There are a plethora of apologist websites and YouTube videos circulating around the internet, claiming to disprove the sciences and assert a very narrow view of creationism. Over the past couple of weeks, one particular video has made the social media rounds. Joshua Feuerstein, who is a relatively popular preacher, posted a nice little video claiming to disprove evolution (and the Big Bang theory) in three minutes.
I desperately wanted to believe that his video was a satire. I still do not know. But people take him seriously…
His rant reached a large audience, with hundreds of thousands of shares on Facebook and tons of approving comments. Normally I don’t care, but this video annoyed me enough that I would like to take the time to debunk Mr. Feuerstein’s claims. I wanted to take the time because his views represent some pretty common thoughts among anti-science Christians.
Now, I am a Christian (a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to be exact) so I am approaching this as somebody who believes in the same tenants that Mr. Feuerstein believes in. But I am also studying physics. I see no conflict between my science education and my religious education, unlike Mr. Feuerstein.
So here is my shot at debunking a debunker. Mind you, I do not even have a degree yet, so this should go to show you that even a basic understanding of science can disprove this man’s ridiculous rant.
First let’s watch the video.
Painful, I know.
Ok Mr. Feuerstein, let’s look at some of your claims.
1. “Mr. Atheist let me correct you: evolution is not a science, never has, and never will be… [because] evolution has never been observed.”
Wrong. Evolution has been observed. A classic textbook example is the example of the Peppered Moth. Before the Industrial Revolution these moths had an almost uniformly white/black coloration. As early industry began to pollute and darken the air, the advantage of being light-colored was lost, leading many of the white/black moths to be eaten by birds. Years later scientists noted that around 95% of the moth population now had a dark black coloration. This is classic example of evolution. A species was able to evolve in a fundamental way to give itself a greater advantage. Usually, the evolution of species takes a more complex route, but the Peppered Moth is a great example because it involves one easily definable trait.
In a more recent example, ten Italian wall lizards were transplanted to an island in the Adriatic Sea in 1971. Thirty years later, scientists were able to find representatives of this transplanted population. After careful study, they realized that in the last thirty years, the lizards had developed a new muscle group in their intestines to better process the vegetation on the island.
An example from even more common experience is the flu virus. Every year it is recommended that people receive a new flu vaccine. Why is that? Because over time the flu virus is mutating to adapt to current medicine. We have to keep our medicine up to date to combat the ever-changing flu virus. So yes, evolution has been observed and is prominent enough to change the way that we live.
2. “That’s why it’s called the ‘theory’ of evolution.”
Poor Mr. Feuerstein, he has fallen into the trap that many apologists do. He does not understand what a scientific theory is.
Basically, a theory is a collecting of facts and hypotheses that explains all the observable facts that have been tested. Often times, people who seek to disprove science will use the word “theory” as a term to mean something that has not been adequately tested, or just thought up in a scientist’s mind.
If we use Mr. Feuerstein’s criteria, all of our “theories” are invalidated. That includes the theory of gravity, which explains what keeps Mr. Feuerstein (physically) planted on the Earth, the theory of quantum mechanics which in part lets Mr. Feuerstein use his electronics to record this video, the theory of oxygen combustion which paved the way for the car that Mr. Feuerstein is riding in, the theory of plate tectonics that describes how the land Mr. Feuerstein is driving on came about, the theory of heliocentrism which I doubt that Mr. Feuerstein would refute, etc… So no, just because something is a theory does not mean that it somehow is not scientific.
3. “One man’s theory.”
In terms of evolution, I think that Mr. Feuerstein believes that Darwin is the only one who has done any research about evolution… Odd.
4. “You want me to believe that out of some accidental cosmic bang was created one cell…”
No. I don’t want you to believe that. That would be absurd. I do not think that any physicists are saying that the big bang created a cell. Eventually down the line after billions of years cells were formed, but the big bang was not the direct cause of that. Rather, the big bang caused the expansion of all the matter of the universe, which eventually formed the compounds that would form cells.
5. “.. somewhere along the line we all magically developed… different traits… it’s all because we willed it in our heads”
Again, no one is asking you to believe that. No serious scientist is trying to say that we chose our traits or chose to develop new species. The basic mechanism of evolution is this: 1) an environment forces species to develop new traits, 2) the members of the species reproduce, propagating their traits to the next generation, 3) if those traits are effective in dealing with the environment, the members of the species lives, if not, they die. Rinse and repeat.
At no point in this process is the will of the species taken into consideration. It is not a case of the members of the species choosing what traits they have, but rather their bodies automatically adapting to the environment.
Mr. Feuerstein seems to believe that evolution is meant to explain the origins of life itself. Although there is some discussion about that, at its most basic level, evolution is meant to describe the origin of species, or the origin of the diversity of life we see on the Earth. And as mentioned above, evolution has been observed and tested.
6. “The law of thermodynamics says that chaos can never produce order.”
Perfect, now we are going into physics.
I assume that Mr. Feuerstein is talking about the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics which states:
“The entropy of an isolated system never decreases, because isolated systems always evolve toward thermodynamic equilibrium, a state with maximum entropy.”
Ok so what does that mean? Entropy is a measure of disorder. As Ludwig Boltzman, one of the fathers of thermodynamics stated:
“Entropy is a measure of the number of particular microscopic arrangements of atoms that appear indistinguishable from a macroscopic perspective.”
Mr. Feuerstein’s description of this law is extremely simple and fundamentally flawed. The way he sees it, chaotic things can never produce order, therefore the big bang violates the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. Not only is he misunderstanding the nature of the big bang, but he is forgetting that the 2nd Law also has to deal with energy.
The 2nd Law only works within a closed system i.e. one that does not have energy being put into it by an outside agent. Unfortunately this does not apply to evolution at all, since organic life is not a closed system. Plants, for example, create ordered sugar because they are receiving energy from a source, the sun.
But I think what Mr. Feuerstein is trying to say is that the Big Bang was highly disordered and created order from it, which in his understanding of thermodynamics violates the laws of physics. This is absolutely false. Modern physics tell us that the big bang was in fact highly ordered. Just think about it. When you have all of the matter and energy of the universe wrapped up in an infinitely small singularity, there is no room for disordered states.
With that much order and so little entropy, even our systematic existence has higher disorder than the big bang did. So when Mr. Feuerstein mentions that the big bang was chaos, he is absolutely wrong. It was the exact opposite. It was absolute order.
But I have to give him a bit of leeway, the term “big bang” is misleading. It seems to imply that the universe started with an explosion, like the combustion explosions that we see on Earth. Actually, the “big bang” was more of a instantaneous expansion of space, without a real explosion as we imagine explosions. But, Mr. Feuerstein should have done his research before attempting to disprove the big bang theory using the 2nd law of thermodynamics
7. “You cannot say that a universe that has order came out of an accident because it defies the very logic and laws of science.”
Science does not make any attempt to state the universe is accidental. Science just attempts to explain what we see and how it got there. As someone who believes in God, I do not believe that the universe was an accidental creation but I believe that God works by natural means. When we discover scientific theories and their structures, we are discovering the workings of God.
8. Tornado creating a car analogy.
Yes, we’ve all heard this sort of argument before. The analogy has two faults. First of all it compares a relatively chaotic tornado to the highly ordered big bang. As discussed earlier, this is a flawed assumption. Also, it forgets about the fact that cars and tornadoes are not organic living organisms. Sure, having a tornado creating a car is absurd, but is it absurd to assume that over time living organisms change to fit their environment, eventually creating the species we see today?
9. The Universe means one word.
Now Mr. Feuerstein isn’t even trying. He claims that the etymology of universe means “one word”, which ties into Genesis 1. That is a cute little saying but even a quick Google search reveals the true etymology:
late Middle English: from Old French univers or Latin universum, neuter of universus‘ combined into one, whole,’ from uni- ‘one’ + versus ‘turned’ (past participle of vertere ).
The rest of Mr. Feuerstein’s rant is just vague religious platitudes that are not worth getting into. Basically, all the “science” of Mr. Feuerstein is false.
I can empathize with Mr. Feuerstein. Often times people of religious faith feel the need to defend themselves and their beliefs against what seems to be an onslaught of anti-Christian messages. The problem is that Mr. Feuerstein is defending himself against science, which is not inherently anti-Christian.
Not only is Mr. Feuerstein picking the wrong fight, he is picking a fight against something that he clearly does not understand. Had he spoken with a few scientists, or read a few books, he would have had a better understanding of the science that he so desperately attempted to disprove.
Had Mr. Feuerstein actually done some research, he may have found that science is not as scary and anti-Christian as he would like to believe. I have no problem with science. When conflicts do arrive (and I admit that they do, especially when discussing organic evolution) I have made it my rule to learn both sides of the debate and be willing to admit that I may not know everything.
The ultimate irony is that while Mr. Feuerstein is so convinced that science is wrong in attempting to know everything, he is committing the same “sin”. Mr. Feuerstein is (at least subconsciously) assuming that he knows everything about the means by which God has made the universe. We can not know that. Religion does not offer the tools to understand the physical processes, but science brings us close.
By making this and other videos Mr. Feuerstein is perpetuating a generalization of Christians as anti-science ignoramuses who discredit modern achievements for the sake of ancient books. The fact that his video has made such a social media splash goes to show you that many Christians are willing to fit right into the stereotype that society has created for us.
It is important to fight that stereotype. Christians can believe in science and believe in religion. Any conflict is the result of people, not their fields of study. So maybe instead of making and sharing angry videos, we should actually try to learn the sciences before we fight them.
Also, I’m not an atheist. Not all scientists are atheists… So there’s that.