Creationists still can't seem to evolve

By Phil Plait | October 11, 2010 12:30 pm

Creationists make me laugh (at least, when they aren’t making me beat my head against a wall). Sometimes their tactics adapt — dare I say evolve? — to new situations (like when they changed their name from creationism to Intelligent Design), and sometimes they don’t. Cherry-picking, taking things out of context, and deception are de rigueur for many of them.

smbc_evolutionEnter creationists Bob Enyart and Fred Williams. The former is the host (and the latter a guest host) of a creationist radio program called — hang on to your irony gland — Real Science Friday. On the October 8 show, they tackle (well, try to tackle) several issues about science, including one involving me. I downloaded the episode and listened to it, and wasn’t terribly surprised to hear them grossly mischaracterize science all through it. They manage to pack a whole lot of outright wrongness into just a few minutes; anyone who has passed middle school science would be able to see where they’re wrong. It’s the usual tour-de-force of creationist nonsense.

Which brings us to me. Last year, I took creationist Spike Psarris to task for misusing the term "evolution" when it comes to astronomy. Psarris has a series of videos out about creationist astronomy. In them, he uses the term evolution to stir emotions in creationists, and not for what it actually means. He then tried to squirm out of that, saying astronomers use the term evolution all the time. I then showed where he was being very deceptive there, trying to distract his readers away from the point that he was seriously misusing the term.

Re-enter Enyart and Williams. Starting at 18:45 in their radio show, they talk about this. Of course, they praise Psarris (who is wrong, wrong, wrong), but then turn to my own blog posts about him.

Oh wait, did I say "posts", plural? I meant they turn to my first blog post. That’s important; we’ll get back to that.

They basically parrot what Psarris did, pointing out that astronomers do use the term evolution. Of course we do, but it’s entirely different than biological evolution. Astronomers use it to mean change, usually in individual bodies (stars, planets, galaxies), while biologists use it to talk about change in species or larger categories due to the change in frequency of alleles. Comparing the biological and astronomical usage of the term evolution would be as silly as comparing the biblical and scientific usage of the verb "to know".

But since creationists hate evolution, they use it to tar all of science. Funny that, given that without the science they deny, radio wouldn’t work. Hmmm.

So clearly, Enyart and Williams carry on the tradition of creationist misuse of scientific terms. On their website describing the radio program, it says:

Also, they chuckle over the accusation leveled by Discover magazine blogger evolutionist Phil Plait who accused Creation Astronomy’s Spike Psarris of being deceptive because he uses the term “evolution” to describe naturalistic astronomy for, as Plait wrote, “evolution has nothing to do with astronomy.” So, Spike knocks it out of the park by showing the covers of nine astronomy texts, each one with the word evolution in their titles, such as Solar System Evolution.

Interestingly, this indicated to me that perhaps they haven’t actually looked at my blog much, or used the search engine there, because it seems to have slipped their notice that in my followup post, I show why, in great detail, Psarris was wrong. They also say I call Psarris a liar, which I do not, as I point out in my second post*.

Had they read the second post, certainly they wouldn’t have used arguments already shown to be wrong. Right?

Right?

Psarris, Enyart, and Williams either don’t understand the basics of what they are attacking, or they don’t care as long as they can cast doubt on things over which there is no doubt. Something outspoken creationists never do is look for objective facts, for context, for reality. They’d rather keep those scales on their eyes, score cheap points, and hope no one listening to them goes to the trouble of typing words into a search engine.

Sadly, it’s a bet they win way too many times.



* They even ask if I will revise my statement on my blog. Um, no, I won’t because in my second post I show why I’m right and Psarris is wrong.

Comments (156)

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  1. Link 182 (actually, about 40) « The Dispersal of Darwin | October 12, 2010
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  2. Chief

    I wonder if they do know the proper scientific methods and wording but use this to form the twisted truths because they know the gullibility of the audience they are trying to target. Thus have a larger following (and feeling of power). Unfortunately the conspiracy angle sells.

  3. Would this be an appropriate thread to mention a list of rebuttals like we have for the anti-vax nutters? A couple of select lists:

    http://factsnotfantasy.com/evolution.php

    http://factsnotfantasy.com/creationists.php

  4. Daniel J. Andrews

    Last week creationists told my sister that there are one set of facts, but two interpretations of those facts and they’re just trying to present the other side. So I sent her information showing how they had misrepresented what the facts (i.e. the scientists, the journal articles) had actually said.

    Rather than discussing science-related issues which they (and my sister) may not have the background to fully understand, it was simpler to show them the actual papers they were misquoting. “You say this paper/research says ‘white’, but here’s the paper and it clearly says ‘black’. Will you now retract your claim?”

    It is obvious they’ve never actually read what those papers say (or even the relevant sections), but just took it on faith (heh) that it said what they were told it said.

    btw, not impressed with their Real Science Fridays moniker. It could be confused with the reputable Science Fridays with Ira Flatow (which is the real science), whose podcasts have informed me on many interesting issues (they accept donations if you wish to show your support).*

    *I am not associated with Science Fridays or know any of the people–I’m just a grateful listener.

  5. John Matthews

    “Something outspoken creationists never do is look for objective facts, for context, for reality. ”

    The problem you have with your arguments over these folks is that the people that listen to and follow their outspoken anti-science/anti-knowledge “know-nothingness” believe in the drivel. Religiously (no pun intended, or maybe it was).

    They just think the same way as those guys, and no argument, no matter how reasonable, logical, compelling, truthful or, simply, right your arguments are will not sway very many, if any, of them.

    They simply aren’t going to read your (or anyone elses) writings, or listen to reason, or think for themselves, when it’s easier to let someone else do it for them. These are the same kinds of folks that condemn TV shows, movies, and books without ever seeing or reading them, simply because someone else said they were bad. Something I never have understood.

    They simply just don’t care, or just don’t want to learn, which I find incredibly sad.

  6. Jason

    I debated internally. Do I even TRY to respond on this? Phil, I will give you that many many of the “Creation scientists” out there do Very shoddy science at best and in fact do a fair amount of the Cherry picking of facts (and biblical verses) to support their view or try and prove that science is some vast Anti-God conspiracy. I shake my head at some of the things they come up with. The thing I must remember is that the Genesis creation account was written with a pre-technic, nomadic to agrarian society in mind. The exact mechanism of creation is not the salient point. The important point is that God is the architect and creator. My knowledge and understand of the Biological side of evolutionary theory is not very strong, I admit that, and its not something I have ever found interesting. I do find astronomy fascinating and far more interesting. I think that many creation scientists and others out there are guilty of “Creating God in their image” rather than looking at the universe and realizing that a truly Infinite God is not going to fit into their pre-conceived notions of how things must be. Every new thing that is discovered or learned about the universe simply re-enforces, to me at least, the infinite complexity that God is.

    Now, lets just hope my flameproof suit is fitted properly and I will break out the marshmallows and await the roasting! :)

  7. Chris

    I started listening to the program and they said babies have an understanding of physics. So babies are smarter than the hosts!

  8. Michael Swanson

    @ 6. Jason

    Jason, would you describe yourself as more spiritual than religious? (I’m guessing.) The religious base their gods on books and other works that never stand up to any serious scrutiny. The spiritual cherry pick godly attributes that best suit their worldview, whether loving or angry or stoned, not even having a book or tradition to back up their own view of the universe. They just know, that they just FEEL that they are right (thereby claiming more wisdom than any other human being).

  9. Iason Ouabache

    Dishonest creationists who didn’t thoroughly research the topic they are talking about? I’m shocked!

  10. Number 6

    Came across this quote today that is allied theme-wise with the interesting cartoon submitted by Number 1 — “Against logic there is no armor like ignorance.” — Laurence J. Peter

  11. Lorin

    Phil,

    I’m a middle-aged science nut (I literally learned to read from perusing my scientist father’s National Geographic and science magazines). I firmly believe in God, and I firmly believe in evolutionary SCIENCE. I see no contradiction, although I know why many on both sides do. Just as there are major limits to how religion can inform science, science is limited to how far it can inform religion.

    That doesn’t stop many folks from trying.

    I’m as amused as anyone else when someone reads the Bible as if it were a science textbook. I’m equally amused when folks quote “Evolution of Species” as if it backs up their own personal philosophies. When the subject in question is the existence of a supreme being that supposedly will only reveal himself to individuals on his own terms, there’s simply no scientific test that could validate or invalidate whether some people actually have had some kind of encounter with the divine.

    If you are among the ranks who don’t believe in God or don’t believe anyone could know there is one, fine. I get irked, however, when pro-science folks and junk-science, junk-religion skeptics (among whose ranks I place myself) do such a poor job of segregating their scientific views from their philosophical views. Science is a process of uncovering objective truth. Religion and philosophy can mix well with science in certain areas, but proponents of each have a tendency to overstate their own case when it comes to addressing what is primarily in the realm of the other.

    Maybe the religious fundamentalist folks would become more scientifically literate and have a more favorable view of science if the proponents of scientific literacy could learn how to discuss science in religiously neutral terms. (Some do quite well at this. On this blog you seem to try, but the sum tone of your posts on this topic is often difficult to ignore.)

    Still like the blog. Not a fan of taking on the most extreme anti-science folks in a way that makes it sound like your problem is with religion in general. Maybe you do feel that way about religion, maybe you don’t. But if you think religionists sound foolish when they try to talk science, just know that scientists can also come off as foolish to when they take un-nuanced views of religion, as if the religiously fluent and serious will never know the difference. We do.

    Groups like “Real Science Friday” represent the far out extreme, and few religious folks know, care or believe what they say. It would help if your posts made it more obvious that you understood this distinction as well. The fact that you care so much about the agenda of groups so far off in the margin is unbecoming for someone who wants to (and deserves to) be taken seriously as a serious public arbiter of what is true science and what is not.

  12. Venture Free

    “So babies are smarter than the hosts!”

    Of course. Baby’s have a natural ability to learn new things. It takes years and years of concentrated effort to so completely expunge that ability.

  13. @ 6. Jason:

    “The exact mechanism of creation is not the salient point. The important point is that God is the architect and creator.”

    Is the evidence for the latter any better than that for the former?

  14. Jason

    @ Michael 8
    I am not sure which of those definitions would best apply. I do believe in the in-errancy of the Scripture, but I have not found where scripture, my beliefs, and what we know to be true scientifically come to mortal blows as it were. I am sure that in some ways I probably do some cherry picking, but I make a conscious effort to be intellectually honest to myself in my beliefs. And yes, it is a choice. I do Choose to believe in God, and in the doctrines of the Christian faith. Do I have concrete proof? No, I do not. I have faith in the unseen.

  15. Jason

    @ Carl 12

    I guess that depends on the point of view. I look at the wondrous beauty and complexity of the Universe and wonder, how can you not believe this was created. On the other hand you have those who say How can you look at this and believe “The invisible sky wizard” created it?

    The conclusiveness of the evidence is dependent on the viewpoint you are coming from.

  16. BJN

    @Jason

    “Intellectually honest” is hardly how I’d describe your approach. Genesis isn’t even a work of a single author. There are two distinctly different creation tales and the book’s editors make no attempt to disguise that fact. The folks who decided what to include in the Bible had no need for consistency, yet you hang onto “inerrency” as if that’s possible without abandoning a reasoned reading. Do you think agrarians somehow had a different concept for what a year is when they describe the patriarchs living as long as 969 years? Or is this the “allegorical truth”, and if so, what’s the point of even trying to reconcile allegorical tales with objective fact?

  17. jimexcelcs

    Jason says, “I am sure that in some ways I probably do some cherry picking, but I make a conscious effort to be intellectually honest to myself in my beliefs. ”

    Sorry, but it is obvious that you do not. You cannot be intellectually honest and believe in omnipotent invisible men at the same time.

  18. tmac57

    Whoa,whoa,whoa,Phil…de rigueur…tour-de-force? Let me get my Babel fish…(squish).Okay,
    proceed.

  19. This reminds me of a conversation I had with a creationist in which I asked him what his main issue was with evolution, and he started to tell me about how “there is no way a big explosion 13.7 million years ago could lead to the organization we see around us,” when I explained that, that was cosmology not evolution and that while they are both scientific ideas they are actually not related, he refused to give up the point, basically saying if one was false the other was as well . . . .

    ~Rhaco

  20. CNR

    @Jason,

    I think that your view is all well and good, but there is a problem.

    Why would God create a universe that has all the appearances of being one he did not create? (This is actually key to my own “deconversion”).

    Science is showing us that the account of existence levied in the Bible does not fit what actually is.

    So if God “dumbed” down the Bible for the Stone Age tribes, so be it. Of course that’s kind of crappy to leave these poor bastards in the desert and withholding knowledge about medicine and whatnot that would have at least given them a fighting chance against the “wages of sin” which they had no supposedly direct input into causing.

    But it would also be pretty crappy if the Bible were the only way he revealed himself. Kind of puts us modern, reasonable humans (who would conceivably be using the reason God imbued us with) at a disadvantage eh?

    My answer is again, reality is all there is. There is no evidence for anything supernatural. We are smart enough to know that now. We just have to combat the left over social memory of our past.

  21. Nemesis

    Why can”t teleologists embrace the “fact” that scientists have been “created” to open their minds to a view of the universe that isn’t constricted by a book that (according to them) renders all other books fiction.

  22. Ron

    “Sometimes their tactics adapt — dare I say evolve? — to new situations (like when they changed their name from creationism to Intelligent Design), and sometimes they don’t.”

    Would that be similar to changing global warming to climate change to make people more accepting of it?

  23. Jess Tauber

    Stop complaining and just be glad that these folks no longer show you the rack, knuckle-breakers, stake or axe and offer you the choice of ‘believe or die’. There are places in the world today where the wrong word still buys a death sentence from the local religious bigwigs. By comparison our home-grown antiscience types are positively mellow. Pentacostalists in Africa killing child ‘witches’ (if you’re disobedient you must be possessed by the Devil), etc. And antievolution is starting to take hold in a big way in the Muslim world- wait til that starts getting you executed. Maybe unthinking acceptance is the price we pay to be socially viable as civilizations. The drooling masses get to keep drooling. Hopefully AI will eliminate the need (and clean up the drool).

  24. NAW

    Haha. Yea, I really loved that hour spent trying to explain there is “evolution” and then there is “evolution”. And he did cave in and agreed that solar evolution does happen. So time well spent.

  25. Luke

    @19. Ron:

    “Would that be similar to changing global warming to climate change to make people more accepting of it?”

    No. “Climate change” more accurately describes the model, whereas ID was an attempt to circumvent teaching religious creationism in schools.

    So again, nope.

  26. tudza

    “Funny that, given that without the science they deny, radio wouldn’t work. Hmmm.”

    Radio would still work without science, it would just be damned difficult to build one.

  27. truthspeaker

    Jason, you just firmly established that you don’t read Genesis the same we Creation scientists do, so why are you afraid of flaming? Are you jumping to the conclusion that because Phil is attacking Creationism, he’s attacking all of Christianity?

    If so, you’re doing exactly what the creationists want you to do.

  28. Grand Lunar

    And here I thought that creationists were going extinct.

    Hey, it’s a T-1000 style evolutionist!

  29. Minos

    “Real Science Friday” — That’s almost as funny as the astrology journal named “Correlation”.

  30. truthspeaker

    @Lorin in #11:

    WTF. Phil singled out young-earth creationists for criticism. He pointedly did not attack Christianity or religion in general. Why do you insist on changing the subject?

    Not a fan of taking on the most extreme anti-science folks in a way that makes it sound like your problem is with religion in general.

    Phil didn’t do that. At all.

    Groups like “Real Science Friday” represent the far out extreme, and few religious folks know, care or believe what they say.

    I take it you don’t live in the United States. Groups like “Real Science Friday” are mainstream Christianity here.

  31. I can’t help but think of a group that changed global warming to climate change.

    Funny that green fascists act like creationists.

    It is almost like zealots all act alike.

  32. cantech

    There is simply that which is.
    Some cling to a God separate from the Universe, having created it, he is not part of it, but above it.
    Another teaching says what we call God is the Universe, all that exists.
    The faithful pray before their God and are taught to be humble before the Almighty. Or at least that is what is written. The execution of this teaching leaves something to be desired in many cases.
    Others look to the space betwen the stars and feel small and dare I say it again, humble.
    Where do I stand? Reading ancient texts is a useful way to get to understand how people thought and adapted when civilization was young. It is a good thing to understand where we came from. Always keeping in mind that it will never be the full story,written mainly by the victorious and (here we go) evolving over time. There is real guidance there. We have not changed that much as a species in four thousand years. But to say it is finished as written is ridiculous. We change along with our technologies, legal and moral systems. Just note how much the Bible is written in terms of a kingdom. It sounds outdated in our democracy. Do we want a return to a King, or will heaven be run by a comittee we help select. I have no desire to give up my will and worship.
    Having said that, it’s not a bad thing to feel humbled. It’s something we should all do, now and again. Maybe that’s the message they wanted to send to us from the dawn of time.
    It’s Thanksgiving in Canada. So give thanks for honest differences of opinion, it keeps us young of spirit and awake. And if you are reading this you are probably free to think for yourself, and in my case full of turkey.

  33. truthspeaker

    The Arquette SIsters Says:
    October 11th, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    I can’t help but think of a group that changed global warming to climate change.

    That group would be global-warming deniers. They started calling it climate change because it sounded less alarming.

  34. MPG

    It is almost like zealots all act alike

    Says the person posting the exact same argument as Ron @22…

  35. viggen

    @Jason I guess that depends on the point of view. I look at the wondrous beauty and complexity of the Universe and wonder, how can you not believe this was created.

    As a scientist with both biological and physical backgrounds, I must say that I have no problem with your beliefs in the slightest. As a matter of course, belief is almost entirely irrelevant to properly executed science, which hinges on its predictive power and reproducibility. Where I begin to have a problem is when people start warping the models to fit some preconceived notion–in this case, usually something ascribed to the Bible. I disagree with Deepak Chopra for the same reason.

    In my experience, religion fails most directly because it lacks isotropy (e.g. if I’m not a Muslim, why shouldn’t I choose to be a Scientologist?) and predictive power. This is not to say that it can’t be a source of comfort or that religious people are in some way stupid for having their beliefs. I have known and do know a few genuine religious scientists and I find them to be terrific people.

    One final point that I would make is that I think a personal POV is pretty meaningless once you dip deep into the sciences. A model says that a certain phenomenon is observed depending on a set of knowable conditions. This is biological and physical science. Models are routinely scrapped and amended as observations become more sophisticated. If one chooses not to believe in the highest quality model available, it doesn’t lessen the predictive power of that model in the slightest–it just means you’ll attack it more vehemently and to less effect. As such, many scientists, myself include, have to shake their heads when someone comes off as “I don’t believe in biological evolution” simply because there is no more reliable predictive model for the observations that biological evolution concerns. If you modify your idea of creation to be that everything exists now as a result of mechanisms behaving exactly as we have observed and modeled and that those mechanisms are God, then scientists will never be saying anything you don’t believe in and your God will never contradict what we know about the world. Still, you might as well categorically be an Atheist at that point because it means that you won’t be humanifying the concept of god and nobody who believes in a religious textbook will agree with you (that’s the line we hard agnostics walk).

  36. Jack

    The great religious texts were all written in limited technological societies and are products of the then prevailing cultural circumstances. Almost invariably they have been revised in later centuries by a different cultural viewpoint at least once if not more times. You could say that they evolved, that they changed to suit the times and were influenced not only by wholly cultural differences but also through the influence of single individuals.

    I suspect that the rise of modern technology along with the rise of the middle class and the widespread access to education and communication has done more to ossify this evolution, set it in stone as it were, than anything. Which leaves us with more slowly changing religious viewpoints that can more easily be seen to be losing touch with the modern world.

    From there it is not to hard to understand from where the Creationists come, ensnared in the desire to believe yet trapped in an ever decreasingly relevant belief structure that when taken literally doesn’t give them the room to manoeuvre. This is not applicable to everyone who has a faith, of course, only those whose inflexibility drives them to try to tie together all of those annoying loose ends that collectively threaten to undermine them.

    Personally, I have no problem with the position that science is a way of trying to understand the mechanisms of some-one else’s god. I just have to marvel at the ignorance of those who appear to believe that their god is as simple minded as they are.

  37. Scott

    And the Dunning-Kruger effect strikes for like the trillionth time.

  38. Radwaste

    Say – if you’re faced with religious zealotry cite Saint Augustine!

    About 1600 years ago, Saint Augustine – Augustine of Hippo – had this to say about evangelists who open their mouths without knowing what they were saying:

    “Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.” – De Genesi ad literam 1:19–20, Chapt. 19 [AD 408].

  39. If you point out errors, people become defensive and they will rationalize their position and become emotionally linked to it. Neither side gets any further. Conversational Questions on the logic of their view point works better.
    Questions should be made with respect and an honest desire to understand how the person came to that idea.
    Here’s what happens. Most people came to their idea through listening to someone talk about it. They have no real back ground in it. So your questions make them question it. Your questions will bring up doubt. And when doubt is there, reality has time to creep in and make people think. Its not going to happen in front of you. You aren’t going to walk away from the conversation having “won” the point. What will happen is they will have a bug in their head and time and more information will start to tilt their viewpoint toward reality.

    If your real desire is to clarify reality to them – just ask honest, respectful questions. And don’t do it with snark. Find out why they think that.

  40. reidh

    I would beg to differ with you on the subject of Astronomy using the term evolution. There is the prevailing theory on the evolution of this solar system which has been shown by observed data to be wrong. But it has yet to be debunked, by all of these skeptics I hear you talking about.

  41. delphi_ote

    Phil,

    Why not put a note in a large font with links to these subsequent posts at the top of your original blog post?

  42. Daffy

    I have said this before: I KNOW these people. Years ago, when I was VERY hungry, I worked in religious broadcasting. There are two types: the outright liars and flim flam artists, who know they are being deceptive and simply want you get rich quick; and the ones who also know they are lying, but feel it is for a higher cause—one beyond mere truth—where ANYTHING is acceptable as long as it advances The Cause.

    Be afraid of them, folks; be very afraid.

  43. Geomaniac

    @#10 Did you see that quote on the back of yesterdays Dilbert calendar? That’s where I saw that so true quote.

  44. Bee

    Actually, I also noticed people tend to get confused when I use the word “evolution” as it’s commonly used in physics. (As in “evolution equation,” “evolve forward” etc.) They seem to connect it immediately with evolution of the species.

  45. Zetetic

    @ reidh and Bee:
    You are both of course correct, but it does depend on the context. This seems to be where many lay-people get confused.

    ————————————————————————————————————————————————————————

    Unfortunately, too often people tend to oversimplify things by being less specific than they could be, and that provides an opportunity for confusion and dishonesty. Personally I wish that astronomers more frequently used the term “formation” instead of “evolution” when discussing astronomical bodies and structures. There’s nothing wrong per se with using the term “evolution” in that context, but it does seem to unintentionally give creations some dishonest ammunition to be used against science as a whole.

    On a related note, I remember once having some co-workers ask me if a “Plasma TV” had blood plasma in it. I had to explain to them that while the words and spelling are the same that they are two very different things, then give a simple explanation what “plasma” in the sense of an energized gas was.

    The real problem though, is that some creationists deliberately conflate the terms even when they know that they are being disingenuous with their choice of words. Others that don’t know better then become confused. I’ve been in arguments before with Young Earth Creationists about exactly this same subject. They stated that they knew the difference between the different meaning of the term “evolution”, but that they didn’t care, and intended to continue using the term in a dishonest manner since they believed that it was for “the greater good”.

  46. Daniel J. Andrews

    The Arquette SIsters Says:
    October 11th, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    I can’t help but think of a group that changed global warming to climate change.

    Uhh…that would be the Republicans, Frank Luntz, PR strategist, public opinion researcher. Google “Frank Luntz climate change memo”, and you can read the actual 2003 memo yourself. As Truthspeaker points out, they changed it so it would sound less threatening to the public. Here’s the relevant part.

    “Climate change” is less frightening than “global warming”. As one focus group participant noted, climate change “sounds like you’re going from Pittsburgh to Fort Lauderdale.” While global warming has catastrophic connotations attached to it, climate change suggests a more controllable and less emotional challenge.

    Three years later, in June 2006 on the BBC, Luntz said he found the evidence convincing and that man-made global warming is taking place.

    Sorry for the O/T, but the tactics used by creationists are the same ones used by climate change deniers…and HIV-AIDs deniers, CFCs-ozone deniers, tobacco-cancer deniers, acid rain deniers, asbestos-cancer deniers–and ‘coincidentally’ enough, many of the same players, think-tanks and PR firms are involved with all of those examples, including creationism (e.g. Google George C. Marshall Institute).

  47. Sorry for the O/T, but the tactics used by creationists are the same ones used by climate change deniers…and HIV-AIDs deniers, CFCs-ozone deniers, tobacco-cancer deniers, acid rain deniers, asbestos-cancer deniers–and ‘coincidentally’ enough, many of the same players, think-tanks and PR firms are involved with all of those examples, including creationism (e.g. Google George C. Marshall Institute).

    Same tactics, same manipulation of the media for free publicity, same targeted demographic and in many, many cases the same spokespeople and money-men.
    This needs to be pointed out much more often.
    Spot the difference between this and this.

  48. Jeffersonian

    @jason
    “I look at the wondrous beauty and complexity of the Universe and wonder, how can you not believe this was created”

    Why does beauty=creator? You’re putting the cart before the horse (a supernatural creator exists and creates beauty therefore existing beauty is proof of a creator’s existence). Looks like you’re just as guilty of “Cherry picking of facts (and biblical verses) to support [your] view “.

    Faith is just a system for pretending an alternate reality for a set of facts while turning a blind eye to hard elements of reality. Science examines facts. Any claim you make regarding the nature of reality is indeed an area which science can examine. They’re not mutually exclusive unless you fear the answer doesn’t jibe with what you insist reality must be. What you want is for science to ignore areas where you have divided your consciousness into “faith” and away from “facts that I readily accept as part of my reality”.

    Challenge: Examine which portions are a result of spiritual-cultural indoctrination and try putting the two halves back together for awhile. You might find peace. Reality can be (is) just as beautiful, if not more so, than “faith”. It’s certainly much more complex.

  49. Paul

    If you watch the episode of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos on Youtube where he explains the 4th dimension, it seems to me he unwittingly proved that God exists. Just watch it. If there actually are 11 or more dimensions, then he proved it.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UnURElCzGc0
    If this doesn’t work, just type in Carl Sagan 4th dimension.

  50. Zack

    Damn, Phil! You make some pretty tasty Kool-Aid. Mabye it’s time you switch to Flavor Aid.

  51. Interesting post Phil,

    It doesn’t matter what field of science is unpalatable to a certain group, selective ignorance and misrepresentation are at the heart of denial to incite confusion and mistrust.

    I’m a lot like you – I find creationists and closer to home, climate “sceptics” entertaining… until you find yourself stuck in a loop (ie. they demand evidence, ignore what’s offered and then celebrate that evidence is not forth coming).

    However, I guess you’re right here – we just need to keep the rest clear on subject and provide a coherent, evidence-rich message so that such sideshows don’t lead us down some rabbit hole! :)

  52. noen

    48. Jeffersonian Says:
    “Faith is just a system for pretending an alternate reality for a set of facts”

    No, I don’t think so. Faith has nothing to do with empiricism or scientific facts. Faith is the human ability to “gain the strength and will to do something from the irrefutable evidence that it cannot be.”

    You’ve been listening to too many fundamentalists of either the atheistic or religious kind.

    Faith is not simply the ability to hold a contradiction in your head but the very contradictory nature of it is what what makes it vital and essential and a moral imperative. This is humanity’s greatest gift. This has little to do with the evolution/creationist conflict though.

    “You might find peace.”

    I hope not, that would mean I am intellectually dead. Consciousness is a constant battle against the desire to sleep and in your sleep to dream you are awake.

    “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time.”

  53. Monkey

    To all those pandering about with the “i love god and I trust biology” quotations and insights, I offer this:

    Mutual exclusivity; while evolution does not disprove god, the fact that the bible rejects it entirely lays them in a different category.

    If you believe in the bible, god, etc, then you really should be a stronger person and not believe in evoluton. If you believe evolution to be, say, true, then you should prop up the night stand with your bible and move on to more cogent iterature.

    I know this is a long standing discussion and I offer no new insights here, but its a simple comment on a blog….and I have to get back to work. Let me leave with this – evolution is a true function of biology. Therefor….

  54. Monkey

    I entered into a refreshingly open conversation a while ago with my partner – both of us atheists and science junkies but profession – about the reality of god. What came out was this:

    Religion does not = god; I can live a life that I feel is determined by my morals and my understanding of what i best for society but I can still forbid myself the imaginary notion of a god. Some would call me religious, I would call me moral. One could say that my morality is guided by religion but, me having and fearing no god, this cant be true.

    Even if god existed… ; If I were shown proof, unquestionable, credible untampered truth that god existed (I kind of picture me shaking his hand and him handing me his business card – presumably printed on diamond sheets ringed with bucky-ball twirl patterns and self illuminating and able to act as a power source….such the physics master that he is) I would take two actions. One – I would say “I believe”. I would believe in god. Two – I would say “I dont respect”. And I would not respect nor accept any more then than I do now the morality he lays on one species on this planet. I would continue to live by my own gauge of what is right and wrong.

    The bastard would get my vote at existing, but not my support in an election. Basically.

  55. This episode is another good reason to send a donation to the REAL Science Friday. I am not affiliated with them either (Actually work for a commercial TV station).

  56. Messier Tidy Upper

    @1. IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE : Thanks. LOL. :-D

  57. @Jason …not a flame, just food for thought

    Are you suggesting “that the Genesis creation account was written with a pre-technic, nomadic to agrarian society in mind,” but the rest of the bible is written with a technical, post-industrial society in mind?

    The “timeless inerrant divinely-inspired word of god is clearly a dated (often obsolete) hit-and-miss philosophy and pseudo-history that wavers between aesthetics and tribal barbarism.

    At some point people have to start making excuses for passages that obviously contradict reality or they must allow for the possibility that some of it might be wrong. Once we get passed the first hurdle and recognize it can be wrong we owe it to ourselves to consider how much, what parts or if any of it can be trusted as factual. That misplaced trust is the fulcrum by which otherwise rational people are pried away from reason.

  58. Nigel Depledge

    Jason (6) said:

    I debated internally. Do I even TRY to respond on this? Phil, I will give you that many many of the “Creation scientists” out there do Very shoddy science at best and in fact do a fair amount of the Cherry picking of facts (and biblical verses) to support their view or try and prove that science is some vast Anti-God conspiracy. I shake my head at some of the things they come up with. The thing I must remember is that the Genesis creation account was written with a pre-technic, nomadic to agrarian society in mind. The exact mechanism of creation is not the salient point. The important point is that God is the architect and creator. My knowledge and understand of the Biological side of evolutionary theory is not very strong, I admit that, and its not something I have ever found interesting. I do find astronomy fascinating and far more interesting. I think that many creation scientists and others out there are guilty of “Creating God in their image” rather than looking at the universe and realizing that a truly Infinite God is not going to fit into their pre-conceived notions of how things must be. Every new thing that is discovered or learned about the universe simply re-enforces, to me at least, the infinite complexity that God is.

    It seems to me that the position you outline here is not wholly unreasonable, closely resembling that of a theistic evolutionist.

    In essence, I have no problem with someone believing that evolution is god’s toolkit, because they at least accept the factual findings of evolutionary biology. Obviously, there is no evidentiary support for belief in god, but that’s a separate issue.

    We need more people like you to not merely shake your heads at the creationist fringe, but to openly attack them. Remind them (as St Augustine did) that by making stupid arguments in favour of Christianity, they make Christianity itself look foolish.

  59. Nigel Depledge

    Lorin (11) said:

    I’m a middle-aged science nut (I literally learned to read from perusing my scientist father’s National Geographic and science magazines). I firmly believe in God, and I firmly believe in evolutionary SCIENCE. I see no contradiction, although I know why many on both sides do. Just as there are major limits to how religion can inform science, science is limited to how far it can inform religion.

    That doesn’t stop many folks from trying.

    I’m as amused as anyone else when someone reads the Bible as if it were a science textbook.

    Actually, it would be far more productive if you were outraged rather than amused. If more moderate Christians (etc.) were to condemn the creationist fringe, then it would almost certainly fade away – or, at the very least, lose some of its influence.

    I’m equally amused when folks quote “Evolution of Species” as if it backs up their own personal philosophies.

    This is a strawman.

    In fact, I know of no atheist who has ever argued that evolution disproves the existence of god. What evolution shows is that the teleological argument (essentially, Paley’s Watchmaker argument) is false, and that therefore god is not necessary to generate the diversity of life we observe.

    Since this had previously been thought to be the strongest evidence-based argument in favour of the existence of god, we then find that there is actually no evidentiary support for a belief in god at all (other evidence-based arguments were weaker still and do not stand up). Therefore, belief in god is based solely on a personal choice (or on indoctrination). Belief in god is thus irrational (and thus entirely human).

    When the subject in question is the existence of a supreme being that supposedly will only reveal himself to individuals on his own terms, there’s simply no scientific test that could validate or invalidate whether some people actually have had some kind of encounter with the divine.

    Precisely. And thus it is impossible to acquire any evidentiary support for the existence of god. How convenient (or inconvenient, if you happen to believe in god and wish to convince someone who does not).

    If you are among the ranks who don’t believe in God or don’t believe anyone could know there is one, fine. I get irked, however, when pro-science folks and junk-science, junk-religion skeptics (among whose ranks I place myself) do such a poor job of segregating their scientific views from their philosophical views.

    It seems to me that you have succumbed to at least some of the creationist propaganda.

    I’d be interested to see if you could quote any atheist who claims that evolutionary science proves there is no god.

    Even Richard Dawkins (often regarded by many creationists as the antichrist!) has publicly stated that there’s probably no god. He knows he cannot prove the non-existence of a being that is alleged to be intangible yet omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent.

    . . .

    Maybe the religious fundamentalist folks would become more scientifically literate and have a more favorable view of science if the proponents of scientific literacy could learn how to discuss science in religiously neutral terms. (Some do quite well at this. On this blog you seem to try, but the sum tone of your posts on this topic is often difficult to ignore.)

    Again, pretty much all scientists whose work I’ve read who address creationism do not claim to prove the non-existence of god. Most commonly, they highlight the lack of logic and the refusal to view evidence characteristic of creationists.

    Still like the blog. Not a fan of taking on the most extreme anti-science folks in a way that makes it sound like your problem is with religion in general. Maybe you do feel that way about religion, maybe you don’t. But if you think religionists sound foolish when they try to talk science, just know that scientists can also come off as foolish to when they take un-nuanced views of religion, as if the religiously fluent and serious will never know the difference. We do.

    And why are you so silent on this topic.

    What irks me perhaps just as much as the creationist attacks on science is that so many religious people who accept the findings of science stand silently by and leave the scientists to defend themselves as best they can. Of course many atheists are not that well versed in the details of religion – when your area of expertise is under attack from three or four different religions, that’s a lot of work to catch up on. Some atheists, however, are versed in the detail.

    What is often under-represented in the debate is religious people who accept the findngs of science. I believe that this sector is actually the larger portion of – say – the American public.

    Groups like “Real Science Friday” represent the far out extreme, and few religious folks know, care or believe what they say. It would help if your posts made it more obvious that you understood this distinction as well. The fact that you care so much about the agenda of groups so far off in the margin is unbecoming for someone who wants to (and deserves to) be taken seriously as a serious public arbiter of what is true science and what is not.

    And yet these “marginal” groups achieve far more to further their goals than one would expect from mere numbers alone. Make no mistake, they are well-organised, well-funded and they view you with almost as much disdain as they view atheists and agnostics. The “fringe” churches are not about worship. They are about cynical manipulation and the acquisition of power.

  60. Daklok

    Hi Phil,
    you say (and I saw you write this before) : “[...] biologists use [the word evolution] to talk about change in species or larger categories due to the change in frequency of alleles.”
    But this is too restrictive (evolution is not all about alleles). The definition given by Wikipedia is more accurate, I think : “change in the inherited traits of a population of organisms through successive generations”.

  61. MattF

    reidh: There is the prevailing theory on the evolution of this solar system which has been shown by observed data to be wrong.

    Which theory do you mean, and what data has shown it to be wrong?

  62. Nigel Depledge

    Jason (14) said:

    I am not sure which of those definitions would best apply. I do believe in the in-errancy of the Scripture, but I have not found where scripture, my beliefs, and what we know to be true scientifically come to mortal blows as it were.

    Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 give different accounts of the creation. They cannot both be right. Which one is inerrant?

    Elsewhere (I think Leviticus) the locust is included among creatures with 4 legs. Locusts quite obviously have 6 legs. In what way, exactly, is this inerrant? If scripture is right, does that mean the locusts have got it wrong?

    If you look for them, there are plenty of other places where the bible is at odds with reality. Sometimes in trivial ways, but as often not. How can scripture be inerrant if it differs from reality or from other parts of itself?

    Alternatively, one can consider scripture to be intended as metaphor, allegory and parable, in the which case it no longer conflicts with reality – because it also means one cannot consider scripture to be inerrant.

  63. Nigel Depledge

    Jason (15) said:

    I guess that depends on the point of view. I look at the wondrous beauty and complexity of the Universe and wonder, how can you not believe this was created.

    This is a common argument. It is a coupling of two logical fallacies. The argument from ignorance and the argument from personal incredulity. One person’s ignorance or lack of ability to envisage how the universe might have achieved its present state through natural mechanisms is not evidence for a creator.

    On the other hand you have those who say How can you look at this and believe “The invisible sky wizard” created it?

    The conclusiveness of the evidence is dependent on the viewpoint you are coming from.

    The trouble is that the evidence inherent in the universe’s diversity and complexity is evidence only for itself. Modern science has shown us that the universe looks exactly the way we should expect it to look if it had arisen solely through the operation of natural mechanisms. Mechanisms that we can observe today. Since there is no need for any creator to intervene, it is illogical to assume the existence of one unless evidence comes to light to give us a reason to do so. A created universe has no need to be the way we find this universe to be. A universe that has developed according to mechanisms that – by and large – are still observable today must be the way we see the universe to be.

    Of course, one can posit the “great deceiver” argument, but that’s merely an exercise in question-begging.

  64. “Faith is the ability to believe what you know not to be true.”
    Mark Twain

  65. Nigel Depledge

    Zetetic (45) said:

    On a related note, I remember once having some co-workers ask me if a “Plasma TV” had blood plasma in it. I had to explain to them that while the words and spelling are the same that they are two very different things, then give a simple explanation what “plasma” in the sense of an energized gas was.

    I think there are simpler ways.

    Simply point them at the OED and ask them to look up the word “set”. One word, one spelling, 128 different meanings. For example, do they have an issue with a “tea set” being different from a “sunset”?

  66. JupiterIsBig

    IMHO Religion and spirituality are simply a result of the way our brains developed so that we can work together in groups larger than the immediate genetic family.
    The leaders need some way of grabbing hold of those groups of people and shared stories are it.
    I know that my God is no better or worse than any other God and that my belief in that God is not even rational, but I’m a product of the things I was taught when I was growing up.
    At least Sunday School did teach valuable moral lessons.

    My friend lives in fear that he will regress to his Catholic upbringing as he ages …

  67. Nigel Depledge

    Monkey (50) said:

    If you believe in the bible, god, etc, then you really should be a stronger person and not believe in evoluton. If you believe evolution to be, say, true, then you should prop up the night stand with your bible and move on to more cogent iterature.

    Were you aware that Richard Dawkins enjoys reading the bible? And would you say the same thing to him?

    Believe it or not, it is possible to read the bible without swallowing it hook, line and sinker.

  68. Oli

    @63. Nigel Depledge: I also enjoy reading the bible, but I don’t believe what it says.

  69. Nigel Depledge

    JupiterIsBig (62) said:

    At least Sunday School did teach valuable moral lessons.

    This suggests that you did not get those moral lessons elsewhere in your formative years.

    In fact, a pretty strong argument can be made that atheism gives a stronger moral basis than religion – because morality derives not from fear of retribution, or expectation of some rewarding afterlife, but from respect for and sympathy with one’s fellow humans.

  70. Number 6

    RE: #43 — Geomaniac

    My quote came off of the back of the “New Yorker” cartoon desk calendar. Maybe calendar makers (for the back pages of their calendars) pull from some similar database of quotes?…or the same company handles the publishing of the “New Yorker” and the “Dilbert” desk calendars?….Another mystery, eh?…I just remember Laurence J. Peter as the author of many superb satires. He’s the man who wrote “The Peter Princple” and the author of several clever and pithy quotes –> http://www.quotationspage.com/quotes/Laurence_J._Peter

    Have a good day!

  71. Tim

    35. viggen Says:

    well said, bravo!

  72. fred edison

    #19
    13.7 billion years, give or take.

    #31
    “Green fascists.” (Did you channel that witty zinger from Palin or Limbaugh?) I see your point of sitting on our behinds and waiting for an invisible superman to save us from our problems, because that is so much more productive and helpful than actually getting off of our as___ and working to do something about them. Get real or get out of the way.

  73. mike burkhart

    Lets look at this form the fundamentlist point of view : 1 the Bible was dictated by God he just wrote it and thorw it down to man 2 every part of the Bible must be literly ture since God wrote it so if it says the Earth was created in 6 days it was 3 only there interpetion is right and every one elses is worng.4 evulotion and the big bang are just some kind of conspricy to destory religon. the facts 1 the Bible was inspired by God but writen by many scribes 2 some thinge in the Bible are parables( storys told to illastrate the point) 3 the Bible has been interpeted many ways by diferent Churches 4 there is no conspircy to destory religon by science

  74. noen

    Nigel Depledge Says:
    “In fact, a pretty strong argument can be made that atheism gives a stronger moral basis than religion – because morality derives not from fear of retribution, or expectation of some rewarding afterlife, but from respect for and sympathy with one’s fellow humans.”

    There is simply no way to ground moral realism in objective reality. Nietzsche saw this and drew the rational conclusion. There is no morality and the supermen among us can just do whatever they please and go on inventing new moral worlds.

    However, if you’re going to go with “respect for and sympathy with one’s fellow humans” is how we derive our morals then fear of retribution or social shunning and condemnation are how that respect is enforced.

    A possible middle ground is the Existentialist conception of god as “the human capacity for connectedness” which can give you a theology consistent with the world consisting in nothing more than particles moving in lines of force. But if one abandons that then sooner or later you’re in bed with Nietzsche.

  75. mike burkhart

    Negil Deplege the point of Chirstany is to be moral out of love for your fellow human being now many have done teriebel things thinking they were doing the will of God but in reality they were not .I think if you study history atrocity have been done for many resions politcal and even scietific and while I don’t think that all Athests are immoral some Athests have comited atrocitys as well Stalin, Hitler, PolPot, . lastly I blasted some one on this blog who wanted to nuke the Middel East I did not do it out of fear of punishment in the afterlife , I did it because of my love and concern for the millons who live there , I am just as angry about 9/11 as anybody but I don’t want to take it out on every Muslam . It was Christ who taught me to love my neighbor and even my enemy and even those who hate me for being a Catholic , tell has any Athest have ever said to do this neighbor or enemy?

  76. ND

    mike burkhart,

    “It was Christ who taught me to love my neighbor and even my enemy and even those who hate me for being a Catholic , tell has any Athest have ever said to do this neighbor or enemy?”

    Just because atheists don’t look at or use the same source as you do to feel compassion and love to your fellow humans does not mean atheists don’t feel compassion and love and concern as well. I hope I misunderstood the point you’re trying to make with that sentence. Otherwise I think you’re having a hard time understanding how those outside of your religion or those without religion can feel what you feel towards others.

    That said, evil deeds and acts of terror or born out of human nature. Science and religion and ideologies are twisted and misconstrued to hurt others or feel superior or abuse others.

  77. Zetetic

    @ Nigel:
    Well at the time a copy of the OED wasn’t handy at the offices were I was working, and it was a fairly simple question so I had no reason to sidetrack the discussion. Trying to track down a dictionary would have probably taken longer under the circumstances and discussing the various meaning of the word “set” wouldn’t have directly answered their question. The explanation I made about plasma was also fairly simple, but sufficient for them to understand the basics. At least with my approach they learned something about both kinds of “plasma” so I don’t consider it a wasted conversation.

    Thanks for the suggestion though, perhaps I may use it in the future.

    ——————————————————————————————————————————————-
    Lorin # @ 11:

    Just as there are major limits to how religion can inform science

    Actually, to the best of my knowledge there hasn’t bee a single case were religion has informed science of anything. Science has always derived it’s information from it’s own testing and processes of which religion is not a part, as long as you’re doing the science correctly that it.

    science is limited to how far it can inform religion.

    I’m not trying to be pedantic here, but science doesn’t “inform” religion either, science informs people some of whom may be religious. Of those that are religious some accept the evidence and the conclusions of science, while others (like the aforementioned radio show) deny/ignore/distort it when it doesn’t conform to their dogma of choice.

    I’m equally amused when folks quote “Evolution of Species” as if it backs up their own personal philosophies.

    Since you didn’t cite a specific example, I’m not to sure who you are referring to here. But for example atheism has been around long before “On the Origin of Species” was first published. Atheism is based on the observation that there is no compelling logical argument for a god(s) existence, nor is there compelling objective evidence for such a being(s). In fact your own comments support that position….

    When the subject in question is the existence of a supreme being that supposedly will only reveal himself to individuals on his own terms, there’s simply no scientific test that could validate or invalidate whether some people actually have had some kind of encounter with the divine.

    That scientific facts happen to be compatible with atheism is simply not contradicting atheism, not a basis for atheism per se.

    Maybe the religious fundamentalist folks would become more scientifically literate and have a more favorable view of science if the proponents of scientific literacy could learn how to discuss science in religiously neutral terms.

    The problem is that while some have no trouble with integrating science with their religious views, others refuse to do so for one reason or another.

    Science is in fact “religiously neutral” since advancing atheism (or any particular religion) isn’t a goal of science, trying to more accurately understand and describe reality is its goal. For science to come to a conclusion that contradicts religious dogma is not a falure to be “religiously neutral” on the part of science, rather it’s a failure of religious dogma (and its adherents) to conform with reality. Unfortunately, since the conclusions of science tend to inevitably run afoul of some religious dogmas, there is a tendency for many of the religious to chose ignoring science and facts in favor instead of reevaluating their choice of dogma. Hence the subject of this thread, and the problem that many Americans are proudly ignorant of science.

    ————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

    JupiterIsBig @ #62

    At least Sunday School did teach valuable moral lessons.

    But was it actually Sunday school that taught them, or did it merely reinforced what you were already being exposed to?

    Religion is but one of many possible venues for the assimilation of cultural attitudes about morality. It’s certainly not the only source of such information, nor is it necessarily the best.

    ————————————————————————————————————————————————-
    Noen @ #75:

    There is simply no way to ground moral realism in objective reality.

    If by that you mean that there is no objective basis for morality itself, I would have to agree. But humans are social animals with a mix of empathy and cruelty. Upon that basis society and its members can determine what kind of goals they want in society and from there objectively determine what does or doesn’t work towards those goals.

    It’s not religion that creates “morality”, rather it’s people. regardless of the presence or absence of religion its the people with in a society that ultimately determine what is “moral”. Everyday people are working towards moral positions on subject that religion never dreamed of in its inception. Also everyday people that came to get their morality from religion just chose to ignore those rules that they consider “outdated” or too “inconvenient”. Therefore to argue that religion creates morality is illogical.

    But if one abandons that then sooner or later you’re in bed with Nietzsche.

    Slippery slope fallacy and argument from Appeal to Consequences. Also ignoring that religion can be used to justify any “moral” position, or excuse any moral transgression. Please note that isn’t an argument against religion itself, but rather pointing out the absurdity of rationalizing religion as an exclusive source of morality when it is still people that are making the determinations and enforcing the rules. Besides why base your “morality” on a non-demonstrated and baselessly assumed entity? Isn’t that building it upon a foundation of sand? At least by trying to come up with a secular moral foundation of society we can at least be honest about it.

    There is nothing about morality that prevents it from developing in an secular society. Just look at the low rates of crime in societies with low rate of religions belief, and the high rates of crime in societies with high levels of belief. And no…I’m not trying to argue causation here, just demonstrating that reality isn’t conforming to your assumptions.

    ————————————————————————————————————————————————————

    mike burkhart @ #77:

    the point of Chirstany is to be moral out of love for your fellow human being now many have done teriebel things thinking they were doing the will of God but in reality they were not

    I thought the point of Christianity was to believe in Christ as the Messiah. (j/k…I think that I know what you really mean.) Plenty of other religions promote loving one’s neighbor, why not adopt one of those? In fact you can have compassion and respect for your neighbors without religion at all.

    All you need is empathy which is common in most humans, even in the non-religious.

  78. MaDeR

    Good scientist is either atheist or must practice doublethinking of highest quality.

  79. Gary Ansorge

    First off, has anyone noticed that the NY towers were destroyed on the date that corresponds to an emergency call(as in 9/11 =911)?

    Sneaky buzzards, those al quaida folk,,,

    16. BJN

    ” Do you think agrarians somehow had a different concept for what a year is when they describe the patriarchs living as long as 969 years?”

    Muslims in Saudi Arabia still use the lunar cycle , since seasons are hard to determine for a bunch of hunter gatherers in a fraking desert (no snow, etc). They merely upgraded it to calling 13 months a year. If you divide that 969 by 13, you get a very reasonable 74.5 years as a life span.

    Note that as the jewish tribes were exposed to other civilizations, they slowly modified their progenitors ages(measured in lunar months) to more closely coincide with those others understanding of a year, then “explained” this as gods punishment for being fallible humans.

    Evolve just means “change in a process”. The major difference between using that word to describe astronomical events vs biological is that EVERYTHING changes but biological systems change in a selective fashion, ie, random mutations in a species enable the species to survive when the environment changes, because those with the “right” mutations get to out breed those who didn’t already have those mutations, even though when the environment was stable, those mutations did nothing to favor reproduction.

    It’s(biological evolution) all about selecting those with the right stuff to enable breeding.

    Species”adapt”. Individuals are either already adapted or they’re just dead.

    Gary 7

  80. MartyM

    Did those scientists test the babies for a concept of God? Since all species of babies have an inherent concept of physics, they know how to move, find food, etc., do any of them have an inherent understanding of a god? That would be a great study. Then we’ll see how they fools take it.

  81. The Captian

    Phil you kinda hit on it, but from what I can tell, it’s us (people who except science) who are misunderstanding the word “evolution” as the creationist use it. To creationist the term “evolution” or more commonly “evolutionist” is a smear. It’s a word that has little to do with evolving systems as we use it, and more to do with “doesn’t except the bible as literal truth and can not be trusted”.

    Even if astronomers never used the term in it’s correct usage, as long as they proposed anything that conflicted with the bibles timeline, creationist would still find a way to call them “evolutionist”. Their not trying to conflate the science so much, as to discredit you personally. For them, it’s just a way to Ad Hominem attack anyone who disagrees with them in code. I’ve heard many debates where the creationist constantly refer to his opponent as “the evolutionist” when addressing them or any of their points. Most times the rational person never gets the insult, they think, yea, I’m an evolutionist why do you keep mentioning that? Well they keep pointing that out, because in the creationist world it means “baby eating Satan worshiping atheist you should never listen too”. Juvenile yes, but for them and their crowd it works.

  82. Zetetic

    @ Gary:
    Not to mention that it makes for good propaganda. Something like…”See our people and god are better! We used to live much longer!” Or words to that effect….

    ——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————

    @ MartyM:

    Did those scientists test the babies for a concept of God?

    Amusing, but I’m not sure how you would test for that.

    Maybe point at the sky and see if the baby reaches out it’s arms, to be held, at the sky? (j/k)

    In all seriousness I think that the best test of such an inherent concept is that children are greatly predisposed to adopting the religious beliefs of their parents (even adoptive parents), and that this apparently applies to all religions as well.

    To me, that says it all.

  83. Captn Tommy

    In the sixteen hundreds the Catholic church, believed in the universe as Aristotle explained it, because St. Augustine (I think it was) said in one of his treatisties (my spelling, sorry) that Aristotle was the Man. A thousand years later Galilio’s chief inquisitor (a Cardinal, (high church offical) supposidly a learned man) refused to look though the telescope at Jupiter and the Moon because it would question everything he believed in.

    Why, should we be surprised at any thing the Creationists say. Cover your ears and go La LA LA real loud.

    As my wife often says “Its like talking to a wall…”

    Captn Tommy

  84. Michael Swanson

    @ 14. Jason

    “Biblical inerrancy.” Have you read it? I don’t mean to be rude about this, but I fail to see how anyone can read two different versions of Genesis and three different versions of the ten commandments, amid the other scores of contradictions, and call that book inerrant. It’s not generally consistent, much less inerrant.

    You can argue that some of the following contradictions are taken out of context, it is the standard apologist argument, after all, but it would intellectually dishonest to say that they all are.

    Bible contradictions: http://ffrf.org/legacy/books/lfif/?t=contra

    As for faith in the unseen you’re telling the world that your unique faith-based, intuition-based view of the Universe more right than theirs. And it is unique, despite the fact that you’re Christian. Your particular view of that insanely complex tradition will not ever perfectly match another human being’s.

    So why is yours right? Because you FEEL that it is! That, Jason, is not intellectual honesty.

  85. Alan Barnard

    I followed your link to http://kgov.com/bel/20101008

    The last paragraph starts:

    Today’s Resource: Have you browsed through our Science Department in the KGOV Store?

    I followed the link but I got:

    Your search for “Topics:Science” did not match any products that we carry.

  86. Luke

    @75. noen:

    “There is simply no way to ground moral realism in objective reality.”

    Neither can you in religion. The Euthyphro dilemma is now how old without a sufficient response?

  87. Michelle

    The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” Psalm 14:1 (partial)

  88. Darth Robo

    77. mike burkhart

    —”while I don’t think that all Athests are immoral some Athests have comited atrocitys as well Stalin, Hitler, PolPot”

    Hitler was atheist? That would surprise him.

    89. Michelle

    “There is no God.” Psalm 14:1 (partial)

    And anyone know what Pascal says?
    :)

  89. Zetetic

    Michelle @ #89:

    The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” Psalm 14:1 (partial)

    Referencing the bible to argue in favor of the bible, LOL!

    Thank you for a textbook example of circular reasoning.

    A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence. -David Hume

    A one sentence definition of mythology? “Mythology” is what we call someone else’s religion. -Joseph Campbell

    See?
    I can quote things too!
    Big deal… It’s still not an argument.

  90. noen

    Zetetic Says a lot of stuff:
    “society and its members can determine what kind of goals they want in society and from there objectively determine what does or doesn’t work towards those goals.”

    Sure they can. That doesn’t solve our moral quandary though. What kind of goals should we purse? Science cannot answer such questions. It can only at best inform us of what the consequences of any particular goal might be. So perhaps in the future we will decide to genetically interbreed humans with animals or create inhuman monsters right out of a video game. Should we? Or maybe we’ll decide to finally get rid of that pesky Jewish problem, should we?

    After all, it’s not like there are any rules.

    “Besides why base your “morality” on a non-demonstrated and baselessly assumed entity? Isn’t that building it upon a foundation of sand? At least by trying to come up with a secular moral foundation of society we can at least be honest about it.”

    I am not making a religious appeal to god as the foundation of all morality. I’m just pointing to the yawning abyss beneath your feet. I think that Nietzsche was right and that any honest atheist must eventually adopt moral nihilism. Anything less is, I believe, a delusion. But people like to pretend, they like to sleep and dream. Anything to avoid facing the reality that all their hopes and dreams are spun from sugar and all that you once thought solid ground will melt into air.

    “Life itself is only a vision, a dream. Nothing exists save empty space and you and you are but a thought.”

  91. Luke

    @92. noen:

    “I am not making a religious appeal to god as the foundation of all morality. I’m just pointing to the yawning abyss beneath your feet. ”

    It’s beneath everyone’s feet, the religious and non-religious. Theistic morality is not objective morality either (see Euthyphro).

  92. Dys

    Stupid argument rly, the word ‘Evolve’ has only recently come to be applied to biology.
    While I don’t have any idea which discipline first used it, biological evolution is only one meaning of the word.

    Merriam Webster says it originates from the ‘Latin evolvere to unroll, from e- + volvere to roll’, and can be used to refer to anything which develops over time, regardless of the mechanism involved.

    It can also mean ‘to emit’, in which sense certain chemical reactions ‘evolve gases’.

    Arguing the meanings of words does tend to mean the rest of the argument has run dry some time ago. As regards creationism I think that happened around 1900AD

  93. Zetetic

    neon @ #92:

    Sure they can. That doesn’t solve our moral quandary though. What kind of goals should we purse?

    For someone that says that there is no way to have a basis for morality you seem to be awfully determined to ask a question that presupposes the possibility of such an answer. I find that rather…telling. If there is no objective basis for morality then there is no “should” since there is no objective basis for such a conclusion.

    Again how exactly is this any different from people making up morality and then declaring… “cause God said so”? It’s still the same process, just the religious side feels the need to use mythology to justify the social rules. Where is the sound of trumpets and the commandments spelled out in the sky in fiery letters? For that matter, how is declaring the alleged divinity of such rules really any different from arguing that “might makes right”?

    The problem is that religion only provides the illusion of avoiding the problem of ethics, as long as you don’t look to closely. Remember: Don’t look behind the curtain!

    It can only at best inform us of what the consequences of any particular goal might be.

    Still no different from religion, except that secular ethics focuses on real, demonstrable consequences and benefits as opposed to mythological consequences. Care to explain why deciding morality on the basis of actual consequences is a bad thing, and why having people declare that “god said so” makes for a better system?

    Or maybe we’ll decide to finally get rid of that pesky Jewish problem, should we?

    Bad choice of words there since the “Jewish problem” was a religious “problem”, with a religiously rationalized final solution. The secular position is that there is no evidence for a “Jewish problem” and therefore there is nothing that should be done especially in light of the fact that it would deprive society of many valuable members and that such polices can be abused to target other groups including one’s own group. Hardly a very complicated answer, it’s obvious really if you’d bother to think much about the subject objectively from the other side.

    Seriously, neon, are you even trying to view things from the position of an atheist that isn’t a sociopath? It doesn’t look that way, and that speaks volumes.

    I am not making a religious appeal to god as the foundation of all morality.

    Good to read. But it’s odd that you only seem to be directing your comments toward atheism and giving religion a pass in spite of having religion’s identical problems (and more) pointed out to you. Why is that?

    The answer, I think, is that you’re being disingenuous about “not making a religious appeal”…here is what you typed earlier @ #75…

    A possible middle ground is the Existentialist conception of god as “the human capacity for connectedness” which can give you a theology consistent with the world consisting in nothing more than particles moving in lines of force.

    Therefore, I think that you’re lying about not making a religious appeal, since you just made one earlier! Sure you are trying to play it down as some sort of quasi-deist type of god, straight out of Deepak Chopra, but you still are appealing to one without a rational basis and without acknowledging that the same issues of “objective” morality still exist for your unsubstantiated “god” of forces and particles.

    Think that I’m being unfair?
    Then please enlighten us as to how exactly this so-called god “consisting in nothing more than particles moving in lines of force” answers your same question about objective morality?
    How exactly does it tell us what “should” be according to your own argument?
    How exactly do we know that we’d be doing the “correct” thing?
    How exactly would you argue against someone claiming to be inspired by your god of particles that was trying to propose a final solution to the “Jewish problem”? How could you show that they’re wrong/immoral?

    I’m just pointing to the yawning abyss beneath your feet.

    Once again…. and this is different from the yawning abyss beneath the feet of religion, including your own Existentialist “god”, how exactly?

    No… all of your talking about trying to show us “the yawning abyss” is just the same old song-and-dance to attempt to make an Appeal to Consequences for your semi-deist “god” of particles and forces. Like any long time atheist hasn’t seen that one before. The only thing “yawning” here is me, in response to your obvious attempts at petty emotionalism.

    That also why (IMO) you are avoiding the obvious conclusion as pointed out by myself and others, repeatedly, that religion does nothing more to answer the same issue and in fact adds more problems to the question.

    ————————————————————————————————————————————

    As to my position, it’s very simple…
    My position is that the majority of people have always, and will continue to, determine for themselves what is moral on the basis of what they believe to be good for society as a whole. Since humans are social animals that benefit from social cooperation, the ethics determined will to one degree or another continue to reflect that. This is even more important when as a society almost every individual is dependent on a wide range of other individuals for daily life. (i.e. food, power, the internet, etc.)

    This same behavior to one degree or another is reflected in a wide range of social animals, especially primates. It’s prevalent because it works at helping to ensure the success of the species as a whole, as is the “point” of evolution. This can also be demonstrated by various forms of human social analysis. You don’t need a degree in ethics to see that a society where murder and theft are routinely and widely accepted is limited in it’s potential to maintian itself, or advance. This is also demonstrated in the many successful societies that have low levels of religious belief, people are able to manage just fine without such rationalizations. Conversely, as many countries with high levels of religious belief demonstrate, such beliefs do not necessarily convey a better way to run society.

    Ultimately, actions have repercussions in a social group, therefore most people tend to “play by the rules” to one degree or another, since it often is in their best interest collectively (and often individually) to do so. A religious justification, on the other hand, does nothing to avoid such issues and instead just adds more baggage on top of everything else. Those that fall too far from being able to socially cooperate tend to fall apart or fall behind compared to other societies that don’t. It’s really not that complicated, but you seem to want it to be in order to justify your “Existentialist conception of god”.

    Is my position objective?
    Perhaps in the sense that there are actual consequences for society as a whole (as well as often the individual) for not adhering to certain rules, most of the rest is debatable “baggage” that tends to change over time. It really depends on your definition of “objective”.

    But what makes someone think that claiming, without any basis, that it was brought down by angels (or particles and forces) is any more “objective”? What makes you think that having an “objective” (however you may defining it) basis is essential when people are able to get by with what works? On what basis do you know that you are acting in accordance with your “Existentialist conception of god”?

    Just spare us any more of this “I’m just an objective philosopher” drivel and try being more honest. You apparently started posting about ethics and atheism with an agenda in mind, and your comments (and the subject you are avoiding) make it clear that it wasn’t to just be objective. If you don’t have a religious agenda (and are instead just being overly pretentious) then answer how exactly is your Existentialist “god” (or any of the other religions) any more “objective” as a basis for morality and how does it answer the question of “should” any better?

  94. Tommy

    Creationists who lie about evolution had better hope that they’re right about Christianity being false – because the Christian God takes a very dim view of liars.

  95. Seems like the original article is guilty of the same kind of name calling and simplistic logic they accuse the creationists of: we have the “deceptive evolutionists” in one corner and the “hillbilly creationists” in the another.

    Can we stop with the personal slams, the cartoons, the caricatures – from both sides?

    Meanwhile, what makes someone a creationist?

    Does skepticism at the standard evolutionary model of origins automatically make someone a “creationist”?

    What about someone like Francis Collins: a theistic evolutionist who believes in embraces a personal knowable loving God? Evolutionist or a creationist?

  96. Paul

    If you sit down and do the math, an evolutionist/cosmologist would have to have much more faith than any Christian. Just the possibility of one little protein being formed in the right conditions at the right time. You have a better chance of finding one specific proton among all the atoms of the universe and yet, no one has a process as to how that one little protein was formed. What came first, the chicken or the egg? It’s a simple question, yet, I’ve never gotten a straight answer.

  97. TheBlackCat

    Meanwhile, what makes someone a creationist?

    If they believe God specifically intervened to either create new species out of nothing or (much less often) that He modified creatures in a manner that is significant and clearly inconsistent with natural processes.

    Note the use of a captial G and H, that was not a mistake, in the modern era creationism is pretty much unique to Abrahamic religions.

    Does skepticism at the standard evolutionary model of origins automatically make someone a “creationist”?

    Not necessarily, but there is practically nobody who is is not a creationist buts fits this description. This assumes that when you say “standard evolutionary model of origins” you mean “the modern synthesis” and not “natural selection”. Those are not the same thing.

    What about someone like Francis Collins: a theistic evolutionist who believes in embraces a personal knowable loving God? Evolutionist or a creationist?

    No, he is not, since he believes God intervened in a manner that are very minor (quantum level) and indistinguishable from natural processes.

    By definition, a theistic evolutionist believes in evolution, not creationism.

  98. TheBlackCat

    Just the possibility of one little protein being formed in the right conditions at the right time. You have a better chance of finding one specific proton among all the atoms of the universe and yet, no one has a process as to how that one little protein was formed.

    What makes you think we need a specific protein? First, the first thing to form was probably not a protein, it was most likely a self-replicating nucleic acid, RNA or something similar. Second, it would not have to be a particular RNA molecule, the number of possible self-replicating nucleic acid molecules is unknown but probably huge. It would also not necessarily had to replicate itself, it would only need to replicate into another replicating molecule, which increases the probability further still.

    Second, it wouldn’t have had to form at a particular time, there is a window of hundreds of millions of years during which it could have formed.

    So the proper question isn’t “what is the probability that this specific molecule formed at a specific time”, the question is “what is the probability that any molecule with these capabilities formed during this time window”. We don’t know the actual number because we don’t know what, exactly, it would take to form a self-replicating (or co-self-replicating) nucleic acid, but it is much, much larger than the probability of a specific nucleic acid.

    What came first, the chicken or the egg? It’s a simple question, yet, I’ve never gotten a straight answer.

    It was the egg.

    At some point there must have been something that was just barely non-chicken laid an egg that had the first chicken in it. Where that point is depends on exactly how you define “chicken”, but no matter what definition you choose, assuming it is a binary (yes/no) definition not a fuzzy (varying degrees of yes) definition, then that point must have occurred.

    So for any useful definition of chicken, the egg came first.

  99. Gary Ansorge

    Sam HArris is a neuroscientist whose new book, The Moral Landscape, attempts to show that science can indeed answer the question, what is morality and how do we decide what is good morality.

    I’ve just started reading it. Seems quite intriguing.

    Gary 7

  100. Zetetic

    David @ #97:

    Seems like the original article is guilty of the same kind of name calling and simplistic logic they accuse the creationists of: we have the “deceptive evolutionists” in one corner and the “hillbilly creationists” in the another.

    That’s a false equivalence. It’s like saying that people that state the Earth is round(ish) are no different from those that still think the Earth is flat, just because some people laugh at flat-earthers.

    1) Ignoring that Phil never called them a “hillbilly” the fact remains that the only way a Young Earth Creationist can make an argument is by lying and misrepresenting the other side, or at the very least repeating lies and misinformation that they have uncritically accepted (and therefore don’t know any better). The same is not true for evolution, which can make its case with out even referring to the other side, and which typically only refers to what the YECs say in order to expose their deception or lack of understanding. In this very post Phil discussed how they either never bothered to get an accurate picture to relay to their audience (even though they easily could have), or maybe they lied. Which was the case for them? Laziness or dishonesty? Who knows? Either way there is no good excuse for such a misrepresentation, especially one that has been repeatedly long refuted a long time ago.

    2) Creationists (both Young Earth and Old Earth) have zero credible positively supporting evidence of their position. At least the Old Earth group doesn’t usually try to deny most of the credible scientific evidence, I can respect that, but even they lack positively supporting evidence for their position. The same is not true of evolution which has literally mountains of evidence.

    Do you think that I’m being overly critical of the creationists? Then please tell us one item of credible positively supporting evidence that creationists have for their position, and please keep in mind that making an argument from ignorance doesn’t count as positively supporting evidence.

    ———————————————————————————————————————————————————–

    Paul @ #98:

    If you sit down and do the math, an evolutionist/cosmologist would have to have much more faith than any Christian.

    Only if you misuse math, statistics, and don’t understand the subject matter or the corroborating evidence. Those seem to be things that creationist sources of “information” specialize in.

    Respectfully Paul, if you really want to understand the subject matter (be it cosmology or evolution) then you need to get your info from non-creationist sources. Have you ever read the Young Earth Creationist group Answer in Genesis’ statement of Faith , specifically Section 4 Number 6? They are practically coming right out and admitting to your face that they are lying to you!

    TheBlackCat already covered the rest better than I could. But there was one other thing that bugged me…
    What the heck does protein formation have to do with being a cosmologist? Aside from actually making up the body of a cosmologist, that is.

    And yes, TheBlackCat is right, the egg came first for the reasons that TheBlackCat already excellently covered. Now you’ve have two straight answers to that question!

    ————————————————————————————————————————————————————
    @ Gary:
    Yes, I’ve hearing about it too. It sounds like it might be interesting.

    Although I get the impression that the subject isn’t “neon”‘s actual interest, I seem to recall someone on Pharyngula not too long ago (I forgot the handle they used) making the same arguments, the same assertions, and ignoring the same problems with his/her position. Nobody bought it there either.

    I’m not sure if “neon” is the same person, it could very well be a coincidence, but the argument seems to be the same….. “Atheists have no objective basis for morality…therefore god” type of stuff.

  101. TheBlackCat

    @ Zetetic: That is an extremely common argument, I would be more surprised if it was the same person.

  102. Zetetic

    @ TheBlackCat:
    Quite possibly, that’s why I’m not sure, it’s more of the “style” of the argument that “feels” familiar.

    Like I said though, I may be wrong about the author.

    Coincidences do happen after all. ;)

    Either way it’s still a lame argument. I mean really, a vague “god” of particles and forces as a solution to defining objective morality?

    Not to mention….”I’m just pointing to the yawning abyss beneath your feet.” Sometimes I think a line like that has to be a poe.

  103. Paul

    Blackcat is still vague….he says,

    “First, the first thing to form was probably not a protein, it was most likely a self-replicating nucleic acid, RNA or something similar.”

    So basically, you don’t know, you just speculate it was “probably” …….
    So that makes me ask how does it self replicate, why would it self replicate and how does that explain that we are sitting at a computer typing with stereoscopic vision and a high level of dexterity?

    It would also not necessarily had to replicate itself, it would only need to replicate into another replicating molecule, which increases the probability further still.

    Where does this occur in nature? How does a molecule spontaneously replicate into another replicating molecule. We don’t even know what mechanism the first molecule used to replicate and we don’t know why it even would. What is the molecule called? How did it form?
    What is the possibility (ok, probability is a better word, thank you) that at the most basic functional level, what would that be? a lipid bilayer for a cell membrane, or even more basic, that atoms come together just right to form a sugar, either ribose or deoxyribose, and then for that sugar to somehow connect to a polyatomic ion like phosphate and then to somehow connect to a nitrogenous base, which is a fairly complex molecule, whether it’s a purine or a pyrimidine, and form a nucleic acid? (sorry for the run-on) What enzyme was present for this nucleic acid to replicate? What is the probability that this enzyme spontaneously arose along with the nucleic acid? Enzymes are pretty specific to where and how they attach to a substrate.
    Just for basic functionality of 100 amino acids getting together in the right order is 20^100. As I said, with those odds, you have a better chance of finding a specific proton somewhere in the universe. There’s only 10^90 subatomic particles in the universe.
    You have a better chance of a monkey hitting the keys of the typewriter randomly and creating a Shakespearian sonet. This would take longer than the universe is old (14 billion years old according to most, it varies from13.5 to over 14) therefore a few hundred million years is insufficient to form even a single protein, or nucleic acid, or replicating molecule.

    At some point there must have been something that was just barely non-chicken laid an egg that had the first chicken in it.

    This isn’t an answer.

    I bring up cosmology only because it all fits in with the randomness and spontanaity of evolution.

    Zetetic, I do understand this material, I was a biology major. Minored in biochem.

  104. MarcusBailius

    Ref post 89 from Michelle:

    It takes one to know one…

  105. Steve Metzler

    Gotta love the oft-demonstrated naivety (sorry, that’s the least dickish word I can think of for the occasion) of The Arquette Sisters. The troll duo can’t even get basic facts straight, like the fact that it was the Republicans, via Luntz, that changed the phrase ‘global warming’ to ‘climate change’ to make it sound less scary to the public.

    If they can’t even get basic facts straight by doing a little objective research, kinda makes you wonder what other wing-nut tropes they are parroting without question, doesn’t it? Actually… no, it doesn’t.

  106. Darth Robo

    (97)

    —”Does skepticism at the standard evolutionary model of origins automatically make someone a “creationist”?” ”

    9 times out of ten, yes. What do we call someone who is skeptical in the face of overwhelming evidence?

    —”What about someone like Francis Collins: a theistic evolutionist who believes in embraces a personal knowable loving God? Evolutionist or a creationist?”

    Evolutionary biologist by trade. Theist by personal philosophy/theology. He accepts evolution and believes in God.

  107. Peter Eldergill

    And I’m not sure what global warming/climate change has to do with the topic at hand….

  108. Darth Robo

    Paul

    —”If you sit down and do the math, an evolutionist/cosmologist would have to have much more faith than any Christian. Just the possibility of one little protein being formed in the right conditions at the right time. You have a better chance of finding one specific proton among all the atoms of the universe and yet, no one has a process as to how that one little protein was formed.”

    The theory of evolution does not rely on abiogenesis, just as the theory of gravity need not explain the origin of mass, or the germ theory of disease need not explain the origin of germs.

    And if no-one knows for certain how abiogenesis happened yet, how did you get the numbers for determining the probability?

    Answer: you pull them out of your hat.

    The chances of abiogenesis are 1/1. Because we are here. No faith required. HOW it happened is currently under research. However none of this has any bearing on the validity of evolution.

  109. Darth Robo

    —”I bring up cosmology only because it all fits in with the randomness and spontanaity of evolution.

    Zetetic, I do understand this material, I was a biology major. Minored in biochem.”

    You’re a biology major and you’re an evolution “skeptic”? I’m skeptical. And evolution is not completely random.

  110. Darth Robo

    —”And I’m not sure what global warming/climate change has to do with the topic at hand”

    Evolution iz rong cuz CLIMATEGATE!

    Creationist handbook page 27 (reprinted 3rd edition)

  111. Gary Ansorge

    105 Paul

    You seem to be pulling numbers out of thin air but I wonder, what part of selection don’t you understand?

    Creationists use the idea that the recombination of 92 elements is required for life. Life only requires four elements with their very specific chemical properties. How many ways can you combine carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen? It’s a very large number but it sure isn’t infinite and the specific combinations required to make those molecules self replicating is also quite large.

    We’ve already shown that proteins and amino acids form spontaneously, even in space. In a planetary environment, with oceans filled with such “organic” molecules, a background radiation level(as in mutagenic agent) ten times higher than today, plenty of energy to drive those interactions and trillions of generations to play around with I would expect a self replicating molecule to show up very quickly(geologically speaking).

    I also expect that computer simulations of such combinatorial activity for those four elements could show such a molecule arising(such simulations can run a trillion times faster than mere chemical reactions, so expect to see the first such simulated molecules within a very few years).

    As far as complexity is concerned, we’ve also shown that the eye(a favorite argument for divine intervention) has evolved over 40 times. It starts with a simple photo sensitive cell, sensitive to shadows, which gives a selective reproductive advantage to it’s possessor. From there to a fully functioning eye is just a matter of a few million generations.

    Divine intervention is not required for life to start and it certainly isn’t required for complexity to evolve. All it takes is four elements, energy and a little time, possibly as little as 100 million years.

    Gary 7

  112. Steve Metzler

    Peter Eldergill (#109) says:

    And I’m not sure what global warming/climate change has to do with the topic at hand…

    Because some people are apparently skeptical of all pseudoscience (moon landing hoax, anti-vaxx, homeopathy, creationism, et. al.) *except* anti-AGW. So they try to bring it up in every thread. It’s getting worse than the Godwinners (bringing up Hitler). Speaking of which…

    Darth Robo (#112) says:

    Evolution iz rong cuz CLIMATEGATE!

    You, sir, win the thread with that one :-)

  113. TheBlackCat

    So basically, you don’t know, you just speculate it was “probably” …….

    It isn’t speculation, it is based on our knowledge of chemistry and traits shared by all species on Earth. The fact that we don’t know for certain doesn’t mean we don’t have any clues whatsoever.

    So that makes me ask how does it self replicate,

    We know that RNA has catalytic capabilities, and can act as a template for its own formation. It does this former by weekly binding to certain parts of RNA nucleotides and pushing them into a particular conformation, as well as possibly forming weak temporary bonds with parts of the molecules.

    This is all basic biochemistry, the mechanisms of biological catalysis are well-known. The question is which of the many available mechanisms would be used, and where they would appear on the molecule.

    why would it self replicate

    Random chance. There would have been many such molecules forming in the oceans 3.8 billion years ago, all it would need is just one to randomly form that by chance had self-replicating capabilities.

    and how does that explain that we are sitting at a computer typing with stereoscopic vision and a high level of dexterity?

    That is where evolution comes in. RNA always has some chance of errors during replication, this would lead to some of the molecules replicating more efficiently than others. Some eventually would bring together other molecules to help with the replication, and embed themselves in naturally-forming lipid bilayers. These would have been the first cells.

    Where does this occur in nature?

    It doesn’t anymore, since all of those molecules would have been out-competed by more complex cells billions of years ago. However, we know RNA molecules act as catalysts in modern organisms (proteins are actually made by RNA), and a year or two ago someone developed an RNA molecule that was able to catalyze its own formation from simpler precursors (although not simple enough yet, this is an ongoing area of study and we have only had the knowledge necessary to work on it a short while).

    What is the possibility (ok, probability is a better word, thank you) that at the most basic functional level, what would that be?

    At the most basic level, the first life would have been a single self-replicating molecule, nothing more. We know nucleotides form spontaneously and link up spontaneously in the conditions present on early Earth, based only on the rules of chemistry (NOT chance, the rules of chemistry are pretty rigid), so that is not a problem at all. All that would have to happen by chance is a particular sequence of nucleotides forming. Once that happens, evolution would take over and we would see a continuous increase in complexity.

    You have to remember, atoms don’t just come together by chance. The laws of chemistry determine what molecules form from what other molecules under what conditions. Nucleic acids would form, chemistry shows that is inevitable, the part that is up to chance is what particular sequence they would form.

    that atoms come together just right to form a sugar, either ribose or deoxyribose, and then for that sugar to somehow connect to a polyatomic ion like phosphate and then to somehow connect to a nitrogenous base, which is a fairly complex molecule, whether it’s a purine or a pyrimidine, and form a nucleic acid?

    If you understood even the basics of chemistry, not to mention biochemistry, you would know that atoms do not just randomly combine due to chance, they combine based on specific rules. You would also know that they generally do not exist in a free state, they exist as parts of compounds (excluding noble gasses).

    What enzyme was present for this nucleic acid to replicate?

    As I said before, the nucleic acid would itself by an enzyme (or, more specifically, a ribozyme, or whatever the equivalent is if a different nucleic acid was involved).

    Enzymes are pretty specific to where and how they attach to a substrate.

    Some are, some art. It depends greatly. It is not difficult to have weak binding, sometimes just 2 or even 1 specific amino acid is needed for weak binding. Many highly specific enzymes only have 3 or 4 amino acids that are actually critical to its functionality. The rest are just structural, and any sequence that puts those critical amino acids in the right relative positions would work.

    But these enzymes are all optimized through billions of years of evolution, the first self-replicating molecule would not have needed to be very specific or very fast. That would have come later as evolution led to higher speeds and more specificity.

    Just for basic functionality of 100 amino acids getting together in the right order is 20^100.

    You aren’t listening to me. It wouldn’t have to be a specific protein, it would have to be any protein with a given function. And there is generally an absolutely straggering number of proteins with any given function.

    As I said before, the critical part is often only a handful of amino acids, the rest of the protein is mostly unimportant, as recent experiments with synthetic proteins has shown.

    This would take longer than the universe is old (14 billion years old according to most, it varies from13.5 to over 14) therefore a few hundred million years is insufficient to form even a single protein, or nucleic acid, or replicating molecule.

    First, it would take a long time to form any specific sequence, but it wouldn’t have to be a specific sequence, it could be any sequence with a particular function. Second, it wouldn’t be done one-at-a-time, it would be done in parallel innumerable times around the world.

    At some point there must have been something that was just barely non-chicken laid an egg that had the first chicken in it.

    This isn’t an answer.

    Right, that is an explanation for the answer. The answer, as I said twice but that you conveniently left out of the quote, is that the egg came first. I repeat for the fourth time: the egg came first.

    Zetetic, I do understand this material, I was a biology major. Minored in biochem.

    No, you obviously don’t. You are making very basic mistakes that show you do not understand the material.

  114. Gary Ansorge

    I have an image of a fat, hairy, lazy old white guy, sitting at his terminal cooking up simulated molecules with two signs behind his desk that say;

    1) The buck stops here.

    2) Keep it simple, stupid.

    THAT’S God,,,

    Gary 7

  115. Paul

    BlackCat, I have to say, you are intelligent and I appreciate your courtesy in addressing my concerns. You are a person of great character. Thanks

  116. Darth Robo

    —”You have to remember, atoms don’t just come together by chance. The laws of chemistry determine what molecules form from what other molecules under what conditions.”

    Even I knew that, and I’m not a biochemist.

    —”First, it would take a long time to form any specific sequence, but it wouldn’t have to be a specific sequence, it could be any sequence with a particular function. Second, it wouldn’t be done one-at-a-time, it would be done in parallel innumerable times around the world.”

    And likely in many places across the universe.

    Is Paul’s second name “Nelson”?

  117. Darth Robo

    And to all creationists, IDer’s, and/or evolution “skeptics”, I would like to ask this one important question:

    If evolution is incorrect or problematic in some way, what scientific alternative do you propose which does as good a job or better at explaining the evidence?

    Thanks in advance.

  118. Paul

    There is no scientific alternative and there is no good explanation. There are a lot of hypotheses and even conjecture.
    I’d like to ask Darth Robo a question:
    If evolution occurs the way it is thought to occur, and human allegedly evolved from apes in around 200,000 generations, then why, after over a million generations of E. coli, which have undergone a lot of selective pressure (radiation, drugs, etc) and reproduce quickly, are they still E. coli? We have a much lower mutation rate. The same could be asked about the fruit fly….it’s still a fruit fly (D melanogaster).
    Evolution may not include purpose, a plan, or intention but scientists do. (I’m not accusing scientists of purposely doing wrong although there are a few cases). Computer models are not the best example. People program computers, it is not an unbiased process.

  119. TheBlackCat

    If evolution occurs the way it is thought to occur, and human allegedly evolved from apes in around 200,000 generations, then why, after over a million generations of E. coli, which have undergone a lot of selective pressure (radiation, drugs, etc) and reproduce quickly, are they still E. coli?

    The amount of change that E. coli has undergone even in single experiments is far, far greater than the relatively small changes between humans and chimpanzees. We still call them E. coli because our definitions for bacteria are much broader than our definitions for animals, so in order to be considered a new species a bacteria has to undergo much, much larger changes than an animal.

    In experiments E. coli have evolved entire new biochemical pathways. In fact one such pathway actually caused the organism to no longer meet the criteria by which we define E. coli, so in that sense you could say it is no longer E. coli at all.

    The same could be asked about the fruit fly….it’s still a fruit fly (D melanogaster).

    Fruit flies have been observed to form new species under laboratory conditions. And once again, experimental changes we have seen in fruit flies are far greater than the difference between humans and chimpanzees.

    Remember, at least for sexually-reproducing animals and plants the definition of “species” is a group of organisms that can exchange genes, that is they can produce at least partially fertile offspring.

    The reasons humans and chimpanzees can’t breed is not because of major functional differences, but because our ancestors had two of their chromosomes fuse, meaning we have different number of chromosomes than other great apes, like chimpanzees, do (such chromosomal fusions are not that rare).

    The actual physical differences between us and chimpanzees are considerably smaller than those just amongst domestic dogs. Fruit flies can also undergo pretty major functional changes and still be able to successfully interbreed, but a chromosomal fusion event can make two fruit flies that look absolutely identical into totally separate species.

  120. Darth Robo

    —”There is no scientific alternative and there is no good explanation. There are a lot of hypotheses and even conjecture.”

    Then perhaps you should be asking, why is evolution a good explanation? Why is it currently the only one? Rather than attempt to shoot it down via perceived weaknesses based on incredulity. Does it have explanatory power? Does it pass the scientific method? Is it testable? Is it falsifiable? Does it make any predictions? Are those predictions successful? Is this repeatable?

    If the answer is “yes”, then we have the basis of a working scientific theory.

  121. Keith (the first one)

    Thanks for the link to the AiG statemtent of faith page, Zetetic. I would never have believed it if I hadn’t seen it. How anyone could actually read that and accept any of those statements is true is beyond me. Just shows how badly f*****d up the creationist is.

  122. Steve Metzler

    Wow! Thanks for the heads-up on that AiG ‘Statement of Faith’ page, guys:

    The AiG Statement of Faith

    It is *facepalm* material through and through. I especially like the way they painted themselves into a corner at the very end:

    Of primary importance is the fact that evidence is always subject to interpretation by fallible people who do not possess all information.

    Of course, the opposite of evidence is faith. And people who have faith are obviously infallible because they possess *all the information*! How could I have been so stupid as to not see the TRUTH, when it was right there staring me in the face all the time? /sarcasm

    This is what rational people are up against folks. It’s beyond depressing.

  123. Gary Ansorge

    120. Paul

    “are they still E. coli?”

    Species don’t change just because they’ve been around a long time. As long as they’re adequately adapted to their environment, any random mutations that exist within the population provide no selective breeding advantage. It’s ONLY when their living conditions alter that those mutations may gain the upper hand and propagate throughout the species.

    The spiny sea urchin of today is virtually identical to those that lived 650 million years ago. Sharks have altered very little in 100 million years. The progenitor that resulted in both humans and apes did so only because their environment changed and those that had appropriate mutations that allowed them to cope with those changes, resulted in us AND the other great apes.

    Gary 7

  124. the new skeptic

    Not all people that once believed that “creation science” still hold to their old views.

    Evidence changed my mind. It all goes back to the flood story and one question.

    What about the kangaroo? The evidence supports evolution.

  125. Scott

    Neither Global Warming nor Climate Change were created by climatologists as a banner for what is currently happening. These are terms created by the press, so no, climatologists and meterologists DID NOT change the name to make it seem more palatable.

  126. Zetetic

    @ Keith (the first one) and Steve Metzler:

    You’re both quite welcome!
    I’m glad that you found it informative! :)

    I know it’s kind of shocking to see such a proud proclamation of deliberate close-mindedness to the to any and all evidence that contradicts dogma. All to more reason to let more people know how such sources of “information” really operate.

    ——————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

    @ Paul:
    The RNA World model is just a hypothesis at this time, but it keeps getting better and more detailed as research continues to advance.

    Already scientists have created self-replicating RNA molecules that “evolve” through errors in replication and selection through competition for resources in their environment.
    Perhaps you might find this interesting….
    Evolution in an RNA World

    A publication of the research…
    Self-Sustained Replication of an RNA Enzyme

    And a simplified recap of the research on Pharyngula…
    Chemical Replicators

    Does this research “prove” that life came about via the “RNA World”? No…but it shows that it’s conceivably possible, and science is getting closer to at least some of the answers.

    The fact of the matter is that we may never really know for certain how life originally started since there will probably always be a measure of uncertainty. But in the end that has nothing to do with evolution after life started. The most that can be said if an answer for the origin of life (not evolution) is never found is “we don’t know” but that doesn’t make the fallacy by argument from ignorance of “god did it” any more valid.

  127. Nigel Depledge

    Noen (75) said:

    However, if you’re going to go with “respect for and sympathy with one’s fellow humans” is how we derive our morals then fear of retribution or social shunning and condemnation are how that respect is enforced.

    A possible middle ground is the Existentialist conception of god as “the human capacity for connectedness” which can give you a theology consistent with the world consisting in nothing more than particles moving in lines of force. But if one abandons that then sooner or later you’re in bed with Nietzsche.

    What the philosophers did not know is that empathy is built into the social animal. Yes, where empathy is lacking or faulty (commonly the result of an absence of empathy during upbringing), we enforce our rules, but the foundation of those rules comes from empathy. In the atheistic viewpoint, this one life is all we have – and the rational mind combined with our innate empathy turns this into respect for our fellow humans. In the religious viepoint, you either get an eternity of reward / punishment (as applicable), or you get multiple goes at living in the world (depending on which religion you’ve chosen). Consequently, if the religion makes an “us and them” distinction, people in the “them” category are usually disregarded when it comes to behaviours that bring punishment.

    (Obviously, this is a huge generalisation so there are sure to be many exceptions, but I hope the main thrust of the point is clear.)

    In essence, I do not accept that there is no morality. There are evolved behaviours that allow us to live in large social groups, and these behaviours form the basis for our concept of “morality”. Obviously, what we now call morality is far more sophisticated and subtle than what it was 10,000 years ago, but that’s a necessity of the way our lives have changed in that time.

  128. Nigel Depledge

    Mike Burkhart (77) said:

    Negil Deplege the point of Chirstany is to be moral out of love for your fellow human being

    I agree fully with this. However, look at the vitriol coming from the Christian extreme in the USA, directed mainly at science and rational thought. Look at the last 60 years of history in Northern Ireland (Ulster).

    Many people who claim to be Christian find ways to circumvent the main principle.

    now many have done teriebel things thinking they were doing the will of God but in reality they were not .I think if you study history atrocity have been done for many resions politcal and even scietific

    Yes. Politics has much to answer for. I can only think of one branch of science – Eugenics – that has caused atrocities. Other atrocities have been carried out in the name of science, but that wasn’t real science. In the same way that, for example, the Spanish Inquisition was a political tool, not truly a religious one.

    and while I don’t think that all Athests are immoral some Athests have comited atrocitys as well Stalin, Hitler, PolPot,

    This is contentious. Stalin’s atrocities were carried out for political gain. Hitler seemed to believe in what he claimed (for the most part, and to the best of my understanding) but he was certainly no atheist. Of Pol Pot I know too little to comment, but I suspect that his atrocities were carried out for political reasons even if he dressed them up in some atheistic form.

    . lastly I blasted some one on this blog who wanted to nuke the Middel East I did not do it out of fear of punishment in the afterlife , I did it because of my love and concern for the millons who live there , I am just as angry about 9/11 as anybody but I don’t want to take it out on every Muslam . It was Christ who taught me to love my neighbor and even my enemy and even those who hate me for being a Catholic , tell has any Athest have ever said to do this neighbor or enemy?

    I accept your point about not nuking the Middle East. Presumably, you also condemn the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan for the same reasons?

    I don’t know of any atheist who enthusiastically endorses war – but obviously I cannot speak for all of them. The atheists whose writing I have read all seem to share a deep respect for all of humanity.

    I have no figures, but I suspect that a larger proportion of atheists would condemn the wars in the Middle East than of religious folks in the west. Similarly, in the Muslim countries, I suspect a larger proportion of atheists condemn the terrorist attacks on New York and London than of religious folks in those countries. (Although, I suspect it is even harder to live as an atheist in the Middle East than it is in the USA.)

  129. Mixa

    My father has a saying, “never wrestle with a pig, you both get dirty but the pig likes it”

  130. Nigel Depledge

    Noen (92) said:

    Sure they can. That doesn’t solve our moral quandary though. What kind of goals should we purse? Science cannot answer such questions.

    So what?

    The process by which we learn about the universe is not a process for making moral decisions.

    Moral decisions are made based on societal standards, which may or may not be bsaed on a religion. For example, only about 3 or 4 of the 10 commandments have a corresponding federal law in the US. In fact, one could reasonably argue that the modern American society is built on coveting thy neighbour’s ox.

    Often – especially in modern western-style societies – the moral standards are built on a sympathetic rationale, if you will.

    It can only at best inform us of what the consequences of any particular goal might be.

    Again, so what? You are arguing a strawman here. No-one believes that science is a moral guide. Humanism is the closest term I can find to the way most atheists feel morality should be decided.

    So perhaps in the future we will decide to genetically interbreed humans with animals or create inhuman monsters right out of a video game. Should we? Or maybe we’ll decide to finally get rid of that pesky Jewish problem, should we?

    Poisoning the well.

    After all, it’s not like there are any rules.

    No. Science doesn’t do rules. It does Laws.

    Seriously, though, moral standards within a society are dictated by a consensus of views within that society. Before the 19th century, England had the death sentence for some pretty trivial crimes – in a time when Christianity was accepted by almost everyone without question. It was only when a more liberal viewpoint came about that the system of incarceration as a punishment for offences against society was introduced.

    Ultimately, morality does not come from religion. Religious books contain the morality of the time they were written (or do you still believe in “an eye for an eye”?).

    Morality derives from a consensual decision over what behaviour is acceptable and what isn’t – based on the evolution of our social behaviour.

  131. Nigel Depledge

    Noen (92) said:

    I think that Nietzsche was right and that any honest atheist must eventually adopt moral nihilism. Anything less is, I believe, a delusion.

    If this is true, then you have a very poor opinion of humanity. How can you stand to share the planet with the rest of us, if you think so poorly of us?

  132. Nigel Depledge

    David in Los Angeles (97) said:

    Seems like the original article is guilty of the same kind of name calling and simplistic logic they accuse the creationists of: we have the “deceptive evolutionists” in one corner and the “hillbilly creationists” in the another.

    I disagree with this.

    Evolutionary biologists, and other rational people, were quite happily minding their own business before “creation science” came along.

    Biologists, and others, have tried to engage the creationists in a reasonable and respectful discourse. This resulted in (1) the creationists completely ignoring the detailed and thorough refutation of their “creation science” arguments; (2) the spreading of creationism; (3) a more widespread and pervasive anti-science / anti-rationality movement; and (4) repetetive use of the same tired old “arguments” for creation science.

    So, the creationist camp may call rational people “evolutionists” as a smear, but when a rational person calls a creationist a liar, (s)he is almost always speaking objective truth. They are not hillbillies. They are led by cynical, manipulative people who know exactly how to build their own power-base, and who are doing very well out of the ignorant but sincere grass-roots creationists who fall for their drivel.

    Can we stop with the personal slams, the cartoons, the caricatures – from both sides?

    If there was any way of guaranteeing that the leaders of “creation science” / “ID” / “teach the controversy” would indeed adopt a more honest approach to the situation, then I would welcome a cessation of such things. However, these tools have only been introduced by the reality side in this issue because respectful debate does not work – and has been shown, time and time again, not to work.

    Or are you merely being disingenuous?

    Meanwhile, what makes someone a creationist?

    Easy. The term technically means anyone who believes in special creation of species (or “kinds”) of organisms in preference to the evolutionary reality. Of course, there are many kinds of creationists, and they do not agree with one another. For example, YECs (young-earth creationists) also believe that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old, and most of these believe that the biblical flood really happened as recounted in Genesis. OECs (old-earth creationists), by contrast, accept an old Earth but still insist on special creation having happened instead of evolution. There are other types too (I believe Talk Origins links to a suitable bestiary of creationists).

    There are also religious evolutionists. For instance, the theistic evolutionism (TE) idea is that evolution occurred, but with god’s guidance or intervention. There are two kinds of TE, too – one which incorporates a “tinkerer” god who needs to keep intervenig, and another which accepts that god, being omnipotent and omniscient, just set the universe up at the beginning to evolve in the way in which we observe it to have done.

    Does skepticism at the standard evolutionary model of origins automatically make someone a “creationist”?

    This is disingenuous. There is no such thing as a “standard evolutionary model”. Instead, there is a fact, a theory and a process. However, I think I shall assume you refer to the main established corpus of evolutionary biology, that is so well-supported by evidence that all biologists accept it as fact. This comprises the simple statements that (1) each generation of a population of a species contains variability; (2) this variability is – in many instances – heritable; (3) this variability may influence the survival chances of individuals possessing certain traits; (4) natural selection occurs to alter the net genotype and therefore phenotype of a population over multiple generations. There’s a lot more to it, but this is the basics.

    What about someone like Francis Collins: a theistic evolutionist who believes in embraces a personal knowable loving God? Evolutionist or a creationist?

    He’s not a creationist. In fact, you’ve just called him an evolutionist.

    Why are you so bothered about the particular terms?

  133. Zetetic

    @ Nigel:
    I get the impression that noen thinks that Nietzsche is some sort of “Atheist’s Bible”, and apparently hasn’t figured out yet that most atheists (as far as I know) don’t get their ideas from Nietzsche, nor care too much about what Nietzsche wrote outside of an academic interest.

    @ noen: I just recently realized that mis-spelled your handle there a few times in my earlier post. Apologies about that.

    (Note to self… “Avoid posting while half-asleep”.)

  134. ND

    Paul,

    Your question has been answered at length. Do you have anything to add? I’ve been reading this thread with interest.

  135. Darth Robo

    He really isn’t a biology major?

  136. ND

    Darth Robo,

    It’s possible he studied it but allows himself to be swayed by weak arguments from the anti-evo side without evaluating merits of what he’s read.

    Edit: are you talking about Paul?

  137. TheBlackCat

    The concern isn’t that he has bought creationist arguments, the concern is that he does not understand basic chemistry, not to mention basic biochemistry. He doesn’t know stuff I covered in high school biology and middle school chemistry (or even earlier), not to mention college-level biology, chemistry, and biochemistry. It is possible, however, that he just had a really bad teacher or didn’t pay attention, or both.

  138. Darth Robo

    Hence why his words rang alarm bells very early on. I’ve been debating creationists for maybe 5 years and I can’t tell ya how many times a creo has claimed to have certain scientific credentials, when all of a sudden they say something that makes you think BONG!

  139. #81 Gary Ansorge:
    “Muslims in Saudi Arabia still use the lunar cycle , since seasons are hard to determine for a bunch of hunter gatherers in a fraking desert (no snow, etc). They merely upgraded it to calling 13 months a year. If you divide that 969 by 13, you get a very reasonable 74.5 years as a life span.”

    1. Even deserts – except maybe those close to the Equator – do have seasonal climate changes. And even if they didn’t, early civilisations most certainly could define seasons and the length of a year, by the constellations in the sky. This is, after all, how the Egyptians knew when to expect the annual flooding of the Nile, upon which their entire civilisation depended. There is a very plausible theory of the origin of the Zodiac constellations, which says they were invented, in three groups of four, as markers for the equinoxes and solstices at three different historical and prehistorical epochs – the most recent of those epochs being that of classical Egypt, about 2500 years ago. So there is no reason to think that the people who wrote the OT had no concept of a year.
    2. Your “divide by 13″ argument might work for the claimed lifespans, but it doesn’t for other details. e.g. the OT says that Abraham had a son when he was 100 years old and his wife 90! Taking this literally is clearly absurd, but applying your “divide by 13″ is equally absurd, as that infers that they were really around 7 years old!
    3. If you count the “begats” in Genesis, starting from Adam and Eve, it claims that nine generations were simultaneously alive – which infers that the multi-century lifespans were indeed meant as we interpret them.
    In other words, the entire story is unfounded drivel, with no mitigating excuses.

  140. Nigel Depledge

    OK, I daresay others have already addressed this, but I haven’t read all the comments yet and I felt the urge to respond to this one.

    Paul (98) said:

    If you sit down and do the math, an evolutionist/cosmologist would have to have much more faith than any Christian.

    This is a simple lie, largely propagated by Billy Dembski, but I don’t know if he originated it or not.

    It is the Argument from Personal Incredulity (a logical fallacy) coupled with an attempt to apply a warped version of predictive probabilistic reasoning after the event.

    Just the possibility of one little protein being formed in the right conditions at the right time.

    There are several answers to this, of which the two that are easiest to convey are:

    (1) It is most credible that life started with catalytic RNA, not with proteins;
    (2) Assuming that life did start with proteins, there are only 20 amino acids in proteins, so it would only take a pretty short peptide (perhaps as small as a 5-mer) to achieve some level of catalysis.

    In either case, the catalytic ability did not need to be good – neither in terms of substrate specificity nor in terms of the increase in reaction rate – it needed only to be slightly better than not having the peptide / RNA molecule present.

    You have a better chance of finding one specific proton among all the atoms of the universe

    Utter nonsense.

    The chances of it occurring in one specific place at one specific time are probably of the order of one in billions or one in a trillion. But, over many millions of years, with many millions of places where it might happen, the chances of a molecule that has some marginally-useful catalytic ability assembling itself by chance are actually quite high.

    and yet, no one has a process as to how that one little protein was formed.

    Uh, yes we do. It’s called the laws of chemistry.

    What came first, the chicken or the egg? It’s a simple question, yet, I’ve never gotten a straight answer.

    Despite the irrelevance of the question, here’s your simple answer: Eggs existed before chickens.

  141. Nigel Depledge

    The Black Cat (100) said:

    So the proper question isn’t “what is the probability that this specific molecule formed at a specific time”, the question is “what is the probability that any molecule with these capabilities formed during this time window”. We don’t know the actual number because we don’t know what, exactly, it would take to form a self-replicating (or co-self-replicating) nucleic acid, but it is much, much larger than the probability of a specific nucleic acid.

    Self-replicating RNA has been produced in labs investigating abiogenesis. Sadly, I can’t recall whose lab, or where I read about this (probably in New Scientist a few months ago, I think). IIRC, the remarkable thing about this RNA was that it was assembled from nucleotides without any template or enzyme – just ordinary chemistry.

  142. Nigel Depledge

    Paul (105) said:

    Blackcat is still vague….he says,

    “First, the first thing to form was probably not a protein, it was most likely a self-replicating nucleic acid, RNA or something similar.”

    So basically, you don’t know, you just speculate it was “probably” …….

    This objection is pure semantics.

    Do you know that the sun will rise tomorrow morning? Yes? How? How can you be utterly certain? You cannot, can you? So, therefore, you don’t know, you can only say it will probably rise tomorrow morning.

    In fact, there is extremely good chemical evidence to suggest that RNA can self-assemble from nucleotides without a template, given the right conditions (or some conditions that aren’t quite right, but exist over a long enough time span).

    TBC’s use of the word “probably” is exactly correct. We have no physical evidence that tells us exactly how the first self-replicator formed. We may never have this evidence. Therefore, we cannot be certain. However, there is sufficient evidence that we can confidently state that RNA is the most probable first replicator.

    So that makes me ask how does it self replicate, why would it self replicate

    Go and learn some chemistry. Do you really want us to get into the nitty-gritty of hydrogen-bonding, Van der Waal’s forces, dipole-dipole interactions, activation energies, reaction kinetics and chemical thermodynamics? On a blog?

    Either learn enough to inform yourself, or accept the word of the experts. Sniping from ignorance is childish and pointless.

    and how does that explain that we are sitting at a computer typing with stereoscopic vision and a high level of dexterity?

    Simple. It doesn’t. There is no reason that life, having begun as self-replicating chemistry, had to evolve into us. It’s entirely possible that, if the dinosaurs had not been wiped out 65 million years ago, they would still dominate the planet.

    The key question is: Why do you expect it to?

    It would also not necessarily had to replicate itself, it would only need to replicate into another replicating molecule, which increases the probability further still.

    Where does this occur in nature?

    It doesn’t, now.

    Why? Because life already exists. If any self-replicating molecule were to come into being spontaneously today, it would almost certainly be ingested by some already-existing life form before it could get anywhere.

    When life first arose, it arose into an environment that didn’t already have lots of living things in it. Life is now ubiquitous on this planet (the only place on the Earth’s surface where you won’t find living things is inside an active volcano, and even that depends on your definition of “volcano”). Even if the first self-replicator took 1000 years to produce the next generation, it would still have propagated itself over a wide area and evolved over the course of – say – a million years. That’s a million years with no competition from other life forms, remember.

    How does a molecule spontaneously replicate into another replicating molecule. We don’t even know what mechanism the first molecule used to replicate and we don’t know why it even would.

    Simply by obeying the laws of chemistry.

    What is the molecule called? How did it form?

    How is it reasonable to expect anybody to know this? Are you really asking for information, or are you desperately trying to find a question that cannot be answered? Do you suppose that you might “win” something by asking an unanswerable question? Even if that question is quite obviously breathtakingly inane?

    What is the possibility (ok, probability is a better word, thank you) that at the most basic functional level, what would that be? a lipid bilayer for a cell membrane, or even more basic, that atoms come together just right to form a sugar, either ribose or deoxyribose, and then for that sugar to somehow connect to a polyatomic ion like phosphate and then to somehow connect to a nitrogenous base, which is a fairly complex molecule, whether it’s a purine or a pyrimidine, and form a nucleic acid?

    OK, so you’ve seen a copy of Stryer Big deal. Maybe you should read the chapters that deal with this stuff in more depth.

    First off, nucleotides have been detected in space. They are not all that complicated. Given conditions that are even slightly favourable and enough time, they will form spontaneously through simple chemistry.

    Just because it happens really fast in our cells doesn’t mean that it had to when there was no life.

    As for lipid bilayers, they will form spontaneously. This has been demonstrated. They even grow by absorbing more lipids, and the vesicles (or liposomes, if you will) that they form divide spontaneously once they reach a certain size. This is all governed by chemical thermodynamics.

    (sorry for the run-on) What enzyme was present for this nucleic acid to replicate?

    Have you never heard of catalytic RNA?

    Get with the programme!

    What is the probability that this enzyme spontaneously arose along with the nucleic acid?

    Irrelevant, because RNA can perform catalysis without an enzyme present.

    Enzymes are pretty specific to where and how they attach to a substrate.

    Actually some are, but many are not. We know that enzymes that turn over their substrate rapidly tend to be a bit fast and loose about what substrate they bind to (i.e. not very specific). OTOH, we also know that enzymes that are highly specific have pretty low turnover of substrate.

    It does not take a genius to deduce that some early form of an enzyme (whether peptide or RNA) needed neither to be very specific nor very rapid. It just needed to be a bit better than not having it there at all.

    Just for basic functionality of 100 amino acids getting together in the right order is 20^100.

    The right order to do what?

    Let’s say your 100-aa protein is involved in carbohydrate metabolism (let’s call it glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase for the sake of argument). How many possible aa sequences are there that could perform that function? We have no idea, but it must be trilions at the very least.

    Your question is an abuse of probabilistic maths. And nothing more than an argument from personal incredulity.

    As I said, with those odds, you have a better chance of finding a specific proton somewhere in the universe. There’s only 10^90 subatomic particles in the universe.

    And it is no more relevant for being repeated.

    You have a better chance of a monkey hitting the keys of the typewriter randomly and creating a Shakespearian sonet. This would take longer than the universe is old (14 billion years old according to most, it varies from13.5 to over 14) therefore a few hundred million years is insufficient to form even a single protein, or nucleic acid, or replicating molecule.

    Nonsense.

    This is a typically ignorant creationist argument. You genuinely have no idea whereof you speak.

    At some point there must have been something that was just barely non-chicken laid an egg that had the first chicken in it.

    This isn’t an answer.

    Yes it is. As TBC went on to clarify, it depends on how you define a chicken. But wherever you draw that line, the chicken had an ancestor that laid eggs.

    I bring up cosmology only because it all fits in with the randomness and spontanaity of evolution.

    Evolution is not random, and it is only spontaneous insofar as it is an emergent property of the laws of nature. Come to think of it, cosmology only has one point at which something random had to happen. Everything thereafter follows according to natural mechanisms that we either know about or are investigating.

    Perhaps you are conflating evolution and abiogenesis, which is another common creationist tactic. However, even if abiogenesis needed help from some invisible sky wizard, evolution would be inevitable thereafter.

    Zetetic, I do understand this material, I was a biology major. Minored in biochem.

    And I have a Biochemistry PhD and I can tell that you do not understand biology or biochemistry in any depth. You merely know some of the surface facts. The rest of your drivel is mere regurgitation of creationist arguments that have already been refuted and soundly trashed many times over.

    TBC’s arguments are sound, and your pitiful attempts to address them merely expose your ignorance.

  143. Nigel Depledge

    Gary Ansorge (113) said:

    Life only requires four elements with their very specific chemical properties. How many ways can you combine carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen?

    Actually, as far as we can tell, phosphorus and sulphur are also necessary for terrestrial life.

    But that doe not really change your point.

  144. ND

    Choice quotes:

    ” and yet, no one has a process as to how that one little protein was formed.

    Uh, yes we do. It’s called the laws of chemistry.”

    ” Zetetic, I do understand this material, I was a biology major. Minored in biochem.

    And I have a Biochemistry PhD and I can tell that you do not understand biology or biochemistry in any depth.”

  145. Nigel Depledge

    Paul (120) said:

    There is no scientific alternative and there is no good explanation. There are a lot of hypotheses and even conjecture.

    This is disingenuous at best – at worst, it is deliberately misleading.

    Evolutionary theory is a perfectly good explanation for the diversity and hierarchies of life that we observe. It accords with mountains of data, and nothing has been discovered that contradicts it. As far as anyone can tell, it is correct (some details are still being worked out).

    Even if it is wrong in some way, it is at least a good approximation of the truth. If it were not, we would know by now. That’s how well-supported it is by the evidence.

    I’d like to ask Darth Robo a question:

    Why address this question to Darth Robo, who in a preceding comment mentioned that (s)he was not a biochemist?

    If evolution occurs the way it is thought to occur, and human allegedly evolved from apes in around 200,000 generations, then why, after over a million generations of E. coli, which have undergone a lot of selective pressure (radiation, drugs, etc) and reproduce quickly, are they still E. coli? We have a much lower mutation rate. The same could be asked about the fruit fly….it’s still a fruit fly (D melanogaster).

    TBC addresses this one very well.

    I’d just like to add emphasis to the difficulty of defining a species in the first place.

    Some organisms appear very similar, yet are different species. For instance, the willow warbler and chiff-chaff (two small brown birds that are fairly common in Europe). By eye, they are indistinguishable. The variation within each species is larger than any differences between the two species, so even experts will sometimes mis-identify one. However, their song differs quite distinctly. They never cross-breed (after all, would you mate with a chimpanzee?).

    Evolution explains why these are so similar yet different. No other explanation that has been offered does so.

    A similar point can be made for certain plants. There are many species of plants (particularly cultivated plants) in which there are many identified and distinct varieties. Often, varieties can be cross-bred successfully, but sometimes they cannot. There are closely-allied species of plants from which cross-breeding is successful, and others for which it is not. How does one distinguish between a variety and a species? The answer is simple – one cannot. Not with any certainty. The distinction “species” is a human label for a portion of a continuum. The degree of relatedness between species is classified according to neat categories, but this is a case of humans forcing our notions onto the natural world, not some intrinsic property of nature.

    So, your point about “it’s still a fruit fly” is either horrendously naive or disingenuous.

    . . .

    Evolution may not include purpose, a plan, or intention but scientists do.

    Meaning what?

    (I’m not accusing scientists of purposely doing wrong although there are a few cases).

    No. Don’t vaguely allude. Either put up or shut up. Give specific examples.

    When has any scientist ever manufactured data relating to evolution? Are there any actual cases of wrongdoing in evolutionary biology?

    BTW, stick to modern stuff (say, in the last 30 – 40 years). Haeckel’s drawings and Piltdown Man were exposed many decades ago – by scientists!

    Computer models are not the best example. People program computers, it is not an unbiased process.

    This is rubbish.

    Once you have formulated a mathematical model of a process, putting that into a computer is unbiased. Programmers cannot suddenly turn a “+” into a “-” without destroying the model. Mathematical models are tested against reality. Any that do not fit what we really observe are discarded.

    However, I will grant you that evolutionary models need to possess parameters that can be adjusted. For instance, the significance of a specific selection pressure. The reason that this must be so in models is because it is so in reality. Different environmental situations exert different selection pressures.

    Sickle-cell anaemia is a good example of this. In countries with endemic malaria, sickle-cell anaemia is relatively common, because it provides some protection against malaria. In countries that have little or no malaria, sickle-cell anaemia is very rare. Thus, the same condition is positively selected in one environment, but negatively selected in a different environment. As one would expect.

    What point were you really trying to make here?

    You state that computer models are not a good example (despite the fact that they can run through many thousands of generations of “organisms” in a short time). What do you suggest would be a better example?

  146. Nigel Depledge

    Gary Ansorge (125) said:

    Species don’t change just because they’ve been around a long time. As long as they’re adequately adapted to their environment, any random mutations that exist within the population provide no selective breeding advantage. It’s ONLY when their living conditions alter that those mutations may gain the upper hand and propagate throughout the species.

    The spiny sea urchin of today is virtually identical to those that lived 650 million years ago. Sharks have altered very little in 100 million years. The progenitor that resulted in both humans and apes did so only because their environment changed and those that had appropriate mutations that allowed them to cope with those changes, resulted in us AND the other great apes.

    I can see the point you are trying to make here but we now know that this is not quite so.

    Random genetic drift does occur in the absence of selection for or against a trait. Put simply, the centre-point of the bell-curve can drift over time. Thus, unless there is a selection pressure to maintain an organism’s phenotype unchanged, phenotypes do change over time even when there is no slective advantage. Given enough time, this does lead to speciation (by which I mean the descendent is sufficiently different from the ancestor that we would not classify them as the same species).

  147. Nigel Depledge

    Zetetic (135) said:

    @ Nigel:
    I get the impression that noen thinks that Nietzsche is some sort of “Atheist’s Bible”, and apparently hasn’t figured out yet that most atheists (as far as I know) don’t get their ideas from Nietzsche, nor care too much about what Nietzsche wrote outside of an academic interest.

    Yeah, I think you may be right.

    I certainly don’t use religious rules for my morality – I use empathetic ones. I haven’t stoned anyone since Sunday School. ;-)

    And I certainly don’t agree with what little I know of Nietzsche’s writings.

  148. Nigel Depledge

    The Black Cat (140) said:

    The concern isn’t that he has bought creationist arguments, the concern is that he does not understand basic chemistry, not to mention basic biochemistry. He doesn’t know stuff I covered in high school biology and middle school chemistry (or even earlier), not to mention college-level biology, chemistry, and biochemistry. It is possible, however, that he just had a really bad teacher or didn’t pay attention, or both.

    Yes, it looks like he knows some of the terminology, but has not really understood the fundamentals.

    My main concern is that he’s Jonathan Wells’s mini-me.

  149. Nigel Depledge
  150. TheBlackCat

    Self-replicating RNA has been produced in labs investigating abiogenesis. Sadly, I can’t recall whose lab, or where I read about this (probably in New Scientist a few months ago, I think). IIRC, the remarkable thing about this RNA was that it was assembled from nucleotides without any template or enzyme – just ordinary chemistry.

    The last example of this I heard, which I mentioned in post 115, and I don’t think was more than a year ago, involved an RNA molecule that was able to catalyze its formation from two precursor RNA strand. Basically it just linked the two strands together, forming another one of itself. But those two strands needed to have the same sequence as the two corresponding parts of the original.

    That is why I said it was “not simple enough”, the real first self-replicating nucleic acid would have needed to work with much smaller precursors (not necessarily individual nucleotides, but at least much smaller sequences of them). There may have been another experiment since then, but at least for that one even the scientists who did the experiment admitted it was only the first step in understanding self-replicating nucleic acids.

  151. Zetetic

    Nigel Depledge @ #144:

    Self-replicating RNA has been produced in labs investigating abiogenesis. Sadly, I can’t recall whose lab, or where I read about this (probably in New Scientist a few months ago, I think). IIRC, the remarkable thing about this RNA was that it was assembled from nucleotides without any template or enzyme – just ordinary chemistry.

    I believe that the links I provided at my post at #128 (in a reply to Paul) is the same research that you are referring too. I hope that helps!

  152. TheBlackCat

    From the article:

    An RNA enzyme that catalyzes the RNA-templated joining of RNA was converted to a format whereby two enzymes catalyze each other’s synthesis from a total of four oligonucleotide substrates.

    Yeah, that was what I was thinking about as well. I forgot it was a co-autocatalytic ribozyme as opposed to a pure autocatalytic one, but that doesn’t change my point.

  153. Nigel Depledge

    It also looks like I mis-remembered the work – that article states that RNA was assembled from oligonucleotides, not from nucleotide monomers.

    This does not invalidate any of the points that have been made. There is still very good reason to believe that, given sufficient time, RNA could self-assemble from nucleotides. And nucleotides are trivially easy to obtain from the chemistry that is likely to have pertained on the early Earth.

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