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Wednesday, June 30th, 2010 | ISSN 1556-5696

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The Price of Altruism

From “survival of the fittest” to “the selfish gene,” familiar evolutionary themes advocate an amoral viewpoint that favors the individual. And yet, evolutionary biologists have uncovered countless examples of altruism in animals and humans — and learned that there is an evolutionary component to these selfless behaviors which can be quantified.

This week on Skepticality, Swoopy talks with Professor Oren Harman, author of The Price of Altruism: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness. Both a history of the study of social evolution and a biography of George R. Price, this book explores a life which would become an illuminating experiment in altruism and lead to the development of the Price equation (a mathematical equation used to study genetic evolution).


In this week’s eSkeptic, we present David Eller’s article from the archives of Skeptic magazine Volume 10, Number 3 in which he argues that Intelligent Design Creationism’s concept of microcreation fails to strengthen the case for macrocreation nor weaken the case for macroevolution.

David Eller was born a skeptic and freethinker and never saw any reason to change. He is a cultural anthropologist in Denver, Colorado, and has published numerous articles on anthropology and on rationalist/freethought topics. He and has written textbooks on violence and culture, religion and culture and culture and culture. He is the author of From Culture to Ethnicity to Conflict, Natural Atheism, and Atheism Advanced: Further Thoughts of a Freethinker.


creationism illustration copyright 2003 by Pat Linse

Macroevolution & Microcreationism
Another Flaw in Intelligent Design Creationism

by David Eller

A STANDARD TACTIC USED by creationists to attack evolution is to contrast microevolution (i.e., within species evolution, which they accept) with macroevolution (i.e., between species evolution, which they adamantly reject). Microevolution, they grant, may or does occur. But they assert that macroevolution either has never been observed or is theoretically impossible. They argue that while microevolution may be true, it is trivial, and the major claim of evolution — the evolution and emergence of species — is either unsubstantiated or false.

This failure to account for macrophenomena, such as human life, the earth, or the universe, then serves as an opportunity to suggest that creation is the only plausible alternative for the origin of life. This conclusion suffers from the fallacy of the excluded middle or false dilemma (just because B is false does not make A true). But ironically the “success” of the “scientific” creationist enterprise, particularly its most recent and “serious” incarnation — Intelligent Design (ID) — has itself up to this point rested on claims regarding a few minor fragmentary subspecies processes rather than the macroprocesses that it is so keen to deny to evolution.

I argue in this article that creationism faces its own micro/macro distinction and challenge, and that ID has so far only focused on and made claims about microprocesses. Finally, I posit that whatever achievements microcreation may have made or may have imagined it made, these achievements neither strengthen the case for macrocreation nor weaken the case for macroevolution.

Microevolution and Macrocreation

The modern synthesis of evolutionary theory aims to be a “complete” theory. It postulates processes that function at the subspecies as well as the species levels and uniformly throughout the living world. The details may vary , but biochemical systems, species, and living systems as a whole evolve by way of natural processes. Finally, most if not all of these processes — mutation, natural selection, genetic drift, symbiosis, etc. — have been identified and described.

Even within evolutionary theory the distinction between “micro” changes and “macro” changes is widely accepted. In the simplest sense, microevolution is modification within a species. It is the (relatively) minor variation or development that leads to, say, different colors of a species of moth or different strains of a species of bacteria. Darwin himself said as much when he described “descent with modification” as the gradual accumulation of novelty and diversity. Prior to passing a “critical mass” of accumulated modification, evolution will be intraspecies. However, at a certain point, a threshold would be crossed, and the accumulated novelty would result in a transition between species, the emergence of a new species out of an old one — that is, speciation. Even more, at a still higher level, a threshold would have to be crossed to move from an entire order or class or ultimately kingdom of species: at some point, primates must diverge from mammals, mammals from reptiles, and even animals from plants. Granted, this accomplishment would take many, many generations, so we would not expect to observe it happening before our eyes, unlike microevolution, which is often observable over a few generations of a species and within the lifetime of a human observer. Still, if macroevolution actually occurs, it ought to leave some traces, particularly “transitional forms,” that link primates to other mammals, mammals to reptiles, and animals to plants.

Creationism is more difficult to pin down, since there are so many differing and even conflicting versions of it. Some claim that one or more supernatural beings brought all of the variety of the universe into existence at one time with a word or thought. Others claim that creation has been a more “ongoing” phenomenon, with a creator working through physical or natural processes to achieve the conditions existing today. Some think it was all a recent accomplishment, some an ancient one. Some assert specific knowledge of the creation, others offer only the suggestion that there is/was a creation. No matter what the details, creationism also purports to be a complete explanation. In fact, whether or not it purports to be, it is obligated to be, since no theory can leave key facts and processes unaccounted for.

Of the available creationisms, the one that most seeks and claims scientific respectability is ID. It consists of an assortment of scholarly activities, some “logical” or polemical (essentially, trying to discredit evolutionary theory) and some “empirical” or evidential. Among the evidential work of the movement, perhaps Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box1 best represents what “creation science” looks like. In this book, Behe describes, in fairly technical terminology, certain biological systems, including the flagella of protists, the human eye, and the blood-clotting system, and argues that they reveal an extremely ordered and “purposive” nature. Each system is assembled from myriad parts that individually would have no useful function but which, together in specific ways, have an invaluable function. Thus, these systems evince an “irreducible complexity” that did not (and could not) evolve unintentionally. The parts of the system had to have been purposefully, that is intelligently, designed with their end — their combination and function — in mind.

Behe’s work, and, as far as I know, the subsequent work of ID, does not make any explicit empirical claims about large-scale design. For instance, Behe certainly does not claim in Darwin’s Black Box that humans were intelligently designed or that the Earth or the Universe was so designed. There are, of course, other researchers at work, some associated with the ID movement, who attempt to extend the design notion. Those who advance the “anthropic principle,”2 especially in its “strong version,” insist that the universe itself shows such complex, unlikely, and purposive qualities that it must have been designed by some non-immanent intelligence as well. This would definitely constitute a “macrocreationist” view. A scientific creationist account of the appearance of the human species or of any (and all) other species would also necessarily be macrocreationism.

However, Behe and most of the effort of the ID movement is not directed at this level or about these questions. They focus on subspecies, microlevel phenomena, like flagella and eyes. Such explanations constitute a kind of microcreationism — claims about how lower-level, intraspecies systems or parts of systems came into being. Microcreation, then, is entirely comparable to microevolution. But neither is a sufficient theory by itself. Evolution demands macroevolution and creationism demands macrocreationism.

Before we proceed to ask whether microcreation supports macrocreation (and refutes macroevolution), let us ask another question: since creationism of whatever sort intends to displace and supercede evolution, why would it give credence to microevolution, which might provide grounds for macroevolution? Why tolerate any level of evolution? One possible answer is that ID creationists see microevolution as no threat to their program. As long as the “basic” or “fundamental” or “irreducible” qualities are set in motion — something that IDers stipulate could not have happened through “blind” and “dumb” processes — then tinkering of the microevolutionary sort is permissible. In other words, an intelligent designer is necessary to design the eye, but once designed, the eye could microevolve into diverse versions.

A more likely answer, however, is that ID creationists do not deny microevolution because they cannot deny it. It is perfectly obvious and incontrovertible that it happens. We see variations in traits, even wholly new traits, emerge in existing species routinely and ordinarily. Bacteria and viruses (micro-) evolve new drug-resistant strains. Insects (micro-) evolve into new types. We humans have even artificially (micro-) evolved dogs and cats, for instance, into a plethora of different breeds, and with genetic technologies we stand on the verge — or have crossed the verge — of (micro-) evolving all kinds of plants and animals. It would require a suicidal degree of stupidity to deny that microevolution happens rather often and easily. Scientific creationists insist, however, that such events have nothing to do with and lend no credence to macroevolution.

Is Microcreation An Effective Argument?

It is plain to see that ID theory and research is a kind of microcreationist project, on a par with microevolution. Both are interesting programs, but neither addresses the bigger and ultimately unavoidable questions. Still, no doubt microcreation is meant to pave the way for macrocreation, in the same manner that microevolution is an incremental step in macroevolution. The two questions for us are, then: (1) Does microcreation make the case for macrocreation stronger, and (2) Does microcreation make the case for macroevolution weaker? Unfortunately for the ID enthusiasts, both answers are no. It is, in the end, an ineffective argument, even if it were to prove true.

Why does microcreation not strengthen the case for macrocreation? First and foremost, macrocreation is at best an analogy or extrapolation of microcreation and at worst an erroneous misapplication of it — an instance of the fallacy of composition. This well-known fallacy states that you should not ascribe a characteristic to a whole object simply because it is ascribed to part of the object. The same might be contended about microevolution, but it really cannot be, as we will see below.

One of the many serious charges against microcreation is that it does not offer any specific mechanisms for the creation process. If a flagellum or an eye or a clotting system is designed, how is it designed? A claim is not scientific or theoretical merely by taking factual topics as its subject; a scientific or theoretical answer must suggest some mechanisms or means by which those facts came about. Just saying, “It is designed” says nothing. What are the steps in the design process? How is that design implemented into real physical matter? If such questions cannot be answered at the microcreation level, then it is useless as a premise for the macrocreation level.

Related to the question of design method is the question of designer: who or what is this designer? ID theorists cannot evade the fact that a specific intelligent entity is being posited as the solution to what they consider otherwise insurmountable problems; “mindless” natural processes cannot account for the results, so there must be a mindful processor. But again, this is a nonanswer without more content. Admittedly, Behe speculates about a creator, supposing that it might be an alien life form or an interdimensional being, or even the conventional idea of a god. However, speculation is not knowledge, and the answer — whatever answer — ID settles upon, it faces another even more vexing question: where did that designer come from? If all irreducibly complex phenomena have a creator, and the creator is him/itself irreducibly complex, then he/it must have a creator, ad infinitum. Having not solved this problem (in fact, having probably started an insoluble problem), they cannot extrapolate a solution from micro to macro.

Finally, while microcreation might solve one microproblem — that is, the explanation of “function” or “purpose” at the micro level — it says nothing and can say nothing about the issue of macrofunction or macropurpose. Okay, let us grant that the purpose of all the irreducibly complex parts of a flagellum is the motility of a protist, and some intelligence has created and assembled the parts for that function. What is the purpose of the protist? A single-celled life form is indisputably complex, but what is it for? Design without purpose is irrational; designed has to mean not only “designed by” but “designed for.” Let us grant that the human eye is designed for the purpose of vision in a human being. What is the purpose of vision? What is the purpose of the human being? Similarly, what is the purpose of a mosquito, a planet, or a universe? At the macro level, purpose seems to escape, even if it is detectable at the micro level. I suppose it might be possible to conclude that an intelligence designed the flagellum and then left it for protists to exploit, or that he/it designed the eye and then left it for humans to exploit, but I am sure that this is not where macrocreationists want to end up, and it also seems ultimately absurd. You cannot leave flagella and eyes lying about and expect anything interesting to happen to them.

So it seems that even if we grant the microcreationists their claims (and we do not), this does not aid macrocreationist claims one bit. Let us then consider our other question: does microcreation decrease the likelihood or sensibleness of macroevolution? Again, the answer is no. First, microcreation does not refute microevolution and may in fact depend on it; perhaps a designer designed the first flagellum or eye, but unless he, she or it was very industrious, each particular instantiation of a flagellum or eye was not independently created. That is, even if we grant that “the eye” (the basic blueprint or plan for an eye) was designed, that does not mean — and I don’t think that microcreationists want to insist — that the human eye was designed independently of the cat eye independently of the fish eye independently of the bird eye, etc. So they could allow and probably must allow that, having set the “model” or “blueprint” in motion, the designer could or did step back and let microevolutionary processes run.

Also, as we said, creationists cannot deny microevolution, unless they want to maintain that every time a new strain of virus evolves it is really the designer stepping back in to redesign his creation. While possible to imagine, it is hard to believe and impossible to prove, and it still raises the objection: why would a beneficent designer keep improving his pests?

The really damaging aspect of the creationist tolerance of microevolution, though, is this: microevolution has a mechanism. Even the most hardheaded creationist who accepts the reality of microevolution must admit that it operates by natural processes such as natural selection, genetic drift, mutation, symbiosis, preferential selection, and the like. However, having allowed these processes into the world, there is no way to restrict their scope. If these processes can effect minor, or at least intraspecies modification over remarkably short time spans, there is no reason in principle why these same processes could not effect major modification, i.e., speciation, over remarkably long time spans.

Further, since microevolution does not depend on a problematic concept like (micro) purpose, there is no demand that macroevolution satisfy any (macro-) purpose qualifications. Evolution, from Darwin on, relies strictly on “blind” or non-teleological forces, and ones which work equally well at the micro and macro levels. That is why we stated at the outset that evolution is a complete theory: it encompasses both micro and macro variation and emergence under exactly the same mechanisms. It does not need (although it might with effort be made consonant with) any ancillary or external forces or factors. In other words, microevolution is the same thing as macroevolution in every important sense, and microcreation does not and cannot change that fact. In reality, it is a much larger leap from microcreation to macrocreation than it is from microevolution to macroevolution.

One last objection that some anti-evolutionists might raise is that the “transitional forms” that we predict do not exist. They contend this weakens, if not falsifies, the case for evolution. The response to this charge is three-fold. First, a great number of transitional forms have been discovered, and it is disingenuous of critics to keep demanding “missing links” when links are provided; it is always possible to say, “OK, you found a link between 1 and 2, namely 11/2, but what is the missing link between 1 and 11/2 ?” This reductio ad absurdum must be resisted, and creationists must be compelled to explain when they would be satisfied with the intermediate evidence. My fear is that they never will be.

Second, critics of evolution must concede that evolutionary research has not been going on all that long, and that the limitations of fossilization and excavation make discovery of any forms, transitional or not, a tricky affair. Some evolutionists have even suggested that the periods of transition may have been relatively short and abrupt (the notion of “punctuated equilibrium”), a sudden mass speciation something akin to the sudden mass extinctions at the end of the Permian and the Cretaceous periods. If this is the case, then transitional forms would be the least likely to be unearthed today. Some respond that this is an opportunistic solution to a serious problem, and it may be, or it may be an accurate solution to the problem.

Third and finally, the demand for transitional forms is a double-edged sword for creationists. Adversaries of creationism might with justification ask for evidence of transitional designs. This evidence might consist of either designs that are in between other designs (i.e., the transitional eye between a human and cat or a human and reptile) or that are “under development” or unfinished (i.e., the blueprint for an eye or an eye “in progress”). Since I have never heard of any such evidence, nor have I heard a microcreationist speak of such evidence, I conclude that it does not exist. Of course, they might respond that the designer is not only intelligent but perfect, so he, she or it does not make in-between or unfinished designs, but this is an additional postulated quality of the designer that itself must be proved, and the claim is at least as opportunistic as any punctuated equilibrium theory that evolutionists have ever advanced.

Conclusion: The Failure of Microcreation

Microcreation fails in every regard. It is not a complete explanation of natural phenomena. It fails on a number of levels: it does not account for macrolevel entities, nor does to lead inevitably to macrocreation as a “second stage” in creation, nor does it posit a mechanism by which either could occur. Additionally, it does not refute evolution as a sound and complete explanation of the same phenomena. In fact, it generally grants microevolution, which does inevitably lead to macroevolution as a second stage in evolution and does provide a mechanism by which both occur.

For, in the end, microevolution is nothing more than descent with modification over the short term, and macroevolution is descent with modification over the long term. Put another way, macroevolution is merely the accumulation of microevolutionary changes. The only difference between them is time-scale. The same thing cannot be said about microcreation and macrocreation. Macrocreation is not the accumulation of microcreationist events; if it were, then macrocreation would be “blind” or incidental. You do not get a flagellum over the short term and a protist over the long term. Where would the flagellum reside in the meantime? We can conclude with confidence that microcreation fails as an explanation even of microlevel phenomena and that, even if it were it to succeed at that level, it would still fail as a ground for macrocreation.

References
  1. Behe, Michael. 1996. Darwin’s Black Box. NY: The Free Press.
  2. For instance, Barrow, John and Tipler, Frank 1988. The Anthropic Cosmological Principle. NY: Oxford University Press and Tipler, Frank 1995. The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God, and the Resurrection of the Dead. NY: Doubleday.

Skeptical perspectives on creationism and evolution
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In this lecture at Caltech, Dr. Donald Prothero — one of the world’s most respected paleontologists — provides a wealth of evidence and answers to creationist challenges to science. If you are interstested in defending science education don’t miss this entertaining and intellectually rigorous history of the geological and fossil record… Read more…

DVD cover The New Creationism: Intelligent Design Theory
(paperback $15.95) by Dr. Robert Pennock

Dr. Pennock has written the most authoritative book on the new creationism. In this lecture, he delivers a superbly organized and thorough analysis and refutation of the arguments from the new creationists. He covers ID theory, irreducible complexity and makes a brilliant analogy between the evolution of life and the evolution of language to show the deep flaws in creationists’ reasoning. READ more…

booklet cover How to Debate a Creationist
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One of our best-selling resources, this 27-page booklet includes 25 evolutionist answers to 25 creationist arguments, and 10 answers to Intelligent Design creationist arguments… Read more…


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In this week’s Skepticblog post, Michael Shermer distinguishes between public talk and private talk and encourages those in a position of power and influence to assume that the microphone is on in either case.

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23 Comments »

23 Comments

  1. william b. keith says:

    Do you think that a walking, talking, thinking plant will ever evolve independent of the dirt into which nearly every plant must have roots will ever evolve? Will it continue to use photosynthesis to feed itself as well as develop a way to feed on animal material it somehow catches? Will it compete with animals for the resources of the earth.

  2. RJ Pease says:

    This is food for thought.
    Regular evolution gives up paws!

    ( quote from Gardener Ted Rootstrong of the World Wide Church of BOB)

    Dr. S

  3. Mark Goodro says:

    The article mentions evidence of transitional designs, and the lack thereof. This point could use some strengthening. It is wrong to ever expect a transitional design between a human and cat’s eye – this goes to a common fallacy in creationist argument, e.g. the “crocoduck” argument. Sharing a common ancestor doesn’t imply an intermediate species. Human eyes and cat eyes developed different aspects sharing a common origin. There are, however, examples of every major phase of ocular development still in existence. Photo sensitive cells, concave sets of photosensitive cells (directional light detection), deeper or socketed sets of these cells, pinhole camera style eyes, and ultimately focusing lensed eyes. Richard Dawkins addresses the “irreducible complexity” of the eye very effectively in “The Ancestors Tale” – I don’t do it justice from memory here.

    Thank you for the well thought out article.

  4. Armando Simon says:

    First, I would like to point out that in Behe’s work, there is a nonsequitur argument. Behe points out flaws in the classical theory, then automatically assumes that this means that organisms came about through intelligent design (presumably some mystical spirit). Again, this is a nonsequitur. It’s not either/or. Most of the attacks that I have read against the ID concept have surprisingly ignored this false logic.

    Second, I have to say that I was angry at reading this article, the reason being is that the author (along with many, many others) assumes that if one criticizes the classical Darwinian-Wallace theory of evolution, one must be a Creationist. This is a false dichotomy that both the Creationists and the neo-Darwinists have rammed down our throat. Sideways. This is a false either/or dichotomy, one that has become an obsession in the Anglo-American world of science; this obsession is not present in scientific circles in other countries. Highly reputable scientists—nonCreationists!—have pointed out flaws in the classical theory. Particularly, they have differentiated between microevolution and macroevolution. Schindewolf, Croizat, Margulis and Goldschmidt immediately come to mind. (To a lesser extent I have done so also.) They marshal volumes of scientific research to back up their assertions. There is not one iota of mystical/magical/religious claptrap in their arguments! They present scientific data!

    Third, there are serious flaws in the classical theory. This does not, by any means, diminishes the status of either Darwin or Wallace. They were scientific giants. However, the antics of the neo-Darwinists, done in Darwin’s name, is an insult to that open-minded, brilliant scientist. Worse, neo-Darwinists have imposed a type of censorship in the scientific arena and have intimidated scientists from critiquing the theory to the point that to neo-Darwinists, the theory has become a holy relic. No critique is allowed to be published in scientific journals or presented in conferences because it is instantly assumed that the criticism must come from a Creationist. On top of that, problems put forth are falsely stated as having been solved long ago—which is not true.*

    Mind you, evolution is a fact. The evidence for evolutionary process and for common descent is overwhelming. However, it is the MECHANISM whereby evolution takes place that I, and others, question.

    *This phenomena of the theory having become a quasi-religious aura is paralleled with the issue of global warming. For the record, I, for one, am convinced that global warming is, indeed, taking place. But dissenters should be allowed to have their say, and proponents of global warming should maintain scientific integrity. However, doubters of the theory have been viciously attacked for having the audacity to have doubts. This was very evident with Climategate; the whistle-blowers were demonized by both the scientific proponents of global theory and by the “impartial” popular news media.

  5. Bjørn Østman says:

    David, thanks for writing this article. I have never even heard the terms of micro- and macrocreation before.

    However, as much as it doesn’t make sense as a full-fledged theory, I think you’re wrong to assume that it must. For the IDers, all that they really care about is to show evolution doesn’t always work, because then they can conclude that a designer was a play. Yes, they say it’s science, but only because no one would ever listen to them otherwise, and then it wouldn’t be possible to get ID taught in schools.

  6. Bjørn Østman says:

    Armando Simon said, Worse, neo-Darwinists have imposed a type of censorship in the scientific arena and have intimidated scientists from critiquing the theory to the point that to neo-Darwinists, the theory has become a holy relic.

    Complete bullocks.

    No critique is allowed to be published in scientific journals or presented in conferences because it is instantly assumed that the criticism must come from a Creationist. On top of that, problems put forth are falsely stated as having been solved long ago—which is not true.

    Complete bullocks.

    “No critique”? Are you serious?! In the sub-field of evolution that I am working in people are arguing back and forth over how speciation takes place, for example. People disagree, and they get published. Without having looked you up, I wonder if you are talking about some aspect of evolution that biologists have already dealt with, and you are going on about something that the editors and referees can’t take serious anymore. Those exist. Lynn Margulis, for example, contending that symbiosis is everywhere, when it patently isn’t.

    • Armando Simon says:

      “Bullocks.” Great response. I love your argument and the data you present.

  7. Bjørn Østman says:

    Turns out I was spot on about you Armando:

    EXTRATERRESTRIAL IMPACTS AS THE PRIMARY CAUSE OF SPECIATION IN EVOLUTION

    The Darwinian-Wallace theory of evolution is examined and found to be flawed, specifically that the mechanism which the classical theory puts forth as bringing about evolution (Natural Selection) is insufficient to account for various discrepancies found in the natural world (e.g., living fossils). Additionally, neo-Darwinists have put forth extreme assertions which neither Wallace nor Darwin would have supported. Based on the work of Barbara McClintock whose work on the restructuring of the genome through stress won her the Nobel Prize, the present paper puts forth the proposition that the numerous meteoritic impacts (some of which have resulted in the massive extinction of species) have been the primary cause of speciation through cataclysmic effects in the biosphere, both on a local and global level.

    http://www.lpi.usra.edu/meetings/lpsc2006/pdf/1030.pdf

    With abstracts like that, I completely understand why you have trouble getting published. i really would like to rea the full paper so I can understand why you would say stuff like “(Natural Selection) is insufficient to account for various discrepancies found in the natural world (e.g., living fossils)”, which by the way is not true. Stabilizing selection in a relatively stable environment is one way that “living fossils” like horseshoe crabs and coelacanths can conserve their phenotype for so long.

    If you would, please send me anything you have by email: bjorn[at]bjornostman.com

  8. Peter Pants. says:

    If Darwin’s daughter had lived he would have believed in God. It was God’s Will that his daughter die so that he could publish his book. How’s that for irony?

  9. Chinle says:

    I’m hoping you were just being funny when you wrote that, if so, it is clever. If not, you must feel like you’re living in Alice in Wonderland.

  10. Zach says:

    “This failure to account for macro phenomena, such as human life, the earth, or the universe, then serves as an opportunity to suggest that creation is the only plausible alternative for the origin of life. This conclusion suffers from the fallacy of the excluded middle or false dilemma (just because B is false does not make A true).”

    As this article will show later, the writer claims that evolution is a completely working system, and then attacks creationist for not providing all of the mechanism’s to account for how a divine creator created.

    “No matter what the details, creationism also purports to be a complete explanation. In fact, whether or not it purports to be, it is obligated to be, since no theory can leave key facts and processes unaccounted for.”

    Again, the writer does not play fair. He argues that creationism must fully explain its mechanism’s, but then later on claims that creationists/I.D.’s should recognize that Darwin’s theory of evolution is a relatively new theory.

    “Critics of evolution must concede that evolutionary research has not been going on all that long, and that the limitations of fossilization and excavation make discovery of any forms, transitional or not, a tricky affair.”"Some evolutionists have even suggested that the periods of transition may have been relatively short and abrupt (the notion of “punctuated equilibrium”), a sudden mass speciation something akin to the sudden mass extinctions at the end of the Permian and the Cretaceous periods. If this is the case, then transitional forms would be the least likely to be unearthed today.”

    This sounds like the creationists/I.D’s theory and arguments. (“There is simply not enough transitional fossils to account for the theory of evolution, what we do see with the fossil record is species just simply seeming to appear”, – paraphrase of Dr. David Berlinski)

    “Before we proceed to ask whether microcreation supports macrocreation (and refutes macroevolution), let us ask another question: since creationism of whatever sort intends to displace and supercede evolution, why would it give credence to microevolution, which might provide grounds for macroevolution? Why tolerate any level of evolution? One possible answer is that ID creationists see microevolution as no threat to their program . . . a Creator could design the eye, but once designed, the eye could microevolve into diverse versions.”

    First off, this is a miss-representation of microevolution on many levels, as is done numerously throughout this article. Secondly, creationists accept micro-creation because it is a scientific fact that is observable, testable, and reproducible – the requirements for scientific fact. Theologically it fits with the creationists system as well. God created creatures to be able to adapt within a range. It is interesting the author completely ignores the science that points towards micro-evolution as always being the reduction of “data” or the copying. Completely new data has never been observed to be created. What scientists do find is that this fits with creationist view that God would create creatures with a vast but limited adaptability, and changes come from reducing information, not increasing it – which fits with the current day observable scientific fact.

    “A more likely answer, however, is that ID creationists do not deny microevolution because they cannot deny it. It is perfectly obvious and incontrovertible that it happens. We see variations in traits, even wholly new traits, emerge in existing species routinely and ordinarily. Bacteria and viruses (micro-) evolve new drug-resistant strains. Insects (micro-) evolve into new types. We humans have even artificially (micro-) evolved dogs and cats, for instance, into a plethora of different breeds, and with genetic technologies we stand on the verge — or have crossed the verge — of (micro-) evolving all kinds of plants and animals. It would require a suicidal degree of stupidity to deny that microevolution happens rather often and easily. Scientific creationists insist, however, that such events have nothing to do with and lend no credence to macroevolution.”

    Does the author have a point here? This is like arguing that gravity is obvious. He is trying to show that micro-evolution is linkable with macro-evolution, and he claims so without even addressing the issues of “new data” or that mutations that have been observed are a negative trait that is not passed on.

    “This well-known fallacy states that you should not ascribe a characteristic to a whole object simply because it is ascribed to part of the object. The same might be contended about microevolution, but it really cannot be, as we will see below.”

    The author appears to recognize this fallacy, but then logically leaps over it by explaining that it will be explained below, and at the end of the article, the reader is left wondering when did he do that?

    “One of the many serious charges against microcreation is that it does not offer any specific mechanisms for the creation process. If a flagellum or an eye or a clotting system is designed, how is it designed? A claim is not scientific or theoretical merely by taking factual topics as its subject; a scientific or theoretical answer must suggest some mechanisms or means by which those facts came about. Just saying, “It is designed” says nothing. What are the steps in the design process? How is that design implemented into real physical matter? If such questions cannot be answered at the microcreation level, then it is useless as a premise for the macrocreation level.”

    This paragraph shows the authors inconsistency the most. It is a very ignorant and possible arrogant thing to demand that just because something cannot be completely understood, means that it cannot and must not be true. This rings clear with what the author just previously demanded the creationist to do, accept that evolution is a relatively new theory, and thus all of the questions and critiques of it should not be given too hastily, there is a strong inconsistency here. It is easy to understand the Darwinists plea for a completely working hypothesis that provides working mechanism’s for the creationist theory, but the expression “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water” is only too applicable. Limiting everything we know to current scientific capabilities, and throwing out any theory that doesn’t fit to its demands, is like the drunk looking for his keys only under the street light, and refusing to look elsewhere because it’s too dark. Better yet, it is like the drunk not only refusing to look anywhere but under the street light, but then demanding that the keys could not be anywhere else. The most curious thing is that these rules do not apply to the Darwinists themselves, or numerous other scientific theories. It is quite obvious that creationist theory is held to an impossibly high standard, all because they will not allow a divine foot in the door out of fear for leg or torso (or more) to nudge itself through.

    “Related to the question of design method is the question of designer: who or what is this designer? ID theorists cannot evade the fact that a specific intelligent entity is being posited as the solution to what they consider otherwise insurmountable ID settles upon, it faces another even more vexing question: where did that designer come from? If all irreducibly complex phenomena have a creator, and the creator is him/itself irreducibly complex, then he/it must have a creator, ad infinitum.”

    I would argue the designer is known through the person of Jesus Christ, but that is a million miles from this topic’s discussion. The author is again not playing by his own rules.

    “Okay, let us grant that the purpose of all the irreducibly complex parts of a flagellum is the motility of a protist, and some intelligence has created and assembled the parts for that function. What is the purpose of the protist? A single-celled life form is indisputably complex, but what is it for? Design without purpose is irrational; designed has to mean not only “designed by” but “designed for.” Let us grant that the human eye is designed for the purpose of vision in a human being. What is the purpose of vision? What is the purpose of the human being? Similarly, what is the purpose of a mosquito, a planet, or a universe?”

    The author is simply stating that because the theory he doesn’t like doesn’t explain every single question, it’s impossible. This is a double standard approach. Some of his questions are completely obvious to answer as well from a Christian’s standard.

    “The really damaging aspect of the creationist tolerance of microevolution, though, is this: microevolution has a mechanism. Even the most hardheaded creationist who accepts the reality of microevolution must admit that it operates by natural processes such as natural selection, genetic drift, mutation, symbiosis, preferential selection, and the like. However, having allowed these processes into the world, there is no way to restrict their scope. If these processes can effect minor, or at least intraspecies modification over remarkably short time spans, there is no reason in principle why these same processes could not effect major modification, i.e., speciation, over remarkably long time spans. In other words, microevolution is the same thing as macroevolution in every important sense, and microcreation does not and cannot change that fact. ”

    Author makes a huge logical leap here. There are many reasons that these processes could not effect major modification. The author is ignorant on the difference between slight modification and large modification. Sure the average uneducated person might think it is perfectly logical to think that a bunch of small changes will equal a very large one over time, but this is a straw man. The author is miss-representing the differences, issues, and problems. Micro-evolution is a redistribution or reduction or data, Macroevolution is the addition of completely new data to the scene, and it simply does not happen. No matter how many Micro-evolutionary changes that occur, it will never equal a Macro-evolutionary change. The author is comparing apples to oranges.

    “Since I have never heard of any such evidence, nor have I heard a microcreationist speak of such evidence, I conclude that it does not exist. Of course, they might respond that the designer is not only intelligent but perfect, so he, she or it does not make in-between or unfinished designs, but this is an additional postulated quality of the designer that itself must be proved.”
    The author again demands for all the answers. If it does not fit his scientific demands entirely, it is out of the question – the drunk searching for his keys only the under the light.

    “Microcreation fails in every regard. It is not a complete explanation of natural phenomena. It fails on a number of levels: it does not account for macrolevel entities, nor does to lead inevitably to macrocreation as a “second stage” in creation, nor does it posit a mechanism by which either could occur.”

    Again, micro-evolution does not lead to macro-evolution, so dismissing creationism because it does not answer every demand is foolish at best. The Darwinist’s double standard needs to go.

    “Additionally, (Microcreation) does not refute evolution as a sound and complete explanation of the same phenomena. In fact, it generally grants microevolution, which does inevitably lead to macroevolution as a second stage in evolution and does provide a mechanism by which both occur.”

    1. The author does not even come close to establishing that micro-evolution leads to macro-evolution. His argument revolves around this being true, but he does not prove this or even come close to doing so.

    “For, in the end, microevolution is nothing more than descent with modification over the short term, and macroevolution is descent with modification over the long term. Put another way, macroevolution is merely the accumulation of microevolutionary changes. The only difference between them is time-scale.”

    The author’s constant pontification and double standard application makes for a very weak article that established little.

  11. David H. Eisenberg says:

    Darwinism or evolution is a theory. It is not subject to falsification (at least yet) and therefore, it is a fair argument to say that it is not really a scientific theory (that is a well tested principle), but an untested hypothesis or prediction. At its best, the hypothesis is based on data and logic. There is some inductive evidence. At its worst, it is rife with speculation. Attending a conference where a number of leading anthropologists spoke, including Richard Leakey, I and many in the audience were stunned at how little actual evidence there was supporting human evolution and how much of it was based on epistemological decisions as to what was a fact. However, there was some (imaginary italics around “some”) evidence. Gravity and much of physics is still a theory too, but it is a well tested principle or set of principles. That which can be proven often leads to engineering. The study of biological sciences (of which evolution is a part) has led to the uncovering of the genome, medication, the actual creation of life (so they now claim) and other applications. But, creationism or ID, while also a theory, does not seem to be based on data or logic, but faith and is completely speculative. It results in no engineering or applications and cannot. It is merely a gateway to faith based discussions which almost by definition must end with – “God did it,” a substitute for “We don’t know”.

  12. Loughlin Tatem says:

    The creationist idea of how things came to be is based on reading of translated ancient manuscripts; that is the frightful bottom-line, but that “god did it” is not the most frightful aspect, that god is still doing it is what frightens me.
    “Design being known through Jesus Christ” comes straight out of the ancient translated manuscript to which strict adherence is required, any debate about how things really work in this world has arisen primarily because of the challenge posed by evolutionist to creationism, outside of this the creationists have absolute sway to the detriment of scientific research and discovery, particularly because our answer to our problems will be prayer, fasting and waiting for god to work miracles as he did in the six days he took to create the world. Heaven help us all.

  13. A Rishi says:

    The God Concept demonstrates it well.

    Believers say that god created the universe whereas the atheists say that it has come up by chance. Although logically, devoid of emotion, god and chance convey the same human ignorance about how this beautiful cosmos came about. But, what distinguishes the two, in practice, is the element of purpose. When an atheist discovers a deep purpose in life his chance becomes god. God or chance is, therefore, our choice depending upon our own mental states. We generally oscillate between them before maturity.

    The Bible says that God created the universe in six days. Now, those six days of god may be 6 billion of our days. Isn’t it too slow for an omnipotent God who only has to say ‘Be’? Anyway god is an emotional issue not an intellectual one. Intellectually or rationally, nature is spiritually inclined towards matter and life alike. Believers do not ask how god came to be; rationalists need not ask how nature came to be. So, god is a human notion that serves as a strong emotional anchor for the believers.

    The idea of a creator god inspired the moral judo called religions. Martial art Judo is supposed to turn one’s weakness into strength in physical combat. Likewise, fear and greed, the inherent human weaknesses, were taken care of by the ultimate fear and greed of heaven and hell. It worked for a while for the society of believers until it came into competition with other religions. Religious wars or crusades or jihad have claimed more lives than all other wars put together because blind faith and fanaticism go hand in hand.
    Now, faith is the fearless search for truth, so, it is not lost when one questions one’s beliefs. Blind faith makes the believers think otherwise; my dogma is the best dogma and my book is the best book. The mythical Satan must be damn pleased with this comedy of irrationality. The atheists are no better. They not only deny god but also spirit/soul and spirituality. In other words, they do not find any purpose in life in general nor any accountability for our actions. That we have a free will is beyond dispute and a spiritual vision is required to see and feel the grand purpose of human life in particular.

    • Another Point of View says:

      I’m an atheist and find your speaking about all atheists as an insult. Unless you are omniscient cut it out.

  14. Andy O says:

    The question of whether “God did it” and “We don’t know” are the same might seem obvious on the surface, but there is one huge difference. When we invoke god to explain natural phenomena, there is a predilection to add, “so don’t investigate further, or you might find OUT what you don’t know, eliminating the need for god.” That brand of anti-intellectualism is not tolerable in science.

  15. Vern Pace says:

    Regarding “The Price of Altruism: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness.” Has anyone investigated and written about the origins of just the opposite – the origins of cruelty, and specifically, that of torture?

  16. A Rishi says:

    I agree with Andy O. The previous Pope had already drawn the line. He had advised the scientists to leave the soul alone as it is directly created by god. It appears that the Pope, at the threshold of the third millennium, had conceded the modern cosmology but retained the moment of Creation; likewise he had conceded the biologically evolved body to the scientists but retained the soul.

  17. Andy O says:

    Zach above takes umbrage with Eller’s pointing out that creationism gives no mechanism. Zach says that just because each step isn’t known, that doesn’t make the theory wrong. But not even ONE step is known, in creationism – “It is designed”, as Eller points out, is not a step.

    The problem here is that science is not supposed to only ‘prove religion wrong’, in fact that isn’t its purpose at all. The results of science can be used to do many things. Television was brought about by looking at the paradigm of radio and asking how pictures could be encoded as well as sound. Biology can be used to design better medicines, etc. But without some steps in the process, the paradigm becomes worthless for that.

    In a sense, even if evolution is completely wrong (and God just made the world LOOK like it evolved), that paradigm gives us strong guidance as to what to look for in nature. Creationism completely fails to do this. I recall Darwin predicted the existence of a moth with very long proboscis that could drink from (and pollinate) a certain orchid in Madagascar. It was later found. Creationism would have simply said, “God made this orchid”, with no further predictions. Later, when the moth was found, a creationist might say, “Oh, and God made this moth, too. Wasn’t that clever!”

    Again, the value of science goes far beyond ‘proving religion wrong.’ But the only purpose of ‘creation science’ is to prove evolution wrong.

  18. Steve says:

    Both science and religions are attempts to understand the universe. Whereas science can be tested, religion is inherently untestable. You could not, for example, approach a group of theologians to prove the perfection of the Bible (nothing lost in translation by God’s will) by having groups of translators translate the Book of Revelation from English to Bushmen to Japanese to Ancient Greek and back to English to see if anything was changed. I think one of the problems may be that certain things typically viewed as supernatural are desired to remain that way and by approaching them with a scientific perspective, you might turn the supernatural into the natural. Babel fish aside, if we proved God existed, what then? A similar point came up between my partner and me over ghost hunting shows (which she loves). I pointed out to her if we could actually prove ghosts exists, then hauntings would be treated in the same way as termite infestations and eventually products would be manufactured to deal with the inconvenience (Ghost-B-Gone?)

  19. Twan says:

    Eisenberg needs to update his definition of the word theory. His use of the word is that of the layman’s. A scientific theory is indeed falsifiable and many have been rejected or modified as new information became available, e.g. geocentric theory, ether as a wave carrier, even Newton’s laws of motion needed to be improved thanks to Einstein. Further, it is not fair to say that evolution is untested. The evolution of resistant varieties of viruses, bacteria, insects, etc., are all tests supporting evolution. The support of early immunological tests relating cetaceans to artiodactyls by modern molecular genetics is a good test as well. Modern molecular genetics is providing fine detail of evolution and, in my humble opinion, is now linking “microevolution” and “macroevolution” scale processes.

  20. hero says:

    Complete nonsense, macro-evolution evolution, solved?

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