Bryan Fischer claims that anyone is capable of defeating Darwin in 4 easy steps, all they have to do is remember his four “scientific” arguments. I’ve got an easier strategy for creationists: be really stupid, lie a lot, and ignore anything a scientist tells you. See? Only three steps, and none of them require any thought whatsoever. Besides, it’s really what Fischer has done, too. The only thing new is that he has distilled creationist inanity down to four easily dismissed lies, and they actually are fairly representative of common creationist misconceptions.
So here you go, Bryan Fischer’s easily trounced arguments.
First Law of Thermodynamics. This law (note: not a theory but a scientific law) teaches us that matter and energy can neither be created nor destroyed. In other words, an honest scientist will tell you that there is nothing in the observable universe that can explain either the origin of energy or matter. By logical extension, then, matter and energy had to come into being by some force outside the universe.
Intelligent Design theory offers a Prime Mover, evolution does not.
There are actually several errors here.
Right off the bat, he makes the common error of assuming there is some universal authority that ranks scientific ideas into “laws” and “theories”, with laws having some objective priority. This is not true. It’s largely arbitrary. If you come up with a description of something that can be typically written out in a short and easily testable mathematical formula, it tends to be called a law: for example, Newton’s laws, including F=ma, etc., or the ideal gas law, PV=nRT. Laws tend to be short and simple. This is not always true, of course (arbitrary, remember?): for example, Ernst Haeckel called his description of the relationship between development and evolution the Biogenetic Law, which has the virtue of being a counter-example that is neither mathematical nor in any way formally correct.
Theories, on the other hand, tend to be descriptions of more complex phenomena, and are often not easily reducible to a formula: for example, cell theory, germ theory, and the theory of evolution. They are neither more nor less true than a law, and a scientific theory is nothing like the colloquial meaning of “theory”, a guess. Theories can also encompass many ideas that we call laws. Evolution, for instance, includes concepts like the Hardy-Weinberg Law and Dollo’s Law.
So in the first sentence of his first argument against evolution, Fischer reveals his scientific illiteracy. Perhaps I need to define a Myers’ Law that says every creationist argument will be built on false premises that expose the arguers ignorance — keeping in mind that anyone can declare a statement to be a law, and calling something a law is no promise of validity. It seems to hold up fairly well in Fischer’s case, at least.
The rest is irrelevant. The Big Bang is not part of evolutionary theory, which describes the history of life on earth. Even if physicist discovered that the Big Bang was a result of a cataclysmic battle between Odin and a gang of frost giants, it would not perturb our understanding of life’s history here. It would make the cosmologists freak out, which would be fun, and it would shape our philosophical understanding of our presence here, but evolution is built on evidence on this planet, evidence that will not go away whatever the physicists discover about events 14 billion years ago.
As for that last sentence … I’ve seen a lot of belittling of Dawkins “Ultimate 747” argument from The God Delusion, but it really is a key point for these people. There is a naive assumption that every action must have a causal intent behind it, which is not true; they even acknowledge it when they exempt their god from this “law”. It’s fair game to turn it around on them and remind them that they postulate something infinitely complex and powerful which has no cause. The other strategy I use (keep in mind, I’m not a cosmologist) is to argue hypothetically that what if there is an eternal and timeless substrate of something more fundamental than space and time that bubbles up universes, like ours, spontaneously — it is not a god, nothing that cares about us personally, but it does have the attribute of never requiring a creation event, like their hypothetical god. Even claiming a causal event at the beginning of the universe does not imply Jesus.
Second Law of Thermodynamics. This law (note: not a theory but a law) teaches us that in every chemical or heat reaction, there is a loss of energy that never again is available for another heat reaction. This is why things break down if left to themselves, and why scientists tell us that the universe is headed toward a heat death.
This law teaches us, then, that the universe is headed toward increasing randomness and decay.
But what does the theory of evolution teach us? The exact opposite, that the universe is headed toward increasing complexity and order. You put up a theory against my law, I’m going to settle for the law, thank you very much.
All right, another repitition of the false law/theory dichotomy, with extra emphasis. Still wrong.
The Second Law of Thermodynamics argument is one of the hoariest, silliest claims in the creationist collection. It’s self-refuting. Point to the creationist: ask whether he was a baby once. Has he grown? Has he become larger and more complex? Isn’t he standing there in violation of the second law himself? Demand that he immediately regress to a slimy puddle of mingled menses and semen.
Nothing in evolution violates laws of physics or chemistry, and the properties of organisms depend on the second law. We burn food, increasing its entropy, to decrease entropy locally in our bodies; the net change is an overall increase in entropy, but the bit we care about, ourselves, can use that increase to drive a local decrease. All of this is obvious, with even a minimal understanding of the principles involved.
Fossils. Realize that the fossil record is the only tangible, physical evidence for the theory of evolution that exists. The fossil record is it. There is absolutely nothing else Darwinians have they can show you.
It kind of takes your breath away, doesn’t it? This is an argument that relies entirely on a profound ignorance of the science of biology. No, this is not true; in fact, fossils are only a tiny part of the evidence for evolution. It’s a kind of sexy, tangible, concrete piece that doesn’t require a lot of background to appreciate, and historically it is very important, but in modern biology, it’s probably the least of the elements that support the theory.
First of all, the fossil evidence is flawed and imperfect, which every evolutionary biologist will tell you, and as creationists are fond of quoting. Even Darwin’s Origin goes on at length to document the imperfection of the geological record — all it can do is demonstrate a long pattern of change and diversity over earth’s history (which does contradict literalist interpretations of the bible) and hint at transitions and connections between lineages … and even the fossil lineages are a product of a connect-the-dots sort of exercise. Fossils disprove a literal Genesis, which is probably why the creationists focus on them so much, but they provide only a sketch outline of the history of life on earth and are not the key evidence for the process and mechanisms for evolution.
For that, we rely on evidence in living organisms. Read this summary of the evidence for evolution, for instance; a small part of it is a description of transitional fossil forms, but most of it is molecules, comparative phylogenies, development, genetics, biogeography, experiments … and especially molecules, molecules, molecules. Modern evolutionary biology is dominated by molecular analyses — everything from traditional ecological field work to embryology has become reliant on looking at genes and proteins. In the field I follow most closely, evo-devo, there is virtually no fossil evidence of any kind, nor can there be — we’re interested in the dynamic process of gene expression and interaction during the formation of embryos, and none of that can fossilize. You can read some of my articles on evolution, and you’ll find relatively few fossils discussed — it’s mostly about molecular mechanisms. Similarly, my Seed articles have all been on evo-devo and molecular genetics. That’s where all the action is at, not in fossils.
This isn’t even new. Darwin himself vested little effort in a discussion of fossils as evidence, but instead discussed variations under domestication and in nature, his mechanism of natural selection, hybrids, biogeography, and development, and prefaced his chapter “On The Geological Succession Of Organic Beings” with a chapter “On The Imperfection Of The Geological Record”. This has always been the case in evolutionary biology, that the primary evidence has come from extant forms, not old bones.
Fossils have just always been handy tools to bonk creationists over the head with, while telling them their myth is wrong.
Genes. The only mechanism — don’t miss this — the only mechanism evolutionists have to explain the development of increasingly complex life forms is genetic mutation. Mutations alter DNA, and these alterations can be passed on to descendants.
The problem: naturally occurring genetic mutations are invariably harmful if not fatal to the organism. Rather than improve an organism’s capacity to survive, they invariably weaken it. That’s why the phrase we most often use to refer to genetic mutations is “birth defects.”
Wait…Fischer has just told everyone that the only evidence “Darwinists” can muster is the fossils, and then in this last point he mentions genes? So he does have a vague notion that biologists do look at something other than mineralized bones, which implies that he was simply lying in his third argument.
Whenever Fischer says “the only…”, I think we can take it as a given at this point that he’s just making stuff up. Evolution is not “only” about mutations. Mutations provide a substrate of random variation on which other mechanisms, such as selection and drift, can operate to produce change in a population. That’s the first grand error in this claim, and it’s a fairly common misconception, implying that all there is to evolution is random chance assembly of functional organisms.
The second big mistake is the claim that genetic mutations are invariably harmful. This is simply not true. Most mutations are neutral, some are harmful, and a smaller number are beneficial. The whole point of Darwin’s great idea, though, is that there are mechanisms (the ones Fischer claims don’t exist) which can select for and increase the frequency of the beneficial mutations over time, while winnowing out the harmful ones.
We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that most mutations can’t be harmful, or we’d all be dead. We know this because we understand genetics, unlike Mr Fischer, and we know that every human being on this planet is born with a substantial collection of novel mutations. I’ll just cite Larry Moran’s succinct calculation:
The haploid human genome is about 3 Ã 109 base pairs in size. Every time this genome is replicated about 0.3 mutations, on average, will be passed on to one of the daughter cells. We are interested in knowing how many mutations are passed on to the fertilized egg (zygote) from its parents. In order to calculate this number we need to know how many DNA replications there are between the time that one parental zygote was formed and the time that the egg or sperm cell that unite to form the progeny zygote are produced.
In the case of females, this number is about 30, which means that each of a females eggs is the product of 30 cell divisions from the time the zygote was formed (Vogel and Rathenberg, 1975). Human females have about 500 eggs. In males, the number of cell divisions leading to mature sperm in a 30 year old male is about 400 (Vogel and Motulsky, 1997). This means that about 9 mutations (0.3 Ã 30) accumulate in the egg and about 120 mutations (0.3 Ã 400) accumulate in a sperm cell. Thus, each newly formed human zygote has approximately 129 new spontaneous mutations.
Is Mr Fischer walking around with over 100 “birth defects”?
One last, relatively minor complaint, but it is a pet peeve: most birth defects are not a consequence of genetic changes at all, but of epigenetic errors — factors in the environment that perturb the pattern of development and cause aberrations in form. Most of the malformations that Fischer would label birth defects have no genetic basis, while virtually all of the genetic changes that occur in every one of us would not even be recognized by him. It’s symptomatic that basically everything Bryan Fischer says is a 180° reversal from the truth.
But then, what else would you expect? Fischer has no knowledge of biology at all. His training is in theology (surprise!), which seems to have only taught him arrogance and pretentiousness, that he thinks expertise in making stuff up from old books means that people with real degrees in the sciences are doing likewise. The tragedy is that this clown is the head of the Idaho Values Alliance, which means he believes his patent ignorance qualifies him to tell other human beings how to live their lives.