Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Mathematics and evolution

I've been doing some research on mathematics related to the effects of natural selection. I found one interesting web page at http://machineslikeus.com/Evolution-13%3A+Differential+rates+of+survival

"The way that even a very small natural selection advantage can result in that variety dominating a species can be appreciated using the more familiar example of compound interest. Suppose a parent gives each of two children $1,000 at the same time. One of the children invests in a bank that offers an interest rate of 5.0% while the other, being slightly more thrifty, shops around and invests in a different bank at 5.1%. Although they start out with the total money being split 50-50, in 7,000 years the second child (or rather that child's descendents) will have 99.9% of the total money, thanks to that very small advantage in the annual rate of return.

"It is exactly this kind of differential survival rate that plays such an important role in natural selection. Even minute differences in fitness can result, over the long term, in the runaway domination of a preferred variety. To see how fast this can happen, population geneticists have carried out calculations...

"The selection advantage is a measure of how much more likely it is that that particular variety will propagate itself in future generations when compared with the standard type. So if, on average, the new mutated variety produces 101 fertile adult descendents while the same number of the standard organism produces 100, then s=0.01.

"When this selection advantage is included in the calculation, the number of generations T it will take for a mutation to increase its frequency in the population from an initial value of f to a final value of F is given by the formula T=(1/s)ln[F(1-f)/f(1-F)], where 'ln' stands for the natural logarithm. (Molecular Evolution, Wen-Hsiung Li, 1997, p. 39)

"So if we start with a trait that is present in just 0.1% of the population (i.e., f=0.001), and if this has a small selection advantage of size s=0.01, this variety will grow to 99.9% (F=0.999) of the population in just under 1,400 generations, which is a very short time on the geological scale."


Obviously the math is fairly complicated. But this article does demonstrate how specific, SCIENTIFIC and even MATHEMATICAL evolutionary predictions can be.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

More on the Bible as literature

A few days ago I had a post on this blog mentioning that the Bible is an important book in Western Civilization and should be studied for that reason. Earlier today I found an article in the current issue of Humanist magazine that discussed the same topic. That article raises an interesting point that I had not considered. (The article is available on-line at http://www.thehumanist.org/humanist/09_may_jun/Mates.html.)

That point is summarized in this quote:

“[The Bible] is so human a book that I don’t see how belief in its divine authorship can survive the reading of it.”--William James, in response to a 1904 survey on religious belief

The subtitle of the article is that "Biblical illiteracy has been at the heart of the Christian faith throughout most of its history".

The article argues that very, very few people, including most people who call themselves Evangelical Christians have actually read the Bible from cover to cover. Most of them have no more idea “what the Bible says than most Muslims do”. Those who have read large portions of the Bible have generally done so with the help of clerical ‘guidance’. In other words, they may attend evening Bible study classes led by their favorite preacher. In those cases very little thought is invested in the actual reading of the Bible. Instead the majority of their time is spent listening to what is effectively a sermon highlighting the “correct’ way to read the Bible.

But what happens to people who read the Bible independently of any such influences?

The author of the article suggests that people who were forced to read the Bible on their own would stop believing in the inerrancy of that book. Possibly even more importantly, they would find new ideas, such as the fact that it is a profound misrepresentation to look at “Jesus as a leader who wished his followers to engage in the dirty business--scripturally, the devilish business--of earthly governance”. Christian theologians who try to influence the government are clearly doing the devil’s work, not God’s.

That’s an interesting idea and one that I believe has a great deal of truth. I suggest people look at the article at the link I’ve provided above.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

School Field Trips

As many of us know, there is a creationism museum in Kentucky. According to
http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/06/a_little_sympathy_for_the_snoo.php some schools in the area take all-day field trips to that museum. When the students visit they see things like saddles on dinosaurs.

I live in Minnesota. It’s unlikely that anyone from my state would go all the way to Kentucky for a field trip, but I would be upset if I found out that students were visiting such a shrine to pseudoscience.

What rules should be put in place to prevent such clearly inappropriate field trips?

I don’t think that you could make the rule that visiting a place of religion shouldn’t be done. If the school was in Rome a visit to Vatican City would make lots of sense. In Paris I would have no problem with students visiting Notre Dame. In London a visit to Westminster Cathedral makes perfect sense. (Charles Darwin is even buried there.)

I live in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The capital city, St. Paul, has a large church named, appropriately, the Cathedral of St. Paul. While its historical importance doesn’t approach that of Notre Dame, Westminster Cathedral or Vatican City it’s still significant enough that I wouldn’t mind having the students take a day off from school to visit.

So what rules should there be that would prevent trips to worthless places like the creation museum but still allow trips to legitimate sites that merely happened to be associated with religion?

As sort of a side issue, the web page that I reference above has some interesting comments about creationists that are worth emphasizing. Here’s a sample:

"I understand that many creationists are intelligent and sane — they share a lot of values with me, like wanting to be able to think as they please, to raise happy, healthy families, and they are very concerned about their children: they are sure that if their kids aren't Christian, they'll be miserable, wretched, and damned to hell for all eternity. I do sympathize with them. I feel great sympathy and sorrow for the fact that they've been lied to by deluded con men like Ken Ham, and that they're living lives driven by an irrational fear…a fear that is reinforced every day by evangelists and fundamentalists and the whole petty shuck-and-jive of religious belief.

"I sympathize with their kids, too. These are blameless innocents who are going to be brought up in ignorance, reassured constantly that their foolishness is a virtue, and that learning about this wonderful, beautiful, dangerous, and uncaring universe we live in will lead them to hell. No child should be brought up in fear and darkness.

"I sympathize with their fate, because they're going to grow up just like their parents and spread the fear and ignorance even further. They will want the best for their kids, too, and instead, under the guidance of pious liars, they will wreck those kids' minds, too. And the cycle will go on and on.

"I sympathize with all their secular neighbors most of all. What will happen? They will live in a country where their schools are third-rate, because the creationists will suppress education not just for their own kids, but for everyone else's, too. They will see their school boards populated with the products of such fare as the Creation "Museum", and they will get to vote in elections where their options are Insane-Fundie-Wackjob vs. Slightly-Less-Crazy-God-Botherer. And the lesser-of-two-evils won't always win, because their neighbors all think the fundier, the better."

Monday, June 15, 2009

No Tree of life?

In an earlier blog entry I talked about the hypocrisy of the Discovery Institute. The video I referenced included some comments from Casey Luskin of the DI about the Tree of Life.

I did some more investigation and it turns out that the idea of an evolutionary tree of life may not be the most accurate way of looking at evolution in its earliest stages.

Scientists are becoming more convinced that thevery first life forms (prokaryotes) engaged in a significant number of lateral gene transfers. In other words, genes are transferred from one organismto another without actual reproduction taking place.

But it creates a complication. If organism A transfers genes to organism B which transfers genes to organism C which, in turn, then transfers genes back to organism A, which of them is the ancestor?

Pictorally, the "tree of life", at its base, looksmore like a spider web than it does a tree.

ID advocates claim that this idea puts "commondescent" in doubt. It does no such thing.

"Common descent" is not synonymous with the "tree of life". It seems a necessary certainty that there was only one first living thing. We are all descended from that first living thing even if the early stages of descent are not "mom and dad" events.

ID advocates also say that these new hypotheses overthow "Darwinism". That's nonsense. It's been known for a long time that Darwin was wrong about many of the details of evolution. That's hardly surprising since he had no way of knowing about things like DNA. To say that these new discoveries undermine Darwinism is a simple anachronism.

One final comment is worth making.

One commentator says this:

"This...provides a striking refutation of the notion that evolutionary biologists are a bunch of hidebound dogmatists who refuse to consideranything that contradicts their ideology. Instead we see an initally radical idea - a network of life instead of a tree - gaining acceptance as the evidence for it mounts. The lesson for ID supprters is clear; if you want ID to become part of the mainstream of acience, then make a genuine scientific case for it. Scientists will listen if the evidence is there and the arguments are valid."

Sunday, June 14, 2009

More hypocrisy at the Discovery Institute

The blog at
http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2009/06/di_stifles_criticism_on_youtub.php#more talks about how the Discovery Institute (the primary organization that promotes Intelligent Design) is putting pressure on YouTube to remove videos that criticize that organization. The web page I've referenced shows one of the critical videos and another video that talks about what the DI is doing to try to remove them.

It is especially hypocritical for the DI to engage in such actions because many of their own arguments could be looked at as complaints about having their own freedom of speech infringed upon. After all, they claim that they have legitimate criticisms of evolution that they are not allowed to present in school classrooms.

We see again that this mathematical formula is valid:

Intelligent Design == intellectual fraud

Hitler was a creationist

Creationists like to say that evolution is wrong because they say that Hitler used evolution to promote his evil agenda. But Hitler was actually a creationist.

Hitler had many of his informal and private conversations tape recorded. These have been transcribed and compiled into a book titled "Hitler's Table Talk". In that book it isrecorded that for the night of July 25th, 1942,into the morning of the 26th (the exact time ofeach individual statement was not noted) Hitler said this:

"From where do we get the right to believe, that from the very beginning Man was not what he is today? Looking at Nature tells us, that in the realm of plants and animals changes and developments happen. But nowhere inside a kind shows such a development as the breadth of the jump, as Man must supposedly have made, if he has developed from an ape-like state to what he is today."

Note that while Hitler seems to support a sort of micro-evolution in plants and non-human animals, he clearly says that he believes that Man had not changed or evolved over time. Hitler also clearly states that he believes that man has not "developed from an ape-like state". Also note that he even used the creationist word "kind" in this statement.

If the identity of the author of these words was hidden, this statement would look completely appropriate on the Answers in Genesis web site.

Hitler was a politician and, of course, he was Adolf Hitler - arguably the worst person who ever lived. So anything he said in public probably shouldn't be trusted.

But this was a private conversation. While he knew that it was being recorded, he had complete control over what was made public and what wasn't. There was, therefore, no reason whatsoever for him to lie in this context

Friday, June 12, 2009

What purpose does religion serve?

What good comes from religion and faith in general or Monotheism in particular?

Good question!(Though it's really two questions.)

Religion has some practical benefits, though none that are not as important now as they were in the past.

Human societies consisted of relatively small bands of hunter-gatherers for 99.9% of "human" history. In such small bands you would know EVERYONE. You could quickly learn who you can trust and who you can't trust. (Those who were untrustworthy were often killed or expelled.)

With the invention of agriculture, societies got so large that individuals couldn't still know everyone. So it was difficult to know who to trust.

Organized religion guaranteed that people at least had the same moral influences (if not completely identical actual values). So a certain level of trust could be established between individuals in such larger societies. Some level of trust is needed in societies with large populations to even allow them to exist without lots of internal conflict. Having a central church, often controlled by the political leader in the society, also improved the ability of a centralized ruler to govern.

Also my personal belief is that at some point humans started to find explanations for things that occurred in nature.

For example, if you plant a seed a plant will grow.

But once humans found SOME explanations they became uncomfortable when things occurred that had no apparent explanation. It created uncertainty and humans have never liked uncertainty. A God (or gods) provided an "explanation" (so to speak) for those things that occurred with no apparent explanation.Rain and rain gods are an example.

Additionally, certainly some people find inspiration in a belief in a higher power. For reasons I've already mentioned, we probably evolved that need or ability. But however it came about, no one can dispute that it exists.

Those individuals, at least, would find life a bit empty without a belief in God.

Monotheism - your second question - probably came about because it allows power to be concentrated more effectively when there is only one God to worship. Sometimes polytheists have different priests who specialize in each of the many different "gods". There is then a power struggle to determine which god, and therefore which priest, is the most important.

I personally have no problem with religion or religious people.

I DO have a big problem with fundamentalism.

I define "fundamentalism" as the belief that a human being can have an inerrant and infallible understanding of God (if God exists). Generally fundamentalists think that such an infallible understanding is achievable through some holy book or some specially ordained prophet.People who think that they are getting orders directly from God can allow their beliefs to bypass common sense on their way to becoming real actions.

Fundamentalism has done MUCH more harm than good in human societies over human history.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Biblical Creation Chronology

One of the challenges that I have often given creationists is to create a chronology of the order of creation that does not include any contradictions between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. Doing so highlights problems caused by contradictions.

Here is a chronology of the events as listed in Genesis 1.

Day 1

Event 1: God created heaven and Earth.
Event 2: God created light.
Event 3: God separated light from darkness.
Event 4: God called the light day and the darkness night

Day 2

Event 1: God created an expanse and separated the water into two parts, one above the Earth and one below
Event 2: God called the expanse "sky"

Day 3

Event 1: God created dry land
Event 2: God called the dry land "land".
Event 3: God called the remaining waters "sea"
Event 4: God saw that it was good.
Event 5: God let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees.

Day 4

Event 1: God created a greater and lesser light in the expanse of the sky
Event 2: God created the stars
Event 3: God set the stars in the expanse of the sky

Day 5

Event 1: God created the aquatic animals and the birds
Event 2: God blessed the animals and told them to multiply

Day 6

Event 1: God created land animals
Event 2: God created man and woman in his own image
Event 3: God told the man and woman to increase in number
Event 4: God gave man dominion over everything
Day 7

Event 1: God rested.

Here are problems (i.e. contradictions) when comparing that chronology to Genesis 2:

1. Originally there was only dry land. Then water was created after that. This contradicts the Genesis 1 events of day 3 where land was created from water.

Here’s the specific text from Genesis 2:4-7 –

When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens- and no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up, for the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground- the LORD God formed the man…

Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.
Man was created before the plants. Yet in Genesis 1 the plants were formed three days before man was created. The text supporting that has already been given.

2. God formed the animals after man.

Here’s that text from Genesis 2:19-20:

Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.

3. God created woman at a different time and after man.

Here’s the text supporting that from Genesis 2:20-23:

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

4. The animals were created between the creation of Adam and Eve. The passages supporting this have already been given.

It’s worth noting as an inconsistency that Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 disagree on the name of the creator. Genesis 1 calls the Creator simply “God”. Genesis 2 uses “Lord God”. That may seem trivial but it certainly strongly implies, at a minimum, two different authors. Most Biblical literalists, including Jews as well as Christians, believe that one author – Moses – wrote the entire Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

New Column on Science and Religion

The Kansas City Examiner has a columnist who comments on science and religion.
The column is available on-line at

Here’s a sample. This particular column is titled “On the swine flu and misunderstanding evolution”.

“In the arguments over the truth or falsity of evolutionary theory, it is always disheartening to see how easily the theory seems to be misunderstood. It’s no wonder that people should reject a concept as ridiculous, if their impression of it is ridiculously inaccurate. Any science-related issue which becomes news is going to be misunderstood to some extent, but evolution is so frequently news, in part, because it is misunderstood. It is for this reason that it is important for those of us who recognize mischaracterizations of evolution and its implications to speak up about it. I am going to take the opportunity to do so now.

Have you heard of Ray Comfort? He’s a Christian evangelist who co-heads a ministry called “The Way of the Master” with Kirk Cameron. Yes, former “Growing Pains” actor Kirk Cameron, now an active evangelist himself and anti-evolution crusader. Comfort and Cameron earned quite a bit of notoriety a couple of years ago by claiming to have defeated the theory of evolution by extolling the user-friendliness of the banana. Apparently both are “perfectly made, one for the other,” which demonstrates that this fit was the deliberate and direct work of God, which means that…evolution is false, apparently. Unaware of the history of the banana’s domestication (by humans) and the ensuing changes over the years which made the banana so perfect in the first place, and hence renders their argument effectively like one exclaiming over how uncannily a glove fits the human hand, Comfort and Cameron were pounced on by critics who were only too happy to point out this error.

However, that’s not what I intend to write about today. Today’s mischaracterization actually comes from Ray Comfort’s cartoonist, Richard Gunther, commenting on Comfort’s web site. Taking the current swine flu outbreak as his angle, Gunther chooses to skewer evolution thusly:

The spread of the so-called 'swine flu' demonstrates yet again how useless and sometimes deadly a mutation can be. Furthermore, as the infection spreads around the world, the search for an antidote is desperately sought, but the very fact that the virus is seen as something to be opposed actually supports the Biblical view of this world. It is always good and right to oppose sickness, but in evolutionary terms, why don’t humans simply resign themselves to it and allow the strong to survive? The evolutionary point of view would say the virus has a ‘right’ to live, so 'good luck' to it!

Actually, “the evolutionary point of view” says nothing about rights, but Gunther is not the first person to make this mistake. Not by a long stretch. What Gunther is committing is a form of the naturalistic fallacy, which with regard to evolution has a long and infamous tradition dating back to Herbert Spencer’s (not Darwin’s) concept of Social Darwinism. The naturalistic fallacy is a kind of confusion between what is and what ought to be—specifically, it is mistaking the former for the latter. Evolutionary theory is an explanation of a process that happens in nature; not a description of what should happen. Spencer and Gunther have committed this fallacy from different two directions, interestingly—Spencer maintained that the “survival of the fittest” portrayal of evolution means that those who are capable of assuming power over others are entitled to do so. Gunther interprets it to mean that we should allow anyone (or anything) capable of assuming power over us to do so. But the reality is that “fittest,” in Darwinian terms, refers to those species which are best able to adapt to their environment so as to survive and produce descendents. Being bigger, stronger, richer, or smarter doesn’t necessarily make you more “fit” in terms of the evolutionary arms race if it doesn’t make you more likely to produce viable offspring which can then perpetuate the genetic lineage. And when that is understood, it becomes abundantly clear why Social Darwinism—more appropriately called “Spencerism,” since Darwin neither originated nor agreed with it—is so mistaken. Evolutionary theory is descriptive, not prescriptive. It makes no more sense to speak of evolution “wanting” something than to talk about gravity preferring that some objects to remain in orbit around others, while still others spin off into space.

The swine flu virus is doing what viruses do if they are ”successful” in evolutionary terms, and so are we—surviving and reproducing. Since we humans have evolved the capacity for contemplative thought, we have come to view our existence as being about more than surviving and reproducing, even though those things are obviously important.

When speaking about this capacity, philosopher Daniel Dennett has occasionally asked his audiences how many of them believe that the most important thing in life is having as many grandchildren as possible. Very few, if any, raise their hands. Sure, grandchildren are great—very important, actually. But we are more than just child-producing machines. Some people even choose to go without producing children at all, whether because they have a religious position which requires celibacy, or because they don’t feel that they could be good parents, or because they just prefer to live their lives focusing on other things. As a species, humans have done remarkably well at surviving and reproducing, to the point that overpopulation has become a concern for many. When discussing this concern, the question is not whether evolution wanted us to be this way, but whether we want to be this way.

So, in reply to Gunther—yes, the spread of the swine flu demonstrates how useless and deadly a mutation can be—for us. It is working out quite well from the virus’s point of view. A genetic mutation that made humans better at resisting the swine flu would demonstrate how useless and deadly a mutation can be for the swine flu virus! The mistake that people such as Gunther so often seem to make is in believing that evolution happens for someone—to benefit some species. It doesn’t. Evolution roots for no team; it simply provides some rules for game play. And that game is not a matter or right or wrong. So while we as a species continue to play it, we humans as individuals continue making decisions for ourselves in terms of what we want out of life. Because most of us want to be healthy and happy, we strive to eliminate sickness and disease…and knowledge of evolution helps us to do so.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Other types of pseudoscience

One of the many, many bad things about creationism is that, as a type of pseudoscience, it basically lets people think that they can pick-and-choose which things that science tells us they can believe.

There’s a recent article in Newsweek magazine that discusses how Oprah Winfrey is promoting pseudoscientific medical practices on a routine basis. I don’t watch the Oprah show but apparently people like Jenny McCarthy are frequent visitors. McCarthy is a strong adequate of the idea that vaccinations cause autism. There is literally NO scientific evidence to support that view despite numerous studies that have been performed. The rates of autism have increased over time and the rate that people are vaccinated has also increased. But that’s just a coincidence. No one has found a cause-and-effect relationship. The probable cause for the increase in rates of autism is that the definition of “autism” has changed and become more general. My daughter has a good friend who has a “mild case” of autism. I’ve noticed that she doesn’t make eye contact as easily as most people, but other than that I don’t notice any differences from any other person. I would bet that if she had been born a few years earlier than she was no one would have thought to call her autistic, mild or otherwise.

The problem is that McCarthy has convinced many parents to avoid vaccinations. Because of that measles, whooping cough and other preventable diseases are increasing in frequency, even to the point of causing the deaths of children. Of course some people can’t be vaccinated for legitimate reasons – such as the fact that they are allergic to the medication. The increase in the number of unvaccinated people has put such innocents at risk.

Another visitor to the Oprah show is Dr. Christiane Northrup, an ob/gyn who:

“…stresses alternative therapies and unseen connections between the soul and the body that she believes conventional doctors overlook, but that she can see. She has written about how she has used Tarot cards to help diagnose her own illnesses. (On her Web site, she sells her own "Women's Wisdom Healing Cards."

Yup. You read that right. The doctor uses Tarot cards as medical diagnostic tools. (Don't mind me. I'll just back slowly out of the room.)

The web site http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2009/6/7/739891/-Newsweeks-stinging-critique-of-Oprahs-pseudoscience-and-poor-medical-advice has an article that is very critical of Oprah’s guests. It adds this comment:

"I think that if you are someone who is willing to believe that vaccines cause autism or that when you get sick it is just your soul talking to you that you'll be more likely to believe that the Earth is 6000 years old or that humans appeared on the planet in their present form. These views are caustic to the political discourse in this country and should be eradicated.

I agree completely.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Why "specified complexity" is totally fraudulent

ID advocates, led by William Dembski, use the phrase"specified complexity" to explain how it is possibleto recognize intelligent design.

In summary, Dembski claims that something can be identified as being intelligently designed if it is complex, performs a specific function (has specificity) and is unlikely to have been produced by purely random processes.

One example that Dembski uses is:

"A single letter of the alphabet is specified without being complex. A long sentence of random letters is complex without being specified. A Shakespearean sonnet is both complex and specified."

Dembski is right about "specificity". The word"artificiality" could be used in its place. You need that in order to identify intelligent design.

Mt. Rushmore is obviously intelligently designed for one reason: it shows the recognizable faces of four former US presidents. That is very artificial. Any four human faces would be difficult to explain, but four presidents? Completely artificial! Obviously the sculpture is intelligently designed.

The scam and the fraud occurs in the second word:complexity.

If you were to ask an English teacher what "complex" means, they would say something like "intricate".

The Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary defines 'complex" as: a whole made up of complicated or interrelated parts.
Synonyms are: complicated, convoluted, elaborate, intricate, involved, knotty, labyrinthine, sophisticated.

None of those are even close to "unlikely".

That's because "unlikely" has NOTHING to do withthe word "complex".

Throwing 100 consecutive heads with a coin is VERY "unlikely", but it is actually less "intricate" than a more typically expected sequence such as "HTHHTTHH...TTHTHHH".

So why are they using a perfectly good word with a made-up definition that doesn't have anything to do with that word? Why doesn't Dembski use the phrase "specified unlikeliness" rather that "specified complexity"? Isn't that a MUCH better phrase? After all it doesn't require redefining or misusing any words.

Ah, but Dembski and the other ID advocates do this because of an ulterior motive. People have an inate sense of what "complexity" means. After all "complexity" is a fairly commonly used word. So if Dembski and the others can get people to accept the phrase "specified complexity" as a way of identifying intelligent design, then they can complete the fraud.

They do that when they talk about DNA.

Hoping that no one will notice, they begin touse the REAL definition of 'complexity' - one that has NOTHING to do with how they defined the word originally when they tried to explain "specified complexity".

Examples are easy to find.

Here's one from a web page athttp://creation.com/answering-uninformed-atheists-on-dna-complexity

"So much information is needed for a self-replicating cell that even the simplest one has over half a megabyte (that’s over 500,000 x 8 bits) of information in its DNA—see How Simple Can Life Be? ...

"Leading atheist Richard Dawkins himself admits:

“[T]here is enough information capacity in a single human cell to store the Encyclopaedia Britannica, all 30 volumes of it, three or four times over.”

Here's something from Casey Luskin, one of the spokespeople for the Discovery Institute at http://www.ideacenter.org/stuff/contentmgr/files/becbd98b35e8e07260d4e8e92784cbbb/miscdocs/thepositivecasefordesign_v3.pdf

"Intelligent agents think with an 'end goal in mind, allowing them to solve complex problems by taking many parts and arranging them in intricate patterns that perform a specific function (e.g. complex and specified information):"

Note carefully the use of the word "intricate" here. Note also the avoidance of any word sassociated with "unlikely".

See what's going on? NOW they are using the REAL definition of "complex" - "intricate" or "complicated". There is nothing in any of these quotes that has anything to do with something being UNLIKELY. Instead they are using the REAL definition of the word when they try to demonstrate that DNA is intelligently designed. But they are completely ignoring how that word was defined when they explained the concept originally.

That is completely and utterly fraudulent!

So if you want to perform an intellectual fraud, here's how the ID advocates recommend that you do it:

1. Select a commonly used word.

2. Give that commonly used word a totally new and alien definition that doesn't even reflect what the word actually means to the people familiar with the word.

3. Create a phrase using that word with that new definition. Ignore the fact that there are perfectly good words that would explain the concept without needing to redefine anywords.

4. Convince everyone that in this context, the new, made-up definition makes sense.

5. Then, when you try to apply this new concept, use the ORIGINAL and well-accepted definition of the word. Completely ignore the made-up definition you used when describing your concept.

You have just committed intellectual fraud!


You can now be a professional ID advocate.

Randy C.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Just a Matter of Interpretation?

This exchange took place during a debate on evolution.

>>> The recently report discovery of a 47-million-
>>> year-old fossil primate known as "Ida" is one such
>>> recent find. Evolutionary theory does predict these
>>> transitional fossils.-

>> It does, but you cannot confirm that this was not just
>> a genetic aberration. Fossil evidence is anecdotal and
>> cannot really be tested scientifically. We can Infer,
>> we can guess, we can hypothesize we cannot prove anything

In other words, the fossils could be evidence for either evolution or for creationism. It just depends on how you interpret them.

Here’s my contribution.

Absolutely incorrect!!!

We expect to see certain VERY SPECIFIC characteristics in intermediates. In other words, evolution makes predictions.We see those. Therefore we have EVIDENCE - and not just speculation - that they evolved.

It's the ability to make predictions that makes the difference.

This can be compared to eclipses a few centuries ago.

Before Sir Isaac Newton, eclipses had a supernatural explanation: God was sending a warning of an impending momentous event. For example, according to http://www.worldviewpublications.org/outlook/archive/078/078.pdf an eclipse on April 17, 6 BC, predicted the death of King Herod (yes that King Herod). (The death didn’t occur for another two years, but…)

Sir Isaac Newton, along with other astronomers and astrologers, provided another possible explanation: the Earth, sun and the moon were simply moving through space in a way that caused the moon to occasionally cast a shadow on the Earth. That shadow was an eclipse.

After Sir Isaac Newton, if an eclipse occurred, you had two competing explanations: one scientific and one supernatural.

That's just like the case with evolution.

In the 21st century I'm not aware of anyone who still thinks that eclipses are supernatural predictors of impending events.

What caused that change in attitude?

What if, three months after an eclipse occurred, a ruler died? Wouldn’t that be evidence that the supernatural explanation was valid?

It was the fact that science could PREDICT when an eclipse was going to occur that made it the common sense choice over the supernatural alternative.

In the same way evolution makes predictions about what characteristics the fossil should have. That makes evolution the common sense choice over other alternatives.

So it is not simply an arbitrary distinction between evolution and alternative explanations.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Ancient Roots for Intelligent Design

The Discovery Institute (DI) – the primary PR forum for Intelligent Design – has a file at
http://www.faithandevolution.org/pdf/roots-of-id.pdf that makes this argument:

“Some people claim that intelligent design developed in response to modern court cases or debates over Biblical creationism in the twentieth century. Others assert that intelligent design grew out of “Christian fundamentalism.” This selection of readings and other resources is designed to allow people to investigate and discuss the roots of intelligent design for themselves.”

I’ve never heard anyone dispute the clam that the idea of “Intelligent Design” has been around forever. It’s really nothing but another form of the God of the Gaps argument.

The web page therefore makes nothing but a straw man argument.

The “God of the Gaps” argument, of course, is the idea that anything that seems to be beyond human understanding or human ability to duplicate must be the result of the efforts of a supernatural being, i.e. God (or gods).

The Native Americans (as well as many other cultures) didn’t understand where rain came from. Their explanation: a rain god. That’s the God of the Gaps.

I personally believed that the God of the Gaps argument is the evolutionary explanation for religion. Humans were the first organisms to develop fairly sophisticated explanations for things that happen in nature. Even a dog understands that if it sits and begs when told to do so by its master it will receive a reward, only a human understands that if you put a seed in the ground and wait long enough, it will turn into a plant or even a tree.

But knowing explanations for some things causes frustration and uneasiness when things happen for which there is no obvious explanation – e.g. rain. So the idea of a “God”(or gods) becomes an explanation, valid or not. Having an explanation – even one that is supernatural and not provable – is better than none at all.

When debating creationists you see this expressed all of the time. Creationists are fond of talking about abiogenesis even though it is not, strictly speaking, the same thing as evolution simply because scientists are honest enough to admit that they don’t have all of the answers there yet. That fact gives the creationists the perfect opportunity to say, “You don’t have an explanation yet? Then God did it!”

The modern Intelligent Design movement is nothing but a more sophisticated usage of the God of the Gaps argument. They use mathematics to try to calculate the odds of things happening through natural processes. The results of the calculations inevitably lead to very unlikely numbers that allow them to insist that it could have only happened through the intervention of a designer, who can only be the God of the Bible. In essence, if I dare use the word, ID is nothing but the result of the long evolution of an old idea.

The DI article asks four questions at the end of their article. The web page at http://jmlynch.wordpress.com/2009/06/01/the-roots-of-id/ answers the questions like this:

· What do these readings show you about the origins of intelligent design as an idea?

The readings merely indicate the inherent bias to seeing design is a universal in human cultures.

· Is intelligent design a response to modern court rulings or an outgrowth of “Christian fundamentalism”?

The design argument is not, the design movement is.

· Is it dependent on the authority of the Bible rather than the observations of nature and the inferences drawn from those inferences [sic]?

No, but then again, no one is arguing it is. As a form of natural theology, it serves as a gateway to the acceptance of revealed religion.

· How long have people been debating about whether there is evidence of design in nature?

Since the sourcebooks has strenuously avoided any presentation of debate (see the treatment of Hume and Cicero, for example) this question is meaningless.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Taxonomy of Logical Fallacies

One of my hobbies is logic. The web site http://www.fallacyfiles.org/taxonomy.html shows a chart titled “The Taxonomy of Logical Fallacies”. It lists the various frequently used fallacies with links to an explanation of each one.

One example (one that I had never heard of before): is “The Hitler Card” which is a subset of the “Guilt by Association” fallacy. The “Hitler Card” fallacy is summarized in this way: A view is not refuted by the fact that it happens to have been shared by Hitler. That is certainly true enough. The fact that Hitler believed that the sky is blue does not make it a different color.

Creationists are fond of this logical fallacy. They say that evolution must be wrong because Hitler believed in evolution. There's actually more evidence that Hitler did not believe that humans evolved from apes, but even if the claim about Hitler was true, that hardly qualifies as falsifying scientific evidence against evolution.