hard to explain? more creationist straw men

It seems the silly season is beginning early – I’m expecting a rash of ‘letters to the editor’ as the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth gets closer (what are you doing for Darwin Day?), but this seems a little premature. The writer begins:

We’ve weathered a fair few scientific broadcasts lately authenticating Charles Darwin’s findings. Effectively they explain how all life is the handiwork of animated primitive cells that inadvertently regrouped as butterflies, flowers, elephants, etcetera, which apparently proves there’s no God and we should abandon that idea.

Hmmm, where shall I start?

Suggesting that ‘animated primitive cells… inadvertently regrouped’ into more complex organisms has got to be one of the best (?) misrepresentations of how natural selection operates that I’ve heard for a long time! But I’ll deal with the next leap of illogic – the suggestion that evolutionary biology ‘proves there’s no God’. This is what’s called a ‘straw man’ – setting up a propostion that those you are arguing with have, in fact, never made.

The concept of a god/designer/creator – call it what you will – is of something that acts outside the constraints of the natural world. In other words, it’s bringing the supernatural into the equation. But science doesn’t deal with the supernatural, and so has nothing to say either way on what are effectively issues of faith. Except, perhaps, to suggest how humans’ propensity to believe in something might have itself evolved.

The writer then goes on to make a rather confused statement of what’s known as the anthropic principle – the suggestion that the Earth, & perhaps even the universe, have been designed specifically for our use & wonderment:

When you study the fascinating artistry of it, a coincidental universe is remarkably unlikely, because after some fair counterarguments we still have an interesting situation, a revolving rock, spiraling through space at astonishing speed, yet standing still, incapable of ideas, yet full of imaginative design concepts, too technically intricate to authoritatively pronounce ‘self occurring’.

It had never occurred to me that a rock is technically intricate… But, slightly more seriously, if humans manage to wipe themselves out – whether it be through disease, climate change, or nuclear conflagration – I suspect that if the cockroaches that take over ever gain sentience, they too will regard the Earth as having been made specially for them.

And then we get:

There’s the Darwinian dilemma. Intelligent input is denied. Ideas must happen naturally. A bug would say ‘eyes’d help’ and evolution would reply, ‘we’ll see what happens’.

!!! We do actually have a reasonably good understanding of how eyes evolved. And it certainly wasn’t by the method suggested here, as you’ll know if you’ve followed some of my earlier posts. We’re also told that evolution can’t explain

how flowers program seeds with millions of complex instructions, including the scent the flowers must have and amazingly, also instruct them to download these directives into their own future seeds.

Umm – genes & chromosomes, anyone? Biologists do have quite a good idea of how inheritance works, of the mechanisms that affect gene expression, & of the interplay between genes and environment. That’s not the same as saying we know everything about the process – far from it! All we can ever hope to offer is the best possible explanation based on the evidence available at the time.

I really should write a letter to the editor myself (although my Significant Other feels that it is Not Nice to wind people up…)

6 thoughts on “hard to explain? more creationist straw men”

  • “I suspect that if the cockroaches that take over ever gain sentience, they too will regard the Earth as having been made specially for them.”
    And I’m sure that the fleas that hide on them will think the same! 🙂
    This was in a letter to the editor in the paper? (!)

  • Why is it that those who have the least understanding of evolution seem to the ones that get most heated over it?
    I support you writting a letter to the editor, otherwise the the other (minority) side has the floor to themselves and get to promote their own distorted views disproportionately.
    But, given that you will be esposing a rational point of view the chances are good the letter wouldn’t be published anyway. People will stay safely “unwound”.

  • Alison Campbell says:

    Oh, they’ll almost certainly publish any response I write – the editor likes to get a bit of ‘debate’ going from time to time 🙂 Although sad to say, it’s often just me on my side. My Significant Other is always teasing me about it, but I take the view that I’m writing for the lurkers as much as for the letter-writers (who are so fixed in their beliefs that nothing I say wil ever change them). One of them called me the antichrist a year or so back; this elicited huge amusement at work, & the boss greeted me the next morning with ‘hello, Alison – or should I say…. Satan?’ 🙂

  • That’s good to hear. I agree that the people you actually debate with are unlikely to change their minds but the opportunity for wider education is worth it.
    I guess I’m getting biased experiences, I don’t usually write to the major papers but have done with the community rag on several occasions. I think I’ve been published once. But it so often has nonsense that I keep trying.

  • I always thought Satan is anthropomorphised as male by the religious. I haven’t time to take this further (yet), but google leads to articles claiming that “according to Jewish tradition, there is a female devil that is said to be the first wife of Adam”, Lilith, who taught him lust.
    Anyway… to non-mythical things… I’ve never written to the newspapers, although I have at times been sorely tempted. When I write correcting pseudo-science, etc., on the WWW I try remind myself that I’m writing for the lurkers, too. I think it’s probably safe to say that the religious folk who write letters to the editor are writing as much to convince themselves by “hearing their own words”, as it were, as anything else.

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