Small town ignorance


Here’s a curious letter to the editor of the local paper in Little Falls, Minnesota. I know where that is! If you draw a straight line from Morris to Duluth, it lies about halfway along that line. I haven’t been there. I don’t think many have. If I wanted to go to Duluth, I’d take I94 east, get on 35 in Minneapolis, and not go anywhere near it. It’s a small town backwater, in other words, which can be quite nice if you like the quiet life, but it’s also the kind of place where ignorance can fester.

Like in the mind of this guy, Michael Dalquist Randall.

Evolution is going the way of the dinosaur due to modern scientific evidence.

How would you know? Seriously, go to any university where science is taught, and you’ll find the biology department is full of professors who accept evolution, teach evolution, and research evolution. That hasn’t been changing. The actual modern scientific evidence is all supporting evolution — all the fossils, the genes, the geology, the biochemistry, the comparative anatomy, etc., etc., etc. Check out the biology curriculum at these universities and you’ll find it’s typically built all around evolution. It’s the unifying principle of the science!

I notice that Mr Randall claims the “modern scientific evidence” supports his assertion, but he doesn’t provide any. I can predict what he’d say if he did, though: a lot of nonsense about complexity (not an obstacle to evolution), or nit-picking about details, which he doesn’t understand, that he’ll claim invalidate some scrap of evolutionary theory.

More and more scientists in every field are becoming Creationists as the outdated “evidence” of evolution is overshadowed by modern discoveries that reveal The Theory (yes, theory, not law) of Evolution to be what it truly is: a desperate (and not very tenable) attempt to prove that there is no God and that there is no need for a God.

The idea that more and more scientists are becoming creationists is nonsense. You can find a scattering of individuals who claim to have abandoned evolution after studying science, but most of them are lying: they went into it with a predisposition. Others may be sincere, but they are not numerous, and aren’t going to advance science at all — they’ve become religious apologists, not scientists.

What Mr Randall is demonstrating is confirmation bias, in which anecdotes about miscellaneous individuals are treated as hard data only because they fit his preconceptions.

Again, what is the outdated “evidence” of evolution, and the modern discoveries that overshadow them? He doesn’t say.

Yes, we know it’s a theory. We also know that there isn’t a ranking of credibility where “law” is better than “theory”. It just doesn’t work that way. Laws are strong definitions of simple ideal relationships; theories are explanatory frameworks that can integrate information about significant bodies of knowledge. A theory can encompass many laws, does that mean theory outranks law? That’s probably not a productive way to use the concepts.

I personally think that evolution makes gods superfluous, but that’s not why evolution was proposed. Darwin agonized over the effect his discovery would have on religious belief, it’s one of the reasons he sat on it for 20 years. Rather, evolution was an explanation of observed natural phenomena. You might as well complain that “2+2=4” is an attempt to usurp the divinity of numbers, and was clearly formulated to undermine godly revelation.

Evolutionism was a valid theory in Darwin’s time, but if he had the evidence available to him that we have today, Darwin himself would probably not believe in Darwinian evolution.

Once again, we get a vague reference to unevidenced evidence that would have made even Darwin a creationist. Sorry, guy, I would suggest instead that the molecular evidence of common descent alone would have been ample confirmation of evolution. I suspect, though, that if you sprung the mathematical basis of evolutionary theory on him all at once, he might find it a little too overwhelming.

Mr Randall, go read a book other than your Bible or the propaganda from ICR or AIG (which he cites in the letter) and learn something real about evolutionary biology. It’s awesome stuff.

Comments

  1. mathman85 says

    That letter is surprisingly short, but despite its brevity it is dripping with unevidenced, content-free claims of the sort that creationists have been making for—what? 50 years or more? The closing is especially egregious in that respect; linking to AiG and the I.C.R., then making a “look at the trees!” argument, and name-dropping “[r]andom chance” and “primordial slime” in what amounts to an argument from incredulity. Typical creationist tripe, in other words.

  2. PaulBC says

    Evolution is going the way of the dinosaur due to modern scientific evidence.

    It’s going to develop wings and feathers and proliferate? Metaphorically speaking, sure, why not?

    More and more scientists in every field are becoming Creationists

    Source? It sounds very unlikely to me.

    One thing that does surprise me is how little has changed in arguments from creationists in 30 years, given the overwhelming amount of genetic evidence of common descent that has accumulated. You’d think they’d at least need to formulate some kind of response.

  3. ansonk says

    The writer probably watches Creationism in the 21st Century with David Rives weekly. It sure sounds like the claptrap Rives features in every episode.

  4. Mark Smith says

    Even more than the thought that someone wrote this letter thinking they have a point, what strikes me is that someone at the paper thought these gaseous old “arguments” deserved a public airing.

  5. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    I like to answer these claims by throwing the God concept back into it, along the lines of:
    Evolution is how God created us, to deny Evolution is to deny God.
    — I doubt that will work, just my first response.

  6. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    re @6:
    in addition,
    Argument #2::
    God created the universe as a machine to eventually produce us, evolution was part of the process. Accept it, it is what God did to create us”
    — I’ll stop here before I get tangled up

  7. robert79 says

    “We also know that there isn’t a ranking of credibility where “law” is better than “theory”. It just doesn’t work that way. Laws are strong definitions of simple ideal relationships; theories are explanatory frameworks that can integrate information about significant bodies of knowledge.”

    As an example, Newton’s law of gravitation, although still widely used, is wrong!!! Einstein’s theory of general relativity is the better explanation. Of course, the difference is generally so minor that many prefer using Newton’s law over Einstein’s theory unless they’re studying black holes.

    They’re just names… We could call it the law(s) of evolution, and nobody would care.

    “You might as well complain that “2+2=4” is an attempt to usurp the divinity of numbers”

    This is clearly a blasphemous attempt to bypass the holy trinity! Any formula involving the numbers 2 and 4 must pass through 3!

  8. petesh says

    Darwin himself would probably not believe in WHAT I THINK IS Darwinian evolution.

    Fxd. Also, probably never did.

  9. nomuse says

    robert79
    “Four shalt thou not count, nor either count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out.”

  10. PaulBC says

    robert79@8 It’s all word games as far as I’m concerned. Hooke’s law of springs and Boyle’s law of gases are obviously approximations, but still accurate descriptions of an ideal system that approximates reality in a useful range.

    Only an asshole brings a dictionary to an empirical fight.

  11. Artor says

    @12, Since he doesn’t believe in evolution, I wonder how he explains why his cow’s antibiotics eventually stop working. Maybe he hasn’t noticed? I’d treat that raw milk with suspicion.

  12. consciousness razor says

    what it truly is: a desperate (and not very tenable) attempt

    But does he truly mean to say merely that it’s not a very tenable attempt? Pretty sure he wants to claim that it’s simply untenable.

    to prove that there is no God and that there is no need for a God.

    You can’t really counter this with “but Darwin thought” this or “but Darwin was intending” that…. Because as you’ve emphasized numerous times before (at least when you found it convenient), he’s not a saint or a prophet, his words aren’t holy scripture, and it doesn’t all hang on what some guy used to think, which may or may not have anything to do with the truth.

    In fact, there isn’t a need for any gods to explain the diversity of life. Evolutionary theory is a framework which satisfies the conditions that it is (1) naturalistic and (2) explains the phenomena in question. That means it is a straightforward counterexample to a claim that such things cannot be explained without gods. So if you had thought that you needed a god for that, it turns out that you don’t. I’m tempted to say “simple as that.” Of course, we could go into much more detail and thoroughly examine a vast amount of evidence about all kinds of relevant phenomena, but I mean the conclusion for our purposes here is really not that complicated. We have a relatively simple claim that something is necessary, and all we have to do is show that it’s not, because we did it without the supposedly necessary thing. Then we’re done.

    By itself, this doesn’t prove gods are unnecessary, and I doubt anybody who’s ever thought about it for a moment has ever said otherwise. (Darwin included, sure, but who cares?) Perhaps a god (or more than one) wasn’t really interested in life (or humans specifically, or an individual like me even more specifically) but just wanted to make lots of stars or neutrinos or whatever. That’s a possibility, although there are probably zero actual creationists who have any motivation to explore it. But whatever: evolution doesn’t have anything to do with neutrinos (e.g.), yet we do have other naturalistic explanations at our disposal that seem to do the job just fine. And it looks like we can just keep whacking away at these moles, whichever ones they happen to raise up, if that’s really what they expect us to do with them…..

    So where does that leave us in general? It seems like we have a fairly tenable case to me. And if some creationist wants to claim that there is a need for a god or gods to explain something, then they need to come up with at least one clear example worth discussing.

  13. Akira MacKenzie says

    bcw bcw @12

    Google shows he runs an “organic farm based on Christian principles”…

    What the hell does that mean? Is the shit he grows his produce from his church’s septic tank? Has his livestock taken purity pledges?

    …and sells raw milk.

    Of course he does. He’s willing to reject the foundations of modern biology, why should we expect he accepts the germ theory of disease?

  14. whheydt says

    I went around a few times with a guy on Panda’s Thumb after he claimed the supremacy of “Laws” (Thermodynamics) over “Theory” (Evolution).

    Other people were able to completely dissect his understanding of the Second Law of Thermodynamics (which he thought in his version barred evolution from working).

    From the snippets here (I haven’t followed the link to read the whole letter…I need to preserve the neurons I have left), it looks like he also pulled up the old trick of conflating abiogenesis and evolution.

  15. Who Cares says

    You might as well complain that “2+2=4” is an attempt to usurp the divinity of numbers, and was clearly formulated to undermine godly revelation.

    I don’t think you find it surprising that they do. Has something to do with modern set theory on which the proof of addition is based. Seems to insult their sensibility since it includes the empty set (or nothing) in such a way that it is possible to use nothing to create the number one and creation from nothing is the territory of God. Then there is the concept of infinity (as in there are multiple infinities and they can be ranked) and that is an insult to God since only God is infinite, also we dare to categorize God (since we categories infinity) who can’t be categorized.

  16. PaulBC says

    I read it as “organ farm based on Christian principles”. Just for a second. (Probably a flashback to Riverdale.)

  17. Jackson says

    @12, Since he doesn’t believe in evolution, I wonder how he explains why his cow’s antibiotics eventually stop working. Maybe he hasn’t noticed? I’d treat that raw milk with suspicion.

    You aren’t allowed to treat sick animals with antibiotics in organic agriculture, so no worries there.

  18. Jazzlet says

    Jackson @21 You absolutely are allowed to give sick animals antibiotics in organic agriculture; what you are not allowed to do is give them prophylactically or as a growth enhanccer. I don’t support organic agriculture at all, but we need to be sure we don’t waste time criticising strawmen.

  19. some bastard on the internet says

    Evolutionism was a valid theory in Darwin’s time, but if he had the evidence available to him that we have today, Darwin himself would probably not believe in Darwinian evolution.

    If, by “Darwinian Evolution,” they mean the models Darwin thought of with no subsequent changes; then, yes, Darwin would probably not believe in “Darwinian Evolution.”

    This, of course, is the problem with creationists: they assume the current theory is the same thing. In reality, it ain’t his theory anymore. It is now the work of millions of scientists who have added, corrected, and improved upon Darwins ideas.

  20. Jackson says

    @23 jazzlet

    You’re right that organic farmers (in the US) are supposed to treat sick animals, but when they do those animals are no longer organic and are supposed to be segregated from the other animals so as not to contaminate them.

    I’ve heard of a few localish organic dairy farms that find it makes more economic sense to let the animal be sick in order to keep it organic.

  21. John Morales says

    Jackson:

    You’re right that organic farmers (in the US) are supposed to treat sick animals, but when they do those animals are no longer organic […]

    So… presumably, when sick people get treated, they become inorganic, too.

    I’ve heard of a few localish organic dairy farms that find it makes more economic sense to let the animal be sick in order to keep it organic.

    The cruelty aspect aside, that is so very perverse.

  22. vucodlak says

    @ John Morales, #27

    So… presumably, when sick people get treated, they become inorganic, too.

    That is correct- the flesh of human beings may not be sold with the “Certified Organic” label if the human was administered antibiotics at any point before they were butchered, packaged, and put on store shelves.

    I believe the principle behind the label is that people might not get (or at least spread) so many diseases if they aren’t crammed into tiny cages or packed feedlots before they’re slaughtered, but I think recent events may have us rethinking the virtues of free range human meat. I know I certainly wouldn’t want to eat anyone who’s been gamboling about, unmuzzled, in human farms, no matter how strictly the farmer has adhered to the rules for “Organic” certification.

    Perhaps, from now on, we should consider keeping our humans in some sort of small, glass-walled tubes prior to harvesting them, in order to maintain the coveted “Organic” label.

  23. blf says

    Re @21 as per @23, “You absolutely are allowed to give sick animals antibiotics in organic agriculture; what you are not allowed to do is give them prophylactically or as a growth enhanccer.” Correct. The entirely valid concern is promoting antibiotic resistance.

  24. jacksprocket says

    If you want small town ignorance, look no further than today’s Guardian (UK paper). Astrology. Second time featured in a week. The small town? London, UK.

  25. John Morales says

    vucodlak:

    That is correct- the flesh of human beings may not be sold with the “Certified Organic” label if the human was administered antibiotics at any point before they were butchered, packaged, and put on store shelves.

    As opposed to human flesh which has never been administered antibiotics?

    (Sorry, but I could not resist)

  26. PaulBC says

    vucodlak@28 I’m totally safe from hippie cannibals, zombies, and vampires, and I like it that way.

  27. Rich Woods says

    @jacksprocket #30:

    And then there’s the remarkably shit article about 2020’s most popular psychics too. Naturally I was disappointed to see that they didn’t open a comments section on that, the fucking cowards.

  28. DanDare says

    John Morales @24
    That link is golden. Thank you.
    I don’t know how many times I have had that old cannard thrown at me. Now I have knowledge to pass on to the audiences.

  29. microraptor says

    You want to talk about small town ignorance?

    This week, Coos County, Oregon finally reached extreme levels of Covid infections. To counter this, numerous people are calling for the numbers to be lowered by having people stop getting tested and refuse to assist with contact tracing efforts.

  30. rietpluim says

    … attempt to prove that there is no God and that there is no need for a God.

    People have worshipped thousands of gods that are not creators, so to most gods evolution has no consequence for their necessity at all.

  31. PaulBC says

    nomdeplume@39 OMG that’s a depressing article.

    Not least because of the role of home schooling in creating a generation of uneducated Americans.

    And exploiting the natural excitement and curiosity of children to indoctrinate them in fake science.

  32. birgerjohansson says

    Microraptor @ 37
    Remember the Simpsons episode where Springfield narrowly escaped being wiped out by a comet?
    The first thing people did afterwards to prevent it from happening again was to tear down the observatory.
    Never unerestimate people’s ability to be dumber than a goddamn Simpsons character.

  33. blf says

    @41, “[… T]he Simpsons episode where Springfield narrowly escaped being wiped out by a comet? The first thing people did afterwards to prevent it from happening again was to tear down the observatory.”

    I hear a faint echo there of Issac Asimov’s Nightfall (1941).

  34. microraptor says

    @41: Actually, I’ve seen maybe a dozen episodes of The Simpsons, but yeah, that’s the reaction I’d expect from such an episode. And yes, the fact that people IRL are actively dumber than the occupants of Moe’s Tavern is pretty bad.

  35. Dr Sarah says

    Evolution is going the way of the dinosaur

    That strikes me as almost as gloriously self-defeating as ‘The Flat Earth society has members from all over the globe’.

  36. Owlmirror says

    Evolution is going the way of the dinosaur

    That strikes me as almost as gloriously self-defeating as ‘The Flat Earth society has members from all over the globe’.

    Most American creationists are now perfectly happy to declare that what we call non-avian dinosaurs did live in the past but are now extinct. They reject the “evolutionist” idea of that extinction having occurred 66mya, of course. So referring to that acknowledged extinction is not actually inconsistent with their other claims

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