Friday, 8 October 2010

Theoretically speaking

For the first time in a while, my one-time-regular Creationist visitor dropped in this morning. I enjoy our conversations, though they can go on a little. He is friendly, articulate and - unusually for someone with his views - he is prepared to listen to arguments running counter to his thinking. Amongst other things, the Theory of Evolution came up once more.

He sees Darwin as a pigeon fancier reading too much into the Galapagos finches, and while accepting of micro-evolution (it's nigh on impossible not to be now without looking a little silly) he maintains there is no evidence at all of macro-evolution. This head in the sand approach is surprisingly common. Refuse to accept it and it can't exist. This is one of the things that winds me up a bit. Flat denial of the glaringly obvious. When people say there is no transitional fossil evidence it's akin to pantomime flat-earthism. It's behind you. Oh no it's not. It's BEHIND you. This YouTube cartoon by NonStampCollector neatly summarises a few of the standard Creationist lines of attack on the Theory of Evolution with clear, concise rebuttals. It also shows an all too common defensive technique - that of evasion and denial. Evasion of direct answers and denial that answers have been provided.

As touched on in the cartoon, there are many demonstrations of macro-evolutionary lines in the fossil record. There are plenty of examples if you want to look, want to see them. Evolution newsgroup TalkOrigins have collected a list of examples with my favourite being the development of birds from dinosaurs. There are still many gaps in the fossil record, of course. There are gaps in our understanding across the whole scientific spectrum and always will be. Reducing a hole in our knowledge to where a theory for all intents and purposes becomes fact will still leave unknowns. Intelligent Design is essentially exploiting those gaps in an attempt to provide a role for a creator. While I get the desire on the part of the theist to do that, I see no problem in simply saying 'We just don't know how that works yet.'

Another familiar analogy brought up by my visitor was a version of the tornado-built jumbo jet thing. Equating the 'sudden appearance' of a complex object such as a human eye with the construction of a 747 by a tornado from the contents of a scrapyard. I think he used a car-from-barbecue model in his comparison. It is a complete misrepresentation of evolution to present it as a random process. It's not random. It's more a case of trial and error leading to progressive change - a mutation will only 'work', be passed on to future generations if it proves to be effective or beneficial. That the outcome can appear to show signs of an intelligent guiding hand is the result of an iterative process working over a great deal of time. Continual refinement; adaptation to surrounding environment and events. The sense of direction is entirely false, an imposition - Homo sapiens as a 'destination' where there is no need for one. The dead ends of the tree of life are not afforded the luxury of contemplating their origins. Humans are an enormously successful species with the highest level of self-awareness our planet has seen. It's in our nature to be introspective, to be ego-centric. We are here, so we wonder why.

No comments: