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32 of 49 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Refuting Dawkins on chess, 17 Dec. 2010
This review is from: The Greatest Hoax on Earth? Refuting Dawkins on evolution (Kindle Edition)
I have just read Dawkins' `The Greatest Show on Earth: the evidence for evolution' followed by Sarfati's `The Greatest Hoax on Earth? Refuting Dawkins on evolution'.
A favourite approach by Dr Sarfati is to accuse Dawkins of attacking creationism with `strawmen' arguments. Sarfati also states early in the first chapter that "one common fallacy is equivocation or `bait-and-switch', that is, switching the meaning of a single word (evolution) part-way through an argument. Dawkins is unfortunately no exception: "when there is systematic increase or decrease in the frequency with which we see a particular gene in a gene pool, that is precisely what we mean by evolution"".
In fact Dawkins' words from page 33 were slightly misquoted but the meaning is still the same. This sentence is probably the closest Dawkins ever gets to actually defining `evolution' in his book, although the words are not presented to the reader as some sort of all-encompassing definition. Indeed, on page 334 Dawkins refers to genetic mutations over geological time and states: "In that small proportion of the genome where the mutations really matter for survival, natural selection soon gets rid of the bad ones and favours the good ones".
Thus Sarfati's accusation of `bait-and-switch' by Dawkins, ie changing the definition of evolution to suit his narrative, appears meaningless and empty. He continues however: "I can't name anyone who doubts the occurrence of "systematic increase or decrease in the frequency with which we see a particular gene in a gene pool." Certainly much fewer than the 40% that Dawkins is so concerned about". Actually, on page 7 of his book Dawkins said "More than 40% of Americans deny that humans evolved from other animals, and think that we - and by implication all of life - were created by God within the last 10,000 years". That is what Dawkins is really concerned about, even if few of those same people also deny any gene pool changes whatsoever. And Sarfati himself is a `Young Earth Creationist' who claims that humans have always been humans.
With the constant talk of `strawmen', at times Sarfati's readers might be forgiven for thinking Dawkins' book was subtitled `The evidence against creationism' rather than `The evidence for evolution'. It is also noticeable that Sarfati fails to offer any definition of `evolution' in his book (other than citing at the start of chapter 1 a definition made by an evolutionary biologist 50 years' ago). I strongly suspect that in fact Sarfati has `redefined' this term, attaching to it some extra, superfluous, conditions - and without directly informing the reader. This becomes apparent as you read the book eg on page 52 a double mutation that enabled Plasmodium falciparum to resist chloroquine is described as `informationally downhill' (because the chloroquine resistant malaria parasites do worse when there is no chloroquine). The subtext being "so it can't be evolution after all!"
Similarly on page 68 you get the highly misleading sentence: "The information already existed, so this is not evolution". It must be stasis instead! So how on earth could evolution occur then? Oh I'm probably asking `silly questions', aren't I? And, just in case the reader hasn't `got' it yet, on page 72: "This type of change, which doesn't add any new information, is usually the best evidence of `evolution'...that evolutionists can come up with". On page 250 the descent of blind cave salamanders from sighted surface salamanders is described as `devolution' rather than evolution - which seems to imply a decline from a superior previous state. And on page 255 Sarfati says: "Goo-to-you evolution would require changes that result in new genetic information". Because of some particular genetic mutations and also gene duplication, this is of course no impossibility.
Dr Sarfati is undoubtedly a clever man, and I can understand that many Creation Ministries International (CMI) supporters find his writings persuasive. But has it occurred to them that it might have been more positive and constructive for him instead to have written a book entitled `Refuting Dawkins: the evidence for Creationism'?
The book that we do have ranges very widely, well beyond established - or highly speculative - science. Yet at the same time, Sarfati often fails to explain terminology, including that used by others in some of his copious footnotes; there is no clear definition of `kind' in chapter 2 for instance. It is probably no exaggeration to suggest that whilst Dawkins doesn't tell you what you don't need to know, Sarfati often tells you what you don't need to know (but doesn't explain everything precisely).
The book proposes, with a straight face, a number of fantasy events or phenomena upon the Earth within just the last 6,000 years - a worldwide massive flood covering all land, one single recent ice age glaciation, one single supercontinent which broke up into what we see today in less than 6,000 years, `runaway subduction', `catastrophic plate tectonics'...
It is claimed that several hypotheses by Dr Sarfati and his CMI colleagues better explain what we see around us today - or what various Bible verses describe - than mainstream scientific explanations. The problem is that the hypotheses are not supported by specific scientific evidence, and the processes and timescales described beggar belief if purely naturalistic processes are assumed.
Within his (final) chapter 13, Dawkins explained how evolutionary theory does not contradict the Second Law of Thermodynamics - because of solar energy (Earth is not a `closed system'). Sarfati's book does not disagree with this. So when can we look forward to this particular argument about the Second Law being added to CMI's list of `Arguments Creationists should not use'?
On pages 96 and 258 Sarfati suggests that while there are - many - similarities in lifeforms (genotypic similarities if not phenotypic similarities) because they all had a single divine designer, the patterns seen `thwart' evolutionary explanations. But if God did not want scientists to be misled, surely he could have made a greater attempt - other than occasional homoplasies or perhaps the fossil Darwinopterus modularis - to thwart such explanations, such that evolution would now be a `fringe theory' only supported by diehard atheist scientists?
Sarfati's unspoken position appears to be "whenever the Bible's meaning can be stretched that far I actually broadly agree with Dawkins about science, but whenever it can't - as is usually the case - I do not agree with him".
I understand that Sarfati functions particularly effectively when wearing a blindfold and playing chess. So why did he remove his blindfold before writing this interesting but misleading book?
CHAPTER 1 Page 26 points out that Dawkins has admitted, after writing his book, that there are still "unsolved mysteries". Evolutionary science, particularly if there is no God to start the process, is rather unlikely to be totally `cut and dried' (and science may never be completely `done').
Page 27: "Further research has often shown that an alleged problem is solved very well under a creation model, or that an alleged `proof' of evolution is nothing of the kind". Empty assertions which assume that far-fetched creationist ideas such as some put forward by CMI have equal scientific status to accepted evidence that points strongly to past evolution without necessarily providing cast-iron proof.
CHAPTER 2 The penultimate paragraph on page 31 is confusing. Did the membership of each `kind' grow, and the number of `kinds' decline, in the assumed 1,500 plus years between `Creation' and the `Flood'? Was every vertebrate species taken onto the Ark or only representatives of larger groupings (the second sentence in this paragraph seems to imply the former unless something unspecified happened in the 1,500 or so years - but a sentence on page 47 about `wolf-like creatures' strongly implies the latter)? If the latter, how come we see so many different species across the world today - just around 4,500 years after the `Genesis Flood'? Page 34 implies that Dawkins' book argued against `fixity of species' when it should have argued against `fixity of kinds' - but of course, no example of that is provided to the reader. Much of page 35 is muddled. On page 36 Sarfati says that in order to list every `kind', creationists would have to "perform hybridisation experiments on all sexually reproducing organisms"! On page 39 a creationist is quoted explaining away what Dawkins considers evolution (in cichlids) as simply "adaptive variation".
CHAPTER 3 Because of his theology of an original `very good' creation which can only then decline over time, Sarfati makes sweeping and misleading assertions such as these on page 44: "All the alleged proofs of `evolution in action' to date do not show that functional new information is added to genes. Rather, they involve sorting and/or loss of information... The origin of information is an insurmountable problem for bacteria-to-biologists evolution". He is ignoring those mutations that don't involve loss of base pairs, the process of gene flow which transfers alleles, and also the phenomenon of gene duplication.
Page 47 is misleading. Yes, selective breeding of dogs from wolves produced a new species in only thousands of years. No - that does not mean that the diversity of land species seen today could have arisen from extremely rapid evolution and diversification/specialisation of just a few `kinds' (those that could fit onto a wooden Ark) living around 4,500 years' ago. When Sarfati says "it would have been possible in principle to have a single pair on the Ark with similar variation, to be subsequently sorted by natural selection into varieties..." he is conveniently ignoring all the different species of canine seen today eg foxes and coyotes; assuming they were not all placed on the Ark, how could just one pair of canines eg a pair of wolves diversify into the variety of canine species that are alive across the different continents today?
The opening paragraph on page 49 complains of `double talk' - but it puts words into the mouths of evolutionary scientists. On page 55 Sarfati quote mines from the Nature article cited at footnote 39 when he says "The human Y chromosome, owned by males, has been recently sequenced. The researchers noted the unexpected "extraordinary divergence" from the chimp Y chromosome, including "wholesale renovation"". This is a clear case of attempted misdirection by Sarfati, as the actual text says "Wholesale renovation is the paramount theme in the continuing evolution of chimpanzee, human and perhaps other older MSYs" ie the renovation was not confined to the human MSY chromosome.
CHAPTER 4 Page 64: "This is the best evolution that evolution can do? Increased cell size?" You wish, Dr Sarfati.
Dawkins' thorough description of the Lenski experiment in his chapter 5 showed that different E coli populations found differing ways to grow larger, but when two of the populations appeared to follow the same evolutionary path the researchers found that 59 genes had changed their levels of expression in each - remarkably, all in the same direction. Sarfati's response is to refer to an article by Michael Behe which claimed that the changes were ultimately due to changes in just one named control gene. Sarfati also downplays the ability developed by one E coli population to digest citrate. Even if this development involved a gene losing specificity or a transporter gene being left permanently switched on, the novel result was the ability to digest citrate even though the conditions were aerobic - as they often are upon Earth - rather than anaerobic.
Page 75: `fallacy of verified prediction' - how feeble. And can you cite an actual example of a successful creationist biology prediction, Dr Sarfati?
CHAPTER 5 Note the assertions by Dr Sarfati on pages 79-80 about the single-celled ancestor species that he doesn't actually - apparently - believe in: "The embryo has genetic instructions to build the body, which the hypothetical single-celled ancestor did not". Sarfati claims on page 86 that Dawkins has overlooked the need for programming of sequences alongside local rules, but the chapter does not prove to me that deliberate, intentional programming by an outside agency is necessary. Dawkins said on page 242: "So the whole course of embryonic development is controlled, via an intricate sequence of events, by genes. It is genes which determine sequences of amino acids, which determine tertiary structures of proteins, which determine the socket-like shapes of active sites, which determine cell chemistry, which determine `starling-like' cell behaviour in embryonic development".
CHAPTER 6 In his chapter 10 (page 315) Dawkins said "The DNA code is invariant across all living creatures, whilst the individual genes themselves vary" and "What varies is what is written in the code, not the code itself". Sarfati discusses homologies and homoplasies and suggests that a single common designer is behind both. Page 99: "Evolution ... contributes nothing to our understanding of living things...". But the genetics that mostly backs up the phylogenetic trees predicted by the theory of evolution also helps epidemiologists when they examine the genome of fruit flies, because many of the disease genes they possess have their counterparts in the human genome. I believe evolutionary ideas also sometimes inform ecosystem conservation strategies.
If one attributes complexity or the fulfilment of physiological demands to the actions of God, how could that idea be tested scientifically?
Within a section of his chapter 10 entitled `Molecular Comparisons', Dawkins discussed DNA hybridisation. Intense heat will break the bond between the two helices of a section of DNA; when cooled each fragment - whilst still following the rules of base pairing - can bond with a suitable fragment of DNA from a different species. However, if the bond made is with a less closely (genetically and evolutionarily) related species, generally speaking the melting point required to separate the strands again will be that bit lower.
Dawkins' chapter also described work by Professor Penny which showed that five similar genes in 11 separate species all `placed' the evolutionarily most plausible `tree of life' close to the top of the list of `parsimonious trees' (ones postulating the least amount of evolutionary change) - out of a choice of 34 million alternatives. However, on page 101 Sarfati cites a 2007 paper in Genome Biology entitled `The Human Phylome' which showed some exceptions to this general rule. Here is the link: [1]. I haven't read the whole paper which appears rather technical as well as lengthy; but the Conclusion within the Abstract states "Topological variations among phylogenies for different genes are to be expected, highlighting the danger of gene-sampling effects in phylogenomic analyses. Several links can be established between the functions of gene families duplicated at certain phylogenetic splits and major evolutionary transitions in those lineages. The pipeline implemented here can be easily adapted for use in other organisms." I note that the particular paragraph quoted by Sarfati at the top of page 103 does not come from the Abstract, nor the Conclusion of the main paper; I strongly suspect that he has `cherry picked' it.
Dawkins also described, in the section on molecular clocks, how a neutral gene mutation might vastly increase in frequency over millennia so that eventually it is `fixed' within the genome. The speed of fixation is predictable but it also varies according to the gene in question.
CHAPTER 7 Early in chapter 6 of his book Dawkins suggests that the fossil record is a `bonus' for evolutionists and that it is rather like a spy camera footage that reveals some potentially incriminating events in a criminal case where there is already other compelling evidence against the accused - but the footage has a number of significant gaps in it and it does not include a scene of the actual crime. I had expected Sarfati to suggest that partial spy camera footage was an overly simplistic analogy for the fossil record, but in fact he never mentions the point. Instead he makes a rather weak and feeble point on page 106 by stating that whilst Dawkins says "We don't need fossils - the evidence for evolution is watertight without them", Charles Darwin's views on the fossil record - as expressed in `On the Origin of Species' - were somewhat different.
That would only be a problem if Darwin had started a new religion and Dawkins (by focussing more on the comparative study of modern species and on their geographical distribution) was being unorthodox or even `heretical'!
Sarfati suggests in a heading on page 107 that fossils are `proof' of rapid burial (which of course might take place during a huge flood). However, at this website [2] palaeontologist Richard Forrest states, when discussing `Kangaroos and the Flood',"fossilisation does not require sudden burial as in a flood".
Sea creatures might get buried and fossilised below water simply because they spent their lives in the sea. Other creatures might get buried in landslides, mudslides, or the local catastrophic floods named lahars that are a mix of erupted material, mud and river water created after a massive volcanic eruption. Or prehistoric animals may have drowned in lakes or died having fallen into an almost lifeless scavenger-free lake after being overcome by noxious fumes eg carbon dioxide issuing from the lake.
On paraconformities - just one type of unconformity - why should millions of years of wind erosion not leave smooth surfaces on soft sedimentary rocks?
The chapter predictably ends with another accusation of Dawkins `strawman' tactics, the comment that evolutionists "have two unrelated explosions of new creatures with no evidence of evolutionary ancestry", and then the phrase `evolution myth' is used. But exactly how do the Avalon and Cambrian explosions help the cause of Young Earth Creationism (six explosions might perhaps)?
CHAPTER 8 On page 124 a number of detailed claims are made, in an opening bullet point, about Archaeopteryx. None of them has a supporting footnote, so I take them with a large pinch of salt. Any fool can see that Archaeopteryx (not just one single fossil) appears to be an intermediate/transitional between theropod dinosaurs and later birds. Sarfati does not provide the full details, but it had teeth, a bony tail and wing fingers with claws. Page 129 - a non-echolocating early bat species has been discovered I understand. And, I understand that information in a book by Donald Prothero shows that both the statement by Sarfati about dinosaurs "there are no fossils showing the transitional forms or common ancestors; none" and the corresponding footnote 22 are untrue.
Surely, if the scientific case against evolution was strong there would be no need to tell - accidentally or deliberately - untruths to the uninformed?
He also tries to rubbish Tiktaalik - a fossil find that fulfilled general predictions by scientists - as a chimera/mosaic. Page 134: "Natural selection can only work on organisms as a whole, not on parts; therefore a new trait cannot be selected for outside of the context of the whole organism". I'd be very interested to know whether evolutionary scientists find this statement both clear and accurate.
The paragraph about Odontochelys starting at the base of page 141 looks like classic distraction techniques to me - the sort of smokescreen complained of at page 133.
CHAPTER 9 Some comments about human consciousness, language, brain complexity (as they have been within the last 6,000 years' or so, obviously). No comment on the fact that many of the primitive human-type fossils have been found in Africa - also the home of three modern great ape species. A highly confusing, nonsensical heading on page 153 `Ardipithecus ramidus kadabba'. `A, ramidus' was reported in 2001, `A. Kadabba' in 2009. And then he starts `rabbiting' about `Lucy' without explaining - here - that Lucy is in fact the fossil Australopithecus afarensis. Later, on pages 157-8, Sarfati suggests that Lucy was not bipedal (most palaeontologists think she was) and that she was not on the `human line' (contrary to what Dawkins told Wendy Wright in good faith).
The whole chapter is designed to confuse and promote scepticism. After a page of `case study' - which must be all he could stand - Sarfati declares on page 154 "humans didn't evolve from any of these, because they did not evolve, full stop".
The table on page 156 shows that four other extinct human species had locomotion similar to ours - and Homo erectus had `transitional'/'intermediate' brain size. Sarfati's response? On page 155 he declares that the other four species must just be `racial' variants of modern man. Problem solved! Except that in modern man most `racial' differences are not discernible from fossils (oriental people are usually short, of course).
On page 157 he quotes Charles Oxnard: Australopithecines "clearly differ more from both humans and African apes, than do these two living groups from each other" (written in 1987). Sarfati is on hand to tell us what Oxnard really meant - "Australopithecus was not transitional between apes and humans". That is rubbish, such a conclusion does not necessarily follow (even if Oxnard once implied that that was his view which I doubt). He was talking about Homo sapiens and modern day great apes. And not about the earlier extinct apes - between which and the various Homo species the bipedal Australopithecines could have been a transitional species (or perhaps a side branch in the evolutionary tree). The words "than do these two living groups from each other" could imply that humans and the other great apes have both evolved considerably, and in broadly similar ways (apart from intelligence), since they diverged from the extinct ape- or monkey- like ancestor prior to the appearance of Lucy. There is no reason to remove Australopithecines from museums just because people like Sarfati stamp their feet.
And more rather childish, tactics from Sarfati. On page 204 Dawkins said "if creationist apologists are right, Australopithecus is `just an ape'". Sarfati makes out on page 157 that Dawkins got it wrong, because "creationists have long cited Oxnard" - and his views, as expressed in 1987, were more complicated (in 1984 he suggested that Australopithecines lived in trees - as do modern great apes).
An alternative origins model proposed by one Dr Hartwig-Scherer appears to be just wishful thinking. Of course, Sarfati wants his readers to conclude that this is all that evolutionary scientists are dabbling in as well.
CHAPTER 10 Page 167 includes the Dawkins quote - predictably described as a `strawman argument - about 40% of the American Bible accepting the Bible literally. Sarfati makes out in a footnote that Dawkins is wrong, and that they instead accept it in a `textualist' or `originalist' way. Whatever that may mean, I believe they (like Sarfati) accept it as being scientifically accurate - and that Dawkins' use of the word `literally' includes that particular meaning.
So does Sarfati provide a convincing response to Dawkins question (pg 268) "why would all those marsupials, but no eutherians at all, have migrated en masse from Mount Ararat to Australia?" Well, he thinks kangaroos might have lived elsewhere first - but sadly they apparently left no fossils anywhere else. Page 168: "There is not the slightest trace of "a law of decreasing species diversity as we move away from an epicentre"". Of course this unscientific tosh is true in the exact context in which it is said - rabbits (a single species) were released within Australia and then spread across the whole continent. But what about the whole sizeable grouping of similar mammal species that apparently travelled all the way from Turkey to Australia in under 5,000 years (whilst ignoring most other continents they may have passed through as `unsuitable')? Oh of course - all these marsupials must have been taken to Australia by humans who migrated there. Mustn't they?
Of course science suggests that the southern supercontinent of Pangea split into Gondwanaland and Laurasia 190 million years' ago - the end result was metatherian fossils in the Americas, living opossums there, and the living marsupials found in both south America and Australia.
Lemurs managed to cross the sea on floating vegetation from Africa and arrived in Madagascar and the Comoros. They died out in mainland Africa but thrived on the islands. Why? There was no competition from monkeys - which appeared later - away from the mainland. This didn't happen less than 5,000 years' ago but over a much longer time period. There have been just over 100 known lemur species in eight families, most of which include more than one genus; some of the species have gone extinct. Of course none of them ever appears to my knowledge to have lived in Turkey!
The `uniformitarianism' dreaded by Sarfati is of course completely logical in the absence of evidence to the contrary - especially if one considers events in just 6,000 years of Earth history. Catastrophic Plate Tectonics, page 177 - a `catastrophic' error, prompted by a creationist computer model and inspired by a rather imaginative reading of the early chapters of Genesis. As for `runaway subduction' - are we safe from that ever happening again? I'd like to know. And Genesis 7 verse 11 refers to `springs', not to some process involving the oceans. And how on earth could `vaporised' ocean floor water (would it be vaporised at intense high pressure?) produce days of intense worldwide rain? Would not a superheated worldwide ocean just under 5,000 years' ago have left some evidence (or perhaps it wouldn't)?
Oh, and would more circulation of `viscous fluid rock within the mantle' (the upper mantle) be able to affect affect Earth's core and alter the planet's magnetic field?
As for the third bullet point on page 180 - it's known as scientific progress (progress being something that doesn't usually occur in the case of fundamentalist theology - which invents new `evidence' rather than being guided by new evidence).Which also explains why this sentence - "Contrary to Dawkins' confident assertions, his evolutionary approach has nothing to offer over the biblical creation model, which also explains the anomalies" - is tosh and wishful thinking.
This whole chapter is mostly science fiction.
And - guess what - much of it was first written over a decade ago. See [3]. They must be unable to improve upon these evidence-free explanations. Sarfati of course considers the theory of evolution rather too `flexible' and `plastic' - well it's clearly not inflexible dogma (or made up scenarios designed to `prove' dogma).
Oh, and I also found this, published in 2008 - which proposes that the Pangea supercontinent started to `eat itself' by a process named `self subduction': [4]. Does Sarfati even mention this article? No, he does not. Clearly, `self subduction' millions of years' ago isn't a patch on `runaway subduction' just thousands of years' ago! In his eyes anyway.
CHAPTER 11 Page 186 - It's not scientific automatically to trust the accounts of witnesses reporting events in the distant past when their descriptions - which do not claim vast precision - cannot be corroborated and may also refer to processes that have no known scientific explanation. Although such an approach by Christians was understandable in past centuries, today it simply amounts to `religious faith'. Page 187 - before going into any detail about radiometric dating, Sarfati informs the reader that "the fatal problem with all radioactive dates is that they are all based on assumptions about the past". It seems our author might not have dared discuss the actual details with his readers first - and then claim after doing so that there is a `fatal problem' with the method.
Page 188: After mentioning Dawkins' comment that a radioactive clock needs a facility to be `zeroed' (taken by Sarfati to mean that there were no atoms of the `daughter' isotope at the `beginning') Sarfati says "But this is patently incorrect for almost all dating systems...Only under very special circumstances does a scientist assume that there was zero daughter isotope to begin with." Sheer nitpicking, I think. Dawkins said "Radioactive clocks for dating igneous (volcanic) rocks are conveniently zeroed at the moment the rock is formed ..." (page 87), and "A fortunate aspect of the way igneous rocks solidify is that they do so suddenly - so that all the clocks in a given piece of rock are zeroed simultaneously" (page 97).
Note that the claim on page 189 of `accelerated nuclear decay in the past' is not backed up in the book by any non-creationist science papers. Actually such a phenomenon would not in any way help a Young Earth Creationist interpretation of traces of carbon 14 that `should' have vanished assuming no contamination (evolutionists might query whether decay rates could have been slower in the past!).
After studying page 192 at length I concluded from his poorly expressed and rather tortuous argumentation that Sarfati was suggesting the existence of proportionately more carbon 14 in the atmosphere when the dead creature was alive than there is today - due to extra carbon dioxide from erupting volcanoes set off by `runaway subduction', and creatures dying in the Genesis Flood and no longer removing carbon 14 from the atmosphere. Though of course he objects to any carbon 14 dates that reveal ages of between 6,000 and 60,000 years - and more carbon 14 to start with, than previously thought, would take longer to disappear. This would theoretically allow evolutionists to conclude a more ancient age for the creature than previously assumed, and probably older than Sarfati would wish to accept! So what help would more original carbon 14 be in trying to `prove' younger ages?
Sarfati is of course wishing to argue, as mainstream scientists would agree, that radiocarbon dating cannot be used to infer any precise ages over 60,000 years (but of course its absence in carbon materials does reveal an age that is greater than 60,000 years). He also seems to be attempting to suggest that any inferred ages over 6,000 years must be wrong. But I cannot see how more carbon 14 to start with helps with that. So either he is plain confused, or I have misunderstood his meaning so far - and he was actually postulating less carbon 14 originally than is currently assumed. That hypothetical scenario would enable Young Earth Creationists to try and claim that the reason there is so little carbon 14 left is not because of an age over 6,000 years, but because there was less to start with than previously assumed.
I freely admit to being puzzled. I also suspect that all this was `over the heads' of many of Sarfati's core readers.
Sarfati raises `parentless argon' (page 193) whilst ignoring the generally close measure of agreement between differing radiometric dating methods that might be used on the same piece of rock.
Page 195 - suggesting an `argument from silence' fallacy, when considering that all the 121 unstable isotopes with the shortest half lives have gone `extinct' on Earth (only existing under `special circumstances), seems to be a very weak response. It implies that Sarfati thinks the isotopes either never existed on Earth, or they are simply fictional isotopes (and he is a chemist!).
Although Sarfati is unconvinced of them, I could see no `circularity' in the methods of dendrochronology as described by Dawkins, including the use of `overlaps' to extend back more than 6,000 years. Although a tree might produce more than one ring in certain years, cross-checking to match similar patterns on different trees that grew in the same region probably should help identify this. And at least one tree nearly 10,000 years old was identified in 2008: [5].
PS My review of chapters 12-17 will appear as a comment. PPS This review was previously posted at
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Initial post: 18 Dec 2010 23:45:21 GMT
Last edited by the author on 19 Dec 2010 14:25:04 GMT
Sorry it's a bit long. And the 'CLOWNS' at apparently LOST the end bit of my review covering chapters 12-17 when I first posted it THERE in late August - I must have gone over the word limit or something. Of course they NEVER told me this either when I submitted the review or when it was published. So I deleted my file. And THEN discovered that the end bit of my review was MISSING. So I have had to WRITE it AGAIN - as a 'Comment'. (Fortunately I did keep my rough notes.) C'est la vie.

CHAPTER 12 On page 202 Sarfati cites 2 Peter 3 verse 4 from the Bible - which refers to scoffers and says "They will say "Where is this `coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation"" (New International Version). Sarfati suggests this verse is telling us, among other things, that it is rash to assume uniformitarianism in geology as in concluding that `the present is the key to the past'. However, the verse from Peter is actually talking about how the present and the past - which had been similar - are no guide to the future ie Jesus will be returning, despite people scoffing that things are 'normal' and that his return should already have occurred.
Does Dr Sarfati consider how exactly Clair Patterson dated the Earth (the estimated date from around 50 years' ago has largely stood the test of time)? No - he does not. Instead he launches straight into his evidence for a young(ish) world. He suggests ocean saltiness is increasing, but as far as I know it's only the ocean's acidity that is slowly increasing.
Are there less comets than there 'should' be? Maybe. But what about the massive flare-up of Comet Holmes in 2007. And some astronomers think that because of its unusual composition, Comet Machholz 1 could even be a 'guest' that has travelled to our solar system from the neighbourhood of another star.
CHAPTER 13 Page 223: "If evolution by natural selection could not have started in the first place, it's dead in the water". But I am not convinced that Sarfati shows that this phenomenon starting up billions of years' ago and giving rise to primitive single-celled lifeforms is impossible - much less that scientists are lacking in theories about how it might have happened 'naturally' (of which the RNA World hypothesis, discussed by Dawkins, is one of the better known ideas). Could natural selection have already been occurring in reproducing/dividing molecules or vesicles?
On page 237, a footnote links to this 2009 article in Science magazine [6]. However, despite the paper's title 'Self-sustained replication of an RNA enzyme', Sarfati (a chemist) then says of it: "This paper didn't demonstrate replication but ligation - the joining of two small RNA pieces." I'm no expert on this topic, and I've only read the eight-line summary of the paper. But even I can see the gross distortion indulged in here by Sarfati - which I suspect to be deliberate.
As the chapter does admit, RNA ribonucleotides have been artificially synthesised. And - since the book was written - Craig Venter has used DNA material to form a synthetic bacterium.
CHAPTER 14 Sarfati focuses on structures which have been lost, or whose function has been lost - whilst ignoring the likelihood that some theropod dinosaurs gradually developed gliding or flying abilities, and that some of these species became the first birds.
Page 250: when Dawkins suggested that creationists may think that God provided blind cave salamanders with 'dummy eyes', which is not something that creationists appear to have claimed, it does appear that on this occasion Dawkins is 'guilty as charged' of using a 'strawman' argument!
An interesting thought (for me at least) is that 'primitive monkeys/apes to humans' evolution is probably easier to accept than 'microbes to humans' evolution, yet it is the former series of steps that religious creationists seem to have the most 'trouble' with.
CHAPTER 15 On page 271 Sarfati states that "what limits the eye's resolution is the diffraction of light waves...". However, the 'lively' and controversial atheist blogger P Z Myers has stated that this is incorrect. It is also incorrect that cephalopods see less well than humans (as claimed on page 272) - they often can distinguish the orientation of polarised light. And the recurrent laryngeal nerve is so-called because its main function appears to be to connect the brain to the larynx.
Page 278: I haven't viewed the associated documentary film, but the comment by Professor Stuart Burgess that "he sees a perfect concept of design in the human body ... but one which has been subsequently marred" sounds like twaddle. And I think the comments by Professor Richard Porter (pages 281-2) were probably as much faith-based as science-based.
Page 284: why shouldn't Dawkins offer a theological argument to do with biological function when in Roman 1 verse 20 the Bible states that the creation reveals God's 'nature' and 'power'?
CHAPTER 16 Sarfati speculates that all disease causing organisms - including viruses, which require a 'host' - may once have been completely benign. However, I doubt that he or any other creationist could ever show scientifically that there once was a time on Earth when the suffering within nature (which leads to evolutionary arms races and parasitism among other things) was totally absent.
CHAPTER 17 Page 308: Creationists are not just 'anti-science' for opposing evolutionary theory, or because some of them (not all) have never been professional scientists and have not made significant progress in taking forward 'real' science. They are also 'anti-science' when they contrive hypotheses that take more account of the 'evidence' suggested by scripture, as they interpret it, than of the sum of real, material, evidence from science.
Page 311: "The universe is orderly". Yet creationists often suggest that purely materialistic science is 'deficient' or 'incomplete' - because it does not allow for the possibility of supernatural action. It may be of course that even if God does not exist materialistic science can never tell humanity everything about the universe - either because some things are not unambiguously discernible or because the human brain simply cannot fathom them!
Page 313: "Results should be reported honestly." Is someone disagreeing with that?

Here are the weblinks for my review:

Posted on 10 Jan 2011 23:28:57 GMT
Five people - please tell me why my review was 'unhelpful' to you. Was it too long and detailed? Or is there another reason?

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Apr 2011 23:10:27 BDT
Timbo says:
Quality long review, Mr Howarth; very detailed and thorough. One or two of your sententences in parts were a bit confusing but that may have been where you were quoting/sorting out the author's own confusing writing.

Good stuff from you, anyway.

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Apr 2011 23:27:33 BDT
Thanks - happy to try and clarify anything that was particularly unclear.

It's possible that all the invisible people who voted against my review here, and at, might not necessarily have been Sarfati inspired creationists - some might have just decided that the review was 'too long'.

Just seen your comment under a 'review' of 'Dealing with Dawkins' by Blanchard.

Posted on 15 May 2011 17:57:37 BDT
JB says:
I don't know that a selective refuttal of Sarfati's book is that same as a review? Isn't this a display of straw man mentality in itself?
The temptation with these type of reviews is to refute them. Then the refutted refutes, and so on until one gets bored.
10 out of 10 for effort to the reviewer anyway, and that is not a sarcasmby the way

In reply to an earlier post on 15 May 2011 20:40:02 BDT
What are you on about SWorthnotalot? What you call a 'selective refuttal' (I assume you mean either rebuttal or refutation) is simply a rather long review (it's a long book).

"Isn't this a display of straw man mentality in itself?" No it's not.

Well done to you for resisting the temptation to refute my review.

In reply to an earlier post on 15 May 2011 21:14:29 BDT

Posted on 22 Apr 2012 03:27:48 BDT

I tried to add to my profile the same photo that is with my reviews on But I wasn't able to do so, because the Browse facility button isn't working.

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Aug 2012 18:43:11 BDT
twooks says:
Wow to Mr A N H-r,
no idea why other people have voted the way that they have,
you have appear to have given the book very thorough consideration,
perhaps a little too involved to be a truly 'helpful review' but certainly a fascinating read
thanks, and I look forward to exploring your links

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Aug 2012 18:47:57 BDT
No probs.

The really 'active' thread is under David Levin's review - almost 10,000 posts!
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