His Brother Was Joktan, If That Helps

In his next chapter, Coyne addresses the subject of biogeography, “the study of the distribution of species on earth” (p. 88). In responding to this chapter, I want to begin by pointing out how much of it was beside the point. Coyne spent a great deal of time and energy showing the various ways that creationists would be wrong if we were maintaining something that was wrong, but which we don’t actually hold anyway. Well, that was close.

Coyne points to a number of similarities and dissimilarities of critters in various geographical locations, and wonders aloud why God would have gone all over the planet, creating different kinds of animals in such a way as to make us all think they must have evolved.

But of course, Genesis describes the creation of life in one place, that then needed to spread out and “fill” and “multiply,” just like the human race needed to.

“And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth. And the evening and the morning were the fifth day”(Gen. 1:22-23).

And whether or not that was the case with the creation account, it was certainly the case when the animals that survived the Flood spread out from that one place (Gen. 8:19). So Coyne’s argument engageth with the air, failing to connect.

Coyne accounts for these variations and such by postulating that there was originally one monster continent that has since divided up into the continents we know and love today. But this is beside the point as well. There would be obvious differences about time frames and so forth, but creationists are at least open to the possibility that the continents were once attached to each other. (I will say in passing that if Coyne wants to engage with biblical creationists, as distinct from our ID friends, he needs to have a better grasp of what is involved in Flood geology. He is not engaging with the arguments otherwise.)

For example, Genesis has a cryptic reference to something big that happened a few generations after the Flood. Shem’s great-great-grandson was named Peleg, and in his days “the earth was divided” (Gen. 10:21-25). We are not quite sure what this means, but his brother was Joktan, if that helps any. Some creationists believe this represents a continental rupture (as distinct from the continents drifting inches a year for millions of years). As soon as you allow that as a possibility, Coyne’s argument curls up in a ball and won’t stop whimpering.

But I must also say that even though creationists are not necessarily opposed to the idea of one super-continent existing at one time, everyone who loves God rightly must unite to oppose Coyne’s name for that continent, which is Gondwana. I am sure he got this name from what he thought was a reputable source, but in this he was tragically mistaken. Gondwana sounds like a backward province of a country that ought not to be allowed to sit on the United Nations Human Rights Council. It sounds like it was named by a couple of paleo-geologists who were up too late at one of their conferences, having had one too many beers, and who then started naming things in a cluster of giggles.

Now when you combine this with what I previously pointed out about the creationist acknowledgement of significant variation within kinds, Coyne’s efforts in this chapter really are beside the point. But still, even with that noted, it should also be mentioned that Coyne believes that the only kind of god who is allowed into his thought experiments is a god who has the mentality of some dullard bureaucrat, the kind who sleeps at his desk so often that one side of his head is flat, and who consequently has no imagination at all.

“Why would a creator put plants that are fundamentally different, but look so similar in diverse areas of the world that seem ecologically identical? Wouldn’t it make more sense . . .” (p. 91).

“If animals were specially created, why would the creator produce on different continents fundamentally different animals that nevertheless look and act so much alike?” (p. 92)

“All they can do is invoke the inscrutable whims of the creator” (p. 92).

Given what creationists actually argue for, Coyne is just shooting his revolvers into the air. But suppose we did think what Coyne alleges. Suppose God did not fill up the world by having all living creatures fan out from one place like it was the Oklahoma land rush. Suppose we thought what Coyne thinks we think. Why then ask questions like “why would God . . .”? The God who created the giraffe, the peacock, the walrus, and the toucan, for just a rudimentary indication, cannot be relied upon to take this question as seriously as Coyne would like Him to. God keeps messing around. “And now, we really need a mammal that lays eggs . . . and what other parts do we have left? . . . a duck bill! Just the thing.”

Now all this is just bundles of fun to address, but I do want to make one other point, one that I am not sure Coyne really meant to introduce. This chapter is all about biogeography, and he presents, as one of the central jewels in his argument, the fact that Darwin predicted that fossils of the first paleo-humans would be found in . . . Africa. And then, son of gun, they were (pp. 96-97). But what on earth would possess Darwin to make such a prediction? Well, there would be distribution of species n’ stuff, and biogeography . . . and scientific racism.

Coyne quoted Haeckel earlier in this book, which is not necessarily a sin, but he was not quoting him in order to hoot and throw popcorn. Coyne failed to note that, when quoting Haeckel on the embryo argument, he was quoting a man who also believed that “the differences between the highest and the lowest human is greater than that between the lowest human and the highest animal” (Ernst Haeckel, Generelle Morphologie, II/435, emphasis original). Later, Haeckel divided the human race into 10-12 species, and grouped them together in four genera. Lest anyone mistake his meaning, he published a chart of twelve profiles, the top six being human, and the bottom six being our simian cousins. Number 1 was a European (Yay, Europe! Yay, science!). Number 5 was a black African, and number 6 was a Tasmanian. Then, just inches of stellar scientific reasoning below that, came the gorilla. Is everybody still proud of the fact that Darwin called our point of origin for Africa beforehand?

Now this scientific racism (in which Darwin fully participated) got all tied up with the eugenics craze, as well as tied up with the increasingly accepted theory of evolution, and lots of scientific, chin-stroking words like biogeography. In the  Introduction to The Descent of Man, Darwin said that one of the three goals of his book was to show “the value of the differences between the so-called races of man.” He needed that as part of his argument.

This was before eugenics and the rest of all this foolishness covered itself with dishonor in the heyday of scientific racism, the German version, and so it was still possible back then for scientists to talk about differences in humans the way Coyne talks about finches. Since they could, they did. Since Coyne can’t, he doesn’t, but I would love to be present at a Q & A session where for some reason they couldn’t turn my microphone off. I will put it this way — on the principles Coyne has been arguing for here, the theory of evolution justifies scientific racism as a clear possibility.It must be on the table. If we all evolved from a common ancestor, and if there are diverse populations of us, and if the rate of evolution is not a fixed constant like 9.8 meters per second squared, it follows that somebody could easily be a lot closer to that common ancestor than somebody else. Follow the argument wherever it leads, man. I thought scientists were supposed to be courageous.

But — in stark contrast to this folly — biblical Christians have always believed the entire human race consists of cousins. We are all one in Adam, we are one in Noah, and we are offered in the gospel the opportunity of being all one in Christ. Moreover, the racial differences between humans demonstrate how much monogenistic Christians believe that significant variation within a single kind can easily occur. And what this also means, taking it one step further, is that Coyne knows what he believes, but he has only the faintest grasp of what the people he is seeking to refute believe. Not a good showing.

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26 thoughts on “His Brother Was Joktan, If That Helps

  1. Thanks! This is excellent. I was going to again insist that this book is not worth reading, but then it struck me that in certain genres, none of them are. So I suppose that Coyne is as good as it gets, however much that upsets me.

    While getting my undergrad degree in organismal biology, I eventually realized that you really can’t tell an evolutionist (by which I here mean a student or doctor of the biological theory proper,) that his/her concept of a creator God is about as strawy as straw men can be. I suppose it’s only fair. Dissenters do insist on attacking antiquated and simplistic articulations of evolutionary theory, so why should we be surprised when modern evolutionists insist on attacking simplistic, facile conceptions of a Creator/Designer/Cosmic Watchmaker/what-have-you?

  2. Pastor Wilson,

    I’m finishing your commentary on Hebrews and have already read your book on male pastors. I would like to read another commentary by you, but when I click on the ‘Books’ link the page is blank. I would also like to see where you are speaking, but that link sends me to a blank page, too.

    Would you please point me in the right direction?

    Thanks.

  3. Michael, sorry about that. We are still in the process of moving stuff from the old blog site. Your best bet is to go to the Canon Press site, which has most of my titles.

  4. Wonderfully stated! What I also don’t understand is Darwinists/Eco-“saviors” desire to save certain species from going extinct. Why should any of us feel the need to save the polar bears?! They’re just not evolving fast enough…and pity for that. But I’m sure if we just left ‘em all alone, and given enough time

  5. I’ve known quite a few paleo-geologists in my time, and I wouldn’t be surprised if their method of naming Gondwanaland was exactly as you described.

  6. “Gondwana.” The name of a region in India home to some fossils which were useful in constructing the geography of the southern supercontinent known as Gondwana. Silly geologists, they forgot that only random and irrelevant names are originated in sobriety… Why is it so unfathomable to you that life actually could have evolved? Even Catholics and Jews understand that their God could have made life to evolved. Though, I suppose hermaneutics is at the heart of the problem. It was Rome that first held to a literal interpretation of literature being superior. Then, twelve centuries after the Eternal City was sacked by Ostrogoths, that Roman hermaneutic became popular with the Book of Genesis: a piece of ancient Hebrew poetry. I highly doubt that ancient Hebrew poetry was meant to be interpreted literally and the last rabbi I spoke with agreed.

  7. “Wonderfully stated! What I also don’t understand is Darwinists/Eco-“saviors” desire to save certain species from going extinct. Why should any of us feel the need to save the polar bears?! They’re just not evolving fast enough…and pity for that. But I’m sure if we just left ‘em all alone, and given enough time”

    In a purely satirical sense, I think the same could be asked of those trying to save evangelical Christians because those numbers go down yearly too, and they aren’t adapting very well either. Seems a misuse of resources too ;)

    Also I think there’s a bit about being steward’s of the Christian god’s creation, so that’s why you should give a damn about the polar bears.

  8. Genesis was poetry? Hmm. So was Luke 3:23-38 poetry, too?

    No, Genesis is largely historical narrative. Where poetry is present in Genesis it looks like 2:23—that is, it’s manifest; it’s obvious by its context.
    One of the biggest problems with the pop-paganism of our day—evolutionary progressivism—is that puts the cart before the horse: it places death before sin, which is clean contrary to what the Bible teaches (Rom 5:12, 8:18-23). Death is sin’s paycheck (Rom 6:23); death is separation from God (cf. Gen 2:17; 3:23-24); death is an enemy (1 Cor 15:26), not His treasured tool of creation.
    Lastly, might I suggest that you not put much stock in your rabbi source? If he denies that Jesus is the Messiah, then his confusion over the genre identity of Genesis is less of a problem than the fact that he’s missing the entire point of the Bible.

    m

  9. Your point about Coyne having to remain fully accredited with the PC police, thus the need to shy away from some of the implications of what he believes, reminded me of this great Tom Wolfe article (almost 20 years old now!):

    http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles/Wolfe-Sorry-But-Your-Soul-Just-Died.php

    Typical Wolfe hilarity:

    “Wilson himself has wound up in deep water on this score; or cold water, if one need edit. In his personal life Wilson is a conventional liberal, PC, as the saying goes—he is, after all, a member of the Harvard faculty—concerned about environmental issues and all the usual things. But he has said that “forcing similar role identities” on both men and women “flies in the face of thousands of years in which mammals demonstrated a strong tendency for sexual division of labor. Since this division of labor is persistent from hunter–gatherer through agricultural and industrial societies, it suggests a genetic origin. We do not know when this trait evolved in human evolution or how resistant it is to the continuing and justified pressures for human rights.”

    “Resistant” was Darwin II, the neuroscientist, speaking. “Justified” was the PC Harvard liberal. He was not PC or liberal enough. Feminist protesters invaded a conference where Wilson was appearing, dumped a pitcher of ice water, cubes and all, over his head, and began chanting, “You’re all wet! You’re all wet!” The most prominent feminist in America, Gloria Steinem, went on television and, in an interview with John Stossel of ABC, insisted that studies of genetic differences between male and female nervous systems should cease forthwith.”

  10. Agni I do give a damn about the polar bears. My point was that the eco-lovers ought not. If we’re all just moving through this life struggling to evolve faster and better than the next guy or bear then why do they care if the polar bears get the short shrift? They shouldn’t because it doesn’t matter if their world view is correct.

  11. And since it’s easier to lose dark-skin genes than to develop new ones, Noah was probably off-the-boat black.

    Fewer evangelicals? Yeah, here; less so in Africa. The joke that Parliament was fixin’ to move “not” from the Commandments to the Creed predates William Wilberforce. And 25 years ago, were there not two Moscows plotting to conquer the world? Which one is still at it?

    Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s sermons on Revival are now free online listens.

  12. Kimberly, in a cosmological sense, the death of the last polar bear is no more significant than the death of an ant. This does not mean its death would not be tragic. The great tragedy would be that now there is no life where once there was life in our time. The fact that something is insignificant on a greater scale does not preclude it being significant on a smaller scale. Evolution and extinction are two sides of the same coin, but that doesn’t mean we can justify the extinction of a species, whether we we active in its extinction or merely passive bystanders, saying, “They didn’t evolve.” That would be no different than justifying killing people in the streets or not trying to save the ill by saying, “They didn’t convert.”

  13. “Evolution and extinction are two sides of the same coin, but that doesn’t mean we can justify the extinction of a species…”

    Why not?

  14. “Tragedy.” I fear Barazoku is smuggling in some un-Darwinian emotional appeal into his argument. Isn’t extinction the ladder we climbed to get where we are? When is extinction “unjust” and when is it “just”?

    But to his credit, I’m sure he cares about the polar bears, even if he has no idea why he should.

  15. I fear you presume too much about my views. I do not have to argue like an Atheistic Rationalist, but I do have to argue like myself. So, I should care about polar bears because, as I alluded to, I should care about all life. Rob, I never spoke on abortion, but I do not necessarily disagree with you. I will support a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion and mourn the loss of life of the child if she does. Again, I should care about all life, for it is right to care. I don’t need any universal ethical standard to make that judgment; I need only nature. To address evolution, Jon, I fear you have misrepresented the modern synthetic theory of evolution. “…The ladder we climbed to get to where we are” implies a grand march of progress in an Hegelian sense. Evolution does not mean progress toward some goal. Evolution is only a response to necessity via selective pressures. To illustrate, order Cetacea is not somehow inferior to its artiodactyl counterparts because it returned to the water. As a final comment, the fact that extinction is inconsequential on a universal scale does not make it “just” on a personal scale.

  16. Barazoku, you make a lot of unfounded speculation for which you can offer no proof or evidence–namely, that nature dictates that we care about life. Where’s your proof for that, and why should I think that your “proof” places any ought on me?

  17. “Some creationists believe this represents a continental rupture (as distinct from the continents drifting inches a year for millions of years). As soon as you allow that as a possibility, Coyne’s argument curls up in a ball and won’t stop whimpering.”

    No, that claim is just ridiculous, and could only be made if you don’t understand Coyne’s argument at all.

    First you have to understand that this continental separation occurred over a particular period in history, when some types of life were around and others weren’t. Humans were far later, so they do NOT show evidence of having spread before that instance of continental division, nor do other mammals.

    If your post-flood theory was correct, then humans would show the same patterns as other forms that have been around 300 million years. For instance, they would have been in South America far further back in the geological record, and South American natives would be related to Africans, rather than Central/East Asians. But they weren’t, and they aren’t.

    So no, Coyne’s argument doesn’t fall apart at all. Like every other post you’ve made on the book, your counterarguments only work if you maintain complete ignorance of the actual science.

    Oh, and Gondwana is a Sanskrit word, the name of the Gondwana sedimentary sequences in the Gondwana region of eastern India which showed some of the meaningful evidence involved. Your mocking argument of a name that “sounds silly” just because some silly non-European culture came up with it is good rhetoric, but it would have taken you a 5-second google search to see that it was just empty rhetoric.

  18. “Some creationists believe this represents a continental rupture (as distinct from the continents drifting inches a year for millions of years). As soon as you allow that as a possibility, Coyne’s argument curls up in a ball and won’t stop whimpering.”[blockquote]

    No, that claim is just ridiculous, and could only be made if you don’t understand Coyne’s argument at all. First you have to understand that this continental separation occurred over a particular period in history, when some types of life were around and others weren’t. Humans were far later, so they do NOT show evidence of having spread before that instance of continental division, nor do other mammals. [blockquote]

    If your post-flood theory was correct, then humans would show the same patterns as other forms that have been around 300 million years. For instance, they would have been in South America far further back in the geological record, and South American natives would be related to Africans, rather than Central/East Asians. But they weren’t, and they aren’t. So no, Coyne’s argument doesn’t fall apart at all. Like every other post you’ve made on the book, your counterarguments only work if you maintain complete ignorance of the actual science.[blockquote]

    Oh, and Gondwana is a Sanskrit word, the name of the Gondwana sedimentary sequences in the Gondwana region of eastern India which showed some of the meaningful evidence involved. Your mocking argument of a name that “sounds silly” just because some silly non-European culture came up with it is good rhetoric, but it would have taken you a 5-second google search to see that it was just empty rhetoric.

  19. Well, there are a couple of things Jonathan, and not necessarily in opposition to you generally, but I’m not going to address evolution, but rather the geography.

    Genesis reports that the LORD scattered them over the face of the WHOLE earth in the eleventh chapter, which is providentially close the genealogy of listing Peleg and the splitting of the continents. Scripture says He did; you’re claiming that He didn’t on the basis of supposed geological, archaeological, and perhaps biological evidence–so the Scriptures have lied to us, then, and God is incapable of writing an accurate book.

    On the other hand, perhaps that’s just more poetry and literary exaggeration for the purpose of storytelling, and I don’t necessarily fault someone for similar views, so that Scripture ISN’T inaccurate, just misunderstood. In that case, it’s not necessary that man moved immediately to the ends of the earth in obedience to the LORD’s command. If that’s correct, than your argument doesn’t actually contradict Wilson’s raising the case of Peleg.

    Now, I’m not trying to create a false dichotomy so as to trap you unfairly in a view not your own, so do feel free to correct or clarify.

    In Christ

  20. I saying that the Scriptures are telling us why God did what he did, but not exactly how. We know that men are scattered, we know that men are diverse. The Scriptures tell us why God would create a world where this was so. To say that the use of the “whole” world there is a lie, when the human author and all the human readers would have absolutely no understanding of what we consider the “whole” world, is a complete anachronism. And there are many places in Scripture where even Biblical fundamentalists, especially of the Reformed variety, are able to aptly see that “all” doesn’t really mean “all” in that sense, so why insist that “whole” means “and Antarctica too!” when we have ample evidence to prove otherwise?

  21. Actually, Wesley, I’m really interested on your response to the last point I made. Since you believe that it denies God’s word to say that the people weren’t scattered over the “whole” earth, then does it deny God’s word to claim that people weren’t scattered to Antarctica in that time?

  22. Also, I should point out that the argument is over humans, but the same argument holds for every other form of recently developed life. There are great apes in Africa and Asia, but not the Americas, and there never had been. The only forms that show that interesting spread from Africa into South America are the more ancient forms that were actually around hundreds of millions of years ago (as well as rock types and formations, or course).

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