Response to Creationist 13

13. “Does metamorphosis help support evolution?”

Other commentators have gone easy on 13, thinking that her question is a genuine and informed one. I think that assumption is a mistake.

Metamorphosis is the biological process of changing forms between developmental stages, such as the change from larval to pupal and adult forms in insects. It’s an extremely complex group of related phenomena, and even understanding all the different forms of metamorphosis, and how they physically work, is still an open area of research, let alone hypothesising how these processes may have evolved.

So, what’s more likely: that 13, a self-identifying creationist, has become fascinated with an advanced topic of developmental biology, and wants to know more about the mechanisms of evolution which have produced it, or that she’s been reading something like this, a page on the Creation Studies Institute website, about how metamorphosis is such an incomprehensibly complex process, evolution cannot possibly explain it (and, incidentally, how butterfly metamorphosis “symbolizes God’s desire and power to transform our lives” and is a metaphor for “born again” faith)? I think it’s clear that it’s the latter.

The way 13 has phrased the question is probably what has put others off understanding her intent. It’s a wrongheaded way of approaching the topic: like pointing at a particularly difficult-to-solve knife-murder and asking, “does this case support the theory that all knife-murders are committed by humans?”, when the more relevant question is, “can this case be solved within the paradigm by finding a plausible human explanation?” A difficult biological phenomenon needn’t be evidence for evolution: rather, it’s a puzzle which needs to be solved, and since evolution has been the most successful theory for solving other such puzzles, it’s sensible to approach each new one on the same basis. Though no evolutionary biologist would claim that all the puzzles have been solved, they’d also deny that the existence of as-yet unsolved puzzles is a good reason to reject the theory.

This is all old ground. Originally, it was the sun, and the weather, and natural disasters which couldn’t be explained and must have been god. Then it was the complexity and adaptedness of life in general. Since that was explained by Darwin and his successors, opponents have posited various features such as the wing and the eye as being inexplicable by evolutionary theory, and each objection has in turn has been trounced by plausible, evidence-based evolutionary explanations. Apparently, for creationists, metamorphosis is ‘the new eye’.

To go back to the detective analogy, this is the equivalent of an amateur enthusiast reading about an especially puzzling murder case, not being able to figure it out themselves, and declaring, “ghosts must have done it,” even though the professional detectives have already solved it and put the culprit safely behind bars.

What’s ironic is that religious people always bang on about feeling humble in the presence of god and his creation, but this is the opposite of humility. The metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly is a physical process so complex it takes the very brightest human beings on the planet, after undergoing years of specialist training and study, and working in collaboration, to begin to understand it. Yet a teenage girl who’s not yet completed her high school education feels that she ought to be able to understand it, and since the full physical and evolutionary explanation is beyond her, the only answer she’ll accept is the much simpler alternative: god made it. This attitude – that only an explanation which I, as an uneducated layman, can understand, can possibly be true – that the universe must conform to a pattern simple enough for my undistinguished lump of head-meat to grasp – is one of supreme arrogance.

We can forgive 13 for a little arrogance: she’s a teenager after all, and all teenagers are arrogant enough to think they know everything. Ken Ham and his ilk, on the other hand, deserve no forgiveness, for carrying that boneheaded combination of ignorance and arrogance into adulthood and inspiring it in others.

2 thoughts on “Response to Creationist 13

  1. I love the eye argument – “doesn’t the fact that this thing’s so complex mean it has to have been designed… by god?”.
    Nope – were it not for the last two words that would be a reasonable argument (admittedly not one I agree with, but I can see some merit in the logic). However, if you have a god, that god should be beyond the laws of Physics (having existed for all time and having had super-intellect from the “start” (whatever start is when you exist outside of time)). If you’re beyond the laws of physics, that’s essentially magic (call it “divine power” if using the correct term is offensive). That means you can draw a stick man, put a couple of dots on his face and say “he sees through these” and you’re done – no need for complexity to make it work within the bounds of physics; just say it works and it will… You’d also say “let there be light” to make sure the dots worked, as you wouldn’t allow them to function fully in the darkness, because you’d want people to experience darkness/blindness so they could use it to draw up metaphors to your awesomeness.

    • I thought you were going to make the argument that, in order to design something of complexity x, a designer must be of complexity >x, since he must be able to represent the entire design in his mind (requiring a minimum of complexity x) and understand other things such as how to implement it (requiring additional complexity >0).

      Instead, you claim (in summary): an all-powerful creator wouldn’t need to design immense complexity to get everything to work, as he could just stipulate that whatever he makes does work.

      I think it’s another good objection. The wonderful thing about the idea of a benevolent, involved creator-god is that it’s so absurd, you can attack it in seemingly endless many ways. Like a self-contradiction (X & ~X), conjuncted with any proposition (P), gives you another self-contradiction (X & ~X & P).

      I think there’s more interesting stuff to discuss about the idea of a god who wanted to create a rule-based universe which would naturally evolve an eye. How did he decide the appropriate level of complexity? Did he find, after starting it, he just couldn’t keep his nose out?

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