Answering Creationist Questions

Someone named Stephen has asked some questions on my “creationist questions” page and I am moving my response up to the main page.

Hello Stephen!

Just to get a couple points of order out of the way I want to note that you asked three questions at once and only one (#3) touches on evolutionary biology, violating my question guidelines in multiple ways right off the bat. However, I said might grant some leeway and I will in this case.

Stephen: First, to clarify, I am a college student, almost through with my history degree (as a major), I have a minor in geology, and I have taken enough courses to almost have minors in philosophy and anthropology (just establishing that I am not an uneducated internet troll…. at least not completely). This does not make me an authority on the debate between evolution and creationism, but I have studied enough to be fairly well versed in the arguments that each side uses.

OK, good to know; as it would mean that there is no reason you should be making any glaring errors in those areas, yes?

Stephen: I was home-schooled by choice and was taught evolution and creation equally…

You were taught about a mature and productive scientific field and the relatively brief creation story from the Hebrew scriptures (backed up, no doubt, with the pseudoscience, misrepresentations and misinformation of “creation science”), “equally”?

You should understand that from my perspective that doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Stephen: I studied the sides and decided to pick the side that, I believe, has the least number of holes in its arguments. I decided to become a creationist, but I still see both sides and am willing to keep my mind open to all possibilities.

Well then, my question would be what are some of the supposed “holes” in evolutionary theory? Please do not tell me they are of the sort usually put forward by “creation scientists”, I have a library full of those bogus arguments.

Again, from my perspective creationism is collection of long refuted empirical claims (young Earth, Flood geology) backed by a premise (“God did it”) that is fundamentally untestable and therefore scientifically useless.  

Stephen: Question 1: How do you define science (yes, I am talking about the AIG argument between “testable/repeatable science” and “historical/perceived science”)? I do mean you specifically, as different words mean different things to different people, and “standard definitions” do not always fully encapsulate this idea.

In the context you seem to be asking (that of Answers in Genesis’ idiosyncratic redefinition of science), I would say that science is a process wherein people derive coherent explanations about the state of the natural world which are testable by further, intersubjective, observations of the natural world. This holds regardless of whether the particular phenomenon under examination is something that occurred in the past or is currently ongoing.

In science, one does not have to be able to repeat the occurrence of something in order to explain it. What is necessary is that the observations that are made to test the explanation be repeatable by anyone who makes the effort, i.e. not subjective revelations knowable only to an individual or an elect few.

As with forensic science used against criminals, one need not repeat the crime in order to make observations (of finger prints, DNA, etc.) to build a case as to who the most likely perpetrator is.

The same is true when one is trying to explain the current state of nature be it biological, geological or astronomical. We do not need to repeat, in full, the processes that lead to the current state of affairs in order to piece together a case against the most likely “perpetrator”.

Of course, in practice, there is more to it than that but I am not writing a book on the philosophy of science.

Professional creationists want to muddy the waters on this because their explanations either have failed to hold up against observations of the natural world, or are simply not testable by such observations. In other words, their ideas are either failed science or non-science and so they try to tear down good science in an attempt to mislead people into believing that their ideas have merit.    

Stephen: Question 2: Why do scientific laws exist: gravity, thermodynamics, etc. if no one created them (yes it does seem like a silly question, but believe it or not, I have found this question to be helpful)?

This is a question about cosmology and is essentially asking why the universe is the way it is. My answer is, I do not know. Cosmologist are working on such questions and they may or may not be able to answer some or all of them someday, however I see no reason to assume that if they do find answers to them that they will include the idea that the universe was “created” by a conscious being of some sort.

Any explanations that cosmologists do come up with will have to be testable by observations of the natural world in order to be scientific. “God did it” does not meet that criterion.

Stephen: Question 3: How do you believe that things such as a conscience, idea of self-awareness, and the ability to fully reason came to be? Yes, this is a philosophical question, because philosophy is the first “science” and was the root of all the other disciplines.

I don’t know if the ability to “fully reason” actually exists and I would quibble with you that these are necessarily philosophical questions. I would say that the evidence suggests that these things are evolved characteristics as we see them in a continuum in the animal world with humans merely being at one end of the spectrum.

Stephen: In addition, evolution influences much more than biology, geology, and physics (to name a few of the traditional sciences) in its scope, and all aspects of the theory need to be considered.

I disagree. Biology, geology and (to a lesser degree) physics influence evolutionary theory but not the other way round. Evolutionary theory had to be consistent with the facts of biology (obviously) but also geology and physics in order to be considered successful. Theories of geology (plate tectonics etc.) or physics (relativity etc.) do not need to factor in evolutionary theory but rather stand or fall based on observations from those fields.

If inconsistencies between evolutionary theory and say, plate tectonics, were discovered, then those would have to be worked out, but physical geologists who are trying to solve geological problems do not sit around worrying about how their findings might affect those of biologists. They find what they find and it is up to the biologists to figure out whether their own theories can be made to fit with the new data or must to be scrapped in favor of new ones.

What you are talking about reflects the conspiracy theory thinking of creationists, wherein all of modern science is some sort of evolutionist plot to discredit the Biblical account of creation, it isn’t.

The actual problem is that the facts of nature, biological, geological and physical, simply are not consistent with creationism and creationists have adopted this conspiracy idea as a way to avoid facing that fact.

Stephen: Especially since the idea of “origins” is one of the three fundamental questions of philosophy (IE: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going?).

“Where did I come from?” is an empirical question answered by science; proximally by reproductive biology and evolutionary theory more distally by astronomical and cosmological theories. You would have to be more specific to get answers that are more specific.

“Why am I here?”—assuming it is not merely a rephrasing of the previous question—is a question that assumes something not in evidence, that there is some externally imposed purpose to our existence. It could be that there is no “why” and therefore the question is incoherent.

“Where am I going?”, again this assumes that you are going anywhere. Barring evidence that anyone is going anywhere this question is also incoherent.

Stephen: By the way, I have heard your comparison of “playing chess with pigeons” before (in relation to evolutionists). Is that saying original (to you) or did you get it from elsewhere? If so, where?

The answer to that may be found in the tab at the top of my blog titled “Playing Chess with Pigeons?“. It is taken from something first written by Scott Weitzenhoffer in reference to creationists; so if you have seen it being used in any other way it was pilfered directly or indirectly from him.


A plea for (non-financial) help

journalsOK, here is the situation; I do not work for a university, a museum, or any other educational and/or research organization. I am not paid to do the research on and write substantive refutations of creationist propaganda. I do it because I am passionate about science (especially biology and paleontology) and extremely annoyed by people who peddle lies, half-truths and misinformation about it.

It would be nice if more working scientists could take the time to familiarize themselves with the machinations of creationists so as to be better prepared to counter them but I understand that they have more important tasks to do, like actually doing science. And I —as an interested and more knowledgeable than most layperson— am more than happy to stand in for them in the trenches, without remuneration or recognition. All I ask is that I be given the tools, the ammunition if you will, to fight the fight.

In this case, it is free and unencumbered access to the scientific literature!

If I am doing research, working on a rebuttal to some creationist claim, buying copies of the articles myself is simply not an option as I live paycheck to paycheck and the miscellaneous science journals charge outrageous prices for individuals to download their articles, often as much a $25 or $35 dollars each (if they charged $1 a pop, like an mp3 download, I might sometimes spend the money)!

Instead, to get what I need, I have to pester and cajole, via e-mail, working scientists and/or university professors I am acquainted with to send me PDF copies of scientific papers.  Alternatively, I have to get in my car (which is currently broken down and I cannot afford to fix it), drive to a local university, plug a flash-drive into one of the computers in their science library, and download them, which is a big hassle and still costs money for gas and parking.  

What I would like is to be given some sort of unpaid (though I wouldn’t say no to stipend!), ceremonial position at a university, museum, or other institution that would grant me access to the primary scientific literature to which they are already subscribed (the more the better).

A couple of my university professor friends have tried without success to get me something like this, only to have the “higher up” say no.

So, I am putting out this plea to any scientist, university professor or Dean, or anyone who is sympathetic to my cause and who has influence at their institution, please, please, please, help me to get access to the science I need to do what I can to combat the forces of ignorance that threaten to overwhelm us all.

Thank you for your consideration!

New Evo-T shirt!

There is a new Evo-T shirt available, this time with a little philosophical humor:

“Is it solipsistic in here, or is it just me?”

Womens Solipsism joke shirtThe Men’s version can be found here [note that you can change the shirt color to taste, however if you do you might want to change the text color as well].

As always the (small) proceeds from the sale of Evo-T’s go towards supporting me and by extension my efforts in defending science education. So you can buy out of the goodness of your heart and help support a worthy cause, or we can do this the hard way…

What “hope” do you have being an evolutionist?

PCwP has recently received comments from a couple of antievolutionists and this has roused me to action (having some time off work for the holidays doesn’t hurt either). The first was a collection of insult ridden rants left at miscellaneous posts by someone going by the handle “Rylore” —those I will deal with, at length in a separate article.

The second was a single, more civil comment, left at my first article about Dinny the Dinosaur (and how it has been taken over by creationists) by a Allyssa Korzeniewski. I will address her comments here.

Ms. Korzeniewski appears to be involved in a couple of blogs, Faith With Love and Creation Artist. According information given on those blogs she seems to have been influenced by the likes of Answers in Genesis, the Institute for Creation Research and both “Dr.” Kent Hovind (currently serving time for tax evasion) and his son Eric Hovind, all proponents of young Earth creationism.

So without further ado, Ms. Korzeniewski:

Alyssa Korzeniewski: Sad, that this is your take on life. What hope do you have? I was an evolutionist like you once, I had no hope, no comfort.

I don’t see that I gave a “take on life” in the article you commented on but regardless, Ms. Korzeniewski, please try to understand that from my point of view you might as well asked what hope I have given that I accept the atomic theory of matter, the germ theory of disease, or the theory of relativity. The question is nonsensical; it is like asking if mathematics tastes good or what color philosophy is.

This is because scientific theories, the theory of evolution included, are not intended to give one either hope or comfort (whatever that might mean) rather they are intended to be testable explanatory frameworks for what we observe (facts) in the natural world around us. Moreover, the explanations they offer are tested in an ongoing basis by making further observations of the natural world, not by how well they conform to our philosophical, political or religious predilections. Nor are they to be judged by subjective emotional responses they might evoke in us as individuals, be it the warm fuzzies or nihilistic despair.

So if you are judging the findings of science on how it makes you feel, I would say you are making a categorical mistake.

On the other hand, doing the opposite and letting the findings of science inform your politics or religion etc. is perfectly reasonable. If that means abandoning some cherished beliefs, well, them’s the breaks.

Oh, and no offense (well maybe just a little), but I sincerely doubt that you were ever an evolutionist like me. Those of us that defend evolution against its detractors hear such comments on a regular basis; however, the people making them invariably show themselves to be largely ignorant of evolutionary theory and often science in general. For example, the fact that you seem to think that personal emotional responses are somehow relevant to the veracity  of evolutionary theory is a big red flag indicating that you were never like me.

Alyssa Korzeniewski: I looked at the creation info and was willing to humble myself and be saved, it’s very sad that you have not been willing to look at the truth.

Red flag (with fireworks) number two is the fact that you apparently put credence in “the creation info” of not only the ICR and AiG but in Kent Hovind, who even other creationists have taken to task over his willingness to use “fallacious arguments and incorrect information” (talk about the pot calling the kettle black).  

I am sorry but these people are an absolute fount of misinformation, half-truths and lies. If you take some time to read some of the article on my blog you can see where I have documented this many, many times. Please understand, I am not simply talking about their not accepting evolution or any scientific theory, I am talking about the fact that they regularly and systematically get straightforward verifiable facts completely wrong.

That you apparently do not see this is a huge sign that you were never anything like me.

As for my being willing to “look at the truth” as you see it, I can only laugh. I have dedicated much of my free time (and money) over the last twenty years to studying creationism, collecting creationist literature, reading their web sites and going to their lectures & debates.

I have nearly four hundred books and pamphlets espousing creationist “truth”, how many books on evolutionary biology do you have Ms. Korzeniewski? How many lectures on evolution have you attended? How much of the Talk Origins Archive have you read?

However, please condescend to me some more about how unwilling I have been to look at your supposed truth, I really cannot get enough.

Alyssa Korzeniewski: How are you even able to tell right from wrong without God?

The philosophical question about where we derive our morals and ethics from is not one I am particularly interested in debating. Not that it is not an interesting and important topic, it just not my thing. However, suffice to say I do not find divine command “theory” particularly compelling.

To start you might want to read up on the Euthyphro dilemma.

Alyssa Korzeniewski: “2Ti_4:4 they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”

Ms. Korzeniewski, if you assume, as you seem to have done, that I am an unbeliever in the Christian religion what possible effect did you think quoting Christian scripture would have on me? If someone does not believe the Bible is the word of God, you might just as well quote something from The Lord of the Rings or The Wizard of Oz at them.

Worse, the quote you used practically begs the unbeliever to turn it back on to you. For example:

“Turned unto fables”? You mean fables like the one about the garden with magic fruit trees and a talking snake? Or the fable about the old guy who built a giant boat and took two of every sort of animal on it to escape a global flood?

I mean it practically screams projection.

Now Ms. Korzeniewski, if you would like to discuss the scientific merits of creationism I am certainly willing. Perhaps you would like to present what you think the single best scientific evidence supportive of creationism might be? Remember though, arguments against evolution do not count.

Thank you for your comments.

Chick-Fil-A Promo (Parody) from Mr. Deity

See also the latest Mr. Deity episode “Mr. Deity & The Marriage“, funny stuff!

Another Pharyngula podcast with yours truly

The first part was on intelligent design creationists latest attacks on some of the genetic evidence for human evolution. The second was a ostensibly on humanism but strayed into issues surrounding the internecine warfare going on in the skeptic/atheist community over issues of feminism (which I will not touch with a light-year long pole) and progressive politics. Being of a slightly libertarian bent, I bit my tongue and let the anti-libertarian jibs go by (I am used to being casually libeled and slandered by my liberal Democrat friends).

How could evolutionary theory be falsified?

A rabbit fossil in Cambrian rock would be difficult to understand under current evolutionary theory.

Creationists often charge that evolutionary theory is unfalsifiable; that there is no way to potentially disprove it, if it were in fact incorrect. This is in essence an “I know you are but what am I” response to their critics who have rightfully pointed out that “God did it” as an explanation is not testable against the evidence from the natural world and therefore not a valid scientific explanation for anything.

This is because hypotheses, in order to qualify as scientific, must be testable against observable evidence in the natural world. In other words, in addition to there being potential observations that might support a given hypothesis, there should likewise be some potential observations that would tend to disprove a hypothesis.

Since God can do anything in any way, for any reason, there are no potential observations of the natural world that could disprove God’s involvement, which means the “God did it” hypothesis is unscientific in character.

In any event, is it true, as creationists charge, that there are no potential observations that would tend to disprove evolutionary theory?

The short answer is no, it is not true. However, for something more in depth you should head over to Why Evolution Is True where biologist Jerry Coyne provides several scenarios that would be highly problematic for current evolutionary theory.

In my general talk on the evidence for evolution, I give a list of seven observations that, if repeated and confirmed, would disprove parts of the theory of evolution described above. This shows that it is a scientific theory in the Popperian sense of being falsifiable.  Here are some of those conceivable observations:

  • Fossils in the wrong place (e.g., mammals in the Devonian). If the fossil record were all out of order like this (a single anomalous fossil might not overturn everything, of course, since it could be in the wrong place for other reasons), we’d have to seriously question the occurrence of evolution.

I recommend you hop over and check out the rest.

The last thing I want to say about this particular creationist claim, is that in addition to it being false, it is also stands in rather blatant contradiction to what creationists do on a regular basis, which is to argue that this or that bit of evidence somehow counts against evolutionary theory.

I mean what sense can we make of Duane Gish’s book Evolution, the Fossils Say No! (1978) if he was not arguing that the fossil evidence was disconfirming of the evolution hypothesis?

The mind boggles.

[And now John Wilkins, or some other philosopher of science, will yell at me about Popperian Falsificationism being passé with regards to the demarcation problem. Just to head that off somewhat I am not advocating naive falsificationism.]