Saturday, March 03, 2007

Stephen Jay Gould's Consilience Argument

I posted this a while back on my personal blog, but Steve Hays mentioned something to me which then caused me to think of another point I could add to it (as well as giving me the opportunity to correct some of the typos), so I figure I'll repost it here.

Stephen Jay Gould, when dealing of consilience, said this:
Any honorable creationist, after suffering such a combination of blows, all implicating a history of evolution as the only sensible coordinating explanation, should throw in the towel and, like a beaten prizefighter, acknowledge Darwin as the Muhammad Ali of biology.

(Gould, Stephen Jay (2002). The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. (p. 111))
These are strong words. Especially after you consider the "combination of blows" that supposedly fells creationism. Let us look at them, in the same order that Darwin presented them (replicated by Gould, (ibid, p. 109-111)):

(1) The general paucity of endemic species on islands, contrasted with comprabale areas of continents; why should God put fewer species on islands?
The problem with this illustration is that it relies on a false understanding of Creationism (which will be echoed in later points). Darwinists believe that Creationists believe God created all animals exactly where they live now. But this is obviously absurd, as any example will demonstrate. People, for instance, were not created in the New World; they were created in Eden (which is indicated as being in the Middle East). There is no reason to think that God created species on every single island. They could have all come from a central point, just as man did.

Ironically, in assuming that Creationists believe God created all species in situ, Darwin (and by extention, Gould) simultaneously undercuts one of the major arguments against the Flood: namely, how did all the Postdeluvian animals disperse to isolated, far-flung habitats? After all, Creation occured before the Flood, and ceased on Day 7. Therefore, God did not create any new animals after the Flood (which is why the ark was needed in the first place). As such, the animals occupying islands could not possibly have been created there by God but must have minimally migrated there after the Flood.

So, in order to maintain the argument that God created all animals in situ against Creationism, Darwinists must jettison the attack of Postdeluvian animal migrations against the theory of the Flood. Both arguments cannot be valid since they undercut each other. If one is valid, the other cannot be.
(2) The frequent displacement of endemic island biotas by continental species introduced by human transport. If God created species for islands, why should species designed for continents so often prove superior in competition[?]
Again, this relies on the fallacy that God "created species for islands." Furthermore, I would think this indicates a strike against Darwinism. After all, this is an admission that organisms in the specific island environment are not as well adapted to that environment as continental organisms (in other words: the organism that is not in the environment is more adapted to that environment than the organism that supposedly evolved to fit that environment!). That local organisms are not as well off as continental species can easily be understood by the problem of dilution that comes from inbreeding. (2) therefore does not hit against Creationism either.
(3) Taxonomic disparity of endemic species within groups records ease of access, not created fit to oceanic environments. "Thus in the Galapogas Islands, nearly every land bird, but only two out of the eleven marine birds, are peculiar; and it is obvious that marine birds could arrive at these islands more easily than land birds" ([Darwin's Origin] pp. 390-391).
Again, this doesn't speak anything against Creationism since Creationism doesn't require species created on each island. They are allowed to travel there. Likewise, animals that were able to travel to and from the continents would not suffer from the same inbreeding problems as other species that could not get "fresh" DNA. This would result in fewer "peculiar" species by the fact that inbreeding is diminished between them.
(4) Biotas of oceanic islands often lack the characteristic groups of similar habitats on continents. On these islands, endemic members of other groups often assume the ecological roles almost always occupied by more appropriate or more competitive taxa in the richer faunas of continents--for example, reptiles on the Galapagos, or wingless birds on New Zealand, acting as surrogates for mammals.
Firstly, this assumes that certain types of animals are supposed to act in a certain way. But why should these roles be required in the first place? At this point, Darwin is slipping into an argument from design without realizing it. In order for this argument to succeed, there must be roles that species ought to perform.

Secondly, why should it be odd that different animals do things differently when there is no competition? How would this violate Creationism? In fact, it seems to fit the concept of a top-down design. That is, nature was designed to function a certain way (by God), and when certain things are lacking other oganisms "take up the slack" so the overall system stays on track. There is nothing anti-Creationist in this concept.
(5) In endemic island species, features operating as adaptations in related species on continents often lose utility when their island residences do not feature the same environment.
Again, that is something that could also be explained by the concept of inbreeding--the devolution of a species.
(6) Peculiar morphological consequences often ensue when creatures seize places usually inhabited by other forms that could not reach an island. Many plants, herbaceous in habitat on continents, become arboraceous on islands otherwise devoid of trees.
Again, this can be explained by the top-down design view of nature. On the other hand, I wonder how Darwinism can explain this. What is it that would require the island to evolve tree-like plants, when trees are lacking? Why is it that nature would select for such plants in the absense of trees? Would that not rather indicate that trees are a necessary pattern of nature, something that is required by the over-all design? (And, by the way, while this fits with the chaos theorist's ideas of spontaneous order from disorder, it doesn't fit with Darwinism at all.)
(7) Suitable organisms frequently fail to gain access to islands. Why do so many oceanic islands lack frogs, toads, and newts that seem so admirably adapted for such an environment?
Again, because to get to the island is difficult and God did not create them on the island during Creation.
(8) Correlation of biota with distance. Darwin could find no report of terrestrial mammals on islands more than 300 miles from a continent.
Obviously they can't swim that far. This isn't an argument against Creationism.
(9) Correlation with ease of access. Creatures often manage to cross shallow water barriers between a continent and island, but fail to negotiate deep-water gaps of the same distance.
See answers to (1), (7) and (8).
(10) Taxonomic affinity of island endemics--perhaps the most obvious point of all: why are the closest relatives of island endemics nearly always found on the nearest continent or on other adjacent islands?
See (1), (7), and (8) [and (9)].

The only thing Darwin has been boxing here has been the mythical Darwinist view of Creationism. In reality, all Darwin did by the above was demonstrate that God didn't create all animals in situ...which is something that isn't even claimed.


  1. "Firstly, this assumes that certain types of animals are supposed to act in a certain way. But why should these roles be required in the first place? At this point, Darwin is slipping into an argument from design without realizing it. In order for this argument to succeed, there must be roles that species ought to perform."

    BINGO!! Charles Darwin grew-up with and was taught the "fixity of species", a concept specific to 19th century, Victorian era, Anglican, natural theology. Today, no creationist believes in it, and the Scriptures never taught it. Darwinists have simply been repeating these old arguments for 150 years without realizing that they're straw-men.

    Great post. I would recommend Cornelius Hunter's book, Darwin's God, if you haven't read it already. It's a great work on the subject from a presuppositional point of view.

  2. By misrepresenting what creationists believe regarding biogeography, it seems that the naturalists would wish to avoid addressing such as the evidence for rapid speciation, which is designed to offer viable adaptability at the expense of a loss of genetic information.