Nice turn of phrase

Next time you hear the tornado-in-a-junkyard argument (almost as common as the why-are-there-still-monkeys argument!), remember this rebuttal:

Creationists seeking to argue against evolution often liken the evolution of complex organisms by natural selection to the building of a DC-10 by a hurricane blowing through a junkyard. Their conclusion? Since such an event is staggeringly unlikely, a special sentient hurricane must have built the plane deliberately.

That’s going to be handy!


  1. says

    I thought it was a tornado blowing through a junk yard.

    And, with new landfill policies it is so hard to find a good open junkyard, This may explain the aging nature of the US commercial aircraft fleet.

  2. El Cid says

    That’s all well and good, but what about Airbus? Do they have special French-speaking sentient hurricanes?

  3. Peter Ashby says

    No El Cid the Airbus factory is conveniently sited between Strasbourg and Brussels and construction is powered by the regular wind of passing Eurocrats and MEPs traipsing from one to the other as the Parliament moves.

    I hear the Japanese have a Divine Wind though…

  4. says

    Ooooh, I bet Michael Crichton is getting excited about a State of Fear sequel. Sentient hurricanes that support ID might even be MORE fun than painting climate change as a liberal conspiracy.

  5. Dan Kritchevsky says

    Chris Clarke has a point about the organization of nature being less organized than it superficially appears. But isn’t this creationist “argument” founded on the even more basic false assumption that evolution operates totally at random?

    The clarification that natural selection selects in a highly non-random way from random genetic variations would seem just as relevant a counter in this context as in any other.

  6. CalGeorge says

    So, are there special sentient hurricanes like the one that hit New Orleans (answering the prayers of all those New Orleans haters) and unspecial non-sentient ones?

    Boy, science sure is complicated!

  7. says

    Yes, how very scientific. Let’s dismiss their arguments by making fun of their wording. That way we’ll show them how smart we really are. Besides, I don’t really know how complex information-filled organisms could have developed through natural selection, so I better try to shift the emphasis elsewhere in the argument. Oh thank you, PZ Myers for giving me a way to mask my great ignorance. May the impersonal and unintelligent assorted mass of the universe bless you!

  8. MartinC says

    I liked Carl Sagan’s suggestion that the tornado needn’t create a 747, all its required to produce is a few sheets wrapped around a bicycle frame – pretty much what the Wright brothers started off with. It was through successive modification and improvement of that not so unlikely starting point that we arrived at the 747.

  9. whitney says

    Hey! Not all Kansans are IDiots…
    And it would have to be quite a tornado to take care of Texas and many other parts of the country too! :)

  10. noncarborundum says

    the regular wind of passing Eurocrats and MEPs

    “… wind … [huh, huh] … passing … hey, Beavis!”

  11. Nathan Parker says

    Corey Reynolds wrote:

    Let’s dismiss their arguments by making fun of their wording.

    The original tornado/747 analogy isn’t an argument, it’s a bit of sophistry intended to ridicule evolution by pretending the theory is something different from what it is. The “sentient” tornado just throws that tactic right back.

    If anyone is dismissive, it’s those that offer the tornado analogy and think that it’s relevant. I suggest that they review 150 years of research and then come back with something that’s actually on point.

  12. Jsn says

    Sentient hurricanes? I wondered why they all have names…

    Non sequiter:(a joke from Physicshead)

    A physicist, a biologist, and a mathematician are sitting in a café and notice people going into and coming out of the house across the street. First they see two people going into the house. Time passes. After a while, they notice three persons coming out of the house.
    The physicist: “The measurement was not accurate.”
    The biologist: “They have reproduced.”
    The mathematician: “If one person enters the house, then it will be empty again.”

  13. NC Paul says

    Besides, I don’t really know how complex information-filled organisms could have developed through natural selection, so I better try to shift the emphasis elsewhere in the argument.

    I suggest then that you read some books on natural selection rather than wasting your time blowing hot air here. If you have questions that those books can’t answer, come back and then we can talk. In the meantime, you’re just making an ass of yourself.

  14. Nathan Parker says

    June wrote:

    The neatest reply to the Tornado-Junkyard argument is in TalkOrigins: The tornado itself is an example of order arising spontaneously.

    LOL. I hadn’t seen that twist (no pun intended).

    Still, that’s a bit of rhetorical trick, too. I would suspect that a creationist who was answered that way might think the respondant was taking unfair advantage of a particular example, rather than homing in on his actual concern.

    What I think would be more successful, long-term, is to help the person abstract his objection by saying “So you’re suggesting that random processes cannot produce order”, and then, upon obtaining agreement, use the example of the tornado as demonstration that it can. I think the person would be less likely to feel tricked if you helped him portray his misconception in the best possible light before showing how it is false.

  15. says

    Corey Reynolds writes:
    Let’s dismiss their arguments by making fun of their wording. That way we’ll show them how smart we really are.

    Anyone who’s capable of holding such stupid ideas in their brain isn’t going to listen to reason anyhow. Reason would just bounce off.

    Personally, I favor dispensing with the part of making fun of their arguments and going directly to making fun of them, personally. After all, silly arguments come from silly people! Besides, It’s not the argument’s fault it’s silly. The correct response is not to pick at their wording – it’s to point and jeer loudly, “Look! Look! It learned to talk but didn’t learn to THINK!”

  16. pough says

    I try to find out which direction they think they’re heading in. If it’s “complexity does not arise spontaneously” I point out that the tornado is exactly that. If they’re really dumb and they think this has something to do with evolution, I start to use the word “fucking” a lot, pointing out that the planes are terrible lovers and won’t reproduce.

  17. Moses says

    Besides, I don’t really know how complex information-filled organisms could have developed through natural selection, so I better try to shift the emphasis elsewhere in the argument.

    Yes we do. We tell you and your friends everyday. And you just don’t listen.

    Just like when I give my clients professional advice and they listen to some idiot who doesn’t have a clue and eschew what I tell them. They usually end up with businesses that go bankrupt or are severly impaired. Much like the children of evolution denialists that end up hamstringing the future of their children by sheltering them from the truth.

    But, as long as they limit their damage to themselves I don’t care. Now, when they want to damage my children, well, then I’m going to stand up.

    Try this instead of wasting our time:

  18. Tracy P. Hamilton says

    Corey Reynolds: “Oh thank you, PZ Myers for giving me a way to mask my great ignorance. ”

    It didn’t work.

  19. J Myers (no relation) says

    Oooo, pastor Corey comes here to argue from ignorance and be an antagonistic ass–Christian values in practice!

  20. inkadu says

    The day I open up my overhead bin to find a gestating 747 is the day I will take the junkyard argument seriously.

  21. Mooser says

    Ya gotta hand it to the creationists, they’re nice folks. Look at what they do for science. The scientific and technological progress which has accelerated so fast during the twentieth century is often metaphorically, and evolution. Of course it is not, except in the metaphorical sense. But creationists have so much respect fro the process of technological and scientific progress, that they use it as a model for natural evolution. Every sparrow must have its designer and builder, just as every computer does. Except it’s two different things, one (the sparrow) is a product of evolution, the other (the computer) is a product of scientific and technological progress which can appear evolutionary or be metaphorically described that way. It’s a compliment in a way, even if not intended as one.

  22. says

    But PZ, you’re falling into the pop culture fallacy of confusing hurricanes and tornadoes! Didn’t Storm World teach you anything? Oh, that’s right, you thought it was sci-fi ;>

  23. Sastra says

    I think the “tornado in a junk yard” analogy is a variation of a larger, vaguer argument which need have nothing to do with evolution: Did everything “just happen,” or was it meant to be all along? Did flowers and puppies and sun sets and me and you get here by accident? Surely, it’s all too wonderful.

    The analogy is to human intention: was it something you wanted and was built for the purpose you needed it for, or was it a mistake which just fell from nowhere, for no reason — but it still fits your purpose? They can’t seem to take themselves out of the equation.

  24. JohnnieCanuck, FCD says

    PZ isn’t confused at all. He has it right, the usual anecdote uses a tornado. Chris Clarke, as quoted, and mentioned in his comments section said hurricane.

    Anyone planning to steal the phrase just has to match whatever the Creationist echo chamber uses. So sentient tornado is the most likely response.

  25. says

    A patient came to see me with chest pain. I was going to do a physical exam, ekg, xray, but then i realized that examining complex problems in complex systems is futile–goddidit and that’s all.

  26. the_assayer says

    Actually this is not a very good argument. A special-sentient-deliberate huricane is what is required,as per their view, to bring forth such complexity. The key word is “deliberate”. They only object to the “randomness” in evolution(which is ofcourse a misconception). However, if there was a deliberate force behind such processes as the qoute claims, it describes their position rather accurately.

    The point that creationists claim that God(unknown) “somehow” magicked life into existance is what should be attacked. The belief that God did it, still leaves you profoundly ignorant about the creator, the process of creation and of course how the creator came into existance.