Sunday, 3 November 2013

John Collyer's "20 scientific facts seldom taught to students" critically reviewed - introduction

John Collyer has written one of the worst anti-evolution books ever produced by a Christadelphian writer. Unfortunately, it is sold by both the Testimony Magazine and the Christadelphian Magazine and Publishing Association, giving its nonsensical views broad access into our community.

Perhaps the worst part of the book is its list of "20 Scientific Facts Seldom Taught to Students", which alone demonstrate that Collyer not only is grossly ignorant of evolutionary biology, a subject he deems himself qualified to criticise, but also is uncritically reliant on the usual special creationist attacks such as quote mining, argument from personal incredulity and attacking a version of evolution which bears little resemblance to what is actually taught to students in secondary and tertiary education.

Collyer argues that these twenty points are 'seldom taught to students'. What are these points which are lethal to evolution?
Point 1. The origin of life is unknown to science. The Law of Biogenesis observes that life only comes from life. Louis Pasteur proved scientifically that life does not come from non-life, a fact that is the basis of the food-canning industry to this day.
Point 2. Natural selection, the supposed basis of evolution, can only select from existing characteristics and does not produce new genetic material.
Point 3. Mutations, said to be the source of new genetic material, are harmful to life and often lethal. Deliberately induced mutations in over 3,000 consecutive generations of fruit flies have failed to produce a better fruit fly, or to increase its viability.
Point 4. As Charles Darwin admitted, there is no actual evidence of any species having developed into another species.
Point 5. Acquired characteristics cannot be inherited. For example, a one-armed man will not have one-armed children, as Lamarck's theory falsely assumed in order to account for evolution.
Point 6. The variations within each species are all explicable by Mendel's laws of genetics, and variations are limited, as any breeder of plants and animals knows
Point 7. All known species (several million) appear fully developed with all vital organs fully operational. There are no part-formed eyes, half-developed intestines or evolving feathers
Point 8. Each human brain contains about one hundred thousand billion electrical connections (more than can be found in all the world's electrical appliances), a complexity that could not possibly have been produced by chance.
Point 9. Many animals possess sophisticated equipment that science has been unable to replicate: the radar system of bats, the sonar of whales and dolphins, the electro-detection system of the platypus, the aerodynamics of hummingbirds, the navigation systems of many birds, and the amazing self-repair system of most forms of life. Such sophisticated facilities required a superintelligence to install.
Point 10. While single-celled creatures are numerous, there are none with two, three, four, or even twenty cells. Thus there is no evolutionary sequence from single-celled to multi-celled creatures.
Point 11. The genetic code in every form of life is a precise set of information for the development and activity of that form of life, accompanied by elaborate transmission and duplication systems, without which life would cease. This complexity cannot be accounted for by chance, but testifies to intelligent design in every form of life.
Point 12. The genetic information encoded in each cell in the DNA, if written out in detail, would require as many as 4,000 large volumes of closely printed text. This is no accident of nature.
Point 13. The DNA helix in each cell requires twenty different proteins for its structure. These specific proteins can only be produced under the direction of the information in the DNA; therefore the whole complex system must have been formed complete from the beginning of life.
Point 14. Amino acids formed synthetically are either right-handed or left-handed. The amino acids in all forms of life are all left-handed, without exception, clear evidence of intelligent selection and design.
Point 15. Symbiosis, the interdependence of two forms of life, such as the fig tree and fig-gall wasp, the yucca plant and Pronuba moth, pollen plants and the bee, each dependent for life upon the other, must have been formed complete at the same time.
Point 16. Fossils are evidence of extinctions, not of new forms of life. Their condition is evidence of very rapid burial, while many polystrate fossils indicate that several strata were laid rapidly round the upright fossil.
Point 17. At the base of the fossil record there is evidence of many highly complex creatures, but no evidence of an evolutionary sequence.
Point 18. The so-called 'missing link' between one form of life and another requires many millions of missing links of a slow evolutionary process did actually take place. All are missing.
Point 19. Most dinosaurs are known only by their tracks impressed on mud that turned to stone. In Russia, horse-hoof tracks and human footprints have been found alongside dinosaur tracks, contrary to the evolutionary scenario
Point 20. Language studies have revealed that ancient languages were far more complex than modern languages in their form, syntax, cases, genders and tenses. Of the thirty-six known cases of feral children, reared without human contact, it is evident that language is not inherent but is learned from other humans. Language did not evolve but was an endowment from creation.
Anyone who has actually studied the life sciences or medicine will immediately recognise blunders, distortions, outright lies and YEC mendacity uncritically regurgitated by Collyer. Point 17 simply repeats the old lie of the 'Cambrian Explosion' which has been repeatedly rebutted, while point 18 peddles the lie that transitional fossils do not exist. Material such as this is utterly embarrassing. It's low-grade creationist nonsense that makes us look like idiots, and gives the usual low-rent atheist opponents of our community an open target at which they can aim.

When you go through each of the points in detail, the same basic blunders keep on reappearing. Three basic errors made are:
  • Argument from personal incredulity: Collyer frequently alleges that because something is so complex, he can't imagine how it could have evolved, therefore God created it. Ignoring the fact that in most of the cases, there is considerable scientific work being done on the cases he mentions which undermines his argument, the argument from personal incredulity carries little weight as he is not a professional scientist in the areas he criticises. One would not take seriously the claim of an electronic engineer that the reason for the decline of the Roman Empire is unknown to historians, therefore God did it. Likewise here.
  • God of the gaps: this is closely related to the above argument. Creationists will claim that as a scientific explanation for a phenomenon is lacking, God explicitly causes it. Of course, when a scientific explanation is found, this shrinks the place in which such an interventionist God can be found.
  • Conflation of abiogenesis and evolution: Evolution can be described as a change in the allele frequency in a population over time. It also refers to the fact of large-scale evolutionary change and common descent. In short, it looks at the origin of species. Evolution has nothing to do with the origin of life (abiogenesis) and the origin of the universe (cosmology) both of which are separate fields. Creationist will claim that as evolution cannot explain the origin of the life or the origin of the universe, it is therefore wrong. This is symptomatic of a creationist desire to turn evolution into an atheist “Theory of Everything”. It isn't. Evolution refers to the origin of species, and difficulties in abiogenesis or cosmology do not overturn the evidence for common descent. Collyer is not explicitly conflating the subjects here, but in a book attacking evolution, the naïve reader will come away thinking that the lack of a robust theory of abiogenesis is a mortal blow for evolution.
Over the next few weeks, I will be showing in detail where Collyer blunders in his attacks on evolution. One can but trust that this wretched book eventually becomes nothing more than an embarrassing footnote in the history of our community.