“The silly things those creationists say” – Pharyngula podcast #2

I lucked out and was able to be one of the participants on biologist P.Z. Myers’ Pharyngula video podcast (#2). The subject of this podcast was, as you may have guessed by my post title, creationism. Russell Glasser of The Atheist Experience was also there, as were several other people who, while they were new to me, seemed to be hip to the subject. I really enjoyed it and the time just few by. 

My thanks to the other participants and especially to P.Z. for having me!

I started early with this paleo stuff

I finally had a chance this weekend to pick through some of my mother’s family photo collection and found a few pictures of myself that are prophetic about what my lifelong interests would be. They are from one of the family camping trips we took, traveling all over the American Southwest. During this trip, circa 1975, we went to Dinosaur National Monument in Utah/Colorado.

First is a picture of me (10 years old) with the famous Stegosaurus statue that greets visitors outside the Quarry Exhibit Hall. You can tell by the look on my face that I was having a terrible time.

Now admittedly the color they had originally painted this statue (a brownish green scheme) was a little dull, though we have no way of knowing what color Stegosaurus actually was. But the current paint job on the statue seems a little bizarre to me.

And here we have a shot of me inside the Quarry Exhibit Hall, being much more serious in the presence of the astonishing number of dinosaur fossils exposed in the Carnegie Dinosaur Quarry.

Ah, memories…

“The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Creation Science”

The Sensuous Curmudgeon has given us an eloquent exposition on why “creation scientists” are immune to empirical evidence and why there is no science in “creation science”. I highly recommend you give it a read.

[Hat tip to Richard Hoppe over at Panda's Thumb.]

Creationist horse feathers

If creationists keep spewing nonsense about horses and horse evolution, there may come a day when I run out of literary references and idioms involving horses to play off of in my post titles. But today is not that day.

Before I start I want to promise any regular readers of this blog that despite this being yet another post that is (in part) about creationists and horses, I promise there will be no mention of Hyracotherium this time. No quotes of Richard Owen. No references to hyraxes whatsoever, you have my word.

Once again the source of my ire is the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) who sent forth one of their minions, Christine Dao, to dutifully report what the institute’s “creation scientists” had to say about the recent news that the South Korea is going to be altering their school textbooks to pander to creationists in that country.

Science gained a victory when South Korea’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology announced last month that textbook publishers will correct editions that contain misinformation regarding evolution.

Yes, absolutely, if there is misinformation in the textbooks we would certainly want to weed that out. The problem is, to a creationist, any of the data that makes up the mountain of empirical evidence supporting evolutionary theory is “misinformation”. Let us examine the two examples of supposed misinformation the South Korean “Ministry of Education, Science and Technology” is planning of removing from textbooks and the “scientific” reasons why the ICR agrees that they should be removed; starting in reverses order with “feathers” (figuratively speaking):

Read on»

In which I yell at everyone on the interwebs

A Facebook friend posted a link to a YouTube video titled “Top Ten Creationist Arguments” by The Thinking Atheist. I had seen it before, it’s slickly produced and OK as far as it goes (though I would have a different list of 10 creationists arguments) but that’s not what got me going. In the video TTA gives a quote from the late Stephen Jay Gould:

This caught my eye because I have been researching stuff to do with philosophy of science, i.e. the testability of evolutionary theory and the difference between the so called experimental sciences and historical sciences. In particular I thought I had remembered reading a essay by Gould on the subject and I thought this quote might give me a lead on it. The problem is TTA doesn’t give a source for the quote. “No problem”, I thought, “I’ll just Google it and it should be a snap to find the source.” Bzzzt! Wrong. Oh if you Google the quote you’ll get a gillion links but none* of them give the source of the quote!

After a half and hour or so of Google mining I finally found a site that gave the source as Gould’s Dinosaur in a Haystack (1995), but it provided no page number! So I pulled my copy off the shelf, blew the dust off the top  (damn dust) and checked the index for references to creationism.

There were a couple and while Gould did say something like this in one part of the book referenced, it wasn’t an exact quote. Finally I went to Amazon.com and found that they allowed one to search the contents of the book, and at last I got the information I was looking for.

The quote appears on page 397 (of the 1st hardback edition) and is not one of the places listed in the index for the term creationism. Here it is with some context:

One tangential point before I leave this elegant study [a genetic study of certain crabs, see below - T.B.]. Creationists critics often charge that evolution cannot be tested, and therefore cannot be viewed as a properly scientific subject at all (see the next essay for a fuller discussion of this important issue). This claim is rhetorical nonsense. How could one ask for a better test, based on a very risky prediction, than this? The counterintuitive link between king and hermit crabs was postulated on the basis of classical evidence from morphology (the arguments detailed previously in this essay as points 1-3). This prediction was then tested by the completely independent data set of DNA sequence comparisons — and confirmed in spades, with even closer propinquity than suspected between king crab and hermit crab lines.

I regard this story of king and hermit crabs as one of the most elegant I have learned of late in evolutionary biology–a lovely combination of a fascinating and counterintuitive tale; a multifaceted, rigorous and convincing pile of supporting data; and a lesson of intriguing generality  (the difference between genealogical propinquity and any functional meaning of similarity–and the overriding importance of propinquity). (Gould 1995, p. 397, emphasis mine)

Great, curiosity satisfied!

So please, please, please, people, don’t just throw quote around willy-nilly. Give proper references. [I'll make an exception for T-shirts, but that's it!]

OK, I got that out of my system, end pedantic rant.

[* I didn't look at every single Google result so this is a rhetorical "none".]

Reference

Gould, Stephen Jay (1995) Dinosaur in a Haystack, Harmony Books, NY, 1st hardback edition

An ex-pigeon

However it is not merely a pigeon that has shuffled off its mortal coil, tis a late pigeon that was once studied by Charles Darwin (Natural History Museum at Tring, Hertfordshire, England), making its image being shared here a matter of course. Photograph by Annie Leibovitz.

[Hat tip to Michael Barton at The Dispersal of Darwin.]

World class projection at the Discovery Institute

Projection being a behavior frequently engaged in by creationists wherein they project their own “…unacceptable qualities or feelings and ascribing them to other people“, namely scientists and defenders of science education.

In this example David Klinghoffer of the Discovery(less) Institute lays the projection on thick in his criticism of a recent article written by Jonah Lehrer in the The New Yorker, which was about the recent Gallup poll showing that nearly half of people in U.S. are still mired in denial regarding evolution.

The problem with this analysis [Lehrer's attempt to explain rampant evolution denial in the U.S. - T.B.] is that we are familiar, from long experience, with a no less impressively obdurate ignorance on the part of Darwin’s believers. No doubt there are plenty of people who reject Darwinism on the basis of a gut response alone, who never have taken the time to probe the evolution controversy and who fail to realize that it has two sides, both of which have a case to make.

But many — no, I take that back, almost all — the public Darwin defenders I can think of give evidence of having meticulously insulated themselves from knowing what the other side says.

Never mind Klinghoffer’s minimization of the level of scientific ignorance amongst creationists (which I can tell you from experience is prodigious), at least he’s admitting it exists. But to try and turn this around and argue that it is we defenders of science (as opposed to the “Darwin defenders” which is just Discoveroid frame-speak, i.e. propaganda) who are not only ignorant of creationist claims but “meticulously” insulate ourselves from them? That is hilarious!

Yes Mr. Klinghoffer, I, a twenty year veteran of defending science and science education from the attacks of creationists like yourself, have “meticulously insulated” myself from your ideas by amassing a collection of creationist literature containing nearly four hundred references (so far), dating from the 19th to the 21st century (never mind the video tapes, DVD’s and audio recordings); by  attending nearly every creationist event I hear about that’s within reasonable driving distance of where I live; and by regularly perusing creationist websites and blogs, like the one you’re posting on.

All that I do just so I can maintain my blissful state of insulation from what your side says.    

On the contrary, it might be justifiably said that I am somewhat obsessed with what creationists (of all stripes) are saying. However despite my obsession I have somehow failed to notice the meticulous ignorance of the subject that Mr. Klinghoffer’s claims to see in my colleagues (whose magazine, journal and blog articles I also obsessively imbibe).

[Who else out there bought the Creation/Evolution Journal collection from the NCSE and read all 39 issues at once like it was one big book? Let's see hands? Anyone? Anyone? Oh, I suppose was that just me? Like I'm the only one who would do that...]

Forget for a moment about who, Darwinists or Design advocates, is actually right. If you took a sample of ID folks and a sample of Darwin people, specifically those who have felt confident enough in their views to write about them for publication, and then quizzed each group about what arguments their opponents offer, there’s no question that those from the ID community would know better what their opposites in the debate say.

I question that. [See how easy that was?] Having observed them for many years I can say that it is vanishingly rare to encounter a creationist who can accurately relay the basics of evolutionary theory and its supporting evidence. They may get this or that part correct, but unvaryingly they go off the rails at some point, mischaracterizing either the theory of the facts (usually both).

Intelligent design “theory” is little more than a litany of antievolution arguments (misinformation, half-truths, logical fallacies, and out of context quotations of actual scientists) that have been floating around the creationist movement for decades (see links below), combined with “positive ID arguments” that are nothing but deliberately veiled versions of “God did it”.

See: “Expelled’s intelligent design theory – this IS your daddy’s creationism”, Part I & Part II

Just look at ENV as a convenient illustration. We strive to keep up with toughest challenges, such as they are, from evolutionists. Now look at the competing Darwin blogs. Guys like PZ Myers & Co. concentrate their fire on naïve young-earth creationists.

Actually I haven’t noticed this either. However if there is any small truth to this it might be because, unlike ID creationists, young Earthers (YEC) occasionally attempt to make testable claims for their views (i.e. arguments for a young Earth or Noah’s Flood). Whereas ID has been deliberately stripped of such things in an attempt to avoid conflicts with the 1st Amendment to the Constitution, leaving only the aforementioned attacks on evolution and untestable “God did it” assertions.

Are there old Earth, progressive creationists among the ID ranks? Sure, but they’re still creationists and a significant proportion of their target audience (the people in the pews) are good ol’ YEC (see the results of the Gallup poll Lehrer was lamenting).

Jerry Coyne and his colleagues in the Darwin-defending business are careful to stay unaware of the very serious challenges to Darwinism from ID.

Klinghoffer is sort of right about this one. We defenders of science are completely unaware of any “very serious” scientific “challenges to Darwinism evolutionary theory”; there are however theologically motivated, scientifically non-credible, political challenges that are a very serious danger to the future of science education in the United States. Of those we are all too aware.

Of that large portion of the media that remains committed to Darwin and never misses a chance to lash out at doubters, most are so utterly ignorant of the terms of the debate that that they cannot even distinguish intelligent design from creationism and use the terms interchangeably. You can point out their error again and again, but they never seem to understand.

Right. I’ve got two word for ya Mr. Klinghoffer: “Cdesign Proponentsists“. A refusal to countenance deceit is not a failure to understand it.

It’s common sense that human beings are hobbled by prejudices of all kinds. You didn’t need a study in a scientific journal to tell you that. The beginning of wisdom, surely, is to recognize your own ill-founded preconceptions and areas of stubborn ignorance. To that project of self-enlightenment, the community of Darwin defenders is uncompromisingly resistant.

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?


Reference

Klinghoffer, David (2012) “The Stubbornness of Their Ignorance“, Evolution News and Views (blog), downloaded on 6-10-2012