Monday, September 20, 2010

Absurd in the Highest Degree (Part One)

The title of chapter 2 of How to Know God Exists might be considered a self-evaluation of the chapter itself: a description of evolution that (continuing a theme from chapter 1) ignores natural selection entirely and insists that evolutionary theory attributes every feature of living things to "blind chance."  From time to time I have the thought (it is not original with me) that Ray is engaged in an elaborate hoax, the grandest demonstration of Poe's Law ever attempted.  At least, I suspect that his understanding of evolution is not quite so abysmally bad as some of his statements suggest.

An example: Ray states that "this marvelous design [of the eye] occurs not just in humans, but in all the different creatures: horses, ants, dogs, whales, lions, flies, ducks, fish, etc.  Think about what the theory of evolution claims: the eyes of all these creatures slowly developed over millions of years.  Each of them was blind until all the parts miraculously came together and interrelated with all the others, because all the parts are needed for the eye to function."

Does Ray really believe this is an accurate statement about evolution?  All of these animals except for flies are vertebrates (and if Ray has ray-finned fish in mind when he writes "fish," they are all gnathostome vertebrates).  According to evolutionary theory, all inherited box-camera eyes from a common ancestor; their last blind ancestor was Precambrian.  Flies, for their part, inherited eyes from the insect common ancestor (which in turn inherited eyes from an arthropod common ancestor.  Nothing very like a whale or a fly ever existed with partially-formed eyes.

On the other hand, some living species do have eyes that are "partially formed" with respect to other eyes in their phylum.  Cephalopods (octopuses and squids) have box-camera eyes superficially similar to the vertebrate type, but the chambered nautilus has a simpler eye without a lens.  Still simpler eyes, mere cups or funnels (retinas without lenses or proper apertures) exist in limpets.  Structurally similar eyes occur in the lancelet or amphioxus, a primitive chordate similar to the common ancestor of vertebrates.  Eyes -- functional for their possessors -- exist in forms ranging from a tiny light-sensitive cluster of nerve endings (the planarian) to highly complex box camera or compound eyes in vertebrates and some trilobites respectively.

But what raises questions in my mind is this: Ray later turns to the "schizochroal" or "optical double" compound lenses of some trilobite eyes to marvel over their elegance and complexity, and notes "you've probably been led to believe that the first simple creatures had simple eyes, and that as creatures slowly evolved their eyes evolved along with them."  Here Ray seems to have a faint inkling that evolutionary theory does not posit that whales and lions were not wandering around the Cambrian seafloor with one or two random components of the eye attached to their skulls.  Still, he nowhere mentions common ancestors or common descent, and perhaps he has no idea that evolutionary theory holds such ideas.

Note, by the way, that trilobites are not the "first simple creatures;" they appear about 25 million years after the start of the Cambrian, and somewhat longer after the first bilaterians in the Precambrian Ediacarans.  Nilsson and Pelger did an infamous computer simulation that seems to indicate that a box-camera eye could evolve from a small light-sensitive patch in a few hundred thousand generations; they did not consider compound eyes, but thirty million years is enough time for a lot of trilobite generations.


  1. Give Ray permission to syndicate this on his blog, it would be hilarious.

  2. Steven said: "From time to time I have the thought (it is not original with me) that Ray is engaged in an elaborate hoax, the grandest demonstration of Poe's Law ever attempted."

    While I too have the occasional hope that Ray is just an elaborate Poe, with "friends" like Cameron in on it and getting a hearty laugh from Ray's trolling, I consider it just that: a hope, for the sake of all I find reverent about the mental capacities and capabilities of the human mind, that Ray is simply joking. I follow the "Hope for the best, expect the worst" rule when dealing with people like Ray, so I hope he's joking, but I expect that he seriously thinks Evolution says animals evolved blind, then spontaneously sprouted eyes, or that after millions of years a fully formed male dog suddenly pops into existence, with a fully formed female dog sprouting up nearby to mate with.

    I expect this because my mother, despite being informed in biology enough to be in the medical field, has posed the "If we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?" argument to me. If she can posit that argument against Evolution despite her knowledge, then there is no limit to the absurdity someone of Ray's intellect will utter to affirm their beliefs.

  3. Steven, if you're really undecided about whether Comfort is honest but ignorant or knowingly mendacious, I'd ask you to consider what happens when you ask someone to explain what he means in some passage which seems unclear or apparently wrong. In my experience, the honest but ignorant person will reply directly (if sometimes still confusedly); the charlatan will bluff, evade, or ignore the question.

    You might want to try asking Comfort a simple question: "In the sentence 'Each of them was blind until all the parts miraculously came together,' who exactly are 'they/them'? Are they living whales, horses, etc.? the first whales, horses, etc.? the common ancestor of whales, horses, etc.? or something else?"

    There's no reason he couldn't answer that, is there? But I guarantee he never will. He'll tell you he doesn't have to answer because evolution makes no sense, or he'll plead with you to stop this petty quibbling when your immortal soul is at stake, etc., etc.

  4. That eye quote is copied/pasted directly from his early version of his 'Special Introduction' to the Origin (although a slightly more coherent version actually made it to print). Same with the heart 'example'. How disingenuous can one guy get? He's been corrected on this countless times. This is not what evolutionary theory predicts!

  5. well remember the date of this book is a bit weird, it's not new.

  6. In case you didn't get to read the original (Ray took it down after being proven a fool and a plagiarist), here it is:

    Amongst other gems are a string of Hitler quotes.


  7. lol

    I got all 3 editions backed up.