A reader asks for help responding to an excerpt from Richard Dawkins’s new book. John UpChurch, AiG–U.S., breaks it down.
URL: http://www.newsweek.com/id/216140 [an excerpt from Richard Dawkins’s book The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution]
Please help! I have been talking to my co-workers and boss lately about my creationist beliefs. After a lengthy discussion today about global flood, misdating of Mount St Helens lave dome, etc., my boss left this article for me on my desk.
I want to provide a rebuttal, but am nervous that I will mess up. I am also eager to use current and accurate information to support my counter-argument. Can you help? I checked out the Dinosaurs section on Answers, and didnt see anything that jumped out at me right away...
Yesterday, I shared with the assistant director of schools in our county some information concerning “order of appearance” in the Creation/Evolution issue. I mentioned to him that in this 200th year of Darwin’s birth many have sought to increase the indoctrination of our children in the public schools. The new biology textbook tells the student about embryonic and adult stem cell research and how scientists are seeking cures for illnesses. Also, the “evolution of humans” is depicted in a subsequent chapter. However, much later in the book, they learn how “marvelous” their early development is in the womb! We can’t have it both ways in this world! Life is either “valued” or not! God’s design is either glorified or not! Are the unborn expendable or valued?
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Before we examine the rest of this article, I would like to draw your attention to the second page in which Dawkins sets up two arguments that few informed creationists would make:
First, “If people came from monkeys via frogs and fish, then why does the fossil record not contain a ‘fronkey’?” And, second, “I’ll believe in evolution when I see a monkey give birth to a human baby.”
He also says later:
As for the second challenge, once again, humans are not descended from monkeys. We share a common ancestor with monkeys.
The reason I point to these is that Dawkins has a history of setting up false arguments and knocking them down (e.g., here). In this way, he seems to win the debate, even though there was no debate to be had. We have—for years—recommended that no one use such arguments, just as we have also suggested not calling evolution “just a theory.”1 Some may use such things as “fronkeys” to parody evolutionary assumptions, but parodies hardly qualify as to what creationists teach.
Now, let’s get to the points Dawkins makes. His first argument is that creationists congratulate each other about how “gaps” in the fossil record disprove evolution. But they ignore
the massive numbers [of fossils] that we now do have to document evolutionary history—large numbers of which, by any standards, constitute beautiful “intermediates.”
Supposed gaps in the fossil record once troubled Darwin.2 But they aren’t a major concern to most evolutionists, simply because the issue is not what fossils are dug up—it’s what stories evolutionists can tell about what they dig up. Dawkins says it best:
We don’t need fossils in order to demonstrate that evolution is a fact. The evidence for evolution would be entirely secure even if not a single corpse had ever fossilized.
In other words, evolution is independent of the fossil evidence. No gap in the record will ever get in the way of the prior expectation that naturalism is the only allowed explanation. Answers in Genesis has long held that the evidence isn’t the main issue—it’s the expectation that evolution has to be correct. One can point to as many problems with evolution as he likes, but the evolutionary mythology can bend and flex to accommodate any problem. One story expertly told is as good as fact.
Dawkins himself demonstrates exactly what I mean. He claims that creationists are quite fond of the so-called Cambrian Explosion, the point at which most of the animal phlya first appear in the fossil record. To dispel the impact this has on evolutionary history, Dawkins appeals to the flatworm. Although numerous today, there is essentially no fossil evidence of them. This, according to him, refutes creationists:
If the gap before the Cambrian Explosion is used as evidence that most animals suddenly sprang into existence in the Cambrian, exactly the same “logic” should be used to prove that the flatworms sprang into existence yesterday. Yet this contradicts the creationist’s belief that flatworms were created during the same creative week as everything else. You cannot have it both ways. This argument, at a stroke, completely and finally destroys the creationist case that the Precambrian gap in the fossil record can be taken as evidence against evolution.
There are two major flaws in this assumption. First, the analogy is not accurate. A living animal not being found in the fossil record is not on the same order of problem as most of the animal phyla appearing suddenly if animals had evolved from a common ancestor. We know flatworms have existed throughout history because God created the original kinds during Creation Week. All of today's organisms are descendants of those original kinds. There’s no reason to depend solely on fossils (or lack of) when we have an eye-witness account.
Secondly, creationists see the fossil record as being mostly complete, which is why the lack of fossils before the Cambrian is so informative. This, in fact, strongly correlates to special creation and a global cataclysm, which is why creationists point to this evidence. It does not “prove” that God created, but it does line up with that expectation.
For Dawkins, his explanation of the Cambrian Explosion demonstrates the power of evolutionary storytelling trumping all else:
Probably, most animals before the Cambrian were soft-bodied like modern flatworms, probably rather small like modern turbellarians—just not good fossil material. Then something happened half a billion years ago to allow animals to fossilize freely—the arising of hard, mineralized skeletons, for example.
Evolution is a “fact” simply because it has to be. The imagination can fill any gap or flaw or blemish. In this case, since there are few prior fossils and since we have to begin with evolution, a solution presents itself: the animals aren’t there because they were soft-bodied. This is a claim that no one could ever disprove—except, of course, if there is a historical account contradicting it (i.e., the Bible). Truly, the naturalist storytellers can spin a yarn for any occasion:
We don’t need fossils. The case for evolution is watertight without them, so it is paradoxical to use gaps in the fossil record as though they were evidence against evolution.
To his credit, Dawkins does claim that evolution could be falsified. How? A single fossil found out of sequence:
All the fossils that we have, and there are very very many indeed, occur, without a single authenticated exception, in the right temporal sequence. Yes, there are gaps where there are no fossils at all, and that is only to be expected. But not a single solitary fossil has ever been found before it could have evolved.
For all the bluster, however, this is an empty claim. After all, creationists find the order in the fossil record to fit well with the Flood account.3 Order only proves there is order—not the reason for that order.
To sum up, Dawkins’s argument breaks down into these components: straw-man attacks, bluster, forcefully repeating “evolution is fact,” and using evolutionary expectations to prove evolution. That’s hardly a winning combination.
Dawkins seems to think that if he can explain away “gaps,” he has won the day. But at the same time, he does not see how often he lets slip that he would take evolution no matter what the evidence. This is exactly the point AiG has been making for years. Evidence and flaws are not the issue; the starting point is.
I hope this helps with your witnessing. May the Lord bless your efforts.