1. A Cursory Review of "The Evolution Cruncher"
[Note: Since I did not know whether Mr. X had access to the Internet, I enclosed copies of some articles for his perusal. In this version, I have included links to those articles on the Internet where they are available.]
January 3, 2002
Dear Mr. X,
It was a pleasure meeting you in person when you presented me with a copy of "The Evolution Cruncher" (TEC). While we have previously discussed our views on the evolution/creation issue in writing, it is always enlightening to personally meet those whom you have engaged in epistolary debate. Now I can "put a face" on the Mr. X who frequently takes me to task for my pro-evolution stance in the newspaper. (You may not be aware that we have another somewhat tangential connection. From what I understand, our mothers are in the habit of playing pinochle together at the Bridge on a fairly regular basis. Never on Saturdays, of course!) [Mr. X and his mother are Seventh Day Adventists.]
I appreciate the fact that you were concerned enough to personally deliver a copy of TEC to me for my edification. It is difficult to fault anyone for defending passionately held beliefs, no matter how ill-founded they might be. If you are like most of the other creationists with whom I have corresponded, you have been thoroughly indoctrinated into thinking that the concept of evolution is a corrupting worldview that must be discredited at every opportunity. You most likely think that I have not thoroughly investigated both sides of the story and that I have been duped by false claims and bad science peddled by the godless evolutionary propaganda machine. Although you probably do not have an advanced degree in any scientific discipline directly related to the study of evolution (nor do you read any of the mainstream scientific literature on the subject), you most likely think that so-called "creation scientists" have effectively disproved evolutionary theory. No doubt you feel it is your obligation to set me straight so that I will cease promoting this scourge on mankind and stop influencing others to adopt this destructive way of thinking. If that is the case, perhaps, in what follows, I can at least convince you that my search for the facts in this matter has been reasonably comprehensive and evenhanded.
If you are the typical creationist, your acceptance of creationism and rejection of evolution is firmly grounded in fervently held religious beliefs. It has been my experience in dealing with a number of creationists, that any scientific evidence in favor of evolution will be reflexively rejected if, as is almost always the case, it threatens their fundamentalist interpretation of the biblical story of creation. Most creationists I have known are incapable of assessing such evidence in an objective manner and will compulsively misstate, misrepresent, ignore, and/or misconstrue contradictory evidence in order to insulate themselves from doubt. I hope you are an exception to this standard of behavior. However, let me say at the outset, I have no expectation that anything I say or present to you will significantly change your attitude toward evolution. All that I can hope for is that you will gain a better understanding of why I think it is important for me to stand up as an advocate of evolutionary theory. Based on past experience, I recognize even that is a lot to hope for.
Let me also admit up front that I am not an expert in any area of evolutionary studies. Nonetheless, I do have advanced degrees in the natural sciences and have involved myself over the past decade or so in a rather concerted effort to educate myself on all aspects of the evolution/creation controversy. While educational degrees certainly do not always guarantee impartiality and superior insight, I think that a good grounding in the basics of the scientific method is indispensable for a proper understanding of the complex issues involved. In my opinion, evolution bashers who lack substantial scientific training and expertise are skating on very thin ice.
Subsequent to my recent go-round with Tim Knapp in the Bee, I have become the featured "evilutionist" on Mr. Knapp’s website. In response to the questions posed by Mr. Knapp at his website, I prepared a rebuttal, a copy of which I have enclosed for your consideration. (See here.) To set the stage for what follows, I suggest that you first read my rebuttal to Mr. Knapp and the enclosed article, "Testimony of a Formerly Young Earth Missionary", which was obtained from the American Scientific Affiliation website. (See here.)
Several years ago I attended a pro-creation indoctrination session by Rev. Knepper at his church here in Sandpoint. Because I was so shocked and annoyed by the shoddy science and out-right falsehoods he had included in his dog and pony show, I prepared a rebuttal entitled, "Evolution Vs. Creation, Will Pseudoscience Please Sit Down" (EVC). I have enclosed a copy of this document for your perusal and reference. [I am unable to link to this document since it is no longer available in electronic form.] (Keep it as long as you want. But I would appreciate getting it back when you are done with it.) Many of the objections to evolution in TEC are discussed from the mainstream science perspective in EVC. I have received a number of pro-creation books and documents over the years from my creationist "friends", so I am familiar with many of the anti-evolution arguments raised in TEC. What follows is my evaluation of TEC from the perspective of a member of the mainstream scientific community .
"The hand of God may well be all around us, but it is not, nor can it be, the task of science to dust for fingerprints." – Dr. Robert Dorit, Yale University
EVALUATION OF "THE EVOLUTION CRUNCHER"
The first thing any astute reader should establish is what qualifies the author to speak authoritatively on the subject(s) that they are addressing in their book. Since the study of evolution often involves very complex concepts and procedures, and since the proper interpretation and understanding of these concepts and procedures requires a considerable amount of scientific expertise, the author should have a strong scientific background in order to write authoritatively on the subject. I could not find anything in TEC that gave the slightest indication that Vance Ferrell had any scientific training at all. A search of the Internet produced the same negative results. Unless some evidence is presented to the contrary, one must assume that his scientific expertise is meager at best, and that whatever he has to say on scientific matters must be taken with a very large grain of salt. (I am not aware of a single reputable scientific book that does not include specific information about the scientific credentials and affiliations of the author. Even most junk science books include this information, even if they have to make it up.)
The second thing one is accustomed to looking for on the covers of science books is promotional commentary by other scientists who are active in the field. Although these are often included to help sell the book, they also lend a certain degree of credibility, especially if there are strong endorsements from researchers who are prominent in the field. As best I could determine, the covers of TEC did not contain favorable comments by any scientists, let alone any by those who are active in the area of evolutionary studies. Considering the pseudoscientific content of TEC, the lack of endorsement by any legitimate scientist is not at all surprising.
Nowadays, it has also become routine to visit a book’s website, if one is specified, to gain further information about the author’s other activities and interests. When I visited the TEC website (See here.), I was greeted on the homepage by a half-screen picture of the so-called "London Hammer". This is a hammer that is promoted by Carl Baugh as an out-of-place artifact that contradicts the standard geological timetable. Those who maintain this website must obviously consider it to be an outstanding example of a specimen that convincingly substantiates the young-earth creationist (YEC) worldview or they would not display it so prominently on their introductory homepage. But as the enclosure ("The London Hammer: An Alleged Out-of-Place Artifact" by Glen Kuban) (See here.) clearly shows, this hammer is not what it is cracked up to be. The fact that the website would use the picture of such a discredited artifact to introduce its homepage, casts well-deserved doubt on the scientific rigor of the entire operation. Even at his own site, I could find nothing about Ferrell’s scientific credentials.
It is noteworthy that page 14 of TEC contains a pro-creation quote from Michael Denton who is the author of "Evolution: A Theory in Crisis". At one time Denton was the darling of the creationist camp. One creationist actually sent this book to me as his best example of scholarly dissent against evolution. The reliance on Denton’s work is noteworthy because in his latest book, "Nature’s Destiny", he has done an almost complete about face. (See here.) While his first book mercilessly attacked naturalistic biological evolution, his latest unabashedly endorses it. To quote from "Natures Destiny", "It is important to emphasize at the outset that the argument presented here is entirely consistent with the basic naturalistic assumption of modern science –that the cosmos is a seamless unity which can be comprehended ultimately in its entirety by human reason and in which all phenomena, including life and evolution and the origin of man, are ultimately explicable in terms of natural processes. This is an assumption which is entirely opposed to that of the so-called "special creationist school." – page xvii. Somehow I doubt that Ferrell will include this quote in his next edition of TEC. Nonetheless, it is reassuring to see that even rabid anti-evolutionists like Denton can finally see the light when they remove their creationist blinders. It appears that, over the intervening years, the evidence in favor of evolution has become so convincing that even Denton could no longer ignore the obvious.
On page 62, Ferrell has the following to say in his endorsement of the Answers in Genesis organization: "It has rapidly become a powerful voice in unveiling evolutionary errors in meetings, on college and university campuses, and elsewhere." Ferrell is apparently unaware that it is also a voice in unveiling creationist errors. At its website, Answers in Genesis has produced a list of arguments which it claims creationists should not use because they are "definitely fallacious", "doubtful", or "unsubstantiated". (See here.) Among these no no’s are: moon dust proves young earth; wooly mammoths were snap frozen in a Flood catastrophe; Dubois renounced Java man as a "missing link" and claimed it was a giant gibbon; the Japanese trawler, Zunio Maru, caught a dead plesiosaur near New Zealand; Archaeopteryx is a fraud; there are no beneficial mutations; no new species have been produced; the Paluxy tracks prove that humans and dinosaurs co-existed; Darwin’s quote about the absurdity of eye evolution; vapor canopy theory; no rain before the flood; natural selection is a tautology; there are no transitional forms; and Gold chains have been found in coal. Answers in Genesis also warns against using many of Carl Baugh’s "creation evidences" because he "unfortunately uses a lot of material that is not sound scientifically." (One good example is Baugh’s infamous hammer which is featured so conspicuously on the TEC homepage.) In fact, ALL of the aforementioned forbidden topics are presented as the gospel truth in TEC. Keep in mind that this is not some evolutionist group criticizing creationist arguments. It is one of the most prominent creationist sites that is doing so. I would think that this slipshod approach would cause even the most gung ho creationist to experience a twinge of doubt regarding the reliability of TEC as a source of information.
In order to determine if a large book such as TEC is worth reading in its entirety, I have adopted a technique of spot-checking to determine how accurately specified pages represent mainstream scientific thought. In the case of TEC, I have examined the topics discussed on every 100th page. The following are my comments on these topics.
This page deals with aspects of stellar and galactic evolution which are unrelated to Darwinian (biological) evolution. The theories of biological evolution were developed independently of any theories about star formation and are not functionally dependent on them. Although creationists are in the habit of entangling the two subjects, they actually represent separate and distinct areas of investigation. Even if current theories about the evolution of stars, galaxies, etc. were demonstrated to be in error, this would not disprove current theories pertaining to the evolution of life forms. Nonetheless, although cosmology is definitely not my area of expertise, I will attempt to address the topics on this page to the best of my ability. No doubt an experienced cosmologist could provide you with a more insightful response.
12- "It cannot be said that evolutionary forces gradually ‘built them up,’ for globular clusters always have a minimum size below which they do not occur."
Globular clusters contain several thousand to one million stars. But there are smaller clusters containing from a few hundred to a few thousand stars that are called "open clusters." Therefore, there is a continuum of cluster sizes and not specific minimum.
It is wrong to say that evolutionary forces cannot "build them [globular clusters] up". While our Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy contain older globular clusters, other Local Group galaxies such as the Magellanic Cloud and Triangulum Galaxy M33 also contain much younger ones as determined by spectroscopic analysis. These galaxies also contain extremely large diffuse nebulae of masses on the order of globular clusters. The evidence indicates that these nebulae are the incubators of new globular clusters. Furthermore, a large number of over 100 young globular clusters have been detected recently in M82. The evidence, therefore, is consistent with the hypothesis that globular clusters have evolved by natural means in the past and are continuing to do so at the present.
How are globular clusters formed? The evidence indicates that shear induced by galactic rotation can break up certain star groups to produce new, but temporary, globular clusters in the process. While much remains to be learned about the subject, scientists active in the field have developed workable theories based on astronomical observations and the knowledge of physical processes thought to be involved. As an example, I have enclosed a reprint ("Radioactive Shocks in Protogalaxies and the Origin of Globular Clusters") from the Galaxy Formation and Intergalactic Medium Research Group in the Department of Astronomy at the University of Texas, Austin, (See here.) which shows some of the current thinking on the subject. There is a great deal more information available from this research group that can be accessed by visiting the website at the bottom of the reprint.
13- "Globular clusters rotate separately, and even pass through the plane – without colliding with any stars! Evolution cannot explain this."
Evolution doesn’t have anything to explain because the statement simply isn’t true. The following is quoted from "Messier’s Globular Star Clusters" website (seds.org/messier/glob.html) (See here):
"As globular clusters follow their orbits around the Milky Way’s Galactic center through the billion years, they are subject to a variety of disturbations: some of their stars escape as they get randomly accelerated in mutual encounters, tidal forces from the parent galaxy acts on them, particularly heavy in the part of their orbit which is closest to the galactic center (near the periapsis), each passing through the galactic plane, as well as close encounters with greater masses like (any type of) clusters or big nebulous clouds contributes to disturbation, stellar evolutionary effects and loss of gas also contribute to increasing the rate of mass loss (and thus deflation) of the clusters.
Although significantly slower compared to the less densely packed less populated open clusters, these disturbations are tending to disrupt the clusters. The currently existing globulars are just the survivors of a perhaps significantly larger population, the rest of which has been disrupted and spread their stars throughout the Galactic halo. The process of destruction still works, and it was estimated that about half of the Milky Way globulars will cease to exist within the next 10 billion years."
Consider also the following excerpt from the "Annual Report 2000, Globular Clusters Osservatorio Astronomico di Bologna" which discusses globular cluster NGC6712:
" NGC6712 experiences severe interactions with the Galaxy due to its orbit which gives rise to several passages through the disk and bulge. The presence of a low mass X-ray binary and large "Blue Straggler" [formed by merger of two or more stars] population indicates NGC6712 was a massive and concentrated cluster from which formed "Blue Stragglers" (and other exotic objects such as interacting binaries) by dynamical collisions. The continued action of tidal stripping land disk shocking has removed most of the cluster’s mass, driving it towards dissolution. What we now observe is nothing more than the remnant core of a disrupting cluster and its population of peculiar objects, which are otherwise totally unexpected for its actual mass."
So you see, evolution (nor anything else) does not need to explain the absence of collisions with globular clusters because such collisions are actually commonplace. See also the enclosed "Astronomers: Star collisions are rampant, catastrophic" taken from the CNN.com website. (See here.)
14- "There is absolutely no way that the random, evolutionary movements and explosions could produce ellipticals."
This is an assertion in the form of an "argument from incredulity". It is analogous to primitive man arguing that there is absolutely no way natural forces could produce the intricate crystalline symmetry of a snowflake from the chaos of water vapor. To them it would seem obvious that some supernatural designer must have been involved in creating each and every flake.
While there still remains much to be learned in this area of cosmological research, a rapidly improving observational database describing the distribution of matter in the universe now exists. This database is now being analyzed to determine which of the current models best accounts for these observations. A description of the two most promising models (Inflationary and Cosmic defect) is given at the Cambridge University website "Galaxy Formation". (See here.) To quote from this web page:
"1. Inflationary models. A period of extremely rapid expansion in the early universe – known as inflation- solves quite a number of cosmic enigmas. The key point here is that during inflation small quantum fluctuations get amplified up to enormous cosmological lengthscales – this is a manifestation of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle combined with the rapid expansion. These fluctuations later grow to form galaxies.
2. Cosmic defect models. Supermassive topological defects, like cosmic strings and textures, can form at cosmological phase transitions in the early universe. The subsequent defect network evolution is complex and nonlinear and it can have dramatic gravitational effects. The defects form the seeds around which galaxies form."
These models represent two natural processes by which scientists think galaxies may have formed. Scientists are now intensively studying both of these models, often using computer simulations, to determine which one best fits the empirical data. At this stage of the research, it is still anyone’s guess whether one of these, or some substantially different model, will emerge as the winner. Nonetheless, although science does not yet have all the answers regarding galaxy formation, it does have some good working models that have predictive value and explain much of what is observed in nature. For more information pertaining specifically to scientific theories on elliptical galaxy formation, see the enclosed, "Structure and Dynamics of Elliptical Galaxies" from the "Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics, 1991" (See here.). (I apologize for the fact that the references in this document did not print out from the web pages. If you want them, you will have to visit the website.)
15- "Why are galaxies not equally spaced all through the universe instead of being clumped into super clusters?"
This is exactly what scientists are explaining with the models discussed in my answer above.
Why are clouds often not spaced uniformly in the sky? Is it magic?
16- "Stars never get closer than a certain distance form one another."
Balderdash! See the answer to question 13 above.
17- "Evidence disproves the evolutionary stellar size theory."
The supposed reason for this discrepancy is given on the top of page 101. Here it is stated that the dynamics of "mass-shedding" disprove the theory that red giants can evolve into white dwarfs. Unfortunately, there is no citation for the source of this information. Therefore, it is impossible to verify its authenticity or to determine if it is out-dated or was taken out of context. Perhaps it represents a discredited hypothesis dreamed up by some fringe scientist whose work has not passed the test of scientific validation. (Can you say Dewey Larson?) Since creationists use all of these tricks, it could be any one or a combination of them. I have enclosed a copy of some University of Oregon lecture notes which demonstrate that, contrary to Ferrell’s assertion, cosmologists have successfully developed credible scenarios for the red giant to white dwarf conversion that are completely consistent with experimental observations. (The site can be accessed at http://zebu.uoregon.edu/~js/ast122/lectures/lec17.html.) [Original link is no longer applicable. See here instead.] Rather than the evidence disproving this type of stellar conversion, it supports it completely. If Ferrell expects anyone to take this argument seriously, he will have to present more than anonymous statements to back it up.
The first part of this page deals with the problems encountered in the use of amino acid racemization as a dating technique. The implication on this page and the preceding pages is that this is a flawed technique that is widely used for establishing dates of geological samples. But the truth is, scientists are well aware of the limitations of this method since they are the ones who discovered that it is influenced by such things as water content, temperature, pH, ionic strength, contact with catalytic surfaces, etc. Because of these limitations, it finds only limited use in archaeology and geology. In practice, the technique is seldom used alone for dating of individual samples. Ages obtained from racemization dating must rely on other confirmatory techniques such as carbon-14 dating, and if these other confirmatory techniques cannot be applied, dates based on racemization are considered to be uncertain. The technique does have some special application in samples embedded in amber because of the anhydrous conditions that prevail in such a medium. Under these conditions, interfering hydrolytic processes are largely quenched. It can also be used for correlation of strata that have experienced the same environmental conditions. Most recently it has been employed to determine the viability of genetic material in fossilized material. It has been found that preserved DNA is available only in samples with D/L aspartic acid ratios less than 0.1.
So Ferrell’s rant about racemization dating is revealed to be nothing more than the typical creationist strawman argument. It is an attempt to make a mountain out of a molehill and create a serious problem where no such problem exists. For a more comprehensive discussion of modern radiometric dating techniques, see the enclosed "Radiometric Dating, a Christian Perspective" obtained from the American Scientific Affiliation website (See here.) and "A Radiometric Dating Resource List" (geocities.com/ Tim_J_Thompson/radiometric.html#resp2) on the Internet. (See here.) If you investigate these sources, you will find that, contrary to the false information spread by many creationist organizations, radiometric techniques are reliable and proven methods for determining the age of ancient materials. (Portions of the document [near graphical representations] obtained from the American Scientific Affiliation site did not reproduce properly from the Internet. The complete document can be accessed at their website.)
5- "…these long ages of time for dating starlight are based on the redshift theory and on the Einsteinian theory of nature of space, both of which have been seriously questioned."
Seriously questioned by whom? Funny, isn’t it, Ferrell never says who these dissenters are. The fact is, the correlation between redshift and expansion of the universe is accepted by virtually the entire community of cosmological scientists worldwide. The evidence in favor of the redshift being cosmological in origin, and therefore indicative of both distance and an expanding universe, is overwhelming. All of the several million galaxies known to exist outside our own local group have red-shifted spectra indicating that they are moving away from us. There is not one single exception to this observation. Furthermore, observed redshift is strictly correlated with apparent brightness, which in turn strongly depends on distance. Therefore, redshift is well correlated with distance, as Hubble first made clear some 70 years ago. Visit the websites of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and any other major astronomical research organization to see what they have to say about the redshift. If you do, you will find that they all agree that it is a reliable indicator of an expanding universe. (See here. [The original link is no longer available.])
On pages 92 and 93, Ferrell offers three alternatives to mainstream thinking on the cosmological red-shift which he contends are supportive of the YEC scenario. These alternatives are: (1) gravitational red-shifts, (2) 2nd-order Doppler shift, and (3) energy-loss shift. Alternative (1) must be rejected because gravitational red-shift effects are very, very weak. Light from a galaxy as a whole is dominated by ordinary stars with the result that the gravitational redshift is far too small to explain the observed cosmological redshift. There is simply not enough mass in the universe to account for the enormous redshifts that are observed. Alternative (2) must be rejected because redshifts observed in distant objects are not actually due to the Doppler phenomenon, but rather to the expansion of the universe. The Doppler shift is caused by relative motion through space while the expansion redshift is due to the expansion of space itself. That is, two objects can be stationary in space and still experience an expansion redshift due to the expansion of space itself. And alternative (3) must be rejected because it is completely incompatible with all other theories in physics. With all his alternatives eliminated, the only thing left is a redshift that equates to an expansion of cosmological space. All the evidence (cosmic background radiation, observed evolutionary changes in galaxies, lithium distribution, photon to baryon ratios, etc.) are consistent with the standard redshift theory. Does it make sense to take the word of someone like Ferrell, who has no apparent formal scientific training, about these phenomena? Or should we rely more heavily on the thinking of scientific investigators who have hands-on experience in these matters? I know which option I prefer.
I can’t help from deviating a bit from my spot-checking plan to address one of Ferrell’s more flagrant misconceptions on page 96. On this page, he correctly states that "if the speed theory is the only cause of redshifts, every star in the universe is actually moving away from us!" But why does he include the exclamation point? He does so because he thinks this means that we must be located at the center of the expanding universe, and he cannot imagine why this would be the case. He needn’t have gotten so excited. The fact that all galaxies are red-shifted and moving away from us does not mean that we are located at the center of the universe, and the evidence actually indicates that we are located on the periphery. How then can all galaxies be moving away from us if we are not at the center of the universe? Think of galaxies as raisins in a rising loaf of raisin bread. From the perspective of each raisin, all other raisins will appear to be moving away from it as the dough expands regardless of where it is located in the loaf. The fact that Ferrell does not comprehend this fundamental relationship (or pretends that he doesn’t) demonstrates his serious lack of understanding of the subject.
Getting back to Ferrell’s comments about Einstein, on page 201 he says, "…there are a number of scientists who do not believe Einstein was correct." A number? How many? Three, ten, twenty? Who are they, and why do they disagree with Einstein? As usual, Ferrell does not tell us, but instead, as creationists are prone to do, he simply makes an unsubstantiated assertion and expects us to believe it. This sort of subterfuge does not cut it in the sciences. Evasiveness like this might be okay when religionists are arguing about the trinity or some other esoteric religious concept, but it doesn’t cut the mustard as far scientific discourse is concerned. Apparently, Ferrell does not know any better.
Einstein’s theories of relativity made a number of predictions about the natural world that are counterintuitive to say the least. As a consequence, many scientists at first considered him to be some kind of a crackpot. Some of his predictions involved such esoteric phenomena as: "frame dragging", "gravitational lensing", "black holes", and "Bose-Einstein condensates". He also predicted the following relationships: E=mc2; the mass of an object increases as its velocity increases; the length of an object decreases with increasing velocity; time slows down for a body that is in motion and for one in a gravitational field; the maximum speed in the universe is the speed of light in a vacuum; and the speed of light is constant throughout the universe regardless of the speed of the source or the observer. Every single one of these predictions has now been demonstrated to have been accurate using analytical techniques with high degrees of precision. While some scientist might now quibble about some peculiar detail of Einstein’s theories, only a crackpot would question the validity of their fundamental assumptions. Einstein’s theories serve as the basis for current models that describe the expansion of the universe. No wonder Ferrell is so intent on trying to discredit this man who is arguably the most influential scientist of modern times.
The discussion on this page treats us to another "argument from incredulity" - the supposed impossibility of evolution of the eye. (Notice on the next page Ferrell includes the Darwin quote that was nixed by Answers in Genesis.) For a rebuttal to this classic creationist argument, see my CVE, pages 50-52, and the enclosed reprint, "Eye-opening Gene" which was copied from the Science News Online website. (See here.) Evolution only seems impossible if you are unfamiliar with the facts or refuse to look at them objectively and creatively. Why is it that creationists have such a vivid imagination when it comes to things biblical, but appear to lose it completely when evolutionary concepts are involved?
For a rebuttal to Frank Marsh’s fallacious claim that there is no evidence for macroevolution, see "29 Evidences for Macroevolution" at talkorigins.org . (See here.) So-called macroevolution is nothing more than microevolution acting over time. Because of their insistence that the earth must be young (only approx. 6,000 years), YEC’s deny that there has been enough time for macroevolution to have occurred. Their arguments have nothing whatever to do with the validity of the evidence or what it shows. Rather, it has everything to do with what they want it to show and what think it has to show. Creationists can deny macroevolution all they want. But they can only do so by purposely ignoring or misinterpreting the evidence that is staring them in the face.
For rebuttal to one of the creationists’ favorite, though repeatedly debunked, arguments that there are "No Transitional Fossils" see my EVC, pages 28-37. See also "Taxonomy, Transitional Forms, and the Fossil Record" which is available at the Christian-based American Scientific Affiliation website. (See here.) (I have enclosed the first five pages of this article to give you an idea of the author’s approach to the subject.) For a more detailed discussion of this subject, see the "Transitional Vertebrate Fossil FAQ" at talkorigins.org. (See here.) (I have enclosed the table of contents for this FAQ and the last section which includes the author’s conclusions to give you some idea of the scope of this information.) The only people who cannot see any transitional fossils are those who refuse to take off their creationist blinders when they are asked to look at them. There are so many intermediate fossils in the hominid/human evolutionary sequence that it is difficult to determine how they should all be arranged.
Further exposing his misunderstanding of the evolutionary process, Ferrell asks, "How can there be millions of species, when the evolutionists tell us it takes a million years to make just one of them?" In the first place, the evidence does not show that it always takes a million years to result in speciation. Some speciation events have been shown to occur in only tens of thousands of years (for an example, see page 6 of my EVC). [Here I was discussing an article by P.G. Williamson (1981, Nature, vol. 293, pages 437-443) which reported on a speciation event that spanned an "instant" in geological time.] Secondly, evolution does not proceed in a linear manner, it progresses in the manner of a bifurcating bush. Evolution is much more a geometrical progression than it is a linear one. Therefore, if one accepts the consensus scientific thinking on the age of the earth, there has been more than enough time for all the species to have evolved. The fact that Ferrell would ask such a silly question, even in the context of an old-age earth, again shows his understanding of evolutionary theory leaves much to be desired.
Here Ferrell attempts to explain geosynclines in the context of the purported biblical flood. He argues that, based on their structure, these geological features must have been formed when "…still-soft layers laid down by the Flood, were then bent by convulsive movements of the earth. Afterward, in their twisted shape, they dried into hard rock." Unfortunately for Ferrell, geologists now know that this is not how geosynclines were actually formed. A more rigorous examination of the data indicates that these features were formed from two pre-formed ridges that were brought together by tectonic action. See the enclosed, "The Story of Geosynclines" which was prepared by geologist Steven Dutch of the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay for further clarification. (See here.) What a surprise! Ferrell got it wrong again.
According to Ferrell,"Philbeam was forced to the conclusion there was no real evidence of any kind - anywhere - of man’s supposed ape ancestors." This is not presented as a direct quote from Philbeam, so we can only conclude that this is how Ferrell wants us to understand the anthropologist’s position on the matter. Reading this page, one can only come to the conclusion that Philbeam has completely rejected any association between humans and an evolutionary ape ancestor.
What is Philbeam’s true position of the subject? In 1992, Philbeam edited a book entitled, "The Cambridge Encylopedia of Human Evolution", which has become something of a bible in the field of human evolution. Philbeam wrote the introduction to this book, and the following quotes are excerpted from introductory passages to the book
"There is now good agreement between the fossil and the molecular evidence of our antecedents, and about when the lines leading to modern humans, chimpanzees, and gorillas began to separate." "One of the triumphs of molecular biology has been to uncover thousands of other cues of relatedness hidden in our genes. We share many of these with other primates: for example, humans and chimpanzees have blood groups, proteins, and great stretches of DNA in common."
Does it make sense that Philbeam would write an introduction to a book and be its editor, if he didn’t agree with basic concepts that were expressed in it? Whatever Philbeam’s thoughts might have been the 1970’s, it is obvious that he now supports the theory that man evolved from an ape-like ancestor. Whether there was a time when Philbeam actually did not support this theory, or whether it was something that Ferrell concocted is unknown to me since I was unable to find any publications from Philbeam on the Internet. Considering the creationist penchant for using out-of-context and out-of-date quotations to advance their cause, I suspect it is the latter explanation that is closest to the truth. See the enclosed, "An Abbreviated Chart of Hominid and Human Evolution", derived from this book for further evidence of Philbeam’s endorsement of human evolution. (See here.)
Contrary to Ferrell’s assertion, evolutionary homology does not involve circular argumentation. Homology simply means a high degree of structural similarity without regard to function. For example, the skeletal structure of the human arm, the dog leg, the whale flipper, and the bat wing all contain exactly the same bones, in exactly the same positions. The most reasonable conclusion for this arrangement is that they are all derived from common ancestors. Functional necessity can’t be used as an explanation because these limb structures are not functionally similar. And appeal to a "designer" who did things that way, even though it is inefficient and unnecessary, is ad hoc and capricious.
One example of homology involves a cranial nerve that goes from the brain to the larynx via a tube near the heart. In the fish, this path is a direct route. And in all species that have this homologous nerve, it follows the same path. This means that in an animal like the giraffe, this nerve makes a detour from the brain all the way down to the heart and back in order to connect two organs that are only a little more that a foot apart. So the giraffe has to grow 10-15 extra feet of nerve compared to the direct connection. How competent could a designer be if he/she had come up with such an inefficient arrangement? While such an extended neural linkage makes little or no sense in terms of special creation by an "intelligent designer", it does make perfect sense from the evolutionary standpoint. The nerve takes this circuitous route because giraffes are descended from a fish-like ancestor where this route is a direct connection. While evolutionary processes resulted in the lengthening of the giraffe’s neck, the original neural routing was preserved from its fish-like ancestor. And, all other species that have this homologous nerve have the same arrangement.
This is why homology is considered evidence for common descent. Because it is the best explanation for which the evidence is entirely consistent. See the enclosed partial reprint of "Evolution Makes Sense of Homologies" (source: zoology.ubc.ca/~bio336/Lectures/Lecture5/Overheads.html) for more information. (See here.)
Ah yes, the ever-popular "evolution teaches the most vicious set of moral principles" argument. Should we outlaw the Christian religion because it has fostered such atrocities as "witch burnings", the Inquisition, the Crusades, terrorism in Northern Ireland, and the 30-Years War? Should we abandon the theory of gravity because gravity can cause us to fall off our house, airplanes to crash, and rocks to fall on our heads? Why single out evolution for incrimination? Like all other scientific theories, the theory of evolution explains how one aspect of the natural world operates. It does not compel anyone to adopt any particular set of moral principles. (Although some studies do show that cooperative behavior and altruism have evolutionary roots.)
Consider how the theories of nuclear physics have impacted humanity. These theories have been put to beneficial use by mankind to generate electricity and to provide medical treatment and diagnosis, and they have been perverted to construct bombs of incredible mass destruction. The theories that explain the atomic reactions involved in these applications do not lose their explanatory value simply because they are sometimes misused by society. The same holds true for the theory of evolution. The theory does not require its adherents to lead an immoral lifestyle anymore than the theories of nuclear physics require us to build bombs. Evolution provides a naturalistic explanation for the diversity of life on earth. If people cannot deal with that concept without descending into the depths of moral depravity, it does not speak well of the general state of human intellectual development. Anyone who uses a belief in evolution to justify an immoral lifestyle does not understand the roles that altruism and compassion have played in the course of human evolution. All they are doing is simply looking for an excuse to be bad.
Speaking from personal experience, I do not consider for one moment that my belief in evolution gives me license to live a life devoid of moral constraints. The evolutionists that I know understand that moral guidelines, rules, regulations, and mores are absolutely essential for maintaining a functional and harmonious society. Just because one is an evolutionist does not mean that they do not appreciate the wisdom of the Golden Rule. See the enclosed reprint from the National Center for Science Education entitled "Would we All Behave Like Animals? A Conversation" for further thought on the subject. (See here.)
This story about the palolo worms boils down to another "argument from incredulity". Ferrell contends that their synchronized mating must be some miraculous event, unexplainable by science, the timing of which has been "pre-decided for the worm". Ferrell says that the worms "cannot watch the phases of the moon from their burrow" because "they are too far down in the ocean to see light or darkness". The truth is they are not too far down to receive cues from the moon because they live and hunt for small prey in the relatively shallow coral reefs. Evidence suggests that they do respond to moonlight, but that they achieve synchrony, not by simultaneously reacting to a particular lunar signal. Instead, each worm independently integrates individual cycles registered over many lunar cycles. They all react together on the same day because they have all accumulated the same number of cyclical events in their biological registry. This animal is just one example of many that utilize moon-synchronous biological rhythms to coordinate their activities. An interesting aspect of this mating process is that the rear end of the animal separates from the front, and it is the rear end that does the mating. Although the mating end does not have a head, it is equipped with two eyes so that it can swim directly toward the moonlight.
So here is yet another of Ferrell’s tall tales that severely stretches the truth. Not many years ago creationists were using this same type of argument to expound on the miraculous migration of birds. Now, of course, scientists have removed most of the mystery by discovering that birds use a host of navigational cues, ranging from smells and landmarks to star orientations and internal "magnetic compasses". Admittedly, science does not know all the answers. Nonetheless, creationists should be careful about which "miracles" they choose to make an issue out of. Science has a history of eventually demystifying even the most inscrutable of them.
Although I confess that I did not read the entire book (It didn’t pass my spot-check test.), I read more than enough to develop an informed opinion about it. Every page that I examined in some detail contained spurious arguments and not one of them presented meaningful evidence that would cast any doubt on the theory of evolution. (I wonder if you checked any of Ferrell’s arguments for accuracy, or if you just accepted them all on faith.)
The best thing that can be said about Ferrell is that he is consistent. Unfortunately, that is also the worst that can be said about him. He consistently uses out-of-date, out-of-context, and misleading citations. He consistently misconstrues and misrepresents scientific statements and opinions. He consistently relies on junk science to cloud the issue. He consistently dredges up worn-out arguments that have been repeatedly debunked by the scientific community. He consistently ignores (and fails to acknowledge) any information that contradicts his worldview. He consistently demonstrates his ignorance of evolutionary principles. He consistently uses discredited and unreliable information (some of which has even been rejected by other prominent creationist groups as well). He consistently plays to the religious credulity of his readers. And he consistently takes advantage of the general scientific illiteracy of his readers to con them into swallowing his line of baloney.
About the best thing that can be said for the book is that it has managed to cram an extraordinary amount of material into a relatively small volume. Unfortunately, the vast majority of that material is junk. And no matter how neatly junk is packed, it is still junk. A more appropriate name for the book would have been "The Creationist Handbook of Compacted Trash".
I can only assume that, since you made the effort to personally deliver a copy of TEC to me, you must think it presents a serious challenge to the theory of evolution. If that is the case, then you are sadly mistaken. Evolutionists have heard, evaluated, and rejected the groundless arguments elaborated in this book innumerable times. Yet no matter how often scientists shoot them down with logic and solid evidence, they keep coming back to life like zombies in a cheap horror movie. Ferrell should not worry though. While mainstream science can see through his charade, most of the scientifically naive public will not have the weapons to defend themselves against his pseudoscientific sneak attack. So long as the critical thinking skills and the scientific aptitude of the general population remain at their present dismal levels, sales of his book should remain quite brisk.
You may have gathered by now that I was not favorably impressed by TEC. I rate it about a minus 3 on a scale of zero to ten. It would have been a minus 5, but the impressive volume of creationist argumentation assembled in this conveniently-sized paperback garnered it a couple of extra points.
In closing, let me say that I respect your right to believe whatever you want about the origin of species, the universe, the earth, the stars, etc. It is my understanding that the religious denomination to which you belong strongly supports the doctrine of biblical creationism, and that its founders were instrumental in formulating much of the modern creationist ideology. Because this ideology is such an integral part of your overall religious experience, I appreciate how difficult it would be for you to look objectively at anything that contradicts it. And then there are the plethora of evolution-bashing books and the burgeoning number of creationist websites that use all that fancy sounding pseudoscientific jargon and those pretty pictures to reinforce the creationist mindset. I can see why you might think that evolutionists are a bunch of close-minded ideologues. From the information I have provided, I hope you can understand why evolutionists might think the same thing of the creationists. And I hope you can gain an appreciation why I, as a scientist, am concerned about the detrimental effect that so-called "scientific creationism" can have on the integrity of science education and, ultimately, our country’s economic competitiveness (see page 81 of my EVC).
Perhaps the best we can do is to simply agree to disagree.
P.S. – I noticed on the last page of TEC that this sterling example of creationist scholarship goes for $5.00. Therefore, I have enclosed a five spot to cover its cost. It will make a fine addition to my collection of creationist memorabilia.
I also enclosed three additional pamphlets from the National Center for Science Education for your reading enjoyment.
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