Sunday, October 04, 2009

Richard Dawkins Isn't Taking it Anymore.

Newsweek, a magazine I don't ordinarily pick up, has an article by Richard Dawkins, and he is mad. On the fossil record, he writes:
We don't need fossils in order to demonstrate that evolution is a fact. The evidence for evolution would be entirely secure even if not a single corpse had ever fossilized. It is a bonus that we do actually have rich seams of fossils to mine, and more are discovered every day. The fossil evidence for evolution in many major animal groups is wonderfully strong. Nevertheless there are, of course, gaps, and creationists love them obsessively.
Dawkins then waxes on the existence of the flatworm, one of his favorite animals. He writes:
The Platyhelminthes, to a worm, are "already in an advanced state of evolution, the very first time they appear. It is as though they were just planted there, without any evolutionary history." But in this case, "the very first time they appear" is not the Cambrian but today. Do you see what this means, or at least ought to mean for creationists? Creationists believe that flatworms were created in the same week as all other creatures. They have therefore had exactly the same time in which to fossilize as all other animals. During all the centuries when all those bony or shelly animals were depositing their fossils by the millions, the flatworms must have been living happily alongside them, but without leaving the slightest trace of their presence in the rocks. What, then, is so special about gaps in the record of those animals that do fossilize, given that the past history of the flatworms is one big gap: even though the flatworms, by the creationists' own account, have been living for the same length of time? If the gap before the Cambrian Explosion is used as evidence that most animals suddenly sprang into existence in the Cambrian, exactly the same "logic" should be used to prove that the flatworms sprang into existence yesterday. Yet this contradicts the creationist's belief that flatworms were created during the same creative week as everything else. You cannot have it both ways. This argument, at a stroke, completely and finally destroys the creationist case that the Precambrian gap in the fossil record can be taken as evidence against evolution.
Here's the problem with the above argument: has Dawkins, in all of the years he has been battling creationists, not seen how often they move the goal posts? They argue, alternately, that the entire geologic column was created by Noah's deluge and then argue that the gaps in the fossil record show that evolution doesn't work. Nowhere is the cognitive dissonance of these arguments explained. Either the Cambrian Period existed, or it didn't. Dawkins is correct, you can't have one or the other. This has not stopped creationists from arguing both. The other favorite one is to argue, alternately, that there is evidence of a young earth and that the earth has the appearance of age. The logical fallacies of that are numerous but creationists flatly ignore them.

As far as the flatworms are concerned, they will simply argue that hydrodynamic sorting put them at the top of the column because they "floated" during the flood. Then they will castigate Dawkins for something else that the fossil record doesn't show. It is irrelevant that the global flood model can't explain ANYTHING that we find in the fossil record or that, despite the paucity of remains in the Cambrian, there exist mountains of evidence for evolution of other forms throughout geologic time. With regard to "missing links," Dawkins writes:
The silliest of all these "missing link" challenges are the following two (or variants of them, of which there are many). First, "If people came from monkeys via frogs and fish, then why does the fossil record not contain a 'fronkey'?" And, second, "I'll believe in evolution when I see a monkey give birth to a human baby." This last one makes the same mistake as all the others, plus the additional one of thinking that major evolutionary change happens overnight.
No, but it is easy to counter with the fact that we have frogamanders and fishapods, and that evolution explains the existence of both of those. Dawkins fully understands the science behind evolution, but has yet to fully understand the logical inconsistencies that comfortably fits into the gestalt of your average creationist.

UPDATE: forgot the link. It is fixed now.

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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Yup. Thanks, got it.

  3. No problem. Sorry for the oversight.

  4. The other favorite one is to argue, alternately, that there is evidence of a young earth and that the earth has the appearance of age.

    This has always been one of my favorites. When creationists cite evidence for a young earth, they are actually telling us that God forgot this detail or that when he created a universe with appearance of age. Oops! Good thing God is fallible ... for if he actually was perfect, there would be no evidence of youth in his creation. But even God can't be expected to put artificial age into every detail! So, we have these nice little isolated evidences for a young earth! Hmm.

  5. Hi Jim, great blog!

    As for Dawkins
    His antitheist rantings have probably caused more christians to dig their heels in to a creationist stance. As long as christians keep hearing the same old natural science=no god rantings from fundies and antitheists, the problem will continue. Creationists may be out of arguments and lack evidence, and are illogical, but as long as people think theirs is the only side that offers eternal life, they will continue to support them.


  6. Yes, Cliff. I refer to this argument as the "Time Bandits God." As Randall said: "You see, to be quite frank, Kevin, the fabric of the universe is far from perfect. It was a bit of botched job, you see. We only had seven days to make it." Amazing.

  7. Cliff, that is true
    but with all the antitheists convincing christians that to accept 4 billion year earth, big bang, evolution, etc. means no god, no eternal purpose, no life after death, basically no hope, it is no wonder christians hide their head in the sand! I should know, I have been there!


  8. Michael, that is exactly correct. I have long thought that Henry Morris has done more to drive people away from Christianity than any other person I can think of, but Richard Dawkins has done more to entrench young-earth believing Christians and, worse, make them political when they might not otherwise have been so.

  9. Hey,cool to see we agree Jim! I wondered later after I posted if I was kind of coming off as complaining too much.
    See, I became a Christian around 20 years ago, and thought I needed to reject science because of the way i was taught the bible as a new believer. after many years of trying to be a creationist, because, all christians are "supposed" to be i guess. I had enough of the doubting, frustration, ect, that went along with it. I finally shut the door on creationism for good recently, and now I am facinated by all things evolution! I already think I am going to be struck down by lightning! LOL I know that is rediculous, but after years of antievolution junk, it affects my brain, even though I was never really convinced of the claims. (mabye getting an A+ in junior high school biology class helped save some of my mind from the onslaught? )
    Then comes Dawkins. I find I actually like some of what he says when he sticks to science, but then he goes off on God, and I feel like i am becoming a heathen myself! I know its not true though, hopefully, by the grace of God, I can keep a sound mind in this transition in my faith journey!

  10. The interesting thing about Dawkins is that when he goes off the rails, his reputation suffers even among the scientific community. Jerry Coyne came close to this when he wrote his book Why Evolution is True. The reviews I read all said the same thing: great evolution, lay off the theology. There are a lot of scientists out there that are, at lease nominally, believers and they don't like people poking fun at that.

  11. Nice post. I fully praise your scientific literacy in the face of seemingly insurmountable barriers of creationist ignorance that envelopes half of all Americans.