The Amazing Atheist reveals his lack of humanity again »« Paper describes cost of biodiversity, though not its value

Y U NO BELIEVE CREATIONISTS STUPID?

You know, this happens every time. I post something like that letter about ducks and evolution, and the cry goes up: “POE! POE! POE! Nobody could be that stupid!”.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…Todd Akin.

I’ve taken a look at both sides of the thing [evolution] and it seems to me that evolution takes a tremendous amount of faith To have all of the sudden all the different things that have to be lined up to create something as sophisticated as life, it takes a lot of faith.
I don’t see it as even a matter of science because I don’t know that you can prove one or the other. That’s one of those things. We can talk about theology and all of those other things but I’m basically concerned about, you’ve got a choice between Claire McCaskill and myself.

I could also give you Paul Broun. Or Bobby Jindal. Or Michele Bachmann.

Do you people know any creationists well enough to sit down and have a conversation with them? I guarantee you, bizarre illogical babbling about duck monogamy justifying anti-gay laws are the least of the inanity you’ll hear. When the country is electing flaming idiots to high office, it’s silly to argue that miseducated 14 year old girls couldn’t possibly believe in nonsense.

Comments

  1. steve84 says

    Maybe when Akin made his comments about women having a way to shut down pregnancies, he was really thinking about ducks

  2. says

    I was at a dinner party a few years ago and there was a creationist there and a moon landing denier. I felt very virtuous by aiming them at eachother and watching them waste the entire evening trying to talk eachother around. But it was like some surrealist performance of “who’s on first?”

  3. kantalope says

    Translate: all that sciencey stuff is too hard so to believe it you can’t, like read it and stuff, you just have to accept it on faith. Just like the bible. Therefore equivalent and take your pick and stuff. Some authority that I already agree with tell me what to think. waaaah.

  4. says

    Technically, calling something a “Poe” is an incorrect use of the term. Since it’s Poe’s Law, after all.

    “Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing.”

    It DOES actually fulfill Poe’s Law, as does Todd Akin’s statement.

  5. chigau (this space for rent) says

    Marcus Ranum
    I hate dinner parties but I would have paid to attend that one.

  6. yubal says

    PZ,

    Thank you for kindly adding a few facts and concepts to her assay. Once a teacher, always a teacher.

    I hope she finds the link to your blog and reads it carefully.

    (For the Poe thing, I usually go with Hanlon’s razor)

  7. redwood says

    Of course Akin and Broun are members of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, along with four Republican representatives from Texas. Wonder how many of the members are climate-change deniers.

  8. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    To have all of the sudden all the different things that have to be lined up to create something as sophisticated as life,

    This I think is the real problem. The thinking it must all line up simply by “chance” before “life” such as a duck exists. Its an “as it is now” or nothing presupposition on their part. No idea of how parse changes over time. But they also never think of how their imaginary creator/designer/deity came to be.

  9. says

    I find myself continually aggravated by clods who shout “POE!” at every dumb thing a Christian is quoted as saying on the internet, as if no Christian anywhere actually says dumb things, and they are all in fact erudite geniuses. As Katherine @ #5 points out, the very definition of Poe’s Law is that you can’t tell the difference between real fundie stupidity and a parody of same. So if you think you can tell, then obviously Poe’s Law does not apply, right? Duh.

  10. says

    Let’s see, evolution is the one origins idea that is an honest attempt to deal with the actual data, but it “takes a tremendous amount of faith” (nevermind that the idiot’s almost certainly talking about abiogenesis, not evolution–like he’d know the difference).

    While mere stories in “sacred books” are entirely reasonable.

    To a certain kind of “mind,” I suppose they are.

    Glen Davidson

  11. darwinharmless says

    You really can’t tell. I had a conversation recently with a man who seemed bright and intelligent. He runs a successful company. He’s a former Olympic level cyclist who can talk about weight to power ratios and calculate maximum calorie input to achieve peak performance. But he also informed me that he is “a creation scientist”, and has taught that subject in “universities” in American. I tried to explain why creation science is an oxymoron, but it was like talking to a cabbage. His willful ignorance was astonishing. Until you sit down and talk with a committed creationist, you really can’t understand how intractable and impervious to reason they are. They are NOT stupid. But they simply can’t put two and two together and come up with four when considering an argument for evolution. By the end of that conversation, I was ready to scream. Every time I told him how I felt about things he would tell me that he used to feel exactly like that, before he investigated the subject and changed his mind. No fucking way. There’s no way he could have believed like I believe and been convinced to move to his current position by the bullshit he was spouting at me. Just not possible. I mean, come on, arguments like the old law of increasing entropy that ignores the fact that this earth is not a closed system. So there I was, talking to a living example of Poe’s law. He could have written this girl’s letter. You can’t tell.

  12. Sastra says

    The really bad arguments against evolution can usually be peeled back to reveal the same thing: people using their “common sense” reasoning. As Alan Cromer pointed out in his book title, science is UNcommon sense. Scientific thinking goes against the grain of human nature, which uses easy, common tricks and heuristics to make sense of the world. “Folk physics,” “folk biology,” “folk evolution” all use simplistic everyday models of how things work and then try to connect them to things which are much more complicated and nuanced. Religion (not “folk religion,” just religion) does the same thing. You get the same sort of confusions over and over again.

    I think you can find variations of “Jasmin’s Duck Argument” in much more sophisticated criticisms of evolution. You can even discover it in sophisticated but misguided endorsements of evolution (Look at Teilhard de Chardin and his evolution-as-progress mix-up.)

    There’s still confusion on what a “Poe” means. Does it mean we’re looking at a statement which may or may not be satire, we can’t be sure? Or does it mean we’re looking at a statement which IS satire, but so well done it looks like it’s sincere? Opinions vary.

    At any rate, I assumed Jasmin was a real creationist. I’ve seen too many sincere arguments on similar grounds to think that no, this can’t be real. I also doubt that someone would write a satire like this and have it coming from a 15-year-old. If you’re trying to make the Other Side look stupid, you probably wouldn’t make it look like this is a child’s reasoning. You’re more likely to try to make it look like this is a person who has prestige and respect. Otherwise, it’s not as funny — and means less if it manages to “pass” as genuine. Wow, you proved a teenager isn’t too good at science. The focus is off the topic of creationism.

    Of course, if you wanted to make some sort of point against Christian Homeschooling itself, you might want to use a child.

  13. Chuck says

    I’m not sure what difference pointing and saying “Poe!” makes. The whole point is that a Poe is indistinguishable from the real thing.

  14. Rodney Nelson says

    vexorian #12

    But what if Akin is a Poe?

    Considering his idea that rape rarely causes pregnancy because raped women secrete a spermicide, a “fact” which several doctors have told him about, it’s doubtful Akin is a poe about evolution.

  15. says

    I know quite a few creationists. Most of them are relatives, so I’ve had several conversations on the subject, at least when my mother isn’t around to referee (which means don’t talk about religion, science, or politics). We often differ on definitions. For example, I tend to argue that “critical thinking” means exactly that, while they argue it means “the ability to ignore reality if it disagrees with Genesis.” I’m paraphrasing a bit there, rather than give the full novella-length version with all the weird twists and justifications. A creationist complaining that kids aren’t being taught critical thinking is really complaining that they are. They also like to raise the “no intermediate forms” argument, and find it incomprehensible if I point out that ALL forms are intermediate if you consider the full evolutionary line.

  16. Mak, acolyte to Farore says

    I’m not sure what difference pointing and saying “Poe!” makes. The whole point is that a Poe is indistinguishable from the real thing.

    I’m guessing someone either got fooled by a parody or saw someone else get fooled, found it rather embarassing, and so preemptively point it out to show everyone that, see, they aren’t foolish enough to fall for it like everyone else is.

  17. Sastra says

    Apparently the term “Poe” is a deepity. “If it’s a “Poe,” then you can’t tell it apart from satire.” This has two different interpretations which, when used together, causes confusion.

    Poe definition #1:
    a piece of writing which reads like a parody. It may or may not actually be a parody, but that doesn’t matter. The point is that there’s a sincere position out there which is so stupid, you really can’t tell it apart from satire.

    Poe definition #2:
    a parody which passes for the real thing. There are two points: it can be hard to tell the real position from a satire — and turns out it’s too hard for YOU, heheh.

    Some of us here use one interpretation, some of us use the other, and some of us may be using both, interchangeably. Result: confusion.

  18. golkarian says

    “Do you people know any creationists well enough to sit down and have a conversation with them?” Ya, they’ll be easily convinced that dinosaurs are just giant lizards due to lack of UV (and also convinced of the canopy “theory”) and that the trace amount of water on the moon could only come from the flood.

  19. alektorophile says

    The only openly creationist people I really know are my rural Western US in-laws (I’m European, albeit not among the recent winners of the Nobel Peace price). An argument involving ducks would be a step up in their logical reasoning. Any defense of creationism never goes beyond “the bible says” and “that’s what you think, we don’t believe that”. And one of them is a “science” teacher at his local high school…

  20. golkarian says

    @Sastra, I think you’re right for the most part about science being uncommon sense, and this probably applies to a lot of the more mundane creationist arguments, but some aren’t just far from science, some aren’t just far from common sense, some are just far from sense. These ones would never be believed by anyone if they didn’t support (or were thought to support) Genesis.

  21. says

    The really bad arguments against evolution can usually be peeled back to reveal the same thing: people using their “common sense” reasoning. As Alan Cromer pointed out in his book title, science is UNcommon sense.

    It’s a good point, but it sort of leaves behind the question of what “common sense” means. I would argue that evolution itself makes “common sense,” more so than does much other science, because the most basic case for it depends largely upon reproduction with its obvious variations and the recognition of derivation of characteristics.

    It is said that for kids evolution rarely “makes sense,” which would likely boil down to their tendency (from, say, age 6 to 12) to be learning categories and being overly rigid in their use of them. So species must be distinct, not fluidly changing (at least having that potential). For people who more or less get stuck in such rigidity, or who return to it, evolution doesn’t make “common sense.”

    Yet to much of the world it does seem to be “common sense,” or at least not contrary to “common sense.” Line up the “horse series” (yes, a bush, not a linear progression until such is imposed for didactic purposes), or place humans side by side with various other apes, it just “makes sense.” Abiogenesis I would say not so much, but chemistry exists, magic apparently doesn’t, so we go with chemistry.

    Science doesn’t seem so much to me to be contrary to common sense, as that it rather uncompromisingly discards parts of common sense that don’t work systematically. It really does make sense to go with what we see working, but ordinary “common sense” can go either way on life, either to see how sensible derivation of forms is, or to insist that clearly anything so functionally complex must be just like machines, and made intelligently (and those adherents often being astonishingly impervious to recognition of how unlike rationally-produced machines and evolutionarily-derived life are in the details that matter). Common sense doesn’t decide between those two “commonsensical” ways of seeing things, rather, science has to be the decider.

    The trouble with “show me” (‘we need to see a cat give birth to a dog’) folks, the people to whom evolution “makes no sense at all,” is that they’re so wedded to their “common sense” and religion that they’re unwilling to consider how others do make sense of the facts. Often they’ve tied their “common sense” to a hierarchical means of deriving “truth” (religion, often reinforced by pathetic philosophy) that makes a kind of sense of their world so that they can’t understand that actual knowledge about our world is derived entirely differently.

    Above all, I’d say that there’s no simple “common sense” at all, that it’s all culturally informed and structured, although it’s built upon a kind of intuitive human sense of this world. So to someone whose “worldview” hasn’t been tied to preconceptions and the belief that authorities (including texts) are the ultimate arbiters of “truth,” evolution will eventually seem like “common sense.” To those conditioned to believe that all “truth” comes from an ultimate “Truth,” even to begin with the data seems not to make “common sense” (think Eric Hovind).

    Science probably arose in part because “common sense” can’t decide between various commonsensical notions of this world.

    Glen Davidson

  22. ottod says

    Sorry, but I’m pretty sure: POEd! I thought the letter was far too tight and well-written to be real. Todd Aiken, for example, is neither as concise or as articulate as the (supposed) fourteen-year-old. Besides, there was never a biblical reference in justification of her position. The outing is where she says it only matters if evolution is true and she doesn’t believe in it.

    Ask yourself: Could Michele or Todd have written this letter when they were fourteen, even if someone helped them get the crayon out of their nose? For that matter, could they do it now (with the same help)?

  23. ednaz says

    “Do you people know any creationists well enough to sit down and have a conversation with them?”

    Our High School Science teacher told us -
    If evolution is true, you could throw a handful of sawdust in the corner and it would turn into a chair.

    He taught at that school for more than twenty years.

  24. iknklast says

    I’ve noticed this phenomenon, and also find it peculiar. This letter would be perfectly in keeping with nearly any member of my family (with the exception of myself and my son), and the understanding she shows of evolution is, sadly, about an order of magnitude higher than that of my educated (MBA) father, who can’t understand why there are still apes in the world if we evolved from apes (yes, I know. I explained. He nodded sagely, and promptly forgot everything I said; the next time I saw him, he was all huffy about how do we know the stars are so many light years away).

    Yes, people can be that stupid. And for those of you who don’t see that, I envy you. You’re obviously living in a better parallel universe than I am. I hear these sorts of arguments from my students all the time.

  25. ftfkdad says

    Here is a sentence cut-and-pasted from an actual email sent to me by a teacher from my son’s school, which is supposed to be a MATH AND SCIENCE school. At least the teacher was not in the science dept but I suspect a similar response would have been gotten from a teacher there given where we live:

    “I was researching the great flood issue and even requested assistance from our science department. The Language department teachers all agreed that there was/is scientific proof of a great flood”

    We had a bit of fun with the teachers during this conversation!

  26. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    The really bad arguments against evolution can usually be peeled back to reveal the same thing: people using their “common sense” reasoning. As Alan Cromer pointed out in his book title, science is UNcommon sense.

    Some of the problems stem from the ideas involved in semantics. Creation requires a creator, or natural selection requires a selector. Some agency must be involved/invoked to satisfy “common sense”. Grasping the scientific definition of natural selection causes their eyes to cross since an anthropomorphic agent making the selection can’t be pointed to. They only see something like animal husbandry where humans make the selection on what is good and bad traits. A slight edge in number of progeny surviving to reproduce themselves is white noise. Frustrating be it.

  27. Sastra says

    Glen Davidson #25 wrote:

    t’s a good point, but it sort of leaves behind the question of what “common sense” means. I would argue that evolution itself makes “common sense,” more so than does much other science, because the most basic case for it depends largely upon reproduction with its obvious variations and the recognition of derivation of characteristics.

    I agree, and so I think would Cromer. You’re refining what can fall under the label of “common sense,” and he was trying to make a different point regarding the normal way the human mind tends to work, and contrasting that with the modern scientific approach.

    Uncommon Sense: the heretical nature of science is an older book (’93), but it was an early favorite of mine. Here’s a quote which might make his point clearer:

    Science, which asks us to see things as they really are and not as we believe or feel them to be, undercuts a primary human passion.
    All nonscientific systems of thought accept intuition, or personal insight, as a valid source of ultimate knowledge. Indeed, the egocentric belief that we can have direct, intuitive knowledge of the external world is inherent in the human condition. Science, on the other hand, is the rejection of this belief, and its replacement with the idea that knowledge of the external world can only come from objective investigation – that is, by methods accessible to all.

    As for the “folk” physics, biology, and so forth which screws up so much of how we visualize how things work, Taner Edis details this process in Ghost in the Universe. He wouldn’t disagree with you either (I think.) But before we can use our adult common sense we have to lose our childish instincts — and a lot of people don’t.

    What I like to do when faced with a jaw-droppingly silly unscientific argument is try to figure out what analogy the person is making in their mind. There is some context in which their point is normal and common and perfectly reasonable. From what I can tell, there always is. And what they’re doing is comparing situations. This situation is like THAT situation. They are similar in an important respect, and so what is true in one case is true in the other.

    What usually happens (not always) is that I do eventually figure out what they’re making an analogy to. And the resemblance is almost always painfully superficial, and the resultant analogy therefore completely pointless. There’s no connection between the common sense of the one case and the application of this common sense folk analogy to the other.

    It seems to me then that Jasmin’s Duck Argument is drawing on an analogy to what happens in a group of people when some people keep on learning and growing and doing better … and other people stop. It wouldn’t matter if that second group contains the leaders, and these people have nicer things. Sooner or later, they’re not going to be in charge any more. Those people who “evolved” themselves into better positions will outstrip them and leave them behind in Loserville.

    Common sense.

    Misapplied to a situation which is NOT analogous.

  28. Ichthyic says

    He nodded sagely, and promptly forgot everything I said

    I see this a lot. My own father too; not so much the science issues, but try to explain to him why it was in his own best interest NOT to vote republican?

    I recall presenting literally pages of documents that showed where republicans had screwed him over with their policies over the last 30 years.

    and, just like yours, he agreed, nodded sagely, then promptly forgot everything and reset to square one.

    voted for W both times.

  29. Sideshow Bill says

    @29 iknklast

    You are making the common mistake that an MBA is an education rather than advanced training.

  30. Ichthyic says

    Some of the problems stem from the ideas involved in semantics. Creation requires a creator, or natural selection requires a selector.

    it’s not just semantics. Our “common sense” is informed by our personal experiences, and the information imparted by our peers.

    If our personal experience is limited mostly TO the information imparted by our peers, then whatever that information has been will end up being utilized to inform our “common sense”.

    so that if one is constantly exposed while growing up to the concept of a patriarchal society ruled by an invisible but powerful deity, this will tend to make things related to hierarchical decisionmaking and externalized control “common sense”. Hence, it might seem natural to consider that god controls the weather to smite the gays, but NOT common sense to think the weather is chaotic.

    OTOH, someone raised with peers that reinforce what we actually know about how weather works would find the concept of external control to be NOT natural, and would embrace the idea of chaotic systems as common sense.

    this idea that there is a base, shared, “common sense” is, to put it bluntly, nonsensical.

  31. Sastra says

    iknklast #29 wrote:

    He nodded sagely, and promptly forgot everything I said.

    Your story reminded me of this one:

    A man didn’t understand how televisions work, and was convinced that there must be lots of little men inside the box, manipulating images at high speed. An engineer explained about high-frequency modulations of the electromagnetic spectrum, transmitters and receivers, amplifiers and cathode ray tubes, scan lines moving across and down a phosphorescent screen. The man listened to the engineer with careful attention, nodding his head at every step of the argument. At the end he pronounced himself satisfied. He really did now understand how televisions work. “But I expect there are just a few little men in there, aren’t there?” — (Doug Adams)

    One of the most succinct explanations for why religion persists which I’ve seen.

  32. Janine: Hallucinating Liar says

    Sastra, being a strict Pratchettian, I know that it is not a little man in the camera. It is am imp.

  33. Sastra says

    Ichthyic #35 wrote:

    this idea that there is a base, shared, “common sense” is, to put it bluntly, nonsensical.

    Well, yes and no. As usual, depends on how you’re defining it.

    I think you’re clearly right that we absorb what’s considered ‘uncontroversial knowledge’ from our environment. What’s “common sense” in one culture is sheer lunacy in another. There’s no single, based set of shared beliefs which unite us all. That’s correct.

    But that’s not exactly what’s being claimed in this argument. Instead, I think we’re dealing with understanding common cognitive biases and errors which seem to cut across all areas and backgrounds. What do you see in the way human children reason at different ages? What sorts of mistakes do they make? At what ages do they correct their errors… and what happens when cultures seem to want some of these errors kept around? What seems to be instinctive to our species … and when are these instincts working against reason? I think a lot of logical and rational fallacies often fall under “common sense.” Someone hasn’t thought something through, they grabbed for something easy which seemed intuitive.

    And I suspect general tendencies towards “hasty generalization” or the Genetic Fallacy doesn’t waver much depending on which environment you’re looking at.

  34. Drolfe says

    [meta]
    And now, having read and caught up on this thread, and seeing my own post…

    Ew, now that I hear it, it sounds a lot more jerky than I intended. Apologies for what might sound whiny and entitled.

  35. Ichthyic says

    gush about XCOM

    did someone answer my question about squad-view vs snap-shot for snipers?

    :)

  36. Sastra says

    Nerd of Redhead #31 wrote:

    Some of the problems stem from the ideas involved in semantics. Creation requires a creator, or natural selection requires a selector.

    Yes, I’ve seen some really, really bad arguments which seem to be based on the idea that words have real power — and we couldn’t use the WORD if there wasn’t something it REFERRED to.

    The worst (and I mean the pit bottom) example of this I ran across was a theist who tried to convince me that God exists — He MUST exist — because otherwise we wouldn’t be able to use the word “God.” You see, without God then there’s no referent and no meaning and we wouldn’t have any idea of what we’re talking about it would be just like saying blah blah blah. So there! Simple. Common sense, in fact.

    I resisted the urge to travel along the line of demonstrating that, technically speaking, “God” was indeed an incoherent cognitive mess and instead brought up the example of “Santa Claus.” IIRC his counter-argument was that, while Santa didn’t exist in one sense there WERE pictures and real men disguised as Santa so that’s what the word is for. But we don’t know what God looks like. What is the word for? Has to be God.

    I forget where I went with that. Probably some painfully slow and inadequate attempt to introduce the poor guy to the concept of concepts and abstractions and imaginary constructs cobbled together from experiences but I kinda knew this was going to be new territory here. Maybe I blocked it out. Pretty sure though that anything that made him nod in agreement was something he forgot when he got up from the computer (yes, internet debate.)

  37. Janine: Hallucinating Liar says

    Sastra, how much did it hurt to try to counter that argument? Just reading it caused me great displeasure.

  38. Sastra says

    @ Ichthyic

    “Literature?” “pdf?” High falutin’ edumacated stuff! Dag nab it, I think we just oughta roll up our sleeves and use the common sense meaning of “common sense!”

    *Spit*

  39. Sastra says

    @Janine:

    I always tried to think of arguments like that as no-lose situations. There is nowhere to go but ‘up.’

    Or … consider it a challenge. If you can keep calm and reasonable under THIS, then you’re working some mental muscles that don’t usually get worked. You’re learning how to start from the bottom. You’re learning what bottom really IS. So next argument has got to be better, and thus you’re relieved and more charitable and in a good mood.

    Mental tricks. We all figure them out for doing what we do, if we’re not going to cut and run.

  40. Janine: Hallucinating Liar says

    If you can keep calm and reasonable under THIS, then you’re working some mental muscles that don’t usually get worked.

    In meatspace, this would also involve working facial muscles. But I am speaking as a person who is not a people person. I do a very poor job of hiding my disdain when presented with a stupid and/or hateful argument. There has been times that my facial expressions completely overrode my attempts at calm words.

  41. WhiteHatLurker says

    Do you people know any creationists well enough to sit down and have a conversation with them?

    I don’t knowingly know any, but knowing me, I suspect I would not talk to any acquaintances once I found out they were creationists. I’m already stupid enough, I don’t to be dragged down further.

  42. Sastra says

    Janine #48 wrote:

    But I am speaking as a person who is not a people person. I do a very poor job of hiding my disdain when presented with a stupid and/or hateful argument.

    That’s interesting, because I tend to think of it the opposite way. I don’t consider myself a “people person” either. I figured that makes it easier for me to not feel overwhelmed with disdain or frustration when presented with a really bad argument. I’m not expecting an emotional connection, or hoping this person doesn’t disappoint me, or likes me, or holding a lot of expectations about how this ought to turn out. I’m not judging the person AS a person. It’s not about me or them. I can stand back and intellectualize it better.

    I don’t know. Maybe that’s another mental trick I use on myself. Or maybe the term “people person” is rather ill-defined.

  43. DLC says

    There’s good Poes and bad Poes. Bad Poes come from Strangers who want to hurt you. So keep away from Strangers.

    Jesus wants you to be Simple, and Childlike. He says so, right here in this book. No, you don’t need to read the book for yourself, because you’re supposed to be Simple and Childlike.
    How can you be Simple and Childlike if you’re going to go and do adult things like Learn to Read, and to (gasp!) think!
    Thinking is only for those whom God has called upon. People like me, who has been told by god what to tell you. So do what I say, or God will send you to Hell, where you will burn forever.
    You don’t want to Burn Forever, do you ? Of course not. Now, go be Simple and Childlike and pay Pastor 10% of your earnings.
    No no, don’t think about the fact that as there are 1200 people in our church, each one paying me 10% of their earnings, that I live on 1200% of your salary, just go and be Simple and Childlike.

  44. says

    A new application of Poe’s law is pointing out just how absurd someone is being. It’s like highlighting the absurdity of Glenn Beck by pointing at Stephen Colbert. I recently invoked Poe’s law on someone I know full well believes the absolute nonsense he was coming out with just to say that it was silly beyond all reproach.

  45. says

    There’s good Poes and bad Poes.

    And then there are the best Poes: Christwire.

    Not only did they recently snooker HuffPo, but they regularly posted pieces submitted by a right-wing Christian writer who actually thought the site was legit — until a New York Times reporter outed them to the writer when seeking comment for this story.

    This one is my absolute favorite: Real Women Don’t Masturbate. (NSFW). A sample:

    The dildo can have stripes (called “ribs”) or dots that resemble genital warts. They can be curved to reflect the arch of an Italian or Spanish male penis, and they can be narrow and pointy to mirror an Asiatic one. Many are electrified to simulate the aggression of any number of ethnic minorities, such as Mexicans, Brazilians and mulattos…

    Is that dark, mysterious chasm of femininity really an appropriate place to lurk for cheap thrills and grotesque ethnic joyrides?

    (Reminds me of Smoggy Batzrubble — a lot.)

  46. Janine: Hallucinating Liar says

    Abbie Smith, also known as ERV. She began what is now known The Slyme Pit.

  47. spyro says

    This is a bit of an actual problem for me; I know someone who’s a creationist; who claims to know of/read up on evolutionary theory etc. I am stupid in this regard. I know enough to know how the scientific principle works, and that it does, but we’re talking about an arts student being faced with the type of technical language that only actual biological students fully parse and creationists fully bastardize. I have never engaged with this particular person on this front, and I feel shitty about it. Philosophical debates? Not a problem; the likelihood of a god/s, religion in government, personhood and abortion…not a biggie; I can happily hold my own and usually get to the point where they back off and do the ‘I’ll get back to you later’ (and never do) thing. I’ve read stuff like ‘Your Inner Fish’ and a few Dawkins’, but to be honest, PZ’s technical posts often go above my little brain. Can anyone recommend some higher/Uni level material that’s also pretty explicit/simply laid out for literate but scientific n00bs?

  48. Ichthyic says

    Can anyone recommend some higher/Uni level material that’s also pretty explicit/simply laid out for literate but scientific n00bs?

    high level uni books… for noobs?

    kinda a contradiction in terms, but if you want to learn about evolution the way most uni students do, I can’t recommend Futuyma’s “Evolution” textbook highly enough; it’s well written, covers all the basics and more, and most of it is comprehensible to someone with even basic high school biology.

    there are digitized versions available for less than the printed hardcover textbook, and there are many used copies around too.

  49. Ichthyic says

    …OTOH, if you’re just looking to counter creationist claptrap, I might recommend this:


    The Counter-Creationism Handbook

    again, i would recommend putting the digital version of it on your phone or tablet, and dragging it with you whenever you expect to be arguing with a creationist.

  50. spyro says

    Thank you, Ichthyic. I feel like I’m in a no-man’s land of accepting and comprehending the basics, but with no grasp on the language and technicalities that a creationist will happily band about with no comprehension. I have no wish to add to the general ignorance, nor to likewise pretend that because I’ve heard of some big words I must necessarily be wiser on the subject. Sometimes though, admitting you’re an ignoramous on a subject does way more harm than honest intentions should ever cause…hence the lack of engagement (even though I’m aware he’s wrong, I’m not schooled well enough to give an educated smack down).

  51. Ichthyic says

    Sometimes though, admitting you’re an ignoramous on a subject does way more harm than honest intentions should ever cause…

    here’s a hint:

    creationists are bluffing. Even the likes of Behe and Dembski, let alone someone like Hovind, Hamm, or your average creationist, have very little grasp of evolutionary theory as it is actually practiced by scientists.

    It’s one big circle-jerk; someone like Behe will invent some nonsense, someone at Answers in Genesis will modify it somewhat to sound better to the rubes, and then it just gets endlessly recirculated.

    In short, they are as ignorant, often more so, than anyone who has taken a decent high school biology course. They just choose to lie about it. To themselves as much as to the people they proselytize to.

    so, don’t worry about your ignorance relative to theirs.

    As Darwin himself said:

    Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.

    so, you’re actually doing exactly what Darwin would recommend, and NOT trying to positively assert anything without full knowledge of it.

    :)

  52. says

    Meta, I know, but it only now occurred to me that any statement beginning with the words:

    I’ve taken a look at both sides…and it seems to me…

    is almost guaranteed to be quite entertaining. Might even qualify as a litmus test of sorts.

  53. says

    @spyro: I wholeheartedly second Ichthyic’s advice. I was much like you several years ago; artist, musician, theatre major, sorely lacking in basic biology education – and, well, science education in general. Once I started digging in I fell deeply, madly in love with evolutionary biology, and I hope you do too. PZ’s blog was certainly a big part of that: one of the few writers who can explain amazing but difficult concepts to people like me. This journey has brought me so many incredible “wow” and “aha!” moments, and as long as I live I will be hungry for more of them.

  54. says

    9. “This I think is the real problem. The thinking it must all line up simply by “chance” before “life” such as a duck exists. Its an “as it is now” or nothing presupposition on their part. No idea of how parse changes over time. But they also never think of how their imaginary creator/designer/deity came to be.”

    Well yes, very yes. The more competitive sects of xianity really lay it on thick when they go saying that their god is the only option. Your choice is “god did it” or nihilism. Frame basically every question they care about as “did x come from God?” and pick one of the only two answers.

    They are intensely unwilling to grasp that somebody could say that something doesn’t come from god, but does come from somewhere else. Life? Morals? Meaning? Bliss? Irony? Emotions?
    You can easily get them to hear you when you say these things don’t come from gods, but good luck getting them to keep listening long enough for you to get to “but they’re there anyway.”

    10. -you can only shout Poe at bad examples of Poe’s law-
    This is technically correct but I don’t think that’s why anyone calls these Poes. As I see it people feel compelled to call out these poor Poes when they think they have identified the intention to create a Poe. It is very much a cry that ” this is not good enough.”

    That said people go overboard with it and dismiss a lot of people that actually think what they are saying.

  55. terminus says

    Ok, so here’s the thing…I teach AP Biology in PA, and I use Sagan’s Demon-Haunted World, Coyne’s WEIT and Shubin’s Your Inner Fish as primary source materials for our reaction papers. I get away with this (in a very conservative, rural area) because AP represents a college-level course, and students have “volunteered’ to be exposed to college-level ideas and expectations.
    We are currently working through Demon-Haunted World (been talking a lot about the “95% scientific illiteracy rate in U.S”), and I was thinking that it might be interesting to give my students a copy of this 14-year old’s post and ask them to evaluate it’s logic from a scientific perspective (much like PZ did), followed by my own response (note: I would most certainly reference some of PZ’s comments, because I am simply not that clever).
    Somebody please talk me out of this – I am sure to get into trouble.
    PZ, you once said that you never broach the subject of religion in your biology courses…any advice?

    Thanks.
    Mark

  56. texasaggie says

    Speaking about Paul Broun, “All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell.”

    Since he doesn’t believe in embryology, then he sees no connection between a zygote and a newborn baby. That implies that he has no problems with abortions or at least with early abortions and contraceptive measures that impede implantation. I wonder if he has thought his statement through.

  57. Sastra says

    spyro #62 wrote:

    (even though I’m aware he’s wrong, I’m not schooled well enough to give an educated smack down).

    And, unless you’re particularly determined and discover a particular interest in the biological science of evolution, chances are pretty good that you might never be schooled quite well enough to “give an educated smack down” to a clever person who is going to come at the subject six ways from Sunday, sounding like they’ve grasped all the areas quite well and have problems here and here and here and now this here etc. etc. etc. In which case, there’s another option: smack him on evolution from another direction.

    I call them the ‘meta’ arguments. Like — ‘science’ itself. Evolution wasn’t fought for in bars and coffee houses, or in legislature or classrooms: it went through all the normal channels which a scientific theory needs to go through — and still does. Research and journals. Why are all the experts in agreement across so many scientific fields? Get him to bring out a conspiracy theory — and then beat him with the implausibility of this ‘theory.’ Massive conspiracy theories like this are psychologically weak unless he appeals to Satan and sin; if he does so, he has conceded on the science and reason. He’s supposed to be arguing on secular ground. Note this.

    Or get him to admit the “possibility” of his being wrong — logical possibility, if need be — and then ask him if he would be willing to renounce Jesus Christ IF he has made a mistake. Is his faith in himself? Ask about God — would he reject God (and be prepared to stand before God and personally reject Him )rather than accept a God which worked through evolution? Would he call God a liar if God told him evolution happened? Tell God he is disappointed in God not measuring up to his standard? Pound hard on this angle. Use his commitment to faith against him. He’ll probably move over, if only a little. That’s a wedge.

    There are other meta-arguments. If philosophical debates are “no problem” for you, you can probably come up with more on your own. Better ones. Some layman outside his area of expertise is arguing against the consensus of experts who have been tearing each other apart for well over 100 years. He’s in the position of a guy who once read a book on physics and is now scribbling a disproof of the Theory of Relativity on a cocktail napkin — and expecting to be taken seriously. He’s in way over his head. I think you don’t really need to go over his head with technical details to know that, and show it.

    So my advice is, if you’re shaky on the science, then stay off the science. Don’t bluff. Peel back his reasons to find out where the REAL problem lies — and then shake off evolution. Bottom line, he doesn’t really care about evolution. Make him figure that out. Loosen his grip on the argument.

    The above are suggestions which may not work very well after all. Or they may not be the right tactic for you, or the situation. Take them with a grain of salt. The books Ichythic and others are also excellent suggestions. Maybe you should think of this as a back-up plan.

  58. says

    Smart people can be creationists/theists. I think this is one way it can happen:

    Take a guillable child, and tell him he’ll go to heaven if he believes, or hell if he doesn’t. Inevitably, the child will have doubtful thoughts about the silly stories he’s hearing, and find himself at odds with his own intellect. Every rational thought he has about religion leads to doubt, and since doubt leads to hell, he must vanquish those pesky rational thoughts. To make matters worse, he might even be taught that doubtful thoughts are the devil’s lies. So every time the child has a rational thought about his religion, he will drop that thought like a hot potato, thinking that such thoughts lead to eternal torture. By the time he’s old enough to think critically, the conditioning has already set in.

    Over many years of practice, one can get really good at this mental judo. Christians can be perfectly rational in every other area of life, but when religion comes up, logic flies out the window. It comes from years of mental conditioning.

  59. Sastra says

    terminus #68 wrote:

    Somebody please talk me out of this – I am sure to get into trouble.

    I don’t know, but just off the top of my head — might it be a better idea to ask your students to bring in examples of biological pseudoscience to analyze? “Go out and find a bad argument. Like, something having to do with evolution, say.”

    My guess is that some of them will bring in creationist arguments — and then it wasn’t you. The kids wanted to do at this. It was their choice, brought in from outside. And we looked at other things, too.

    Might get you off at least one potential hook. But I’m not a teacher, and I don’t know your situation. Better see what PZ says. If you have gone as far as you have with no trouble, you may not need this.

  60. spyro says

    Sastra; thank you, you made me LOL. I iz feeling like internet warrior :) Right now, (lacking the credentials to deal with the creationist wank) I tend to do the stuff I am secure in…we’ve had major tussles over stuff like abortion and ‘what is an atheist?’ (he claims to’ve been one, yet spouts shit like ‘a truly honest atheist claims there definitely are no gods’ So, you were a dishonest atheist, a dishonest theist, or you’re making shit up?). Maybe I’m opening cracks, or maybe I’m causing a double-down. I dunno, I couldn’t care less about the crazy shit people believe in in private, but if it gets in mine or others faces I have a visceral reaction which I am not always able to articulate. Which can be frustrating. Anyhoo; to bed. Thanks for the help; sorry if I was OT, will check the thread again to see if any more book suggestions come up. Cheers.

  61. Ichthyic says

    PZ, you once said that you never broach the subject of religion in your biology courses…any advice?

    I’m not PZ, but I know for a fact that you will get a lot of great advice on just this issue from the folks over at NCSE.

    http://ncse.com/

  62. agenoria says

    Yesterday morning I went to a talk by someone (connected with the local secular society) who, amongst other things, is concerned about publicly funded faith schools in the UK and the subject of creationism came up. He said if children raise the topic in science lessons, the teacher should be allowed to talk about it.

    A bit later on I was walking past a stall in the city centre, which is often there, set up by a group promoting Islam. I ended up in a discussion with them.

    They stated: God created the Big Bang (with a quote from the Quran about the expanding universe to prove it!), the embryology in the Quran is accurate, and that some evolution occurs, but not for humans. They did not agree that the ‘science’ in the Quran is based on Greek writings. Or that though we don’t know what caused the Big Bang, it doesn’t mean ‘god did it’. Something can’t come from nothing. However, they accepted that the Earth was billions of years old. Given the time and money they are investing in promoting these views, they are unlikely to change.

  63. luka says

    I thought that the letter was a Poe not because it is crazy, but because it is pretty clever in that it starts out like an actual argument a misguided person could make, but then goes completely off the rails, first denouncing the first part of the letter (my misguided representation of how evolution works is wrong, because I don’t believe in evolution), and eventually culminating in a sentence that reads like the punchline to a joke.

    The last sentence is a reductio ad absurdum, pointing out how absurd the whole argument is: if you accept evolution, then you must believe that you will be killed by ducks.

    Also, the writing is actually pretty good for any 14 years old kid, especially one homeschooled by a crazy person.

    I absolutely accept that people believe this type of thing. I just find it unlikely that they would write this kind of letter.

  64. se habla espol says

    Sastra, 13 October 2012 at 4:32 pm:

    Yes, I’ve seen some really, really bad arguments which seem to be based on the idea that words have real power — and we couldn’t use the WORD if there wasn’t something it REFERRED to.

    The worst (and I mean the pit bottom) example of this I ran across was a theist who tried to convince me that God exists — He MUST exist — because otherwise we wouldn’t be able to use the word “God.” You see, without God then there’s no referent and no meaning and we wouldn’t have any idea of what we’re talking about it would be just like saying blah blah blah. So there! Simple. Common sense, in fact.

    The funnest response to such nonsense, at least when responding to a YEC, might be: “Oh, so macro-evolution does exist, after all, since we can use the word to name it.”
    On the other hand, I might point out that “yes, there is no referent and no meaning to the word ‘god’, so we have no idea of what we’re talking about, as far as any of the christianities has been willing to define for me.”
    spyro, 13 October 2012 at 11:18 pm:

    Sastra; thank you, you made me LOL. I iz feeling like internet warrior :) Right now, (lacking the credentials to deal with the creationist wank) I tend to do the stuff I am secure in…we’ve had major tussles over stuff like abortion and ‘what is an atheist?’ (he claims to’ve been one, yet spouts shit like ‘a truly honest atheist claims there definitely are no gods’ So, you were a dishonest atheist, a dishonest theist, or you’re making shit up?).

    When I theist starts playing the “dishonest” card, I tend to get really serious. I may point to the beatitudes, and mention that atheists don’t believe in the alleged “great shall be your reward in heaven” benefit of being a victim of slander: that I tend to take slander seriously, and that his calling me “dishonest” as an atheist verges on slander.

  65. iknklast says

    Sideshow bill: “You are making the common mistake that an MBA is an education rather than advanced training.”

    Unfortunately, I’m acutely aware of that, since an MBA is mostly teaching people how to do business. I guess that was my way of saying that it’s unfortunatel people could get a master’s degree without basic knowledge of how the world works.

    In my school, students take my classes (Environmental Science) because they assume two things: they’ll be easy, and they won’t have to learn about evolution. They assume these because they think it’s not science because they’ve been so suffused with new age thinking. They’re wrong on both counts, but it’s unfortunate that in many schools they’re right. Too many places set up a slate of “easy” science classes that students can pass so they can get their degree. It’s all about the numbers. We’re being urged to keep our numbers up, too. To ensure that students graduate. This is why so many get an “education” without learning anything. The focus is on graduation as success, not learning as success. And as long as schools are operated as if they were businesses (even public schools), this will be the case.

  66. says

    A few years ago, when the Tiktaalik fossils were discovered, a friend of mine and I were sitting on his front stoop discussing it. A random passer-by chanced to overhear us, approached and inquired if we really believed in evolution.

    What followed was interesting, at least from a people watching stand point. Paying attention to how her facial expression changed was enlightening. The woman would smile, with an ‘aha, now I have them’ gleam of confidence in her eye, and roll out some trite and well debunked canard such as no transitional fossils having been found.

    The somewhat stunned confusion that her face slipped into when my friend and I calmly countered whatever her argument was was fleeting. She would simply abandon that line of attack and switch to another pre-recorded, false, sound bite, complete with smug ‘they can’t defeat THIS one’ expression.

    If I’m remembering right, she eventually just said “I need to talk to my pastor.” and wandered off. I’d like to hope she was going to confront him with the falsity of what he’d taught her, but I fear she was just looking for a more extensive list of sound bites.

  67. says

    76. agenoria
    You could direct them to the paper by ex muslims debunking the ‘embryology in the Koran’ that PZ wrote about a few weeks ago. Yeah they’re entrenched in their ideas but you can always hope that it gives them some cognitive dissonance that may resonate until they one day realize that they’re too smart to believe it anymore.

  68. says

    I have interacted with several creationists on various message boards. I don’t seek them out, but sometimes I cant help getting involved. Every single time things get to a point where I’m convinced I’m dealing with a poe. Every time it turns out to not be the case. Creationists really really are that dumb. Really.

  69. jesse says

    I’ll throw out a counter-example of a smart person being a creationist: Isaac Newton.

    Well, you say, Isaac Newton couldn’t have known about evolution. True, but the point is that it isn’t rank stupidity that makes people creationists. Lots of people here have already outlined the cognitive biases that underlie some of it.

    But I do think that a lot of folks here don’t always grok that religious thinking isn’t just a matter of ignorance. It isn’t a matter of being stupid. Sometimes it is a matter of a lot of other stuff that goes with it, which has nothing whatsoever to do with creationism. Or even theology.

    What do I mean? Let me put it this way. I go sometimes to Tweetup meetings with other science writers. Why? We all agree on stuff, for the most part, and we all do something similar, an I suppose the networking aspect is pretty good. But a lot of us are there for the company, too. Just ’cause it’s nice to get together with like-minded people and have a few beers. This very blog serves a similar function in a lot of ways. We are social apes after all.

    For a lot of religious people there is a whole community that goes with it. And I can tell you — having spent some time with such people — that it isn’t like everybody is constantly talking about sin or exhorting everyone to believe literal bible verses. Mot of the time folks around the table talk about work, an upcoming wedding, or baseball, or any number of other things, you know?

    And this is a big part of the reason they do things like vote against their own interests. It isn’t just a bunch of ignoramuses. It’s people who have built a community that offers things that give them joy. No, it isn’t the same thing you or I would choose, but that’s the way the world is.

    People want to be liked. I bet the threat of hell is nowhere near as scary to most religious people as the disapproval of their neighbors, even if they deny it. In fact, in more traditional societies, that’s exactly how norms are enforced. See: “shunning” among the Amish.

    But I was also thinking about how we frame this stuff. Whether evolution, or relativity, or quantum mechanics is true is a scientific and factual issue. But the communities we choose to live in are not; when we talk to people and frame our choices as better, and theirs as less so, then as I see it we’re all going to be wondering why people seem to dig their heels in and scratching our heads. Meanwhile, the more religious people are going to shoot back that nobody here (at least the people I see so far on this thread) understands the realities of their lives.

    And before anyone says anything, the factual truth of that statement isn’t what matters, because we are talking about human behavior here, which is rarely rational in the sense most folks here would use the term.

    Sastra upthread mentioned getting to know what analogies people are using. I guess I would say we should extend that to understand better where folks are coming from, because only wen that happens will you be in a position to convince anyone of a damned thing — or at least get into a position where they aren’t voting nutjobs to be school board members.

    I am coming at this also from a more social-justice perspective, thinking of the big picture a bit in a way that isn’t what PZ’s original post is about. So I cop to that. But I am also thinking in terms of political strategies, too, and how to convince people to vote with their interests, and not just their “values.”

  70. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Well, you say, Isaac Newton couldn’t have known about evolution. True, but the point is that it isn’t rank stupidity that makes people creationists.

    No, just ignorance of what science really is, how it is done, and the fact that there are a million or so peer reviewed scientific papers backing evolution, both directly and indirectly. Zero papers backing creationism. That’s the facts.

    Meanwhile, the more religious people are going to shoot back that nobody here (at least the people I see so far on this thread) understands the realities of their lives.

    Ever wonder how many atheists were brought up in religious households? And how we seem to know more of the babble than believers? Been there, done that, as the saying goes. So you aren’t saying anything new.

    But I was also thinking about how we frame this stuff.

    Ah, the framing argument, home of the accommodationists. And their success record is what? Which is why we here don’t go there. Let them try if they can, and report any successes back to us. So far, silence.

  71. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    I’ll throw out a counter-example of a smart person being a creationist: Isaac Newton.

    Well, you say, Isaac Newton couldn’t have known about evolution. True, but the point is that it isn’t rank stupidity that makes people creationists. Lots of people here have already outlined the cognitive biases that underlie some of it.

    You should have stopped there, or before there.

    Issac Newton didn’t have the option and that is very important. Using him as an example on non stupid reasons people believe in creationism then hand-waving away that he didn’t have the option makes your argument pretty ridiculous.

    The rest of your argument about people wanting to feel included in their community is a pretty poor argument as well against the notion that believing in creationism isn’t stupid.