A creationist writes in espousing the Argument from Incredulity

Here we have, from San Diego (of course), an email from a man who is an ardent exponent of the Argument for God from Incredulity. I’ve omitted his name so as not to embarrass him.  I appear to have been the sole recipient of the email, but given its salutation, it was probably sent to other scientists considered as deluded as I. The theme of this screed is the claim that some animal behaviors are so complex that they could not have evolved by a Darwinian step-by-step process.  Ergo, God did it. (You will recognize this argument as the basis for Intelligent Design.) On top of this is laid the idea that an animal, when performing an adaptive act, has to “know” what it’s doing, and animals just don’t have brains like that.

This is a longish email so I’ll briefly discuss only two examples, parasitic larvae keeping their hosts alive by eating only non-essential organs, and the archerfish, which spits water at prey above the water (mostly insects) and is amazingly accurate. In both cases I’ll propose an adaptive pathway that eliminates the necessity for invoking divine intervention.

The email (the bold bits are mine):

To Those of Evolutionary Bent:

This is the story of a wasp (Pompilidae) and a spider (Ctenizidae), or the trap-door spider. The two have a peculiar relationship: the wasp uses the spider as a larder for its young, laying its eggs (or one egg) on or inside the living spider, placing the paralyzed creature back inside its burrow until the wasp larva can hatch out and consume its still-living host.

But this is no easy task. First, the wasp must find the well-camouflaged spider residence. A very good sense of smell, and observation of possible spider burrows from the air or on the ground, depending on the habits of the particular wasp specie, are certainly necessary to the work. Still, considering the area that must be reconnoitered by the wasp to find a spider ensconced in a camouflaged hole in the ground, it is a task that would put many military intelligence workers to shame.

Then the wasp attacks: sometimes is merely pulls on alarm-webbing that surrounds the burrow. This will bring the spider out into the open, expecting a ready-made meal. If the wasp is quick enough, it can sting the spider, perhaps in the midsection, before the creature can react. The spiders, for their part, boast long, deadly (to insects) fangs, dripping with paralyzing poison. The spider may recognize the danger and duck back into its fortress. If it successfully closes the trapdoor, the wasp will be shut out; the spider can hold the door shut with two or four legs, and hold on to its home’s wall with the other four. No problem: the wasp merely chews off the door’s hinges, and comes face-to-face with an angry spider! Then, we have a problem: how the wasp will deal with the spider head-on. Some wasps have a talent for hypnosis; they appear to stroke the spider with their antennae, putting it into a restive state. In other cases, the wasp merely turns her back on the monster Arachnid, and stabs it in the head with her formidable stinger: end of combat. But the beginning of a paralyzed end for the spider.

Then, the wasp can lay its egg; sometimes on and, for other species, inside the spider. Then we have another question: how does the larval wasp, when hatched, know to eat only non-essential parts of the paralyzed spider, in order to keep it alive until it can pupate and become a living, flying wasp? For it certainly eats everything except the vital organs, leaving the best ’til last, when it can gnaw its way to freedom and spread its wings to find a mate and then go spider-hunting.

So all this, the wasp, the unfortunate spider, and their dueling interactions, were brought about by Biological Evolution, a la Charles Darwin or some other foolish inquisitor. Really? You’ll excuse me in my dubiousness. We must add this paradigm to many others: the construction of the mammalian eye and function of the rods and cones; the need for the brain to turn the upside-down image transmitted to it, right-side up. Then there’s the Archerfish (Toxotes), which can “shoot”, via spitting jets of water at its insect prey from an underwater perch, compensating easily for the water’s refraction, even at odd angles. And the Cleaner Wrasse fish (Lambroides dimidiatus) that pops into the mouths of large and dangerous predator-fish to clean them of parasites and dead tissue, even excess mucus; and can “service” up to 2000 “customers” in a four-hour feeding period. Yet, they remain uneaten by sometimes hungry patrons visiting the “cleaning station ” on the reef.

Indeed, there are hundreds, if not thousands of such stories, each more mysterious than the last: all pointing to a Creator, certainly not One Who would use a “dog-eat-dog” process like evolution. But certainly One Who left His fingerprints on all of His work in the creation as we have come to know it.

And what of the variations that occur in the known species, as Darwin himself pointed out in the birds of the Galapagos Islands? Is this, too, “evolution”? Different colors, different beaks, different diets, different sizes and breeding habits– these are all adaptations afforded them for their continued survival in a world where “climate change,” earthquakes, volcanoes, and man’s activities can cause conditions to change. No one so far has noted Darwin’s birds changing into other species or non-avian creatures. Not very likely, I think.

The fact is, that Biological Evolution, of whatever description or fancy, is a Scientific dodge to avoid calling for the creation– and the Creator– in their theories and hypotheses. It is a gigantic academic hoax, that in fact has played a major role in political axioms like Nazism, Communism, and Fascism which have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of millions human beings. And I challenge these scientists who insist that it “must be true” to answer the facts presented here or by numerous other critics to give evidence in support of their positions. We seek the truth of the matter, not mere theories, hypotheses, or suppositions. So far the Scientific World has been unable or unwilling to come up with it.’

Name redacted

Let’s take the larval wasp first.  The way to address the incredulity argument is to postulate a plausible step-by-step process in which each step is adaptive. And then couple that with variation in the trait under consideration—variation due to mutation. If the nonadaptive variants leave no offspring, but the adaptive variants do, then you get evolution by natural selection. There’s not necessarily any “knowing” here on the part of the animal, at least in the cognitive sense—just different behaviors that can be performed automatically. A microbe doesn’t “know” to move towards a food source: to paraphrase Jessica Rabbit, it’s just evolved that way.

In the case of the wasp, all that is required is that different larvae have different propensities to eat the organs of the spider. How could this happen? Well, presumably the different organs of a spider can be perceived differently by the larval wasp, either by their location or, more plausibly, by the fact that they “taste” different. If different wasps prefer different “tastes” (or internal locations), and some of that variation is based on variation in genes, then the problem is solved. That’s because those wasps with a taste for the vital organs, or for indiscriminate eating, will kill their hosts early and stand less of a chance of surviving (if you kill your spider host too early, it decays and will not constitute good, fresh food, so that you may die or be malnourished).  On the other hand, those larvae having less of a taste for the vital bits of the spider host, and thus which eat those bits last, will be the ones most likely to survive and leave offspring.  Over time, this results in the evolution of a behavior in which all wasps eat the nonessential organs first, only finishing up with the vital ones when they’re about to pupate. Note that there is no conscious “knowing” here: all that’s required is variation in how you eat your host, and you need no cognition for that—only an attraction to eating some organs more than others. And this is not implausible.

That takes care of the wasp. How about the archerfish? Well, all you need is a starting behavior that can be improved and refined so that fish can not only spit water at prey above the water, but do it accurately. Of course that seems implausible because it requires that one envision fish that have some tendency to spit water in the first place, and of what use is that?

First, let’s look at how these amazing animals operate:

 

How could that evolve? While it’s not difficult to see that once you can acquire food by squirting insects and knocking them into the water, natural selection will then improve your aim, enabling you to judge distance, compensate for refraction, and so on. In fact, not just evolution (which involves no “knowing”), but there is also real learning here, as, if you do a bit of Googling, you find that young archerfish are pretty lousy at knocking down their prey, and have to improve their skills with practice. That may be real knowing.

But how did the whole scenario get started? A little more Googling shows that at least some archerfish use a similar technique to displace silt beneath the water, uncovering hidden prey.  That’s pretty easy to explain, as you’re not really aiming but foraging, and you already have the equipment to do that: producing jets of water outside of your mouth, which is apparently common in fish. The New Scientist article that I found in about a minute of Googline says this (I’ve put a possible “solution” in bold):

To their surprise, the researchers found that the archerfish were able to alter the length and type of water blast to suit the type of sediment. Their shots were shortest if the sediment was coarse-grained and increased in length as the sand became finer.

“The big question is: how did they know beforehand which type of silt was which, and so how long they should blast it for?” asks [Stefan] Schuster. The answer might be that they are adept underwater shooters in the wild, too.

Which came first – aerial or underwater shooting – also remains to be established.

“Perhaps some tendency to produce underwater jets might have been there first, because this is widespread among fish,” says Schuster. Triggerfish use jets to turn round sea urchins to get access to their soft parts, for example, and lionfish use jets to orient small prey fish for easier swallowing.

“Many other fish and invertebrates forage by disturbing the ground, and this is probably the ancestral condition,” says Alex Kacelnik of the University of Oxford. “Archerfish probably thus started with this ordinary skill then transitioned to targets probably at, or narrowly above, the surface and this created new selective pressures to focus and aim water jets at ever higher targets.”

“It’s a lovely example of the incremental and interactive process of evolution of complex traits through natural selection,” he says.

Schuster says the two techniques might have evolved in parallel, with the fish building on and adapting their skills according to their habitat.

So here we have an initial condition whose evolution isn’t hard to understand. Once you squirt at the silt below you to uncover prey, selection would improve that ability, as would learning, and maybe you’d start homing in on things that you see in the sediment.  You then have the ability to be a living squirt gun. If a mutant fish then simply squirted at an object it could see, but one at the surface or above the water, a successful squirt would bring you food, and, importantly, reproduction. You might in fact get more food than other individuals in the population who aren’t aiming at insects directly but just foraging willy-nilly, with most of their squirts being fruitless. And if that were the case, both selection and learning (apparently fish can learn!) would work together to improve the ability of archerfish to squirt at prey above the water. The compensation for refraction, intensity of squirt, and so on, would then be honed by both selection and learning.

Now I don’t know if this scenario really happened, or if both types of squirting evolved together (which is also plausible given that there’s a general advantage to squirting), but we can envision the first steps in the evolution of archerfish behavior—adaptive steps. And the rest, as they say, is commentary (i.e., improvement by selection). No need to default to God.

The rest of the email, including the claims that we see microevolution but not macroevolution, and that Darwinism begat Nazism, Communism, and so on, doesn’t deserve rebuttal here; I’ve done that many times before.  And I’m not going to write a personal answer to this fellow (yes, he’s male), as that would mire me in a back-and-forth exchange that would be totally unproductive. I just wanted to give some examples of how the Argument from Incredulity, which of course is the basis for Intelligent Design Creationism, can be addressed by thinking of plausible and adaptive intermediate steps in the evolution of a trait.  If you can do that, then there’s no need to posit a God, since ID and the kind of creationism espoused above require that one cannot conceive of an adaptive pathway for the evolution of a trait. If you can, then the whole ID/creationist enterprise, which of course requires the additional postulate of a complex Designer for which there’s no evidence, becomes unparsimonious and superfluous.

96 Comments

  1. John Donohue
    Posted December 20, 2019 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    They think this argument is sound because they don’t believe in deep time. They only believe in 6,000 years or 10,000 years or whatever.

    As soon as you contemplate one example of selection, and let it refine itself for, say, twelve million years, you stand in awe of the spectacular power of natural selection.

    They want to stand in awe of god.

    • Pim Wiersinga
      Posted December 21, 2019 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

      The mind-set that prompts us to 1) lose track of huge time-scales, and 2) to deem our unwritten past PRE-history, and 3) to attributte agency to unexplained (and hard-hitting) phenomena in nature, need not be forms of religion or theism in themselves, but may have caused first seeds of theocracy (shamanism, priesthood) to fester.

  2. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted December 20, 2019 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    The way to address the incredulity argument is to postulate a plausible step-by-step process

    And that step of plausibility is why it is important for Creationists to maintain a brain-crushing profound ignorance of anything outside their narrow scripture.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted December 20, 2019 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

      I’m lately more inclined to specify “mind” and not “brain”. A quibble.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted December 21, 2019 at 4:25 am | Permalink

        At the moment, some brains have minds embedded, but no minds exist outside brains.
        There’s an Iain M Banks “Culture” novel sitting on the bedside cabinet, and I for one look forward to greeting our new inorganic Mind overlords and look forward to the green-ink letters from “Human Exceptionalist” of Tonbridge Wells. Or even Mrs Trellis of North Wales, who is more likely to have a reasonable argument.

        • Posted December 22, 2019 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

          There’s an Iain M Banks “Culture” novel sitting on the bedside cabinet

          Title, please, as I’ve just finished one, and ready for the next.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted December 23, 2019 at 6:54 am | Permalink

            Surface Detail.
            ISBN 978-1-84149-893-5
            “It’s a Hell of a story!”

  3. Jonathan Wallace
    Posted December 20, 2019 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    “all pointing to a Creator, certainly not One Who would use a “dog-eat-dog” process like evolution”.

    A very peculiar phrase for your correspondent to have chosen given that he has just described at length the manner in which various parasitoids eat their prey alive over an extended period!

    • Joe Dickinson
      Posted December 20, 2019 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I was about to make that point. Creationists are forced to believe that their “benevolent” creator made all sorts of diabolical creatures (malaria parasites to name just one).

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted December 21, 2019 at 4:31 am | Permalink

        You Devil’s Chaplain, you! You clumsy, wasteful, blundering low & horridly cruel work of nature!

    • Posted December 20, 2019 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

      You beat me to it. This God has a twisted imagination that would make Stephen King blush.

  4. Posted December 20, 2019 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    It’s fascinating to see an example like the wasp used IN SUPPORT of a creator, since for so many of us it seems a good argument against one. As Darwin himself said,”I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created parasitic wasps with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars.”

    • Mark R.
      Posted December 20, 2019 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

      I was thinking the same thing. Gotta love the irony.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted December 20, 2019 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

      Interesting quote- the creationists must scrape Darwin’s writings for things to go after.

    • prinzler
      Posted December 21, 2019 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      So **that’s** where they got that idea for Rick and Morty! (season 4, episode 1)

  5. Posted December 20, 2019 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    Great response, PCC!

    I find it ironic that the writer would use the dog-eat-dog example of a wasp laying its egg inside a paralyzed wasp so its larvae can eat it alive as proof of a Creator rather than “‘dog-eat-dog’ evolution.”

  6. Michael Fisher
    Posted December 20, 2019 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Pompous git – an enjoyably descriptive email [the part posted] re the quirks & cruelties of nature utterly ruined by the sender’s, self important commentary.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted December 20, 2019 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      You took the words right out of my mouth. Pompous git describes him to a tee.

  7. Gasper
    Posted December 20, 2019 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    I pity the believer, because they have invested so much time and energy to maintain the god fiction that they are seemingly locked out of the truth.

    • Mark R.
      Posted December 20, 2019 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

      Yes, it’s a part of the sunk cost fallacy. The comic strip Jesus ‘n’ Mo recently highlighted this with humorous effect.

  8. Posted December 20, 2019 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    People like this seem to have very little imagination. They see amazing things in nature but then jump immediately to religious explanations. I’m thinking that they are basically lazy and unimaginative which almost certainly has a genetic basis. Unfortunately for the rest of us, this behavior is unlikely to die out in the species. In fact, modern life may select for it.

    Now, on to the genetic basis of Trumpism!

    • rickflick
      Posted December 20, 2019 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      “genetic basis of Trumpism”

      I’m sure he’s far out on the tail of many population curves describing human behavior for which there are genetic underpinnings. He’s a elderly mutant turtle.

      • Posted December 20, 2019 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

        I agree about Trump but I was really thinking about those who voted for him. There are enough of them, unfortunately, to make statistically significant studies of their genetics.

        • rickflick
          Posted December 20, 2019 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

          Agreed. Take spittle samples at the rallies. 😎

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted December 20, 2019 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

      An interesting thought- I think there’s a lot of creativity in the myths and legends of yore – so you’d think a creationist might superficially be imaginative. But no – the conclusions of a creationist is predictable, dull, abstruse. Perhaps easier to be consistent with every other creationist that way – avoid details. Puzzling.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted December 20, 2019 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

        Creationists are also humourless – the imagination deficit strikes again.

      • Posted December 20, 2019 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

        There are certainly creative acts somewhere in the history of creationism and religion, but these creationists weren’t the creators. As with all religion, they’re just parroting the “gospel”.

  9. Jon Gallant
    Posted December 20, 2019 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    The argument from incredulity has long served as a substitute for finding out how anything in the world works. The other day, I couldn’t find something I was looking for in my house; I could have explained to myself that God had just taken it away, making it pointless to search for it. When humans didn’t understand crop failures or the occurrence of infectious diseases or the collapse of ill-designed structures, they could say “God did it” and stop thinking.

  10. Randall Schenck
    Posted December 20, 2019 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    And what about the various parasites that live off of humans. g*d would never go for this because the human is so special. All of those mites must not have heard of g*d. Damn atheist bugs.

  11. davelenny
    Posted December 20, 2019 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for that Jerry. This is elementary stuff for you, but for those of us who aren’t scientists and haven’t ever thought about the specific and interesting problems raised by your emailer, it’s another glimpse into the wonders of evolution and the research which buttresses it.

    Ditto comments 3-5: in the context of the parasitic wasp and a beneficent creator, the ‘dog-eat-dog’ phrase really screamed for attention.

  12. Michael Fisher
    Posted December 20, 2019 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    A short, fun video on the wonderful, loony, obsessed King of Sting, Dr. Justin O. Schmidt, creator of the Schmidt Sting Pain Index & winner of a 2015 Ig Nobel prize. There’s a lesson here kids, that some sins can’t be forgiven – being the champ sting receiver DOES NOT absolve you from seeking out a decent barber:

    • rickflick
      Posted December 20, 2019 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

      I’m very glad that science and exploration brings out passions in humans that exact great sacrifice. Otherwise how would we know so much? Scientists work with deadly disease organisms, undergo horrible extremes of weather, climb dangerous cliffs for bird research, defy intense radiation, etc. When astronauts walk on Mars they will endure great discomfort and risk their lives to reward themselves and the rest of us with the satisfaction of exploration. We can’t be without our courageous scientists.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted December 20, 2019 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

        Or raising a bot fly under the skin – it’s gotta be done. The haircut is still unforgivable though.

        • Posted December 20, 2019 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

          Yeah, that’s one dreadful haircut. How can people walk around like that? (Could it be a wig?)

          • Michael Fisher
            Posted December 20, 2019 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

            Looking around at pics he’s got a comb-forward, possibly to hide the join 🙂

          • prinzler
            Posted December 21, 2019 at 11:16 am | Permalink

            Lost a bar bet?

        • Filippo
          Posted December 20, 2019 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

          Perhaps he can redeem himself by wearing a pink tutu and combat boots, and by piercing his eyebrows with safety pins.

          • Michael Fisher
            Posted December 20, 2019 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

            He wouldn’t notice the safety pins, he has bullet ants on his breakfast cereals with a side of hornet toast.

            • rickflick
              Posted December 20, 2019 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

              😎

  13. Posted December 20, 2019 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    These people also always seem to miss the fact that they’re positing the most inexplicable of all things as an explanation for such complexity: An omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent being. If wasps and archerfish are so complex as to require a creator, how much more does the creator require an explanation? One might be inclined to say “infinitely more”.

    • JohnE
      Posted December 20, 2019 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

      This is exactly right! If two possible explanations are offered for a phenomenon (call them A and B), and A is shown to be highly improbable, it is absurd to then claim that B is the correct answer UNLESS AND UNTIL WE KNOW THE PROBABILITY OF B. Whenever some knucklehead assaults my intellect with the suggestion that the supposed improbability of evolution proves the existence of god, I always respond by asking him to calculate the probability that an eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent being would exist, at which point I’m usually met with a blank stare.

  14. Desnes Diev
    Posted December 20, 2019 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    The creationnist’s rhetoric is certainly not new. As R. Dawkins was saying in a critic of Behe’s The Edge of Evolution (NY Times, 2007):
    “This style of argument remains as unconvincing as when Darwin himself anticipated it. It commits the logical error of arguing by default. Two rival theories, A and B, are set up. Theory A explains loads of facts and is supported by mountains of evidence. Theory B has no supporting evidence, nor is any attempt made to find any. Now a single little fact is discovered, which A allegedly can’t explain. Without even asking whether B can explain it, the default conclusion is fallaciously drawn: B must be correct.”

    As evolution explain a lots of data, the creationnists are looking for the cases that are not studied in depth, at least in an evolutionary perspective (the molecular and genetic fields are popular for that “hunting”). And when they find something to their taste, they’re claiming “checkmate evolution” even if the case brings nothing for their creation “model”.

    How these “thousands of […] stories” are supposed to “point to a Creator” is untold. And how the author knows with certainty that his “[Creator] would [not] use a “dog-eat-dog” process like evolution”? Is he talking to God?

  15. Kurt L Helf
    Posted December 20, 2019 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    “…from San Diego (of course)…”?

    • Posted December 20, 2019 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      There are a lot of conservative and religious people in San Diego.

      • Posted December 20, 2019 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

        I’m guessing based on the Marine and Naval presence there …

      • Posted December 20, 2019 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

        Especially in the northern suburbs of San Diego. I remember there being a time in Santee where a majority of school board members were able to ban the teaching of evolution there. I think the town rose up in protest and reversed it after a year or so. I may have some of the details wrong. They also have a Creation Museum there:

        https://creationmuseum.org/

        • Brujo Feo
          Posted December 20, 2019 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

          Paul Topping said: “They also have a Creation Museum there:”

          Indeed. Not to mention the Institute for Creation Research (http://icr.org), founded by Henry M. Morris and Duane Gish (he of the infamous “Gish Gallop”), and now run by Henry’s wackjob son, John D. Morris.

          True story: many years ago, our Ventura Freethinkers co-hosted a “debate” between Gish and Michael Shermer. It was held in a fundie church, with about 30 of us atheists, and about 1,000 faitheists. I was working stage security, so I got to see the Gish Gallop up close.

          It was purest horseshit, and the audience adored him.

    • Posted December 20, 2019 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

      Lived there for many years (but it was a while ago). It is southern Cal. so lots of lefties, assorted believers in woo, etc. But conservatism is strong over there too.

  16. chris moffatt
    Posted December 20, 2019 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    Regarding the graphic description of the wasp parasiting the spider, who would want to believe that this ghastly procedure is actually designed by some deity? What a monster this deity must be if this is a product of its thinking. I find the thought of spending eternity adoring this creature as bad as the christian alternative of the eternal inferno. The religious surely don’t have much to look forward to.

    • Posted December 21, 2019 at 7:22 am | Permalink

      I am incredulous at the idea of a god who is touted as the “god of love” by his followers would ever create such a thing as a wasp that eats another animal alive in order to survive. I take comfort in the fact of evolution because it gives me hope that I will never come face to face with the entity that invented this wasp.

      • Wunold
        Posted December 25, 2019 at 7:29 am | Permalink

        This reminds me of a quote from the character Marcus in the SF tv series Babylon 5:

        I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, “wouldn’t it be much worse if life *were* fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them?” So now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.

  17. EdwardM
    Posted December 20, 2019 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    Like many here, I’ve been reading creationist bilge for years. Decades. It doesn’t get any better, does it? It’s always the same ignorance and exceedingly bad reasoning (willfully so in many cases). The topics may change, but the vapid idiocy remains.

    • Posted December 20, 2019 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      You got it. I just thought I’d amuse myself by thinking about some ways these traits could have evolved. And, with the archerfish, I learned some stuff.

      • Mark R.
        Posted December 20, 2019 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

        Me too! Thanks.

      • jimroberts
        Posted December 21, 2019 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

        Yes. These science posts are great.

  18. Posted December 20, 2019 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    Religious scriptures HAVE explained a dog eat dog world. Its misery upon misery in this sinful world. I give you the parisitic wasp to show what an arsehole i can be. Better repent now for this top dog is gonna send you where it dont shine.

  19. Posted December 20, 2019 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    My incredulity problem concerns qualities such as love, charity, kindness, mercy, forgiveness, compassion, beauty, integrity, etc. Not really incredulity, just amazement that these things do not exist apart from humanity and perhaps some of our non-human relatives. Yeah, yeah, I know about reciprocal and kin altruism. But the prevalence of niceness still amazes me. Wasps and tarantulas, I get.

    • Posted December 20, 2019 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

      All of those attributes are linked to empathy, and empathy is a trait shared by a lot of animals, including wild lions. Some years ago I watched a documentary about a lioness who lost her cubs and ‘adopted’ a baby gazelle. She tried to keep this baby alive for days, sacrificing her own need for food in the process. The baby was dying from lack of food and was finally killed by another predator, despite the weakened lioness’ attempt to protect it.
      Empathy has strong survival qualities because it enables co-operation, which is also a core part of evolution. Survival of the fittest doesn’t always depend upon competition.

      • Posted December 20, 2019 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

        There are many theories about why animals “adopt.” In the case of this lion, the most likely reason is so-called misplaced reproductive function given that she lost her cubs. I do not think empathy is involved. Empathy requires a well-developed theory of mind—the ability to attribute mental states to others. I can’t really know, but somehow I doubt that lions have this capacity. Chimps and orcas, maybe.

        • Posted December 20, 2019 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

          Mmm…I can’t agree about empathy requiring a theory of mind. I believe it’s an emotional reaction that we humans rationalize after the event. And while I can’t comment on the exact mechanism involved with the lioness and the baby gazelle, I know my own domesticated animals are a) aware of self and b) aware of humans and the other animals in the family as ‘not self’. Some even seem to be aware of ‘problems’. For example, one cat suffered brain damage as a result of a car accident. After a while, the other cat caught live mice, brought them into the house and dropped them at the feet of the brain damaged cat.
          As food or in an attempt to teach it to hunt? No idea, and I know that anecdotal stories carry little weight, but I believe the thing we label as ’empathy’ is the glue that makes all relationships possible.

          • Posted December 20, 2019 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

            I often think about how our cats behave around humans. We are big, dangerous animals but they hang around with us anyway. Dogs were obviously bred specifically for their companionship but you see it in many mammalian species. Sometimes it is probably misplaced mothering instinct. Other times it might be an instinct to protect an injured member of the local group. Small animals also gain protection hanging around larger animals who show no interest in harming them or aren’t of predatory species. And, of course, we feed them.

            • Posted December 21, 2019 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

              ‘And, of course, we feed them.’

              -giggles- Yes! And it applies to birds too. I rescued a young magpie a few years back and thought nothing more of it. Some time later, I noticed that one particular magpie seemed strangely unafraid of me.
              I started leaving out the odd bit of leftover cat food and that bird got fatter.
              I really wasn’t trying to tame it, yet it definitely knows /me/ and will take food out of my hand.
              I have no idea if this particular magpie is really the one I saved, but its behaviour has always been different to that of the other magpies in the area so… How does a wild animal ‘know’ that this big, hairy thing means it no harm?
              I literally don’t know the answer, but it’s interesting. 🙂

  20. A C Harper
    Posted December 20, 2019 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    So… even if you suggest that ‘God did it’ how do you show that the Homeric Gods didn’t do it, or Satan didn’t do it? Once you throw oper the supernatural door, anything can walk/crawl/slime/fly through in principle.

  21. Posted December 20, 2019 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    I was fortunate enough to swim in the Katherine Gorge in NT, Oz, and watch an archer fish “shoot” at bugs, from only about 2m away. It was pretty amazing.

  22. Roger
    Posted December 20, 2019 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    It would be nice if these lower forms of creationists would, along with their arguments, also address the reply to their arguments which they (I would hope) know are coming. But then I guess that’s what makes them the lower bottom-of-the-barrel form of creationist.

  23. James Heard
    Posted December 20, 2019 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    I see the kitzmiller vs Dover decision still rankles with a creationists types

  24. Ken Kukec
    Posted December 20, 2019 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    Dear Mister e-mail writer:

    I’ve got an argument from incredulity for you, dude: I can’t believe that any intelligent designer would’ve put the human refuse disposal system right in the middle of the goddam amusement park, or put the trachea side-by-side with the esophagus, or had the recurrent laryngeal nerve take the Wrong-Way-Corrigan route around the heart.

    How about them apples, huh?

  25. Mark R.
    Posted December 20, 2019 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    For me, the most tiring creationist trope is the complexity of the eye.

    In the second episode of Cosmos, narrated by Neil deGrass Tyson, there is a lucid explanation of the cumulative adaptations that led to the magnificent eye. I’d advise this emailer to watch it and learn something.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted December 20, 2019 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

      I think I recall that episode and was delightfully surprised to see it – Tyson must have read The Blind Watchmaker and it made an impression.

  26. Posted December 20, 2019 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    If a God created everything there wouldn’t be any need for wasps to lay eggs in spiders, or for spiders to shoot venom at all. I don’t even get these arguments.

    Oh yes, the eye is so wonderful, so why am I nearsided? Do these people posit an incompetent designer? That’s way more insulting to the idea of God than not believing in (and thus also not blaming) God.

  27. Posted December 20, 2019 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    Once upon a time I would want to argue with these sorts from the standpoint of defending science in general and evolution in particular. But I have learned that it yields no concessions from them. It is a complete waste of time if you go in with some goal towards doing that.

    • rickflick
      Posted December 20, 2019 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

      It probably depends on the person. Some (particularly younger) creationists might be questioning, but showing a strong front. Your input might percolate slowly into his awareness.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted December 20, 2019 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps next time, for amusement, reason the opposite way, but for fun, conclude that the designer is someone else.

      • Posted December 20, 2019 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

        A case could be made that the Designer is really the Devil. Or the Wizard of Oz.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted December 20, 2019 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

      Or

      Argue for a designer, but use old biology results that have been since refreshed. I don’t know of anything that would fit the bill, but it’d be amusing to get this convincing agreement on biology that is outdated. An old hypothesis that perhaps was recently rejected because of improved data collection technology.

  28. Posted December 20, 2019 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

    Lovely post! I suspect that one reason for the continued popularity of Intelligent Design is the human insistence on a linear kind of cause and effect. Random cause and effect is hard to get your head around so it’s easier to posit a ‘Creator’. Once you let go of that emotional comfort zone, however, evolution is such an elegant description of how living things came to be and continue to change.

  29. eric
    Posted December 20, 2019 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    Very nice discussion, JAC, thanks for the science! I had a similar thought about the wasps, though I was happy to learn about how fish have a common ‘jetting’ behavior. What a nice example of adaptation.

    I expect your regular readers will learn more than your correspondent. As the saying goes, you can’t reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into.

    • rickflick
      Posted December 20, 2019 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

      “…you can’t reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into.”

      I really like that. I try to remember it.

      • Mark R.
        Posted December 20, 2019 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

        Me too.

      • Posted December 21, 2019 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

        “…you can’t reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into.”

        Hi, Rick. Always nice to hear from you. I like this quote too but would add that both reasoning oneself into a position and reasoning someone out of a position are over-rated. A position arrived at by reason alone is generally weaker than a position buttressed by both reason and emotion. This is why, in arguing with my wife, I don’t put a lot of stock in the fact that I can out-reason her: I may win the argument, but she’s almost always right.

        • rickflick
          Posted December 21, 2019 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

          I like your take on things. Bertrand Russell wrote something about that. He said when he was convinced to change his mind about something he rehearsed it out loud to himself to help it sink in. I think it’s true. When someone goes through deconversion, it takes time. I’ve listened to callers at Atheist Experience who go through a lot of angst on their way to rationality.

  30. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted December 20, 2019 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    You have to hand it to them – creationists have a knack for identifying some delightfully interesting biology.

  31. KD
    Posted December 20, 2019 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

    How could the factory run without a boss?

    There is a boss, right?

  32. AndrewB
    Posted December 21, 2019 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    I’m a former creationist. It took me a long time to undo my indoctrination. I was brought up in a Christian family, home-schooled, all my school curriculum was Christian textbooks. All the “science” curriculum was creationist, of a young earth point of view. I was taught not to trust what “secular” scientists say. It took enormous effort on my part to overcome my brainwashing. In the years after my deconversion I tried to learn as much about science and philosophy as possible, to make up a little for what I missed out on during my childhood. I now am a freethinker and a skeptic. I own one of Jerry’s books, and it was mostly reading the books of Bart Ehrman that convinced me Christianity is false. I’m living proof that you can reason with a creationist, since I was persuaded out of religion with reason and logic. I hope to always learn more (:

    • rickflick
      Posted December 21, 2019 at 7:16 am | Permalink

      It’s encouraging to hear our efforts are not futile.

  33. Posted December 21, 2019 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    My recommendation to anyone who can’t wrap their head around evolution is to read Why Evolution is True. I used to be the same way. A Christian upbringing and lack of knowledge can make the incredulity argument sound intelligent and logical. The single thing that open my eyes was WEIT. You don’t know what you don’t know. It’s irritating that someone will spend a lot of time coming up with a pompous speech about how scientists are wrong, but people do because they are smart but religious and not educated in the field. They should spend that time learning about it before trying to outclever people who have spent years and decades studying these things.

  34. Posted December 21, 2019 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    Darwinism begat Nazism

    Apart from the fact that the truth of a thing is not altered by the bad consequences that may arise, if you read Mein Kampf (I haven’t but I’ve read the appropriate passages) you’ll find stuff in there that shows Hitler effectively denied Darwinian evolution.

  35. Jim
    Posted December 25, 2019 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

    I’m sorry, but if it is easy for me as a layman who can and does read the literature…
    – to know there is a distinction between the theories of Intelligent Design (ID) and Creationism, and
    – to know that the Argument from Incredulity is not the basis for ID, and
    – to know that ID makes absolutely no claims about God whatsoever,

    …then how is it that this author – an expert in the field – does not also know these important things?
    Can someone who knows him better than I do him a favor and encourage him to come up to speed on these things, if only for the sake of his credibility in posts such as this?
    Thanks,
    Jim

    • Posted December 26, 2019 at 5:31 am | Permalink

      My response (and if you knew what I’d written, you wouldn’t have to write your snarky comment)

      a. ID is a form of creationism because it proposes that at intervals a Designer steps in and creates changes (either traits or mutations) that couldn’t have evolved by natural selection. It is a form of creationism, although it accepts limited amounts of “microevolution”.

      b. Yes, the argument from Incredulity is the basis for ID: if its advocates can’t think of a way that a trait could have evolved in a step-by-step Darwinian process, they posit that the Designer must have stepped in with some CREATIONIST act.

      c. ID formally doesn’t make claims about God; it just posits an unspecified “Designer”. But the ID advocates who say this are in reality Christians (with some rare Jews) and say in private that the Designer is the Abrahamic God.

      d. You clearly know nothing about ID, which I’ve written about for years (see here, for example). Would someone please help poor Jim understand ID and its history.

    • Wunold
      Posted December 26, 2019 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

      I’m sorry, but if it is easy for me as a layman who can and does read the literature…

      Obviously not as easy as reading Wikipedia:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intelligent_design

      “Intelligent design (ID) is a pseudoscientific argument for the existence of God” … “ID is a form of creationism” … “although they do not state that God is the designer, the designer is often implicitly hypothesized to have intervened in a way that only a god could intervene” … “the leading proponents have made statements to their supporters that they believe the designer to be the Christian God, to the exclusion of all other religions.”

      And so on, and so on … see the full text for more rebuttal of your claims, as well as the relevant sources.


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