Not even creationists want to be associated with creationism

You wouldn’t guess it from the name, but the Akron Fossil and Science Museum isn’t really a museum, has nothing to do with science, and they think their fossils are less than 6,000 years old. It’s also not in Akron; it’s in Copley, Ohio. It would be hard to come up with a more misleading title.

One possible reason is that it’s a way to lure in participation from public schools. At least one teacher, by error or devious intent, has taken students from the Cuyahoga Falls public school district to this creation exhibit, so maybe it’s an underhanded game.

I suspect a more common reason. Creationists love to ape the trappings of real science, and are a bit ashamed of the low reputation their stupid beliefs have, so they play these games. It makes no sense to me. I wouldn’t rename my courses “Jesus’s Holy and Sacred Revelation of Biology”, just to sucker in the rubes. But then I’m not peddling bullshit.

Creationists, climate change denialists, and racists and the credentialism strategy

Credentialism always makes for convenient excuses. We love to construct simple shortcuts in our cognitive models: someone has a Ph.D., they must be smart (I can tell you that one is wrong). Someone is a scientist, they must have all the right facts. And of course, the converse: we can use the absence of a Ph.D. or professional standing, to dismiss someone.

Creationists are very concerned about this, and you see it over and over again: the desperate need to acquire a degree or title, even if it is from some unaccredited diploma mill or a correspondence school, in order to justify their wacky beliefs. Or they invent reasons to discredit the other side’s credentials: Ken Ham loves to trot out that nonsense about historical and observational science, a badly drawn distinction, to imply that the scientists who study evolution aren’t real scientists. Whereas he, of course, is the honest arbiter of good science.

Climate change denialists love to do it, too: Bill Nye isn’t a real scientist, you know. You can ignore everything he says because he’s an engineer and children’s TV host, so you should listen to what the TV weatherman says instead.

None of that matters. Ideally, you judge the validity of a scientific thesis by the quality of the data and the experiments behind it, not the academic pedigree of the author. If a children’s TV host accurately explains the evidence behind a conclusion, that’s what matters. You don’t get to ignore the evidence because the presenter is a mere educator (or even, a mere weatherman).

But you know who else indulges in this fallacy, other than creationists and climate change denialists? Nicholas Wade. He has taken to rebutting critics of his racist book by declaring them non-scientists. For instance, in response to a review by Pete Shanks, Wade declares that all of the people who dislike his book are not competent to do so.

Shanks failed to notice, or failed to share with readers, the fact that scientists critical of my book have attacked it largely on political grounds.

Although a science writer, Shanks is at sea in assessing scientific expertise. He places excessive weight on the views of Agustín Fuentes, the author of two of the five critical reviews that have appeared on The Huffington Post. To ascertain a scientist’s field of expertise, all one need do is consult their list of publications. Fuentes’ primary research interest, as shown by publications on his website, is the interaction between people and monkeys at tourist sites. I don’t know what the scientific merit of this project may be, but it establishes Fuentes’ field of expertise as people-monkey interaction. If you seek an authoritative opinion on human statistical genetics, the principal scientific subject of my book, he would not be your go-to expert.

Stunning, ain’t it?

Like all scientists, you have to focus: that Fuentes has published on a specific research problem does not in any way imply that he lacks a broader knowledge of a field. And if you’re going to play the credentialism game, Fuentes has degrees earned in the last 25 years in zoology and anthropology, with advanced degrees in anthropology, and a professorship at Notre Dame. Wade has a bachelor’s degree from 1964 in some general discipline called “Natural Sciences”. No disrespect, but I teach undergrads, and there is a world of difference between an undergraduate degree and a graduate degree — so for Wade to dismiss Fuentes for an inappropriate educational background is grossly hypocritical.

Furthermore, apparently some of his other critics are so non-sciencey he doesn’t even have to mention them. Jennifer Raff is a post-doc studying the genomes of modern and ancient peoples in order to uncover details of human prehistory — that couldn’t possibly be relevant. Must be political. Jeremy Yoder is a postdoc studying evolutionary genetics at the University of Minnesota. Couldn’t possibly have greater expertise than Wade. Must be political. Greg Laden has a Ph.D. in Archaeology and Biological Anthropology from Harvard. Must not have learned a thing. Must be political. Eric Michael Johnson has a mere Master’s degree (well, he still outranks Wade) in evolutionary anthropology, and is only now working on a Ph.D., so he can be ignored. Must be political.

Now don’t go the other way and assume a fancy degree makes them right — you have to look at the arguments and evidence to determine that. But one thing you can know for sure: when someone stoops to rejecting a criticism by inappropriately and falsely nitpicking over the legitimacy of their training, you know they’re desperate. You also know they’re damned lousy scientists.

That also goes for the HBD racists who think calling evolutionary biologists “creationists” is an effective strategy.

Why don’t we do this?

The UK has officially prohibited teaching creationism in all government funded schools.

The government released a new set of funding agreements last week including clauses which specifically prohibit pseudoscience.

"The parties acknowledge that clauses 2.43 and 2.44 of the Funding Agreement [which preclude the teaching of pseudoscience and require the teaching of evolution] apply to all academies. They explicitly require that pupils are taught about the theory of evolution, and prevent academy trusts from teaching ‘creationism’ as scientific fact," one clause reads.

The funding agreement defines creationism as "any doctrine or theory which holds that natural biological processes cannot account for the history, diversity, and complexity of life on earth and therefore rejects the scientific theory of evolution," and goes on to note that this idea is rejected not only by the scientific community but most mainstream churches as well.

"It does not accord with the scientific consensus or the very large body of established scientific evidence; nor does it accurately and consistently employ the scientific method, and as such it should not be presented to pupils at the Academy as a scientific theory," the agreement states.

That got me thinking. Here in the US, legislatures are constantly debating creationist bills, all usually the same old ‘strengths and weaknesses’ boilerplate, and the good guys are reduced to playing defense (often successfully, fortunately). Conservatives and creationists are really good at being aggressive in pushing stupid ideas forward.

So where’s our offense?

Why doesn’t someone (hey, NCSE, what you doin’ today?) take the language of the UK resolution, adapt it to have a more American flavor, and get friendly state politicians to propose it? Many politicians, proposing it many times, just like the game the creationists play. It may not get passed the first time through, but persistence works, and having a clear statement of principle can be a great rallying cry.

And don’t tell me you don’t want to antagonize the electorate. That’s timidity that gets us nowhere. Have you ever noticed that the idiots on the right say incredibly stupid stuff all the time, and they still manage to advance their agenda? So why be shy about saying something intelligent?

Making Ken Ham cry some more

Poor Ken Ham is heartbroken by the latest polling data.

bibledecline

Look at that! More people regard the Bible as a book of fables than ever before. This hurts the Hamster, who declares that they must keep doing more of what has discredited the book.

In this day and age, I consider Genesis, out of all the other books of the Bible, to be the most attacked, scoffed at, and ridiculed—from within parts of the church and outside. You see, because of the indoctrination in the belief evolution and millions of years through the education system and media, many people believe that Genesis 1-11 cannot be taken as literal history. As a result, such evolutionary teaching is a stumbling block to many non-Christians even listening to the gospel from the Word of God—and many people in the church are put on a slippery slide of unbelief in the Scriptures as the infallible Word of God.

Reports like this one on the poll emphasize the great need for creation-apologetics teaching in churches and homes.

Please, please, please keep it up — these Bible literalists do so much to help the cause of atheism. When you insist that a short page of fuzzy poetry must supplant all of biology and must be regarded as absolutely, literally true in every word, rational people are given cause to doubt…and once they begin to doubt the first page of your sacred holy book, they begin to question page 2, and page 3, and page whatever, and quite soon the dedicated priests of your cult are wondering why there is a sudden, catastrophic loss of believers.

“I’m not a scientist, but…”

Jonathan Chait makes an interesting observation.

Asked by reporters yesterday if he accepts the scientific consensus that greenhouse gas emissions contribute to global warming, John Boehner demurred on the curious but increasingly familiar grounds that he is not a scientist. “Listen, I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change,” the House Speaker said. Boehner immediately turned the question to the killing of jobs that would result from any proposal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which he asserts with unwavering certainty. (On this question, Boehner is not held back by the fact that he is also not an economist.)

This particular demurral seems to be in vogue for the Grand Old Party. Florida governor Rick Scott (“I’m not a scientist”) and Senator Marco Rubio (“I’m not a scientist. I’m not qualified to make that decision.”) have both held up their lack of scientific training as a reason to withhold judgment on anthropogenic global warming.

Now I can’t unhear it. Everywhere you go, you hear idiots proffering that disclaimer. Watch this video and you’ll see:

Alice Roberts is clear and competent; Jeremy Paxson is abrasive to both sides (but really, “It’s just a theory”? Come on); but John Lewis is a stammering twit. You’ll notice it repeatedly. Every time he’s called on an issue, he backs off. He’s not a teacher, but; he’s not an official of ACE, but; he’s not a scientist, but. He’s so busy making excuses for why he’s not competent to be discussing any of the subjects brought before him that one has to wonder why the heck he was asked on the show.

It’s the same with the politicians that Chait cites. Why are they so quick to say that they aren’t qualified to discuss an issue, yet they seem to think they are qualified enough to disapprove of any resolution to address problems? Or in John Lewis’s case, they’re willing to say what lies children ought to be taught despite admitting to having no qualifications whatsoever to judge.

Chait’s explanation:

“I’m not a scientist” allows Republicans to avoid conceding the legitimacy of climate science while also avoiding the political downside of openly branding themselves as haters of science. The beauty of the line is that it implicitly concedes that scientists possess real expertise, while simultaneously allowing you to ignore that expertise altogether.

I think that’s true. But I also think there’s more.

In today’s media, taking a side is seen as a violation of neutrality. One thing they’re doing by announcing that they’re not scientists is declaring that they are an objective outsider…because as everyone knows, having extensive knowledge about a subject biases a person towards a particular best answer. Only the empty-headed fool can truly determine what is right. You’ll also see this philosophy in practice in the current penchant for debates, where you’re not supposed to decide the outcome by who most accurately reflects the truth, but by who makes the best case to a naive audience.

Another factor is that this is a dogwhistle. People like Chait or myself hear “I’m not a scientist,” and what we think we hear is a cautious disavowal — they are avoiding “openly branding themselves as haters of science”. But spend some time talking to strong creationists or climate change denialists, and you will discover that hating science is not the problem we think it is. To them, “science” is all ideologically driven propaganda promoted by egg-headed welfare recipients — all them scientists are getting rich off their fat gub’mint grants. So people like that hear “I’m not a scientist,” and they hear a declaration that the speaker is on their side, not one of the lying elites.

In a world where the tribal lines are stark, there’s a definite benefit to announcing that you are not one of them. And if you can do it in a coded way that doesn’t immediately antagonize your opponents and let them know what you’re doing, all the better.

Eric Hovind living down to his reputation

Typical creationist misrepresentation: Eric Hovind got together with a guy named Darek Isaacs to tell us all about evolution, and stupidity follows, predictably. The weird part starts around 5:50 in the video, in which Isaacs declares that evolution is all about the man propagating his DNA…and you can stop right there. I guess women have nothing to do with this evolution business. But he babbles on with this naive version of evolution which is all about death to the weakest, and that apparently all that matters in reproduction is the frequency of intercourse, whether the woman is willing or not. They don’t seem capable of considering the possibility that perhaps other factors than ejaculation play a role in the successful propagation of human beings.

Oh, well, just watch this. Rebecca Watson deals with it more entertainingly.

Think about why it was trending

Remember that video by Joshua Feuerstein in which he claimed to destroy evolution in 3 minutes? It went viral. The BBC interviewed him, and got Aron Ra’s perspective. Feuerstein himself is bragging about the power of Social Media.

But they don’t ask why that video got so many views. I saw it because so many other atheists were linking to it…and laughing. It was this beautiful distillation of rank, raving creationist idiocy — a supremely confident ignoramus gushing over creationism’s dumbest hits as if they haven’t been smacked down a thousand times before.

Feuerstein got his moment of fame because he was that week’s stupid cat video, or comedic compilation of crotch punches, or amazingly clueless thing said by a Republican.

Multi-component, schmulti-component

I’m having a light dinner while traveling off to a visit with Humanists of Minnesota, and I thought I’d deal with a little email. I got a request to address a fairly common creationist argument–here’s the relevant part of the claim.

As a member of the Greater Manchester Humanists I was recently involved in a discussion with the Ahmadi sect of Islam with regards to evolution. They had asked me to look at a couple of chapters in a book entitled ‘Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Truth by their prophet Mirza Tahir Ahmad. One of those chapters was called ‘The Blind Watchmaker who is also Deaf and Dumb’ – riffing badly on Dawkins’s book, of course. Suffice it to say, there was very little of any of that in the book, but during the discussion one of their number said he did not believe in neo-Darwinism because he could not see ‘how all the supporting and connecting mult-component systems could all have evolved as, for example, the eye, as it progressed through geological time.’

He quoted the hagfish and work done by Prof Trevor Lamb to show ‘just how complex those multi-component systems are’ – but when I looked up Lamb’s work it is quite obvious that he is a supporter of evolution, and that he in no way suggests that such complexity is divine in nature….!

Yep, he’s got us. If evolution were sequential, linear, and goal-directed, this would be a serious problem. If you’re used to imagining that the only way complexity can possibly emerge is by purposeful, serial action to build an end result, rather like putting together your furniture from Ikea or building a model airplane, then gosh, it all seems so impossible.

Unfortunately for the follower of Mirza Tahir Ahmad, none of that is true, and this is just a variant of the “it’s too complicated to evolve” argument, with more sciencey sounding words and references to misinterpreted fragments of the scientific literature.

Let’s consider the major misconceptions in the question.

  • Evolution isn’s sequential. It’s massively parallel. Massively. Humans have about 20,000 genes, and all of them are evolving at once, with trial runs in about 7 billion individuals. New variants are arising all the time, and then they’re tested to destruction in multiple combinations over time. Scrap your weird idea that the pieces of a complex system must be developed one at a time — they can’t, and all of them are being constantly tinkered with. It is the most badly designed scientific experiment or engineering program ever, with no controls and every variable getting randomly tweaked at random intervals. So don’t be surprised that multiple elements are getting juggled.

  • Evolution doesn’t care how it arrives at a solution — all that matters is the final effect on the organism. In the case of the eye, the viable end result is an organ with sufficient resolution and contrast, and various special purpose detectors for things like motion or looming. The organism doesn’t know or care how that comes about — it is born with a combination of attributes, and lives or dies by their success. It may have accomplished its end by, for instance, refining the lens, or fine-tuning the receptor, or building in secondary signal processing elements…or all of the above and more. The organism doesn’t care and doesn’t have any control. And in a massively parallel system, probably every level is being tinkered with, and the final solution is going to be multi-component. It would be weird if it wasn’t.

  • Evolution is not teleological. An organ like the eye is not being assembled to a set of specific, detailed instructions — it just has to work, or the organism is at a disadvantage to other organisms with better eyes. So a hodge-podge of solutions is accumulated, and the end result has all kinds of complexity. But you don’t get to argue after the fact that the details imply some specificity of purpose.

    For example, here’s a number: 343767. It’s kind of big, you might be tempted to argue that it’s a fancier or more complex number than, say, 300000 (you’d be wrong), or you might want to argue for the significance of individual digits, or find a pattern in it. Humans tend to do that. But the reality is that I just went to a random number service and asked for a 6 digit number. Similarly, eyes wandered through a random space constrained by functional requirements and ended up at a somewhat arbitrarily complex configuration — and different lineages followed different paths.

OK, that’s my off-the-cuff explanation scribbled up while I nibble on a fruit salad at a cafe in Minneapolis. The whole multi-component problem is a red herring contrived by inadequate minds that can’t see beyond their preconceptions.

Dear Mr Atheist allow me to destroy evolution in 3 minutes!

That’s the title of a video I was sent that is supposed to utterly crush my faith in evolution. By the way, why is it that people who worship faith as a perfectly valid way of knowing so insistently insist that evolution is wrong because it takes too much faith to believe in it? Shouldn’t that be a sign to them that it’s even better than God?

I don’t know why anyone is impressed. It’s an ignoramus ranting at his cell phone camera, reciting tired, familiar creationist tropes.

evolution is not a science…because it was never observed…which is why it is called a theory.

But people have observed and documented evolution, and done experiments to test its predictions, gone out in the field and the lab to do science guided by the theory. Of course it’s a science! And it’s called a theory because it’s predictions have been successfully tested, and the mechanism has a lot of useful properties to inform the science. I don’t think he knows what “theory” actually means, but if you stuck it out to the end, you know his grasp of language is rather weak.

Then he blathers on with creationist misconceptions about evolution. We developed different characteristics because we willed it? “Will” doesn’t play any role in evolutionary theory. And of course he has to trot out Creationist Thermodynamics, which he defines as chaos can never produce order…because it defies the logic and laws of science, which is not something the laws of thermodynamics claim, and naturally he has to babble about tornado in a junkyard. Thanks, Fred Hoyle, your legacy lives on!

Then he wraps it all up with made-up etymology. You know what universe means, right? Uni, one; verse, like in a poem. Therefore Uni-verse means one single spoken statement, just like the book of Genesis says. Too bad the dictionary says otherwise:

late Middle English: from Old French univers or Latin universum, neuter of universus ‘combined into one, whole,’ from uni- ‘one’ + versus ‘turned’ (past participle of vertere ).

As long as we’re making up word origins, I think it’s clear that it’s like “united” + “versus”, meaning “everyone against”, reflecting the inimical, conflict-driven nature of existence, and therefore we have to all gather and laugh at the dumb-ass obnoxious mouth-breather who made that video.