Monday, March 25, 2013

IDHEF - Chapter 6: New Life Forms: From the Goo to You via the Zoo? (Part I)

This is part of my breakdown of the book "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist." Related posts can be found by clicking here.

   I want to take a brief moment on the opening quote (which they attribute to Ron Carlson, but I have not been able to determine the original source). The university probably didn't teach Ron Carlson that a frog turned into a prince. If they did, he should ask for his money back. What Carlson says is actually a common straw person of the theory of evolution. No where does the theory suggest such a thing. Sure, the university would have likely taught him that humans have amphibian ancestors (but certainly not frogs), but those ancestors would be millions of generations, and thus millions of years, in the past. (Actually, I may be off by a factor of 1000. Those amphibian ancestors may be more like billions of generations in the past.) That's nothing like what happens in fairy tales, where the frog turns into a prince in a matter of seconds. Moving on...

   The start of the chapter gets a bit frustrating. They start out by suggesting that the pattern of prime numbers from the movie Contact is a message in the same way that "'Take out the garbage—Mom'" (p137) is a message. The problem with this is exposed later on the page via reference to quotes from the movie.
"If this is such an intelligent source, then why don't they just speak English?" one official asks with a hint of derision.
  "Because math is the only universal language!" Foster fires back. (p137-138)
However, the authors then suggest that "alphabets, and thus language itself, can be ultimately reduced to numbers" (p138). OK, so then why don't the aliens just speak English? The answer should be obvious that it's not that simple. Sure, one can reduce alphabets down to numbers. We can use 1 in substitution for A, 2 for B, and so on to 26 in substitution for Z. But in order to speak English using numbers, one must know the substitutions! Then, they'd have to know the language because it is not universal. This is why much of what they say in this introduction section is false; they are treating English as though it were somehow universal. It is simply not true that comparing cell information to encyclopedias is a one-to-one relationship. Demonstrating this should be as simple as pointing out that encyclopedias are going to vary in size based on when they are published. (Most likely, they will get bigger as time progresses as we learn more and more about the world as well as have more history to include.) The other problem would be that the size is likely going to be different based on the language of the encyclopedia. (Different languages may use shorter words, longer words, shorter sentences, longer sentences, and so on.) Comparing cell information to encyclopedias can be an approximation, but it is no one-to-one relationship.

   The next thing they do is continue the straw person argument from Chapter 5 implying that the human brain as it is today is the way it has always been (this would even be from before there were humans). They are failing to consider the evolutionary concept that complexity builds over time, though they should know that Carl Sagan accepted that concept. And by not taking this into consideration, they are setting up a weak analogy, in which the flaw is that the message in the form of prime numbers did not evolve while the human brain, however, did.

   I must also say I am a bit confused why they don't even look at other species here on earth. I mean, I would not expect my dog's brain to be as complex as my own. It seems like they are starting with the premise that evolution does not occur in order to reject evolution. This is a circular argument. Sure, my brain is complex, but under the theory of evolution, I would have had ancestors whose brains were less complex. At some point, some ancestor would have had a brain that is only about as complex as a dog's. Before that, my ancestors' brains would even be simpler than that. And so on. (Why is this such a difficult concept to grasp?)

   Lastly, I laugh at their suggestion that "if intelligent human beings can't create anything close to the human brain, why should we expect nonintelligent natural laws to do so?" (p139). Can human beings create anything close to a hurricane? If not, then why should we expect nonintelligent laws to do so? How about an F5 tornado? How about a massive flood? Or a volcanic eruption? An earthquake? Or do the authors not think these are natural? Maybe I should ask about the Grand Canyon since they do admit that is natural in Chapter 5. Humans cannot create anything close to the Grand Canyon. So why do these authors expect nonintelligent laws to do so? They really do appear to be applying their argument inconsistently.


   There is not much to say about the first part of this section other than it sums up much of the ignorance from the last few chapters. It starts by pointing out that atheists don't have explanations for the first life or for the matter in the universe. But so what? Not having an explanation does not mean a god did it. Yet again, this is the angle they work. As I pointed out in the conclusion of Chapter 3, the question "If there is no God, why is there something rather than nothing at all?" (p140) is a loaded question. It presupposed a god in the question, putting the burden of proof incorrectly on those trying to find natural explanations. This same dishonest tactic is being deployed here.

   The one thing I would like to comment on is this idea of having a worldview that can explain things. Their theistic worldview has a problem that it can explain anything. This gives it the problem of not being falsifiable. It is from such a framework that they can ask loaded questions like the one I mentioned in the last paragraph. God can create something from nothing because God can do anything! God can put a complex message in DNA because God can do anything! Which makes me think that the explanatory power of a worldview is actually not that significant as it seems I can make up stuff as long as it has explanatory power. How do airplanes fly? Magic pixie dust! And since it's not a scientific viewpoint, I don't need to supply evidence. (After all, these authors have yet to provide any quality evidence for their god.)

Microevolution vs. Macroevolution

   The first point to cover is that they give a very simplified understanding of natural selection. First, so what if "natural selection" is a misnomer? It's a secondary quality; even if we change the term, the phenomena it describes will remain the same. Second, it does not "simply mean that the fittest creatures survive" (p140). There is an additional part in this that those who survive have the best chance at passing on their traits that allowed them to survive on to the next generation. Because of that element of chance, this is not a tautology. Sometimes those that would otherwise be the "fittest" don't survive. They could get killed by lightning, for example. (More specifically, a bolt of lightning that had an equal chance of hitting any other members of the species. If, for example, the one getting killed by lightning was standing on top of a rock while others sought shelter, then this individual was not the "fittest.") Likewise, there may be reasons that an individual that is not very fit manages to survive. However, it is true that those who are fit for their environment tend to have a better survival rate, but it is not a guarantee.

   The authors do at least give a decent example of natural selection with bacteria. However, they go on to get hung up on the distinction between microevolution and macroevolution. The problem with these terms, as the authors note, is that there really isn't a distinction. What the authors fail to realize is that they are merely subjective terms. These are attempts to describe real phenomena, but they have no effect on that phenomena. In other words, there is a lot of objection here over poorly defined terms that don't impact the actual observations. Macroevolution, by the way, is an attempt to describe the effects of evolution (or microevolution, as these authors would call it) over large periods of time. Another way to view macroevolution is the accumulation of many years of microevolution. The authors are thus correct that macroevolution is essentially an extrapolation. The most frustrating part of this is this claim that macroevolution, being an extrapolation, has not been observed and is thus unproven after much of the previous three chapters, and especially the last two, has involved these very same authors extrapolating a god from the idea that the universe and life appears designed. Since we haven't observed this designer, does this not mean it is also disproven? There seems to be a double-standard here.

   Worse yet, the authors are inconsistent on about extrapolations even when it comes to natural phenomenon. Take the Grand Canyon as an example again. Has anyone ever observed erosion create anything near the size of the Grand Canyon? No, no one has. Macroerosion has never been observed; therefore, by the logic of the authors, it is unproven. Only mircoerosion is known to exist. But wait! What about the Principle of Uniformity? Wasn't that how we derive the idea that the Grand Canyon was indeed formed by erosion? Exactly! We extrapolate the idea that erosion can create the Grand Canyon from the small effects of erosion that we can and have observed. It is in this same way that we extrapolate the idea that small, observable evolutionary changes can lead to the diversity in life that we see today. I can likewise use this argument for mountain formation. Mountains are believed to be formed, in short, from the collision of tectonic plates. Has anyone observed the formation of a mountain? No. Once again, the idea of mountain formation is an extrapolation based on applying small, observable changes to a larger period of time. Or, an idea that is not my own, yet very similar to this discussion is the orbit of Pluto. Pluto has an orbital period of 248.09 years, yet we've only known about Pluto for less than 100. How, then, do we know what Pluto's orbital period is when we have not observed it? This time the extrapolation is more math based, but the idea that we can determine something without direct observation is essentially the same. If you are going to discard ideas because they have not been observed, then there are many concepts that you need to discard to be consistent. Anything else is special pleading.

   I don't have much to say on the rest of this until we get to the first of their five reasons other than citing a law professor on biology really is not that impressive...especially when we know the type of reputation lawyers have. :) (Yes, that is an ad hominem. But I'm not 100% serious, hence the smiley face.)

1. Genetic Limits

   After objecting to the broad definition of evolution, the authors then discuss microevolution within types. What exactly is a "type"? I don't know...maybe it's a genus. Regardless, there are a few problems with this point.

   First, the example of dogs is a poor one because breeders are not trying to get anything but a dog! In other words, "the best attempts of intelligent breeders" (p142) are no attempts at all. Dog breeders try to isolate particular traits of a dog, but they have no intentions of getting anything other than a dog. So even if there are such things as genetic limits, dog breeders are not even attempting to break those limits.

   Perhaps an example is in order to demonstrate what I mean. Let's take the concept of blood type in humans. There is basically AA, AO, AB, BB, BO, and OO (though they break down into A, AB, B, and O). If there were such a thing as a human breeder, they might want to isolate breeds based on blood type. Therefore, they would only breed those with type A blood to another with type A blood as an example. If any of the offspring ended up with an O (which could result from breeding two AO's), they would be removed from the reproduction pool. Eventually, there will be a line that only has type A blood; they'll never have AB, B, or O. Likewise to removing any specimen with type O, anything that has a mutation that results in a new type of blood (let's call it "C") would also be removed from the reproduction pool. Now, this is key. If you want to see a change in type, mutations need to be encouraged. But that is generally not the case in selective breeding. Any variation from the intended goal is discouraged. This is just one of many reasons we shouldn't expect dog breeders to get anything other than a dog.

   The authors also claim in Table 6.1 that claims artificial selection preserves desired freaks. This is simply not true in the case of dog breeding. If the authors wanted to use selective breeding for an example, they'd been better off going with fruits or vegetables. Now those are areas where people do occasionally try to get something new and unique (in other words, they occasionally preserve the "freaks"*). However, this leads us to the second problem...

   Second, while the fruit fly example is better, it is still underestimating the number of generations and time it is expected to take to see great amounts of divergence. For example, the split between humans and chimpanzee is thought to have been about 6 million years ago. So even though flies have a faster reproduction cycle, it would still be expected to take quite a long time to see a significant difference, even in the lab. Speaking of the lab, it may not even be a good substitute to the natural know, where natural selection tends to occur. One thing to note with evolution is that you can get significant amounts of change, but this is not guaranteed. This is a critical flaw in the authors' point. They are demanding a change that the theory of evolution does not promise nor predict. Another point on this is that I would not be surprised if scientists had not at least observed speciation.

   Third, not seeing a change in "type" does not mean that scientists were hitting "genetic limits." This seems to be an unsupported conclusion drawn from not seeing the change they, the authors, wish to see...that change that the theory of evolution does not guarantee. Similarly, we would not say that erosion has limits just because the formation of a canyon has never been produced in a lab. Their reasoning is just ridiculous; they are drawing conclusions for which they have no evidence. It is important to realize that absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence, which is essentially the mistake that is being made here.

   Lastly, their point about "cripples" is also bogus. It's a big "So what?" The theory of evolution includes the idea of random mutation and that these mutations may result in a negative advantage, a positive advantage, or a neutral advantage. These "advantages," however, are primarily based on the natural environment. Take an organism out of that natural environment and you're likely to impact what type of advantage a mutation has. In the lab environment, being "crippled" may not be much of a disadvantage. Actually, one need not look further than our own human race and our "cripples" (though I hope most people are good enough to use less derogatory terms like "disabled," "handicapped," or "persons with special needs"). If they are trying to suggest that crippled fruit flies in a lab is a point against evolution, what do handicapped humans say about intelligent design? Is it a message that says "I'm a shitty designer***"? Seriously, one thing that always bothers me about people who promote intelligent design is that they do so by primarily trying to discredit evolution as opposed to doing more to prove their case or address the holes in their proposal. Evolution has an answer to "cripples"; where is the answer from intelligent design? (There will be more examples of the failures of intelligent design below.)

* By the way, so what if natural selection "eliminates most freaks" (p143)? Does it eliminate all freaks? No, it does not. If it did, that would be a problem for evolution. The fact that some "freaks"** survive is enough for evolution to work. Actually, the theory is based around the idea that only a few freaks survive.
One important point to address is that organisms typically produce offspring beyond replacement. Spiders, as I understand, produce hundreds of offspring. It should then be expected that most of those will die before reproducing themselves. And that's OK because only two need to survive to reproduction age in order to replace their parents. Those "freaks" with beneficial changes will have an upper hand toward survival versus their siblings. On the other hand, of course, those with harmful changes will likely die off much sooner.
Now, if organisms typically only produced enough offspring to replace the parents, then there would be a problem. Then if "freaks" died off before reproducing, you'd expect to see a decline in population, and, eventually, extinction..
In short, survival is the exception, not the rule. Nature not only "eliminates most freaks" (p143), it eliminates most organisms, freak or otherwise.

** I'm not sure if I really like the use of this term "freaks" as it gives me the impression of something that is deformed, like perhaps a dog with five legs. This is not the type of image that should necessarily come to mind. I fear that readers of the book may get similar impressions from that word, but a freak is not limited to just this case. With the 2012 Olympics happening recently, another image of a freak would be that of superior athletes like Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt. The point I'm trying to work toward is that a "freak" should just be considered as an individual with some unique characteristic; it can be beneficial, harmful (like in the discussion of "cripples" above), or neutral (though the one's with neutral unique characteristics won't be as noticeable as the others).

*** I actually know the typical Christian argument on this. It's all because of sin. God is this perfect designer, they say, but those darn perfect humans screwed up (yes, I have seriously heard Christians suggest that perfect beings can screw up...makes me wonder what bizarre definition of "perfect" they are using) and caused everything else to become flawed. Of course, they make no effort to actually prove this; they merely assert it as true.

2. Cyclical Change

   The idea of speciation and what defines a species becomes more important in this section because much of what is in this point is just wrong. So let's first start by explaining what distinguishes different species. Essentially, organisms are of the same species if they are capable of producing fertile offspring. (Assuming they are of opposite sex (for species that have two sexes) and are both fertile and of reproductive age and so on.) Horses and donkeys are of different species, but just barely! They can reproduce an animal known as a mule, but it is an infertile animal. Chihuahuas and Great Danes are different breeds of the same species of dogs (grey wolves). They can reproduce and their offspring can likewise be fertile. Foxes, however, are a different species. Jackals are yet another species which are sometimes referred to as dogs or canines. Therefore, foxes cannot reproduce with jackals.

   Now, when they speak about Darwin's finches, I'm quite sure these were actually different species of finches. These small-beaked finches, I believe, are a different species than the large-beaked finches, much like foxes and jackals are different species of canine. Thus, when there was a period of drought, what you'd be seeing is a larger population of that species of large-beaked finches and a smaller population of that species of small-beaked finches. Conversely, the population sizes would be reversed during wetter periods. In other words, the cycles are of the population of certain species, not cycles in trait changes.

   To be fair, even if these finches are the same species, such a cyclical change within a species is possible, especially if the time between weather cycles is fairly short. Yet, none of this proves anything whatsoever about genetic limits. All this likely serves is an example of an environment in which large amounts of change are not supported. Once again we have the problem of these authors implying that absence of evidence equates to evidence of absence. Once again, this is not always true; nor have they provided good reason why this should be considered true for this case.

3. Irreducible Complexity

   This is where we get to the source of their use of straw person arguments about the complexity of life as we saw throughout Chapter 5 and the reason they won't use the reverse of the concept of complexity building over time in their arguments about the first life. They don't believe in such a concept! There's not a whole lot to say other than this is a huge argument from ignorance. Essentially, they are asserting that irreducible complexity is true until proven false. Then, when it is proven false, they find roundabout ways to say those proofs don't count.

   Take the mousetrap example. One of the things they do is use nearly the same stupid argument that they used before in Chapter 5 in regards to life being designed. In Chapter 5, the complaints were that experiments designed to create life were flawed for being intelligently designed. This time the complaint is that the "mousetrap requires intelligence to build" (p147). The main problem now as then is this creates a runaway argument in which any natural process can be argued to be intelligent. I can create wind using a fan. Does that mean wind is intelligently designed? The other problem is that this makes giving a counter-example difficult (which is probably the intent of the point) if the only example one is allowed to give has to be a natural example. It becomes frustrating when they admit a bit later that the mousetrap is just an illustration. Duh!!! So why the fuss over this illustration requiring an intelligence???

   While they claim Miller misses the mark, it is they who miss Miller's point (or rather I suspect they get the point; they just fail to relay that point in the book). They make the claim that "the mousetrap would be nonfunctional during the transition period" (147). For catching mice? Sure, but what I know Miller to have done is use his reduced mousetrap as a tie-clip* (see this video). Miller was trying to illustrate a point that certain parts could have different functionality in the past; therefore, the creationist argument that parts would be nonfunctional during the transition period is not supported.

* UPDATE: I learned after posting this that the authors address this point about the tie clip in the notes in the back of the book. There, they say "it's the loss of the vital function that's important" (p418). But that's actually missing Miller's point, which is that the "vital function" is also different. In the mousetrap example, when Miller uses it as a tie clip, the "vital function" is that of a tie clip! Not that of a mousetrap, which seems to be what the authors think it should be.

4. Nonviability of Transitional Forms

This animal, known as a "penguin," has
wings, but cannot fly.  This makes it "easy
prey on land, in water, and from the air"
(p148).  It is a miracle there are any such
organisms left alive!

   This is mainly another argument from ignorance. Furthermore, I scratch my head at how they can be so ignorant on this one. In this example, they claim a "creature with the structure of half a feather has no ability to fly" and "it would be easy prey on land, in water, and from the air" (p148). (Edit: Wait a minute! "From the air"?!? These are believed to be the ancestors of some of the first ever flying organisms of such size. What is going to get them from the air?) My thought is what about all the flightless birds that exist today! Gosh, they must be easy prey! Now, in the case of flightless birds, it is believed they evolved from ancestors that could fly that no longer needed that ability to escape predators. Which is the exact opposite of evolving wings in order to escape predators, but my point still applies, which is that we know of species living today with wings and/or feathers that can't fly. And they aren't easy prey — largely because these species tend to not have predators — but couldn't the same have been the case in the past for species starting to have wings? So how are feathers irreducibly complex?

   As for how reptiles could have evolved to have feathers, I suppose a possible explanation is that having some feathers gave them some sort of advantage. Maybe it gave them extra thrust while running. While not being enough to fly, it could have given them an advantage over those with no feathers at all. Sure, I myself don't really have any evidence for this, but they are trying to claim that there would and could be no advantage. There are reasons to believe this is not true. Also, just because we may not be able to figure out a way in which partial feathers may have been advantageous doesn't mean they weren't. The world does not revolve around our ignorance and lack of imagination. That is, after all, how their argument essentially breaks down. "We can't understand how partial feathers could have been advantageous; therefore, partial feathers were not advantageous." The logic just does not follow.

5. Molecular Isolation

   One problem with this point is that they don't seem to be completely honest about the findings of scientists on DNA. From the studies I have heard, the lowest percentage of similarity between chimpanzees and humans is 96%. Most, though, put the number around 98%. It turns out, though, that they can't interpret the article they source for the 85% that they claim for the low number. It appears they derive the 85% from the following:
They say the difference, based on a yet-to-be-completed genome study of the primate most closely related to humans, is about 15 percent.
However, a later part of the article suggests otherwise:
The comparison of the two sets showed that the basic sequence of the chimpanzee chromosome was 1.69 percent different from that of the human equivalent. An earlier Riken study put the difference of the complete basic sequence at 1.23 percent.
I'll be honest that I'm not sure what the "basic sequence" is, but I have suspicions it may be the non-coding DNA part of the genome. The main differences, then, would come from the junk DNA. The reason I bring this up is because I suspect that it is the 1.69 difference that is the important number. In which case, the similarity is 98.31%. That is quite different than the 85% the authors cite. I will grant that the article does not make this clear, which is unfortunately typical for news articles as the authors of such articles often don't understand the topic on which they write. Still, it should have been up to the book authors to understand the topic, especially if they are going to be critical of the topic. (How can we expect their criticisms to be accurate if they don't adequately understand the topic?) The authors then proceed to use this misunderstanding to give the impression that scientists just aren't sure if ape DNA is closer to human DNA than, say, a mouse. They even go as far as to call such claims "controversial" (p150). They're not.

   Their next error comes from a horrible misunderstanding of evolution: "If all species share a common ancestor, we should expect to find protein sequences that are transitional from, say, fish to amphibian, or from reptile to mammal" (p150). We should??? Where are we to find these transitional sequences?
Michael Denton observes,
...So amphibia, always traditionally considered intermediate between fish and the other terrestrial vertebrates, are in molecular terms as far from fish as any group of reptiles or mammals!
This is exactly what we would expect! That is assuming we are talking about modern amphibians, such as frogs. Frogs may have many more physical characteristic similar to the ancestor they share with us than we have, but frogs could (and likely would) have evolved genetically just as much from that ancestor as we have. In other words, the protein sequences could have changed just as much, even if the characteristics have not. If these authors (or Michael Denton, for that matter) are expecting frogs to show signs of being transitional between fish and humans, then they don't understand evolution. Or they are lying and presenting a straw person argument. In fact, it would be quite surprising, but not a disproof of evolution*, to find a current amphibian species that did show signs of being transitional between fish and humans.

   I now want to go back to an earlier part of this point and readdress this idea of observation from the beginning of this subsection. Recall that the authors apparently don't believe in macroevolution because it has not been observed (see page 141). I pointed out that was a bit hypocritical considering we have not observed this designer they claim. They make things worse in this section when they say "perhaps we have a common genetic code because a common creator has designed us" (p149; bold emphasis mine; italics removed). If these authors are going to claim there is an intelligent designer and that intelligent design science is the good science and evolution is the bad science, they have to do better than "perhaps." Or at least they'd better be investigating this question. Are they doing this? Not as far as I know.

   Figure 6.3 and their associated discussion on it also bothers me a little bit. Now, their reasoning isn't nearly as bad as I've seen other people use with a similar example. The bad reasoning I've seen will take something like this and claim that since the pot did not evolve from the teaspoon, neither did humans from monkeys, or something along those lines. They start by saying that similarity does not imply evolution, which is valid reasoning. However, they end up twisting it into the bad reasoning and essentially claim it implies a designer. This is bad reasoning because we know, for starters, where pots and teaspoons come from because we know who the designers are! We don't have a designer for living beings — only claims that one must exist. Also, a huge key difference is that pots and teaspoons can't reproduce, but we can! (Well, I've certainly never seen this happen...I can't say I've ever installed any cameras in my kitchen cupboards or drawers to be certain that the teaspoons, pots, etc. aren't engaged in intercourse when I'm not looking (end snark).) It's the same problem we've been seeing with DNA or with the universe. They use all these examples of things we know to be made by humans and then assert that anything remotely similar must be intelligently designed. It is, once again, the same poor reasoning that leads some people to believe the Egyptian pyramids were built by aliens.

   The last thing to address is their example of changing letters around in sentences. It's not really the greatest example. Look at these two sentences:
  • Charles Darwin was a scientific god.
  • Charles Darwin was a scientific deity.
In this case, I've removed "go" and appended "eity" to the second sentence. The difference in letters is even greater than the example the authors gave. Yet, the meanings of my examples are essentially the same. Likewise:
  • Charles Darwin was a scientific dog.
  • Charles Darwin was a scientific canine.
Look at all those changed letters, yet really no difference in meaning. (Also, this goes back to my point near the beginning of this chapter that "comparing cell information to encyclopedias is no one-to-one relationship.") This is much the reason why this example using English sentences isn't really that good. The authors nearly admit as much when they say, "Only a slight difference in the order of the living things may yield creatures that are far apart on the hypothetical evolutionary tree" (p150; emphasis mine). Much like with how they used the word "perhaps" (p149) on the previous page, they need to do better than "may." It's even more so important here because they're trying to show how the reasoning of common descent is wrong, except the best they can actually do is say that it may be wrong. It's perfectly fine to point out where science may have some flaws or weak points, but there is no reason to assume these are actually flaws until they can demonstrate that changing the letters actually does yield such creatures. The Egyptian pyramids may have been built by aliens. Does this mean I should strongly doubt claims that pyramids were built by humans instead?

   Perhaps a short lesson in science is in order. Step 1** is to make an observation(s). Step 2 is to draw up a hypothesis based on that observation(s). For the most part***, the intelligent design ideas have made it this far. Step 3 is to test that hypothesis. And this is where we lose the authors. So they think we have common genetic code because we have a common creator? Great! That's Step 2. Now go test that for Step 3. So they think a slight difference in the order of the letters in living things yields drastically different organisms? Once again, that's great! Now go on to Step 3. When testing passes, only then can we move on to Step 4, which is to have their work reviewed. If the review process passes, then we can move on to Step 5, which is to get the hypothesis accepted.

* Such a discovery would likely mean that species has not changed much since its transitional ancestor. Such a species may be considered a living fossils.

** Yes, this is my own made-up 5-step process. It's an over-simplification of how science actually works, but I believe it is sufficient for the sake of this discussion.

*** Actually, Step 2 is a failed step because the hypothesis is not testable, which is why Step 3 is lost.

What About the Fossil Record

Perhaps the best place to start in this section is to discuss the terminology. Early on, they include a quote from Stephen Jay Gould, in which Gould is talking about the fossils of species...which is a bizarre quote. We shouldn't expect to see a lot of change within a species; changes will be more visible between species. Gould should have known this, so I am left wondering if this quote is being taken out of context. The bigger issue is that a few paragraphs later the authors are talking about how "all the major groups of animals known to exist appear in the fossil record abruptly" (p152). Species and what they are calling "groups" are very different things! What I suspect they are talking about are phyla, which is the classification level immediately below that of kingdom. We humans are part of the phylum chordata, of which another 100,000+ species belong. While fossils from the chordata phylum have been found, none of those fossils are from we call mammals or birds, as just two examples. The point here is that, while there are indeed a lot of diverse fossils found in the Cambrian period, terms like "groups" that are not clearly defined can be deceptive by giving the impression that this diversity was even greater than it actually was.

   Another point is that the Cambrian period lasted over 100 million years. That is not some small amount of time. The term "explosion" is used more to describe the numerous gains in diversity of life in this period; it should not be thought of as some event that happened least not relative to the length of a human life (it was quick in relation to geological time, though).

   The biggest point of interest I have is where the authors essentially contradict themselves. Now, the contradiction isn't blatantly obvious unless you think about it a bit. Here is the contradiction, with key parts bolded:
With such vast leeway and no facts to constrain them, Darwinists have been able to creatively build entire "missing links" from fossil remains as trivial as a single tooth. This is why many so-called "missing links" have later been exposed as frauds or mistakes. (p153-154)
The problem is how do you determine that something is a fraud if there are no facts to constrain? In order to determine that something is a fraud, you have to know what the real-deal is like. That involves these things known as "facts"...facts that the authors had just claimed do not exist. Since there actually have been exposed frauds, this means that there are indeed facts to constrain. Now, just how constraining those fact may be is another discussion, but to suggest they do not exist at all is highly exaggerated.

   I also feel I really need to discuss this idea of a "missing link." There is no such thing. This is an idea that has had popularity in, well, "pop" culture, but does not exist in the scientific community. Sadly, creationist authors, such as those of this book, like to use this term, presumably to create a straw person. On this, I leave you with a passage by Ed Brayton, who can describe the issue here much more elegantly than I:
The [intelligent design] folks are relying on the ignorance of their followers, hoping that they will conflate “missing link” and “transitional form”, which do not mean the same thing at all. First of all, the whole notion of a “missing link” is nonsense. No one fossil is going to be the one fossil that proves ancestry. What matters is the pattern of appearance that we find all over the place in the fossil record. So they look at one specific fossil, Archaeopteryx for example, and say, “There are some feathered dinosaurs that existed before this one, so it can’t be the missing link.

But paleontologists don’t care about “missing links”, they care about patterns. Yes, there are many feathered dinosaurs in the fossil record now. Do we know which exact species gave rise to birds? Nope. And we never will. What we do know, based on the patterns found in a whole range of paleo-species, is that the traits that define birds first developed in theropod dinosaurs. The fact that we have so many feathered theropods now means we can’t be sure which exact species split off from which; it also means that the case that birds evolved from one of them is considerably stronger.

In the case of Tiktaalik, it’s not one single missing link that shows the transition, it’s a whole series of fossils showing the gradual development of all of the key diagnostic traits of amphibians from rhipidistian fish. Through a series of fossils from Panderichthys to the true amphibians (Amniator, Crassigyrinus, Colosteidae, etc), we can see the development of tetrapods from fish. We can basically “watch” the bones in the fins, the brain case, the nasal passages, and many other traits become gradually more adapted to life on land with each new species to appear – and they appear in precisely the right anatomical and temporal order that would be predicted by evolution. Indeed, that is why they were able to predict exactly the type and age of the deposits that Tiktaalik would be found in.

There simply is no rational explanation for this pattern other than common descent, regardless of whether we can define precise species-to-species ancestral relationships. Whether Elginerpeton split off specifically from Sauripterus or from another closely related species, it is the pattern of appearance that compels common descent as an explanation. But creationists want their followers to think that if we can’t prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that species B came from species A, then there’s no evidence for evolution. This is utter nonsense, and they know it’s nonsense.

   With that, I now wish to take a step back in the book to page 153, where the authors state, "the fossil record cannot establish ancestral relationships" (p153). From what Ed Brayton wrote above, that is, for the most part, a true statement. But, as Brayton also points out, the key is to show a progression. Here is the important part: The fossil record alone does not prove evolution; rather, it is supporting evidence. I really emphasize this because I tire of seeing these these weak analogies*. We've seen such analogies in chapters 4 and 5 and already earlier in this chapter. We've seen the authors use the poor pot and teaspoon analogy earlier as well. Yet, they keep repeating it. Yes, it is true that if you were to look at fossils without taking any other facts into consideration, "it's not any better than the evidence that the large kettle evolved from the teaspoon" (p153). But you don't just look at the fossils. As I eluded to earlier, living things reproduce. Teaspoons do not. This is a key difference. You then add in the fact of evolution (not to be confused with the theory — these are two different things), or what the authors call "microevolution". "Microevolution" serves as the evidence that living things can change from one generation to the next. The fossils then show how these small changes can compound to make larger changes over larger periods of time.

   I'm going to use an analogy of my own — one that should not be fallacious. All this evidence is just pieces to a puzzle**. No one piece makes a complete picture. You must assemble the pieces to get that picture. But what creationists like these authors tend to do is examine a few pieces at a time (if not just one at a time) and then make an objection when those few pieces alone don't complete the puzzle. Or they will bring in outside pieces and object because their outside pieces don't fit. That is how they started this chapter; they brought up the concept of first life, which is independent of evolution (and they do it again near the end of this section). They then looked at the piece of "microevolution," but declared that they could not observe "macroevolution" in the present (which is not to be expected), so they tossed it out. But what they needed to do was piece that together with DNA evidence and fossil evidence. Then the picture becomes more clear.

* By the way, it is not just these authors that are constantly using weak analogies for their arguments; may creationists do this. That is another reason why I feel like I have to emphasize as much as I do the flaws in the arguments.

** It should be said that the arguments for evolution differ to the arguments these authors are presenting about a god. They are building one piece on top of each other, like a tower. (As they state on page 31 in the introduction, "We are simply compiling it in a logical order.") So their arguments can be dismantled piece by piece to bring them crumpling down.

End of Part I

   Even though I am through most of Chapter 6, I am near 6,500 words. Let's take a break here and resume later for what will hopefully be a shorter Part II.

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