown, died in 258 AD), although he would be considered a Young Earth Creationists by several standards, also believed that the Creation days were not twenty-four hours. In a moment of Rhetoric which includes the number seven, he wrote: 

    As the first seven days in the divine arrangement containing seven thousand of years, as the seven spirits and seven angels which stand and go in and out before the face of God, and the seven-branched lamp in the tabernacle of witness…. (Treatise 11: 11)

  3. St. Augustine of Hippo (354 AD to 430) seemed to have thought that the Creation was all done “simultaneously,” but he also seemed ambivalent about defining what a “day” was in this case:

    But simultaneously with time the world was made, if in the world’s creation change and motion were created, as seems evident from the order of the first six or seven days. For in these days the morning and evening are counted, until, on the sixth day, all things which God then made were finished, and on the seventh the rest of God was mysteriously and sublimely signalized. What kind of days these were it is extremely difficult, or perhaps impossible for us to conceive, and how much more to say! (City of God 11:6)

There are numerous other examples, but these three are more than adequate enough to debunk the YEC/”Hard” Atheist criticism against Christian Old Earth Creationist and so-called “evolutionists” that non-literalistic understandings of  creation days in Genesis is nothing more than a reaction to scientific discoveries made in the last two centuries; It had been happening for the last two-thousand years, and is therefore not an ad hoc attempt by some Christian theists to save their faith as they felt intellectually obligated to accept the scientific discoveries. On the contrary: It shows that early Judeo-Christians interpretations were quite diverse.  Furthermore, there are other ancient interpretations of Genesis that involve other details as well. Flavius Josephus (37 AD to 100) may not have given an opinion about the creation days per say, but he still gives hints that he read Genesis as somewhat allegorically; that is, in the context of the creation of man saying that after the seven days,  the writer  “begins to talk philosophically.” (Antiquities 1:34) As far as I can tell, this is the only hint given by Josephus though it is a vital one.

One main counterpoint that Young Earth Creationists make against the theory of evolution is the repetition given in Genesis that creatures reproduced after their own kinds. This leads them to propose the so-called “created kinds.” The reasons for this, it appears, is to 1) explain away the speciation via microevolution that has been observed, and 2) to force fit representatives of all animal, both living and extinct, onto Noah’s Ark from dinosaurs to mammals. Biologists, however, have been quick to point out that there is no biological basis for a biblical, created kind. It doesn’t help that creationists have been unable to definitely define what a kind actually is. And to rub salt into the wound, there is likely not even a biblical basis for the “created kind.” — According to the Illustrated Bible Dictionary:

Some have insisted that the phrase ‘after it’s kind’ is a complete refutation of the theory of evolution. It is not, however, at all clear what the Hebrew word ‘kind’ (mîn) means, except as a general observation that God made creatures that they reproduced in their families. But it the Hebrew word is not understood, it is also true to say that the biological groupings are not at all finally decided. Let it be agreed that the Bible is asserting that, however life came into being, God lay behind the process, then the chapter neither affirms nor denies the theory of evolution, or any theory for that matter. (Volume 1, page 334)

If all the term “after it’s kind” simply means that animals were reproducing, then there is no inconsistency.  It’s not as if Darwinian Evolution required a species to all of a sudden reproduce into something completely different from itself; the change is much more gradual. With the “kind” having neither a biological or biblical basis, it becomes apparent that the YECs simply have been inserting details in the Bible which originally had no place there.

A final Young-Earth objection to evolution is rooted in the belief that God made everything all “good.” Then they look at the fossil record and claim that there is a record of death, disease and suffering. They then believe that those animals had to have died after Adam’s sin because death is apparently “evil.” What Young Earth Creationists need to realize is that “good” does not mean “perfect.” The question here is, why should death be considered a bad thing? — In fact, it’s a good thing for preventing ecological meltdown. Also, a close reading of the Bible shows that animal death before Adam’s fall is not unbiblical. Perhaps death may not occur in our preference for a perfect world, but it only says that the creation was good; not that it was “perfect.” — To further support the idea, the fact that God ordered the first  humans to eat and reproduce indicates that death could have happened before (Genesis 1:27-30). 

Although not all of the Young Earth Creationist objections to the acceptance of an old earth and evolution itself have been covered here, enough have been covered here to show that many of them are invalid. The claim that non-literal understandings of Genesis are nothing more than a result of Christians attempting to force-fit the Bible so that it fits with the last two centuries of scientific discoveries are demonstrably false since both Jews and Christians had read Genesis in such a way for the last two-thousand years and had diverse interpretations of it. — From my perspective, there is no conflict between acceptance of evolution, an old earth, and of Christianity or theism in general.

References:

Recommended Reading:


Creationists: Inherent Quote Miners?

Currently, I am having an argument with a Creationist -that goes by the title CreationByDesign–  on Michael’s blog who confuses Lamarck’s theories with modern Evolutionary theory, that is, he is repeating the same old uninformed misinformation that Evolution is a chain or a ladder with “higher” and “lower” forms, which it isn’t. Darwin’s theory of Evolution is based on a tree of life, not a chain. I then quoted Darwin’s own words: “It is absurd to talk of one animal being higher than another.” — To that , linked some papers in which scientists used the terms “more evolved” and “less evolved” and then made the claim that either these scientists were wrong, or Darwin was.

If that was all, I wouldn’t be posting this. But, in the comments we were posting, he was cherry-picking and selectively quoting me, which has lead me to assume that 1) either he has bad reading comprehension, or 2) he is dishonest and a typical quote-miner.

A response I gave him was,

I don’t know what would posses a scientist to talk about “more” or “less” evolved except to simplify it for people who do not understand how evolution works (like people like you and Michael).

Sounds reasonable, no? Well, he later quoted only the first half of this as,

I don’t know what would posses a scientist to talk about “more” or “less” evolved …..

Convenient, huh? And then he knocked down the incomplete quote saying,

Yes, I can see that you don’t know. I posted excerpts from 5 peer-reviewed scientific publications which used the terminology “more evolved”.

Well, nice. Except, read the rest which adds, ” . . . . except to simplify it for people who do not understand how evolution works (like people like you and Michael).” — Get that? I wasn’t actually saying I didn’t know why!! I was giving the reason why Scientists would do such a thing. — Scientists use over-simplified terms all the time for the benefit of laypeople, for example, for public understanding, they call dinosaurs “reptiles,” even though they weren’t really reptiles. And they also call ancestral mammals “mammal-like reptiles,” even though that term is also misleading. Mammals evolved from Synapsids, not reptiles, though they are superficially like them.

Well, anyway, he accused me of changing my story, saying

You previously claimed: “The term “more evolved” has no place in actual science …

So, you made the claim that the term itself is not found in actual science. When I refuted that, you now change your story.

Hmmm, well, lets see if I really did change my story. In the comment he first replied to, I said,

I don’t know what would posses a scientist to talk about “more” or “less” evolved except to simplify it for people who do not understand how evolution works (like people like you and Michael).

Now, if they mean “more advanced” then that is another story, because that would mean creatures that are not primitive. — Sponges would be considered “primitive” BUT that is only because they appeared before we did. They are not “less” evolved then we are, and we are not “more” evolved than sponges.

And then, in the second one I said,

It depends on what they mean. If they simply mean “primitive,” then the story is different, since sponges are considered primitive because they are considered one of the first animals to appear. HOWEVER sponges are not “higher” or “lower”

We are not “more” evolved than Homo habilis, or Australopithecines, . . even though they are “primitive” in the sence they existed before we did.

Now, tell me. How are these “stories” different from each other? As someone who has a university reading level, I see no difference at all. — And as for my “claim” that terms like “more” evolved do not belong in modern science, I stand by that. Such usage is unfortunate oversimplification and distorts the actual scientific view of Evolutionary theory, and I have support to back myself  from scientists themselves. 

Keven Padian and Kenneth Angielczyk, in their essay entitled “‘Transitional forms’ verses Transitional Features” say,

Although a ladderlike image of evolution remains common in the popular media, scientists have long realized that such a concept is simplistic and innaccurate. Instead of resembling a ladder, the evolution of life is more similar to a branching bush.

And also, Donald R. Prothero in his book  says:

But life is not a ladder, and there are no such things as “higher” or “lower” organisms. . . .The first time Biologists hear this question, they are puzzled because it seems to make no sense whatsoever — until they realize this creationist is still using concepts that were abandoned over 200 years ago.

Prothero is considered one of the leading evolutionary scientists in the country, so to say he doesn’t know what he is talking about is like telling a top military commander he knows nothing about the army.

Well, anyway, I already showed that this Creationist twisted my words in a quote while leaving out the second half which rendered his criticism of me irrelevant. And his claim that I changed my story if flat wrong, which can be checked by anyone who decides to read the comments I left  on Michael’s post. — Quite frankly, this isn’t even the first time this same guy (it was CbD, not Michael) selectively quoted me when we had a discussion. When we were talking about the flagellum, he selectively took down what could be considered the “weaker” points of my arguments while completely ignoring the portions I really wanted him to take down. In my view, the statements he tried taking down were more irrelevant than anything else.

[That particular conversation was partially why I issued my flagellum challenge to Michael a while ago. . . one he still hasn’t adequately met, though he gave a feeble attempt . . .]

Oh well, perhaps his reading comprehension sucks, and therefore he didn’t mean to quote-mine me. . .

But then again, it does seem Creationists are inherent quote miners, since there are many examples of dishonest quotes taken by Creationists.

References:
Scientists Confront Creationism: Intelligent Design and Beyond, page 205
Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters, page 125. By Donald R. Prothero.

Further Reading:
Devolution and an Evolutionary “ladder”


YECs on Fossils and the “Evolutionary Timeline”

Because Young-Earth Creationists are so defensive of their model that requires the earth to be between 6,000 to 10,000 years old, they are always out to discredit the scientific date of the earth with anything they can fish out. They feel that if their interpretation of the Bible is wrong -to hell with other legitimate interpretations,- then their whole world will fall apart. This leads many YECs to make many bogus arguments for a young earth like  the decay of the magnetic field, the recession of the moon, etc, etc., etc., yada, yada, yada…. Then, another favorite tactic they use is to point out a fossil find and claim it is “out-of-place,” and that therefore the timeline is all wrong, and therefore their model of a 6,000 year old universe has to be right. I see this particular argument used more by Brian Thomas who is employed by the Insitute for Creation Research than anywhere else.

One of my favorite examples of  Thomas’s use of the “fossil out-of-place” argument is  from an article entitled “Fossil Footprints Trample Evolutions Timeline.” — It talks about arthropod trace-fossil foot prints which were found in Pre-Cambrian strata in Nevada. Thomas presented this find as if it were a blow to the Evolutionary theory because it would require some reevaluation of determining when arthropods appeared. It never occurred to them that this find actually hurts Creationism more than it could ever hurt the present theory of Evolution. More precisely, this discovery hurts the favorite Creationist argument about the so-called Cambrian”explosion” because it shows that complex, animal life was around 30 million years before.

There are several other examples that the Institute cites, and I’ll address some of them here just to show how they 1) show ignorance of the person making the claim, and 2) how are completely irrelevant to the topic of the “evolutionary timeline.” Further reading of ICR claims on the subject will show any informed person how the Institute takes certain scientific discoveries and takes them out of context to try to refute Evolutionary theory.

  1. One claim that the Thomas makes is that a  newly discovered amber trapped spider web too old for the timeline. A news article he cites of this fossil find, in fact, shows that spider webs had evolved long before it was first thought, however when one does more research on spider evolution, the apparent “harm” done to the timeline really doesn’t exist. This fossilized web’s age is estimated at 140 million years, while  the evolution of spiders is thought to have started some 400 million years ago. That gives the web about 260 million years to evolve, so there is no harm done here.
  2. Another claim that he made is that the T-Rex body structure evolved 60 million years “too early.” This claim is based on a newly discovered relative of the tyrannosaurs now called Raptorex. I seriously cannot help but see the irrelevance of this fossil to debunking the so-called “timeline.” It never crosses Thomas’ mind that rather than hurting the current theory of evolution, this helps it by aiding the construction of a phylogeny of the tyrannosaurs.
  3. Claims of human artifacts, such as evidence of boats and jewelry, are used to say that we have always been the same species. We now know that Homo neandertalensis had fassion sense, but nobody disputes this, so it is irrelevant. Also, multiple mtDNA tests show they are not the same species as Homo sapiens, despite the YEC model’s insistence. And the evidence that Homo erectus was a mariner is really not news since we knew that for over a decade (at least since 1998). Hence, this is also irrelevant.
  4. Another apparent contradiction of the timeline is the discovery of fossil ambers dating to the Carboniferous which lasted from 355 to 300 million years ago, though the first flowering plants known to the fossil record appear during the Cretaceous (125 million years ago). The Brian Thomas criticizes the scientist who discovered them of  evolutionary bias because he said this doesn’t necessarily mean that flowering plants appeared so early, but that it shows that aspects of them were starting to make an appearance. But at the same time, he doesn’t provide any credible evidence to the contrary, so they affectively fail to show how the timeline was falsified.

The only thing some of the examples above show is a slight reevaluation of  some of the current scientific understandings., but that’s all. On the other hand, some of the examples don’t affect out understandings at all. This kind of makes me wonder if the employees at ICR sees any unexpected scientific find as an inherent refutation of Evolutionary theory as we know it.

As I see it, ICR has a very odd definition of an “out-of-place” fossil. In one post entitled Cambrian Fossils Found in the Wrong Place,” it is argued that since soft-bodied creatures were thought to be stem ancestors to the Cambrian fauna were found in some of the same layers, one could not have evolved into the other because  the argument for evolution  “relies on the absence of these creatures in higher layers to support the assumption that they ‘diverged’ into ‘later’ life forms.” –This reminds me of the argument “If humans evolved from apes, why are there still apes.”  Even if  a certain animal evolved into another species, there is no reason to assume that evolutionary ecenario “relies” on the absence of the mother species.

So really, not a single one of the examples given of “out-of-place” fossils given by the Institute refute any of  the important aspects of Evolution, and any revision that is made from them, so far, is only minor. Any fossil that actually refutes our scientific understanding should be unexplainable, like fossil rabbits in the Cambrian, and so far, the Young-Earthers have failed.


Evolution, Mutation and Misconceptions

A common objection to the Evolutionary model is the idea that Mutations are a driving force for change. It is seen all over Creationist literature that mutations destroy information, and never add anything, or have any benefits. — For example, the Muslim Creationist Harun Yahya claims,

The direct effect of mutations is harmful. The changes effected by mutations can only be like those experienced by people in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Chernobyl: that is, death, disability, and sickness. […] Not surprisingly, no useful mutation has been so far observed. All mutations have proved to be harmful. (The Evolution Deceit, page 55)

A few months ago, while I was debating with a creationist, I found myself having to correct a major misunderstanding he had. He repeated an argument  about Natural Selection, saying that Natural Selection is not the same as Evolution because it produces nothing new. It just “selects'” — As soon as he said this, I remembered hearing the same thing from a Kent Hovind debate. 

As soon as he said that, I quickly corrected him. Nobody says that Natural Selection “creates” anything new. When I took History of Life in Biology, that was one of the things I was taught: “Natural Selection doesn’t create new traits.” Mutations create new traits, and natural selection then determines if the new trait is favorable or good enough for a living organism to survive in a certain enviroment.  — He then interrupted saying, “Mutations are always harmful!” When I corrected him on that, he then said, “Well, cancer is a mutation! . . So, you’re telling me that if we get a whole population with cancer — “ At that, I kept repeating myself that wasn’t what I was saying and told him to stop attacking a strawman.

 He then defied me to name one beneficial mutation, just one. At that, I gave the (probably over cited) anti-bacterial resistance. He then said that didn’t count because the bacteria didn’t pass on the newly acquired resistence to its descendants, and the new traits have to be heritable. — But Creationists who make that claim are demonstrably wrong. The fact is that newly resistant bacteria do pass on their newly acquired resistance to new generations. I also pointed out the evolution of the HIV virus -the “ultimate evolver”- which didn’t seem to  make even the slightest dent, as if I expected it to.

One often cited case of a beneficial mutation is the sickle-cell anemia. Kent Hovind, in a debate with Michael Shermer, mocked this example by comparing it to being beneficial in the sence of cutting off your feet so you do not get athlete’s foot. — But it’s not so simple. Kent Hovind apparently is ignorant of the qualifiers that determine whether or not the sickle-cell mutation is beneficial or not. If the mutation is in the heterozygous state, then the mutation is detrimental causing disease and early death. However, if the mutation is heterozygous, then that causes its carriers to be resistent to infection and malaria.

One really famous example of a beneficial mutation is the CCR5-Delta 32. This mutation occurs in chromosome three in the human genome. Individuals that carry this particular mutation are resistent to the HIV virus. The heterozygous variant of this mutation is able to slow down the progression of the HIV virus while the homozygous version of the mutation causes immunity to the virus. — It is obvious that the claim made by Harun Yahya in his writings is wrong. There are several examples of beneficial mutations. It has even gotten to the point that some Creationists now admit that they in fact exist, but they then try to put qualifiers on it.

Anyway, now that Creationists have accepted that mutations can be beneficial, they now changed tactics in order to salvage their ever evolving creation model. — One creationist from CMI, while talking about the CCR5-Delta 32, tries to work his way out by saying,

However, it clashes irreconcilably with the evolutionary view that the accumulation of mutations over time brings about upward evolution (increasing functional complexity).

 . . . And then later, he then cites a paper from Nature which mentions a downside to this particular mutation. The implication he seems to be trying to give is that because it can be associated with primary sclerosing cholangitis, then therefore it cannot be count as evidence. — Creationists make similar claims about antibiotic resistence of bacteria, saying that these mutations lead to a “loss of function.”

What these excuses show is a lack of understanding of how Evolution works with mutations. As I have already pointed out in a previous post, evolution doesn’t necessarily lead to increased complexity, though it may. But there is no pre-ordained goal. All that matters is if the change is heritable, and if it is, then that works as evolutionary change. — Also, no one has ever said that mutations that lead to evolutionary change cannot have a downside. There will always be a downside. What matters is if the variation is beneficial or good enough to survive in a certain environment. In an enviroment where there is plenty of AIDS, the CCR5-Delta 32 mutation would be beneficial. Natural Selection will favor those particular individuals that carry it.

Finally, there is Gene Duplication. I know that Creationists would love to pounce on this example and say “It’s just duplicated information.” — I wonder if these same Creationists would be interested in the fact that over 97% of human genes are duplicates. Anyway, gene duplication offers raw material for Evolution and mutation, though it is true that high rates of duplication often lead to high rates of gene loss also, (a fact that would be useless for Creationists to hijack for reasons mentioned above.) What happens is, a gene gets duplicated, and then the duplicate copy has no selection pressures, so it is now free to evolve and mutate on its own, though the gene doesn’t always survive.  

I’m sure that Creationists would love to object to new function ever being derived from duplicated genes, but the fact is that it does happen. A good example is the Eosinophil Cationic Protein (or the ECP) which is toxic to bacteria by making their cell mambranes porus. Also, it is useful in the management of Asthma, despite it’s limitations. — Then there is the Eosinophil-Derived Neurotoxin (the EDN) which helps to prevent viral infections, though it’s accumulation in the intestine is associated with tissue loss.

Furthermore, observations in the genomes of bacteria only aid the conclusion that gene duplication is a viable mechanism for Evolutionary change, as the divergence of duplicated enzymes seems to have been a main contributor -though not no only one-  to the causation of new species of bacterium.

One need not be a geneticist to research the claims of anti-evolutionists to come to the realization that almost everything they claim about mutations is spurious. Even though it is true that most mutations are harmful, it is also true that in certain environments some can be quite beneficial in which cases natural selection will favor them. Some gene duplicates also show neofunction completely debunking the idea that nothing new arises from mutation.

References:
Evolution and Disease, from ChemHeritage.org
Genetics Demystified, page 151. By Edward Willett
Beneficial Mutation, by Ningthoujam Sandhyarani. From Buzzle.com
Beneficial Mutations, from SkepticWiki.
Examples of Beneficial Mutations in Humans, from The Evolution Evidence Page.
Almost all human genes resulted from ancient duplication, by Roy J. Britten, from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Gene Duplication and Evolution of Gene Function, from Evolution and Developement Group.
Evolution by Gene Duplication, by Jianzhi Zhang, from TRENDS in Ecology and Evolution. Also see Positive Darwinian Selection after gene duplication in primate ribonuclease genes, by Jianzhi Zhang, Helene F. Rosenberg, and Masatoshi Nei, from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Eosinophil cationic protein: Is it useful in asthma? A systematic review, by Gerald C.-H. Koha, Lynette P.-C. Shekb, Daniel Y.-T. Gohb, Hugo Van Beverb, David S.-Q. Koha.
Eosinophil Derived Beurotoxin (EDN)
Evolution by leaps: gene duplication in bacteria, by Margrethe H Serres, Alastair RW Kerr, Thomas J McCormack, and Monica Riley. From Biology Direct.


A New Challenge to a Creationist

Lately, I have been commenting on  a Creationist blog, defending Evolutionary theory from Creationist distortions. Of course, one may wonder why I would take the time, and endure the headache of defending the fact of Evolution when arguing with Creationists is often a futile crusade. Well, I guess my reasons are that 1) somebody has to do it, and 2) I’m a glutton for punishment. I like to argue my case.

For the last few months, Eelco, who often comments on the Creationist blog has been issuing a few questions to Michael (the Creationist blogger) who has completely ignored them. In fact, Michael rarely ever — if even ever — engages in discussion with anyone who disagrees with him. The questions Eelco asks Michael on every post are,

(1) Blog readership numbers ?

(2) Your qualifications to discuss any scientific subject, in response to the challenge to Olorin.

(3) A substantive review of Signature in the Cell, promised for August 2009.

(4) outstanding question from Upson Downes on mitochondrial Eve.

Sounds fair enough, no? — Olorin, who Eelco mentions in number two was another frequent commenter who always took Michael to task, and who seems to now been blocked from posting comments anymore.  Personally, I am waiting for Michael to answer Eelco, but I’m not holding my breath.

UPDATE: Olorin was banned from posting on the blog temporarily. He now has been unblocked, I imagine because of preasure that Michael has been feeling about banning him in the first place.

But now I have my own separate challenge to Michael. I refuted Irreducible complexity in my comments on his blog, and I never have gotten him to respond to me. All he did was respond to a fellow Creationist by quoting the long-refuted Michael Behe, and then he attacked the Science Talk.Origins website saying,

Talking origins is out dated piece of bias and will continue to be outdated while we learn more about nature like the FLAGELLUM.

Just pointing out, Michael couldn’t even get the name of the website right — He called it “Talking origins.” It’s Talk Origins. But I digress…

Realizing that he completely ignored EVERYTHING I said, and every argument made against Irreducible Complexity, all he does is attack a science website, and then pull out the obvious “We’re learning more about the flagellum!!” — Well, no dip!! And for some reason, he wants to treat any new discovery about the flagellum as bad for Evolution, and therefore good for Creationism, which he has no basis for.

Well, anyway, I responded to him saying,

The only bias Talk.Origins has is in favor of real scientific research.

I already showed in an earlier comment that flagellum is NOT irreducible. . . Earlier, I pointed out,

An Important fact that ANYONE here has yet to mention is that the flagellum IS NOT EVEN IRREDUCIBLE. — In 1988, G. Kuwajima was able to remove ONE-THIRD of the 497 amino acids from the flagellum, AND IT STILL WORKED PERFECTLY!!!!! . . . Also, we know that the L and the P-rings can be taken away from the flagellum, and it will STILL work. . . .

Michael, if you want to cry “BIAS!!!” then you should do so ONLY AFTER refute this fact that I pointed out.

From now on, i will be issuing a similar challenge to you that Eelco has issued to you, and one you have FAILED to take on. . . except it will be awaiting your refutation of the facts I pointed out about the REDUCIBILITY of the flagellum.

That’s my challenge to him. Will he take me up on it? I’m not holding my breath. Probably like a good Creationist, he will just pretend that it isn’t there, like he does with Eelco’s challenge.