Refutation of New Scientist’s Evolution: 24 myths and misconceptions
Mangling misotheists’ ignorant attacks on the Bible
Ed. Note: this is the second instalment of a detailed critique of a major New Scientist anti-creationist diatribe (see introduction and index page). This one deals with its blatant attack on the Bible, exhibiting the contextual ignorance of most low-brow misotheists, and clearest example of New Scientist’s atheopathy.1
Evolution must be wrong because the Bible is inerrant
This argument is undermined by the hundreds of errors and inaccuracies and contradictions found in Bible. It is anything but ‘inerrant’.
A few creationists are honest enough to admit that the evidence supporting the theory of evolution is irrelevant as far as they are concerned: as it contradicts the ‘Word of God’, it simply has to be wrong. Some Christians regard the text of the Bible as literally true or, to use their term, as ‘inerrant’. If people reject evolution on this basis, it is only fair to ask whether this belief stands up.
The New Scientist article opens with a poorly-supported summary, two generalised statements (few? some?—How many? Which ones?), and a broad-brushed stroke which disparages the ‘remaining’ creationists, implying by extension a majority of creationists are dishonest.
It continues in apparent confusion, where the author appears to be unable to differentiate between inerrancy of Scripture and ‘literal truth’, a subject we covered extensively in Should Genesis be taken literally? (1993) and Is Genesis poetry / figurative, a theological argument (polemic) and thus not history?
Whichever translation of the Bible you look at it is not hard to find errors. The texts are full of internal contradictions as well as historical and scientific inaccuracies.
With this next statement, we receive our first clues, indicating why the author is confused regarding Biblical accuracy. Firstly, the statement regarding ‘translation of the Bible’ ignores the fact that the most prevalent understanding of inerrancy relates not to English translations, but to the original, inspired manuscripts—see, for example, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy with exposition. Secondly, the author is using and supporting Wikipedia as respectable and factual source material; certainly New Scientist must realise synthesis is only as good as the source material it uses.
Overwhelming the audience
Before we address the concerns over New Scientist’s use of inadequate source material, we must first point out a very familiar and fallacious tactic called ‘elephant hurling’, where a proponent of one side of a debate uses overwhelming amounts of material or numerous unsupported claims, designed to swamp and confuse the opponent (or in this case, the audience) into giving up in frustration and just accepting their points at face value.
Fortunately, apologists through the years have devoted time, effort, and proper research into deciphering and refuting all these supposed contradictions. There are a multitude of respectable websites which address and refute the specific examples on the lists New Scientist supports with their links. Even before the age of the Internet, Christian leaders like Wesley, Calvin, etc. solved many of these points thoroughly. The points which are not covered by such leaders’ writings are usually new assertions, likely born of a contemporary leaning toward reading comprehension failure, and ignorance of historical and cultural evidence. Unfortunately, regardless how many times apologists refute each and every point, there is always someone who eventually pokes their head out of the sand, feigns an innocent expression, and pretends these points have not been decimated.
For example, New Scientist links to three separate Wikipedia articles, supporting them as source material. While the author sums up the three in a 14-word editorialised summary, the first link is comprised of nearly 12,800 words, the second (a summary of) over 600 words (with a ‘main article’ link to a much larger article), and the third over 1,700 words, for a minimum of 15,000 words in the three.2
One can only wonder what sort of ‘science’ is represented by limited and badly-researched conclusions, which include links to lists and articles containing misleading questions, out-of-context examples, and other poorly-formed editorial commentary.
So, can Wikipedia (WP) be trusted as scientific and/or theological source material? WP certainly cannot be categorized as an expert source, because non-expert content is allowed and encouraged.
To provide the necessary background, it must be understood that anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can become a WP editor with near anonymity or pseudonymity. WP’s co-founder, Larry Sanger, addressed a WP mindset of anti-elitism in ‘Why Wikipedia Must Jettison Its Anti-Elitism’ (2004). Sanger indicates the ‘lack of respect for expertise’ is the ‘root problem’ where the consequence is ‘nearly everyone with much expertise, but little patience, will avoid editing Wikipedia’. He also noted the lack of ‘traditional review processes’.
This unwritten, anti-elitism policy-in-practice, when coupled with ‘community consensus’, can lead to edits made by a teenage drop-out living in his mother’s basement being considered equal in authority with edits vetted by an expert in the particular field. In the case of controversial articles, where the bias of a group of editors can overrule a few experts, the authority of the non-experts can be held higher by majority overrule. Most damaging to WP’s credibility as a reliable resource is the clause of their Verifiability policy which states ‘the threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth’. (Bold added.)
Adherence to these policies over preservation of truth is another reason why Wikipedia cannot be viewed on the same level as peer-reviewed expert publications, as WP can determine and enforce retention of error and opinion over expertise. And unlike peer-reviewed expert material, vandalism and gross mistakes on WP are plentiful, and are only corrected when they are ‘caught’ and when someone makes the effort to change them; other times they may be intentionally retained by a declaration of ‘consensus’ among non-expert community members or by an overruling of a vocal majority.3
It is small wonder that a recent report was entitled Falling exam passes blamed on Wikipedia littered with inaccuracies:
WIKIPEDIA and other online research sources were yesterday blamed for Scotland’s falling exam pass rates.
The Scottish Parent Teacher Council (SPTC) said pupils are turning to websites and internet resources that contain inaccurate or deliberately misleading information before passing it off as their own work.
The group singled out online encyclopedia Wikipedia, which allows entries to be logged or updated by anyone and is not verified by researchers, as the main source of information.
These points strongly indicate the need to examine the citations provided by New Scientist with an even higher level of care. From the first time we visited the relevant articles linked by New Scientist a few weeks ago, all of them have changed to various degrees, including one complete overhaul with more proposed changes under discussion. Also, each article’s text is filled with banners complaining about the content, notations (some over six months old) requesting the provision of citations, and talk pages rife with complaints, where even WP’s lower standards of scholarship are not being met in the articles New Scientist is using and supporting as authoritative source material! Wikipedia is certainly a handy resource for quick-checking trivial facts, but even Wikipedia believes they are not a reliable source.
Fallacious quoting out-of-context
Going back to the actual text of the New Scientist article, we noticed extreme editorial license, especially in instances where the sole support of the asserted ‘contradiction’ was pulling select bits of Scripture out-of-context, and either comparing those bits against other out-of-context bits or against what the author assumes the answer should be.
The fallacy of quoting out-of-context lies not in taking parts from a whole, but in removing parts in such a way that the whole is misrepresented by the extracted parts. For example, if we were to employ this fallacy (tongue-in-cheek), we could ‘prove’ the author does not properly grasp the concept of homosexuality by pulling out part of his statement, and stating the author indicated ‘homosexuality could also be a result of females preferring males’. While this might give readers a giggle, it’s not the full context of the author’s statement, but rather an example to illustrate why cherry-picking bits and pieces out-of-context is fallacious, and not a sign of proper scholarship.
Misapplication or Manipulation?
Poor scholarship is often the underlying cause in confusion over Scripture, where the author might not understand the historical references or ancient culture and misapply contemporary ideas and understandings. Incorrect conclusions are also sometimes drawn through the faulty compilation and comparison of separate points; this is even more prevalent when personal bias gets in the way. Even when a person has the best of intentions, good intentions do not equal good scholarship. This is misapplication of data.
Originating and/or using deceptive questions, improper comparison of proof-texts, and inserting additional misleading editorialisation, however, points toward intentional deception, often referred to as propaganda. This is manipulation of data.
A mixture of these errors and tactics can be found on many of these circulated and regurgitated Internet lists. Many Internet lists are complied by angry misotheists spewing miles of supposed contradictions in an attempt to justify their hatred of Christianity. While we would like to assume an underlying good faith in the New Scientist article, answers are widely available, a fact admitted by New Scientist, which appears to suggest agenda over inadvertent mistakes. This suggestion is enforced strongly by the overall tone of these related New Scientist articles. Interestingly enough, we discovered this particular article was omitted from the New Scientist magazine hard copy.
More assertions by New Scientist
There are so many examples it is hard to know where to start.
One would hope they would start with some scholarly research, but unfortunately, the following oft-refuted assertions prove otherwise.4
Take its cosmology: according to the Bible, the earth is flat and immovable, the moon emits its own light, the sky is solid and the stars can be shaken from the sky by earthquakes.
We addressed the flat earth (and solid sky) myth in ‘Who invented the flat earth?‘, published in 1994; therefore, the answer to this silly accusation has existed for at least fourteen years (and others have answered it before us)! See also a more recent explanation, showing that the Psalmist uses the same expression ‘shall not be moved’ and applies it to himself, but no one would take this as meaning he was stuck in one spot for life! See also the articles under Does the Bible really teach a flat earth?
Like ‘sunrise’ and ‘sunset’, ‘moonlight’ is an idiom which has survived into contemporary usage; this is editorial nit-picking. Does he also protest outside concert halls if they are playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata or Debussy’ Clair de Lune, on the grounds that it’s giving credence to a biblical error?
The metaphoric and symbolic words used in Revelation 6:13 should have been the author’s first clue this was part of an obvious vision, unless they also want to assert the Lamb was an actual lamb with a fuzzy coat running around on four legs, crying ‘baaaa’.
Its mathematics is also poor. How many sons do you count: ‘The sons of Shemaiah: Huttush, Igal, Bariah, Neriah, and Shaphat, six’ (I Chronicles 3:22). Such errors are common.
What is actually ‘poor’ is the glaring omission of the first part of the verse. The full verse reads:
The descendants of Shecaniah were Shemaiah, and the sons of Shemaiah: Hattush, Igal, Bariah, Neariah and Shaphat, six.
This shows that the reference is to the six descendants of Shechaniah, which includes his son, Shemaiah, and Shemaiah’s five sons.
The value of pi is given as 3, even though many other cultures had already worked it out with greater precision.
We answered this in 1995, showing two possible explanations, both requiring only rudimentary reading and maths skill. Examining the related passages (1 Kings 7:23–26, 2 Chronicles 4:2), the simplest explanation is:
‘The diameter of 10 cubits was measured ‘from brim to brim’ (v. 23) … Verse 26 of 1 Kings 7 says that the vessel in question had a brim which ‘was wrought like the brim of a cup, with flowers of lilies’ (KJV), or a rim ‘like the rim of a cup, like a lily blossom’ (NIV), i.e. the brim or rim turned outward, suggesting the curvature of a lily.’ … It is very obvious that the diameter of the main body of the tank was less than the diameter of the top of the brim.’ [See the fuller explanation on ‘Does the Bible say pi equals 3.0?‘]
Furthermore, Ph.D. mathematicians on a mathematics forum rebuked a misotheist for claiming that the Bible was mistaken here:
‘Whenever we work with pi we are rounding it to some number of digits, so all such calculations are incorrect. The only issue is how much accuracy we need for a particular application.
‘The Bible does not state that pi = 3.0. It states that a particular object (the circular basin in front of the Jerusalem Temple) had a diameter of 10 cubits and a circumference of 30 cubits. So the correct question is not, “Is it proper to round pi to 3.0?" but “Is it proper to round the circumference of this circle to 30 cubits?” Or better, “Are a diameter of 10 cubits and a circumference of 30 cubits consistent within reasonable measurement error?”
‘We do not know the precision of the measuring instruments used to measure the diameter and circumference of this circle. But here is what I would naturally understand if I saw this figure in a scientific journal: in the absence of an explicit indication of precision, the absence of a tenths digit implies that the figure is accurate to the nearest 1 cubit—that is, plus or minus 0.5 cubit.
‘So let’s suppose that the diameter was measured, or specified in the design, to be 10 cubits plus or minus 0.5 cubit. Then the actual circumference would be in the range from 9.5 pi to 10.5 pi, or 29.8 to 32.98 cubits.’
‘If we make the same assumption about the precision of the circumference measurement, we get a range of 29.5 to 30.5 cubits. Notice that the two ranges have considerable overlap. There is therefore no inconsistency between the diameter and the circumference as reported in the Bible.’
Its biology is no better.
They again elephant-hurl a massive amount of material via another link, this time nearly 4,000 words, and then he provides minimal editorial synthesis lacking context, Scriptural citation (in most cases), or any sort of notation of why he believes what he is synthesizing.
In the interest of retaining the reader’s attention, we will notate the relevant Scripture, provide short replies (to specific objections) which sufficiently answer the points, and link relevant articles for those readers who would prefer a more detailed answer. For general objections made by New Scientist, we will provide links to relevant information and answers (usually to the relevant FAQ page here on our website). NB in each case, the answers we link predate their objections, often by more than a decade.
The Bible claims that rabbits chew the cud,
Relevant Scripture: Leviticus 11:3–6
Short answer: This assertion commits an anachronistic fallacy. An ancient concept should not be redefined using a contemporary definition. The Hebrew phrase for ‘chew the cud’ simply means ‘raising up what has been swallowed’. It is not an error of Scripture that ‘chewing the cud’ now has a more restrictive meaning than it did in Moses’ day.
This would be akin to asserting that a person described as ‘gay’ in early literature was ‘homosexual’, incorrectly supporting the assertion with an anachronistic modern use of ‘gay’ indicating homosexuality; however, the earlier, and mostly obsolete, use of ‘gay’ indicated ‘a state of happiness’.
Detailed answer: Do rabbits chew their cud? (1998)
that the pattern of goats’ coats can be changed by what their parents look at while copulating,
Relevant Scripture: Gen. 30:25–31:13
Short answer: Jacob assumes his actions were the cause behind the goats’ coats effect. However, in Gen. 31:12, God reveals Jacob was mistaken, that it was not magical genetics, but God’s intervention which helped Jacob. Therefore, it isn’t erroneous science, just an example of a human being, Jacob, committing a post hoc fallacy which God corrected.
Detailed answer: Does the Bible Teach Magical Genetics?
that only dead seeds can germinate
‘ … the word used for ‘die’ (ἀποθνῄσκω apothnēskō) carries both a literal and a figurative meaning, usually with reference to death in sin (cf. Rom. 5:15).’
and that ostriches are careless parents.
Relevant Scripture: Lamentations 4:3–4
Short answer: The author of the detailed answer provides several references, including Cramp’s Handbook of the Birds of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa and Brian C.R. Bertram’s The Ostrich Communal Nesting System, stating this point is factual.
Detailed answer: ‘Gotcha this time! What about the ostrich?’
So how reliable is the chapter that relates to evolution? Let’s leave aside the long-standing evidence that Earth is older than 6000 years
Our 2004 response to the book referenced in the link in the original: ‘The man who made the wedge: James Hutton and the overthrow of biblical authority’.
and that there was no world-wide flood, and look at what else Genesis says.
Funny how New Scientist ‘leave[s] aside’ a topic by more elephant hurling, linking in the original to an essay of over 29,000 words by a well known churchian compromiser!
Answers regarding the deluge can be found on our Flood FAQ.
Relevant Scripture: (already in the objection)
Short answer: This is clearly separated by Gen. 2:4.
‘Chapter 1 is the ‘big picture’, and Chapter 2 is a more detailed account of the creation of Adam and Eve and day six of creation.’ A correct translation of wayyitser in Genesis 2:19 (‘formed’) would be the pluperfect ‘had formed’ as in the NIV, i.e. God brought to Adam the animals He had formed.
Genesis 1:3–5 says light was created on the first day, Genesis 1:14–19 says the sun was created on the fourth.
Relevant Scripture: Already in the objection, as well as Rev 21:23.
Short answer: We know today that all it takes to have a day-night cycle is a rotating Earth and light coming from one direction. The Bible tells us clearly that God created light on the first day, as well as the Earth. Thus we can deduce that the Earth was already rotating in space relative to this created light. God can, of course, create light without a secondary source. We are told that in the new heavens and Earth there will be no need for sun or moon (Rev 21:23). In Genesis, God even defines a day and a night in terms of light or its absence.
Relevant Scripture: Already in the objection
Short answer: This is a misleading objection because Genesis 7:2 actually states:
You shall take with you of every clean animal by sevens, a male and female; and of the animals that are not clean two, a male and his female.
So most animals were in pairs, while the small fraction of clean animals were in sevens—three pairs and one for sacrifice after the Ark landed (cf. Genesis 8:20 ff.). Genesis 7:9 & 15 state ‘by twos’, not ‘one pair’. That is, it refers to the mode of entry into the Ark, i.e. two at a time.
The list goes on.
Unfortunately, so do New Scientist’s errors in this article.
The fruit of the tree of knowledge is said to kill within a day of being eaten, yet Adam and Eve don’t die after eating it.
Relevant Scripture: Genesis 2:16–17, 3:1–24.
Answer: Young’s Literal Translation makes this a bit clearer:
And Jehovah God layeth a charge on the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden eating thou dost eat; and of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou dost not eat of it, for in the day of thine eating of it—dying thou dost die.’
‘Dying thou dost die’ indicates progressive death, not immediate death. The Hebrew provides the nuance this objection overlooks by reading Scripture like an English newspaper. The Fall began ‘in the day’ with Adam and Eve’s separation from God (3:24), the spiritual death, and later they experienced the physical death at the end of their life on Earth. ‘In the day’ (beyôm) is a Hebrew idiom for ‘when’, which is why the NIV translates: ‘but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.’
Compare with 1 Timothy 5:6 (‘But she who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives.’) and Romans 6:23 (‘For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.’). There will still be physical death (till its final removal at the consummation of all things) but through Christ’s sacrifice, we now have the hope of eternal life, a removal of the spiritual death from the Fall. That is why Christ is called the ‘Last Adam’, contrasting the ‘first Adam’ (1 Corinthians 15:45).
Genesis says there were giants (Nephilim) before the flood and that the flood annihilated all creatures other than those on the ark, but Numbers says there were giants after the flood.
Answer: Just as calling a huge person a ‘goliath’ in contemporary times doesn’t imply that they are a direct descendant of Goliath, ‘Nephilim’ is likewise used as a metaphor in Numbers 13:33 to indicate the size of sons of the Anakim, not their lineage, comparing them to the actual Nephilim of Gen 6:4.
Also, it’s important to realize that not everything recorded in the Bible is approved by the Bible. The account clearly states that the Hebrew spies brought back an ‘evil report’, suggesting that it was a lie to dissuade the Hebrews from entering the Promised Land, for which God punished the spies (Num. 14:11, 36–37). So even their metaphorical use should not be used to deduce any doctrine, let alone a ‘contradiction’. Interestingly enough, the Hebrew word nephilim (נְּפִלִים) stems from naphal (נָפָל to fall) giving it the fuller understanding of ‘bully’; this means the person the word describes is not only overly-large in height, but also uses the height as an advantage to bully others.
Sorting it out
Attempts to resolve these contradictions are almost as old as the Bible itself.
This leads us to the conclusion that New Scientist, aware of the resolutions, intentionally ignored them in writing this article. This is a fallacy informally known as ‘La-la-la, can’t hear you’, which is usually visually enhanced by sticking a finger in each ear.
Those who regard the Bible as inerrant tie themselves in knots trying to explain them away …
The author may prefer a simplistic answer, perhaps along the lines of ‘dis iz st00pid’ as typically found on bulletin boards, but his comment is irrational. Correcting the misconceptions of non-theologians is similar to correcting the misconceptions of non-scientists. A non-scientist could argue against a complex scientific concept using 10 words or less, but explaining why that person is wrong would often involve greater detail.
For example, a non-scientist could state ‘Einstein showed that all things are relative’, and unless the scientist wants to resort to dismissive name calling, a scientific explanation why that is a false assertion would involve a detailed response (i.e., Einstein’s special theory of relativity teaches that velocity and mass measurements are relative to the observer, but certainly not ‘all things are relative’. Rather, its fundamental postulate is that the velocity of light is constant regardless of the observer, and he preferred the term ‘invariance theory’ for that reason).
Likewise, when a non-theologian makes false assertions, bad comparisons, and draws erroneous conclusions, a theologian, or someone with strong theological knowledge, must provide a detailed explanation relaying the knowledge the non-theologian lacks.
In such examples, neither scientists nor theologians are tying themselves in knots. The author is obviously attempting to poison the well before a reply can be made to these bald assertions, leaving an open avenue for a rebuttal of ‘see I told you that would happen’.
… (hands up who believes that T. rex was once a peaceful vegetarian?),
Hands up who believes this is an argument from personal incredulity? [Update: see ‘Carnivorous’ dinosaurs had plant diet.]
or even take it upon themselves to rewrite the Bible to expunge them.
Here a junk website by a non-scholar and apostate is cited, which demonstrates ignorance of textual criticism and translational procedure. For example, it is good practice to give the benefit of the doubt to the document, not the critic, but these apostates would rather reverse this.
However, there are far too many errors, inaccuracies and contradictions to dismiss them all. The only rational and reasonable conclusion is that the Bible is not inerrant.
This section is linked to ‘ … a preview of the full article [from 2006]. New Scientist Full Access is available free to magazine subscribers’ (oh, and by the way, ‘The complete article is 1779 words long’, another example of elephant hurling.) The full article was found, however, through a search engine on http://www.davidbyrne.com/journal/misc/new_scientist_1_28_06.php, revealing another obvious attempt to poison the well by attempting to link inerrancy to an irrational and unrelated belief in ESP.
Don’t believe us? That’s OK. Go look up these examples for yourself, ask questions and make up your own mind.
Fortunately, reasonable readers will understand that theological exegesis, like science, is not determined by asking leading questions.
I wish to thank my wife Sherry for much of the work in this response.
- Leading misotheist Clinton R. Dawkins often calls theistic religion a ‘virus of the mind’, which would make it a kind of disease or pathology, and parents who teach it to their kids are supposedly practising mental child abuse. But the sorts of criteria Dawkins applies makes one wonder whether his own fanatical antitheism itself could be a mental pathology. One has to wonder if this pathology is due to a contagion that has spread the New Scientist offices. Return to text.
- NB, since Wikipedia is always a work-in-progress, these figures, gathered the day the New Scientist article was published online, change constantly and will most likely differ when the articles in question are examined by the reader. Return to text.
- Anyone following the news would be aware WP has come under heavy fire repeatedly for lacking accuracy in many areas. Examples of Wikipedia splattered in the news include: (1) A 2005 USAToday article by John Siegenthaler, ‘A false Wikipedia ‘biography’’, revealing some of his personal trials with the Wikipedia article which was written about him; (2) A 9 May 2007 MSNBC.com article, Reading Hillary Rodham’s hidden thesis, pointed out Hillary Clinton’s WP article began listing her incorrectly as ‘valedictorian of the Wellesley class of '69’ on 9 July 2005 and at the time the MSNBC article was written nearly two years later, the misinformation was still on WP (it was removed afterward, most likely because the bad publicity called attention to the misinformation); (3) ‘Wikipedia’s zealots: The thought police at the supposedly independent site are fervently enforcing the climate orthodoxy’ Lawrence Solomon, Financial Post, 12 April 2008. NB, the material was removed several times, only to be reinserted, and sometimes defended, even though it was incorrect. Return to text.
- Here, the author uses ‘The Skeptics Annotated Bible’ (SAB), the work of a Steve Wells, as an authority. Wells has admitted he lacks expertise in Hebrew, Greek, hermeneutics, exegesis, linguistics, etc., i.e. in all the disciplines relevant to studying the Bible. While lack of formal training might not exclude an author’s work in some instances of proper autodidacticism, those works must be examined more carefully for errors. The glaring errors caused by lack of expertise in the SAB remove it from any consideration of credibility. For a thorough refutation, see The Skeptics’ Overrated Bible. Return to text.