An Evolution of Lies

Mark Cagnetta

As I made the short walk back to my house from my mailbox, shuffling my stack of mail along the way, an impersonally addressed, oversized postcard caught my eye. So intriguing was this invitation to an upcoming event, I began perusing its content before I reached the front door. Apparently, per the return label, “Emmanuel”—the Messiah himself, who now resides in Tecumseh, Michigan—was on a nationwide tour to educate Americans. “The Evidence: Does God Exist?” was prominently displayed on the back of the card with a list of nine dates, each corresponding with religious subject matter; most of which, not coincidentally, has been challenged at some point by modern secular scholarship. The colloquium was to start with a bang, answering the initial query, Does God Exist? Each consecutive night’s subject matter was designed as a counterargument to topics concerned with science, paleontology, archaeology, history, and reason: Where did life on Earth come from? Does science support evolution? Are fossils millions of years old? Does archaeology support the Bible? Can the Bible predict the future? The last three evenings focused on theological questions: Whatever happened to the second coming of Jesus? Why theodicy? What is love?

At first glance, this appeared to be an exercise in disguised apologetics. Truth, which Thomas Henry Huxley referred to as “the heart of morality,” was obviously going to take a backseat to these pseudoscientific prevarications. Having been raised a Catholic, I was well-versed in the mythology that is religion, and these imminent proceedings roused in my mind a scene from the pages of the Old Testament. As I recall, in Exodus, the necessity of truth-telling was revealed to God’s minions. With a dollop of poetic license, the biblical narrative went something like this: To the musical accompaniment of a supernatural trumpeter, Yahweh, disguised as a thick cloud, descended upon the mythical Mount Sinai to address the Israelites. Amid a raging thunderstorm and a concomitant earthquake, Yahweh presented Moses and his followers with a slew of precepts ranging from the stoning of misbehaving children to a demand for monotheism in a wildly polytheistic world. One such dictate addressed the need for truthfulness, however ironic it may seem, particularly in light of the fact that the entire narrative is a fabrication. “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor,” God commanded his chosen people. “False witness,” technically, means to not perjure oneself, but it has commonly been interpreted as a moral imperative to tell the truth.

Assuming those who currently practice the Judeo-Christian religion adhere to this adjuration as vehemently as they wish to uphold the Levitical law against homosexuality, one would assume that honesty, for them, is of the utmost importance. I decided to attend at least one of these indoctrinational seminars to put my supposition to the test.

Regrettably, all of these so-called courses were held in the evening, beginning at seven o’clock. Because of prior engagements and, of course, work, I was able to free up only one night—a Sunday—to seek the answer to the burning, almost risible, question: Does science support evolution? Given that Theodosius Dobzhansky, the renowned evolutionary geneticist and, regrettably, believer in a personal god, once wrote in his essay “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution,” “Evolution as a process that has always gone on in the history of the earth can be doubted only by those who are ignorant of the evidence or are resistant to the evidence, owing to emotional blocks or to plain bigotry,” it was going to be interesting to see if these evangelists were intending to disparage not only evolution but the entire branch of biological science. Primarily, I was curious to see if this organization was going to willfully bear false witness against my neighbors, deceiving the audience into believing there was no factual basis for Darwin’s indubitable theory. Naturally, there was little doubt in my mind that this was going to happen. Christians desperately cling to their creation story, despite its lack of evidentiary value, especially how it pertains to the origins of Homo sapiens.

When the big night finally arrived, my wife and I drove twenty-five miles to the town of Wickenburg, Arizona, where the event was being held. Wickenburg can only be described as a whistle-stop, proudly emphasizing its historic wild-West tradition and quaintness. Why the town, and its Vulture Peak Middle School library, was chosen as the setting for this evening of numinous rhetoric remains one of life’s great mysteries. Some data on the populace: Wickenburg, a town of 6,800 people, 25 percent of them college educated, is predominantly white at 90 percent. Only about 40 percent of its residents are religiously affiliated. Not exactly a Montgomery or a Chattanooga by any stretch of the imagination!

As we turned onto Vulture Peak Road, which ultimately leads to its craggy mountain namesake as well as the similarly titled, partially abandoned nineteenth-century gold mine, we headed west until we located the school’s long, dark driveway, leading to a dimly lit parking lot. On entering the building, we were greeted by an elderly woman with well-coiffed hair. Most attendees were in their sixties, and they all appeared to be acquainted with one another. The event must have been sponsored by a local church and attended mostly by its members. We were immediately recognized as outsiders. We were kindly offered not only the study guide for the evening’s subject matter but also those for the two previous sessions, as well as the upcoming nights’ courses.

The library was aged, musty, and sparsely stocked with books. It also doubled as the school’s oversized trophy case. We sat next to the shelf accommodating a set of relatively obsolete Encyclopedia Britannica. In the center of the room was a podium with a microphone, a large speaker, and a sizable vertical sign depicting the face of a very pensive chimpanzee, with the heading “The Evidence.”

It became glaringly obvious that audience members, neatly garbed in clothing that could only be described as rancher-chic, were accustomed to countering scientific and atheistic perspectives. An elderly man, sitting nearby, inquired of a gentleman in his mid-thirties—whom we suspected was the evening’s lecturer, as he was readying his material at the podium—about the religiosity of Christopher Hitchens. Specifically, he asked if Hitchens had converted to Christianity on his deathbed. The supposed ringmaster referenced Larry Taunton’s book, which has been relegated to most bookstores’ bargain bins, The Faith of Christopher Hitchens. Taunton, he said, insinuated that Hitchens had become more accepting of religion prior to his untimely death and that he may have rejected his atheistic stance in exchange for Christ. This would register as the first lie of the evening.

Due to our absence at the first meeting, we may have missed the formal introductions, but on this night, introductions were in short supply. Post-lecture, I conducted an internet search and found that the principal speaker was an Arizona pastor named Myckal Morehouse. Denominationally, Morehouse is a Seventh-day Adventist, a sect that believed Emmanuel, a.k.a. Jesus Christ, was due to return on October 22, 1844. Unfortunately, the savior had a previous engagement, and from that day forward, the non-event has been referred to as “The Great Disappointment.” Although the night was young, there was no indication that the promised Emmanuel, of the Tecumseh Emmanuels, was going to materialize on this particular evening either.

Morehouse momentarily stepped aside as another gentleman positioned himself at the podium. Again without identifying himself, this person turned on the microphone and advised us that the program was about to begin. Assuming he was most of the audience’s pastor and thus the sponsor of this event, he certainly added a creepy vibe to the night’s festivities. He appeared to be a cross between Joseph Goebbels and Max Wright, the father in the television show Alf. With little fanfare, he returned to his seat.

No sooner did Morehouse commence his talk—on behalf of something called—than he launched into disparaging Darwin. No need for a tree of life, Morehouse contended. Instead, a tree in an orchard was proposed. The inane example in the handout was a “dogwood tree,” with a wolf at the trunk and manifold varieties of canines as the branches. A fox, a pug, and a Dalmatian populated the tree. Within this cockamamie schema, there are no interrelationships between species: apes descend from apes, cats from cats, and so on and on. Despite sharing 98.8 percent of their deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) with humans, chimpanzees, our closest relatives, simply could not swing from the branches of our family tree.

Of course, we had to suffer through the typical Intelligent Design (ID) hogwash that is usually promulgated by members of The Discovery Institute: the flagellar motor and its irreducible complexity, the singularity of micro-evolution, and the fallacy of bacterial mutation. There was no mention of real science, which has overwhelmingly contradicted such claims. Evidence that the molecular components of the bacterial flagellum were coopted from other primordial systems that often had little to do with cell motility was carefully omitted. The expectation of bacteria to mutate into higher lifeforms before our very eyes is akin to asking, “If we evolved from monkeys, then why are there still monkeys?” Macro-evolution doesn’t happen overnight; it takes millions of years. Yet it certainly doesn’t require a degree in microbiology to understand that bacteria evolve quickly enough to become multi-drug resistant, baffling hospital staff who prosecute a never-ending battle against infection.

The remainder of the “curriculum” was devoted to highlighting members of the animal kingdom that have unique and distinctive features, all of which have been, in the scientific realm, definitively attributed to evolution. In this forum, however, such features could only be the creation of an intelligent designer. Jerry Coyne, the evolutionary biologist and professor emeritus at the University of Chicago, addressed this bit of sophistry in his book Faith versus Fact: “While ID advocates argue that the designer is not necessarily the Judeo-Christian God—it could, they say, be an alien from another planet—this is disingenuous.” So, we’re supposed to believe that the incognito designer may or may not be the God who Christians vehemently insist created the universe and all living things. Disingenuous is an understatement. This is doubtless a religious platform, and because the word God is intentionally expunged from the record certainly doesn’t obfuscate the intent of this propaganda.

Since the courts have ruled that ID is religious—that the acronym is just a euphemism for God’s six days of exhausting handiwork—there is no need to quibble. So, when Morehouse, without imparting any credentials qualifying him to teach scientific matter, edified us about caterpillar metamorphosis, the amazing Monarch butterfly migration, the freakiness of the duck-billed platypus, and the epic migration of the golden plover, we audience members were encouraged to believe that these animals—all still in their original state of creation—possess unique traits and abilities because that’s the way God made them. “Without being designed,” Morehouse asked, how could these animals make long, treacherous trips without GPS or a map? How can the platypus bill sense electric-type impulses? How can a caterpillar morph into a beautiful butterfly?

Failing to see the so-called intelligence of the biblical protagonist—and I question not only his creativity, lack of basic knowledge, and geographic-centricity but also his willingness to divulge his techniques and the material make-up of his creation—I must, again, revert back to the text of the Old Testament. On the fourth day of God’s creation spree, he spawned “the great whales and every living creature that moveth … which the waters brought forth abundantly,” as well as “the fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.” This, we are told, is intelligence beyond human comprehension. As we heathens are well aware, the firmament is the dome over the earth that separates the waters below from the waters above. Apparently, this self-proclaimed globule of supernatural genius mistook the cerulean sky he created for a body of azure sea, just as he misidentified the light of the day and the light of the night as two separate and distinct sources. On the fifth day, the deity created “cattle, and creeping things, and beast of the earth.” Clearly, this designer was no Linnaeus!

Of the millions of species of animals on this planet, the best God could do was to name off animals that were familiar to the authors of the Bible and animals that were geographically indigenous within the boundaries of their authorship. In the story of Job, the braggart God dazzles his loyal servant by rattling off an array of animal creations that only he, in his infinite wisdom, could have created: the hawk, the eagle, the mountain goat, the peacock, and the wild ass. His credibility diminishes, however, when he credits himself with the wings of the ostrich—which are vestigial appendages—to say nothing of the mythical unicorn. According to most accounts, the unicorn was most probably the sideways-standing Oryx, whose two horns appeared as one (apologists would like us to believe this is an interpretational error and the “unicorn” could be either an ox, a rhinoceros, or a triceratops). Seemingly, on this particular evening, God’s toadies were going to more than make up for the big guy’s lack of taxonomic knowledge.

Morehouse continued his diatribe against the evolutionary process. He cited the creator’s affinity for beetles—there are over 250,000 varieties—by singling out the bombardier beetle, which can create an explosive chemical mixture that it “fires at its enemies.” He mentioned fireflies in the Smokey Mountains National Park (was the “creator” even aware of North America?) that simultaneously display their bioluminescence. And then there was the incredible, edible egg, which has over 10,000 pores, providing oxygen for the chick.

Being an Arizona resident and a desert dweller myself, the chuckwalla lizard is a reptile I am intimately familiar with. Our host, boasting once more about the creator’s genius, elucidated us on the reptile’s ability to purge built-up salt from its system. This capacity to rid itself of excess sodium chloride, according to the speaker, is something that had to have existed from its origin.

As if attending a fireworks display, the “oohs” and “aahs” flowed from the audience in childlike amazement. Bush turkey chicks, after being abandoned by their parents, we were told, have an innate ability to hunt. How could that be? “It is impossible,” the handout states, “without being designed or preprogrammed with information to know how to do this.” Another species that allegedly could not have evolved, despite all the information we have to the contrary, including the sequencing of the avian genome, is the European green woodpecker. This bird, according to Morehouse, has a tongue so unique and specialized that one can only extrapolate that a designer, intimating the Christian god, could have fashioned such an anomaly. In a section of the handout titled “What Your Textbook Left Out,” the claim is made that “There are no other woodpeckers or animals that have a tongue like this that this woodpecker could have evolved from.”

At the conclusion of this intellectual travesty, I was a bit perturbed. The fabulist at the lectern had not only spoken of Darwin and Hitchens with great animus; he had also mendaciously distorted the theory of evolution, a theory bolstered by immense evidence. Instead, he proffered an explanation for the wonders of our planet in the form of an invisible architect who resides in an imaginary kingdom, the only available evidence for whom having been written by humans, thousands of years ago, with no verifiable facts.

Verity, which undergirds God’s commandment not to bear false witness against one’s neighbor, seems immaterial when defending the human construct known as religion. Pretending to be an institution of learning, this well-organized propaganda machine had spewed intellectual dishonesty at every turn. It amounted to nothing more than a sham. “The purpose of education,” Lawrence Krauss, our local theoretical physicist, famously stated, “is not to validate ignorance, but to overcome it.”

After his presentation, Morehouse opened the floor to questions. Prior to attending, my wife and I had deliberated about whether I should expose myself as a heretic by challenging these “creationists in lab coats.” Ultimately, we decided to heed the advice that Saul of Tarsus shared with his female congregants, and we kept quiet. This decision was not easily reached, but, as interlopers, we chose to be respectful and allow the ignorance to flow.

Of the few questions that were asked by the audience, only one was memorable. An elderly gentleman asked, “If caterpillars turn into butterflies, where do caterpillars come from?” Enough said.

Several days after attending this seminar, I conducted some research of my own. I selected just a couple of’s ludicrous claims and set out to challenge their integrity. Having recently corrected a coworker who had misidentified a chuckwalla traversing the grounds of our workplace as a Gila monster, this was a good place to start. The chuckwalla, as you recall, has a problem with the build-up of salt in its system. Its ability to dispense of that excess salt could only be the work of intelligent design, claimed the speaker. In a few minutes of research, I found that sea birds eliminate salt through their nasal glands. A fluid saltier than sea water flows out of their nostrils and then drips from their beaks. In a 1958 Scientific American article written by Knut Schmidt-Nielsen, this miracle of evolution is elucidated as it pertains to both birds and reptiles. The gull rids itself of salt in the aforementioned fashion, while the pelican has evolved to discard salt via grooves in its upper beak, avoiding any risk of salt dripping into its pouch. Marine reptiles also jettison excess salt through their nasal cavities. We know that millions of years ago the southwest was under water, so it is no great leap to understand that the chuckwalla’s ability to rid its body of deleterious salt is a direct result of evolution.

Additionally, there is a clear genetic link between reptiles and birds; all birds are descendants of avian dinosaurs. It has long been theorized that birds branched off from the small, meat-eating dinosaurs known as theropods. No leap of faith is required.

The process of evolution is simple, wrote Jerry Coyne in his book Evolution Is True: “It requires only that individuals of a species vary genetically in their ability to survive and reproduce in their environments.” Moreover, Coyne wrote, because these evolved traits have such a profound effect on a species and the adaptation to their environs, “natural selection can, over eons, sculpt an animal or plant into something that looks designed.” The European green woodpecker would be one such animal. To sloppily assert, without facts, that the tongue of this woodpecker was patented by a supernatural being some 6,000 years ago is irresponsible and silly. The tongue of the woodpecker has adapted to its needs.

Without a doubt, the tongues of certain woodpeckers, including Picus viridis—the European green—are quite remarkable. Woodpeckers drill into trees to obtain food, so natural selection has given them a distinct advantage over other birds who might equally enjoy the delectable insects so effectively sought after by members of the family Picidae. In On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin wrote that the woodpecker, “with its feet, tail, beak and tongue,” was remarkably “adapted to catch insects under the bark of trees.” With larger, thicker skulls than other birds, including the terrestrial version of its own species, the green woodpecker also has special feet adapted for climbing and a tongue that can extend long distances, weaving through insect tunnels in search of food. The tongues are barbed and sticky, courtesy of mucus emitted from an enlarged salivary gland.

Long-tongued woodpeckers such as the Euro green do not have a muscular tongue as humans do. Instead their tongues are supported by a bony, cartilaginous structure called the hyoid apparatus. The hyoid horns, to which the retractor muscles (M. cricohyoideus) and the protracting muscles (M. branchiomandibularis)—all well-developed in woodpeckers—are attached, extend the length of the tongue. “For woodpeckers that protract their tongue great distances,” wrote Dr. Walter Bock, an evolutionary biologist at Columbia University, “these muscles must be very long, at least three times as long as the distance the tongue is protruded.” The hyoid horn and the protracting muscles of the tongue thus loop around the salivary gland, extend around the skull, enter the right nostril, and end at the upper jaw.

To insinuate that evolution was a non-factor is an outright lie. The specialized tongue of a woodpecker evolved exactly as one would expect. To clarify, I reached out to a local expert at Columbia University, Dr. Walter Bock, who informed me that “The tongue of woodpeckers and its musculature is clearly the same as that in other birds. Interesting is that the muscle protruding the tongue is the same in all birds that protrude their tongue, but there is considerable variation in the muscle that retracts the tongue back into the mouth.” Such changes, even if no intermediate examples exist in the fossil record, still allow scientists to plausibly envision how the changes could come about evolutionarily.

“The muscle that usually retracts the tongue in most birds, the M. stylohyoideus, is vestigial to absent in woodpeckers,” Brock continued. “One could conclude that it did not elongate sufficiently during the evolution of woodpeckers to retract the extended tongue. What occurred in the evolution of the woodpecker was that the M. cricohyoideus elongated, and in more specialized woodpeckers wrapped several times around the trachea.” Much like the varying sizes and shapes of the beaks of Darwin’s Galapagos finches, the long-tongued woodpeckers do not have the same tongues as their wood-boring brethren. “The differences,” Brock said, “would only be in the length of the muscles, as muscles have to be sufficiently long to be able to move structures the distance needed.” This sure sounds like evolution to me.

Despite the fact that 99 percent of all animals that lived on this planet have gone extinct, we are encouraged to believe that because there is wondrous fauna in our midst, the only explanation must be a supernatural designer. In turn, we are expected by mouthpieces to eschew science and adopt the notion that the remaining 1 percent of animals have either undergone minor changes—micro-evolution—or none at all. This is not legitimate scholarship they propagate; it is a feeble, almost comical, attempt to defend religion from the onslaught of academia. Beneath the lies and deceit that the gullible attendees at the original seminar event digested so placidly, blissfully unaware that a Commandment was being broken in their midst, there remains an obviously maladroit attempt to resuscitate a struggling belief system. With such a pathetic display, the prophetic words of William Hurrell Mallock (written in 1876), ring from the hollows of the Vulture Peak Middle School: “… One can hear faith decaying.”

Mark Cagnetta

Mark Cagnetta holds a doctorate degree in organizational leadership and is a retired police captain with more than twenty-five years of law enforcement experience.

As I made the short walk back to my house from my mailbox, shuffling my stack of mail along the way, an impersonally addressed, oversized postcard caught my eye. So intriguing was this invitation to an upcoming event, I began perusing its content before I reached the front door. Apparently, per the return label, “Emmanuel”—the …

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