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One Long Argument — Responding to VJ Torley on Human-Ape Common Descent


At Uncommon Descent, VJ Torley has analyzed my criticism of S. Joshua Swamidass’s recent article, “Evidence and Evolution.” From this analysis, one would think that I mercilessly berated a poor fellow who was merely attempting to “extend an olive branch to creationists.” After all, nowhere did Swamidass belittle or ridicule his opponents, and nowhere was there so much as a trace of smug superiority. And the guy is a Christian, not some atheistic reductionist. In fact, Swamidass does not even draw any conclusions in his article.

This is how Torley begins his article and unfortunately it gives those who have not read the two articles the wrong impression. I gave a lengthy, fact-based, scientific criticism of Swamidass’s claims that was not dismissive or sarcastic. I did not accuse of Swamidass of belittling or ridiculing anyone, nor did I accuse him of smugness, academic or otherwise. And I did not question his religious beliefs. All of this was injected by Torley.

As for drawing conclusions, yes, contrary to what Torley says, Swamidass draws conclusions. He states in no uncertain terms that the evolutionary story “is by far the best scientific explanation of our origins.” In fact, the evidence is stunning:

What is the evidence for human common ancestry with apes? The strongest evidence is a series of stunningly accurate predictions about human genomes that have been confirmed in recent decades as the human and ape genomes have been sequenced.

Swamidass goes on to suggest that microevolution is sufficient to explain the evolution of humans from a small, ape-like creature.

Throughout, Swamidass uses a scientist-versus-theologian, Warfare Thesis perspective. Scientists simply refer to the data whereas theologians must adjust their sights, drop their denial, and grapple with the undeniable truths of evolution. To object is futile and attempts to explain humans as a product of design are “lawyerly”:

A common lawyerly objection to this evidence is that these similarities are “equally” explained by common “design.” As scientists, our response to this objection is data.

Perhaps the theologian “could look for errors in the scientific analyses,” but even that would be futile:

Still, even if he [the theologian] found standing for quibbles here and there, the overall picture would remain the same and the evidence against common ancestry, at best, would be subtle and debatable.

Swamidass presents a story in order to “reduce the fear some feel when encountering evidence that might contradict their understanding of the Bible.”

This is all Warfare Thesis, and Torley finds it to be “irenic in tone, easy to follow, deeply learned, and absolutely right.”

On the other hand Torley throws occasional ad hominems my way and finds that my critique of Swamidass’s piece was “polemical and curtly dismissive in tone.” In fact, my criticism was about Swamidass’s arguments. I pointed out that his scientific claims were erroneous and that ultimately his arguments relied on metaphysical claims.

This is not to say there cannot be improvements in my article. It is, after all, a blog post. I’m thankful for feedback and corrections to my errors. But Torley’s casting of the two articles is simply a misrepresentation. It seems that his criticism of my post is, in fact, more applicable to his article.

What About the Science?

Torley next castigates me for ignoring the main scientific evidence Swamidass presents. And what is Torley referring to? A series of references Swamidass made. So instead of addressing the key scientific claims made by Swamidass (which I did), I am supposed to do an expansive analysis on several references Swamidass provided as backup.

In fact I was planning on getting to those references at some point, time permitting, as they are yet more examples of failed science. But Torley’s requirements and criticisms are unrealistic.

Torley next quotes from one of Swamidass’s references, imagines what my response would be, and argues with it. This is getting silly.

Torley finishes with a series of erroneous rebuttals, ad hominems, and straw-man arguments. To be sure, Torley makes some good tangential points, but they are unfortunately the minority.

Not surprisingly Torley shares Swamidass’s theological convictions, which underwrite their claims. Their contrastive reasoning, if correct, proves their case. As Torley writes:

On a special creationist account of human origins, there is absolutely no reason to expect that humans would have what appear to be the remains of genes used for making egg yolks in their DNA — just as there is no particular reason to expect that humans would be more genetically similar to chimps than rats are to mice — or for that matter, than foxes are to wolves, or horses are to donkeys. [Emphasis in original.]

No reason. If Torley is correct here then, yes, we can safely conclude for evolution. Likewise:

Reasoning on Bayesian grounds, these striking and singular facts have a high probability on the hypothesis of common descent, but are surprising (and hence improbable) on a hypothesis of separate creation. One can only conclude that these facts lend scientific support to the hypothesis of common descent.

True enough. Such reasoning is perfectly valid, but it hinges on metaphysical premises. From a scientific perspective, evolution and common descent are unlikely to say the least, but from a metaphysical perspective, they are compelling.

Religion drives science, and it matters.

Photo credit: Kabir Bakie (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons.

Cross-posted at Darwin’s God.

Cornelius G. Hunter

Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Cornelius G. Hunter is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he earned a Ph.D. in Biophysics and Computational Biology. He is Adjunct Professor at Biola University and author of the award-winning Darwin’s God: Evolution and the Problem of Evil. Hunter’s other books include Darwin’s Proof, and his newest book Science’s Blind Spot (Baker/Brazos Press). Dr. Hunter's interest in the theory of evolution involves the historical and theological, as well as scientific, aspects of the theory. His blog is Darwin's God.