Update: Zapa King has responded to this post with a string of ad hominem attacks (i.e. “First of all, you’re a young fool, Brian, unless you’re an old fool going to Rutgers. There are two sides to every coin, and these debates have been going on for years. I say that creationists tend to have heard both sides of the story much better than you.”) and further evasions of the questions I first posed here, spewing out equations as if they had anything at all to do with the issue at hand. If you like, you can have a look at the response here – > “Soft-science Thinking vs. Math Thinking”
While I often speak of creationists and IDers on this blog, I don’t often get into debates with them; it usually is not fruitful. This isn’t to say that I wouldn’t love to discuss evolution, I most certainly would, but in nearly every case the person on the other side of the issue merely ducks questions rather than putting any real effort into the argument. Such is the case with a little back and forth I’ve been having on this blog, primarily dealing with human evolution. Normally I just let things set in the comments of that particular blog, but the responses I got this time were interesting enough to dredge up and dump on here.
The blogger, under the name “Zapa King” says the following;
If there was gradual change [from “monkey to man”], you could show pictures of fossils showing the slow, gradual change. You can’t do that, or you would do it.
As I had already explained in a previous comment, there are plenty of hominid fossils that show our evolution from ape ancestors (have a look at the Talk Origins Hominid Evolution FAQ), and more ape-like specimens are difficult to find because jungles do not preserve fossils especially well (there’s a taphonomic bias against them because of heat, scavengers, less likelihood of quick burial, arboreal lifestyle of the primates, etc.). I will go into this topic further in the near future after I visit the AMNH the weekend after next, but if anyone is really itching to read up on the topic I’d suggest the book The Hunt for the Dawn Monkey, From Lucy to Language: Revised, Updated, and Expanded, or The Last Human.
Likewise, I also mentioned the high genetic similarity between humans and extant apes as evidence of our common ancestry, to which Zapa King replies;
No, genetic evidence only shows that apes are similar to humans genetically.
This isn’t much of a response; if we share well over 90% of our DNA with extant apes like chimpanzees, what can we say? ZK’s argument hints that apes are only genetically convergent with humans to a large degree, or they were created using the same “information,” but I can only speculate because this point was not expanded upon. Such a high level of relatedness demands an explanation outside “They’re just similar,” and the evidence is perfectly consistent with humans and extant apes recently (in terms of geologic time) sharing a common ancestor.
Given that ZK rejects human evolution, I had to ask what he makes of the fossil and genetic evidence, or what is his idea as to how humans and apes came to be and be so similar. He replied;
I’m not proposing anything here. I don’t have to argue what’s right to argue what’s wrong. But what I argue as what’s right, I’m more than willing to admit that my claims won’t meet the criteria of science, seeing that I’ll be talking about the past, though my claims will be based on science.
Ah, the old “I do not think about things I do not think about” argument. If current evolutionary theory is wrong, then there obviously has to be a better explanation (otherwise why are we arguing?). I initially asked whether ZK believed in a seperate creation for humans, a moment of “ensoulment” for humans, or any other variant that would at least open itself up to be falsified, but it does not seem like he wants to put forward any hypothesis. Indeed, I wonder why so many ID advocates dismiss paleontology as worthless, although I have to say that I don’t know of any IDers with expertise in that area, so they probably think it will serve them well to undermine another field of scientific research. There is only so much we can tell from fossils (i.e. the color of dinosaurs is likely to be forever a mystery to us), but this doesn’t mean that we should simply ignore the entire field because we were not present to see an early tetrapod clamber onto land or the early whales swim in the sea. Irregardless of this, proving any of these lineages wrong begs the question “What really happened?,” a question that often receives no answer when I ask ID advocates.
Then, in classic ID style, Zk throws in a little ad hominem for good measure;
That’s the difference between me and you guys. I respect science, and you don’t.
I am not going to get into a name-calling going about who respects science and who does not, but I think that it is apparent to anyone who is familiar with me or my writing precisely how much I love and respect science. Accusations may be to the contrary, but I think my interest and commitment to learning about nature is more than adequately apparent.
ZK then closes off with this little tirade;
Then you say, quoting me, ““It’s not like I need to be a biologist to understand that evolution hasn’t been observed,” but such an argument makes no sense. How can you speak with any authority on whether evolution has or has not occurred if you are not familiar with the science behind it?”
I’m familiar with the basic science. There are no big secrets. Gradual evolution is not in the fossil record, you can’t show evolution of from one species into another significantly different species [emphasis mine].
You guys haven’t observed the claims you’re making. You’re filling in all sorts of gaps using logic based on your assumptions, therefore your claims about the past are not science.
And I haven’t even talked about how, from what I’ve read, there’s all sorts of weird artifacts in the fossil record that show it’s not what you make it out to be. That’s what I’ve read. I don’t do original research. I just read some things like most people.
The first section belies the biggest problem I have with creationists in general; they simply do not spend adequate time learning about evolution, and they assume that they don’t have to. Zk claims he’s familiar with “the basic science,” but while evolution as a general concept is easy to grasp (the “fact” of evolution), the various theories take lots of intense study. As anyone who’s been following this blog knows, I’ve spent at least the past year reading dozens of books about evolution, visiting zoos and museums in my spare time to look at anatomy first hand, and there’s still plenty that I do not know. Understanding evolution takes a big intellectual commitment, and that seems to be something that many people are unwilling to do. For instance, ZK plainly states that evolutionary change is not observed at all in the fossil record, but he doesn’t see fit to give us any examples or refute the proposed lineages of early tetrapods, hominids, whales, or any other group.
I emphasized the one particular sentence fragment above because it belies a basic misunderstanding about evolution. I had mentioned in my original post how Goldschmidt’s notion of “hopeful monsters” or huge evolutionary change in the space of one generation (basically an instant speciation event) are unknown and not believed to exist. Still, ZK sets up his goal post as if such saltational changes were the rule for evolution, despite the fact that myself and others had already stated that evolution doesn’t proceed in such a fashion. Sometimes changes are fast, sometimes they are slower, but speciation (even if the differences aren’t that great at first) is the raw stuff that allows future variation and differentiation to occur, especially if populations are geographically isolated from each other. Indeed, if we had all the organisms from all the populations that ever lived at our disposal, and we were able to determine parent/offspring relationships for all of them through time, it would probably be very difficult to make species divisions. What ZK is asking is the equivalent of a featherless dinosaur giving birth to a chicken, but evolution does not work in such a fashion.
ZK closes off his argument alluding to some kind of odd evidence that shows the fossil record of evolution to somehow be weaker than it has so far shown itself to be, although he never mentions what these “artifacts” are or where he read about them. He then admits that he does not do any original research, only reads things “like most people,” and that’s fine; I can’t carry out large original research projects at the moment myself, but I do read a new book either directly or indirectly related to evolution every 2-3 days (including a good amount of ID/creationist literature). Anyway, I have to say I am curious as to what this alternate evidence against evolution might be; chances are there’s something on it in my library somewhere, so I’d quickly be able to look it up. ZK’s implication, though, is that I am just making a priori assumptions about life on earth based upon personal preference rather than doing any actual study or investigation, and once again this is something that is patently not true. I do not “believe” in evolution; I regard it to be true because of all that I have learned and seen for myself, even after carefully considering arguments to the contrary. The idea of myself and the other commenters on the initial post to be pseudo-religious evolutionary zealots (or “Darwinists” in creationst parlance) is entirely baseless, although it greatly hinders scientific argument when the person you’re debating has little to no interest in versing themselves in the science being discussed. I could certainly not expect to tell a chemist or physicist they’re wrong in a debate; I simply am not well-acquainted enough for the subject. Why should it should be any different when discussing evolution? In fact, it all-too-often seems that the whole reason there is an issue about evolution at all is because it runs counter to some people’s theological/philosophical beliefs, and therefore they think their opinion can be weighted just as heavily as that of an evolutionary scientist because they’re personally offended. The problems with this sort of logic is clear.
In any case, I’m not going to continue on with the thread; there’s obviously little point to it. While I did debate creationists back when I was on ProgressiveU, I got points every time I wrote a post and got a comment, so it was to my advantage to keep at it (I ended up getting a $500 scholarship as a result). In this case, ZK and the other ID-friendly commenters have little interest in putting forward a falsifiable hypothesis for human origins, so I’m not about to waste the time or energy into debating with people who are going to simply reject any argument I make even though they are going to show no effort to actually listen to what I say or investigate the issue for themselves. Drawing blood from stones simply is not my line of work.