Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Win Ray Comfort's Money

As I mentioned in a previous entry, Ray Comfort of the Living Waters Publications has issued a challenge: Win $10,000 for proof of evolution.

The challenge begins with two paragraphs. The first is a summary of Intelligent Design, which states that since buildings don't build themselves, then the universe is absolute proof there is a Creator. But a cave is a type of building, isn't it? People can live or store goods in caves and they weren't built by a designer.

The ID paragraph reads that the Bible says that God made all things then caused every animal to bring forth "after its own kind." What's not explained is how the author of Genesis obtained his information. Did he peform carefully controlled lab experiments to demonstrate that God created the universe? What field work did he undergo? What controls were used to eliminate false positives? Was Genesis peer reviewed for accuracy? Or did the author just dream up the whole story, in which case should it be taken as seriously as any other dream?

Finally the ID paragraph explains that liars and people who are attracted to members of the opposite sex are going to hell. What that has to do with Intelligent Design or Evolution is unexplained, but everything I've seen from Living Waters has to mention hell for some reason.

The next paragraph defines evolution theory as quoted from Berkely university.

What follows is a long list of quotes from various sources in which, at first glance, it appears that highly-trained scientists think that evolution theory is nothing but a hoax or fairy tale. (There is a notable absence of any quotes from trained scientists who think that Intelligent Design is not legitimate science--only quotes against evolution are listed.) For example:
“Paleontologists have discovered a new skeleton in the closet of human ancestry that is likely to force science to revise, if not scrap, current theories of human origins. Reuters reported that the discovery left scientists of human evolution . . . confused, saying, 'Lucy may not even be a direct human ancestor after all.” USA Today, March 21, 2001.

Searching the web for this source pointed me to the full article from the New York Times here: Skull May Alter Experts' View Of Human Descent's Branches, which begins as thus:
"Paleontologists in Africa have found a 3.5 million-year-old skull from what they say is an entirely new branch of the early human family tree, a discovery that threatens to overturn the prevailing view that a single line of descent stretched through the early stages of human ancestry."

The article goes on to explain that the new hominid demonstrates that human ancestry is not a single-line tree leading from modern humans back to Australopithecus afarensis but is in fact more like a bush, with various branches of hominids spreading in multiple directions. For a long time, our fossil record regarding early hominid ancestors was too sparse to be able to accurately judge the connections among them all. The more new fossils we find the more we can fill in the pieces of the puzzle.

This is exactly as to be expected. Suppose we consider a man named Bob who is researching his family tree. If the only relatives Bob knows about are himself, his mother, and his mother's mother, then his family tree will be a straight line, from himself down to his grandmother. But say in the course of genealogical research, he discovers that he has a twin brother who was given up for adoption at birth, and that his mother has several cousins, and that his grandmother was adopted into a blended family, meaning she has several half-siblings. The result of this research would naturally complicate Bob's family tree and with the extra branches would make it more bush-like.

Like so with the new fossil finding. The more fossils we find of our humanoid ancestors, the more complete our "family bush" will be. Paleontologists naturally discuss and argue over which branch belongs where, but all arguments are engaged within an evolutionary framework.

That's not what Ray Comfort wants us to think, however. He carefully selected this quote to suggest that with each new hominid fossil found, more and more evolutionary scientists are "confused" and beginning to question whether evolution ever happened at all. Of course, anyone reading the article would never come to this conclusion.

For example, notice the elipses in the quote on Comfort's site: "the discovery left scientists of human evolution . . . confused." What's in the missing gap there?

First off, to say that a scientist is confused by a new finding is not a sign of the science being a fairy tale. Scientists of all disciplines could call themselves "confused" when new evidence doesn't fit in with conventional models. All that means is the the models need to be adjusted to accommodate the new evidence. With the new evidence comes a stronger theory. That's not a bug of the scientific method, it's a feature.

But Living Waters has a different agenda. Here's the actual quote from the article: "The discoverers and other scientists of human evolution say they are not necessarily surprised by the findings, but certainly confused."

Comfort doesn't want you to know that the finding of a new branch of human ancestry doesn't surprise scientists. They're not surprised because they've been expecting and looking for additional branches of human ancestors all along. If the paleontologists are confused, it's because they haven't settled on exactly where to place the new branch of humanoids. This would be like Bob finding a relative, then puzzling over whether it’s a third-cousin-twice-removed, or a fourth-cousin-once-removed. Comfort just wants to suggest that they are confused because evolution is false. The fact that he doesn't provide links to the original articles makes it more difficult for readers to investigate for themselves. This hiding of key information from a quote is classic quote mining and it is deceptive.

The website goes on to explain to explain the $10,000 offer. "A transitional form (or missing link) is an example of one species “evolving” into another species."

Right off, I suspect no one will ever win Ray's money. He cites Archaopteryx as an example of a transtional form often mentioned, but then quotes Dr. Alan Feduccia stating, "It's a bird." What Comfort doesn't tell you is that while Feduccia disagrees with his fellow evolutionary scientists about the origin of Archaopteryx, he is no Intelligent Design supporter either. TalkOrigins has this to say:
Alan Feduccia who opposes the idea that birds are descended from dinosaurs and instead argues that birds are descended from non-dinosaur archosaurs (a taxon that includes dinosaurs) is often quoted by evolution deniers. Feduccia is a qualified scientist and should not be just dismissed, but his views are in an extreme minority within the scientific community. It is simply bad reasoning for the evolution deniers to use Feduccia's writing disagreeing with conventional ideas of bird evolution while ignoring the many experts that disagree with him. (Source.)

So Comfort highlights the fact that Dr. Feduccia doesn't think that Archaeopteryx evolved from dinosaurs but ignores the fact the Feduccia thinks that Archaeopteryx evolved from archosaurs. How that means that Archaeopteryx is not a transitional form is not explained. (*EDIT: See note below.)

Comfort continues: "I will give $10,000 to the first person who can prove to me that they have found a genuine living transitional form (a lizard that produced a bird, or a dog that produced kittens, or a sheep that produced a chicken, or even as Archaeopteryx—a dinosaur that produced a bird). Species do not cross, no matter how long you leave them. The whole of creation is proof that evolution is truly “a fairytale for grownups.”

Note the qualifier "living transitional form." The species in question has to be alive to qualify, and Comfort has helpfully posted a Photoshopped picture of a duck with a dog's head to give an example. He says he would accept Archaeopteryx, but perhaps not, since Archaeopteryx is no longer living. Therefore any of the long list of species demonstrating evolutionary transition wouldn't count because they are all extinct. A organism living today wouldn't count either since organisms don't evolve while they are alive.

So in a nutshell, nothing will satisfy Comfort's challenge, and nothing ever will. Comfort's money is quite safe, which is exactly as I suspect Comfort expects it to be, but I also suspect that he will use the fact that he has never paid off the $10,000 as one more "proof" that no one can demonstrate evolution. Of course, anyone can demonstrate evolution, both in the fossil record and in the laboratory, but it is true that no one can demonstrate a caricature, a cartoon, or a strawman of accomplished reasonable science.

* Edit to add:

Alan Feduccia had this to say about Answers in Genesis repeatedly using his "It's just a bird," line:

Yes, of course this is preposterous. I was the person who coined the phrase in 1980 that, "Archaeopteryx is a Rosetta Stone of evolution!" Archaeopteryx is clearly transitory between reptiles and birds; the question is: what group of reptiles. The current dogma is that birds are directly derived from theropod dinosaurs, but there are numerous serious problems with this proposal, namely,
– the time line is all wrong.
– requires a ground-up origin of flight.
– many characters don't match, especially the digits.
– requires that all sophisticated flight architecture be evolved in an earth-bound, flightless dinosaur!!

At any rate count on the creationists to misquote people to foster their cause.


Rhology said...

I have two challenges to evolution I'm wondering if you'd be interested in addressing, then.

Challenge 1: Given the great care that the Darwinian camp has taken to differentiate itself from the Intelligent Design stuff, one would think that certainly said camp would be highly, strongly interested in providing evidence for its position, absent ANY INTELLIGENCE involved whatsoever. Given that, I'd like evidence that evolution from one type of organism to another is occurring TODAY with the following qualifications:
1) A laboratory injects intelligence into the equation. No lab.
2) Experiments observed on a REPEATED basis, as good science should be.
3) No intelligent (ie, human) manipulation of the events.
4) With ALL normal environmental factors present. No control group, no outside interference from intelligent agents (ie, humans).
5) With ALL normal other factors present, such as predators, weather, fluctuations in prey, water, and other nourishment.
6) And a good way of judging when the line of organism has become a different type.

Challenge 2.

Tommy Holland. said...

The Heisenberg Uncertainty principle states that we can't observe something without changing it. Stick a thermometer into a small vial of water to get its temperature, and the temperature of the thermometer will change the temperature of the water.

Therefore, to artificially constrain science by insisting that it must conduct science without observing the conditions ("No lab.") is unreasonable. Incidentally, your qualifications would be just as inhibiting to demonstrating Intelligent Design as it is to the Theory of Evolution.

Historical events can't be reproduced scientifically. I can't duplicate my birth or the Battle of Waterloo in a lab and study the results. However, we can study the mechanisms of historical events scientifically and learn from them about how the events came to pass.

For example, we can't reproduce Columbus' historic voyage across the Atlantic Ocean--it simply can't be done. But we do know his starting point, his ending point, and his mechanism for sailing the ocean waters (Mediterranean caravels). Even though we can't draw a dotted line across the Atlantic reproducing his exact path, we know beyond reasonable doubt that in the year 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

What's more, our inability to exactly reproduce Columbus' voyage does not allow us to declare that perhaps he teleported from Spain to the West Indies. "Magic" is not a better answer than "probable, but not completely certain."

That said, evolution has been observed both in the laboratory and in the wild. From a century and a half of observational science, we have a framework that can begin with a starting point, an ending point, and the mechanism that bridges the two--natural selection.


Rhology said...

Yeah, actually the Heisenberg principle did occur to me.
It makes, hmmm, drawing strong, hard-and-fast conclusions about the concepts to which it applies pretty much impossible.
But of course, you won't admit that about your precious theory of evolution, will you? Even though you admit that you have to inject intelligence into any study on this supposedly non-intelligent process. It's laughable, actually.

Historical events can't be reproduced scientifically

1) Hey, all this certainty and strong statements come from YOUR side, not mine. Would that your people would realise this and adjust their statements accordingly.
2) Of course, I'm not asking you to reproduce a historical event. I'm asking you for evidence that the processes you appeal to are still in operation TODAY.

That said, evolution has been observed both in the laboratory and in the wild.

Prove it. Where?
Laboratory is right out, for reasons I already explained.
Please describe the "observed" in the wild. I'm very curious.

Go read an article in talkorigins

1) Interesting - this is just confirmation that your side can't define "species", but you're always ready to jump down creationists' throats for not being able to define "kind" of animal...
2) Let's see what this yields. - Nothing is mentioned on whether this variant was before present. And as you said, Tommy, there's little way to know. That's a draw. - Intelligent Design. Point for my side. That's 1 to 0. - See That's 1 to 0, with 2 draws. - See That's 2 to 0, with 2 draws. - See That's 3 to 0, with 2 draws. - See That's 4 to 0, with 2 draws. - See That's 5 to 0, with 2 draws. This is not going well for you. - See That's 6 to 0, with 2 draws. Ouch. - See That's 6 to 0, with 3 draws.

5.2.1 - See That's 6 to 0, with 4 draws.
5.2.2 - See That's 7 to 0, with 4 draws.
5.2.3 - See That's 8 to 0, with 4 draws.

Wow. At the rate this is going, it'll be a disaster for your side. That's embarrassing for you.
So, are you saying that you have no answer to my challenges?

Tommy Holland said...

I misstated when I said:

"The Heisenberg Uncertainty principle states that we can't observe something without changing it."

In reality, this is known as the Observer Effect (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Observer_effect_(physics)) and is often conflated with the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.