Don’t Forget ’15 Answers’ from Scientific American

While we’re waiting for some news of The Controversy between evolution and creationism — which seems to be increasingly scarce these days — we’d like to remind you of something that appeared in Scientific American back in 2002, years before we started this humble blog.

Their article is titled 15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense. The author is John Rennie, described at the end as “the former editor in chief of Scientific American.” When his article appeared it drove the creationists crazy, and even today it rebuts almost every creationist claim that we see. It’s a valuable resource to be aware of.

Here’s a list of the 15 creationist claims the article discusses:

1. Evolution is only a theory. It is not a fact or a scientific law.

2. Natural selection is based on circular reasoning: the fittest are those who survive, and those who survive are deemed fittest.

3. Evolution is unscientific because it is not testable or falsifiable. It makes claims about events that were not observed and can never be re-created.

4. Increasingly, scientists doubt the truth of evolution.

5. The disagreements among even evolutionary biologists show how little solid science supports evolution.

6. If humans descended from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?

7. Evolution cannot explain how life first appeared on Earth.

8. Mathematically, it is inconceivable that anything as complex as a protein, let alone a living cell or a human, could spring up by chance.

9. The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that systems must become more disordered over time. Living cells therefore could not have evolved from inanimate chemicals, and multicellular life could not have evolved from protozoa.

10. Mutations are essential to evolution theory, but mutations can only eliminate traits. They cannot produce new features.

11. Natural selection might explain microevolution, but it cannot explain the origin of new species and higher orders of life.

12. Nobody has ever seen a new species evolve.

13. Evolutionists cannot point to any transitional fossils — creatures that are half reptile and half bird, for instance.

14. Living things have fantastically intricate features — at the anatomical, cellular and molecular levels — that could not function if they were any less complex or sophisticated. The only prudent conclusion is that they are the products of intelligent design, not evolution.

15. Recent discoveries prove that even at the microscopic level, life has a quality of complexity that could not have come about through evolution. [That’s “irreducible complexity”]

You probably haven’t seen that article for years, so it’s definitely worth another look.

Copyright © 2019. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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16 responses to “Don’t Forget ’15 Answers’ from Scientific American

  1. “You probably haven’t seen that article for years.”
    Actually I have – I met it quite a while after studying TalkOrigins. It’s d**n good.

    “even today it rebuts almost every creationist claim that we see.”
    Given the nature of creacrap (keyword: void) this is unsurprising.
    Couldn’t you have declared this an FFZ? I do have news from the Dutch front. It can wait, though. What’s in a good barrel won’t rot, as we Dutch say.

  2. Isn’t it interesting that every one of these is a negative argument.
    Is there any reason to thnk that “intelligent deisgn” (whatever that menas), or anything else can handle the objection without mentioning evolution?

  3. Michael Fugate

    Then close your eyes and tap your heels together three times. And think to yourself, ‘If only evolution were wrong.’

    Can’t you picture Ham in his ruby slippers….

  4. Claims 7 and 8 are of course perfectly true. And even 11 is, in a sense, partly true; the emergence of new species frequently requires novelty (mutation) as well as selection from what already exists in the species’ gene pool. But if you regard these as objections to evolution, you *really* doh’t understand it

  5. @Paul Braterman
    7. Evolution cannot explain how life first appeared on Earth.

    8. Mathematically, it is inconceivable that anything as complex as a protein, let alone a living cell or a human, could spring up by chance.

    7. There is no evolutionary explanation for the first appearance of life. But it is strong to claim that evolution cannot explain it.

    8. If the starting point is a mixture of amino acids, it seems rather probable that a protein could arise by chance. Anyway, mathematically … incnceivable? That is really a strong statement.

    In any case, neither of those destroys evolutionary biology. And neither of those is supportive of any alternative to evolution – and they don’t tell us anything about the supernatural, the omnipotent, design, etc.

  6. Michael Fugate:
    “Can’t you picture Ham in his ruby slippers….”

    I’m still chuckling at the image you invoked. Perhaps someone with better Photoshop skills than mine will be inspired to get creative, and send a pic to the Curmudgeon to share with us here.

  7. Evolution is the house that got swept up by a tornado, and landed smack bang on top of Ken Ham, crushing him flat, with only a pair of socked feet in sandals protruding from the wreckage.

    All ambitious creationists want to get their hands on those socks and sandals!

  8. “8. Mathematically, it is inconceivable that anything as complex as a protein, let alone a living cell or a human, could spring up by chance.”

    Their probability arguments always fail since creationists never compute the odds of an ultimate magician that always existed having created everything in the universe on a whim. One probability is quite meaningless without comparing it to alternatives. What is the probability that random shuffling 10 unique decks of cards together and they dealing all of the cards out would result in a final resulting sequence? That sequence happened despite the extremely long odds of it ever occurring.

    The creationists probability arguments are all based on “I refuse to accept anything that does not confirm what I want to believe and here is my lame nonsensical excuse”.

  9. @Zetopan
    Agreed. Compare the probability that evolution would account for X with the probability that the omnipotent would account for X.
    No matter how small the probability for evolution, it is smaller for the omnipotent. Bringing in the omnipotent is going in the wrong direction.
    Here is the analogy with playing cards. What is the probability that I am dealt a rare hand from a standard 52 card deck? Whatever it is, if one increases the the size of the deck, say by adding in Uno cards – that is by increasing the things which can happen – the omnipotent can do more things than mere natural causes – it is less probable that I am dealt that rare hand!
    If you want to decrease the probability, one way is to decrease the size of the deck. If I am dealt AKQJ10 – and the deck is a penochle deck which has only A through 9, then the probability is better.
    Assuming God – or the supernatural, or something which can do more than the natural – is the wrong way to find an explanation.

  10. @Tom S: Re 7, I take the simple view that anything capable of reproduction, inherited variation, and selection is alive. But I see your point. However, that’s irelevant to the discussion of evolution *within* biology. Re 8, the chemistry is against you; all those different amino acids, not all as easily generated as those in Urey-Miller, going energetically uphill to link up. I agree that “inconceivable” goes to far, but “vastly unlikely” will serve instead

  11. @paul Braterman
    Agreed.
    In particular, you bring up a point which is often ignored: “going energettically uphill”. That is what makes impossible the assembly by a windstorm of an airplane from its disassembled parts.

  12. @Zetopan

    What are the odds of shuffling just one deck of cards and dealing it out in a particular predicted order? I’m no mathematician, but I’m guessing it’s on the order of 52 to the 52nd power.

    The key point is predicted order. Of course, the odds are 1:1 that the cards will be in some order; the trick is predicting before dealing exactly what that order will be.

    Now, to see the power of evolution in enabling prediction, look at Neil Shubin’s discovery of Tiktaalik. The odds of discovering this critical transitional fossil by just randomly digging anywhere would be astronomical. And yet, by studying the positions of preceding and succeeding fossils in the geological strata, and then studying geological maps to find where the desired age of sedimentary rock would be exposed, Shubin was able to predict where to find Tiktaalik, which is a transition between fish and amphibian.

    If Darwin had found Tiktaalik, there would most likely be no controversy today, the Curmudgeon would have nothing to write about, and we would have no website for our commenting entertainment. Tiktaalik is the transitional fossil creationists are fond of saying doesn’t exist.

  13. @retiredsciguy, if only! If creationists could be silenced by Tiktaalik, they would have been silenced, in the 1860s, by Archaeopteryx. To say nothing of TH Huxley’s subsequent analysis of dinosaur-bird and (full martks to him!) crocodile-dinosaur homologies

  14. retiredsciguy says: “If Darwin had found Tiktaalik, there would most likely be no controversy today, the Curmudgeon would have nothing to write about, and we would have no website for our commenting entertainment.”

    I’d find something else — although there’s nothing quite as popular and stupid as creationism.

  15. My favorite transitional fossil is Morganucodon, found in the 1950s.
    It marks the transition from the “mammalian-like reptiles” and the “reptile-like mammals”, the rise of a new Class of vertebrates. So it has a place in our own evolutinary history. Read about it in Wikipedia “Evolution of mammalian middle ear ossicles”, which has an ample bibliography including two popular books by Stephen Jay Gould and Neil Shubin.
    The idea of a transition marked by the change in the middle ear precedes Darwin, largely based on comparative embryology. The idea that there is a transition demands that the transitional form have a doubly-articulated jaw. And voila, eventually just such a creature was found in Morganucodon. In abudance.
    It is also an example of an evolution of an “irreducibly complex” feature. The mammalian middle ear works by “impedance matching” of sound. The improvement of hearing in the upper range enabled mammals to survive in the dark when the dinosaurs were not active, by finding noisy insects as prey.
    There is also a hint of the genetics which is involved in the change.

  16. @Paul Braterman & TomS

    I agree with both of your comments. In reality, creationists will never accept evolution, no matter how convincing the transitional fossils are. In fact, practically all fossils are transitional, except those species wiped out by catastrophic mass extinctions.

    Creationists will never accept evolution because creationism is an integral part of their religious belief. Most religious people are those who acquired their beliefs at a very young age (“Suffer the children unto me”), and thus are the least likely to change. Of course, there are some creationists who are in it for the money (Ken Ham, IDers, etc.) or for the politics (Mike Pence), and will not admit to any change of heart because they have too much to lose.