Thursday, October 17, 2013

A review of "Evolution Vs. God"

This film has been making its rounds across the Internet for the past few months, so I thought I’d weigh in on it.  The film, entitled “Evolution Vs. God,” was produced by Living Waters Publications, a Christian ministry that focuses on assisting evangelism “primarily through the teaching and preaching of God’s Word, strategic conferences, academic and practical training opportunities, networking platforms, and the production and dissemination of various printed audio/visual media,” according to their website.  The interviewer in the video is Ray Comfort, Founder and CEO of Living Waters Publications.

The first thing to keep in mind when watching this video is that interviews, particularly spontaneous “man-on-the-street” style interviews, tend to be skewed in favor of the interviewer and the producer of the video.  The interviewer controls the microphone and the pace of the interview, and the production company edits the footage to tell a good story.  I’m not necessarily saying that Comfort or LWP were dishonest in their presentation; rather, the arguments are presented from the perspective of only one side, so the video likely doesn't fully represent the views of the interviewees.

Ray Comfort starts the interviews by establishing the interviewees’ personal beliefs and area of study.  He then asks whether evolution is a “belief,” and if they believe it.  This question is a bit ambiguous, given the indefinite nature of the word “evolution.”  I wish he had defined the term “evolution” in the video, though, admittedly, that could have taken up a good deal of time.  “Evolution” can refer to the general process of change, or to a process of improvement, or to the biological concept of adaptation, or to the idea of universal common descent, or to the entire atheistic/naturalistic explanation of the universe.  The video eventually uses the term “Darwinian evolution,” which creationists use to refer to the concept of large-scale biological change that relates all living organisms in the tree of life, as opposed to adaptive changes that can be witnessed directly.  However, the interviewees seem to understand his meaning, and they generally agree in some sense or another that evolution is a “belief.”  That doesn't really accomplish much, but I guess his point was to distinguish personal beliefs from objective facts.

The next question asks for observable evidence that evolution is true.  Again, the interviewees appear to understand that “evolution” refers to the idea of biological diversification from a single common ancestor.  Several interviewees mention the fossil record and events in the distant past.  Comfort makes a good point that events in the distant past cannot be observed and tested (in controlled conditions, as in an experiment), which science requires.  This brings up one of the shortcomings that I have observed in today’s scientific community: Paleontologists, geologists, archeologists, etc. are trained to see the geologic/fossil record as a record of the past, not as a collection of minerals arranged in a particular pattern today.  That isn’t all that bad per se, but after having this concept hammered into their heads, earth science students become almost brainwashed into believing that they can actually see into the past when they look at the rocks.  They wouldn't necessarily put it in those terms, but to the modern paleo/archeo/geologist, there is virtually no difference between observing an event millions of years ago and observing a sequence of rocks and fossils today, except for some missing data.  This, I believe, is intellectually dishonest, in that it takes for granted as fact the amount of subjective interpretation that has developed the standards and techniques by which we further interpret our findings in the field.

Comfort then hits one of my biggest criticisms of this video.  He asks for examples of changes in “kinds.”  That isn't so bad except that he doesn't define what a “kind” is.  He gives several examples, but no definition.  And, in all honesty, creationists don’t have a good biological definition of a “kind.”  Biblically, a “kind” is a group of animals that was intrafertile at creation and all of that group’s descendants.  This is also referred to as a baramin, from the Hebrew bara- (created) and -min (kind).  However, we don’t actually know what the kinds were or are!  People often confuse “kind” with “species,” but the baramin are likely closer to the Family level of taxonomy.  So, to the evolutionist, this question really doesn't make any sense.  There is no definite “kind” to demonstrate change to or from.  When examples are given, such as the dog kind, cat kind, human kind, fish kind, ape kind, etc., the question still remains unclear, because the evolutionary view has no such clear divisions.  That is why one interviewee, Dr. Myers, claimed that humans are fish.  He sees no clear distinction between fish and human, because we are all just descendants of fish.

Several examples are given of adaptation (I avoid the term “microevolution” for reasons that I may discuss in the future), such as speciation of stickleback fish, innovation in bacterial metabolism, and Darwin’s famous finches.  Comfort responds with, “That’s called adaptation, that’s not Darwinian evolution.”  For those unfamiliar with creationism, creationists do not deny speciation or adaptation to environments.  However, creationists claim that these are always accomplished by a loss of genetic information (or, rarely, by no change in the amount of genetic information), never by an increase.  Universal common ancestry, however, would require an increase in genetic information over time, simply because there is so much more genetic information in today’s biosphere than there could have been in the original cell.  This is possibly the greatest misunderstanding between the two sides.  Evolutionists observe adaptive changes in modern creatures and extrapolate into the past to a single ancestor, while creationists claim that the extrapolation is faulty because the directionality of genetic changes doesn't allow for it.  This is why the evolutionist says, “There is tons of evidence for evolution!” while the creationist says, “There is no evidence for evolution!”

The interview then shifts to the concept of Intelligent Design, the belief that the current organization of matter into life must necessarily be the result of an intelligent agent.  I don’t like how this is handled in the video, with Comfort asking, “Can you make a rose from nothing?”  The mere existence of something is not in itself evidence of intelligence.  One cannot conjure a hunk of sandstone from nothing, but that does not imply that sandstone was intelligently designed (at least directly).  Rather, the question of intelligence should focus on the origin of information.  Sandstone does not inherently contain information, whereas the DNA in the rose does.  All we know of information indicates that it always originates from an intelligent source, but the exact definition of “information” is still somewhat nebulous.

The video briefly discusses the pressure on schools not to teach ID or creationism.  This is something that everyone should consider when pondering the correlation between education and belief in evolution.  The preponderance of evolutionary leanings in modern universities does not necessarily support the validity of the theory of evolution.

The discussion on vestigial structures in the video also raises a good point: the lack of knowledge of the function of a structure does not preclude any actual function of the structure.  This goes for the appendix and the coccyx, as mentioned in the video, as well as with large sections of DNA currently termed “junk DNA.”  These are often used for evidence of evolution, but probably shouldn't be.  The evolutionist may argue that it is not so much their lack of function but their similarity to structures in other related organisms that supports the evolutionary relationship.  This, however, becomes an argument from homologous structures, which I will not go into in this post.

Comfort asks about famous atheists, and the video narrator spends some time showing that most historical “atheistic” figures were actually agnostic or deists.  I’m not sure what the point of this section is supposed to be.  Maybe it demonstrates that the great scientists and philosophers of the past did not exclude God from their explanations.

The interviews then turned to morality, which I suppose was an attempt to demonstrate that morals have no basis in evolutionary thought.  Of course, evolutionists now generally take a somewhat existential/postmodern view on morals, saying that we create them.  I still do not find that entirely logical, but it is difficult to argue for or against, so I won’t try it here.

There is actually a very decent Gospel presentation toward the end of the video.  Comfort adequately demonstrates the Christian view of humanity’s fallen state and our need and mode of salvation.  I don’t think it was necessary to claim that his interviewees actually believe in God and simply reject him, even if the concept is biblical.  His statement that the life within us is our soul is a bit confusing too, unless he believes that all living things have souls.

All in all, I think the video is a great starting point to get conversations going on the origins issue.  It has its strengths and weaknesses, but I have no qualms about showing this to family and friends.

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