Sarfati reviews Dawkins' 'The Greatest Show on Earth'

Jonathan Sarfati of Creation Ministries International and author of numerous works including By Design: Evidence for nature’s Intelligent Designer—the God of the Bible and Refuting Compromise, has posted a preview of his forthcoming response to Dawkins’ new book. He writes:

Prominent antitheist and self-styled “atheist” Richard Dawkins has written a new book, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. Ironically, he admits about all his previous pro-evolution books:

“Looking back on these books, I realized that the evidence for evolution is nowhere explicitly set out, and that it seemed like a good gap to close.”
Naturally, CMI is preparing a book to answer Dawkins’ latest. In a chapter about alleged bad design, Dawkins had a section about the loss of wings and evolution of features like halteres, the little drumstick-like stabilizers behind the one pair of wings on flies.

To set the stage, Dawkins related the theory of English evolutionist (and former debate partner1) John Maynard Smith (1920–2004) about the evolution of flying creatures. Maynard-Smith argued that flying creatures evolved first with high stability and low maneuverability (e.g. with the long pterosaur tail or an insect’s long abdomen). Then they shortened, which caused lower stability but greater maneuverability, and they evolved advanced sensory equipment to stabilize by fast reactions (e.g. larger semicircular canals in pterosaurs or halteres in flies).

Even when Dawkins wrote, there were already dragonflies in the ointment, so to speak, because they have both long bodies (stability) but are also highly maneuverable and have advanced navigation systems. Furthermore, even known pterosaur types didn’t fit this theory, as Dawkins admitted in passing. But after writing our response to this Dawkins “Just-so” story, this new pterosaur turned up, and it adds a final demolition point. This new pterosaur, which to be fair Dawkins could not have known about when he wrote, has the stability of the long tail as well as the advanced correction features before loss of stability supposedly drove the selection for the advanced flying skills.

As a sneak peek, to show that we are indeed rebutting Dawkins’ claims, here is a draft section from our forthcoming book answering The Greatest Show on Earth.

Read the rest.

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  1. Rob
    Rob says:

    Simon, I cannot even understand what point you are trying to make? Care to clarify?

    If you think that evolution and Christianity are completely unrelated, then why not share with us why you think that to be the case.

    You sound like you just want a world where everyone agrees upon everything, and with you too of course :-)

  2. Simon
    Simon says:

    Hehe Rob…that world would be sweet ;)

    I was making the point that evolution and the evidence for it don’t need to involve any notion of the supernatural. They are all based on observation of the natural world. They’re a domain of science, and need not impact on the domain of religion.

    The Catholic Church, at least in its leadership, has seemed to grasp this concept and has moved forward with science. It’s a pity the US fundamentalists, and sadly some even in NZ, have not.

    Now I’m not saying evolution and religion are completely unrelated in general, as that is obviously not the case…and the reason why we have ideas like creationism/ID. Evolutionary ideas changed dramatically the thinking of our species and our position in the world/universe, and as religions also tend to have explanations here, there can be conflicts.

    Religions that are not hooked on a fundamentalist literal view of scripture/dogma can incorporate these new scientific findings – not with ease – and probably with a lot more effort required than for non-believers – but it is possible as we see in the world today. Just like religious ideas have evolved to incorporate a round earth that isn’t the center of anything (well, most religious ideas have).

  3. Rob
    Rob says:

    Simon, I think you are missing the point. It is not that religion can or cannot accommodate “Evolutionism” — rather it is that many of us flat out don’t believe the goo-to-you evolution is true. This is not a feeling or personal preference issue — it is one of truth.

    Of course, this cuts to the very heart of this enormous debate. Can we indeed get 3,000,000,000 genetic letters ordered sufficiently — by natural-only processes — to make stuff like us, and all the other stuff that goes into building biological systems and making them work together. I just don’t have the faith to say yes :-)

  4. Simon
    Simon says:

    Heh OK. I personally don’t want to get into a debate on the specifics of evolutionary mechanisms here. It’s pointless – ends up being a competition of who has the best web link. Hardly a way to discuss a complex scientific topic no? Besides, one needs a large body of background knowledge to even begin to discuss with any meaning the details.

    Otherwise, to use an example you may relate to Rob, it’s like people such as Deepak Chopra jumping on theories of quantum physics and going to town on how they reveal supernatural energy and link to ancient eastern philosophies.

    I find personally that forums such as this are more suitable to discussing the politics around the edges.

    I’m alluding to one of the big issues with the theory of evolution here: it’s complex and difficult to conceptually understand. Moreover, it has been communicated poorly overly the years, especially where it touches sensitive topics – no wonder there is a strong “those scientists are just telling us what to believe!” sentiment in the general populace.

  5. Rob
    Rob says:

    Quantum is good like that. I think Feynmann said that “nobody understands QM except Deepak Chopra” :-).

    My understanding is that Bohr and Heisenberg reduced the atom to mathematics, much to Einstein’s disgust (I’m with Einstein on this one). This seems to be to be a bizarre feature of nature, (i) that the atom CAN be understood and modeled so well in such terms, and (ii) that maths can even be the toolkit to do this. What this does for the definition of science, I am not sure right now :-) Sure we can make predictions and test them, but what are we ultimately testing???

  6. Gary
    Gary says:

    Jonathan Sarfati said:

    The ‘General Theory of Evolution’ (GTE) was defined by the evolutionary biologist Gerald Kerkut of Southampton University

    Jonathan, there is no ‘General Theory of Evolution’.

    Gerald Kerkut was a neuroscientist, Emeritus Professor of Physiology and Biochemistry at Southampton University not an evolutionary biologist as you claim.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/professor-gerald-kerkut-549750.html

    There is no Special Theory of Evolution or General Theory of Evolution – microevolution and macroevolution are all part of evolution as defined by Darwin, and expanded by Coyne, Dawkins, Ridley, Gould et al.

    I’m not saying you’re completely and totally ignorant of Darwinian evolution by natural selection but… I can’t think of a way to finish that sentence.

  7. Robin Boom
    Robin Boom says:

    Okay Gary, Dawkins may not have used the phrase ‘definitely no God’, but he certainly alludes to it in the last sentence of chapter 3 in the God Delusion where he states ‘…God, though not technically disprovable, is very very improbable indeed’.

    The next chapter is entitled ‘Why there almost certainly is no God’.

    Even the title of his book “The God Delusion” exhibits an arrogant ‘There is no God’ message.

    The point I was making was that Dawkins ‘No God’ paradigm makes him dismissive of ID, even though he admits to the appearance of design in nature. A ‘no God’ paradigm is as tunnel-visioned in my view as Biblical Creationism. Science is about repeatable observation. The ‘appearance of design’ is a repeatable observation.

    One could assume from Dawkins dogma, that he has never encountered the spiritual realm, and is like a blind man petullantly saying to the world that “colour is a delusion!”.

  8. Gary
    Gary says:

    The point I was making was that Dawkins ‘No God’ paradigm makes him dismissive of ID

    Robin,

    Dawkins is dismissive of ID because it is not science, it’s religion – “goddidit”.

    A ‘no God’ paradigm is as tunnel-visioned in my view as Biblical Creationism.

    Dawkins is a scientist, show him evidence and he will change his mind, that’s what we scientists do, it’s how progress is made. Based on all the evidence presented so far, Dawkins has said “god” is “very improbable indeed” – What evidence do you have to disprove the “No God” paragigm?

    The ‘appearance of design’ is a repeatable observation.

    This appearence of “design” does not mean there is a “designer”, we as humans seek design, i.e. a pattern – our brains are hard-wired for this through evolutionary reasons (safety, purpose, routine etc). We see the abundance of green in nature due to chlorophyll, this is not “designed” for our needs or purpose, it just happens to be a green pigment found in most plants, algae, and cyanobacteria that we find pleasing to the eye.

    This does not mean anything is “designed” – do you honestly think the plate tectonics on which the continents drift were “intelligently designed”? We get earthquakes and volcanic eruptions due to the moving plates; people die; devastation and destruction reigns – some “design” eh?

  9. Rob
    Rob says:

    Gary wrote:

    This does not mean anything is “designed” – do you honestly think the plate tectonics on which the continents drift were “intelligently designed”? We get earthquakes and volcanic eruptions due to the moving plates; people die; devastation and destruction reigns – some “design” eh?

    Gary, have you heard of the Christian doctrine of the Fall? Do you really think that we are so stupid that we have never noticed entropy and death and decay and cancer and earthquakes…

    The God I believe in is under no obligation to keep me safe. He, as the creator, is free to take my life whenever He pleases. We do not believe in a cotton-wool god but a sovereign creator God.

    Cheers,

    Rob

  10. Rob
    Rob says:

    Gary wrote:

    This appearence of “design” does not mean there is a “designer”, we as humans seek design, i.e. a pattern – our brains are hard-wired for this through evolutionary reasons (safety, purpose, routine etc).

    This is pure question begging Gary, and shows your bias. You observe design in nature and immediately attribute it to random processes.

    All design (other than life) that I have observed WAS designed — by people. Therefore I perhaps should infer that life — with the appearance of design — was not created by a designer???

    Also, your claims about us being hard-wired for survival reasons is pure speculation and totally unfalsifiable. For if it were different, you would also attribute that too to evolution: “evodidut” :-)

    Hey, I could “evolve” that…

    evodidit … evoididit … evoidiodit … evoidioit … evoidiot :-)

    That’s not very nice is it … but keeps me amused :-)

    Regards,

    Rob

  11. Simon
    Simon says:

    Rob, mate…

    Re-read what you’re writing here. Think about this concept of “design” – it is a uniquely human cognitive construct – we infer design when we see anything that seems to “work”. That in no way means that thing was designed in an active sense by a designer for that purpose.

    And your “evodidit” analogy doesn’t work. The point of “goddidit” is that it evokes a mysterious designer to solve problems and relieve cognitive dissonance. Evolution is a natural process driven by mechanisms such as natural selection – it is no thing in and of itself that would be capable of performing an action on something.

    It is what happens when, for example, we split a species of animals up onto separate islands and they develop and evolve separately to their respective environmental conditions. There is no “thing of evolution” that does this, the theory merely describes the forces at work that shape the different populations.

    You have to distance your thinking from ideas of design, purpose and intention. Or at the least, invoke God to be the prime mover that sets these natural forces in motion.

  12. Glenn
    Glenn says:

    “we infer design when we see anything that seems to “work”. ”

    No. That is definitely not the basis of the design inference that ID theorists make. That, unlike some things, is a denial I can make with absolute certainty.

  13. Gary
    Gary says:

    Rob,

    You’re using Dembski as a refernence in order to support ID? Seriously?

    ID is not science. This has been shown in court Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al., Case No. 04cv2688 in 2005

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitzmiller_v._Dover_Area_School_District#Closing_arguments

    For the reasons that follow, we conclude that the religious nature of ID [intelligent design] would be readily apparent to an objective observer, adult or child. (page 24)

    A significant aspect of the IDM [intelligent design movement] is that despite Defendants’ protestations to the contrary, it describes ID as a religious argument. In that vein, the writings of leading ID proponents reveal that the designer postulated by their argument is the God of Christianity. (page 26)

    The overwhelming evidence at trial established that ID is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory. (page 43)

    Not a scientific theory. Proven in a court of law. ID is religion, not science.

    ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980’s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. (page 64)

    Here’s the full text:

    http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Kitzmiller_v._Dover_Area_School_District/3:Disclaimer#Page_43_of_139

  14. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    So Gary, it is quite funny how you use a court of law for your justification. Are you saying that whatever a court rules is the truth?

    Do you think it is possible to actually refute the topic? If so, please do.

    The topic: Is it possible to take any object or occurrence and deduce from that alone, that some intelligent source was behind the existence of it? You are most emphatically telling me that “No, you can’t! The courts ruled that this is religious.” Please excuse me for not being convinced. I am going to hold up Stonehenge, an ancient artifact and SETI as examples that you can take something, without knowing the actual source, and say, “This was designed!”. Shall we just leave it to intuition? That doesn’t sound very scientific me.

  15. Gary
    Gary says:

    Jonathan said:

    I am going to hold up Stonehenge, an ancient artifact and SETI as examples that you can take something, without knowing the actual source, and say, “This was designed!”. Shall we just leave it to intuition? That doesn’t sound very scientific me.

    Hi Jonathan,

    What are you talking about?

  16. Gary
    Gary says:

    Rob (author) said:

    Gary, have you heard of the Christian doctrine of the Fall? Do you really think that we are so stupid that we have never noticed entropy and death and decay and cancer and earthquakes…

    Ok, I will say this for the last time, I am ex-Catholic. So I know all the Bible stories/Christian doctrine/myths that you know. If I have to repeat that fact Every. Single. Time I post here, you will end up banning me for spam!

    Rob, we know why earthquakes happen: movement of the unstable tectonic plates upon which the continents of planet Earth sit. Why are you bringing in religious myths (The Fall?) to a discussion about science?

    The fact you think cancer exists due to “The Fall” (stop laughing Gary, stop laughing) only shows your ignorance of science and biology; your intellectual laziness to learn; and your gullible and utterly naive thinking.

    How are you supposed to learn anything of the world around you and progress humanity forward (e.g. why cancer exists and how we can cure it) if you think everything is “God’s will”?

    How very childish. You should be ashamed of yourself.

  17. Rob
    Rob says:

    Gary,

    To be honest I am wrestling with the “science” issue. I have read enough to think right now that what is and is not science seems to me to be a tricky problem

    I love your quote here:

    For the reasons that follow, we conclude that the religious nature of ID [intelligent design] would be readily apparent to an objective observer, adult or child. (page 24)

    Ok, if it really is that easy Gary, you could help me out by providing a definition of science that we all agree upon. Or if that is to hard, a definition that your supporters agree upon.

    From my meagre knowledge of history of science, there have been numerous situations where a large group of scientists have strongly opposed one or two other scientists, even leading to death (Boltzmann), only for the one or two rebels to be later vindicated.

    Science thrives on revolutions, but you seem to think like some group-think-scientists sometimes have, fighting that alternative testable ideas should just be ridiculed and ignored.

    So, I await your definition… :-)

    Regards,

    Rob

  18. Rob
    Rob says:

    Jonathan,

    You may believe that Stonehenge was designed.

    You may look at it and see design — but that is just an evolutionary hangover.

    It wasn’t designed — rather, the stones just happened to be there and random earthquakes and natural erosion led to what we have today.

    It may look designed, smell designed, and we may even know that it is designed, but these are mere appearances. We, like biologists, have to look at these things and just keep telling ourselves that the may appear designed, but aren’t.

    The problem is Jonathan, people like you are “either ignorant, or stupid … or even wicked, but I wouldn’t want to say that.” (~Dawkins)

    :-)

    Rob

  19. Rob
    Rob says:

    Gary,

    The doctrine of the fall is a vital part of the understanding within the Christian worldview. Given your dismissal of this probably tells us that you have no grasp on this.

    Wow, and ex-Catholic. Most Catholics I know have less theological understanding than several 10-year old children that I know. And I mean that seriously.

    The rest of your post has deteriorated into the sort of thing we see on Richard Dawkin’s website. Pouring scorn on something that you don’t understand cheapens you Gary. Sad, because so far I had quite enjoyed our interactions…

    Let’s stick to the science eh?

    Regards,

    Rob

  20. Robin Boom
    Robin Boom says:

    Gary

    I too work in science and have done for some 30 years, both in research and consultancy capacity, and am presently running two scientific trials for different companies. In trial data it is important to get repeatable patterns. If there is no repeatable pattern, then the trial results become a failure for the particular hypothesis being investigated. As a scientist I don’t know why you are dismissive of this repeatable pattern, as all of the research I have been involved we look for this. Why bother having replicates if this is not the case.

    Our understanding of genetics has increased dramatically over the past decade or two. I am stepping outside my field of expertise here, but as I understand it, when studying genetics you look for repeated patterns. The examples I gave earlier on of platypus and echidna being closely relatived is seen in the genetic codes of both creatures. However where is the evidence that echidna evolved from platypus, when the former has only been around 15 million years compared to platypus which have been around 120 million years? Their habitats and way of life are completely different.

    Darwins observations and the theory of evolution is based on the assumption that certain creatures have common features with others, and therefore are related.

    Within ID there are many different camps. For me, there is evidence that God is not ‘omniscient’, a theological belief common among Christians. It seems the creatures ‘God’ (there is no hard evidence this is the Christian God or pagan gods, alien superminds or whatever) are becoming more complex over time. For 2 billion years there were only procaryotic creatures, and eucaryotes have only been around a little over 0.5 billion years. If the most complex piece of organic matter in the known universe is the human brain, and we humans may be Gods latest experiment.

    However we humans who pride ourselves in intellect, can’t combine basic chemicals to make any sort of living creature. Sure we can spice together different bits of DNA together, but these building blocks are already in place for us to work with. I am not saying that one day we humans will not be able to create some form of new life from basuc chemicals, but if we did, there will have been much intelligence and manipulation of matter and chemicals to produce this. ID to me takes a heck of a lot less faith to believe in than some huge series of cosmic and chemical flukes which defy belief.

    Ardent opponents of ID such as Dawkins and his Australian mate, scientist Robyn Williams whose book ‘Unintelligent Design’ uses the most pathetic arguments. Williams best shot was criticising synases for being upside down and sexual organs also being used for urination.

    Arguments for design in life and the universe I find immensely compelling, but trying to squeeze the design arguments into a Biblical paradigm is fraught with huge hurdles. Genesis 1 is an ancient creation story, and this should be remebered. It is a lot more meaningful and realistic than other creation stories of similar vintage such as the Hindu story of the world being on the back of a giant turtle swimming around in celestial soup.

    Within the first few chapters of Genesis however there is another story interwoven, which is a spiritual story of God relating to mankind. This is a wonderful mystery, which Christians take heart in its culmination with the story of redemptive salvation through Jesus. As an ex-Catholic you may find this story childish or possibly even bizarre. However this spiritual side which Dawkins et al have never experienced is something that differentiates us from other creatures.

    I finish with a quote from Einstein who although dismissing the God of his Jewish heritage, stated “The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion…He who has never had this experience seems to me, if not dead, then at least blind”.

  21. Glenn
    Glenn says:

    Rob – “Most Catholics I know have less theological understanding than several 10-year old children that I know. And I mean that seriously.”

    To be fair, that’s true of most Protestants I know, and it’s not true of many Catholics that I know (and I’m a protestant). It really depends on who you know. :)

  22. Gary
    Gary says:

    Wow, and ex-Catholic. Most Catholics I know have less theological understanding than several 10-year old children that I know. And I mean that seriously.

    Rob,

    I was born and raised in Ireland, being Catholic had nothing to do with me, it was a decision my parents made, take it up with them if you wish.

    Such arrogance on your part, only your particular splinter group can understand such theological complexity. It’s not that difficult Rob.

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