Creationist drivel – Linnaeus

I have two long posts in various degrees of completion. But taking on such big tasks is eluding me today, so I’ll make this the third entry in 24 hours.

The FFF doesn’t work any more. It’s tiresome to try to make sense of it, there are all sorts of malfunctions, and the owner doesn’t seem to have a clue. That’s one reason that I abandoned it. The other main reason is to do with content. I have noticed that it’s just not worth interacting with Christians any more because essentially they have nothing to say for themselves, and it doesn’t matter whether they’re the Neanderthal fundamentalists or the sophisticated theologians – essentially there’s no difference. It’s all drivel. And furthermore, the tricks  they get up to…

I began to think that an honest Christian is almost impossible to find, in their dealings with their critics. Christianity, especially creationism, is the land of straw men and straw-clutching, of deception, of pure invention. This isn’t to say that Christians are bad people, far from it. Nor am I saying that as a person I’m somehow better than they are. It’s easy to be an atheist – I don’t have to pretend that something exists that never shows up and I don’t have to make excuses for the writings of ignorant bronze-age tribesmen, so I’m not tempted into dishonesty.

But I still read the FFF, and its spin-offs, on most days, and I’m sorely tempted sometimes to try and put the record straight. But then the better angel of my nature sorts me out.

I would like, however, to occasionally make comments here about the drivel to be found on the FFF, safe in the knowledge that I can have some control.

One particularly irritating tactic of Christians (and they were just as bad to each other) was to find something on the internet that supported their views and simply put in a link to it. The poster “maddog” was especially adept at this, and he very rarely felt to need to demonstrate his grasp of the issues concerned, making him look ignorant in my eyes, though no doubt very clever in his own. Once he posted a link from a primary school website claiming that it disproved the Oort cloud (it didn’t, and it’s not clear either how the Oort cloud’s absence would be evidence for God, anyway). We were expected, on confrontation with these spurious links, not to enter into debate with the poster concerned, but to respond, which in my case was always at due length, to something somebody else had written. If they did respond they would merely compound the view of their own ignorance, but that wasn’t the reason they did what they did. I would be ashamed if I felt that I had to resort to such tactics.

As it happens, this is still taking place. A poster known as “remnant”  has decided to educate us all by the familiar copy-and-paste tactics, except that the particular thread under consideration is being released in small doses (thank Heaven!).

The purpose of the thread is to demonstrate the fallibility of evolutionary theory by showing that, apparently, it was disproved before it was even published for the first time! How that works, I’m not sure. Remnant has left a link here, although I doubt that this is the original source of this disreputable document, as it’s all over creationist websites. The only we can say with any certainty about it is that the author (and remnant) are possessors of stupidity of such a rare and precious kind that they should be able to sell it. The link is credited to an organisation called Evolution Facts Inc. – a misnomer if ever there was one. For example, at the beginning the author states that “Life evolution is founded on the twin theories of spontaneous generation and Lamarckism (the inheritance of acquired characteristics)“. Quite what his source is here is not revealed, but one thing is certain – it ain’t evolution.

remnant then treats us to more fairy stories, by citing the histories of seven famous scientists who apparently disproved evolution, and I’ll just deal with one for now.

Carl Linn (Carolus Linnaeus, 1707-1778) was a scientist who classified immense numbers of living organisms. An earnest Creationist, he clearly saw that there were no halfway species. All plant and animal species were definite categories, separate from one another. Variation was possible within a species, and there were many sub-species. But there were no cross-overs from one species to another.

Linnaeus is one of science’s iconic figures. He is best known for his work with the classification of living species which led (not contradicted) to evolutionary theory as we know it today. However, my own opinion as to the rightful owner of the title “Father of Taxonomy” would be the Englishman John Ray, (incidentally, a Puritan). Prior to the work of Ray, the living world had been classified alphabetically, and included mythical beasts such as unicorns and dragons. Ray was the first to devise a system of classification based on common attributes. He was also the first to identify and define the concept of a species, when he wrote: … no surer criterion for determining species has occurred to me than the distinguishing features that perpetuate themselves in propagation from seed. Thus, no matter what variations occur in the individuals or the species, if they spring from the seed of one and the same plant, they are accidental variations and not such as to distinguish a species… Animals likewise that differ specifically preserve their distinct species permanently; one species never springs from the seed of another nor vice versa“. This definition reminds us of the “micro/macro evolution hypotheses so beloved by creationists. However, evidence procured since that time shows us that, despite his immense contribution to scientific classification, Ray only got it half-right. Even today, the definition of what constitutes a species attracts controversy, but it’s clear that Ray’s definition is insufficient in the light of modern science. However, evolutionary theory supports rather than denies that the offspring of organisms are of the same species – it is only a gross misunderstanding or possibly a subversive twisting of evolutionary theory by creationists that states differently. Besides, remnant’s source has not been at all clear what is meant by “halfway species” or “cross-overs”.

Linnaeus took Ray’s work a stage further, by introducing a system of classification that still exists today. Like Ray, he was a committed Christian, who saw his work as uncovering the wonders of God’s handiwork (why God revealed that some things wouldn’t be revealed is something he hasn’t revealed). However, it is an an objective scientist that Linnaeus is famous. I don’t understand how being called “an earnest creationist” is any recommendation for one’s scientific credentials, at least not if modern-day creationists are anything to go by. All creationist organisations like AiG and icr, without exception, are clear that if any information is found to contradict their version of Biblical truth they will simply deny and disregard it, while supporting any scientific findings that can be called upon, however dishonestly, to back their case.

Linnaeus introduced the binomial system of classification with precise ground rules, and went further in establishing a hierarchy of relationships, whereby a species was linked to a genus, an order, a class and a kingdom. This has been further refined and supplemented since Linnaeus’ day. However, one of the things that Linnaeus was notable for was that he was the first to recognise the similarities between humans and other apes and primates. According to Linnaeus, humans, gorilla and chimpanzees were to be classified as members of the same order of the animal kingdom, and modern evolutionary theory completely supports this. Linnaeus also realised that in this respect his work would incur the wrath of the theologians. As he said in a letter to a colleague:

Yet man does recognise himself [as an animal]. But I ask you and the whole world for a generic differentia between man and ape which conforms to the principles of natural history, I certainly know of none… If I were to call man ape or vice versa, I should bring down all the theologians on my head. But perhaps I should still do it according to the rules of science. (quoted from here – it should be noted that other quotes confirm Linnaeus’ Christianity).

Although Linnaeus on several occasions claimed that the number of species of his day was the same as the number that had ever existed, the fossil record clearly shows that he was wrong in this claim. Indeed, Linnaeus also  seemed to contradict himself when he wrote that “It is impossible to doubt that there are new species produced by hybrid generation“. Modern genetics shows that he was also wrong in his claim that there at least four distinct species of humans in addition to mythical and fanciful varieties so beloved of religious story-tellers. (See the Hereford Mappa Mundi for a flavour of the religiously-inspired view of the world from c.1300).

The importance of Linnaeus to modern science should not be diminished. But he was right about some things and wrong about others – modern scientific evidence clearly supports this. Some of his claims – those that contradict evolutionary theory – have been disproved, unless remnant or his source can find support for the claim that black, native American, Asian and white humans are different species or that current species constitute all that has ever existed. Some of his claims – such as the relation between man and other apes – support evolutionary theory, and several creationists are vehement deniers of these facts. Indeed, Linnaeus’ work is necessary for an initial understanding of the work of Darwin and later supporters of evolution.

TalkOrigins issued a rebuttal to creationist claims about Linnaeus, including the claim that Linnaeus doubted the veracity of flood geology. Linnaeus himself said that “He who attributes all this to the flood, which suddenly came and as suddenly passed, is verily a stranger to science and himself blind, seeing only through the eyes of others, as far as he sees anything at all“. (See here, page 4).

CreationWiki have themselves attempted to rebut the TalkOrigins rebuttal. They quite rightly point out that a system of classification in itself does not support the idea of evolution, but their idea that it in fact supports creation has no basis of support at all. Evolution has been observed, and this is happening all the time – if anything hasn’t been observed it is creation. At least evolution provides a natural mechanism which explains taxonomic differences, and as TalkOrigins correctly points out, “His work showing a hierarchical arrangement of plant and animal traits is one of the major pieces of evidence for evolution“. CreationWiki also gets evolution completely wrong when it states that “The theory of common descent says that animals and organisms in the (unobservable) distant past must have been able to breed and change across these major classification groups (my emphasis) through a process which produces novel genetic information in order for bacteria to become plants and animals“. So we have a critique of evolutionary theory which doesn’t even appear to know what it is – a classic straw man. They then compound their error by claiming that speciation is not evolution, when any definition of speciation recognises the role of evolution. If they were consistent, CreationWiki would deny the existence of speciation.

I hope that I’ve made it clear enough that Linnaeus, far from providing a rebuttal to evolution, actually gives evolution major support. But as an evolutionist on a creationist forum, I trust that the difficulties that I faced are also clear. Up to this point I have provided almost 2000 words as a rebuttal, including the preamble. Against this I face one paragraph, which doesn’t support what it claims, and includes definitions which are not at all clear, but seem to assume things on the part of evolutionary biology that are simply not true. I quite enjoyed writing this piece, and I could have done so on the FFF, but expecting remnant or anyone else to write a clear response and actually use facts rather than speculation, would be asking too much.

At least it got my away from my self-daunting projects of assessing truth and understanding Christianity. In future I’ll also take a look at the other spurious claims from remnant’s thread.

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