The Dawkins Deficiency
Critique of Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins
Wayne Talbot, whose background is IT (information technology), argues that Dawkins' book, The Greatest Show on Earth, is nothing but a polemic, with no real evidence or logic. Talbot uses mostly logic to debunk Dawkins' book as any kind of viable statement in support of evolution. This was the last book I have read at this time, and I am delighted to talk about it! In fact, this topic has been burning my typing fingers for a long time!
I love the cover art. That is one of my favorite butterflies. It's a Blue Clipper (Parthenos sylvia lilacinus). Resting such a beautiful butterfly on a person's hands says something that would compel me to read the book even if I had no other reason to do so.
Three methods of evaluating evidence
As far as I know, everyone agrees on the evidence. That is to say, if someone finds a fossil bone, everyone will agree, "That's a fossil bone." The point of disagreement is concerning the interpretation of this piece of evidence. What does it represent? How did it get to the place where it was found? What animal does it belong to?
There are three predominant ways people look at this type of evidence, or any other scientific evidence, for that matter. I will define them as objectively as I can.
Evolution - The idea that the life forms on the earth today are a result of hundreds of millions, if not billions, of years of change (gradual or sudden) in existing organisms, resulting in the diversity of life as we know it. Evolution postulates that everything started with a one-celled life-form, and all animals and plants are "descended" from that single cell, which is to say that the life-form had offspring, which in turn had offspring, and somewhere in this line of descent, the organism changed and became something else. Example: birds developed from dinosaurs.
Intelligent Design - The idea that when you examine living creatures, or their organs, you observe that individual organs are sufficiently complex that they must be complete in order to function at all, and that no partial organ would give any survival value, and would result instead in the organism dying (natural selection) without producing viable offspring. The idea that the organ and the genetic code that caused it to grow in its completed form are too complex to have arisen by chance, and thus had to have been designed by some kind of intelligent entity (not identified; could be God or an alien from another planet). The idea that there is no known mechanism that would result in the increase of genetic information that would be required to produce such organs that had not existed before. Intelligent Design advocates are not confined to people of any particular religious persuasion, but rather, are of many different faiths.
Scientific Creation - The idea that the evidence (say, the fossil bone) supports sudden creation of living creatures, which breed true to kind. The fossil record was deposited by a worldwide flood. Evolution is falsified in a number of ways. Scientific Creationists may or may not refer to the Bible as a sourcebook suggesting avenues of investigation, and not all Scientific Creationists accept the Bible. But unlike evolutionists, who will rarely mention that their worldview, atheism, is the basis for their belief in evolution, creationists who accept the Bible will readily say so. For this, they are heavily criticized (and I tend to be among that number whenever they conflate the issues.)
Some people resort to dishonesty, and claim that Intelligent Design is disguised Scientific Creationism, or that it isn't science. They will also claim that Scientific Creationism is not scientific, either. This is in spite of numerous replicable experiments that can be conducted by them, that show the flaws in the theory of evolution.
The Two Books Are Available on Amazon
First, I list the book by Dawkins, because it is the book that gave rise to the one by Talbot. If you read only one book, make it The Dawkins Deficiency, but I think you will get more out of it if you read both.
The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution
by Richard Dawkins
The Dawkins Deficiency: Why Evolution is Not the Greatest Show On Earth
I might as well lay out my own perspective, so that the reader can evaluate my position accordingly. No matter how much I try to be objective, I firmly believe there is no such thing as complete objectivity.
I first heard about the theory of evolution, to the best of my recollection, when I was a teenager. It never made any sense to me. It never seemed logical. On the contrary, it seemed like total nonsense from the get-go.
When I was a teenager, I also went to hear Henry M. Morris II lecture at my church. While I found many things he said interesting, and they resonated with me, at that time the only book of which I am aware that had been published on the subject was The Genesis Flood. I acquired a copy and attempted to read it, but I quickly became bogged down, and never got very far into it.
I continued to devour anything I could on the subject, with intense interest. This represents at least a half century of interest on my part. The number of different apparently valid criticisms this material raised was astonishing to me.
As a young adult, I was dating a man who worked for the university's geochronology laboratory. He maintained their electronic equipment. He told me later he almost broke up with me when he learned that I don't accept the theory of evolution. However, his conclusion about the geochronology lab was that their decisions regarding which radiometric dating methods were to be used was based on politics, not science. This began a period of questioning, during which he ended up rejecting evolution entirely. At present, he is most strongly an intelligent design advocate. As I do, he criticizes scientific creationists for conflating discussions of science with discussions of the Bible. At the time we met, he was an agnostic, and remained one long after he rejected evolution, for decades, in fact.
I continue to find the theory of evolution to be without merit. I find merit in both of the other viewpoints. I have also, from time to time, run across pieces of evidence, for myself, that tend to refute some tenet of evolution.
This is one of several photos I have taken of the Blue Clipper, the butterfly shown on the cover of The Dawkins Deficiency. Butterflies are such amazing creatures. Clearly, this beautiful creature was designed by a conscious and intelligent Being with exquisite artistry.
Photo: Pat Goltz
Richard Dawkins' book
The book, Greatest Show on Earth, is a major book, widely circulated, by a very well known atheist evolutionist, which supposedly proves that evolution is true. The problem with this claim is that Dawkins tends to engage in polemics, and really never gets around to discussing why the evidence supports evolution. Instead, his approach is generally lacking in civility, and is vicious. He rants just to be ranting. My reaction to this kind of approach is to discount whatever that person is saying. If he cannot discuss the topic civilly, I figure he must know on some deep level that his viewpoint is not valid, and so he lashes out instead. Having read passages of Dawkins, I believe this is a fair assessment. In fact, a number of people who agree with evolution find Dawkins' approach equally off-putting. I am just glad he is not on my side!
In other words, to use the vernacular, Dawkins gets snarky.
Contrast this with Christopher Hitchens, whose approach was always genteel and respectful.
Wayne Talbot calls Dawkins on his lack of civility and points out that this is evidence that Dawkins doesn't really have an argument.
I would tend to think that Dawkins' book is most likely to appeal to people who are not versed in science or logic, who are looking for a viewpoint that fits their own worldview and what they value and appreciate, rather than people who do have a background. There are plenty of people out there who are easy to flummox, and from what I have read, it is those people Dawkins seeks to impress.
Whenever I am debating some hot topic, when the other side starts to resort to ad hominem attacks, I say, "You used an ad hominem attack. I win." To me, beginning to use logical fallacies is a clear demonstration that the opponent cannot argue the merits of his position. This is probably a fair assessment of Dawkins from what Talbot has said. If you want to read Dawkins without getting sucked in, become familiar with logical fallacies first.
I would have made more sense of The Dawkins Deficiency if I had read Dawkins' book first. I intend to remedy that. However, I did get a reasonable amount out of Talbot's analysis.
Talbot argues primarily from his own developed skills as a person who works in information technology. He rarely discusses physical evidence, but concentrates more on logic and mathematics. Interestingly, he rarely refers to Dawkins by name, but simply calls him "the author". This can be a little confusing.
Talbot starts by defining evolution. He gets into some detail as he talks about topics such as mechanisms of evolution and "cladistics". Cladistics appears to be the practice of constructing diagrams based on various physical characteristics of organisms, showing what is mostly likely related to what (what diverged more recently in development). These charts are widely constructed among evolutionists.
Talbot makes a distinction between macro-evolution, which he diagrams as a triangle resting on its point in the distant past, where lack of biological diversity balloons into a huge variety at the top, and micro-evolution (which he calls Limited Evolution Theory), which starts out with a tremendous database of genetic information, and over time, loses much of that information. The triangle stands on its base. While he doesn't explicitly take a side, it is evident from the book that he leans toward Intelligent Design.
The next section is devoted to the consideration of evidence, in particular, Dawkins' evidence. Rather than discussing the evidence itself, Dawkins is more likely to make claims like, lots of churches support evolution (as if church bodies had some kind of scientific credential as experts). He points out that when we breed animals, we lose genetic information, but do not produce new species. Radiometric dating is discussed, along with calibration of C-14 dating by using tree rings. He pointed out something I didn't know. I was aware that tree rings may be formed twice annually because of two rainy seasons (which would cause the age estimates from C-14 to be cut in half), but I was NOT aware that a tree can grow up to five rings a year! Talbot points out that matching the rings from different trees can be difficult, even when the trees grew near each other. He also talks about whether or not the speed of light is a constant, or whether it may have slowed down over time. He gets into the fossil record a little bit.
Overall, I found some of Talbot's ideas to be new to me.
The next section covers missing links and the improbability and impossibility that one structure could suddenly change into another altogether. "Transitional fossils" is not defined in evolutionist literature, and they're not to be found anyway. The next chapter gets into hominid fossils in particular.
"You Did It Yourself in Nine Months"
The title is from Dawkins' book. Talbot seems to like this title, which he mentions several times. He starts by critiquing the idea that the genetic code is a blueprint or instruction manual, pointing out instead that it is a part of a living and growing organism. Dawkins claims there is no master plan. Talbot takes issue with that idea. He also gets a little specific about the various chemicals of life, such as proteins and enzymes. He mentions "sets", which come from set theory. I find that a little off-putting because I think it is meaningless, but perhaps understandable to a person with an IT background. He gets into more detail on genetic arguments in the next couple of chapters.
Talbot next shows that mutations cannot account for the creation of new genetic information, and how mutations actually make organisms less fit to survive. He ends by pointing out that mutations are not necessary for adaptation, which is constantly in evidence.
The next chapter discusses natural selection and why it is irrelevant to the creation of new genetic information, and also to whether an improved organism will ever survive and reproduce. Predators, which may be a mechanism of natural selection, don't always select the least fit as prey.
The next topic is straight out of Intelligent Design: irreducible complexity. Here, Talbot brings the full strength of his professional expertise to bear. The chapter on the human brain and mind shows the disconnect between the human mind and anything to do with animals or evolution. He finishes off strong with more discussion of Intelligent Design.
In order to be able to evaluate a written work (or a speech or other form of communication, for that matter), it helps if you understand a little about logic. One of the first things people tend to resort to when they don't have an argument, is fallacies. It is helpful to be familiar with fallacies. This is a very good site for that purpose. It pretty much covers them all, with good descriptions and examples.
- Nizkor Logical Fallacies
The site also contains other information about logic.
This book is worth reading for its different perspective, if you are interested in the controversy of origins. I didn't find it quite as understandable as many other books I have read, and it would be less useful a starting place for a neophyte. But it is a good new perspective, and the author is to be applauded for taking on the task of debunking Dawkins' work. Kudos to him on that point.
All of that said, it is worth noting that I picked up on an undercurrent I cannot name. Is it lack of clarity? Lack of certainty? After reading for awhile, my husband has decided not to bother to finish reading the book. He says the author is too uncertain of what he thinks about these issues, too tentative. He expresses uncertainty about issues that can easily be checked with an internet search.
It is always good to see what other people think about a book; it lends a little more objectivity to an evaluation.
It is likely some people who got taken in with Dawkins' lack of real logic or evidence may find this critique helpful, in which case, they should read it. If you just want basic information about the controversy, other books I have read have a lot more clarity.
I have a hard time imagining how anybody can relate to the viciousness Dawkins displays. But people who feel the same hostility may well find his writings compelling. I can't help but note that perhaps such people have an agenda which is other than objectivity in reading such things. Most often, people have a particular lifestyle, and don't want to deal with anything that might disturb the worldview underlying the lifestyle. It's not about logic or evidence. The first step in rejecting a false worldview is cognitive dissonance. If this book creates cognitive dissonance, that is excellent. Others of us come from a different place.
So read Talbot if you like. You may get something out of it. I did. But it doesn't get to the heart of the issues like certain other books I have read.
With three major possibilities for the most accurate assessment of origin theory - which one do you find most compelling?
Which theory of origins most closely resembles your personal perspective?
Do you BELIEVE...
in the theory of evolution?
Here is something to think about. Why do people always ask if you BELIEVE in the theory of evolution? You BELIEVE in religions. Are they admitting the theory of evolution is a religion? I tend to think so.
When I think about creation, I think about a couple of things. I believe in the God of the Bible. That said, the evidence that the Bible is true is overwhelming. It checks out in so many ways. But thinking about the science, I think in terms of what is logical, and what the facts indicate. Evolution is not logical, nor does it explain the facts. It doesn't explain the evidence.
I remember one debate I attended, which was between Dr. Duane Gish and a local evolutionary professor. I don't remember his name. But most of his time in the debate was used by talking about philosophical issues. He didn't really talk about science. Dr. Gish, on the other hand, chose a couple of topics about living things and discussed why evolution couldn't explain their existence. After awhile, the other professor said, "I wish we could ignore the fossil record." And Dr. Gish said, "How very SCIENTIFIC of you!" (NOT!) In science, you don't ignore the evidence.
All by myself, I could write a book about all the different problems with evolution and related topics. I'd like to talk about just one of these, an issue I raised many years before I read that anyone else had done so.
I call it the argument from symbiosis.
Symbiosis is when two different species have a relationship, such that neither could survive without the presence of the other. Most people know about a few examples. For example, many people know that the yucca plant is pollinated by the yucca moth, and no other species. The yucca moth, in turn, lays eggs on the yucca plant, and the young eat the plant exclusively. If one of these became extinct, the other would also.
Many people are also aware that the human intestinal tract contains countless bacteria, which help us digest our food, and in turn, live by virtue of their location and the food available there. Get the wrong bacteria in there, and people get very sick. Without any bacteria at all, people get very sick, in fact, they die. We have a symbiotic relationship with the good bacteria.
I tended to think there were only a few such relationships. Actually, there are thousands upon thousands of them, if not more.
So now let's look at a few probabilities. If one species is going to develop into another, very different species, there are two things required (if the species has two genders). The first is that two individuals of the same new species must be born at roughly the same time in the same place. They must meet and have offspring. The likelihood that one individual will develop a beneficial mutation is already smaller than the likelihood of finding one single atom in the entire universe. Take those two individuals. Now the chance of them meeting and reproducing is similar to the likelihood of the likelihood of one of them, multiplied by the likelihood of the other. Let me explain what I mean. Say I have one chance out of two of throwing a coin and it coming up heads. Someone else has one chance in two. What is the chance that both of us will get heads at the same time? Multiply the two together 2x2=4. The chance is one in four. If the chance that a given new individual will be born is, say, one in 10,000, then the chance of two of them being born is now one in 100,000,000, and they haven't even met yet! The chance that one individual which is viable and which developed a beneficial mutation is far lower than one in 10,000, so this is just one example.
Now throw in the issue of symbiosis. If the new organism needs to have a symbiotic relationship with another entirely different species, that individual from the other species must be living in the same vicinity at the time, and if that individual requires the first species for survival, they must all be born at roughly the same time!
Going back to the yucca/moth situation. Let's say that the chance that a male yucca plant will develop and grow at a particular location is one in 10,000 (while it is far less, this will do for the sake of argument.) Another female plant that happens to have the same mutation and require pollination by a yucca moth growing in the same place is (for the sake of argument) one in 10,000. Now the moth must also develop at the same time, because the moth requires the yucca plant for food and no other plant will do. Male and female, each a one in 10,000 chance. Now multiply that all together, and you get one in 10,000,000,000,000,000. Doesn't look very likely, does it? (for the technically inclined, that's 1 in 10^-16)
When you consider how very MANY of such symbiotic relationships live in the biosphere, you can readily see that producing life as we know it through random chance is clearly impossible.
Ask most people about the mechanism for evolution, and most will say, "Natural selection". So what is natural selection, and why is it NOT a mechanism for evolution?
One thing natural selection is also not, is selection. It doesn't select anything. It simply means that a given environment may not be suitable for a particular species, or the species may not have the strength to live in that environment, so in that location the species becomes extinct.
Natural selection is the opposite of evolution. It makes things go extinct. It doesn't cause new species to develop. In order for natural selection to "work", it has to have a species to work with in the first place. The species must already exist. Why is this so? Simply put, it is because natural selection CANNOT cause NEW genetic information to come into existence. Evolution requires a mechanism for causing new genetic information to come into existence. Since natural selection won't do that, it isn't a mechanism for evolution.
Some people will say mutation is the mechanism for evolution. However, nearly every mutation results in the LOSS of genetic information, or its destruction. Nearly every mutation is harmful and makes an individual less viable. Even if one mutation in a hundred is beneficial, the other 99 will wipe out the species before the one exception has a chance.
So there is no mechanism for evolution that we know of.
Think about it.
Remember, civility builds the case for your position. Don't imitate Dawkins!