Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Gaps In His Arguments

Dr. Michael Egnor must imagine himself a Renaissance man.

The evidence is clear that he feels himself qualified to lugubriously lecture experts in fields, such as evolutionary biology and the law, that he, himself, has no detectable expertise in.

One of these days it may occur to Dr. Egnor that his true talents lie in the direction of slapstick.

The latest example is his foray into Constitutional law with Timothy Sandefur that ends no better than an earlier attempt of his.

But something else caught my eye:

... Mr. Sandefur apparently believes that teaching public school students that there are large inadequately explained gaps in the fossil record is a violation of the Establishment Clause. Yet, as it happens, there is substantial publicly funded ongoing research being conducted by evolutionary biologists on these large inadequately explained gaps. Mr. Sandefur has no Establishment Clause objections to the public funding of the research on this topic; he only objects to publicly funded teaching on this topic. Yet the teaching and the research both address the same premise — that there are large unexplained gaps in the fossil record.

Naturally, given that his métier is, as Sandefur says, "distortion, vagueness, and rhetorical manipulation," Egnor gets no more specific than that but it is reasonable to assume he is talking about funding to search for fossils that creationists like to call "missing" -- until they're found, at which point they call them the point in between two newly missing fossils.

My question is: are the gaps unexplained and do the newly discovered fossils explain anything about the gaps?

In point of fact, we know that many more individual organisms have existed than there are discovered fossils, i.e. that only a tiny fraction of the once-living beings on Earth have been fossilized and found. We have a pretty good (and, as with all good science, constantly improving) understanding of the process of fossilization within the field of taphonomy and there is no reason to believe that gaps in the record will ever be eliminated.

So the gaps themselves are well explained, even if you think, as creationists like Egnor do, that some gaps cannot be explained because they represent "poof moments" when God ... opps, "The Designer" ... did something, somehow, in some non-materialistic way and organisms came into existence with no precursors.

Therein lies the problem for creationists: how to you distinguish the gaps resulting from the reasonably well-understood, natural process of fossil formation from those caused by the totally unknown (and deliberately unexplored) processes used by the "Designer"?

Of course, it is only a "problem" if you assume that logic is a requirement for an argument. Egnor has actually complained about his arguments being labeled as "god-in-the-gaps" formulations. But here he is, borrowing directly out of the young-Earth creationist playbook, despite his earlier imperious decree that he is wrongly called a "creationist" because only young-Earth creationists count as "creationists," and making the very claim about gaps in the fossil record that "god-in-the-gaps" originally took its name from.

Dr. Steven Novella has joined in the fray, addressing Egnor's previous effort, and makes the point:

It is also worthy of note that the young earth creationists on the Texas school board think some of the weaknesses of evolutionary theory include things like - the absence of transitional fossils in the fossil record and the second law of thermodynamics. To them the "strengths and weaknesses" language was used to justify including decades-old debunked creationist arguments against evolution - the same arguments that failed to get into science classrooms under the "creation science" strategy, or the "teach the controversy" strategy. The "strengths and weaknesses" strategy is being used to promote the same creationist pseudoscience as all the previous creationist strategies.

So, Dr. Egnor, given your invocation of young-Earth creationist arguments, how is it again that you aren't a creationist?

What is the preferred self-descriptive for those who share in the use of arguments like "gaps" and "2nd law"?
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