Hunter in Wonderland, Part 2.7
My reply to the third part of Cornelius Hunter's essay, available here, will be up shortly. In the meantime, Hunter has posted some further comments (scroll down) on my recent posts. I will not do a point-by-point rebuttal of this latest missive - because, you know, enough already - but there is one point Hunter makes repeatedly that I feel I must respond do.
Hunter accuses me of knocking down strawman arguments in replying to him. He writes:
Rosenhouse's strawmen all follow the same pattern. It is a common pattern in these discussions, and goes like this:
1) Skeptic is told X is powerful evidence for the theory.
2) Skeptic explains why X is not powerful evidence.
3) Skeptic is told that the theory can explain X so therefore skeptic has failed to falsify the theory. Point #2 is obviously invalid and this reveals that skeptic fails to understand the theory.
In this strawman, the skeptic's point is overstated. His explanation that X is not powerful evidence is interpreted as an attempt to falsify the theory. Since the skeptic failed to falsify the theory, he must be all wrong, and the ridicule follows. Here's how Rosenhouse uses the strawman three times in the blog.
As a specific example of me using this style of argument, Hunter writes:
Next, Rosenhouse has claimed that the fossil record is strong evidence for evolution. True, the fossil evidence provides evidence, but I also point out that the evidence has substantial problems and must be seriously caveated. The fossil record has substantial gaps and convergences. And when something as phenomenally complex as the trilobite eye appears abruptly in the fossil record, that is not exactly “powerful evidence” for evolution. Evolution has no explanation of how it could have arisen.
Now, I think Hunter's writing strongly implies that we should reject common descent. But since he insists that was not his intention, I will take him at his word. In the comments section to my earlier posts Richard Wein asked Hunter to clarify just how, exactly, he explains the various lines of evidence cited by evolutionists if not by common descent. Perhaps he will tell us in some later post.
Sadly, Hunter uses the strawman charge to avoid responding to the arguments I actually made. Nearly all of the arguments I made in response to Hunter related to the fact that what he considers caveats to the evidence for common descent, are, in reality, not caveats. They are simply mistaken points. Again, borrowing a line from Richard Wein, some people might argue that the fact that the moon does not fall into the ocean challenges the law of gravitation. But those people are simply mistaken.
His characterization of our dispute above is itself a strawman. Line two should read: (2) Skeptic asserts that X is not powerful evidence. And line three should read:
(3) Skeptic is told that the theory can explain X so therefore skeptic has failed to explain why X provides any reason to challenge common descent. Therefore, Point #2 is obviously invalid. Since the observation that X poses no difficulty for a hypothesis of common descent relies on an elementary understanding of the theory, skeptic's understanding of that theory is called into question.
A good example of this is the paragraph I quoted above. It is my assertion that the fossil record provides strong evidence for common descent. No caveats. No ambiguity. The phenomena that Hunter cites as difficulties for common descent are, in fact, not difficulties.
He then simply repeats the charge that the convergences documented in the fossil record are a challenge to common descent. As I explained in a previous posting, they are not. He gives no consideration to the fairly obvious evolutionary mechanisms that not only show how convergences can happen, but also provide conditions under which convergence is likely to happen.
He then points to gaps in the fossil record, but discusses neither that this reflects the improbability of any particular organism fossilizing, nor the fact that modern theories of speciation suggest that a pattern of stasis and relatively rapid change is what we should expect from the fossil record.
And he once again talks about “phenomenal complexity” in the fossil record as if that term means anything. His assertion that this complexity is a caveat is simply false, as is his assertion that evolution has no explanation for the trilobite eye. As I pointed out earlier, the period between the origin of multicellular life and the appearance of the eye spans 200 million years. That's plenty of time for natural selection to produce all sorts of complexity.
This point is especially important in light of what Hunter writes next:
So again, Professor Rosenhouse places me in the position of arguing that it is impossible for such complexities to arise via evolution. He argues that “A process in which random variations are sifted through a non-random selection process can lead to outcomes far more complex than what you started with,” as though I had said it cannot. The problem is not that complexities falsify evolution, the problem is that complexities caveat the evidence for evolution. We cannot simply ignore the fact that evolution cannot explain how these designs arose. Rosenhouse wants to obviate the problem by pointing out that degrees of complexity are difficult to define. Agreed, but that misses the point. The complexities in question here are beyond the explanatory power of evolution, that is the point.
I'm sorry, but I think Hunter is tying himself into knots here. He begins by agreeing that natural selection can craft complex structures. He goes on to agree that complexity is difficult to quantify or describe precisely. But then he simply asserts that his preferred examples of complexity are beyond the explanatory power of evolution. Everything he said earlier in the paragraph explains why, to put it kindly, he really needs to elaborate on that last point. If standard evolutionary mechanisms can produce complex structures, why do his specific examples challenge the explanatory power of evolution? Actually, the complexities he cites are not caveats at all.
As I also pointed out in earlier posts, this is something that ID proponents like Michael Behe and William Dembski are quite clear about. That is why they don't talk about complexity per se, but rather try to identify special kinds of complexity evolution can not account for. Their arguments fail for other reasons, but at least they recognize what sort of argument is needed here.
Hunter points to various places where I wrote things like “Hunter claims that observation X condemns common descent” and protests that my language is too strong. Fine. Change “condemns common descent” to “should make us skeptical of common descent”. My argument goes through unchanged.