Everybody and their grandma is sending me this clip of some random guy in a facebook video who claims to destroy almost the entire field of biology in three minutes. No studies, no experiments, no peer review, no degree (undergrad or otherwise) in biology, just chillin’ in the back of a car taking a selfie. This is an unfathomably arrogant pretension for somebody who tries to sound humble by calling himself a nobody in his twitter bio. But then again, apologists have never been renowned for their humility.
Behold, the man who defeated biology, Joshua Feuerstein:
But somehow people aren’t writing this guy off as someone with delusions of grandeur. No, plenty of religious people are sharing this around as though they agree that this man has unsettled the discipline of biology. I humbly suggest that if you’re going to this guy for your science and not to, well, scientists, you probably don’t care an awful lot about science (until it’s saving your life or making porn free and easily accessible).
But because he’s so popular, let’s take a look at his arguments:
“Mr. Atheist let me correct you: evolution is not a science, never has, and never will be.”
This would come as a shock to all the scientists. Feuerstein, who is most assuredly not a scientist, opens by implying that he knows what is science better than the scientists.
We then get to Feuerstein’s first argument…
1. “Evolution was never observed.”
First, if being observed directly is your criteria, god should be thrown out immediately along with any stories of him creating the universe.
But evolution has been observed. The most recent (to my knowledge) is the controlled experiment in evolution with the lizard species Podarcis sicula, in which the species developed a Cecal Valve, a new feature not present in the ancestral population. The old population of Podarcis sicula was still around and breeding, yet they had branched off to create a new animal that, though still a lizard, was a new species with adapted behaviors and features. A few other noted instances of observed speciation include Culex pipiens, Rhagoletis pomonella, and Mimulus.
As Seth Andrews points out, we’ve also observed evolution in laboratory conditions:
Josh’s claim that evolution hasn’t been observed is a real problem, because it hasn’t just been observed, but it has been observed even in laboratory conditions. (Evolution is also the reason we have to get a new flu shot ever year, folks.)
We even have several testable hypothesis that have been confirmed in the study of evolution. For instance, Tiktaalik is a transitional species that is part of the fossil record between early amphibians from bony fish. It is the link between Eusthenopteron (which arguably precedes Sterropterygion) and Panderichthys. Tiktaalik was discovered by a team led by paleontologist Neil Shubin of the Univesity of Chicago. Shubin describes how evolution was used to predict the location of Tiktaalik this way:
“What evolution enables us to do is to make specific predictions about what we should find in the fossil record. The prediction in this case is clear-cut. That is, if we go to rocks of the right age, and the rocks of the right type, we should find transitions between two great forms of life, between fish and amphibian.”
And that transition is precisely what they found. They even drew out what Tiktaalik would look like before discovering it.
For more information, read the evolution primer I wrote for Atheism Resource a few years ago.
2. “That’s why it’s called the “theory” of evolution.”
While I may have a theory regarding what two cards my opponent is holding at the poker table, this is not the way scientists use the word. A theory is a hypothesis or collection of hypotheses, which has stood up to repeated rigorous testing and passed the test. A theory explains all relevant facts and is contradicted by none. Joshua Feuerstein could’ve learned this if he’d taken even a few minutes to look it up on wikipedia. But he didn’t, and the result is having a video of him acting 100% confident talking about a subject on which he clearly doesn’t even know the basics.
3. “One man’s theory.”
By which I hope he means the theory adopted by virtually every biologist on the planet.
4. “You want me to believe that out of some accidental cosmic bang was created one cell…”
No, out of the Big Bang came subatomic particles which congealed into hydrogen. Huge clouds of hydrogen (large enough to produce significant gravitational pull) collapsed inward to form stars which drove the R and S processes which created the other elements. This has nothing to do with creating cells. No biologist and no physicist claims that a primitive cell came from the Big Bang.
What’s more, if, at any time somebody insinuates that evolution posits where life came from, then they have just exposed their lack of knowledge surrounding the theory. The theory of evolution deals only with how life arrived at the point it has (how it is so diverse), and it makes no claims about the origins of life.
That is not to say that we have no science regarding abiogenetic chemistry – we do. We have several models explaining how the first self-replicating molecule could have arisen and catalyzed evolution, all of which are compliant with known science (the most widely accepted model is called the RNA World model). Abiogenesis is just a question that evolution does not tackle (though it does necessitate abiogenesis).
So, in short Joshua, whoever is trying to get you to believe that the first cell came with the Big Bang doesn’t know what the fuck they’re talking about.
5. “…and that somewhere along the line we all magically developed different will and different traits.”
A point of advice: if you’re going to be defending a book which asserts the existence of a talking snake, a man being created from dirt, a woman being created from a rib, a man walking on water and rising from the dead, and more, maybe it’s best not to disdainfully accuse your opponents of magical thinking.
But no, nobody wants you to accept evolution because it’s magic. No, we have observed mechanisms that produce increased functionality over time. Evolution is driven by the same key forces that generate new order everywhere in our universe without the need for any appeal to god. They are:
That’s it. If you have these three catalysts in place working over time, order and often improved functionality are inevitably the end result. This goes for life on this planet and for the evolution of stellar bodies in galaxies light years beyond it.
I doubt Joshua would argue that we reproduce or that selection is involved (there’s a reason porn stars/models are generally in pretty good shape). But perhaps mutation is the hardest one to wrap his head around. Mutations in DNA are actually more common than you might think, as Larry Moran explains:
“The haploid human genome is about 3 × 10 to the 9th base pairs in size. Every time this genome is replicated about 0.3 mutations, on average, will be passed on to one of the daughter cells. We are interested in knowing how many mutations are passed on to the fertilized egg (zygote) from its parents. In order to calculate this number we need to know how many DNA replications there are between the time that one parental zygote was formed and the time that the egg or sperm cell that unite to form the progeny zygote are produced.
In the case of females, this number is about 30, which means that each of a females eggs is the product of 30 cell divisions from the time the zygote was formed (Vogel and Rathenberg, 1975). Human females have about 500 eggs. In males, the number of cell divisions leading to mature sperm in a 30 year old male is about 400 (Vogel and Motulsky, 1997). This means that about 9 mutations (0.3 × 30) accumulate in the egg and about 120 mutations (0.3 × 400) accumulate in a sperm cell. Thus, each newly formed human zygote has approximately 129 new spontaneous mutations.”
The long and short of it is that each of us is trotting around with well over 100 “birth defects.” While most of them are completely neutral, you must remember that we are spreading these mutations out over a vast population, which means we can expect microevolutional changes in every generation, with speciation and other macroevolutional changes over many generations.
6. “…it’s all because we willed it in our heads…”
No scientist asserts that evolution is a matter of choice. You don’t know what you’re talking about.
7. “Everything came from one single cell, how much faith does that take?”
Very little (see my rebuttal to argument #4), since this does not conflict at all with how we know the universe to work. By that token it takes infinitely less faith than to believe in things that outright contradict the way we know the universe to work like, say, someone rising from the dead and walking on water.
8. “The law of thermodynamics says that chaos can never produce order.”
First, there is not one “law of thermodynamics”.
Second, order can arise out of chaos. Roll a dice enough times and you’re bound to get a string of 20 consecutive sixes.
Third, you’re probably referring to the second law of thermodynamics (or whatever website you took the argument from was). The second law states:
Essentially it means that in a closed system (a system where additional energy is not coming in) things will move toward a state of disorder. The argument Joshua is using assumes that the second law prohibits order from arising, therefore something (which he asserts is god without any evidence) must be causing the order.
The rebuttal is easy: that’s not what the second law states. Even in a closed system the second law doesn’t prohibit order from forming, it just says that the ordered energy will be less than the disordered energy.
But in terms of evolution the second law doesn’t even apply because living systems are not isolated. They are not closed systems. Look at any plant to see this. Most plants produce leaves by using 2% of the energy it receives from the sun to photosynthesize atmospheric oxygen and carbon dioxide molecules into high-energy, highly organized hydrocarbon molecules such as sugars. This doesn’t violate the second law because the increased order is driven by energy coming into the system from the sun. In fact, it is thanks to the second law of thermodynamics that living systems are able to increase their organization.
Had Joshua gone to a biologist (or chemist) or to a textbook on evolution, he could’ve learned this. But he didn’t. He went to a website where anybody, credentialed or not, can espouse any position, whether or not it’s the scientific consensus. This is not the behavior of somebody who cares about science. It is the behavior of somebody who is looking to confirm the position they already hold and to make it sound scientific.
9. “You cannot say that a universe that has order came out of an accident because it defies the very logic and laws of science.”
Who is saying that evolution is an accident or that order in the universe is an accident? Sure, there is chance involved, but that doesn’t mean it’s an accident.
As for order in the universe, this is a product of the mechanisms at work in the universe. For instance, though snowflakes are far more complex and organized than liquid water, nobody feels the need to invoke a snowflake-making god, because we understand the forces at work that produce this order all by themselves.
As for chance, yes, the arise of a self-replicating molecule is unlikely. However, so are people winning the lottery. Yet people win the lottery all the time. Why? Because millions of people are purchasing lottery tickets. If you have enough tickets purchased, even something as unlikely as winning the lottery becomes probable.
That is why, if a self-replicating molecule arose through natural means, we’d expect to find ourselves in a vast, very old universe full of lots of materials and with enough time for them to interact a LOT, such that our self-replicating molecule “lottery” would have a probable winner. In this sense, atheism predicts that we would have to find ourselves in a huge, ancient universe. Of course, that’s exactly where we find ourselves.
10. The tornado creating a Lamborghini analogy.
The reason Lamborghini’s don’t assemble themselves; and why paintings don’t paint themselves; and why buildings don’t build themselves; etc., is because they are not composed of molecules that self-replicate. Living things are, and whenever you have a self-replicating molecule that reproduces, mutates, and has selection applied, then increased functionality over time will be the end result.
You don’t know what you’re talking about. You could, but when you presumably wanted to learn the science you failed to go to scientists. That is your fault, Josh.
11. “…and yet, that’s exactly what science believes.”
No, no it isn’t. Science does not claim that things can be instantly assembled from molecules that don’t self-replicate. You don’t know what you’re talking about.
12. “Science believes that from this accident came this perfectly working earth…everything in earth was created perfectly…it had to be by intelligent design.”
As long as you consider hurricanes which kill indiscriminately (i.e., they kill Christians too), cancer, birth defects, earthquakes, whooping cough, and on, and on, to fall under the category of “perfect”. If a human conceived of a way to give other humans cancer, we’d consider them the greatest terrorist of our time. But if god does it then it’s part of his “perfect” creation. I don’t think it’s too much for atheists like myself to ask that your revulsion at suffering be consistent.
Also, as I said earlier, chance doesn’t imply that the formation of order is an accident.
I’ve already established in the course of this post that order requires no appeal to god, so you can’t just point to examples of order (even ones we haven’t fully explained) and say this one, this one is god. What’s even worse is that you’re not even pointing to examples of order we haven’t explained – you’re highlighting many of the ones we have explained (which, like all other examples of order we’ve explained, turned out to be the product of natural causes) and saying they had to be god.
13. “So dear Mr. Atheist, who really has to have a lot of faith today?”
If Christianity really made people better human beings, there would be no way somebody could be so condescending after a long tirade which betrayed complete ignorance on the subject of their rant. But Christianity does not make people better. In fact, it often makes them overly confident that they have answers to complex issues all with never doing the slightest bit of actual research.
Well Josh, the answer is you have to have more faith, by a LOT. You reject the entire discipline of biology (while clearly knowing next to nothing about it) in favor of a book written by people who lived in a time ignorant of almost every human discovery. In this book you will find stories of talking snakes and all manner of magical, impossible things (which is ironic due to the sneer with which you accuse scientists of asserting “magical” and “impossible” things, even though they don’t).
14. “I can’t look at all of that creation (animals, Yellowstone, etc.) and say that it was an accident.”
Your ignorance of how they came to be should not be treated as knowledge.
15. “I have to say that creation has a creator.”
If there were any evidence that a creator were responsible for the universe/earth/diversity of life, that would mean something. But there isn’t. Calling it “creation” doesn’t alter that fact.
There was once a time when nothing was explained. Ever since that time everything we have explained has been found to be the product of mindless forces acting on inanimate objects (i.e. natural causes). All of it. Literally. If a god was at work, this makes no sense whatsoever. We have explained the formation of stars (see the Jeans instability) – it wasn’t god. We have explained how the earth and the solar system formed – it wasn’t god. To look at it all and say you don’t understand how it came to be is fine, if you don’t follow it up with “therefore I do know how it came to be and it was god.” We should be grateful that other, greater men and women set out to actually learn about the universe rather than taking the quick and easy path to feeling as if they understood the universe that you did.
Learning is hard, which makes it daunting. That is one of the appeals of the bible: it purports to give a simple answer to difficult questions. Deferring to the bible is easy, while sifting through thousands of years of human discovery is difficult. The problem is that both make you feel as if you understand, when in reality only one of them conveys true understanding of the cosmos. The other describes the earth coming before the stars.
16. “I dare you to read Genesis 1.”
Oh, you dare me? Well, because I want to show you how fearless I am, I’ll sit down and read it again.
Ok, god made light three days before making stars. How was there light in the universe without stars, Josh? Surely not…magic.
Ok, the earth is made before the stars. That’s not how it happened.
Birds and whales come before reptiles and insects. That’s not how it happened. What’s more, how could plants drive photosynthesis since they came before stars?
Flowering plants come before any animals. That, too, is the opposite of how it happened.
And what is this firmament on which god spends the entire second day that’s supposed to separate the higher waters from the lower waters? Since this was written at a time when people believed the sky was actually water overhead (the higher waters), this claim in Genesis 1 makes contextual sense…too bad it’s wrong.
And god gave humans dominion over every other living thing on the earth? How, exactly, did he give us dominion over all the species that came (and went extinct) before us?
I see here that god gave us every herb and every tree for…meat. Even if it’s just being metaphorical, do you know how many plants have evolved poisons and other means to keep us from eating them?
Well Josh, Genesis 1 was somewhat uninspiring and absolutely unscientific. It contained a lot of impossible things (and we know how much you can’t stand impossible claims) and a lot of magic (and we know how much you can’t stand magical claims). I daresay that your dare wasn’t very daring. Now Josh, I dare you to read any textbook that covers evolution before you try to set yourself up as someone who knows the first thing about it. You shouldn’t need a dare to do this. If you care about understanding a subject this should be the minimum amount of effort you exert before presuming to oust the battery of experts across the world.
17. “All god had to do was speak one single spoken statement and boom: the universe.”
He had to speak a spoken statement? Wow. That’s deep.
What evidence do you have for this? How is this not “magic”?
18. “Why do we let evolution “science” work its way into middle schools and preschools and colleges and universities around the world?”
Because what gets taught as science isn’t up to people who haven’t studied it. Schools are obligated to teach science as confirmed by the experts through the process of peer-review. You, Josh, are free to try your hand at it. Other creationists have. Once creationism ascends to the same standard of evidential support as evolution, it will be included in textbooks.
But that hasn’t happened. Creationists seem more interested in convincing laymen whose last contact with science was likely in high school, rather than the scientific community. That doesn’t cut it. When a scientist makes a new discovery do you think she runs to the public with it? No, she submits it to her peers to make sure she hasn’t messed anything up and only once it passes through that process is it taught. This is not what creationists are doing.
Now you might say that scientists are biased against creationism (which is true, only insofar as they’re biased against treating ideas with no evidential support as scientific theories), but this makes no sense. Do you really think that science is the greatest coup in human history, that it’s laid low for thousands of years giving us plentiful food, clean water, medicine, and unmasking the mysteries of the universe, only so that just now it can use its credibility to destroy the truth of talking snakes and men being made from dust? This cannot sound plausible to you.
This level of confidence combined with this level of abject ignorance on the chosen topic is embarrassing. This man should be ashamed. These arguments are not new or sound. They have been rebutted countless times and have been rebutted in the scientific literature. If Feuerstein really cared about understanding the relevant science, he could have. But he made no effort. He read some apologetics website and then propped himself up as an expert.
But he should not be as ashamed as the thousands of people who shared his video and liked it, who agreed with him. If you’re going to some obnoxious guy in a selfie video for your science instead of to actual scientists who have dedicated a huge portion of their lives to the study of life, you simply do not care about science. If that’s the case, at least have the integrity to admit it instead of pretending to like science because some random guy has convinced you that it supports your scripture. If you think the truth matters then treat it that way, and treat your opinions like they should be the product of research and introspection, not a substitute for them. Seriously, thinking you’re getting actual science from some random dude in the back of an SUV is worse than thinking you’re getting a real Rolex from a guy behind the local Quick Trip.
If nothing else, Josh and his followers have laid the groundwork for a fourth law of thermodynamics: rebuttals to a bullshit claim will take exponentially more energy to research and deploy than it took to make the bullshit claim.
Damn, that was exhausting. I think I’ll kick back and have a drink, then take Michaelyn to get her ring finger sized. :D