Sunday, November 15, 2009


Duane Gish Rides Again!

The Rev. Charles Welch, pastor of the Meadowbrook Church in Howard, Wisconsin, has an article in the Green Bay Press-Gazette, "Scientific fact or philosophy?". It is a classic example of a "Gish Gallop," a series of bogus (if not outright dishonest) arguments that take much longer to debunk than to make. Fortunately, we have resources that greatly help, including Mark Isaak's "Index to Creationist Claims" (also available in book form as The Counter-Creationism Handbook); 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution: The Scientific Case for Common Descent; and the Quote Mine Project and other resources on creationist abuse of quotes.

Pastor Chuck says:

Let me ask a few honest questions.

... which is his greatest misrepresentation, since, at the very least, he is implying a knowledge of science and its arguments that he does not have. It starts at the very beginning of his article:

Turn a frog into a prince? Even a child recognizes it is not fact, but fiction.

Claim CA100: Argument from Incredulity:

1.Really, the claim is "I can't conceive that (fill in the blank)." Others might be able to find a natural explanation; in many cases, they already have. Nobody knows everything, so it is unreasonable to conclude that something is impossible just because you do not know it. Even a noted antievolutionist acknowledges this point: "The peril of negative arguments is that they may rest on our lack of knowledge, rather than on positive results" (Behe 2003).

2.The argument from incredulity creates a god of the gaps. Gods were responsible for lightning until we determined natural causes for lightning, for infectious diseases until we found bacteria and viruses, for mental illness until we found biochemical causes for them. God is confined only to those parts of the universe we do not know about, and that keeps shrinking.

He next trots out a quote mine of Darwin:

"Why, if species descended from other species by gradual transcending orders of complexity, do we not find embedded in the earth (fossil record) or living (in the present), innumerable transitional forms?"

Claim CC200.1:

1. Some important factors prevent the formation of fossils from being common:

• Fossilization itself is not a particularly common event. It requires conditions that preserve the fossil before it becomes scavenged or decayed. Such conditions are common only in a very few habitats, such as river deltas, peat bogs, and tar pits. Organisms that do not live in or near these habitats will be preserved only rarely.

• Many types of animals are fragile and do not preserve well.

• Many species have small ranges. Their chance of fossilization will be proportionally small.

• The evolution of new species probably is fairly rapid in geological terms, so the transitions between species will be uncommon.

Passenger pigeons, once numbered in the billions, went extinct less than 200 years ago. How many passenger pigeon fossils can you find? If they are hard to find, why should we expect to find fossils that are likely from smaller populations and have been subject to millions of years of potential erosion?

2. Other processes destroy fossils. Erosion (and/or lack of deposition in the first place) often destroys hundreds of millions of years or more of the geological record, so the geological record at any place usually has long gaps. Fossils can also be destroyed by heat or pressure when buried deep underground.

3. As rare as fossils are, fossil discovery is still rarer. For the most part, we find only fossils that have been exposed by erosion, and only if the exposure is recent enough that the fossils themselves do not erode.

As climates change, species will move, so we cannot expect a transition to occur all at one spot. Fossils often must be collected from all over a continent to find the transitions.

Only Europe and North America have been well explored for fossils because that is where most of the paleontologists lived. Furthermore, regional politics interfere with collecting fossils. Some fabulous fossils have been found in China only recently because before then the politics prevented most paleontology there.

4. The shortage is not just in fossils but in paleontologists and taxonomists. Preparing and analyzing the material for just one lineage can take a decade of work. There are likely hundreds of transitional fossils sitting in museum drawers, unknown because nobody knowledgeable has examined them.

5. Description of fossils is often limited to professional literature and does not get popularized. This is especially true of marine microfossils, which have the best record.

6. If fossilization were so prevalent and young-earth creationism were true, we should find indications in the fossil record of animals migrating from the Ark to other continents.

Where are the half-bird, half-reptile creatures today? Where are the half- ape, half-man creatures today?

Claim CB805:

1. The claim might be true if there were no such thing as extinction. But since species do become extinct, intermediates that once existed do not exist today. Since extinction is a one-way street, species can only become less connected over time. This is clear if we look at the fossil record, in which early members of separate groups are much harder to tell apart.

2. Environments (and ecological niches) are not really as continuous as the claim pretends. Dogs bring down their prey through long chases, and cats ambush their prey; dogs are made for long-distance running, and cats are made for short sprints with high acceleration from a standing start. These requirements are quite different, and it is hard to achieve both in a single body. Compromises between the two have disadvantages in competition with specialists for either type, and thus natural selection culls them. Intermediates are competitive only so long as specialists are absent; so when specialists evolve, the intermediates are likely to become extinct.

3. In part, distinctness is an illusion caused by our choice of which groups to give names to. Groups with unclear boundaries tend not to get separate names, or groups in which intermediate forms exist are chopped in half arbitrarily (especially obvious if fossil forms are considered; e.g., the line between dinosaurs and birds is arbitrary, increasingly so as new fossils are discovered).

4. There are indeed several cases of continua in nature. In many groups, such as some grasses and leafhoppers, different species are very hard to tell apart. At least ten percent of bird species are similar enough to another species to produce fertile hybrids (Weiner 1994, 198-199). The most obvious continua are called ring species, because in the classic case (the herring gull complex) they form a ring around the North Pole. If we start in Western Europe and move west, similar populations, capable of interbreeding, succeed each other geographically. When we have traveled all the way around the world and reach Western Europe again, the final population is different enough that we call it a separate species, and it is incapable of interbreeding with herring gulls, even though they are connected by a continuous chain of interbreeding populations. This is a big problem for creationists. We expect kinds to be easily determined if they were created separately, but there are no such obvious divisions:

They are mistaken, who repeat that the greater part of our species are clearly limited, and that the doubtful species are in a feeble minority. This seemed to be true, so long as a genus was imperfectly known, and its species were founded upon a few specimens, that is to say, were provisional. Just as we come to know them better, intermediate forms flow in, and doubts as to specific limits augment. (de Condolle, quoted in Darwin, 1872, chap. 2)

Next, Pastor Chuck asks:

Where are the transitional forms today, evolving from one species to another? The honest study of fossils do not show it. They merely show a vast array of organisms that have become extinct over time.

The answer to that is fairly obvious: they are all around us. They are just transitional between present day life and what will be extant in the future, something that is too contingent for human beings to predict, much like we cannot predict which atom of U-235 will next decay into Thorium-231. If some aliens visited Earth back in the time of the transition between dinosaurs and birds, they would have just noted the cool dinosaurs with fuzzy coverings, some of whom could maybe glide a bit. They wouldn't know that those dinosaurs would be ancestors of something called "birds," anymore than they'd know, five million years ago, that some interesting apes would evolve into the apes we call H. sapiens today. But we can definitely see the results of evolution. As said in 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution, Prediction 1.4: Intermediate and transitional forms: the possible morphologies of predicted common ancestors:

[A]ll living organisms can be thought of as intermediate between adjacent taxa in a phylogenetic tree. For instance, modern reptiles are intermediate between amphibians and mammals, and reptiles are also intermediate between amphibians and birds. As far as macroevolutionary predictions of morphology are concerned, this point is trivial, as it is essentially just a restatement of the concept of a nested hierarchy.

Why did the eruption of Mount St. Helens a few years ago give evolutionary appearance as though it took millions of years in its formation, while in reality it occurred within a short number of days?

Claim CH581.1:

1. The sediments on Mount St. Helens were unconsolidated volcanic ash, which is easily eroded. The Grand Canyon was carved into harder materials, including well-consolidated sandstone and limestone, hard metamorphosed sediments (the Vishnu schist), plus a touch of relatively recent basalt.

2. The walls of the Mount St. Helens canyon slope 45 degrees. The walls of the Grand Canyon are vertical in places.

3. The canyon was not entirely formed suddenly. The canyon along Toutle River has a river continuously contributing to its formation. Another canyon also cited as evidence of catastrophic erosion is Engineer's Canyon, which was formed via water pumped out of Spirit Lake over several days by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

4. The streams flowing down Mount St. Helens flow at a steeper grade than the Colorado River does, allowing greater erosion.

5. The Grand Canyon (and canyons further up and down the Colorado River) is more than 100,000 times larger than the canyon on Mount St. Helens. The two are not really comparable.

Why do scientists ignore the observable evidence of a huge flood? Fish fossils, for example, were found in the high mountains of Wyoming and elsewhere.

Claim CC364:

1. Shells on mountains are easily explained by uplift of the land. Although this process is slow, it is observed happening today, and it accounts not only for the seashells on mountains but also for the other geological and paleontological features of those mountains. The sea once did cover the areas where the fossils are found, but they were not mountains at the time; they were shallow seas.

2. A flood cannot explain the presence of marine shells on mountains for the following reasons:

• Floods erode mountains and deposit their sediments in valleys.

• In many cases, the fossils are in the same positions as they grow in life, not scattered as if they were redeposited by a flood. This was noted as early as the sixteenth century by Leonardo da Vinci (Gould 1998).

• Other evidence, such as fossilized tracks and burrows of marine organisms, show that the region was once under the sea. Seashells are not found in sediments that were not formerly covered by sea.

How about the many places where petrified tree trunks stand upright through various layers of sediment, showing a rapid laying down of strata, not following the proposed idea of the geologic time scale?

Claim CC331:

Sudden deposition is not a problem for uniformitarian geology. Single floods can deposit sediments up to several feet thick. Furthermore, trees buried in such sediments do not die and decay immediately; the trunks can remain there for years or even decades.

The same is true of so-called evolutionary family trees, which are based on speculation and not true science.

If it was just speculation, we wouldn't be able to make predictions based on them, as pointed out in 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution, Prediction 1.4: Intermediate and transitional forms: the possible morphologies of predicted common ancestors:

[A] phylogenetic tree does make significant predictions about the morphology of intermediates which no longer exist or which have yet to be discovered. Each predicted common ancestor has a set of explicitly specified morphological characteristics, based on each of the most common derived characters of its descendants and based upon the transitions that must have occurred to transform one taxa into another (Cunningham et al. 1998; Futuyma 1998, pp. 107-108). From the knowledge of avian and reptilian morphology, it is possible to predict some of the characteristics that a reptile-bird intermediate should have, if found. Therefore, we expect the possibility of finding reptile-like fossils with feathers, bird-like fossils with teeth, or bird-like fossils with long reptilian tails. However, we do not expect transitional fossils between birds and mammals, like mammalian fossils with feathers or bird-like fossils with mammalian-style middle ear bones. ... (See the article for numerous examples of confirmation in bird-reptiles, reptile-mammals, human-hominids, land mammal-whales and land mammals-seacows.)

Why the unscientific circular aging of the fossils by the rocks and the rocks by the fossils?

Claim CC310:

1. Many strata are not dated from fossils. Relative dates of strata (whether layers are older or younger than others) are determined mainly by which strata are above others. Some strata are dated absolutely via radiometric dating. These methods are sufficient to determine a great deal of stratigraphy.

Some fossils are seen to occur only in certain strata. Such fossils can be used as index fossils. When these fossils exist, they can be used to determine the age of the strata, because the fossils show that the strata correspond to strata that have already been dated by other means.

2.The geological column, including the relative ages of the strata and dominant fossils within various strata, was determined before the theory of evolution.


Claim CD103:

1.The geologic column was outlined by creationist geologists. For example, Adam Sedgwick, who described and named the Cambrian era, referred to the theory of evolution as "no better than a phrensied dream" (Ritland 1982). The geologic column is based on the observation of faunal succession, the fact that organisms vary across strata, and that they do so in a consistent order from place to place. William "Strata" Smith (1769-1839) recognized faunal succession years before Darwin published his ideas on biological evolution.

2.The geologic column is validated in great detail by radiometric dating, which is based on principles of physics, not evolution. Furthermore, different dating techniques are consistent, and they are consistent with the order established by the early pioneers of stratigraphy.

Speaking of origins, where did matter come from to begin with? The philosophy of evolution has no answer.

Yes, and the science of evolution also does not answer why chemistry works reliably or why your car can turn gasoline into mechanical energy. Here, Pastor Chuck is confusing biology with physics and cosmology. The important point is: however matter and the universe first came into existence in the Big Bang, once it did, biological evolution became possible.

Evolution has to assume that nonliving matter gave rise to living matter, contradicting the proven Law of Biogenesis, that only life reproduces life.

What exactly is "nonliving matter"? All of life on Earth is made up of the same carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, etc. that is found in the crust of the Earth and its atmosphere. It is just arranged in molecules that come about through the ordinary "laws" of chemistry, where elements will combine in certain ways given a proper energy source. Life is an ongoing chemical reaction no less understandable than any high school chem lab experiment.

As for the so-called "Law of Biogenesis":

Claim CB000:

The spontaneous generation that Pasteur and others disproved was the idea that life forms such as mice, maggots, and bacteria can appear fully formed. They disproved a form of creationism. There is no law of biogenesis saying that very primitive life cannot form from increasingly complex molecules.

See, also, John Wilkins' excellent article "Spontaneous Generation and the Origin of Life."

There you have it. Pastor Chuck, in an article of a mere 592 words has misrepresented science to such a degree that it has taken 2,830 words to give even a sketchy reply to him. Hundreds of thousands of more words could be expended and still not fully lay out the case on science's side. Truly, a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get it's boots on.

Pastor Chuck describes himself as having a degree in chemistry and natural sciences from the University of Wisconsin-Madison ... no doubt to the great chagrin of UWM. It's a shame he learned so little.


Of course, "true science" simply means "that which doesn't contradict what I want to believe."

In that sense he knows exactly what "true science" means.
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