Monday, April 26, 2010

Search Judaism – A Critique: Chapter Four, section four I

I’ve finally gotten around to continuing my critique of Search Judaism. I find that I’m only able to handle small doses of the misrepresentations and faulty reasoning before it goes from entertaining to frustrating, so I’m breaking up the current section into smaller parts.

Evolution (Chapter Four, section four)
The author begins by saying, “The theory of evolution is based on several assumptions.” He promises to objectively evaluate these assumptions and to see if the theory is based on science. So far so good.

Once again, though, one has to wonder why he is putting so much effort into “debunking” evolution. Evolution merely describes how biodiversity developed. It says nothing about the existence or non-existence of God. And, also again, if evolution were proven to be incorrect, all that means is that we would have to answer, “We don’t know” to the question, “How did biodiversity develop?” “We don’t know” does not equal “God did it.” The “God did it” hypothesis would need positive evidence in its favor to be accepted, not merely the refutation of other explanations. The implicit assumption seems to be that God is the default explanation, from which we deviate only when we have other theories.

Assumption 1

The author says that Darwinian evolution claims life evolved slowly, a step at a time, and asks if this is true. He cites the Burgess Shale, a large collection of fossils in the Canadian Rockies discovered by Charles Walcott that date back to the Cambrian period and one of the few to preserve impressions of the soft parts of specimens.

The author claims that Walcott was dismayed to discover, “that all these species were simultaneously present. In other words, there was no evolution over time. This posed a real problem for evolutionists because these fossils contained representatives from every phylum except just one of the phyla that exist today. No new phyla ever evolved after the Cambrian explosion.”

To begin with, while “phylum” sounds all sciencey, it’s actually an ill-defined term and according to Wikipedia, “…"phylum" may be a misnomer indicative of ignorance. Consequently the number of phyla varies from one author to the next.” So the claim that, “No new phyla ever evolved after the Cambrian explosion,” may be a matter of interpretation.

The author then claims that Walcott hid the specimens he collected in the Smithsonian’s archives, implying that he wanted to keep them out of sight so as not to challenge evolution, and that they weren’t “rediscovered” until 1985. Yet Walcott himself published detailed descriptions of his findings in 1908, hardly the action of a man concerned about keeping his discovery from the world, and there were digs at the site every few decades by various scientists to collect new specimens, including ongoing work from the mid-60s through the mid-80s. While Walcott’s specimens may have been “rediscovered” in 1985 as the author claims (I didn't find any information one way or the other), they clearly weren’t hidden away as part of a cover-up and many thousands of specimens from the Burgess Shale were definitely available to scientists in the intervening years.

Furthermroe, this wasn’t the stunning unexpected blow to evolution that the author makes it out to be. Darwin actually devoted an entire chapter of The Origin of Species to the sudden appearance of animal groups with few or no similar ancestors.

The author cites Stephen Jay Gould’s book on the Shale as claiming that scientists were wrong about Darwinian evolution, and that life did not evolve slowly, bit by bit, but that “diverse species emerged and evolved simultaneously.” The author here gives the false impression that the Shale thus proves that biological evolution is false. What he neglects to point out is that:
1) Stephen Jay Gould was a proponent of punctuated equilibrium, the theory that species remain more or less stable for long periods, then undergo sudden, rapid evolution in response to sudden changes in the environment.
2) Even if punctuated equilibrium rather than traditional Darwinian evolution is the more common form evolution takes, it is still the evolution of one species from another, not creationism ex nihlo by an omnipotent God.
3) There are various explanations proposed by scientists for why many of the animals preserved in the Burgess Shale appear without antecedents. Walcott proposed that the period in which the Cambrian animals found in the Shale evolved did not lend itself to fossilization and so the animals from that period are absent from the fossil record. Less speculatively, there are scientists who argue that many of the forms found in the Cambrian period are similar to types that evolved well before then, and there is debate as to whether the Cambrian period really represents an “explosion” of species.

1 comment:

  1. Wikipedia has a nice page on the Cambrian Explosion - I think religious people find evolution threatening for several reasons. Firstly, some feel that it indicates that man is not the purpose of creation, and is not even inevitable, without which most religions don't get off the ground. Secondly, it raises questions of man's difference from other creatures, which threaten views of man as the pinnacle of creation (can a soul gradually evolve etc.). Thirdly, it indicates that man may not be perfectly designed, as shown by the laryngeal nerve (, which in turn raises the question of why God wouldn't have designed us perfectly, which in turn brings up the issue of why He would use such a process which causes so much pain and suffering, and in turn required the extinction of tens of thousands of species before man even came on the scene etc.) Lastly, evolution indicates that all aspects of man's behaviour are adaptations, including religion and morality, which could pose difficulties for those who view these as transcendent qualities. I'm sure there are other reasons too. I think there are resolutions to these issues, but it is definitely understandable why religious people would view evolution as a threat, which is presumably why the author tries to debunk it.