Archive for the 'Creationism/ID' Category

Jun 26 2015

The Disco-Tute’s Despicable Narrative

Published by under Creationism/ID

The Discovery Institute, in my opinion, is an intellectually dishonest propaganda organization trying desperately (and failing) to disguise itself as a legitimate scientific group. They promote the unscientific notion of intelligent design, which itself is just “scientific creationism” in disguise.

Because they dishonestly pursue an ideological agenda, they are the epitome of the phenomenon of allowing a narrative to control the interpretation and selection of facts and arguments, a process known as motivated reasoning. In the case of the Disco-Tute their narrative is that evolution is bad, and they therefore spend the bulk of their time trashing evolution in every way possible. Sometimes this leads to absurd positions, even by the baseline absurd standards by which the Disco-Tute lives.

A recent article on their blog, Evolution News and Views, hits what is perhaps a new low watermark, even for them: In Explaining Dylann Roof’s Inspiration, the Media Ignore Ties to Evolutionary Racism. That’s right – author David Klinghoffer is trying to exploit the horrible tragedy in South Carolina in order to score imaginary points against evolution. For quick background, Roof (allegedly) is a horrible young white supremacist racist who thought he needed to go into a black church in South Carolina and start shooting people.

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95 responses so far

May 22 2015

Creationist Talking Points

Published by under Creationism/ID

Yesterday I wrote about our struggle to promote and defend the teaching of evolution, and good science in general, in the public school science classroom.  My overall point was that, while we are winning on the legal battleground, we are not making much headway in the broader cultural context, and perhaps we need to step back and think about our strategy.

To my delight, Michael Egnor made an appearance in the comments, and it seemed he truly wanted to engage (at least for a while). Dr. Egnor, if you recall, is a neurosurgeon who rejects what he calls “Darwinism.” He blogs on his own blog and for the Discovery Institute, and we have occasionally crossed swords on our respective blogs.

I was also pleased that the conversation remained polite and civil, allowing us to drill down to the core issues. I want to summarize our exchange here and expand on my responses in the comments.

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355 responses so far

May 21 2015

Creationism – Are We Winning The Battle and Losing The War?

One of the major ambitions of my life is to promote science and critical thinking, which I do under the related banners of scientific skepticism and science-based medicine. This is a huge endeavor, with many layers of complexity. For that reason it is tempting to keep one’s head down, focus on small manageable problems and goals, and not worry too much about the big picture. Worrying about the big picture causes stress and anxiety.

I have been doing this too long to keep my head down, however. I have to worry about the big picture: are we making progress, are we doing it right, how should we alter our strategy, is there anything we are missing?

The answers to these questions are different for each topic we face. While we are involved in one large meta-goal, it is composed of hundreds of sub-goals, each of which may pose their own challenges. Creationism, for example, is one specific topic that we confront within our broader mission or promoting science.

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120 responses so far

Feb 13 2015

Darwin Was Not Wrong Day

Yesterday was February 12th, the birthday of Charles Darwin, who introduced (along with Alfred Wallace) the theory of evolution to the world. Darwin remains one of the most famous scientists to have ever lived, and his life’s work was truly a staggering accomplishment.

There has been an increasing movement to make February 12th Darwin Day in recognition of this great scientist and his work. Skeptics and secularists have been celebrating it for years. Last month Delaware governor Jack Markell declared February 12th Darwin Day for his state. In the US Congress, Representative Jim Himes (D-Connecticut) has sponsored a bill to make February 12th Darwin Day. This will probably die in committee, like previous similar resolutions, but at least someone is trying.

Creationists, predictably, are not happy. Ken Ham want February 12th to be declared, “Darwin was wrong day.” This, of course, is nothing new, but is an opportunity to reveal the thought process of some creationists. Some creationists like to pretend they reject evolution because they disagree with the science. This is transparently not true – the reject evolution because of their religious faith, and then just backfill whatever justifications they can manufacture with motivated reasoning.

Ham reveals this to be the case when he writes:

But those who promote Charles Darwin Day are really promoting an anti-God religion. The evolutionary worldview is an attempt to explain the universe and life without God. It’s a religion of naturalism and atheism. Sadly, many Christians buy into this religion and simply squeeze God into the gaps somewhere. By doing this, it is really no different than the Israelites who adopted the idolatry of the pagan nations and added it to their religious system.

He is against even attempting to explain the world without God. This, of course, denies the world view of anyone who does not share his particular faith.

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71 responses so far

Jan 13 2015

Chimp and Human DNA

Published by under Creationism/ID

I was recently asked to respond to an apologist page that  challenged the scientific claim that human and chimpanzee DNA are very similar, which is evidence that we are descended from a recent common ancestor. You have probably heard the claim that human and chimp DNA are 96% the same. The apologist was referencing the work of Jeffrey Tomkins in his “peer reviewed” study showing that there is only 70% similarity. In fact, the the DNA of chimps and humans are so different, Tomkins claims, that there would not have been enough time for evolution to account for all the changes.

This is what I like to call, “sophisticated nonsense.” The very purpose of pseudoscience such as this is to confuse the public with complicated arguments that only scientists are likely to understand. We can turn such pseudoscience, however, into teachable moments.

For background, it is helpful to understand that there is no completely objective way to come up with one number that represents the percent similarity between the DNA of two species. There are just too many different choices to make in terms of how to count similarity. For example, how do you count chromosomal differences? Do you just compare the sequences of genes in common? What about insertions, gene duplications, and deletions? Do you line up sequences to their best match and just count point mutations? Do you count non-coding segments?

There is no one right way to do it to give a definitive answer of similarity. However, if you have a specific question in mind, then the method you choose should be designed to answer the question.

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24 responses so far

Jan 08 2015

The Science of God

Recently Eric Metaxas wrote an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal in which he argues that, “Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God.” (Sorry, it’s behind a paywall, but I will quote the salient parts.) Metaxas is an author and speaker, but not a scientist, and it shows in his writing.

His essay is based on two instances of the anthropic principle, which simply notes that in order for life to exist the universe must possess conditions compatible with life. He applies the anthropic principle to the Earth specifically and to the universe as a whole. Starting with the Earth he writes:

As factors continued to be discovered, the number of possible planets hit zero, and kept going. In other words, the odds turned against any planet in the universe supporting life, including this one. Probability said that even we shouldn’t be here.

Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life—every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart. Without a massive planet like Jupiter nearby, whose gravity will draw away asteroids, a thousand times as many would hit Earth’s surface. The odds against life in the universe are simply astonishing.

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105 responses so far

Dec 18 2014

Egnor Doubles Down on Incoherent Nonsense

Egnor continues his dualist neuroscience denial in two follow up posts, mostly responding to PZ Myers’ take down of his original post. Egnor has also been writing separately about computers, arguing that they have no memory and will never be intelligent (have agency).

In all of these posts Egnor is following the same basic intellectual strategies – use words in a vague and confusing way to befuddle your reader, and assume your conclusion (dualism). Ironically, he writes:

The contemporary criticism of such phrases as “memory is stored in the brain” and “the brain evaluates propositions” and “the occipital cortex perceives images” — criticism made by neuroscientists and philosophers like Maxwell Bennett and Peter Hacker among others — is in keeping with the salient critiques by ordinary language philosophers who insist that we need to be honest and careful with the meanings of words in our scientific discourse. Ordinary language philosophy in neuroscience is an appeal to conceptual hygiene.

The projection is truly amazing. Science denial is pseudoskepticism – all of the form with none of the actual substance.

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160 responses so far

Dec 16 2014

Neurosurgeon Thinks the Brain Doesn’t Store Memories

It has been six years since I have written a blog post deconstructing the nonsense of our favorite creationist neurosurgeon, Michael Egnor. In case you have forgotten, he is a dualist writing for the intelligent design propaganda blog, Evolution News and Views. He delights in ridiculing what he calls “materialist metaphysics,” or what scientists call, “science.”

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that he has managed to outdo his prior incoherent ramblings. In a recent blog post he claims that it is impossible for the brain to store memories, an idea he ridicules as “nonsense.”

As usual, Egnor is playing loose with definitions and logic, tying himself up in a conceptual knot in order to arrive at his desired destination – the idea that the brain cannot account for mental phenomena. His logic train derails pretty quickly:

It has been known for the better part of a century that certain structures in the brain are associated with memory. The amygdala and the hippocampus in the temporal lobe, and some adjacent cortical regions, have been shown to be associated with the act of remembering in animals and humans.

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68 responses so far

Sep 19 2014

How To Be a Science Denier

This Week Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal gave an excellent lesson on how to be a science denier. Unfortunately, this was not a faux demonstration, he was sincere.

If you recall, in 2012, Jindal advised Republicans to stop being “the stupid party.” This was a provocative statement. I wondered at the time if this signaled a shift in the party away from having anti-science on their platform. Had party insiders finally realized they can’t hang their political future on denying undeniable science, that they need to embrace reality and stop fighting against it?

Alas, it seems that a more cynical interpretation is closer to the truth – that Jindal was simply worried about damage to the Republican brand caused by Republicans saying “offensive, bizarre” comments, but not by the substance of their positions on scientific issues.

At a recent breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, Jindal was introduced as a Brown graduate at the age of 20 with a biology major, then a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, and having a 2 year stint as the president of the University of Louisiana, along with many other accomplishments. So he is a scholar and, to some extent, an academic, with advanced study in biology specifically.

During the breakfast, which included journalists, Jindal was asked about global warming. In response to this issue, Jindal performed a very deft dance. He said, “Let the scientists decide,” referring to whether or not global warming is happening. This, of course, is a clever denialist tactic. The hidden premise here is that the scientists have not already spoken with a unified and loud voice. They have decided – it is clear that human activity is increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and warming the climate.

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84 responses so far

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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133 responses so far

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