Missing the Mark

More AiG reading, in response to yesterday’s celebrations of Charles Darwin’s 206th birthday, and I find myself again reading too much into things and then writing stuff about those thinkings.

You see, in response to the scientific world celebrating the venerable scientist’s birthday, AiG published this article, declaring that February 12th be celebrated by the Church as Darwin was Wrong Day. Never mind the fact that I can find nothing of the Biblical teachings of love and tolerance in this proclamation from the great prophet Ken Ham (PBUH), the article itself makes so many cringe-worthy statements that it actually blew my mind a little. There were gems like “The evolutionary worldview is an attempt to explain the universe and life without God.” I think that misses the mark; it assumes that evolution started with the intent to write God out of science, which is just patently untrue; evolution was stumbled upon while trying to understand how the world works, and understand our place in it. The fact that we were looking and could not find God is not our problem, because our goal never had the word God in it in the positive or negative. How about the fact that we understand things like antibiotic resistant bacteria through the lens of evolution? I know it is your opinion, theoretical young earth creationist, that genetic information cannot be created — so how is it, then, that MRSA has become so resistant. Did it always have the ability to resist bacteria? Did it just have to believe in itself? Is it the plucky nerd in the 1980s romantic comedy that science clearly represents? Or did its actual genetic makeup change to allow it to resist the killing influence of traditional antibiotics?

Accidental self awareness is one of my favorite forms of comedy, and this statement made me laugh ruefully: “Sadly, many Christians buy into this religion and simply squeeze God into the gaps somewhere.” As though you don’t squeeze God into the gaps everywhere? When science says it doesn’t know something yet, you completely ignore the word “yet” and scream victory from the top of mountains, declaring that science doesn’t know so God did it. And that doesn’t constitute using God as some kind of mortar in the brick wall of knowledge? (If that metaphor missed the mark, as many of my own tend to, I was using the gaps between bricks as the gaps God fills.)

I do appreciate the journalistic integrity in this sentence, as the word “known” could have been left out to solidify his beliefs, but it plays nicely into my own narrative as written: “There are no known exceptions to this law.” The law in question is the law of Biogenesis, where life comes from; and they claim that life and only come from life. But as I’ve mentioned, we haven’t found the way life originates from non-life conclusively yet, though we are making strides. Richard Dawkins has a very good theory, I think, it’s just too bad we don’t live for 100,000 years to test it — we may never see it happen in nature or in a lab, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look.

“Yet, according to evolution, the law of biogenesis had to have been broken at least once when the first single-celled life emerged from non-living matter.” Therein lies the rub, friend; how many particles are there in the earth? How many atoms, how many molecules, how many bacteria — and, forgive me for my limited ability to observe, but you’d be hard pressed to watch every molecule in the Earth all the time every day. Who is to say that there are not new forms of single-celled organisms popping up in the deepest craters of the Earth every day? Just because we haven’t seen it yet doesn’t mean it can’t happen, and given the statistical numbers at play here, the chance of it happening could be very remote, and yet the law of large numbers need only account for one of them.

I don’t want to spend a whole paragraph on this one: “There never was a time when life arose from non-life because life came directly from the Life-giver, our Creator God, just as it says in Genesis. And that’s what observational science confirms!” Where did God come from? What evidence have you that He Himself never had a beginning. I mean, an infinite life form raises some serious concerns, like what was He doing before creation? Why did He choose to Create when He did? He was just randomly strolling through chaos for infinity quadrillion years, then created us?

“There is no known mechanism that can change one kind of animal into a totally different kind.” That one is false, and can be proven so using their own definition of kind without a great effort. This article explains it more thoroughly than I could, but suffice it to say that if a kind is an animal that can interbreed, then we have observed kinds changing into other kinds, and it happens all the time. Long story short, while a reptile may still be a reptile, it cannot breed with other reptiles that its parents can breed with, therefore it is a different kind. Perhaps I have misunderstood your definition of “kinds”, but I was under the impression that “kinds” can always interbreed.

“However, most mutations are negative or neutral to the organism.” This author is fighting their own conscience, I fear. Read that sentence over and over again, it is the greatest he has written, and possibly the most accidental. “Most”. That single word changes the sentence, ruins the picture, spills ink all over it. His admission that “most” mutations are neutral or negative leaves the door wide open for those very few, those rare, those amazing mutations that allow evolution to function. Yes, 99,999,999,999/100,000,000,000 mutations may be bad — but given the population of our wonderful planet, that still leaves the door wide open for beneficial mutations to function on an evolutionary level. Even in your 6,000 year old Earth, denying evolution based on the “most mutations are bad” argument is incredibly facile.

Now, this quote is going to be a long one, but bear with me for just a moment. “Evolution predicts that the human body should be filled with vestigial organs. These are supposed to be largely useless leftovers from our evolutionary past that have either lost their function or have reduced functionality. Over the years, around 180 organs have been labelled as vestigial, such as our appendix, coccyx, and pineal gland. This label hindered research into the actual function of these organs because, well, why bother researching a leftover of evolution?” (Emphasis mine)

That is the ultimate argument for our side, and I have no idea what level of cognitive dissonance allowed the writer to make that argument in favor of the YEC side. Their entire stance is predicated upon the idea that “The Earth is 6,000 years old, so why would you even want to research ways to tell its age?” That is the exact argument they just accused scientists of making, and then they made it for their side and I don’t even wblwblwblbwlwblbwlbwlwb. Woah, sorry. My brain went into a reboot condition there, the amount of willpower it takes to hold up that level of cognitive dissonance doesn’t fit into my mind’s calculation space.

Now I’ll give you a pair of quotes from that article, make of them what you will.

First: “God created the original kinds in Genesis and placed within each one the genetic information needed to survive in a changing environment. God knew that the Fall and the earth-changing global Flood of Noah’s day would come and, in His wisdom, He designed organisms with the genetic variability to be able to survive.”

Second: “Of course, because of the Curse and the Fall, things do not work quite the way God designed them to.”

Allow me to make one point of my own in this rebuttal, if you would indulge me. How do you account for things such as Cancer and Down’s Syndrome, in a world crafted by your loving God? These come not from some outside influence, not from some sin, but from our own genetics rebelling against us. Even accounting for mutations, why does the genetic information required to create cancer exist, if no new information can be generated by mutations? Are you saying God wrote cancer into our DNA?

Just a thought.

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Shortsighted Science

Due to my proximity with at least one other person crazier than I am, I have started to read the subtext into what a lot of people say. Honestly, it may not be entirely fair of me to do so; inferring subtext is more of an art than it is a science, but when you stop scraping the surface and actually dig into what people say, you can find some surprising things. I was reading AiG again (SURPRISE!) and something clicked into my head that was always there, but that I personally had not considered.

AiG likes to press the issue of Historical versus Observational science like a dealer pushes his best product at twice its going price. I know this has never sat well with scientists, a false dichotomy that lowers the level of discourse in the scientific field, but in a country where some 47% of the populace responds that they believe the universe is at most 10,000 years old we do have to address their concerns head on, or allow them to swell their numbers based on a tacit assumption that our lack of fighting back means we can’t. Ah, but there’s another rub, isn’t there? Very intelligent, rational people are like “Ignore them and walk away; they’ll burn themselves out.” What we have seen based on that is a groundswell of support for their ideas, and I think people like Bill Nye, who have taken the fight back to them, are becoming more in the right. Even the famous quote “If I were to debate you, it would look great on your CV, not so much on mine,” is adding to the problem–because they will go to a populace who do not follow the behind the scenes of these things, and tell them that “Oh, these atheists are afraid to debate us because they know we’d win.”

Read the above, and try to tell me that isn’t a grade school logic… And yet here we are. So let’s talk about historical and observational science. What I seem to understand, reading young earth arguments, is that they believe “historical science” (herein referred to as “science” for obvious reasons) is hand waving and sleight of hand, and that we cannot test these things, and that they have no predictive power, and that they are functionally useless lies. I think that is an accurate encapsulation, anyway; my response will be built upon this framework, anyway.

Geology may seem like low hanging fruit, but let’s start there; certainly geological aging techniques and studies are a huge point of contention for the YEC, so let’s talk about their short shortsightedness, and see how they draw their lines in the sand. No one will argue the study of plate tectonics, nor their application in predicting areas prone to earthquakes; certainly, if they did, they would be the only ones surprised when an earthquake hits San Francisco. Now, here’s the rub; the study of plate tectonics have allowed us to give a general idea of the age of the Earth based on the movement of the continents and on the geographic formations based on (again) the movement of tectonic plates (Reference). These aren’t perfect numbers, but they allow us to make predictions (such as the formation of mountain ranges, changes in the sea level of land masses, movement speed of continents, etc). If our future predictions are correct, then we can make inferences on the past. Are these inferences absolutely, definitely correct? No, nothing is, but we make statistical analyses, and use other methods of science to form a picture.

Given that we use the same science to predict future movements and general age of the earth, young earth geologists have to draw a line in the sand. This line is fairly arbitrary, and I would call it very shortsighted; we can use it to predict, and it will show us an accurate picture back 6000 years without breaking a sweat. It will give us a picture of what things looked like 100,000 years ago, 1,000,000 years ago, 65,000,000 years ago… All using the exact same system. But here’s the funny thing; the YEC geologist will say “Yeah, geology is accurate as to what the Earth would have looked like 6,000 years ago, but taking it any further than that is BLASPHEMY (for some reason),” despite the fact that it uses the exact same system. In fact, their arbitrary line in the sand may actually be even more recent, as recent as 4400 years ago — since the face of the Earth was catastrophically rearranged at that time (even though we have unbroken histories of… Say… The Egyptians right through that time…).

So how does your historical science and observational science differ, in this case? We are using the same math to predict forward as we are to go backwards, so why does the math just magically stop working some arbitrary number of years ago?

There is also the much more egregious issue in the field of cosmology, for which the YEC cannot even supply any scientific reason for their belief in certain things. For example, the speed of light is universally accepted to be the rate limiting factor in all cosmological events and transfer of information, and based on that we can look into the night sky and see back further than 6000 years with our naked eye. Give me a weak telescope and I can see one or two billion years into the past, and easily make predictions based on that (This is one of my favorites). Again, we have to draw a line in the sand, but while the YEC will have spurious scientific reasons for doing so in respect to geology (respect? Pah, poor choice of words) they don’t even have spurious reasons in the cosmological field. You don’t have a flood story that would have thrown the universe around, and the Hubble UDF (Warning: that link takes you to the full size, 60MB picture. You may need a few minutes while it loads, and to prepare to weep at the beauty of space) makes it easy enough to see that there is nothing that would happen on an Earth-level scale that could account for what we see.

Now, as I’ve pointed out, we make observational predictions using this data; the Milky Way-Andromeda collision. So how is it that we have untestable historical something something not science here? Well, this is where we see the true hole, the true flaw in the reasoning; when asked about it, YECs reply simply with “God formed the Galaxies with their light en route to Earth. Duh.” This is the lowest level of special pleading, a type of special pleading that raises no evidence, and is in absolutely no way testable. I mean, I can’t… I can’t understand how strong the cognitive dissonance is, where you can say “You make claims that aren’t testable! But our God made the universe with light en route to Earth that just happens to align with your theories of how old the universe is. Which is totally testable, somehow?”

By that very logic, everything could have come into existence 5 seconds ago, with all the everything in place and memories fabricated, and God just wants to watch us fight for his own amusement. In any case, why would you God who wants everyone to realize that He exists and worship Him put so much evidence in place that points to an old universe? Why would he have put the light en route? Just think of the beauty of the sky had he not; every day, every year, every decade, the night sky would be lighting up for our wonder and amazement. We would see stars seemingly wink into existence, if the universe was 6000 years old and light only started to travel when it was created. I mean, Adam would have had a very boring universe for the first few years, but there are stars only four years away from us. Just imagine the wonder he could have felt, had he seen the very first star wink into existence one night.

In any case, we can successfully predict the future to an extent, and use that confidence to successfully predict the past. Your arbitrary sand line, without so much as any support outside of special pleading, does not help anyone.

Now, let’s talk about your observational/operational science. You rightly say that certain sciences do not rely on other branches of science to function, and it is by this that creation scientists such as Newton made their strides, or by this that the MRI was invented. I won’t take that from you, I have never been one to say that no creationist can do science; perhaps it is even admirable what you have accomplished despite your hamstring in certain fields. But again, we end up with strange lines drawn arbitrarily in the sand. For example, we’ll call translation a science for the purposes of this; certainly hermeneutics is a scientific field (basically the science of understanding what people with old languages meant to say), but why is it observational rather than historical in your mind? I mean, you weren’t there to see the original Hebrew scriptures written, it is only through non repeatable tests that you are able to guess at their meaning in English. Certainly, that scientific field does not let us make predictions about the future. So why does that science count?

There is another odd thing about observational and historical science in your world. We don’t try to discover the age of the Earth specifically to make you angry; we do so to test our scientific theories, see how well they can predict things, refine them, and use them to understand what is coming in the future. When you tell us that you have discovered through Geology that the Earth is 6000 years old, what does that help us? It seems almost like you don’t want to prove anything except that you believe science is wrong, which, as per the title of this post, seems shortsighted. We don’t do science out of some arbitrary feeling of wanting to know, we do science so that we can understand and predict the universe we live in, thus allowing us to better prepare ourselves for what is coming. Does shouting that the world is 6000 years old prepare us for discovering an asteroid on a collision course with Earth? Orbital mechanics also allow us to date certain objects; why do you want to shout that they are only valid up until your arbitrary 6000 year date? Even if you were to use orbital mechanics to discover said oncoming asteroid, how do you justify the fact that this asteroid’s theoretical trajectory could place its origin in the Mars/Jupiter asteroid belt some 150,000 years ago? (I chose those arbitrary numbers to prove a point; I am afraid I am not astrophysicist). Perhaps, tracing the orbit of said body of mass we find that 6000 years ago it was in the middle of nowhere, on a collision course to Earth. Did God create that giant space rock at the beginning, on a path to Earth, just to mess with us? (And, incidentally, ruin our day?)

Please remember, when you are trying to argue historical science, that science goes forwards and backwards, and that historical science (which is a distinction most scientists would not make) is really just a branch of observational science that looks backwards instead of forwards. If you think we can look forwards with observational science, at what hasn’t happened yet, what is it that makes it so hard for you to believe that we can’t look at what has happened? We have even more evidence for what has happened than we do for what will happen, so I cannot resolve your cognitive dissonance.

And here we are, with me ranting about it.