An unintelligent Intelligent Design creationism quiz

Larry Moran has been given a quiz to test our comprehension of Intelligent Design creationism. Unfortunately, it was composed by someone who doesn’t understand ID creationism but merely wants everyone to regurgitate their propaganda, so it’s a major mess, and you can also tell that the person writing it was smugly thinking they were laying some real traps to catch us out in our ignorance.

Larry has posted his answers. I’ve put mine below the fold (I sorta subtly disagree with him on #2). If you want to take a stab at it untainted by our answers, here’s the original quiz, untainted by logic or evidence, so you can view them in their pure naked ignorance.

Also, another thing: the person who composed the quiz clearly expected simple yes/no answers, yet wrote questions that demand explanation. Yet again, the idiocy of the IDiots is exposed. I’ve actually troubled to explain my answers.

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Behold! The Legendary Intelligent Design Creationism Research Laboratory!

The Discovery Institute released a video of one of their stars, Ann Gauger, explaining the flaws in “population genetics” (I put it in quotes because it wasn’t a description of the field of population genetics that any competent biologist would recognize). Larry Moran points out the errors.

But then, someone noticed something else: the video was fake. It was Ann Gauger, all right, talking in a “lab”. Again, the quotes are because she was actually talking in front of a green screen, and a stock photo of a lab was spliced in behind her. Oops. It adds comic absurdity on top of the egregious errors in her babbling.

But of course that’s exactly what the DI wants. They can’t answer for the stupidity of her comments, but they can wave their hands and shout, “We do too have a lab! A real lab! And it’s sciencey and everything!” Because, after all, when you’re doing cargo cult science, the props are all important, and the substance doesn’t matter.

So, yeah, the indignant DI released a real photo of their real lab, with Gauger gazing at a petri dish. And here it is:

Annlab

Errm, are we supposed to be impressed? I could give you an equivalent photo of a few shelves in one of our student labs — it would look similar, just messier. A petri dish, a few orange-top bottles, a small hood in the background—all they needed to make it really sciencey were a few bubbling bottles of colored water. D. James Kennedy did a better job in “Darwin’s Deadly Legacy”.

kennedylab

See? Now that’s a lab!

But seriously, the furniture does not make the lab — the work being done in it does. When you think it matters that you can pose with a petri dish, you really are doing cargo cult science.

The god of vapor is hardly any kind of god at all

So Greta Christina wrote a piece pointing out that even the vaguest, waffleist, broadest version of God is incompatible with the science, and then my favorite tech and media pundit, Andy Ihnatko, wrote a critique of her article. It’s a decent attempt, but really, it falls into the same trap Greta is talking about.

I was going to tweet out a comment about this Salon article (partner-posted from her AlterNet blog), but yeah, I needed more than 140 characters. I say, with the utmost respect for the author, that Greta Christina’s “The truth about science vs. religion: 4 reasons why intelligent design falls flat” falls into a common trap. She seems to assume that there’s only one acceptable concept of “God.” And, as luck would have it, it happens to be a definition that suits the point that the article wants to make.

I might have misread what is an obviously well-written and well-presented opinion. My difficulty comes right at the top:

You hear this a lot from progressive and moderate religious believers. They believe in some sort of creator god, but they heartily reject the extreme, fundamentalist, science-rejecting versions of their religions (as well they should). They want their beliefs to reflect reality – including the reality of the confirmed fact of evolution. So they try to reconcile the two by saying that that evolution is real, exactly as the scientists describe it — and that God made it happen. They insist that you don’t have to deny evolution to believe in God.

In the narrowest, most literal sense, of course this is true. It’s true that there are people who believe in God, and who also accept science in general and evolution in particular. This is an observably true fact: it would be absurd to deny it, and I don’t. I’m not saying these people don’t exist.

I’m saying that this position is untenable…

I urge you to read the entire piece. It’s good stuff. I just don’t think it adequately defends the argument that belief in God and belief in evolution aren’t compatible. It’s a good argument against the specific kinds of belief that she singles out, but it falls far short of making the larger point.

Ihnatko goes on to say much more, and in particular I’ll say his discussion of Intelligent Design creationism is spot on; ID is particularly vile for its calculated and disingenuous attempt to hide its religious foundations for marketing reasons. But I have to agree with Greta that science and religion are incompatible, and that sending your god off into the distant past and a tenuous and murky relationship with reality is not a good strategy for convincing anyone of its relevance…which is exactly what Greta is saying. This by Ihnatko, in particular, is not a defense of god:

Can I respect a belief that the universe was created by God? Sure, given the broad definitions of “God” and “created.” The folks who subscribe to that kind of idea readily concede that it’s a matter of personal faith, not a matter of provable science, and they know that the correct answer to the demand “Prove it!” is “Why?” You only need to prove something when you’re trying to convince the rest of the world they’re wrong, or impose your personal beliefs on them. And I think most religious people are secure enough in themselves and their faith to see the vulgarity of such motives.

Let’s dissect that.

First of all, science isn’t in the business of proving anything, ever. It’s a process for developing knowledge about the world, and we don’t talk about proofs, because knowledge is provisional and changes as we learn more. We tend not to say “Prove it!”. Rather, we’re more likely to say, “What’s your evidence for that?” or “How does it fit into this other body of hard-earned knowledge?” We’re also much, much more likely to ask how you know something, what process you followed to arrive at your conclusion, and to ever-so-awkwardly point out errors in your logic or observations.

We don’t consider such questions vulgar. They’re necessities for assessing a claim. I wouldn’t flatter believers by suggesting that they’re “secure enough in themselves” — I’d be more likely to say that they’re arrogant to think that they don’t need to answer simple questions about their process, and that what they’re doing in their obstinate refusal to think about the mechanisms of their beliefs makes them more similar to a dishonest used car salesman trying to pass off a lemon by hiding its repair history.

And it doesn’t have to be that way. It was a Catholic philosopher, Pierre Abélard, who said that “By doubting we are led to enquire, and by enquiry we perceive the truth”. Honest inquiry is what scientists expect. Stonewalling the conversation by pretending inquiry is vulgar makes us very, very suspicious.

The heart of Ihnatko’s argument rests on assuming that there is an exception to Greta’s argument, that she has failed to sufficiently address deism or the Watchmaker God idea — that maybe there is a sufficiently non-dogmatic, non-specific version of the god concept in which it is a being that just started the natural world and stood back and let it play out. You can’t disprove that, he says.

I can respect creationism in its broadest definition, at least. Mostly by citing the data point “an ant is barely aware that it’s walking on a leaf, let alone spinning on a planet that’s spinning around a star that’s spinning in a galaxy that’s shooting through a universe at about a thousand kilometers a second.” There’s nothing wrong with believing that God created everything and there’s no evidence disproving it, either (again, in a broad sense).

I’ll repeat, science isn’t about proofs. You can’t disprove the idea that Superman built a time machine, traveled back 13.7 billion years ago, and used his super-strength to create an exploding singularity, either. But science doesn’t care. We just ask what your evidence is that such a being exists, how do you know that he did that, and when you cite some back issue of Action Comics, we know to dismiss your claim on epistemological grounds.

It’s possible to believe in God (as you choose to define God) and science at the same time. It’ll all work out fine, so long as you believe in science as science defines science. If so, you shouldn’t worry about what other people think about you.

But how you choose to define god is the important question! “God exists, as long as you don’t ask me to say what God is” is not a good answer, but is an evasion. It makes it impossible to evaluate your explanation.

You could argue that religion and science are compatible as long as religion simply accepts whatever science says about the nature of the universe (which was basically Gould’s argument in Rocks of Ages — I thought it was a cop out when an atheist said it, and I still think it’s a cop out when a deist says it). But that should not be a reasonable approach to someone trying to defend religious belief, because it cuts religion off at the knees. It really says that those holy religious texts are nothing more than the imaginative speculations of human beings, which are to be superseded by science. That’s fine by me, but then be consistent, and follow through and discard the religion part.

There’s also an implicit bias in the language: “God” implies a conscious being, an entity that is actively doing something — it may be as generic as triggering the Big Bang, or as persistent as something that constantly tweaks the human genome to shape us. But there’s no reason to think that what created the universe was aware, or human-like in its purposes, or even deserving of personal pronouns. You could argue that nucleosynthesis is god, for instance; that the process that assembled larger atoms from smaller ones is the divine creative purpose. But you’d be silly to call nucleosynthesis a “he” or “she”, or to address it in your prayers, or to think your conglomeration of carbon is a holy act. Yeah, you can go ahead and call it “god” and make a “First Church of Nucleosynthesis”, but it would represent an absurd anthropomorphosis of a natural physical process.

I think there’s a fundamental property of the human mind that tends to do these sorts of silly theological exercises, and here’s how science gets appropriated. This is Jacob Bronowski’s definition of science:

Science is nothing else than the search to discover unity in the wild variety of nature — or more exactly, in the variety of our experience.

We are typically successful in finding that unity, and then the human mind tries to call it God, bringing in all the cultural baggage that that word carries. It’s not helpful. It obscures more than it enlightens. We should reject the whole notion of “god” because it fails to clarify.

As Ihnatko says, though, you can make it work by not pretending that it has anything to do with science, or that your church can provide any insight into the nature of reality. Sure, go if it makes you feel better, but put away the pretense that you actually learn anything about reality there. You’re engaging in a social behavior that makes you feel good, which is fine, but not something more.

Drowning in noise: How accommodating nonsense poisons our discourse

I’m at the World Humanist Congress, and just finished up an hour and a half tag-teaming David Silverman on the topic in the title. He played the bad cop, while I was the good cop, which is an interesting switch. Here’s the text of what I planned to say, but of course I tended to drift from the script in the actuality.

Whoever said that the answer to bad speech is more speech never had to run a modern website. I used to run my own web server for my blog, before I realized that I had better things to do than nursemaid a swarm of technical details and decided instead to pay a professional to do it well, and one of the things I had to do was maintain all this code that was there specifically to limit access. It was vitally important. I could be down deep in the bowels of the beast, monitoring all the incoming data, and the instant I would plug that ethernet cable into my server to connect it to the internet, literally within milliseconds it would be getting hit with pings — almost all spammers, and also lots of automated hacking code, looking for loopholes in my implementations of communications protocols so that bad messages could be uploaded into my machine to do them harm.

Every website, even the ones that assert the most devout dedication to the principles of free speech, are extensively filtered. From my personal experience, I’d have to say that less than 1% of the attempts to communicate via the internet are legitimate, or are sincere, honest attempts by a human being to talk to other human beings, and the bulk of the attempted discussions are spam and dedicated efforts to corrupt communication.

You don’t have to run a server to know this. Just about all of you use email; every modern email server has built-in traps to block spam. Gmail, for instance, uses some smart algorithms to detect and dispose of spam and you don’t even see most of the garbage that is trying to come through. You really would be drowning in noise without those filters.

It’s also the case in every instance of non-technological discourse in which you engage. Look at this room; I’m talking, and you’re all being so polite and not interrupting; no one is yelling at me, and none of you are suddenly standing up and announcing that you’d like to sell me penis enlarging pills. And then when the Q&A rolls around, you’ll all take turns. Of course we limit speech all the time by common courtesy and by formal rules of order. We could not have a civilized conversation without these rules.

The tricky part is establishing those rules. The naive free speech absolutist is neglecting the fact that the privilege of free speech has to come with the responsibilities of free speech. Every right has to come with a recognition of limits on those rights.

Some of those limitations are easy. For instance, you may have a right to free speech, but you don’t have a right to an audience. Here’s David Silverman, who just gave a ferocious talk advocating the importance of atheism, and I might think everyone ought to hear that…but that doesn’t mean Dave gets to show up at someone’s house at dinner time and harangue everyone with it. It doesn’t mean he has the right to show up at an Anglican church on Sunday and override the religious sermon with his far superior atheist sermon. He should have the right to set up an Atheist TV channel, so people can voluntarily tune in and listen to what he has to say, if they want to.

I think we can all agree that we don’t have a right to impose our views on others, but that it is a violation of the principles of free speech when others, governments or religious organizations or corporations, try to dictate what we may read or hear — that on the one hand, forcing people to read a message is wrong, but on the other hand, limiting voluntary access to media is also wrong. So when governments arrest individuals who express their rejection of religion, or when they shut down access to Twitter by all of their citizens because the state is being criticized, or when the press is corrupted and no longer questions the actions of the state, we can all agree that that is a violation of a principle that we consider important for the welfare and happiness of free people.

Except…

Not even that idea is without exceptions.

Here’s one big problem I have. Words have power. I shouldn’t even have to say this to people in an organization which believes strongly in the power of communication and persuasion and reason: we’re not promoting the cause of humanism with soldiers and tanks, but solely by telling people about the virtues of humanist thought, and encouraging open-mindedness and critical thinking and the questioning of dogma. And we all think that working within the framework of law and media is an effective and appropriate way to do that. At least I haven’t heard anyone suggesting that the world humanists need to start up a military arm.

But there’s often a curious asymmetry in how we think about this. Words have power, but we think everyone ought to be able to use this power freely? Really? There ought to be no restrictions on how words can be expressed? I don’t think we really believe that. We ought to recognize that, because it’s the only way we can properly develop rules and protocols for restricting speech.

Let me give you some specific examples where free speech absolutism fails.

Should creationism be taught in science classes? Many creationists literally argue that their freedom of speech is abridged when they are not allowed to teach their views in public school classrooms, to children. One of the most popular slogans of the intelligent design creationism movement is “Teach the Controversy” — they are arguing that the issues ought to be resolved by giving equal time to all sides, and letting the kids decide which is right. That really is a free speech argument.

I’m a teacher, and I have no illusions. If you give kids a choice between an easy answer that says all you have to do is believe, and that god did it is an acceptable alternative, vs. the complex answer that requires math and data and a rejection of the dogma their parents promote, most will happily accept the one that makes studying for the exam easiest. I also know that if we open the door to anything goes, then education becomes a matter of opening a firehose of noise on the classroom, and drowning the kids in chaos.

The answer is that we have to have criteria for determining what core ideas must be taught, and that we humanists and atheists have a pretty clear idea on that: we advocate for a secular and universal education, where the content is dictated by reality : if an idea is supported by the evidence and there is a clear reasonable path by which any reasonable person can arrive at a consensus, then we should teach that, and not the idea that is contradicted by the evidence. But even that answer is fraught: how do you teach poetry? And the creationists will reply that what must be taught is socialization and the proper place of the student in society, and only religion can give that. We could argue for hours over this issue, and we do.

Here’s another example:

Should rape and death threats be protected as free speech? This is a hot issue on the internets nowadays, and yes, people are actually arguing that using online media to harass, stalk, and threaten people is a free speech issue. And it is! If you’re a purist who believes that everyone ought to be free to create multiple pseudonymous accounts and deluge their enemies with racist, sexist, or abusive slime, then of course you’re going to demand that your right to do so may not be infringed. You’ll also make the same playground excuses we all heard as kids.

“Toughen up.” “Only crybabies can’t take it if they’re called a mean name”. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

These excuses are all wrong. Remember, words have power, and only abusers of that power will deny it. The victims of these abusers are already tough — it takes a thick skin to persist on the internet anymore — and they’re not complaining about one insult. They are drowning in the noise: technology has given bullies the power to deliver a torrent of abuse online with great ease, and unfortunately, most of the media are enablers of that bullying. Getting told once that you ought to be raped is annoying and infuriating; being told dozens of times every day is discouraging and repressive. I know way too many people who have been driven completely off the internet by free speech fanatics who flood all of their communications with hatred and abuse.

Just because I’m trying to be difficult today, keep in mind as well that some people find messages that their cherished religious beliefs are false to be discouraging and repressive. These are concerns that must be recognized; it is important that we don’t fall into the trap of glibly announcing that free speech is simply wonderful, all we have to do is talk to each other in the sunlight and reason with one another, and everyone will be won over by the side of goodness and logic and mutual respect. Because that won’t happen.

Should lies be protected as free speech? How do we deal with, for instance, faith healers? Their promises don’t work. They are so tempting to the weak and sick, though: when the choices are to undertake an agonizing regime of chemotherapy, against simply praying harder, there are many people who will understandably choose the latter course, because someone is lying to them about the effectiveness. How do we deal with advertising? It’s easy when the lies are obvious, such as the old campaigns in which doctors were recruited to endorse cigarettes, but what about ads that say beautiful women will find you irresistible if you swamp your body odor with Axe body spray and drink the right kind of watery beer? Don’t pretend that it’s all just caveat emptor and the weak have only themselves to blame — we’re all susceptible to psychological games, says the guy using an Apple iPad, because they’re really cool.

I think, and I suspect that most of you agree, that truth ought to be an ultimate arbiter — that what we ought to prize most is honesty and accuracy in our communication, and that it ought to be a human value to demand evidential support for any claim. It is important that we state our expectations up front and clearly, and that that value is a significant component in how we evaluate speech. But we also have to appreciate that that is not a significant component to others: that they may define truth by how well a statement can be reconciled to their holy book, rather than to reality.

To sum up my concerns about free speech:

You don’t have a right to an audience. This is a critical limitation of free speech right now, in a day when technology has made it trivially easy for abusers to circumvent the limitations of courtesy and protocol.

Words have power. Guns also have power; is unregulated access to guns the best path to a free society? We’re engaged in that experiment in the US right now, and I can tell you…no. Similarly, we have to recognize that words must be used responsibly.

Speech can do great harm. Words can enlighten and educate, but they can also oppress and mislead. As humanists, we must appreciate the importance of truth, and do what we can to stop the promulgation of lies.

There are no easy answers. A commitment to free speech is hard — and the easy answers are so attractive. On the one side we have the contingent arguing “You can’t say that!”, and on the other we have people saying, “I can say anything I damn well please, anywhere, anytime!”, and neither is right. We must be aware that the task is one of navigating between the two extremes.

What happens to creationists who dare to step into this den of evil?

If you ever want to see the typical course of a creationist’s visit to Pharyngula, we’ve got a good example in medic0506, who showed up to argue and then didn’t. I mostly ignored him, but his announcement that he was disappointed caught my eye.

I was told on DDO that there were actual scientists here who would engage in informal argumentation, so since I’ve had my fun with the whineylibs, I’ll scroll through an see if there is any valid posts by someone who wishes to have a discussion rather than just try to scratch my eyeballs out.

This is standard noise from creationists: get thrown lots of evidence, then claim that there was no evidence and they’re all so very tired of it. So I thought I would take a look at his posting history here to see what kind of substantial, thought-provoking, evidence-based arguments he had made.

Surprise. There weren’t any.

He’s very proud to have coined the term “National Coven for the Solicitation of Evolutionism” for the NCSE. He thinks it fits because Eugenie Scott reminds him of the wicked witch. Why? Because she lied and said Meyer’s awful paper, The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories, didn’t mention ID (what? It was an ID paper; the whole issue with that is that it was smuggled in by a creationist editor friendly to the idea, making a farce of peer review). As evidence, he provided this video:

I really would not want to cite that as favorable to intelligent design creationism. Meyer was disgraceful, Eugenie was patient and calm, and she didn’t say what medic0506 claimed she said.

Then he declares that he is a young earth creationist. In reply to a comment that he’s flat-out denying the overwhelming scientific consensus, he waves away that little problem of contradicting physics, chemistry, and geology by saying it only takes 1 to be right.

Next we learn That “old book” [the Bible], on the other hand, paints an accurate picture of what nature should, and does look like, so I see no need to disregard it in favor of what others believe. He then ignores all the comments that point to verses in the Bible that paint a very inaccurate picture of the world. Sometimes the absence of a reply is as damning as the content of a reply.

When confronted with standard evidence for an ancient universe, like the existence of galaxies farther away than 6000 light years, he simply denies it: your belief in deep time is heavy on theory but light on actual evidence.

The rest is just repetitive noise, and then he starts talking about retreat because there is a dearth of scientists here. He can’t make a single positive argument for his goofy beliefs, and his entire visit was simply an exercise in evasion.

Unimpressed. Bored. That’s why I didn’t bother to engage with yet another asinine fool stopping by — he had nothing to discuss, and he knew that if he brought up any actual arguments for a young earth or creation by divine poofery, he’d have his head handed to him.


Yay! We have a major eruption of kookery from medic0506!

I’m willing to be proven wrong on this, but I don’t believe that starlight is something that actually physically travels to earth, in order for us to see it. I think that light is emitted from an energy source, and if the amount of energy released as light is enough, the object will be bright enough for our eyes to see it from earth. I don’t buy when someone argues that starlight has been traveling for billions of years to get here. Feel free to prove me wrong by proving the current understanding of light travel, but no one else so far has been able to address this without just throwing more theoretical BS at it.

So light doesn’t actually travel at some limited speed, but if it’s really, really bright, it is instantly transported to our eyes. All that empirical evidence, all those measurements of the speed of light…that’s all just theoretical BS. Why should we throw out all of physics? Because a creationist thinks brightness can substitute for velocity.

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.

Cothran’s execrable offerings

Martin Thomas Cothran, apologist for Intelligent Design creationism, takes Jerry Coyne to the woodshed for criticizing a book he hasn’t read.

Consider Coyne’s recent article, "The ‘Best Arguments for God’s Existence’ Are Actually Terrible," which appeared in the New Republic. The article takes the form of a refutation of the arguments in David Bentley Hart’s new book, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, and Bliss. Coyne admits that he has not actually read the book, but nevertheless concludes its arguments are unsound. He claims that Hart’s conception of God is "immune to refutation," and therefore that "Hart’s argument fails …."

Yet, if you actually read Coyne’s article, he comes right out and says he’s not discussing the book, but the ideas that other fans of Hart have promoted, and the general theological approach to defending god-belief. Coyne even promises to read Hart’s new book to see if there are any new arguments in it, which I think is a terrible mistake. When will we learn? We’re constantly told that this book or that book is the very best argument for god ever made, and then we read it, and it’s awful and the same old noise.

So I visited Martin Cothran’s restaurant, and told him to give me the best thing on the menu.

PZM: That is quite possibly the worst ham sandwich I’ve ever tasted. It’s inedible. Give me a minute, I have to go rinse my mouth out.

MC: That is not just a ham sandwich; it is a specially spiced sandwich ala Ken Ham. We take a slice of cheap lunchmeat and spread a layer of runny yellow feces from a diarrhetic baby on top. But yes, you’re quite right, it’s terrible. It’s a bad sandwich. Here, let me get you the best meal in the house…

PZM: OK.

Gah, that’s even worse! What the hell is that?

MC: That is Plantinga’s Deep-Fried Dog Doody. Delightful mouth feel, crunchy on the outside, gooey in the center. But I understand, really, it’s a miserable excuse for a snack. I shouldn’t have given it to you. Here’s something that is simply delightful, I’m sure you’ll agree…

PZM: OK.

<sprays countertop with the gritty contents of his first spoonful> Take it away, take it away, I can’t believe I put that in my mouth!

MC: What? That was Karen Armstrong’s Homestyle Catbox Casserole! Everyone loves it. But then, it’s comfort food for the masses, I can understand how a discerning palate like yours would find it unsatisfactory. Here, I have something far more refined…

PZM: OK.

Wait. No. That reeks. I can’t even get within 10 feet of that slimy mess.

MC: I understand. It’s Anselm’s Ontoexcremental Pudding, and it is an acquired taste. We take thousand year old outhouse samples from an English monastery, let it ripen while passing philosophers make sporadic additions to it, and when it reaches a particularly high aroma, serve. It’s a poor excuse for a dish, much too old and much too overdone, and rather patently absurd. Of course you don’t like it. But I’ve been saving this next treat for a special customer…

PZM: OK.

No, just no. <Spits out unpleasant brown wad into his napkin>

MC: Ooops. That really is just the straight, undistilled stuff, Poop Tartar, from a recipe I got from Al Mohler. Baptist cooking isn’t to everyone’s taste, I understand. I should have known! You’re a scientist! I have exactly the thing for you!

PZM: OK.

Hmm. Looks like a cookie. <nibbles delicately at the edge> Ick. Tastes like shit.

MC: Exactly! It’s an Intelligently Processed Cow Pie! We take shit, run it through a cuisinart until all the texture is gone, pour it into a very sciencey beaker, and then microwave it until it’s a hot, bubbling, tarry goo, then we pour it onto a greased cookie sheet and bake it until we have a solid, perfectly circular disk of uniform shit! It’s very high tech. But you want character in your food, not just the same old thing you get at the Science Commissary, right?

PZM: OK.

A chocolate milkshake? Finally, something I can enjoy? <pause, then gagging/wretching noises<

MC: Lennox’s Fecal Frappé sometimes has that effect. Dreadful stuff. Apologies. I really should have served you the greatest dish in my entire restaurant from the very beginning. Try this delicious dessert, and bon appetit!

PZM: OK.

<plunges spoon into large quivering blob, it explodes, splattering the interior with flecks of slime and an impossibly vile stench.>

MC: Amazing, isn’t it? Hart’s Fart Pudding is one of our most expensive treats: we start with just the tiniest amount of prime poop, and then we whip and froth it up into this delicate airy confection with the voluminous gasses expelled from the digestive tract of a long-winded philosopher. Too light? Perhaps you would like to try some of our chewy D’Souza’s Dung Rolls…?

PZM: Uh, you know…do you have anything that doesn’t have shit in it?

MC: Well, there’s Miller’s Mud Balls, those don’t have much shit in them. Or Hedge’s Revenge. Spicy!

PZM: I think…I think maybe I’ll just pass on everything.

MC: What? That is an unethical position! How can you reject a meal without first tasting it? Every item on my menu is better than every other item on my menu, and I can keep churning out new shit recipes all the time. You have to shut up and keep shoveling!

PZM: Bye. I’ve learned enough.

MC: McGrath’s Mierda? Nürnberger Nuggets? Stone’s Scheiss Soup? Garrison’s Gut Goo? You can’t leave until you’ve tasted them all! Coward! You’ve only tasted the weakest of my fabulous foods!


Oh, no. It’s another Cothran, but the stupidity of the younger is indistinguishable from that of the elder.

Australia? You are at fault!

What I’ve seen over and over again is that there’s nothing creative about creationism — they repeat the same old arguments, and they’re all (except for the weird twist of Intelligent Design creationism) derived from American publications in the 1960s. And even ID is an American confabulation! So I tend to give my own country a share of the blame when I see an Australian like Ken Ham, or a Turk like Adnan Oktar.

I may have been too quick to accept guilt, though. I’m going to have to blame Australia more.

The recent revelation that creationism-teaching schools in at least nine states were receiving over $11 million of taxpayers’ money per year might have startled Americans. But that is tiny compared to the taxpayer funds pushing creationism in Australia.

Since the 1970s, Australia has ratcheted up public funding to private schools, such that, in 2013, more than 34 percent of all school students attend them. More than 90 percent of these private schools are Christian. These include a large Catholic sector, and some old, establishment schools, which parents choose more for lavish facilities and old-school-tie networks than any religious content.

Nonetheless, the fastest growth is in more strictly religious schools such as the 91 affiliated with Australian Association of Christian Schools, whose members must assent to a Statement of Faith declaring “the supreme authority of the Bible,” meaning that “the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are God’s infallible and inerrant revelation to man” and “the supreme standard by which all things are to be judged.” The Statement also affirms that, “in pursuit of their task, Christian schools only employ Christian teachers and Christian non-teaching staff who are able to subscribe to this Statement.”

To proponents of “inerrant revelation,” the Genesis six days of creation are a touchstone.

In 2010 (the most recent figures available), AACS schools received over $357 million from state and federal governments.

Whoa. So Australia is pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into propping up creationism? I’m not buying beer for any Australians ever again, until you stop.

I love to watch my enemies flail at each other

Two creationist camps, both alike in dignity, in fair America, where we lay our scene, from ancient grudge break to new mutiny, where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. Not that they were ever very civil to begin with.

The Discovery Institute snipes at Answers in Genesis, suggesting that the Nye-Ham debate is going to humiliate the science side and also clarify the difference between Intelligent Design creationism and Overtly Religious creationism; Ken Ham fires back at the Discovery Institute, arguing that ID fails to lead people to the One True God.

This can only end in blood, we hope. Or poison.