I attended a lecture by Dave and Mary Jo Nutting of the Alpha-Omega Institute, a creationist…well, I was going to say “think tank”, but it’s really just an apartment in a building that also houses a cleaning service, and is nothing but Dave & Mary Jo promoting themselves as speakers, and there isn’t much thinking going on. What is it with creationists putting pretentious labels on their homes?
Which reminds me…I’ve got to get that sign for the “Institute of Eight Legged Freaks, Departments of Mollusca and Arachnida, and the Academy of Pharyngula Studies” made up for my lawn.
Anyway, it was terrible. Godawful boring and repetitive. Two and a half hours long. Fucking dreadful, even for the low expectations I have for creationists. I sat through the whole thing, seething, until I erupted a little bit in the Q&A.
My wife doesn’t go to these things, but this time Mary came along. I think she wanted to make sure I didn’t misbehave. She doesn’t like to make a scene, so when I started chewing out these ignorant frauds, she was right next to me, drilling her elbow into my ribs. It was a bit uncomfortable, but I persevered. But ow, my side aches today.
Anyway, you probably don’t want to listen to the whole thing, even though I recorded it all. I can summarize it for you: Dave briefly shows an example of a scientific discovery, like the blood clotting pathway, or dolphin countercurrent exchange systems, or DNA repair mechanisms, and then announces,
Sure looks like design to me! Over and over. He doesn’t actually address any of the mechanisms behind any of the phenomena, or discuss the evidence, or fairly present the evidence for their evolution — he relies entirely on the pretense that complexity and/or function are synonyms for design. So he throws up an abridged slide of the clotting pathway, and then slaps a label on it claiming it’s all evidence for creation.
It was a poorly attended talk, and I can understand why — they were utterly inane. The Q&A got a little more interesting, largely because every question was pushing back against their claims. If there were attendees who were pro-creationism, they were utterly silent the whole long evening.
At the end, in the Q&A, I rudely called bullshit on them. Look: complexity and functionality are outcomes of a process. We all agree that biological systems are functional and often complex. The question is about the nature of the process. Biologists say there are natural mechanisms that can generate those outcomes, and we have bucket loads of empirical evidence that allow us to explain how functionality and complexity are generated, to widely varying degrees of thoroughness. Creationists say there is one explanation, an explicit act of intentional creation by a designer, and have no evidence whatsoever for it, other than a Gomer Pyle-like expression of incredulity that revels in their ignorance of what the scientists have said.
When I pointed out this disconnect between evidence and their conclusion, and that they are falsely equating complexity with intentional design, Mary Jo denied it. Then she said it wasn’t just complexity, but the intricacy and interconnectedness of organization, which is just throwing out some new nouns and adjectives that say exactly the same thing: complexity equals design. They really have no idea about what they’re talking about.
This was demonstrated perfectly in the first question, at about 1:40. What is it exactly about finding a watch on the beach that tells you it is designed? The reply:
I see organizational structure. I see function. A follow-up question was roughly, “if everything is designed, how would you recognize something that wasn’t designed?” To which they said there is also some randomness, giving them an excuse to babble about a tornado in a junkyard assembling an airplane.
The second questioner asks for a clarification: that they’re talking about these crazy complex systems to show that chance is insufficient to explain them.
I believe things are too complex, so there must have been a designer. Then he asks about the possibility that design is simply an interpretation based on human bias and experience. They don’t seem to understand the point: Mary Jo goes on about how a building must have a builder. Dave’s answer is familiar:
Based on what we see and know, it sure looks designed. Then he goes on to say it taxes credulity to think it could have happened by accident. Wooooooosh, way over his head.
The third question asks whether they understand the argument from ignorance, or the argument from personal incredulity. Nope. They had to ask him to explain it. In a follow-up, he points out that he can’t see the difference between their argument, and saying a magic pixie did it. Mary Jo counters by saying that they have to use other evidence, like historical evidence…by which she means the Bible.
She keeps talking. The talk was long-winded, their answers were equally long-winded. She starts off with the complexity thing again, saying that molecules bouncing around randomly can’t explain complexity.
That’s where I finally erupt and tell them they can’t do that — it’s an invalid argument to simply claim complexity is sufficent to justify the design explanation. (Warning: I come off very loud, like the voice of God, but it’s only because my recorder was sitting on the desk directly in front of me). She replies by saying
it’s not just the complexity, it’s the ordered complexity. Jesus fuck, they are dense.
Systems, machines, computers. Mindless buzzwords.
Another question: what about species that go extinct? Guess what the answer is?
A follow-up: Given the Flood, how did organisms repopulate the earth?
Perhaps they hopped.
There was another question about biogeography after the flood. I felt like shouting, stop pandering to their delusions. There was no flood. It just gives them opportunity to meander on with Bible stories.
Next question: Why do you prioritize supernatural answers over natural ones, when we’ve never seen anything propely answered with supernatural explanations?
The supernatural makes more sense to us. Also, an admission:
we have no evidence.
Next: questioner brings up an example Nutting used, of a sea slug that eats anemones and recycles nematocysts for their own use. Did that happen before or after the Fall? They don’t know.
It came around to me again. I demanded that they show evidence for design other than reiterating the mantra of complexity. Their argument, after I told them that just claiming evolution relies only on chance is dishonest, was to argue that
natural selection can only act on what is already there. I mentioned biology as a property of chemistry; they claimed that chemistry is evolution. What I didn’t bring up, and should have, is that they’ve just pushed back their unanswerable questions of evolution to prebiotic chemistry, which doesn’t fit with their claims of a 6000 year old earth and a global flood.
The next question is a conciliatory comment in which the questioner says he appreciates the sincerity of their beliefs. But then he asks a really good question. He asks how they explain that their position is becoming less popular. And that’s true: there might have been 20 people in the audience, and judging by the questions, almost all of them completely disagreed with the Nuttings.
Their answer is that all that’s taught at the university is naturalism. They also blame separation of church and state. You’ve been brainwashed, sheeple!
Next question: The Nuttings believe as they do because of personal experiences; the questioner accept the concensus of science. Do they believe personal experience over empirical evidence? They waffle pointlessly. They don’t reject empirical evidence (which wasn’t the question) they just…I don’t know what. So the question gets repeated.
There’s way too much that indicates there must be a designer. Then he starts babbling about the Bible.
I count that as a total non-answer.
Next: it’s pointed out that science doesn’t work the way they claim. It’s not a collection of facts followed by interpretation, where every interpretation is equal. Science builds on progressive hypothesis testing; they put up slides of the end conclusions of a lot of work to giggle over, but that was all based on a lot of legitimate work that they didn’t show. Mary Jo offers vague agreement that there is a process of science, but claims
it doesn’t tell us how it got there. I’d say it does; they just intentionally neglected to discuss it. In follow up, the questioner points out that invoking the supernatural basically kills our ability to address the question, and returns to the initial question of how you recognize undesigned organization. It’s mentioned that the hypothesis that the devil buried all those fossils is a supernatural explanation. The moderator says that their organization (Maranatha) doesn’t believe that — which misses the whole point. How do they know?
The next question hammers on a point that had been made a few times: biology doesn’t explain the world in terms of pure chance. So why do the Nuttings keep going back to this claim of nothing but random chance? Dave replies by asking, rhetorically, if he thinks protein folding is purely chemistry and natural laws. He then claims that
natural laws…are not going to do that. It’s a folding machine. (Throughout the evening, “machine” was their magical word to imply a process was artificial.)
I will also remind you all that the title of the talk asserted a dichotomy,
Grand Design vs Chance. This was a fundamental issue, and they didn’t address it.
And with that, I’d had enough. We left.
You can listen to the whole thing, if I haven’t sufficiently discouraged you.