A rebuttal to “Why the theory of evolution does not make sense” on Where Fear Meets Faith

by idebunkforme

User @FearandFaith posted a link, http://markbarham.wordpress.com/2013/06/30/why-the-theory-of-evolution-does-not-make-sense/, on Twitter today, and asked where he or she was wrong. Here’s a quick rebuttal of obviously wrong arguments from that blog post.

It fails to explain how life started.

Evolution is not about the origins of life. That would be abiogenesis. Evolution explains the diversity of life on earth. Evolution also fails to explain how gravity works or what the composition of atoms are, but these do not invalidate evolution. Neither does its lack of being abiogenesis invalidate it.

Even if life does arise spontaneously and independently it needs to then consume and reproduce. To do this it must already have a ‘program’ written within its DNA that instructs it how to do this.

We already observe simple chains of RNA self-replicating and self-assembling in nature. No need to program reproduction in the first organism, then. And for consuming, simple vesicles need only to allow certain molecules to permeate its protective layers, and these molecules can be used to aid it in reproducing. Those channels would be simple chemistry, not the result of programming.

Given that 1) and 2) have happened, it is then a mystery how complex features in creatures arise.

It isn’t a mystery. Complexity arises from reproduction with error and the resulting offspring continuing to reproduce.

Darwin himself remarked that the problem of explaining how, for example, the eye arose turned him cold.

Terrible quote mine. Here’s the full passage from Charles Darwin in Origin of Species:

To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree. Yet reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a perfect and complex eye to one very imperfect and simple, each grade being useful to its possessor, can be shown to exist; if further, the eye does vary ever so slightly, and the variations be inherited, which is certainly the case; and if any variation or modification in the organ be ever useful to an animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, can hardly be considered real. How a nerve comes to be sensitive to light, hardly concerns us more than how life itself first originated; but I may remark that several facts make me suspect that any sensitive nerve may be rendered sensitive to light, and likewise to those coarser vibrations of the air which produce sound.

In looking for the gradations by which an organ in any species has been perfected, we ought to look exclusively to its lineal ancestors; but this is scarcely ever possible, and we are forced in each case to look to species of the same group, that is to the collateral descendants from the same original parent-form, in order to see what gradations are possible, and for the chance of some gradations having been transmitted from the earlier stages of descent, in an unaltered or little altered condition. Amongst existing Vertebrata, we find but a small amount of gradation in the structure of the eye, and from fossil species we can learn nothing on this head. In this great class we should probably have to descend far beneath the lowest known fossiliferous stratum to discover the earlier stages, by which the eye has been perfected.

In the Articulata we can commence a series with an optic nerve merely coated with pigment, and without any other mechanism; and from this low stage, numerous gradations of structure, branching off in two fundamentally different lines, can be shown to exist, until we reach a moderately high stage of perfection. In certain crustaceans, for instance, there is a double cornea, the inner one divided into facets, within each of which there is a lens shaped swelling. In other crustaceans the transparent cones which are coated by pigment, and which properly act only by excluding lateral pencils of light, are convex at their upper ends and must act by convergence; and at their lower ends there seems to be an imperfect vitreous substance. With these facts, here far too briefly and imperfectly given, which show that there is much graduated diversity in the eyes of living crustaceans, and bearing in mind how small the number of living animals is in proportion to those which have become extinct, I can see no very great difficulty (not more than in the case of many other structures) in believing that natural selection has converted the simple apparatus of an optic nerve merely coated with pigment and invested by transparent membrane, into an optical instrument as perfect as is possessed by any member of the great Articulate class.

He who will go thus far, if he find on finishing this treatise that large bodies of facts, otherwise inexplicable, can be explained by the theory of descent, ought not to hesitate to go further, and to admit that a structure even as perfect as the eye of an eagle might be formed by natural selection, although in this case he does not know any of the transitional grades. His reason ought to conquer his imagination; though I have felt the difficulty far too keenly to be surprised at any degree of hesitation in extending the principle of natural selection to such startling lengths.

It is scarcely possible to avoid comparing the eye to a telescope. We know that this instrument has been perfected by the long-continued efforts of the highest human intellects; and we naturally infer that the eye has been formed by a somewhat analogous process. But may not this inference be presumptuous? Have we any right to assume that the Creator works by intellectual powers like those of man? If we must compare the eye to an optical instrument, we ought in imagination to take a thick layer of transparent tissue, with a nerve sensitive to light beneath, and then suppose every part of this layer to be continually changing slowly in density, so as to separate into layers of different densities and thicknesses, placed at different distances from each other, and with the surfaces of each layer slowly changing in form. Further we must suppose that there is a power always intently watching each slight accidental alteration in the transparent layers; and carefully selecting each alteration which, under varied circumstances, may in any way, or in any degree, tend to produce a distincter image. We must suppose each new state of the instrument to be multiplied by the million; and each to be preserved till a better be produced, and then the old ones to be destroyed. In living bodies, variation will cause the slight alterations, generation will multiply them almost infinitely, and natural selection will pick out with unerring skill each improvement. Let this process go on for millions on millions of years; and during each year on millions of individuals of many kinds; and may we not believe that a living optical instrument might thus be formed as superior to one of glass, as the works of the Creator are to those of man?

If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find out no such case. No doubt many organs exist of which we do not know the transitional grades, more especially if we look to much-isolated species, round which, according to my theory, there has been much extinction. Or again, if we look to an organ common to all the members of a large class, for in this latter case the organ must have been first formed at an extremely remote period, since which all the many members of the class have been developed; and in order to discover the early transitional grades through which the organ has passed, we should have to look to very ancient ancestral forms, long since become extinct.

Darwin not only made the argument that the eye is very complex, he tackled how it likely arose immediately following this.

The eye of made of several complex components (retina, lens, eyeball, nerves etc), each of which is useless by itself.

Incorrect. Many reptiles, for example, have a pineal eye, which is light-sensitive cell atop their heads. Most do not contain lenses or retinas, and those which do have very limited use of them. They also do not use rods or cones for light sensitivity. Yet they are, at the most basic level, eyes.

. . . each creature we see today seems to be specifically and supremely well designed to exist in its environment, despite the fact we would expect the number of anomalous effects to increase, not diminish as time went by.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of species go extinct every year. What we see as “specifically and supremely well designed to exist in its environment” is adaptation. Those which don’t adapt to the environment die off. We only have the winners of the game of evolution, and we lose the ones which could not compete as well.

There must be an optimum level of adaptation to the environment.

There is no sound reason given for this argument. Just . . .

It would not benefit my cat to learn to walk on two legs like myself. It is a far more agile and sophisticated hunter on four, than I could ever hope to be. Moreover, moving from a four legged stance to a two legged stance requires a pretty massive redesign of the whole skeleton, muscles and nerves, which must happen more or less spontaneously as a gradual transformation would leave the hybrid creature with a shuffling, limping gait which would severely impede its attempts at hunting or avoiding being hunted. Homo sapiens prodigious brain may make a Shakespeare possible, but it is difficult to see how it makes it more of a hunter than a wolf pack, who, with their smaller and more limited brains, use the teamwork techniques that is so often vaunted as being an example of human ingenuity. For that matter, birds and primates also use tools, for example to break open nuts. It would appear that other creatures have developed the abilities that it is traditionally said are unique to man’s enlarged brain and therefore the reason for his evolutionary ascent. In fact, it is the size of his enlarged brain which makes birth so difficult amongst humans, and, until recently, the risk of death to mother and infant so high. Our large brains means we have a Darwin and a Leonardo Da Vinci, but not necessarily any evolutionary advantage.

Humans went from knuckle walkers to walking upright. Our large toes went from being opposable to being inline to help power each step when walking bipedally. We lost strength in muscles to gain heightened motor function in our hands. Larger brains mean we had to consume more protein. With each change, there’s a gain and a loss. If the gain doesn’t increase the ability to produce viable offspring, the trait likely doesn’t propagate in the population. Those large brains, for example, allowed humans to overcome the elements, build societies thanks to agricultural achievements, and enable us to retain the advancements made by the giants of the past.

To be fair, we have no idea how the mechanics of evolution work.

To be fair, we really, really do. We understand so much about evolution that we can apply its principles to other fields, such as engineering and computer programming. We can modify organisms to help feed more people in a quicker amount of time. We can produce better medicine and fight more diseases. We can even identify inherited diseases far sooner thanks to our understanding of genetics.

Except for the Darwin quote above, these were the obvious issues found with the linked blog post. So many things wrong with so much ignorance espoused. Will the author correct these glaring issues, or will he or she be intellectually dishonest and ignore these rebuttals?