If you’ve been around the blogosphere of late, you’ll know that Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort, those creationists of the-banana-proves-God fame, are issuing their own edition of On the Origin of Species, in a run of 50,000 copies, in time to “subvert” Darwin Day (their target date is Nov. 22, but Darwin’s book actually appeared on Nov. 24, 1859).
The book is apparently just a reprint of The Origin, which is out of copyright, with a 50-page copyrighted introduction by Ray Comfort. You can download the introduction on The Huffington Post page by clicking on the pdf link. Since we’ve all read Darwin, you don’t need to get the book; you can just read the free intro.
The introduction is notable for two things. First, its intellectual vacuity. That’s nothing new for creationist tracts, but this intro is a lot closer to Gish and Morris than to Dembski and Berlinski. Apparently Comfort and Cameron haven’t really absorbed all the “new” creationist arguments against evolution: they simply repeat the old canards about the lack of transitional forms (incuding — God help us — Piltdown Man), the irreducible complexity of complex organs (but of the eye, not biochemistry!), and the fact that “random chance” simply couldn’t produce organisms. There’s no mention of the “fine-tuning” of the universe.
And the introduction is rife with out-of-context quotations. Once again, Darwin’s quote on the difficulty of seeing how the eye evolved gradually is trotted out (with his response omitted, as usual), and Steve Gould’s punctuated equilibrium is used to imply that organisms appeared suddenly, without ancestors. Unsurprisingly, Francis Collins pops up, emphasizing his take on the DNA code of humans: “I can’t help but look at those pages and have a vague sense that this is giving me a glimpse of God’s mind.” (Note: this quote is NOT out of context. You don’t need to selectively quote Collins to find words that give succor to creationists.)
If you’re looking for new creationist arguments, you won’t find them here.
Second, the introduction is funny. Not intentionally funny, but funny in its single-minded religiously-based stupidity. Toward the end of the introduction, for instance, Comfort gives up any pretense of discussing evolution and simply lapses into straight evangelical preaching. Are you saved? If not, you’ll burn in the fires of hell for sure. And the only way to be saved is to accept Jesus. . . yadda yadda yadda. One of the funniest parts is on pp. 46-47, where Comfort considers four major religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity. Which of these will bring you eternal salvation? You guessed it. But it’s not a fair fight, because Comfort assumes from the outset that the tenets of Christianity are correct. If you buy that, then of course doing what Muhammad tells you won’t save you from an eternity in molten sulfur. Here’s a snippet about Islam:
Islam: Interestingly, Islam acknowledges the reality of sin and Hell, and the justice of God, but the hope it offers is that sinners can escape God’s justice if they do religious works. God will see these, and because of them, hopefully He will show mercy—but they won’t know for sure. Each person’s works will be weighed on the Day of Judgment and it will then be decided who is saved and who is not—based on whether they followed Islam, were sincere in repentance, and performed enough righteous deeds to outweigh their bad ones.
So Islam believes you can earn God’s mercy by your own efforts. That’s like jumping out of the plane and believing that flapping your arms is going to counter the law of gravity and save you from a 10,000-foot drop.
But back to Comfort’s “scientific” attack on evolution. Here are his arguments:
1. “Mindless chance” can’t produce complex organisms. Of course not; none of us ever said it could. But natural selection is not “mindless chance”; it’s the antithesis of it. Surely these people have read Dawkins. If they have, they’re duplicitous. If they haven’t, they’re willfully ignorant, and that’s duplicitous too.
2. Similarities of DNA don’t prove common ancestry, just the common “plan” of God. I’ve thought of this argument myself, because it’s so obvious; and that’s why I didn’t use DNA similarities as evidence for evolution in my book. Nevertheless, the creationist argument is wrong here, but for a subtle reason. Yes, you could claim that the similarity of DNA between hippos and whales reflect a fundamental “mammality” that goes along with their common plan of having lungs, homeothermy, milk glands, etc. But what refutes this argument is the observation that nonfunctional DNA (including non-coding nucleotides and pseudogenes) gives the same set of similarities as does functional DNA! It’s hard to understand how genes that don’t produce a product, and therefore can’t function in building an organism, will be more similar between whales and hippos than between whales and, say, fish. Creationism offers no explanation, but evolution does. Richard Dawkins has a wonderful discussion of the molecular-similarity issue in The Greatest Show on Earth.
3. There are no transitional fossils. This is the dumbest argument of all given the profusion of such forms found in the last three decades, including transitional fossils showing whale evolution, bird evolution, and tetrapod evolution. These are either ignored or dismissed as reflecting God’s plan. A lot is made of Piltdown Man (no mention, of course, that the hoax was revealed by scientists) and of the fake dino-bird Archaeoraptor, which turned out to be a forgery, but not before it was touted as a transitional form by National Geographic. (Again, the fraud was quickly caught by scientists.)
The early primate Ida (Darwinius) appears, along with a breathless statement by David Attenborough implying that she was a human ancestor and the predictable response that evolutionists were fooled again. But within a day after the fossil was announced, scientists quickly weighed in proclaiming that Darwinius was probably not our ancestor, but an early, lemur-like creature that probably left no descendants. Comfort discusses none of this, but are you surprised at this intellectual dishonesty?
4. Transitional forms could not evolve by natural selection (i.e., there could not be a selective advantage of intermediate forms). Much is made of why both blood and the circulatory system must have been simultaneously created because neither would function without the other. No discussion, of course, about how blood and its vessels might have coevolved, or how a precursor of blood could function in a coelom without vessels. And even the eye shows up, an organ for which Darwin already showed, in The Origin, a plausible series of intermediate stages. Instead, Comfort says this:
The eye is an example of what is referred to as “irreducible complexity.” It would be absolutely impossible for random processes, operating through gradual mechanisms of geneti mutation and natural selection, to be able to create forty separate subsystems when they provide no advantage to the whole until the very last state of development. Ask yourself how the lens, the retina, the optic nerve, and all the other parts in vertebrates that play a role in seeing not only appeared from nothing, but evolved into interrelated and working parts. Evolutionist Robert Jastrow acknowledges that highly trained scientists could not have improved upon “blind chance”. . .
Well, they could have had the decency to update this argument and use Intelligent Design examples of blood clotting or immunology, which sound more plausible to the layperson. After all, if you read the book itself, you’ll see Darwin himself refutes what Comfort says in the introduction.
5. Vestigial organs say nothing about evolution because they might be of some use. This is a common argument, but it misses the point: vestigial organs show evolution because they are understandable only as holdovers from ancestors. Whether the vestigial kiwi wing has a use or not (and I seriously doubt that it does!) does not refute the argument that this tiny nub is the remnant of the wing of its flying ancestors.
That’s the gist of what little “science” is adduced here. And just to make sure that evolution is properly smeared, Comfort also brings up Hitler’s “Darwinian” views on selective breeding, and presents a few statements of Darwin about the inferiority of women and blacks. (There is no mention of Darwin’s ardent anti-slavery activities.) Yes, Darwin was a man of his times, and showed some racism and misogyny, but that doesn’t disprove evolution! We could turn this argument on its head, of course, and say that the Inquisition disproves Christianity.
Since we’ve been discussing theodicy, it’s appropriate that Comfort’s peroration is about the goodness of God. But he unintentionally shows that God isn’t so good after all. On pp. 43-44 you can read this:
To say that there will be no consequences for breaking God’s Law is to say that God is unjust, that He is evil. This is why.
On February 24, 2005, a nine-year-old girl was reported missing from her home in Homosassa, Florida. Three weeks, later, police discovered that she had been kidnapped, brutally raped, and then buried alive. Little Jessica Lunsford was found tied up, in a kneeling position, clutching a stuffed toy.
How Do You React?
How do you feel toward the man who murdered that helpless little girl in such an unspeakably cruel way? Are you angered? I hope so. I hope you are outraged. If you were completely indifferent to her fate [ed: like God apparently was!], it would reveal something horrible about your character. Do you think that God is indifferent to such acts of evil? You can bet your precious soul He is not. He is outraged by them. The fury of Almighty God against evil is evidence of His goodness. If He wasn’t angered, He wouldn’t be good. We cannot separate God’s goodness from His anger. Again, if God is good by nature, He must be unspeakably angry at wickedness.
What angers me almost as much as Comfort and Cameron’s duplicity about science is their slavish worship of a god whose plan called for Jessica Lunsford to be raped and murdered in the first place.
Enough. You don’t have to read this introduction; the theology is as dreadful as the science.
Update: Salon takes on Cameron/Comfort here.