Braterman ‘slam dunk’ flunk
News website “The Conversation” recently published an article by Paul Braterman attacking creationists. Braterman is a retired chemistry professor from the University of Glasgow and a board member of the Scottish Secular Society. Below is the full text of Prof. Braterman’s article in red, interspersed with responses by CMI’s Andrew Lamb.
How to slam dunk creationists when it comes to the theory of evolution
The 2001 discovery of the seven million-year-old
Seven million! Says who? Fossils do not come with age labels attached, and age is not something that can actually be measured. Age can be calculated, but all such calculations rely on assumptions. The only reliable way to know the age of something is from reliable historical records (see Immeasurable age) and the Bible’s record of history, which has proven supremely reliable, reveals that the world is only about 6,000 years old. For some scientific support, see Age of the earth: 101 evidences for a young age of the earth and the universe.
Sahelanthropus [sic], the first known upright ape-like creatures [sic], was yet more proof of humanity’s place among the great apes.
You have chosen poorly, Paul. The proposed transitional ape-human status of the Sahelanthropus tchadensis (aka ‘Toumai’) fossil skull was denounced by other evolutionists mere days1 after its finder published his claims—see New ‘ape-man’ preliminary response. And within a few months a letter in Nature2 dealt the fatal blow, confirming beyond doubt that it was just a female gorilla skull, and not some esoteric new species of ape-man.
This is the normal cycle for proposed transitional forms. Great crowing accompanies their announcement in the media. Later they are quietly dropped from the evolutionary pantheon as their non-transitional status becomes unavoidably apparent. For some candidates, such as Sahelanthropus and Archaeoraptor, the demise is rapid, a matter of mere weeks. Typically though the cycle takes several years. Occasionally, as with the Piltdown man hoax, it takes decades.
And yet Mike Pence, then a representative and now US vice president, argues for the opposite conclusion.
Only an incorrigible die-hard atheist, as Braterman is by his own admission, who refused to stay informed would still accept Sahelanthropus as an ape-human transitional form, so Mr Pence’s “opposite conclusion”, whatever it might be, is definitely the more scientifically astute one.
Evolution is a theory, not a fact, not a law
For him, our ideas about our ancestors have changed, proving once more that evolution was a theory,
Evolution and creation are both over-arching paradigms within which all the multifarious facts of science are interpreted. Within each of these worldviews, explanatory models are continually being developed, modified and discarded.
There are currently two main competing models of evolution: neo-Darwinism (small mutations plus selection) and Punctuated Equilibrium (sudden big changes). Proponents of both these theories point out the impossibilities inherent in their competitor. Other (mostly discarded) theories of evolution include Maximum Entropy Production (MEP), Population Dynamics, Facilitated Variation, Semi-Meiosis, Niche Construction, Panspermia, Metabolic Rate Theory, Zoogenesis, Lamarckism, Orthogenesis, Pangenesis, Gaia Theory, Evo-Devo, Symbiogenesis … . There are many more. Basically, they all believe evolution happened, but they can’t think of a plausible mechanism to support that belief. See The century-and-a-half failure in the quest for the source of new genetic information.
and therefore we should be free to teach other theories alongside evolution in our classrooms.
CMI’s policy is that teaching creation should not be compulsory, as evolutionist teachers would misrepresent and ridicule it. Rather we think that 1) teachers should not be prevented from teaching creation if they wish, and 2) that evolution should be taught, but taught properly, i.e. warts and all, as a scientific theory, open to criticism and discussion of its faults and weaknesses, not as indoctrination and dogma, which is the way evolution is typically taught in government schools currently. See They are teaching lies to our kids: Textbook full of mistakes, misinformation, bias and … lies?
How to respond? The usual answer is that we should teach students the meaning of the word “theory” as used in science – that is, a hypothesis (or idea) that has stood up to repeated testing.
Belief in evolution is strong, for philosophical and social reasons, but none of the many proposed models of evolution has stood up to testing and criticism. And note, even if scientists could manage to evolve a new type of organism in the laboratory, that would not prove that such evolution happened in the remote past. Rather it would prove what creationists believe—that an enormous amount of applied intelligence is necessary to create a new type of organism! See Was life really created in a test tube? And does it disprove biblical creation?
Pence’s argument will then be exposed to be what philosophers call an equivocation – an argument that only seems to make sense because the same word is being used in two different senses.
An important example of equivocation is the way evolutionists use the word “evolution” to describe two very different phenomena: 1) the observed scientific phenomenon of natural selection (≈ adaptation / survival of the fittest) which involves loss, shuffling or damage of existing genetic information, and 2) the hypothetical never-observed (hence unscientific) phenomenon of the coming into existence of new types of organs and organisms, which would require vast quantities of new genetic information. See Don’t fall for the bait and switch.
Evolution, Pence argues, is a theory, theories are uncertain, therefore evolution is uncertain. But evolution is a theory only in the scientific sense of the word. And in the words of the National Academy of Sciences, “The formal scientific definition of theory is quite different from the everyday meaning of the word. It refers to a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence.” Attaching this label to evolution is an indicator of strength, not weakness.
Come on Paul, get to some scientific meat. Stop carrying on with self-serving definitions.
If you take this approach, you have failed to understand the purpose of Pence’s rhetoric, or why it is so appealing to creationists. Pence is an accomplished politician, and knows exactly how to appeal to his intended audience. He is also an accomplished trial lawyer, which makes him a conjuror with words, and like any skilful conjuror he has pulled off his trick by distraction. Pence has drawn us into a discussion about words, when our focus should be on the evidence.
So focus on some scientific evidence Paul!
I would suggest the opposite approach. The problem is not really with the word “theory” at all. Students will have learned its meaning in the same way they learn meanings in general: by seeing how the word is used.
Paul, you’re living in the past. This is ancient history. Mainstream creationists have been advising for decades against using the “evolution is just a theory” argument—see Arguments we think creationists should NOT use: “Evolution is just a theory.” We advise this not because there is no merit to the argument that evolution is neither a fact nor a law, but because critics like yourself can always play endless word games (as you do here) to deflect and distract from the relevant points.
They will have heard of atomic theory,
Proposed by biblical creationist Robert Boyle, The man who turned chemistry into a science, …
which no one has seriously doubted for over a century.
… though during Boyle’s lifetime his theory faced ridicule.
And what about the theory of gravity?
Proposed by biblical creationist Sir Isaac Newton, one of Einstein’s three scientific heroes, who were all creationists.
Finally, they may have seen how Darwin himself uses the expression “my theory”, although at the time it was neither comprehensive nor well supported
And it is still not well supported, though it is comprehensive, in the sense that all new facts get pretzeled into an evolutionary framework of understanding, no matter how great the discordance.
(there were huge gaps in the fossil record),
And if you bothered to keep up with the research, rather than heeding only the mainstream headlines and ignoring the subsequent quiet refutations, you would know that the gaps are still huge. At any one time there are never more than a handful of contentious hotly-disputed candidate transitional forms, but if evolution were true there should be thousands. See our Fossils Q&A articles.
to refer in a very general way to his linked ideas about mutability of species,
His ideas? Darwin’s? Darwin was a plagiarist of the first order. He may have been the one to make evolution socially acceptable to mainstream society, but his ideas were hardly original—see Darwin’s illegitimate brainchild. And note, creationists do not believe that species are immutable. Creationists denied immutability even before Darwin, and we still deny immutability today—see Ligers and wholphins.
If two things look similar, it could be because they had the same designer—see Are lookalikes related? and Homology made simple.
and the power of natural selection.
The only power natural selection has is to remove unsuitable genetic information. See The three Rs of evolution. Natural selection cannot create or design new types of organs or organisms. As we have often summarized: Natural selection explains the survival of the fittest but not the arrival of the fittest, and it’s a culling force rather than a creative force.
So if anyone says, “Evolution is a theory”, don’t give them a lecture on the meaning of the word “theory”. If you do, you’ve fallen into the trap of making it seem that how we define words should affect how we see reality. You will be fighting on ground of your opponent’s choosing, since arguing about how to apply words is the stock in trade of theologians, preachers and lawyers like Mike Pence.
Thanks for the lecture Paul.
The correct response is to say that evolution is a theory – like gravity is a theory – and then redirect attention to the evidence. And that evidence is overwhelming.
Start with family relationships. Carl Linnaeus
Paul, you keep referring to illustrious biblical creationist founders of modern science, like Linnaeus. Why not refer to evolutionist founders of … oh, wait, because there ARE NONE. Biblical creation was the foundation of modern science. The very terminology of science is suffused with the names of biblical creationists.
showed how living things can be classified into species, genera, families and so on, and Darwin pointed out that this is exactly the structure we would expect from a family tree.
No, a continuum of forms is what we would expect if evolution were true, not discrete separate kinds. But even if what you say is correct, you are making the logical fallacy of ‘affirming the consequent’. There may be an alternative theory that also predicts that. And in fact there is: creation. Varying levels of similarity between different categories of organism is exactly what we would expect if they were designed by the same creator. Read Are lookalikes related? again.
Natural selection vs evolution
All dogs are canines, so dogs share an ancestor with foxes;
Indeed. And despite thousands of years of domestication and breeding, dogs have never diverged into anything other than … dogs!
all canines are carnivora, so dogs share a more remote ancestor with bears; all carnivora are mammals, so dogs and sheep are, albeit more remotely, related, and so on.
You may believe that, but bears have only ever been observed to breed bears. Sheep and goats can interbreed, and thus are descended from the same original biblical kind—see Separating the sheep from the goats—but sheep and dogs?! Sure, sheepdogs exist, but they are pure canine, not some weird transitional form. In fact no animal has ever been observed to turn into a different kind of animal. Science is about what can be observed and measured and repeatedly tested. Evolutionary changes of the sort you express belief in here have not been observed, only assumed or inferred. It takes blind faith to believe what you believe.
Then look at the discovery over the past few decades of family relationships at the molecular level, and the fact that the molecular family tree matches that based on anatomical resemblances.
Wrong. Molecular studies produce entirely different phylogenies (family trees) to traditional phenotype (physical characteristics) family trees. See for example Morphology and molecules in conflict yet again, and consider what molecular studies did to the family tree of turtles.
Observe the fossil record. Once lamentably full of gaps (Darwin was among the lamenters), it is now densely populated.
Indeed it is. In fact so many fossils have been found, that virtually every kind of organism has been demonstrated to be a ‘living fossil’:
“Of the 329 living families of terrestrial vertebrates 261 or 79.1% have been found as fossils and, when birds (which are poorly fossilized) are excluded, the percentage rises to 87.8%”.3
And the gaps between kinds are more prominent and unbridged than ever.
A century ago, it still made sense to point to the “missing link” between humans and pre-human apes. Now we know of several different hominin species living alongside each other, and the problem becomes one of distinguishing our grandparents from our great uncles.
Indeed. In fact the relationships are so tenuous that there is continual fighting between proponents of the different proposed human lineages concocted from the few dozen scraps of fossil available. If evolution were true there should be thousands of transitional fossils by now showing clear sequences of changes. Instead there are millions of fossils showing stasis (i.e. no change)—note, not ‘evolutionary stasis’ (an oxymoron of breathtaking brazenness), just plain old ‘stasis’—plus a sad, paltry handful of dubious candidate transitional fossils like your beloved Sahelanthropus.
And yes, there are missing links in the chain, but without evolution we would not have a chain at all.
An astute insight from Dr Braterman. Indeed it is evolution, not evidence, that links the various distinct fossils into an alleged chain of descent. Take away the evolutionary stories, and you’re left with fossil apes and living apes, plus fossil humans and living humans, all highly consistent with the biblical account of origins.
And then there’s biogeography: for example, why marsupials are only found in South America and Australasia, and except for a few species that made their way across the Isthmus of Panama, are never found elsewhere.
A once-popular evolutionary scenario was that marsupials evolved in South America and spread to Australia via Antarctica (before the continents separated) and northwards into North America. I think that is the scenario Professor Braterman is expressing here. But marsupial fossils have been discovered not just in South America, Australia and Antarctica4, but on all continents5, including Europe (see diagram), Asia6 and Africa7.
After the Flood, marsupials and other animals recolonised the globe starting from the Mountains of Ararat in the Middle East, where the Ark landed. They likely migrated northwards through Eurasia, across the ancient Bering land bridge, then through North America and southwards into South America, rather than northwards out of South America as Professor Braterman suggests.
Ironically, in places where marsupials live today, the lower rock strata are virtually devoid of marsupial fossils. Two evolutionists admit:
Living marsupials are restricted to Australia and South America … In contrast, metatherian [marsupial] fossils from the Late Cretaceous are exclusively from Eurasia and North America … This geographical switch remains unexplained.8
Of course living marsupials (opossums) are also found in North America (including well north of the Isthmus of Panama, Professor Braterman).
Of course, the evolution story is endlessly pliable, and can easily be re-imagined to account for all this, but finding identical kinds of animals living on two distant parts of the globe and nowhere in between, a phenomenon known as disjunct distributions, fits more naturally with the biblical account of creation, Flood, dispersion from Ararat, and subsequent ecosystem decline, than with the traditional evolutionary story of organisms evolving into existence at the locations they now inhabit. See Biogeography.
Resistance is futile
Plus we can actually observe evolution, and study it in the field or in the lab. The emergence of pesticide resistance is evolution in action,
No, you can not and no, it is not. See Pesticide resistance is not evidence of evolution. What you observe in the field and in the lab is natural selection, a process heading in the opposite direction to microbes-to-man evolution. See The evolution train’s a-comin’ (Sorry, a-goin’—in the wrong direction).
as shown in the justly famous Harvard/Technion demonstration “evolution on a plate”.
Huh? That experiment does not involve pesticide! It shows a population of bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics. Adaptation? Yes. Evolution? No! They are still the same kind of bacteria, but have probably lost their ability to regulate production of antibiotic-destroying enzymes. For an example of this sort of thing see Superbugs not so super after all.
So is the delightful Russian experiment of breeding tame foxes. Artificial selection, just as much as natural selection, is evolution in action.
No, tame foxes are still foxes, just as new dog breeds are still dogs. See Dogs breeding dogs? That’s not evolution! Selection involves loss of existing genetic information. You discard (‘breed out’) the undesirable traits, ending up with a subset of your original genetic range. This is thus a different phenomenon to microbes-to-man evolution, which would require the coming into existence of vast quantities of new genetic information. Also, the Belyayev experiment showed that domesticating foxes results in the same changes as domesticating wolves did in producing our dogs, which is support for them all being the same created kind. This is discussed in The Greatest Hoax on Earth? Refuting Dawkins on Evolution (pages 47–48). See also Poodle-wolf crosses.
And finally, and most convincingly, we must look at the way that these different lines of evidence mesh together. We can apply biogeography to the fossil record,
Indeed we can, and what we find in the world’s sedimentary strata is a general sequence of sea floor organisms buried first, then sea creatures, then vegetation and land creatures, peppered throughout with numerous exceptions (so-called ‘out of place’ fossils)—which is exactly the pattern we would expect from the chaotic global Flood, as is the pattern of disjunct distributions as animals recolonised the globe after the Flood (see the relevant section in Plants and animals around the world: Why are they found where they are?)
and link it to what we know about the movements of the continents.
Aka continental drift, a theory first proposed by creationist Antonio Snider-Pelligrini in 1858. But continental drift was probably much faster in the past, as per catastrophic plate tectonics. Note also, according to the evolutionary timescale, some of the species that are disjunct across different continents evolved after those continents split, meaning the exact same species would had to have evolved twice, in different places.
Using the methods of molecular biology, we can identify and time the mutations that led different species to diverge from their common ancestor,
Yes, except that the common ancestor for all canine species was a canine; the common ancestor for all people groups was a human, etc., and our downhill genetic slide fits the biblical creation timeline, not the evolutionary one.
and match the timing against the fossil record.
Yes, and when you discard the false assumption of millions of years and adopt the recorded timeline of creation 6,000 years ago, followed by a genetic bottleneck 4,500 years ago at the time of the Flood, then the genetic data suddenly makes perfect sense. See Adam, Eve and Noah vs modern genetics. And there are numerous features in the world’s sedimentary rocks indicating that the bulk of them were laid down suddenly in a single mega-catastrophe, not slowly over millions of years. See Geology Questions and Answers.
Thus the fossil record, deep anatomical resemblances, and DNA evidence agree in showing that whales, for instance, are closely related to hoofed mammals, diverging from them in the Eocene period.
Groan! Alleged whale transitional forms are only one rung above Sahelanthropus on the credibility ladder. See Whale evolution fraud. And note, for many years, evolutionists dogmatically argued that deep anatomical similarities in the skull and teeth proved that whales evolved from a group of carnivorous hoofed animals called mesonychids. But more recently, molecular similarities have driven evolutionists to believe that whales evolved from even-toed hoofed animals close to the hippopotamus, contradicting your earlier contention that molecular family trees match morphological family trees. And this would mean that the similarities between whales and mesonychids were not inherited by evolution from common ancestors, and are instead ‘homoplastic’ or ‘convergent’, i.e. the same feature evolved independently more than once—see Whale evolution?
There are many other examples of such consistency.
Consistency? An evolutionist merely slots each scientific fact and observation into a convenient place within their narrative of cosmic history. Some facts are more difficult to accommodate than others, but evolution is malleable, and room can be made for even the most obstinate facts. This can give an illusion of ‘consistency’ but only because the alternative framework of understanding—biblical creation—is being excluded from consideration. In fact the vast majority of facts fit far more comfortably into the biblical framework of history. See ‘It’s not science’.
Then, and only then, pause to explain how a scientific theory is an interlocking connection of ideas that explain things about the world, and that evolution is one of the most successful examples.
Evolution is successful in the sense of achieving dominance, yes, but only via indoctrination, censorship and other totalitarian means. See If you can’t beat them, ban them.
And challenge the Mike Pences of this world to spell out exactly what they would like to see taught alongside the Theory of Evolution – and why.
Allowing students and teachers the academic freedom to air and discuss the flaws and shortcomings of the theory of evolution free from academic and social persecution would be a good start.
References and notes
- Chalmers, J., Seven million-year-old skull ‘just a female gorilla’, Sydney Morning Herald, smh.com.au/articles/2002/07/13/1026185124750.html, 14 July 2002. Return to text.
- Wolpoff, M.H. and three others, Palaeoanthropology (communication arising): Sahelanthropus or ‘Sahelpithecus’? Nature 419(6907):581, 10 October 2002 | doi:10.1038/419581a. Return to text.
- Denton, M., Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, Burnett Books, page 189, 1985. Return to text.
- Woodburne, M.O. and Zinsmeister, W.J., The first land mammal from Antarctica and its biogeographic implications, Journal of Paleontology 58(4):913–948, July 1984. Return to text.
- One would need to study the specific geological setting of each such marsupial fossil site to determine whether it was formed during the global Flood, or during some later lesser geological event. Return to text.
- Ducrocq, S. and five others, First fossil marsupial from South Asia, Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 12(3):395–399, September 1992. Return to text.
- Africa’s oldest fossil marsupial is unearthed, New Scientist, 26 April 1984, page 18. Return to text.
- Cifelli, R.L. and Davis, B.M., Marsupial origins, Science 302:1899–1900, 2003. More recently, some marsupial fossils have been found in Australia, but the problem of extant vs. fossil distributions is still unsolved. Return to text.
- Stearn, C.W. and two others, Paleontology: The Record of Life, John Wiley & Sons, page 280, 1989. Return to text.
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