Creationist Wisdom #430: Profound Questions

Today’s letter-to-the-editor appears in the Sun Journal of New Bern, North Carolina. Hey — that’s the birthplace of Pepsi Cola! The title is Missing link.

We don’t like to embarrass people (unless they’re politicians, preachers, or other public figures), so we’ll just use the letter-writer’s first name, which is James. All we can find out about him is that he writes a lot of letters. We’ll give you a few excerpts from his latest letter, enhanced with our Curmudgeonly commentary and some bold font for emphasis. Here we go!

In my eighty years I have observed God’s creation and distilled from that experience what truths my aging brain allows. I call one of these truths, the ladder of existence. The ladder represents an upward progression of objects in creation, each enjoying a greater ability than the entity on the rung below.

The “ladder of existence.” This is going to be good! James tells us:

Consider a rock on the lowest step. The rock’s claim to fame is it exists. A flower on the rung above is superior to the rock in that it exists, as the rock does, but in addition it can reproduce. An animal on the third rung is superior to the rock and flower in that it exists as the rock, can reproduce as the flower in addition it has brain function and locomotion.

Wow — this guy’s letter is loaded with wisdom! He hasn’t wasted his eighty years. Let’s read on:

Above all of these is humanity. Man exist[s] as a rock, can reproduce as the flower, has brain function and locomotion as the animal in addition he has reason, knowledge of this creator, communication, love, music, science, hope, faith, charity, philosophy as well as other gifts.

Verily, we are at the top rung of the ladder of existence. James continues:

I believe the proposal that humanity evolved from an ape via a still missing link is absurd. To accomplish this metamorphosis an ape which does not have the attributes making humans human must pass them to its offspring. A thing cannot give what it does not have. A concept so basic it embarrasses me to mention it.

“A thing cannot give what it does not have.” Remember that, dear reader: Here’s more:

Apparently, it does not embarrass evolutionists. Their theory is rooted in just that happening. Evolution, for this reason, is a faith based belief and is more a religion than a science.

Aha! Well, dear reader — don’t you feel silly, now that James has exposed the flaw in your thinking? Moving along:

Natural selection ignores a flood of questions fathered by the theory. Such as, why is their only movement up the ladder of existence? Why cannot other rung occupants enjoy movement? Why cannot a flower acquire the talents of an animal and become an ape? Why cannot other animals become human?

Great questions! Why can’t a flower become an animal? Not only that, but his question works in both directions. Get this:

Would it not be simpler for those who enjoy an elevated talent level to cast those talents off and move down the ladder? Why cannot a flower lose its ability to reproduce and become a rock or a human trash his humanity and become an ape?

Some people do slip down that ladder — we call them creationists. And now we come to the end:

Those involved in the search for a missing link will be at the task for quite a while. Their efforts would be better served providing answers to these and a plethora of other questions.

You have your challenge, dear reader. Stop searching for the missing link. Instead, try to answer James’s questions.

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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18 responses to “Creationist Wisdom #430: Profound Questions

  1. I have a rather generic question – why is that so many folks like James feel compelled to write such letters? Is it their form of Christian witness and evangelism? As I remember, Jesus said feed the poor, not write letters to the paper.

  2. I thought rock covered paper and crushed scissors, and could also crush people, thus it was more powerful in his tree of existence.

    I also just heard last night on Rachel Maddow that the mammoth fossil bill had been stripped of its creationist references and was sent to the Gov for signing.

  3. Brian Axsmith

    Maybe I have trashed my humanity and become and ape.

  4. DavidK says: “I also just heard last night on Rachel Maddow that the mammoth fossil bill had been stripped of its creationist references and was sent to the Gov for signing.”

    Yup. NCSE has an article on it: A mammoth victory in South Carolina? I was thinking of posting about it, but I donno. It was more fun when the creationists were involved.

  5. Charles Deetz ;)

    Just to rebut James as easily as I can, evolution is better compared to a ramp (at a low incline) than a ladder. As soon as you take away his arbitrary metaphor, his ‘questions’ seem even sillier.

  6. All kudos to letter-writing James for resurrecting in the 21st century the venerable medieval concept of the scala naturae, or Great Chain of Being.

    If only he had gone on to note that witches and heretics occupy a lower rung thereon than Christian believers and therefore are fit only for burning, his reactionary call to arms would have been complete!

  7. waldteufel

    Attempting a reasoned discussion about the nature of science with James would be no more productive than a similar attempt with the rock sitting at the base of his metaphorical ladder.

  8. Where on the ladder does James place the angels? Surely he believes they exist, so they must be somewhere on his Ladder of Existence.®

  9. Ceteris Paribus

    About James SC laments: “All we can find out about him is that he writes a lot of letters.”

    Poor James – has lived eighty years, and in all those letters he has written over that time never stumbled across the wisdom of Mark Twain, who didn’t even get to the age of eighty:

    “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”

  10. He’s obviously never read Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, Galapagos, wherein a small group of humans isolated on an island evolve, over a million years, into seal like creatures with smaller brains, and as I recall, they lose the ability to speak at some point. (I may misremember that). It’s a fascinating, offbeat novel, well worth a read.

  11. Retired Prof

    The cultural baggage of the Great Chain of Being seems to be responsible for the simplistic idea that evolution involves moving to a higher level on the chain–stepping up a rung on James’s ladder. He asks explicitly: “Would it not be simpler for those who enjoy an elevated talent level to cast those talents off and move down the ladder?”

    As a matter of fact, sometimes yes. There are many cases where organisms have “cast . . . talents off.” An obvious example is cave fish, which need no eyes because they live in total darkness. Their ancestors, which had eyes, wandered into a cave system. They stayed there and reproduced. Some of their descendants never left the cave, and some of their descendants were born with smaller and less elaborate eyes. Those fish tended to out-reproduce the eye-growers because they could shunt their metabolic resources from growing elaborate but useless eyes to something that promoted survival and reproduction. Finally we find cave fish whose eyes are only vestigial.

    To us organisms with functioning eyes, It looks like a step down on the ladder, but if the fish themselves think about it, they probably consider it a step up: getting rid of a useless feature. The Intelligent Designer hypothesis is not viable here. Why would such a being place partially formed eyes in a fish that would be better off without even that minimal amount of wasted physiology?

    From an evolutionary perspective the development looks like a step sideways rather than forward or back. Neither progress nor regress, just gress. To illustrate evolution a tree is a better metaphor than a ladder, and this change in cave fish is one of many cases of branching-off.

  12. Retired Prof says: “To illustrate evolution a tree is a better metaphor than a ladder, and this change in cave fish is one of many cases of branching-off.”

    Correct. There was no reason for James to invoke a ladder — unless he never heard of the Tree of Life — which seems likely considering his bizarre progression from rock to flower to animal to us. Evolution isn’t always “upward.” Some branches go sideways. And some hang down.

  13. Evolution = whatever works better.

  14. We can’t deny James a certain ability of selfreflection.

    “what truths my aging brain allows”
    Keyword: allows.

  15. Tripp in Georgia

    He said: “Evolution, for this reason, is a faith based belief and is more a religion than a science.”

    Poor old guy! Doesn’t he at least get a half-credit for his claim that religion is bogus and is not to be trusted?

  16. The evolution-as-a-tree description would probably still have James barking up the wrong tree without twigging on to where his reasoning fails. “A tree,” he would likely insist, “is there to be climbed,” and so the mental image of “upward” progression would persist in James’ eighty-year-old, truth*-distilling brain. The whole notion of “upward” progression is problematic because it hinges on an implicit assumption of an underlying teleology, and there are no good grounds for supposing such an a priori teleology to be real. People of the Jamesian persuasion will of course insist that they infer the teleology from empirical data and deny what is really the case, namely that they fit those data into their teleological preconceptions.

    Also, it seems to me that James has this idea about evolution that, say, a rat can give birth to a monkey, or perhaps that a rat is born a rat and gradually metamorphoses into a monkey over its life. He appears to be oblivious of the idea that small changes over many generations can accumulate to produce large differences. Evolution is blind. From one generation to the next, it randomly probes an organism’s local space of possibilities in all directions, usually in quite small steps. The probings in detrimental directions are quickly blocked off, while viable ones are pursued, shifting the organism’s local space of possibilities a small way along. One profound question that James’ eighty-year-old, truth*-distilling brain should ponder is why genetic algorithms are hugely successful in finding (near–)optimal solutions quite rapidly in maths and physics problems that involve complicated solution spaces.

    * Presumably, James is alluding to One Eternal and Immutable Truth (℗ & © 325 CE, as amended 381, 431, 449, 451, 553, 680–681, 692, 754, 787, 869–870, 879–880, 1123, 1139, 1179, 1215, 1245, 1274, 1311–1312, 1341–1351, 1409, 1414–1418, 1423–1424, 1431–1445, 1512–1514, 1545–1563, 1642, 1672, 1870–1960, 1962–1965 CE, et seq.).

  17. @Tripp in Georgia
    Doesn’t he at least get a half-credit for his claim that religion is bogus and is not to be trusted?

    There some who claim that their variety of Christianity is not a religion. (All the other varieties are religions and, of course, are bogus and not to be trusted.)

  18. Do these folks ever come up with anything new? Viruses are the perfect example of loss of function that has led to greater fitness. They are essentially genetic material and a few proteins that can’t even reproduce on their own. Yet they can bring down even us humans with all of our brains knocking us right off of james’s ladder.

    The idea that evolution has some ultimate goal in mind is among the bigger misunderstandings and misrepresentations of the theory. there is no goal. What works best in one environment may be dtrimental in another. There is no better or worse just what works. Traits don’t exist for a purpose but critters can do certains because they have certain traits.