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Flaws in Creationist Logic

by Steven Novella, Aug 12 2010

I received a comment on an old post on Ten Major Flaws of Evolution – A Refutation. I thought I would answer in a separate post rather than burrying it in such an old post.

Commenter Ankur Varshney writes:

Mr Steven
I appreciate your enthusiasm to share this with all. I also appreciate that you have done so much analysis.
In all the arguments you have given your comments, i read them.
Creation / Design Argument – you have said something.
As far as watch – it is non living. So is the evolutionists idea of life comes from nonliving. SO WATCH ANALOGY IS CERTAINLY VALID. Just like a watch requires a designer, IT TAKES A CREATOR OR DESIGNER TO BREETHE OR DESIGN LIFE IN NON-LIVING! You probably failed to notice this simple logic.
There are so many flaws in all what you said that I am afraid it will take away my lot of time to point them all.
One more i would like to point though.
You said that gene mutation INCREASES information!!! Gene is there and YOU (AN INTELLIGENT SYSTEM) mutates it which leads to variation, no addition, it may lead to loss of info no addition :). It is really silly that such a thing comes from you. More so even if i take your case, the information has been added by intelligent system not automatically!!!
Have great day and please before posting such things calm down and think for a while the reasoning.
Thank you

As usual, I do not intent to pick on this one commenter, but he is regurgitating typical anti-evolution propaganda, which needs to me smacked down from time to time, and he is just a convenient messenger.

He writes:

“As far as watch – it is non living. So is the evolutionists idea of life comes from nonliving. SO WATCH ANALOGY IS CERTAINLY VALID. Just like a watch requires a designer, IT TAKES A CREATOR OR DESIGNER TO BREETHE OR DESIGN LIFE IN NON-LIVING! You probably failed to notice this simple logic.”

Ankur is making a false analogy here by confusing the origin of life with the later evolution of life. The watch analogy was specifically offered to say that something which is complex and displays design must have been created and designed by a creator. Therefore, since we see complexity and design in life it too must have had a creator.

But all the life that we know – that life which is being pointed to as complex and designed – is the result of a process (evolution) that has worked over billions of years. Life can grow, reproduce, and evolve. Watches cannot – so it is not a valid analogy.

Life did emerge from non-living matter, but that is irrelevant to the point. There was likely a process of chemical evolution – but still the non-living precursors to life were just chemicals, they did not display the design or complexity apparent in a watch. Ankur’s attempt to rescue this false analogy fails.

And before someone has a chance to point it out – yes, I said that life displays design. It displays bottom-up evolutionary design, not top-down intelligent design. This refers to another fallacy of creationists – the assumption that all design is top down. But nature demonstrates that this is a false assumption.

He continues:

“You said that gene mutation INCREASES information!!! Gene is there and YOU (AN INTELLIGENT SYSTEM) mutates it which leads to variation, no addition, it may lead to loss of info no addition :). It is really silly that such a thing comes from you.”

Really – I mutate my own genes through my intelligence? It’s hard to know what he is even saying here, but it is reminiscent of the typical creationist argument that you need a designed system first, then you can have (micro)evolution. But this is not based upon any established principles, logic, or facts – it is just begging the question on the part of creationists.

Further, Ankur is simply ignoring my actual arguments. An increase in variation is an increase in information – it takes more information to describe the greater variety. By any actual definition of information – variation increases information.

Also, as I argued, when you have gene duplication you are physically increasing the number of information carrying units – that is an increase in information. There is simply no way to avoid the mountain of genetic evidence that genetic information has increased over evolutionary time through evolutionary processes.

Creationists make such arguments by getting creative with their definition of “information” and changing it as needed throughout their arguments. Ankur seems to be basing his argument on some gut instinct about what information is, rather than a mathematically rigorous understanding of information theory.

The sad thing is, in his broken English he is a cogent and logical as the best propagandists that the intelligent design crowd has to offer.

31 Responses to “Flaws in Creationist Logic”

  1. Goldarn says:

    Q: How do we know the watch is designed?
    A: It looks designed, as compared to its surroundings.
    Q: What is designed by God?
    A: Everything.
    Q: If the watch’s surroundings are designed by God, why don’t they look designed, as compared to the watch?

    And here’s where the argument starts either moving the goalposts or getting bogged down in definitions. I’ve never had this discussion with a creationist but that anger and accusations started around this point.

  2. Jason Ellis says:

    “There are so many flaws in all what you said that I am afraid it will take away my lot of time to point them all.”

    Thank goodness for that.

    On the first part of his difficult-to-decipher thoughts; Who is this Watchmaker? A living organism or some wispy ethereal entity (either way, in my head he looks like Obi-Wan or the Zig-Zag man)? I’m guessing that sculpting the universe is a pretty involved task and I would venture to say it requires some serious ‘smarts’ and complexity to do so. That said, who would have been responsible for creating the complexity of the Watchmaker? The Watchmakermaker? So on and so forth…

    I’m a numb-skull and can grasp that – why can’t ID enthusiasts see it? It baffles the mind.

  3. mikero says:

    I like to respond to the Paley/Hovind “every watch has a designer, every painting has a painter” by agreeing with them. Let me explain.

    We see that the only way you get a painting is if someone paints it. Similarly, we see that the only way you get a new (for instance) iguana is if another iguana gives birth to it. But we also see that the new iguana is not an exact duplicate of either of its parents. It has a lot in common with each parent, but it might even differ in some small ways from them both. If this new iguana (including both its similarities and differences with its parents) is better suited to survival & reproduction, then it is more likely to have offspring, etc etc, and we have evolution!

    Now, a creationist might object and call this only micro-evolution. However, the proliferation of traits depends only on reproductive success within your own generation. It doesn’t matter whether a gene is well-suited for reproduction within the population 1000 years ago if it’s not well-suited for reproduction in the present. There is no benefit for being reproductively compatible with past populations! Similarly there is no benefit for reproductive compatibility with a geographically isolated subpopulation. This is “macro-evolution” — populations remain internally compatible, but they are not bound to remain compatible to isolated populations or the past. When two populations become incompatible, you get speciation.

    • doofus says:

      I’m no biologist (so maybe this is happening already), but I think that at some point in the future, the definition of “species” will be defined by key DNA sequences.

  4. MadScientist says:

    I admire your restraint and persistence; I would simply write back: You’re obviously an ignorant kook; do you drink cow pee to keep that bullshit from sticking in your throat as you swallow it?

    • Dan A. says:

      madscientist, i think one of the reasons creationists remain so defensive and protective of there beliefs is the fact that ignorant, self-absorbed people like you dont give them a chance to express their ideas…and no, i am not a creationist.

      • Attacks says:

        When someone makes an attack on your logic, which is not based in logic, critical thinking, or the ability to write their posts in word and press F7 before posting, then a bit of defensiveness is to be expected.
        Moreover, they express their ideas just fine. I was raised a Christian. I believed that God created the Earth, and wondered where the fuck dinosaurs fitted into it. Religious indoctrination occurs as a simple part of Sunday Schooling.
        Everyone should be allowed to express ideas (They are) but if those ideas are wilfully stupid, and ignore the discussion which makes them obsolete, then maybe some ridicule will make them keep their heads down until they have a cogent and cohesive arguement based on science, rather than False Analogies, and Pseudoscience, in the defense of a belief that has no logical foundation (They believe their doctrine by dint of it being what they were taught. If you told them of a similar logic in say, Islam, or Hinduism, then they would likely quite happily attack it)

  5. I would have so much more respect for creationists if they would just admit to these arguments being faith based, rather than rooted in logic.

    • Benny says:

      I feel exactly the same way. If they just said “I know it isn’t logical, and that there’s no evidence outside of this holy text, but I believe it to be true” then I could at least respect them.

      • MadScientist says:

        I wouldn’t be able to respect them because I’d think they were a flaming moron.

      • Attacks says:

        And that is foolish. If someone chooses to personally believe something, and wants to think it, without clearcut proof, then that is their affair. As skeptics, we can’t read minds, so knowing whether someone truly believes us is beyond us. But so long as they are content to believe for themselves, and not force it on others, or perpetuate pseudoscience in the interests of proving it, then it causes us no harm. Unless they cause measurable harm by believing something for themselves, independant of all others, that shouldn’t be a problem.

    • Majority of One says:

      Amen to that my friend!

    • Nick Andrew says:

      They are trying to use logic – and failing miserably, as you can see. This is their logic: “everything which is designed must have had a designer”. They can’t grasp that it’s not true and it’s not logic.

  6. Mike C. says:

    I must have missed the part in Leviticus which ordained that words written entirely in capital letters were THE TRUTH.

    Speaking of “intelligent systems,” I’m currently reading a fascinating book by Alexander Walker about Stanley Kubrick, which focuses on the main theme of his films — how people believe in such systems and how they are inevitably destroyed or irrevocably changed by inherent flaws those systems. Then again, Kubrick was a satirist of the highest order, and not a reiterating parrot.

  7. MadScientist says:

    On the topic of design – I never say that life shows some design; there are common patterns due to the shared ancestry. People associate ‘design’ with deliberate action, whereas patterns can exist with no intervention. Then again, going back a few hundred years, many religious people attempted to buttress their ailing beliefs by making such claims as god must have created each and every snowflake – just look at the beautiful patterns! Look at the sun – see how perfectly round it is – goddidit! Actually the sun is not perfectly round, but you need to make very careful measurements to show that.

  8. feralboy12 says:

    I always thought an analogy worked by showing how two concepts are essentially similar. The watchmaker analogy fails simple logic–basically, it’s attempting to show that nature (specifically the results of natural, unguided processes) looks like design, which we can recognize because design does not look like nature.
    The watchmaker argument also fails to recognize how often life and non-living systems produce similar results. Disagreement over the evidence of life on Mars in 1996 comes to mind.

  9. There’s nothing intelligent about intelligent design.

  10. Max says:

    This horse has been beaten to death.

    Speaking of genetics, is there an epigenetic code in addition to the genetic code or what?

  11. CW says:

    In the way that Ankur defines information, his comment to you disproves his argument. If you look at alphanumeric characters as genes, and the variety of alphanumeric characters as genes, then language illustrates how you can have the same quantity of alphanumeric characters, but more information come from the list that uses a greater variety of them.

    Again, that’s how he’s using “information.”

    Strategically speaking, creationists should not argue information theory unless they can use the more complex “information theory” arguments (which aren’t necessarily any better, but make it harder for laypeople to counter).

  12. gfunkusarelius says:

    Wow, that guy had some arrogant zeal. He is so misled, but really seems to think he has pwned you with simple arguments you hadn’t considered.

    I guess when all other content is the same thing you have seen a dozen times, you have to find entertainment in the delivery.

    • tmac57 says:

      His argument is about the equivalent of saying “Oh yeah!!!”, and then triumphantly congratulating himself on a witty comeback.

  13. Bob Mcbride says:

    Ankur’s arguments are reminescent of the logic of cartoons.

  14. David Stone says:

    For a simple 1.5 minute explanation of intelligent design, see here:

  15. Carl says:

    As Massimo Pigliucci points out in Nonsense on Stilts, the watch is only “obviously” designed because we know about watches and where they come from. The whole analogy is flawed.

  16. Chris says:

    I’m an engineer and have been designing products for 11 years so I am well aware of the design processes humans deploy. I’ll admit, armed with this knowledge I’ve had my fun at IDers expense. My favorite being a sign I saw in Vegas which showed various consumer electronics like the digital camera (but forgot the watch) and but forth the broken analogy that these were all designed, you really think humans weren’t? I loved the look on his face when I asked, “These products where all designed with teams of engineers, are you implying there’s more than one god? Who are you to say that one god was smart enough to design the entire world in only 7 days?”

    I didn’t think to ask at the time, “Do you realize all those products are based on technology that’s been evolving for the last few hundred years where the marketplace of ideas has been ‘naturally selecting’ the best ideas to move forward while the worst ones go extinct through a process called the scientific method?” Which is the ultimate logical hole in the watchmaker analogy. It’s not like the very first person to think of a watch though to himself, “Today I will start a process that begins with me putting a stick in the air and using the sun to cast shadows which one day will arrive at semiconductor based digital watches with an LCD, can be worn on a wrist, works at night, and displays time in the yet to be defined hours, minutes, and seconds.” Nope, the technology of the watch evolved from nothing with no set plan.

  17. I’m intrigued by what a perfect illustration this commenter makes of the Dunning-Kruger effect (no relation to me) which states in part that incompetent people are unaware of their incompetence and unable to comprehend that others are more competent than they are.

    This poor gentlemen, who can’t remotely write and obviously has little understanding of the topic he so passionately quasi-writes Steve about, actually presumes to tell Steve “…Please before posting such things calm down and think for a while the reasoning.” He is qualified to condescendingly lecture Steve on this topic? Please.

  18. Kenneth Polit says:

    My argument has always been this: Biblical literalism is a form of idolatry. Your making the book more important than the “author”. I personally think it’s all bullshit, but it will usually shut them up long enough for me to get the hell away from these idiots.

    • Patrick Brown says:

      Biblical literalism is a form of idolatry.

      That is just awesome. Well said.

    • Dan A. says:

      And by establishing the “author’s” credibility, or lack thereof, its the first step toward proving or disproving the bible…but then of course you should look at the individual facts themselves.