Sunday, 3 May 2015

Christadelphian Answers publishes more factually inaccurate material on evolution

I have previously commented on the recently-launched website Christadelphian Answers, whose laudable aim of providing material to help Christadelphians maintain their faith in a post-Christian world is dangerously undermined by its foolhardy attempt to attack the fact of evolution. Given that those behind this site declare that "we want to make this site as accurate as possible" one would hope that if they were serious about maintaining the accuracy of their site, they would have taken the previous criticism of their inaccurate articles on evolution to heart, apologised to their readers for misleading them, taken down the articles, and refrained from publishing any more articles promoting special creationism.

Unfortunately, those behind this website appear determined to link the gospel of Christ with the pseudoscience of special creationism, and have published further deeply flawed attacks on evolution. Depressingly, one of these is the February 2015 attack on evolution in The Christadelphian by retired science educator (not scientist) Allan Harrison. I have previously highlighted its many errors of fact in a previous article, so the interested reader is referred to this critique. However, given that those behind Christadelphian Answers claim that they want their site to be as accurate as possible, it is worth highlighting one section of my article to show once again how deeply flawed Harrison's article is, and how its inclusion makes a mockery of Christadelphian Answers' stated claim to make their site "as accurate as possible". Inclusion of this article shows that it is hopelessly unreliable on the subject of evolutionary biology.

Intellectual Honesty - an Excerpt from My Critique of Allan Harrison's Article

Harrison seeks to bolster his anti-evolution argument by appealing to the authority of prominent evolutionary biologists. Keep in mind that he has asserted that "Darwinian evolution...lacks the analytical support enjoyed by the theories of true science" but has so far resolutely failed to even properly differentiate between evolution as fact and evolution as theory, or differentiated between abiogenesis and evolution. He claims:
When asked to nominate the  biggest questions facing evolution,  three of ten leading biologists nominated the origin of life.

1 “The biggest gap in evolutionary  theory remains the origin of  life itself … the gap between …  a collection of molecules and  even the most primitive cell remains enormous ” (Chris  Wills, UCSD).

2 Richard Dawkins admitted that the task is gargantuan .  “Was the origin of life itself  a probable event, and is life common in the universe?” Dawkins elsewhere explained  that life may have been seeded on earth by intelligent aliens!

3 “The most profound unsolved problem in biology is the origin of life itself. We know a great deal about the creative chemistry of the early earth, but not yet enough to solve this problem” (Kenneth Miller, Brown University).
Harrison's failure to provide a reference for his quotes is shoddy research - he should provide a reference to allow readers to verify the provenance and accuracy of his quotation. It does not take much effort to find out that his source is a 2009 New Scientist article in which several prominent evolutionary biologists were asked to point out what they thought were "the biggest gaps remaining in evolutionary theory."

Needless to say, none of these prominent evolutionary biologists believe that there is any doubt that evolution occurred, so it is highly misleading to cite them in such a way as to convey that impression.

It is worth noting that only three of the ten scientists quoted nominated abiogenesis as a major unsolved problem. In fact, when we look at some of the unsolved problems, it is painfully clear just how misleading Harrison's citation of this article is:
Frans de Waal 
Why do humans blush? We're the only primate that does so in response to embarrassing situations (shame), or when caught in a lie (guilt), and one wonders why we needed such an obvious signal to communicate these self-conscious feelings. Blushing interferes with the unscrupulous manipulation of others. Were early humans subjected to selection pressures to keep them honest? What was its survival value? 
Frans de Waal is Charles Howard Candler Professor of Primate Behavior at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia 
Richard Forty 
We need to know more about the role of geographical isolation in stimulating the production of new species. Is this factor responsible for the greater part of biodiversity? How does evolution produce enormously species-rich genera, such as Eucalyptus, many of which can coexist happily in the same habitat? I hope that this anniversary will result in a new impetus for field-based biology and palaeontology to answer such questions. 
Richard Fortey is in the department of palaeontology at the Natural History Museum in London 
Chris Stringer 
We still don't know what the last common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees looked like, where and how it lived, and what processes sent us down our separate evolutionary paths. There are now a few important fossils from Africa in the likely time period of between 7 and 5 million years ago, but for me they have not necessarily brought us close to an answer. More fossil discoveries – and perhaps research on the living species, including further genetic data – are needed. 
Chris Stringer is in the department of palaeontology at the Natural History Museum, London [28]
Ignoring the fact that if only 3 of the 10 scientists thought abiogenesis was the biggest unsolved problem in evolution, the lack of a universally accepted theory of abiogenesis can hardly be seen to be an 'evolution killer', the context of these quotes shows that the unsolved problems are just that - problems for which no solution has yet been found. None of the scientists are declaring that evolution has been falsified by these problems, which is unfortunately the impression the layperson will infer from reading Harrison's article.

By far the most disturbing part of Harrison's citation of the New Scientist article is the selective way in which he quoted Kenneth Miller. Harrison's citation is in blue:
Kenneth Miller 
I don't think there are basic “gaps” in the theory of evolution, which has proven to be a remarkably flexible scientific framework, brilliantly accommodating new data and even new fields of science, like molecular genetics. However, the most profound unsolved problem in biology is the origin of life itself. We know a great deal about the creative chemistry of the early Earth, but not yet enough to solve this problem. 
Kenneth Miller is professor of biology at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island
This is inexcusably dishonest. Harrison omits the first part of Miller's quotation in which he states that in his opinion there are no basic gaps in evolutionary theory, which Miller believes, contrary to Harrison's assertion that evolution "lacks the analytical support enjoyed by the theories of true science" is a "remarkably flexible scientific framework, brilliantly accommodating new data and even new fields of science". 

Given that Miller is a respected cell biologist while Harrison is not even a scientist, it is hardly unreasonable to point out that Miller's opinion is considerably more informed and reliable than that provided by Harrison, whose quote mining, failure to cite references, bait and switch tactics, and conflation of evolution and abiogenesis reflect poorly on his commitment to intellectual honesty.

The full article is here.