Ken Ham and the spiders


Ken Ham is writing about spiders and evolution, and my first thought was ha ha, that’s funny, he’s talking about two obsessions of mine, this should be good for a laugh. Creationist ignorance is always a great joke, right? But then I’m reading it, and…

Jesus fucking christ, this man is a lying fraud.

I don’t feel like treating this as a light bit of goofy news. Ken Ham is running a commercial empire in which he rakes in money for explaining that evolution is false, in addition to defrauding the state and his community, and his arguments can be rebutted with obvious logic and trivial examples. You’ll see; no one who reads this blog will have any trouble seeing the flaws in his complaint, and explaining where he’s wrong is like trying to explain basic evolution to a four-year-old child.

I can be patient and gentle and fun with a child, but dear god, this is a grown adult man several years older than I am who claims to have spent a lifetime studying the ideas of biology. He’s able to tie his own shoes, so he ought to have the maturity to comprehend the scientific position, even if he is ideologically opposed to it; I expect him to be honest enough to appreciate what he is criticizing as sincerely held and based on evidence, and present valid counter-evidence. He never does. And what he does say is obviously false.

Here’s what prompted him to dump his idiocy on the net: an observation that populations of spiders in storm-prone areas survive better and produce more offspring if they are aggressive. Sure, fine, I haven’t looked at the original papers so I don’t know how good the study is, but I don’t need to, because, as usual, Ken Ham’s analysis is so superficial and contradictory that there aren’t any nuances to consider. I mean, he doesn’t even understand the terms.

But it’s not evolution. The spiders remain spiders—there’s been no change of spider kind. Some behaviors are simply more beneficial than others under certain circumstances, which may drive a change in the population. This is natural selection, not evolution. Even though news items and scientific journals frequently equivocate the two, they aren’t the same thing.

Right there, from the first sentence, my rage grows. Yes, this is evolution. If the paper has demonstrated differential reproduction is related to a behavior, that is most definitely an example of evolution. This is an internally consistent application of the scientific meaning of evolution to an observation. Deal with it, Mr Ham. You can argue about the importance of this example, or you could, if you were able, try to address any problems in the study, but claiming “it’s not evolution” is just wrong.

Of course the spiders remain spiders. This is an example of an incremental change in a population. No one expects spiders to turn into beetles in one storm season, or even in a million years.

Ham says beneficial behaviors may drive a change in a population…yes. That is natural selection. He’s just admitted that it occurs, and even takes it for granted.

Natural selection is a subset of the mechanisms that drive evolution, so he’s technically correct that they should not be equivocated, but still — natural selection is an evolutionary process. When selection is observed, you are seeing evolution.

Now look. Everyone reading this knows all this. It’s basic. I’m repeating stuff I’ve explained multiple times on this blog and in the classroom for decades. You’re all sitting there, out there in the blogosphere, smug and reassured because Myers is simply re-affirming the stuff you already know. It feels good, doesn’t it? We’re all happy to share our understanding, and there’s a bit of the ol’ mean-spirited “let’s pile on the ignoramus” sentiment uniting us.

But you shouldn’t feel good at all. You should feel sick at heart and angry. Ken Ham is a man who lies to children about the simplest concepts in science, and he was handed hundreds of millions of dollars to build a stupid fake boat in the middle of Kentucky. He’s a liar and a con artist, and he is economically rewarded to a degree most of you are not (definitely more than I am). He gets to mumble inanities that we’d be embarrassed to see in a miseducated child, and then he gets to go count the gate receipts.

I am tired of just laughing at these clowns. Get angry. Get angrier.

You know, he’s not done.

Natural selection works on already existing genetic information, whereas evolution requires the addition of brand-new genetic information to form new features that never previously existed. (Something that has never been observed!) Information always comes from other information and ultimately a mind, and in this case, the Creator’s mind.

Yes, we have observed the addition of new genetic information and the generation of new phenotypes. It’s called mutation. It’s another of those processes, like natural selection, that work together to produce evolutionary change. It’s been seen and measured and recorded over and over again, and Ham can just lie and dismiss it all.

After stumbling through some transparently stupid evolution denial, he moves on to equally stupid arguments against climate change.

Are these storms (such as Hurricane Dorian, the storm that devastated the Bahamas and parts of the United States in recent weeks) really the result of man-made climate change? Well, climates do change—that is observational science. But the cause of climate change isn’t straightforward. Some scientists have suggested that it may be dependent on the sun and cycles of the sun (such as sunspots), with humans only playing a very minor role.

Some scientists and sunspots. Goddamn you to hell, Ken Ham. You’re a liar for Christ, you contemptible, shallow little man.

Of course, then he goes on to plug his upcoming Easter conference with Ray Comfort on climate change that you too can attend for the low price of $149, plus travel and hotel costs. Celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ with four days of shit from a bevy of smirking dishonest assholes. Christians ought to be outraged, but then one lesson I’ve learned is that Christians are really good at excusing the worst behavior from their fellow Christ-fuckers.

Are you angry yet?

Join me and the spiders.

Comments

  1. mathman85 says

    [N]o one who reads this blog will have any trouble seeing the flaws in his complaint, and explaining where he’s wrong is like trying to explain basic evolution to a four-year-old child.

    Well, Dr. Myers, I gotta say, you are absolutely right. I was double facepalming halfway through the second of Ham’s sentences that you quoted. This, coming from a mathematician who hasn’t taken any formal biology courses since freshman year of high school. Even a layman such as me can’t abide Ham’s utterly self-evident self-delusion.

  2. kingoftown says

    Spiders are a single kind!? So god created an archetypal spider which produced giant bird eating spiders and tiny house spiders in a few thousand years but chimpanzees and humans couldn’t possibly share a common ancestor?

  3. says

    Winning an argument with a genius is incredibly difficult. Winning an argument with an idiot is impossible.
    Can’t remember where I first heard that but it seems relevant these days.

  4. says

    I think for Ken Ham “bugs” are a single kind, and include everything from flying beetles to dragonflies, and dung beetles to funnel-web spiders and wasps to millipedes.

    There’s no problem with naturally selecting their common ancestor into all those forms in 4200 years. It’s Ardipithecus and Homo that are too far apart to share a common ancestor, even if the earth is 4 billion years old.

  5. PaulBC says

    He’s not funny, but his writing bothers me less than the fact that the Ark Park gets preferential tax treatment. A lot of people with power want the crap he is selling. Whether they believe his arguments or even bother to read them is besides the point.

    Ridicule is sometimes a more powerful weapon than anger. Of course, it’s not always, and Ham remains influential while being the target of ridicule. I think what I feel is less anger than embarrassment at being an American.

  6. stroppy says

    Spiders, eh. Sounds like HamBone has sent you a personal invitation to rumble. What the s.o.b. needs is a knock-out blow to his wallet.

  7. PaulBC says

    I think Ham’s reference to “new information” hits a threshold where I start to get angry… or I just want to stop him and say, look “Define what you mean by information if you want me to read any further.”

    In an information theoretic sense, literally the only way to get “new information” is through a true random outcome. Otherwise, the information is determined by the past and is not new. E.g., if I start with “5+7” and resolve the sum as “12”, I actually have less information than I started with because other pairs of numbers also sum to 12 (often what we want is less information). This is counterintuitive and almost certainly leads to the opposite conclusion from what people like Ken Ham would like. “Creating new information” is easy, though it is not the same as evolution either. (You need some way to filter out a lot of the new information, roughly speaking, as provided by natural selection.)

    We can suppose there is some human understanding of “information” that is not captured by information theory, but please explain what it is, because if you can’t explain what you mean by something, you cannot make any accurate assertions about it. So just stop. Stop. Now.

  8. ashley says

    I agree that Ham is a liar, a con-artist, and (also) almost certainly not a genuine Christian (he’s a bigot and an enemy of science). In the case of his lies concerning current climate change (that’s it’s not caused by human activities, not something serious and that we should do nothing to tackle the problem and it will ‘sort itself out’) his lies have NOTHING to do with either the Bible or Christianity – which should tell right thinking people everywhere all they need to know about this man:
    http://forums.bcseweb.org.uk/viewtopic.php?f=18&t=2967&start=1875

  9. stroppy says

    Some are simply impervious to logic, more and more it seems.

    As for christianity and AGW, the standard line (Inhofe) is that God wouldn’t let something bad happen to his chosen christians. Very comforting to people who’ve been indoctrinated to be God’s perpetual juveniles.

  10. PaulBC says

    ashley@8

    not a genuine Christian (he’s a bigot and an enemy of science).

    Sure he is. “Christian” is an enormous category. I may have my own understanding of Christian ethics that I believe Ham does not follow, but I don’t get to decide who is and is not a member of the religion they claim to be.

  11. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    I think that from now on, I’m going to just translate Ken Ham’s name into simple English: Ken Buttcheek.

  12. archangelospumoni says

    Maybe there is a plan in the Ham mind somewhere for him to establish a “spider unmuseum that ‘proves’ unevolution” and he’ll get more nice subsidies from his state/county/city/whatever? It could be across that giant parking lot for his ark unmuseum and they could offer single parking for both attractions!
    In the meantime, become a beekeeper. It’s cool and fun and a good thing.

  13. asclepias says

    How does one measure anger in a spider? I’m not aware that there was ever a baseline measurement for comparison.

  14. stroppy says

    My favorite Singlish oath is ‘fuck-spider!’, a delightfully incomprehensible expression of relative rage. Couldn’t tell you what spiders think of it though.

  15. says

    PaulBC @7:

    I just want to stop [Ham] and say, look “Define what you mean by information if you want me to read any further.”

    I have not interacted with Ham, but I have interacted with some particularly enthusiastic followers of his and of other notorious creationists like William Dembski. They never give a consistent definition of what they mean by “information” – or “complex specified information” or whatever other term they may be using. That is an essential feature of the con: It lets them remain vague enough that they can reject all counterexamples by pretending they don’t apply.

    For example: I have a mutation in one copy of the MYBPC3 gene – four base pairs got duplicated some generations back. New information, added to my genome. It’s not particularly useful information in this case. All it does is make my heart muscle more likely to go slightly sideways. But it’s still new information.

    I’ve quoted this example to said creationists. Their response was to completely disregard it and keep on shilling for Ham & Dembski.

    And that’s when I decided that talking with them further was a waste of time.

  16. brain says

    When selection is observed, you are seeing evolution.

    Actually, no. There can be selection without evolution.

    Be careful, creationists can pick every word you write to prove that you’re wrong and therefore they’re right…

  17. brucegee1962 says

    @9 stroppy

    As for christianity and AGW, the standard line (Inhofe) is that God wouldn’t let something bad happen to his chosen christians.

    Well, they’re right about one thing — belief in an all-powerful, beneficent God is incompatible with belief in Climate Change. I think that’s one of the reasons why America (as opposed to more enlightened nations) is having such a hard time accepting it. I also think that many liberal Christians who do believe in Climate Change haven’t fully thought through (or admitted to themselves) the consequences.

    In Genesis, God said “Don’t eat this apple.” He conspicuously did NOT say “Don’t dig up and burn these fossil fuels.” But obviously, that’s what any intelligent species would wind up doing eventually, and any self-respecting deity would be able to foresee that.

    By placing us in a world possessing all the tools necessary to allow us to wipe ourselves out through perfectly normal innovation and economic development, God kind of looks like the kind of caring father who leaves his kids in a nursery with a loaded gun sitting on the coffee table. If there weren’t already plenty of good reasons not to believe in such a being, this would be one more.

  18. unclefrogy says

    @8
    well I doubt he would fit any definition he himself would require of someone else.
    He is either someone who does not even believe in gods and is just started doing this shit as an easy con and is completely trapped in it. and or he believes he has a special and personal calling from god himself to do the saving mankind gig and he is a new specially blessed prophet
    (a kind of prophet for profit)
    he really is too full of shit to think clearly about taken as part of a serious problem absolutely.
    uncle frogy

  19. robro says

    It’s a small point, but I don’t think he’s so much a “liar for Christ” as a liar for his pocket book, and those that enable him. He uses the Jesus story to scam the gullible, like so many preachers (e.g. Jerry Falwell, Jr).

    stroppy @ #9

    God wouldn’t let something bad happen to his chosen christians.

    I’ve heard this from a born-again relative. It’s a truly remarkable assertion given that the Bible is full of god letting bad things happen to his chosen (e.g. Jesus), and their oft-cited history of persecution of the chosen. The follow up from this relative is that if climate change is true then it’s god’s will, so there’s nothing we can do about it.

  20. unclefrogy says

    @20
    my thoughts in followup would be if so why do you mind if I try to do something, no one is trying make you change your belief only change how we use and produce energy.
    so why does it bother them so much?
    uncle frogy

  21. stroppy says

    @21
    For that matter why do they get their world view Fox News?

    Why do they hate everything that’s presented to them as liberals taking away their hamberdlers and forcing them to eat broccoli at gun point with guns confiscated from them during the war on Christmas and what’s well known about scientists sitting around creating Frankenstein monsters all day who are also so hapless that they can’t decide if chocolate is good or bad for you, and also scientists being atheist evilutionists and so everything they do is evil unless it’s making bombs to blow up heathens and making bigger TVs to watch holy sportsball rituals, and because ungodly fornicating Hollywood types say they are for it?

  22. robro says

    unclefrogy @ #21 — I have no idea, but making sense out of believers isn’t easy, and perhaps not possible. I gave up years ago.

  23. ashley says

    PaulBC
    I am judging him by how he lies all the time and how some of the lies he tells are not even prompted by anything in the Bible. Or maybe your view is that the Bible – somewhere – condones lying?

  24. nomdeplume says

    Yes, this business of immutable kinds is a relatively new “answer” to the countless observations of evolution through natural selection. They can no longer deny it happens, so they deny it can cross the imaginary boundaries they have invented. Something that has always struck me with the creationist nonsense, and scientific answers, is that “evolution” is always treated as variation through time. But that is only one aspect of evolution. The “origin of species” involves geographic separation of populations. The question I would pose to creationists, if I could be bothered, is, given a world where species vary genetically, and a world where changes in geography separate populations, how could you actually stop evolution happening? [Another major gripe I have is that Ken Ham and his fellow cretins appear to think they are debating Darwin, as if this one man came up with a wild-eyed theory and no one has worked on the subject since. But PZ is right, debate is futile.

  25. monad says

    @27 nomdeplume: Actually reading Darwin, it was interesting to see that although he did not have anywhere near the evidence we have now, he basically proposes explanations for almost everything modern creationists object to. It really seems like they read through his list of possible objections and stuck with it; the only real innovation I’ve seen is adding flagella and bombardier beetles to the eye as examples of seemingly irreducible complexity.

    So it’s only fair that they’re still debating Darwin instead of modern evolutionary biology. Anyone who reads ahead knows they haven’t beat him yet. :)

  26. Pierce R. Butler says

    … evolution requires the addition of brand-new genetic information to form new features that never previously existed.

    And is therefore obviously impossible. See Ecclesiastes 1:9-10:

    The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

    Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.

    No innovations can ever happen (at least on this planet)!

  27. DanDare says

    Spiders are getting angrier?
    Oh shit!
    Help me! Help me!
    I live in Australia.
    Is that why Ham left?
    God, why have you forsaken me? Whhhhhyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?

  28. nomdeplume says

    @28 monad – yes indeed, and Darwin is one of my (few) heroes. It is extraordinary how much he got exactly right without knowing anything about genes and chromosomes (let alone DNA), with only a very limited fossil record, no knowledge of continental drift, and with no firm idea of the real age of the Earth. What I meant was that in the 160 years since his first public announcement nothing has been found by the tens of thousands of biologists, paleontologists, geologists, geneticists, physicists, chemists working on various aspects of Earth history that makes Darwin’s original core hypothesis incorrect. That in itself is extraordinary. But creationists pretend that none of this supporting work has happened.

  29. aziraphale says

    stroppy @ #9

    “God wouldn’t let something bad happen to his chosen christians.”

    There is a variant. God has already decided when and how the world will end (see Revelations) so nothing we do can affect it. It will be very bad for everyone but his chosen Christians.

  30. stroppy says

    And of course if necessary they can solve the problem with prayers, the way Pat Robertson could change the path of hurricanes with his 700 PTL hot rod brain.

  31. KG says

    liberals taking away their hamberdlers and forcing them to eat broccoli at gun point with guns confiscated from them during the war on Christmas – stroppy@22

    Good plan! When do we start?

  32. rpjohnston says

    One of the tactics that I’ve noticed in abusers is to simply state that something that is, isn’t (or vice versa). It’s infuriating because you want them to argue honestly but they’re basically using their power to define the limits of the debate as “I win and you lose” so any kind of argument is semantically impossible. Children are especially susceptible to such arguments, having no power of their own, and depending solely on adults to use theirs judiciously.

    One thing, though – the spiders remain spiders. Do they though? “Spider” is just an arbitrary classification and one could just say that this or that property is integral to its spiderhood and a change makes it not a spider. You might note that most people don’t give a crap about pedantic philosophical bullshit like that and tell you to get bent and the world will continue on calling this new thing which is MOST CERTAINLY NOT A SPIDER THANKYOUVERYMUCH a “spider”, but they’re all fools, fools I tell you.

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