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Mar 17 2014

A Discovery Institute hack watches Cosmos

I told you that the Discovery Institute really hates Cosmos. On Sunday night, Jay Richards, Master of Divinity, Master of Theology, Ph.D. in philosophy and theology, former instructor in apologetics at Biola, Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute, watched the show and occasionally curled his lip in disdain on Twitter. It was very amusing, and rather revealing. These guys really are just gussied-up creationists.

I can’t help myself. I have to reply to these nonsensical complaints.

On #Cosmos, Neil Degrasse Tyson is recapitulating Darwin’s non sequitur that artificial selection + time = natural selection.

Oh, right: his Twitter name is “FreemarketJay”. You are allowed to laugh.

Cosmos introduced the concept of selection by first describing how dogs were domesticated by selection for a subset of animals that were less fearful of humans and could scavenge from our garbage; we have since selected for variations that produce the great diversity of dog breeds, much of it done over the last few centuries. The lesson: you can get radical biological change from artificial selection in a very short time.

Then Neil deGrasse Tyson explained how you don’t need humans to provide the selection: the environment can also favor different variants, using the example of bear coat colors.

Where was the non sequitur? It was quite clear that the situations were analogous and obvious, and remarkably hard to argue against. Artificial selection demonstrably works, natural selection requires no novel mechanisms, it all hangs together beautifully.

Anyone think Neil Degrasse Tyson will summarize the known evolutionary limitations of random genetic mutations? Nah. #Cosmos

Oh. That’s his objection, that there are some imaginary evolutionary limitations. Yes? What are they? Richards doesn’t say. Go ahead, explain how you can make Great Danes and Chihuahuas by selection from an ancestral generic, wolf-like dog, but you can’t possibly have pigment mutations produce white bears from brown bears.

He won’t be able to. The actual limitations are nothing but the inability of creationists to comprehend a simple process that makes them uncomfortable.

Cool. Dogs evolve into … dogs, and bears…into bears. #Cosmos

If only the dogs had evolved into frogs, and the bears into broccoli, then at last he’d be able to accept evolution. Sorry, guy, evolution predicts that dogs will only evolve into doglike descendants, and that the ancestor of modern dogs and bears was a primitive mammal (but they’re still only mammals!) and before that, primitive tetrapods (but we’re all still only tetrapods!) and before that, primitive animals (but we’re still only animals!).

That Richards would think that is a reasonable objection is just more evidence that he doesn’t understand even the simplest basics of evolution.

On eye evolution, the #Cosmos editors again failed to do a Google search: http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/filesDB-download.php?command=download&id=1061

Cosmos referred to the calculations by Nilsson and Pilger that the morphological changes to transform a flat light sensitive patch into a spherical eye ball with a lens that could form an image on a retina would require conservatively a few hundred thousand generations. They did this by incrementally modeling the shape of an eye is it transformed, determining that a) 1,829 steps with a magnitude of a 1% change in shape were required, and b) calculating the optical acuity at each step, and showing that each 1% change would increase acuity slightly (no backtracking or loss of optical quality was required in any step). They then used reasonable estimates of heritability and phenotypic variance and weak selection to calculate that a 0.005% change in shape in each generation was possible, meaning that you could easily get the whole transformation in 364,000 generations.

At every step they used minimal, conservative estimates for all parameters. The whole point was to demonstrate that this one process could be easily completed in geologically tiny amount of time.

Richards cites an awful attempt at a rebuttal by David Berlinsky, which consists mostly of sneering and posturing and complaining that it was improper to refer to the calculations as a “simulation” (never mind that a computer simulation of the process was produced; the paper describes the calculations). I have to say — why would anyone complain that the Cosmos writers hadn’t made note of a sloppy and pretentious internal document — it was not published anywhere — that actually didn’t refute the content of the Nilsson and Pilger paper in the slightest? Maybe because Richards has a ridiculously inflated view of the importance of his nest of loons in Seattle.

An eyeball isn’t a visual system. #Cosmos

Nor has it ever been claimed to be. They were talking about one piece of the visual system, and demonstrating that natural processes can produce that structure in a fraction of a million years. The Discovery Institute claims that no significant physiological or morphological change can occur at all, so simply demonstrating that making an eyeball from an eyespot is possible effectively refutes the Intelligent Design creationism position.

They’re just moving the goalposts. They say that making an eyeball is impossible; we show that it is, and not that hard, and they then say we have to show that every single step is possible. You know, we can show the molecular basis for light perception is present in single-celled organisms, that all of the molecular pathways are homologous and linked, and that general developmental processes can produce functional connections between sensory cells and visual perception centers of the brain, and they still claim that it requires their magic deity.

I can’t believe how bad #Cosmos is. They must have given up all hope of persuading anyone but the already persuaded.

No, but I’m sure we’ve all given up any hope of persuading the dogmatic, the ignorant, and the obtuse. Someone first has to be willing to look at the evidence, and if you’re up to that, then yes, I think Cosmos can be an effective tool for letting people understand the basics of evolution.

All bets are off for IDiots.


One more. Richards’ latest tweet:

Another confirmation that the universe had a beginning: Astronomers discover echoes from expansion after Big Bang http://reut.rs/1ivSjez

So confirmation of a specific and empirically founded physical theory is going to be used by these kooks as confirmation of their superficial and stupid explanation of the origins of the universe because it supports one trivial observation? The universe had a beginning. So what? The question is how it started, and no, that ain’t in the Bible.

78 comments

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  1. 1
    Celtic_Evolution

    It’s funny to watch IDiots contort themselves this way. This whole thread of tweets by Richards reminds me of an insurance commercial I watched recently where an elderly woman is showing off how she’s saving time by posting her pictures to her “wall”, which is an actual physical wall with pictures taped to it. One of the other women stands up in frustration and proclaims “That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works!”… while the first women just waves her hands and shakes her head.

  2. 2
    omnicrom

    I can’t believe how bad #Cosmos is. They must have given up all hope of persuading anyone but the already persuaded.

    I need a new Irony meter for this one. I’ve met IDiots before, if you don’t already believe in god they have nothing to give you.

  3. 3
    ekwhite

    What Jay W. Richards is really complaining about is that Dr. Tyson’s explanation was so straightforward and easy to understand. The example of wolves being bred into dogs was sraight out of the origin of species.

  4. 4
    Artor

    …former instructor in apoletics at Biola

    Is that word supposed to be apologetics, or apoplectics?

  5. 5
    druidbros

    I thought it was a good episode with logical steps and conclusions. But none of that matters if someone is committed to willful ignorance.

  6. 6
    consciousness razor

    Oh, right: his Twitter name is “FreemarketJay”. You are allowed to laugh.

    Well, what else would you expect? Sophistimicated Theologisticians have to worship something, don’t they?

  7. 7
    Menyambal

    I watched that opening bit about dogs, with representatives of 5 different dog breeds in the room with me. Some of those breeds have been developed so recently that full documentation exists of the process—the ancestors, the individual animals and the humans involved.

    There is a project in Russia, just as well documented, that has turned wild silver foxes into “dogs” through selective breeding, in fifty years or so.

    By the dog, I knew there were ID people with poor reading comprehension, but FreemarketJay has poor wstching comprehension.

  8. 8
    Al Dente

    Shorter Richards: Tyson doesn’t talk about creationism on his show. WAH!

  9. 9
    OldEd

    In reference to the power of selection (and mutation), artificial or otherwise, (I believe it was) Nova had a program on the work of a Russian biologist who, perhaps on the instigation of the breeders of Silver foxes (for their fur) selected silver fox cubs for lack of fear of humans. In a remarkably short time – only a few generations – he had silver foxes that went nuts over the presence of a human: jumping up and down and wanting to be petted and generally fawning over their keepers.

    Just like some dogs. (My wife and I have a West Highland White Terrier who goes nuts when we come home after an absence – five minutes or five hours, it makes no difference. Her PEOPLE!!!!! are HOME!!!!!)

    They also did the reverse experiment: selecting pups for dislike of humans. Also in a short time they had animals that were enraged at even the smell of humans.

    I wonder what the IDiots would think of this work…

  10. 10
    OldEd

    Another interesting item is an article in SciAm from many years ago in which the difficulty of tagging and following coyotes was detailed. It seems that if you handled a knocked-out (tranquilized) coyote too much – as I recall more than a few seconds – the coyote wanted to stick around and watch the humans, acting partially tamed…

    As I recall the article was the cover story, which may make it easier to find.

  11. 11
    twas brillig (stevem)

    Shorter Richards: Tyson doesn’t talk about creationism on his show. WAH!

    Maybe so, but after watching ALL of NdT’s COSMOS, I think he was really wailing about how NdT attacked “Intelligent Design” as a failed fantasy/delusion. He simply said, “Something as complex as the eye, doesn’t need an intelligent designer, natural processes are completely sufficient, and here’s how, let me show you.” Richards is just wailing, “He didn’t disprove ME! He’s Wrong, I’m Right!”

  12. 12
    zmidponk

    we have since selected for variations that produce the great diversity of dog breeds, much of it done over the last few centuries. The lesson: you can get radical biological change from artificial selection in a very short time.

    Then Neil deGrasse Tyson explained how you don’t need humans to provide the selection: the environment can also favor different variants, using the example of bear coat colors.

    This is the part I simply don’t get about those who claim that evolution and/or natural selection didn’t happen or is impossible – we know selection can radically change animals, for the very simple reason that we’ve done it, and have been doing it for quite some considerable time, leading to differences like a Chihuahua and a Great Dane originally coming from the same ancestral group. Is it really such a difficult idea to grasp that it doesn’t necessarily have to be humans, or indeed, any kind of intelligent agency, doing the selecting, and therefore this very same mechanism could, quite naturally, cause even greater differences, especially when you’re talking about timescales that are orders of magnitude greater than the ones humans have been buggering about with animals for?

  13. 13
    ck

    eoleen wrote:

    I wonder what the IDiots would think of this work…

    Well, that’s easy. “They’re still foxes.” Hell, find a way to evolve a fox into broccoli, and they’ll just say, “They’re still eukaryotes. You haven’t proven evolution true!”

  14. 14
    twas brillig (stevem)

    re “silver foxes @SciAm”:

    IIRC, they tried breeding the foxes simply based on the pups’ behaviors; but in addition to breeding “dogs”, a side-effect was “cute” dogs/foxes. Noting that that is why dogs look like they do, just from breeding “nice” dogs, not by breeding them based on looks alone.

    I hope that’s clear, my transcription of my thoughts is somewhat ‘discombobulated’.

  15. 15
    Usernames are smart

    This is the part I simply don’t get about those who claim that evolution and/or natural selection didn’t happen or is impossible
    — zmidponk (#12)

    For extra-credit fun, ask the circumambulating IDiot how all these dog breeds came about if there were only 2 (or 7) dogs on the “ark”.

  16. 16
    sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d

    The universe had a beginning.Did it?
    The “big bang” was when the universe became the way it is now. There is no reason to think whatever caused it was external to whatever became the universe was before it happened.

  17. 17
    Desert Son, OM

    PZ posted:

    Oh, right: his Twitter name is “FreemarketJay”.

    A member of the Church of ReallyWantItToBeGod’CauseHowElseToExplain?, and a member of the Church of MarketÜberAlles? Terrific. [StephenFry] And I use that term quite wrongly. [/StephenFry]

    From the subject tweets:

    They must have given up all hope of persuading anyone but the already persuaded.

    I remember watching the Sagan-era Cosmos on public television with my parents as a youth. I was totally entranced, start to finish. I loved the information, loved the animation, loved the music, loved Sagan’s demeanor which always felt inviting and interested in sharing the wonder of existence. And at the time, I was too young to be “already persuaded” (I was, lessee . . . *counts on fingers* . . . seven). It was new information to me! A few years ago I re-watched it after not having seen it in years. Still loved it. I look forward to seeing Neil deGrasse Tyson’s version, too (haven’t had opportunity to start watching yet).

    ••••

    zmidponk at #12:

    especially when you’re talking about timescales that are orders of magnitude greater

    I’m starting to wonder if this is one of the fundamental issues underlying creationism’s and creationism-in-disguise’s inability to grapple with things like evolution. At some point, acknowledging even just the idea of a massive amount of time—and very specifically a massive amount of time that does not include human beings—means taking a step closer to abandoning the idea of a universe that cares about humans especially.

    Still learning,

    Robert

  18. 18
    NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

    In reference to the power of selection (and mutation), artificial or otherwise, (I believe it was) Nova had a program on the work of a Russian biologist who, perhaps on the instigation of the breeders of Silver foxes (for their fur) selected silver fox cubs for lack of fear of humans. In a remarkably short time – only a few generations – he had silver foxes that went nuts over the presence of a human: jumping up and down and wanting to be petted and generally fawning over their keepers.

    Which episode! I wanna see it! I’ve always been fascinated by the evolution of the dog. I honestly can’t think of a better analogy for natural selection.

  19. 19
    mikeyb

    I still don’t know what these IDiots hope to accomplish. If I want to turn off my brain and say godditit, I’d stick to Genesis, it’s much simpler than reading the obtuse unreadable incoherent babbling coming out of the likes of William Dembski or Michael Behe. I’m sure your standard bible believing Christian doesn’t know what the fuck they are talking about any more than an atheist does. All you need to know to understand ID anyway is the word complexity complexity complexity complexity repeated endlessly. Ken Ham and Ray Comfort, as totally obnoxious as they are, are still way more clear than these IDiots ever will be. IDiots are just creationists who want to wrap up their creationism into some sort of mathematical mumbo jumbo to make them feel better and less ashamed that they believe such simplistic mythic BS.

  20. 20
    Marcus Ranum

    Here’s another cool bit of evolution in action:
    http://www.webmd.com/children/news/20140314/head-lice-growing-resistant-to-standard-meds
    Some head lice have a mutation that makes them resistant to pyrethrin/permethrin, which means that as the head lice that can be killed by pyrethrin are being killed, the resistant ones are flourishing. Just like you’d expect.

  21. 21
    Jafafa Hots

    Master of Divinity. :D

    I’d have a hard time stopping myself from grinning if someone claimed that “credential” in conversing with me.

    - Jafafa Hots, Doctor of Awesomeness.

  22. 22
    atheistblog

    Wait a min, aren’t those theological studies are supposed to teach historical perspective about religion and theology, right ? When did they teach half baked General Relativity and Inflation in theology ?
    What PhD did he get ? These people are shame for those do doctorate in Philosophy, Ethnology, even real theology. Theology should be about studying of evolution of religion and historical events, not pseudo science.

  23. 23
    efogoto

    @zmidponk 12

    This is the part I simply don’t get about those who claim that evolution and/or natural selection didn’t happen or is impossible

    It’s like they don’t understand that the humans aren’t doing anything other than 1) selecting the mating pairs and 2) helping the offspring to survive. As though, if the same pairs had mated in the wild and the offspring had the same survival rates, there would have been a different outcome without the humans.

  24. 24
    anteprepro

    Here, let me see if I can do a Sophisticated Professsor Creationist impresion:

    “Now they postulate that homo sapiens came from monkeys, yet, inexplicably, monkeys still remain. How droll.”

    Did I get it? Do I get to teach at Biola now?

  25. 25
    Rey Fox

    Shorter Richards: Tyson doesn’t talk about creationism on his show. WAH!

    They’re mad that their moldy old crap doesn’t capture imaginations. I think of that “The Pain” (Tim Krider) comic with the caveman throwing a rock at a passing rocketship.

  26. 26
    anteprepro

    Some head lice have a mutation that makes them resistant to pyrethrin/permethrin, which means that as the head lice that can be killed by pyrethrin are being killed, the resistant ones are flourishing. Just like you’d expect.

    But that’s just Microevolution! Everybody believes in that! In order to believe in Real Evolution, you need to show us head lice that are also half-elephant. Can’t do it, can you Darwinistas? Checkmate.

  27. 27
    chigau (違う)

    What are God’s eyelash lice like?
    Are they, like, really awsome?

  28. 28
    chigau (違う)

    So, my spellcheck actually let “awsome” through.
    frrghgfghddhjf

  29. 29
    anteprepro

    I love that “failed to do a Google search” tweet. Such unwarranted self-importance and smugness. Cosmos , an incredibly popular TV show hosted by an incredibly popular actual scientist, failed to do their homework by…looking up an article on your rinky-dink website, written by a hack “philosopher”, which is just an extended, pompous whine about being negatively mentioned in a review for a book by Ann Fucking Coulter, with a title that sounds like it is just a fanfic. Yes, that is some real fucking necessary, authoritative, scholarly material, right there.

  30. 30
    Menyambal

    I like that he used the word “persuaded”. I often think those goobers deal in persuasion, not in proof

    Speaking of pests, I was trying to build a barricade to stop the neighborhood kids taking a shortcut through my yard, and I thought, “I need to make it high enough to stop all of them now, because if any of them go over it now, they will keep going over it as I increase it in height.” Then I blinked and thought, “Hey, evolution.”

  31. 31
    chigau (違う)

    Menyambal
    razor wire
    and/or
    electric fence
    multiple strands

  32. 32
    ck

    @chigau,

    Those are mites, not lice. Mites are arachnids, while lice are insects. The fact that creatures like demodex exist is pretty awesome in and of itself, I’ve got to say.

  33. 33
    Hank_Says

    Look, guy, just because your particular progenitor population of overtly-religious creationists (Homo genesis) was intelligently redesigned into covertly-religious design proponents (Homo utterbollocksii) in response to the environmental pressures of science, truth and The Fuckin’ Law™, it doesn’t mean every survival-prolonging change in a population requires micromanagement and tinkering about.

  34. 34
    Jafafa Hots

    IIRC, they tried breeding the foxes simply based on the pups’ behaviors; but in addition to breeding “dogs”, a side-effect was “cute” dogs/foxes. Noting that that is why dogs look like they do, just from breeding “nice” dogs, not by breeding them based on looks alone.

    The color of their fur changed, ear and face shape I think, and if I remember correctly they even started “barking” like dogs. Also I think they got bigger.
    I have the episode stored on some old hard drive somewhere.

    Foxdogs are CUTE. And after the fall of the USSR, they started selling them as pets to help fund the project.
    I think it’s hard to get one though.

  35. 35
    chigau (違う)

    ck
    I sit corrected.
    mites/lice whatever, I agree on the coolness.
    God™’s must be really big, though.
    Scary big.
    scaaaarrrryyyy

  36. 36
    krubozumo

    I never watch any television, there was a time 55 years ago perhaps when it was brand new and interesting for its novelty. Since, not so much. I didn’t watch the original cosmos and probably won’t see much of this one if any due to #1 isolation and #2 lack of interest. There are better sources of information than the tee vee. I in fact was always fascinated with astronomy, astrophysics and cosmology and even studied in that direction a little but ultimately decided to look inward rather than outwards. I can in fact clearly remember the turning point, it was cracking open a xenolith from a small kimberlite and seeing what a chunk of upper mantle looked like – kind of amazing. So – different paths ultimately. I don’t think TV is the right medium for science, it is kind of like trying to strain caviar out of a cauldron of simmering bull excrement. Even if you manage it you’re not going to be happy with the result.

    I don’t in any sense mean to criticize the effort to “popularize” science. Or more generously inform a wider audience of its findings. I guess that is laudable. But I do think there are better ways to go about it which are ever more at risk of being trivialized and corrupted.Unfortunately they do not enjoy as wide
    an audience as television programs do, or at least not in such a compact interval. No point in pursuing
    that particular tangent. More broadly I think the thing the motivates so much antipathy and denial of
    science is the seemingly universal human need to think of ourselves as both individuals and the larger
    group as special. Well we are, so what? I think dragonflies are pretty special too. And whales, and teak trees, and lichens. My general impression of religious people is that they could never face the reality of
    having to grow up and let go of the idea there would always be someone who would take care of you.
    Well folks, its not true. You and I and all of us are on our own, unless we choose not to be.

    Belief in god is the short path to knowledge and wisdom, both revealed and unladen with any effort that could be called reason. Ironically, reason is one of our most special characters.

    Fear is the motivator for choosing the easiest path on offer. Given the way education is generally conducted simple fear of being wrong is almost enough to explain the statistical bias towards faith. That is perhaps the greatest beauty of science. No matter what you do and how hard you try, to a certain extent you are always wrong about something, thus – more science. One of the most frustrating
    things about it is that there are so many alternative ideas you can pursue. It is not even a matter of selecting the one that leads to something ‘big’. A lot of work comes to dead ends where it is either technically or conceptually impossible to make further progress. So you have to back down the tree a branch or two and try another.

    It is lucky that human lifetimes are so short. Else we might live to see the consequences of our short sightedness and superstition.

    Taken in the overall context of the cosmos of course, human civilization is nothing more at the moment than a spark of static electricity.

    There are two very simple things we need to understand. #1 we are on our own, our own actions will determine our destiny. #2 Never forget #1.

    “and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well,
    until the tongues of flame are infolded, into the crowned knot of fire
    and the fire and the rose are one.”

  37. 37
    Desert Son, OM

    Jafafa Hots at #21:

    Master of Divinity . . . Doctor of Awesomeness

    If this isn’t a comic book series about the daring exploits of a wandering mystical martial-artist and a steampunk scholar/adventurer banding together to solve crimes, right wrongs, and explore the mysteries of the world, well, it ought to be.

    Still learning,

    Robert

  38. 38
    Lofty

    I don’t think that scientists and Pharyngulites are the target audience of the IDiots tweets. Their flock is though and they’ll lap up the “masterful” responses like they’re the finest wine…

  39. 39
    garydargan

    I suspect there is a creationist sanitized version of Cosmos doing the rounds. I had to wait till a week after the “simultaneous premiere” before it was broadcast in Malaysia. Nod dogs or bears. No artificial or natural selection and evolution was so well disguised you had to know about it to find it.

  40. 40
    garydargan

    Mind you running a week behind might mean that dogs will evolve in the next episode. Wow! 7 days that’s longer than they took in the bible.

  41. 41
    woozy

    Another confirmation that the universe had a beginning: Astronomers discover echoes from expansion after Big Bang http://reut.rs/1ivSjez

    Good fucking grief!

    I’m really getting sick of this tactic. Out of nowhere some creationist will frame some point that evolutionist have to believe such and such and then suddenly creationists always claimed such and such and evolutionists always claimed so and so.

    So creationists have been arguing a young universe and realists have claimed the big bang. Then suddenly three weeks ago during the Craig-Caroll debate Craig comes up with the idiotic argument that if the universe had a beginning then it must have had an external source and then suddenly creationists have always claimed the universe had a beginning and evolutionists have always claimed the universe doesn’t have a beginning and a universe having a beginning is an utter clincher for god and atheists have always been desperately clinging to the idea that the universe had no beginning because they need that to deny god.

    And so we find more evidence confirming the big bang and illuminating or understanding of the big bang and suddenly it’s a case for creationism?!?!? Because, it indicates a beginning! Ha! suck that, atheists, who have been claiming forever that the universe had to exist for ever in some eternal bubble until it hiccupped and had a big bang but still always existed ’cause you always claimed the universe had no beginning and the big bang was …. well, I forget what you atheists claimed the big bang was but it wasn’t the beginning because everyone knows atheists claim the universe didn’t have a beginning so … um… yeah, suck it! Go gravitational waves!

    They do this all the time. Everyone knows atheists don’t believe in free will because that implies ackowledging the soul and morality . Everyone knows christians know free will is, of course, god’s gift to allow human salvation ’cause theists like Martin Luther and Thomas Aquinas and medeavel catholic popes so admired human ability to do the right thing that they created the concept of free will to show that the human soul’s will is more perfect than god’s will. Yep, that’s what theists have always believed but atheists have always claimed, no, we can’t think nor choose for our selves cause the ability to think for ourselves just proves god. Yep, that’s how it’s always been.

    Creationists have always believed dinosaurs were mentioned in the bible but atheist hate kids so they are taking their dinosaurs away which were mentioned *everywhere* in the bible.

    … and so on…

    So, this “The universe had a beginning! Told you!” is the new thing we’re going to have to deal with forever from now on, eh? Gads, this is *not* going to be fun…

  42. 42
    sonderval

    Concerning the Farm-Fox-Experiment: I have blogged about this some time ago:
    http://scienceblogs.de/hier-wohnen-drachen/2012/08/24/wie-tiere-zu-haustieren-wurden-das-fuchs-experiment/
    (in German, though)
    Here is a link to a paper in Am. Sci:
    http://www.hum.utah.edu/%7Ebbenham/2510%20Spring%2009/Behavior%20Genetics/Farm-Fox%20Experiment.pdf

  43. 43
    robro

    Another confirmation that the universe had a beginning: Astronomers discover echoes from expansion after Big Bang…

    I don’t get his point. I assume he’s referring to the BICEP2 announcement but I don’t see how evidence of inflation helps the ID case. To my mind it’s another nail in their coffin, should the results be confirmed. Subatomic physics had already given us a mechanism for getting something from nothing. Inflation gives us a mechanism to get from such an infinitesimally small event to a very large universe quickly. So natural mechanisms can do it all. You don’t need an intelligent designer to start the process and you don’t need an intelligent designer to make a big universe. ID looses yet another round.

    Perhaps it’s like Karl Wallinger sings:

    “Many years ago he looked out through a glasses window
    Didn’t understand much that he saw”

  44. 44
    cyref

    The NOVA episode ‘Dogs Decoded’ is unfortunately unavailable to stream from PBS. The transcript is here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/nature/dogs-decoded.html

    The entire episode can be viewed on youtube: http://youtu.be/gAnVS27WODg

    I am thrilled with the new Cosmos series! And also thrilled that my daughter and grandchildren are watching, just as I watched Carl’s Cosmos with my young daughter so many years ago.

  45. 45
    birgerjohansson

    “Many years ago he looked out through a glasses window
    Didn’t understand much that he saw”

    Crows caw. Nutters nut. No surprises here.

    “Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute,2 -Is it well paid? I think I could handle that job.

  46. 46
    rorschach

    If “Cosmos” upsets the Disco Tute, they must be doing something right!

    In reference to the power of selection (and mutation), artificial or otherwise, (I believe it was) Nova had a program on the work of a Russian biologist who, perhaps on the instigation of the breeders of Silver foxes (for their fur) selected silver fox cubs for lack of fear of humans.

    That was Dimitri Belyaev. Dawkins mentions his research in GSOE.

  47. 47
    raven

    The Russian fox dog breeding program is usually considered an example of neotonization. The persistence of juvenile characters into adulthood by modifying the developmental program.

    So are dogs, cats, and…humans. IIRC, baby chimpanzees look a lot more like baby humans than the two corresponding adults.

  48. 48
    petemoulton

    Menyambal @ 30 sez: “I like that he used the word “persuaded”. I often think those goobers deal in persuasion, not in proof.”

    That’s exactly right. ID and the Disco ‘Tute exist solely as a PR operation to make their breed of creationism seem sciencey enough to sneak into public school science curricula through the back door. Their infamous “wedge document” destroys any other pretensions they might have.

  49. 49
    azhael

    As i was watching them episode it was obvious what the IDiots would say about the dog example….”they are still dogs”. Saw that coming from over the hill. I only wish these people had any clue about the extent of morphological and physiological changes that can be found among dogs these days so that they could see that the differences are not merely skin deep. I also wish they had, you know, a functional brain to grasp the idea of natural selection…but i´m not holding my breath.

    I liked the episode and i thoroughly enjoyed that it holds no punches, in fact there were some occasions when it almost was a bit over the top. It felt like Neil was looking the fundies in the eye and thinking “yes, this is for you motherfuckers”. The were two things that really annoyed me, though, one was the mistake with the bacteria and their light-sensitive proteins. The bacterial eye-view was total horseshit, specially after you´ve made the point that in order to see you need not just light-sensitive chemicals, but also a nervous system. Bacteria can´t see, period. The other mistake was to refer to kinesins as “creatures”….confuse people why don´t you!
    Anyway, despite those two things i think it was a fantastic program for young minds, that unapologetically delivered important concepts and ideas and did a fairly good job of representing the subject. I think unpoisoned young minds will benefit a great deal from this series.

  50. 50
    knowknot

    A write up on the Russian work with the silver foxes can be found here

    http://www.terrierman.com/russianfoxfarmstudy.pdf
    and here

    http://www.americanscientist.org/issues/issue.aspx?id=813&y=0&no=&content=true&page=2&css=print
    If you can see the Nova piece, do. There’s something amazing, seeing Lyudmila Trut with those creatures, and hearing her talk about them. Something deep between them. She’s an example of doing science with all the humanity left in, which certain types think impossible. I found it beautiful and touching, for reasons I can’t explain.
    |
    #17 Desert Son, OM

    I’m starting to wonder if this is one of the fundamental issues underlying creationism’s and creationism-in-disguise’s inability to grapple with things like evolution. At some point, acknowledging even just the idea of a massive amount of time—and very specifically a massive amount of time that does not include human beings—means taking a step closer to abandoning the idea of a universe that cares about humans especially.

    - Once, when I was still trying to live among the faithful while being astonished at many of the views I encountered regularly (I believed that there was something that transcended the crap, whole ‘nother story), I had a conversation with a neighborhood boy. He was around 13 at the time.
    - While we were talking, a fly began to fuss over me. After I’d sent it in some other direction, the boy, who was actually quite intelligent, said “That’s one of the things I’m going to ask God when I get there. Why make flies? They serve no purpose but irritation.” And I said, kidding, sorta, “Why make us?”
    - And It was as though all the wheels in his head jammed. Nothing. Incomprehensible.
    - I’d already become weary of the “we are the purpose of all things” crap, but this one conversation and that one response wedged itself in in my bones… this 13 year old human was so completely and profoundly certain that people, or really, him and his, were the shallow and narrow focus of everything that exists that it wasn’t even possible to conceive of wondering about it. Just wonder was impossible, much less doubt. Because If any object of any kind failed to serve a purpose for humans, and especially for saved humans, its existence was an unimaginable mystery. And that way of seeing things was as plain and natural to him as breath, and weight, and his family’s love.
    - Of course, that sort of shiny, solid, impenetrable faith so rarely survives youth that saying it never does is effectively nihil obstat. But the conviction that it should is driven so deep by elders that already don’t have it, that the layers of deception begin to grow, bit by bit with experience, and the reaction to challenge becomes a little less sunny, a little more defensive, a more decisive, even if silent.
    - Because the question of the fly gradually becomes horrible, I think. Repulsive. Because maybe you’ve felt that small, maybe you’ve been swatted, or nearly so. A speck of black in the black.
    - And there is no beauty, no “sense of the numinous,” no compassion or blessing matching God’s to fill the void. Just that subjectively objective shininess you really should have.
    - So, yeah. Every point of contention in terms of scale is a cause for every possible defense. The price of forbearance is far too high.

  51. 51
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    Jay Richards, Master of Divinity, Master of Theology, Ph.D. in philosophy and theology, former instructor in apologetics at Biola, Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute, doesn’t understand what a non sequitur is if he thinks it can be applied to an equation.

  52. 52
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    @eoleen #9

    Hey I remember that! I can’t remember where I watched it, though. It may well have been at school.

    Anyway, if I remember correctly, the foxes also started to look like dogs. Their ears flopped forward, their snouts got broader, and their colouration changed to collie-like black and white (thus ruining the original point of the experiment, since it was to breed silver foxes for their fur, but breed ones that wouldn’t rip the keepers hand off at the first available opportunity). I’m pretty sure they started barking too, though I could be wrong there. It was something to do with the genes being “linked” (I forget the proper terminology, IANAB), so selecting for the behavioural gene meant selecting for the aesthetic genes whether you wanted to or not. I thought it was really cool; and it provided some insight into why a friendly wolf somehow ended up looking like a golden retriever :)

  53. 53
    comfychair

    Wow, so Cosmos wasn’t even able to consider the possibility that all that evidence for evolution could have been put there by magic just to test our faith? LOL, so closed-minded…

  54. 54
    Who Cares

    About the Big Bang. It is more a point beyond we cannot look back. There are a bunch of hypotheses,not likely to get ever further then that stage, that suggest something might have/can exist(ed) before the bang.

    So he can’t even make the claim in the last tweet.

  55. 55
    Paulino

    Inflation occurs before the Big Bang. The Big Bang is when the energy of a pimple in the inflationary field is transformed into “regular” energy and matter. It’s all there in Bible:

    Genesis 1:
    God walked upon the inflaton field,
    and created matter from it,
    and gravitational waves rippled across the firmament,
    and polarized photons,
    and He asked Sean Carroll if it was ok.

    http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2014/03/16/gravitational-waves-in-the-cosmic-microwave-background/

  56. 56
    carlie

    Speaking of the big bang, has everyone watched this video of the person who discovered the waves bringing the news to two of the people who hypothesized it 30 years ago? It’s making me so happy today. So heartwarming and moving. It was brilliant of the guy to think to deliver the news in person and with a camera to record it.

  57. 57
    danrobinson

    One look at this guys CV tells the tale.
    Theology, Divinity, Apologetics, Philosophy, Discovery Institute

    Theology: The study of ignorance
    Divinity: The study of how lovely ignorance is
    Apologetics: How to argue in favor of ignorance
    Philosophy: Ok, I sorta like this one but is it even science?

    What a maroon.

  58. 58
    DonDueed

    @carlie: great video!

    @danrobinson: actually, science is a branch of philosophy. A honkin’ big branch, which seems to have pretty much choked the life out of some other branches, such as theology.

  59. 59
    Hercules Grytpype-Thynne

    Cosmos referred to the calculations by Nilsson and Pilger …

    It’s Nilsson and Pelger. The misspelling of Pelger’s name apparently traces back to Berlinski, who consistently renders it as “Pilger”.

  60. 60
    gussnarp

    The responses to Cosmos from the religious apologists of all stripes, beginning with the bizarre criticism of the inclusion of Bruno in the first episode and proceeding to creationists making their usual tired and false arguments against the evidence for evolution presented in the second episode, demonstrates, more than anything, that these people are terrified of this show and its potential impact. In that, at least, I hope they’re right.

  61. 61
    twas brillig (stevem)

    There are a bunch of hypotheses,not likely to get ever further then that stage, that suggest something might have/can exist(ed) before the bang.

    “Suggestions” are merely the FIRST step of the Science process. I’ve always followed the great living prophet of Science, Stephen J. Hawking, who asks (metaphorically), “What is North of the North Pole?” as equivalent to “What happened before the beginning of Time”. The BigBang was not just the creation of space and matter/energy, It was the creation of spacetime. period. Spacetime is not just space+time but the total everything, not a combination of two things but a single thing only.

    But I’m no expert, I must not dismiss these ideas without careful consideration. I just don’t want my brain to explode with strings, and multiple dimensions, etc. Forgive me, I’m stupid…

  62. 62
    woozy
    Another confirmation that the universe had a beginning: Astronomers discover echoes from expansion after Big Bang…

    I don’t get his point. I assume he’s referring to the BICEP2 announcement but I don’t see how evidence of inflation helps the ID case. To my mind it’s another nail in their coffin, should the results be confirmed.

    It’s because of the Craig-Caroll debates a few weeks ago. Just as the Hamm-Nye debates made “Were you there” a rallying cry of the creationists, the Craig-Caroll debate has made “The universe had a beginning” a rallying cry of the IDiots.

    Craig drew out the tired old and internally flawed “first cause” argument and addressed it as axiomatic. 1) all things that have beginnings have external causes and 2) the universe has a beginning ergo C)the universe has an external cause (and somehow he assumed that because the fictional god would be an external cause, it follows that any external cause would be the fictional god, I mean, why not? Lack of knowledge means doubt, doubt means an opportunity for possibility, possibility means certainty; but I digress).
    Caroll pointed out that prop 1) was bollocks and that in prop 2) an origins model that includes an origin of time technically can not be called a “beginning” as “beginning” implies time and most currently viable origin models include time origins. But that’s incidental as prop 1) is complete bollocks.
    Craig responded by pointing out Caroll models are trans-temporal (?? was that the word he used??) and surely that’s a sleazy slight of hand because … well, c’mon because … so external causes, you know, because … it’s obvious … throwing in an “external cause” out of left field is common sense but trans-temporal models of a big bang that don’t have a one-way arrow at the origin point, well… that’s as absurd as a frog embigifier… here, let me put a one-way arrow on your origin point… there… isn’t that better, now; your universe has a beginning now, so… external cause!

    So ever since the debate, creationist have been crowing “The universe has a beginning therefore … God! Challenge, Atheists, you have to give evidence for your whacko theory that the universe didn’t have a beginning!”

    It’s enough to make a sane man cry.

  63. 63
    randay

    What do you expect of someone who “studies” Divinity, an imaginary subject. Did he study the divinity of Zeus and Thor? Theology is also an imaginary subject. One could do a comparative study of religions and their history, but that is not what is meant by theology, which is whose dogma most agrees with my own.

  64. 64
    Desert Son, OM

    carlie at #56:

    Thank you for that video link! That’s great!

    Still learning,

    Robert

  65. 65
    spamamander, internet amphibian

    Re: the Dogs Decoded episode, I caught it on Netflix. I’m not sure if it is still available (search function isn’t liking me at the moment). Some of the stuff they have about dogs understanding human gestures and expressions absolutely amazed me. And I want a foxdog badly.

  66. 66
    scienceavenger

    Is it really such a difficult idea to grasp that it doesn’t necessarily have to be humans, or indeed, any kind of intelligent agency, doing the selecting…

    When you think doing an experiment in a lab “injects intelligence into the process”, yes, it is.

  67. 67
    pedz

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” – Upton Sinclair from Wikipedia article on same.

  68. 68
    naturalcynic

    Master of Divinity, huh? Isn’t that someone who tells God what to do?

  69. 69
    barnestormer

    @56
    I love that video! I don’t really understand the inflation thing at all, but Andrei Linde and Renata Kallosh obviously do :D

  70. 70
    Bronze Dog

    No, but I’m sure we’ve all given up any hope of persuading the dogmatic, the ignorant, and the obtuse. Someone first has to be willing to look at the evidence, and if you’re up to that, then yes, I think Cosmos can be an effective tool for letting people understand the basics of evolution.

    My brother recently participated in a Fark thread ridiculing Creationists. A tone troll asked why we aren’t trying to convince them with logic and evidence instead of ridicule. My brother’s response was something like this:

    What rock have you been hiding under?
    How old is this rock?
    /onlyhalfjoking

    There are a few that can be reached with measured voices, logic, and evidence, but they’re the rare exceptions, not the rule. I think ridicule is one of the more effective means to encourage change since it typically involves highlighting the most fundamental fallacies and contradictions. They don’t get to hide their weaknesses.

    Regarding natural and artificial selection, I think part of it is wrapped up in human jingoism, the belief that we’re somehow above and beyond the universe, rather than part of it. Everything we do is done through the same laws that nature operates on, not human witchcraft or whatever. If they want to assert there is a difference between artificial and natural, they have to be able to point the significant differences. With selection, the difference I see is mostly one of degree, not the underlying mechanisms.

    Of course, the other part is that humans tend to have purposes in mind, and somehow that magically translates into results without regard to the actual actions taken. Sometimes it seems to me that they’re arguing actions don’t have consequences, only intention does. I’m starting to think that would explain a lot of their behavior.

  71. 71
    HargMarglin

    Woozy @62

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    Wonderfully, hilariously and accurately put.

    Harg.

  72. 72
    Rich Woods

    @birgerjohansson #45:

    “Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute” -Is it well paid? I think I could handle that job.

    I’m sorry, but you’re not qualified. From what I recall of your previous posts, you have a conscience and some degree of honesty and integrity.

    Unless you’ve been fooling us all along…

  73. 73
    maddogdelta

    Another confirmation that the universe had a beginning: Astronomers discover echoes from expansion after Big Bang

    I love this, this argument. While there are many stupid arguments, this one is among the stupidest…

    LOOK! ANOTHER VERIFICATION THAT THERE WERE, INDEED, NAZIS! THEREFORE “RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK” IS COMPLETE AND INFALLIBLE HISTORY!!!!!!

  74. 74
    woozy

    Woozy @62

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    Wonderfully, hilariously and accurately put.

    Harg.

    Thank you. But actually it occurred to me later that perhaps PZ and I are not being fair to this guy by lumping his “origins of the universe” with his “COSMOS is stoopid” tweets.

    We are assuming that because he is an anti-evolutionist (and thus a creationist) in his Cosmos tweets that he is therefore being a creationist in his “origins of the universe” tweet. Actually taking the tweet alone in and of itself it could be that, like us, he just thinks this latest discovery is kind of cool. I mean as a IDiot he *thinks* he likes science (he just has to stick his fingers in his ears when someone mentions evolution) and he’s a “creationism in a cheap tuxedo” supporter so he isn’t a young earth creationist convinced the entire scientific community is out with a vendetta against god. Instead he’s supposed to at least *pretend* he likes science (as long as they don’t get into that uber-macro evolution goddinnitdoit stuff). So it makes sense he’d think he likes this and isn’t actually making the creationist claim we are forcing him to make.

    He’s still an idiot but… well, fair is fair…
    ======
    Still, I predict we are going to be getting a lot of “The universe had a beginning therefore God!” in the near future.

  75. 75
    woozy

    Another confirmation that the universe had a beginning: Astronomers discover echoes from expansion after Big Bang

    I love this, this argument. While there are many stupid arguments, this one is among the stupidest…

    LOOK! ANOTHER VERIFICATION THAT THERE WERE, INDEED, NAZIS! THEREFORE “RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK” IS COMPLETE AND INFALLIBLE HISTORY!!!!!!

    Yes, but to be fair, he’s not actually making a “therefore god” argument. He’s simply saying the found echoes from the Big Bang. You, me, and PZ are simply assuming that because he was making creationist arguments in his “Cosmos is stoopid” tweets that he’s making a creationist argument here. In actuality, he’s merely commenting that the discovery was made with no conclusion one way or another.
    I admit, I fell for it too and made the same assumption and wrote my disgust at it… but now I feel a little bad about it.

    Not a lot bad. Just a little. I *do* believe in treating my opponents fairly and not putting words in their mouths.
    ……………………………………

    Oh, wait! “Another confirmation that the universe had a beginning“. Never mind. Definite Craig-ism code words for first cause arguments. “Things with a beginning have an external cause” therefore Craig’s “God is best model for observable universe because the universe had a beginning” claim.

    Never mind, I’ve switched back to my first hand. Fuck this guy.

  76. 76
    Anri

    It is hard to feel anything other than embarrassed exasperation as someone who can watch a show dealing with the process by which wolves became dogs and then publicly use the “But they’re still _____ !” argument.

    Head –> Desk

  77. 77
    birgerjohansson

    “Another confirmation that the universe had a beginning”

    Oh my god! They have disproven Fred Hoyle’s “steady state” universe!

    — — — —
    Rich Woods,
    If I make an effort I think I can become evil. Not Stewie Griffin evil, but maybe Nelson evil. Tyson got a detail wrong? HA-HA

  78. 78
    John Phillips, FCD

    Dog Decoded is also available on Usenet.

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