Your Friday Morning Gah

Because I hate all of you and want you to suffer as much as I have, you get a double helping of Christian glurgey WTF.

The first part is The Monkey Song, perhaps the catchiest expression of anti-evolutionary ignorance and superstition that I’ve heard.

But stick around, because then they sing The Ecumenical Movement, an ode to tribalism and dogma. The core message is “those people (both non-Christians and non-right-kind-of-Christians) don’t believe the same things I do, so I’m not even going to talk to them.”

The 70s flavor of the recording provides a retro flavor, like bell bottoms on a Sunday-best pantsuit.

(HT J)

Craziness Loves Company

Recently Kent Hovind’s International House of Lunacy offered to send out free DVDs to anyone who asked. So naturally, I had to take them up. Yesterday, it was delivered to my… let’s say “imaginary roommate”, with the oh-so-subtle name “Sevil Natas” (thanks to Fez for suggesting that).

I haven’t watched the DVD yet. But it came with bunch of ads for God and related products, including a CSE Ministries catalog. And that’s what I want to talk about. But I need to preface that with a bit of non-snark:

The insidious thing about HIV is that it doesn’t kill you. At least, not directly, by dissolving your cell walls or anything like that. Rather, it weakens your immune system. This makes your body less able to fight off HIV itself, and also leaves you vulnerable to other diseases. So what kills you is not AIDS per se, but something unrelated, that you normally would have been able to fight off easily.

I suspect that something similar goes on with woo: if you’re prone to hold one kind of irrational belief, then you’re probably prone to believing other kinds of irrational beliefs. If you don’t have the mental toolkit to recognize why astrology is bogus, then you might not recognize that dowsing or feng shui are also bogus.

But the thing about religion — certainly Christianity as it is widely practiced in the US and Europe — is that, like HIV, it actively attacks people’s mental defenses against bullshit, by teaching people that believing things without evidence is a virtue, or that religious ideas should be immune from criticism.

And now, on to the woo! Read More

Just Because We Can’t Define It Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Science

You may want to save this post at Uncommon Descent, in case it disappears down the memory hole.

If you’ve been following Intelligent Design, you’ve probably run across William Dembski’s notion of Complex Specified Information, or CSI. Basically, the argument is that if a system has CSI above a certain level, then it was intentionally designed (just as “Wherefore art thou Romeo” exhibits design, while “Mp YuMsAAVVa UU MbMZlPVJryn Viw MfHyNA FHh” doesn’t). Living beings (or their genomes) have sufficiently-high CSI, and were therefore designed. QED.

So the question from day one has been, “so how exactly does one calculate CSI and get an actual number?” From what I’ve seen, the standard answer is “go read Dembski’s book”. None of my local libraries have Dembski’s book, but from the reviews I’ve read, I gather that for all his talk about CSI, he never gets around to sitting down and describing how to calculate it.

And now for some reason, the people at Chez Dembski have invited someone going by the name of MathGrrl (whom I guess to be a frequent commenter; I stopped reading the comments there a long time ago, so I don’t know) to write a guest post. And not only that, but one in which she basically asks, “so anyway, how does one calculate CSI?”.

The first fifty comments consist mostly of “Yeah, well, evolution doesn’t explain it!” and handwaving, followed by a bunch of comments from MathGrrl to individual commmenters, all “Yes, but that doesn’t help me calculate CSI.”

Which is odd: you’d think that the first dozen or so comments would be links to FAQs, and maybe some Mathematica code to do the calculation. But no. And it’s not because they’re too busy to answer MathGrrl’s question, since a lot of them go on at length about how she’s not asking the right questions, or not using CSI correctly, or maybe some other measure of complexity would be better suited. But I’m not seeing a whole lot of anything that looks like math.

The thread looks, to me, like a gaggle of astrologers arguing about the proper way to calculate a horoscope.

So once again, getting information out of creationists is like pulling teeth.

Update, Mar. 25, 2011: The 200-comment mark has been reached, and no definition in sight. In fact, comment #201, by PaV, says:

Dear MathGrrl:

To provide a “rigorous definition” of CSI in the case of any of those programs would require analyzing the programs in depth so as to develop a “chance hypothesis”. This would require hours and hours of study, thought, and analysis.

You come here and just simply “ask” that someone do this. Why? You do it.

In other words, “Math is hard! Develop our theory for us!”

(Update, Aug. 4: Fixed typo.)

Beneficial Mutations: a Reductio ad Absurdum

1) Premise: there are no beneficial mutations; all mutations lead to decay, disease, or death.

2) From (1), some mutations cause death.

3) Presumably, some mutations cause death at a very early age, or even in utero.

4) When young children die, they go directly to heaven.

5) Going to heaven is the best possible outcome.

6) Therefore, there are beneficial mutations. QED.

(Hat tip to the skunk-dicks at Irreligiosophy.)

Information vs. Other Stuff

One common creationist objection to evolution is “where did the information come from?“.

There are many responses to this. But one thing that often gets lost in the noise is: it doesn’t matter.

What matters is, how do new organs appear? How do new body parts, behaviors, genes, chromosomes appear? As long as that happens, it matters not one whit whether “information” goes up, down, or sideways. In fact, if you define “information” as “the entropy of the universe, with a minus sign in front”, it’s easy to demonstrate that evolution requires a decrease in “information”.

The problem is that it’s fairly easy to show with a few examples that “new” organs, aren’t actually new, but really just variations on a theme. Think of bat wings and human hands, for instance. There are also many known types of mutation, including gene duplication, that can plausibly lead to the sorts of variation we see.

These examples are simple and clear enough that lay people can understand them. So creationists focus on “information” and play the same game as with “kind”, “God”, and “designer”: use a word that everyone thinks they understand, at least somewhat, rely on handwaving, intuitive arguments to make their case, and stubbornly refuse to provide a formal, testable underpinning for this intuition.

There’s a big difference between understanding a thing, and merely knowing the name for it. The “where does information come from?” argument plays on the fact that you can have a name for an ill-defined concept. So my advice is to treat “information” the same way as “quantum charm” or “GDP” or “melanoma”: if you don’t have a good idea of what the term means, ask your interlocutor to clarify until you’re sure you’re talking about the same thing.

And if it turns out that under some definition, an increase in “information” is impossible, well, who cares, as long as it doesn’t prevent the evolution of limbs and organs?

I Get Email

I recently happen to come across your website through the section /text/evoquotes. Actually, I had bookmarked the quotes some time ago and happen to cleaning up some old favorites when I saw them again. I do not know if this website is still being maintained or if you are still interested in any dialogue about it. My first question is are these quotes for real? If so, doesn’t it give you even a small pause regarding your anti-creationist stance? I moved up to your main page and it is quite an interesting collection of works. I particularly like the “ooblick” recipe itself. I didn’t realize that I had been inadvertently making ooblick every time I created a rue to thicken my gravy.

In any case, I am a creationists and that is my main concern with your page, in particular the “message to creationists”. It appears the site is quite dated and I’m wondering if it has ever been updated. You may feel you’ve heard every argument before and if you are not interested in any feedback that is perfectly fine. You simply need not respond. Likewise, I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this message if you are not interested in any polite and respectful dialogue.

I will give you this feedback, however, if you are still listening. If you’d like to respond, I would be interested in discussing it in more detail, point by point. There didn’t appear to be a way to respond publicly on your site, so I’m sending you this email. You claim to have heard every anti-evolution argument there is. However, if that were true, you wouldn’t be posting the fallacious comments you have made. To be honest, there is very little if anything that is true on this page. What is surprising to me is that you are critical of creationists for not understanding evolution, yet you have not bothered to even look up creation theory. This is not surprising to me. If you think about it, we are all indoctrinated in evolutionary dogma in school, so there are few people that do not understand at least the basics of evolutionary theory. Since scientific creation theory is not allowed to be taught in school, I’ve never met an evolutionist that had an inkling about what creation theory is actually about.

Throughout the site you appear to want creationist to provide extremely specific detail about the ancient past, yet you do not insist on these same standards for evolutionists. For example, when exactly did the first life form appear? Where on earth did it appear? what did it look like?  How many years did it take before it evolved into something else? If it actually happened, why can’t we repeat the event in the lab? Please provide a complete list of transitional forms between this first life and the organisms found in the Cambrian explosion. Where is the Oort cloud (the supposed source of short term comments that demonstrate a young universe)? Really, this list could go on ad infinitum and I doubt you could answer any of them. On the other hand, I can actually answer many, if not most, of the questions on your site.

There certainly are well defined creationists theories regarding our origins and they are backed by substantial POSITIVE evidence in their favor. In no way is creationism simply anti-evolution. However, just as evolutionists point out faults with creation theories, it is natural for creation scientists to do the same. After all, there are only two viable scientific theories of our origins at the moment and any negative evidence against one is evidence in favor of the other. That is because we are talking about historical theories and it is the preponderance of the evidence which matters, since neither can be scientifically proven.

This is already long, but if you would be interested in having me actually respond to your comments point by point, I would be happy to  oblige.


Okay, tell you what. Why don’t you take your “viable scientific” theory of creation, remove all the bits that have been debunked ad nauseam and refuted in the Index of Creationist Claims (such as CA510.1, your assertion that evidence against evolution is evidence for creationism), and see what you have left.

If it’s still a viable scientific theory that can withstand scrutiny, and can be tested through experiment, come back and we’ll talk about it.

YEC on Campus

A Baptist group on campus invited G. Charles Jackson of the Creation Truth Foundation, a young-earth creationist ministry, to give a talk. So naturally I had to attend.

Unfortunately, my recorder’s batteries died during the pre-talk service, so I wasn’t able to record the event. But I tried to take notes.

The short version is that if you’ve seen Kent Hovind, or Ken Ham, or Ray Comfort, or any of their colleagues on the young-earth anti-evolution circuit, then you’ve seen G. Charles Jackson. He had the claims of having degrees. He had the cartoony misrepresention of evolutionary arguments. He had the mined quotes, and the ancient references. Okay, that’s not entirely fair, since he had a few arguments that I don’t remember seeing elsewhere. But still, nothing earth-shattering.

Have you ever gone to a concert by a band that used to be big, but is still touring, like Styx or Journey or Def Leppard? One of those that haven’t released an album in fifteen years (aside from direct-to-remainder-bin “Greatest Hits” compilations) and whose only attraction is nostalgia; playing to small venues full of people who used to like them in their heyday. But they keep touring and playing those old hits because it’s all they’ve got.

I got a similar vibe from Jackson. His entire schtick would have been right at home in circa 1992. Except that he’s younger than the Hovinds and Wiel, so maybe he’s more of a tribute band than an aging rocker. If you’re the sort of person who’d rather see a local stage production of a play than to watch a Broadway cast performing the same play on video, then you might enjoy going to see Jackson, rather than watching a Kent Hovind or Ray Comfort video.
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Breaking: Kent Hovind in Solitary

From Kent Hovind’s outfit, Creation Science Ministry’s Facebook page comes word that Kent is now in solitary:

Creation Science Evangelism Pleas pray for Dr. Hovind. We were just informed that he is solitary confinement. We are not sure why he is there and how long he must stay. He is need of your prayers. Thank you!

No word on how prayer is supposed to help, or what he did this time, though I’m sure we’ll be seeing a selectively-edited account of the events at some point.

(And just to keep the schadenfreude from getting out of control, I should add that solitary confinement is not something I’d wish on anyone.)

Update, 17:17: According to this thread at the JREF forums, this isn’t the first time Hovind has (been said to have been) placed in solitary. And given creationists’ penchant for repeating ancient and out-of-date information, for all I know this latest instance may be referring to something that happened three years ago.

The “Don’t Be A Dick” Heard Round the World

I feel chastised.

Undoubtedly the most controversial, most thought-provoking talk at TAM 8 was Phil Plait‘s “Don’t be a dick” talk, in which he decried what he sees as the rise of incivility in the skeptical blogosphere.

He wrote it down ahead of time so as not to ad lib and accidentally say something he didn’t mean, and since I have a recording of it, I should really quote him (slightly cleaned up) and not paraphrase, so as not to distort his meaning. I apologize in advance for the length of both the quotations and my response. To quote Blaise Pascal, I lack the time to make it shorter.

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Another Creationist Myth Bites the Dust

We’ve all heard about the peppered moths of England: how soot from the Industrial Revolution turned English trees dark, and how as a result, peppered moths went from being mostly light-colored to being mostly dark.

One argument in creationsts’ bag of misinformation is that peppered moths don’t rest on tree trunks. Therefore, a textbook that showed said moths resting on tree trunks, in order to illustrate camouflage, was fraudulent. Therefore, the original study was fraudulent as well. Therefore, the entire theory of evolution comes tumbling down. (AKA creationist claim CB601.1.)

So anyway, here’s a picture of a visitor to my back yard back in May:

Moth on a tree trunk

Also, if these people are so upset at pedagogical inaccuracies in textbooks (or, as they might say, “lies”), why aren’t they up in arms over diagrams of the circulatory system that show blue blood? Or illustrations of the earth’s structure that show a gigantic wedge cut out of the planet, exposing the magma and core beneath?

Solar System
Planets are not pulled along on wires. This picture is lying to your children.

Update: fixed link.