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If you want to learn how creationists argue, ask them to respond to Stephen Jay Gould’s 1994 essay, “Hooking Leviathan by Its Past.” The article discusses the transition of whales from land to the ocean, presenting five transitional fossils, and singling out two of them as being beyond dispute. Recently, I challenged creationists to respond, and their answers – or, to be exact, lack of answers – were as insightful as they were predictable.

The exchange began when a creationist I know through free software (who has also been kind enough about my writing that I feel guilty singling him out) reposted my comment on Google+: “Love how the spread of lactose tolerance is showing how evolution can be observed.”

My acquaintance never did address the idea that evolution can be observed. Instead, his first response was that creationists were “still looking for something morphological.” This may be a non-standard use of “morphological,” but it suggests that creationists only acknowledge visually detectable mutations.

See the opportunity to get a response to Gould’s essay, I provided the link to it. My acquaintance, who apparently only knew of Gould through books like Stephen C. Meyer’s Darwin’s Doubt, warned me that he “says an awful lot against his co-laborers for the humanist cause” and claimed a difference between micro and macro evolution. When I replied that there was no difference between the micro and the macro, he had no reply.

At this point, apparently feeling out of his depth, my acquaintance pleaded that he was busy, and appealed to the members of a Biblical creationism group on Google+ for help in answering me.

Gould is remembered for the clarity of his prose, and his ability to make science intelligible. Yet some of the members of this group, who make opposing evolution their avocation, had trouble understanding the essay. One admitted frankly, “I was confused as to the point he was trying to make.”

Another seems not to have got past the introduction, in which Gould acknowledges that a lack of transitional forms has been a valid criticism of evolution in the past, writing that “it sounded like Gould was whining about creationists having the upper hand and trying to explain it away.” Instead of trying to understand the essay, he simply posted a few links in which creationists talk about the evolution of whales. Focusing on the incompleteness of some whale fossils, these links were meaningless, since they rejected these fossils for exactly the reason as Gould did.

Similarly, another reply rejected Gould’s essay as being “way out of date,” claiming that it referred to Pakicetus as “an aquatic proto-whale,” but claiming that evolutionists had long ago “conceded it was a land mammal.” The point is somewhat moot, since Pakicetus is not one of the fossils that Gould puts forward as an unquestionable transitional form, but, even more importantly, it is also incorrect, since Gould suggests that it was amphibious, not aquatic. Moreover, an online search quickly reveals that the mainstream view is still that Pakicetus is an ancestral whale and probably lived only partly on land. Under these circumstances, the lofty declaration that “the article is only of interest to historians of evolution. Others should not waste time on it” only emphasizes the carelessness of the reading and research behind the claim.

At this point, the conversation digressed, although, to give him credit, my original acquaintance did show the honesty to admit that, “I really feel ill-equipped to talk about things like this with this quality of evolutionist.”

My acquaintance pleaded that he was distracted, so I told him to take all the time he needed to reply. When I had heard nothing for a week, I posted a summary of Gould’s essay in the hopes of helping the creationists to muster a response. I heard nothing in reply, and, now, after two weeks, do not expect to, especially since my acquaintance was not too busy to continue posting regularly on other matters.

However, reading the few responses that were made, as well as some of the links and references provided, I have come to a few basic conclusions:

  • creationists are not interested in looking at evidence and making up their minds. Their only interest is to discredit opposing views by any means possible.
  • creationist arguments are full of concepts that have no scientific meaning, such as “kind” rather than species, and macro-evolution. Some, too, apparently fail to understand that DNA (which my original acquaintance dismisses as an “exchange of proteins”) is what determines morphology.

  • many creationists lack the background to reply to scientific claims. They rely on the statements of other creationists, and rarely address evolutionist arguments directly.

  • the few creationists who follow evolution from primary sources can rarely do more than nitpick, pointing out the incompleteness of fossils or raising the possibility of parallel evolution – interpretations that evolutionists themselves do not deny. It is only the creationist audience that has trouble with the idea that theories are tentative and subject to revision when further evidence is found.

  • creationist arguments usually avoids talking about the details of anatomy, except to nitpick. In most cases, the arguments depend on the non-scientific concepts invented by creationists. At times, the arguments show a lack of anatomical knowledge that is shocking in a modern technological culture like ours.

Over-generalized, careless, and evasive, the average argument in favor of creationism invalidates itself by being riddled by the simplest of fallacies. Under these circumstances, I am not really surprised that, faced with a direct challenge like Gould’s, the best they can do is avoid making any detailed rebuttal.

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