Monday, July 21, 2008

Hitchens Discovers Blind Salamanders While Watching TV

This article, in which Christopher Hitchens thinks he has stumbled across some sort of creationist silver bullet, is pretty funny. He was watching an episode of Planet Earth, and they came to a part about cave-dwelling animals that had lost such traits as pigmentation and eyes. This is a very old example of how species evolve, not only by increasing in complexity, but as in this case, simplifying.

I guess this is Hitchens first encounter with such an idea, though you'd think if he were fairly well-versed in evolution this wouldn't come as some kind of epiphany. He dashed off an email to Richard Dawkins, and got this reply:

Vestigial eyes, for example, are clear evidence that these cave salamanders must have had ancestors who were different from them—had eyes, in this case. That is evolution. Why on earth would God create a salamander with vestiges of eyes? If he wanted to create blind salamanders, why not just create blind salamanders? Why give them dummy eyes that don't work and that look as though they were inherited from sighted ancestors? Maybe your point is a little different from this, in which case I don't think I have seen it written down before.

If Hitchens' point is that vestigial traits are evidence for evolution, then of course it's been written down...about a million times. I'm not sure what the heck Dawkins is talking about. If his point is different from this, I don't know what it is.

So as for being some kind of novel argument against creationism, I'm afraid it's as old as the debate itself. It's a good argument...but it's nowhere near new. And it's certainly not a silver bullet. Creationists can always give some version of "if god wanted to make a salamander with useless eyes, then that is what he did." This is on par with saying that the devil buried dinosaur bones, but its silliness doesn't keep people from employing it.


Philip said...

I'm not buying it. He's never encountered the term "vestigial" before? He could make the same argument about wisdom teeth, tailbones or the appendix - and that's just in humans. What about the wings of emus and ostriches? Surely none of these are news to Mr. Hitchens.

I think he's playing dumb to highlight his point.

Anonymous said...

Yet another "straw man" argument against creationism. Evolutionists claiming the "vestigial organ" point never seem to bother to read any creationist comments on the issue. They just assume what has been claimed. It's very simple. The bible teaches we live in a fallen world where DNA can mutate, causing pre-existing features to lose function. So an animal loosing an eye fits just fine with a scientifically sound creationist viewpoint. So what if a feature goes away, mutations that "break" features is easy. Show me a new eye developing. Blind cave fish from different locales have been bred and sight returned as relative genes were replaced. Shows DNA has not had time to lose associated coding for sight that would have been eliminated over millions of years.