Monday, 21 April 2014

Chapter 16: Chesterton

Chapter 16 of The Greatest Hoax on Earth is a series of fragmented arguments in which Sarfati attempts to show that the Christian doctrine of the Fall (interpreted through a narrow young-Earth creationist filter) better explains suffering, death and disease than does evolution.  I didn't engage much with this chapter, as the topic is the kind of one where people like Sarfati and people like Dawkins seem to be arguing past each other.  As Sarfati says in the chapter's introduction: "this is a quasi-theological argument rather than a scientific argument".  However, I did pick up on the following.

On page 297 Sarfati says:
Indeed, why should Christians jump on the evolutionary bandwagon anyway? A century before Dawkins' book Greatest Show, Christian apologist and novelist G.K. Chesterton argued that evolution doesn't provide a basis for dealing with animals
Sarfati then quotes from chapter seven of Chesterton's apologetic work Orthodoxy:
Darwinism can be used to back up two mad moralities, but it cannot be used to back up a single sane one. The kinship and connection of all living creatures can be used as a reason for being insanely cruel or insanely sentimental; but not for a healthy love of animals...That you and a tiger are one may be a reason for being tender to a tiger. Or it may be a reason for being cruel as the tiger. It is one way to train the tiger to imitate you, it is a shorter way to imitate the tiger. But in neither case does evolution tell you how to treat a tiger reasonably, that is, to admire his stripes while avoiding his claws.
If you want to treat a tiger reasonably, you must go back to the garden of Eden. For the obstinate reminder continues to recur: only the supernaturalist has taken a sane view of Nature. The essence of all pantheism, evolutionism and modern cosmic religion is really in this proposition: that Nature is our mother. Unfortunately, if you regard Nature as a mother, you discover that she is a stepmother. The main  point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.
Here are my concerns with what Sarfati is saying and how he is using Chesterton.

First, there's the obvious fact that evolutionary theory has changed significantly since a) the time of Darwin and b) the time of Chesterton (Orthodoxy was published in 1908).  So 'Darwinism' and 'evolution' as Chesterton understood them differ from what Dawkins and Sarfati are arguing about.

Second, I've read Orthodoxy, so I know that Chesterton's points are more complex than Sarfati is admitting.   The passage quoted by Sarfati is part of Chesterton's critique of modern (in his time) ideas of progress.  Chesterton is considering Darwinism as it relates to philosopy, rather than as a biological theory.  Earlier in Orthodoxy (in chapter three), Chesterton makes this clear.  He has no problem with evolution as an "innocent scientific description of how certain earthly things came about", but argues against any claims beyond this:
Evolution is either an innocent scientific description of how certain earthly things came about; or, if it is anything more than this, it is an attack upon thought itself. If evolution destroys anything, it does not destroy religion but rationalism. If evolution simply means that a positive thing called an ape very slowly turned into a positive thing called a man, then it is stingless for the most orthodox; for a personal God might just as well do things slowly as quickly, especially if, like the Christian God, he were outside time. But if it means anything more, it means there is no such thing as an ape to change, and no such thing as a man for him to change into. It means there is no such thing as a thing. At best, there is only one thing, and that is a flux of everything and anything. This is an attack not upon the faith, but upon the mind; you cannot think if there are no things to think about. You cannot think if you are not separate from the subject of thought. [emphasis mine]
For a really good analysis of Chesterton's changing views of evolution, have a look at this blog entry (and another post linked at the bottom of that one):'t-gkc-and-evolution-part-i/

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Chapter 14: Hind legs in whales

Anyone following this blog will have noticed the posts are becoming fewer and farther between.  That's because the parts of The Greatest Hoax on Earth that I took the time to look at in detail were chapters 10 and 11 (see my posts from back in November and December 2013).  So from now on my posts will slowly tail off as I comment only on things that jumped out at me when I read the later chapters (which I only read through once).

Vestigial leg bones in whales

On pages 262-3 Sarfati briefly discusses Dawkins' claim that whales have remnants of what were once back legs in their ancestors.  The bit that attracted my attention is this paragraph:
One myth promulgated by some evolutionists says that some whales have been found with hind legs, complete with thigh and knee muscles. However, this story probably grew by legendary accretion from a true account of a real sperm whale with a 14cm (5.5 inch) bump with a 12cm (5 inch) piece of bone inside. Sperm whales are typically about 19m (62 feet) long, so this abnormal piece of bone is minute in comparison with the whale - this hardly qualifies as a "leg"!
Sarfati's reference for this paragraph is to an article written by Carl Wieland that appeared in a 1998 edition of the Creation magazine.  It's online here (

Wieland's article addresses only a single anecdote about claims by an anti-creationist at one of Wieland's public lectures.  The anti-creationist was relying on a single scientific source to claim some whales have been found with hind legs, so Wieland's article only examines that single source.   

But there's lots more evidence of hind legs in whales and dolphins.  The Talk Origins website gives a good summary here (  One example at that site is of external hind legs in a humpback whale, which contained multiple leg bones well over a foot (12 inches/30cm) in length (and the Talk Origins article claims these bones had shrunk and were originally over four feet long).

This photo from the Talk Origins site shows a dolphin, caught in Japan, that has hind flippers:

[Figure2.2.2 (atavistic dolphin flippers)]

You can find other, slightly less objective, sites with similar information, such as:

All of the links I've provided (including Talk Origins) argue strongly against young-Earth creationism, so Sarfati and other young-Earth creationists will dismiss them outright as biased, etc.  However, I'd recommend looking at the sites and their references and then comparing that with the evidence presented by Sarfati, Wieland and other young-Earth creationists.  It's pretty clear to me both sides of the argument are pushing a strong agenda, but one side is a lot more open with the evidence.