Sunday, March 27, 2011

Creationism Notes Refuted, Part 3

The previous section of notes covered dinosaurs, dating methods, and the age of the earth. Next up are arguments in favor of young earth creationism and intelligent design.

Young Earth "Evidence"

These claims are generally meant to line up various measurements of the age of the earth with the time of the flood.

Notes: The Sahara is growing too fast (it's about 4,000 years old)!
Answer: The desert itself is young, but not the earth.

N: Methuselah, the world's oldest tree, is just 4,300 years old!
A: Wrong on multiple levels. It's older than that, it's not the oldest, and individual trees are the least of YEC's problems.

N: The Great Barrier Reef is under 4,200 years old!
A: No, no, no. It's way older than that, and once again it's not even the oldest.

N: Oceans could get from fresh to saltwater in under 5,000 years!
A: Nope. And even if they could, millions of freshwater species would have to very quickly evolve a tolerance to saltwater.

N: Stalactites in Carlsbad Caverns could have grown really fast!
A: Wow, they're using a lot of Hovind's stuff. Anyway, nope.

N: Earth's continents would erode away in just 14 million years!
A: Yeah, totally... as long as new land masses were never formed ever.

N: The first writing is 5,000 years old, fully developed, and found in Mesopotamia!
A: So they've taken to proudly admitting problems with their worldview now? Their precious flood was supposedly about 650 years later than that. And even leaving that aside, they're still completely dead wrong.

N: The Chinese calendar starts in 2700 BC!
A: Look, it should be obvious that this is terrible evidence, but in case it isn't, here's a link.

N: Who did Cain marry? His sister, of course! Problem solved!
A: Except that such tiny population sizes create a huge genetic bottleneck that we could easily observe today. The post-flood starting population of 6 (Noah and his wife had no more children) is an even more recent issue.

Design Arguments

Most of these are arguments take the form "I don't know how it happened, so it couldn't have happened." This is fallacious because it assumes we will never figure out how something happened—a very poor assumption given that scientists are constantly learning more about the world around them. Unlike incredulously asking questions, doing real science takes time, especially since there are so many evolved features to study. And even so, many of the examples below already have plausible explanations.

N: The bombardier beetle's chemical system couldn't have evolved.
A: Yes, it could. One model for how it could have come about is given here.

N: The woodpecker's tongue couldn't have evolved.
A: Yes, it could. This claim stems from a misunderstanding of woodpecker anatomy.

N: The gecko's suction cups couldn't have evolved.
A: First, they're actually tiny hairs called setae. Second, I don't know how they evolved, but it doesn't seem all that difficult. Creationists seem to think that tiny things are harder to evolve, perhaps because it would be difficult for us to make them due to our size. But evolutionary processes have no "size" and thus work just as well on a small scale.

N: Spiders' different types of webbing... couldn't have evolved?
A: It wasn't quite clear what was meant by this. Certainly various web-spinning strategies evolved and diversified to fill different environmental niches, though. It even seems that spiders themselves diversified based on differences in silk. Here is an entire book on the subject.

N: Ears couldn't have evolved.
A: Not only could they have evolved, but we have detailed fossil evidence of how mammalian ears evolved from reptilian ones.

N: Eyes couldn't have evolved.
A: Not only could they have evolved, but a model for their evolution was proposed 150 years ago in The Origin of Species.

N: Lizard "salt sneeze" glands... couldn't have evolved?
A: Again, not quite sure what was meant here. Here is a book chapter on salt gland evolution, though.

Intelligent Design

N: Intelligent design (ID) bases its assumptions on science, not the Bible.
A: ID is unscientific because it is unfalsifiable and does not propose any testable hypotheses; its nebulous designer can be molded to fit any set of facts. Furthermore, most of its proponents are creationists who are merely hiding their religious motivations in order to appear legitimate.

N: Michael Behe has found irreducibly complex (IC) systems.
A: First, many of the systems he's claimed to be IC are not—that is, they can have parts removed and retain partial function. And second, paradoxical as it may seem, even truly IC systems (as Behe defines the term) can evolve in multiple ways. See here for a great list of articles on the subject, and here for a 10-minute YouTube video efficiently summarizing the problems with IC.

N: The bacterial flagellum is IC and thus couldn't have evolved.
A: Yes, it could. It probably began as a Type III secretion system. One possible model is summarized with this graphic.

N: Entirely new structures like wings and eyes couldn't have evolved.
A: The reasoning behind this is unclear. In general, though, either they're created from scratch (e.g. eyes began as patches of light-sensitive cells), or new features are added to existing structures (e.g. wings are modified theropod forelimbs, and feathers likely evolved from scales).

N: DNA is a complex code and couldn't have evolved.
A: It most likely came from RNA, which in turn came from even simpler molecules.

N: Specified complexity suggests an intelligent agent.
A: This idea basically ignores the proposed mechanisms for abiogenesis and evolution altogether. Many have criticized this concept as flawed or even incoherent.

N: SETI searches for recognizable patterns of signals as a sign of intelligence.
A: One huge problem with this analogy is that there is no known mechanism by which such signals could be generated naturally.

That's all for this batch. The next one will thankfully be the last.


  1. I have a question about the intelligent design section.
    - you say that we have no testable hypothesis but evolution doesn't either i would even argue that you have to have more faith to not believe in a God.
    it is just as much of a religion as any other.
    can't test big bang, have never seen any evolution other that between a species ( Dog) .
    It is not possible for a species such as dog and cat to mix because of the genetic make between them it would not work.
    Scientist have come up with a number that the earth formed 13.77 billion year ago but there is no evidence . no one was there !!!!
    Scientist say that life started by the rocks becoming alive.
    i dont know about you but i have never seen a rock ( an inanimate object) become alive it's not possible.
    scientist cant explain why people all over the earth ( including the indians, and hawaiians who didnt have any contact told legends of a world wide flood and dinosaurs .

    1. You have a number of misconceptions about evolution, abiogenesis and the age of the earth, to the point where Poe's law seems to be in effect. I suggest checking out TalkOrigins' Index to Creationist Claims, as many of your objections may be answered there.

      Evolution has many testable hypotheses. You will find one at the beginning of every section in this article (for example, the one on atavisms).

      Atheism has little in common with religion: no belief in a higher power or afterlife, no worship or ritual, no organizational hierarchy, et cetera. It has no tenets other than a lack of belief in God.

      Evolution does not state that dogs and cats should be able to interbreed. In fact, if anything it states the opposite.

      There is a large amount of evidence that the universe is extremely old. See here. We also have quite a bit of evidence for the Big Bang.

      I don't know who told you that scientists think abiogenesis occurred by rocks coming alive, but that's laughably untrue. See the current hypotheses here.

      And finally, widespread stories of large floods and dinosaurs aren't particularly remarkable. Any group that lives near a coast is likely to experience flooding, and any group that discovers dinosaur fossils is bound to speculate about them.

      Hope that helps.