Yusuf Estes and Evolution

Here’s a riddle: How do you make a creationist look ridiculous?  You quote them, although a video will do just as well.  One of the absolute worst creationists is Muslim “scholar” Yusuf Estes.  The video is here, for your masochistic enjoyment:

I admit when I first saw this video my brain chickened out on me.  I had no idea what the hell kind of point Yusuf Estes was trying to make about the monkeys, or how on Earth it could have anything to do with evolution.  I’ve been a biology/paleontology enthusiast since I was old enough to count, read a small mountain of books covering both subjects, and alas, failed to come across anything that says the existence of other primates invalidates evolution.  Why should it?  Evolution explains the diversity of life and how such came to pass, and so of course there are going to be plenty of life forms out there that are related to us and resemble human beings in various degrees.

The only truly interesting/novel part of the video is where Estes advertises a contact of his, Dr. Fatima Jackson from the University of Maryland.  Even here, however, he doesn’t fail to disappoint.  Here is a “robust” list of the claims he makes against evolution, the last two in her name:

  1.  All of the animals featured in a painting called March of Progress are still alive today [they aren’t], and therefore evolution is untrue. This is the weakest objection of all, because March of Progress is merely a painting depicting the evolution of man, and has nothing to do with the scientific evidence. It isn’t even accurate as an overall description of human evolution, since modern humans are not the result of straightforward progression but the sole survivors of a once much larger and more diverse group of animals.
  2. All of the species of extinct hominids lived at the same time.  Not only does this statement contradict his first claim, which is pretty comical in itself, it is also false.  Take two species for example, Homo neanderthalensis and Australopithecus africanus.  Both lived roughly two million years apart.  A. africanus went extinct 2.3 million years ago, shortly after the species Homo habilis evolved.  H. neanderthalensis evolved in Europe around the same time as our own species did in Africa and only died out about 18,000 years before the historical era began. (Neanderthals, by the way, were not our ancestors, but close cousins.)   Similar claims can be made for Homo heidelbergensis and Paranthropus boisei, and so on and so forth.
  3. Since different species of hominids lived together, they could not have evolved from one another and evolution must be false.  Again, buzz! Wrong.  Nobody is claiming that they all developed from each other. Instead, they all descend from a common ancestor that lived approximately seven million years ago.  And because again natural selection is not some march of progress into the direction of humanity, but rather a filter that favors the traits which provide the most benefit for the individual bearing them, it really doesn’t matter if related animals live at the same time.  Keep in mind that many of the species of early hominids had different lifestyles, and did not always complete with each other.  Some were primarily vegetarians who lived in tropical eastern Africa.  Others were predators that took on animals as large as deer and mammoths and lived in Europe during the ice ages. 

Estes’ arguments are nothing new.  They’re based upon a common misconception that evolution is some sort of ladder of advancement whereby animals must become increasingly more human-like or perish.  I’ve never come across anything written by a credible biologist that suggests such, and therein the explanation for my initial inability to understand Estes’ what-could-only-be-very-charitably-called reasoning lies.  The speaker is attacking a caricature of modern biology, nothing more.

The rest is also the normal slop.  You know how it rolls.  Scientists are on the run and don’t know how to respond to creationist claims, Intelligent Design advocates are being persecuted in America, “Evolutionists” lie, and well, whatever.  The absolute worst was the proud affirmation “you can’t disprove that God exists!”  People are justified in asking for more responsible logic, Estes, given the fact that your own religion provides a complex framework for affairs as diverse as government, art, and even capital punishment.  It just shouldn’t be accepted on a whim.

Yusuf Estes, you should be ashamed of yourself.  You aren’t just wrong in the epistemological sense of the word; you’re morally bankrupt if you think that it’s OK to lecture crowds of people on subjects you plainly don’t have a clue about while claiming otherwise.  Being misled by creationist apologetics (Harun Yahya’s work, for example) is understandable.  But that excuse evaporates the moment you decide to sell a discredited idea without doing the hard work, which involves actually reading papers and books written by biologists that explain the mainstream perspective on the subject.  You’re ruthlessly promoting ignorance about one of the cornerstones of science and what is also an indispensible approach to modern medicine, thereby wronging the people who trust you.  And you laugh while you do it.  You disgust me, and I can’t believe that I once actually looked up to you myself.

And no, Estes, “real scientists” don’t give up when they don’t understand how something works.  And they certainly don’t try to plug their own cultural biases – in this case the God of Abrahamic religion – when looking for an explanation.  Science is more rigorous than that.  Good scientists work hard until their research can yield testable answers, and then they submit their conclusions to other experts in relevant fields so they can be challenged if something is wrong.  Charles Darwin himself spent twenty years experimenting with his ideas and collecting specimens before publishing his book.  That is how true science functions.

You fail.


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