Archive for the 'Creationism/ID' Category

Jul 31 2014

Just Asking Questions – Creation Edition

One of the strategies of denying established science is to “just ask questions” (affectionately known as JAQing off). The point is to undermine the science by probing for things that don’t appear to make sense, but not in a sincere attempt to understand. Rather, the idea is to ask questions that have already been answered, or that are based upon false assumptions or straw-man distortions of the science.

Recently I was sent this article by Fred Reed in which he asks questions about evolution. He writes:

To this end, I submit a few questions which have strained my admittedly paltry understanding for some time. They are not new questions, but could use answers. I agree in advance to accept his answers (if any be given) as canonical.

The “his” refers to John Derbyshire, who is an author and journalist. I am not sure why Reed directs his questions toward him or would consider his answers “canonical.”

I don’t know how sincere Reed is in his questions, but I would suggest if they are sincere that he read a few books by biologists. Answers to all his questions are out there, or at least the information necessary to determine why his questions are naive.

Since I like answering questions as a format for explaining complex science, I thought I would take up Reed’s questions myself.

(1) In evolutionary principle, traits that lead to more surviving children proliferate. In practice, when people learn how to have fewer or no children, they do. Whole industries exist to provide condoms, diaphragms, IUDs, vasectomies, and abortions, attesting to great enthusiasm for non-reproduction. Many advanced countries are declining in population.   How does having fewer surviving children lead to having more surviving children? Less cutely, what selective pressures lead to a desire not to reproduce, and how does this fit into a Darwinian framework?

Reed’s first question illustrates what I mean. There is no direct answer to his question, because the question itself contains false premises. His question cannot be answered, only deconstructed.

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Jul 22 2014

Aliens are Sinners

To paraphrase Carl Sagan: in one unremarkable galaxy among hundreds of billions, there is an unremarkable star among hundreds of billions of stars in that one galaxy. Around that star revolves a world with life. Some people who live on that world believe they are the center of the universe.

Sagan nicely puts into perspective how absurd it is to believe, given our current knowledge of the cosmos, that we are the center of all things, either physically at the literal center, or metaphorically as in, we are the most important things in the universe. This is a childish view, held by our ancestors because they couldn’t know any better. Science, as Stephen Gould noted, is partly a process of smashing pillars of human narcissism. Neither the earth, nor our sun, nor our galaxy are at the center of the universe. The universe, it turns out, has no center. Neither are humans at the pinnacle of the evolutionary tree – we are just one twig, and every other twig has just as much evolutionary history behind it as we do.

Humans are certainly the most encephalized species on the planet, with by far the most advanced culture and technology, so we are special in that sense. Every time, however, scientists believe they have nailed down something that is unique about humans, some researcher finds that chimps (our closest cousins), or even other species, can do it too. We are part of the animal kingdom, part of this physical world, the result of natural processes that seem ubiquitous throughout the universe.

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Jun 19 2014

New Creationist Documentary – Same Old Nonsense

Published by under Creationism/ID

Creation.com, the authors of “15 questions for ‘evolutionists’ that they have already answered but we are going to continue to ignore those answers,” has recently release a trailer for their new movie where they apparently found 15 PhDs who are willing to embarrass themselves by documenting their scientific illiteracy. The film is “Evolution’s Achilles’ Heels,” and if the trailer is any indication, it is just a repackaging of the same creationist lies that have been exposed for decades.

The trailer starts out with the claim, “Most evolutionists have never critically examined their own position.” That is, if you don’t count the last 150 years of scientific examination, thousands of published peer-reviewed papers, and dozens of popular books carefully (what’s that word?) examining the evidence for evolution. We can add to that now the countless websites and blog posts critically examining every question creationists endlessly raise. Seriously, such a claim is either a bald-faced lie, or evidence of profound intellectual laziness.

The next series of “Achilles’ Heel” shockers is based on a misunderstanding of biology, genetics, and evolution. The voice on the trailer claims that mutation and natural selection “work in the wrong direction,” and so “how does evolution work?”

You can see where they are going with this. In their 15 questions propaganda, #3 states that mutations cannot add specific information, because mutations “degrade” information. Then #4 repeats the canard that natural selection only removes unfit genetics from the population, and does not add anything.

It states:

Mutations are known for their destructive effects, including over 1,000 human diseases such as hemophilia. Rarely are they even helpful. But how can scrambling existing DNA information create a new biochemical pathway or nano-machines with many components, to make ‘goo-to-you’ evolution possible?

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Jun 12 2014

Dumb Things Creationists Say

Having read deeply into the creationist literature and having had countless discussions with creationists, one thing is clear to me – creationists do not understand evolutionary theory.

To be fair, most people don’t really understand evolutionary theory, but creationists have a particularly poor understanding. Their problem goes beyond generic scientific illiteracy. They primarily learn about evolution from secondary hostile sources – other creationists. What they learn is creationist made-up nonsense about evolution, which they confuse for the science of evolution. This condemns them to mostly attack pathetic straw men rather than what scientists actually claim about evolution.

For example, Michael Egnor (remember him?), the creationist neurosurgeon who blogs for the Discotute, claimed that if evolution were true, then brain cancer should evolve a better functioning brain.

Today I am going to pick on another example of “if evolution were true, then…” creationist nonsense. This one comes from Creationtoday.org, in a Youtube video Derek Isaacs, a young-earth creationist, claims that:

“If evolution is true and it’s all about the male propagating their DNA, we had to ask hard questions like, well is rape wrong?”

It’s a little disturbing that Isaacs finds this a hard question, but let’s break down the many fallacies in this statement.

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Feb 07 2014

Questions from the Nye-Ham Debate

Published by under Creationism/ID

There has been a lot of discussion about the Bill Nye-Ken Ham creationism debate from the other night. Questions about whether or not the debate was a good idea, and who won, are probably too overwhelmed with subjectivity for there to be any definitive answer. We talked about it on the SGU this week so you can listen to the next show to hear my thoughts.

One sideshow that emerged from the debate that I do want to talk about came from journalist Matt Stopera. He reports:

I asked 22 self-identifying creationists at the Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate to write a message/question/note to the other side. Here’s what they wrote.

Take a look at the 22 photos – this is not a scientific survey by any means, but probably does reveal something about what the “rank and file” creationist on the street believes. I thought it would be fun to actually answer the 22 questions, since there are likely to be many creationists out there who believe the same sorts of things.

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Oct 08 2013

Kansas Citizens Sue to Reject Science

There’s some good news and some bad news. The good news is that 7 states have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), including Kansas. These science standards were developed by The National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Achieve, and are a comprehensive and coordinated k-12 science curriculum.

This is an excellent attempt to provide a consistent high standard across the 50 states. The states each adopt their own science standards, with most not doing a great job. This is one area where it is probably not necessary to reinvent the wheel 50 times – science is generally a consensus-building exercise, and at the k-12 level students should be learning basic science that is all well-established. I think it is a great idea to have a consortium of scientific organizations create standards that states can then adopt, without having to duplicate the work themselves.

It is also heartening that Kansas is one of the first seven states to adopt the standards. Frankly, they can use it.

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Sep 13 2013

More on Logic and Thermodynamics

Michael Egnor likes to play the game of Name That Logical Fallacy – or at least he likes to set up other people to play that game. He is a creationist neurosurgeon who has been blogging over at Evolution News & Views, an intelligent design propaganda outlet. In a recent post he attempts to reply to my post deconstructing a paper by Graville Sewell in which he claimed that evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics.

Egnor blows his first attempt at naming a fallacy.

Novella begins his critique of Sewell’s argument with the usual Darwinist ad hominem:

“Creationists will just not let go of an argument, no matter how many times it is pointed out to them that their argument is unsound. They simply find new twists of logic and distortions of science to resurrect their precious argument, clinging to it more tightly than Gollum held onto his ring.”

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Sep 05 2013

The Second Law of Thermodynamics – Again

Published by under Creationism/ID

Creationists will just not let go of an argument, no matter how many times it is pointed out to them that their argument is unsound. They simply find new twists of logic and distortions of science to resurrect their precious argument, clinging to it more tightly than Gollum held onto his ring.

Creationists are befuddled by the concept that life on earth can become spontaneously more complex over time – because they simply do not understand evolution. They therefore make an argument from personal incredulity: how can such a thing possibly occur? I cannot imagine it, therefore it is not possible.

Such statements may be persuasive to the masses, but not to scientists and intellectuals, so they upgraded this argument to make it sound more sciencey by stating it in terms of the second law of thermodynamics. This law states that in a closed system entropy can only increase, not decrease. Stated another way, closed systems tend toward disorder (more probable states) rather than order (less probable states).

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Aug 29 2013

Logic vs Ray Comfort

Published by under Creationism/ID

Ray “The Bananaman” Comfort has a reputation for having a casual relationship with logic. Perhaps it’s better to say that they are complete strangers. His latest assault on reason is a an ambush video called “Evolution vs God.” The entire video, right from the title, is an exercise in asking loaded questions.

In the video Comfort is behind the microphone asking apparently random people on a college campus, plus a couple of professors (including PZ Myers), ambush questions about life, the universe, and everything. The video is then edited into brief clips (short attention span theater style) to make it look like Comfort stumped the person being interviewed or that he caught them in a logical trap. The strategy is maximally unfair to those being interviewed, and intellectually disingenuous or just lazy.

Warning – if you have any ability to think critically, or any intellectual self-respect, the video may induce a feeling of extreme disgust, and in some cases heavy vomiting.

Comfort employs two main strategies in his questioning. The first is to ask very nuanced and complicated questions in a simplistic manner. For example, he asks, “Is morality absolute?” followed up by questions like, “Is rape morally wrong?” The philosophical basis of morality is a complex issue, not a fitting subject for a quick one-line answer.

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Aug 22 2013

T-rex a Vegetarian?

Published by under Creationism/ID

Creationists often have a flagrant disregard for the truth, at times to humorous effect. They often make claims that assault basic logic and common sense, let alone the scientific evidence. One such claim is the focus of a recent video uploaded to YouTube by Paul Taylor from Creation Today, in which he claims that Tyrannosaurus rex was a vegetarian.

Let’s see if we can follow his tortuous logic.

He does acknowledge that T. rex looks like a creature that is supposed to have “et people.” Of course T. rex went extinct about 65 million years before people existed, but that’s a detail that seems to have escaped Taylor. As you will see, attention to detail is not something at which creationists excel.

Taylor further acknowledges that there is “circumstantial” evidence that T. rex may have eaten meat He refers to a triceratops fossil with a T. rex tooth mark, but is clearly minimizing the significance of this evidence as what he calls circumstantial.

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