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Refuting Evolution by Jonathan Sarfati, Part II


  01:11:18 am, by Nimble   , 1290 words  
Categories: Religion, Science

Refuting Evolution by Jonathan Sarfati, Part II

[Other parts of the review]

"The Basis of Modern Science" aims initially to show that a whole pile of very useful scientists were creationists. The list is a little laughable in that many of the members listed predate even Darwin's birth, but regardless of 'membership in the club', much of this section, including the parts talking about the scientists that are members of Answers in Genesis, etc., misses the point.

The point is that you can do science as long as you do not resort to miracles. I'm sure Russell Humphreys' research on nuclear physics was just fine, but when it comes to origins of the earth and the like, he starts from both ends, where one end is fixed in Genesis, and then invokes a divine cheat. It's like insisting a blue puzzle piece is sky when it is in fact water, and trying to make the puzzle fit anyhow... then using scissors, paper and markers when things are not going according to plan.

Sarfati makes some big claims about science:

An orderly universe makes perfect sense only if it were made by an orderly Creator.

What? How does that follow?

But if there is no creator, or if Zeus and his gang were in charge, why should there be any order at all?

I have visions of Zeus and Hera fighting over the gravitational constant.

Why shouldn't there be any order at all? Apart from which, a number of mythologies have the world forming out of chaos (although chaos was not always synonymous with disorder, either), including the Greeks.

He then skips and jumps over some amazing logical gaps:

So, not only is a strong Christian belief not an obstacle to science, such a belief was its very foundation. It is, therefore, fallacious to claim, as many evolutionists do, that believing in miracles means that laboratory science would be impossible

Whoa, whoa, WHOA. You do not just skip from "orderly universe" to "believing in miracles", tying it with a therefore. Directly swapping in Christian belief for orderly universe for science changes the scope of the statements. The book is rife with these sorts of sneaky semantic swaps; you really have to be on your guard.

It's a bit like the "Good Person Test", where nearly right out of the gates it asks you, "Have you ever told a lie?", skips a small step and announces "That makes you a liar". It might seem to make sense on its surface, but if you were faced with ascertaining that Person X is a liar, would it not come clear that you mean habitual liar, someone untrustworthy for that reason.

These sorts of equivocations are dishonest or at best careless.

So what kind of orderly creator are we talking about here? Amusingly, he uses a quote by Loren Eiseley which, referring to how experimental science got its start, refers to science having faith that the universe was rational and controlled by "a creator who did not act upon whim nor interfere with the forces He had set in operation."

To fling that in the face of "evolutionists" is desperately amusing - that's a Deist, clockwork God, not Sarfati's God, and it does not allow miracles.

In "The Limits of Science", Sarfati aims to undermine the historical sciences. Unlike "normal science",

...evolution is a speculation about the unobservable and unrepeatable past.

Apparently, though, [creationist] "origins science" enables creationists to make educated guesses about origins.

They believe as well, of course, that they also have an eyewitness account in Genesis.

The next chapter is interesting in that it shows some of the rationalizations that creationists have come up with over the years to "scientifically" explain some of the things we see today.

One of the main creationist axioms is that the initial creation of the world, creatures, etc. was perfect, and it could only go downhill from there.

The way Sarfati attempts to explain variety is by - though he does not use the term himself - front-loading. There was so much "information" in the original creatures that it could easily explain all of the variety of life forms on earth.

There are some oddities to this assertion, mind you. Without invoking some really strange genetics, after their worldwide Noachic flood where only two animals of each 'kind' were saved, you have a maximum of four gene alternatives at any one gene locus.

He then proceeds to explain that creationists have no problem explaining the many varieties within each 'kind' because of the amazingly huge number of combinations of loci - even quoting real heterozygosity statistics from Francis Ayala - which makes the number of atoms in the universe teensy by comparison.

That number (10 to the power of 2017) is just puffery, though. Regardless of how amazing that number of combinations sounds, it does not indicate any increase in the variety at each locus.

If creationists were serious about these proposals, and serious about proving these things, they would get some teams together and look for tell-tale signs in the genome.

Call me cynical, but I don't think this is going to happen. They don't seem to want to provide thorough reasons to believe creationism as to throw as much chaff into the air as "reasons" not to "believe" evolutionary theory.

One argument that Sarfati uses from the "perfection running down" premise is to counter the claim that 'evolutionists' often make when referring to the argument by design in respect to things that are not so well "designed". It's deterioration of once-perfect structures, of course!

Starting on page 34, we get treated to the creationist version of adaptation.

In a nutshell, it is natural selection without a source of variation... well, a 'deteriorating' source of variation.

He has as an example dog hair length. It is only meant to be illustrative, but it gets the argument in a nutshell. If dog hair length were controlled by a single locus, then as soon as you had all long-haired dogs due to, say, an Ice Age (is he trying to imply ice ages did not exist here?), then you have lost the information for short hair, the dogs cannot ever have short hair again, and they will overheat when the climate comes back.

He even refers to the founder effect, which is a real effect, but is certainly misused here.

In the Flood section, he states that '"Founder effects" would have been common', and this explains several of today's "species".

The problem is that it is not just true that founder effects would have been common, they would have been the rule for every living creature.

I don't know how creationists figure on changing the rules of genetics to get around this.

Where does all their extra "information" come from? Were the original creatures supposed to have six separate genes all doing the same job so that there was some way around having something look like a founder effect? Did these genes get 'divinely snipped out' so that species don't look like they have a good copy and five or so disabled copies of a gene?

He also refers to genetic drift, where he seems to get something wrong again.

He states:

Since new mutant genes would start off in small numbers, they are quite likely to be eliminated by genetic drift, even if they are beneficial.

The problem occurs in his footnote. The math he uses here refers to the possibility that a gene gets fixed in a population, i.e. everyone in that population has that gene. It does not indicate whether the genes in question survive like, say, the genes for blood type, which are certainly not fixed.

In our next episode, Sarfati contrasts the evolutionary and creation models: "tree" versus "lawn".

Until next time...

(Corrections and suggestions duly appreciated)


Comment from: Shadowjack [Visitor]

Thanks for the critique of Sarfati’s “work". Sarfati has to wilfully contort science to get it to fit his religious fantasies. He likes to brag about his scientific credentials but he is no evolutionary biologist.

08/05/09 @ 04:13
Comment from: Nimble [Member]  

Thank you, Shadowjack :)

It was interesting to spot the book. I thought I might just make a couple of notes on it, but it was so filled with yawping errors that I had to go through the book with a heavy pencil-annotation hand *twice* just to catch a large number of them, and a third time to follow up on a number of the questionable - or questionably-used - assertions and quotes.

I was expecting some wrong, just not that frequency of wrong!

This is definitely going to go on for quite a few more parts, and I’ll get back to a few more when my evening-busy level drops.

Be sure to keep me honest, though, if you spot anything that I’ve misinterpreted or on which I could provide more detail or evidence.

08/07/09 @ 21:10