Todd Friel’s Evolution Ignorance

You may have seen this on Pharyngula, you may have seen this elsewhere but Todd Friel’s rather bizarre piece is the perfect thing for me to tackle in my post Surgery (exam not as a patient) haze.

And it’s been a while, so this is a list.

1. There is a puzzling new concept in my renewed interest in creationism. The idea of observational science versus historical science. Which amuses me because the Venn Diagram of Creationist and Pro-Death Penalty does have a fair overlap and the Pro-Death Penalty use “historical science” a lot through the usage of forensics.

2. So Todd Friel’s got a bug on a piece of paper which he declares he is doing some observational science. What ensues is merely the most layman observation of “bugs”. I made such observations aged 8. Where’s my goddamn Nobel Prize Medal! Todd proceeds to declare this as the “true” science thus destroying every single argument made by the Bible since the Bible is not observational evidence, merely a written record that may or may not be true. Consider Todd applies the most basic logic and implies that there may be a variety of natural reasons for the existence of the dead bug on the piece of paper (he doesn’t ever claim a magical fairy zapped the bug into existence) but these are all valid reasons for dead bugs. In fact we can rank these by “most likely” based on observations about dead bugs and use this inference to make educated statements about the bug and construct via these educated statements a scenario which fits the evidence available. This is something we even do unconsciously. I play cricket, I know many readers know about baseball and football. So they will know what swing is. Swing is the lateral movement of the ball in air. Now if we mere mortals played these sports, swing would defeat us. Our brains are not wired to unconsciously understand the lateral movement of the ball. So in our mind we cannot predict how this ball will react. However with practice, we too can learn to intercept these balls. And we do so not by tracking the ball but by predicting how the ball will move and intercepting it. This is how observation of current things can help us understand how the past works. If you play catch with a small child they will not intercept the ball, they will chase it. It’s a learned skill, my dog did that when it was younger too. It would chase after the ball rather than run to a point where the ball is likely to pass it. This is an unconscious learned survival mechanism. If you don’t have this, you would probably die. You would not be able to cross a road. We know how cars move normally, we know what speed they reach and we know how drivers respond to pedestrians. We can judge how far a car will move in a set time and we can judge how far we will move and thus we can plot a course to avoid the car. This is based on observation as a child. This is a vital skill especially in India where crossing a road is life or death. Many drivers don’t slow down for pedestrians so dodging traffic is life or death. A newbie to this would be paralysed in fear because he cannot process the capacity to cross under such conditions since it is nothing like the norm in the rest of the world. Likewise if you  see Indians fresh from India cross in the west they will hurry across roads because to them stationary traffic cannot be trusted. This is because observation and experience helps construct  a prediction of how the future will work out and indeed based on current understanding of science we can extrapolate to the past.

3. If you look at a dead bug and say “I have no idea how it got there, it could be a natural event or it could be a series of highly unlikely events or it could be magic” then how do you live in this world? Do you let your kid off for not doing his homework because it was stolen by ninjas? I mean it’s more realistic to assume that your kid did not do the homework and is making up an excuse. If your response to that is “I DON’T KNOW” then you are not fit to be in charge of a kid.

4. We cannot do science on historical events?

We beg to differ

You can test historical events and indeed mythological claims. You can look at the known technology of the time period and try and achieve the same results. We know a lot about the past through looking at artifacts and then trying to experiment with known technology and different methods to produce something similar.

We even make stone tools the same way as our ancestors because there were people who went out and got the same materials and used their understanding of the materials to come up with probable methods of stone tool manufacture to the point we can reliably manufacture tools made of stone and indeed improve on the technology of our early ancestors.

5. When in doubt attack the individual. Todd Friel forgets the most important thing. Bill Nye was for many Americans, the most intelligent man on TV.

Sorry Americans….

There is way more evidence for Bill Nye’s science than there is for any of the myths that Todd Friel flogs. So Bill Nye must be a liar. Except Bill Nye has nothing to lie about. Every single thing he has said is backed up by empirical understanding of how the world works rather than the faulty understanding of the universe thought up by  Middle Eastern Bronze Age Jews. They may have been just as smart as us but we forget that we aren’t all that smart to begin with and they had less knowledge and no method of science to drive progress. So they lived in fear of the world outside the light of religion.

6. Todd Friel simply does not understand how clonal organisms work. The Old Tjikoo tree may be the oldest single tree on a clonal species but there exists the Pando. The Pando’s root system dates back at least 80,000 years with the trees being akin to mushrooms. The bulk of the organism exists as a single massive root system with surface offshoots that make up the tree. In Todd’s rather ignorant viewpoint that doesn’t count because “everyone knows the tree is important”. To any horticulturalist the root is the same organism too and many organisms “die” at the stem and form an entirely new plant. Now a single member of this group can be removed and grown like a single tree that’s a clone of the main organism but the actual pando organism still will exist. Because we think of the Pando like an animal rather than like a plant which can regenerate entire lost organs and should that organ be a “whole tree” or “roots” then so be it. Dendrochronology works due to the variations in weather causing different rates of growth of trees resulting in the formation of the ring. Todd Friel’s defence boils down to “It was all ruined by ants” (which can destroy some of these layers and thus actually cause these trees to be MUCH older) or that seasons changed a lot more faster in the past and so the rings may simply be inaccurate due to that. Which is nonsensical since it would require these trees to grow at much faster rates in the past and we know what the atmosphere was like by ice core samples.

7. He uses the term “Research” the way anti-vax use the word “Research”. He means “google creationist websites” which as we all know are a hot bed of scientific rigour and cutting edge research.

8. Denigration of evidence by implying that rocks are “not evidence”. It’s ignorance, because rocks tell us more about the natural world in ways that are useful to us. I am not an expert, in fact I have been cheating on my ASTI fundraiser by trying to get Dana Hunter (our resident FTBully Geologist) to join me in Nepal by tempting her with rocks. Rocks I do not understand. My family loves rocks too. My uncle  was a geologist before his tragic accident. When he was in a coma my aunts threw away the stupid stones because they didn’t know what they were. They saw “rocks”. He saw the key to understanding geology. The science of rocks. The science that allows us to identify oil and natural resources that has been time and time again tested and it is one of the oldest sciences done that predates the Bible. If you don’t believe me? Try making a spear head out of pumice. To treat all rocks the same is to trade diamonds for limestone.

9. Books are more reliable than rocks? Which is why wizards roam the UK courtesy of Harry Potter. I am afraid books gain their veracity from evidence. A science book is considered a truthful source because it is a trusted system of finding out how the world works (science) and the book teaches people about it. However the book of science is based on many things and that does include rocks. The corresponding Bible is NOT based on any hard evidence, none of its claims are historically acccurate. It’s invocation of magic makes it a highly doubtful source of historical evidence.

10. This is a war of world views. It’s tragic but the fact of the matter remains that we give undue respect to superstition. We listen to people whose only qualification is “belief in ancient prophecies and superstition” and then make real world decision based on these things.

11. Even with modern building techniques and the utilisation of powered tools, it took 3 years to build the Titanic. Noah’s ark would have been much bigger and constructed out of wood which is not as fast as the steel that could be shaped and formed in massive quantities by industrial processes. In addition it was “Just Noah” and if we look at ship building techniques at the time which we do know about, we would see that such a “boat” was well out of the reach of most civilisations that were super powers and had the manpower, let alone one family. You would have to invoke a lot of magic to keep such a boat functional. And if we are waggling our hands and shouting “MAGIC” then the argument just becomes stupid. This is without pointing out how there is no evidence for a global genetic bottleneck around 4000 years ago and why there are no Kangaroos in Africa. Noah’s ark is a story, a fable. Not real. And it’s sad that I have to say this because to me it’s like saying that Aesop’s fables are not real too.

12. Ken Ham claims that T-Rex ate pumpkins. Bill Nye disagrees because Ken Ham and his ilk don’t believe in evolution so think carnivore/herbivore diets are easily interchanged and it’s simply a matter of feeding on the right food.

13. The usage of the word Neandrathal. There is a specific irony in the utilisation of an entirely different species of humanoids to describe Noah. A species similar to us that lived 20,000 years before Noah’s alleged activities.

14. We had a period of nearly 4000 years before we started building metal ships. And in that time, no wooden ship has ever met that “size” of boat. Titanic follows different building materials.

15. We aren’t implying that those people are idiots. We are statiing that there was no Noah and no Flood. I think hunter gatherers are extremely intelligent. I certainly cannot survive in the Outback or Kalahari, I know the so called “less developed” people who do live there off the land live in conditions that would kill me. They are smart enough to understand how to utilise every resource availablle to their environment to create the opportunity to survive. That’s smart. They just don’t understand our technology and the way we think. When they do understand it they thrive just as well as we do.

16. Bill Nye wants to have no laws so he can live how he wants? That seems rather puzzling since the laws of humanity have improved over the slave holding laws of Noah.

17. Having your bow tie tied by an undertaker is an interesting circumstance. Now we KNOW Bill Nye had a grandfather. Grandfathers are a thing that exist, we all have them. We know funeral directors exist. It’s not outside the realm  of scientific improbability that the man across the hallway was an undertaker who only tied bow ties for the deceased. None of this requires as suspension of disbelief. While not a common occurrence, this is not an impossible occurrence. Now if this was The Undertaker this would be an even more improbable occurrence. What would make it impossible? If The Undertaker summoned his alleged undead powers and had zombies tie the bow tie then this would move the event from improbable to the impossible. But we know that having your bow tie tied by a pro-wrestler with real magical powers in addition to the suplex is silly.

It’s silly because everyone knows the Undertaker is a cravat man

18. Actually? We can find out what colour pants the chef wore and indeed the shoes on the maid by simply looking at historical evidence. Most hotels had uniforms and that included the chef and the maid and they would have worn shoes appropriate to the uniform. The maid is also unlikely to have worn stilettoes so using logic we can figure out roughly what sort of shoes she wore.

19. Stilettoes are not the same as the fossil of an animal. We may not know what colour the animal is but we know it’s size, shape and it’s rough diet. Inferring from structural cues we can also make reasonable estimations to it’s style of movement and even speed. It’s quite logical to say that in this Hotel, the guests  still paid the owners rather than the other way round because “logic, current evidence and understanding of the purpose of a hotel”.

20. Todd doesn’t get how life  functions. It’s such a fundemental failure of education. It’s the sort of confidence that comes from gross ignorance. Todd’s so ignorant of biology that he cannot fathom how little he knows.

21. And while Bill Nye and indeed my world view is fantastic, it’s based on evidence. It does not require the constant interference of a magical entity to function. Bill and me both insist the world works through understandable natural phenomenon which we can understand through science. Todd thinks we should sacrifice virgins to volcanoes.

22. Todd thinks nature is beautiful. Life spins on suffering and murder. Plants starve each other of oxygen. Animals feast on these plants and each other. There are worms that live inside the human eye and blind humans and these are perfectly beautiful too. In my scientific world view these are a species that has adapted to parasitise humans. In Todd’s? An allegedly kind god made them or god lets them exist due to the acquisition of knowledge by Adam and Eve to blind children today. Todd’s nature is the genteel nature of the country gentleman, not the nature of tooth and fang. Todd sees dragonflies and thinks “How pretty” rather than “here’s an airborne murder machine that can fly at 70 Km/hr and snatch insects out of the sky and melt their insides before sucking them dry”. We know how dragonfly “live”. Because we don’t romanticise nature.

In short? Todd’s the usual creationist, barely any education on the field of biology, appalling understanding of history and no grasp of basic history or science.


  1. says

    Not having closely followed the creationist movement, I had never before heard that whole observational vs historical science angle before. It’s certainly an improvement over their old argument, which was the same one a parent gives a two year old: “Because I said so!”

    Ultimately though, I have to side with Rebecca Watson on her advice to someone debating a creationist: “Don”t!” It lends legitimacy to lunacy and boils down to who is more charismatic, and generally speaking, religious spokespeople are more charismatic because it is exactly the most important requirement for them to do well in their field. In fact, in seminary schools, they are actually taught how to speak to a group with authority (among other things). The most successful religious spokespeople are always the most charismatic, best able to speak with an air of authority, and most likely to seem trustworthy and fatherly (always fatherly; it’s exactly why you see very few women on that list of ‘most respected/watched/successful’ religious figures. It appeals to that patriarchal cultural tradition.). I understand the skeptical assessment of these people. Yes, to me, they seem smarmy and unconvincing and patronizing, but to the regular viewing public out there (most of whom are already religious) they seem genuine, earnest, and trustworthy.

    Finally, one turn of phrase you used: “suspend disbelief”. I think maybe you’re going for suspension of reality.

  2. methuseus says

    No need to apologize to us Americans. As much as I love Bill Nye, I still prefer to watch or listen to Stephen Fry. As for creationist nonsense, I really don’t get any of it. As you said, the more evidence we find, the more beautiful the world becomes, even without “God did it” as an explanation. Whether he/she/it did or not, it’s still a complicated, beautiful world.

  3. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Right at the start of the clip – this guy doesn’t know the difference between a ladybird and stink bug?

    Then he says based apparently on his observations that the ladybird has “about” 8 legs?

    Rather than, y’know, 6?

    Also you can’t date trees over 100 years old by tree rings? Bzzt. Of course you can -many trees are much older and still alive and dateable by tree rings.

    Credibility gone right there.

    “Which method is more reliable – books or rocks?”

    Surely both methods have their flaws and benefits and depend on the skill and knowledge of the reader? Someone who is illiterate or ignorant of certain aspects of literature when it comes to reading will be in trouble with books and someone who is ignorant of geology and how to understand rocks will equally fail to grasp what the rock is metaphorically telling them too.

  4. Menyambal --- making sambal a food group. says

    Ken Ham argues that Noah’s culture had very advanced boat-building skills. Why, then, did nobody else’s boat survive the flood?

    Somebody without a boatload of animals, in a reasonably-sized boat, should have survived. There was plenty of rain to drink, Shirley.


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