Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Explaining the Differences

(This is part 6 in a series evaluating Dinesh D'Souza's reasons for accepting evolution.)

In his otherwise excellent book, What's So Great About Christianity, Dinesh D'Souza seemingly takes off his thinking cap in the chapter about evolution. We have already dismissed (as both fallacious and false) two of his four reasons for accepting the evolutionary myth of our day. The other two reasons he offers (his reasons #3 and #4) are found in this paragraph...
The great strength of evolution as a scientific theory is that it makes sense of two huge facts about life. On the one hand, all living things from trees to cats to humans are formed from the same genetic material. Beyond this, it is evident that many groups of organisms show similar characteristics. So there is a unity to life. At the same time, living creatures exhibit incredible diversity. There are literally millions of living species with widely varying characteristics. Evolution accounts both for the similarities and the differences. It accounts for common characteristics by positing that the creatures possessing them descended from the same ancestor. It explains the differences by suggesting that creatures evolved new traits over a long period of time under the pressures of survival.
My first reaction to reading this paragraph was "Hello? Is that supposed to be an argument?" D'Souza notes two things about life on Earth; it is both diverse and yet similar. It so happens that people throughout history have noted these same two things, so Darwin broke no new ground there. It would be a poor theory about life's diversity that did not attempt to account for these two hallmarks of living things, but what we need from such a scientific theory is supporting evidence, verified predictions, coherence with the available record. But what's more bothersome is that D'Souza gives no indication that he understands the issues at all. He does not (except in the hand-waving sort of way typical of the evolutionists he is here parroting) make any attempt to support the claim that evolution accounts for these things.

In the next post, let me deal with the similarity or unity issue. This is the one that seems to impress many folks today. For this post, let me focus on the fact that life is diverse. And let me break it down very basically...

Let us say, for the sake of simplicity, that there are only two scientific explanations on the table. One is evolution, the idea that all life evolved from a single common ancestor through a gradual, unbroken chain of normal reproduction. On this view, the mechanisms invoked are random genetic mutation and natural selection. The other theory is that the same transcendent, personal Being who created the universe also created life, both first life and subsequent versions.

Now, in exactly what way does the fact of there being a great diversity of life somehow argue in favor of the former and against the latter? I'm not seeing it at all. And if there's something here that I am missing, D'Souza was remiss in not making it clear. It seems, on the face of it, that an appeal to the great diversity of life provides absolutely no positive support for evolutionary theory and quite a bit of refutation of it. That life is diverse was known long before Darwin came along, and offers no refutation of the default view that diverse life forms are not linked by evolution but were created as diverse life forms.

If there were, in fact, evidence that life has bridged the great gaps between diverse forms, than we might take such a claim seriously. But the very diversity that impresses D'Souza in favor of evolution was seen by Darwin as a real and valid objection to his theory, and he hoped that further paleontological work would demonstrate a continuum bridging the diverse groups. It has not, of course.

Let me put it another way. Darwin's theory was never (contrary to D'Souza) about explaining the similarities between living things (we'll reiterate that in the next post). It was an attempt to explain the differences. And while it is true that modern evolutionists claim that their theory accounts for the differences, the fact remains that the hoped-for evidence is entirely missing. Evolution as an explanation for the differences among living things remains nothing but a story, much like the expensive new clothes bought by the emperor in Hans Christian Anderson's short story.

Regarding evolution's success at such an explanation, all D'Souza offers is this...
It explains differences by suggesting that creatures evolved new traits over a long period of time under the pressures of survival.
He's close to the truth here. Evolutionary theory merely suggests, but offers no supporting evidence for that suggestion. It appeals to long periods of time (as though the seemingly impossible becomes plausible by such an appeal to time). But whereas Darwin assumed that his theory had infinite time in which to work its hidden marvels, today's evolutionists naively ignore the findings of modern cosmology, which show that the universe is instead quite finite. And then, the "pressures of survival" (natural selection) can now be seen as a force that keeps living things from changing, and not one that magically helps them to produce new traits.

The failure of evolution to account for the differences between living organisms is exemplified by the gap between chimpanzees and humans. The genomes of these two creatures are far more similar than evolutionists hoped or feared, and yet that similarity utterly fails to explain why humans are on a completely different level (consciously, intellectually, technologically, spiritually, with regard to moral awareness) than this species with such a similar genetic make-up. And on this issue, the default (and competing) scientific theory remains viable, unrefuted by the evidence. That theory claims (and has always claimed) that humans and chimps were created as different species, and that no purely materialist differences will be sufficient to account for their significant differences.

We have now seen through three of D'Souza's four reasons for accepting evolution. Last, we'll tackle the similarity among living things...

Monday, December 29, 2008

Another Darwinbot

Once again, while blogging about the inadequacies of evolutionary theory, I received a comment from a Darwinbot. Go here to read what a Darwinbot is and what my own rules are for dealing with a Darwinbot infection on my blog. (In this case, the Darwinbot was both anonymous and a steamroller, and so I was forced to excise his comment. I will, however, quote portions of it here to give you the flavor.)

The comments were not (as we would like to see in response to our own argumentation) arguments supported by evidence or deductive premises. Here's an example...
Evolution is a scientific fact, not a "belief."
This is Darwinbot argumentation of the finest order. Indeed, I 'd be a rich biologist if I received a nickel for every time someone uttered this vacuous phrase in the belief that it has some meaning and validity. How about this comment?
Virtually 100% of biologists love evolutionary biology.
This is modeled on the debating method known colloquially as "Is not!" The trick is to deny another's claim, loudly and repeatedly, and hope that the tone and repetition might fool someone into not noticing that you have no evidence to support that denial. In this case, a single biologist who denies evolution would invalidate the 100% claim, and so the "virtually" is necessary since any number of such counterexamples could be named. Regarding my own views, the Darwinbot wrote,
If you're really a biologist you're a disgrace to your profession.
Thankfully, this is the closest my anonymous commentor came to digressing to mere name-calling. But actually, upon all accounts, I have done nothing to disgrace my profession. My biological services are in reasonably high demand, and I continue to make a decent living providing biological research. Moreover, I am considered an expert in (fairly narrow) areas of my chosen disciplines and have traveled throughout North, Central, and South America presenting the results of my research. In part, this is because, as I have argued elsewhere (go here and here), macroevolutionary theory is entirely irrelevant to conducting biological research.

Here's more of the powerful argument left by the visiting Darwinbot...
If evolution is false, how do you explain the diversity of life? Do you invoke God's magic to explain life? Do you think magic is scientific?
It's difficult to follow the misunderstandings twisted together in this series of three questions. The questioner seems to think that the first two involve the same issue, when they are in fact quite different. The neo-Darwinian theory represented an attempt to explain the one--the diversity of life--but made no claims about the other--life itself. Nonetheless, Darwin himself recognized that if God was necessary to explain the latter, then his theory (for explaining the former) was completely unnecessary and useless. Given the findings of modern science (about the finitude of the universe, the complexity of the simplest living cell, the lack of a prebiotic soup, and such) the origin of the first life does indeed seem to require God (that is, fiat miracle) to satisfactorily explain it. (Indeed, the modern intelligent design movement began--in 1966, at Wistar--when mathematicians and probability theorists attempted to apprise Darwinists of the fatal problems their theory faced--and faces--from such modern research findings.)

There are and always have been perfectly good explanations for the diversity of life. The one that gave rise to modern science is the one that I believe best fits all of the facts. That is, of course, that the transcendent, eternal Creator attested to by astronomy, cosmology, physics, and such and revealed in the Bible purposed to make the Earth a fit place for life and then filled the land and seas of this planet with a rich diversity of life that He created.

As for my Darwinbot's conflating "magic" with "miracle," this merely demonstrates how shallow is his understanding of theology and of the rich philosophical debate (over the centuries) about miracles. For now, let me merely say three things: 1) the actual physical evidence about the history of life on Earth fits better any theory that involves some degree of fiat miracle than it does any naturalistic and gradualistic evolutionary theory, 2) defining science (as to exclude appeals to miracle) is not the task of scientists but of philosophers of science, and 3) philosophers of science agree that no such criterion can be successfully defended.

In his defense, the anonymous commentor did raise one legitimate piece of evidence contrary to my claims. He asked how I would explain the presence of endogenous retroviruses in identical places in the human and chimpanzee genomes. As this has to do with the two reasons (given by Dinesh D'Souza for accepting evolution) with which I have yet to deal, I'll save my response to the ER evidence until I have laid that groundwork.

D'Souza Recap

Having first recommended Dinesh D'Souza's book What's So Great About Christianity, I have been spending several posts demonstrating what's wrong with his thinking in the chapter on evolution. At this point, I'm halfway through the four reasons he gives for his acceptance of the macroevolutionary story. (D'Souza is clear to dismiss the naturalistic/atheistic portion of modern evolutionary thought, but my contention is that there is no good reason or evidence that would compel one to accept that evolution--even theistic evolution--is the accurate understanding of life on Earth.)

To recap, D'Souza's first reason for accepting evolution is that "virtually every" biologist accepts it. I identified several problems with this reason. First, it is simply false; there are many biologists who doubt the evolutionary story, though many keep their doubts to themselves since airing those doubts could cost them their job or result in the denial of tenure. Moreover, to the extent that most biologists believe in evolution, it is because continuance in a course of biological study depends in large part upon acquiescing to neo-Darwinism as handed down by the Darwinists that teach and write "virtually every" biology course and textbook.*

Second, D'Souza's reasoning here is fallacious. It commits one of the informal fallacies of relevance, specifically the ad populum fallacy. The truth or falsehood of a claim (or theory or paradigm) is not dependent on its popularity, on whether it enjoys majority (or even unanimous) acceptance. To put it another way, the degree to which an idea is accepted is irrelevant to whether that idea is true or false. In commiting this rather obvious fallacy, D'Souza shows that his thinking on this particular issue is much more confused and less critical than that which he brings to most other subjects. He writes,
While the debate goes on, it seems improbable that the small group of intelligent design advocates is right and the entire community of biologists is wrong.
It should be obvious that every scientific revolution--every significant change in scientific thinking--was preceded by a time in which "virtually every" scientist (in the given field) complacently accepted the reigning theory and the naysayers were few in number (or even a single individual). That D'Souza cannot see this fatal flaw to his reasoning is (I believe) telling.

D'Souza's fourth and final reason (I have not yet dealt with the second and third) for accepting evolution is what he calls a "single invariant trajectory" in the complexity of living things. I took several posts to document the problems with this reason. In short, the geological and fossil record does not in fact show such a trajectory, but at every turn falsifies the expectations of Darwin and the claims of his modern defenders. The actual fossil record demonstrates sudden bursts of new life, fully-formed, fully-adapted, and part of complete ecosystems, followed by long periods of stasis (in which the organism does not show any change throughout its tenure in the fossil record). I went on to explain that the reasons that (what we call) more advanced organisms arose later in Earth's history had nothing to do with evolution and everything to do with Earth's changing suitability. Specific life forms were not created until the planet provided an environment in which they could thrive.

In the next post, I'll begin to interact with D'Souza's remaining two reasons for accepting evolution. As you might expect, they too involve muddled thinking on this issue.

*I'm not here describing some evil conspiracy. It's simply the way of science to encapsulate in textbook form the reigning paradigm in a given field, and to present that paradigm as complete and unquestionable truth. The intention is not to indoctrinate or brainwash students (though that may appear to be the result); rather, the point is to bring each generation of students as quickly as possible up to speed, so that they can break new ground from that foundation (and not waste time reestablishing in their own mind the validity of that paradigm). This is in part why (in the specific case of Darwinian evolution) one recieves such loud, insistent, and uncomprehending resistance today when one raises the tiniest doubt about whether evolutionary theory is adequate or true.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Birth of Jesus of Nazareth

A few thoughts about Jesus of Nazareth, whose birth my family will celebrate today and tomorrow...

Even 2000 years later, more people celebrate this one man's birth than that of any other person who has ever lived.

More works of art have been inspired by Jesus' life and death than that of anyone else.

More songs--by far--have been made about Him than about any other. Indeed, the number of songs about his birth far eclipse the songs about any other great person.

The vast majority of all the hospitals, orphanages, and universities of this world have been founded by His followers, as was the great nation in which I live.

From a purely historical perspective, no life has had a greater impact on the world. When He died, his followers, a small, ragtag band of uneducated fisherman and peasants, outcasts in an insignificant nation subjugated by the might of Rome, went into hiding, confused and disillusioned. But His death and subsequent bodily resurrection changed the course of history. Today, we name our pets Nero and Caesar, while we name our children after those first Christ-followers, John and James, Mary, Peter, Paul. Our dating system acknowledges His coming in the flesh as the central point in all of human history.

Everything about His life--and death--was prophesied centuries before the actual events. Though hardly recognized as royalty during His life, this Jesus alone (of all who have ever lived) was King over the universe before His birth and reigns as sovereign King over all ever since His resurrection.

The birth of Jesus, that paradoxical, humble, sinless, dying-and-rising-again, miracle-working, eternal God-man, was an actual historical event. And though we can't know for certain what the actual date was, we can rejoice with people of every nation and from throughout the centuries that God so loved us that He sent His Son to bring us life abundant and life eternal.

May you and yours experience the full meaning of the birth--and continuing life--of Jesus of Nazareth!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Earth's Changing Habitability

(D'Souza on Evolution, Part 5)

We have seen in recent posts that the actual geological and fossil record does not support the idea that life's history has been represented by a single steady trajectory from simple to complex, that indeed the evolutionary paradigm is at every point falsified by the evidence. Nonetheless, there exist today living things (including humans) that didn't exist during earlier time periods. What's more, we think of many of today's organisms (again including humans) as more complex or more 'advanced' than earlier living things. If evolutionary explanations fail to account for this situation, what better explanation is there, or are we at a loss to explain the trend that impresses Dinesh D'Souza?

Fortunately, the results from a number of other disciplines--some of them unknown in Darwin's day--can be brought to bear on this question. These disciplines include astrophysics, chemistry, geology and paleogeology (and new models such as plate tectonics), climatology, and others. And the two-fold answer is, in reality, a quite simple one. First, the more advanced life alive today could not have survived the conditions that existed on Earth throughout the vast majority of its history. And secondly, all of the previously-existing lifeforms have played critical roles in changing the conditions of the planet and its atmosphere to make Earth habitable by the forms that live today, including humans.

To repeat, it is now clear that the land and seas of the Earth have been filled with life from the earliest possible moment, indeed from long before it would be expected according to naturalistic (and evolutionary) scenarios. Moreover, the conditions of Earth today--including such things as the ratio of land area to water area and the juxtaposition of the land masses (with respect to the planet's axial tilt)--are optimal for the maximum biomass and the maximum diversity of life! On any objective view, everything about the Earth is designed for life, and the actualization of life has been the striking characteristic of Earth's history.

But what is also clear is that the Earth's conditions have been (throughout its prior history) drastically different than they are today, and that in a number of ways relevant to the question we've been examining. This discussion may only scratch the surface of these differences (as scientists are only beginning to understand many of the conditions of earlier periods in Earth's history).

The Earth's rotation is slowing down (due to ongiong gravitational interaction with both the sun and moon). In earlier periods, the rotation period was far shorter than 24 hours. This means that day and night were much shorter and that what we consider hurricane-force winds would have been constant, and that when winds were less than 100 mph at ground level, they might have exceeded 2000 mph at six feet above the planet's surface. At the same time, the Earth's luminosity--and thus, the amount of heat reaching the Earth--was much less. Except for single-celled life, Earth was indeed a very inhospitable place for the first four billion years.

Of course, life itself had little to do with slowing down the planet's rotation rate. But other characteristics of the early Earth--conditions inhospitable for advanced life--were improved by the earliest life. A short list of things essential to birds and terrestrial mammals (including humans) that 1) were not present (or not present in life-friendly concentrations or forms) or necessary for 'simple' life and that 2) are as they are today largely as a result of the existence (for billions of years) of those earlier life forms includes: an oxygen-rich atmosphere, a protective ozone layer, topsoil, and trace elements (life-essential but toxic in other quantities or form). Other by-products of eons of life history that are necessary for a technological humanity include limestone, coal, oil, and natural gas.

In short, the trend toward 'more advanced' life, far from supporting an evolutionary explanation for life's history is much better understood as the careful design of the planet by its Creator to make it maximally suitable for the greatest diversity and abundance of life throughout its history, culminating (in these recent times) with the most advanced life, including technologically-advanced humans capable of understanding the Creator's purposes for the universe.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

D'Souza on Evolution (Part 4)

I have been assessing (in the last few posts) Dinesh D'Souza's claim that the "single invariant trajectory" (from simple to complex) of the history of life on Earth is evidence of evolution. I have argued that it is only superficially true, and also that the claim as given represents circular reasoning. I intend to demonstrate a better--non-evolutionary--reason for even a superficial increase in complexity. But before I do that, I want to clarify the degree to which the evolutionary story is falsified by the actual fossil record. That is, I don't wish to leave my readers with the wrong impresssion that the trajectory that so impresses D'Souza is real.

According to Darwin's theory--and its modern synthesis--life is expected to have originated once, and that origination (from inorganic chemicals) would have been gradual, taking place over a long time and being completed rather late in Earth's history. Once that origin took place, life itself is expected to have evolved gradually, with increasing complexity the steady trend. While some pauses might be acceptable under this naturalistic scenario, no breaks or interruptions (at least none that would involve starting over) in this upward trend are predicated.

None of these expectations match the history of life on Earth as recorded in the geologic and fossil records. Instead, life originated early, suddenly, and repeatedly. Indeed, life is evident in the earliest rocks found. Fossils of living things trace back to 3.85 billion years ago, and rocks that are even earlier than this contain carbon signatures that indicate organic processes. These early life forms lived throughout a period when heavy bombardment by extraterrestrial objects was common, when Earth's habitability was in continual flux. Life did not arise once, but over and over again. Moreover, this early life was ubiquitous and diverse. There was not just a single form of bacteria, but a number of different ones, some that were chemoautotrophic in various ways and some that were photosynthetic. What's more, the simplest early life was every bit as complex as (and indistinguishable from) single-celled organisms alive today.

Nearly 90% of Earth's history is filled with nothing more than single-celled organisms (we'll see in the next post why this is true). The first significant move towards greater complexity was a sudden leap (some 530 million years ago) during what is called the Cambrian explosion. There was nothing gradual about this burst of life. Rather, life went from single-celled (and conglomerates of largely undifferentiated cells) to multicellular organisms with fully developed tissues, tissue systems, organs, and organ systems in a period of just a few million years. Long known form the Burgess shale of British Columbia, these Cambrian fossils have been greatly augmented in recent years by findings from Chengjiang, China. It is now recognized that virtually all the extinct and extant animal phyla sprang suddenly into existence in this late and brief period of Earth history.

Even in the recent 10% of Earth's history--a period from which the fossil record is much more complete and easily discerned--there have been major extinction events that contradict evolutionary predictions. The best known are those that ended each of the three dinosaur eras. Most people are aware of the meteorite collision (on the Yucatan Peninsula and in adjacent waters) that brought an end to the Cretaceous and caused the extinction of the last dinosaurs, but similar events are known to have wiped out first the dinosaurs of the Triassic and then the subsequent dinosaurs of the Jurassic. In each case, new life forms (completely unlike those wiped out) arose to fill the planet anew.

At whatever scale one chooses to examine the record of life on Earth, one sees not the gradual and steady increase in complexity that evolutionists (and D'Souza) pretend is the case. Rather, life always appears suddenly, fully-formed, fully-adapted for the conditions of that time, and as part of full ecologies. Preceding such appearances are large gaps devoid of anything that might constitute evolutionary precursors, and all of the evidence conspires to demonstrate that these gaps are actual (not the result of imperfections in the record). Moreover, following the sudden appearance of any group or species, its tenure in the fossil record is always characterized by stasis and not (as expected by evolutionary theory) change.

In other words, when D'Souza appeals to an invariant single trajectory in the history of life on Earth, he is merely parroting evolutionists, whose claims represent what their theory would require but not what the actual fossil evidence shows.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

D'Souza on Evolution (Part 3)

(Third post in a series about the four reasons Dinesh D'Souza gives for his acceptance of evolution. Reading the previous posts might enhance the reader's understanding of this one.)

So, what about the "single invariant trajectory" of the fossil record to which D'Souza appeals? Let us assume (contrary to fact) that the record does indeed show the invariant trajectory from simple to complex life that D'Souza supposes. What would this observation prove with regard to distinguishing between evolution and, say, intelligent design or some form of creationism?

First, it would seem that the observation itself is somewhat meaningless without any attempt to define complexity. That is, it seems to be circular reasoning to say that more complex life is that which has arisen later, by way of evolution, and then to use this increasing complexity as proof that evolution has occurred. I don't believe that this is what D'Souza means to claim. Given his acceptance of evolution, however, I suspect that his thinking here hasn't really risen above uncritically seeing increasing complexity from an evolutionary perspective.

There are, in fact, single-celled organisms alive today that--in their ecologies and life histories--are quite a bit more complex than many multicellular organisms. Likewise, there are invertebrates whose life histories are significantly more complex than those of many vertebrates. Take, for instance, the caterpillar whose entire body goes through a complete dissolution in midlife and starts anew with a totally different morphology (indeed, not only the morphology but the diet, physiology, mode of mobility, reproductive capability and a number of other things about the butterfly couldn't be any different than it is). If we define complexity according to life history and ecology, then D'Souza's claim is refuted.

If nothing else, these considerations demonstrate that D'Souza's single-cells to invertebrates to fish to amphibians to reptiles to mammals trajectory is simplistic. To be sure, it also seems intuitively true that the butterfly is more complex (in some ways) than the earliest invertebrates, or even the earliest members of the same phylum (the earliest arthropods would probably be the seemingly ubiquitous extinct marine creatures known as trilobites). But again, it seems to beg the question to discuss increasing complexity without defining it independent of alleged evolution.

Comparative anatomists and physiologists would tend to define increasing complexity according to a movement from single cells to conglomerations of unspecialized cells to collections of tissues to organisms whose specialized tissues form specialized organs to those with organ systems. On this view, the organism with the most different organ systems (circulatory, nervous, muscular, digestive, etc.) is more advanced than the one with fewer organ systems, which in turn is more advanced than the one with organs but no organ systems...

The main problem (for evolution) of this view is that life on earth leapt from the lower levels of this scale to the highest levels of this scale overnight (as it were, in geological time) during the Cambrian explosion (530 million years ago). Prior to that time, there existed single-celled organisms, multicellular creatures with little or no cell specialization, and some living things that were multicellular that had specialized cells (differentiated cells, or those with different roles). Suddenly, there arose--fully formed and fully adapted--organisms on the extreme advanced end of this anatomical and physiological spectrum, animals with not only specialized tissues and organs but with a number of organ systems. Members of all of the known animal phyla existed by the end of the Cambrian explosion, though members of only a few existed prior to it. And so D'Souza's claim finds no support here, if complexity is viewed in this traditional (and reasonable) way.

In short, one cannot use the history of life on Earth as evidence for evolution unless one has first been able to get outside of an evolutionary perspective to ask more penetrating questions about the differences between "advanced" and "primitive" living things. I believe that doing so will enable one to arrive at a more correct explanation for the history of life, one that--far from supporting Darwinian evolution--shows at every stage the desire of an intelligent Creator to fill the planet with the most (and the most 'advanced') life possible.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

D'Souza on Evolution (Part 2)

In the last post, I identified some really bad thinking in Dinesh D'Souza's first (of four) arguments in defense of evolution. Skipping (for the nonce) over reasons 2 and 3, I want to here address his reason #4 for accepting evolution.
One of the strongest proofs for evolution is that the geological record, for all its imperfections, shows a single invariant trajectory. The oldest rocks contain only single-celled creatures. Later strata show the appearance of invertebrates. Then we see the first fish, then amphibians, then reptiles, and finally mammals. Man appears latest on the scene. The fossils are found in exactly the places and at exactly the times that we would expect if Darwin's theory is correct. Not a single fossil has ever been found in a place where it is not supposed to show up. If we ever discover the fossil of a single reptile in a rock so old that fish had not yet arrived, or if we find human skeletons at the time when dinosaurs also lived, then Darwin's theory will be proven false and biologists will have to come up with a new one.
As in the "reason" I examined in the last post, here too D'Souza's ignorance of the actual evidence (in this case, the fossil record) is difficult to disentangle from his inability to think critically on this one issue. He is right on target with his arguments in other chapters, and I wonder whether his many errors on this issue stem from gullibility, a desire to keep one sophisticated foot in the evolutionist camp, or some other factor. Nonetheless, I'll have a go first at teasing apart the circular reasoning and the factual errors involved here, before mentioning relevant findings (of which he seems completely unaware) that lead to a much better explanation for the invariant trajectory that impresses D'Souza. (This will likely take me at least a couple of posts.)

Perhaps a little game of "What he said/What he should have said" will clarify things. He said:
Not a single fossil has ever been found in a place where it is not supposed to show up. If we ever discover the fossil of a single reptile in a rock so old that fish had not yet arrived, or if we find human skeletons at the time when dinosaurs also lived, then Darwin's theory will be proven false and biologists will have to come up with a new one.
What he should have said:
The actual fossil record shows a number of places where creatures deemed to be evolutionary ancestors appear much later than the creatures considered their descendents. This very problematic evidence is so abundant that a name has been coined for the phenomenon--the "temporal paradox." Together with the other evidential problems from the fossil record, the many instances of temporal paradox should long ago have led objective scientists to abandon the Darwinian theory and look for a better one.
A classic case of the temporal paradox is that of birds and theropods. Theropods are--according to evolutionists--the dinosaurs from which birds evolved. Though a variety of therapods are well-represented in the fossil record, none appears prior to 20-30 million years after the first birds. My question is whether--when he is apprised of such evidences--D'Souza will be true to his word and consider Darwin's theory to have been proven false.

What he said:
The fossils are found in exactly the places and at exactly the times that we would expect if Darwin's theory is correct.
What he should have said:
The continued acceptance of Darwinian evolution by academics and media personnel is largely the result of the ability of Darwinists to cast whatever evidence--no matter how contrary to their expectations and predictions--in such a way as to make it seem to support rather than refute their theory.
Go here for support for this claim, but the truth is that Darwin himself (and the paleontologists and geologists of his day) recognized the fossil record as contrary to his theory. Moreover, the leading paleontologists of our day agree that Darwin's theory has been refuted by the fossil evidence.

Nonetheless, there is a sense in which D'Souza's very simple claim about a single trajectory is superficially true. In the next post we'll begin to examine whether this has anything to tell us about the merits of evolutionary theory.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

D'Souza on Evolution

In reading What's So Great About Christianity, I've been impressed by Dinesh D'Souza's communicative skills and his ability to see the big picture and the crux of the various apologetic issues he tackles. His book is a welcome addition to the modern apologetic literature; I highly recommend it. Nonetheless, there are points at which I take real issue with his arguments and conclusions.

In general, D'Souza's treatments are insightful, perceptive, and outstandingly well-reasoned. Thus it is all the more startling when--on one or two issues--he displays a lack of comprehension of the facts and a rather sophomoric reasoning. The prime example comes in chapter thrirteen, titled "Paley was right: evolution and the argument from design." In this section, D'Souza acknowledges his acceptance of the macroevolutionary story (albeit without the naturalistic component) and offers four reasons for that acceptance. It is here that he betrays himself as "in over his head" regarding the relevant facts and (as a result?) unable to think as clearly on this issue as he does elsewhere.

So, I'll address D'Souza's four arguments in favor of evolution (taking only the first in this post). He writes,
I am not a biologist, but what impresses me is that virtually every biologist in the world accepts the theory of evolution. While the debate goes on, it seems improbable that the small group of intelligent design advocates is right and the entire community of biologists is wrong.
Having read some really perceptive arguments in the previous chapters, I almost couldn't believe what I was reading here! I would hope that every freshman philosophy student would (first of all) recognize this argument as fallacious. The truth value of a claim (or theory) does not lie in its popularity, and such an appeal to popularity is irrelevant to determining truth. This informal logical fallacy has a name--the ad populum fallacy--and is among the easiest to spot. I still find it incredible that D'Souza's defense of evolution begins with such a glaring error in reasoning.

This claim also betrays D'Souza's ignorance of the history of science. Many have been the times when virtually all scientists believed a wrong theory; and in each case, the acceptance of a better theory began with a few (or a single) scientist(s) boldly challenging the popular view. Before Einstein, "virtually every" astronomer and physicist accepted the idea that the universe was eternal and static. Einstein himself was so persuaded by that view that he distrusted his own equations (since they led to a contrary conclusion). He inserted a fudge factor of sorts (a cosmological constant for which there was no evidence) that had the effect of negating the expansion of the universe, thus preserving the static, eternal picture of the universe. Einstein later called this the greatest mistake of his life, and we now recognize that "virtually every" scientist of that day was dead wrong on that issue.

Any number of other cases could be cited. The fact is that major paradigm shifts within science always begin with a handful of intrepid, truly objective scientists skeptical of the reigning (popular) paradigm.

D'Souza's argument also spotlights his ignorance of the sociology of science. The extent to which it appears that all biologists accept evolution is in large part an artifact of the stranglehold that naturalistic neo-Darwinism has on the sciences in general and biology in particular. The expression of even the slightest doubt about evolution can result in the loss of one's job or the denial of tenure. This is especially true of biologists, but the Guillermo Gonzalez case at Iowa State University demonstrates that it is not confined to biology. So D'Souza's claim has at least two sociological problems: one, belief in evolution has become a pre-requisite for success within biology (despite its relative uselessness in practical terms), and two, those biologists skeptical of evolution dare not voice that skepticism (with the result that one might be fooled into thinking that virtually all biologists accept evolution).

Perhaps more importantly, the claim is simply false. Many are the biologists today, in the United States and elsewhere, who do not accept macroevolution, and that for evidential (not religious) reasons. In point of fact, macroevolutionary theory in general--and natural selection acting upon random gene mutations particularly--suffers from having a dearth of supporting evidence. It is its metaphysical and atheistic implications and not evidence that has caused the popularity of (indeed, the religious zeal toward) evolution among scientists.

Last, a word about the philosophy of science. Had D'Souza ever read Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, he would recognize in today's debate an existing paradigm in its dying stages. In particular, the defense of macroevolutionary theory not by appeals to the evidence but by ad hominem attacks and attempts to silence or discredit its critics is characteristic of a theory unable any longer to withstand empirical and logical scrutiny.

Again, I highly recommend D'Souza's book. But he was ill-advised to address biological evolution, a subject on which his knowledge and reading is clearly shallow, narrow, and one-sided and about which, as a consequence, his otherwise crisp thinking lets him down badly.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Fundamentalism vs. Traditional Christianity

One of the things that a Christian apologist does is to attempt to clearly and accurately articulate what it is that Christians believe. This post is part of such an effort.

In the last post, I shared a quote from Dinesh D'Souza in which he alluded to a significant distinction between traditional Christianity and Fundamentalism. He went on to argue that the New Atheists have used Fundamentalism as a straw man, a mischaracterization of true Christianity that is easily knocked down. And I think he's absolutely right.

So what distinguishes Fundamentalism from traditional Christianity? What is there in Fundamentalism that is absent from the orthodox faith? Both involve belief in the inspiration of Scripture, in creation ex nihilo, in the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and in His substitutionary atonement, bodily resurrection, and eventual second coming in judgment. So what is there in Fundamentalism for which you will search in vain the creeds to which all believers (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant) have assented and that have retained their vibrancy and relevance throughout the centuries?

Just one thing... belief that the Bible teaches that the Earth and universe are only thousands of years old. This belief became (for Fundamentalists) a central tenet in the early 1900's as a response to the widespread teaching of naturalistic evolution.*

Of course, there are some corollary ideas that make Fundamentalism even more problematic, and D'Souza probably had some of these in mind as well. All are logically necessary to belief in a young earth, and all represent obstacles to the acceptance and understanding of true Christianity. These include biblicism, the notion that the Bible is the only reliable source of knowledge. This idea involves a rejection (in large measure) of the traditional doctrine of dual revelation, which says that God has revealed Himself both through the Bible and through the creation. (On the biblicist view, science is completely unreliable, and the only accurate scientific conclusions are those made by Christians who are also believers in a young earth.) Hand in hand with young earth beliefs is the interpretation (again a very modern one) that the flood of Noah's day (recorded in Genesis 6-8) was not only universal (applying to all humans and the region they inhabited) but actually global. This leads, for example, to claims that the Grand Canyon was carved out in less than a year, that all terrestrial life was represented on the ark, that dinosaurs and people existed simultaneously, and more. Other corollary aspects of Fundamentalism are a hyper-literal approach to Scripture, fideism, and a general tendency toward anti-intellectualism.

I'm with D'Souza on this one. I'm irritated that many modern Christians are unfamiliar with what constitutes traditional Christianity and willing to accept as biblical a superficial interpretation that is so indefensible. Because Fundamentalism has become so widespread within the American church, much of apologetics--defending true Christianity--requires first explaining what the Bible does not say--that the Earth and universe are only thousands of years old or that there was a global flood.

* Regular readers of this blog will realize that subsequent discoveries of the 20th and 21st centuries have made naturalistic (or even gradualistic) evolution a dying paradigm (although the theistic implications of those discoveries have caused many scientists, educators, and media personnel to cling to Darwinism despite the evidence). Primary among such discoveries is the recognition that the universe had a hot "big bang" beginning only 13.7 billion years ago. This finite beginning to the universe both undermines a central assumption of naturalistic evolution (an eternal universe) and supports claims that the Bible has made all along.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Horse-Kick Christianity

I'm almost finished with Dinesh D'Souza'a What's So Great About Christianity. Parts of the book are excellent, and others not so stellar, and so I'll probably use it as a springboard for a few blog posts. Here's a quote from the introduction that's worth sharing...
Precisely because the Christians usually duck and run, the atheists have had it too easy. They have been flogging the carcass of "fundamentalism" without having to encounter the horse kick of a vigorous traditional Christianity.
In the next post, I'll offer my thoughts on the distinctions between "fundamentalism" and traditional Christianity.