22 Answers to 22 messages from creationists

File this under: better late than never.

In the wake of the Bill Nye/Ken Ham creation/evolution debate BuzzFeed writer Matt Stopera had some of the people who attending the debate, and who were creationists, write down questions or comments to those of us who accept evolution.

 The following are the questions they wrote down and my quick and dirty responses.

 1) Bill Nye, are you influencing the minds of children in a positive way?

Obviously I cannot answer for Bill Nye but I would say yes he is, by helping to popularize science.

2) Are you scared of a Divine Creator?

No. If one exists and is worthy of admiration, let alone worship, it would not want its creations to fear it.

3) Is it completely illogical that the Earth was created mature? i.e. trees created with rings… Adam created as an adult.

Illogical based on everything we think we know about existence via science. However, if an all powerful being existed it is certainly possible it could have done this. Likewise under that scenario the entire universe, including all our memories of the past could have been created last Thursday and there would be no way to know. The evidence all points towards the Earth being 4.5 billion years old (and the rest of the universe more than double that) remains the same, so if it is not actually that old then that would seem to make the creator a cosmic liar.

4) Does not the second law of thermodynamics disprove evolution?

No, in fact life as we know it, which includes the ability to evolve, could not exist without the 2nd Law. You see the 2nd Law is essentially about energy flow from more coherent, usable states, to less coherent, unusable states. The obvious and most relevant example being the flow of energy from the Sun into space, where a tiny fraction of its energy is intercepted by the Earth. Life on Earth is only possible because of this energy flow (with the exception of life that lives off the energy flowing from the interior of the Earth itself at hydrothermal vents).

The effects of the 2nd Law can be seen reflected in the so called ecological pyramid, with each level able to extract less and less usable energy from the environment (and this is simplified of course). At the base we find plants are the most abundant and they absorb energy from the sun (“producers”). Next up there are herbivores that live off the plants (“primary consumers”). Then there are the omnivorous and/or small carnivorous animals (“secondary consumers”). Finally the apex predators (“tertiary consumers”), which are found in the fewest numbers of any ecosystem. Underlying all of these are the decomposers that make a living on the energy left over in dead plants, animals, and animal waste. energy pyramidSee: Ecology/Energy in ecosystems

I cannot even imagine what living things or ecosystems would look like without the 2nd Law in operation.

5) How do you explain a sunset if their [sic] is no God?

Seriously? This is a “the tides go in, the tides go out, with never a miscommunication” sort of question. The Earth rotates on its axis every 24 hrs. creating the illusion (from the POV of an Earthbound observer) of the Sun moving across the sky from sunrise to sunset.

6) If the Big Bang Theory is true and taught as science along with evolution, who do the laws of thermodynamics debunk said theories?

No, see answer #4.

7) What about Noetics?

What about it?

8) Where do you derive objective meaning in life?

I don’t know that there is such a thing or that it is even possible. We do have subjective and inter-subjective meaning however and that is good enough for me.

9) If God did not create everything, how did the first single-celled organism originate? By Chance?

It likely did not occur by chance, in the sense of purely random actions of matter, rather it would have happened in accordance with the laws of physics and chemistry.

10) I believe in the Big Bang Theory… God said it and BANG in happened!

Cute, however “god did it” is not a scientific explanation.

11) Why do evolutionists/secularists/humanists/non-God believing people reject the idea of their [sic] being a creator God but embrace the concept of intelligent design from aliens or other extra-terestrial [sic] sources?

First “evolutionist”, i.e. one who accepts evolution, does not equate to being an atheist (“non-God believer”). There are plenty of Christians and other types of theists who accept evolution.

As for evolutionists in general I would say they do not “embrace” any such thing. I can only guess this comes from the disingenuous questions put to Richard Dawkins in the intelligent design creationism propaganda film “Expelled”.  Here is a video where Dawkins discusses this and says exactly what his views are on the likelihood of intelligent design by ETs.

12) There is no in between… The only one found has been Lucy and there are only a few pieces of the hundreds neccssary [sic] for an “official proof”.

hominids2_bigYou were saying?

13) Does metamorphosis help support evolution?

I am not entirely sure what is meant by this question or even what sort of metamorphosis is being asked about. Insect metamorphosis? Amphibian metamorphosis? There is a creationist meme out there that insect metamorphosis (usually in reference to monarch butterflies) is somehow a problem for evolution, however as with most creationist memes, it is based on misinformation.

14) If Evolution is a Theory (like creationism or the Bible) why then is Evolution taught as fact.

It is, or should be, taught as an extremely well substantiated theory, i.e. a rigorously tested, fact-based explanation. Neither creationism nor the Biblical creation account it is based on, even begins to qualify as such.

15) Because science by definition is a “theory” – not testable, observable, nor repeatable why do you object to creationism or intelligent design being taught in school?

Science is not a theory; the development of testable—by observation and experiment—theories are part of doing science. In fact, one could say it is the very aim of science to develop such theories. Creationism—of which intelligent design is a subset—is made up of components which are either untestable or which have already been tested and falsified.

16) What mechanism has science discovered that evidences an increase of genetic information seen in any genetic mutation or evolutionary process?

Part of the answer was in the question; mutation and especially gene duplication.

17) What purpose do you think you are here for if you do not believe in salvation?

Our purpose is whatever purpose we choose for ourselves and frankly, I do not see the how the idea of some supposed purpose imposed from on high is somehow more attractive or fulfilling.

18) Why have we found only 1 “Lucy”, when we have found more than 1 of everything else?

Actually, there are fossil remains representing over 300 individuals of Australopithecus afarensis. “Lucy” is just the most famous specimen of this species. As for more than one of anything else, there is for example Homo erectus, the remains of which have been found in Africa all across Eurasia and into islands in the Pacific (Indonesia). The fun thing about H. erectus is that creationists used to (some may still) argue about whether they were “just apes” or “fully human”.

19) Can you believe in “the big bang” without “faith”?

Yes, as the theory is based on repeatable observations and is testable against further observations.

20) How can you look at the world and not believe someone Created/thought of it? It’s Amazing!!!

You are absolutely right, it is amazing, however there is no compelling evidence that “someone” created it.

21) Relating to the big bang theory… Where did the exploding star come from?

The Big Bang has nothing to do with a star exploding. Strictly speaking, it doesn’t have to do with anything “exploding” in the normal sense of the word. Rather it is about space expanding.

22) If we came from monkeys then why are there still monkeys?

For the same reason that both you and your cousin can exist when you both descend from your grandparents. Humans and the other living apes descend from a common ancestor with the living monkeys. That ancestor was probably more monkey-like than ape-like, but was not one of the current species of monkeys living today.

These questions, at least the ones regarding science—and which were coherent—were not particularly difficult and these people could easily have found the answers with a few Google searches. However, that would require actual curiosity and a willingness to learn. Sadly, these traits are often absent in creationists.

The rest of the questions (philosophical or theological) were simply irrelevant to the accuracy of evolutionary theory (or Big Bang theory) and a unwillingness to grasp this fact is yet another character flaw common amongst creationist.

Of Pandas and Pigeons

I have had the honor of being invited to join the crew over at Panda’s Thumb, the premier counter creationism blog on the interwebs and have gladly accepted.

Your truly with a Prof. Steve Steve impersonator.

Fear not my minions (all 5 or 6 of you), Playing Chess with Pigeons is not going anywhere! This is will remain the focus of my blogging. Little things here; big things here but cross posted to Panda’s Thumb as well (more traffic, more better!).

Thanks to the Panda’s people for having me, I hope to live up to the honor.

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).

Fuzzy thinking about fuzzy dinosaurs

A visual approximation.

Casey Luskin, the Discoveryless Institute’s resident attack chihuahua, is on a roll. This time he’s gone off on a tangent about a recent find of yet another dinosaur fossil with evidence of protofeathers, Sciurumimus albersdoerferi and dinosaur evolution in general.

Luskin: The media that loyally serve Big Science are at it again, overstating the finds of a scientific paper to promote an evolutionary icon. This time, the icon is feathered dinosaurs, representing the purported ancestral relationship between dinos and birds. (Luskin 2012)

Ah, if only. If only Mr. Luskin’s conspiratorial fantasy were true and the media was that on the ball. The fact of the matter is that defenders of science education like me often cringe at the mischaracterizations and overstatements that come out of the popular media regarding evolution. I am constantly shaking my head and yelling at the TV or radio “no, that’s not what that means at all”, or words to that effect.

I wish I had a nickel (because being underemployed I could really use the money) for every time a silly reporter, while talking about some fossil discovery, described it as “overthrowing everything we thought we knew about the evolution of X”.

That is absolute bollocks, 99% of the time.

Read on»

“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

“What Can YOU Do to Support Intelligent Design?”

A visual approximation.

Over at the Discovery(less) Institute’s Complaint Dept., resident attack chihuahua, Casey Luskin answered some fan mail that supposedly asked how people, sans financial resources, could support intelligent design (creationism). He suggests a variety of things that boil down to: submerge yourself into the intelligent design creationism bubble and pester your kid’s teachers and school administrators into foisting creationist misinformation onto their students:

There are lots of ways you can support Discovery Institute and ID in ways that don’t involve money. One of them – liking Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture on Facebook of course — you already did. You could also become a follower of our Twitter account, follow our podcast on Twitter, or listen to ID the Future online. Reading Evolution News & Views will help keep you up-to-date on the debate. You can also subscribe to our Nota Bene newsletter, which is free.

Those are all ways for you to stay informed. But there are also ways that you can reach out to others. These include:

  • Start your own ID blog, or participate in other ID blogs like Uncommon Descent. It’s always good to have pro-ID voices on the Internet, although I’ll warn you that lots of Internet ID-critics just want to shout you down and call you nasty names, so it’s not uncommonly the case that you’d be wasting your time by engaging them.
  • Become a voice for academic freedom in your local community. One easy thing you can do is sign the Academic Freedom Petition. You can write letters to the editor to local newspapers, calling on them to stand up for good science education and provide corrections to misinformation or biased reporting on this issue.
  • Another constant need is to ensure that your local public libraries, secondary school libraries, and university libraries have up-to-date copies of intelligent design books. Even if you don’t have the money to donate the books, recommend books to the library and ask if they would consider adding them to their collections.
  • You might consider starting a local organization to increase awareness about intelligent design. A great way to do this is to start an Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Club. These extracurricular clubs are affiliated with the IDEA Center (which is a distinct organization from Discovery Institute), but they can organize events on local college campuses or in communities to show videos or bring speakers to educate the public about the issue. IDEA Clubs are a great way to raise awareness and understanding of the scientific case for intelligent design in your local community — you could start one yourself, or help a student do so. See www.ideacenter.org for details.
  • Besides IDEA Clubs, if you know university students who are interested in ID, you can encourage them to get involved with Discovery Institute’s Summer Seminars on Intelligent Design. And if you know pre-college students who are college-shopping, encourage them to consider how the school they’re going to attend deals with topics like the origins of life and of human beings. (Note: I went to a science-focused public university that was largely anti-ID and had a great experience, so I’m not saying students must go to a pro-ID college. But they might want to consider this issue, one way or another, when they apply.)

Finally, another way you can make a difference is to advocate for positive changes in education in your local school or community. If you have kids, find out how their schools cover evolution. For public schools, we recommend that they teach the scientific evidence for and against Darwinian evolution without getting into alternative theories like intelligent design. A lot of this is explained in our Briefing Packet for Educators – but if you want to get involved more directly, contact us here at Discovery Institute and we can help you. For private schools, we have another list of recommended resources, which I recently discussed here.

What is significant by its absence from this list is any suggestion that his readers should directly familiarize themselves with what the overwhelming majority scientists are actually saying or with the actual evidence, unfiltered by the ID creationist spin zones that he lists.

Now I understand that Mr. Luskin probably believes that all of mainstream science is engaged in a global satanic conspiracy to hide the Truth ™ from the masses, but for the sake of intellectual rigor he should want people to be familiar with the thing that they are fighting so fiercely against; and not just the version presented in the IDC echo chamber.

If someone asked me how they could prepare themselves to deal with creationists I would tell them that they need:

  • A good grasp of modern evolutionary theory and the broad evidence behind it both paleontological and neontological (preferably including some reading of the primary scientific literature), as well as a smattering of other sciences that touch on historical issues (cosmology etc.).
  • At least a basic knowledge of the history and philosophy of science (especially the histories of biology and geology).
  • And, most especially, a thorough knowledge of creationist arguments through direct reading of creationist literature (and other media) and the history of the creationist movement (I highly recommend Ronald Numbers book The Creationists (2006) for that last part).

Of course, no one can be an expert in all the relevant fields of science. Even most scientists, while they might be experts in their particular area of study, may have only a basic grasp of the several other fields outside of their own that is required in order to effectively counter creations claims. You can start off talking with a creationist about cosmology—because many of them do not understand that the Big Bang theory is not part of evolution—and in quick succession be grilled about various aspects of geology, biology and physics.

Worse yet, most scientists have only superficial level of knowledge regarding creationist arguments and tactics, which makes sense given that they trained in doing science and not counter apologetics. Moreover, many feel, with some justification, that to get such training is a waste of their valuable time. Unfortunately, this can lead to public relations setbacks for science education if they then allow themselves to be snookered into formal debates with professional creationists.

Again, from my experience you need not only a basic knowledge of a variety of scientific subjects—especially geology, paleontology and biology—but a good knowledge of creationist arguments in order to keep from getting steamrolled by the creationist shotgun approach to debate (a.k.a. the “Gish Gallop“).*

For that reason, unlike Mr. Luskin, I strongly encourage people, both scientists and interested laypersons, to study the work of the opposition, not just what people like me say about it.

[*I would generally advise against live public debates in the first place. Instead, stick to written ones that do not allow creationists effective use of the Gallop in the first place.]

“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!