March 18, 2005

Where is Herbert Spencer When You Need Him?

Again, Carl Zimmer has a great post on evolution, this time on the evolution of the AIDS virus. And once again, someone complains that Zimmer does not understand creationism and its supposed factual foundation. This time, that someone is one Jim Bendewald (his link, among other things, is broken) who types a comment to Zimmer's post.

The proof of creationism according to Jim Bendewald:

First, the Bible states that God created out of nothing (“ex nilo[sic]”)

Second, wherever one observes information, whether in a book, on a sign or from the words “I love you” in the sand, one intuitively knows the information came from an intelligent source.

While evolutionists provide rhetoric that evolution is true they really have very little evidence.

Well there you go. Where is Herbert Spencer when you need him?

On his three points in favor of creationism:

First, it is "ex nihilo" not "ex nilo." Creation ex nihilo is a doctrine of the Christian Church not a doctrine of the Bible. It is based on a specific interpretation of Genesis 1:1, 2 that is reflected more in the translations, including the Septuagint, than in the original Hebrew. While its not clear what Hebrew תהו ובהו (often translated, "without form and void") means, it clearly is not ex nihilo. So, "when god began to create the heavens and the earth, the earth was תהו ובהו (Genesis 1:1, 2)". This is the stuff God created from according to the Hebrew Bible, not total emptiness. But of course, anyone who has read any ancient literature knows that this is a creation myth and not a scientific account. You don't have to "believe" in evolution to know this. All you have to do is read something like, the Enúma eliš, an Akkadean (Babylonian) creation myth and a few others like it and you will know the nature of the language in Genesis.

[A digression: nilum is an alternative for nihilum in some Latin authors. But, a) this reduced form is not used in the history of the theological discussion and b) I doubt Mr. Bendewald knows or cares about this.]

I quote from the first four lines of Tablet I from a 102 year old translation of the Enúma eliš by Leonard William King. The age of this translation shows how long these things have been known and how little influence they have had on those who should most read them.

When in the height heaven was not named,
And the earth beneath did not yet bear a name,
And the primeval Apsû, who begat them,
And chaos, Tiamat, the mother of them both, . . .

Does this sound at all familiar? I'm not claiming that the Genesis account came for this creation myth. I'm only claiming that they are exactly the same literary genre.

Now to Mr. Bendewald second point, ". . . one intuitively knows the information came from an intelligent source." And in the cases cited, Bebdewald is correct. But even he does not believe that life was man-made. Yet, all three of his examples show the hand of a human being, not God, and certainly not evolution in the limited biological since.

All that is needed to hone his intuition in a more profitable direction is to read and understand a little biology. Perhaps he could start with Talk Origins. Or he could read any first year biology text book used at a good university.

I'm never sure what people mean when they use the word "intuition" or its derivatives. On the one hand, I doubt they mean "pure guess." On the other hand, they can not mean "reflected or studied opinion." When I use the word, I mean an opinion based on general experience with a collective body of knowledge that relates to the topic prior to studying it in depth. It's a kind of educated guess but not a pure guess. I guess, for example, that 2,319 times 3782 does not equal 600,758 and I haven't done the math. But, I do know enough math to be very sure I am correct. You may think my example is trivial or a straw man. However, I have a successful business acquaintance, a very good semiconductor salesman and once professional football player, who would not agree with my intuition about this math problem without using a calculator, perhaps two or three times, to make sure that he was correct. He has great intuitions about people and once had good football intuitions but he could not do arithmetic if his life depended on it. However, my acquaintance knows that he lacks mathematical intuitions. If one has not studied biology enough to have biological intuitions, one will likely have some other kind of intuitions that are just plan wrong. Mr. Bendewald does not know he lacks biological intuitions.

"The Bible says it and I have uneducated intuitions on the subject" is not an argument for creationism. It is a very good argument for a little knowledge.

On Mr. Bendewald point about the supposed lack of evidence for evolution, we can do little better than quote the aged words of Spencer,

Those who cavalierly reject the Theory of Evolution, as not adequately supported by facts, seem quite to forget that their own theory is supported by no facts at all.

Footnote: I wrote this post for two reasons; first, to have some fun at Mr. Bendewald's expense and, second, to see if the Hebrew and other special symbols work on my blog. But in complete fairness, Mr. Bendewald is an easy target. His logic is all to clear and that makes it easy to pick on. However, his three points are the same three points one reads and hears from all creationists. Young earth creationists focus on his first and third points. Intelligent design creationists focus on his second and third points. Some creationists dress these points up in such a way they are hard to ferret out. But these three points are the only ones they have and they are all three wrong.

You can learn more about Jim Bendewald's views and his book, Evolution Shot Full of Holes, at his web site.

Posted by DuaneSmith at March 18, 2005 08:23 PM | Read more on Evolution |

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Tracked on March 20, 2005 12:36 PM


>>>Duane Smith wrote, “First, it is ‘ex nihilo’ not ‘ex nilo.’”

I stand corrected.

>>>Duane Smith wrote, “Creation ex nihilo is a doctrine of the Christian Church not a doctrine of the Bible.”

Like the doctrine of the Trinity, ex nihilo is not stated in the Bible but it is clear in the Bible that God by His will and words created out of nothing.

Hebrews 11:3 “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.”

Psalms 33:6 “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, And by the breath of His mouth all their host.”

Psalms 33:9 “For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.”

Genesis1:3 “Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light.”

>>>Duane Smith wrote, “But of course, anyone who has read any ancient literature knows that this is a creation myth . . .”

Are you all knowing? Only those with arrogance and bias have the ability to “know” as you do. How do you know that the biblical account is not the true account and the other accounts are not a corruption of the original?

>>> Concerning the second argument Duane Smith wrote, “I'm never sure what people mean when they use the word "intuition" or its derivatives.”

Possibly if I had used the word “logically” or the phrase “it follows” I would have received less of a rebuke. But Smith admits his main intention in writing is “to have some fun at Mr. Bendewald's expense”. My main intention is to try to provide some clarity to this issue where evolutionists persistently use confusing rhetoric instead of evidence to support their view.

>>>Duane Smith wrote, “On Mr. Bendewald point about the supposed lack of evidence for evolution, we can do little better than quote the aged words of Spencer, ‘Those who cavalierly reject the Theory of Evolution, as not adequately supported by facts, seem quite to forget that their own theory is supported by no facts at all.’

I don’t claim to be all knowing as Mr. Smith appears to, so I ask for some logical and reasonable evidence for evolutionary claims. Yet no one on this blog has provided evidence in favor of vertical evolution, while Zimmer has only given us the usual results from natural selection, which only confirms the biblical account.

Aside from the evidence for creation that I have already provided, another concise sampling of available evidence can be found by Russell Humphreys at: If it was true that “their own theory is supported by no facts at all”, this debate would have been over 100 years ago. But as many people, even in the media, are starting to notice this debate is not over!

Posted by: Jim Bendewald at March 19, 2005 07:28 AM

I believe that Jim Bendewald's comments speak for themselves. I am even arrogant enough to think they prove my point. I do want to speak to his claim that I am "all knowing." How I wish it were true.

On the topics I raised in my post: I have but very elementary intuitions in the field of biology. I am an amateur's amateur. That's why I rely on the overwhelming majority of biologists and try to learn from them. When I have plumbing problem I call a plumber, not a theologian or a biblical scholar. Likewise, when I have a biological problem or question I go to a biologist. I am learning some biology but it takes a lot of work and time.

I corrected Mr. Bendewald's use of a Latin phrase. My Latin intuitions are next to nothing when it comes to Latin. But, I do have a very good Latin dictionary and I use it whenever I am tempted to through around a Latin phrase.

With regard to the other areas touched on in my post, I do have some training, experience, and even intuition.

Mr. Bendewald did not thank me for the link to his web site and the plug for his book. I can only assume that he will provide a link to my site and to Talk Origins from his site.

Posted by: Duane Smith at March 19, 2005 09:03 AM

Regardless of how you define information, provided the metric is mathematically sound, meaning a set in which there is a defined function D between every member of the set such that equality, less than, or greater than, makes sense, if you can lose information then you can gain it in theory. In terms of genomes, we have indeed observed many back mutations, we can even produce them.

Proof: Let I(X) be the value of the Information in genome X under any metric. Let Y be a mutated version of the genome X. Then according to the more simplistic old fashioned claims that mutations always decrease information we have
A. I(X)>I(Y) (read info in X is greater than info in y)
Now let genome Y suffer a reverse mutation producing the original genome X, a back mutation it’s called. Then because no mutation can increase information:
B. I(Y)>I(X)
Taking A and B together gives
I(X)>I(Y)>I(X) … which violates the definition of inequality as well as the definition of a metric. QED; the original premise is clearly false.

Posted by: ~DS~ at March 20, 2005 01:03 PM

Evidence for common descent, which is what most Creationists are objecting when they reject evo, can be easily found all over the Internet, in libraries, texts, museums, etc. Often I've seen creationists conflate common descent with mechanisms of speciation. The Modern Synthesis is the theoretical mechanism[s] which explains the inferred fact of common descent. Note that Natural selection, or The entire Mo Synthesis could be dead wrong, and the evidence for common descent would be unaffected. Mo9st of trhe evidence for common descent revolves around one of several broad lines of evidence each of which independantly converge on that same answer:
1) Biostratification of the fossil record 2) Transitional fossils 3) Molecular analysis and comparison of mt and nuclear DNA 4) Vestigial structures 5) Observed speciation 6) Comparative anatomy/physiology/homology

Posted by: ~DS~ at March 20, 2005 01:12 PM

The two Hebrew words you quote, ThHW WBHW, mean "chaos," at least in modern Hebrew. On the other hand, the second word in the Hebrew Genesis, BR’, implies creation ex nihilo. It is translated into English as "create," but in fact the Hebrew root meaning "create" is YTsR; BR’ generally means "create ex nihilo."

Posted by: Alon Levy at March 21, 2005 06:49 AM


You may be correct about the meaning of these two words in Modern Hebrew. Its not at all clear what they mean in classical (ancient) Hebrew. But, for the sake of argument, let's assume the together they mean "chaos." All that tells me is that the stuff God created from, according to this story, was chaos, not nothingness. The best place to attack my exegesis is by attacking the parsing of the first two words of the Hebrew Bible: br'šyt br' (I'm too lazy to use Hebrew script now that I know it works.) upon which my interpretation rested. The received Masoretic text points this to read much like the translations, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. . ." However, the Masoretic text is from a time when there was already a traditional understanding of what the text should mean. The vowel pointing added by the Mesoretes is secondary to the consonantal text. The consonantal text easily reads, "When God began to create, the heavens and the earth were . . ." Independent of the readings of the following words, I do not see an ex nihilo reading for this interpretation.

While this is an interesting discussion, it has nothing to do with evolution. Genesis is not a scientific text. It is simply irrelevant to biology except for historical reasons. I happen to be very interested in that history but that has nothing to do with biology.

Thanks for the input.

Posted by: Duane Smith at March 21, 2005 10:21 AM

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