The Great Courses

Tell Me You're Joshing...

May 30, 2014 at 8:16 AM
4 years ago

There's a clip by pastor and evangelist Joshua Feuerstein called "Dear Mr. Atheist ... allow me to destroy evolution in 3 minutes!" that has gone viral.  

Joshua Feuerstein

According to his Twitter page, he is a "Disciple of Jesus. Bachelor. Evangelist. Hope Peddler. A nobody telling everybody about somebody named Jesus!"  

There's no doubting his enthusaism, but unfortunately, Josh is just another apologist presenting old, tired, hackneyed and long-debunked arguments as if they'd never been presented before.  Many have countered his video in the comment secion, but I'd like to make a more in-depth correction to Joshua Fuerstein's recent claims about evolution, science, theory, fact, accidents and design.

I lament that someone apparently started the discussion by calling Josh "an idiot, moronic and stupid" (hugely unhelpful insults, but welcome to the internet) instead of dissecting his claims for the record, which I feel compelled to do here:

Evolution is so much of a science that it has been embraced by people like Dr. Francis Collins, physician-geneticist and one of the heads of the Human Genome Project. Despite his belief in Christian scripture (he's a devout evangelical), he has stated in his own 2007 book that evolution, not the biblical Genesis account, explains the origins of our species. Ken Miller, molecular biologist and faithful believer, is another example. A recent Pew Research poll revealed that 9 in 10 scientists (actually 93%) accept that human beings have evolved over time.

Josh's claim that evolution hasn't been observed is a real problem, because it hasn't just been observed, but it has been observed even in laboratory conditions. (Evolution is also the reason we have to get a new flu shot ever year, folks.) It's observed in the fossil record, with hundreds of examples like the Tiktaalik (walking fish), the relation of our modern-day birds to the early dinosaurs, and dolphins/whales that show tiny (and now useless) hindlimbs. Another great example is the human embryonic tail and the coat of fur (lanugo) which are indicative of our ancestry and reveal homo sapiens as evolved creatures.

Also, I must inform this gentleman that his genome reveals common ancestry with, not just humanity, but other animals and even plant life. (Of course, some are horrified at the fact that there's a genetic similarity between humans and chimpanzees of between 96% and 99.4%, because it threatens their feeling of superiority and specialness, and because they'd much rather believe their origins are explained by a story involving a space wizard, six days, a dirt-man, a rib-woman, an enchanted tree and a talking snake.)

Josh makes the common misstep of not using the scientific definition of "theory," which to the casual observer sounds like "We guessed!," but in actuality means something much different. According to the National Academy of Sciences, "A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that is acquired through the scientific method, and repeatedly confirmed through observation and experimentation."

His use of the word "accidental" is incorrect, as while we don't yet understand why the singularity that set the universe in motion happened, and while chance does have a part to play in how the cosmos came to be, there was indeed SOMETHING that served as the catalyst. Some of us simply want to pursue the question to its honest answer, rather than painting a deity figure into the blanks. Same with the complex issues of consciousness, etc.

Josh also screws up the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, the entropy argument, which states that systems can only become more disordered and chaotic over time. However, this is only true in a CLOSED system, and the earth isn't a closed system. It receives energy from an outside source: the sun. The sun provides the mechanism for fueling evolved life on this planet.

"Everything works like a clock" is obviously a reference to the watchmaker/designer thing, which is a problem if you look at the idea of design objectively. (It's important to note that the best designs aren't the most complex, but are instead the most simple and efficient.)

For every sign of good design, there's another sign of lousy design: birth defects, harmful UV radiation, tornadoes, destructive tectonic activity (and the resulting tsunamis, etc), redundant DNA/RNA, vestigial organs and limbs, degenerating eyesight, wisdom teeth, nipples on male mammals, flightless winged animals, blind creatures with eyes, predatory/parasitic animals and insects, pelvises in whales and snakes, embryonic tails, heavy bones in flying animals, and a planet where 99% of all life has gone extinct (which seems hugely wasteful, no?).

Josh's video, while certainly produced from the heart, provides a window into what happens when we get our science from pastors and apologists instead of experts. He's essentially making an emotional case for the existence of a Creator, and that's fine as long as he's prepared to have his claims illuminated under the white-hot light of hard science done by peer-reviewed experts in the very fields he's attempting to represent.

-Seth Andrews

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