Pssst: the loons have all moved to YouTube

If you’ve been missing the heady old days of creationists popping onto the blog to make outrageous claims, I smoked a few out in my last video. Here’s one who jumped in to tell me that all of science agrees with the Bible and that there’s tons of science in the Bible.

The Meek
The Meek
6 hours ago (edited)
There is more science in the Bible then in your head! You follow prooven liars who lost court cases for fruad all throughout history and we are the ones who are wrong? Nah, all the observable science agrees more with the Bible than with your science textbooks! How many debates do you guys have to loose, before you figure it out? We are all presenting the same evidence, but just interpreting it differently through our favored worldview! You have to look past your bias and go deeper into the false assumptions being taught in science in order to see through all the lies! The real issue is you just hate the idea of a God telling you how to live! Good luck with that when you die!

PZ Myers
6 hours ago
Cool. What chapter of the bible contains Maxwell’s equations, or Newton’s laws of motion, or a discussion of signal transduction in neurons? Or maybe something basic, like the importance of hygiene in preventing disease.

Hey! is the germ theory of disease in there?

1 hour ago
@PZ Myers The answer is not in said “which chapter,” it is in the actual event of following the instructions given as a whole and seeing the obvious results. We have literally been doing that for thousands of years. You will find that in the Bible, there are explanations for some of those very questions you just mentioned such as hygiene to prevent disease. Do you not understand homeopathic medicine, or how long it’s been successfully curing diseases and ailments? Of course logically you’re not going to see “theory” like newton’s own, or maxwells equations. I mean what kind of a silly question is that? The Bible has been here for thousands of years before those people were born, and it’s still the way of life provably, while everyone else is arguing over theories that were literally disproven many years ago, and on top of that it has been proven these men perpetuating these ideas and “scientific theories” were occult practitioners, and were steering their own beliefs and views onto the public domain, which were met with great resistance. I mean that is all public record sir. What reality are you living in my friend, you seem interested in intelligence so let’s utilize it shall we?

His answer is … HOMEOPATHY! Homeopathy is in the Bible. Therefore, it’s science.

I haven’t seen this degree of lunacy for a while.

He is truly a worthy successor to Kent Hovind

I made another Bad Science Sunday video, this one about Matt Powell. He claims to have debunked evolution in 50 seconds, and in that short claim he makes one of the dumbest creationist arguments ever…and he presents it in total seriousness in the style of a high school debate team point. The smug ignorance has to be something he got by aping Hovind.

At the end he claims to have refuted evolution using science and logic, neither of which are on display in his argument.

An AiG apostate!

Well, this is fascinating: a former employee of Answers in Genesis comes out with her story.

What I found unsurprising is that AiG is an authoritarian tyranny that abuses its workers, with people monitoring social media of employees outside of work hours and threatening them with firing if they step out of line, on top of all the oppressive requirements to get a job there in the first place.

She came from a faith tradition that thought AiG was too liberal (I shudder to imagine it — some of her fellow employees even wore pants, which surely put them on a slippery slope to atheism). But she did not hurtle into godless evilutionism herself. What led to her breakaway from AiG was the exploitive work conditions and her growing awareness of the hypocrisy of her religion, and she now calls herself an agnostic who is on the fence about evolution vs. creation.

That’s all we can ask for, that people think honestly about their beliefs and avoid dogma.

Oh, man, Ken Ham is going to be so pissed off about this video.

Kent Hovind thinks he’s going to win a half billion dollars in a lawsuit

As you know, I’m not impressed with the American legal system — it has built-in deep injustices and biases, and also, while I benefit from many of them as a white man, it also has loopholes that allow every crank and bad actor to manipulate the system, shaking it as if it’s a piggy-bank to harass people and dream of getting rich. Wouldn’t you know it, Kent Hovind is one of those delusional manipulators who wants his money. He was in jail for 9 years for his money schemes — Dinosaur Adventure Land wasn’t just a tool to evangelize, but an illegal money-making operation for the Hovinds to get rich off of — and was legally convicted of his crimes, and also lost an appeal. Now he and his crackpot lawyers have convinced themselves that there was an error, a technicality, that will allow them to invalidate his conviction and sue the federal government for $500 million. It’s a fantasy. He was caught playing games with his money to avoid taxation, and he can’t deny that. What he is now claiming is that the federal government needed a “verified complaint” to even begin action against him, and therefore the entire trial should be thrown out.

As Peter Reilly explains, it’s a nonsensical complaint. What triggered his arrest, trial, and conviction was a grand jury indictment that evaluated the evidence at the time, and concluded that there was cause to pursue the matter further. Hovind is making yet another Sovereign Citizen style argument based on Imaginary Law. He’s not going to clean up and get rich with this lawsuit, but is only going to pour more money down a legal rabbit hole. I guess I can’t complain about that.

I am a little concerned about Reilly’s analysis, though.

Robert Baty alerted me to the filing. I think there are others involved but he seems to be the prime mover behind Nightmare. Kent has a tendency to refer to his critics, other than those who have deserted him, as atheists. Baty is not an atheist, but rather a Christian who has a problem with Young Earth Creationism.

Baty is a retired IRS agent and Kent maintains that Baty has been called out of retirement to “get Hovind”. I find that accusation highly implausible. My evaluation of Robert Baty is that you should never underestimate a cranky old man with a couple of obsessions, an internet connection and time on his hands when he is not watching the grandchildren.

<gasp> I feel seen!

By the way, Kent Hovind posted another comment in my latest video.

How can you BELIEVE the amazingly complex genetic code in ANY form of life happened by random chance over billions of years? How can you teach the silly evolution religion to students and still sleep at night? Call 855-big dino ext 3 to schedule a debate on the very best three evidences you have for evolution. I’ll post the debate unedited (unless profanity needs bleeped) on my kenthovindofficial YouTube channel where my rebuttal of your position was posted a few weeks ago. Come visit our Dinosaur Adventure Land REAL Science Center in Lenox, Alabama and I’ll give you a tour. :) Kent Hovind

I don’t believe organisms evolved entirely by random chance, so as usual, his criticisms are not based on reality. I’ve informed him, though, that my fee for wasting my time in debate with idiots has risen to $7000/day, a special rate just for him. Maybe when he wins his absurd lawsuit, he’ll be able to afford my rates. Unlike him, though, I’m not counting on the windfall, ever.

Hoo boy, the Discovery Institute is pathetic

Everyone seems to be “pivoting to video”, including the creationists, so I might as well join in the fun. The Discovery Institute put out a quasi-animated video with a young hipster narrator to promote science denialism — they want to claim that the whale transitional series is bogus, and that all those fossils are just a random jumble of unconnected species that somehow just appeared, and none of them are really intermediates. So I had to expose the flaws in their thinking. Unstylishly, of course.

If I look a little bit squinky-eyed, it’s because I only noticed after recording it that the sun was glaring in through the window to one side. Next time I do one of these, I’d better draw the blinds.

Bad science tries to drip its way into everything

You want to read a really good take-down of a bad science paper? Here you go. It’s a plea to Elsevier to retract a paper published in Personality and Individual Differences because…well, it’s racist garbage, frequently cited by racists who don’t understand the science but love the garbage interpretation. It really is a sign that we need better reviewers to catch this crap.

The paper is by Rushton, who polluted the scientific literature for decades, and Templer, published in 2012. It’s titled “Do pigmentation and the melanocortin system modulate aggression and sexuality in humans as they do in other animals?”, and you can tell what it’s trying to do: it’s trying to claim there is a genetic linkage between skin color and sexual behavior and violence, justifying it with an appeal to biology. It fails, because the authors don’t understand biology or genetics.

They’re advocating something called the pleiotropy hypothesis, which is the idea that every gene has multiple effects (this is true!), and that therefore every phenotype has effects that ripple across to every other phenotype (partially, probably mostly true), so that seeing one aspect of a phenotype means you can make valid predictions about other aspects of the phenotype (mostly not at all true). This allows them to abuse a study in other mammals to claim that human outcomes are identical. Here’s the key graf:

The basis of the pleiotropy hypothesis presented by Rushton and Templer hinges on a citation from Ducrest et al. (2008), which posits ‘pleiotropic effects of the melanocortins might account for the widespread covariance between melanin-based coloration and other phenotypic traits in vertebrates.’ However, Rushton and Templer misrepresent this work by extending it to humans, even though Ducrest et al. (2008) explicitly state, ‘these predictions hold only when variation in melanin-based coloration is mediated by variation in the level of the agonists at MC1R… [conversely] there should be no consistent association between melanin-based coloration and other phenotypic traits when variation in coloration is due to mutations at effectors of melanogenesis such as MC1R [as is the case in humans].’ Ducrest et al. continue, ‘variation in melanin-based coloration between human populations is primarily due to mutations at, for example, MC1R, TYR, MATP and SLC24A5 [29,30] and that human populations are therefore not expected to consistently exhibit the associations between melanin-based coloration and the physiological and behavioural traits reported in our study’ [emphasis mine]. Rushton and Templer ignore this critical passage, saying only ‘Ducrest et al. (2008) [caution that], because of genetic mutations, melanin-based coloration may not exhibit these traits consistently across human populations.’ This is misleading. The issue is not that genetic mutations will make melanin-based pleiotropy inconsistent across human populations, but that the genes responsible for skin pigmentation in humans are completely different to the genes Ducrest et al. describe.

To translate…developmental biologists and geneticists are familiar with the concept of an epistatic pathway, that is, of genes affecting the expression of other genes. So, for instance, Gene A might switch on Gene B which switches on Gene C, in an oversimplified pattern of regulation.

Nothing is ever that simple, we know. Gene A might also switch on Gene Delta and Gene Gamma — this is called pleiotropy, where one gene has multiple effects. And Gene Gamma might also activate Gene B, and Gene B might feed back on Gene A, and B might have pleiotropic effects on Gene Beta and Gene E and Gene C.

This stuff gets delightfully tangled, and is one of the reasons I love developmental biology. Everything is one big complex network of interactions.

What does this have to do with Rushton & Templer’s faulty interpretation? They looked at a study that identified mutations in a highly pleiotropic component of the pigmentation pathway — basically, they’re discussing Gene A in my cartoon — and equating that to a terminal gene in humans, equivalent to Gene C in my diagram. Human variations in skin color are mostly due to mutations in effector genes at the end of the pathway, like MC1R. It will have limited pleiotropic effects compared to genes higher up in the epistatic hierarchy, like the ones Ducrest et al. described. Worst of all, Ducrest et al. explicitly discussed how the kind of comparison Rushton & Templer would make is invalid! They had to willfully edit the conclusions to make their argument, which is more than a little dishonest.

It reminds me of another recent disclosure of a creationist paper that also misrepresented its results. This paper, published in the International Journal of Neuroscience, openly declared that it had evidence for creationism.

In the paper, Kuznetsov reportedly identified an mRNA from one vole species that blocked protein synthesis in a related vole species. That same mRNA, however, did not block translation in the original vole species or another species that was more distantly related. The finding, Kuznetsov wrote in his report, supported “the general creationist concept on the problems of the origin of boundless multitudes of different and harmonically functioning forms of life.”

I vaguely remember reading that paper and rolling my eyes at how weak and sloppy the data was — it was never taken seriously by anyone but creationists. I don’t recall the details, though, because it was published 30 years ago, and is only now being retracted, after decades of the author fabricating data and being so obvious about it that he was fired as editor of two journals in 2013. The guy had a reputation, shall we say. Yet he managed to maintain this academic facade for years.

Phillipe Rushton had similarly managed to keep up the pretense of being a serious academic for an awfully long time, right up until his death in 2012. He used his reputation to spray all kinds of fecal nonsense into the scientific literature, and that’s why you have to maintain a skeptical perspective even when reading prestigious journals.

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.