The Origin of Species: Creationism Edition

Tuesday, June 23, 2009 at 8:46 PM Bookmark and Share
That's right - "Origin of Species - Containing the Gospel and Intelligent Design" - coming to a bookstore near you!

What's so special about this edition? Well, for one, the special introduction by Ray Comfort - world renown science buff and public educator extraordinaire creationist and fumbler of basic concepts in science. Fortunately, you don't need to pay anyone money to read this gem of science evangelical writing, as the introduction is linked from the page above.

In case you don't know who Ray Comfort is, he's perhaps best known for his Christian evangelism along side Kirk Cameron, and of course this stunning display of his deep scientific knowledge...



Still curious?? Well, for a really well done treatment on the efforts of Comfort and Cameron, check these three videos:







As for the 50 page "Special Introduction" (here) to Darwin's Origin - lets take a peek, shall we?

Now, I'm not going to dissect and correct the whole thing - that's simply a waste of my time, and I'm sure others will do a good job of this in the coming days and weeks (I'll post links below).

Instead, I'll just point out a few things and leave you to look around and do a little follow-up of your own using the many freely available resources on science and creationism, as TalkOrigins, youtube, and whatever you can dig up using google.

I have to confess that it's truly amazing to me how these guys repeat the same old fallacious arguments and factually incorrect statements - the exact same ones they and other creationists have been ridiculed for time and time again... At the heart of much if it, you can see and hear what appear to be a serious lack of understanding about basic science and logic, and a clear attempt to attack the theory of evolution in an effort to promote their own religious agenda.

For example (from page 9)...
The DNA Code
Consider for a moment whether you could ever believe this publication happened by accident. Here’s the argument: There was nothing. Then paper appeared, and ink fell from nowhere onto the flat sheets and shaped itself into perfectly formed letters of the English alphabet...
etc. etc. etc. then
Do you think that DNA’s amazing structure could have come together by accident? Or does it point to an intelligent Designer? Even the director of the U.S. National Human Genome Research Institute concluded there is a God based on his study of DNA. Francis Collins, the scientist who led the team that cracked the human genome, believes...
This is a classic goof - the notion that evolution asserts life or all of existence just all fell together by some sort of "accident" - this is a big red flag! It suggests that the author (1) has a horribly incorrect understanding of evolution, other natural sciences, etc. or (2) they're simply disingenuous and out to bend the truth. I'm not sure if Comfort falls into either category, but given the availability of these critiques one really does wonder. Add to that the assumed designer (bet you can guess who that is?) and an appeal to authority to top it all off, and your B.S. detectors should be blazing off the charts!

In addition to these sorts of nonsensical arguments, the terminology used also indicates a frightening lack of science literacy:
DNA is an incredibly detailed language, revealing vast amounts of information encoded in each and every living cell — which could not have arisen by accidental, mindless chance.
Still - they do make a good point. It would take something like - oh, I don't know - natural selection to explain it all? We'll be really nice and pretend this was the author correcting the egregious mistake I just pointed out above... moving on.

This document contains a number of other questionable assertions and logical errors. For example, consider the statement that "Information requires intelligence and design requires a designer." The first - nonsense! The second? Well, yeah, of course - by definition! So what's the point of stating the obvious? Well, lets just say it helps explain some of the examples we're about to have thrown at us.

One such example requiring these fuzzy associations is the bit involving Mt. Rushmore. Another classic example creationists use - this one being the argument from design. When you cut through all the fuzzy wording, you see that the argument in this case goes something like this: things designed by people are designed by people (e.g. Mt. Rushmore), therefore complicated stuff (e.g. eyes, flying insects, etc.) is designed by the only possible designer, God.

Oh, Darwin would be so honored to have such a fantastic introduction to his most famous work!

The introduction also gets into one of my favorite creationist goofs... rationalizing genetic evidence supporting evolution and refuting a literal interpretation of Genesis. Why do I love this one so much? Because it highlights the importance of both science and history!

Perhaps not surprisingly, folks who manage to botch basic science also frequently fail to grasp some important aspects of relevant history. In this case, that bit of history is what all this genetic evidence really means to the claims of creationists over the past century or so.

Here Comfort brings up a typical example: the genetic similarity between humans and chimps (although we could also apply the following to the scientific hypothesis-turned-theory that all life shares a common ancestor that lived a few billion years ago).

During Darwin's later years towards the end of the 1800s, when (at worst) all we had was morphological data from living organisms and some weak fossil evidence supporting the theory of evolution, creationists of the day were very vocal about the notion of having primate ancestors... they would have none of it! Then, just decades ago, the discovery of DNA leads to an explosion of genetics research, and from it we discover a huge and growing body of evidence that confirms the predictions of evolutionary theory including common descent with modification by natural selection. Add to that the boom in fossil discoveries since Darwon's day (yes, plenty of intermediate forms - just as predicted by evolutionary theory) and the evidence is really overwhelming.

So what's a creationist to do? Follow the fringes of science, and let the rationalizations begin. Did we evolve from apes? Why all the physical, behavioral, and genetic similarities? Comfort, of course, has the answer:
When you see a biplane and a jet—which share common features of wings, body, tires, engine, controls, etc.—do you assume that one must have evolved from the other naturally, without a maker? That’s illogical. It’s more reasonable to conclude that similar design indicates a common, intelligent designer. An architect typically uses the same building materials for numerous buildings, and a car manufacturer commonly uses the same parts in various models. So if we have a common Designer, we would expect to find that a similar “blueprint” was used in many different creatures.
See, so if we just recognize that there was a designer, then clearly this is all just proof that there was a designer! So simple! Yet, unfortunately for Comfort, so wrong. You see, again we have the problem with the design argument - if you prove it by assuming it, you haven't really done much, now have you?

Interestingly, Comfort also doesn't appear to have actually taken the time to learn the science he's trying to debunk, and as a consequence he ends up making a fool of himself and his cause in the minds of knowledgeable people who see gaping holes in his competence. For yet another example check pages 13-14 for a little more of Ray's (mis-)interpretation of the science:
After all, DNA is the coding for the way our bodies look and operate, so creatures with similar features or body functions (eyes for vision, enzymes for digestion, etc.) would have similar coding for these things in their DNA.
Err... nope, not quite. In this case, counterexamples are easy... form and function do NOT imply genetics - it's the other way around! For such examples, see the many cases of convergent evolution, the fact that eyes have evolved in many different ways in different organisms, and so on.

Indeed, the list goes on and on... like shooting fish in a barrel.
If evolution were true, and humans and chimps did have a common ancestor, we would expect to find something that is half-monkey/half-man. These intermediate stages where one species supposedly evolves into another species are called “transitional forms."
Yes, he botched evolution again, I know, but he's onto something! Is he suggesting we look for empirical evidence of our primate ancestry?? Here, Comfort digs himself yet another hole since we have those fossils - lots of such fossils, in fact. In addition, as mentioned above, we've also got the genetic and morphological evidence too. Fortunately for Ray, he might still be able to try the old creationist trick of simply demanding transitional forms for all the transitional forms and more and more such evidence - so he's safely guaranteed to NEVER be sufficiently convinced of anything.

And with that, I'll wrap it up and leave you with a few links. I'll add more links as they become available, but feel free to share anything else in the comments below.

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For more on evolution and fossils:
1. Don Prothero's book "Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters"
2. I hear Jerry Coyne's book "Why Evolution is True" is also quite good.
3. The www.talkorigins.org archive.
4. PNAS has made 19 papers freely available as a supplement to the 16 June 2009 issue:
Supplement to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, which includes articles from the Arthur M. Sackler Colloquium of the National Academy of Sciences In the Light of Evolution III: Two Centuries of Darwin. The complete program is available on the NAS web site at www.nasonline.org/sackler_darwin
More on Ray Comfort & The Origin of Species:
1. Special Origin of Species to be Given Away in Schools
2. Original post at the blog Pharyngula.
3. Ray Comfort's Wikipedia entry.

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