The argument from “my piece of wood hasn’t evolved eyeballs”

This one wins a prize for the dumbest creationist argument of the year.

Transcript down below.

Hey, friends —

I encountered a very silly argument on YouTube, and I thought I’d share it, and then talk a bit about how I might address it, absurd as it is. Here it is:

[I’m not going to transcribe it for you. In summary, creationist set aside a bit of lumber a year and a half ago, explains that it hasn’t turned into a butterfly or grown eyeballs.]

The argument that evolution is wrong because my scrap of wood hasn’t grown eyeballs is one of the worst I’ve ever seen. Evolutionary biology makes no claim, no prediction that a dead piece of wood will evolve, and it’s not even a reasonable inference from the theory. Let’s dismiss it out of hand. You’re all smart enough to see the bad reasoning there.

To take another approach, if he has a block of wood, I have a small piece of rock. No, I’m not going to compound the fallacies by saying that Christianity makes failed claims about it, because we all recognize that religion doesn’t make extravagant claims about this rock — we don’t expect it to sprout eyes if we pray over it, neither an atheist like me nor a fervent believer like the guy in that video believes that. Instead, I’ll just talk about this rock as it is.

It’s a nice little rock. I use it as a worry stone, you know, a rock of a convenient size that you can rub it between thumb and forefinger. Usually, those are smooth and shiny and pretty, but as you can tell, that’s not the case here. My rock is rough and angular and black. What’s special about it is that I know its provenance, and I’ve kept it in my coat pocket for about 35 years. I’ve held this when I learned that my father had died, when my sister died, when my grandparents died, when my brother died. I find it reassuring because…

The stone endures.

That’s what I need to consider in those moments of loss. But there are also happy moments. For instance, I know exactly when and where I got this chip of rock. My oldest son and I were fossil collecting in Western Utah back in the late 80s. If you want to see a happy 8 year old, give him some eye protection and a hammer and tell him to smash open rocks, and that’s what we did together. I picked up this little fragment and dropped it into my pocket, where it has remained for a few decades.

This was near Delta, Utah, where we had permission to collect from the scrap pile of a commercial excavation. This rock was from the Wheeler Shale, a Cambrian deposit which is about 505 million years old. We were looking for trilobites. They were all over the place — split open a piece of shale, and what you found was a slab of ancient sea bed, and there were trilobites and trilobite fragments and discarded trilobite exoskeletons everywhere. I still have several such slabs I’ve kept, that I use as paperweights and inspirations for contemplation.

Trilobites are awesome. They flourished from the Cambrian until the Great Dying at the end of the Permian, 250 million years ago. It ought to be humbling to consider this great diverse clade that had a thriving empire for 270 million years until they too went extinct.

The piece I keep in my pocket has no trilobites in it, but it is of a convenient size and comes from rocks that did. I just love having a memento of half a billion years within easy reach, that I can touch whenever I want to be reminded of my place in the universe. It helps keep my perspective appropriately balanced.

In the words of the Preacher in Ecclesiastes,
“One generation passes away, and another generation comes;
But the earth abides forever.”

This is what troubles me about Christian apologists like the fellow in that video. They are happy to abuse science to make false claims, that they think rebut a naturalistic view of the universe. They will point to trees and mountains and declare that they had to be created by a god, and god is good, but they know nothing about the deep rich history of trees and mountains. You would think that a Christian would naturally embrace science — and historically, they have — and strive to have a greater knowledge of what they consider God’s creation. But no! Especially among the most fervent evangelical Christians, they consider their ideology and dogma far more precious than understanding the reality of the universe.

When I try to put myself in their shoes, it seems tragic. How can they hope to humble themselves before their Lord if they are incapable of humbling themselves before the awesome majesty of the world they believe their god created? They can’t. Humility is not the desired goal. They prefer to wallow in their arrogance and their false confidence that they know it all.

There is little we can do to help people so deeply mired in ignorance. All I can suggest is that they, and the rest of us, too, reach out and touch reality. Pick up a stone, look at a star, wade in a stream, and try to understand it as well as we can, setting aside the unwarranted nonsense of ancient dogma. Get educated. It’ll open your mind and make you a better person.


  1. seachange says

    He thinks he knows wood, but he does not. Dude has never owned a woodpile. Have a woodpile (for fireplace, for construction etc.) around long enough it will most certainly “generate” life, and butterflies will come along with.

  2. larpar says

    Duh. You need two pieces of wood so they can have sex and reproduce in order for evolution to happen. : )

  3. drsteve says

    @Raging Bee-1
    As a cis male inclined to favour an expansive definition of ‘miraculous’ that allows for it to be applied even in the context of a purely materialistic understanding of phenomena such as embryogenesis and development, I can see a lot of fertile ground for some wonderfully filthy and blasphemous humour in that remark. . .

  4. says

    No, I’m not going to compound the fallacies by saying that Christianity makes failed claims about it, because we all recognize that religion doesn’t make extravagant claims about this rock

    Actually, that would be a much more legitimate argument.
    After all, Matthew 3:9:

    …I tell you that God can raise up descendants for Abraham from these stones!

    And John 14:14:

    You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

  5. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    Exodus 17:4-7:

    Then Moses cried out to the Lord […] The Lord answered Moses, “Go […] Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” […] they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

  6. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    creationist set aside a bit of lumber a year and a half ago, explains that it hasn’t […] grown eyeballs.

    Too bad it wasn’t left rotting outside for these to pop up beside it.
    Article: Wikipedia – Actaea pachypoda

    flowering plant […] found in hardwood and mixed forest stands.
    The plant’s most striking feature is its fruit, a 1 cm (1⁄2 in) diameter white berry, whose size, shape, and black stigma scar give the species its other common name, “doll’s eyes”.

  7. says

    They are happy to abuse science to make false claims, that they think rebut a naturalistic view of the universe.

    They are also happy to use technology based on science to make the stupidest claims imaginable. I think this is the dumbest “disproof” I’ve heard (so far). Yes, dumber than the crocoduck.
    Anybody remember the episode of Star Trek TNG with the really stupid aliens that stole their starship and all the technology they needed to travel around the galaxy? “We look for things that make us go?”
    I’d like to challenge him to pray for his god to set that piece of wood ablaze, but I’d say it’s no better than 50-50 that he’s ever read that Bible verse.

  8. larpar says

    @feralboy12 #8
    Idk about dumbest. It’s very similar to the guy who opened 100s of jars of peanut butter and never once found life. For me, the dumbest is the guy who claimed dinosaur eggs were laid in a row because the dino was running from the flood.

  9. says

    Religious nutjob: “my piece of wood hasn’t evolved eyeballs”

    Me: “That’s totally okay, and nothing you should feel inadequate about! We can’t all be hentai-style Lovecraftian sex-monsters…wait, that’s not what you meant…?”

  10. ardipithecus says

    He didn’t wait long enough. A year and a half is nothing. It took the archaea 2 billion years or more to evolve eyes. He’s too impatient.

  11. Pierce R. Butler says

    … the dumbest creationist argument of the year.

    A good candidate, but the year still has more than eight months to go.

    Somebody may ask M.T. Greene about evolution, and this guy will fall into oblivion (until next year’s contest).

  12. chrislawson says

    You know how scammers use transparently scammy phishing emails to weed out the skeptics early?

  13. says

    @larpar — If I open a jar of peanut butter and find life thriving there, it wasn’t sealed correctly and I’m throwing it right the fuck out. Life is not supposed to be found in peanut butter!

  14. ANB says

    Excellent post, PZ. You hit the nail (of evangical Xianity–in particular) right on the head.

  15. says

    Time to sneak into his house and put googly eyes on everything.

    In the land of the blind, the rock with googly eyes stuck on it by a crazy Chinese woman from another universe is king.

  16. nomdeplume says

    More frightening than this moron is the greater morons who will watch his video and applaud the “logic”.

  17. antaresrichard says

    -sigh- Still got my ear to this here rock, waiting for the stones t’ immediately cry out!


  18. unclefrogy says

    he is just following the new right wing play book “trying to own the libs.!” only in this case the “evolutionists”. it is meant to be stupid he surely knows that that piece of lumber is as dead as the chicken bones left over from his sunday dinner it ain’t going to do anything but rot.

  19. weylguy says

    “There is little we can do to help people so deeply mired in ignorance.”

    I don’t want to help them; I want to protect the rest of us from them. They’re the ideological tail wagging the political and cultural dog in the country today, and progressives need to find a way to stop them.

  20. carter says

    Decades ago I read one after another of Richard Dawkins’ books. Two examples come to mind in reading of the wood –> no eyes argument. The whole of “Unweaving the Rainbow” is premised on how spectacularly beautiful and soul-satisfying scientific explanations can be and the other is a line from, and I’m probably misremembering here, “Ancestor’s Tale”, wherein Dawkins writes about how the literal bible believers have to keep their world view so small: “The creationists with their carefully impoverished imaginations”.

  21. fergl says

    Watched this. Am gonnae get an auld stane fir mysel. Sorry from Scotland. Should be… I am going to get an old stone for myself.

  22. says

    Dear PZ, thank you for the transcript. It is easier than futzing around with Utube ads and I’m able to easily review segments of your talks to better understand them.
    Do those creationist cretins get off on abusing science as some kind of substitute for ‘normal’ sex perversions??
    Do I remember correctly that in the earlier dark ages (not the one we are experiencing now) people would see maggots and flies emerge from decay food and claim that was what generated life?
    I really love some of the comments here about life springing from old food and googly eyes. And, I’m still amazed at the bizarre pretzel logic of the rtwingut xtian terrorists and fux snews addicted fans.

  23. wzrd1 says

    weylguy, the problem is, only around 10% of the population supports these dweebs in any real way. That leaves 90% of the population being entirely ignored.
    If only 10% of that 90% supermajority put all of their taxes into an escrow account, refusing to pay until their will is obeyed under majority rule, no local, county, state or national government could literally be able to make payroll.
    And dispossessing, displacing or imprisoning 10% of the populace becomes an exercise in bankruptcy and civil war. Given the US civil war involved less than 10% of the entire population, that’ll give great pause and penury to all levels of government and both leading parties.

    shermanj, that was one, the other being a dark box with grain and cloth in it, left in an isolated location like a closet created mice, who chewed their way out of the box, rather than into the box for the food and opportunistically took the cloth for their nests.
    Or just used the box with food and nesting supplies thoughtfully left within it.
    Frankly, I’m more inclined to examine his lumber, then hit him between his googly eyes with it…

  24. rietpluim says

    I don’t recall who said, probably one of the church fathers, in defense of science, that truth cannot be heretic.

  25. rietpluim says

    The piece-of-wood-with-eyes argument is even more stupid than the life-evolving-in-peanut-butter argument.

  26. birgerjohansson says

    Old things in your immediate environment:

    -If you look at the sun, the photons are about a million years old- they have been zig-zaging between atoms in the plasma, almost eternally absorbed and re-absorbed until they finally reach the convective zone of the sun and get radiated out into space shortly afterwards. (It is a bit more complicated- the photon energy is much higher in the center of the sun)

    The center of the Andromeda galaxy is visible as a faint smudge. Those photons are two and a half million years old.

    The (admittedly boring) stones I find everywhere solidified when the Baltic Shield was created ca 1,9 billion years ago. The Canadians can brag of rocks nearly 4 billion years old.

    The creationists have nothing equally impressive to provide (I realise “impressive” is subjective, but för fuck’s sake, we are talking about “deep time”!)

  27. llDayo says

    You should have prayed for the rock to turn into loaves of bread for the poor. When it, inevitably, doesn’t work you can declare the god of the Bible as complete fantasy. Use their own beliefs against them.