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Batten #1: “Defining” Evolution?

March 15th, 2008 · Posted by Hugo · 1 Comment

Hat tip to Auke, who transcribed the recent creationism seminar:

Creationist rubbish: read all about it
Posted 2008 March 14 @ 22:54 – filed under Bullshit.

On March 05, Dr D. J. Batten (B.Sc., Hons., Ph.D.), who is affiliated with Creation Ministeries International, came to spew nonsense on the campus of the University of Stellenbosch. He was introduced by Mr Sias le Roux, of the fundamentalist Christian organization Shofar.

Here’s my transcript of Dr Batten’s (B.Sc., Hons., Ph.D.) talk. Your comments will be appreciated. When I get back from fossil hunting, I’ll make work of them.

Shall we pick apart the seminar piece by piece, giving Auke more comments than he’d care for when he’s back? The aim of the series I’m now starting is more to explain how these seminars work, and why they’re bad, than it is to defend evolution.

(In fact, evolution doesn’t need defence, it just needs to be taught. The theory’s stronger than it has ever been, all that is missing is more scientific literacy. That will come with time. I’ll be reading Ernst Mayr’s What Evolution Is (amazon, kalahari) when I have time — so far, the intro looks good — at that point I may be able to add my R0.02 in the educational effort.)

I’m skipping over Sias’ intro and Batten’s comments about rugby and cricket, and getting straight to his “definition” of evolution. We’ll get back to the intro and Batten’s biography later.

Batten: Well, lets first of all define evolution. Because lots.. some people like to narrow the meaning of evolution to just meaning “change” and of course things do change so therefore evolution is a fact. That’s known as equivocation, which is a trick used in debating.

Who are these “some people” that Batten are referring to, exactly? He is not referring to scientists. Maybe he is referring to lay-people’s use or abuse of the word, outside the context of biological evolution. However, the function of this intro? It turns “some people” into “the opposition”, and makes them seem silly. By mentioning debating, he brings the audience under the impression that he has debated “evolutionists” that had that (lack of a) definition for evolution, and that evolutionists use dishonest debating tactics. Do you think I’m extrapolating too much here? I seriously doubt it. Not in the context of that audience. (Does any Shofarian that attended care to share the impression they get from statements like these?)

Batten: But what we’re talking about here is the idea that everything made itself, without a creator, the big picture of evolution, that there is no need for a creator, because we can explain how the whole universe, the world, life on earth, and everything just made itself by natural processes. It’s like the evolutionist Julian Huxley said, uh, he was head of UNESCO for many years,

“in evolutionary pattern of thought, there is no longer even need or room for the supernatural. The earth was not created, it evolved. So did all the animals and plants that inhabit it, including our human selves, mind and soul, as well as brain and body. So did religion.”

I’m sorry, what? I thought Dr Batten was busy trying to define evolution. Instead, he first climbs into metaphysics, or the supernatural rather, in order to get his audience emotionally primed. He knows his target audience believes in God and will not let go of that, so he employs what is known as an appeal to consequences to get them to reject evolution. Yes, indeed, there are people that do lose their faith when they accept evolution. Why? Because people like Dr Batten teach them a faith that depends on the rejection of evolution. What is the aim of this seminar? Are we trying to get to the truth of the matter, or are we only interested in loading acceptance of science with so much trauma (the collapse of a person’s world-view) that people end up rejecting it for self-preservation purposes?

Besides, there are many Christian scientists that accept evolution and an old earth. Do you want some names? I’d wager the greatest majority of seminary-trained theologians do the same. To pull in another famous name, based on my impressions of Mere Christianity, CS Lewis also accepted evolution. He definitely wasn’t a young earther. The point being, this appeal to consequences is not only a logical fallacy, the consequences appealed to are arguably incorrect.

(Notice also how in terms of science education, the kind of rhetoric often employed by Richard Dawkins plays directly into creationists’ hands. However, his target audience isn’t creationists or fundamentalists, he is more interested in drying up the pool of moderates from which they draw. In the context of his mission, you could probably argue you win some, you lose some, just try to win more than you lose.)

Batten: Well, I’m not going to deal with cosmic evolution, or the evolution of the earth. Being a biologist, I’m going to talk about biological evolution. The basic idea is there that life made itself, from chemicals that made themselves, from the Big Bang when Earth cooled down enough for water to form, and then things like uh microbes formed, and then complex, much more complex organisms like worms formed, and then worms changed into all all the more complex types of living things on Earth, as Simon Conway Morris says: “Once we were worms”.

In fact, if you um look at this big picture, it means elephants and mice had a common ancestor, and they say that um all these creatures and plants and everything just made themselves of a natural process over aeons of time, if you trace the ancestors of elephants and mice, back through the fossil record, supposedly you will find their ancestors, a common ancestor of the two, and not only that, if you go back a bit further you find a common ancestor with us, and <..> back further, you find a common ancestor with bananas, and all the way back to microbes that made themselves uh on the Earth.

So what, is this now his definition of evolution?

With regards to “the basic idea is there that life made itself” and “microbes that made themselves uh on the Earth”, he confuses evolution and abiogenesis, like so many creationists do. Biological evolution deals with life that already exists, abiogenesis with where life came from in the first place. This is quite typical in creationist material though, lumping things together under one umbrella. That touches on a big truth about creationism: they’re not attacking evolution, they’re attacking a significant cross-section of modern science (see Wikipedia).

Furthermore, he focuses on ideas like once we were worms and common ancestry between elephants and mice or fauna and flora – this is again more a case of the consequences of evolutionary theory rather than actually defining it in the first place. The word choice “made themselves” is also a biased caricature, compared to something like “came into existence through an evolutionary process”. His rhetoric again appeals to emotion, as well as incredulity.

Let’s end this post with Wikipedia’s definition of evolution:

In biology, evolution is the changes seen in the inherited traits of a population from one generation to the next. These changes are relatively minor from one generation to the next, but accumulate with each subsequent generation and can eventually cause substantial changes in the organisms. Inherited traits come from the genes that are passed on to offspring during reproduction. Mutations in genes can produce new or altered traits, resulting in the appearance of heritable differences between organisms, but new traits also come from the transfer of genes between populations, as in migration, or between species, in horizontal gene transfer. In species that reproduce sexually, new combinations of genes are produced by genetic recombination, which can increase the variation in traits between organisms. Evolution occurs when these heritable differences become more common or rare in a population, either non-randomly through natural selection or randomly through genetic drift.

Categories: Religion and Science
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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Batten #7: Natural Selection // Mar 21, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    […] watch as he trots out further misunderstandings of evolution. Let me remind you of the definition (that he didn’t give): Evolution occurs when these heritable differences become more common or rare in a population. The […]

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