That’s A Rabbit, You Doofus

Comes now chapter two of Jerry Coyne’s book, called Written in the Rocks. It will take a post or two to deal with this chapter, so patience, all of you.

My first post will address the structure of his argumentation, and later I will look at the time involved in all this — my own variation on what is called Haldane’s Dilemma.

First, we may take as an indicator of how Coyne represents data generally by how he represents the position of his adversaries. He refers to the “creationist prediction that all species must appear suddenly and then remain unchanged” (p. 32). As stated, this is simplistic and wrong, and when he tries to qualify it a moment later, he misrepresents even as he qualifies.

“Even some creationists will admit that minor changes in size and shape might occur over time — a process called microevolution — but they reject the idea that one very different kind of animal or plant can some from another (macroevolution)” (pp. 32-33)

It is not “some creationists admit that changes might happen.” It is all creationists insist changes have happened. Variation within kinds, including significant variation, is not something that any competent creationist denies. Indeed, it is an essential part of the creationist model.

That said, here is the problem with the structure of Coyne’s argument. Recall the elementary school exercise where the teacher would give you ten vocabulary words and your job was to write a creative little story using those words. But with such an exercise, it is hard to get things wrong, as long as you complete the assignment. The story is yours to write. But suppose the situation were more like what we have before us in the fossil record. Suppose you had a set number of vocabulary words, and your job was to reconstruct the book they came from — War and Peace, say. The fossils we have are the vocabulary words we have to use, and the entire history of all living organisms is the book we must reconstruct. Suppose further that the words we had to work with came down to us entirely and completely by chance, brought to us by wind and tide.

How much do we know? What happens when we hold it up against what we don’t know? Coyne acknowledges part of this, and is oblivious to the other. Here they are — one, two.

“We can estimate that we have fossil evidence of only 0.1 percent to 1 percent of all species — hardly a good sample of the history of life” (p. 22).

Well stated, good start, but . . .

“Nevertheless, we have enough fossils to give us a good idea of how evolution proceeded” (p. 22).

The results of the rest of the chapter are akin to what happened with the Piltdown man — building up quite a story about Mr. and Mrs. Piltdown, and all from the tooth of an extinct pig. There is no dispute that Coyne is using all his assigned vocabulary, and he is doing so creatively and with great ingenuity. He is a learned man. But the novel he has reconstructed is not War and Peace, but rather Tom Swift and the Alien Robot.

It might be complained that my illustration of a novel is unfair because words don’t have a lineage from earlier words used in the book, and what we have with evolution is a huge, gigantic family tree. Right — and 99% of the tree is missing, and you are trying to reconstruct it, on the supposition that it is a tree, and you don’t even know that, and you are doing it with a dogmatic and serene aplomb.

“No theory of special creation or any theory other than evolution, can explain these patterns” (p. 29).

Oh. Glad somebody told us. There we were, wasting our time . . . Actually, I would be glad to acknowledge that the creationism he has in his mind is not able to explain these patterns, because the creationism he is fighting with in there is unable by definition to explain anything.

So let me change the illustration. You are doing genealogical research of a family over 100,000 years, and all you have is photographs of .01 percent of the noses, and no ancestry.com, no records, no family Bibles, and so on. You don’t even know if it is a family line. Now comparing what you actually know (your nose photographs) with what you acknowledge you do not and cannot know (everything else), could we have a little humility please?

One final comment, not so much an argument.

“Asked what observation could conceivably disprove evolution, the curmudgeonly biologist J.B.S Haldane reportedly growled, “Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian!” (p. 53).

I just want to state for the record that if I ever found one, I wouldn’t bother to take it in, knowing that I could not be believed. “What do you mean Precambrian? That’s a rabbit, you doofus.”

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44 comments on “That’s A Rabbit, You Doofus

  1. …and so the Doctor pricked the man’s finger with a needle. Immediately a crimson fluid oozed out of the puncture. The man stares at his finger, perplexed. “I was wrong..,” the man laments. The Doctor looks at him, expectantly. “…I guess the dead really DO bleed!”

  2. No true Scotsman finds rabbits in the Precambrian..

  3. NOBODY expects “Rabbits In The Pre-Cambrian!!”

  4. Call me when you find that rabbit in the Precambrian…..

    Here is were Wittgenstein was quite right:

    Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen.

    (Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.)

  5. The Precambrian rabbit quote is a classic reference intended to support the notion that Evolutionism really is falsifiable. Although I’m not sure why anyone would expect to find a rabbit in a marine environment, which is what characterizes the alleged Precambrian. The sea-faring Precambrian coney was probably too rare to be fossilized.

    If you want to see how evolutionists handle true out-of-time/place evidences, look at living fossils, such as coelacanth. Somehow these evolution-resisting critters never bother the theory at all.

  6. ketcho – and there you have just demonstrated that you do not understand evolution at all.

    Mutations resulting in evolutionary change do not have to destroy existing species. Evolutionary change is subject not only to genetics, but also environment, including major events (say a massive climatic shift). If an organism can survive, and new mutations do not out breed the old ones, and the organism is not destroyed by other organisms, it might very well survive eons. Cyanobacteria are still with us – after 2+ Ga.

    It helps to think of evolution, not as a ladder, or even a tree (although that can be quite useful), but as a sports field with many, many players. Some adapt or find new skills, some are successful and the collapse, they interact on each other, and interact with the field and the air…. Of course, this is also a limited analogy, but it might help.

    For the record, my understanding of evolution comes from my background (and occupation) as a geologist, not from any special background in the life sciences. Also my background in maths and stats.

  7. Sorry – katecho, not ketcho, in my previous post.

  8. Oh Doug, you might want to read through href=”http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2007/07/haldanes_nondil.html”> this post at Panda’s Thumb before postulating a version of Haldane.

  9. Sorry, that html is a mess. Not my day is it?

  10. Klasie–You sound like a well rounded evolutionist. So here is a question: You called out Katecho for “not understanding evolution at all”. The abstract concept of “understanding” presupposes there is a standard of truth. I would like to what your standard of truth is when looking at “evidences” for evolution. What standard of truth are you appealing to in order to determine if your thoughts about the evolutionary evidence amounts to truth?

  11. Well Brian, I would think that Klasie would say, or at least I would if I were in his place, that his standard is reality and what ACTUALLY happened. Now, to back away from his defense, the real question is why in the world it matters? What standard dictates that I build my worldview around reality and what ACTUALLY happened? I’m not trying to sidestep the question of evolution, but rather back up your tactic of presuppositional apologetics and attack the philosophy of evolution and of evolutionists.

    And for some shameless flattery, I do appreciate your comments, and your tone in those comments, Klasie.

  12. Brian. Evidence. Reason. That’s all. As I said before, I’m a geologist. So my process of determining what is the likely answer to a question is akin to that of a forensic scientists looking at the evidence of a crime. There might be bibs and bobs all over, and one has to see if they present a reasonably complete picture – or at least enough of a picture that one can safely say what the likely scenario is, in what it isn’t.

    An example I used once before was the Kennedy assassination: Various bits of evidence were there from the start, others came later. Multiple theories exist – but piecing it together, one can be quite sure of what happened (Oswald from the Education building), what is unlikely / disproved (grassy knoll), and what is fantasy (a spear thrown by a Grecian warrior that went into a disturbance in the space-Time continuum, got compressed and struck JFK). The latter is equivalent to the evidence for YEC / global flood etc.

  13. Wesley – I try, but I’m not always successful. Thanks :)

  14. Klasie.. So you use “Reason” to determine if the evidence amounts to truth. Let me ask you this then: On what basis do you trust your reasoning? How do you know your reasoning is valid? How could your mind, which is made of pure matter, ever “reason” to an abstract concept such as truth? Sounds like you are borrowing from the Christian worldview to try and make sense of you silly theory of evolution.

  15. Brian – reason, as in logic. Let me point pout that evolution per se is not anti-Christian at all – it is only literalists that would a problem with it.

    If you want to discuss the origins of logic, as in the process, not the academic discipline, I’m afraid that it would be a very long topic all by itself, and one I’m not that strong in (as it would incorporate Information Theory, including the works of Shannon, Turing and Godel – of these I know but a smidgeon, and the newish discipline of Neuroscience, of which I know preciously little).

    Of course, I could equally swing the question around and ask you how do you know your reasoning is valid. In then end, we either accept logic, or we become silly, extreme post-modernists (How do you know your senses work. How do you know that reality exists. How do you know that the earth was created Last Thursday – etc etc – it all becomes quite silly).

  16. Klasie.. So you changed your word from “reasoning” to “logic” …. thinking that would get you off the hook. Where did this “logic” come from? Is it absolute? Is it the same for everybody? How do you know your “logic” is amounting to truth? Look Klasie, before you go and call out Christians for “not understanding evolution ” you first need to give account for the concept of “understanding”.

    Now to the question you asked me: I can trust reasoning and logic to get me to truth because I was created in the image of an intelligent God. I can give an account for these abstract concepts. You however are inconsistent with your worldview when you appeal to “understanding, reasoning, logic, truth etc .”

  17. Klasie wrote:
    “ketcho – and there you have just demonstrated that you do not understand evolution at all.”

    Since Klasie goes on to explain why coelacanth does not disturb Evolutionism, it seems he is confirming that my understanding of the theory is correct. That was my point, after all.

    “It helps to think of evolution, not as a ladder, or even a tree (although that can be quite useful), but as a sports field with many, many players.”

    The sports field metaphor helps a bit, but I agree it’s a very limiting, 2-dimentional analogy. I prefer to think of Evolution as a great big blue sky, where anything and everything is possible.

  18. Ok, Brian – I was merely telling in what context I’m using the word reason.

    Logic is a description of how nature operates. The easiest way to think about it is as in mathematics: 1 + 1 = 2, although the latter is our expression, per agreed definitions of the process of addition. This quickly becomes very deep stuff. Again, this would entail the work of Turing, Godel, Shannon etc etc.

    As to calling katecho out – I’m merely commenting on the fact that he/she had an incomplete understanding of the evolutionary “model” (if you will) – criticize by all means, but understand what you are criticizing.

    As to your last paragraph: You trust, because you (believe you) you created. This doesn’t negate evolution at all. You can believe in God, and also trust the results of reason and logic, which demonstrably lead to evolution. I’m not arguing against theism. I’m simply pointing out what the facts, and a logical examination thereof, say. Thus I would turn the tables and say that the inconsistency is yours – the evidence points one way when using logic, but you refuse to admit that, and therefore cling to a priori beliefs which you also claim validate logic in the first place.

    The real debate here ought to be about the meaning and context of Scripture in various places. Again, I’m just a geologist, not a theologian, so I would refer you to the works of luminaries like Enns, Lamoureux and others on these matters. Actually, Denis has his U of A lectures on these matters available online – Peter Enns had these as a series on his blog, you can find all the links there.

  19. Katecho – ok, we understand each other as per your first sentence – I was reading your previous comment as a criticism, not a just a comment (you can hardly blame me :) ). But not everything is possible as per your second sentence – all that we have is many concurrent processes influencing each other. So lots of things possible, but not “anything and everything” ;)

  20. Sorry, I’m hogging the comment thread – but Brian: I started my career as a YEC’ist – but got convinced by the evidence and the soundness of the reason/logic used. I then retreated into that post-modern morass I mentioned earlier, but got tired of being stupid, and then just admitted reality.

  21. Klasie,

    When you, and others, use the word reason, you seem to be using it colloquially. It appears you are giving us useful autobiographical information as to what you find credible or believable, and you even alluded to what you thought was likely to be the case, or what is probably true. This tells us about you, but it tells us nothing of the universe. What you find credible I might find wholly implausible.

    You did not become convinced of evolution because of logic, since the issue regarding origins is not a logical debate. Further, I do not believe you were convinced of evolution because of reason, since you have never observed life springing forth from non-life, no matter how slow the process might take, and therefore your belief in evolution is not based on the scientific method, nor logic, nor reason if the we take the latter term in the academic philosophical sense.

    I wonder how you explain your use of logic, given what you have shared with us. Laws of logic are abstract entities, they are universal in their application, they are invariant, and yet they are not proven in a priori or a posteriori ways. How would a geologist like you who holds to your view of origins, and who also believes that everyone should hold to laws of logic, tie this together?

    From the Christian perspective, Klasie, this is like you arguing that air does not exist, when you could not even speak the argument without breathing in the very air you say does not exist. You use the tools that God gives man, and that can only be cogently explained by Christian theism, and try to use them against their Maker.

  22. David, you are reading into my mind here, which is a fascinating skill.

    Have you completely missed what I said earlier: I’m not arguing against God. I’m merely saying that examining the facts in a logical way, using our (God-given, if you’d like) faculties of reason, will show that belief in YEC is untenable.

    You seem to state that one is either a Young Earth Creationist, or a pagan. If that is your intention, this is an entirely different kind of debate, and one in which I can have no fruitful part.

  23. It’s interesting that Klasie makes reference to Gödel. Kurt Gödel was a convinced Christian. So much so that he developed his own formal ontological argument for God’s existence. (See this link.)

    While at Princeton, Einstein and Gödel interacted almost every day. Einstein apparently said that in his later years his own work no longer meant much and “that he came to the Institute merely to have the privilege to be able to walk home with Gödel”.

  24. Godel also starved himself to death because he was scared of poisoning…. :) Of course, that doesn’t take away from his stupendous achievements.

    Anyway – as I said to David, I’m not arguing for/against God /Christianity/Theism. If the arguments is going to turn that way, my participation will cease.

  25. I also made reference to Turing and Shannon, who were both atheists, the point being?

  26. Again – that smiley face in my comment about Godel should not be there – apologies for an unfortunate typo.

  27. Klaisie,

    I went back and re-read my post. I never said anything about the age of the earth, although I understood you touched on that topic. Additionally, if you would re-read what I posted, carefully this time, I took issue with you describing evolution in terms that I do not believe any non-Christian view of origins can cogently support – appeals to reason and logic. Perhaps you assumed that I was leaving the door open to Christian evolution, or some hybrid view, so let me clarify. While there may be true converts who for no good theological reason hold to the error of evolution in one form or another, I do not believe that is a Biblical view, nor do I believe it is the sort of view that can avoid being torn apart from internal tensions. The Bible is clear as to where the world and man came from, and trying to mix that with an opposite view, whichever side one falls on, produces a house divided.

    Klasie, the issue here has been broached by people much smarter than you and I, much earlier than you and I in history. You cannot, for example, have Jesus, our Lord, making appeals back to Adam and Eve, when there were no such creatures, and yet this is the Man in Whom we trust for our salvation. What am I pressing you on is that the God who makes such things as logic, and the uniformity of nature, and ethics intelligible is the same God who made the world by fiat. And the people in the later part of the book refer back to the first part of the book where this quaint view of origins is taught, and where it forms a major foundation for New Testament theology.

    If this is not part of the theology you and I bring to the table, then we have Jesus’ lineage coming from fabled people, we have theology and myth intertwined, and we certainly do not have any basis from Scripture to talk about God-given faculties. And that puts us/you squarely in the camp of evolutionists who are more consistent, and are not so squeamish about trying to have God direct evolution or something to that effect.

    So my point Klasie was really with your comments that evolution is not anti-Christian, per se. I completely understood your argument, but respectfully, I am not sure you understand its implications. There is a reason why Darwin and Huxley had so much to say about religion as well as science in the context of their theories, and why Hodge equated evolution with atheism.

  28. One does wonder why it is that the publicly known fossil record – scant though it may be – never provides examples of very “modern” species (like giraffes, apes, bats, etc.) mixed in with the “ancient” ones. I mean, why is it that we do not find gorilla, panda, or whooping crane remains among the mass of dinosaur bones? Had the dino’s shunned the sort of mammals we call modern? Could they not share an ecosystem?
    I mean, there are fossil beds with many different species of dinosaurs – but never a “modern” species mixed in. It’s an interesting question; and for young earthers this seems to be a bit of a puzzle, no?
    -
    Personally, I’m with Wilson about what would probably be done by Darwinists had we found a rabbit in the precambrian. The often sordid record of evolutionists (and other scientists) gives us good reasons to doubt the integrity of their research. I mean, what if fossilized human remains were found in a Cretaceous fossil bed? Would it be cast aside as a mere anomaly – or would Darwinians embrace the necessary paradigm shift?

  29. Klasie Kraalogies
    on Wednesday, June 19, 2013 at 1:00 pm said:

    “Mutations resulting in evolutionary change do not have to destroy existing species. Evolutionary change is subject not only to genetics,”

    I’d like to know where people got the idea that read-write errors could produce stable and beneficial programming.

  30. Ok, some answers (I seem to have that compulsion never to leave an internet argument halfway – a bit like that famous XKCD cartoon – http://xkcd.com/386/ )

    David: I’m quite aware of the implications, thank you. But again, as you say, better minds than ours have wrestled with this. As to the theological implications, the issue of myth etc. – I again refer you to Enns, Lamoureux, McKnight and others. They deal with these things quite well. The other issue is that I detect a presuppositionalist argument here – am I right? I do not accept presuppositionalism at all – but again, that is quite a different discussion.

    Arwen: Proving that it can take place just once would disprove your skepticism. And yes, that has been done. The long-term E Coli experiment by Richard Lenski demonstrated that. Google it.

  31. Klasie, you use the words reason, logic, and evidence, as if anyone who believes in creationism cannot use those words with integrity. As if, there is one static view of logic as it relates to origins. Far from being a big hunk of post-modern goo. . . I can safely say that that argument is patronizing and dismissive. I’m not arguing for a “no definitions matter” sort of understanding of these terms, but you have to leave room for the fact that many IE/Creationists think that they are also using logic and good science, and that these folks have been peer reviewed, and that they have asked questions that Evolutionists don’t answer satisfactorily (and the evolutionists would throw it back at the creationists on that point, I know). Let’s be honest here. Let’s dispense with the ivory tower “Quite sure” and “evidence” as being terms that creationists, apparently according to you, are not familiar with. I would say that a person of your superior intelligence would know that is no longer the case (if it ever was). google it.

  32. ID **

  33. Klasie, from what I’ve read, Lenski’s research has done no such thing. (Per Arwen’s question)
    http://behe.uncommondescent.com/2012/01/one-small-step-sideways-two-huge-steps-back/

  34. Klasie, et al,
    Would any of you be willing to concede that one could hold a plausible theory of Intelligent Design that also allows for rather amazing powers of mutational adaptability within species – or at least within the Genus level?

    Why not?

  35. I hold a theory of Intelligent design that allows for rather amazing powers of mutational adaptability, even through kingdom level.

    This is a good read:

    http://www.faithinterface.com.au/science-christianity/st-augustine-on-creation-and-evolution

  36. I think the pig’s tooth was Nebraska man, not Piltdown man–a mistake, not a sheer fraud.

    Literalistic creationism should be able to accommodate the degree of change within “kind” (not necessarily the same as “species”–some creationists use Hebrew “baramin”) that would turn creation’s
    vegetarian lions into modern carnivores, and back again when Isaiah 11 kicks in.

    To know nothing is postmodern? Sounds like the ancient Greek skeptics, and similar to some of Descarte’s proceedure and to Hume.

  37. Klasie, to clarify Arwen’s point…
    Lensky’s experiment did not really show that read/write errors had “produced stable and beneficial programming”. There was an alteration in the code that allowed an already stable and beneficial program to work slightly better under special circumstances.
    As Behe explains, we have a “modification of function” event rather than a gain-of-function one”.
    But even if we did eventually get a gain of function event, (GOF)is that sufficient to cling to omni-Darwinism as the explanation for all bio-complexity?
    Approximately how many GOF events (minimum) must occur to get from the simplest cellular life form to modern Homo Sapiens?
    Human DNA contains the equivalent of about 1.5 gigabytes (One and a half billion bytes) of information. http://bitesizebio.com/articles/how-much-information-is-stored-in-the-human-genome/
    That means that, given the estimated 3 billion years of life on earth, we’ve had to go from a minimum of about 400,000 base pairs* for the simplest possible cell to approximately 3 billion bases for Homo Sapiens.
    That’s about 2,999,600,000 base pairs, or the equivalent of about 750,000,000 bytes of additional information!
    So, 3,000,000,000 years / 750,000,000 = 4 years per byte.
    So the overall average rate of addition informational mutation is around 1 byte equivalent every four years!
    But let’s say we are exponentially off. What if it was an average of one every 40 years? What if 400?
    The lab experiments with rapidly regenerative organisms (a new gen. evry 30 minutes) under human controlled selective pressures over 25 years have yeilded how much new info onto the genomes? Is it even half a byte worth?
    And remember, once we get to the larger multicellular organisms we have much slower reproductive rates coupled with increased mutational speciation resistance (stasis) and blind natural selective pressures.

    In a nutshell:
    From available empirical data we can confidently deduce that even maximum beneficial mutation rates in nature cannot possibly create the extreme bio-complexities of so-called “higher” organisms.

    *(we know of – with the caveat that: “researchers warn that the natural streamlined bacteria are both symbionts, dependent on their host organisms for certain functions or nutrients that they can’t provide themselves. “They can’t be grown on their own,” says Latorre.”)
    http://www.nature.com/news/2006/061009/full/news061009-10.html

  38. “It seems to me that extrapolating an earth age of billions of years is like my claiming to be 400 years old since I gained half a pound this year. Drawing on maybe a few thousand years of observation (an almost infinitesimally small slice of history on their model), they insist that the past must have operated like the present. But the Bible speaks of catastrophes and “fast-forwards” – childhood and adolescent growth spurts, if you will – which depreciate latter-latter-latter-day uniformitarian fantasies.”

    - Mark Coppenger, from Southern Seminary Magazine for Winter 2011, p. 38

  39. How would one classify a motor vehicle that nobody has ever seen (except in theory), has no workable engine (except in theory) and leaves no indisputable evidence (such as tire tracks)? A fantasy.

  40. Jay – as my expertise in genetics is, well, absent, I’ll refer you to a series done at Biologos last year: http://biologos.org/blog/series/behe-lenski-and-the-edge-of-evolution

  41. Matthias, if Mr. Coppenger believes that analogy holds any weight at all, then he is completely ignorant of the science involved. You just can’t say that old Earth evidence is in any way similar to extrapolating weight loss unless you don’t know anything about the old Earth evidence at all. Our knowledge of not just paleontology, but even basic archaeology could not be fit into such a YEC view even with all the fast-forwards and catastrophes in the world.

  42. Jonathan,

    the point is that extrapolating his age using his weight is not the right way,and the only way we know that is by taking Coppenger’s own word concerning his age. The irony is subtle.

  43. Except that’s NOT the only way we know that. There are numerous other ways to know from observation that extrapolation is completely foolhardy without ever getting Coppenger’s own word concerning his age.

  44. When re-constructing War and Peace (the genealogy of life) we have more than 10 words randomly extracted from the text. We have some words that are intuitively more likely to belong in Chapter 1 (older fossil forms), some in the middle, and some that clearly belong closer to the conclusion (newer fossil forms that look like both older forms and living species). On top of that, we have (for lack of a better term) “threads” that link the words and show a commonality between them that we can use to gauge relatedness (genes), and can allow us to infer where the words should lie in the text, and perhaps even what might go in between them. So, the enterprise is not so far off the mark and insurmountable as Pastor Wilson implies, although to be sure it is no easy task and fraught with the potential for errors that inference and speculation carry with them.

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