Feb 10 2009

Creationists are so unimaginative

Recently, a creationist blogger left the following comment on a recent thread here. He is very long on rhetoric and very short on facts and logic.  He does not raise any new points that have not already been demolished many times over (hence the title of this post). But, this week I want to blog about creation and evolution since it is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Origin of Species.

Here is the comment, posted under the name “truthseeker” but who blogs under John Andrew.

Dr. Egnor addresses you guys as “Darwinists” because there’s no better name for you. Darwinists are really atheists who justify their atheism by attributing everything but the kitchen sink to Darwin. What other explanation could there be for the manic pursuit of a dogma that is attributed to a mere human being. Darwin was not a god, yet he is revered as such by you guys. As a mere man, he erred. Yet you geniuses seem unwilling to acknowledge that as a possibility. You are unreasonable, and unreasoning. You are incapable of respectful dialogue with those who have differing views. There’s a saying that if you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Could that be the reason the evidence SEEMS to stack up in your favor?

I am not a scientist, but I have read a bit, and I am very much interested in evaluating all ideas according to their merit. I have uncovered questions and challenges to the scientist/naturalist/atheist/whateveryouwanttocallyourself dogma. I wrote a series on my blog, and I was challenged a few times. Yet each time I responded with calm reason, asking questions that seemed to challenge Darwinian dogma, my challengers simply disengaged. All they seemed interested in was yelling, cursing, deriding and name-calling. Once I challenged them to defend their positions rationally, they simply disappeared.

Drop on by and take a look. See if you can answer my questions in the spirit of truth-seeking. That means reason with me. If you think I don’t get it, explain it to me. http://andj4613.wordpress.com

Always be suspicious of those who try to grab the mantle of “truth.”  It seems to be a reliable red flag for nonsense.

Before I get to some of the meat of  John’s claims, I want to point out his hysterical propaganda above. He claims that he is only interested in a calm and respectful dialogue, but that those who leave comments on his blog just want to rant and then disappear when challenged. Reading the blog and comments, however, leaves me with the impression that John’s confirmation bias is bordering on delusional.

The very content of his comment here is not calm and rational. He spends most of his time constructing pathetic straw men against which to rant. To him scientists who accept the overwhelming evidence for evolution are dogmatic, worship Darwin (for whatever reason) and are just desperately trying to justify their atheism. He does not appear to have made any attempt to understand evolution, its history, or the arguments for it. This is not the comment of someone who wants a serious dialogue with those who understand evolution, and who seeks the “truth” whatever it might be.

The points that he thinks are so devastating against evolution and from which “Darwinists” run are just recycled old arguments that have already been exposed. In fact, just yesterday I reposted at SkepticBlog an updated version of my answers to “Ten Major Flaws of Evolution.” John’s points are mostly covered here – and John does not seem to be aware that his points have already been refuted, and he has no answer to those refutations.

I am not going to cover yet again the points I addressed yesterday – that post will serve as part of my response to John. For example he repeats (this one never ceases to amaze me) the claim that there are no transitional fossils.

But I did want to focus on two points – the first is the Cambrian Explosion (because this is not covered in my other post). John says on his blog:

The infamous “Cambrian Explosion” shows large numbers of new and much more complex species appearing within a very short period of time, seemingly out of nowhere.  And it was accompanied by a major diversification of other organisms, including animals, phytoplankton, and calcimicrobes.

John does not say what a “very short period of time” is. When talking about something that happened 540 million years ago, and about evidence that exists in the geological record, a little clarification is in order. The Cambrian “explosion” was only sudden in geological time scales. It lasted from 10-50 million years, depending upon how you break it up. But even at the low estimate – 10 million years – that’s a long time, sufficient to allow substantial evolutionary change. But by using the term “short period of time” without any context or clarification, John attempted to create a false impression.

What the Cambrian really represents is the first appearance of hard parts that can fossilize in multicellular life. This is consistent with what we expect – multicellular life arose at some point from single-celled ancestors. Those first multicellular creatures would not have fossilized well. When the adaptation of shells and other hard elements occurred, then such creatures start to appear in the fossil record.

But we would then predict that there might be trace evidence of pre-Cambrian multicellular life, before hard parts appeared. And in fact there is – coprolites, worm casings, and other secondary trace evidence has been found. Just last week, in fact, scientists published evidence of chemical traces of multicellular life from 635 million years ago. Again – this is what we would expect – multicellular life was evolving for tens of millions of years before they evolved hard parts that can fossilize.

The second point I want to cover is that of common descent. He writes:

Universal common descent was a huge leap of faith he (Darwin) made that connected two other observations – that species seemed to appear in the fossil record without explanation, and that species tended to become more complex over time.

There is so much wrong with this. From a historical point of view, common descent did not originate with Darwin.  It was recognized long before Darwin that life seemed to fit into a tree of relatedness. Lamarck spent his career trying to discern the structure of that tree, starting with the hypothesis that it would show a directional trend revealing the inherent force driving evolution. What he found, rather, was a chaotic tree of branching descent with no direction – just adaptation to local environments. To his great credit he changed his thinking in response to this evidence.

Since Darwin the evidence for common descent has only grown, and is now overwhelming. It is perhaps the most supported scientific fact there is (it’s at least one of the most supported). Multiple independent lines of evidence, from anatomy, the fossil record, geology, developmental biology, and genetics – not only support common descent, but the same picture of common descent. This is a remarkable consilience of evidence.

Of these independent lines of evidence the genetic and molecular evidence is the strongest, because it is the most statistically rigorous. In fact daedalus2u (a frequent commenter on this blog as well) pointed this out in the comments to John’s blog – in direct contradiction to John’s own characterization above.

To summarize the main points – proteins are chains of amino acids. There are many different possible arrangements of amino acids that can result in a functionally identical protein, because many amino acids (out of the 20 that make up life) are interchangeable. In addition, there is a redundant genetic code – three base pairs code for each amino acid, and there are several 3-base pair combinations for each amino acid.

To be clear, what this means is that there are potential differences in the sequence of base pairs and in the sequence of amino acids that make absolutely no difference to the final protein -none, zipp, nada.  Combine this with the fact that point mutations (changes in a single base pair) happen at a roughly regular rate over evolutionary time. Those mutations that do not make any functional difference are invisible to natural selection – they cannot be selected against. Therefore they should randomly accumulate over evolutionary time.

Evolution makes a specific prediction about what we would therefore see when we look at protein and genetic information in various species. If common descent is correct then we would expect to see that the closer two species appear to be (by morphology, fossil record, etc.) the fewer random mutations they will display between related proteins. The hemoglobin in a chimp should be more similar to the hemoglobin in a human than a gorilla’s, which will be more similar than a horse’s, which will be more similar than a lizard’s, which will be more similar than a fish – etc.

You should therefore be able to reconstruct the tree of life from looking at any protein that is broadly distributed. Also, you should construct the same tree of life no matter what protein you look at. This is exactly what we find – and this represents overwhelmingly powerful confirmation of common descent. This pattern could not have occurred by chance.

John does not seem to understand this argument. He writes in response:

I want to say, first of all, that I appreciate the calm, instructive tone you took. As a non-scientist, I admit I did not fully appreciate much of your comment, but it seems that you attribute the similarity of DNA design to common descent. Although that seems possible, you have not addressed whether those same design features could have been attributed to a common designer, rather than a common ancestor – or whether they descended from a common ancestor which itself was created by a single designer. Could they?

John’s question is the common response to the evidence for common descent – how do we know life does not look similar because of the common designer?

But this misses the point (and even though daedalus2u explains it further, John never gives any evidence of grasping this evidence).  It’s not just that the proteins look similar – the pattern of similarity reveals branching descent – and the same branching descent for every protein.

If a designer created species roughly as they are, what would be the pattern of differences in genes and proteins? Creationists don’t have an answer for this, and that is why creationism and ID are not testable – they refuse to put their nickle down on any prediction that can falsify their beliefs.  But that point aside, what might we predict from a designer?

Well, once a designer created a functional hemoglobin there would not be any reason to change it, so we might expect that every species with hemoglobin would have the exact same amino acid and base pair sequence as every other. Remember, you cannot say that this is necessary for function – we are talking about changes that have no effect on function. We do not see this.

Or you might say that they would be nearly identical, but that point mutations since creation have created differences. In this case, however, every species would be just as different as every other species. If you compared any two species you would find roughly the same number of mutations different between them – since all species are the same distance from creation. We do not see this pattern, however.

Or you could say that the designer wanted to give each species their own special version of hemoglobin, and that is why they are all slightly different. But then there would be absolutely no reason for there to be any relationship between the apparent degree of evolutionary relatedness and the degree of molecular relatedness. In some protein horses might be more similar to humans than chimps, while in others humans might be closer to the puffer fish. But we don’t see this.

What we see is a pattern of relatedness that is exquisitely evolutionary. It is only compatible with common descent. The only other logical possibility is that a designer specifically varied every gene and protein to create the impression of common descent – an unfalsifiable and therefore unscientific proposition.

Therefore, either creation makes no prediction (not science), or it makes predictions that have been falsified (in which case it is simply wrong, which is a step up from not being science at all). Meanwhile, evolution makes specific predictions that have been validated to such a degree that to deny it would be perverse.

In John’s fantasy world – which is distressingly similar to most creationists I have encountered – I and scientists in general accept evolution because we dogmatically and mindlessly worship Darwin. Never mind that scientists have thoughtfully debated every angle, brought up numerous objections, and searched for highly detailed evidence that could have falsified evolution many times over. Never mind that on this very blog I have constructed many detailed and evidence-based arguments for exactly why I accept evolution as the best theory to date to explain life.  To John and his ilk he can dismiss it all as “dogma”, while simultaneously whining about the dismissive attitude of “Darwinists.”

You might say that I am picking on some random creationist blogger (ignoring the fact that he came to my blog to challenge me) and his views are not representative of the best creationists have to offer. However, this is simply not true. John’s arguments are retreads of the same arguments the creationist community – including the best and brightest among them – have been harping on for decades.

So here is an open challenge to John (and any other creationist). Set aside your self-serving rhetoric about dogma, and answer the evidence I have just laid before you.  I say this is a home-run for common descent. I challenge you to demonstrate that you understand the evidence and offer another viable scientific explanation for it other than common descent.

Either that or admit, at least as far as the scientific evidence is concerned, common descent is the only currently viable conclusion. Then we can move on from there.

43 responses so far

43 Responses to “Creationists are so unimaginative”

  1. JohnFroston 10 Feb 2009 at 7:27 am

    I look forward to see his rational, calm, and logical response to this article. I’m sure his answers will have my atheism weeping at his feet ^_~

  2. Jivlainon 10 Feb 2009 at 7:48 am

    One point – as I understand it (not particularly well, mind), Lamarckian evolution did not involve common descent, but with each species having started out independently as a basic, “lower” organism and then striving up a ladder or hierarchy of creation to “higher” animals.

    I first read “Lamarck” as “Linnaeus” after seeing the word tree.

  3. Michelle Bon 10 Feb 2009 at 8:44 am

    A creationist’s offering a straw man definition of evolution? Say it ain’t so!

  4. DevilsAdvocateon 10 Feb 2009 at 8:59 am

    Dr. N may well have awakened a sleeping minnow which will arise to devour… er… will arise to briefly annoy.

  5. Steven Novellaon 10 Feb 2009 at 9:23 am

    Jivlain,

    My understanding from reading Gould is that Lamarck started out that way, but at the end of his career his tree no longer involved much of a ladder but rather just lateral adaptation to local environments. The tree of life is an even older concept, but you may be right that this does not necessarily imply universal common descent.

  6. mindmeon 10 Feb 2009 at 10:02 am

    ||Although that seems possible, you have not addressed whether those same design features could have been attributed to a common designer, rather than a common ancestor – or whether they descended from a common ancestor which itself was created by a single designer. Could they?||

    They could. Right? They could also be evidence that blue fairies turned us all out in La La Land factories. Or the Scientologists are right and Xenu fashioned us all out of clams.

    Creationists never quite grasp you can come up with any just-so story to explain any observation. They question is how do you *test* it? Creationists walk away from the table at this point. Real science doesn’t. Real science is about many competing just-so stories and coming up with brilliant experiments that help decide between competing just-so stories. Steady state and big bang were two great just-so stories. But science came up with a way to decide which one was probably the better model.

    I’m curious how John would devise an experiment to demonstrate his just-so story (common designer re-using designs) is a better explanation than comment descent? How is his model better than my model that the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man made us all exactly 3.3 million years ago? If his common designer can’t be tested or falsified and common descent via natural means explains observations equally as well, then what is his justification for adding “something else” (in violation of Occam’s Razor)?

    I wonder if John would be happy to pay his mechanic who fixed his engine problem but tacked on an exorcism fee because the mechanic felt the problem wasn’t fully fixed unless fuel line demons were exorcised? None of us would long tolerate a car mechanic who invokes supernatural explanations before pursuing a naturalistic explanation for why your car won’t start. We would require the mechanic to offer great justification for that jump in logic. I’m not sure why creationists like John suddenly demand science behaves in ways he would not tolerate from any other profession that first tries to eliminate natural cause.

  7. catgirlon 10 Feb 2009 at 11:28 am

    Darwinists are really atheists who justify their atheism by attributing everything but the kitchen sink to Darwin.

    Will someone please get the message out to creationists that accepting the evidence of evolution is not the same as being an atheist? Both the Catholic and Methodist churches, among others, officially accept evolution to be compatible with their faith. Believing in evolution doesn’t make someone an atheist any more than believing that the Earth revolves around the sun.

  8. truthseekeron 10 Feb 2009 at 12:21 pm

    I almost appreciate the tone here. It’s not quite as openly hostile as some of the commenters – and there is some actual information. I once again defer to your superior scientific knowledge.

    Here’s the thing, though. You don’t know (and here I am referring to you and your devotees) everything either. And by being rude, condescending, dismissive, and accusatory, they stay clear of learning some things I and my “ilk” might know that they don’t.

    I still have some questions.

    To what do you attribute the appearance of life?
    To what do you attribute the appearance of the universe?
    To what do you attribute the intricately ordered complexity – the elegance of DNA?
    To what do you attribute the fact that anything exists, or as Stephen Hawking put it, “Why does the universe go to the bother of existing?”

    There are so many other questions that cannot be answered by testing. Philosophy and religion exist because we want answers to questions for which science alone is impotent.

    The bottom line is that man will always find himself unable to possess all knowledge of all things, so he will always need to take some things on faith. And before you jump on that, I am not talking about blind faith, but reasonable faith. It’s the kind of faith for which there is corroborating evidence, but no conclusive proof. Sure, the weight of the evidence is a factor, but is it a good idea to simply ignore the questions above because they are not relevant to your chosen field?

    Blaise Pascal, the scientist and mathematician posed the famous “wager” – ‘Even though the existence of God cannot be determined through reason, a person should “wager” as though God exists, because so living has everything to gain, and nothing to lose.’

    I’m an idiot – or ID-iot, if you prefer. You may be right. If you are, we will both die, and it will not matter to either of us who was right. But if I am right, I will have gained paradise, and you will be screaming at God that He’s not fair – that you should have another chance. In the meantime, I take comfort in the fact that there are many highly credentialed scientists who can argue with you toe to toe from a Christian perspective. I listed just a few of them in my post entitled “Only Believe”.

    There’s much more to be said, but I’ll stop there for now. Thank you for allowing me to express my thoughts.

  9. Cronanon 10 Feb 2009 at 12:46 pm

    If I die, and you prove to be right, I will say to God “Why didn’t you give me more evidence?”

    I would of course credit Bertrand Russel accordingly.

  10. HHCon 10 Feb 2009 at 12:52 pm

    When anyone dies, you won’t gain paradise, unless you think a cementary plot is good real estate in a terrific location. Your body which is like a factory shuts down, including your brain. Sorry, you do no have the capacity to reason when dead.

    By the way, the tree analogies are more useful to describe cancer.

  11. John Piereton 10 Feb 2009 at 12:57 pm

    Slight clarification: this week is not the the 150th anniversary of the publication of Origin of Species (that’ll be in November), it’s the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth.

    I see Pascal’s wager has made an appearance. But that assumes there are only two possibities: your version of god and no god at all. What about Buddhism and the possibility that the next go-round in Samsāra for atheists will be better than that of fundamentalists, given their greater enlightenment? What about a works-based Christianity where Dr. Novella’s ministrations to the sick count more than your pious ignorance? And, most of all, what about Cthulhu?

  12. Watcheron 10 Feb 2009 at 1:07 pm

    “… but is it a good idea to simply ignore the questions above because they are not relevant to your chosen field?”

    In short, yes. Evolution through Natural Selection never set out to be the end all theory of the universe and life in it. It only explains how life on earth came to be as it is today. That’s it. I’ll leave the formation of planets, universe, etc. to the cosmologists and physicists. It’s an apples to oranges comparison.

    Thanks for posting back 🙂

  13. gfb1on 10 Feb 2009 at 1:10 pm

    doc,
    i, too, appreciate the time and effort that you spend discussing a variety of topcs — i find your writing style both informative and entertaining, tackling issues i wish i had the time and/or motivation to address.

    however, wearing a different hat — i have noticed that there is a subset of folks (esp those that write, “… click here for my blog/web/etc …”), whose sole motivation for taking contrarian views is to increase traffic on their website.

    click and get paid is the motivation … not true discourse.

    i block most of the crap on websites — but, perusing the source code from john (aside from the obvious direct links to sites designed to raise cash — action institute?? puh-lease…), i find:
    the usual worpress nonsense
    http://www.snap.com/snapshots.php
    http://gravatar.com (part of automattic; free stuff ain’t always ‘free’)
    google.analytics (unsurprising, but it always makes me wonder, what are the ‘goals’ ??)

    to be fair… your site has significantly less wordpress nonsense, no obvious google.analytics link and many more social networking links…
    (although you can join the new england skeptic society through their home link…)

    just my $.02. don’t click here.

  14. DevilsAdvocateon 10 Feb 2009 at 1:16 pm

    Y-e-e-e-s-s-s… what ABOUT Cthulhu? Hmm..

    How desperately creationists hold to the hope that not all is knowable – where else to plug in God but this monumental gap?

    How like creationists to cloud and avoid valid arguments about evolution with irrelevant questions about abiogenesis, the origins of the universe, and to further muddy the waters, then return to an evolution question about the complexity of DNA structure – as if there is no science on that question.

    Watching Dr. N and others attempt to reasonably discuss evolution with disingenuous creationists reminds me of that Whack-A-Mole game you find at fairs and carnivals. Knock one back down it’s hole with the hammer of scientific evidence and another pops up in the next hole, willfully ignorant of what doomed his neighbor.

  15. MercuryShadowon 10 Feb 2009 at 1:18 pm

    Sometimes I seriously doubt whether there is any point to spending time replying to creationists. I mean, here was a thoughtful, well-laid-out response that had to have taken quite a bit of time to produce, and all that he can manage to reply with are questions which have absolutely nothing to do with evolution.

    1) To what do you attribute the appearance of life?

    This has nothing to do with evolution, which (as anyone who claims to understand it enough to try to refute it should know) does NOT explain the appearance of life, but rather the complexity of life.

    2) To what do you attribute the appearance of the universe?

    Again, nothing to do with evolution.

    3) To what do you attribute the intricately ordered complexity – the elegance of DNA?”

    I’m not quite sure why you’re using terms such as “intricately ordered” and “elegance” when referring to DNA. What do you even mean, here? Just because a question is so vague as to be unanswerable, does not make it a refutation of evolution.

    4) To what do you attribute the fact that anything exists, or as Stephen Hawking put it, “Why does the universe go to the bother of existing?”

    See #s 1 and 2.

    If you were really a “truthseeker” then surely you would have discovered by now that evolution does not explain the appearance of life, and furthermore that no one has ever claimed that it does. Why then do you persist in asking questions which are irrelevant to the subject?

    Evolution does not and will never explain how life originated. And you know what? I’m OK with that. If you want to believe that a higher power is responsible for the universe and everything else coming into existence, then that’s great. I don’t need that question answered, but I can understand others’ need to fill in the gaps in human knowledge.

  16. mindmeon 10 Feb 2009 at 1:51 pm

    I’ve seen Catholics walking out of church. They’ve clearly made their pascal’s wager. Oh but wait. There’s a guy from another brand of christianity standing outside their church with a sign saying catholics are going to hell.

    John, it would appear wagering in god is not good enough, for some. After you make that wager there are 10,000 other wagers. Jew? Catholic? Protestant? Born again? Rapture before the tribulation? Rapture after the tribulation?

    Curious, John, if a man in the hills of Pakistan wagers on Islam, will he get into heaven? A bushman in south africa, if he wagers on animism, will he get into heaven? Will a scientologist get into heaven? This assumes each lives a decent life (he doesn’t steal, or lie, or murder) according to what their god has revealed to them via their religions. What’s your opinion, John?

  17. daedalus2uon 10 Feb 2009 at 1:53 pm

    TS, there are plenty of things that scientists don’t know, and they have the intellectual honesty to admit that they don’t know. You and your fellow IDiots don’t have that integrity; you just make stuff up with no evidence what so ever and simply assert that it is true.

    Scientists hold themselves to the same standards that they hold everyone else. Show me with facts and logic. The only standard you IDiots have is “does it fit what a self-proclaimed religious expert told me”.

    And those Christian “scientists” are not going “toe-to-toe”. They admit that their religious beliefs are not based on science. They are not trying to argue based on science, they state that their beliefs are outside of science. You are misrepresenting what they have said (i.e. bearing false witness against them) to assert that they have based their religious beliefs on science when they have stated otherwise.

  18. artfulDon 10 Feb 2009 at 2:12 pm

    To wager that God exists because you have nothing to lose if he doesn’t would mean that you put nothing on the table to seal the bet.

  19. Steven Novellaon 10 Feb 2009 at 2:24 pm

    John (truthseeker) – thanks for responding. However, you did not answer the question I put to you. Instead you came back with a bunch of new questions or points. This is an evasive strategy – the “running and hiding” that you accused your commenters of doing.

    Before we move on – I challenged you to either admit common descent is a solid scientific fact, or explain why it is not.

  20. mindmeon 10 Feb 2009 at 3:45 pm

    Yeah, John. I’m curious what your answer is.

    I’m also curious if you could answer my question:

    ||I’m curious how John would devise an experiment to demonstrate his just-so story (common designer re-using designs) is a better explanation than comment descent?||

    I believe you claimed the pattern we see in genes and the way proteins are coded can be interpreted as evidence for a common designer. We have three possible cases:

    1) the pattern is a result of natural common descent

    2) the pattern is a result of a common designer but there is nothing that can ever distinguish it from the pattern you’d get from natural common descent. Predictions of what we should see will be exactly the same.

    3) the pattern is a result of a common designer and it is possible to detect this design (e.g., common design predicts x but common descent predicts y).

    If your “intelligent designer” (wink wink) codes up the tree of life such that it is and shall always be impossible to tell the difference between 1) and 2), then you’re out of the realm of science. And maybe god made gravity but I don’t need to insert “and this is where god does X or else the apple won’t fall to the ground”.

    If design can be detected, there’s a way to demonstrate 3) is a more reasonable model than 1) then, umm, how?

  21. mindmeon 10 Feb 2009 at 3:55 pm

    ||The hemoglobin in a chimp should be more similar to the hemoglobin in a human than a gorilla’s, which will be more similar than a horse’s, which will be more similar than a lizard’s, which will be more similar than a fish – etc.||

    Oh, another question John. What would your common designer hypothesis predict regarding a dolphin? Is a dolphin more similar genetically to

    a) a shark

    b) a mouse

  22. pendens proditoron 10 Feb 2009 at 4:04 pm

    John’s arguments suggest that he’s made the mistake of getting his science education in church. Skeptics who rail against religion often do the same; they learn what they know about religion from other skeptics.

    This is one of the biggest errors I see being made in both communities in general. When you learn primarily about the other side of an argument from your own peers, your conception of the other side can only hope to be a strawman, a feeble caricature. In debates you end up going exclusively after the low-hanging fruit, not because it’s easy but because you have no idea there’s any other fruit to be had.

    No one who’s really educated himself in evolution would ever claim there are no transitional fossils, that there’s no use for half an eye or wing, that evolution is random, that evolution has anything to do with the Big Bang, etc. This is 101 level stuff. These arguments scream, “I say I’ve studied evolution but I’ve really been reading Discovery Institute literature instead.”

    Same with a skeptic making claims about religion. Someone who’s really studied religion would never argue that “Jesus Camp” is all there really is to Christianity, or that to be religious one has to be a mindless sheep. Comments like these similarly scream, “I’ve never read a page of religious philosophy in my life.”

    Learn about science from scientific authorities. Learn about religion from religious authorities. Not the other way around. Then compare notes.

    Seek out the champions and scholars of the other side (what the fundie nutbars any cause will inevitably attract have to say is irrelevant). Creationists and ID-ers, put down the Behe and the Egnor for a while and pick up some literature from the evolution experts. Pseudo-skeptics (an accusation I certainly don’t make of anyone here), stop going after the snake handlers and pick up some theology. Focus at least as much on people making positive claims about their own side as you do on people making negative claims about the other side.

    You don’t really know which side of an issue you support until you’ve studied a collection of passionate, well-researched, comprehensive arguments from widely respected figures on the other side, and still you remain unconvinced and know exactly WHY you’re unconvinced (versus a knee-jerk rejection of information that doesn’t support your beliefs).

    That’s my advice to truthseekers.

  23. artfulDon 10 Feb 2009 at 4:10 pm

    If you could design a perpetual replication mechanism and secretly stick it on a suitable island in space, would any of its incarnations ever be able to tell where it actually came from?

  24. Watcheron 10 Feb 2009 at 4:12 pm

    It may not be a popular sentiment, but I like it. Thanks for the thought PP.

  25. DevilsAdvocateon 10 Feb 2009 at 4:19 pm

    I’ve no problem with it either, except it’s irrelevant to what’s going on in this thread.

  26. Karl Withakayon 10 Feb 2009 at 5:04 pm

    John (truthseeker)

    Do a little research on the on the following fallacious arguments to better understand why you’re not arguing logically:

    Argument from ignorance
    God of the gaps
    Argument form authority

    RE: Pascal’s wager: Pascal’s wager has no teeth, and is rather poor reasoning. Aside from the fact that you have to pick a god to believe in, and generally the consequences of picking the wrong god are as bad as picking no god, it ignores that fact that we’re not talking about joining a club where you can be a member by paying your dues and following the rules; you have to actually believe in the god, not just practice the religion.

    If I followed Pascal’s wager and there was a Christian God, I would go to church, live my life a Christian every day and still go to hell because I never really believed that God existed.

    I’m not able to choose to believe anything. Belief is a function of the sum of my understanding. I can’t choose to believe in God because I don’t believe in God. I can choose to go to church, practice all the rituals, and follow all the rules and commandments, but won’t change the fact that I have come to the conclusion that God does not exist.

    Likewise, I can’t choose to believe 2+2=5. I can “practice” 2+2=5 in my life every day, but it won’t change the fact that I still know that 2+2 really equals 4. If someone can show me good proof or strong, compelling evidence that 2+2=5, then I could believe 2+2=5, but it still wouldn’t be by choice, it would be because I had been convinced by the evidence/proof.

  27. pendens proditoron 10 Feb 2009 at 5:30 pm

    @DevilsAdvocate
    I have a rambling habit I need to kick.

    My point is that after reading what John has had to say here and in his blog, I get the impression that the bulk of his education on evolution has come from ID literature and Christian apologists. One can’t study evolution and still be in the dark about transitional fossils and such. It’s akin to someone saying that he’s done a lot of philosophy reading in his life, and when you bring up Aristotle he responds, “Who?”

    In short, he should take a little trip to the “dark side” and do some evolution reading (experts making positive claims about evolution — ID, as far as we can discern, has only negative claims) and come back later. If he’s as inquisitive and open about the subject as he claims to be, then it’d be only natural for him to do so. Why ask blog commenters to explain evolution when there are thousands of pages already written very lucidly on the subject that await him at the bookstore?

    I’m not challenging his beliefs. I’m challenging the extent of his curiosity. I’m hoping it isn’t just lip service.

  28. Enzoon 10 Feb 2009 at 5:44 pm

    This is such a fun debate. We love to hate creationism. =)~

    I am a dedicated scientist (in training) and I believe in God. Perhaps not the God that has a deep personal interest in us and interacts with us on a daily basis, but none the less I have something that can be called faith. Sometimes I think I am worshipping nothing more than the beautiful intricacies of this universe / multiverse.

    If there is strong evidence for something, I believe in it and yet make note of the flaws. To me, there is no doubt about evolution. I am with you all.

    But I have to say, truthseeker…You have an extraordinary opportunity here. It is difficult for a non-scientist to learn the facts about evolution and have them explained in a very casual, lay tone. This post and the links associated with it contain a wealth of quality information.

    The first thing that happens when a scientist stands up in front of other scientists is…He’s attacked. No one believes new science at first. It takes time and evidence. Lots of both, actually. It’s an aggressive process, just like this forum. If you are going to attack well tested science, though, then the burden is on you to understand the facts fully. And even then it is a hard forum to argue in.

    My advice?

    Do not put your God in a place where you must constantly re-evaluate Its part in the universe. You will inevitably end up re-defining “god” to suit your own needs…Over and over again. Science cannot fully explain the origins of life, but it is closer than you might think. There is an entire field of research dedicated to this and the evidence is coming. What will you say when science can answer “To what do you attribute the appearance of life?”

    I know some people will insult your intelligence for having faith in something you cannot prove…But I think any good natured scientist will tell you that its much easier to keep science and faith somewhat separate with the added stipulation that they are not at odds and that you cannot comprehend God.

    Bottom line?

    You can’t fight science with god
    And science shouldn’t bother trying to fight god. Only ignorance.

  29. Watcheron 10 Feb 2009 at 6:53 pm

    “What will you say when science can answer “To what do you attribute the appearance of life?””

    Crap …

    To be honest, creationists will leave it in the dust. They’ll then stick to cosmology and the origins of the universe. Or maybe not, lord knows they still harp on whales, bats, etc.

  30. tooth fairyon 10 Feb 2009 at 8:30 pm

    truth seeker.

    did you even read the post you comented on or did you just jump straight on the field, must it be reiterated the points you and your counterparts have failed to address again and again?

    steve writes;

    “So here is an open challenge to John (and any other creationist). Set aside your self-serving rhetoric about dogma, and answer the evidence I have just laid before you. I say this is a home-run for common descent. I challenge you to demonstrate that you understand the evidence and offer another viable scientific explanation for it other than common descent.

    Either that or admit, at least as far as the scientific evidence is concerned, common descent is the only currently viable conclusion. Then we can move on from there”

  31. droachon 10 Feb 2009 at 9:24 pm

    “…I and scientists in general accept evolution because we dogmatically and mindlessly worship Darwin.” Dr. Steven Novella

    Yikes! I can spy the IDiot quote miners honing their picks over this one. ;0)

  32. empiricalgod2on 10 Feb 2009 at 9:51 pm

    Dr. Novella

    Could you please give us an example of a protien or two that is used to build an evolutionary map of species?

  33. CVon 10 Feb 2009 at 10:55 pm

    “So here is an open challenge to John (and any other creationist). Set aside your self-serving rhetoric about dogma, and answer the evidence I have just laid before you. I say this is a home-run for common descent. I challenge you to demonstrate that you understand the evidence and offer another viable scientific explanation for it other than common descent.”

    Creationist response…

    *blink*

    To what do you attribute the appearance of the universe?

    We zig, you zag.

    John, ever thought about being the White House Press Secretary?

  34. daedalus2uon 10 Feb 2009 at 10:57 pm

    Probably the most important protein used for that in bacteria is the 16S ribosomal protein. All bacteria have it because it is necessary to synthesize proteins. It is a pretty big protein, so there are a lot of bases to compare.

    An example of how powerful that is is here

    http://jb.asm.org/cgi/content/full/189/13/4578?view=long&pmid=17483224

    Where they look at various bacteria proteins and are able to include mitochondria, and see where eukaryotes have common ancestors with these bacteria through our mitochondria.

  35. Steven Novellaon 11 Feb 2009 at 12:16 am

    you can start with cytochrome C :http://www.rtis.com/nat/user/elsberry/evobio/evc/argresp/sequence.html

  36. hitmouseon 11 Feb 2009 at 4:44 am

    It is clear from the above comments that it is futile to attempt to argue a logical case when the opposing argument is not based on logic. You will never win such an argument – I know I’ve tried to do so (not in terms of religion) with my wife. Any logical argument can be countered by “God is all-powerful so he can do anything!” or “You just don’t understand!”

  37. DevilsAdvocateon 11 Feb 2009 at 9:11 am

    Pascal’s Wager makes a mockery out of faith, and cheapens it to be the stake in a spiritual gamble. Were I God (and there exists the same type and quality of evidence that I am God as for any other candidate) I would condemn to burning hell any of my worshippers who professed faith in Me because it seemed to that worshipper to make the sort of sense that pays off in Las Vegas.

  38. mindmeon 11 Feb 2009 at 2:28 pm

    Hitmouse, I actually like arguing with those people, although I know I will never convince them. The reason I argue is it motivates me to go out an learn something. As a non scientist, it’s quite interesting to discover “how we know what we know”. How do we know common descent is real? How do we know the earth is 4.5 billion years old? (John, any opinion on the age of the earth?) Creationists have a great way of teasing out my own assumptions and making me research their foundations.

    Although after a time, as John demonstrates, you notice the challenges are coming few and far between and you’re just seeing the same crap regurgitated time and time again.

    After that, it’s then good to move on to HIV denial (John, what’s your position on HIV causes AIDS?) or holocuast denial (John, same general question…).

  39. Planetologiston 11 Feb 2009 at 3:05 pm

    Steven,

    Excellent job summarizing the genetic evidence for why a design model fails so utterly. Discounting magical versions, ID basically proposes that life on Earth had to be built artificially by some kind of alien agency. I doubt most IDiots would be comfortable facing the logical requirement of their claims, that in a world without magic their Designers had to be aliens. Anyway, a design hypothesis is a physical model, and has to involve predictions, which you’ve laid out – and smashed – nicely.

    Genes differ among species non-randomly, and in specific patterns that indicate both common descent and undirected adaptation to temporally local conditions through geologic time. Non-coding sections could be random, but they’re not. Non-coding sections could show the same degree of random drift for all species, but they don’t. Coding sections also display drift – constrained by functionality – but the details clearly show lines of ancestry and speciation that converge retroactively. None of that testable, repeatable, quantifiable evidence supports a model of artificiality.

    I’m also glad you at least briefly addressed the origins of life. Most creationists appear completely ignorant of the discoveries made by researchers in this field over the last 50 years. We’ve come a long way from Miller-Urey. Most of the broad strokes painting the diagram of how life started on Earth are now in place, and nowhere is there room left for miraculous jump-starts.

    John’s screeds are a wonderful example of the psychology of projection. He accuses scientists of narrow-minded, dogmatic thinking, of suppressing evidence, of attacking mindlessly… all traits displayed by religious zealots. Perhaps creationists can’t imagine that others can think in different modalities. The accusation of worshiping Darwin as a god is very telling, in this regard. When you build your entire belief system around arguments from authority, it’s probably hard to imagine others not relying on the same crutch.

  40. Planetologiston 11 Feb 2009 at 3:28 pm

    Quoting truthseeker:


    To what do you attribute the appearance of life?
    To what do you attribute the appearance of the universe?
    To what do you attribute the intricately ordered complexity – the elegance of DNA?
    To what do you attribute the fact that anything exists, or as Stephen Hawking put it, “Why does the universe go to the bother of existing?”

    Perhaps you might wish to add:


    To what do you attribute the appearance of a supernatural creator? Specifically, what evidence do you have for that model?

    It’s curious that you can doubt the entire mountainous body of human knowledge about the universe, you can casually pose questions that require advanced to degrees to answer accurately, and then you can assert – seemingly without irony – that scientists don’t know everything and therefore know nothing.

    Where do you get your intimate, advanced, highly detailed and specific knowledge about the universe? Voices in your head? A warm, fuzzy feeling in Sunday school? Bronze Age fairy tales? Upon what basis can you assert so confidently, in essence, that because we don’t understand exactly the origins of the universe and life, *you* understand exactly the origins of the universe and life?

    Sorry if I sound hostile, but that’s how the gritty reality of science works. If you think the forum posts here are hostile, try submitting a scientific paper for peer review. I think most people would be surprised at how vicious the attacks can be. But that’s a good thing. It’s supposed to work that way.

    Science is about finding out what is real, not about preserving the feelings of sensitive geniuses. Science works precisely *because* it doesn’t worship anyone or anything. Science works *because* it rips apart bad ideas without mercy or qualm. The last idea standing wins.

    And yes, when cranks refuse to deal with reality and get over themselves, the scientific community ignores them. Why? Because when you reject the facts in favor of cherished faith, you are no longer relevant to the discussion.

  41. farrantelloon 11 Feb 2009 at 4:39 pm

    The retort to Pascal’s wager I am particularly fond of goes like this: WHAT IF THEY’RE WRONG? What if there is no afterlife? What if this is all we get, one life time, roughly eighty years. Then doesn’t that constitute our eternity? So then, what if we are right. Are you willing to gamble your eternity, all you get (a mere 80 years which makes it all the more precious and valuable), in a sense, throw away that eternity – by giving your time and money to unworthy preachers. Waste your entire eternity waiting around for a god that will never come to give you a better life. Instead, why not take matters into your own hands and fulfill your own destiny. Spend your eternity (as brief as it is) wisely, by being the best person you can, by learning, by teaching, by helping others and by doing the things you want to do. Aren’t religious people gambling their eternity as much as we are. At least I’m gambling on something I know exists, right now. It’s like a bird, I have, in my hand, right at this moment. That can’t even be considered gabling, can it? That’s like going into the convenience store for a newspaper and not dropping twenty bucks on lottery tickets. Are you telling me that by not buying the lottery ticket, I’m gambling? Because, I have a miniscule chance of winning a million bucks but chose instead to invest my money, I’m a reckless gambler? Well then I guess you can say I drink too much, too. Oh waited. I do drink too much, but that’s a different subject.

  42. empiricalgod2on 11 Feb 2009 at 5:54 pm

    Thanks Steve
    I will read the link in my spare time.

  43. daedalus2uon 11 Feb 2009 at 6:38 pm

    DA, I think that Pascal’s Wager is the only motivation behind religion at all. That is why the monotheistic religions with their infinitely powerful and infinitely omniscient God willing to bestow infinitely valuable infinite duration stay in paradise are the major ones that are now extant.

    The religious leaders ask for only finite quantities of goods and services, finite tithes, finite duration terms of servitude. Even the suicide bombers only give up the remainder of their lifetime, a finite benefit.

    Being able to bestow an infinitely valuable service (an infinite duration stay in paradise), monotheistic religions can demand higher prices and those religious leaders can use those resources to consolidate their power.

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