Their Temples of Reason

It is usually no fun when people play the race card, but when evolutionists do it, the results can be highly entertaining, at least after a few million years.

My brother Gordon is Senior Fellow of Natural History at New St. Andrews. He was recently engaged to teach a one-off course in microbiology at the University of Idaho, which drew this protest, and then this one.

There is a kind of evolutionist who insists that his theory can only be falsified with rabbit fossils in the precambrian, and then rests easily in the full assurance that anything with a rabbit fossil in it can’t be precambrian by definition. This method works swell for them, and so they try to use a similar approach to journal articles, terminal degrees, and teaching slots. Creationists are clearly not equipped to be in the proximity of any of those things — for are they not all cornpones? — and so whenever they see a creationist they chase him out promptly, and then use his strange absence as an argument. His absence is an argument, and his presence is an outrage. What my net don’t catch ain’t fish, and if it does catch one on accident, we can always throw it back immediately and pretend it didn’t happen.

Seven Theses on the Age of the Earth

I recently came to the conclusion that it was time to set down in one place my reasons for approaching Genesis the way I do. I have noticed that the topic has become a matter of increased debate in classical Christian circles — and because schools cannot honestly stay out of it — it matters a great deal what we teach and why. So here are seven theses on the age of the earth.

1. First, the age of the earth, considered in isolation, is neither here nor there. The issue is always what God said, and not how old something is. If the earth is six thousand years old now, it will eventually be one hundred thousand years old at some point, about ninety-four thousand years from now. Will theologians at that time still be required to hold to a “young earth” view? So the issue is not age, or day, or young, or old, but rather the substance of what God actually said. Whatever He actually revealed should be what we use as the foundation for all our subsequent thought. After we have our foundation, we may incorporate truth from other sources — natural revelation included — but we must take care that we never privilege what we think we know over what God actually told us.

2. Therefore, the debate — which is most necessary — should be conducted primarily between Christians who accept the Scriptures as the absolute Word of God, perfect and infallible in all that they affirm. This is because debate is pointless between parties who are appealing to different authorities. The fact that the debate is now being conducted with many of the participants openly saying that the Bible “has mistakes in it” tells us why we are not really getting anywhere.

3. Once we have limited the participants in this way, we have simplified things considerably. Everyone in the debate would be willing to affirm a flannel graph version of the Flood, giraffe and all, if that is what the Bible taught, and everyone in the debate would be willing to affirm a planet creaky with age, if that is what the Bible taught.

That said, the prima facie evidence for the traditional view of Genesis is very strong (historical Adam, continuous genealogies, etc.). Alternative approaches to the text, such as the framework hypothesis or the gap theory, seem like special pleading in order to make room to shoehorn in a cosmology from elsewhere. We should always smell a rat whenever someone notices an anomaly in the text (e.g. the different creation accounts in the first two chapters of Genesis) and someone else is immediately at your elbow with millions of years he wants to pour in.

I am not saying this because I am automatically categorizing any views contrary to my own as special pleading. One alternative view, grounded responsibly in the text, views the days in Genesis as days of revelation, which Adam was recording as God was teaching him how to write. But even this view would simply require someone to stop affirming “six-day creation,” and is not at all inconsistent with “young-earth creation.” So the prima facie evidence for the traditional view is strong enough for me to consider that the burden of proof lies with those who would question it.

Pink Entropy

I recently wrote on the subject of entropy here, and set off a maelstrom of comments. Some people just have that gift, and other people don’t. That appears to be just the way it is for me, and I try to be humble about it. Sometimes I think my comments section is a good example of entropy.

If I might, I would like to supplement my initial observations with a few quick follow up jabs, and see if it happens again. These are just quick responses to a couple of basic questions that were raised, and which I would like answer outside the thread.
Since I speak English, let us go with a dictionary:

Entropy is “a thermodynamic quantity representing the unavailability of a system’s thermal energy for conversion into mechanical work, often interpreted as the degree of disorder or randomness in the system.”

Now I don’t see anything in my argument or illustrations that would constitute a howler when it comes to that definition. Assuming that this is a reasonable English expression of what entropy means, it also means that applications to the question of evolution are entirely reasonable. Entropy increases over time, meaning that disorder and randomness are also increasing. But evolution requires us to believe that the disorder and randomness are decreasing.

In order for that disorder and randomness to decrease, it is necessary to have a transfer mechanism that can utilize available energy (in a closed system) or newly imported energy (in an open system) into mechanical work that is productive.

Otherwise, any energy, new or old, will simply dissipate. The energy will get tired and take a nap. The energy will go bye-bye. We might exhort that energy not to take it lying down, and we might urge the energy to “not go gentle into that good night.” “Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Sure, rage all you want. Rage against the heat death of the light, for all the good it is going to do you.

Now the point of my illustration in the previous post is that the transfer mechanism that can make energy useful is itself an example of decreased randomness, and hence it is also something that must be accounted for.

Building Things With Sunshine

I have said in the past that I think evolution is a hoot, and moreover, I have given reasons for thinking this. One of the reasons is that the idea of evolution runs clean contrary to the second law of thermodynamics. In response to this view of mine, an anti-theist web site (read more here) has offered the following:

“To finish this argument (hopefully once and for all) I will give a similar example but in relation to life.-

In ‘open’ thermodynamic systems energy is imported to turn simple compounds into complex ones, a perfect example of this is photosynthesis in which; water and carbon-dioxide are turned into complex carbohydrates.

The energy for this is imported from the sun, because the earth is not a ‘closed’ system, it is an open one.

If evolution is impossible relating to the second law, so is photosynthesis, which is obviously not the case.”

Let me go straight to my conclusion, state the problem, and then work back to the argument. My interlocutor is trying to explain things with photosynthesis, when what he needs to do is give an accounting for photosynthesis.

The Pigeon Forge Chapter

Okay, so the creation/evolution debate has many entries in the Annals of the Wheeze Worthy, but this is a particularly strong entry. A gent named Dan Arel has posted on why Bill Nye, the Science Guy, should not debate Ken Ham. You can read all about that here.

If you choose to do so, you will encounter this . . .

“To win a debate successfully you must understand your opponent’s position better than they do, in fact, you should know it well enough that you could debate for them. Creationists have no rules, their dishonesty stops nowhere . . . Ham will care little for any facts or evidence and will stick to nonsense and will feed on audience ignorance and use terms like “irreducible complexity” to confuse the watchers into thinking he has made a valid point . . . This debate is being held at the Creation Museum itself and this will ensure that the brain-dead creationist zombies . . .”

The good news is that Arel is telling us that he could “debate for” all of us brain dead zombies. The bad news is that I think he is right. He clearly understands how we think.

That juxtaposition right there is kinda sweet — “well enough that you could debate for them. Creationists have no rules” — and it is hard to read past that in order to continue with your day. You have to come back and savor the moment. Arel is telling us that we are scientific antinomians, making it up as we go along — and you know what? — he could totally do that. You don’t even have to study for it. What I don’t understand is why he thinks Bill Nye isn’t ready for this walkover. Just think like a zombie, man! Try to drool when you talk.

Ham will no doubt stand on his chair and wave a pennant banner back and forth with the phrase irreducible complexity on it, and all the hill apes that came down from the ridges of Kentucky to that Creation Museum of his will jabber and point, and will chatter with joy over the fact that one of us has risen to the level of doing science consisting of two whole words. Sentences are next!

It is hard to type when you are shaking with laughter. I am not saying that this is what I am doing right now. I am just saying that it would be hard.

Ten bucks says that Arel couldn’t accurately restate what creationists mean by irreducible complexity if his soul depended on it, which it fortunately doesn’t.

The reason these people don’t want to debate is more straightforward than the reasons stated in Arel’s post. They don’t want to do it because they couldn’t hit a cow on the rear end with a canoe paddle. They don’t want to do it because they would get their milkshakes dranken. They don’t want to do it somebody would roll their socks down. They don’t want to do it because shut up.

This post of Arel’s is the kind of scientific writing that will likely win him a place on the masthead of the newsletter of the International Scientific Institute, Pigeon Forge chapter.

Down the Trunk of the Jub Jub Tree

This morning, I read this little snippet at the Bayly Blog, and thought I needed to add my two cents.

Here is my first penny. Note that a “first couple” is not required by the text of Scripture, but that it is required by the theologians. Well, then . . . all rise! If the theologians need a first couple, then who are we to say anything to the contrary? We are not strictly bound by what the Bible says, but we are bound by what the theologians need. And what theologians need most, as everybody knows, is a donor base that won’t cut off their seminary. And this means that the words must be parsed very carefully, like a donkey eating a thistle.

My second farthing is that this quote quite obviously leaves room for the first couple to be the first couple that God decided to make a covenant with, themselves descended from a long line of critters. This means that just as God called Abram out of Ur, so also He called Adam and Eve down from the trees. This is because God looked far into the future and saw that the theologians had nothing to work with, and so in His great mercy He looked over the vast canopy of trees in the jungles of Africa, and there saw one of the primates who was particularly adept at throwing poo at the passing antelope down below. And the Lord remembered Adam, along with his lovely bride Eve, the best picker of nits in that entire region.

You don’t see that? Ah, but faith is the assurance of things not seen, is it not? If the text doesn’t require that Adam was made from the dust of the ground, then surely it leaves room for Adam to descend ceremoniously and with great dignity down the trunk of his jub jub tree — a subject worthy of a Milton! — going oo oo oo as he came.

Kicking Evolutionary Euro-Butt

Coyne’s last two chapters might best be treated together. This is because the closer we get to the end, the faster the evolution of this review wants to accelerate.

In these chapters, Coyne addresses the evolution of man. Chapter 8, “What About Us?” tackles the evolution of man, and his last chapter, “Evolution Redux,” also about us, tries to whistle up meaning from the void.

To his credit, Coyne at least tries to tackle the thorny topic of race as it relates to evolution.

“In The Descent of Man, Darwin had conjectured that our species had originated in Africa because our closest relatives, gorillas and chimpanzees, are both found there” (p. 191).

Darwin also thought this because early evolutionists believed that blacks, also found there, were the closest human relatives of those primates. Coyne keeps Darwin and other worthies out of it, but he does acknowledge the problem. “From the beginning of modern biology, racial classification has gone hand in hand with racial prejudice” (p. 212).

What he doesn’t adequately reckon with is the fact that such “prejudice” ought not, on evolution’s terms, be kept off the table. There have been creationists who have been racially bigoted, but when they were, it was contrary to their foundational beliefs about a common descent from Adam and from Noah. But if evolutionists came across a lost valley somewhere that had a tribe of “people” that walked upright, had a language with 500 words in it, and were four feet tall, what would they do with them? If we are related to the primates, is it automatically prejudice to try to figure out if some of us are closer relations than others?

If Creationists Were Beetles . . .

So then, Jerry Coyne now comes to explain, in the famous phrase, the origin of species. How is it that wherever we look we see distinct species, and not a long blur of intermediate types and missing links between each of the species?

In addressing this question, he sets out laboriously to prove something that nobody denies, which is that there are distinct types of animals, that there are variations within kinds, and that there are often wide spaces between them. He notes that the natives of the Arfak Mountains in New Guinea recognized 136 different types of local birds, while Western zoologists had come up with 137 species. This “should convince us, that the discontinuities of nature are not arbitrary, but an objective fact” (p. 169). Well, okay, but was anyone arguing the point?

Coyne argues that such species usually arise because of some kind of geographical separation — mountain ranges, islands,  two sides of a river — which allows for certain traits to be reinforced and for others to fade into the background. Later in the chapter, he also notes how certain distinct species can arise through a fun and interesting process called polyploidy, where the chromosomes of a particular species are doubled.

But for the most part, he is simply pointing to how physical factors can cause certain populations to be isolated from others, and there, mingling among themselves, to do naturally what dog breeders have been doing for a long time. Speaking of species, in this Coyne is arguing against a species of creationism that doesn’t exist. The most ardent fundamentalist creationist acknowledges cheerfully that all the races of men descended from Noah and Mrs. Noah, and that there is (self-evidently) variation within kinds.

So allow me to say this again. Coyne clearly does not know who he is talking to, and consequently does not know what he is talking about.

“It also counts as evidence against creationism. After all, there’s no obvious reason why a creator would produce similar species of birds, or lizards on continents but not on isolated islands. (By ‘similar,’ I mean so similar that evolutionists would regard them as close relatives. Most creationists do not accept species as ‘relatives’ since that presupposes evolution” (p. 185).

On the contrary, if we are talking about evolutionary taxonomy — what evolutionists call “species” — all creationists acknowledge that numerous species are related to each other.

Our dispute is not over whether bigger beaks can come from smaller beaks, or furrier beasts from less furry beasts, or shorter tails from longer tails, or light skin from darker skin. In 1937, evolutionist Theodosius Dobzhansky coined the terms microevolution and macroevolution in order to reluctantly note that we had to try to account for macro changes (which we couldn’t see happening) on the basis of micro changes (which we could). Some evolutionists, like Dobzhansky, see the problem, some, like Coyne, are blissfully unaware, and others, like me and my fellow non-evolutionists, believe that what is called macroevolution cannot successfully be accounted for by piling up microevolutionary changes.

So the creationist is not someone who denies what is called microevolution. The creationist is one who denies that microevolution is a set of “baby steps” sufficient to account for the transformation to another kind of animal entirely. If such a transformation were simply a long, arduous trek, then baby steps will get you there eventually. But is the transformation from no skeleton to an exoskeleton, or no skeleton to endoskeleton, the equivalent of a long walk, where each step is just like the previous one, or is more like a “back to the drawing board” kind of thing?

I am not a scientist, as Coyne is, but I am a polemicist, and since Coyne decided to engage in some polemical science, he has to that extent come onto my turf. And I can say that, as a simple matter of craft competence, he is in way over his head, and needs to go back to counting his Drosophilia. He does not understand the tenets of the position he is seeking to refute. If creationists were a kind of beetle, Coyne ought not to write a book calling us spiders.

I should note on other thing. Coyne makes a nice little blunder when he tries to wave his hands over a problem caused by the passing of the years.

“How fast would speciation need to be to explain the present diversity of life? It’s been estimated that there are 10 million species on earth today. Let’s raise that to 100 million to take into account undiscovered species. It turns out that if you started with a single species 3.5 billion years ago, you could get 100 million species living today even if each ancestral species split into two descendants only once every 200 million years. As we’ve seen, real speciation happens a lot faster than that . . .”  (p. 179).

Remind me sometime to tell you the story of the man who drowned in a river that was on average only six inches deep. How could such a thing have possibly happened?
Let us clear our throats and look at these numbers a little quizzically. Coyne has earlier said that the number of species on earth could have been as high as 4 billion (p. 22), not 100 million (p. 179), and he has earlier acknowledged that the vast majority of the speciation occurred in the last 600 million years (p. 28), not in the last 3.5 billion (p. 179). In other words, between pages 22-28 and page 179, there is a whole lot of fudging going on, which is to say, we are not trying to get 100 million species into 3.5 billion years. It is more like we are trying to get 4 billion species into 600 million years, which is quite a different problem of division.  Wouldn’t you say?