Today’s letter-to-the-editor appears at the website of the High Point Enterprise of High Point, North Carolina. It’s titled Give students evolution’s scientific evidence. That sounds like good advice, but wait until you see what’s coming.
We don’t like to embarrass people (unless they’re politicians or otherwise in the public eye), so we usually omit the writer’s name and city. But this letter is an exception, because it was written by Rev. Bruce Bedinger, vice-president of the River to the Nations Ministries in Winston-Salem.
We’ll give you a few excerpts from the rev’s letter, enhanced with our Curmudgeonly commentary, and some bold font for emphasis. Okay, here we go:
When Charles Darwin sailed to South America on the HMS Beagle in 1831, he had little idea of the impact that his studies of its native wildlife would have on the world. On the Galapagos Islands, he studied the various species of finches, each with a particular kind of beak, which enabled the birds to survive.
The Beagle sailed around the world on a five-year voyage, and Darwin’s theory was based on considerably more evidence than those finches. Doesn’t the rev know this? We’ll soon find out:
As a result, Darwin developed his theory of evolution by natural selection, or “survival of the fittest.”
Alas, it appears that the rev knows nothing about Darwin and his work (see What Did Darwin Do?). We’re not surprised. Let’s read on:
However, he was well aware of the objections to his theory. Foremost among them was the lack of transitional fossils that the theory would require. Indeed, he said this constituted “the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged upon my theory.”
When the rev starts quoting Darwin, we need to very carefully check things out. To begin with, yes, Darwin was aware of objections to his theory. He addressed an entire chapter in Origin of Species to that specific objection — see Chapter 9 – On the Imperfection of the Geological Record. For some reason, the rev’s quote is, shall we say, a bit incomplete. Here’s a larger excerpt from what Darwin wrote, with the rev’s quote in blue, and something he left out shown in red:
Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory. The explanation lies, as I believe, in the extreme imperfection of the geological record.
Got that? Darwin spent almost the entire chapter explaining why transitional fossils are rare. Okay, let’s continue with the rev’s letter:
Nevertheless, he believed that in the future, when more fossils are found, the transitional forms would also be found. If they did not eventually show up, he said his theory of evolution should be abandoned. What has happened since then? Many fossils have been collected, but the “innumerable transitional forms” that Darwin envisioned have not appeared.
Does every creationist take an oath to keep repeating that nonsense all the time? Hey, rev: Check out Wikipedia’s list of transitional fossils. What other wonders does this holy man have for us today? How about this:
Instead, the fossil record reveals the sudden appearance of new species. This discovery led to the development of a new version of evolutionary theory called “punctuated equilibrium.” The new theory seemed to be more consistent with the creationist view expressed in Genesis: “In the beginning God created heaven and earth…”.
Aaaargh!! Well, we have to expect that sort of thing. Holy men are accustomed to plucking their words of wisdom from ancient texts. The rev utterly fails to grasp the meaning of punctuated equilibrium. It is not a theory of “sudden appearance.” Here’s more of the rev’s quote mining:
As Harvard professor Stephen Gould said, “The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology.”
That’s easily found in the TalkOrigins Quote Mine Project: Quote #3.2. Moving along, the rev does a similar bit of quote mining from Niles Eldridge. This is becoming tedious, and it’s too much bother to check that one; we’ll leave it up to you, dear reader. The rev then concludes his letter by asserting that all the textbooks are lying:
Apparently, textbook publishers have adopted the “trade secret” of paleontologists. Evolution is generally presented as a long, gradual process, in stark contrast to the fossil evidence. Students should not be shielded from scientific evidence because it is controversial or may cause them to question conventional theories or ideas.
We would never say, or even suggest, that the rev is dishonest. He’s probably a decent chap whose life’s work has accustomed him to cite what he imagines to be trustworthy sources, without even considering the possibility of checking facts for himself. Alas for the rev and his flock, his creationist sources are utterly worthless.
Ignorant and gullible, taking dubious authorities on faith, is no way to go through life, rev. Maybe it works in the preaching business, but it’s a non-starter in science.
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