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.

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.]

“Reason and creationism”

My friend and colleague (frienlleague?) Dr. Eugenie Scott gave, yet another, excellent talk titled “Reason and creationism” at the Global Atheist Convention, Melbourne, Australia (4/15/2012). Have a watch:

NCSE Home Page

“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!

“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.]

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