## bookmark_borderJ.L. Schellenberg’s Wisdom to Doubt, Chapter One: The Subject Mode

This is the first in a planned series of blog posts reviewing J.L. Schellenberg’s important book, The Wisdom to Doubt.
The first chapter of Schellenberg’s book is valuable to anyone who wants to think clearly about unrecognized evidence, including the implications of unrecognized evidence for arguments from silence and cumulative case arguments. See why.
Continue reading “J.L. Schellenberg’s Wisdom to Doubt, Chapter One: The Subject Mode”

## bookmark_borderThe Argument from Silence, Part 9: Mormonism’s Missing Golden Plates

I began this series with a Bayesian interpretation of arguments from silence and then proceeded to use that interpretation to evaluate various arguments from silence about Jesus and God. In this post, I want to assess an argument from silence against a central claim of Mormonism, namely, that the Book of Mormon is the English translation of golden plates which church founder Joseph Smith received from the angel Moroni.
If we abbreviate “the golden plates are nowhere to be found” as S, let B represent our background knowledge, and let M represent the claim, “The Book of Mormon is the English translation of golden plates which church founder Joseph Smith received from the angel Moroni,” then the missing links argument can be summarized using the argument schema I outlined in Part 1, as follows.

(1′) S is known to be true, i.e., Pr(S) is close to 1.
(2′) Relative to background knowledge B, the intrinsic  probability of M is not very high, i.e., Pr(M | B) is not very much greater than 1/2.
(3′) ~M gives us more reason to expect S than M, i.e., Pr(S | ~M) > Pr(S | M).
(4′) Other evidence held equal, M is probably false, i.e., Pr(M | B & S) < 1/2.

In plain English, this becomes:

(1”) The golden plates are nowhere to be found.
(2”) Prior to examining the evidence, the intrinsic probability of M is not very much greater than 1/2.
(3”) We have much more reason to expect that the golden plates are nowhere to be found on the assumption that Mis false than on the assumption that M is true.
(4”) Therefore, other evidence held equal, M is probably false.

The typical Mormon explanation for the absence of the golden plates is that Smith returned the golden plates to Moroni once he finished translating them. How convenient!
Let’s assume, but only for the sake of argument, that Moroni really did reveal the plates to Smith, just as Mormons claim. While it is no doubt possible that Moroni took the golden plates back once Smith was done with them, it’s also possible (and no less antecedently likely) that Moroni never asked for them back. In fact, even on the assumption that this special revelation took place, we would still have good reason to expect that the plates would still be available for inspection today. Why? Well, considering the radical differences between orthodox Christianity and Mormonism, not to mention the numerous moral failings of Joseph Smith which undermine his credibility as a witness, we would expect that both God and Moroni would desire that better, objective evidence of Smith’s claims be retained.
For anyone who isn’t already a Mormon believer, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that “Smith returned the golden plates to Moroni” is just an ad hoc, “just so” story designed to explain away the clear evidence that Smith was a fraud.

## Chapter 6. New Life Forms: From the Goo to You via the Zoo?

Drawing upon the work of sophisticated Intelligent Design (ID) theorists such as William Dembski, Michael Behe, and Jonathan Wells, this chapter uses many of the state-of-the art Intelligent Design (ID) arguments against evolution by natural selection. It also defends ID against various objections.
(i) Objections to Natural Selection: G&T argue that macroevolution is defeated by the following objections: (a) genetic limits; (b) cyclical change; (c) irreducible complexity; (d) the nonviability of transitional forms; (e) molecular isolation; and (f) the fossil record.
(a) Regarding genetic limits, G&T repeat the standard creationist claim that there are natural limits to genetic change. In their words:

Unfortunately for Darwinists, genetic limits seem to be built into the basic types. For example, dog breeders always encounter genetic limits when they intelligently attempt to create new breeds of dogs. (142)

This is not a good objection to evolution, however. The dog breeding example is just confused. The whole point of dog breeding is to produce dogs, not new species of dog-like animals. But let that pass. The much more important point is this: G&T, like most creationists, admit that microevolution occurs. If microevolution occurs, then we already have good antecedent reason to expect macroevolution also occurs: macroevolution just is microevolution carried on for a longer period of time. If a species accrues enough “small” changes over time, eventually all of those “small” changes added together become “big” changes and the result is another species. In other words, the difference between microevolution and macroevolution is a difference in degree, not a difference in kind.
(b) Regarding cyclical change, G&T claim that “the changes within types appears to be cyclical.” They take this to be evidence against macroevolution since macroevolution “requires” that changes be “directional toward the development of new life forms” (144). That is a very weak objection to evolution, however.  First, while cyclical change can and does occur, it hardly follows that all evolutionary change is cyclical. Second, contrary to what G&T imply, macroevolution does not require that all evolutionary change is “directional toward the development of new life forms.” If a species lives in a cyclical environment, then evolution predicts the species would display cyclical changes in response to the cyclical environment.
(c) Regarding irreducible complexity, G&T draw upon biochemist Michele Behe’s book, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution.[1] Following Behe, they argue that the cell is an “irreducibly complex system,” i.e., a system that is “composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the systems to effectively cease functioning” (145). Furthermore, they argue, objections to Behe’s argument, such as those made by biologist Kenneth Miller, are unsuccessful.
Contrary to G&T, however, I don’t think that Behe has successfully shown that there are any irreducibly complex systems. To say that a biological system is “irreducibly complex” assumes that if the system was missing a part, it could not have been functional in any environment forany reason. But a predecessor to that system could lack a part and yet still be functional because some part of its environment is different than the environment of its descendants. In fact, this is precisely what the Darwinian naturalist claims happened. What Behe calls “irreducibly complex systems” evolved indirectly from systems that performed slightly or very different functions in our ancestors. In order to justify his claim that a system is irreducibly complex, Behe must show that precursors could not have performed different functions in those ancestors. Behe hasn’t shown this.[2]
(d) Regarding the viability of transitional forms, G&T argue that transitional forms could not survive.

For example, consider the Darwinian assertion that birds evolved gradually from reptiles over long periods of time. This would necessitate a transition from scales to feathers. How could a creature survive that no longer has scales but does not quite have feathers? Feathers are irreducibly complex. (148)

The question, “How could a creature survive that no longer has scales but does not quite have feathers?”, is just that: a question, not an argument.  This question can give the illusion of having refuted the possibility of transitional forms only by ignoring the relevant scientific evidence available at the time I Don’t Have Enough Faith was written: (1) the 1861 discovery of a reptile-bird Archaeopteryx, which had both feathers and reptilian features (such as teeth, claws, and a long, bony tail); and (2) the 1996 discovery of Sinosauropteryx, which had evidence of primitive feathers (“a layer of thin, hollow filaments covering its back and tail”).[3] Additionally, since the publication of the book, we may add (3) the 2009 discovery of Tianyulong, a small dinosaur with hairlike “feathers,” which some scientists believe is evidence that all dinosaurs may have had hairy or feathery bodies.[4] The fact that such creatures existed refutes the idea that such creatures could not survive.
Regarding the claim that “feathers are irreducibly complex,” G&T provide no argument to justify that claim, but it’s not hard to imagine what such an argument would look like. For example, such an argument might appeal to two claims: (1) reptile-bird transitional forms could not use their less-than-fully developed feathers (“proto-feathers”) for flight; and (2) reptile-bird transitional forms could not have used their proto-feathers for other functions (besides flight). The second claim is false. Scientists have no problem identifying other uses for proto-feathers, including insulation and sexual selection,[5] and G&T provide no reason at all to reject such explanations. But this entails that G&T have not shown that such indirect routes for the evolution of modern feathers are improbable.
(e) Regarding molecular Isolation, G&T appeal to Michael Denton ‘s 1986 book, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis.[6] Commenting on Denton’s work, they write:

If all species share a common ancestor, we should expect to find protein sequences that are transitional from, say, fish to amphibian, or from reptile to mammal. But that’s not what we find at all. (150)

In his review of Denton’s book, however, Philip Spieth, a geneticist at the University of California at Berkeley, argues that Denton’s conclusions are erroneous. It is worth quoting Spieth at length:

These conclusions are erroneous: in his interpretation of “molecular equidistance,” Denton has confused ancestor-descendant relationships with cousin relationships. The telltale clues of molecular data are not, directly, concerned with parents and offspring, intermediate forms, and “missing links.” They are, instead, reflections of relative relatedness between contemporary cousins. Twentieth-century bacteria are not ancestors of twentieth-century turtles and dogs: they are very distant cousins, and, as the data in Denton’s presentation show, the bacteria are roughly equally distant cousins of both turtles and dogs (and all the other organisms that Denton included in Table 12.1).
Cousin relationships between contemporary individuals are governed by the number of generations since there last was an ancestor in common to the individuals. Different members of a group of close relatives always have the same relationship to a more distantly related individual who stands outside the group. Two sisters are equally related to a mutual first cousin. Members of a group of siblings and first cousins are all equally related to a mutual fifth cousin. Lampreys are equally distant cousins of both fish and humans because the last ancestor that lampreys had in common with humans was the same ancestor lampreys had in common with fish. The “molecular equidistance” argument that Denton invokes is invalid, resulting from making comparisons between a single distantly related organism and various members of a more closely related group.
There is an irony in Denton’s presentation to anyone familiar with the data of molecular evolution. Reflections of genealogical relationships are so strong in molecular data that Denton, in spite of his arguments to the contrary, is unable to hide them. The missing “trace” of which he speaks is not a trace; it is a shout. Simple inspection of the data in Table 12.1 will reveal that cytochrome C found in horses, for example, is quite similar in its molecular structure to that found in turtles, slightly less similar to that in fish, still less similar to that in insects, and very much less similar to that in bacteria. The traditional evolutionary series is very much in evidence.
Denton provides a series of diagrams (pp. 282-87) in which nested e[l]lipses, arranged on the basis of molecular data, are used to illustrate his spurious “molecular equidistance” thesis. In these delightful figures organisms are seen to cluster fully in accord with the genealogical relationships that evolutionary biologists deduced from comparative anatomy and paleontological evidence long before molecular data were available. In the final figure, humans and chimps are seen side by side as each other’s closest cousin. Anyone who wants to argue that these nested groups of organisms constitute separate, distinct, and unbridg[e]able groups has to contend with obvious hierarchical patterns of relatedness among the various groups. Notions of relatedness are, of course, antithetical to a typological view of organisms.[7]

(f) Regarding the fossil Record,G&T make three points: (1) gradualism predicts that we should find “thousands, if not millions, of transitional fossils by now,” but that prediction is false; (2) the so-called “Cambrian explosion” is inconsistent with Darwinism because “nearly all of the major groups animals known to exist appear in the fossil record abruptly…, fully formed, and at the same time;” and (3) the fossil record cannot establish ancestral relationships.
I shall argue that each objection is unsuccessful.
(1) is an argument from silence. Given the enormous popularity of this argument (hereafter, “the missing links argument”) in the anti-evolution literature, it is worth showing in detail that it is not successful.
As I have pointed out elsewhere, arguments from silence are a special version of a type of inductive argument known as an explanatory argument. If we let be our background information; S be some truth about the silence of a potential source of evidence; H1 and H2 be rival explanations; Pr(x) be the epistemic probability of some proposition x;[8] and Pr(x | y) be the epistemic probability of x conditional upon y, then we can define arguments from silence according to the following argument schema.

(1) S is known to be true, i.e., Pr(S) is close to 1.
(2) The prior probability of H1 is not much greater than H2, i.e., Pr(H1 | B) is not much greater than Pr(H2 | B).
(3) H2 gives us more reason to expect S than H1, i.e., Pr(S | H2) > Pr(S | H1).
(4) Other evidence held equal, H1 is probably false, i.e., Pr(H1 | B & S) < 1/2.

Like any other explanatory argument, an argument from silence can be logically correct if there is good reason to believe that premises (1)-(3) are true.
With this schema in place, let’s return to the missing links argument. If we abbreviate “the fossil record does not contain any transitional fossils” as S and let E represent evolution, then the missing links argument can be summarized as follows.

(1′) S is known to be true, i.e., Pr(S) is close to 1.
(2′) E is not intrinsically much more probable than ~E.
(3′) ~E gives us more reason to expect S than E, i.e., Pr(S | ~E) > Pr(S | E).
(4′) Other evidence held equal, E is probably false, i.e., Pr(E | B & S) < 1/2.

In support of the first premise, G&T use another type of inductive argument, the argument from authority. Their authority is the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould; they claim he agrees with S on the basis of the following quotation.

The history of most fossil species includes two features particularly inconsistent with gradualism: 1). Stasis. Most species exhibit no directional change during their tenure on earth. They appear in the fossil record looking much the same as when they appear; Morphological change is usually limited and directionless. 2). Sudden Appearance. In any local area, a species does not arise gradually by the steady transformation of its ancestors; it appears all at once and ‘fully formed.'[9]

Commenting on this quotation, G&T conclude, “In other words, Gould is admitting that fossil types appear suddenly, fully formed, and remain the same until extinction without any directional change…” (152). We shall abbreviate this conclusion as P.
The most charitable formulation of this argument from authority would be to formulate it as a special version of the inductive argument form known as the statistical syllogism.[10]

(5) The vast majority of statements made by Stephen Jay Gould concerning the fossil record are true.
(6) P is a statement made by Stephen Jay Gould concerning the fossil record.
(7) Therefore, P is true.

While some arguments from authority are inductively correct, this one is not. A careful reading of the Gould quotation does not support G&T’s interpretation. Gould wrote, “The history of most fossil species …,” not, “The history of all fossil species…” This basic distinction is crucial to a correct understanding of Gould’s point (and punctuated equilibrium in general), but anti-evolutionists often fail to recognize it. Indeed, Gould himself repeatedly stated that critics of evolution were quoting him out of context. In 1984, Gould wrote, “It is infuriating to be quoted again and again–whether through design or stupidity, I do not know–as admitting that the fossil record includes no transitional forms.”[11] He continued, “Transitional forms are generally lacking at the species level, but they are abundant between larger groups.”[12] Note that Gould does not say that transitional forms are completely lacking at the species level, only that they are generally lacking. More recently, in 1994 Gould gave a specific example of a transitional sequence in the fossil record:

I am absolutely delighted to report that our usually recalcitrant fossil record has come through in exemplary fashion. During the past 15 years, new discoveries in Africa and Pakistan have added greatly to our paleontological knowledge of the earliest history of whales. The embarrassment of past absence has been replaced by a bounty of new evidence– and by the sweetest series of transitional forms an evolutionist can find. Truly, we have met the enemy and he is now ours. Moreover, to add blessed insult to the creationists’ injury, these discoveries have arrived in a gradual and sequential fashion– a little bit at a time, step by step, from a tentative hint, 15 years ago to a remarkable smoking gun early in 1994.[13]

It is a misuse of arguments from authority to misquote or misinterpret an authority.[14] Since G&T have misquoted or misinterpreted Gould, their argument from authority is fallacious. It does not support (1’).
But G&T have an independent supporting argument for (1’). Citing molecular biologist Jonathan Wells,[15] G&T also appeal to the so-called Cambrian “explosion” in support of (1’). In their words,

… nearly all of the major groups of animals known to exist appear in the fossil record abruptly and fully formed in strata from the Cambrian period (which many scientists estimate to have occurred between 600 and 500 million years ago). (152)

Again, G&T do not provide the logical form of their argument, so, again, I will offer what I believe to be the most charitable formulation. Let RC be the reference class of “the major groups of animals known to exist” and AC be the attribute class of “appear in the fossil record abruptly and fully formed in strata from the Cambrian period.” Then we can formulate the argument in the above quotation as an inductive argument type known as the statistical generalization.[16]

(8) Nearly all of the observed members of RC are AC.
(9) Therefore, nearly all RC are AC.

I have four replies.
First, the name Cambrian “explosion” is misleading insofar as it suggests to popular audiences—who are not used to thinking in geological timescales (i.e., tens to thousands of millions of years)—that there was a single event. In fact, this “explosion” represents a series of events over the course of 15 -20 million years. Alan Gishlick explains:

The Cambrian Explosion is, rather, the preservation of a series of faunas that occur over a 15-20 million year period starting around 535 million years ago (MA). A fauna is a group of organisms that live together and interact as an ecosystem; in paleontology, “fauna” refers to a group of organisms that are fossilized together because they lived together.[17]

Second, the fact—if it is a fact—that there are no known Cambrian transitional fossils is compatible with the existence of other, later transitional fossils. In other words, even if there are no known transitional fossils which can be dated between 600 and 500 million years ago, it doesn’t follow that there are no later transitional fossils, i.e., fossils which can be dated between 500 million years ago and the present. In fact, the fossil record does contain numerous transitional forms, forms which G&T do not acknowledge, much less refute, in their book.[18]
Third, as written, this statement is false: “most of the major groups of animals known to exist” do not appear in the fossil record in strata from the Cambrian period. Amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals do not appear in the fossil record until very much later than the Cambrian period, just as evolution predicts. The most charitable interpretation I can give to G&T’s statement is to assume that it is a typo. Instead of “nearly all of the major groups of animals known to exist,” I assume that what G&T meant to write is “nearly all of the animal body plans known to exist.” Thus, we should revise RC as follows:

RC’: the reference class of “the animal body plans known to exist”

And the revised statistical generalization becomes:

(8’) Nearly all of the observed members of RC’ are AC.
(9’) Therefore, nearly all RC’ are AC.

I take this revised statistical generalization to be charitable, since it would make G&T’s point consistent with the recent, published work of Stephen Meyer, another leading ID theorist.[19]
Fourth, even (8’) is false. As Gishlick points out, many of the Cambrian body plans—including those of cnidrians, molluscs, sponges, wormlike metazoans, bilateral animals, and possibly arthropods—do not appear “abruptly.” We have fossilized remains of their precursors from fossils dating 10-60 million years older than their Cambrian descendants. As Gishlick explains:

Sixty million years is approximately the same amount of time that has elapsed since the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs, providing plenty of time for evolution. In treating the Cambrian Explosion as a single event preceded by nothing, Wells misrepresents fact – the Cambrian explosion is not a single event, nor is it instantaneous and lacking in any precursors.[20]

The upshot is that both supporting arguments for (1’) fail. Thus, G&T have not given any good reasons to think (1’) is true. Furthermore, again, there is very good reason to think (1’) is false, namely, all of the fossilized intermediate and transitional forms, including reptile-birds, reptile-mammals, ape-humans, legged whales, and legged seacows.[21]
Let’s move onto the missing link argument’s premise (3’). G&T write:

If Darwinism were true, we would have found thousands, if not millions, of transitional fossils by now. (2770-2771)

Since it is implied that if Darwinism is false, we would not expect to find transitional fossils, it seems reasonable to interpret G&T as asserting (3’). For convenience, here it is again.

(3′) ~E gives us more reason to expect S than E, i.e., Pr(S | ~E) > Pr(S | E).

As it stands, however, (3’) is not obviously true. By itself, evolution doesn’t predict how many transitional fossils we would find today. Rather, by itself, evolution predicts that there were “thousands, of not millions,” of transitional forms, i.e. living beings. After a living being dies, its remains may or may not be destroyed (such as being eaten by other animals or by decay). If its remains are not destroyed, the remains may or may not become fossilized. If a dead organism is fossilized, that fossil may or may not survive intact to the present day. If the fossil survives intact to the present day, that fossil may or may not be found. If the fossil is found, it may or may not have preserved enough information to determine whether it is transitional. If the fossil preserves enough information to identify it as transitional, it may or may not have been examined yet by someone knowledgeable enough to identify it as such.[22]
The hypothesis of evolution says nothing about any of this. We get predictions about the number of transitional fossils only when we combine evolution with one or more auxiliary hypotheses about the frequency of fossilization, fossil preservation, fossil discovery, and fossil classification. G&T do not defend any of these auxiliary hypotheses and so their case for (3′) is, at best, incomplete.
So why should we believe (3’) is true? According to G&T, the answer is “because Darwin said so.”

… [Charles Darwin] did recognize that the fossil record posed a big problem for his theory because it didn’t show gradualism. That’s why he wrote, “Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain, and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory.”(152)

There is little doubt that G&T’s quotation of Darwin has great rhetorical value; it is analogous to the courtroom strategy of obtaining testimony from a hostile witness. What this quotation has in rhetorical value, it lacks in logical or evidential value.  Once again G&T making an argument from authority and, once again, the argument is logically incorrect because G&T have quotemined that authority.
The quotation appears in Darwin’s Origin of Species, sixth edition, in chapter 10, “On the Imperfection of the Geological Record.” As Jon Barber points out, “Darwin’s writing style was to ask a rhetorical question and then give an answer.”[23]  In order to show Darwin’s tendency “in action,” I’m going to quote a longer excerpt of the book than G&T did, with the portion quoted by G&T in italics.

But just in proportion as this process of extermination has acted on an enormous scale, so must the number of intermediate varieties, which have formerly existed, be truly enormous. Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and serious objection which can be urged against my theory. The explanation lies, as I believe, in the extreme imperfection of the geological record.
In the first place, it should always be borne in mind what sort of intermediate forms must, on the theory, have formerly existed. I have found it difficult, when looking at any two species, to avoid picturing to myself forms DIRECTLY intermediate between them. But this is a wholly false view; we should always look for forms intermediate between each species and a common but unknown progenitor; and the progenitor will generally have differed in some respects from all its modified descendants. To give a simple illustration: the fantail and pouter pigeons are both descended from the rock-pigeon; if we possessed all the intermediate varieties which have ever existed, we should have an extremely close series between both and the rock-pigeon; but we should have no varieties directly intermediate between the fantail and pouter; none, for instance, combining a tail somewhat expanded with a crop somewhat enlarged, the characteristic features of these two breeds. These two breeds, moreover, have become so much modified, that, if we had no historical or indirect evidence regarding their origin, it would not have been possible to have determined from a mere comparison of their structure with that of the rock-pigeon, C. livia, whether they had descended from this species or from some other allied species, such as C. oenas.
So with natural species, if we look to forms very distinct, for instance to the horse and tapir, we have no reason to suppose that links directly intermediate between them ever existed, but between each and an unknown common parent. The common parent will have had in its whole organisation much general resemblance to the tapir and to the horse; but in some points of structure may have differed considerably from both, even perhaps more than they differ from each other. Hence, in all such cases, we should be unable to recognise the parent-form of any two or more species, even if we closely compared the structure of the parent with that of its modified descendants, unless at the same time we had a nearly perfect chain of the intermediate links. (boldface mine)

The extended passage, especially the sentence I’ve boldfaced  above, exposes the inaccuracy in G&T’s selective quotation of Darwin. Not only does the extended passage fail to support (3’); it provides clear and decisive evidence against it. Furthermore, Darwin’s explanation also directly refutes the familiar creationist claim, parroted by G&T, that “All animal groups appear separately, fully formed, and at the same time” (###).
G&T also object to the fossil record as evidence for evolution for another reason. Following Michael Denton and Jonathan Wells, G&T argue that “the fossil record cannot establish ancestral relationships” (###).  As Mark Vuletic has argued, however, Denton relies upon “unreasonably strict criteria” for recognizing transitional forms. I will quote Vuletic at length.

Now to the fossil record. Similar to the creationists, Denton proposes that there are not enough transitional forms in the fossil record, and that what transitional forms do exist are rather dubious in nature because they do not show soft organ changes (since organs aren’t fossilized) and are not intermediate in every single characteristic. Thus, Archaeopteryx lithographica, perhaps the most famous transitional form of all time, is inadequate because its wings and feathers were fully formed. Never mind that Archaeopteryx sported more reptilian skeletal characteristics than it did avian ones, and ignore the fact that its skeletal characteristics very closely match a class of wingless reptiles called therodonts that existed around the same time and in the same geographical location. It is apparent, then, that Denton’s standards for labeling a fossil a “transitional form” are unreasonably restrictive.
As far as soft organ characteristics go, researchers can indeed also obtain information on a fossilized organism’s soft anatomy and behavior by paying attention to structural characteristics. Thus, the recent find of Ambulocetus natans (Berta, 1994) lends further credence to the ungulate-to-whale transition that Denton finds so incredulous, because the skeletal arrangement of the creature is such that it could undulate its spine to produce a motion not unlike that of the whale’s tail motion (not to mention that Ambulocetus was found geographically and temporally just about where evolutionists hoped to find it). Similarly, examination of the configuration of basal ridges in fossilized reptile-mammal transitional form skulls shows how endothermy developed gradually, even though the evolution of the soft, complex endothermic apparatus could not be directly observed (Hillenius, 1994).
Denton’s denial of the fish-to-amphibian transition as demonstrated by Eusthenopteron (a late Devonian fish) and Icthyostega (a late Devonian amphibian) is a striking example of the excessive demands he makes on transitional forms. He echoes creationist Duane Gish’s criticism that Icthyostega has well developed limbs for terrestrial movement, while Eusthenopteron has mere fins. In the first place, it is unreasonable to expect a transitional form to be transitional in every single skeletal characteristic it exhibits. Secondly, the correlation between the skull and vertebral characteristics of the two creatures is impossible to account for in a framework of typology:
The crossopterygian fish Eusthenopteron is linked to the early amphibian Icthyostega by a number of characteristics: (1) same pattern of skull bones as Icthyostega, (2) internal nostrils (found only in land animals and sarcopterygians – a taxonomic group encompassing lungfish and crossopterygians), (3) teeth like amphibians’, (4) a two-part cranium (icthyostegids are the only other vertebrates that have this characteristic), and (5) same vertebral structure. (derived from McGowan, 1984, 152-153)
Every once in a while, a new transitional form turns up and strengthens the evolutionary pattern inherent in the fossil record . But in any case, to deny that the ones that already exist are what they appear to be is a sure indication of unreasonably strict criteria for transitional forms.[24]

In summary, then, all of G&T’s objections to biological evolution fail.

Rebuttal to Geisler’s and Turek’s “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist”

Notes
[1] Michael J. Behe, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (New York: Free Press, 1996).
[2] Paul Draper, “Irreducible Complexity and Darwinian Gradualism: a Reply to Michael J. Behe,” Faith and Philosophy 22 (2002), 3–21.
[3] Carl Zimmer, “Evolution of Feathers: The Long Curious Extravagant Evolution of Feathers,” National Geographic  (February 2011). Republished electronically at http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/print/2011/02/feathers/zimmer-text
[4] Zimmer 2011.
[5] Zimmer 2011.
[6] Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (Chevy Chase, Maryland: Adler & Adler, 1986).
[7] Philip T. Spieth, “Review: “Evolution — A Theory in Crisis” Zygon 22 (1987), 249-68. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9744.1987.tb00849.x. Republished electronically at http://ncse.com/creationism/analysis/review-evolution-theory-crisis
[8] By “epistemic probability,” I mean this. “Relative to K, p is epistemically more probable than q, where K is an epistemic situation and p and q are propositions, just in case any fully rational person in K would have a higher degree of belief in p than in q.” See Paul Draper, “Pain and Pleasure” in The Evidential Argument from Evil (ed. by Daniel Howard-Snyder, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1996), 27.
[9] Stephen J. Gould, “Evolution’s Erratic Pace,” Natural History 86 (1977): 13-14, quoted in G&T 2004, 152.
[10] See Wesley C. Salmon, Logic (third ed., Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1984), 98.
[11] Stephen Jay Gould, Hens Teeth and Horse’s Toes (New York: Norton & Co., 1983), 260. Reprinted in “Evolution as Fact and Theory” in Science and Creationism (ed. Ashley Montagu, New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), 123-24. Italics are mine.
[12] Gould 1983, 261.
[13] Stephen Jay Gould, “Hooking Leviathan by its Past” Natural History 5/94, 11.
[14] Salmon 1984, 98.
[15] Jonathan Wells, Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth?: Why Much of What We Teach About Evolution Is Wrong (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2000).
[16] Salmon 1984, 90.
[17] Alan Gishlick, “Icons of Evolution? Why Much of What Jonathan Wells Writes About Evolution is Wrong” National Center for Science Education (October 23, 2008), http://ncse.com/files/pub/creationism/icons/gishliick_icons_critique_complete.pdf, 11-12.
[18] See L. Beverly Halstead, “Evolution–The Fossils Say Yes!” Science and Creationism (ed. Ashley Montagu, New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), 240-254; Roger J. Cuffey, “Paleontologic Evidence and Organic Evolution” Science and Creationism (ed. Ashley Montagu, New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), 255-281; Laurie R. Godfrey, “Creationism and Gaps in the Fossil Record” Scientists Confront Creationism (ed. Laurie R. Godfrey, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1983), 193-218.
[19] Meyer argues that Cambrian animal forms contain “functionally specified information” and so are irreducibly complex systems; moreover, this morphological irreducible complexity is independent of the sort of biochemical irreducible complexity argued by Behe. Meyer’s argument, however, fails for the following reasons. (i) Even if the origin of Cambrian animal forms were evidence favoring ID over naturalism, at best Meyer’s argument commits the fallacy of understated evidence. Meyer neglects to mention other known facts about Cambrian animal forms, facts which favor naturalism over ID. For example, (a) the Cambrian era did not include animal forms much more impressive than known Cambrian forms; (b) the creation of new information is habitually associated with embodied minds; and (c) all living animals on Earth are the gradually modified descendants of Cambrian animals. (ii) According to Meyer, an unknown Intelligent Designer used an unknown, mysterious mechanism to design Cambrian animal forms for an unknown purpose. It follows, therefore, that Meyer’s intelligent design “hypothesis” is, at best, an explanation name, not an actual explanation, because the Intelligent Designer’s methods and purposes are unknown and, indeed, mysterious. As philosopher Paul Draper pointed out (in an unrelated context), “Mystification is the opposite of explanation.” See Stephen L. Meyer, Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life (New York: Harper One, 2013); and Paul Draper, “A Darwinian Argument from Evil,” unpublished paper. Cf. Gregory W. Dawes, Theism and Explanation (New York: Routledge, 2009).
[20] Gishlick 2008, 13.
[21] See Douglas Theobald, “29+ Evidences for Macroevolution: Part 1: The Unique Universal Phylogenetic Tree,” The TalkOrigins Archive (2013), http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/section1.html#morphological_intermediates.
[22] Mark Isaak, “Index to Creationist Claims: Claim CC200.1” The TalkOrigins Archive (2005), http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CC/CC200_1.html.
[23] See Jon Barber, “Quote #75” in The Quote Mine Project: Or Lies, Damned Lies, and Quote Mines at The Talk.Origins Archive (2003-2004), http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/quotes/mine/part1-4.html.
[24] Mark I. Vuletic, “Review of Michael Denton’s Evolution: A Theory in Crisis,” The Talk.Origins Archive (1996-97), http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/denton.html.

## bookmark_borderIs Empathy Just Another Feeling That Can Be Suppressed if Metaphysical Naturalism Is True?

Depending on the particulars, an argument from silence may be logically correct or incorrect. I’ve argued that the most charitable interpretation of arguments from silence is as explanatory arguments. In order to succeed, arguments from silence must successfully show that the non-existence or non-occurrence of the thing in question is a better explanation than rival theories, such as that the person or people who are silent never heard the claim in question.
Barry Arrington, writing at the Uncommon Descent blog, makes an incomplete (and thus logically incorrect) argument from silence by failing to discredit just this alternative explanation (that his opponents were not aware of the original claim). In a recent post, he says that he wrote a post “over three months ago” stating a major objection to metaphysical naturalism: if metaphysical naturalism is true, then empathy is just another feeling that can be suppressed on the basis of a cost/benefit analysis. But, he says, he hasn’t gotten a serious response to this argument. Therefore, he concludes, his post must be correct because there is no good objection available.
While Arrington succeeds in providing an example of a weak argument from silence — I, for one, hadn’t heard of his argument before now and I suspect many other prominent naturalists were equally unaware of his post–I am not sure Arrington succeeds in providing a good objection to naturalism. But since I’m feeling lazy, I’ll leave the critique as an exercise for the reader.

## bookmark_borderThe Argument from Silence, Part 8: The Missing Links Argument against Biological Evolution

I began this series with a Bayesian interpretation of arguments from silence and then proceeded to use that interpretation to evaluate various arguments from silence about Jesus and God. In this post, I want to assess an argument from silence that is extremely popular with anti-evolutionists, an argument I call the “missing links” argument.
If we abbreviate “the fossil record does not contain any transitional fossils” as S, let B represent our background knowledge, and let E represent evolution, then the missing links argument can be summarized using the argument schema I outlined in Part 1, as follows.

(1′) S is known to be true, i.e., Pr(S) is close to 1.
(2′) Relative to background knowledge B, the prior probability of E is not very high, i.e., Pr(E | B) is not very much greater than 1/2.
(3′) ~E gives us more reason to expect S than E, i.e., Pr(S | ~E) > Pr(S | E).
(4′) Other evidence held equal, E is probably false, i.e., Pr(E | B & S) < 1/2.

Premise (1′) is false, but I shall not spend time on that here. I am also going to skip over for (2′). Instead, I want to focus on premise (3′). A recent endorsement of (3′) can be found in the book, Why I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek (hereafter, “G&T”), who write:

If Darwinism were true, we would have found thousands, if not millions, of transitional fossils by now.[1]

Since it is implied that if Darwinism is false, we would not expect to find transitional fossils, it seems reasonable to interpret G&T as asserting (3’). For convenience, here it is again.

(3′) ~E gives us more reason to expect S than E, i.e., Pr(S | ~E) > Pr(S | E).

As it stands, however, (3’) is not obviously true. By itself, evolution doesn’t predict how many transitional fossils we would find today. Rather, by itself, evolution predicts that there were “thousands, of not millions,” of transitional forms, i.e. living beings. After a living being dies, its remains may or may not be destroyed (such as by decay or being eaten by other animals). If its remains are not destroyed, the remains may or may not become fossilized. If a dead organism is fossilized, that fossil may or may not survive intact to the present day. If the fossil survives intact to the present day, that fossil may or may not be found. If the fossil is found, it may or may not have preserved enough information to determine whether it is transitional. If the fossil preserves enough information to identify it as transitional, it may or may not have been examined yet by someone knowledgeable enough to identify it as such.[2]
The hypothesis of evolution says nothing about any of this. We get predictions about the number of transitional fossils only when we combine evolution with one or more auxiliary hypotheses about the frequency of fossilization, fossil preservation, fossil discovery, and fossil classification. G&T do not defend any of these auxiliary hypotheses and so their case for (3′) is, at best, incomplete. But it gets worse, for, as Mark Isaac as shown, there are good reasons to doubt all of the needed auxiliary hypotheses. The upshot is that (3′) is false.
ETA (20-May-14): Revised the wording of (2′) from “intrinsic probability” to “prior probability.”
Notes
[1] Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004), Kindle location 2770-2771.
[2] Mark Isaak, “Index to Creationist Claims: Claim CC200.1” The TalkOrigins Archive (2005), http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CC/CC200_1.html.