Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Absurd in the Highest Degree (Part Two)

The chapter "Absurd in the Highest Degree" mounts a sustained "God of the gaps" argument, reinforced by an argument from personal incredulity.  Granted, given Ray's repeated notion of how evolution works -- eyes, ears, noses, hearts, lungs, and sexual reproduction evolved through the blind chance accumulation of random changes in every species (or "kind"), which had somehow managed to survive without them until all their organs had evolved -- incredulity is the appropriate response.

On the other hand, even if this were the current state of evolutionary theory, "we can't explain this now" does not logically imply "it must be supernatural in origin."  Too many phenomena, from lightning to epileptic seizures, that were once naturalistically inexplicable have turned out to have natural causes for that not to be obvious.  And it's been pointed out to Ray several times that natural selection is not random chance, and that hearts, lungs, livers, etc. did not evolve separately in kangaroos and Kirk Cameron.  Ray knows the phrases "common ancestor" and "natural selection," but seems resistant to actually understanding them.

Besides the eye, covered in part one, Ray focuses special attention on the ear and the nose.  Both bear vestiges of an evolutionary history, supported by the fossil record.

Ray notes that our nostrils are used for both breathing and smelling, though this is not true of most fish.  There is a Devonian fossil, Kenichthys, whose internal nostrils are intermediate between the typical fish position (in which the nostrils do not open to the interior of the mouth and hence could not be used to breathe) and the tetrapod position (in which they do open into the roof of the mouth).  Over half the olfactory receptor genes in humans -- the genes that enable us to detect and identify particular scents -- are pseudogenes, disabled versions of functional genes in other species.  If one is going to advance arguments from incredulity, perhaps a little incredulity would be in order to the idea of a Designer Who specially created us, decided that we didn't need a sense of smell as discriminating as a bloodhound's, and so rather than leave out these genes put them in and then crippled most of them.

Ray likewise notes the intricacy of the human ear, mentioning the three bones in the middle ear.  The "hammer" and "anvil" have an interesting embryology, beginning, developing, along with the jawbone, from one of the "brachial arches" (sometimes miscalled "gill slits") in the embryo.  This is unsurprising given the fossil record of the jaw and inner ear: these bones correspond to bones that formed the hinge of the jaw in early synapsids ("mammal-like reptiles"), and there are early mammaliformes and mammals in which these bones are diminished in size, no longer part of the jaw hinge, but not yet incorporated into the ear.  Again, a small amount of incredulity might be reserved for the idea of a Creator Who left these bones out of the ears of birds and reptiles and amphibians, and included them only in the ears of animals for which an evolutionary explanation of them could be conveniently discovered and supported.

Ray ends the chapter by arguing that we don't need faith to know that God exists, because the Bible declares that God's existence is obvious from evidence.  He doesn't really address the question of whether we need faith in order to assume that the Bible is correct on this point.   Ray addresses the reliability of the Bible in a later chapter, but first he has (and hence I have) several chapters worth of misunderstandings of evolution to get through.


  1. I found the last half of Chapter 2 also exposes Ray's disingenuous nature to those who still had an inkling that he has an honest bone in his body...

    Ray points out that when Japanese engineers in 2007 made a small, humanoid robot that couldn't walk upright, it was because they couldn't mimic the "intricately designed" feet of humans. In reality, a tiny bit of research shows the robot ("CB2") appears to have been made that way, in an attempt to mimic the abilities and learning of a very young child (as well as disturb the very core of any human who looked at it superficially...). Honda's ASIMO has demonstrated that robots can in fact be given the ability to walk (and even run), much less stand upright, since 2005.

    He then continues working off Chapter 1's redefinition of "scientific" (using what appears to be his favorite method: assigning the literal Latin translation as the definition) as "producing knowledge" so he can conclude that his implication of a creator by labeling everything a "creation" is "producing knowledge of God's existence," and is therefore "scientific." Unfortunately for Ray, the only knowledge produced by such "logic" is that he was extraordinarily misleading by using the title he did for this book.

    The end of Chapter 2's move into "faith" (which, according to Ray, is just another five-letter-word for "trust"), seemingly ends the "scientific proof of God's existence" tone. I can't seem to expect little else but preaching from here on out...

  2. Ultimately, Ray only has 3 arguments: Variations of 'god of the gaps',Pascal's wager and the tautological (and therefore ultimately useless) 'creation/creator'. Even the latter is somewhat dependant on a 'gap' to fill before it can be considered.

    Herein lies the real failure of Ray's anti-evolutionary twaddle: He tries to discredit evolution in a vain attempt to create a 'gap' to fill but even if he were able to achieve this glorious act of creation (which he clearly isn't) the conclusion 'therefore god' doesn't follow.

    The likes of Ken Ham also argue against evolution but their argument is, in a strange sense, more honest as they accept that evidence for evolution exists but discount it mainly due to its contradiction with supposed biblical inerrancy.

    For some reason Ray doesn't use this argument (is this connected to his refusal to state an opinion on the age of the earth?), presumably to try and maintain his position in an already crowded snake-oil market, preferring instead to relentlessly batter a parade of hideously misshapen strawman.

    This is poor apologetics and I fail to see how he and his minions can take it seriously.

    The above said, there is still value in taking apart his ridiculous attempts at scientific argument and I appreciate the methodical and patient way you achieve that.


  3. It occurs to me that one might perform a reductio ad absurdum on Comfort's attempted reductio ad absurdum of evolution. Comfort's argument:

    Eyes are very complex
    Therefore, they to take a long time to develop in (e.g.) horses.
    Therefore, evolutionists will argue that the earliest horses didn't have eyes.

    Now it is easy to show that any organ of a modern mammal is also too complex to have appeared all at once.

    Therefore, the same "argument" offered by Comfort WRT the eye could be repeated word-for-word, substituting "the nose" "the hooves" "the heart" "the skin," etc., etc., etc.

    So if one followed Comfort's "argument" to its "logical" conclusion, we would be left with:

    "Evolutionists argue that the earliest horse/whale/dog (etc.) did not have eyes, ears, nose, throat, skin, bones, muscles, veins, arteries..."

    I would like Comfort to show us a picture of that "earliest horse" from an "evolutionist" textbook. Barring that, I would like him to explain what this earliest horses did consist of, and how it could be distinguished from the earliest whale, or the earliest bannana.