Summary of the creation-evolution debate

"Does evolution or intelligent design better explain life's diversity?"

Walter ReMine vs. Massimo Pigliucci
Held at the University of Minnesota, August 12, 2000

by Walter ReMine

Pigliucci's presentation:

I found Professor Pigliucci, (pronounced Pill-ΓΌ'-chi) personable and reasonable, his delivery smooth and polished. His 45 minute presentation was the usual angles, though rather less than I expected and aimed more toward a high-school audience. I was braced for more, and was surprised when a bigger salvo did not come.

He began by defining evolution as "change in gene frequencies", and spent too much of his time working this old saw. He later merged in the notion of evolution as common descent. He also tried to define evolution to leave out the origin of life. All very common moves: An attempt to win the debate by mis-defining its key term.

He argued that eyes are not well designed.1 He says natural selection could not explain perfect design (which is a direct contradiction to Stephen Gould's claim).

He spent time with micro-evolutionary issues - but his examples tended to have the 'evil god' angle (not his words) that he used many times that night. It seems an angle he relishes. For example, he discussed changes in gene frequency in the HIV virus. Also parasites. Also the "terrible waste that 99.9 percent of species went extinct."2 He also displayed a slide that specifically mentioned the problem of evil.

He gave examples of 'bad design' in humans (which is yet another version of the evil god argument) - human backaches, hemorrhoids, varicose veins, (I suggest these are more likely due to lack of exercise and bad diet), and the fact that it takes a baby a year to learn to walk (I say, So what! A human baby is learning far more important things during that time). He says these support the idea that humans had to learn to walk upright, unlike our distant ancestors. He is especially pleased with this argument as he used it at a lecture the previous day and on his website. His arguments here were poorly formed and sketchy, they are mere bald assertions unsupported anywhere in the literature by a serious analysis of the design itself. That is a common practice today among evolutionists, and must be challenged. It is sobering to remember that evolutionists once claimed numerous organs were completely "functionless" vestiges. Since those were abundantly mistaken, we ought be even more skeptical about claims that are more difficult to establish, such as claims about imperfect design. We ought be especially skeptical when those claims are unsupported by serious analysis, as is the case these days.

He showed the triceratops family (a slide from his website), that looks reminiscent of the horse situation (i.e. bushy), and a new slide on whales. He discussed the evolution of the whales, including a hypothetical drawing of the mesonychids that looks somewhat like a weird-faced tiger with bear claws. He showed a bear grasping fish in a river, and suggested such an existence for the forerunners of the whales. At one stage in his storytelling he showed a drawing (I suspect hypothetical soft-body tissues) that looked fat-belly-alligator-like. He had a lot of just-so story-telling about how whales would evolve. He said the Hippo is the closest living terrestrial relative of the whales:

  • because of the DNA data (I presume he is referring to DNA cladograms, which never identify real ancestors);
  • because the Hippo baby swims before it can walk (therefore like a whale?);
  • because the Hippo nurses its young underwater (like a whale);
  • and because the Hippo's testicles are internal (like a whale).
That was the meatiest part of his presentation, yet full of notoriously flexible Darwinian storytelling.

Most notably, there was no serious demonstration that a large-scale pattern of clear-cut ancestors actually exists. This is a key point, a central issue.

My approach:

My book, The Biotic Message, quotes abundantly, and only from my opponents - evolutionists. That approach avoids the fringe issues and keeps my material within mainstream science. My debate used that same material, though I referred listeners to my book for documentation, rather my debate focused on getting the key concepts across. I address only the scientific issues, while avoiding religion. There is an abundance of science that favors creation, and I sought to demonstrate this by example. I chose a number of these topics that are known to leading evolutionists, but generally UN-known to the public. This made my topics relevant and interesting, even new and startling to many people. These are especially juicy topics previously thought the strongest evidences for evolution. To date, I have not heard anything from anyone (creationist or evolutionist) that shows any serious error in my facts presented that evening. Rather, the criticism has been of a different kind.

One of my goals was to press a lot of key material into the videotape, where people (friend and foe alike) can rewind and review at leisure. Toward this end, I streamlined my material to hit the main points, and read the first 30 minutes at an elevated pace. This is unlike my other public lectures that move at a leisurely pace, aimed at a more pedestrian audience. Especially as the debate was at the University of Minnesota, a high level of material was called for. This turned out to be the most controversial aspect of my presentation. Some people felt my pace was too fast (especially younger students or those new to the origins debate). Other people (such as biology professors, etc.) said my pace was fine. I understood this tradeoff, but felt it worth the risk at the time. My opponent could easily skate on evolutionary illusions thoroughly ingrained in our culture, he hardly had to teach the audience anything new. I, on the other hand, had to undo old illusions and teach new concepts, an ambitious undertaking. At this stage in the creation/evolution debate, I wanted even the casual observer to see the creationist has no shortage of cool, meaty scientific issues to discuss. If even this minor point could be achieved, then this oral debate must be viewed as a successful creationist step forward into the mainstream scientific arena.

My presentation:

Any of these topics can be an entire lecture of cutting-edge material in creation-evolution.

Many evolutionists would gladly tie-up the entire debate with issues about the philosophy of science, as this tactic prevents ever getting to the meat. Then they would proudly conclude that creationist views are mere philosophy. I opened by rapidly de-complicating the philosophy of science by giving simple examples that catch everyone's common sense.

  • Philosophy of science - We execute murderers: That's not flimsy! Even though the murder is not repeatable, and there were no eye-witnesses, the data often shows an intelligent being caused it. The idea of intelligent design can carry serious weight, it is not inherently flimsy. It all depends on the data.
Then I marched straight into the serious science topics:
  • Vestigial "functionless" organs - now virtually barren as evidence of evolution, according to evolutionists themselves
  • The famous Miller-Urey Experiment - is now largely irrelevant, according to evolutionists themselves
  • "Biochemical universals" - Dobzhansky (in his famous paper "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution") claimed biochemical universals as a central, potent evidence for evolution. His claim contradicts the origin-of-life theorists, but this contradiction went unnoticed so long as evolutionists portrayed the origin-of-life as separate from its subsequent evolution - as Pigliucci was attempting to do. Once you understand this contradiction, you see why biochemical universals (and Dobzhansky's famous saying) do not support evolution. (Note: My debate spent virtually no time on the origin-of-life, even though creationists can score big points there. Rather, I focused on those areas of biology where evolution is said to have its strongest case.)
  • Embryology - Haeckle's fudged drawings; the non-existent "gill-slits"; the hour-glass shape of ontogeny - the contradictions between Darwinism and the patterns displayed in embryology, and the inability of evolutionists to resolve it.
  • Natural selection theory - a quick review of its key problems - it does not coherently predict its central claims about the origin of higher adaptations. I mentioned Michael Behe's irreducible complexity concept, and the evolutionists' current attempts to counter it.
  • Darwinism - I discuss the twin expectations of Classic Darwinism: gradual inter-gradations, and clear-cut ancestors and lineage. I clarify these concepts, and that they are systematically absent on a large-scale. I cannot emphasize these issues enough. I describe many methods Darwinians use to create the illusion of lineage, the illusion that ancestors exist and are known. One of these methods is what Gould called, "linearizing the data with a steamroller". I showed Pigliucci's diagram of human evolution (from his website) which depicts a classic Darwinian-style straight-line lineage to man. I pointed out that evolutionist experts would vehemently disagree with Pigliucci's diagram. I challenged Pigliucci to get his diagram past leading paleoanthropologists. He later responded by describing what he had done to his diagram - it fit exactly with my description of linearizing the data with a steamroller. It was satisfying to see Pigliucci shoot down his own diagram in precisely my terms.
  • Interbreeding - I discussed the emerging pattern of interbreeding, showing that the interbreeding groups are somewhat larger than most people had heretofore realized, and that these groups tend to correspond to coherent morphological boundaries.
  • Punctuated equilibria - I illuminated the punctuationists' deep contradictions with the Classic Darwinists; the structure of punk ek theory; and the little known reason for its emphasis on random speciation. Evolutionists would never have advanced this far-fetched theory if Darwinian theory had support from the fossil record. All this further shows the anti-Darwinian patterns are real.
  • The cladists - Darwinian systematists artficially created "ancestors" out of thin air by creating un-natural groupings, called "paraphyletic groups". The cladists saw this error, and sought to dismantle these groups. Thus began the subterranean struggle over paraphyletic groups; and their role in the downfall of Darwinian systematics. In truth, the issue was how to sell evolution to the public, and the two factions of evolutionists had contradictory solutions to the problem. The rise of cladistics, (and the fall of Darwinian Systematics) shows, in yet another way, that the anti-Darwinian patterns are real.
  • The domino effect - Darwinism failed, in large measure, because evolutionists could not identify ancestors - identifiable ancestors are systematically absent. With this keystone removed, the various Darwinian towers collapse. I discuss this domino effect in the fields of: fossil sequence, and biogeography. The fall of Darwinism turned these fields on their heads.
  • The Cambrian Explosion - a breathtaking pattern, quite awkward for evolution to justify.
  • "Disparity precedes diversity" - Gould's statement about fossil sequence, another pattern that contradicts Darwinism.
All that in 30 minutes. Yes, a rapid pace, though all those are key issues. I spent much of my time there for several reasons. First, one must remove the prevailing Darwinian illusions before people can even see the data clearly. It is awkward to give a new theory (message theory) until after the Darwinian illusions are removed. Second, the debate was not primarily about my theory (message theory), because Prof. Pigliucci had not read my book (though I had offered it to him for that purpose). Third, because I was, in some sense, representing creationists at large, and therefore felt obligated to press issues of general interest to them, rather than my specific theory. Nonetheless, some creationists were disappointed that I did not spend more time introducing message theory. In my view, the above topics do that, however implicitly. In many ways they are important in order to 'see' message theory.
  • Biotic Message Theory - I then spoke slower, without notes, and introduced biotic message theory for fifteen minutes.
    • The central claims of the theory, its structure.
    • It explains the major patterns of biology (I identify them).
    • It answers Darwin's Riddle -

    • Why are similar traits sometimes used for different purposes?
      And why are different traits sometimes used for similar purposes?
    • It solves the Argument from Imperfection in a new way.
    • It explains the abundance of "convergence".
    • It is a scientifically testable theory.

My rebuttal:

After an intermission, my 15 minute rebuttal was next. I moved through each of Pigliucci's remaining points, noting that he had not identified any clear ancestors. This is the hollow shell of Darwinism that must be repeatedly exposed. I soon ran out of material from his presentation, so I moved on to rebut his website.

For example, I noted that Pigliucci (like many evolutionists) misuses the term "intermediate form" in a manner different from the public, and that is ideal for creating the illusion of ancestry in the public mind. Here is what his website says:

"If there are no intermediate forms, what are these? [The picture shows living sea otters and a living Hippo] You can see lots of other intermediate evolutionary forms just by going to the zoo. Otters and sea lions, for example, are clear instances of once terrestrial animals that are evolving a more aquatic life style. So is the hippopotamus, which is a very goofy animal on both land and water, but which nevertheless makes its living pretty well." (Massimo Pigliucci, quotation accurate as of Aug 16, 2000, slide #12 May no longer be on line as of May 2010)

He is using living animals as "intermediate forms"!!! (Presumably because they are 'intermediate' between land & sea?!!) That is a misleading use of the term, I pointed out. He is creating intermediate forms out of thin air.

Pigliucci responded, claiming that is not what his website says, rather he claims his website shows what intermediate forms "would look like". I cannot remotely square that with what his website actually says (above). I mention the point here, because within months the matter may be lost in the mists of time. That's the difficulty with quoting material from the Internet - it is transitory, and they can erase or change what they said.

I also discussed the cellulose problem for evolution, and why it makes good system-design from an intelligent designer. Natural selection cannot do system-design, that is, it cannot withhold advantageous traits from individuals in order to benefit the system.

As noted earlier, Pigliucci overlooked many traditional evidences for evolution, in favor of weaker ones, yet his choices had a common thread - the evil god argument, the problem of evil. This is the subtext he hammered much of the evening. However, Pigliucci does not believe in the very concept of evil! That makes his focus on the matter both curious and self-contradictory, which I pointed out. Why does he repeatedly bring up examples of moral culpability, when he does not believe such a thing exists? I pointed out his website article, where he argues against the death penalty. Forget about the death penalty and notice his "real reason" for halting it. He places a good man and a cop-killer on precisely the same moral level, separated only by random "luck", "nothing else":

"Well, I am an atheist, and I still reject the death penalty. .... The real reason for halting the practice of the death penalty is that we should understand once and for all that human beings are the product of their genes and of the environment in which they grow up - nothing else. Therefore, while it makes perfect sense for society to restrain dangerous individuals from causing more harm, it doesn't make any sense to *punish* them beyond that point. Mr. [XXX] is able to attend college and pontificate about other people's death for exactly the same reasons - but different circumstances - that lead Philip Workman to kill a policeman in Memphis: his nature and the nurture he received. Fortunately for [Mr. XXX], his was luckier than Workman on both counts." (Massimo Pigliucci, accurate quotation as of Oct. 25, 2000, my emphasis added)

His words speak for themselves. Ponder them. They're staggering. They are the underside he was none-too-eager for our audience to appreciate.

[NOTE: Though Pigliucci's view is seldom seen so nakedly, it is not uncommon. It comes from the same mold as the evolutionary sociobiologists, who believe that ethics, morality, love, altruism, truth, and free-will, are all illusions fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to go along with existence. (No, I'm not making that up.) Many evolutionists (such as Stephen Gould, Philip Kitcher, and others) find sociobiology repulsive and attack it. Remarkably, they use the same logical arguments the creationists use against evolution, nearly word for word! That practice validates the creationist arguments as substantial. This situation is documented in my book.]

Pigliucci's rebuttal:

Pigliucci came hunting bear. And when he didn't find bear, he just kept shooting at imaginary bears. He scarcely altered his comments to fit his actual opponent at hand. It was as though he was debating an "Inherit the Wind" stereotype of a creationist, and didn't know what to make of this different creature (me).

His main punch at message theory was this: If the designer wanted to send a message, why not use a better method, such as write it in the sky, or use e-mail. I answered this at my earliest opportunity.

Also remember, message theory claims life was designed (in part) to resist evolutionary explanation. This claim is like poking an evolutionist between the eyes with a stick.. Yet it drew no specific counter-evidence from him! That was noteworthy.

Q & A Session:

The Q&A session was exciting and the audience seemed to especially like it. The questions were written and fast paced, though tended to be much simpler than I would like. There were several interesting uses of rhetoric. Great fun was had by all.

- Walter ReMine
The Biotic Message

1 - Pigliucci argued that eyes are not well designed. That is not an argument for evolution, instead it attempts to argue against a designer. In other words, Pigliucci uses the two-model approach, an approach Darwin invented. Evolutionists often bitterly complain when creationists likewise use a two-model approach!

2 - Pigliucci used the often heard argument about the "terrible waste that 99.9 percent of species went extinct." That figure is inaccurate, because it is based on evolutionary assumptions rather than actual fossils. That is, evolution requires a lot more fossils than are actually found, so by evolutionary assumptions they must have once existed - and hence they must have later gone extinct. Also, the argument focuses on "species" rather than created kinds (or holobaramin), which exaggerates the figure even further. The unit of concern in creation theory is the created kind (or holobaramin) and the size of these vary somewhat throughout the system of life. Sometimes they correspond to species, and sometimes they correspond to groups as high as a Linnean family.

contact Walter Remine science{at}minn.net for recording

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