Antivax, chemtrails, and creationism

hovindjail

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.

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).

darwinsdrawing

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.

AiGSchedule

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?

I get email

It’s a question from Israel, so it was right-aligned. Too bad it wasn’t written from right to left or it would have been more interesting.

sorry for my bad english.

someone gave me a strong evidence for a design

a)we know that all robots need a designer

b)from a material prespective, the human is an organic self replicator robot

a+b=the human need a designer

what you think?

yours…

Ooooh, logic is fun!

a) We know that all robots use batteries or plug into an electrical outlet.

b)from a material prespective, the human is an organic self replicator robot

a+b=the human need a battery or electrical outlet.

So all creationists should go stick a fork in one.

Alternatively, I suppose I could just tell him to read his own question and think about what he is saying.

Designed robots are designed.

Organic self replicator robots organically self replicate.

(Also on FtB)

Nice argument for the age of the earth

Geoffrey Pearce sent me this argument he uses with creationists, and I thought others might find it useful, too.

I am regularly approached by young Earth creationists (yes, even in the bedlam of sin that is Montreal…) both on the street and at home. If I have the time I try to engage them on the age of Earth, since Earth is something whose existence them and I agree upon. They will tell me that Earth is somewhere between 6,000 – 10,000 years old, and, when prompted, that the rest of the universe is the same age as well. I have taken the approach of responding to this assertion by pulling out a print of the far side of the Moon (attached, from apod.nasa.gov).

I cannot tell you how handy this is! Once they’ve had a good look I usually point out that almost all of the craters were formed by asteroids smashing into the planet, and that the Moon has over 250 craters with a diameter of 100 km or more. After explaining that Earth is just as likely to be struck by large asteroids as the Moon (is more likely to be struck, in-fact, due to its greater gravitational well), I then ask them to consider what their time-scale entails: that Earth should be struck every couple of decades by an asteroid capable of completely ejecting an area about the size of New Hampshire (not to pick on New Hampshire). Since such an event has never been observed and there are no well-preserved impact structures anywhere close to this size range, I then suggest to them that the only sensible conclusion is that Earth is much older than they had thought.

This may seem a convoluted way of making a point about Earth’s age, in particular since more precise and direct dating methods than crater counting are used for Earth, but I think that it may have an important advantage. In the past I have tried explaining to creationists how our understanding of Earth’s age is obtained, but they seem to take the “what I can’t see isn’t real” attitude when they hear words such as “radioactivity”, and “isotope”. Conversely, many of them seemed to be somewhat shaken after seeing this image and hearing my explanation, with one even admitting that the Moon looks “very old”. Furthermore, such images are a good starting point for discussing the degree to which chaos and uncertainty are inherent to the universe. Yay!

(Also on FtB)

New Hampshire, Texas of the North

I hope some of the New Hampshire readers are paying attention: you have two creationist bills working through the legislature, and some real dingbats backing them.

Bergevin told the Monitor, “I want the full portrait of evolution and the people who came up with the ideas to be presented. It’s a worldview and it’s godless.” He reportedly blamed the acceptance of evolution for the atrocities of Nazi Germany and the 1999 Columbine shooting.

I know NH has extremely diverse representation…tell me these clowns are going to get laughed down as soon as their bills come up for a vote.

(Also on FtB)

Ark Park? What Ark Park?

Ken Ham has been planning to build this colossal boondoogle in Kentucky, a life-sized replica of Noah’s Ark. Except they’ve hit one little snag.

Their groundbreaking was pushed back from spring, to summer, to fall, and the most recent media report was to next spring. Meanwhile, their fundraising goal of $24.5 million appears to have ground to a halt at just over $4 million, where it has been for quite a while. They had reached the $3 million mark all the way back in May.

I don’t know what the problem is. $4 million is more than enough to hire one old man with a wooden mallet and a bronze axe for a year.

$4 million is also a lot of moolah for Answers in Genesis to walk away with if their Ark project flops.

(Also on FtB)

Creationist abuse of cuttlefish chitin

A few weeks ago, PLoS One published a paper on the observation of preserved chitin in 34 million year old cuttlebones. Now the Institute for Creation Research has twisted the science to support their belief that the earth is less than ten thousand years old. It was all so predictable. It’s a game they play, the same game they played with the soft tissue preserved in T. rex bones. Here’s how it works.

Compare the two approaches, science vs. creationism. The creationists basically insert one falsehood, generate a ludicrous conflict, and choose the dumbest of the two alternatives.

The Scientific Approach

find traces of organic material in ancient fossils

Cool! We have evidence of ancient biochemistry!

Science!

The Creationist Approach

declare it impossible for organic material to be ancient

steal other people’s discovery of organic material in ancient fossils

Cool! Declare that organic material must not be ancient, because of step 1, which we invented

Throw out geology, chemistry, and physics because they say the material is old

Profit! Souls for my Lord Arioch!

You see, the scientists are aware of the fact that organic materials degrade over time, but recognize that we don’t always know the rate of decay under all possible conditions. When we find stuff that hasn’t rotted away or been fully replaced by minerals, we’re happy because we’ve got new information about ancient organisms, and we may also be able to figure out what mechanisms promoted the preservation of the material.

The creationists start with dogma — in this case, a false statement. They declare

Chitin is a biological material found in the cuttlebones, or internal shells, of cuttlefish. It has a maximum shelf life of thousands of years…

and

Because of observed bacterial and biochemical degradation rates, researchers shouldn’t expect to find any original chitin (or any other biomolecule) in a sample that is dozens of millions of years old–and it therefore should be utterly absent from samples deposited hundreds of millions of years ago. Thus, the chitin found in these fossils refutes their millions-of-years evolutionary interpretation, just as other fossil biomolecules already have done.

But wait. How do they know that? The paper they are citing says nothing of the kind; to the contrary, it argues that while rare, other examples of preserved chitin have been described.

Detection of chitin in fossils is not frequent. There are reports of fossil chitin in pogonophora, and in insect wings from amber. Chitin has also been reported from beetles preserved in an Oligocene lacustrine deposit of Enspel, Germany and chitin-protein signatures have been found in cuticles of Pennsylvanian scorpions and Silurian eurypterids.

So the paper is actually saying that the “maximum shelf life” of chitin is several tens of millions of years. And then they go on to describe…chitin found in Oligocene cuttlefish, several tens of millions of years old. The creationists are busily setting up an imaginary conflict in the evidence, a conflict that does not exist and is fully addressed in the paper.

The creationists do try to back up their claims, inappropriately. They cite a couple of papers on crustacean taphonomy where dead lobsters were sealed up in anoxic, water- and mud-filled jars; they decayed. Then they announce that there’s only one way for these cuttlebones to be preserved, and that was by complete mineralization, and the cuttlebones in the PLoS One paper were not mineralized.

…mineralization–where tissues are replaced by minerals–is required for tissue impressions to last millions of years. And the PLoS ONE researchers verified that their cuttlebone chitin was not mineralized.

Funny, that. You can read the paper yourself. I counted 14 uses of the words “mineralized” and “demineralized”. They state over and over that they had to specifically demineralize the specimens in hydrochloric acid to expose the imbedded chitin. And of course the chitin itself hadn’t been mineralized, or it wouldn’t be chitin anymore! Did the creationists lie, or did they just not understand the paper?

The scientists also do not claim that the chitin has not been degraded over time. They actually document some specific, general properties of decay in the specimens.

β-chitin is characterized by parallel chains of chitin molecules held together with inter-chain hydrogen bonding. The OH stretching absorbance, at about 3445 cm−1 in extant chitin, is diminished in the fossil and shifted to lower wavenumbers, showing that the specimen is losing OH by an as yet undetermined mechanism. The N-H asymmetric stretching vibration is shifted to slightly lower wavenumbers, showing that it is no longer hydrogen bonding exactly as in extant specimens. Changes in the region 2800-3600 cm−1 indicate that biomolecules have been degraded via disruption of interchain hydrogen bonds.

So, yes, the creationists seem to have rather misrepresented what the paper said. Here’s another blatant example of lying about the contents of the paper.

The question they did not answer, however, is why the original organic chitin had not completely fallen apart, which it would have if the fossils with it were 34 million years old…

Actually, they did. A substantial chunk of the discussion was specifically about that question, a consideration of the factors that contributed to the preservation. It was a combination of an anoxic environment, the presence of molecules that interfered with the enzymes that break down chitin, and the structure of cuttlebone, which interleaves layers containing chitin with layers containing pre-mineralized aragonite.

In vivo inorganic-organic structure of the cuttlebone, in combination with physical and geochemical conditions within the depositional environment and favorable taphonomic factors likely contributed to preservation of organics in M. mississippiensis. Available clays within the Yazoo Clay in conjunction with suboxic depositional environment may have facilitated preservation of original organics by forming a physical and geochemical barrier to degradation. One key to the preservation of organic tissues, in particular chitin and chitosan, is cessation of bacterial degradation within environments of deposition. Bacterial breakdown of polymeric molecules is accomplished through activities of both free extracellular enzymes (those in the water column) and ektoenzymes (those on the surface of the microbial cell) such as chitinases. Chitinases function either by cleaving glycosidic bonds that bind repeating N-acetyl-D-glucosamine units within chitin molecules or by cleaving terminal N-acetyl-D-glucosamine groups. These enzymes adsorb to the surface of clay particles, which inactivates them. Strong ions in solution like iron may act in the same manner. Once bound to functional groups within these polymeric molecules, Fe2+ ions prevent specific bond configuration on the active-site cleft of specific bacterial chitinases and prevents hydrolysis, thus contributing to preservation.

Organic layers within cuttlebones are protected by mineralized layers, similar to collagen in bones, and this mineral-organic interaction may also have played a role in their preservation. Specimens of M. mississipiensis show preserved original aragonite as well as apparent original organics. These organics appear to be endogenous and not a function of exogenous fungal or microbial activity. Fungi contain the γ form of chitin not the β allomorph found in our samples. Also, SEM analyses shows there is no evidence of tunneling, microbes, or wide-spread recrystallization of the aragonite. Therefore the chitin-like molecules detected in fossil sample are most likely endogenous. Similar to collagen in bone, perhaps, organics could not be attacked by enzymes or other molecules until some inorganic matrix had been removed.

Like I always say, never ever trust a creationists’ interpretation of a science paper: they don’t understand it, and they are always filtering it through a distorting lens of biblical nonsense. They make such egregious errors of understanding that you’re always left wondering whether they are actually that stupid, or that sleazily dishonest. Or both.

But imagine if the creationists hadn’t screwed up royally in reading the paper, if they had actually found an instance of scientists being genuinely baffled by a discovery that should not be. What if there was actually good reason to believe that chitin could not last more than ten thousand years?

Then the only sensible interpretation of this observation of 34 million year old chitin would be that the prior estimation of the shelf-life of chitin was wrong, and that it could actually last tens of millions of years. What the creationists want to do is claim that that minor hypothetical is actually correct, and that instead the entirety of nuclear physics, geology, radiochemistry, and modern cosmology is wrong. On the one hand, uncertain details about the decay of one organic molecule; in the other, entire vast fields of science, already verified, and with complex modern technologies built on their operation…and which hand would the creationists reject? The trivial one, of course.

I’m leaning towards “stupid” as the explanation for their bad arguments.


Oh, after I started this dissection, I discovered someone had already beaten me to it: here’s another analysis of the creationist misinterpretations.

(Also on FtB)