Saturday, May 23, 2009



There is a fascinating (as in rubbernecking a car wreck) insight into creationist thinking at in the person of one Clyde Middleton, including a truly lunatic "summation" of the theory of evolution that reveals an absolute absence of any knowledge of science.

The interesting part involves his mocking of Darwin's attempt to deal with the fossil record. Darwin, of course, straightforwardly addressed what he saw as a valid objection to his theory, namely: the absence of innumerable transitional links showing species transforming from one into another. This Darwin largely attributed to the imperfection of the fossil record and proposed that a research program be undertaken to determine just how imperfect it is. This led to the field of science called taphonomy.

But imperfection of the fossil record was not Darwin's only proposed explanation ... ironically something that Middleton picks up on but does not understand. He quotes Darwin to the effect:

[A]lthough each species must have passed through numerous transitional stages, it is probable that the periods, during which each underwent modification, though many and long as measured by years, have been short in comparison with the periods during which each remained in an unchanged condition.

... and asks:

But let me understand something because I am troubled. You write that the transition periods are significantly shorter than the in situ periods. That suggests that evolution, um, stops for elongated periods, or that evolution that would be evident in fossil (as opposed to soft tissue) stops. I don't remember reading that. I thought you wrote that evolution is continuous. I'm confused. Little help, Charles?

John Wilkins has explained this well as a confusion over what "gradualism" means. Commenting on that passage, Wilkins notes:

It is hard to find a better summary of punctuated equilibrium [not an uncontroversial view on Wilkins' part - JP] ... Certainly, Darwin was changing his emphases over time in response to criticism and suggestions - which any decent thinker ought to do. But in no way did he ever rely on a steady rate of change view.

The important point here is that, if Middleton is really confused, why would he assume that Darwin (and scientists who have had 150 years to contemplate it since) are wrong and he, a layman, has seen something they have not considered? A rational person in that situation would seek to end his confusion rather than basing his acceptance or rejection of an idea on it.

If he had investigated, Middleton would have found out that taphonomy, along with plate tectonics, the clarification of what evolutionary change would look like in the fossil record and the tremendous increase in discovered transitional forms since Darwin's day (that Middleton, no doubt under the influence of Morton's Demon, simply denies, even while referring to another, though over-hyped, example) has convinced scientists that the fossil record is a positive support of common descent instead of a liability.

All that goes to explain why Middleton is spectacularly wrong about the science but, to me, this is the interesting bit:

But I have been fascinated over the years by the MSM trumpeting of fossils as proof that God does not exist - for that is the ultimate measure of their focus. "See that foot bone on that fossil? NOW try to say we didn't evolve from that monkey!"

Um, laughing. Assume that I build engines from scratch in my spare time. Does every single engine have to be a completely new design? You mean I can't go with a general concept here? I can't have ANY similarity between engines? That seems like a rather high and needless standard. What's your logic? What proof can you offer that I must use completely different parts? Don't chipmunks have stomachs and eyes? Why didn't we evolve from them? They got a face. We've got a face. Help me here.

A quick answer is that a clock has a "face" too but even Middleton should agree that there is something unique about living organisms that suggest a closer relationship to humans than a piece of machinery. It is a whole suite of traits unique to particular taxa that make "monkeys" more likely ancestors of humans than chipmunks, with a foot bone perhaps distinguishing which "monkey" is closer still to the line that lead to humans.

But what I find fascinating is that Middleton, here, is doing exactly what he mocks Darwin for: proposing an explanation (common design) of empiric evidence that does not, on its face, support his "theory" of the origin of species (creationism). There is one difference, naturally: Darwin's proposal can be scientifically examined, while Middleton's cannot. But why should Darwin be mocked for doing the same thing Middleton himself does?

Now, we are all heir to inconsistency in our thinking. But it is rare, I think, to find such blatant self-contradiction so cheek by jowl ... except perhaps in the case of creationists.

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