It's not a huge surprise to anyone who has followed some of Ray Comfort's writing and media appearances that he uses both his statements to trot out the same oft-refuted creationist arguments that he brings to every debate. It's also not a huge surprise that Eugenie Scott knocks back those arguments with huge skill and clarity of thought, especially in her final statement, which is excellent.
Ray Comfort's second statement was so full of unintelligible non-arguments that it was impressive even for him, so I thought I'd have a little go through it as well.
Scott quoted a famous geneticist, who said, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution." I would like to drop one word, so that the quote is true. It should read, "Nothing in biology makes sense in the light of evolution." For example, evolution has no explanation as to why and how around 1.4 million species of animals evolved as male and female. No one even goes near explaining how and why each species managed to reproduce (during the millions of years the female was supposedly evolving to maturity) without the right reproductive machinery.
The bizarre strawman argument that evolution implies that a single male and a single female of each species must have evolved at the same time by coincidence is one of his absolute favourite arguments. It's even in the foreword of his laughable (but pun-tastically titled) You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence but you Can't Make him Think (available with Look Inside on Amazon).
This argument is borne out of an incredible misunderstanding of how evolution works. In Comfortian evolution, a species, let's say a horse, will spontaneously decide to undergo evolution with the specific end goal of becoming another species, let's say a giraffe. In the time intermediate between being a horse and a giraffe, this species becomes a freakish chimera beast and also apparently stops engaging in sexual reproduction. Eventually, one of these asexual girorses (or hiraffes?) will give birth to a male giraffe, signifying the male line's attainment of the pre-ordained finish line. However, this single male giraffe must wait around hoping that a compatible female giraffe will be born to another hiraffe within its lifetime.
If this mechanism were even tangentially like Darwinian evolution, I would agree that the chances of a male and female of the new species co-evolving at the same time would be astronomically small and Comfort would have a valid point. Unfortunately, however, never has a concept been so badly misunderstood.
In fact evolution works at the population level. The immediate evolutionary ancestor to a giraffe would have been something very very like a giraffe, almost imperceptibly different. Each of these incredibly giraffe-like pre-giraffes would have been reproductively compatible with the giraffes that followed them and the pre-pre-giraffes that preceded them, which would themselves have been very much like a giraffe.
At no point would there been a single male or female unable to mate with other members of the population at large because Darwinian evolution occurs at the population, rather than individual, level gradually and over a very long time. So Comfort's argument is meaningless.
Nor does any evolutionary believer adequately address the fact that all those 1.4 million species managed to evolve into maturity together in our lifetime.
Nothing we have in creation is half evolved. The cow has a working udder to make drinkable milk. The bee has working apparatus to make edible honey. We don't find a half-evolved cow or bee. None of the 1.4 million species on the Earth has half an eye. All have the necessary functioning equipment, from the brain, to the teeth, to the eye, to limbs, to reproductive necessities. Everything that we see in creation is in full working order—from the sun, to the mixture of the air, to the seasons, to fruit trees and vegetables, to the animal kingdom—from the tiny ant right up to the massive elephant.
This assertion comes from a similar position of ignorance. Evolution is a gradual, directionless and blind process. The evolutionary predecessors of the bee were not working towards one day becoming modern bees. Rather, modern bees just happen to have been the outcome of the effects of natural selection on those predecessors through history.
The same is true of humans, although this can be difficult for people to reconcile with the natural and reasonable desire to believe that we are somehow special and sit apart from all other creatures. The truth is that humans are as we are largely because of chance and if any number of factors in our evolutionary past had been different, we would be different now - perhaps in noticeable and significant ways or perhaps not.
Every species represented on Earth today is equally evolutionarily suited to life. If it were not, it would go extinct. This has been true at every point in the history of the planet. Evolution is still going on today and many of today's extant species may be the transitional species of another age.
Maybe in a hundred thousand years, there will be a new flying insect on the planet, let's call it a penk, the ancestor of which will have been our familiar honey bee. No doubt a Ray Comfort of the day will snort scornfully at the idea that that penk evolved because he cannot be shown evidence of a half penk but only other similar insects. The point is that each of those links in the chain that bind the bee to the penk would have been themselves no less a complete and functioning creature than those at the arbitrarily selected beginning and end points of that journey.
Towards the end of the paragraph, Ray moves away from animals and brings the sun and the atmosphere into the argument, stating that if these had not been exactly as they are now, life would not have been possible. But this is a logically confused argument. If the sun had not formed, we would not exist. But the fact that it did and we do does not imply that it had a creator.
If the sun or the atmosphere had formed differently, life might still have existed, but in a different form, just as if any other factor in our evolutionary history had been different. If the atmosphere contained different elements, or different proportions of the same elements, life as we know it would not exist, but other life might. And if any of that life had reached the sort of intelligence that humans hold now, there would probably be another Ray Comfort using exactly the same argument.
A lot of creationist misunderstandings of evolution and cosmology stem from the belief that humanity is special and so any explanatory system must set the existence of humankind as an end goal. This is not the case. Humans are no more special than chimpanzees, rabbits, sponges and viruses. Our existence in our present form is the chance outcome, neither fortuitous nor otherwise, of a blind non-random natural selection process applied over hundreds of millions of years.
Scott continues, "There are more specimens of 'Ardi' (the newly described Ardipithecus ramidus) than there are of Tyrannosaurus . . . We and modern chimpanzees shared a common ancestor millions of years ago . . . ." But that's another evolutionary "Oops!" if you believe the learned scientists on the Discovery Channel. In a recent two-hour documentary about Ardi, the scientists said, "Ever since Darwin, we have bought into the idea that humans evolved from ancient chimplike creatures. That's because modern chimps seemed to share a lot of anatomy and modern behavior with humans. So the idea that we evolved from something like chimps seemed to make sense. But now, the discovery of Ardipithecus shows that this idea is totally and completely wrong." Did you hear what they said? This idea that we evolved from ancient chimplike creatures is totally and completely wrong.
This demonstrates a common creationist tactic: to jump on any disagreement about relatively minor scientific details as a major failing of the whole theory. The actual contention of the Discovery Channel documentary, as I understand it, was that the common ancestor shared by humans and chimps was not as much like a modern chimp as previously thought. However it certainly did not call into question the well established fact that we and chimps did share a common ancestor.
Plus, I believe the convention in science is to get your information from a source slightly more academically weighty than a TV documentary, even a two-hour one.
I am aware that it is the learning process of evolutionary "science" to continually discover itself to be wrong. So there can never be a time when believers can claim they have the truth. This is just as well, because each new and believed hypothesis, like the crazy fashions of a superficial teenager, is in time discarded in favor of the new.
Actually, to discover mistakes and adapt accordingly is a feature of all science and is actually one of its greatest strengths. Imagine if astronomy had stopped with Ptolomy's model of the solar system because science was not interested in changing to get closer to the truth. Or if nobody had bothered to work on the concept of alternating current because direct current was already in place.
However, the foundational fact of evolution and the theory of natural selection is not in doubt because no reason has ever been given to doubt it. It is only the details and the fine print that undergo revision when new evidence gives reason.
After addressing my arguments from the portion of the Introduction she doesn't want students to read, Scott says, "More fossils will provide more details, but this outline of human evolution is not in serious doubt among scientists." Hear her own words: "More fossils will provide more details." In other words, they still don't have the undisputed fossils. That's what Darwin lamented 150 years ago! He said that when a skeptic "may ask in vain, 'Where are the numberless transitional links?' " Darwin's answer was that the missing links "may lie buried under the ocean." They are still buried somewhere, 150 years later. Scott said that "human evolution isn't in serious doubt among scientists." But I say, it should be.
Finally, after all this foreplay, Comfort has made his way to every creationist's favourite argument - that there are no transitional fossils. Creationists' dismissal of the plethora of transitional forms that have been discovered comes from their bizarre mischaracterisation of the theory of evolution itself, as discussed above. Comfort's belief that any extant species must be linked to its ancestors by a lineage of bizarre chimeras like the crocoduck leads to the incorrect expectation that there should be fossils discovered that document these odd, twisted creatures of his imaginings.
We have numerous transitional fossils, but they all look too disappointingly normal and, superficially at least, too much like other extant animals to satisfy the expectations of the twisted, straw-filled version of evolution held up by creationists.
There is also the problem, when asking why we don't have numberless fossils, that for an animal to fossilise is pretty rare. A quite specific and unlikely set of circumstances lead to a dead animal fossilising, so only a tiny percentage of the animals that have ever lived have done so. Nevertheless, despite the necessarily patchy nature of the fossil record, it is full enough to be useful and to inform our understanding of our planet's past.
She also says, "There are splendid fossils of dinosaurs that have feathers and of whales that have legs—and even feet." But she doesn't give me any details of such splendor. Where are they?
In answer to this, I can do no better than to quote Eugenie Scott's own reply:
Comfort complains that I didn't provide enough detail in my brief essay about those fossil whales. You want a list of fossil whales showing the transitional features marking the evolutionary transition from land animal to marine, such as changes in the ears, nostrils, and limbs? Indohyus, Icthyolestes, Pakicetus, Nalacetus, Remingtonocetus, Ambulocetus . . . . Never mind. Start here, for a nontechnical review by a team of whale paleontologists.
Ray Comfort concludes:
There are so many gaps and holes in the theory of evolution that you could drive a fleet of a thousand fully laden 18-wheelers through them. The irony is that I can see them, and I'm not an expert on the subject of evolution. So, what does that say about the theory's experts, whoever they are? It says (as a wise man once said) that man will believe anything . . . as long as it's not in the Bible.
The declaration that he is "not an expert on the subject of evolution" is the first thing he has said that I agree with and perhaps he should consider whether perhaps it is his understanding, rather than the subject itself, that has the gaps and the holes.