The University of Reading student newspaper, ‘Spark’, published a letter from a young earth creationist last week, a friend of mine has submitted a response, but in case that doesn’t get published I have posted it here.
In the September 29th edition of Spark a letter from Babu G. Ranganathan criticising the theory of evolution was published. Babu is not a member of this University, being instead a graduate of the Bob Jones University in South Carolina. Incidentally, the biology courses at BJU are considered completely laughable by the scientific community as a whole, so any qualifications he claims in biology are tenuous at best.
Anyway, Babu spouts the standard Creationist fallacies, including the classic "a cell would have to evolve all at once" and Fred Hoyle’s ridiculous "tornado in a junkyard" argument. I could quite happily write an in-depth article describing why both of these are ludicrous strawman arguments, but it has been done so many times before that I will stay with generalities for now.
For anyone unfamiliar with arguing with Creationists, any points they present have been thoroughly refuted a thousand times before (frequently more). Almost all such arguments contain complete distortions about what the theory of evolution predicts ("evolution predicts that a cat should give birth to a dog!"), downright lies ("many scientists secretly disagree with evolution!", "Darwin recanted on his deathbed!"), quote mining (quoting some renowned scientist out of context so that it looks like they agree with your point of view) and often references to some kind of global atheist conspiracy. Every one of Babu’s arguments, almost word for word, can be found at http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/, along with refutations containing references to genuine scientifically published material.
Firstly, the theory of evolution says *nothing* about abiogenesis (the formation of the first `life’). As far as the theory of evolution is concerned the first cell could have been poofed into existence by the deity of your choice: the evidence for common descent from that point on is completely overwhelming in terms of fossil, physical and genetic support.
Of course, it seems very unlikely that this poofing event occurred in the first place, and consequently abiogenesis is an active research area with several theories concerning a natural origin of life. One of these is the RNA world theory, since RNA can both store information and catalyse chemical reactions like a protein. If Babu thinks that natural laws cannot create order and complexity then I’d suggest he goes look at a snowflake sometime.
The second main point I’d like to make is that both Creationism/Intelligent Design are completely hollow. Both, when there’s a difference at all, are unfalsifiable and fit to *any* evidence ("Hey, the designer wanted it that way!"), a fact that makes them completely worthless as scientific theories. Proponents of these viewpoints spend all their time criticising evolution rather than producing positive evidence for their own position, for the simple reason that there isn’t any, especially if, like Babu, they believe that the world is 6000 years old. In reality, promoting a 6000 year old Earth isn’t only contradicting evolution but almost every branch of science from quantum chromodynamics upwards!
Additionally, Creationists tend to ascribe to the erroneous concept that proving evolution wrong is somehow the same as proving that their own point of view, with all its obvious inconsistencies, is correct: this is a classic false dichotomy fallacy. Babu supports standard Biblical Creation, but what about all the other myriad Creation Stories? I feel Babu might be a little miffed if it turned out the Babylonian Creationism was the one supported by the evidence…
Creationists want us to stop trying to understand the world and spend our time worshipping God: they don’t want to perform experiments trying to determine how God did it, just surrender any hope of gaining additional knowledge and pray. In a sense, they deify their ignorance about the biological world, and "God Did It" becomes the answer to any question.
Let us not forget that lightning was once thought to be the work of the Gods: if Babu had his way, we’d still be cowering in caves for fear of being smote to ash.
Unlike Creationism, which fits to any evidence, evolution sets very specific constraints on the sort of things that we should and should not find, and the predictions made by evolutionary theory have been borne out again and again. For example, the tetrapod fish fossil tiktaalik was predicted to exist long before it was found, in the same way to the feathered dinosaur archaeopteryx:
And the reptile-to-mammal transitionals.
And the hominid fossils.
And the land-dwelling mammal to whale transitionals.
And plenty more…
There is absolutely no reason for any of these transitional fossils to exist under Creationism, apart from the all-encompassing "Um, God wanted it that way". The same is observed with genetic evidence: the DNA differences between ourselves and apes fits perfectly to the constraints that the theory of evolution defines, out of an enormous number of possible differences that would completely invalidate human/ape common ancestry.
Most importantly, though, I’d like people not to take my word for it. Go out, actually read some genuine information about evolution and examine the evidence, then make up your own mind; Talk Origins is a good place to start.
If anyone has any questions then they can feel free to contact me,
Department of Cybernetics
University of Reading.