We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Failing the Test

New Life that Emerged during the "Cambrian Explosion"
Credit: D. W. Miller
If biblical literalists are going to make a persuasive case against evolution to those who accept the truth of evolution, there are certain minimum requirements that they need to meet including:  First, they have to demonstrate that they understand the process itself.  Second, they have to stay abreast of recent findings in evolutionary biology.  Third, they must show a willingness to consider the points made by "the other side" in the debate.  Finally, they should always be aware of the huge danger involved in using God to fill in the gaps in scientific knowledge.  The whole point of science is to fill in those gaps without recourse to supernatural explanations.  Forcing God into the gaps is only asking for failure

A recent posting at the Christian Post entitled, "Technology Proves Darwin's Evolution Theory is Flawed," demonstrates the importance of sticking to arguments that meet the above requirements.  It begins by violating the first requirement with a frivolous and ignorant argument, namely that evolution must be false because the author has trouble logging unto websites. He reasons, "...if evolution were true, then we are to believe a whole series of complex sequences managed to get everything right---repeatedly."  He can't get through complex sequences to log onto some sites, therefore evolutionary theory is wrong.

The comparison is silly, and therein lies the problem.  Logging onto a website has nothing whatsoever to do with biological evolution.  For one thing, evolution doesn't "get everything right."  In fact, evolution requires failure, repeated failure—the failure of species and of individual representatives of species to reproduce where others are successful.  And the evolutionary record is resplendent with species or branches of species that were successful but then failed, Neanderthals being the example that comes most readily to mind.  For another thing, evolution works over vast spans of time with vast numbers of species, not the tiny fraction of a moment of time one person spends trying to get onto a website.  It involves complex biological processes working over those spans.  The posting's comparison is important only because it demonstrates that the author does not understand biological evolution.  His arguments are persuasive only to others as ignorant as he is, which in the long run is hugely self-defeating as more and more people leave the ranks of the literalists.

Another argument put forward in the posting against evolution is the "Cambrian explosion," a period of time that saw the emergence of a large number of new species and the rapid expansion of life on the planet.  The author cites Stephen Meyer's new book, Darwin's Doubt (HarperOne, 2013), to make his case.  It turns out that Meyer is intimately connected with the intelligent design movement, and his book has met with intense rebuttal by those who actually work in the field of paleontology, such as Dr. Donal Prothero (here).  The thing is that science can account for the Cambrian explosion as an evolutionary phenomenon.  The explosion took place over tens of millions of years, plenty of time for evolution to work.  There are links to species already in existence before the explosion.  There are a number of theories as to why it took place, none of which require divine intervention.  The posting in the Christian Post does not consider any of this and is apparently ignorant of the essentially evolutionary nature of the phenomenon.

The posting ends by asserting that "the Word" caused the Cambrian explosion.  It is what provides the information necessary for the explosion to take place.  God fills the gap in scientific knowledge.  In fact, this gap has already closed; God is not necessary to explain it.  It is in this way that biblical literalists and a narrowly constructed creationism fails the test of putting forward cogent rebuttals of evolution.  It is in this way that the literalists give comfort to their enemy, those who reject the existence of God at all.  It is in this way that they fail the test...inevitably.