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Refuting Evolution by Jonathan Sarfati, Part III


  07:49:38 pm, by Nimble   , 1280 words  
Categories: Books, Religion, Science

Refuting Evolution by Jonathan Sarfati, Part III

[Other parts of the review]

We continue on with "Contrasting the Models".

Now, he starts off with a reasonable diagram of the evolutionary picture as a "tree", though he can't help but interject that the common ancestor "itself evolved from non-living chemicals". Not part of the theory of evolution itself, but whatever.

He then proceeds to show the "strawman" that Teaching About Evolution uses, that of the creationist "lawn", where every biblical "kind" starts separately, whereas the "actual" picture is more like an orchard, with mini-trees everywhere.

Are we really dealing with a strawman here? Over the years, it has been really hard to pin down creationists on what a "kind" is. I would use their fancy term "baramin", but then I actually read some creationist literature on the topic, and now I would not know if I was supposed to be referring to monobaramins, apobaramins, holobaramins, or what have you, and whether it's by reproductive compatibility (can they make babies together?) or morphology (form and structure). If you want a really good sense of the kind of arguments that go into this, I would refer you to one of their papers, "A Refined Baramin Concept" by Todd Wood, Kurt Wise et al.

So you get their refined baramin concept (from the paper):

Taken together, these lines of reasoning imply that
God would indeed create discrete groups of organisms
with the ability to change and adapt but not enough
to eradicate God’s original plan of creation. Thus,
we define the potentiality region as a bounded region
of biological character space. Within the divinelyestablished
boundaries, variation can occur, but change
beyond the boundaries might obscure the revelation.
The biblical and theological evidence even provides a
framework in which to search for these baramins: they
should generally be equal to or lower in rank than an
order but higher than a species.

That might seem to lend support to Sarfati's "it's an orchard!" exclamation, but since many of their definitions of baramin, for example, seem to have hybridization as a requirement, that does not lend itself to excessive "orchardy-ness".

I've seen creationist attempts to go more towards an "orchard" model, but the reason might not be what you expect. They seem to come out of attempts to minimize the kinds of animals that were required to be saved on Noah's Ark, followed by ultra-fast - much faster than evolutionary theory would allow - diversification.

Sarfati seems to be one of these. From page 42:

Critics doubt that all of today's species could have fitted on the ark. However, the ark would have needed only about 8,000 kinds of land vertebrate animals, which would be sufficient to produce the wide variety of species we have today.

One repeated theme throughout Sarfati's book is an implicit assumption that the Teaching About Evolution booklet that he is arguing against should contain all of the evidence for the theory of evolution. To wit here, in this chapter:

Much of the evidence of variation presented by Teaching about Evolution refutes only the straw-man version of creationism in Figure 2, but fits the true creationist "orchard" model perfectly well.

...as though the booklet was all that science had to say on the subject, although notably, he said much, not all.

Moving on from the diagrams, he presents arguments that the cases of evolution that the booklet provides are much more suited to a creationist interpretation. He does this by re-asserting some of his standard running-down-from-perfection talking points. Bacterial resistance? Used to have it, but it degraded/disappeared in some, or the control mechanism for halting the antibacterial defenses degraded, and that's how they can fight antibiotics. Some frozen bacteria are antibiotic-resistant, so that proves it. Run down, loses information, degrade, decay.

Creationists often make heavy use of this "law of conservation of information" these days to try to knock the legs out from under evolutionary theory. The problem is that the law is imaginary. Never mind even the tawdry fact that a perfectly legitimate back-mutation would have to be an increase in information to match the decrease of the original mutation, we have evidence of functionality springing anew: Richard Lenski`s E. coli Long-term Experimental Evolution Project, wherein E. coli gained the ability to survive on citrate.

E. coli has the ability to digest citrate internally, but the strains in question had no ability to do so. There exist other E. coli strains that can, but the ability was "imported" via plasmid (a semi-infectious circular DNA strands that free-rides but sometimes provides benefits to its infectees), and there were strict controls to make sure that Lenski's cultures remained plasmid-free. Lenski also kept periodic samples of the nigh-countless generations.

The very idea of "adding information" drove a few people to utter distraction. In one of the more bizarre outbursts, Andy Schlafly of Christian right-wing Conservapedia fame, erupted in a flurry of accusations of Lenski keeping data secret.

Now the antibiotic resistance example Sarfati reinterprets was one thing, but the next example... was almost funny.

The next example talks about the separate lacewing species Chrysoperla carnea and Chrysoperla downesi that are different in colour, habitats, etc.

Sarfati says that the evolutionary explanation is not the only one:

A creationist interpretation is that an original Chrysoperla kind was created with genes for a wide variety of colors and mating behavior. This has given rise to more specialized descendants. This specialization means that each has lost the information for certain colors and behaviors. The formation of new species (speciation) without information gain is no problem for creationists.

Words almost fail me.

Was everything rainbow-colored in their Garden of Eden, or just had rainbow-color potential?

(One side question that comes to mind is to what degree scientists should even attempt to counter these things. Creationists have one end firmly fixed in the assumptions of scripture; the other "scientific" end will flail about as need be.)

Sarfati also takes one of the many potshots he takes at fossils in this chapter, using dogs:

But if Great Danes and Chihuahuas were only known from the fossil record, they would probably have been classified as different species or even different genera.

On what does he base this assertion? Does he really think that with all the shifting changes dog breeders manage that dog anatomy is fundamentally changed? Because palaeontology is essentially comparative anatomy - there are no dog coats or colours to worry about, and size is not necessarily an issue. As we will explore later when he talks about the evolution of whales, it is not the evolutionary scientists freaking out over size differences.

It's a little hard to follow some of the creationist explanations sometimes. Many of the explanations are purely ad hoc; they seem to say that such-and-such could have happened, without attempting to delve into the evidence at all. If it's a convenient "explanation", then it's probably true, or true enough for their purposes.

For example, Sarfati says that the Genesis flood "would have totally re-arranged the earth's surface". It sounds plausible to them, and it fits in with Genesis, so that's where they leave it... at least, unless they come up with even more possibilities... which makes the odds of any one of them being right even greater, right?

Did you know that Darwin's floating-snails-on-salt-water experiments actually support the creation-flood model? Or that invertebrates, since they aren't animals with souls in the Old Testament sense, probably survived off the Ark somewhere? Or that land bridges formed during a post-Flood Ice Age (!) could allow animal migration?

Perhaps we should ask them for more supporting details of this interesting story!


Up next, the creationist favourite: transitional fossils, and why there "aren't any" in the creationist world of impossibly far-off goalposts.

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