A Deeply Seeded Misunderstanding

Whenever I feel listless, a passing depression, I can always go to AiG to inflame my passions (the floweriest way to reaffirm my living, if only to be angry at people purposefully misrepresenting my views, and the views of my peers).

To wit, this article that misses no opportunity to misrepresent the views of a very large swathe of the scientific community. Claiming evolution is a god of the gaps, and claiming that a high school biology professor would be stumped by a question as simple as “How does biology work?” To be fair, that last point may be less a show of weakness in the Theory of Evolution so much as it is a weakness of the public education system in certain regions. That’s neither here nor there, I suppose, just incidental.

To claim evolution is a god of the gaps shows either blatant willful ignorance or malicious intent; no one can live in the 21st century and display such a wild misunderstanding of evolution, and of the scientific field in general (though I recognize that I am being optimistic at best). The author draws frequent parallels to common “god of the gaps” terminology, repeatedly claiming that a professor of microbiology will answer any query regarding evolution with “evolution did it,” an obvious parody of “god did it.”

I recognize that there are many well respected scientists who will say that there was no supernatural agent involved in Creation, as a strong prediction rather than a hypothesis, but it seems even to me that the fairest conversation between the greater scientific community and the Creation science community would start and end with “Why do you fight science? If your God did it, will we not find his fingerprints as we move closer and closer to the answers we seek?”

The Creation Science movement had their hypothesis written for them several hundred years ago, and have decided that there is no room for improvement, studying all evidence through that lens, trying to come to a conclusion that was already written. Science does make hypotheses, and even makes strong predictions, but evidence that does not fit the hypothesis is (ideally) not bent to fit. The hypothesis is modified, and experimentation continues. Humans, of course, will attempt to justify their own hypothesis and bend evidence to make it fit, but that highlights the importance of blind peer review.

I think a fairly pure hypothesis, without the biases on display here, is this: “Life likely began via a natural process of which we are currently unaware.” Now we try to find what the process is. If we find God, then God it is. If we find another process, it is very easy to predict the line of the YEC; God kicked it off. When we find the process that started biology, they will claim God created chemistry as a precursor to biology. If we find out the mechanism of how the first matter formed, we will be told that God created the laws of physics to allow chemistry. When we find out how the laws of physics formed… Well, I don’t know where the goalpost will move to, but I will likely be dead by this time, and smarter people than I will be carrying this debate on.

That is the ultimate weakness of the YEC; the dogged reliance on a bronze age text, and the constantly moving goalposts make it seem almost like children who constantly change the rules to make sure they win. Now we enter territory that is almost quintessentially American; the idea of the flip flopper. No, I am not accusing the YEC to do so, that would be silly.

Evolution is the core of a flip-flopper, and that is not an insult. Based on what you know, you make a call. Then if the information available changes, so does the call. This is not a weakness, this is prudent. If you stand by something in opposition of all evidence, “on principle,” you have erred greatly–and yet, as the documentary “Outfoxed” showed constantly, changing your vote as information changes is apparently shameful to certain demographics in the United States. I believe, truly I do, that young earth creationism has taken root in the United States because of the fertile soil that praises strong predictions, and for some reason demonizes changing your mind. Science seldom makes blind strong predictions; you need evidence. Science is a shifting field, admittedly, because evidence is constantly changing. Scientists are getting better, getting smarter, coming up with ever more ingenious experiments and tests… To compare science in the 21st century to Darwin’s “On the Origins of Species” (as the YEC movement often does) is incredibly disingenuous. We know more than Darwin did, we have better data collection than Darwin did, and as the saying often goes, “we stand on the shoulders of giants.” We do not take Darwin’s work wholesale, we have improved on his ideas, refined the field. We have, to use the American colloquialism, flip flopped–but we did it because the evidence required it of us.

And the fact that the YEC will stand on a single hypothesis against all evidence… That is the true weakness.

There is one line that shows the true misdirection of the AiG writer more clearly than any other. “Evolution makes no useful contribution to scientific and technological advances.”

You see, the YEC will tell you that adaptation, not evolution, is the mechanism that makes bacteria resistant to antibiotics. They will tell you that adaptation, not evolution, at play when a new strain of a deadly virus comes into play.

Adaptation is evolution, and I still can’t even begin to understand how the mind of anyone can so fully ignore the very idea of evolution that they are completely blind to the fact that they admit that evolution is the mechanism by which every living thing operates.

The only part they disagree with, it seems to me, is where it all started. As science moves closer and closer to the answer to that question, it is only a matter of time until we watch them pick up the goalpost and move it again. And again. And again.

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Intelligent Lack of Understanding (Or Honesty)

More days, more AiG.

One expects creationists and Creation Scientists to dance around language where it comes to evolution, but so often it comes at the cost of either sounding like they don’t understand evolution, or using language that is meaningless if the listener doesn’t understand evolution. Or, perhaps more maliciously, relies on the ignorance of the user to even make the semblance of a point.

To wit, the linked article.

“But are there such things as beneficial mutations? In short, no, but let me explain.” Alright, friend–explain away. She goes on to detail how an improved resistance to antibiotics in bacteria often results in something something metabolism issues. She explains that the improvements come at a cost to survival in some other way. She explains that in the absence of antibiotics, nonresistant bacteria actually survive better.

This is the perfect example of evolution. Of survival of the fittest.

The thing is, antibiotic resistant bacteria don’t tend to grow in environments free of antibiotics. And that is exactly what evolution would predict. If every step of evolution was like a level up in World of Warcraft, where you get survival bonuses right across the board, every species would be perfect. But they aren’t.

Survival of the fittest, evolution in action, is all about small improvements that help you survive in the environment you are in. A Tibetan (the subject of another evolution-centric post I have made) won’t have the same survival traits that someone from Jamaica would.

Perhaps more real world examples are in order. Take the Cheetah; evolved almost purely for speed. The drawbacks is that they have very low stamina compared to other species, and sacrifice maneuverability due to the way their hip and shoulder joints work. They didn’t just get “Faster, stronger, better,” there was an obvious cost and an obvious benefit. They are not everywhere in the world, they evolved to fit a niche in the flat plains of Africa. Their survival traits would be worthless in the mountains for example.

Segue that into a mountain goat, which tend to be rather slow and comically awkward at times–but they are able to climb mountains in ways the boggle the mind. The thing is, if they lived in the same environment as a cheetah, in Africa, the goat would be eaten hilariously quickly. That is evolution.

MRSA doesn’t need to survive among non-resistant bacteria to be considered an evolutionary step. They have evolved to become the fittest survivor in hospitals, where antibiotics are used frequently.

The author of the linked article does not want to admit that, though. “One step forward for person A is one step back in situation B” is still evolution, even if they don’t want to use the word.

Perhaps even more egregious, then, is the paragraph where she states that while there are mutations that make people immune to HIV, and while we don’t know of any directly related drawbacks to being immune to HIV, they must be there because God. And I don’t even know where to go with that.

I know I am preaching to a group of people who mostly accept evolution, but I really wish I could just… I don’t know. Discuss what so many creationists think evolution is. They have said, frequently (and in some cases directly from the mouth of the prophet, Ken Ham), “That’s not evolution, that’s adaptation.” As though that is some kind of defense. As though adaptation is not the cornerstone of evolution. They are dancing around the words, which is fine in some cases, but it works because they actively campaign to make sure children (and by extension adults) don’t know any better.

“In addition, the detrimental effects may not be detrimental enough to affect the overall fitness of the individual.”

To paraphrase: “It isn’t really negative, but I really have a vested interest in convincing anyone who will listen that evolution isn’t real.” Oh, it might sound like I am being callous, but to fully appreciate the scope of it you have to look at the context.

“There are people who are immune to HIV, but it isn’t really evolution because there are drawbacks that are so small I can’t really quantify them.” That is focusing on the wrong part of that story so hard that I think I felt a gust of wind purely from the effort of it.

“Again, the mutations only improve a person’s chance for survival in a given environment (external or internal), such as if the person is exposed to HIV or cancer develops within a person’s body.”

More paraphrasing: “Yes, there is evolution, because evolution predicts that exact behaviour, but I choose to call it by a different name.”

And here is the worst quote. This quote is the true showing, the true face, of the creation scientist unmaked.

“… [F]or one thing, beneficial, information-gaining mutations would have to be a regularly occurring phenomenon and would have to “build” on previous mutations so as not to be “undone” and to keep the evolution going “uphill””

No.

No.

No.

No.

Evolution is not necessarily an uphill process.

Mutation can certainly undo other beneficial mutations.

Conditions change.

Imagine a gene that makes me immune to a disease that was naturally wiped out 20 million years ago. When I evolve a new function (maybe my eardrums are 10% more sensitive or something, thus allowing me to hear the intruder in my house, thus allowing me to fend him off, thus allowing me to procreate), perhaps I lose that immunity. But you know what? I am now better equipped to survive in my current environment than I would have been with my less sensitive eardrum and immunity to a disease that no longer exists.

This happens all the time. Think of Darwin’s finches; when their beaks changed size and shape, it may have made them unable to process nutrients (ie: eat) as well on their parents’ home island, but that means absolutely nothing to them on their new island, because their beak is awesome at eating stuff on this island. They have lost viability in an irrelevant environment, but they have certainly improved their survival chances in their current environment.

The repetitive use of “in their current environment” is important, because it is no less evolution if you lose something that was no longer undergoing active selection pressure.

It is by this mechanism that land dwelling animals lost their gills, obviously great for surviving water based environments, in favor of better lungs. Better lungs granting longer stamina, less stress on the heart, less stress on the body. So what, we can’t breathe under water any more? I am glad I don’t live underwater, and I would still certainly call that an improvement.

I can’t see you so I’m invisible

Perhaps it was just something that happened in my small corner of the world, but there was a time when small children would cover their own eyes and then declare themselves invisible. I suppose it is a weakness of myself as a writer that I had to explain my own title for clarity, but that title was far too appropriate to this topic to just let it slide by.

This may surprise you, but I was reading more AiG this weekend, and this article really helped me clarify some things. The first is that even the people of the highest education at AiG are completely blind and/or lacking awareness of way too much of the world. The second is that apparently adults are just as happy to scream the title of this blog post with all apparent earnestness.

The above linked article is about the five senses and how they fit into the world view of science versus how they fit into the world view of Christian theology. At several points, the (and I am quoting here, he calls himself this) “Ph.D. scientist” claims that trusting your five senses means you believe in the Bible, and any atheist who trusts their senses has inadvertently admitted to being a closet Christian. How is this wild leap of logic attained?

I will quote directly, I do not want to paraphrase and miss the meaning. “… It makes sense in the Christian worldview that our senses would be basically reliable. An all-knowing God designed and created both the universe and our senses, so it makes sense that those two things would “go together”—that our senses can reliably probe the universe… You want to reject my reason, but unfortunately, you don’t have a good reason to reject my reason, and you have no alternative. The evolutionist has no rational reason to trust his senses based on his professed worldview. Evolutionists believe things with absolutely no good reason.”

I have, in a past post, given my reason for trusting my senses–but I cannot recall exactly which post contained that bit of logic so I’ll present it here in direct contrast to the opposing view. I think that better, and probably more fair.

The above statement could be true, if all atheists existed in a vacuum–and by that I mean that we all existed and never talked to each other. Even science has told us to not trust our eyes, not nearly with the depth and clarity of what this Ph.D. scientist has expressed, anyway. In fact, even something that should be our most reliable sense, touch, can be very easily fooled. So for my first point of rebuttal, I think I’ve stated clearly (if quickly) that our senses are not granted by a great omniscient deity–or if they were, he did a very poor job of it (another example would be how the human eye is upside down, backwards, and prone to failure–not to mention has a blind spot that is not present in octopuses.). To address the points in parentheses previous, Creationists have frequently argued that the eye is not poorly designed, that everything works as it should — but to that I have always asked this: Why is the octopus eye so much better than ours, in terms of blind  spot? Or why is the eagle eye (and actually most bird eyes) so much better than ours, in terms of overall clarity and focus? For God’s own chosen species (taking racism up one level to specism), we really got the short end of the stick. How about sense of smell? Well, we have always relied on dogs to scent things, so obviously we have shortcomings there. Hearing? I think it is well known that bats, dolphins, and many other species have us beat quite badly on that sense.

OK, I think I’ve covered that part sufficiently, and that wasn’t even my goal here. The second part has to do not with why I believe we are not created, but why I trust my senses with any respectable surety.

Now, as I’ve discussed the fact that eyewitness testimony is terribly unreliable, I have indirectly admitted that my own sense of sight is unreliable. How can I trust it, then? Well, as listed above, my sense of sight is not unreliable all the time, which leaves me a window through which to escape; I can trust my sight through the timeless art of speaking with others. If there are three of us in a room, and two of us see the same thing but the third sees a seemingly fantastic room, we can generally assume that the two are more likely correct — though the margin for error is high, and I’ve just left a glaring hole for the creationist to attack. How about we shore up our defenses a little.

In the United States, there are some 330 million people. For the sake of argument, I usually say that I trust my eyes at least 80% of the time, with the remaining 20% being times where I have to rely on those around me for confirmation (“Man, are you seeing this right now?!”). Whether we agree on the interpretation or not (where I see science you see God), we both generally see the same thing, as made clear by our ability to describe what we see intelligently to each other. So taking that load, the 330 million person load, and dividing it to help us confirm whether what we see is trustworthy, we come to an astonishingly low margin for error. The math gets a little complicated, to the point where there are numbers the human mind is ill equipped to handle, so let’s settle for ten people in a room, all of whom trust their sight 80% of the time, and all of whom are seeing the same thing. The chance that all are wrong is given by this very rough equation of 10*0.2*0.2*0.2*0.2*0.2*0.2*0.2*0.2*0.2*0.2, which gives us the chance they are all hallucinating the same thing as something in the area of 0.0001%. These numbers are obviously not binding but they paint a picture; by this method, the scientific mind can reasonably assert that what the ten people present are seeing is a true representation of the world. (Group psychology throws some of my math out the window then pees on it, very clearly demonstrated by the Fatima incident. I’ve added that for fairness.)

I think a more easily digestible example would be that of the sense of smell. Say you have forty people in a room, because we are at a social gathering. Some time into the night, one particular patron comments that they smell toast, and someone has burned it badly–what is your first reaction? I would imagine for some number north of 99% of the readers, this would not seem as though God’s designed senses are working as intended; you’d be calling 911, because someone in the room is suffering from a stroke, because not one of the other 39 people smell said toast. Why would God give us such a sense that so easily misfires?

To extend that example of using others to confirm your senses, what about the rubber hand experiment linked above? The premise of the experiment (and it is one of my favorite experiments of all time) is that you convince your brain (or the brain of some unsuspecting friend) that a rubber hand is, in fact, their hand. After you do this, you smash the rubber hand with a mallet, and the person upon whom the experiment is being performed will feel that mallet smashing their own hand, because our brain is easily tricked. It is only through realizing that your own hand has not been hit, or through further experimental means of tricking your brain back into believing that your hand is perfectly safe that the pain will instantly (and MAGICALLY!) subside–and one way of doing this is by using the others in the room as reference material.

We as atheists are not so quick to trust ourselves, either, but this is not a game of chicken–something I fear that many YEC adherents forget. It is not the first person to admit fault (jump out of the way of the train) who loses; in this analogy, actually, the atheist jumping out of the way of the train is far more likely to live a long and productive life. Anyone who grew up in a town with train tracks has heard of someone getting killed by a train playing chicken. No, this is real life, not a game — and in the fullness of time, as Sam Harris so succinctly stated, “One side will really win, and one side will really lose.”

Just because you do not understand how an atheist would see the world does not mean the atheist is completely blind. We just see through a different set of glasses. The problem is, your glasses seem to have this odd feature where it makes you shout that anyone wearing any other glasses is wrong (and probably a heathen), and then we have to spend valuable time defending our own vision. I mean, look at me; I just spent over 1500 words defending my own side. Tell me that this isn’t a waste of valuable internet space!

It’s funny, though — I wouldn’t even feel the need to defend myself if your logic didn’t seem so convincing to so many people. It wounds my own sense of the power of the human mind to admit that your side is claiming as many members as my side is (though, thankfully, it seems we’re headed towards a reversal).

I don’t feel like I really have a choice; I either have to defend science, or allow irrational belief to sweep this world I cherish, and tear it to the ground.

Speaking of, this gentleman felt the need to say his beliefs were rational and those of the atheist irrational. He believes these things because of something implied by a book written starting 3000 years ago, by hundreds of different hands. His whole idea of rationality is that “This religious document says that there is a God, and that is the entire basis for my rationality.”

Please, you have a PhD, give me some reason that is better than that. I respect the effort that it took you to get that PhD, but I do not respect the intellectual dishonesty you show, and the shame you bring to the very title. I respect your religion, but only insofar as it does not negatively impact the world — and too often it does just that.

You are in a position of power; show some decorum is what I am saying here. If you are going to call me (indirectly) irrational and wrong, please give me a better reason than that a 3000 year old book told you to insult me. I think I’ve given you good reasons defending my side, I’ll patiently await your rebuttal.

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.

Slightly too Complicated for Children

More reading down the anti-science hole, I came across a blog post by Ken Ham (PBUH), prophet of the Young Earth Movement. I didn’t find it overly offensive for the most part, it mostly was just him reiterating the Young Earth Script–but eventually I came across a line that kind of caught my attention: “… Children can easily see that complicated life can’t be built up on the basis of mistakes…”  Yes, but can they see why kids love the taste of Cinnamon Toast Crunch?!

The reason that line jumped out at me is that it is so disingenuous it hurts, as though Ken Ham is trying to imply that all complicated science should be understood by children. I would argue this isn’t the case. An example, perhaps: Spacex is launching a rocket with a probe on it, and I am sure kids don’t understand the physics that go into that. You know what that means, right? It means God did it. God launched that rocket. The thousands upon thousands of man hours that went into it? NASA just made those man hours up. Kids could launch a rocket, if they just something something GOD.

Or how about the drastic oversimplification of the theory of evolution? I know how they do love to stand on the crutches of “Observational Science,” but there are some deep flaws in their idea of what constitutes this version of science that they themselves created. First, they seem to be of the mind that since we have never seen it, it can’t happen. Life from non-life? That’s crazy. Life from the word of the mouth of an eternal being? Totally a more viable solution. Again, though, the subtext is important; “We have the answer so YOU HAVE TO STOP LOOKING FOR AN ANSWER.”

They are right, we haven’t managed to create life in the lab yet. We don’t necessarily know how it started. But ignorance is both the best friend of science, and its worst enemy; ignorance lets us know where we have to look to find new knowledge, but it is also something to be eradicated over time. Science has been a powerful force for only 150 years; in the grand scheme of cosmic evolution, I would need to invoke a LOT of leading zeroes to give you the percentage of history that covers. Even in your 6000 year cosmology, we have only really been using science (as we’d understand it in the modern era) for only 2.5% of history, and you expect us to have all of the answers? And of course, if we admit even once that we don’t have the answer, you claim some sort of victory, as though the sum of all human discourse has all of the maturity and gravity of some middle school playground.

The funny thing, the thing that makes me laugh, is the petulance on display. If they would just sit back and let us “do science,” as the common parlance goes, maybe we’d discover that they were right all along. Obviously, I think that is (at best) very unlikely, but if they are so overwhelmingly confident, why do they act like they are being pushed around so badly? Theirs is the type of confidence (arrogance) that should be able to step aside, a knowing glint in their eye, as the children find all the answers on their own. Surely, with that level of confidence, they could trust that we would all arrive at their conclusion eventually.

And there’s the rub, there’s the whole thing, they know (deep in their hearts) that science is coming closer and closer, inexorably, from invalidating their world view. Of course, the confidence they have will not be pricked by evidence (that is already clear), and they will believe as they do in full opposition of irrefutable evidence. That’s ok, I just think it is ironically hilarious that I could so easily employ a simple word replace and make Romans 1:18-21 say exactly what is happening.

18 The wrath of [science] is being revealed from [humans] against all the [ignorance] of people, who suppress the truth by their [ignorance], 19 since what may be known about [science] is plain to them, because [humans have] made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world [science has] been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

You know what? I actually like that set of verses. I might actually print them off, because I think they say a lot about the human condition, our ability to stand by our beliefs in the face of evidence, of statistics, of physics, of history. I am not immune to it, though I do try to step back and validate my beliefs regularly. Like any human, I know I fail to recognize all of my failings, but dammit, I give it a strong effort.

Young Earth Creationists do not give an effort to find their failings, but that is not to take away from the fact that they put a huge amount of effort; the amount of man hours they put into creation science is stunning… And almost admirable. The only problem is that the only way they manage to keep their ship floating is through disingenuity. One major example is the formation of fossils and stalagmites; they have created it rapidly under a rigidly defined set of conditions, and reproduced that in the lab. They are right, of course, calcification can be a rapid process, in some conditions–you’d be hard pressed to disprove that. But then they make a huge leap; they have decided since it could happen quickly that it did happen quickly.

I think a far more egregious example is that of the discovery of dinosaur soft tissue. As soon as it was discovered, it was hailed as the final piece of the puzzle proving recent dinosaur life by young earth creationists. Why, how could you have soft tissue surviving for 65 million years? That is just absurd. And then scientists tried to explain it! THE GAUL OF THEM! Can’t they clearly see the answer? There is no process that could possibly make this happen, and even by looking the scientists are showing that they are stupidheads, and anti-religion, and scientifically ignorant!

Except in a short order, they discovered a function of high iron content that could have allowed this to happen. Quietly, the YECs stopped trumpeting that discovery, though it still has a place (as last I heard) in the Creation Museum in Kentucky, there to deceive the ignorant. Of course, that isn’t an insult; they are ignorant because people have a vested interest in keeping their blindfold on, and the fact that soft tissue is still in the Young Earth playbook, despite its having been explained by science, is proof of that.

So let’s stop pretending you are doing science. You are accusing scientists of viewing evidence with a presupposition of the age of the Universe, while you grab evidence, look at it through a magnifying glass that has mirrors and dials in it that read “6000 years old” then interpret that evidence accordingly.

The fewer mirrors you put in the way, the fewer assumptions you make about the evidence, the more you realize that 10,000 different threads in the weave of time paint a similar picture — and it is only through your smoke and mirrors, young earth creationist, that you are able to even create the illusion of a 6000 year old world.

So let’s not kid ourselves (heh… Kid) into saying evolution is silly because a child could say it is wrong. That’s not even an argument. That’s not even a thought.

Let’s all go back to the scientific lab of our choice, make as few assumptions as possible, and do some science.

There was an Audible Whoosh

I mentioned, cited, and wrote about this article in the blog post I threw up (pun intended) not even an hour ago… But the idea of it has actually wounded my head for the arrogance of it. The wound is festering, and I felt like I really, really needed to write more about it to relieve the pressure that was building behind my eyes. Oh, you think it can’t be that bad? If that thought passed through your brain, you obviously haven’t read it.

I have to commend the author for accidentally making one sentence ring true in that entire article, the idea that we assume the universe of tomorrow will function much as the universe today, which functions much like the universe of yesterday (unless you believe in young earth creationism, at which point the universe of yesterday doesn’t have to obey any rules except the ones that make your science convenient (I am sure the Hydrosphere sounds very plausible to you, in any case)). That being said, he states that the only reason we can assume that is because of Genesis 8:22. In that case, I am glad someone thought to write it down; why, if they didn’t, the universe would function much like the improbability drive in Hitchhiker’s Guide.

To even begin to accept this verse as binding, as laying the rules of the universe rather than following them, we have to presuppose that the Bible is true and correct. The Bible itself justifies this presupposition by telling the reader that it is true and inerrant, and obviously you can trust it because you presuppose it is true and correct because it tells you it is true and correct, which you believe because you presuppose it is true and correct. But science is not allowed to presuppose ANYTHING, only YECs are allowed to judge presuppositions. And don’t even get them started on the idea of no presuppositions, because even thinking about there being no presuppositions is an incorrect presupposition, and everything you say after they’ve decided that is totally incorrect.

I am sorry, but the author of the top linked article there is arrogant in a way that even many YECs would balk at. I mean, I understand that “I’m right and you’re wrong,” is the core doctrine they have in regards to science, but this guy… This guy. I haven’t been as frustrated at circular logic in a long time. I realize all logic is circular to a degree, but the wider your circle the less assumptions you have to make, and their … Well, I wish I could call it a circle, but since it only has two elements it is actually only a line. They don’t even get so far as to qualify as circular logic. Circular logic assumes much more thought than this idea that Genesis 8:22 laid out the rules of the universe, rather than just mentioned them.

Look, I understand that you feel persecuted, somehow, even though you are the majority religion of the most powerful nation on the face of the Earth. I just don’t understand how it is you can be so… Willfully blind towards the idea that you are allowed to presuppose, while any statement that a scientist makes that doesn’t come from the Bible counts as “out of bounds.” I don’t get it.

Do you know why science assumes that tomorrow will work like today? It isn’t just because it enables science to work, it is because without that science is pointless. The thing is, something akin to science predates your concept of your God. But here’s the other thing; if tomorrow the universe changes so that it functions on a new rule set, I can almost guarantee that we won’t survive to think about it. So here’s what we’re gonna do: we are gonna keep doing science as we have been, following the rules and laws we have been, until we either see this drastic change that you seem to think must happen without God, or until we get far enough that we can actually understand where the rules came from.

The problem is that so many YECs hate it when you call their God the “God of the Gaps,” then proudly say (as was said in this very article) that we don’t know where the rules came from, so obviously God did it. No, no, we shouldn’t search for where the rules came from, that is blasphemy; we should just trust an 8th century BC Jewish peasant to have gotten it right, because that is way more likely than science ever closing this gap. Way more likely indeed!

No, He isn’t a God of the Gaps, He just happens to fill this gap in our current science, and that is just the way we like it. No, stop looking for another explanation. STOP IT! STOPIT!STOPPPPPIIIITTTT! You are going to hell, science!

Augh, sorry, but this article drove me even crazier after I thought about it for a while than it did while I was reading it through. I just about exploded with all of these words inside of me. They would have come out of me somehow, no matter how badly I just wanted to stop thinking about how someone out there considers the logic presented in the linked article sound. That is not sound logic. That is not sound theory. That is probably not even a sound mind, or if it is a sound mind, it is at the very least a liar. No sound mind could think that up, then try to sell it to others as fact; that is the kind of thing someone hears, then passes off as fact so they can sound smart, so long as no one looks too closely.

Now give me a few minutes, I have to bleach that memory out of my brain. I am sure I can come up with some way to make that happen.

The Modern Damage of Romans 1:18-21

More than anything in the Gospels, more than anything in the Old Testament, more than any other passage quoted in the Epistles of Paul, Romans 1:18-21 is quoted by the Young Earth Creationists in defending their… Science? Opinion? Stance? Ignorance? I don’t even know what to call it; I don’t want to call it ignorance, but when it is said in the same breath as speaking historical science, or in the same article as calling evolution “anti-science”, it is tough to call it anything else. I don’t want to sound overly negative, but if they didn’t have this talisman I think we’d be in a very different world (or, at the very least, they’d have to pull different tools out of their tickle trunk).

I tripped down the hole that is Answers in Genesis, and was forging through the brush of their articles before coming across these two pieces of wonderful literature that I simply could not ignore. The first of my links is possibly the most broadly egregious, for it basically says that the scientific advances of the great Greek culture were only because of God. I mean, obviously they weren’t Christian or Jewish, but thanks to their MIGHTY TALISMAN (Romans 1:18-21), we can be certain that they knew God. Obviously. And because they knew God, and rejected God, then God gets all the credit for their science in absentia. I mean, it’s not like they can fight back, right?

Never mind the fact that when Eratosthenes discovered the circumference of the spherical Earth, the Jews were being passed between Egypt and Greek masters like some kind of feud over a borrowed lawn mower (The third century BC). I am sure the Jews of the day were closer to the right of it, though, and the Greeks knew about the Christian God (then again… Jesus hadn’t been around yet, and Romans 1:18-21 didn’t exist. So the Jewish God was universally a territorial, xenophobic, murderous asshole of a tribal god at the time. Oh, that isn’t true, you say? Tell me where in the Old Testament God showed his love for all peoples. Oh, I know God said he loved the Israelites, but that was generally right before he wanted to kill them all. It’s OK, though, Moses talked him out of it. Anyway, take your time. I’ll wait.).

Regardless, the spurious logic presented in the second linked article is almost laughable to anyone who even … Sorry, that was going to go to an insulting place, and I’d rather we stay civil. Anyway, the author states that because the Bible states there is uniformity in the universe that there would be no such uniformity without God. I don’t even know which of the thousand threads to pull on. I mean, the first would be what was the world like before God struck his covenant with Abraham? And even if we accept your Creator God, why does He have such a small, historically insignificant people as His chosen, despite the fact that he frequently mentions his hatred of them? Why have a chosen people at all when all people are descended of your creation? And what’s with the other gods in the old testament? The Old Testament contextually speaks of Ba’al as a rival god to YWH, and historically it seems that even the early Jews accepted Ba’al as existing, though there’s an entire body of research that goes into how that argument got settled.

If God wanted to kill the Israelites so badly after the Exodus, why didn’t He just choose another, better chosen people? To that end, why did he ACTIVELY harden the heart of Pharaoh against believing in Him? I don’t even, what is this?

But then this all goes to the damage caused by Romans 1:18-21 in the modern world. The weird thing I want to know is how does this manifest? How do I know the truth of God and reject it? How is it so plainly obvious? And I don’t just mean in my case, what of the case of a child born and raised pagan? If the child learns of the Hindu pantheon from birth to death, how was that child meant to know God clearly? The passage reads that all things are clearly seen, but what makes these miracles “clearly seen” to be of the God you were raised to believe in, as opposed to Zeus? Or Odin? Or Vishnu? What makes it so clear that these aren’t scientific processes? These aren’t rhetorical questions, they are question about the very root of the arrogance of hard line creationists who cite it as defense of their view. You are asking me to take a statement from a first century religious zealot at face value, without even a hint of explanation. Hell, with the way that this set of verses is bandied about, it seems you want me to accept it without even the slightest trace of context.

I think that very passage is at the root of the arrogance of many modern creationists, and I think it has stymied the conversation between the Christian Church in the United States and science worldwide. Usually, this would not really concern me, but as the United States is a major world power, it is a major issue worldwide. The Christian Right has certainly put a massive stopper on many very promising lines of stem cell research. That should concern the entire world, and that does concern me. When your religious dogma promotes love and tolerance, I will stand by it — but if I have to let your anti-scientific rhetoric through with it, I have serious reservations — and I think any empathetic, merciful human should have similar reservations.

It is the arrogance of belief that lets so many people stand confidently beside the idea that, to use Sam Harris’ example, a 7 year old with third degree burns over 80% of her body should suffer because the treatment for this illness lies in the destruction of a blastocyst that has no nervous system. That a soul is granted immediately upon conception. I would like to see the evidence that this is the case, in any case.

There are many who believe that life is an absolute, and destroying even a blastocyst constitutes killing, regardless of whether the being has a soul — but to assume that the blastocyst could suffer in any real way, without a nervous system, without any organs, without any identifiable features that could make it human, we must not destroy it even if in the hope of saving the above mentioned girl.

These beliefs contribute perhaps to a higher population of humans, but definitely to increased suffering in the world. But hey, 9 billion people suffering is better than 7 billion healthy people, right? Right?