Hook, line and sinker: two evolutionary biologists endorse a video containing a blunder that a high school student could spot
|August 29, 2013||Posted by News under Intelligent Design|
Ray Comfort’s video, Evolution vs. God, has attracted criticism since its release earlier this month. No surprises there. But when two prominent evolutionary biologists lend their endorsement to an expose of the video, which contains even worse scientific errors than the video it claims to debunk, then you have to laugh.
Jaclyn Glenn, a 25-year-old medical student with her own blog site, is the author of the expose. I don’t wish to criticize her, because there are very few people her age who don’t have major gaps of one sort or another in their knowledge of the world. Fair enough. But I expect a lot more of two widely respected biology professors in their fifties and sixties.
On August 15, 2013, Professor P. Z. Myers linked to Jaclyn Glenn’s video, in a post titled, Jaclyn Glenn is smarter than Ray Comfort. Professor Jerry Coyne followed suit on August 27, with a post titled, Christian liars tout Ray Comfort’s new creationist film; an atheist dismantles it. Commented Coyne: “It’s good.”
I should mention in passing that a fairly detailed critique of Ray Comfort’s Evolution vs. God was posted on Uncommon Descent on August 7, which (among other things) highlighted some of the scientific errors in the video – including Ray Comfort’s assumption that bacteria are all of the same kind, and P. Z. Myers’ blithe assertion that human beings are fish. I have no intention of recapitulating the points that were made in the critique; readers are welcome to peruse it, and judge the video’s merits for themselves.
So, what was the glaring error in Jaclyn Glenn’s takedown of Ray Comfort’s video? It’s in the middle of the video (9:20), where Glenn addresses the philosophical question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Here’s what she said:
And now we’re going to get into the origin of everything ever, something from nothing, and this is something I wanted to talk about a long time ago, but I never made a video because it would take me forever, but I’m going to try to explain it, as quickly and as simply as I possibly can. Physicists are still working on the origin of the cosmos, one of which is Lawrence Krauss, and I recommend his book [“A Universe from Nothing”] to anyone who wants the finer details, but the most simplified explanation I can give is that when you have matter and anti-matter, and you put them together, they cancel each other out, leading to nothing. Krauss is suggesting that you can reverse that process and start with nothing, leading to matter and anti-matter.
This statement is false on three counts. First, as most high school students know (or should know), when you put matter and anti-matter together, you don’t get “nothing.” You get energy – and quite a lot of energy, too. Second, Krauss did not suggest in his book that “nothing” led to matter and anti-matter. He proposed that the quantum vacuum can explain how we get something from what he calls “nothing.” Third, as physicist David Albert points out in a highly critical review of Krauss’s book, the quantum vacuum isn’t nothing:
Relativistic-quantum-field-theoretical vacuum states — no less than giraffes or refrigerators or solar systems — are particular arrangements of elementary physical stuff. The true relativistic-quantum-field-theoretical equivalent to there not being any physical stuff at all isn’t this or that particular arrangement of the fields — what it is (obviously, and ineluctably, and on the contrary) is the simple absence of the fields! The fact that some arrangements of fields happen to correspond to the existence of particles and some don’t is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that some of the possible arrangements of my fingers happen to correspond to the existence of a fist and some don’t. And the fact that particles can pop in and out of existence, over time, as those fields rearrange themselves, is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that fists can pop in and out of existence, over time, as my fingers rearrange themselves. And none of these poppings — if you look at them aright — amount to anything even remotely in the neighborhood of a creation from nothing.
Krauss … complains that “some philosophers and many theologians define and redefine ‘nothing’ as not being any of the versions of nothing that scientists currently describe,” and that “now, I am told by religious critics that I cannot refer to empty space as ‘nothing,’ but rather as a ‘quantum vacuum,’ to distinguish it from the philosopher’s or theologian’s idealized ‘nothing,’ ” and he does a good deal of railing about “the intellectual bankruptcy of much of theology and some of modern philosophy.” But all there is to say about this, as far as I can see, is that Krauss is dead wrong and his religious and philosophical critics are absolutely right. Who cares what we would or would not have made a peep about a hundred years ago? We were wrong a hundred years ago. We know more now.
In her video, Jaclyn Glenn goes on to add that “claiming that ‘God did it’ is not a better explanation, and even if it were, it would be a much more difficult explanation, because creationism brings up all these different questions such as God’s existence.” This is a tired old criticism, which philosophy Professor Paul Herrick carefully refutes in his highly readable online paper, Job Opening: Creator of the Universe — A Reply to Keith Parsons (2009).
Now, I can certainly understand why a young medical student might be ignorant of certain aspects of physics and philosophy. But I am shocked that two eminent biology professors gave such an unqualified endorsement to a video that contained an elementary scientific error about matter and anti-matter giving rise to nothing, when put together. I have to ask: what were Coyne and Myers thinking? How can we ever trust them again on matters scientific, if they let howlers like this pass without comment?
Other errors made in Ms. Glenn’s video
In her video, Jaclyn Glenn also stated: “If even one fossil were found in the wrong geographical (sic) stratum, if it were found in the wrong place, the entire theory [of evolution] would just be blown out of the water.” This, I have to say, is flat out nonsensical. Evolutionists themselves acknowledge the existence of a “few anomalies,” to use the words of Mark Isaak over at the Talk Origins Archive. Readers can find some of them listed here. The real question we need to address is not: “Are there anomalies in the fossil record?” but: “How serious are they?”
In her video, Ms. Glenn also mentions the greenish warbler as an example of a ring species. She argues that because some varieties of greenish warblers can’t interbreed with others, they’ve technically changed “kinds.” Oh, really? Why, then, does Wikipedia list them as belonging to the same species, Phylloscopus trochiloides? Incidentally, is Ms. Glenn aware that there are only “four known forms of life that appear to be matching the definition of a ring species”? And is she aware of the fact that there are many eminent scientists who deny that macroevolution (or evolution at the species level) can be explained as an extrapolation over time of microevolution? I’ve listed some of these scientists here, with relevant quotes – see the Appendix, part (c).
Finally, Ms. Glenn’s statement that “in the real world, evolution does not produce creatures that fall into little boxes” overlooks recent biochemical evidence that by and large, living things do fall into little boxes. In a recent paper titled, Proteins and Genes, Singletons and Species, Dr. Branko Kozulic, a biochemist who serves on the editorial board of the Intelligent Design journal Bio-Complexity, argues that the biological concept of a species can best be defined in terms of the unique proteins and genes that characterize it. He points out that there are literally hundreds of chemically unique proteins in each and every species of living organism. These “singleton” proteins have no close chemical relatives, making their origin a baffling mystery. Dr. Kozulic concludes that the presence of not one but hundreds of chemically unique proteins in each species is an event beyond the reach of chance, and that each species must therefore be the result of intelligent planning. I have yet to see any convincing answer to Kozulic’s argument.
If there’s any advice I would give to Jaclyn Glenn, should she be reading this article, it is this: take nobody’s word for it. That’s the motto of the Royal Society, and it has guided scientists well for 350 years. Check out the facts for yourself, and draw your own conclusions, as I did mine.