Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Short and Brutish

From what I hear, no one can stand Jehovah Witnesses, which is part of the reason that I try to be particularly kind to them when they stop by my house. They, in turn, are not sure what to make of me.

Last Saturday, I invited them in to my living room and offered them tea (they declined). We talked about several things, but I eventually had to tell them I couldn't agree with their literal interpretation of the Bible. This lead to a discussion about evolution, and they were quite disappointed to hear that I considered myself a staunch Darwinian, and would not agree that Creationism was an equally valid scientific theory. Creationism may be considered a faith-based belief and I will grant them that, but it is not science.

The next day, one of them stopped by to deliver a book that he hoped would change my mind - "Life - How did it get here?, by evolution or by creation?" Still trying to be polite, I agreed to look it over with an open mind, although I must admit that I had a very strong suspicion which of the two choices the book would endorse. Let's take a look at the book, shall we?

It starts off with a lovely passage:
"Life is everywhere around us. It is evident in the humming of insects, the singing of birds, the rustling of small animals in the underbrush. It exists in the icy polar regions and in parched deserts. It is present from the sea's sunlit surface to its darkest depths. High in the atmosphere tiny creatures float about. Beneath our feet untold trillions of microorganisms are at work in the soil, making it fertile for the growing of green plants, which sustain other forms of life."
But from this poetic intro, the book quickly takes a dark turn. By the next page, it riffs on the survival-of-the-fittest theme, stating:
"In the view of many who accept the theory of evolution, life will always be made up of intense competition, with strife, hatred, wars and death. Some may even feel that man may destroy himself in the near future."
Really? Hatred and wars? Darwinian theory of natural selection does note the "intense competition" among species and among members of a species, but that does not necessitate hatred and wars. Evolutionists are painted with a sinister brush at the very outset of the book.

Also, why arbitrarily pick on those who accept the theory of evolution? Sounds a little random. Couldn't is also be said that it the view of many who enjoy smoking cigars, for example, life will always be made up of intense completion, with strife, hatred, wars and death? Or couldn't we say some who prefer classical music may feel that man may destroy himself in the near future?

In Chapter 2, the authors attempt to discredit evolution by citing supposed examples of scientists themselves disagreeing about evolution. Under the subheading "Evolution Under Assault," they quote a 1980 article in Discover by James Gorman. "The scientific magazine Discover," they assert, "put the situation this way: 'Evolution ... is not only under attack by fundamentalist Christians, but is also being questioned by reputable scientists. Among paleontologists, scientists who study the fossil record, there is growing dissent from the prevailing view of Darwinism.'"

The full quote, however, is provided on line in Alan Feuerbacher's "Research On The Watchtower" blog. The quote from the Discover article (by the way, Discover is not a peer-reviewed scientific journal), titled "The Tortoise Or The Hare?" actually said:
"Charles Darwin's brilliant theory of evolution, published in 1859, had a stunning impact on scientific and religious thought and forever changed man's perception of himself. Now that hallowed theory is not only under attack by fundamentalist Christians, but is also being questioned by reputable scientists. Among paleontologists, scientists who study the fossil record, there is growing dissent from the prevailing view of Darwinism.... Most of the debate will center on one key question: Does the three-billion-year-old process of evolution creep at a steady pace, or is it marked by long periods of inactivity punctuated by short bursts of rapid change? Is Evolution a tortoise or a hare? Darwin's widely accepted view -- that evolution proceeds steadily, at a crawl -- favors the tortoise. But two paleontologists, Niles Eldredge of the American Museum of Natural History and Stephen Jay Gould of Harvard, are putting their bets on the hare."
So the "questioning" by "reputable scientists" is not about whether life evolved as opposed to being created as the book would lead you to believe, but about the timing and pace of the evolutionary processes. The book is already trying to mislead the reader, and we're only on page 15.

The next quote (same paragraph) is attributed to a Francis Hitching, "an evolutionist and author of the book The Neck of the Giraffe." However, Hitching apparently is no more "an evolutionist" than he is a "reputable scientist." According to Wikipedia, "J. Francis Hitching is a British author and dowser. His books often focus on paranormal phenomena." Again, according to Alan Feuerbacher:
"Research on Hitching turned up the following: Hitching is basically a sensational TV script writer and has no scientific credentials. In The Neck of the Giraffe he claimed to be a member of the Royal Archaeological Institute, but an inquiry to that institute said he was not. He implied in the "Acknowledgements" of The Neck of the Giraffe that paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould had helped in the writing of the book, but upon inquiry Gould said he did not know him and had no information about him. Hitching also implied that his book had been endorsed by Richard Dawkins, but upon inquiry Dawkins stated: 'I know nothing at all about Francis Hitching. If you are uncovering the fact that he is a charlatan, good for you. His book, The Neck of the Giraffe, is one of the silliest and most ignorant I have read for years.'"
A review of his book on notes:
"Hitching points to the gaps in the fossil record, and is foolish enough to claim that the fossil record is complete; that no more gaps will be filled. That was in 1982, just think how many important fossils have been discovered since then, including transitional whale ancestors and feathered dinosaurs. His dismissal of transitional fossils, particularly Archaeopteryx, makes no sense whatsoever. It is clear from Hitching's text that he himself does not understand biology well, which makes him poorly qualified to write about it for others. (I am a molecular biologist.) In addition, what he does manage to convey is hopelessly outdated. He says we have no understanding of how eukaryotes developed (actually, he didn't know the word 'eukaryote', meaning a cell with a nucleus). We now have quite a bit of info on how eukaryotes developed from the merger of prokaryotes (cells without a nucleus)."
Hitchins is quoted twice in the Watchtower book, once on page 15 and again on page 16. Both quotes are attributed to the first dozen pages of his book. The customer review of the book notes "the first four chapters of the book consist almost entirely of creationist arguments."

I really don't mean to sound too harsh on Mr. J. Francis Hitching, the Watchtower book, or the kind people who stopped by my house last weekend. They really were lovely people and evidently care about others enough to bother to come back to my house to provide me with a copy of the book free of charge, and here I am just trashing it. But their book is basically disingenuous and dishonest- after a near-poetic beginning about the abundance of life, it darkly insinuates that evolutionists see the world as competitive and hateful and warlike, and then try to suggest that they don't even agree among themselves - first by taking a quote from the popular press out of context, and then pretending the writings of a paranormal creationist represent those of the legitimate scientific community.

But what a gift! Now anytime I experience writer's block, I merely need to open their book and debunk in this blog the lies and half-truths they present.

This should be fun. In a competitive, hateful, warlike kind of way.

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