I don’t understand it, therefore nobody does

We’re going to see a wave of ignorance prompted by David Gelernter’s profession of foolishness, aren’t we? Every fool in the world who hears that guy’s nonsense is now inspired to spew out some nonsense of their own.

One example is Barbara Kay, who I’ve never heard of before, pontificating in the National Post that “there’s one mystery we still can’t explain”. Only one? I can think of lots. But the fact that there are still questions in the world does not mean that all the answers we have are wrong.

Her point is especially bad, because she singles out one thing that she thinks is false, and she is wrong about it.

The human brain and the power of speech put humans way beyond the boundaries of Darwin’s own three critical criteria for natural selection, which; i) may expand an animal’s power only to a point where it has survival advantage — and no further; ii) cannot produce changes that are “injurious” to the animal; and iii) cannot produce a “specially developed organ” that is useless to an animal at the time it develops. If a Neanderthal brain three times the size of any primate’s and a unique capacity for speech do not constitute “specially developed organs,” what does?

OK. Start with Darwin: he’s not our infallible prophet. He got a lot wrong, and remember, he was writing 150 years ago. You can demonstrate Darwin’s errors all you want, and modern scientists will just shrug and say, “So?”

Kay’s second error, though, is that she overlooked the meaning of her subject, natural selection. Evolution is not synonymous with natural selection, and showing that something could not have evolved by natural selection does not refute the idea that it evolved by some other mechanism. Even if we take those three points as given, it does not negate the idea of evolution.

Third error: she has not demonstrated that point (i) means natural selection could not have occurred. Where does the survival advantage of speech stop? It seems to me that the initiation of speech with grunts and crude vocalizations could only be improved, and improved continuously, by natural selection. Speech that enabled better hunting could lead to speech that is used for love poetry, or describing geography, or telling scary stories around the campfire, or expressing philosophical thoughts. She has not demonstrated any barrier which would impede the action of natural selection.

Fourth error: The brain isn’t that special (ii). All animals have one (well, we could call sponges and jellyfish exceptions). Our ancestors had one that could visualize the environment and the future, allow for sophisticated socialization, and permitted all kinds of communication shy of speech. Speech capability builds on structures that are already present in a multitude of animals.

Fifth error: brains that could process information in a complex way before speech evolved were not useless to our ancestors (iii), even if they couldn’t speak.

Sixth and biggest, most common error in creationists: the failure of their imaginations and ignorance of the evidence does not support their claim that the science is wrong. I can’t imagine how Barbara Kay manages to type words on a machine, but I think it’s clear that she did. Probably. I can’t rule out the possibility that an editor filtered the output of a monkey pounding on a keyboard, but it’s more likely that her essay was produced by a human being who simply knows nothing about biology.

I’ve been saying this for decades!

As Matthew Herron points out,

The intelligent design blogs I read, when they’re not busy vilifying “Darwinists”, spend much of their time extolling the super-duper complexity of life, but here’s the thing: no one is arguing that life isn’t complex. To my knowledge, no biologist has ever argued that, and if they have, they’re wrong. As Strassmann and Queller point out, Darwin and Paley both proposed explanations for complexity, and one of those explanations turned out to be right. As much as its advocates want it to be, complexity is not evidence for intelligent design.

When Intelligent Design creationists play at being scientists (Hi, Stephen Meyer, you boring fraud you), this is all they do, parrot articles that explain the bewildering complexity of the cell, as if that means it must have been designed. That’s all Behe does, is natter on about how complicated biology is, and then make an unfounded leap from “it’s too complex for me to understand” to “therefore, the god who designed it must be really smart”, not addressing the issue at hand…was it designed at all?

Then all of their fans chime in at any criticism of the ID argument with repetitions of the “It’s really complex” claim, which is totally fucking irrelevant. It seems to impress the rubes, though.

We Believe in Dinosaurs

It’s unfortunate that I don’t think we’ll ever get a showing of this documentary, We Believe in Dinosaurs, in Morris — it’s too narrow a niche for our little community. The reviews make it sound pretty good, though.

Adding to that discussion is Monica Long Ross and Clayton Brown’s documentary “We Believe in Dinosaurs.” Attempting to portray both sides even-handedly (though a principal figure presumably refused to be interviewed), it offers not so much a critique as a slightly bemused observation of the Ark Encounter, a Biblical theme park-style attraction in Kentucky designed to promote a creationist rather than scientific view of Earth’s history — which spans about 6,000 years, in this reckoning.

The peculiar brand of pseudoscience utilized to provide supporting “evidence” is controversial, needless to say. So is the “separation of church and state” breach many view in such projects getting de facto governmental approval. Often amusing, but never condescending towards either Ark proponents or their equally vocal opponents, this feature should attract interest from various exhibition channels — perhaps particularly abroad, where admittedly it will not do Americans’ current popular image any favors.

An even-handed approach to both sides is a good idea, as long as you don’t lose sight of the truth. Show that the creationists are sincere, but also be unambiguous in pointing out that they’re peddling pseudoscience. It sounds like they take that approach.

…we get a good look not only at the world of “Young Earth creationists” and their logic (which extends to quasi-scientific academic conferences), but at individual players on both sides of the fight. Lead designer Patrick Marsh and artisan Doug Henderson are among the affable personnel who found their “dream job” creating a facsimile of Noah’s Ark, which requires some interesting imaginative leaps not found in the Bible.

Not least among those leaps is the depiction of dinosaurs and other extinct (as well as some murkily confabulated) creatures as passengers, since it’s the belief of creationists that fossil-record species simply died during, or shortly after, the Flood. It is also interesting to see the attraction’s PG-13 diorama of the decadence that triggered God’s watery wrath. There are even animatronic figures used to address such philosophical quandaries as, “Why does a loving God allow so much death and suffering?”

On the other side of the divide are people like paleontologist Dan Phelps (who points out that roadside Kentucky shale offers ample proof of Earth’s great age) and David MacMillan, a teenage evangelical and Creation Museum charter member who now runs an anti-Creationist website. He sees no conflict between his continued Christian beliefs and acquired trust in science, resenting that faulty creationist “evidence” gets shoved down many a gullible schoolchild’s throat. Farther out among the opposition are members of the Tri-State Free Thinkers, atheists who (not without humor) claim the Biblical story of Noah promotes “genocide and incest.”

I do have reservations, though. Does “fair and balanced” work? The documentary’s conclusion is deeply depressing, and while it’s good to show both sides, does it do a proper job of refuting the creationists? I don’t know.

Without laying on any overt message, “We Believe in Dinosaurs” does definitely suggest that this eccentric collision between faith and secularism, commerce and politics — one that might have seemed wholly outlandish not long ago—is kinda-sorta the direction in which our republic is now headed. Politicians increasingly bend to accommodate religious causes, with judiciary right behind them. Science denial is a trend, whether the motivation is Biblical literalism or simple capitalist greed.

We see Ken Ham (who presumably refused to be interviewed by the filmmakers) selling his wares every which way, using whatever terminology will gain acceptance with a particular audience, but always advancing the creationist cause. That the wind is blowing in his direction is underlined by a closing-credits compilation of recent American politicos publicly distancing themselves from (or outright decrying) evolutionary theory.

I guess I’ll have to wait for a streaming service to pick it up so I can see it for myself, but that last bit is something that might be encouraging to creationists, rather than as discouraging as I see it.

“Why I am a creationist”

The things I do to try and comprehend the mental workings of creationists…I wasted 16 minutes on a video of Andrew Snelling explaining why he is a creationist. To make a too-long story short and cut right to the main point, he doesn’t. Not at all. I sat there waiting for him to get to the point and explain how he got to that point, but he doesn’t. Or maybe he does right at the beginning — he was brought up in a very religious family, was thoroughly indoctrinated into Christianity, and then discovered how neat-o rocks are on a family vacation, so he tried to force-fit geology into his young-earth, biblical “literalist” point of view. When he commits to studying geology, starting a geology club in high school, he seems to approach it from a stamp-collecting point of view, completely dismissing the idea of mechanisms behind geology.

When he discovers Whitcomb & Morris’s The Genesis Flood, he thinks all the questions have been resolved and is done. I remember stumbling across that book in high school, reading the first chapter, and shoving it back on the library shelf with contempt. It’s a garbage book. The very first sentence is In harmony with our conviction that the Bible is the infallible Word of God, verbally inspired in the original autographs, we begin our investigation of the geographical extent of the Flood with seven Biblical arguments in favor of its universality. Basically, they’re claiming that they’re going to demonstrate the validity of their premises by reciting a statement of their premises. Even a teenager should be able to see the problem with that approach, and they only fail if they’re blinded by their own priors.

Snelling isn’t capable of thinking that way. He’s just soaking in dogma.

I wish Michael Behe would get as tired of his nonsense as I am

Michael Behe has this new book out, Darwin Devolves. I haven’t been able to muster enough enthusiasm to even want to try and dissect it — that man has been shitting on science for at least 20 years now, and having picked through his fecal piles before, I know what to expect, and am tired of it. He is tediously predictable.

Fortunately, Gregory Lang and Amber Rice have the willingness to do the dirty work and dive right in and sift through the shit in this excellent review, Evolution unscathed: Darwin Devolves argues on weak reasoning that unguided evolution is a destructive force, incapable of innovation. They discover that Behe cherry-picks his evidence, ignoring, or worse, being completely ignorant of, vast orchards of information that directly refute his premise, which Lang and Rice cite and summarize. It’s an informative review. Go read it, I won’t rehash it. You’ll learn a lot from it.

I will mention the conclusion, which discusses the peculiar tension at the heart of the evolution/creation argument. I did highlight one sentence.

Without a hint of irony, Darwin Devolves cautions us that “[t]he academic ideas of nutty professors don’t always stay confined to ivory towers. They sometimes seep out into the wider world with devastating results (p257).”

Scientists—by nature or by training—are skeptics. Even the most time-honored theories are reevaluated as new data come to light. There is active debate, for example, on the relative importance of changes to regulatory versus coding sequence in evolution (Hoekstra and Coyne 2007; Stern and Orgogozo 2008), the role of neutral processes in evolution (Kern and Hahn 2018; Jensen et al. 2019), and the extent to which evolutionary paths are contingent on chance events (Blount et al. 2018). Vigorous debate is part and parcel of the scientific process, lest our field stagnate. Behe, however, belabors the lack of consensus on relatively minor matters to proclaim that evolutionary biology as a whole is on shaky ground.

By reviewing Behe’s latest book, we run the risk of drawing attention—or worse, giving credibility—to his ideas. Books like Darwin Devolves, however, must be openly challenged and refuted, even if it risks giving publicity to misbegotten views. Science benefits from public support. Largely funded by federal grants, scientists have a moral responsibility (if not a financial obligation) to ensure that the core concepts of our respective fields are communicated effectively and accurately to the public and to our trainees. This is particularly important in evolutionary biology, where—over 150 years after On the Origin of Species—less than 20% of Americans accept that humans evolved by natural and unguided processes (Gallup 2014). It is hard to think of any other discipline where mainstream acceptance of its core paradigm is more at odds with the scientific consensus.

Why evolution by natural selection is difficult for so many to accept is beyond the scope of this review; however, it is not for a lack of evidence: the data (only some of which we present here) are more than sufficient to convince any open-minded skeptic that unguided evolution is capable of generating complex systems. A combination of social and historical factors creates a welcoming environment for an academic voice that questions the scientific consensus. Darwin Devolves was designed to fit this niche.

Creationists like to pretend that there is still a legitimate debate here, and their absurd confidence does seem to be effective in swaying, as they mention, about 80% of the population. In response to their ignorance, responsible scientists are expected to invest a great deal of effort in reacting to stupidity. It is ten thousand times harder to master the science behind evolutionary biology than it is to read a few bible verses and some clueless apologetics and decide that the science is all wrong. Behe, and people like him, are ridiculous crackpots, and we’re saddled with the obligation to refute them.

And yet we do. Or Lang and Rice do. I’m sitting this one out, which makes me immensely grateful that more scientists are joining in the battle.

Antivax, chemtrails, and creationism


Kent Hovind is getting divorced from Jo Hovind. I guess this isn’t surprising — maybe his former wife is smarter than he is (a hurdle easily cleared), and saw through all the BS and manipulation and realized it was time to get out.

He’s also remarrying, to an anti-vax crank named Mary Tocco. He’s made a video announcement of his engagement, and it’s another bit of obnoxious lunacy. He spends half of it blaming his ex-wife completely for the divorce — I guess he had absolutely nothing to do with it, despite getting the two of them arrested and imprisoned with demented legal advice — and the other half reassuring everyone that he checked with a whole bunch of fellow ministers, ranging in age from 60 to 85, and 15 out of 16 assured him that it was perfectly OK, and then he mumbles on about how this opens up whole new options for his ministry, allowing him to understand all those divorced people out there at last.

I predicted that there would be interesting times ahead for Hovind’s Creation Science Evangelism once he got out of jail — he’d left management of the creationist organization in the hands of his son, Eric, and I kind of figured it would not be an easy transition once he got out and tried to take back the ministry he’d run into the ground with his tax fraud. And it was so. Hovind is claiming that Jo and Eric conspired to steal all the assets of CSE out from under him. It’s gotten very ugly and confusing.

When Kent originally announced that his divorce, he claimed that Eric had stolen from him and would not let him have the web domain “drdino.com”. He claimed Eric sold himself over two-million dollars worth of equipment and supplies. He mentioned a couple of four-wheelers, a copy machine and a fork-lift. Deana Holmes, a non-practicing attorney, who has been following the Hovind story speculated that he was way off on his valuation and that a lot of the supplies were old T-Shirts, VHS tapes, DVD’s and CD’s of Kent’s old non-copyrighted videos which are all on YouTube. I don’t normally take Kent’s public word as fact, but assuming that we have a couple of old four-wheelers, a fork-lift, some office furniture, plus, the material that Deana mentioned, the price that Eric paid for this is probably about right. Deana pointed out that these accusations were pretty stupid in the light of his tax-liabilities and legal problems they could cause for his son. Kent said in court and in public that he took a vow of poverty and owned nothing. Then turned around and claimed publically that Eric and his mother conspired to take everything away from him. Which one is the truth Kent? Did you own nothing? Or did you own two-million dollars worth of items that Eric stole from you? Just like all of Kent’s statements that seem to change to fit the circumstance.

Eric has stuffed his ministry into a shiny new dumpster, called “God’s Quest”, while Kent seems to be trying to set up a place of his own in a gravel pit in Lenox, Alabama, where he’ll build a brand new Dinosaur Adventure Land. I’m sure this marriage with Mary Tocco will bring order out of chaos. After all, look at her credentials.

Mary is co-founder of the American Chiropractic Autism Board (ACAB) 2006, helped manage Hope For Autism, (HFA) a training program for physicians who want to help children with autism recover and is the Vice President of the Foundation for Pediatric Health. She is also the Director of Vaccine Research and Education for Michigan for Vaccine Choice, a non-profit (501c) watchdog group, insuring vaccine choice in Michigan. Mary Tocco is on the Board of Directors for WAVE, World Association for Vaccine Education (www.novaccine.com)

Wait. The American…Chiropractic…Autism…Board? Those words do not belong together.

Once again, the Hovinds — every one of them — set the standard for creationist inanity.

Weird creationist meme

This is apparently intended to be a criticism of evolution posted by a Jehovah’s Witness. I don’t quite get it.

Yes. Everything died. Every individual between the current extant cohort and the last common ancestor died. It’s what organisms do. Is this so hard to understand? But that does not imply that every possible intermediate form existed and died. They may also be confusing individuals with populations, but I find it very difficult to read the minds of creationists.

Here’s a tree branch.


There is a twig at A (call it humans), and there is a twig at B (chimps), and there is an ancestral branch point 6 million years ago. A population of cells at the “ancestor” point divided multiple times and split into two extending meristems that produced the branch leading to A and the branch leading to B. I think our creationist is assuming that there had to have been a solid sheet of wood filling the space between A and B, that the space of all possible positions for twigs had to be filled, and that it was somehow pruned back selectively to create just the two twigs.

But that would make no sense, wouldn’t fit our understanding of how branches form, and would be really stupid. They can’t possibly think that, can they?

Any story of Kent Hovind needs more Nazi imagery

RationalWiki has an expanded front-page feature on Kent Hovind, and it’s pretty thorough — I learned a few new things. I hadn’t known that he claims to have four doctorates, and it has a good breakdown of several examples of his bad math. However…

Does it feature any apocalyptic imagery? No.

How many times does it mention Hitler? Only once.

Does it have a doom-laden industrial soundtrack? Nope.

Sorry, RationalWiki, but you are hampered by that “rational” thing. When you’re talking about Kent Hovind, you need to bring the gold-plated stupid to the fore. Kent knows this. Kent knows how best to summarize his life: with lies and screeching and threats of imminent destruction.

Like in his trailer for a possible “documentary” that Creation Science Evangelism is making (warning: grisly scenes of death and corpses, and truly over-the-top Godwining).

That is so metal.

I notice, though, that for all of his Hitler-howling, most of the trailer is somehow about how he was an innocent man thrown into prison for blamelessly preaching the Gospel, rather than mentioning that he was really imprisoned for blatant tax evasion. C’mon, Kent, own your badassery: you were arrested for defying those Satanic tax accountants. You can’t simultaneously claim to be be a brave rebel while hiding behind claims of pious innocence.

Also, the title needs work: An Atheist’s Worse Nightmare? Seriously, Kent, comparing yourself to a banana is so wimpy.

I do feel a lot of sympathy for the RationalWiki crew, though. Imagine if this Hovind “documentary” ever actually happens — the fact-checking will be exhausting. It’s going to be measured in errors/second, or lies/second.

Mike Pence, creationist

In 2001, a French anthropologist discovered some very interesting specimens in West Central Africa: the skulls of some 6-7 million year old apes that showed some chimpanzee-like features and some human-like features. He called it Sahelanthropus tchadensis.

In 2002, Mike Pence used the bully pulpit of the house of representatives to denounce Sahelanthropus and the entire theory of evolution, in a pointless exercise of flouting his ignorance. Why, I don’t know; perhaps he thought he could use a scientific discovery to somehow legislate against science? The performance has been caught on video.

It’s an extended riff on the “just a theory” argument, revealing that he doesn’t understand what a scientific theory means. He cites the 1925 Scope trial as the moment where this mere “theory” was legislated into the classroom and taught as fact; wrong. The Scopes trial was the result of a law that tried to prohibit teaching evolution, the side of science lost the case, and the theory has been taught in classrooms ever since because it is the best-supported explanation of the history of life. And evolution is a fact — life has not been static, but species change over time.

Then he claims that we all remember our classrooms illustrated with that linear portrayal of humans evolving from little monkeys to Mel Gibson. Well, I’ve been teaching for 30 years that that linear sequence is wrong, and that evolution is all about branching descent, which is also, as it happens, how Darwin thought about it (that popular Time-Life illustration is a true curse on evolution education).


But I also challenge Pence on his claim that this portrayal was ubiquitous in classrooms. I had a public school education, in the liberal stronghold of King County, Washington, and never once heard the word “evolution” pass the lips of my teachers. What I learned about evolution before college I got from sneaking into the “Adult” section of the local public library, because this was a subject they didn’t even allow children to read about.

Pence reads about Sahelanthropus and claims to be surprised, that this represents a new theory that human evolution was taking place all across Africa and on the Earth. Uh, what? He also criticizes it because the textbooks will have to be changed, because the old theory of evolution…is suddenly replaced by a new theory.

I really want to play poker with Mike Pence. The astonishment on his face when the second hand dealt to him is different from the first will be something to behold. He will be aghast that the rules of poker get changed with every deal.

And then he gets to his point. Every theory is equivalent. We ought to also teach the theory that the signers of the declaration of independence believed — that humans were created by a creator. The Bible tells us that God created man in his own image, male and female he created them, and I believe that. He also thinks that scientists will come to see that only the theory of intelligent design provides even a remotely rational explanation for the known universe. Alas, scientists have scrutinized intelligent design explanations for a century or two now, and have generally found them to be useless crap.

It’s clear. Mike Pence is not only a babbling loon, but he’s a generic Biblical creationist who sees Intelligent Design creationism as a loophole to smuggle his religious ideas into the classroom. He’s wrong about virtually everything in that pompous little speech.

He’s lucky in one thing, though: he’s got Donald Trump boldly distracting most of the media from making any noise about Mike Pence’s incompetence and ignorance. Even without Trump, I don’t want this goober anywhere near high office.

Cruel and unusual punishment

Today is the day that Answers in Genesis begins their Renew-A-Thon. For a mere $299 (with additional expenses for hotel and meals, but hey, that includes free parking and admission to the Creation “Museum” and Ark Park!), or $459 for a family of 5, you can sit through two long miserable weeks of bullshit from a parade of liars. I took a look at their schedule, and I was tempted — not $300 tempted, but more like $1.99 for a couple of lectures tempted — because dear gog, this looks awful, like here’s a giant blob of jello and me with a chainsaw awful.

Here’s a piece of that schedule. It goes on for ten days beyond what I’ve cut and pasted here.


I’m just goggling at it all. Start with the first lecture: The eyes don’t have it, by Tommy Mitchell. The molecular and morphological history of the animal eye is one of those beautiful examples of the evidence coming together to support evolution; this bozo is going to tear at it with weaponized ignorance, and the audience is going to eat it up. The second talk is Big Bang: exploding the myth, by the ridiculous Terry Mortenson. Mortenson spoke here in Morris 5 years ago, and it was two nights of non-stop dishonesty and garbage. Ken Ham? Irrelevant. The Genetics of Adam and Eve by Georgia Purdom will be a total misrepresentation of what science says.

One of the biggest debates in Christianity today concerns the first two people: were Adam and Eve real or are they the product of myths? Those who claim we have evolved over millions of years believe that Adam and Eve, as the Bible teaches about them, have no place in human history. They argue that the science of genetics proves we cannot be descended from only two people. Many Christians have accepted this position and propose that their historical existence is irrelevant to Christianity and the gospel. In this session, I will show how current findings from scientists who study DNA actually support the biblical position that Adam and Eve were real people. More importantly, I will demonstrate how absolutely necessary Adam and Eve are to understanding original sin and the redemptive work of Christ on the cross. Come find out why there can be no Jesus without a real Adam and Eve.

That’s simply not true. The molecular evidence says we did not descend from just two people, that our species evolved over 100,000 years ago, and that the hypothesis that we evolved from only Adam and Eve a mere 6,000 years ago is completely untenable. But of course, her real argument is that the Bible requires this counterfactual BS.

My blood pressure is rising just reading the schedule. It’s probably for the best that I’m not going to be there, because I wouldn’t make it past the first day.

I wonder how many attendees they’ll have?