On the Origin of Specious Arguments

On the Origin of Specious Arguments November 30, 2009

GUEST blogger Dr Robert Stovold weighs up some Creationist arguments, and finds them wanting.
Having tried (and failed) to smuggle Creationism into schools in the guise of “Intelligent Design”, Creationists now have another Trojan Horse strategy – bundling their ideas with Darwin’s masterpiece itself in the form of a Creationist introduction to Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.

Ray “Bananaman” Comfort is giving away more than 100,000 copies of Charles Darwin’s work at 100 top US universities.  His parasitic introduction is available here.
Ray Comfort
Ray Comfort
The part dealing with Charles Darwin’s biography is actually rather good – almost as if he’d plagiarised the work of someone else?  Sure enough, Googling several key phrases from Comfort’s introduction proves beyond reasonable doubt that he had.  Whole passages were lifted without attribution from Dr Stan Guffey’s work, A Brief History of Charles Darwin.  For example:
Ray: During his great adventure as the Beagle’s naturalist, Darwin had studied certain aspects of the morphology and biogeography of the many species of plants and animals that he had observed. He eventually concluded that species exhibited varying degrees of similarity because they were to varying degrees related.
Stan: On his great adventure as the Beagle’s naturalist Darwin had noted and begun to ponder certain aspects of the morphology and biogeography of the many species of plants and animals that he had observed. In particular, he had begun to explore the possibility, and eventually concluded, that species exhibited varying degrees of similarity because they are to varying degrees related.
Hmm.  A case of “Descent with modification”, to use Darwin’s phrase?  This and other examples of Comfort’s plagiarism have been highlighted by fellow sceptics here:
Comfort is even biased in the way he presents his references.  For example, evolutionary biologist Professor Steve Jones is referenced as “Steve Jones”, but Creationist Charles Thaxton is “Charles B. Thaxton, Ph.D.”.  Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is “Richard Dawkins”, but Creationist author David Dewitt is “David A. Dewitt, Ph.D.”  (It should actually read “DeWitt”, but never mind ….).
Sandwiched between a plagiarised biography and biased references are several canards from the Creationist canon, such as (and I paraphrase) “evolution is simply a matter of chance”, and “the complexity of living things requires a designer”.  I’ve refuted both lies with an analogy that I’ve used for years, which I’ll share with Freethinker readers in the form of an amusing conversation I once had with a Creationist:
Creationist: Design requires a designer – it couldn’t arise by random chance!
Me: Would you say that order requires an orderer?
Creationist: Yes.
Me: So why is it that all the small cornflakes send to settle at the base of the box?  Do you think it’s because God put them there?
Creationist: No – it must be, well, gravity pulling the small flakes down.
Me: Wouldn’t gravity have pulled the large flakes down as well?  Why do the small flakes fall further?
Creationist: I don’t know.
Me: It’s because small flakes fall through large gaps, but large flakes can’t fall through small gaps.  The flakes sieve themselves.  Random shaking of the box coupled with a non-random filtering law (which we might call “the furthest-falling of the smallest” or “the persistence of the largest”) leads to an ordering of flakes over time, with no intelligent input required.  Random shaking is analogous to random mutation, and “the survival of the fittest” (Natural Selection) is analogous to “the persistence of the largest”.  Cornflakes and living things are both self-ordering systems, filtering out smaller flakes and deleterious mutations respectively.  Cornflakes become more organised over time, and organisms become better-adapted.
Creationist: There must be more to it than that?  There must be!  There has to be!
[Walks away scratching his head….] A more detailed refutation of Comfort’s nonsense is beyond the scope of this blog, but will appear in a future print edition of The Freethinker.

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