Tuesday, August 30, 2011

God's Quality Control 7.4

Here I continue my thoughts on Ray Comfort's 2008 book Evolution: A Fairy Tale for Grownups. Today, Ray will teach us about these important critical-thinking concepts:
  1. Keeping up with the times and basing one's conclusions on the latest data available.
  2. The self-correcting nature of science as opposed to the self-deluding nature of faith.
  3. Presenting arguments from unbiased commentators.
  4. Determining whether certain facts are actually supportive of one's argument.
  5. Finding reliable sources.
  6. And of course, quote-mining.
In Question #3, Ray quotes paleontologist David Kitts saying that "Evolution requires intermediate forms between species and paleontology does not provide them." Note that Kitts is not saying that there is no support at all for evolutionary theory; he's just saying that the fossil record is spotty. Well, guess what: in 1974, when Kitts made this statement, it was true. But a lot of science happened in the three-and-a-half decades between this statement and Ray's book. Kitt goes on to say that although some claim that the fossil record actually falsifies evolutionary theory, the claim has been debunked. Ray cites a couple of other, rather aged sources: P.G. Williamson in 1982 and D. Futuyma in 1983. He does mention Professor Ernst Mayr in his 2001 book What Evolution Is, but again, here, Ray is simply quote-mining. Mayr says in his book that the fossil record contains many gaps. Ray wants us to believe that Mayr is expressing his doubts about evolutionary theory. This is not true at all; the reason Mayr brings it up at all is so he can address the issue directly. He mentions just a few paragraphs later that there are some fossil lines that are "remarkably complete," including reptiles-to-mammals, mesonychids-to-whales, and Eohippus-to-modern-horses.

In Question #4, we hear about over-eager scientists mis-identifying fossils. What turned out to be a dolphin's rib was first thought to be a hominid clavicle. What turned out to be a pig's tooth was first thought to be a hominid tooth. We've been fooled by body parts from donkeys, too, not to mention the occasional deliberate hoax. What Ray leaves out of all these examples is that it was science that discovered and corrected all of these errors. The scientific method automatically tends toward self-correction. The scientific method is turbo-charged by the fact that many scientists absolutely love being the first person to make a discovery, especially if it demolishes the cherished beliefs of one's rivals. On the other hand, religion tends toward exacerbating errors, because there's just no way to test any faith-based claim. This tendency is turbo-charged by the fact that each and every one of the superstitious entirely fabricates his or her concept of "god" based on his or her way of seeing the world.

In Question #5, we get an earful from Sir Ernst Chain and author I. L. Cohen. These two seem quite opposed to the idea of life originating and evolving with no supernatural help, but let's not waste any time on the details of their assertions. Why? Because Ray's goal is to show us examples of scientists "quietly admitting" some uncomfortable truth, while Chain and Cohen are both clearly biased in favor of some supernatural element. Chain is quoted in a biography as saying, "We, the Jewish people, have been given a lasting code of ethical values in the divinely inspired laws and traditions of Judaism." So in addition to being superstitious, he explicitly worships the evil demon known as Yahweh. Cohen, while not quite the explicit advocate of Yahweh, still openly admits his bias that Nature does not have "the capacity for rearranging" nucleotides. If Ray wants to show us scientists quietly admitting some failure, that's one thing. It's another thing entirely for Ray to show us superstitious people advocating their superstitions while providing absolutely no support. There are plenty of other qualified scientists who practice superstition but accept the truth of evolutionary theory.

In Question #6, Ray reminds us that any statements made by scientists 20 or more years beforehand should be assessed in light of our current knowledge. He quotes several more scientists who expressed their dissatisfaction that at the time, we had far fewer fossils than we have now.

In Question #7, Ray teaches us about finding reliable sources, by giving us citations from Reader's Digest and Time Magazine. These are popular press, not peer-reviewed science journals. Don't believe anything unless you have prior good reasons, such as the publication having a good track record for honesty, and especially scientific accuracy. Perhaps the more important lesson we get from Question #7 is understanding whether a given set of facts has any bearing on the argument. Recall that Ray's goal is to explain to us that evolutionary theory is a fairy tale. In Question #7 the points he brings up are about archaeological discoveries that lend support to the ideas that King David was a real person and that the details of Jesus' alleged crucifixion are historically plausible. That's all. Ray gives us nothing saying that archaeology supports the bible's claims relative to evolutionary theory. In other words, these two points do not suggest anything about whether the bible is generally true, nor do they even hint at which parts of the bible are to be taken literally, even if true.

Finally, let's make sure we get an adequate dose of quote-mining: Dr. Edmund J. Ambrose, of the University of London, tells us that "there is nothing in the geological records that runs contrary to the view of conservative creationists." Naturally, Ray leaves out the very next sentence: "My own view is that this does not strengthen the creationists' arguments."

That's 7.4. Thanks for watching.

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