Thursday, June 9, 2011

God's Quality Control 7.1

Here I continue my thoughts on Ray Comfort's 2008 book Evolution: A Fairy Tale for Grownups. Just in case you're tired of hearing the setup and you're eager to move on to the questions, I'll save you some time. I'll start digging into the questions in the next video, not this one. Feel free to skip this one if you're bored.

In the introduction to the book, Comfort briefly describes the advent of evolutionary theory, using the language we have come to expect: everything from nothing, Darwin's disillusionment, complexity, random processes, just a theory. We've all heard the corrections to such nonsense a zillion times; I have nothing to add. However, in a previous video I made a point about Darwin that I wish I had emphasized a bit more. In fact, I wish that I had shouted it from the rooftops. Now's my chance to revisit the point.

I've heard a few people mention this lately, but only a few. It should be on the minds of everyone involved in the discussion. The point is this: forget about Darwin. Pretend that he never existed. Or let him exist, but pretend that he was a reprobate, a pedophile, a guy who hired vagrants to sit in his car so he could use the carpool lane illegally. Let's say we hate him so much that we reject his ideas without even checking whether they were good ideas. Death to Darwinism!

Now consider: we've analyzed a lot of DNA in recent years. When we look at all of this analyzed DNA, we see a pattern of relationships that all but screams that all species, including humans, are related to each other; we have common ancestry. That one fact by itself is gigantic, but I'll add just one other: many, many species around the world have vestigial organs, vestigial structures, vestigial genes: just one of countless examples: the traces of eyes in eyeless cave-dwellers. A simple and elegant explanation of this phenomenon is that the life-forms we see today are descended from life-forms that were once very different, that eyeless cave-dwellers are descended from creatures that had eyes.

As I said, just our DNA knowledge by itself is huge, but when we compare the story we get from the DNA to the story we get from countless cases of vestigiality, the stories are the same. One need not have an in-depth understanding of scientific principles to realize how huge this is. We simply don't need Darwin. Our current science is based on these and a mountain of other well-known facts, not on any love of Darwin. The hero-worship you see on all the Darwin documentaries does not represent evolutionary biology in any way. It may represent the attitude toward Darwin held by some individuals, even by some scientists, but it does not influence the substance of their work or the edifice of evolutionary biology. Darwin is dead. His version of evolutionary theory is utterly irrelevant to any modern conversation. So when Ray (or anyone else) talks about Darwin, I'm going to ignore him. You should too; don't get bogged down talking about Darwin.

Near the end of the introduction, Ray says, "[D]espite more than fifty years of school children and television viewers being force-fed evolution," Americans still generally don't believe it. I don't really care about Ray's claims, and I don't really care how many people still believe that the world is flat. What I do care about in this statement is the mention of television. Television is not a reliable source of scientific knowledge. You might get something good from watching television; you might even find a broadcaster that you tend to trust, but the overall relationship between television and facts is extremely tenuous. Don't believe anything you hear on television unless you can find an independent source to substantiate the claims. One should always consider the source, regardless of the medium, but you won't go far wrong if you automatically disbelieve everything you hear on television.

One last point: Ray has some interesting thoughts on quote mining. He says that "every gold nugget is legitimately mined out of its context. No one seriously values the earth that encases the gold." Analogies are fun, but they're not guaranteed to be sound. This one is a bit weak, to say the least. There is a story about Abraham Lincoln; I haven't checked whether it's true, but even if not it works well as an illustration. Lincoln is said to have written a letter saying that he'd rather live under an emperor in Russia. Ray seems to think that a statement like this counts as a nugget, while anything Lincoln might have said before or after it counts as unrelated soil. Ray might want to say that Lincoln didn't want to live in the U.S. As the story goes, in the sentence just before Lincoln's surprising remark, he is complaining that his opponents seem to hold the view that all men are created equal except for blacks, foreigners, and Catholics. You have to decide for yourself whether Ray's nugget comment is valid.

That's 7.1. Thanks for watching.

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