Sunday, November 24, 2013

IDHEF - Chapter 6, Addendum #3: Teaspoon Fossils

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.

While I was writing my initial responses to Chapter 6, the authors' remarks on fossils and molecular isolation had really been bothering me as I wasn't sure how best to address it. I ended up quoting another blogger, but I think I've finally come up with how I want to address this topic.

One of the things I have come to realize, which I should have picked up on more before, was that these authors overlooked the part about how where fossils are discovered is very much important to the evidence that the fossil record provides. The authors portrayed fossil evidence as merely lining up fossils to show progression, using the analogy of a teaspoon evolving into a pot to demonstrate the absurdity of this idea. I had mocked one gaping flaw in the analogy in that it ignores reproduction as a very important component to evolutionary theory. This is certainly a big flaw, but not the only flaw.  For reference, here is the picture they use:

The other flaw is that the authors make the fossil record sound like scientists aligning similar fossils in a line based on the progression of the features. (This is how the authors line up their counter-example of a teaspoon progressing into a pot.) This is not correct; the fossils are going to be aligned based on the age of the fossils. Signs of progression is the result of such alignment and these signs of progression are evidence for evolution.

For reference, the book reads as follows:
   Gee, how can you ignore the fossils? The skulls look like they're in a progression. They look as if they could be ancestrally related. Is this good evidence for Darwinism? No, it's not any better than the evidence that the large kettle evolved from the teaspoon. (p153)

Going to the authors' teaspoon example (and ignoring for the sake of argument the fact that teaspoons can't reproduce), if the pot (or large kettle) were to have evolved from a teaspoon, we would expect to find pots in a geological layer of rocks younger than those in which we find teaspoons. If not, then when would lack evidence that evolution occurred as we would fail to see a progression when lining up the fossils by age. It's nearly that simple.

There are a few caveats, though. We could, for example, find pots and teaspoons in the same rock and this would not necessarily be a disproof of evolution. For one, we need to realize that teaspoons don't necessarily disappear just because some set eventually evolved into a pot. There is this cliche question in creationist circles that asks, "If we evolved from monkeys, then why are there still monkeys?" My favorite response to this is to ask the question, "If America was colonized by the British, why are there still British?" The answer here is fairly simple — Some of the British stayed in Britain! Likewise, some monkeys essentially stayed monkeys. Or some teaspoons may have stayed teaspoons.

Additionally, finding a pot in the fossil record earlier than teaspoons would not necessarily be a disproof of evolution. It could be that we just haven't found the earlier teaspoon fossils or maybe no teaspoons fossilized and there may be none to find. So a lack of fossils doesn't mean it didn't happen. The case for evolution is indeed weaker without such fossils, but that's the worst that can be said.

I also need to speak more about how the fossil record is more like supporting evidence than evidence in itself, like I did near the end of Part I. I gave an example there, but what I would really like to do is also use the authors' own example. For this, we need to turn back to Chapter 3. In this chapter, the authors talk about radiation from the big bang (pages 81-82). They state that "scientists predicted that this radiation would be out there if the Big Bang did really occur" (p 81). Here's my question: Without other supporting evidence for the big bang, would this radiation alone be enough to support the big bang theory? I suspect not. After all, this is just one out of five points in what the authors refer to as SURGE. So when the authors treat the fossil record as though it alone can prove evolution, they're being disingenuous. Fossils are to evolution much the same way background radiation is to the big bang — both are used to support predictions made by the respective theories, but neither alone proves them. If I know my history as well as I think I do, it was predicted even by Charles Darwin that, if enough fossils could be found, those fossils would show a progression over time. They have, thus they validate this prediction. But you most likely would not be able to look at fossils and work out the theory of evolution from those fossils. Likewise, I doubt someone could look at background radiation and work out the big bang theory. It doesn't work that way and it's not supposed to work that way. Arguing that you can't derive evolution from fossils is then not a valid argument.

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