Monday, February 21, 2011

Creationism and Strawmen

I can’t tell you how much I cringe when I hear people say, “I just can’t imagine how we developed our complexity through random chance” and similar things, referring (incorrectly) to the “random” process of evolution. This is a strawman argument that is put forward: either total random chance or God. Creationists often do this, but it is also done on the other side.

Take, for example, a recent post I saw on Facebook from one of my friends:

...poses a direct challenge to all creationists. Provide an explanation for vestigial features of living organisms without inadvertently proving evolution.

He was surprised to learn that Answers in Genesis, the go-to place for all things creationist, had a position on vestigial features. That description made use of arguments from molecular biology, and so-called microevolution. It seems as if it is a common misunderstanding that creationists reject all of the apparatus of evolution and microbiology, and a simple, strawman statements like “creationists reject evolution” don’t hold.

It really does help to look at the best arguments from each side, to really see the limits of the analysis. Going back and forth between Talk Origins and Answers in Genesis is a good way to explore the arguments. For example, in transitional fossils we look in Answers in Genesis and find articles like this one and this one which steep of arguments from authority, claims without evidence, and cherry-picking. Many of the arguments rest on criticizing small details on a small number of fossils. In the talk origins article on transitional fossils, we get a very detailed, and seemingly complete, list of transitions from all major animal types. It comes in many parts, and details the characteristics on each transition.

Try it yourself! Pick a topic, go through and find the best arguments each has. It’s a very good exercise. Throw in a good dash of the baloney detection kit, and you’re on your way.

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