Re: Ch. 7 - Cosmology, Astronomy, Geology
In these upcoming chapters we get to delve into the meat of Creationist literature by reading primary sources! I was not expecting this, and it was almost like descending into the eighth circle of hell. But, at any rate, I think Scott presented good selections from those countering creationist claims, for the most part.
I found it interesting that creationists were distancing themselves from certain types of argument, even though they are just as implausible as those currently used. The argument about women having an extra rib or men missing a rib was particularly relevant to me, because I had actually heard this argument for the first time in a science class--from a BIOLOGY teacher! Quite frightening, really. I wish I had cared about science in the seventh grade so I could have challenged him.
The most prominent argument from outside biology that are said to support creationism (or, rather, to disconfirm evolution) are the arguments that utilize the second law of thermodynamics. This argument first originated as a simplistic misreading of the law that was quite contradictory and ridiculous. Basically, the arguer says that the law says order can't come from disorder, and therefore evolution must be false. For instance, in a Philosophy of Religion course I once took, a girl used this argument in an attempt to disprove evolution during a debate. Unfortunately for me, I couldn't say anything because I wasn't in the debate--and I was literally almost hyperventilating when the other team couldn't counter this claim and seemed to just blandly accept its truth. At any rate, the law doesn't really say anything as simplistic as this, otherwise it would also be impossible to build machines, to put together puzzles, for snowflakes to form, and so on. What it says is that closed systems tend towards disorder, and this is a much different claim which is fully compatible with building machines, putting together puzzles, forming snowflakes, and even evolution!
Now, the reading in the book, instead of abandoning this patently ridiculous argument, tried to resurrect it with obfuscation and misrepresentation. They rightly denounce the simplistic version, but they respond that "The Earth is part of an open system" argument does not refute their ideas. They argue that open systems can only produce complexity under certain conditions, and evolution doesn't have these conditions. For instance, they argue that natural selection is not an "organizing" mechanism because it only sieves out genes that hurt survival in order to preserve the existing order. Of course, this is a rather skewed look at natural selection. Natural selection, combined with the mutations that are selected, does not just "preserve" existing order, but indeed creates new order all the time. Basically, they are trying to imply that the production of new species and higher organisms from evolution is not implied by the theory when it is in fact one of the prime logical outcomes that can be deduced from the theory of evolution. To claim otherwise is to thoroughly misunderstand either what evolution is or how it works.
Other creationist ideas mentioned are the Vapor Canopy theory (supposedly explaining Noah's flood) and various argumets against the accuracy of Radiometric dating.
The Vapor Canopy theory is soundly dismissed by the following document detailing that the temperature would be 400 degrees Farenheit at the time the canopy existed if this were so. They also invoke physics to argue that the canopy would diffuse until it is in its present form, because this is simply what gasses do according to physics.
The anthropic principle is also addressed. The anthropic principle basically says that the conditions that make life possible are so precise that it seems as if they had to be "fine-tuned" to these precise measurements. However, this argument can be dispatched of in a number of ways. The book itself dispatches of it by arguing that it assume there is only one type of life (those that resemble the kind we know) when we have no reason to assume that replicating creatures that expend energy could not exist in other forms and by arguing that the various ratios of the constants may allow for other combinations of the numbers that would also produce life, making it a much more likely occurrence. For my own part, I think it is worthwhile to point out that we can't just infer the existence of a supreme being to set these conditions because we could also infer a number of other possibilities--for instance, it could be that these measurements are the only possible ones and we are simply ignorant of the evidence that shows this. Why should we prefer the God hypothesis over any other variety of other hypotheses that can account for these precise measurements, like a cyclic view of universe creation, or a multi-verse scenario, and so on?