And deserved it is, in this remarkably ignorant article by a creationist named Peter Heck. It starts out very, very badly.
It never ceases to amaze me how intellectually condescending evolutionary naturalists can be. Keep in mind, these are folks who believe that an indescribably tiny wad of nothingness exploded into a fully functional, structured, and ordered universe of orbiting planets and complex creatures without any supernatural agency involved. They are the ones who cling to a theory known as spontaneous generation – the notion that dead matter can just suddenly pop to life. They are the ones who champion a man (Charles Darwin) who suggested that Africans were more closely related to gorillas than Caucasians. They are the ones who believe that a wolf-like animal with hooves took to the water, lost its legs, and morphed into a whale (Cetaceans). If anyone should go easy on the intellectual condescension, it’s these people. But they don’t.
Wow. Let’s begin at the top.
Scientists believe that the universe began in the Big Bang because a large body of astronomical observation and mathematical work provides evidence that it happened. It’s odd, it’s counterintuitive to us short-lived humans who don’t see a large enough span of time to see changes on an astronomical scale, and there certainly are a lot of unanswered questions about what was going on in the first instant of our origin…but the physics all points in that direction. On the other hand, of course, we’ve got creationists who believe the universe was poofed into existence pretty much as it is right now by a snap of a god’s fingers 6,000 years ago, and the reason they think that is because priests of a tribe of nomadic goat-herders said so. Who should be intellectually condescending here?
Biologists recognize that the basis of life is chemistry — that we are the product of some wonderfully interesting biochemical reactions. We do not believe in spontaneous generation, but we do know that the boundary between biology and chemistry is very, very fuzzy indeed, and that there was a transition in the history of life where chemical replicators gradually acquired sufficient complexity that they became the basis for life. Again, this is the product of evidence and experiment: we see molecular indicators of the common origin of all life, and that we see even in our own cells the hallmarks of a history with a much simpler origin. On the other hand, of course, we’ve got creationists who believe a god independently created each species fixed and eternal, and that there are few enough of these unchangeable forms that they could all be loaded on a big boat. Why do they think so? Because a few Jewish poets and mystics scribbled down a page and a half of metaphor in an old book. Who should be intellectually condescending here?
Charles Darwin had complex views on race (I recommend Desmond and Moore’s Darwin’s Sacred Cause(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll) for a good overview). He did have the common biases of his time, and certainly did believe that white Europeans were the best and most advanced of all peoples. However, the creationists of the time also shared those views, and in many cases were much worse. Louis Agassiz, for instance, thought that black and white people were independently created; he found Darwin’s view, that Europeans shared blood ancestry with Africans, to be repugnant in the extreme. The views of the religious were divided between slavery-promoting, black-denigrating believers in plural origins who thought blacks were marked as inferior by their god, and abolitionists who read the Bible as describing a brotherhood of all peoples. Darwin’s idea of evolution actually provided scientific support for the unity camp — and he himself found slavery abhorrent. To claim that Darwin was deplorable because he was a racist is both a gross misreading of history (nothing new to creationists) and a logical fallacy (also nothing new), since his views on race have nothing to do with the validity of his scientific ideas. Who should be intellectually condescending here?
The evolution of whales is also a matter of fact and evidence. We have the fossils; we can see a pattern of change across geological time, from those hooved terrestrial quadrupeds to flippered ambush predators adapted to living in the shallows to four-flippered, paddle-tailed swimmers to obligate water-dwellers with flukes and no hind limbs, with many stages in between. It is a beautiful and strongly-supported example of macroevolutionary change. So yes, we believe it — you’d have to be blind to ignore the testimony of the rocks. On the other hand, of course, we’ve got creationists who are shown the succession of forms and retreat to arguments that they’re just the animals who missed Noah’s big boat. The reason they think so is because a century of ludicrous apologists for fundamentalist faith have been frantically denying the emerging evidence. Who should be intellectually condescending here?
The rest of Heck’s article professes to cite specific instances of evolutionary problems. Swine flu isn’t an example of evolution — it’s just microevolution. He makes up stories to support his claim.
If Darwin was right, we should be able to observe and replicate gene mutations that yield new information nearly everywhere we look. We simply cannot.
But we do. All the time. The mechanisms are documented and demonstrated, and we even have thorough experimental confirmation of the acquisition of new genetic properties in evolving populations.
Heck continues his creationist twaddle with more outrageous claims.
Meanwhile, what we can find are innumerable cases of destructive gene mutations, where we end up with less genetic information than what was originally present. Take the recent discovery of perfectly preserved octopus remains. The discovery revealed that these ancient octopi actually had more genetic information than do modern octopi. Call it “Darwin in reverse.” Both horizontal and destructive mutations support the creationist model…and both devastate Darwin’s.
Errm, what? I wrote about those Cretaceous octopods — there was absolutely nothing in the work to quantify genetic information. What they revealed was a pattern of change — that macroevolution thing that Heck denies — in support of evolutionary explanations for octopus origins. And evolutionary models do not demand any direction for information; lineages can be streamlined and simplified, or they can become more elaborate and complicated. Everything is in response to local opportunities.
Who should be intellectually condescending here? I think the side that presents the evidence, actually seeks out new knowledge to test their conclusions, and actually demonstrates some knowledge and scholarship deserves to be a little uppity and arrogant. It’s the people like Peter Heck, who are utterly ignorant of the science, mangle what little they know, and actively mislead people about the evidence who might deserve a little condescension. My only reservation about that is that I tend to favor treating ignorant, lying twerps with open contempt instead.