googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: June 2013

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Some evolutionists get it... but then they still don't get it

Evolutionists are a curious lot. As I've engaged them over the years, it has always been my sincere hope that I can help them see the truth. Many times, I've raised points that are so blatantly obvious that I'm surprised they can deny them with straight faces. Yet they do deny them. When they deny them, it's usually through their conscious effort; that is, evolutionists stubbornly object to reasonable points because they are committed to their worldview and therefore will patently reject listening to anything that might contradict it. However, there have been a few occasions when evolutionists come so close to seeing the truth that I think they could stumble right into it – even without my help.

I came across an article online that talked about Darwin's Finches. Here is a paragraph from the article talking about speciation.

[I]ndividual organisms having a phenotype characteristic providing an advantage in staying alive to successfully reproduce will pass their phenotype traits more frequently to the next generation. Over time and generations the traits providing reproductive advantage become more common within the population. Darwin called this process "descent with modification". Adaptive radiation, as observed by Charles Darwin in Galapagos finches, is a consequence of allopatric speciation among island populations.”

I believe this may be the best summary of natural selection that I've ever read from an evolutionist. The only suggestion I would make to improve it would be to change, “descent with modification” to “natural selection.” I could even almost live with “descent with modification” except that the term has been too closely identified with “evolution” for too long. Of course, the author was quoting Darwin's description of the process so I can understand why it's written the way it is.

Organisms adapt to their environment. Natural selection occurs by “nature” sifting through traits present in a population and eliminating those which are not conducive to that environment. Eventually, all the individuals within a population will begin to look alike and could be called a “species.”

What really struck me by this evolutionist is the next paragraph:

Darwin also correctly understood that the variability allowing adaptation already existed in the finch population, though its genetic (genotype) reason was not yet known by science at the time. Nature was NOT "producing" the variation within the finch populations - it already existed. Rather, nature "selected" from among the population variation the traits that better fostered survival and reproduction, a process known as "natural selection".

Wow! This evolutionist has nailed it. Natural selection can only act upon traits already present in the population. In other words, natural selection can make several species from a single kind, but it cannot create novel features for the kind. Natural selection – at best – is only a mechanism that can rearrange already existing traits.  Using one of my favorite animals, bears, as an example, natural selection can shuffle existing bear-kind fur color to make different combinations – like all black, all brown, all white, black/white, and black/brown. However, natural selection cannot add new fur colors – like green or blue.

At last, here is an evolutionist that seems to get it. However, he fails to grasp the obvious problem this presents for evolution. If natural selection can only select from existing traits, the obvious implication is that all the potential for variation must have already been present in the ancestor. That comports well with creation; it's the opposite of evolution.

The theory of evolution is supposed to be a progression of simple to complex.  The supposed common-ancestor-of-all-things did not have fur. Neither did it have scales or feathers or even skin. It didn't have bones or blood or organs of any kind. Evolution, therefore, requires that organisms acquire new traits. You can't get from an amoeba to a man without adding new features every step of the way and natural selection simply can't do that.

If you want to promote the story of evolution as history, you need to be talking about a mechanism besides natural selection. If I were an evolutionist, I would be talking non-stop about trait adding mutations. Mutation is the only mechanism that makes evolution seem viable. However, trait adding mutations are exceedingly rare – if any exist at all. Therefore, evolutionists dishonestly conflate natural selection and evolution like they are the same thing. They trumpet any example of “change” as though it's evidence for common descent. Shame on them!

In the end, this evolutionist, who was so close to the truth that he could touch it, walked right by without seeing it. He went on to say, “The process [of natural selection] guides evolution across the entire Tree-of Life.” Natural selection did not turn fins to feet nor feet to wings. It's rather dastardly to talk about the beaks of birds and turn it into a discussion of molecules and men.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Monopoly on Words?

How does someone determine the meaning of a word? I guess one could consult a dictionary but I think we usually learn new words by hearing how they are used by others. When you think about it, dictionaries only describes how the word is commonly used. It's not a rule book. Dictionaries don't write languages, languages write dictionaries. After all, there is no transcendent, immutable meaning of any word that has been carved in stone somewhere. There is no “word czar” who has sole authority to judge what is the correct meaning of a word. The reality is that meaning of any word is transitory and it can mean whatever the majority of the populace thinks it means. Consider the word, “gay,” for example; it was during my lifetime that the word went from meaning, “happy” to meaning, “homosexual.” The dictionaries have changed their definitions to reflect this.

Of course, nearly every profession uses certain words that have specialized meanings. We usually call such words, “jargon.” Some words are specific only to that industry. Other words may seem ordinary but have a special meaning in that profession. For example, when I worked in banking, we would strap bills in bundles of 100. A “strap” of $20 bills represents $2,000. When we had 10 “straps,” we would put 2 rubber bands around it and called it a “brick” (I guess because it resembled a block of money). So we meant something different by the word “brick” than what the average, non-banker means.

There's nothing wrong with using jargon. However, an industry specific meaning of a word shouldn't change the way that same word is used by the public at large, right? Well, I don't think a reasonable person would expect it to but many evolutionists aren't reasonable. They want to foist their jargon upon us!

Here's a quote from my favorite, pro-evolution website, Talk Origins:

Recently I read a statement from a creationist who claimed that scientists are being dishonest when they talk about evolution. This person believed that evolution was being misrepresented to the public. The real problem is that the public, and creationists, do not understand what evolution is all about. This person's definition of evolution was very different from the common scientific definition and as a consequence he was unable to understand what evolutionary biology really meant.

In the creation v. evolution debate, there's some controversy over the meaning of the word, “evolution.” There shouldn't be. When we're talking about evolution, we're talking about the idea that dinosaurs became birds or, more specifically, that apes became people. When a creationist says he doesn't believe in “evolution,” that is the point of contention – not the amount of change in the light/dark ratio of peppered moths.

Scientists, on the other hand, have their own definitions of the word, “evolution.” The most common definition is “any change in the frequency of alleles within a gene pool from one generation to the next.” Again, it's fine when one profession assigns a special meaning to an otherwise, ordinary word. However, when evolutionists engage in debate with the lay public, there's no rule that compels us lay-folk to use words the same way the evolutionists do.

In the above quote, I suspect the unnamed creationist understood very well what “evolution” means to evolutionary biologists. I also suspect that Mr. Moran knows very well what the creationist means by the word, “evolution.” Any “confusion” that occurs is only on the part of evolutionists who intentionally conflate the term to include both the minor, observed changes (like the peppered moths) and the unobserved evolution of dinos to birds.

For some reason, evolutionists think they have the right to monopolize words. Just like Humpty Dumpty in, Through the Looking Glass, when they use a word, it means just what they choose it to mean. When a creationist says he doesn't believe in “evolution,” the evolutionist knows precisely what is being said. It's the evolutionist who muddies the waters by recklessly citing examples of “evolution” like the peppered moth and dino-to-bird as though they are the same thing.

There is no communication problem in the creation v. evolution debate. There are only evolutionists complaining that we don't use their jargon. I got a little chuckle at Mr. Moran's closing quote:

Scientists such as myself must share the blame for the lack of public understanding of science. We need to work harder to convey the correct information. Sometimes we don't succeed very well but that does not mean that we are dishonest. On the other hand, the general public, and creationists in particular, need to also work a little harder in order to understand science. Reading a textbook would help. ”

Really, Mr. Moran? Your solution to the imagined problem is that creationists read a book? I suggest you climb out of your ivory tower and begin learning how real people talk.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Carl Sagan's Invisible Dragon

Carl Sagan is perhaps best remembered as the host of the PBS series, Cosmos, but another, enduring legacy he left us is his analogy, “The Dragon In My Garage.” I invite you to read it for yourself but here's a summary. Sagan claims to have a fire-breathing dragon in his garage and invites you to see it (he refers to the reader in the second person, “you”). However, when you enter the garage, you see nothing. Sagan then claims the dragon is invisible. So how do you know it's there? You think of a few possible ways to try to detect the dragon: flour on the floor to see if it leaves footprints, spray painting the dragon to make it visible, or an infrared sensor to detect the heat from its flames. However, Sagan has an excuse that shoots down each experiment: the dragon flies so it doesn't leave footprints, it's incorporeal so paint won't stick to it, and its flames don't produce heat.

The story is meant to be an analogy of how atheists see Christians' belief in God. It's clever in a couple of ways. First, Sagan predicts a few possible objections to his argument and attempts to address them in the story. This isn't necessarily novel since most apologists will try to consider possible objections to any point they make, but the fact that Sagan does it here shows that he thought through his analogy a little better than the ordinary critic.

The other clever thing that Sagan does in his story is refer to the reader as, “you.” By doing this, he attempts to put the reader in the shoes of the atheist, making him sympathetic to the atheist's plight. He's very complementary to the reader, making him feel very fair, open-minded, and inquisitive. The reader almost forgets that the skeptic in the story represents atheists! Sagan deftly paints atheists as being painfully open-minded and their skepticism as being healthy, ordinary, and rational. Also, since Sagan makes himself the keeper of the dragon, he is able to portray Christians as deranged or delusional without seeming to direct these insults toward them.

Consider these two quotes from the story:

Imagine that, despite none of the tests being successful, you wish to be scrupulously open-minded. So you don't outright reject the notion that there's a fire-breathing dragon in my garage. You merely put it on hold.

the only sensible approach is tentatively to reject the dragon hypothesis, to be open to future physical data, and to wonder what the cause might be that so many apparently sane and sober people share the same strange delusion.

Do you see what I mean? “You” (reader) = atheist = enlightened thinker; Sagan = Christian = loon. It's clever to the point of being maniacal. I can almost hear Sagan laughing as he wrote it, “bwa ha ha!”

I disagree with his characterization of atheists. It's been my experience that atheists in general aren't merely withholding judgment about the existence of God until they see more evidence. Instead, they reject a priori any possibility of there being a God. Any evidence for God, like miracles, is rejected in favor of a natural explanation – even in those instances where no natural explanation exists. Dawkins, for example, would rather believe that life on earth was planted by aliens rather than believe God created life. Some atheists go even further. Rather than simply not believing in God themselves, Dawkins, Myers, and others of that ilk openly mock and ridicule the idea of believing in God. They aren't anything like the friendly skeptic in Sagan's story, optimistically looking for any evidence for the existence of the invisible dragon.

Regardless of how clever the analogy is, it fails on the grounds that it doesn't accurately represent the way Christians believe in God. In other words, it's a straw man. There are several subtle ways the story is wrong but the primary error is this: Christians don't ask people to believe in God while offering excuse after excuse why there is no evidence that He exists. To the contrary, Christians offer many reasons why people should believe in God and it's the atheist, the supposed “open-minded” skeptic in the story, who rejects them one by one.

First, God is revealed in His creation. The simple fact that the universe exists strongly suggests there is a cause behind it. To believe that God is the First Cause seems far more reasonable than believing that the universe just poofed into existence without a cause. Furthermore, the universe doesn't just exist, it's also sublime. The enormity, the beauty, and the complexity all suggest design. Design always suggests purpose, purpose always suggests intent, and intent always suggests a designer. To believe that “uncaused” matter randomly, purposelessly arranged itself into the complex cosmos is far less credible than believing it was intended to be so by the design of an intelligent Creator. The existence of the universe and the design of the universe is evidence for God whether or not the skeptic wants to accept it.

But the greatest evidence for God is the Bible. While the universe might reveal there is a God, the Bible tells us Who He is. The Bible is a written record, the testimony of people who were first hand witnesses to God. These are the people who have heard His voice and seen His miracles. He is Jehovah of the Old Testament, the One Who spoke the universe into existence; He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; He is the One who delivered the children of Israel out of Egypt and made them a great nation. He is also Jesus of the New Testament, the I AM Who was before Abraham; He walked on water, calmed the storm, healed the sick, and raised the dead; He shed His blood on the cross as the payment for our sins and, three days later, rose from the dead; He now sits at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us.

The words and miracles recorded in the Bible bear witness that there is a God. Critics are welcome to suggest natural causes for the miracles. They're welcome to suggest the history of Bible is somehow not as trustworthy as other books of antiquity. However, they cannot credibly say the Bible cannot be considered by Christians to be evidence for God.

There are more things I could discuss as evidence for God but it really isn't necessary. The analogy fails. No matter how cleverly it was written, it doesn't accurately represent Christians, nor does it fairly depict how skeptics evaluate the evidence for God. It's a straw man. It has endured only because it is an amusing straw man.

If the only thing that would convince someone that God exists is that he saw Him with his own eyes, then perhaps he will be disappointed because that's not likely to happen.  Even so, I suspect that even if it did, it wouldn't convince some people anyway. Regardless, there is plenty of evidence for God available to anyone who truly seeks Him.