Bryan Fischer and the dogmatic incantations

I’m getting too old for this. The idiots keep making the same arguments, over and over again, and they just get dumber with every iteration. Bryan Fischer makes me want to stick an icepick in my brain just to stop the stupidity coming out of his mouth.

His latest article is Defeating Darwin in four steps…and I read the title and instantly predicted what his four objections would be before I even looked at the first sentence — I’d apply for Randi’s million dollar challenge, except reading the mind of a droning cretin isn’t much of a challenge.

You really need to listen to Fischer’s awful radio show, just for the schlocky thrill of his sing-songy chant of “First Law, Second Law, Fossils, Genes”. It’s a high quality, potent emetic.

Here are his four magic arguments:

  1. First Law of Thermodynamics. This law (note: not a theory but a scientific law) teaches us that matter and energy can neither be created nor destroyed. In other words, an honest scientist will tell you that there is nothing in the observable universe that can explain either the origin of energy or matter. By logical extension, then, matter and energy had to come into being by some force outside the universe.

    What this means, then, is that science simply has no explanation for the most basic question that could possibly be asked: why is there something rather than nothing?

    Actually, I didn’t guess this one exactly right — I thought he’d say something about abiogenesis, that we don’t know how life started. Unfortunately, Fischer was even more idiotic than I thought he’d be: the origin of the universe is a physics problem, and is not a matter explained at all by biological evolution, so this is completely irrelevant.

    This is a common creationist claim, though, that the Big Bang violates the first law of thermodynamics. These gomers don’t understand thermodynamics so it’s silly for them to rely on it. Ask a physicist; the Big Bang doesn’t violate thermodynamics.

    This negative gravitational potential energy exactly cancels out the positive energy of the universe. As Stephen Hawking says in his book A Brief History of Time (quoted by Victor Stenger, Has Science Found God?, p. 148): “In the case of a universe that is approximately uniform in space, one can show that this negative gravitational energy exactly cancels the positive energy represented by the matter. So the total energy of the universe is zero.” In other words, it is not the case that something came out of nothing. It is that we have always had zero energy.

  2. Second Law of Thermodynamics. This law (note: not a theory but a law) teaches us that in every chemical or heat reaction, there is a loss of energy that never again is available for another heat reaction. This is why things break down if left to themselves, and why scientists tell us that the universe is headed toward a heat death.

    This law teaches us, then, that the universe is headed toward increasing randomness and decay.

    But what does the theory of evolution teach us? The exact opposite, that the universe is headed toward increasing complexity and order. You put up a scientific theory against my scientific law, I’m going to settle for the law every time, thank you very much.

    I knew this one was coming. Again, creationists don’t understand thermodynamics at all, and this is a beautiful example. Nothing violates the second law. Every gain in complexity in biology is matched by an even greater increase in entropy. I was once a tiny single cell, and I have increased in complexity and bulk over the years by chowing down on a mountain of high-energy food and turning it into a mountain of low-energy poop. It’s the same story with the bigger scale of evolution: it’s ultimately been driven by immense masses of hydrogen fusing in the heart of our star. Far more energy was burned by the sun than was harvested and used in all the history of life, so there is no net gain in the energy of the whole system.

  3. Fossils. Realize that the fossil record is the only tangible, physical evidence for the theory of evolution that exists. The fossil record is it. There is absolutely nothing else Darwinians have they can show you.

    As Yale University’s Carl Dunbar says, “Fossils provide the only historical, documentary evidence that life has evolved from simpler to more and more complex forms.”

    But if Darwin’s theory is correct, that increasingly complex life forms developed in tiny little incremental and transitional steps, then the fossil record should by littered with an enormous number of transitional fossils.

    Another predictable and stupid claim. We’ve got lots of transitional fossils. We look in the fossil record, and find entire ecosystems that no longer exist and have changed in radical ways. This is Fischer just sticking his fingers in his ears and shouting “la la la la”.

    The quote from Carl Dunbar is revealing. If you’re like me, you’re asking “who the heck is Carl Dunbar, and why should I care?” This one is a double-whammy against the creationists, though: Carl Dunbar was born in 1891, so once again they’re desperately scrambling to find some authority, any authority, to back up their claims. The other problem for the creationists, though, is the quote itself. Read it. Does this actually say there’s a problem with the fossil record? No, it does not. Dunbar was a well-known invertebrate paleontologist 50 years ago, who published many papers illustrating the pattern of transitions in the stratigraphic record.

    He’s probably be very surprised to hear that creationists now cite his work vaguely and with no comprehension as evidence against evolution. I guarantee you, too, that Fischer knows nothing about Dunbar’s work, and only cites him because he found other creationist sites that quote-mined him.

  4. Genes. The only mechanism — don’t miss this — the only mechanism evolutionists have to explain the development of increasingly complex life forms is genetic mutation. Mutations alter DNA, and these alterations can be passed on to descendants.

    The problem: naturally occurring genetic mutations are invariably harmful if not fatal to the organism. Rather than improve an organism’s capacity to survive, they invariably weaken it. That’s why the phrase we most often use to refer to genetic mutations is “birth defects.”

    Bryan Fischer is completely wrong here: he’s stating as a fact that mutations are invariably deleterious, and this is simply not true. Most are neutral. Some are advantageous, and all it takes is one counterexample to show that his absolutist statements are wrong. I’d say he’s lying, but I know what a lot of people would say: “he’s not literally lying, he’s just ignorant”. But this is something we need a better word for: he’s stating as a certainty a false ‘fact’, acting as an authority in a field he actually knows nothing about, and is intentionally promoting a counterfactual to advance an ideology. He’s a disinformation agent, sowing propaganda: it’s worse than lying.

That’s enough inanity. I’m done. I really hope, though, that someday someone comes up to me chanting “First Law, Second Law, Fossils, Genes” just like Bryan Fischer so I can kick their dumb ass.

(Also on Sb)


Sam Harris is bemused: he made the simple, obvious statement that the US needs to tax the rich more, and furious readers of his blog stomped off in a huff. He has discovered an easy way to chase away readers!

I fear it won’t work as well here, since my anti-libertarian views are already well known, but I agree entirely with his suggestion “that taxes should be raised on billionaires.” I’d go a bit further — raise them on millionaires, too. Raise them on people making over $100,000 a year, while you’re at it (that comes close to me, too, since we have a two-income family).

But Harris has doubled down. Now he’s pissed off the Randroids.

As someone who has written and spoken at length about how we might develop a truly “objective” morality, I am often told by followers of Rand that their beloved guru accomplished this task long ago. The result was Objectivism—a view that makes a religious fetish of selfishness and disposes of altruism and compassion as character flaws. If nothing else, this approach to ethics was a triumph of marketing, as Objectivism is basically autism rebranded. And Rand’s attempt to make literature out of this awful philosophy produced some commensurately terrible writing. Even in high school, I found that my copies of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged simply would not open.

This could get interesting, if only Harris allowed comments on his blog — I believe he has just pushed the button on the foreheads of the True Libertarians labeled “Frappé” and we can expect some delicious brain smoothies to be dispensed out of their ears any moment now.

The real question, though, is why Americans are so adamantly opposed to sensible taxation — it’s completely irrational and damaging. I blame the attitude that we see expressed by capitalist extremists and that is so well represented by the Prosperity Gospel. It’s a nicely circular tautology: wealth comes to those who deserve it most. How do we know that? Because the rich are wealthy. It leads to the ideas that warp our country and poison our economies, that the rich deserve their money, and it would therefore be unfair to punish them with taxes for their success, while the poor are clearly lazy parasites (because they aren’t rich!) and therefore deserve to be squeezed and punished further. The idea that a poor person might deserve security and stability and a living wage with reasonable work hours simply because they are humans and fellow citizens is alien to people who think like that — poverty is bad and only comes to bad people.

It’ll never happen

The pair of psychic frauds, James van Praagh and Allison DuBois, who were featured on Nightline, have been called out by the JREF:

The JREF’s Million Dollar Challenge Director, Banachek, also featured in the episode, said, “We’re issuing a challenge to these fakers: for once, show that you can get this supposedly supernatural knowledge without cheating. If one of you can demonstrate your ‘psychic’ abilities on randomly chosen strangers—not celebrities—under mutually-agreed conditions, without relying on known cold-reading techniques such as fishing around with vague questions, and without just using Google—we will donate our million dollars to you or to the charity of your choice.”

You know Van Praagh and DuBois will never, ever risk exposure of their profitable scams by subjecting themselves to tests.

(Also on Sb)

Coulter revisited

Ann Coulter is a horrible, ignorant person who once wrote a whole book accusing liberals of being Godless, as if that were an insult, and advancing arguments against evolution that made the standard noisy creationist look like a veritable scholar. I looked at her arguments, and I made a public challenge back in 2006 for any defenders to pick one paragraph from the book and we’d discuss it in detail — there have been no takers, not one person willing to stand up and support in detail any claim she had made. She also made some amazingly inane arguments: did you know that one strike against evolution is that the people who study it are mere biologists, which is not really a science, and that there are more women working in biology than, say, physics?

I was tearing into her quite regularly for a while there after that book came out. She was such an easy target.

But no matter. I’m acutely envious of Carl Zimmer, who Coulter regards as a giant flatulent raccoon. Man, I would love to have that on my résumé. Alas, Coulter has no idea who I am, so I’m not going to get that recognition.

By the way, the Coulter challenge is still open, and has been for five years. All anyone has to do is pick one paragraph, any paragraph, from her evolution chapters in Godless, and post it with a defense of its accuracy. That shouldn’t be so hard, should it? She wrote this whole book, I’m letting you pick the very best, most solid, strongest argument against evolution from it and present it here to stump us all. It’s strange that no one has managed to do that in all this time.

(By the way, as is usual whenever I mention Coulter, there will be petty people who will sneer at her appearance or make ugly remarks about her sexuality. Do not do that. I will cut you.)

(Also on Sb)

Triumph in Canada

Remember that silly blood type nonsense from the Canadian Blood Services? It’s gone, replaced with a much simpler page that states that your blood type will be determined when you give blood.

A few people have received email from CBS admitting that they’ve removed the nonsense.

Dr. Sher has asked me to respond to your recent e-mail regarding our What’s Your Type? new donor recruitment program. I understand that you have also sent an e-mail communicating your concerns to [email protected] and that others from our organization have provided you with specific details in response. I can confirm that the content you object to has been removed from our web site. The marketing materials for this program are being revised.

Thanks again for sharing your views with us.

Ian Mumford
Chief Operating Officer
Canadian Blood Services

Good for them. Science FTW!

(Also on Sb)

Paula Kirby tells the same story

I don’t know how we can get any plainer than this: evolution really happened and is happening.

Evolution is a simple fact. We can choose to remain ignorant of it, we can stick our fingers in our ears and refuse to think about it, we can even rail against it and shout and scream that it is not allowed to be true. But facts are facts, and will not go away just because we don’t like them. We don’t get to vote for our preferred method of having come into existence as a species, any more than we can choose to have been delivered by stork rather than conceived and born in the usual way.

Candidates who stick their fingers in their ears and reject reality simply don’t deserve to hold office.

(Also on Sb)

Not you too, New Zealand?

Let’s imagine that you, a rational person, are a high muckety-muck in some prestigious scientific institution — like, say, the Royal Society of New Zealand — and you’re asked whether some fringe subject — like, say, Traditional Chinese Medicine — should receive the endorsement of your society. How would you determine your answer?

If you’re anything like me, you’d go to experts and ask, “Is there good evidence that this really works? Is it a subject we should pursue in greater depth?”

Not the Royal Society of New Zealand, though. No, forget all that business of whether TCM actually works, or even does harm: instead, they hired a consultant psychologist who interviewed 30 people and asked them whether they’d used TCM. Their conclusion:

The Society recommends that TCM should become a registered profession and that registered practitioners should be clinically well qualified.

It apparently doesn’t matter whether it works or not, and the fact that it can cause harm was actually used to support endorsing it in a fine piece of topsy-turvy logic.

There is the potential of harm from the practice of TCM. Apart from the risks already outlined in the proposal document, clients consulting TCM practitioners are at risk of delayed diagnosis and treatment of their conditions, which can carry significant consequences. It is possible that an occult fracture is missed in a client consulting a TCM practitioner for foot pain, or early meningococcal disease overlooked in a client with fevers and general malaise.

Regulation of TCM will ensure that all TCM practitioners are aware of the limitation of their service, and to know when to refer clients to another health service if necessary. Improper practice of TCM, such as tuina (massage therapy) and tei-da (practice of bone-setting), has been shown to induce physical damage (e.g. joint dislocation, spindle damage, deep tissue/muscle damage) to the patients and some herbal medicine may also not be suitable for pregnant women. It will therefore be important to ensure that registered TCM practitioners are responsible and clinically well qualified.

I have decided that chewing broken glass is a cure for cancer. It is irrelevant whether it actually does so; it does cause severe bleeding and oral and throat damage, though, so I’m moving to New Zealand, where that will be cause to officially recognize and register my practice, so that the state can better protect my patients from harm.

(Also on Sb)

The wellspring of grade inflation

I hate to discourage teachers (we need them!), but there’s a problem in teacher education.

Well, guess which students earn the highest grades? It’s future teachers. According to a new study by Cory Koedel published by the American Enterprise Institute:

Students who take education classes at universities receive significantly higher grades than students who take classes in every other academic discipline. The higher grades cannot be explained by observable differences in student quality between education majors and other students, nor can they be explained by the fact that education classes are typically smaller than classes in other academic departments.

This is despite the fact that education majors have the lowest high school grades and standardized test scores of all college students.

(Also on Sb)