Friday, March 1, 2013

What Darwin Didn't Know - The Ever-Increasing Problems of Darwin's Theories

Book: What Darwin Didn't Know
I've dove into Geoffrey Simmon's "What Darwin Didn't Know" (2004). I decided to start on the preface "The Ever-Increasing Problems of Darwin's Theories", to evaluate an anti-evolution book.

I'll review a chapter a week, although that means this will take 24 weeks (ouch).

I'm maintaining an index of my responses here.

Review/Rebuttal

I probably shouldn't jump to any conclusions, but this preface doesn't give me a lot of hope for a competent "dissection" of evolutionary theory.

One nitpick I have, right off the bat is a repeated usage of the phrase "Darwin's theories". Why is "theories" plural? He had one theory - the theory of evolution. What were the others? He seems to use the word "theories" as though he meant that Darwin had "a number of ideas".

The author claims to have studied evolution for 45 years, and yet can't get basic science terminology right. That's just where the troubles begin.

Darwin's original publication compared to modern biology

Simmon's first attempt at an argument is to make the point that if Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" were published in today's modern science, it'd flunk out - because it wouldn't be taking into account today's biological knowledge, like genetics, etc.

And? Of course it'd flunk out. Scientific theories are modeled to fit all available relevant data. When Darwin originally published, it did just that. It has since been updated to accommodate new data, as the centuries have rolled by. That's what science does. If a theory of evolution by natural selection were initially submitted today, it'd be a version that envelopes all modern data.

It'd be like saying that The Wright Flyer couldn't fly because it'd be rejected by modern aviation as too primitive - yes, of course it would, but it was still cutting edge when it came out.

I don't know why he thinks this is a problem.

It gets worse. His objections become more and more bizarre.

Human Body is Complex and People were Dumb

Simmons spends a hefty paragraph painstakingly detailing how complicated the human body is, and how Darwin wasn't aware of most of the details.

He then proceeds to talk about how people, back then, believed a lot of stuff that was wrong, oddly ignoring how evidence-based understandings held out, while faith/superstition-based understandings did not.

Problems with Evolution Education

The author details the history of his understanding of evolution, and starts bringing up examples of things that brought his "belief in" evolution into doubt.

... no true transition fossils have been found, the theory of evolution continues to make sense to many people.
Uh, yes they have. He didn't end up explaining what a "true transition fossil" is in this section. Hopefully he'll get into that at some point.

As long as we're just stating things: no true competent rational anti-evolution books have been found either.

He continues, talking about how he'd been taught by teachers "details of evolution as if they were foregone conclusions; school boards insisted that evolution was the only explanation." Now, U.S. education isn't that great, so I can buy that they made these mistakes. School boards are rarely comprised of people who have any real education in the sciences... but they were close. Evolution is the only current scientific explanation about the diversity of life over time.

He wraps up the section with the an old trope, complaining about how science keeps changing.
It must be a fact...or was it? That the world was flat was once a fact. That malaria came from heavy air in the swamps was once a fact. And, that man could talk long-distance or fly to the moon was a fantasy.
Yes, imagine that. We learn more about the world, and we update our models. Weird! On the other hand, we have many facts from before that turned out to be right. That happens too. The question is, what does the evidence say?

Problems with Evolutionary Theory

In the next section, we receive another salvo of arguments.

He cites examples from books he's read:

- No fossils of short-necked "pre-giraffes" 

I poked around to see if this were true. It's difficult to do online research on these topics, because the signal-to-noise ratio is so low. I'll go ahead and, for the sake of argument, conclude that this is true.

So what? Does that mean that all the other fossils that do show progressions over the eons are false, because we have a gap in the fossil record?

This is the thing about building a scientific case. There's three basic possibilities per "realization":

  • The case is supported.
  • The case is diminished.
  • The case is unaffected.
Fossil gaps are not a refutation. In fact, it's to be expected, since fossilization is rare. It's possible the region the "short-necked pre-giraffes" lived was not prone to fossilization. It's possible that region sunk below the ocean thanks to tectonic subduction zones. The lack of information does not help or diminish a case. The case is evaluated on how much positive evidence versus how much refuting evidence exists. Non-evidence is not evidence.

The author is only one step short of a God of the Gaps argument here.

Further, it's ironic that he should choose giraffes, since their laryngeal nerve, which is quite problematic, would be a prediction of evolutionary theory, and could only the outcome of a designer if the designer was utterly incompetent. It does happen that some evolutionary lineages are dead ends, and if the nerve problem gets worse, they could go extinct.


- Jaw Bones of Reptiles and Mammals

The author states (from another author):
... reptile fossils having multiple bones in their lower jaw and mammals having only one lower jawbone with no transitional forms found.
It's the same hole-poking fallacy as before. There's lots of holes. There's also enough established in the fossil record to demonstrate that the phenomenon is there.

Digressing for a moment....

It'd be like trying to falsify someone's claim that he/she took a road trip across America because they didn't have any record of driving through the central timezone. After all, that would be a key transitional point, so if we have no record of this person having been in this timezone, they obviously didn't make the trip, right? (Hint: no)

If we were starting from scratch, and with no knowledge of the road trip, and we started finding evidence of one, we could reasonably come to a conclusion that some type of road trip happened, even if there's a lot of gaps. The only thing in question is the details. It's not an all-or-nothing proposition. If we later get more information on that gap of data, regarding the central timezone portion of the trip, we may find he/she made a detour to Austin, Texas, and we'd have to revise our understanding to include that new information. At no point, however, does the gap of information itself become a rebuttal against the rest of the evidence.

What if we found out that there's a a Grand Canyon-style lava river going down the middle of the entire continent, which would be right in that gap of information about the road trip? That should would cast doubt about the trip, wouldn't it? How would he/she drive through a lava river? On the other hand, we do have multiple independent lines of evidence that confirm that he/she did. That suggests that, whether the solution to crossing the lava river was fantastic or not, the person managed to do it... even if we don't know how yet.

That's Simmons' approach to "refuting" evolution - point to some gap that we don't know yet, and that somehow invalidates all current known positively supporting evidence.

End digression.

Further, he's flat out wrong.

That's what happens when someone tries to build a rebuttal based on pointing out things we don't know yet. It's like pissing into the wind.

Sure, there are pivotal key points in the timeline that are mysteries, and create a separation of now versus then. This isn't a new problem. Also, it's not new for us to actually solve those mysteries, and fill those gaps. We have a long scientific history of this type of event, with 100% of the solved mysteries having been natural explanations, and 0% having been supernatural. Yet, here we have Simmons, pointing to the next unsolved mystery, after a long long list of solved mysteries, and declaring that this mystery breaks evolution. He doesn't appear to comprehend the trend.

Simmons doesn't appear to know how to falsify claims. I'm not going to ad hominem him by saying "Well yeah, he's a medical doctor, not a scientist", but his approach to the topic certainly does seem to lack a mode of scientific thinking. A medical doctor isn't necessarily a scientist, just like an engineer isn't necessarily a scientist. They may use the data scientists investigated, but they don't have to engage in the scientific medicine to do surgery, prescribe anti-depressants, or build bridges.

- Whale Tails

He [the other author] points to the unusual tail of the whale and the dolphin, which swings up and down, rather than side to side like that of all other mammals and fish.
I find this to be another non-starter objection.

Otarlidae and Phocidae skeleton illustrations
Courtesy of Jakovche
Think of a hominid diver/swimmer. Out of different styles of swimming, few, if any, methods involve a side-to-side motion. Out of swimming mammals, few, if any, use their tails to swim side-to-side. It's always up and down. That's how our muscles/skeletons optimally operate, once we evolved to become land-walkers.

Then, consider that the ancestors of the whales were bear-like, and then seal-like (also, see right). Seals and walruses, etc, from their land-walking ancestry continue the up/down movement. When they evolve to re-enter a more aquatic life, there's no environmental pressure for that up/down movement to switch to left/right. The environment pressured a change from left/right to up/down when the animals evolved to become land-walkers, but that wouldn't necessarily happen in reverse, since there's no advantage either way in the water, where left/right motions don't really work for any mobility other than snake-slithering. Evolution can be characterized as "descent with modification", so of course they're going to continue their previous pattern, unless pressured to do otherwise.

Not only is this not a problem for evolution, it's a prediction of evolution.

What's the problem?

Is the argument here really going to be, "Some of these aquatic creatures are different from the others THEREFORE EVOLUTION IS FALSE AND GOD IS REAL"?

- Cambrian Explosion

The Cambrian Period, 540 million years ago, when thousands of organisms exploded onto the scene, without any evidence of predecessors.
Yes, and? The further back we go, and the smaller/simpler the lifeform, the less likely there are to be fossils. We don't need an "intelligent designer" to explain that.

Is the author going to continue this fallacy of "there's a gap in information therefore the model that explains all the information we do have is false" through the entire book?

Plus, he's pissing in the wind again. He's wrong.

Complexity

After continuing talking about these supposed awesome books he read, which are apparently riddled with errors, he continues on talking about "Comlex Systems and Built-In" information.

He cites the long refuted "Irreducible Complexity", cited from Michael Behe's book, "Darwin's Black Box". Apparently, Behe's Argument from Ignorance made the cut for this book:

[talking about steps of evolution of blood clotting] He asks, how could the first and second steps, or even the tenth step, have come about without a plan?
... We don't know, therefore designer?

Plus, the blood clotting (as with all other examples Behe came up with) was rebutted

The section continues like this. Simmons looks at things we don't know yet and shrugs his shoulders, and declares, "So I guess evolution is wrong."

Science doesn't work that way.

End of Preface

Simmons wraps up by throwing out the canard that Darwin himself admitted there was a lot of problems, as though that were relevant to the modern theory, and wraps up with this whopper:

I have had increasing problems fitting most of Darwin's theories and many of the new modifications into the field of medicine ... Our body is way too complicated to be merely a wonderful accident.
This is an Argument from Personal Incredulity. Yes. He ends with a standard logical fallacy.

Can he even establish that there's a point where something is "too complicated" to not occur naturally? Does that even make sense? What's the cut-off point? What experiments have been done to establish this? Of course, that conclusion is also in the face of all evidence to the contrary, and no positive evidence that supports design.

This is a presupposition. He's presupposing that there's a cutoff point where something is so complicated it couldn't occur naturally. I try to be open minded, and keep in mind that anything can be possible. Simmons has already blocked his mind from the possibility that there's no limit to the complexity that nature can produce.

... And, this presupposition interferes with his capacity to make informed conclusions.

Few people would think that the complexity of the rocky coasts of Maine necessarily had to be intentionally carved by an intelligence. We understand that natural laws, which are relatively simple, can produce something as complex as a beach full of quintillions of grains of sand, arranged in a particular way. This isn't controversial... but apparently the universe resulting in biochemistry is "too complex".

One could argue that naturalism produces trucks. It could be that the universe has a set of rules that produced stars, which produce heavier elements, which combined into complex organic molecules, which turned into life, which evolved to have brains, which became sentient, who then made trucks... all within the framework of a godless naturalistic environment. We have many examples of complexity coming from simplicity. This isn't unusual.

This is why many of his objections and arguments come across to me as gibberish. Who knows what other presuppositions he's operating under, that I'm not?

Conclusion

This preface has been riddled with logical fallacies, reasoning errors, nonsensical objections and falsified objections. I did not find a single valid or coherent objection to the theory of evolution within this preface.

While it's possible he's confined these errors to the preface, away from the rest of the book, I'm not holding my breath.
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