First, let’s get something straight:
A “theory” is superior to a “law”. Where a “law” is a presumed predictable outcome, a “theory” is a persistent, documented system of ideas that is open to scrutiny and disproof but yet has to be disproven.
Some believe that “hypotheses” graduate, through experimentation, to “theories” and then into “laws”. That is not the case, as any decent scientist will affirm. Theories are theories because they are not immune to skepticism and yet persist in spite of it. For this reason, theories like gravitation or evolution or general relativity are superior to the law of gravity, the laws of thermodynamics, the laws of physics, etc.
Why are the apes still here?
Please enjoy this excerpt from my new book, The Korihor Argument; A Missionary’s Journey Out of Mormonism:
A few years ago, actor and Born-Again celebrity Christian Stephen Baldwin was on a reality TV program called Celebrity Big Brother in the UK. There, he (with that scholarly knack for which Stephen Baldwin is so well-renowned) asks another contestant:
“Evolution means that something has become something from something else. Correct? Okay, so my question is: If we’re from apes, why are the apes still here? If we evolved from apes, they would have died off!”
What makes Mr. Baldwin’s inestimably bad question even worse is when fellow contestant and American musician Sisqó chimes in to say: “Yeah. I was thinking the same thing.”
How many Americans – voting with the general electorate in our country – cannot answer this very elementary question of Darwinian natural selection? Suddenly, this is not a stupid question but a question that must be answered. To keep up the common denominator, I will answer it here.
We are apes.
We are not merely descended from apes. We are apes. More specifically: we are Great Apes of the African Apes family along with gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos as distinct from the Orangutan which is a Great Ape from Asia.
For as much as he is slandered by theologians, Charles Darwin was a great student of theology. In fact, Darwin greatly admired William Paley, Archdeacon of Carlisle, who was one of the most significant theologians to make an apologetic argument that science confirmed that life could not have come into existence by any means other than to have been created by God. In his Natural Theology, published about a decade before Joseph Smith’s alleged “First Vision”, Paley contends that the complexity of any thing’s functions means that it necessarily is designed…
So the argument is laid out that complexity infers design or what is called The Teleological Argument. Paley will go on to explain the usefulness of the watch’s functions to be further indication of its design. Therefore, if the universe seems to us complex and useful, or if the Planet Earth or a waterfall or a body function is complex and useful, it can only be because it was wound up by a great Watchmaker and thereby even an atheist has evidence, without need of faith, that Intelligent Design is real…
In another blog post, I compared the heliocentric (sun-centered) cosmic model proposed in The Book of Mormon to Galileo’s. This next excerpt is the continuation of that comparison.
So the Sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day.
I was teased on my mission that it was as if I believed that the “Fulness of the Gospel” were contained in the Old Testament, instead of The Book of Mormon. I always loved Old Testament stories. That God felt real to me, much more so than the God of The Book of Mormon.
When I read Nephi’s account of how the Sun “standeth still” – from The Book of Mormon – and a day made to grow longer, it immediately called to mind this experience from the Old Testament:
“Then Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel:
“Sun, stand still over Gibeon;
And Moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.”
So the Sun stood still,
And the moon stopped,
Till the people had revenge
Upon their enemies.
“Is this not written in the Book of Jasher? So the Sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day. And there has been no day like that, before it or after it, that the Lord heeded the voice of a man; for the Lord fought for Israel.” (Joshua 10:12-14)
the intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how one goes to heaven, not how heaven goes.
This passage of Scripture brought heliocentrists like Galileo and Copernicus, both stalwart Catholics, into direct conflict with the Vatican.
“In the Bible one may read that the Sun moves and the earth stands still. Since the Bible cannot err; it follows as a necessary consequence that anyone takes an erroneous and heretical position who maintains that the Sun is inherently motionless and the earth movable.” (Galileo Galilei. Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany, 1615)
This is how Galileo begins to explain that Scripture is greater than the sum of its parts and that one can be led into a worse heresy under the presumption that by reading what the Bible says, he knows what the Bible means to say.
It seems an imperative on God’s part to include in The Book of Mormon a better explanation for the cosmos than He had included in the Bible as proof that He exists and that He is the Creator of all that is. So why does he show the Nephites Galileo’s Universe instead of the actual Universe?
Unlike Mormon apologists for The Book of Mormon, Galileo could explain why the Bible got astronomy wrong without disavowing his faith in Catholicism. He explains to the Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany how he justifies believing in the Bible even if its scientific data is faulty:
“These propositions uttered by the Holy Ghost were set down in that manner by the sacred scribes in order to accommodate them to the capacities of the common people, who are rude and unlearned…
“Since the Holy Ghost did not intend to teach us whether heaven moves or stands still…And the motion or rest of the earth and the Sun is so closely linked with the things just named…I would say here something that was heard from an ecclesiastic of the most eminent degree: ‘That the intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how one goes to heaven, not how heaven goes.’” (Galileo Galilei. Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany, 1615. Emphasis added.)
If Galileo’s eyes are the product of Darwinian Natural Selection then, in a way, so are telescopes.
Is it less presumptuous to think that Joseph Smith, wanting the God of the Old Testament to be the God of his New Testament of Jesus Christ, would include science in his new work that justifies Joshua’s experience in the older book? That to Joshua, indeed it may seem that God stopped the Sun in the sky when in fact he stopped the rotation of the Earth and that this was in no way out-of-keeping with science modern to Smith’s time. (Even though it is not in keeping with science modern to ours.)…
Paley’s essay goes on to compare the complexity of the eye to the design of a telescope. Both are useful and both function on the same principle of optics. We know that men invented the telescope and so Paley insists that we must presume that the eye, with its usefulness and complex function, must be similarly designed.
It is a compelling argument when inconsistencies are ignored like why eyesight dims over time or why people are born blind or short/far-sighted. Why would God have designed our eyes without the special rods and cones that He gave to other animals to see well at night? We certainly would be better at evading predators with eyesight like that. Furthermore, why He designed our bodies with a vestigial like the appendix that barely serves any useful function in our immune system but did not design our genitalia with the capacity to neutralize sexually transmitted viruses turns out to have been an enormous oversight…
In fact, one could argue that if Galileo’s eyes are the product of Darwinian Natural Selection then, in a way, so are telescopes. Not just because humans have eyes like telescopes, but because our species thrives by cooperation including the sharing of information and educating our successive generations. In our global, monumental game of Tit for Tat, we educate one another and share information and pass it down to successive generations, including a vast and comprehensive record of our experiments into optics for purposes of not only creating telescopes but also for surgically correcting eyes that were “created” imperfectly to begin with.
Similarly, just because our ancestors looked similar to what we now know as a “monkey” does not mean that our ancestors were “monkeys” but it does support a hypothesis in which a generation of our ancestors were the same ancestor as that of the monkeys. For that to be the case, there would need to be corroborating evidence in other disciplines of science (there is such evidence).
“Behold! The atheist’s nightmare!”
Young Earth Creationists like Kent and Eric Hovind are notorious for speaking dishonestly on the subject of evolution. But perhaps the most interesting character to figure in the debate is Ray “Banana Man” Comfort, a New Zealander who lives and preaches in Southern California. Ray is best known as child actor Kirk Cameron’s co-host on The Way of the Master, a Christian TV program with wide international distribution.
Ray earned the moniker “Banana Man” in a televised sermon wherein he offered a critique of atheism by holding up a banana with the provocation “Behold! The atheist’s nightmare!”
Ray continues to use the banana, comparing it to a can of Coca-Cola in its useful, obviously purposeful design. He demonstrated that it has a “tab” to allow for easy access to the nutrients and a natural curvature angling it toward the eater’s face. He even explains that the ridges of the banana correspond to the inside of the knuckles of the human hand! He illustrated how the yellow rind of the banana has a dimpled, non-slip surface and repeatedly affirms to his flock that in order to see that these are features that infer an intelligent designer “all that you need is eyes that see and a brain that works!”
Leave it to a YEC (Young Earth Creationist) to try to convince you that we are not apes by arguing for the purposeful design – of all things – of a banana! Any gorilla or chimpanzee has the same number of digits per hand as does the human. Likewise, the same number of knuckles. Yet, both the human and the chimpanzee discard the outer “skin” of the banana which is rich in vitamins, antioxidants and other nutrients. That’s quite an inefficient design if it comes down to the work of a masterful “Designer”.
To compound the failure of Comfort’s banana analogy even further, the banana that he holds in his hand could not possibly have been placed by God in the Garden of Eden and then populated in the world by planting its bananas everywhere, because Ray’s banana has no seeds in the flesh of the banana. Bananas as we know them today come from sterile trees that are artificially planted and grown by human beings as a food source. Indeed, sterile banana trees with fruit suitable for food could not exist without a very purposeful designer: human beings. Wild bananas are inedible because of the cantankerous seeds in the meat of the fruit that make them viable as a wild plant and unusable as food. Without man artificially selecting the asexual banana, it could not be in Ray Comfort’s hand to begin with nor possess the most useful quality of the banana – that you can eat it! It turns out that the origins of what we call a “banana” date back to ancient cultivation of the fruit by ranchers in Papua, New Guinea.
The banana was not designed by God – it was artificially selected by man.
The hazard that Ray and other apologists like Alma – in The Book of Mormon – run in their assertion that “all things denote there is a God” is the necessary evil of having to confront the circular nature of their logic. That is to say: they start with the conclusion that they want to end with and then string together circumstantial “proof” that leads back to the same conclusion like hopping precariously around a ring of small stepping-stones across a deep and tumultuous ocean of evidence contrary to their foreordained conclusion. This can’t help but be done out of a sense of duty to the Divine instead of an honest pursuit of the truth for its own sake; a biased disregard for what is real in the interest of what one feels obliged to believe by pride or by conflicting interests.
Wound tight like a clock, the integrity of this engine of circular logic depends on that one never illuminates nor challenges the unmentioned presumptions. Maintain the presumptions as if they are safely presumed and the logic will continue to run in its beautiful little closed system even if the believer recognizes that they are making the conscious effort to not read between the lines. That’s called “cognitive dissonance”: willfully ignoring the facts to avoid an inconvenient truth.
But what adds insult to Ray’s argument is that he then attempts to apply his circular logic to his counterparts in the evolution debate, presuming that his conclusion is as scientific as theirs or even more so. In fact, in his book How To Know God Exists, there is a segment titled “Is Evolution Scientific?”
“The foundation of atheism is a belief in the theory of evolution. If evolution can prove that we got here by purely naturalistic means, then belief in a Creator would be unnecessary. So in their desire to eliminate God, many people readily choose to believe that evolution is true —without first examining the evidence to make sure the facts support it.” (Comfort, Ray. How To Know God Exists p. 33.)
Does disbelief in God fundamentally require belief in evolution? This is news to me.
Xenophanes was a greek atheist who lived in the fifth century BCE and had no concept of natural selection. Theodorus the Atheist lived about a century later and also had no idea of anything that would ultimately be discovered by Charles Darwin on his portentous voyage to the Galapagos Islands aboard the HMS Beagle. Not to mention the groundbreaking discoveries of the Human Genome and DNA, fossilized remains of Homo Habilis, Homo Erectus and many, many others. One obviously need not believe in evolution in order to disbelieve in God.
Mr. Comfort continues:
“Since none of us were there at the beginning, and time travel isn’t possible, we will have to rely on historical evidence to piece together what happened in the past. If this theory [evolution] were true, we would expect to find certain things. To prove the fundamental claims of evolution, we should be able to see evidence of the following:
How the universe began
How life came from nonlife
How we got such diversity of life
“If there is no God who created us, there should be plenty of evidence to show that all this came about through random chance and natural processes. Let’s see if this hypothesis bears out after we examine the evidence.” (Comfort, Ray. How To Know God Exists pp. 34-35.)
Ray makes the argument that any hypothesis that suggests that mankind evolved from more primal organisms, must re-tell the story of the Universe from the same “In the Beginning” that he starts from. How can this be anything besides bias?
Let’s apply Occam’s Razor to this logic by taking Ray’s answers and seeing if it is feasible to fit Darwinism into them.
“How did the Universe begin?”
Let’s say that God created it. Is it possible that God created the world either in spite of Darwinian evolution or even by means of Darwinian Natural Selection? The Bible says that God made the world in 6 days, but what if the Bible is wrong or mistranslated? What if the Bible is written in primal terms that could be understood by people who were contemporaries of its authors? If so, then that certainly explains other inconsistencies between the Bible and science! In fact, many Christians who do not believe in Young Earth Creationism, including the Vatican, posit just such a possibility. Then, if Evolution can co-exist with Creation or even be an instrument of Creation, then it is not necessary that a person must have an alternate explanation for the beginning of the Universe (if such a thing exists). So then why can’t “I don’t know” still be a viable answer to “How did the Universe begin?” and “Evolution” still be the answer to “What is the origin of species?”
“How did life come from non-life?”
Let’s say that God “breathed the breath of life” into it! Does God having made the Chicken before the Egg prohibit the Egg from making a better Chicken? That’s absurd! If the answer to “How did life come from non-life?” is just as easily “God did it” without violating the principle of evolution, then why can’t “I don’t know” serve as just as viable an answer? You don’t have to have the story that begins from “In the beginning…” to piece together a story that just as easily begins with “This is what we know…”
“How did we get such diversity of life?”
Let’s say that God made a male and female of each of a few thousand “kinds” and then the offspring of those “kinds” reproduced “after their own kind”. Does that prohibit a black person and a white person from having children that are of a mixed race? Does it prevent some families on the family tree from making taller children and some families shorter children? Does it prevent Darwin’s Finches from producing large-beaked finches and narrow-beaked finches? No. So where is the conflict?
Unlike the first two questions, Darwinian Natural Selection does address the same question of “How did life become diverse?” but does not rule out the possibility that it was God’s Will that made life diverse by such a mechanism. After all, even Darwin believed in God. In the end, the answer to “How did life become diverse?” can be both “Evolution” and also “God’s Will”. What it can’t be is “I don’t know” because for once, we do know. At least we know how it became diverse but the jury is still out on whether or not that’s because of what God wants.
Looking into the past to discover the evidence of religious events, on the other hand, is another thing entirely.
Why should the Jesus story, with its conflicting and dubious records, be considered so much easier to believe?
No living person was present at the Crucifixion of Jesus and the only accounts of any such event come from sources of dubious authorship and were recorded well after the alleged event is said to have occurred and many of those accounts are now considered by Christendom to be apocryphal (outside the official canon of Scripture) such as the Gnostic texts. And yet I’m willing to bet that Ray Comfort finds these allegedly historical texts (namely the Synoptic Gospels) to be the accounts of eye witnesses of such a quintessentially important human event. And this in spite of the fact that there is little-to-no evidence to support such a hypothesis.
By comparison, it is quite scientific to observe in the abundant fossilized remains of life and also the geological record that the Earth is well over 4 Billion-years-old, that other primitive life-forms like trilobites and dinosaurs have inhabited it long before humans have and that all such species descended from more primitive ancestors and branched off on the animal family tree by speciation and natural selection just as we have divided from our common ancestry with the other African Apes.
Why should the Jesus story, with its conflicting and dubious records, be considered so much easier to believe? Because it was compounded by Constantine’s priests into the same library of Jewish writings that start with “In the Beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…”?
And yet, why should any of this be necessary in order to believe that there is no God? It is certainly true that many people who are convinced of the veracity of such findings do not believe in God or decide to no longer believe in God or at least the God that they know in the Bible or some other holy text. But this is not exclusively the case.
We weren’t there. You can’t observe that.
This conclusion is “projection” on Ray’s part, or anyone else’s who would apply this cyclical reasoning to a scientific endeavor like that of discovering the origins of life. A close associate of Ray’s, Ken Ham of “Answers in Genesis” and its “Creation Museum” in Kentucky said the following in his infamous debate with Bill Nye:
“When we’re talking about origins, we’re talking about the past. We weren’t there. You can’t observe that. Whether it’s molecules-to-man evolution or whether it’s a creation account. I mean, you’re talking about the past. We like to call that ‘origins’ or ‘historical’ science – knowledge concerning the past. Here at the Creation Museum, we make no apology about the fact that our ‘origins’ or ‘historical science’ actually is based on the Biblical account of origins.” (Ken Ham. Bill Nye Debates Ken Ham – HD (Official), YouTube. Answers in Genesis. Emphasis added.)
(warning: this program is long!)
This is consistent with Ray’s conclusion and particularly well-said. They “start” from their preconceived conclusion. To knowingly argue from that confirmation bias is bad enough, but to project it to another is just plain irresponsible.
Science, like Reason, allows for the seeker of truth to confess “I don’t know” to what he doesn’t know.
Quite at a difference from this logic, scientists often compare the scientific endeavor to a detective arriving on the scene of a crime. They are looking into the unknown from where they are. They may have a “hunch” from time to time called a “hypothesis” but they learn as much from the disproving of such a hypothesis as they do from the proving of one. Their conclusions change with new data and must check themselves against a tendency toward confirmation bias by being certain that they are happy and ready to have their “hunch” proven wrong. That is no easy thing to do. Pride must be set aside and serious internal reflection given to the question “is this merely what I want to believe?” As difficult as this may be to confront, it is a necessary part of research. In their search for the “killer”, everyone is innocent until proven guilty. In their pursuit of the truth, nothing is true until it is proven so and even then it is only considered true until proven otherwise.
On the subject of natural selection, the scientist must also accept that “time travel isn’t possible” and so cannot observe the Big Bang or the first single-cell organism or the first division of single-cell organisms into self-replicating multi-cellular organisms. He cannot go back and witness the first group of highly-advanced Homo Erectus to bury their dead with their rough-hewn tools and so complete the criterion that makes them Homo Habilis.
But neither does he have to start from a basal conclusion of how the universe began or even that the universe did, in fact, begin. In fact, it makes more sense for him to start from the present and work backwards than to draw upon a half-baked conclusion of how time and the Universe began and work his way forward in time, as Comfort requires him to. Science, like Reason, allows for the seeker of truth to confess “I don’t know” to what he doesn’t know. Reason doesn’t shame someone for saying that they are ignorant of this fact or that.
Unlike the Creationists’ circular logic, this methodology does not incorporate the need to return to where it started from. If any tier of the logic meets a challenge that makes it non-sequitur, the entire story changes to fit the new information. Any information that disagrees sharply with the multiple disciplines that form the current perspective should be scrutinized as an “extraordinary claim” but scrutinized honestly. Otherwise, we’d never learn anything. Because evolutionary theory starts in the present and works backward, discovering clues as it goes, it is unnecessary that there be a “Big Bang” at the “beginning” of the story. If the “Big Bang” is disproven, then the question of the origins of the universe returns to being another part of the expansive horizon of our knowledge. But our understanding of evolution remains.
Because there are some things that we do know with approximately the same certainty as our basal presumptions that “I am real, the Universe is real and I can learn about it” and upon these facts hinge a wide variety of disciplines of peer-reviewed science. That science is growing and developing applications at the intersections of a handful of data that affirm and reaffirm in every experiment that evolution is downright necessary. These facts include that the Earth is approximately 4.5 Billion years old, that life has existed for at least 3.5 Billion years, that life naturally modifies over time, that living organisms are vehicles for selfish genes, that an individual’s ability to survive can be artificially modified with medicine and even that genetic research can lead us to overcome inherited disease. If evolution were faulty, all of the fields of science related to them would need to revise their conclusions.
He has convinced himself that his doubts are everyone else’s doubts and therefore his beliefs the same as anyone else’s beliefs.
If something new about the origins of the Universe changes our understanding of any or all of the other facts observed, a new version of the story evolves, one that incorporates the latest data, vetted and weighed in the refiner’s fire of critical thinking.
So why does Ray conclude that an atheist must believe in evolution in order to disprove God? His bias tells him that he knows from God that God exists and created the world as described in the Bible. From his perspective, then, everyone must disprove what he believes he knows. Like the Pre-suppositionalists, he has convinced himself that his doubts are everyone else’s doubts and therefore his beliefs the same as anyone else’s beliefs. That cannot be anything but bias.