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Aug 22 2011

Understanding Fail

Via the Digital International Atheists Group (@DIAGroup on twitter), a letter from Don Boys. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time until PZ posts it in comic sans, but I’m going to use it here as a reason to post an old favorite.

First, the letter:

Tell us that you do or do not believe the unsupportable, even outrageous teaching that nothing created everything. I promise not to laugh out loud–maybe only a snicker or two. And don’t try to flimflam us common people with scientific jargon, but make your points in clear English.

Tell us how all the scientific laws evolved such as gravity, inertia, the First and Second Laws, laws of planetary motion, etc. How does a scientific law evolve? If they did not evolve, where did they come from?

Did the evolution of those laws precede or follow the Big Bang?

Can you provide any example of an explosion resulting in order?

Tell us how life first formed on this planet made up entirely of rock? All atheists want to sit down beside

Darwin’s warm little pond and watch the first forms of life, but I demand to know much more than that if I’m expected to consider the idea has any possibility.

Do you, or do you not, believe in spontaneous generation? No honest scientist will agree to that fable.

Where are the ancestors of insects?

Why are meteorites not found in ancient rocks? Could it be that the rocks are not ancient?

Tell us how men and women evolved at the same time in history at the same location? What if “early man” had been all male!

Which evolved first, the mouth, the stomach, the digestive system or the elimination system? What good is a mouth if there is no stomach or a digestive system and what good are the three without an elimination system?

Tell us why we are here and where we go when death finally comes for us? Why have people all over the Earth since the beginning of time been concerned with that concept?

What happens if you are wrong and I am right? After all, any real scholar will admit that possibility.

Since the God of the Bible is real and eternity is in everyone’s future, don’t you think it might be wise and safe to consider this issue more carefully? If it is only possible that there is a sovereign, all-powerful God out there, then that is the most staggering truth ever faced by any mortal, and that truth will affect every person on the face of the Earth.

Is atheism really worth the risk? Eternity is a long time to be wrong. If I am wrong about eternity then it costs me nothing, but if atheists are wrong, they have lost everything, including their souls.

If you think there is not a word there that hasn’t been tried before and found wanting, you’d be right. Ignorance, more ignorance, and yet more ignorance, with Pascal’s Wager as the cherry on top.

My favorite, though, is the bit about men and women evolving separately. It gives me such a warm feeling inside to know that there are people out there so intent on not understanding. Oh, and it gives me the chance to tell you the story of Lonely Percy.

Percy would wander for years at a time;
He was terribly sad and incredibly lonely—
Percy was looking for love, but too bad;
The world had, so far, evolved male creatures only.

Percy was restless, and anxiously watching,
He knew what he wanted; he wanted a wife.
(Although, since the female had not yet evolved,
He had never seen women in all of his life!)

For long generations, his forefathers sought
For some womanly tenderness, softness, and mercy,
But cold evolution denied them their wish;
Now the burden was borne by poor, motherless Percy.

From Grand-dad to Father, from Father to Son,
Generations would pass, without calling for sex.
I haven’t a clue how they managed to do it;
The method, it seems, is a little complex.

Percy has walked tens of thousands of miles
In search of a hopeful mutation or two.
You see, he has parts that he thinks may be useful,
Which haven’t, as yet, had a damned thing to do.

Far away, on the shores of a vast, distant ocean,
A small population is camped by the water,
Where all by themselves, they just sit there evolving,
Granny to Mother, and Mother to Daughter.

Someday, perhaps, as he wanders and wanders,
Percy could find, with a great deal of luck,
He may stumble upon this remote population,
And finally end up with someone to love.

12 comments

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  1. 1
    Kaessa

    Bingo?

    That hurt my head to read.

  2. 2
    shellity

    The letter of Don Boys made me clap my hand to my head.
    The story of Lonely Percy made me clap my hands together.
    At the risk of sounding crassly Australian: Bloody ripper!

  3. 3
    F (entropy)

    Ah, poor Percy. I can just imagine him walking along with a reproductive clone bud like a dermoid baby hanging off his abdomen.

  4. 4
    zackoz

    You devil, Cuttlefish.

    That last line is a killer!

  5. 5
    teawithbertrand

    Now I know the origin of the old joke about Ph.D standing for Piled Higher and Deeper. It’s this guy.

    Some of this nonsense was enough to set off my Poe detector. And he forgot the one about “Why are there still monkeys…”

    Also, nice website he’s got there. If there had been websites in the ’70′s, they would’ve looked like this.

    Fucking dolt.

  6. 6
    astrasequi

    I’m wondering how he defines the term “rock.” Of course, the problem goes away if you define “planet” as “that part of the Earth which is composed of rock,” but I doubt that’s what he had in mind.

  7. 7
    Daniel Schealler

    Bah, why not? I could use a break.

    Tell us that you do or do not believe the unsupportable, even outrageous teaching that nothing created everything. I promise not to laugh out loud–maybe only a snicker or two. And don’t try to flimflam us common people with scientific jargon, but make your points in clear English.

    Actually, I’m not sure.

    I grant that it’s highly counter-intuitive. But it could be true.

    How? Well, my favorite ideas in this area is from one of Laurence Krauss’ videos.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ImvlS8PLIo

    If nothing is unstable, it can decay into positive and negative energy.

    A sign that this could have happened is if the sum of all energy in the universe turns out to be zero. In the video link above Krauss presents evidence that this is in fact the case.

    Even so, I’m not entirely sold on the idea. But I also don’t think it’s as snicker-worthy as it might at first seem.

    Remember: The notion that the Earth is a sphere was laughed at because it would mean that the water would slide down the surface and fall into the void.

    Tell us how all the scientific laws evolved such as gravity, inertia, the First and Second Laws, laws of planetary motion, etc. How does a scientific law evolve? If they did not evolve, where did they come from?

    Nature does as nature does.

    It turns out that nature is, up to a point, predictable.

    This means that we can create models of the universe in our minds.

    If we can work out good laws for these models they can be made progressively more and more accurate.

    The laws themselves come from the minds of researching scientists.

    The method by which they change over time is the scientific method.

    Did the evolution of those laws precede or follow the Big Bang?

    After. There were no scientists (to our knowledge) before the big bang.

    Can you provide any example of an explosion resulting in order?

    This question was clearly intended to be related to the previous two – but as I don’t consider that mathematical laws exist outside of our own minds, I think this question can be discarded.

    Simple answer is: No. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen of course. It only means that I can’t think of one.

    Tell us how life first formed on this planet made up entirely of rock? All atheists want to sit down beside Darwin’s warm little pond and watch the first forms of life, but I demand to know much more than that if I’m expected to consider the idea has any possibility.

    Jury’s still open on that one.

    Personally, I quite like Jack Szostak’s vesicle modelling.

    The idea is that naturally-occurring complex chemicals (fatty acids), when suspended in water, can spontaneously form tiny bubbles (called vesicles). These tiny bubbles can let in individual molecules, but don’t let out large chains of molecules that form on the inside.

    A quickly-growing chain on the inside exerts pressure on the vesicle – which causes it to steal fatty acids from other vesicles in its environment. They eat each other.

    Also, the vesicles grow into tubular structures that can be broken by mechanical processes such as folding in a current or breaking off on hard surfaces. In these circumstances none of the contents are lost.

    Additionally, such polymer chains can template out copies of themsleves that seperate at a given length and then template out again.

    So it is likely that broken-off vesicles would have very similar polymer chains inside one another. They’re kind-of-heritable.

    So with some very basic, naturally occuring chemistry, the stage is set for evolution to begin.

    Again: This is still new ground, and the jury’s still out. This is just my personally favorite concept to date. There are others.

    An accessible (and more detailed) summary is available here:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6QYDdgP9eg

    Original research can be found here:
    http://genetics.mgh.harvard.edu/szostakweb/publications.html

    Do you, or do you not, believe in spontaneous generation? No honest scientist will agree to that fable.

    I do not believe in the spontaneous generation of complex life – which is what ‘spontaneous generation’ really means.

    I do believe that in certain circumstances the spontaneous generation of complex chemical components is possible (and has been demonstrated – see research above).

    And I do believe that in certain circumstances these complex chemical components can crudely replicate (and has been demonstrated – see research above).

    And I also believe that such chemistry can eventually change into a kind of proto-life: Not exactly life as we know it, but something with the potential to become life.

    And that proto-life can eventually change into something that could be reasonably referred to as an extremely simple life-form.

    I don’t expect this process would be fast or easy. But I think it could happen. That it probably did happen.

    As I’ve said above: The jury’s still out on what the actual pathway was. But that there was a pathway is actually not nearly so unlikely as you’re implying by casting aspersions at ‘spontaneous generation’ – which was never on the table in the discussion of modern abiogenesis research in the first place.

    Where are the ancestors of insects?

    Umm… The same place your distant ancestors are.

    In the distant past.

    Well that was an easy one.

    Why are meteorites not found in ancient rocks? Could it be that the rocks are not ancient?

    Is that actually true? I don’t know if it is.

    If it is true, I can think of one pretty obvious idea.

    Our planet has an active surface geology. Surface rocks are gradually weathered down or re-absorbed into the mantle due to tectonic forces.

    So yeah. Perhaps we shouldn’t expect to find meteorites in ancient rocks.

    Then again, maybe we should. I’m not really into geology.

    And even then – maybe we do find meteorites in ancient rock. I don’t actually know whether or not the premise of the question is actually true.

    But even it it was, there’s going to be some plausible mechanisms for why we wouldn’t expect to find such meteorites.

    Another one: Perhaps over time, the meteorites themselves shift, warp, and change in such away that they just become miscellaneous lumps of minerals – so other than maybe an unusual placement in the geological column, we wouldn’t actually recognize them as meteorites?

    *shrugs*

    Ah well. As I said above, I’m not into geology. I’m not sure.

    Tell us how men and women evolved at the same time in history at the same location? What if “early man” had been all male!

    Populations evolve gradually over time. Any child will appear superficially identical in species, just as any two adjacent points on the visual spectrum look superficially identical in terms of color.

    It is only over large numbers of generations that populations change in a meaningful way.

    Sexual reproduction was in effect a long, long time before anything so recent as primates such as ourselves came onto the scene. Humans evolved gradually from an ancestor population that was sexually reproducing, which evolved from another ancestor population that was sexually reproducing, and so on and so forth back to the last common ancestor of all sexually reproducing species.

    Which evolved first, the mouth, the stomach, the digestive system or the elimination system? What good is a mouth if there is no stomach or a digestive system and what good are the three without an elimination system?

    Actually, I have a rather vague notion that the earliest forms of multicellular animal life were just complex tubular wormlike creatures… So mouth, stomach, digestive system and elimination systems were all pretty much just the same system.

    And over time, that one system could eventually diversify and the sub-components could specialize.

    Then again, that’s a bit vague – I’m hardly an expert, and I could be wrong about the tubular wormlike entity as the last common ancestor.

    Tell us why we are here and where we go when death finally comes for us? Why have people all over the Earth since the beginning of time been concerned with that concept?

    Why we’re here?

    That’s a bit loaded.

    How we got here is to do with abiogenesis and evolution.

    Why on the other hand presupposes that we were put here for a purpose.

    Since we’re here already and we are the kinds of biological entities that can have purposes, we can therefore create a ‘why’ for our own lives that each finds satisfying for themselves. Or not, depending on the individual – although I’d reccomend that having a why to life is a good thing as I have found it to be good for me.

    So I don’t think there is a single ‘why’ that can be supposed for (or imposed on) all people in all times. It’s up to each individual to decide for themselves – which is daunting, liberating, and forces us to take a mature responsibility with our actions or face the consequences.

    Which isn’t too shabby, all things considered.

    As for where we go when death comes: I’m with Lucretius. I did not exist for billions of years before I was born, and suffered not the slightest inconvenience from it. I don’t expect death will turn out to be any different.

    As for why people have spent so much time historically thinking about these things? Well, I think that they are very important questions that deserve careful consideration and attention.

    I also think that there is an evolved and deep-seated fear of death that we all have to either repress or overcome. I think that dealing with that fear is a big part of that historical quest for meaning and the various mythologies invented regarding the afterlife.

    What happens if you are wrong and I am right? After all, any real scholar will admit that possibility.

    Of course I may be wrong and you may be right.

    It should be pointed out that it is also possible that we are both wrong… But that wasn’t the question, I suppose.

    I think it depends on exactly what you believe. Since you haven’t gone into detail about what you believe about the world, it’s hard to say.

    Perhaps you believe that God is just, and would judge my life according to my actions and deeds while being sensitive to the context in which they were performed. If I’ve done a decent job of living – as I believe I have so far and hope I will continue to do – perhaps I will be permitted into heaven after all.

    Or perhaps you believe that God is unjust, and would judge my life harshly according to an arbitrary system of rules and regulations of which I had no hope of ever accepting as true based on the functioning of the mind and personality with which he granted me.

    Or perhaps you believe that a giant cosmic purple duck named Errol will devour my soul after I’m dead.

    I really don’t know. Only you can answer the question properly because I don’t know what you believe at this point.

    Since the God of the Bible is real and eternity is in everyone’s future, don’t you think it might be wise and safe to consider this issue more carefully? If it is only possible that there is a sovereign, all-powerful God out there, then that is the most staggering truth ever faced by any mortal, and that truth will affect every person on the face of the Earth.

    Ahh – but what if Errol is real? You could wind up being digested for eternity in the Great Cosmic Gizzard. But if you put in sufficient donations with the High Priests of the Purple Drake they may be able to alter your soul in such a way as to make it taste bad to Errol – thus ensuring your eternal salvation from The Gullet.

    Have you considered Errol carefully?

    What about Gertrude, the Eternal Pink Sofa. You can either spend eternity upon the Hard Armrest or if you are really, really good in life you may be permitted the Comfy Cushion. But if you are evil you may be submitted to the dark denezins and mites in the Darkness Underneath The Sofa.

    Have you considered Gertrude carefully?

    What about Zeus? Or Odin? Or Brahma? Or Quezocoatl? Et cetera.

    Is atheism really worth the risk? Eternity is a long time to be wrong. If I am wrong about eternity then it costs me nothing, but if atheists are wrong, they have lost everything, including their souls.

    A more thorough breakdown on Pascals Wager can be found here:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZpJ7yUPwdU

    But a brief summary:

    If atheism really is the answer, you only get one life – and a fairly short one at that.

    The risk is that you could waste that life laboring under a delusion and missing out on the full ranges of life and delight that could have been open to you had you accepted reality at face value.

    And I’m not prepared to risk that for empty promises and transparent fear-mongering.

    I like to think that I’m stronger than that.

    (Cuttlefish, feel free to send my response above off to the sender. Or just direct him here. I’d be interested to see the response, although my hopes aren’t massively high.)

  8. 8
    Daniel Schealler

    Aha – just checked to see if moderation was approved yet, and I read your opening paragraph properly.

    Sorry, assumed this was from an email you’d been sent by the author himself.

    Found the author’s email address on my own. Nevermind the end bit in brackets.

  9. 9
    F (entropy)

    @ Daniel

    Even easier, for question four: The Big Bang is not an explosion. Funny thing about order, though, is that a point of energy is more ordered than the universe is today. People have odd notions of “order”.

  10. 10
    Freerefill

    *reads*

    *walks away*

  11. 11
    TomZ, a miasma of incandescent plasma

    Wait wait wait, just the whole “ancestors of insects” bit, insects aren’t the most persuasive route to take in disputing evolution since insects, you know, spread malaria (among other fatal diseases). Again, god is too busy giving malaria to babies than to do ANYTHING MEASURABLE (good or otherwise) in the world (if there was something measurable, we’d count that as evidence, and there never has been a single shred of evidence for goddiditism, so… yeah… MALARIA!!).

    Some examples of god’s love through insects – http://www.traveldoctor.co.uk/insects.htm

  12. 12
    Josh

    @Daniel – I think your answers are very good, probably considering that you’re an average joe like me who has a basic understanding of science. I have always feared Gertrude the Eternal Pink Sofa.

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