Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Richard Dawkins' 5 talking points on why Evolution is true

Richard Dawkins has copped increasing vitriol from the large (depressingly large) coteries of Creationists or believers in Intelligent Design.  They claim he is an "extremist Atheist" and that he waxes "hysterical".  That is not, of course, the case. In all the books of his that I have read, and the many videos I have watched, he is consistently scientific and direct in his approach.  He can be a touch abrupt at times, even verging on the "disrespectful" if you consider his characterisation of some of his interlocutors as "stupid" and "ignorant" as disrespectful.  That may seem to be ad hominem, but then is it not stupid to ignore the science?  While on the "other side", that of creationists and believers in Intelligent Design, the proponents promise fire and brimstone on unbelievers,  often barley hiding their glee that that should be the fate of we atheists.
There's to be a debate on February 4th between Bill Nye ("The Science Guy") and Ken Ham, CEO of "Answers in Genesis".  Dan Arel thinks that Nye ought not to debate Ham.
Dawkins agrees, in the comments, but goes on to suggest five talking points for Nye....

I agree that to do this on Ham's home turf was a mistake, and indeed it is almost always a mistake to give wingnuts the oxygen of publicity, and the respectability of being seen on a platform with a real scientist, anywhere. However, Bill Nye's decision is taken, and a good rule in life is, "Always start from here, not from some hypothetical point in the past." Here are a few suggestions for anyone who, for one reason or another, finds him/herself debating one of these idiots:-
  1. Physical scientists (such as Bill Nye) should play to their strengths in physical science and call the wingnut out on the age of fossils, and cosmological evidence on the age of the universe. Radiometric dating of rocks is solid, irrefutable science. The agreement between different isotopes with overlapping time spans is so strong, it is impossible for anyone to wriggle out of the conclusion that the world is billions of years old, not thousands. Astronomical evidence of the expanding universe agrees.
  2. There are of course gaps in the fossil record. In the case of the Turbellaria, a large, flourishing and beautiful group of free-living flatworms, the fossil record is one big gap – there are no fossils – and not even a Young Earth Creationist thinks they were created yesterday. But although there are gaps in the fossil record, it is a very telling fact that not a single fossil has ever been found in the wrong place in the time sequence. To paraphrase JBS Haldane, not a single fossil rabbit has ever been found in the Precambrian.
  3. Even if there were not a single fossil anywhere in the world, the fact of evolution would be established beyond any doubt by the evidence from comparing modern creatures with other modern creatures. Comparative anatomy was highly convincing evidence in Darwin's time. Today we can add comparative molecular sequences (DNA and proteins) which are even more convincing, by orders of magnitude. Whichever molecule you look at, and whichever bone system etc you look at, the pattern of animal resemblances turns out to be the same branching tree (given normal, expected margins of error). What could that branching tree be but a pedigree, a family tree, a tree of descent with modification?
  4. The pattern of geographical distribution of animals and plants is exactly as it should be, on the assumption that slow, gradual evolution has taken place on slowly drifting (plate tectonics) continents and islands. Archipelagoes such as Galapagos and Hawaii are textbook examples, but the same kind of pattern is seen the world over. Species are distributed exactly where evolutionists would expect them to be (the pattern of distribution is not what you'd expect if they had dispersed from Noah's Ark on Mount Ararat!)
  5. It's never ideal to argue from authority, but the fact is that the VAST majority of scientists working in relevant fields accept the fact of evolution and the fact that the universe is billions of years old. The mutually corroborating evidence spans zoology, botany, microbiology, bacteriology, genetics, geology, physics, chemistry, astronomy, anthropology, geography . . . the list goes on. As for Ken Ham's biblical alternative, Genesis is not accepted as literally true by any reputable theologian or ancient historian. And that is hardly surprising when you consider the obscurity of its authorship, and its obvious status as just one of thousands of origin myths from all around the world..
All these points, and more, can be found in books such as The Greatest Show on Earth and Why Evolution is True.