Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Sermon by Jerry Coyne on Biogeography

It is remarkable that people pay evolutionist Jerry Coyne to indoctrinate their children according to his dogmatic religious beliefs. But they do, and he does. And the University of Chicago biology professor has now enshrined evolution’s theological convictions in his new book, Why Evolution is True, for all to see. Here is one example:

And this leads to another prediction that we made in chapter 1. If evolution happened, species living in one area should be the descendants of earlier species that lived in the same place. So if we dig into shallow layers of rocks in a given area, we should find fossils that resemble the organisms treading that ground today.

And this is also the case. Where can we dig up fossil kangaroos that most closely resemble living kangaroos? In Australia. Then there are the armadillos of the New World. Armadillos are unique among mammals in having a carapace of bony armor—armadillo in Spanish means “little armored one.” They live only in North, Central, and South America. Where do we find fossils resembling them? In the Americas, the home of the glyptodonts, armored plant-eating mammals that look just like overgrown armadillos. Some of these ancient armadillos were the size of Volkswagen Beetles, weighed a ton, were covered with two-inch-thick armor, and sported spiky balls on tails wielded like a mace. Creationism is hard-pressed to explain these patterns: to do so, it would have to propose that there were an endless number of successive extinctions and creations all over the world, and that each set of newly created species were made to resemble older ones that lived in the same place. We’ve come a long way from Noah’s Ark. [96]

Elliott Sober would be proud to see this variation on what he refers to as Darwin’s Principle in action. Coyne’s argument is not that the evidence of biogeography makes evolution compelling. In fact, it doesn’t. As we’ll see below, there are all kinds of problems and if Coyne really believed the prediction he gives above was falsifiable, then he would be forced to deal with a falsified prediction.

But evidential problems don’t matter when the only alternative is ruled out. As Sober explains, the important evolutionary point here is not that the probability of the evidence on evolution is high, but rather that the probability of the evidence on creation is low—real low.

This makes evolution the obvious conclusion in the minds of evolutionists. But of course, as Coyne so powerfully declares above, the conclusion follows from theological conviction. And powerful conclusions, such as Coyne’s triumphant one above, are made so by virtue of the powerful theology underwriting them. The greater the certainty of evolutionists, the greater their underlying religious conviction.

Coyne’s religious conviction are, of course, nothing new. This is standard evolutionary theology. From an empirical perspective, the data are all over the map, so to speak. And for all the various observations there is a battery of just-so stories to explain what we observe.

When similar designs are found in different locations around the world, then perhaps this discontinuity was caused by a partial extinction within a previously larger range. On the other hand, perhaps the discontinuity was caused by a dispersal event.

When new world monkeys were found to be similar to their old world cousins, it was hypothesized that African monkeys crossed the ocean on rafts. Or again, lizards somehow floated across thousands of miles of ocean from the Americas to islands in the Pacific.

Are the fauna similar between two different continents? Then that is because those continents were once joined, but have since drifted apart. What if the fauna are different between the continents? Then that is because those continents must have drifted apart farther back in time.

The stories are at times, as evolutionist Ernst Mayr once put it, “indeed almost unbelievable.” In his book Science on Trial: The Case for Evolution Douglas Futuyma wrote that “The molelike and wolflike animals of Australia are marsupials, clearly related to each other, because only marsupial ancestors had reached Australia.” Once again, forcing the evidence into the evolution paradigm failed as a few years later placental fossil species were discovered in Australia.

Alec Panchen agreed that building an argument for evolution from biogeography is not easy, and when he tried it was religion that supplied the key premise. “It is improbable,” explained Panchen, “that the distribution of organisms can be explained by the separate creation of species [because] ecological adaptation in any environment is demonstrably imperfect.” This sort of theological reasoning is standard within evolution and it leads to the conclusion that evolution must be a fact.

Like all evidences, the biogeographical data are subjected to a theological evaluation by the evolutionist. As Mayr concluded in his book What Evolution Is, “For a creationist there is no rational explanation for distributional irregularities.”

Likewise for Michael Ruse, God cannot be reconciled with the facts of biogeography so we must turn to evolution. In his book Darwinism Defended he wrote that “given an all-wise God, just why is it that different forms appear in similar climates, whereas the same forms appear in different climates? It is all pointless without evolution.”

According to the evolutionary textbook Evolution: Process and Product by Dodson and Dodson, if God had created the species then they should be distributed uniformly about the globe. The text states: “Had all species been created in the places where they now exist, then Amphibian and terrestrial mammals should be as frequent on oceanic islands as on comparable continental areas. Certainly, terrestrial mammals should have been created on these islands as frequently as were bats.

Futuyma explains that there are “peculiar regularities to the ways in which animals and plants were distributed throughout the world that could only be viewed as capricious if they were the handiwork of a Creator.” Likewise Tim Berra explains that “if special creation were really how things came to be, there would be no reason for species on volcanic islands to resemble the inhabitants of the nearest land mass.”

This is evolution—a genre rich in religious pronouncement. The priesthood still enjoys secure, lifelong appointments from which to make theological pronouncements. But these days it wears a white lab coat.