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Refuting Evolution by Jonathan Sarfati, Part IV


  01:28:41 am, by Nimble   , 1430 words  
Categories: Books, Religion, Science

Refuting Evolution by Jonathan Sarfati, Part IV

[Other parts of the review]

Sarfati spends quite some time on transitional fossils. It is in fact one of the main rallying cries of creationism that there are no transitional fossils.

It is not difficult to see why this would be a sticking point with creationists. Genesis has the animals paraded before Adam in Genesis 2:19-20 thusly:

Gen 2:19 And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.

Gen 2:20 And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.

(I can't help finding this story particularly odd, since it implies that Adam would have ended up with one of the beasts if he weren't so picky)

The "formed out of the ground" bit is key here. Creatures can't have evolved, certainly not from a common ancestor, if they were formed out of the ground.

Sarfati says:

If living things had really evolved from other kinds of creatures, then there would have been many intermediate or transitional forms, with halfway structures. However, if different kinds had been created separately, the fossil record should show creatures appearing abruptly and fully-formed.

This is a bit deceptive.

For one, if different kinds had been created separately, the fossil record should show creatures appearing abruptly either at the same time in geological terms, or, since young-earth creationists refuse the tenets of modern geology, they should appear actually sorted by the criteria that creationists have come up with before: density, how fast they could escape the flood, etc.

This is not what he is defending here, however. Essentially, he's claiming that any sort of spottiness in the fossil record supports creationism, and he ties this in by quoting Darwin:

Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory.

Darwin's writing is often rhetorical objection followed by possible explanation. Here, as in many other creationist writings, only the rhetorical objection is quoted. The possible explanation in Darwin's work continues, "The explanation lies, as I believe, in the extreme imperfection of the geological record." and then proceeds paragraphs upon paragraphs of explanation. The entire chapter in Origin of Species is entitled "On the Imperfection of the Geological Record".

Lest we object that things have progressed since Darwin's time, he includes a snippet from a letter from Colin Patterson to, seemingly unbeknownst to him, a creationist:

I fully agree with your comments on the lack of direct illustration of evolutionary transitions in my book. If I knew of any, fossil or living, I would certainly have included them...I will lay it on the line - there is not one such fossil for which one could make a watertight argument.

Ah, the pesky ellipsis. It's a bit tough to find a transcription of the original letter, but the good old Wayback Machine makes it possible.

Here, you can see the context of the answers. In the part left out by the ellipsis, you have:

You suggest that an artist should be asked to visualize such transformations, but where would he get the information from? I could not, honestly, provide it, and if I were to leave it to artistic licence, would that not mislead the reader?

Why does he say this? Later in the letter makes this clear:

The reason is that statements about ancestry and descent are not applicable in the fossil record. Is Archeopteryx the ancestor of all birds? Perhaps yes, perhaps no: there is no way of answering the question.

It is clear that he means something very specific in his answer to Sunderland, in that you don't know that a particular fossil represents an actual ancestor, merely a cousin, or a descendant that branched off a while ago. Thus, you cannot provide a direct illustration of a transition.

It's pedantic, but true, and it's either ignorant or dishonest of Sarfati to portray this as supporting his position.

It's a fair trail of weird from this point.

He accuses the booklet of "avoiding" discussion of non-living matter and the first living cell (abiogenesis - how often must we scream it?) and single-celled to multi-celled transitions. What, if it's not in this pamphlet, then scientists don't know about it or have any research or comment?

Bats have always been bats, he says! Well, they've been 'bats' for quite a while, but we can identify extinct and extant species but there are no fossils of them prior to the Eocene layer. It would probably be unfair to show the bat fossil find from Wyoming that's earlier than the one they put in the book, Onychonycteris finneyi, which didn't have sonar, but like so many things creationists claim, do they really think the fossil record is going to support them in the long run?

After the comment:

However, evolutionists admit, "Intermediates between turtles and cotylosaurs, the primitive reptiles from which [evolutionists believe] turtles probably sprang, are entirely lacking"

...he follows up with some jaw-dropping sloppiness:

They can't plead an incomplete fossil record because "turtles leave more and better fossil remains than do other vertebrates"

Never mind that "more and better fossil remains" does not equal a complete fossil record. The bigger question here is why intermediates should leave the same sort of fossil record as a turtle... in particular when the cotylosaurs are basal enough on the 'tree of life' that they would also lead to the dinosaurs, reptiles and mammals!

On top of that... this appears to be coming from an Encyclopedia Britannica entry. It's referenced as 'Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, "Turtle - Origin and Evolution."' here.

The fuller reference is on Answers in Genesis here. It's from the 1992 online edition, but it appears to be identical to the quote in that entry as it was in 1976 (see C. Pope quote here).

Under the heading "Excuses", we have W. B. Provine, who you simply must be informed is an atheist, taking E. O. Wilson, who you must also be informed is an atheist, to task over something he wrote in a book:

[Wilson] claimed to have studied "nearly exact intermediates between solitary wasps and the highly social modern ants." ... [Provine] says that Wilson's "assertions are explicitly denied by the text... Wilson's comments are misleading at best.

This is used by Sarfati to cast doubt of the presence of transitional forms as propaganda.

You can read Wilson's original text here.

Now, as for Provine's rebuttal... what could we suppose the chances that Sarfati has given us honest context? Why don't we take a look and see?

You will have to go to the Wayback Machine for this one, but here's the paragraph in full:

A related issue is talk of "intermediates," and "missing links," including the example given by Edward O. Wilson (page 15), whose assertions are explicitly denied by the text. The idea is not to find intermediates between living forms, in this case solitary wasps and highly social ants, but to find common ancestors. Denying the existence of intermediates between modern organisms is the specialty of young-earth creationists. Despite his great eminence, Wilson's comments are misleading at best. Evolutionists must be careful about claiming anything more than "approximate missing links." Most of the time, the "intermediate link" was on a separate evolutionary path leading to extinction, but was perhaps more or less closely related to the common ancestor.

Provine has an exceptionally good point here: you're not looking for intermediates between modern forms when you look in the fossil record. Even Charles Darwin mentions this:

In the first place it should always be borne in mind what sort of intermediate forms must, on my theory, have formerly existed. I have found it difficult, when looking at any two species, to avoid picturing to myself, forms directly intermediate between them. But this is a wholly false view; we should always look for forms intermediate between each species and a common but unknown progenitor; and the progenitor will generally have differed in some respects from all its modified descendants.

So, does this controversy show the failing of transitional forms? Far from it, and once again we have to wonder about Sarfati: ignorant or dishonest? Are there other options?

I'll continue with this chapter in part 5.

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