Another three letters from Die Matie, reproduced here with their authors’ consent.
The first, published in Die Matie on 9 April, in response to Kenneth Oberlander and Maud Bonato’s letter in the 19 March issue:
Evolution hardly ‘factual, observed, …tested’
THE POINTS listed by Kenneth Oberlander and Maud Bonato in their letter “Creationist’s message misleading” (Die Matie, 19/03) are really contestable.
They claim that genetics, physics and mathematics support evolution. Wow, where in physics and mathematics does one come across evolution? My husband is a theoretical physicist and not an evolutionist. Suddenly biologists tell us that all of science agrees with evolution! Yet the laws of thermodynamics are in direct competition with the ideas of evolution. The second law says that the universe tends to greater disorder (entropy), and that “in an isolated system, a process can only occur if it increases the total entropy of the system”. evolution requires the establishment of order.
Evolution claims that organisms started as perhaps a bubble in the ocean (Biology by Raven and Johnson) and over millions of years grew to the great complexity we see today. Thus immense order supposedly came from nothing! How can this be “factual, observed multiple times, tested, altered, expanded and tested again for over 150 years by thousands of scientists…”?
Kenneth and Maud state that evolution is a fact. They then go on to say that its theories have been tested. Is this not oxymoronic? A theory or model will stay that, and is not a fact.
One notable example where scientists have been wrong before is the idea that there is “junk” DNA in the human genome. It’s now been discovered that this “junk” has functions they just didn’t know about or understand.
Kenneth and Maud say Dr Don Batten may have been “actively deceptive” in his talk. I know about the hoax of the Piltdown man, where the archeologist Charles Dawson, in an attempt to prove human evolution, fused together a modern day human skull, orangutan jaw and chimpanzee fossil teeth to serve as the missing link. It was believed as science for over 40 years!
They also claim that the examples used by Batten contained “gross errors”. I was familiar with all the examples and state here that they were correct. it’s strange that Kenneth or Maud did not mention these “gross errors” at the talk.
They ask if Batten knows the religious beliefs of scientists, and then claim that they do, and that many scientists see their work on evolution as an attempt to glorify their respective Godheads.
Now is this true? According to a survey in the USA published in Nature, the statistic is that four out of ten scientists believe in God! What is the probability that this 40% are the evolutionists?
What the theory of evolution does do, is say that Genesis is not completely true, that God didn’t make man in one day, that he cannot just speak things into being.
The authors ask why we may be so scared to accept evolution. I feel no fear. Many evolutionists used the idea of evolution as a proof for there being no God. Is it not they who are afraid or unwilling to submit to a Creator? Evolution is supposed to be a chance happening, and does not require a Creator! Thank you, God, that I know You made me. I am from Adam, but I am in Jesus! Adam was not an ape! he was made in your image!
Tracy-Lee van der Ventel
Dept of Chemistry
To avoid confusion, it should be noted that Tracey-Lee is not a post-graduate student or staff member of the Department of Chemistry, but is currently an undergraduate student with a major in chemistry.
The following edition of Die Matie, published on 23 April, had two letters responding to Tracy-Lee’s letter. The first:
False science misused to influence masses
CERTAIN debates have been raging wildly in our campus newspaper. After taking a passive observer’s stance in the past, I have now reached a point where I feel the need to get some things off my chest. Let me place a disclaimer to fend off violent responses: My intent is neither to attack anyone’s opinions, nor to impose mine. Nonetheless, as an aspiring scientist I feel the obligation to point out one or two things.
In the letter “evolution hardly ‘factual, observed, … tested” (Die Matie, 09/04) Tracy-Lee van der Ventel writes: “the laws of thermodynamics are in direct competition with the ideas of evolution”.
From my limited exposure to the field of science I have learnt at least this: it is dangerous and possibly foolish to invoke or quote scientific laws which one does not fully understand.
As Van der Ventel points out quite correctly, the second law of thermodynamics describes the behaviour of entropy in a closed system. Two things should be noted. Firstly, a biological cell is hardly a closed system. It is in continuous interaction with its incredibly complex environment. Thus arguing that the evolution hypothesis is flawed on grounds of this particular thermodynamic law is entirely unreasonable.
Secondly, entropy is not exactly analogous to disorder. In fact there are systems where a more “ordered” structure is entropically favoured. The bottom line is that using the laws of thermodynamics to dispute the “order from disorder” aspect of evolution theory is scientifically false.
I’d like to share my perspective with you. One problem with this evolution versus creation debate is that people frequently misinterpret scientific laws, at times even misquoting them intentionally in order to sway the opinions of others. (I must state that I am not accusing Van der Ventel of doing the latter).
As an example I mention a particular series of pro-Creationist DVDs by “Dr” Kent Hovind, who, for instance, totally abuses the law of conservation of angular momentum to “prove” that the big bang theory is false.
As I have watched several of these videos, I have witnessed this phenomenon repeatedly. What infuriates me is not only that people often abuse science, but that they frequently succeed in influencing the opinions of the masses with false scientific arguments!
As tragic as this is, the explanation is simple: Humans are easily persuaded by “scientific” arguments which conveniently seem to lend credibility to their cause. They do not bother to question the reliability or motivation of these arguments! I agree whole-heartedly with Claude Bernard’s statement: “true science teaches us to doubt and, in ignorance, to refrain.” The operative word here is “true”.
I perceive this entire debate to be approximately as useful as a third nipple, since it is not being handled in a rigorous manner. It angers me when people bastardise science, using it as leverage on people who do not understand it.
In addition I often wonder why creation and evolution are generally seen as being mutually exclusive. But I guess that that is to be expected, considering that lack of thought seems to be the entropically favoured state of mind.
Chris Rohwer is busy with his Honours in theoretical physics.
The second was Maud and Kenneth’s reply:
THE RECENT letter protesting our critique of a misleading creationist presentation is emblematic of the ignorance about evolution among non-scientists. it is deeply saddening that such misrepresentations of evolution are still circulating among the general public, let alone among fellow members of the Faculty of natural Sciences. We feel compelled to correct these unsupported beliefs.
“Many parts of science don’t support evolution”: there is not a single discipline within science that is incongruent with the occurrence of evolution on this planet. Physics, chemistry, geology, palaeontology, astronomy; all are consistent with, if not actively supportive of, evolution.
“The second law of thermodynamics contradicts evolution”: this is an old favourite among anti-evolution fans. The law states that entropy cannot decrease in a closed system. What anti-evolutionists ignore is that the earth and living things are manifestly not closed systems. the small increase in order that represents life is massively offset by the entropy increase in the sun, so that the total entropy of the earth-sun system doesn’t decrease. raven and Johnson have an admirable description of this second law and evolution (page 430, 8th edition).
“Evolution can’t explain the origin of life”: Scientists don’t expect it to! the origin of life is conceptually and evidentially distinct from evolution. these are different subdisciplines of science. Unlike evolution, how life arose is still controversial. Despite multiple theories for the origin of life, the evidence currently does not overwhelmingly support any particular theory, including the “bubble” theory alluded to and grossly oversimplified by our critic.
“Science proves things”: this claim gets things backwards. Science deals in testing ideas (hypotheses) against reality. it does so by disproving these hypotheses against the data. Proofs are left to mathematicians. Science constantly self-criticizes and self-corrects hypotheses using evidence, which is why both “junk” DNA and “Piltdown Man” have been discredited, publically, by scientists. So much for hoaxes and secrets.
“Evolution is just a theory”: another favourite. evolution is both a fact and a theory. Evolution (defined as the change in organisms over time) has been observed; scientists have seen it happening. The theories of evolution account for how evolution has occurred. We use evolutionary theory to describe and test evolutionary fact. Our previous letter was perfectly consistent in this regard.
“Evolution is a chance event”: the worst misconception of the lot. No, no, no, a thousand times no! A major component of evolution, mutation, is indeed basically random. But evolution isn’t just mutation! Selection acts upon those mutations in a way that is the very opposite of chance. Selection winnows out unsuccessful mutations, and favours successful ones. That is the basic idea behind evolution.
It really is that simple.
Maud Bonato & Kenneth Oberlander
Department of Botany and Zoology
Maud is busy with a Ph.D. in behavioural ecology, and Kenneth Oberlander is busy with a Ph.D. in plant systematics.
An index to all my Batten-related posts can be found at Do Any Shofarians Care About Science?