Answering Richard Dawkins, Part 2

Tags 

Read Part 1.

Dawkins Argument #2

There are of course gaps in the fossil record. In the case of the Turbellaria, a large, flourishing and beautiful group of free-living flatworms, the fossil record is one big gap—there are no fossils—and not even a Young Earth Creationist thinks they were created yesterday. But although there are gaps in the fossil record, it is a very telling fact that not a single fossil has ever been found in the wrong place in the time sequence. To paraphrase JBS Haldane, not a single fossil rabbit has ever been found in the Precambrian.1

Wingnut Response #2

Dawkins’ argument is an abbreviation of an argument that appears in The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, and it is not a scientific argument at all. Rather, it is a logical one. Creationists have critiqued evolutionary theory in part because of gaps in the fossil record, concluding that if evolution were in fact happening there would be a fairly steady fossil record—a predictable trail of bread crumbs, if you will. But there isn’t such regularity. Dawkins admits this inconsistency, but he downplays its significance by emphasizing another fossil anomaly: the absence of a substantial fossil record for the (4000 varieties of) turbellarian flatworms.

Dawkins views this as a clincher:

If the gap before the Cambrian Explosion is used as evidence that most animals sprang into existence in the Cambrian, exactly the same “logic” should be used to prove that the flatworms sprang into existence yesterday. Yet this contradicts the creationist’s belief that flatworms were created during the same creative week as everything else. You cannot have it both ways. This argument, in a stroke, completely destroys the creationist case that the Precambrian gap in the fossil record weakens the evidence for evolution.2

While Dawkins’ accounting of history seems correct enough (with respect to what fossils appear where, I defer to his knowledge), his interpretation of it shows problematic logic. The argument is the equivalent of saying to the police officer who has just written you a ticket for speeding, “But officer, why didn’t you stop the car in front of me instead—it was being driven even faster than mine.” This is the two wrongs fallacy: attempting to justify one wrong by citing another. In this case, Dawkins is disregarding a vitally important piece of data, which if taken on its own merits would cause one to question the historical uniformity of evolution. In other words, the data that Dawkins admits exists does show problems—or at least abnormalities—in the evolutionary process.

While Dawkins seems unwilling to consider alternative explanations for why very few turbellarian flatworm fossils exist (such as Ernst Haeckel’s soft worm theory, as discussed below), he is perfectly willing to leap in faith to defend other anomalies. For example, Dawkins admits that there is no extant fossil link between modern chimpanzees and their ancestor. Why not? “Perhaps this is because chimpanzees live in forests, which don’t provide good fossilizing conditions.”3 Perhaps?

So the “creationist” argument is destroyed in a stroke because of one particular fossil anomaly, while another anomaly can be dismissed offhand, “perhaps” because chimpanzees live in the forest. (The folks at the Petrified Forest National Park will be quite disappointed to learn that the 4,265 acres they recently added is unlikely to provide much of a fossil record, and they will be quite confused at the rich fossil evidence already discovered there.4) In short, Dawkins, as an evolutionist, can’t explain anomalies in the fossil record any better than creationists. Neither the evolutionist nor the creationist has sufficient access to enough of the history to speak intelligently on some of these issues. Hence the word “perhaps” is appropriate, but needs to be recognized as grounded more in faith than in demonstrable fact.

Now, if Dawkins is allowed to play the forest card in order to account for the lack of fossil evidence for the ancestor of the chimpanzee, allow me the latitude to play the soft worm card to account for the lack of fossil evidence that Dawkins suggests requires creationists to recognize turbellarian flatworms were created yesterday. Darwinian defender Ernst Haeckel accounts for missing fossil links between the turbellarian and scolecida as “owing to the soft nature of their bodies.”5 That is a plausible explanation for the lack of turbellarian fossil record as well. So there we are. The evolutionist and the creationist both have assumptions they are making about the fossil record. Neither assumptions are dispositive, and neither contribute overwhelmingly to the argument. To decide the matter, there is something else needed.

At this juncture, both the evolutionist and the creationist are looking at the same data, and both are interpreting the data through the lens of their worldviews—through their respective faith systems. The real questions in view are (1) which of these competing faith systems is more representative of truth? And (2) if the fossil record simply provides more questions than answers at this point, then where do we turn for something more certain? To what reliable authority do we appeal? After all it isn’t Richard Dawkins’ faith or my faith that is important, it is the legitimacy of the object of faith.

These words are either true or not: “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:3). Dawkins has acknowledged evolution as the greatest show on earth,6 but I suggest there is something far more fantastic: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4). In love, the Creator came to earth. In love, He became flesh and blood. In love, He gave His life so humanity could have life.

Dear Dr. Dawkins, these many things you interpret as evidences for evolution may in fact be pointing to something else entirely. I wonder if you are willing to consider that possibility. Now, in the spirit of seeking to avoid hypocrisy, it is only fair that I answer that same challenge: am I willing to consider the data from the evolutionist standpoint, being open minded to the possibility of evolution’s legitimacy? Absolutely. I just need one question answered in order for evolution as a system of origin to make some semblance of sense to me: How can life spring from the absence of life? Or if you prefer, how did all this begin and why? If science is our final authority, then why has it failed to answer these questions? But I digress. Forgive me for piling on the questions.

More to the point: I do not disagree that evolution is a possible explanation of our origins (if the biblical record is not to be trusted), but moving from possible to actual is always a gigantic step associated with significant burden. When considering the biblical account of creationism versus the evolutionary model, the biblical account offers (in my humble estimation, of course) plausible explanation for those questions: God was in the beginning, and He created. Then He interacted (and continues to do so) on a very personal level with His creation. The Bible never defends the existence of God, but rather assumes it at every step. Further, the Bible offers a plausible explanation of human history and experience that is not at all incompatible with science. As of yet, I have seen no such plausible comprehensive model from any other faith system.

Jesus once said to the famously “doubting” Thomas, “Because you have seen me, have you believed? Blessed are those who did not see and yet believed” (John 20:29). In my humble estimation, considering the biblical model as a whole (considering history, science, epistemology, cosmology, metaphysics, ethics, socio-political, etc.) is something akin to seeing Him in person—the evidence that He is is so compelling, that it takes little faith on my part to recognize it. I will joyfully accept any blessing offered for believing whilst not seeing, though I admit, I certainly don’t think I will have earned it.

Notes

2 Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (New York, NY: Free Press, 2009), 149.

3 The Greatest Show on Earth, 151.

5 Ernst Haeckel, The History of Creation or The Development of the Earth and its Inhabitants by the Action of Natural Causes, Vol. 2 (New York, NY: Appleton and Company, 1884), 283.

6 The Greatest Show on Earth, viii.

Aaron Blumer's picture
Offline
Since 6/1/09 19:00:00
7433 posts
"Possible..."

Appreciate the post. Clear and well reasoned. I think "evolution is a possible explanation" might be too generous though. The improbabilities involved are astronomical--as the life from nonlife question illustrates. Still, (looked at from a strictly naturalist/materialist perspective) the probability is technically not quite zero.

Offline
Since 6/14/11 21:09:35
380 posts
"...not quite zero..."

The likelihood of me dunking like LeBron James is not quite zero either.  Just sayin'.............:)

Lee

Help keep SI’s server humming. A few bucks makes a difference.