More on evolution – some general advice to creationists

So, this post is a sort of a follow up to my recent discussion with Robert Congelliere. It is sort of general advice for creationists (with maybe a couple of specifics).
The first point I want to address is the “This is a huge obvious hole in the theory of evolution… I can’t believe everyone doesn’t see it” issue. There are several examples of this in my discussion with Robert, things, that if true, would make evolution a preposterous theory. Well, the trick is that millions of people have studied this for a living. Maybe some of them were blinded by adherence to the theory, maybe some of them were not that bright, but most of them are intelligent dedicated people with open minds. If your flaw is glaringly obvious, odds are really strong that you have misunderstood something, otherwise at least a few of those millions of people would have seen it, and disproving evolution would not make a given scientist a pariah, it would do the opposite. It would result in instant international fame, pretty much guarantee them the Nobel for biology (and the attendant million dollar prize) and give them first crack at any research chair post in the world. It is an instant massive career builder. A concrete example of this is the issue (that Robert thought would be a show stopper) of transitional forms. He believed that there were no transitional forms in the fossil record because there were no creatures with half an arm, a stub of a wing, etc. His standard for a transitional form ended up being a useless bit that was the beginning of forming a useful bit. In fact, any fossil exhibiting these traits would be a major blow to evolution, as it completely contradicts what evolution predicts, and Robert has misunderstood (lets not even get into the veins thing…). According to the theory of evolution, every part of a creature has to serve some use as it develops. Later, after it has been developed, it may cease to be useful (the appendix) and become vestigial.
To me, the most interesting thing about that part of the conversation was that I had never even considered that someone might think that was what a transitional form meant, so I did learn something useful (and in future when people claim there are no transitional forms, at least I will have some clue how they could believe that – no matter how wrong they might be).
Next is the ex-atheist argument. If you say you used to be an atheist but converted to because you were presented with compelling evidence that you can show me, I will hear you out. If you say that you converted because you “had a religious experience” I will ignore you. Having a feeling is not having evidence of anything, no matter how strong the feeling is.
A third one, and this is huge, is the “Evolutionist” argument. This takes the form of saying that the theory of evolution is wrong because it can’t explain how the universe began or how life started. This just makes rational, educated people angry. The theory of evolution is and explanation of the variety of life on earth, and how they arose from a very limited variety far back in time. That is all it explains, and that is all it is supposed to explain. It is not the story of creation, or the tale of the beginning of the universe. Science works best when you address a specific question and then figure out the mechanism. In this case, the predominant theory of the beginning of the universe is the big bang theory. The primary theory of the beginning of life is abiogenesis (which has received a great deal more supporting evidence recently) and the theory of the diversity of life post-abiogenesis (or whichever theory comes out on top but probably abiogenesis) is the theory of evolution. As a result of this, there is no such thing as an “Evolutionist” or a “Darwinist”, merely people who find the evidence for evolution compelling (and if you understood the science you would too… I can pretty much guarantee it).
Next is the argument that “Evolution is only a theory”. I really don’t want to get into this one because so many people have in the past, but I will short form it. Basically, a scientific theory isn’t the same thing as the layman’s term theory. A scientific theory is a rigorously tested set of principles that have stood up to everything that has come against it. In the case of evolution, it is one of the best established theories in existence. A common statement is that gravity is also a theory, and evolution is as well established, but that is wrong. We don’t know the mechanism behind gravity, meaning that gravity is a less exact theory than evolution. Drop this argument completely, as it fails.
Finally, the bible. Atheists don’t believe in the bible. Any argument that has the bible as it’s source is going to fail to convince an atheist. It’s just that simple. If you can provide a source that establishes the veracity of the bible that stands up to the peer review process, then we can talk, but if your source for the truth of the bible is the bible itself, then you fail.

I also want to add a brief note about morality. I don’t believe that it is impossible to be genuinely moral as a religious person, merely that is much harder to tell who is moral and who is simply acting in what they believe is a moral manner in exchange for a reward and the avoidance of punishment. Basically, the argument that morals break down without religion is very, very hollow since religion stresses a reward/punishment system for moral behaviour meaning that it is impossible to tell what is motivated by the internal beliefs of the individual.

I guess that’s it for now. More to come soon.

6 Responses to “More on evolution – some general advice to creationists”

  1. 1 Pete Nicholls
    July 25, 2009 at 10:04 am

    Logical, concise and even-headed. I await the predictable blowhard religious backlash with weary resignment. Some links/citations would be nice, too.

    I’ll add a note about the scientific method: everything that stands the test in science is based on hypothesis backed by rigourous testing and empirical evidence. If someone wants to question the methods used to reach the conclusion reached (for example, evolution), all they need do is look up the standing scientific research, attempt to produce different test results and submit the new, contradictory, results to peer-review and meta-analysis. It’s that ability to validate each individual part of a scientific theory that gives scientists such a solid foundation on which to base their work.

    • July 25, 2009 at 12:38 pm

      Thanks Pete,

      Yeah, I didn’t go too much into the scientific method and the peer review process here, very good points. So far, I haven’t had any fundie action, which is too bad (how much you want to bet that if I they will argue from one of the stances I said not to bother with…)

  2. 3 Pete Nicholls
    July 25, 2009 at 11:55 am

    Nit-pick correction: “weary resignation” instead of “weary resignment”.

  3. 4 Chris Wilson
    February 10, 2010 at 11:02 pm

    In your further dealings with these types, you might draw their attention to what are known as “ring species.” From Wikipedia – “a ring species is a connected series of neighboring populations that can interbreed with relatively closely related populations, but for which there exist at least two “end” populations in the series that are too distantly related to interbreed.”

    This is living proof – literally – of transitional forms and how evolution works.

    There’s nothing like the look on a creationists face when he grasps what ring species means to his feeble stand. Ah, who am I kidding? I’ve never seen that look because believing in creationism has nothing to do with facts or information.

    For a long breakdown on this topic – check out my series on it…

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