Refuting "Refuting Evolution"

As of 2-6-05, Mr. Knapp's webpage contained a link to an anti-evolution screed entitled, "Refuting Evolution."  (See here.)  This sorry piece of creationist pap was written as a supposed counter-argument to the National Academy of Sciences publication “Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science."   The author of this article, Jonathan Sarfati, has no graduate-level training in the biological sciences.  Most people who have only a rudimentary education in a particular scientific discipline would recognize that they lack the expertise to speak authoritatively about complex matters related to that discipline.  Yet here we have an individual with only a limited understanding of the intricacies of evolutionary theory pretending that he is qualified to discredit the consensus opinion of some of the foremost scientific experts in the world.  As is typical of most creationist snake oil salesmen, Sarfati has no reservations about expounding on matters about which he is only marginally qualified to speak.  In creationist circles, relevant training and scientific expertise take a back seat to rhetorical skills and the ability to cloud the facts.  A fact twister who can baffle the layman with scientific jargon is the kind of spokesman creationists are looking for.  In this respect, Sarfati exceeds all their expectations.  (For insight on Sarfati's reputation among mainstream scientists, see here.)

Does Sarfati seriously think that, having written "Refuting Evolution" (RE), he now has a chance of persuading mainstream scientists to ignore the massive body of evidence that supports evolution and of winning them over to his brand of creationist mythology?  Of course not.  Sarfati and his ilk are not interested in presenting scientifically valid arguments that could bring objective scientists around to their way of thinking.  Creationists are engaged in a religious/political disinformation campaign designed to garner support for their ultimate goal of swapping biblical doctrine for genuine science in the public school science classroom.  RE is not meant to persuade knowledgeable scientists that creationist concepts have any scientific validity because it is blatantly obvious to anyone who seriously investigates those concepts that they have none.   RE is meant to dupe a largely scientifically naive public (by appealing to religious sensibilities and using pseudoscientific rhetoric) into swallowing the lie that evolution is an evil atheist conspiracy that lacks credible scientific support.  Sadly, a surprising number of people in this country appear to have been hornswoggled by this cleverly disguised con job.  

In keeping with the creationist modus operandi, the author of this piece of pseudoscientific quackery purposefully manipulates and misrepresents the scientific evidence in an attempt to create the illusion that the theory of evolution is scientifically invalid.  One knowledgeable scientist who reviewed the topics discussed in  RE relating to the origin and age of the earth summarizes his thoughts as follows:

"This book contains so many errors that one should doubt pretty much anything that its author states."

(See here for the complete review.)  Another scientist describes it as being "full of elementary errors in astronomy, chemistry, geology and the nature of science." (See here.)  The first reviewer acknowledged that he did not have the requisite expertise in the biological sciences that would enable him to comment meaningfully on the biological aspects of evolution discussed in RE. (Too bad Sarfati did not recognize his own limitations in this regard.)  Nonetheless, this reviewer did make the following cogent remark,

"Considering that the remainder of the book, which deals with physical and chemical science and which is my area of expertise, is dominated by incorrect 'facts' and fallacious arguments, I’m dubious of what is said in the biological chapters." 

His skepticism is well justified.  In what follows, I will address some of the errors and "fallacious arguments" that occur primarily in Chapter 1 and those that deal with biological matters.  This article is not intended to be a detailed refutation of all the points raised in RE.  Rather it is an attempt to clear up some of its more egregious blunders that others have not already dealt with in their review of Sarfati's article.

Chapter 1: Evolution & creation, science & religion, fact & bias

 The bias of evolutionary leaders - In this section of Chapter 1, Sarfati attempts to make the case that evolution is an inherently atheistic concept that is incompatible with theistic belief.  By demonizing evolutionists in this way, he hopes to create the illusion that evolutionists cannot be TRUE Christians.  See topic 1 here, here, topics 4 and 9 here, here, and here for a refutation of this baseless argument.  It is true that the theory of evolution is not compatible with a literal reading of Genesis (i.e., formation of the entire universe and all biota on earth within six 24-hour days.)  Nonetheless, it is fully compatible with the scientific evidence and a more enlightened concept of God and His place in creation.  Evolution, like all scientific concepts, is neutral with regard to the existence of supernatural entities - it neither confirms nor denies their existence.  Such matters are outside purview of the scientific method which, by definition, is restricted exclusively to the investigation of phenomena that involve natural causes and effects.

Sarfati incorrectly claims that evolution assumes that  "nothing gave rise to something at an alleged ‘big bang,’ non-living matter gave rise to life, ..."  Biological evolution does not make any such assumptions because it concerns itself only with the emergence of biodiversity after the occurrence of the first live replicator(s).  Some evolutionists may make these assumptions, but they are not compelled by evolutionary theory to do so.  Questions pertaining to the origin of the universe and the first life forms fall into the domains of cosmology and abiogenesis, respectively, not evolutionary studies.

Like so many creationists, Sarfati makes liberal use of the personal opinions of scientists (often outdated and taken out of context) to try to validate his arguments. (Real scientists make minimal use of quotations to validate their scientific theories.  Instead they present factual evidence that is subject to peer review, and they make reference to applicable experimental results obtained by other scientists.)  For comment on Sarfati's Watson quote, see topic 12 here.  For comment on Lowentin's quote, see topic 49 here.  For comment on the Rensberger quote, see topic 14 here.  For more on the creationist penchant for quote mining, see here and here.

The basis of modern science - In this section, Sarfati engages in some historical revisionism to argue that Christianity has been the principal driving force for scientific progress.  For a different perspective on the subject, see topics 41, 42, and 43 here

Sarfati is forced to admit that "evolution-rejecting scientists are in a minority." (Now there is an understatement on his part if there ever was one. See here.)  However, he then goes on to downplay this shortcoming by stating that truth is not decided by majority vote.  First, unlike creationists, real scientists do not claim to know the TRUTH about anything.   They only claim to have developed reasonable and workable explanations about how nature works based on the evidence currently available.  Second, the validity of scientific theories is based on the consensus opinions of scientific experts.  In the case of science, majority vote does actually decide the acceptance and applicability of  the theories it develops.  Creationist are overwhelmingly outvoted because they have consistently failed to provide any substantive evidence to back up their position.  (See also topics 6 and 27 here.)

The limits of science - In this section, Sarfati contends that there are two kinds of science, one of which allows supernatural explanations. For my rebuttal to this bit of creationist science fiction, see here.

Chapter 2: Variation and natural selection versus evolution

The gist of this chapter is that natural evolutionary processes cannot generate new biological information.  For multiple lines of evidence that thoroughly refute this vacuous claim, see here.  This chapter also asserts that the breeding of rather diverse animal forms (such as is the case in dog breeding ) is made possible by the fact that all the  variation was programmed into the prototype dog by God at the very beginning.  The packing of all this genetic variation into original animal prototypes raises serious questions, not the least of which is discussed in topic 8 here.

Chapter 3: The links are missing

If there is one thing that irks creationists more than the strictly naturalistic character of science it is the existence and discovery of transitional fossils.  According to creationist "theory" none of these persistent remnants of evolutionary common descent should exist, and the evolution deniers do all they can to pooh pooh those that have been discovered.  The formation of transitional fossils (particularly those from land animals) should be a relatively rare occurrence, and it is.  (See here.)  Even so, many examples now exist and more continue to be discovered on a regular basis.  For discussion of transitional fossils and clarification of the Sarfati's misstatements about them, see here, here, here, and here. Only the most close-minded creationists could argue that the fossil evidence discussed in these articles does not present compelling evidence for the operation of evolutionary processes.  It is the creationists who must explain, in terms of their own "theory", why any of these evolutionary sequences exist in the fossil record at all.  So far, all they have done is deny their existence.  Unfortunately for the creationists, the bones do not lie nor do they disappear simply because they pretend they are not there.

Regarding Sarfati's continued quote mining, see here for a discussion of the Patterson quote and here for Gould's position on the subject.

Chapter 4: Bird Evolution?

In this chapter, Sarfati does his best to discredit the growing body of evidence that indicates modern birds have evolutionary links to the theropod dinosaurs.  He does his best, but his best falls far short of the goal. 

Archaeopteryx - Sarfati attempts to portray Archaeopteryx as 100% bird.  To date, some seven specimens of this intermediate have been discovered.  From the 23 anatomical features which have been studied from these specimens, a few resemble those of birds, but most are clearly reptilian.  Archaeopteryx was first classified as a reptile based on its skeletal anatomy alone. Contrary to Sarfati's storyline, Archaeopteryx is an excellent example of mosaic evolution that incorporates modern bird-like features (including feathers) along with those reptilian features of the animals from which it was derived.  For more discussion on the origin and evolutionary relationships of Archaeopteryx see here.  It should be pointed out that Archaeopteryx is not considered to be the missing link between dinosaurs and birds.  Rather it is thought to be on an evolutionary side branch and serves as an indicator of what the true "missing link" might have looked like.

Feathered dinosaurs/Did gliders turn into fliers? - Sarfati contends that there is serious disagreement among paleontologists over the dinosaurian ancestry of birds.  He makes repeated use of quotations from  Dr. Alan Feduccia to give the impression that there is a great deal of indecision on this matter in the scientific ranks.  But as this article points out (See the discussion of Feduccia in Section I, "What is wrong with antievolutionist arguments via quotation."), Feduccia's opinion is in the extreme minority.  Truth be told, Feduccia's expertise in this area appears to leave much to be desired. (See here.)  Most paleontologists have arrived at the conclusion that the evidence best supports the dinosaur/bird link.  Using selective quotes that are not representative of consensus scientific opinion when those statements favor the creationist cause is another common trick of the Darwin bashers.

Be that as it may, the debate between dissenters like Feduccia and the rest of the paleontologists studying the ancestry of birds is not about whether birds evolved from reptile-like ancestors.  The debate centers around two main issues: 1. Did birds evolve from theropod dinosaurs or from non-theropods? and 2. Did flight originate from the ground up or from the trees down?  Feduccia has taken the position that they evolved from non-theropods and that flight originated from tree to ground.  One of the most  recent fossil discoveries indicates that he may have been right on one issue; the direction of the origin of flight.

During 2000 and 2001, six fossil specimens of Microraptor gui were discovered in China. (See here.) These specimens exhibited unequivocal avian traits, not the least of which was a covering of plumaceous feathers.  The forelimbs and hind limbs were also equipped with flight feathers.  The flight feathers, together with other anatomical characteristics, provide evidence that the animals were gliders that moved through the air from elevated perches to the ground - much as flying squirrels do today.  In addition to distinctive avian features, they also possessed traits consistent with small carnivorous dromaeosaurs found in the theropod group of dinosaurs.  Most experts in this area of study consider these animals to represent a clear linkage between dromaeosaur-derived gliders and flying birds.    Creationists, whose mindset prohibits them from acknowledging the existence of any transitional fossils at all, will, of course, do all they can to discredit the evolutionary significance of these important discoveries.

Feathers - Sarfati attempts to make the argument that feathers could not have evolved from other epithelial structures.  The fact remains, however, that there is now unequivocal evidence that some dinosaurs did have genuine feathers.  Regardless how they got there, creationists must now come to grips with the fact that some dinosaurs possessed what creationists had previously maintained was a strictly avian feature.  For more information on dinosaurian feathers and the likely mechanism of their formation, see hereThe author of the aforementioned web site comments on the current situation regarding dinosaur/bird fossils as follows:

"I think that this species [Microraptor qui] is only one more lesson in the twists and turns of evolution... There are no straight lines in evolution... We now have a variety of theropod dinosaurs in our possession that were half modern bird from the waist-up, or half modern bird from the waist down...Wings with half fused digits in birds with fully dinosaurian tails, or fully functional clawed digits in reasonably modern-looking birds... Running legs with wings or half-wings. And if this wasn't enough, we now even have dinosaurs with a different approach to flight that can't compare with any prediction we have made in the past, or with any modern bird flapping around today."

While such mosaics are what evolutionists expect, they are anathema to the creationist scheme of things.  Evolutionists have given creationists exactly what they have been asking for in terms of transitional species. Predictably, the creationist still refuse to face up to their existence.

The avian lung - In attempting to make the argument that evolutionary processes could not produce the avian lung, Sarfati opines, "The hypothetical intermediate stages could not conceivably function properly..."   It may be impossible for him to conceive how such a transition may have taken place, but that does not mean that other, better informed, scientists suffer from his lack of insight.  For an example of a plausible, hypothetical pathway see the following:

Those who argue it is impossible appear to assume that only one lung type can exist at a time. But there are elements of the avian lung system that would benefit a creature with a more reptilian lung.

For example, the avian lung has air sacs that play a role in air movement, but little or no role in blood oxygenation. A reptilian lung also has areas without the vascularization and septae that carry out the oxygenation. It is not hard to imagine air sacs forming from these areas and increasing lung ventilation.

So, formation of airsacs is not hard to imagine. The next big issue is the one-way air flow of the avian lung versus the tidal flow of the reptilian lung.

The reptilian lung has septae projecting into the lung interior from the lung wall. This is very different from the alveoli (tiny vascularized air sacs) of the mammalian lung. It is not difficult to imagine these septae growing together to form vascularized tubes. Why would this be of some advantage?

Well, there could be areas in the reptilian-lung-with-air-sacs where the air flow has modest pressure and velocity during inhalation, but higher velocity and pressure during exhalation. This could happen due to the shape of the lung, the shape of the air sac, the specific manner in which the air sac and/or lung are expanded and compressed, the shape of the passage from lung to air sac, the growth of valve-like flaps in some area, etc.

With this higher pressure/velocity during exhalation, the lung could then begin pumping air through the tubes in a mostly one-way manner like an avian lung does. This would increase the efficiency of the lung, even though it is still operated in a bellows fashion like a reptilian lung.

The changes I described could occur first in a small area of the lung. The benefit of the change could create evolutionary pressure toward larger areas of change and/or change at multiple sites in the lung. Eventually, the modified portion of the lung would be providing the bulk of the respiration, and the evolutionary pressure would be toward improvement of that system and gradual deterioration of the reptilian system. (Posted here on 12/10/04 by a forum participant known as Pearl Driver.)

Since soft tissues such as those in the lungs are not normally well preserved in fossils, it may never be precisely known how avian lungs evolved from dinosaurian lungs.  Nonetheless, reasonable theories can be developed that can explain how (and perhaps why, see here) this transition might have occurred.  Just because Sarfati doesn't have a clue, does not mean that others are equally devoid of insight..

For an overview of current thinking about the subject of dinosaur/bird evolution see here.

Chapter 5: Whale Evolution?

In his effort to disprove whale evolution from terrestrial ancestors, Sarfati resorts to many of the common creationist tricks of the trade.  Listed below are some of them that he tried to pull off in this chapter. 

He makes baseless assertions as if they were proven facts.  Example:  He claims gradual step-by-step evolution of the echo-location organ in dolphins is not feasible. 

In doing so, he ignores the possibility that intermediate stages may have had beneficial functions unrelated to echo-location.

He uses out-of-date quotations.  Example:  He quotes the late E.J. Slijper as follows: "We do not possess a single fossil of the transitional forms between the aforementioned land animals [i.e., carnivores and ungulates] and the whales." 

Unless the reader checks the reference to this statement, they will be unaware that this quotation is nearly 50 years out of date.  Many of the more important discoveries related to whale evolution have occurred in the last couple of decades. 

He misrepresents how evolution actually works.  Example:  He says, "One thing to note is the lack of time for the vast number of changes to occur by mutation and selection. If a mutation results in a new gene, for this new gene to replace the old gene in a population, the individuals carrying the old gene must be eliminated, and this takes time." 

This ladder-like model of evolution completely ignores the fact that  isolated groups of organisms that originally came from the same population can evolve quite independently of one another.  In this case the "old gene" does not have to be eliminated in all members of the original population and evolution can proceed more rapidly in some of the smaller  isolated groups.  See allopatric speciation.

He continues to peddle discredited information.  Example:  He makes reference to the article, "A Whale of a Tale" in which the author, Don Batten, says, "The skeleton [of Ambulocetus] is incomplete, with critical parts missing. It is also highly fragmented. To establish hind leg function it is necessary to have the pelvic girdle to demonstrate that the leg bones (femur and small proximal piece of tibia) belong to the rest of the skeleton and to determine muscle attachments. The pelvic girdle is missing!" 

As this article makes clear, the author of Sarfati's reference article doesn't know what he is talking about.  Even more telling is the fact that Sarfati has known about the errors in Batten's article for some time now.  The fact that Sarfati continues to use this fallacious reference reveals how determined he is at concealing the truth.

He makes use of non-sequiturs.  Example:  He says, "However, Basilosaurus was fully aquatic, so hardly transitional between land mammals and whales."

Why could a transitional species between land mammals and fully developed whales not be fully aquatic?  In fact, a fully aquatic transitional species is exactly what evolution would predict toward the end of this transitional series.

He engages in straw man arguments.  Example:  He quotes Barbara Stahl as saying, "The serpentine form of the body and the peculiar shape of the cheek teeth make it plain that these archaeocetes [like Basilosaurus] could not possibly have been the ancestor of modern whales."

Here Sarfati tries to give the impression that most paleontologists are claiming that Basilosaurus was a direct ancestor of modern whales.  They are not.  Basilosaurus is understood to have been a species that evolved from a common ancestor to the whales, but on a separate pathway..  The relationship between Basilosaurus and modern whales is like that between the Neandertals and modern humans.  Although both evolved from a common ancestor species, the evidence now indicates that modern humans are not descended from the Neandertals.

He glosses over evidence that calls his overall premise into question.  Example:  Sarfati clings to the conjecture that the rudimentary hind legs on Basilosaurus may have functioned as claspers during copulation. 

He neglects to inform his readers, however, that these "claspers" were made up of four toes, a femur, tibia, and fibula.   Why, if they were created expressly for the purpose of sexual clasping, would these appendages be constructed of the same basic parts as a leg and why would they be arranged in the same orientation as a leg?  Even if these vestigial legs did perform some function on Basilosaurus , the fact that they give every indication of being remnants of fully functional legs, is an argument in favor of evolution, not in situ creation.  Evolution often does away with functions that are no longer necessary for survival; and, in doing so, leaves rudiments of the original configuration behind.

He criticizes scientists for using the scientific method.  Example:  In discussing how recent discoveries involving Pakecitus have led paleontologists to rethink the identity of the early ancestors of whales, Sarfati says, "This [the change in thinking] demonstrates an oft-repeated phenomenon in evolutionary paleontology. Many of the alleged transitional forms are based on fragmentary remains, which are therefore open to several interpretations..."

He seems oblivious to the fact that modifying or rejecting a hypothesis when new evidence indicates it is in error is one of the fundamental strengths of the scientific method.  This requirement to revise or reject current hypotheses in the light of better quality evidence is the reason science has become the most effective system man has ever devised for promoting invention and discovery.  Creationists ignore or attempt to explain away any evidence that calls their worldview into question.  Unlike the situation with the creationists, it is not a sin for a scientist to change his/her mind if the evidence so dictates.

Based on earlier, more-fragmentary information, it was originally proposed that the primary ancestors of whales were the so-called mesonychians.  Now, with better information in hand, the consensus has shifted to the hypothesis that the earliest ancestors were coyote-sized artiodactyls, because that's what the evidence best supports at this time.  This is how science works.  The fact Sarfati appears to think that this flexible approach that takes into account new evidence is a weakness in the scientific process shows that he does not truly understand what it is to be an objective scientist.  For a more detailed discussion on the current thinking regarding the mesonychian/artiodactyl question, see here

He is guilty of the sin of omission.  Example:  He does not tell his readers that, during embryogenesis, some whale embryos develop body hair, external limb buds, ear pinnae, and olfactory lobes - all of which are eliminated before birth.  He does not mention that, during embryogenesis, the nostrils move from the tip of the snout (where they are located in land animals) to the top of the head before birth.  He does not reveal in his article that the embryos of some baleen whales (which have no teeth) begin to develop teeth which are later resorbed.  He has not updated his article to include the discovery that, unlike fish, whales can suffer from the bends just like other land-dwelling mammals. (See here.)   He does not divulge this information for obvious reasons.  He does not do so because he realizes that the only logical way to explain these phenomena would involve tying them to the evolutionary history of the terrestrial, legged, hairy, toothed, olfactory-equipped, eared, bends-susceptible animals from which the whales evolved. 

Example:  He gives the false impression that there are only a few fossil intermediates that have been identified in the evolution of the whale. 

 The following list of intermediates (taken from Transitional Vertebrate Fossils FAQ
Part 2B, here) shows just how stingy he has been.  The transitional series is not complete, but it is far from being as sparse as Sarfati would lead one to believe.  Certainly, enough information has now been gleaned from the fossil evidence to develop a reasonable scenario for whale evolution.          

In the Oligocene, whales split into two lineages:

  1. Toothed whales:
  2. Baleen (toothless) whales:

He provides patently false information.  Example: Sarfati claims that rudimentary legs on whales are a "myth" and says they exist primarily as internal structures with mere "bumps" appearing on the outside of the animal. 

The truth of  the matter is something quite different.  Vestigial hind limbs have been found protruding from a number of whales of different species.  Some of these vestigial limbs contain a complete set of leg bones together with feet and digits.  One humpback whale was investigated which had four-foot-long legs protruding from its side. 

Such findings are entirely compatible with theory that whales evolved from land animals that had legs.  They make no sense in terms of the creationist scenario.  That's why Sarfati has been forced to fudge the facts.   For more information on vestigial hind limbs on whales, see the section entitled "Living whales with hind limbs" here.

Sarfati's treatment of the subject of whale evolution illustrates some of the devious tactics creationists employ to try to discredit the theory of evolution.  Many people who read nothing more than his propaganda piece will come away with the mistaken conclusion that he has presented an effective rebuttal to modern scientific theories of whale evolution.  For those who are interested in an honest appraisal of the evidence supportive of whale evolution and the tricks creationists use to misconstrue that evidence, see here.  For a summary of recent work which identifies the hitherto "missing link" between hippos and cetaceans, see here.

Chapter 6: Humans: images of God or advanced apes?

As is the case with his treatment of the other evolutionary topics, Sarfati gives a profoundly biased and distorted picture of human evolution.  There is a large and continuously growing body of evidence that supports the evolution of humans from ape-like ancestors. (See here for an overview of the evidence supporting this evolutionary path.)  Sarfati does his best to refute this evidence that clearly establishes his own ape ancestry.  In the process, he only succeeds in further making a monkey out of himself.  Some of his monkeyshines are listed below.

4 He says that anatomist Charles Oxnard determined that A. africanus did not "walk upright in the human manner and was more distinct from both humans and chimpanzees than these are from each other."

----------

Why would anyone expect a very primitive ape-like ancestor like A. africanus to walk exactly like a modern human?  It would be reasonable to expect that such a creature, even if it were bipedal, would walk in something other than a distinctly human manner.  Oxnard does agree, furthermore, that A. africanus was bipedal.

Regarding the degree of distinction between humans, chimpanzees, and A. africanus, consider the following discussion on the subject:

Oxnard's results were based on measurements of a few skeletal bones which were usually fragmentary and often poorly preserved. The measurements did not describe the complex shape of some bones, and did not distinguish between aspects which are important for understanding locomotion from those which were not. Finally, there is "an overwhelming body of evidence", based on the work of nearly 30 scientists, which contradicts Oxnard's work. These studies used a variety of techniques, including those used by Oxnard, and were based on many different body parts and joint complexes. They overwhelmingly indicate that australopithecines resemble humans more closely than the living apes.  (Taken from Creationist Arguments: Australopithecines)    

Here again Sarfati has carefully selected a minority viewpoint  that does not reflect consensus scientific opinion.  That may be the way creationists defend their position, but it is not the way scientists do it.  (The status of A. africanus in human evolution is still subject to debate.  For some of the latest thinking on the subject, see here.)

4 Quoting a 1984 article, Sarfati says that Oxnard does not think australopithecines were in the direct line of human ancestry.

----------

In 1991, Oxnard indicated that he has now changed his mind regarding this matter.  (See about half-way down the page here.)  Sarfati is again caught using out-of-date quotes to his advantage.

4 Using Marvin Lubenow's book "Bones of Contention" as source material, Sarfati argues that various transitional species in the proposed human evolution lineage do not form a smooth sequence, overlap with one another, and are either true humans or non-humans.

----------

Besides selecting only those dates for the transitional species that favor his hypothesis, Lubenow reveals a profound misunderstanding of evolutionary theory.  His central argument seems to be that the evolutionary line of descent cannot be true because some of the transitional species coexisted with one another.  However, evolution does not proceed in a ladder-like manner, in which case each preceding rung remains behind as the ladder is ascended.  Evolution progresses in a manner more analogous to that of the branching of a tree, in which case several branches can exist at the same height at the same time.  (See here and here for more detailed critiques of Lubenow's book.)      

Creationists insist that proposed intermediate species in the chain of human evolution are either true humans or true apes.  Considering their uncompromising stance, it is ironic that the creationists cannot even agree among themselves which is which.  If creationists themselves cannot come to agreement about which of these intermediates are humans and which are apes, what better evidence can there be that they are actually bona fide transitionals?  (See here for more on the inability of creationists to see eye to eye on this matter.)

4 Sarfati argues that results from the analysis of Neandertal mitochondrial DNA show that Neandertals do not differ significantly from modern humans.

---------- 

In one such study, Neandertal DNA sequences were compared with 986 distinct sequences from living humans.  Neandertal sequences differed from a modern standard at an average of 25.6 positions in the regions studied, while those from living humans differed in those regions by an average of 8 positions.  Furthermore, the patterns of mutations were different between Neandertals and humans.  Several of these DNA comparative studies from different specimens have now been conducted.  Rigorous analysis of the  results have led scientists to the following conclusion:

The studies of Neandertal mtDNA do not show that Neandertals did not or could not interbreed with modern humans. However, the lack of diversity in Neandertal mtDNA sequences, combined with the large differences between Neandertal and modern human mtDNA, strongly suggest that Neandertals and modern humans developed separately, and did not form part of a single large interbreeding population. The Neandertal mtDNA studies will strengthen the arguments of those scientists who claim that Neandertals should be considered a separate species which did not significantly contribute to the modern gene pool.  (Taken from the Conclusion section here.)

Quite apart from the genetic differences, there are a number of morphological differences between Neandertals and modern humans as well.  These include: 1. The skull is lower, broader, and elongated in contrast to the higher doming of a modern skull. 2. The average brain size (cranial capacity) is larger than the average modern human by almost 200 cubic centimeters. 3. The forehead is low, with heavy brow ridges curving over each eye. 4. There is a slight projection at the rear of the skull (occipital bun). 5. The cranial wall is thick compared to modern humans. 6. The facial architecture is heavy, with the mid-face and the upper jaw projecting forward (prognathism). 7. The nose is prominent and broad. 8. The frontal sinuses are expanded. 9. The lower jaw is large and lacks a definite chin. 10. The body bones are heavy and thick and the long bones somewhat curved. 

While creationists may insist that there is no significant difference between Neandertals and modern humans, one wonders how they would react if one of their children decided to date such an individual.

4 Sarfati maintains that the instability of DNA calls into question the 100,000-year-old age of the Neandertal fossil.

----------

First, the age of the fossil in question was determined to be between 30,000 and 100,000 years old, not 100,000 years.  Second, it is now thought that DNA can, under the proper conditions, be recovered in partially-preserved form from samples up to 100,000 years old.  For another example of the analysis of DNA from a 56,000-year-old bison fossil, see here

4 Sarfati claims that studies of the structure of semicircular canals show that A. africanus and A. robustus did not walk upright like humans.

----------

To support this claim he cites the work of Spoor and Zonneveld.  What he neglects to tell his readers, is that, in the light of subsequent work, these investigators now acknowledge that inner ear morphology is too complex to draw definitive conclusions about walking behavior. 

Even more telling, Sarfati fails to inform his readers that the semicircular canals of  Neandertals are significantly different from those of modern humans.  If he is using differences in semicircular canals as criteria for claiming A. africanus and A. robustus are clearly distinct from humans, how can he claim Neandertals and humans are the same species when they show significant differences in these anatomical structures?  It's easy.  He simply ignores any evidence that contradicts his argument.  For a discussion of this subject from a mainstream science perspective, see here.

4 In discussing human and ape similarities, Sarfati states, "Apes and humans are both mammals, with similar shapes, so have similar DNA."  He goes on to conclude, "So the general pattern of similarities need not be explained by common-ancestry evolution."

----------

While overall commonality in genetic makeup might be inferred from phenotypic considerations alone, the similarity of the genetic material at the molecular level cannot be reasonably accounted for using the special creation model.    In comparing ape and human genomes, the creationists' devil is in the details.  Comparative analysis of human and chimpanzee genomomes reveals the following similarities: nonfunctional genes that are broken in exactly the same places; exactly the same cytochrome c structure (although an enormous number of functional cytochrome c structures are possible); insertion of virus-like genetic sequences called transposons and retroviruses in exactly the same places; and a pattern of DNA banding in human chromosome 2 that gives every indication that this chromosome was formed by a fusion of two chimpanzee chromosomes.   For more details regarding the studies that compare human and ape genetic similarities at the molecular level, see Section 3. "Observations from Molecular Biological Studies" here.  All attempts by creationists to rationalize these types of observations in terms of the creation model have been abject failures from the scientific standpoint.  On the other hand, the fine-structure similarities in the genetic makeup of humans and apes are expected and easily explained in terms of evolution from a common ancestor.

4 Sarfati states that hemoglobin "is also found in some earthworms, starfish, crustaceans, mollusks, and even in some bacteria."  He includes this observation among findings that he says are "puzzling anomalies for an evolutionary explanation..."

----------

If Sarfati thinks these are "puzzling anomalies", then he doesn't understand current scientific thinking about the evolution of the hemoglobins. (See here.)  Sarfati gives the impression that the hemoglobins are structurally identical in all of these diverse species.  They are not.  The primary sequences of amino acids that make up the hemoglobins are different in different species.  In fact, the differences can be quite marked and can be used to trace the evolution from more ancestral globin-like forms to the more recent variations.  Regarding the globin proteins in bacteria, the evidence indicates that they were initially used to detoxify nitric oxide which existed at rather high levels in the earth's primitive atmosphere.  (See here.)  These hemoglobins now appear to have been co-opted to protect some bacteria against immunological attack.  (See here.)

The appearance of various hemoglobins in diverse animals such as some earthworms, starfish, etc. makes sense from an evolutionary perspective.  These animals consume oxygen to support various  metabolic processes and hemoglobin is an effective carrier of oxygen.  Since these animals are the descendants of more primitive bacteria-like organisms that contained hemoglobin, it is not surprising that they use it now use it for oxygen transport.  Where is the "puzzling anomaly"?

4As another one of his so-called "puzzling anomalies", Sarfati calls attention to the following observation:  "The α-hemoglobin of crocodiles has more in common with that of chickens (17.5 percent) than that of vipers (5.6 percent), their fellow reptiles."

----------

Well, of course this relationship exists.  The evidence shows that the chicken and crocodile share a more recent common ancestor than do the crocodile and viper.  Therefore, it would be expected that the similarity of this protein with the crocodile would be greater with the chicken than it is with the viper.  This is not a finding that favors the creationist, it is a confirmation of evolutionary common descent. (See here for more on the creationist penchant for incorrectly interpreting comparative protein structure studies.)

4Another observation that Sarfati maintains cannot be explained in terms of evolutionary processes has to do with the existence of an antigen receptor protein that has the same structure in camels and nurse sharks.

----------

Again he is wrong in his assertion.  The commonality of this protein in the two species is an example of convergent evolution at the molecular level.  (See here.)  When diverse organisms are confronted with similar problems they sometimes develop the same or very similar solutions to those problems regardless how closely they might be related on the evolutionary tree of life. 

Regarding the antigen in question, it is known that, while the primary structure of this protein is the same in the two species, the DNA sequence that specifies that structure is different in the two of them.  It should be kept in mind that DNA sequences (not protein sequences) are the basic units of inheritance.  Therefore, it is the DNA sequences (not protein sequences) which most closely reflect evolutionary relationships. Because of redundancies in the genetic code, it is possible for more than one three-base code to specify the same amino acid.  As evolutionary theory predicts, the DNA sequence that codes for this antigenic protein is not the same in these two rather distantly-related species.  If it had been the same, then perhaps the creationists would have something to crow about.  For more on the general topic of convergent evolution, see here.

4 The similarity in genetic composition of chimpanzees (our closest living hominid relatives) and humans represents a real dilemma for the creationist.  The most definitive studies show that the DNA sequence difference between these species averages only about 1.24%.  (See here.) 

----------

So, how do creationists (who maintain that man was specially created high on the apex of life forms with no ancestral relationships with ape-like species) rationalize this nearly identical DNA makeup for humans and chimpanzees?  They do it, as always, by misrepresenting the evidence and making uncorroborated assertions.

Sarfati attempts to extricate himself from the horns of this dilemma by comparing genetic sequences to writings in a book and then stating, without any supporting evidence, that there is not enough time for the genetic diversification between humans and chimpanzees, meager though it is, to have occurred.  There are at least three things wrong with this fallacious line of argumentation.  First, he uses an average DNA sequence difference of 4%, rather than the correct, 1.24%.  Second, the genetic code is not a true language, and it is improper to analogize the two. (See here.)  Third, considering DNA mutation rates, there is plenty of time for the observed genetic diversification to have occurred.  (See Section 8. "Genetic Rates" here.)  Sarfati's assertion that such diversification could not have occurred is nothing but creationist wishful thinking.

4Sarfati attempts to showcase Ernst Haeckel's "faked" drawings of embryos as disproof of  the theory of evolution.

----------

First it must be acknowledged that Sarfati is correct when he accuses Haeckel of touching up pictures of embryos to make them more convincing in terms of evolutionary development. However, Haeckel’s creative artwork was exposed by his peers and his theory of "recapitulation" was discounted at the beginning of the last century. Sarfati is also correct in stating that Haeckel’s idealized embryos should not be included in any modern textbook in support of the theory of evolution.  However, he is wrong in suggesting that Haeckel's drawings and theories played a prominent role in formulating evolutionary theory.  They did not. 

It is unfortunate that Haeckel saw fit to exaggerate the structural similarities of the embryos of various species, because quite striking similarities can be observed at early stages without resorting to creative artwork. It is now clear that embryos of more advanced animals bear a structural resemblance to those of less advanced animals at different stages of development. Early mammalian embryos have many characteristics that are common to fish and amphibians. For example, the young human embryo has brachial arches (sometimes referred to as "gill arches"), pairs of aortic arches, a fish-like heart with a single atrium and ventricle, and a rudimentary tail.

In fish, the tissue between the brachial arches disappears, the grooves become clefts, and the gill clefts open to the exterior. In birds and mammals, the perforations in the brachial arches do not occur and the arches ultimately give rise to the jaws, inner ear, tonsils, and vocal organs in terrestrial chordates. The role that these potential gill-forming structures play in human development is illustrated by the fact that some people are born with fistulas (openings) in the neck when the spaces between the arches fail to close properly during embryological development. In essence they are born with rudimentary "gill slits".

Despite Haeckel’s excesses, comparative embryology (ontogeny) continues to provide strong support for evolutionary theory.  For some other examples of observations that demonstrate this relationship, see Section 4. Observations from Comparative Embryology Studies, here.  For a comprehensive discussion of Haeckel's influence (or lack thereof) on the theory of evolution, here.

4Like so many other mud-slinging creationists, Sarfati could simply not resist the temptation to try to implicate the development of evolutionary theory in the rise of Nazism.

----------

A more persuasive argument can be made that Hitler was motivated to carry out his misdeeds primarily by his religious belief that the white Aryans were the favored people of God.  Among other statements that attest to his religious motivation, consider the following:

"Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord," adding "Compared to the absurd catchword about safeguarding law and order, thus laying a peaceable groundwork for mutual swindles, the task of preserving and advancing the highest humanity, given to this earth by the benevolence of the Almighty, seems a truly high mission."  - Adolph Hitler

For a discussion of  this topic that refutes the evolution/Nazism link, see here.  Even if the theory of evolution did play some role in shaping Hitler's philosophy, it would have no bearing on the validity of the theory.   Scientific theories are neither inherently good nor evil; they simply explain natural phenomena.  Atomic theory can be used to generate electricity and cure cancer.  Or it can be used to construct bombs capable of incredible destruction.  It is society, not some intrinsic property of the theory itself, that determines whether scientific knowledge will be put to constructive or destructive uses.  Blaming the theory of evolution for the rise of Nazism makes no more sense than blaming Alexander Graham Bell for obscene telephone calls.  

4In reference to the so-called "Mitochondrial Eve", Sarfati claims that recent discoveries regarding the rate of mutation in mitochondrial DNA indicate that it is more rapid than previously thought.  He further claims that, using this faster rate to calculate when "Eve" existed, shows that she lived only 5,000 to 6,000 years ago.  This, he maintains, is in perfect harmony with the Genesis account of creation and is an "enigma for evolution/long age beliefs."

----------

The truth is, studies show that the rapid rate of mutational change occurs in a small control region that makes up only 7% of the mitochondrial genome.  The rest of the genome changes at a much slower rate.  When the highly-variable control region is eliminated from the calculations and only the more stable regions are taken into consideration, the results show that "Eve" actually lived some 171,500 years ago.

Should anyone be surprised that Sarfati and his fellow data-fudgers misapply the rate of change of a highly-variable region of the genome to try to fool their readers into thinking science confirms the Genesis story?  Anyone who knows how creationists normally operate, surely shouldn't be.  For clarification of the Mitochondrial Eve matter and Sarfati's similar fallacious claims regarding "Adam", see here

The enigma for evolutionists is not how to justify their "long age beliefs."  The evidence is overwhelming in supporting a billions-year-old earth.  The enigma for evolutionists is how self-proclaimed Bible believers can justify misrepresenting the facts on such a regular basis.

4In the conclusion to this chapter, Sarfati repeats the canard that evolutionists live in a moral vacuum. 

----------

Unless he can provide factual evidence that evolutionists are currently morally inferior to creationists, his rantings on this subject qualify as nothing but baseless assertions.  It wasn't evolutionists who carried out the 9/11 attacks and it isn't evolutionists who are murdering one another with great regularity in the Middle East and Africa. I think it is safe to say that most of the wars and serious conflicts in the world today are being waged by those who, for the most part, embrace religion-based accounts of creation.

As a consequence of his own warped opinion about the moral depravity of those who accept the theory of evolution, Sarfati criticizes Richard Dawkins for stating: "We have to face up to the truth [that evolution is fact]."  That critical attitude sums up the creationist worldview in a nutshell.  If facing up to the truth places their religious beliefs in doubt, they want absolutely nothing to do with it.

Chapter 7: Astronomy and Chapter 8: How old is the earth?

The truth stretching, fact bending, and data mangling that creationists must employ to try to force the evidence to conform to their young-earth worldview is a marvel to behold.  As the abundance of evidence that falsifies their pre-scientific, Bronze-Age model of earth history continues to accumulate, the mental gymnastics required to support their young-earth mythology have become increasingly more demanding.  If running from the truth through a minefield of contravening evidence while wearing horse blinders were an Olympic event, young-earth creationists would be shoo-ins for a gold medal.  

Since most of the more egregious errors in these chapters have been dealt in the two critiques mentioned at the beginning of this article, I will not deal with them any further.  For additional refutation of many of Sarfati's ill-conceived arguments in support of a young-earth, see here.

Chapter 9: Is the design explanation legitimate?

If Sarfati is inquiring whether the design explanation is legitimate from a religious or philosophical standpoint, the answer is yes.  However, if he is asking whether it represents a legitimate scientific theory, then the answer is an emphatic NO.  To understand why the design inference is not a valid scientific alternative to the theory of evolution, see my discussion of the subject here.

Conclusion:

In his conclusion, Sarfati rehashes his litany of errors in condensed form.  He further argues that there is "every reason that students should hear the evidence against evolution."  I do not know of a single legitimate scientist who would disagree with that statement. Unlike creationists, real scientists are obligated to confront contradictory evidence head on and revise their thinking if the evidence so warrants.  Scientists cannot ignore evidence they don't like nor can they  misconstrue it to force it to conform to a preconceived dogma, as the creationists do.  If  the creationists (or anyone else for that matter) ever come up with any meaningful, well-corroborated scientific evidence that calls the overarching concept of evolution into question, scientists will be the first to make it known to all concerned.  Until then, there is no reason to confuse the issue by exposing students or any other impressionable minds to the type of pseudoscientific nonsense that Sarfati has presented in his article.