Philip Kitcher has just published a book defending naturalistic evolution while attacking creationism and intelligent design theory.1
Since Kitcher is a seasoned philosopher of science and veteran critic of creationism, this represents the state-of-the-art in Darwinian apologetics. If you wish to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the case for naturalistic evolution, as over against its theistic rivals, this is a logical point of departure. So let’s review his major arguments:
Like several other texts from the ancient Near East, the Bible recalls a great flood, in which virtually all of the living creatures of the earth were destroyed (25).This is incorrect. The focus of the Genesis flood is on the destruction of land animals. The account is silent on the fate of aquatic life or flora.
When the summit of Mount Ararat was uncovered, the ark finally came to rest upon it (25).This is overly-precise. The account doesn’t single out Mt. Ararat. Rather, it simply indicates that the ark came to rest somewhere in that general mountain range.
Where did all the water go? How exactly was “the pond drained”? (26).i) The answer depends, in part, on the scope of the flood. Kitcher compares the Genesis flood with cognate ANE literature. But if that’s his frame of reference, then that would argue for a local flood since the ancients had a different sense of scale than their modern counterparts. So if that’s his frame of reference, then we would gauge the geographical descriptions by ANE cartography, not satellite cartography.2
In that event, one doesn’t need to posit an extraordinary drainage mechanism to account for the recession of local floodwaters.
ii) If we assume a global flood, then the drainage mechanism might be related to the flood mechanism. And it’s possible to postulate different flood mechanism. So the answer would vary according to the respective model of flood geology.
Scripture does not explicitly declare an age for our planet. Two claims that flow more directly from the early chapters of Genesis are more difficult to evade. First, Genesis states that all major kinds of plants and animals, as well as human beings, were created at the beginning, and that all have lived on the earth continuously throughout its entire history (28).This is a half-truth. While Genesis does indeed state that all major kinds of plants and animals, as well as human beings, were created at the beginning, it does not state that all of them have survived.
i) At the very least, Genesis is silent on the question of how many natural kinds have survived since the time of their origin.
ii) At most, if one construes the flood account in global terms, then the flood might well have led to mass extinctions of various species or subspecies, either as a direct result of the deluge or else its aftermath.
Second, the Bible says that there was once a great flood in which almost all living things were destroyed, and that all the organisms that have lived since are descendants of the small company that survived the flood (28).Once again, he keeps reiterating the same overstatements. Can’t he read?
Sedimentation rates suggest that the age of the earth is much greater than hitherto supposed, for those rates would require vast stretches of time (at least hundreds of thousands of years) to lay down rocks to the depth observed (29).But creationists point to catastrophic events which precipitate rapid sedimentation (e.g. Mt. St. Helens). Kitcher needs to interact with these counterexamples.
These strata were deposited sequentially, and the oldest almost always lie at the bottom. Most of the organisms they contain belong to species that have now vanished from the earth. The deepest rocks (more exactly, the deepest fossil-bearing rocks then known) contain residues of marine invertebrates, some of which, like mollusks, are very familiar, others of which, like the trilobites, are very different. Above them lie layers in which there are both marine invertebrates and some fish, with an increasing diversity of fish as you climb the rock column. Higher still are strata with marine invertebrates, fish, and amphibians. Ascending further, these kinds of organisms are joined by reptiles, including huge reptiles of kinds that no longer exist—some of the dinosaurs—and later, after the vanishing of the dinosaurs, by birds and mammals, both of which become increasingly diverse as you approach the top. Near the surface, in the shallows of the rocks, there are finally traces of apes, and eventually, of human beings (29-30).Several issues:
The problem is obvious. How do you explain this consistent ordering of fossil remains if not as what it seems to be, namely a sequence of episodes in the history of life showing very different organisms at different stages? How do you account for the fact that the remains of the kinds of organisms that now exist, the birds and trees and flowers and mammals we know—not to mention human beings—are found only in the most recent deposits? (31).
Instead, we need to understand why the birds are always found at the top and the fish appear originally near the bottom (32).
Specimens of the class that includes most contemporary fish are found in the fossil record from rocks whose age is estimated to be about 200 million years and upward into the present. Much deeper deposits contain the remains of types of fish that no longer exist, as well as fossils of sharks. By contrast, fossil whales, dolphins, seals, and porpoises are found only year the top of the rock column (32).
i) Kitcher doesn’t show us any site on earth where we can see this layout. So is there such a site, or is this a hypothetical reconstruction of faunal succession, correlating the finds from many different geographical sites?
ii) Assuming, for the sake of argument, that this reconstruction is accurate, what it looks like is a spatial rather than temporal distribution pattern. Trees and land animals occupy an ecological zone that is literally above the semiaquatic animals. In turn, semiaquatic animals are above aquatic mammals that must surface for air, while aquatic animals are above fish, and fish are above bottom-dwellers.3
iii) So there’s nothing evolutionary in the actual appearance of the fossil record. It’s only when you interpolate vast stretches of time into the fossil record that it seems to yield an evolutionary sequence. If, on the other hand, you deny huge intervals between one fossil and another, then it resembles a cross-section of the present ecosystem, except for some extinct species.
So it’s not the fossil sequence, as he describes it, that’s apparently evolutionary, but the imposition of a geochronological framework on the fossil sequence. Remove that extraneous scaffolding, and what’s left?
The plant record displays a similar, uniform, pattern. The earliest strata that bear plant remains contain residues of ferns, and, at higher levels, they are joined first by conifers, and later by deciduous trees and flowering plants. The picture, in both instances, is of a sequential history of life, one that belies the idea that all the major kinds of plants and animals have lived on the earth since the very beginning (30).i) This is a rather odd statement since there’s a fairly obvious correlation between the regional environment, on the one hand, and botanical diversity or distribution, on the other. And this is complicated by other factors, such as climate change or the introduction of foreign flora into indigenous habitats. So his evolutionary explanation is surely simplistic.
ii) And, once again, Genesis never says “that all the major kinds of plants and animals have lived on the earth since the very beginning.” If some of the natural kinds didn’t survive, that would not be at variance with the creation account.
Very different environments would have to be provided [on the ark] for polar bears and camels (34).i) He is imposing an extratextual assumption onto the text. Genesis is silent on the prediluvian environment. It says nothing one way or the other about camels and polar bears, deserts and icecaps.
ii) Moreover, it’s one thing to say that some animals prefer a particular habitat, quite another to say they can’t survive outside of a particular habitat. If you visit your local zoo, it’s not as if the thermostat is set at 130 degrees for camels and 40 below for polar bears.
iii) Furthermore, he’s assuming a global flood. But there are OT scholars who construe the text in local terms.4 If so, then the cargo would consist of species from the same general vicinity. If he’s going to present an intellectually responsible critique of Noah’s flood, then he needs to address local as well as global interpretations of the text.
For a penetrating study in the household economy of the ark, see Robert A. Moore, “The Impossible Voyage of Noah’s Ark” (171n23).The problem with this reference is that Moore’s article has not gone unchallenged.5 So why does Kitcher only give one side of the argument? Is he ignorant of the other side? If so, then he didn’t do his homework before writing this book.
You forget that at least some plants and fungi would have to be carried along, too, that cacti and orchids, willows and mushrooms, would have to have appropriate environments and proper care (34).i) Since these are not included in the ship's manifest, why does Kitcher saddle the text with an extratextual imposition?
ii) Perhaps his unstated assumption is that these could not survive outside the ark. If so,
a) This assumes the global interpretation. It’s irrelevant to the local interpretation.
b) Even assuming the global interpretation, is he saying that seeds could not survive outside the ark? If so, where’s the argument?
c) Is he referring to extant botanical species and modern varieties thereof? But the Biblical account makes no such assumption.
Once they arrive on Mount Ararat, can they finally rest? Not really, for if they are to produce living creatures that will repopulate the earth, then they must be extremely careful to maintain the separation of predator from prey. It won’t do for the intended grandmother of the future gazelles to disappear into the mouth of one of the ancestral cheetahs. (35).i) There was more than one pair of animals per kind. There were seven pairs of clean animals apiece (Gen 7:2).
Let’s also keep in mind that the recurrence of the septunarian motif suggests a degree of numerological symbolism. So we shouldn’t assume that all of these septunarian figures are literal. The actual figure may be more or less.
ii) Finally, the objection would only be relevant, if at all, on a global interpretation. I’m not saying that this objection is cogent against the global interpretation. Only that it’s not even relevant to the local interpretation.
The animals will have to be led carefully to points from which they can reach their intended destinations—so that the marsupials can make their way to Australia in the next five thousand years or so (probably a forced march for the more sedentary ones like Koalas and wombats), the polar bears to the Arctic, the llamas to South America. The plants will have to be treated carefully to ensure that they reach regions in which they can grow and thrive (35).i) Once again, objections like this obviously go beyond the narrative viewpoint of an ANE document, which Kitcher originally told us was his frame of reference. Genesis doesn’t talk about wombats and Koalas, polar bears and llamas. Kitcher is superimposing his own biogeographical outlook on to the text, in violation of document’s historical horizon.
ii) Even assuming a global interpretation, Kitcher is supposing that all the fauna and flora had to make it back to their point of origin on their own steam. But why should we credit that supposition?
a) The ark itself would teach the survivors about the art of shipbuilding. And even Gould, seconding Darwin, has pointed to “the frequent displacement of endemic island biotas by continental species introduced by human transport.”6
b) Likewise, birds can disseminate an area by alimentation, and thereby introduce foreign fauna into an indigenous habitat.7
There is an obvious way to decrease the workload for this overburdened band, to cleave more closely to the inventory provided in Genesis...To the extent that this idea cuts down on the necessary labor, it faces an obvious objection. Genesis creationism supposes that about five thousand years elapsed between Noah and the present. The process of diversification must thus be extremely rapid (35).i) This assumes the global interpretation of the flood. A responsible critic of Noah’s flood needs to treat each interpretation as a live option, and address himself to their respective implications.
ii) Even assuming the global interpretation, this objection has been addressed by writers like Kurt Wise in the form of AGE theory.8 Where is Kitcher’s counterargument?
Consider the horses. As breeders know well, foals sometimes display coat patterns, bars or stripes, that resemble those found in zebras. Darwin reviews a range of examples, explaining them in terms of descent of horses, asses, zebras, and other equine species from a common ancestor (47).It isn’t clear what this example is supposed to prove. No creationist denies that domesticated animals descend from wild animals. You don’t have to invoke an evolutionary throwback to acknowledge the interplay between dominant and recessive genes in diploid species.
The modification can easily be attributed to natural selection. Since eyes no longer have a function inside the caves, selection will favor those variants that reassign the resources previously committed to the development of the visual system (171-72n30).Kitcher is now resorting to teleological explanations: "function...reassign...previously committed to the development of." But teleology is forbidden in naturalistic evolution. The evolutionary process, if there were such a thing, isn’t going anywhere in particular. Natural selection is inherently witless and pointless. Is Kitcher unable to keep track of his own theory?9
Why are there birds with webbed feet that live on dry land? Woodpeckers where no tree grows? (47).How is that a salient objection to creationism? Kitcher has no grasp of the position he’s opposing.
On the one hand, habitat changes over time. On the other hand, endemic species emigrate to new habitat.
Why are the fossils of extinct mammal species in Australia similar to the marsupials that inhabit the contingent today? Why are the extinct armored mammals of South America akin to the currently living Armadillos? Why are the birds of South America so like one another and so different from the birds of the Old World? Why does the same apply in the case of reptiles and mammals? Why do the floras and faunas of islands regularly resemble those of the neighboring continents? (47-48)?Wouldn’t all these be instances of microevolution rather than macroevolution? Creationism doesn’t deny microevolution. Is Kitcher ignorant of that fact? What position does he think he’s opposing, anyway?
If you were designing a porpoise paddle, a horse leg, a human hand, a mole forelimb, and a bat’s wing, without any prior constraints, you could do a lot better by deviating from the common plan (48).i) This is an assertion, not an argument. Where’s the argument?
ii) We’re waiting for Kitcher to come up with a working model of a better design.
iii) What’s wrong with a human hand or a horse leg? There’s no such thing as optimal design, for there’s bound to be a tradeoff between specialization and general utility.
Hooves are good for running, but not so good for swimming. Webbed feet are good for swimming, but not so good for running. Wings are good for flying, but not so good for running or swimming.
Retractable claws are great for clinging, climbing, and self-defense, but not so good for using a keyboard, performing brain surgery, shuffling a deck of cards, playing a violin, or making a Swiss watch. Is Kitcher so simple-minded that he can’t draw these elementary distinctions for himself?
The most powerful subsequent development of Darwin’s central argument comes, however, from biologists’ increasing ability to investigate the relationships among organisms at an even finer grain…Many of the modifications occur when there are copying errors in the process (52).i) Once again, he’s resorting to teleological categories. But this personifies nature. An unreasoning process cannot make mistakes. It cannot mistranscribe a code.
At most, only a personal agent can make mistakes. In order to fail, there must be a conscious intent to perform a certain task in order to achieve a certain objective. But natural selection is irrational. Can’t Kitcher remember his own theory?
ii) In addition, creationism doesn’t deny the possible presence of genetic defects in a fallen world. This isn’t a design flaw, but a consequence of original sin, with its attendant natural evils.
iii) There also seems to be the unspoken assumption, running through much of his book, that if God made the world, then the world should be as perfect as God. Hence, any natural imperfections disprove the existence of God.
But this inference is clearly invalid. The creature can never be a perfect as the Creator. The creature is inherently contingent. Many of these limitations are not imperfections, but merely features intrinsic to a finite mode of subsistence.
Genetic similarity provides a more fundamental criterion for assessing relationships of ancestry and descent than do the similarities in anatomy and physiology on which Darwin and his immediate successors drew. The overwhelming majority of older attributions of relationship endure, even though there are occasional instances in which genetic analysis reveals that one organism is a closer relative of another than of a third that has traditionally been taken to be its closest kin (172n35).Is that a fact?
If you want to know how all living things are related, don't bother looking in any textbook that's more than a few years old. Chances are that the tree of life you find there will be wrong. Since they began delving into DNA, biologists have been finding that organisms with features that look alike are often not as closely related as they had thought. These are turbulent times in the world of phylogeny, yet there has been one rule that evolutionary biologists felt they could cling to: the amount of complexity in the living world has always been on the increase. Now even that is in doubt.
While nobody disagrees that there has been a general trend towards complexity - humans are indisputably more complicated than amoebas - recent findings suggest that some of our very early ancestors were far more sophisticated than we have given them credit for. If so, then much of that precocious complexity has been lost by subsequent generations as they evolved into new species. "The whole concept of a gradualist tree, with one thing branching off after another and the last to branch off, the vertebrates, being the most complex, is wrong," says Detlev Arendt, an evolutionary and developmental biologist at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany.
The idea of loss in evolution is not new. We know that snakes lost their legs, as did whales, and that our own ancestors lost body hair. However, the latest evidence suggests that the extent of loss might have been seriously underestimated. Some evolutionary biologists now suggest that loss - at every level, from genes and types of cells to whole anatomical features and life stages - is the key to understanding evolution and the relatedness of living things. Proponents of this idea argue that classical phylogeny has been built on rotten foundations, and tinkering with it will not put it right. Instead, they say, we need to rethink the process of evolution itself.10
One particularly interesting comparison, achieve in the second half of the twentieth century, looked at chromosomes from human beings and from chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans…the obvious Darwinian explanation for the similarity is that the four species descend from a common ancestor…If human beings were a completely separate creation, why did the creative force find it apt to form our species in the chromosomal image of the great apes? (54).Yet in a footnote, Kitcher concedes that:
Moreover, even brute genetic similarity can prove misleading, in that pieces of genetic material can sometimes be acquired without deriving from ancestors—viruses and bacteria can spread DNA into organisms they infect (172n35).i) I take this to mean that if some contagious diseases result in genetic defects, and some contagious diseases are also communicable at an interspecies level, then it would it be possible for these genetic defects to be contracted by a contagious disease, and thereby transmitted from one species to another (chimp to human or vice versa).
And if, by his own admission, that is possible, then how is this chromosomal commonality evidence of common descent?
ii) In addition, the genetic argument for common ancestry has come in for some detailed criticism. As usual, Kitcher ignores the counterarguments.11
The Darwinian explanation is that these genes originally evolved to direct some basic tasks within the cell—they are “housekeeping” genes—and multicellular organisms have taken over this machinery, sometimes modifying it, sometimes retaining parts of it that no longer serve their original purpose (57).Notice that he can’t resist the temptation of teleological explanations. But the mechanisms posited by naturalistic evolution are mindless mechanisms. If naturalistic evolution is true, then genes never evolved to direct a particular task, and they were never diverted from their original purpose.
Because of potential errors in copying DNA, multicellular organisms need DNA repair enzymes (173n39).
Hence there has to be another repair device, an enzyme (telomerase) that restores telomeres in germ-line cells…Telomerase has to be confined to germ-cell lineages, but there are occasional mistakes in which it becomes accessible in somatic tissues and allows for uncontrolled growth (173-74n39).
Genes cannot make mistakes. Only people can make mistakes. A capacity for error presupposes goal-oriented behavior. Dysteleology is parasitic on teleology.
He commits the same fallacy when he describes a “repair device.” This only makes sense if you subscribe to a doctrine of proper function. It would be licit for young-earth creationism, old-earth creationism, or theistic evolution to invoke teleological categories. It is illicit for naturalistic evolution to speak in the same terms.
Why should organisms so diverse share related DNA sequences if large groups of them have been separately created (57)?Well, if God wanted to design a biological organism that was largely similar to another biological organism, wouldn't the logical procedure be to write a similar code?
If you were a talented engineer designing a whale from scratch, you probably wouldn’t think of equipping it with a rudimentary pelvis (57).i) But the appeal to vestigial organs is an argument from ignorance. Indeed, it’s the evolutionary equivalent of the God-of-the-gaps—only the evolutionary biologist is invoking the Darwin-of-the-gaps. If he’s going to take refuge in that expedient, then he can hardly object to Intelligent design theory.
ii) In addition, creationism doesn’t deny that some organs may degenerate under certain conditions, viz. blind, cave-dwelling species. That’s a natural adaptation to the organism’s new environment. Another instance of microevolution.
If you were designing a mammalian body, you might try to set things up so that development doesn’t lead to a tangling of reproductive and urinary tubes so that one sex…is burdened with hernias waiting to happen (57).Actually, dual use technology strikes me as a very impressive example of compact design. A paradigm case of bioengineering efficiency.
If you were designing a human body, you could surely improve on the knee (57).i) How, exactly, could you improve on the knee? Why doesn’t he propose a working model? I notice a lot of evolutionary writers who like to make smart-ass comments about “design defects” without bothering to model a working alternative.
ii) What’s the problem with the human knee, anyway? It’s true that athletes frequently suffer from knee injuries, but that’s due to placing unnatural stress on the knee.
Likewise, old folks suffer from arthritic knees, but this is due to the aging process, and not to the design of the knee itself.
And if you were designing the genomes of organisms, you would certainly not fill them up with junk. The most striking feature of the genomic analyses we now have is how much apparently nonfunctional DNA there is (57-58).i) Like the facile appeal to vestigial organs, his facile appeal to junk DNA is another argument from ignorance, a la Darwin-of-the gaps.
ii) Apropos (i), is so-called junk DNA in fact nonfunctional? Isn’t there mounting evidence to the contrary?12
Apparently, Intelligence also directed toward doing this by producing organisms that eat other organisms—and this, in itself, is a puzzling, even disturbing thought, since it would seem possible to equip all organisms with a device like photosynthesis that would avoid the messiness of predation (63).i) It would “seem” possible? Once more, where is his working model? Why does a seasoned philosopher of science think it’s intellectually acceptable to make one pseudoscientific claim after another? If it’s possible, then why doesn’t he point us to a working model? If he can’t, then he’s substituting science fiction for science.
ii) Would photosynthesis generate enough energy to power energetic animals? Last time I checked, plants were stationary. They don’t expend a lot of energy. How does that compare with highly mobile organisms? Or organisms with a high metabolism?
Turn now to the complaints about the absence of “intermediates” in the fossil record. Paleontologists have reconstructed all sorts of sequences of fossils to show various transitions in the history of life (66-67).Yes, I’m sure they have. Of course, reconstructing sequences by connecting widely separated dots with evolutionary interpolations is a convenient way of assuming what you need to prove. There are even some leading Darwinians who are highly critical of the standard methodology.13
Yet paleontologists are sometimes lucky, as in the case of Archaeopteryx and as in another example of a major transition, the reptile-mammal transition. Here there are many specimens of therapsides (mammal-like reptiles) and of early mammals (68).i) These examples have come under scrutiny.14 So why doesn’t he address the counterarguments? Is he ignorant of the opposing literature?
As I was preparing the final version of this essay, a second jewel may be added to the crown, with the discovery of the fossil remains of Tiktaalik an intermediate between fish and land-dwelling animals (174n48).
ii) How is a mammal-like reptile an example of an evolutionary intermediate rather than an ecological intermediate? For example, semiaquatic animals share some features in common with terrestrial animals as well as aquatic animals due to their ecological zone. They are designed to survive in that environment.
The known exceptions, most famously the Burgess Shale, are extremely rare—so rare that we can take the probability to be effectively zero (175n51).Is that a fact? What about the scientists who don’t regard the Burgess Shale as all that anomalous. Why doesn’t Kitcher deal with their arguments?15
Peter and Rosemary Grant have led a research team that has thoroughly studied the finches on several islands in the Galapagos archipelago, showing through detailed observation of the birds in successive generations, how natural selection ahs modified them, most notably in the size and shape of the beak (78).But seasonal variations in beak size would be a textbook example of microevolution rather than macroevolution, would it not? So how does this ephemeral variation count against creationism? I have to keep asking myself if Kitcher has the slightest grasp of what the other side believes.
The Grants’ work provides slightly more grounds for an optimistic assessment, in that, under swings of harsh drought and seasons of heavy rain, they were able to trace significant changes in the forms of finch beaks (176n60).
Another famous study, one that will be relevant later, concerns the persistence of sickle-cell anemia…the mixed combination, AS, not only yields the benefits associated with normal hemoglobin, but also provides protection against malaria (78-79).Once more, wouldn’t this be a case of microevolution rather than macroevolution? And how is the adaptability of organisms an argument against divine design? Why wouldn’t that flexibility be a mark of superior design?
Kitcher references the work of Dawkins and Dan-Erik Nilsson to establish the natural evolution of the eye (176n60). But, as usual, he disregards the arguments to the contrary.16
One possible interpretation of Darwin’s work is to view him as transferring ideas from British political economy to the natural world (177-78n73).So he’s admitting that Darwinism may really be a political allegory dressed up as a scientific theory?
Through millions of years, billions of animals experience vast amounts of pain, supposedly so that, after an enormous number of extinctions of entire species, on the tip of one twig of the evolutionary tree, there may emerge a species with the special properties that make us able to worship the Creator (123).i) This may be a valid objection to theistic evolution, but it has no traction with young-earth creationism or old earth-creationism. Does Kitcher lack the elementary discernment to distinguish between their respective positions?
ii) In fairness, Kitcher already attacked young-earth creationism by summarizing conventional dating methods. However, he doesn’t interact with literature which challenges conventional dating methods.17
It is plain to anyone who has ever seen an animal ensnared or a fish writhe on a hook, that we are not the only organisms who suffer. Moreover, animal suffering isn’t incidental to the unfolding of life, but integral to it. Natural selection is founded on strenuous competition…Our conception of a providential Creator must suppose that He has constructed a shaggy-dog story, a history of life that consists of a three-billion-year curtain-raiser to the main event, in which millions of sentient beings suffer, often acutely, and that the suffering is not a by-product but constitutive of the script that the Creator has chosen to write (123-24).Several issues here:
i) Once again, this assumes the macroevolutionary process. As such, if it’s a valid objection at all, it’s only valid against theistic evolution.
ii) Why does Kitcher assume that animals suffer? Doesn’t eliminative materialism—which is the most consistent form of naturalized epistemology and evolutionary psychology—deny the existence of pain and suffering?18
iii) Even if he rejects eliminative materialism, shouldn’t he at least be able to distinguish between higher animals and lower animals on the pain scale? Does a frog or caterpillar or earthworm or oyster or guppy suffer in the same sense (if at all) as a dog?
Why does a seasoned philosopher of science fail to draw such obvious distinctions? In what sense does a guppy suffer? Is Kitcher attributing consciousness to a guppy?19
Isn’t this quite clearly an anthropomorphic projection of human experience onto the animal world. Shouldn’t a philosopher of science be a wee bit more sophisticated than that? Why does Kitcher fall headlong into the arms of the pathetic fallacy?
iv) How much do animals actually suffer? Haven’t we all seen veterinarians inject pets and other domestic animals with a syringe? Observe that they don’t even flinch when the needle goes in. Animals seem to have a higher tolerance for pain than human beings.
Mutations arise without any direction towards the needs of organisms—and the vast majority of them turn out to be highly damaging (124).Doesn’t that undermine the explanatory power of evolutionary mechanisms like genetic drift?
There is nothing kindly or providential about any of this, and it seems breathtakingly wasteful and inefficient (124).i) This is a very ignorant statement. Even a passing acquaintance with Christian theology would inform him that providence encompasses natural evils.
ii) Kitcher frequently uses the worse “wasteful” without defining his terms. What, exactly, does he mean by “wasteful”? A redundant backup system is a mark of good design. It makes an organism more adaptable. There's more margin for error.
The last example is well chosen, for the behavior of the ichneumonidae—parasitic wasps—is particularly unpleasant. The wasps lay their eggs in a living caterpillar, paralyzing the motor nerves (but not the sensory serves) so that the caterpillar cannot move or reject its new lodgers. As the eggs hatch, and the larvae grown, they eat their way out of their host (125).Notice how he identifies with the caterpillar, as if the caterpillar were a human being in a caterpillar suit. How can a seasoned philosopher of science have such a childish reaction to the animal kingdom? Did he form his scientific worldview from reading James and the Giant Peach?
The mess, the inefficiency, the waste and the suffering are the effects of natural processes, so that they shouldn’t be seen as directly planned or introduced…the general inefficiency, the extreme length of time, the haphazard sequence of environments, the undirected variations, the cruel competition through which selection frequently works, is all foreseen (125).Once again, to speak of the natural world as “cruel” is a blatantly anthropomorphic projection onto an essentially amoral order of existence. Why is a hardnosed atheist turning the natural world into a morality play?
The second point is that the providentialist’s doctrine that humans and nonhuman animals suffer in the interests of achieving some greater good must be reconcilable with the assumption of divine justice. You cannot defend torturing a few individuals who are known to be innocent on the grounds that setting some examples will contribute to a safer society. By the same token, a just Creator cannot consign vast numbers of its creatures to pain and suffering because this will promote some broader good. Divine justice requires that the animals who suffer are compensated, that their suffering isn’t simply instrumental to he wonders of creation but redeemed for them (127).A couple of fundamental omissions here:
i) He hasn’t even begun to make a case for secular ethics. What is his basis for moral realism? How does he avoid the naturalistic fallacy?20
ii) Even assuming that he could make any headway on the first point, he hasn’t begun to make a case for animal rights in particular.
iii) And even assuming that he could make any headway on the second point, wouldn’t he need to draw some distinction between higher and lower animals? At what point along the continuum does an animal acquire rights? Does a lobster have rights? What about a cockroach? Or a rat?
Do some rats have more rights than others? What about rats that carry typhus, salmonella, and bubonic plague?
Is it hate speech to say that rats are vermin? Is that defamation of character?
Can rats be exterminated? Or would that be a hate crime?
Are they subject to due process? Judicial appeal? A court-appointed lawyer?
Is it immoral to use rat poison or rat traps? Should they only be executed, if at all, by lethal injection? Or is that cruel and unusual punishment?
When is Kitcher going to make a gesture towards discharging his own burden of proof?
Kitcher also devotes a few pages to his amateurish grasp of Gospel criticism and canonics (135-40). As usual, there’s no evident awareness of, much less interaction with, Evangelical scholarship to the contrary.21
Throughout the course of his book, Kitcher never ventures outside the safe bubble of his self-reinforcing ignorance.
1 Living with Darwin: Evolution, Design, and the Future of Faith (Oxford 2007).
2 Cf. W. Horowitz, Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography (Eisenbrauns 1998).
3 For another explanation, from a YEC perspective, of why human remains are found above ape remains, cf. K. Wise, Faith, Form, and Time (B&H 2002), 233.
4 Cf. K. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans 2003); J. Walton, The NIV Application Commentary: Genesis (Zondervan 2001) R. Youngblood, The Book of Genesis: An Introductory Commentary (Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2nd ed., 2000).
6 S. Gould, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory (Belknap 2002), 109.
7 Cf. W. L. McAtee, “Distribution of Seeds by Birds,” American Midland Naturalist, Vol. 38/1 (July, 1947), 214-223
8 Ibid. 216ff.
9 For a thoroughgoing exposé of the way in which Darwinians surreptitiously smuggle teleological explanations back into naturalistic evolution, cf. J. Greene, Debating Darwin (Regina Books 1999).
13 E.g. H. Gee, In Search of Deep Time: Beyond the Fossil Record to a New History of Life (Cornell 2001).
17 Cf. John Byl, God and Cosmos: A Christian View of Time, Space, and the Universe (Banner of Truth Trust, 2001), chapter 8; Richard Milton, Shattering the Myths of Darwinism (Park Street Press, 1997); Kurt Wise, Faith, Form, and Time (Broadman & Holman, 2002), chapters 4-5.
21 E.g. C. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (IVP, 1987; 2nd ed. forthcoming); D. Bock, The Missing Gospels: Unearthing the Truth Behind Alternative Christianities (Nelson Books, 2006); E. E. Ellis, The Making of the New Testament Documents (Brill Academic, 2002); D. A. Carson, & D. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Zondervan, c2005); C. Evans, Fabricating Jesus (IVP, 2006); M. Green, The Books the Church Suppressed: Fiction and Truth in The Da Vinci Code (Monarch Books, 2005); J. Ed. Komoszewski et al. Reinventing Jesus (Kregel, 2006); Bruce Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament (Oxford 1997); D. Trobisch, The First Edition of the New Testament (Oxford, 2000); N. T. Wright, Judas and the Gospel of Jesus (Baker 2006).