The Greatest Hoax on Earth?: Refuting Dawkins on Evolution Paperback – Jan 2010
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Richard Dawkins is the world's best-known champion of both atheism and its intellectual underpinning, particles-to-people evolution. His latest book, The Greatest Show on Earth: the evidence for evolution is touted as an unanswerable challenge to those who believe in divine creation. In the past, he says, he has assumed evolution; this time he lays out in one major book the evidence for evolution (and its corollary, vast geological ages). Now scientist, chess master and logician Jonathan Sarfati Ph.D. FM goes head to head with Dawkins in this full-on rebuttal, The Greatest Hoax on Earth? Refuting Dawkins on Evolution. Sarfati is no lightweight opponent; his Refuting Evolution at over 500,000 in print is the biggest-selling creationist book ever. In his crisp, highly readable trademark style, Sarfati's sheer competence relentlessly erodes each of Dawkins' claims and in the process, exposes the logical fallacies and even some of the dubious tactics employed. It's precisely those who feel smug in the belief that all the intellectual firepower is on the side of evolution who most need to read Sarfati's book if only to understand better why it is that there are thousands of scientists and intellectuals today who are convinced that biblical creation outguns evolution in a fair science showdown, stripped bare of rhetoric and ideological 'noise'.
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Which of these are you? If you are an honest inquirer, you will also wish to read the author whom Sarfati is criticizing, in order to get a fair idea of the case. It is a bit lazy to just read Sarfati's attack without looking at the original. That would be like a judge just listening to the prosecutor's side without bothering to hear the defense.
So by all means read Sarfati, but if you are serious make sure you read Dawkins also. Actually, reading Charles Darwin himself would be an even better idea. He's the one who persuaded most people to begin with. Sarfati's work may be useful in getting some people interested in science, but unfortunately many people will use it as an excuse to stop inquiring.
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Now, on the the more detailed review of the book. I won't get too much into the specifics, as many other people have covered these in praise or hate. Instead, I'll touch on them and discuss my views on the book.
First off, I believe the author, Jonathan, is a rather honest individual. He states from the beginning that each of us base our interpretations of the world around us on our fundamental beliefs. He is clear and makes no apologies that his fundamental beliefs are based in The Bible. However, for someone such as myself, I find it refreshing that he defends his beliefs with science and logical arguments, as opposed to many Christians who says "Well, I believe - because!" before promptly avoiding any information that could stir doubt in their beliefs.
This is how I arrived here. As a person who enjoys science and a man who considers himself a man of reason, I could no longer ignore the raging, loud, violent arguments of people telling me Christianity is mindless and ignores science. I began to research, extensively, and based off of the same evidence presented to support evolution, I drew a conclusion similar to that of Jonathan - that evolution is nothing more than a semi-educated conjecture about an unprovable past, fundamentally based in a commitment to materialism. The simple matter of the fact is this - if you do not believe in the supernatural, than all that remains is the natural. And really, the only game in town there is evolution - which I don't find convincing.
Jonathan covers a wide variety of topics. Throughout the book, he refutes specific arguments presented by Dawkins as proof for evolution. Some of these being things such as blind cave fish or bacterial antibiotic resistance. He presents logical counter arguments and draws conclusions based not on "the magical sky daddy" that so many negative reviewers like to mention, but instead based on the SAME facts that evolutionists view as evidence for evolution.
I find Jonathan's arguments far more plausible overall - the changes such as blindness in cavefish present obvious LOSS of genetic material in an environment that would not penalize such a mutation. This means that such an example holds no weight when presented as an argument for anything other than environmental adaptation. You can't build new features and organisms off of genetic loss. In order for evolution to be a viable theory, there needs to be evidence of genetic gain. Without this evidence, it's dead in the water. This is the conclusion I have arrived at during my studies and it happens to be a major point of this text.
Other topics include fossils, adaptations, common ancestry, geology, misconceptions about creation world views and opinions, and many more. The book is quite in depth and does a decent job at touching on many of the points presented by Dawkins in The Greatest Show on Earth. I think it does a fantastic job of displaying the bizarre conclusions many evolutionists draw based on the data they find. Again, this leads back to the "truths" you take for granted in your life - your logical basis for interpreting facts - your primary axiom, if you will.
I encourage people to give this book a read. Many people will enjoy it. Many people will find it offensive to their materialistic world views. You may enjoy his arguments yet find his commitment to Biblical creation annoying. Regardless, before you begin, make a commitment to be TRULY open minded. If you're Christian, don't automatically dismiss things because they make you uncomfortable. If you're an evolutionist/materialist, don't immediately declare "LOL only DUM people believe in magical sky daddy!". That's ignorant, and the opposite of being an open minded, reasonable person. One does not demonstrate intelligence by pretending everyone else is unintelligent.
I suggest you do the same thing that I have. Truly consider how little you know. To commit yourself to the idea that the observable universe is the totality of all existence is to pretend you are far more educated than any one of us human beings are. Keep an open mind, and consider the difficult questions surrounding evolutionary theory. How did life begin? How did the driving information behind life come in existence? Can you even think of one case of new information being introduced as the result of mutation? I have found the answers to these questions unsatisfying.
That leads you to the ultimate question - why are we here? What is the meaning of this existence? Who are we? I implore everyone, including myself, to admit how little we know before deciding we have a true understanding of the answers to these questions. I, for one, have been unable to find the answers in a materialistic world view and am forced to instead entertain the idea that perhaps there is more to all of this life than the unconvincing theory of evolution claims there is.
To refute Dawkin's, he presents other alternatives to what Dawkin's presented. He makes a lot of strong points that should be pondered. The book did not seem so much as a refutation of evolution as it is a refutation of someone who will not debate actual scientists, and writes books that seem to show why it is a good thing that he picks to fight those who either aren't scientists, or are out of their field. Why doesn't he debate actual Creation scientists? (Reading this book shows why. It isn't so much that evolution would lose, but that Dawkin's would have difficulty defending his position.) It is so much easier to play Don Quixote and kill the imaginary monsters. (In this case, knock down straw men.) There may not be (I don't think there is) a victory against evolution, or the proving of Creationism, but it does a good job of handling Dawkin's book.
You will read a whole lot of comments asking for evidence, saying they have evidence, etc. In this realm, there is no evidence. There are only interpretations. One see patterns, one sees pieces of a puzzle. Yet there may be no pattern, and there may be no puzzle. This is the problem when one cannot actually observe what one is studying. What you see and interpret may be the exact opposite of what actually happened. The only way to be sure is to be able to observe it. Without that, everything is just a best guess, or I hope it may be true. An argument along the lines of If I eat an extra large deep dish pizza then I am full; I am full, therefore I ate an extra large deep dish pizza is the kind of evidence evolution has to offer. I actually ate an over stuffed subway sandwich, so the argument does not hold. Yet I am full. It is just that there was a different reason for me being full. In the same way, the evidence (such as fossils) does not explain how it got to be the way it is. Just like I did not, and allowed a decision to be made based off of one understanding of how I could get to be full. There are so many different ways that things can end up as they are. Every once in a while, even the most ridiculous explanation is the truth. (I have heard some ridiculous stories of who things happen to people. Totally improbable, except that someone just happened to be there to witness it.)
It becomes clear quite early that author Jonathan Sarfati is a match for Dawkins and his arguments, even though people may wrongfully think that Dawkins' evidences are virtually infallible. They are not. What impressed me throughout the book, is that Sarfati comes up with counter examples to many of the statements that Dawkins made. For example, where Dawkins alleges that molecular trees and morphology neatly matches in an evolutionary tree, Sarfati comes up with counter examples and shows how highly irresponsible and even inaccurate Dawkins' statements are (pp. 100/1 in original printing). Likewise, Dawkins alleges that flatworms left no fossil trace, in an argument trying to deal with the 'Cambrian Explosion'. Yet Sarfati provides an example or reference of a flatworm fossil from rocks just below those classified as Cambrian. Greatest Hoax is loaded with references which can easily be followed at the bottom of the pages, so this makes it easy to follow these example.
The book further starts off by de-muddying the waters, on important issues such as 'natural selection' and 'speciation'. Clearly most creationists have no problem with there being NS, they just don't ascribe all the creative powers to it, but rather view it as a conservative force in nature. Also, they certainly do not believe in 'fixity of species', as is often given the impression. They are unconvinced that all life comes from a single common ancestor, especially via blind and purposeless processes. There is a massive difference!
Sarfati gives excellent facts about fossils, and supposed transitional fossils in a chapter of its own. Again, anybody who wants the full picture, and not just the comfortable one for evolution, must read this section. Important information is given especially in regards to the supposed transition from fish to tetrapods. 'Tiktaalik' is discussed too.
Sarfati, as a trained Ph.D (physical) chemist, makes mince meat of Dawkins' arguments for the supposed naturalistic origin of life from a lifeless source. Abiogenesis just is impossible, it turns out, and that is based on what we DO know, not what we don't know.
What makes Greatest Hoax on Earth? really strong, is the masterful dealing of two things, which people like Dawkins love: the allegation that many biological entities are poorly designed, and the fact that nature is red in tooth and claw. These two subjects each get a fascinating chapter of its own. Dawkins and many like him thinks that this really drives the nail in the coffin of non-evolutionists and especially creationists, and yet here we see the true strength of the biblical creationist model specifically, as well as Sarfati's excellent reasoning abilities, and scientific knowledge about many of these supposedly poorly designed biological structures. The most famous example being the inverted retina of many vertebrates, which gets a thorough treatment. Sarfati's knowledge about the physics involved is superb, and he is clearly much more up-to-date with the latest research of the eye. So much so that Dawkins comes off as archaic!
To me as engineer, it was clear that Dawkins does not understand engineering design reasoning very well. I am glad I do not have to rely on any technology he developed! His argument in regards to the /vas deferens/ was for example especially frivolous (I read the section on this in the original Dawkins-book). Again, Sarfati shows superior knowledge to Dawkins in regards to designing reasoning, and shows that the God of the Bible is no fool. Dawkins turns out to be.
After reading Greatest Hoax on Earth, it became clear to me that Dawkins is not a reliable source on refuting the creationist models. He does not understand their models (and is without excuse for doing so, especially with the internet at his fingertips), often misrepresent them, and clearly underestimates the complexity of life (especially embryos, but many other things such as forest ecology). It is also clear that the creationist model is much stronger than the general public may suspect, and moreover, that science cannot be said to objectively support atheism. I highly recommend this book to anybody interested in the full picture of evolution and our origins.
Chapter 1: There are repeated claims that evolution is a fact and a fair number of insults to creationists but no evidence is presented.
Chapter 2: This is about artificial selection and uses dogs and cabbages as examples. The response is that this artificial selection involves loss of genetic information, narrows the gene pool and is consistent with variation within created kinds.
Chapter 3: Dawkins describes how natural selection works and proves it is true. Creationists agree that it is true and did long before Darwin. It removes genes from a population and drives changes in the wrong direction needed for particles-to people evolution. Many problems are presented for evolution (including decay of the human genome).
Chapter 4: Argues that the earth is very old and gives examples of dating methods which support this. In the rebuttal, serious problems with dating methods showing old ages are demonstrated and accumulating evidence for young earth is presented. It should be noted that even if the earth were very old, it would only be a prerequisite for evolution, not evidence.
Chapter 5: Modern day examples of supposed evolution are presented. These are shown to be minor variation within created kinds, and the changes lose information and functionality. No evidence is put forth for molecules-to microbiologist evolution.
Chapter 6: This chapter is about the non-human fossil evidence for evolution. Dawkins presents proposed intermediates, but claims evolution would be a fact even if there were no fossils. He tries to explain away the absence of Cambrian ancestors. In response, the widespread absence of fossils documenting evolutionary change is said to be evidence against evolution. The fossil record is substantially complete as most currently living creatures have been found as fossils. There are very few fossils which can be considered as intermediate and these are often fragmentary without transitional features. The Cambrian Explosion is emphasized with no ancestors being found for the myriads of life forms which suddenly appear. It is noted that the fossil record is very rich in end forms, with the paucity being in intermediates.
Chapter 7: Human fossil evidence is presented. Specifically, the australopithecines are asserted to walk upright, followed by homo habilis, homo erectus, then modern man. It doesn't address the "higher powers" humans have such as spirituality, language, etc. In the rebuttal, it is noted that evidence is very small in amount and fragmentary. Australopithecus was shown to have chimpanzee brain size and not walk upright. Homo habilis was considered to be a taxonomic waste bin. Homo erectus was shown to be modern man with seafaring abilities. The "intermediates" disappear upon closer analysis and are either apes or men. Our brains are far more complex than needed for survival and evidence of interbreeding between Homo erectus, Neanderthals, and modern man exists.
Chapter 8: This is about embryology but provides no evidence for evolution but instead an argument that embryology need not be very complicated if we understand that there is no overall plan. Instead there are only individual local rules being followed at various places based on chemical affinities. There is not much to answer, but it is noted that the right sequence is needed for local rules to work, the original cells lacked embryonic programming, and the transition from one-celled to two-celled organisms is ignored
Chapter 9: This discusses geographical distribution of plants and animals and states that most evolution takes place when species are geographically isolated and are no longer able to interbreed when they get back together. The claim is made that biogeography is evidence for evolution (marsupials in Australia, lemurs in Madagascar, etc.). He assumes fixity-of-species and centers-of-creation as creationist doctrines, and explains how plate tectonics works. The rebuttal contends that the existing biogeography is also consistent with and expected by the model of the Flood and post-Flood migration. Plate tectonics are accepted, with the caveat that the continents separated much quicker than generally thought. Substantial, detailed evidence is given for this. Variation within kinds is to be expected and there is no problem with all kangaroos or lemurs being one created kind. Marsupials may have survived only in Australia due to competitive pressures or have been brought there by humans when they settled there. Examples are given to show that biogeography presents problems for evolutionists.
Chapter 10: This presents similarities between living things as evidence for evolution, such as mammals and crustaceans. Molecular genetics is said to give the same tree of life that we expected and pseudogenes and junk DNA are said to be leftovers from a time when they did have a function. It is answered that molecular genetics, in fact, give widely differing trees of life not expected by evolutionary theory. In addition, homologous structures are not explained by homologous genes and/or developmental pathways and this was not expected by evolution. A single common Designer explains the similarities. Pseudogenes (Junk DNA) are continually being found to have useful functions. They have been considered junk DNA only because of evolutionary assumptions and our incomplete knowledge.
Chapter 11: Here the claims are made that there is bad design and suffering in nature and these are evidence against a Designer. Examples are blind fish in caves and birds which have lost the ability to fly. Bad design examples are given such as the backwardly wired retina, etc. An example of suffering in nature is that of the Ichneumonid wasp which lays its eggs inside a live caterpillar. It is answered that loss of function is loss of information expected by creationists and that there is evidence that it happened very recently, inconsistent with long ages. The "bad design" examples are shown in detail to actually be good design. Suffering is attributed to the Fall and it is noted that there is evidence that insects do not feel pain and conscious suffering appears to be less than supposed by evolutionists. This is basically a theological, 'God wouldn't have done it that way' argument. There is nothing in this chapter which shows how anything was created by evolution.
Chapter 12: The argument is that nature should be carefully designed to eliminated waste and extravagance, but it isn't. Dawkins says that tall trees and arms races between species (i.e. cheetahs and antelopes) are wasteful and inefficient. Suffering in nature is brought up again. There is really nothing to answer here in terms of evidence for evolution, but it is said that tall trees provide good biodiversity. The Fall is then mentioned again, that carnivores need not have originally been so disposed, and that many germs seem to be degenerated forms of benign ones. The arms race is strictly speculative, not historical.
Chapter 13: The last paragraph of the Origin of Species is commented on in detail. The RNA World theory on the origin of life is favored, but no evidence is given of how it might have happened. Dawkins claims we don't need a plausible theory for the origin of life in order to believe in evolution. Again, there's not much to answer here, but Sarfati devotes an entire chapter to the origin of life presenting the problems for a naturalistic origin in substantial detail (including why the RNA World theory doesn't work). We are not even remotely close to understanding how life could have originated without a Programmer.
Chapter 14: Appendix - Dawkins laments that over 40% of Americans believe in recent special creation and that the percentage is growing in Europe, including Great Britain. There is no evidence for evolution presented here, thus nothing to answer.
In summary, a detailed analysis shows very little evidence for evolution and many major problems for evolution which do not seem to have adequate answers. Now for the "what if" scenario.
What if creation were the dominant paradigm today, with all the public backing (funding) evolution currently enjoys and was challenged by a minority evolutionist view with very limited financial resources and open opposition by the establishment? The hypothetical evolutionist minority would be asked to give a plausible detailed explanation for how life originated and would be completely incapable. They would be asked for the vast number of transitional forms that must have existed and would not be able to supply them. The would be asked why homologous genes and embryonic developmental pathways do not lead to homologous structures in adults and be unable to give convincing answers. They would be asked about the myriad examples of apparent design in nature and how it came about by chance, such as insect metamorphosis, the bat's echolocating machinery, the origin of multi-celled organisms, etc. The answers would consist primarily of hypothetical stories, not empirical supporting evidence.
Natural selection, comparative anatomy/biochemistry and biogeography would be put forth by the minority evolutionist camp, but would immediately be recognized as being entirely consistent with the biblical model. The question may then arise as to why the earth and the living creatures in it should have such beauty, intricacy, complexity and interconnectedness if it was not designed. The answer may be that it had to be this way for us to be aware of our existence. This answer would be inadequate because the Creation did not have to be this complex as to "stagger the imagination" (Dawkins' words), far beyond what natural selection would have needed to provide for survival. These types of questions, for which there is no good naturalistic answer, can be multiplied exponentially when looking at the physiology of specific creatures.
It seems that being in the minority and challenging the hypothetically dominant creation science paradigm, so poorly armed from an evidentially perspective, would probably produce few converts to evolution. Hopefully, in this situation, public debates and open presentation of both sides of the issue would be encouraged, unlike today. There would not even be a pragmatic reason to suppress and silence the minority viewpoint as it would not have anywhere near the evidence needed to overturn the prevailing creation science paradigm. In contrast, today the public presentation and debate of both sides of the issue are avoided and discouraged. The best explanation for the Creation remains:
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created." (John 1:1-3).
Thanks for reading.
Overall an excellent treatise on the subject. To anybody interested in this topic please read Dr. Behe and his tomes on the microbiological impossibilities of an evolutionary "theory".