googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: Loving God with our Minds: A Series in Logic. Part 3

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Loving God with our Minds: A Series in Logic. Part 3


Equivocation occurs when a person changes the meaning of a word in the middle of his argument. Here is an extreme example: The Bible says that Jesus rose from the dead; a rose is a flower; therefore, the Bible says that Jesus is a flower. Like I said, it's an extreme example but you see how it works. I changed the meaning of the word “rose” in the middle of my argument so even though both of my premises are true, my conclusion is false.

Evolutionists equivocate over the word “evolution.” In ordinary conversation, most people understand evolution to mean the changing of creatures from one kind to another over time (like a dinosaurs evolving into birds or apes evolving into people). Most people also understand “evolution” to mean the descent of all species from a common ancestor. However, scientists have a more technical meaning for the term evolution – namely that evolution is “any change in the frequency of alleles within a gene pool from one generation to the next.”

The problem is that evolutionists use the same term – evolution – to describe both change AND the descent of all life from a common ancestor. By doing this, they often use examples of one as evidence for the other. They seldom word it this way but their argument goes something like this: evolution is change, we see animals change, therefore evolution is true and all animals have a common ancestor.

Do you think I'm kidding? I'm sometimes accused of making straw men (see below). Look at this quote: “Biologists define evolution as a change in the gene pool of a population over time. One example is insects developing a resistance to pesticides over the period of a few years. Even most Creationists recognize that evolution at this level is a fact. What they don't appreciate is that this rate of evolution is all that is required to produce the diversity of all living things from a common ancestor.” (source)

In this quote, the folks at Talk Origin use one example of “evolution” (a change to insects' resistance to pesticides) and suggest it is all that is needed for “evolution” (the descent of all animals from a common ancestor).

Many times, when discussing the issue with creationists, an evolutionist will say something like, “How can you deny evolution? We see evolution happening all the time.” What he means to say is that we see animals changing. Of course, creationists don't deny that animals change. We do deny that dinosaurs have changed into birds or that apes have changed into people which are things we have never seen.

Evolutionists aren't careful about their use of the word evolution. I think they're happy for the confusion. In what is understood to be a discussion about common descent, evolutionists will constantly resort to examples of change. It's equivocation of the worst sort.


Another fallacy frequently employed by critics of the Bible is the straw man fallacy. In this fallacy, the critic doesn't address his opponent's argument directly. Instead, he creates a caricature of his opponent's argument and then attacks the caricature. In other words, he builds up a “straw man” that supposedly represents his opponent and then knocks down the straw man.

In apologetics, a typical example of this is when critics accuse Christians of taking the Bible “literally.” The critic might say something like, “My opponent believes every word in the Bible must be taken literally. I guess that means he believes trees have hands because Psalms says that the trees will clap their hands.” This criticism isn't accurate because I've never heard any Christian say that “every word in the Bible must be taken literally.” The Bible uses many literary devices like metaphor, simile, and personification. So the claim that any Christian takes every word in the Bible “literally” gives a false impression of what the Christian really believes. It's a false impression created by the critic. It's a “straw man” that the critic can then ridicule in order to make the Christian's position seem weak.

Here are some other examples of straw man fallacies that I've heard: “Creationists believe the Flintstones represent real history.” “Fundamental Christians believe we should stone gays and witches.” “The Bible teaches that women are second class citizens and treats them as property.” There are many others, of course.

In the course of any discussion, there are times when a person will try to “sum up” his opponent's position. I did so above when I said, “They seldom word it this way but their argument goes something like this...” Yet when this happens, there's a possibility that he's really creating a straw man. Don't let your critic characterize your position. Make your position plainly known and let the critic know he's being deceptive by creating a straw man of your argument.


I don't want to make this post too long but I wanted to discuss quote mining now. This is not one of the fallacious arguments that atheists use frequently (though they do use it occasionally), however, I bring it up for two reasons: First, it's a type of straw man so it would be natural to include it now. Second, evolutionists often accuse creationists of quote mining so I want to explain exactly what quote mining is since they seem to use the term incorrectly.

Quote mining is a type of straw man argument where a person's quote is taken out of context in order to make it seem like he believes something which he really doesn't. For example, someone could quote mine me here and say, “RKBentley once said that the Flintstones represent real history.” Even though I wrote those words above, I obviously don't believe it. It is a false impression of what I truly believe, thus it is a type of straw man.

Creationists are often accused of quote mining when we cite some secular scientist with whom we agree on some particular point. The secular scientists hate this because they loath creationists and so they claim we are misrepresenting what they said. The times I've seen this, I've never really suspected the creationist of misrepresenting the evolutionist.

One, very famous example is when creationists quote Gould about the lack of transitional forms in the fossil record. He said, for example, “An average species of fossil invertebrates lives five to ten million years (terrestrial vertebrates have shorter average durations). During this time, they rarely change in any fundamental way. They become extinct, without issue, looking much as they did when they first appeared.”

Gould, of course, believed in evolution. No one has ever claimed he was a closet creationist. However, he noticed that there is no clear progression of forms in the fossil record from one species to another (though he did recognize certain transitional forms at a more macro level). It is because of this lack of transitional forms that he came up with his theory of punctuated equilibrium. We quote him not because he believed in creation (because he didn't) but because we too have noticed the lack of transitional forms and have a different explanation for it. Therefore, Gould is sort of a hostile witness who sees the same evidence that we see even though he has a different interpretation of it. Therefore, when we talk about the lack of progression evident in the fossil record, we sometimes cite someone like Gould.

Quote mining only occurs when a quote is being misused to create a false impression of what the speaker truly believes. It is not appropriate to call every creationist's quote of an evolutionist a quote mine. I'm not sure if there is a technical term for mislabeling a logical fallacy. At the very least, we might say it's “crying wolf.”


Steven J. said...

Here is why your quote from Gould is quote-mining:

We know that speciation -- change from one species to another -- is possible; it has been observed multiple times within the last century. You may consult the Talk.Origins FAQ on observed instances of speciation. Or, more amusingly, you may ask your favorite creation science ministry: Ken Ham, for example, will be happy to tell you that one species can give rise to another (only "within kinds," of course).

Indeed, young-earth creationists typically posit massive, rapid speciation to explain how we can have hundreds of thousands of living species descended from the animals that would fit aboard Noah's Ark. Gould's point is that we don't see gradual microevolution in fossil populations, or speciation (the minimal grade of macroevolution); that is, he is saying that the fossil record fails to record exactly the degree of evolution that creationists insist can occur!

He has elsewhere noted that while transitions between species are rare in the fossil record (though he himself described a transition between two species of the snail genus Cerion seen in fossil shells), transitions between genera, families, orders, and classes are common. It is not that you are misrepresenting him as a creationist: it is that you are misrepresenting him as supporting your position on the fossil record when he is exactly contradicting it.

Steven J. said...

A point on equivocation: obviously, common descent of two "kinds" from a common ancestor is going to require changes in the frequency of alleles in various gene pools. Meanwhile, immutable kinds, such that evolution is possible within them but not between them, requires some sort of impassable barrier between kinds.

The usual creationist argument is that mutations (even filtered and accumulated by natural selection) cannot produce "new information" in the genome. This would be a devastating counterargument, if true. Is it? So far as I can tell, creationists have never managed to define "information" in such a way that one could tell what a minimal introduction of "new information" in the genome would look like, or any way of measuring information to tell whether a mutation "increased" or "decreased" the information in the genome.

RKBentley said...

Steven J,

Sometimes I have to scratch my head. I went back and reread my post on quote mining to see if I'd misspoken something. I swear I can't find anywhere where I suggested Gould didn't believe animals speciate. In fact, I specifically said that Gould believed in evolution and that he wasn't any kind of closet-creationist. Neither could I find anywhere where I myself denied that animals speciate nor did I suggest that any creationist denies that animals speciate. I'm sure I've said many times in the past that they do. Even more, I also noted – quite deliberately – that Gould recognized transitional forms at the macro level.

Please spare me any claim that I've misrepresented Gould's beliefs.

Darwin had predicted that, if his theory were true, every geological stratum should be filled with “innumerable” transitional fossils. Over the past century, scientists have mustered up several examples they hold out as transitional but there's simply not the innumerable number Darwin expected. Gould recognized such evidence was not forthcoming and came up with his theory of punctuated equilibrium to explain the lack of progression.

The tale of the fossil record is one of stasis – not progression. That's what Gould's quote was saying. Creationists have different reasons than Gould as to why, but we both see it.

Thanks for visiting and for your comments. I'll get to them as I have time.

God bless!!

RKBentley said...

Steven J,

To your point on equivocation, I'm not sure how this is relative. A kind is not a species. There is no common ancestor of two kinds. In the “horse-kind,” you have various species like zebras, horses, and donkeys. Though these different species have a common ancestor – the ancestor was still a “horse-kind.”

I've heard many creationists use the “no new information” argument. The typical rebuttal is as you have suggested; namely, to ask for a definition of “new information.” I've read technical definitions of information but it's extremely difficult to sum them up in more internet debate forums. It doesn't matter though. Your “rebuttal” is hardly a rebuttal. It's more like an attempt to put the creationist on the defensive. Your pat answer does absolutely nothing to explain “new information” in the genome.

Suppose you suggest a business model where I can run a business without selling anything. I ask you, “How can I make money without selling anything?” Your response is, “Define, 'make money.'” Do you see how that's a rather weak response?

Even though your pat answer isn't very compelling, I nevertheless avoid using the term “new information.” Typically, I use “new structures” or “new features.” For a reptile to become a mammal, for example, you have to add hair. Hair doesn't exist on reptiles. It's a new feature. Is that so hard to understand?

Concerning new features, I'm tempted to use the old expression, “I know it when I see it”. Rather than bicker over definitions, let's try something else. Why don't you cite a few examples. If evolution is true, animals should be acquiring features all the time. Please point me to just a few and I'll consider them. Does that sound fair? I have a suspicion how you might respond but I'm going to withhold comment to see if I'm right.

Thanks again for visiting.

God bless!

Steven J. said...


Regarding speciation, you misunderstand my point. You insist that there is no fossil evidence for large-scale evolution, for the appearance of new traits. You also seem to find this deficiency in the fossil record to be somehow telling against evolution.

Yet you admit, even insist, that microevolution occurs, and that speciation occurs. Then you quote Gould as saying that there is virtually no fossil evidence for microevolution or speciation: where we have many fossils of a species over a long time (e.g. many trilobite and ammonite species, and a few land animals), that species doesn't change. It doesn't microevolve; it doesn't gradually transition into a new species. It is replaced, abruptly, by a distinctly different species that is nonetheless very similar to it (a different species in the same genus).

You don't consider this aspect of the fossil record a reason to doubt that microevolution and speciation occur. Also, you believe Gould when he says that the fossil record rarely captures transitions between species, but disbelieve him when he says that it frequently exhibits transitions between genera, families, orders, or classes. That is an odd way to treat someone you cite as an authority.

Note that Darwin did not predict that the fossil record would be full of innumerable transitional forms; his discussion of this problem noted the rarity of fossilization and remarked that while the Earth's crust is a vast museum, it adds only rarely and irregularly to its collection. Note also that punctuated equilibrium was devised (based on earlier, purely theoretical work by Ernst Mayr) to explain the lack, again, of evidence of the very level of evolution that you admit occurs.

Many of the series Gould and Eldredge cited do, indeed, show "progression;" the distinct, "static" species themselves form a progressive chain linking different genera to one another.

Steven J. said...

Regarding "new information," I ask you to define "information" because you really don't seem to like the answers other people provide. There are simple answers, for what seem like obvious senses of "information."

For example, gene duplication is a known type of mutation. If a mutant has two copies of a gene where its ancestor had only one copy, and if, in a later generation, one of those duplicate copies is mutated in some more conventional way (e.g. a single-nucleotide substitution, insertion, or deletion), then you have a descendant organism with all the genes of its ancestor and one novel gene. It has a new, novel gene -- which doesn't "count," according to creationists.

Indeed, known sorts of mutations -- single nucleotide substitutions, insertions, deletions, duplications of a sequence of nucleotides, translocation of sequences of nucleotides, retroviral insertions, duplication of the entire genome (polyploidy) -- in sequence, can in principle alter any genome to any other genome. Mutations pretty much have have to be able to "add information" if "information" has any coherent meaning in this context.

As for new features, the point of evolutionary theory is that they arise gradually, by incremental small changes. Punctuated equilibrium, pace Scully on The X-Files, is not "one day we didn't have eyes, the next day, bang, we did." Hairs are modified scales. They don't fossilize well or often. Jaws do, and we can trace, in fossils, the step-by-step change from the multi-boned reptilian lower jaw (with a single bone in the inner ear) to the single-boned mammalian lower jaw, with three bones in the inner ear).

Where we do see novel features in living species, they tend to be fairly minor modifications, such as the cecal valves that arose in a population of Italian wall lizards that were stranded on the island of Pod Mrcaru in the last century.