Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Buy three yokels, get one free

The News-Gazette is trying to kill me. That's the only explanation I can think of for them publishing another creationist letter to the editor. This time it's by Dee Mulligan of Urbana. As usual, I'll give links to the Index to Creationist Claims for each bogus statement she makes.

It has been wonderful to see the debate over the theory of evolution and creationism once again emerging.

Not really, since there isn't any such debate. The debate, such as it was, was settled nearly a century ago. The only "debate" that rages is that ignorant Christians just keep demanding that their theology be treated as science.

I have a graduate degree and aced all the biology classes by feeding back answers the professors wanted. But they never convinced me that evolution makes any sense.

I'm sorry to see that Ms. Mulligan wasted this part of her education. Rather than actually learn anything, she treated her university as a series of hoops that needed to be blindly jumped through.

A friend of mine in college took Physics 101 as a pass/fail course. For him, it was just a mandatory prerequisite, and he didn't really care. His grades were reasonably good, so for the final exam, he just sat down and memorized a bunch of relevant equations without any actual understanding of what they were for. Ms. Mulligan apparently not only did the same this for her biology classes, but has the absolute hubris to demand that her pretend-knowledge be treated on the same level as actual experts in the subject.

My objection is that it is a theory. It is not taught as such in most cases. It is taught as fact.

Evolution is both theory and fact. We also teach atomic theory, quantum theory, the theory of relativity, and the germ theory of disease. Ms. Mulligan doesn't really understand the technical definition of the work "theory." That's what comes of blowing off your biology classes and getting your science lessons from your preacher.

I remember sitting in high school biology and looking at pictures of Cro-Magnon man.

It was absolutely taught as fact. Of course, we all know now it was just a hoax.

Whaaaaat? Cro-Magnons aren't a hoax. They were the first Homo sapiens to inhabit Europe, alongside the Neanderthals. It's kind of an archaic term, sure, but it's hardly fraudulent.

The saddest part of this is that literally 10 seconds of searching the Internet would have shown here this. There's Wikipedia article and the Britannica article. Hell, even the laughable Conservapedia has a stub article on Cro-Magnon man. But no, Ms. Mulligan couldn't be bothered. She's comfortable wearing her ignorance on her sleeve.

So science can be wrong. As a matter of fact, Karl Popper argues that a hypothesis or theory must be falsifiable if it is does not admit the possibility of being false.

The "science can be wrong" gambit is a classic one. It's basically just a way of saying "since we don't know everything, we know nothing." Can we assume that if Ms. Mulligan is diagnosed with cancer she won't accept treatment for it since we don't know everything about cancer? I suspect we were wrong once or twice there.

If education is to be complete, then all theories on the beginning of the world and we mortals should at least be explored or mentioned. It cannot be proved that we evolved from a single cell.

Uh, no. We don't study rejected theories except to mention that they are incorrect. Unless Ms. Mulligan is suggesting medical schools should have to explore the theory that disease is caused by bad air? Should science classes have to teach alternatives to atomic theory? No, of course not.

And what's with this fascination with "proof," anyway? It's something that's come up in a couple of the previous yokel letters. Science doesn't deal in proof; it deals in evidence. You want proof, go study mathematics.

By the way, where did that cell come from? And it cannot be proved that God created the world. They both take faith to believe. The creation story has been around for at least 6,000 years. How long has the theory of evolution been around? As for me, I choose God.

People, please, repeat after me: evolution is not abiogenesis. Or for those of you that don't know words not found in your hymnals, evolution has to do with how life changed on this planet, not where it came from. I guess these people fixate on this point since, in their creation story, everything was created in its current form, and so they don't see any difference between the history of life and the beginning of life.

You know what else has been around for a long time? The four elements. And guess what? It's wrong. It's the product of a time where people were ignorant about the world and how it worked. With the limited information they had at the time, it might not have been a crazy idea, but that doesn't mean it was right.

Yeesh, I'm not even sure why I bother. As the quote goes, you can't argue someone out of a position they didn't argue themselves into.

Previous yokels:

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The third yokel's the charm

I had enough fun poking fun at the first two creationist yokels that wrote in to the News-Gazette, I thought I'd wrap up by looking at the letter from the third. This one is by Dan Yagow of Champaign:

Can a Christian accept evolution as fact? Can we believe human existence evolved from lower forms of life? Many say it is possible, but I see conflict. If a Christian accepts evolution, then what purpose or credibility does the Bible serve us?

One thing that's interesting about this line of "argument" is that it focuses entirely on human evolution. But evolution isn't just about how H. sapiens arose, it's about every species on the planet, from the towering dinosaurs to the bacteria that live all around us. They're every bit as evolved as we are. In the creationist mind, humans are special, dammit. We're not one of those dirty monkeys!

Notice the argument implicit in his last statement: if evolution is true, then the Bible is of no use. But that's not really an argument, is it? It's like saying that if the Earth isn't the center of the universe, then we're not special in the eyes of God, therefore the Earth is fixed in space and everything revolves around it.

A Christian follows Christ, claiming him to be holy and one with God the Creator... [snip irrelevant Bible quotes] If we embrace evolution, it's impossible to give God the credit he deserves. We would diminish his awesome power and exchange it for a faith in man's accomplishments.

Again, note the same implicit assumption as before. If evolution is true, my faith will be challenged, therefore evolution isn't true.

Why would evolution being true require awesome faith in man's accomplishments? It seems to me that if evolution were true, the credit belongs to all the billions of critters worldwide that crawled around in the muck and slime and dirt, from Tiktaalik to Archaeopteryx.

We would say that man's interpretation of how life originated makes more sense than the infallible intelligence of God. To claim that man evolved from lower forms of life does not fit with God's inerrant words.

In other words, "If it contradicts my interpretation of the Bible, it must not be true." A better excuse for intentional ignorance has never been spoken.

Consider this. There has been no scientific experiment that has successfully produced living cells from an arrangement of molecules evolution suggests.

Consider this. You haven't a freaking clue what you're talking about. Evolution doesn't say that a random arrangement of molecules got together to make a cell. Evolution isn't about the dawn of life. Even if God said "poof" and suddenly there was life on a barren Earth, evolution still could have caused that life to grow and develop into what we are now.

The odds of it happening are remote. To believe that it can be done and that it occurred by accident over millions of years without any intelligence behind it would require immense faith.

Now wait a minute. We just went from "it couldn't happen" to "it couldn't happen without any intelligence behind it." So God-driven evolution is possible? Somehow I don't think that's what Mr. Yagow is saying.

Again, we see that there's nothing new under the sun when it comes to creationist claims. Maybe evolution isn't true; otherwise, we'd expect to see their arguments (ahem) evolve to more persuasive forms.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Another local yokel

The editors at the News-Gazette are clearly conspiring to give me a coronary, because they published not one, but two, creationist letters to the editor last Friday. I'm not sure which is worse: that fact, or that these two pathetic examples are the best that the local forces of ignorance could muster. You know their arguments are tedious when they've been rehashed so many times they can be referred to by number. Let's take a look at the first, written by Mr. (Ms?) Kerwin Brown of Champaign:

Zielinski should know that theology is the branch of science that deals with God.

Really? That's really odd, because I just checked, and we don't seem to teach a single class on it in any of our science departments. I only missed a few classes, but if they covered transubstantiation in my Physical Chemistry course, it must have been in one of the few classes I missed. Maybe they covered rivers of blood in Environmental Engineering; I didn't take any of those classes. Funny, for theology being a branch of science, we do seem to have a lot of courses in the Religious Studies department.

Intelligent design is just an answer to how some particular events happen. A plausible answer to an event is called a hypothesis.

Well, no. Intelligent design is just repackaged creationism. Kitzmiller vs. Dover proved that pretty much conclusively. That monkeys flew out of my butt is an answer to where monkeys came from, but that doesn't make it a reasonable hypothesis.

A person who backed the hypothesis of intelligent design as regards the beginning of life would propose that someone spontaneously changed the non-living matter into living matter.

Uh, yeah, that's what makes it creationism. This next bit may come as a news flash to Kerwin, but there's no difference between "non-living matter" and "living" matter. Life is not a property of matter like mass or color is.

They would back up their hypothesis by pointing to the fact that DNA requires enzymes in order to reproduce, and it is scientifically impossible for enzymes to get together with DNA by random chance.

Seeing as how evolution doesn't suggest things happen by "random chance," this really doesn't have anything to do with his argument.

No theory, including the atheistic/agnostic theory of evolution, can be proven even though it can be tested.

Since the Catholic Church doesn't have a problem with evolution, someone really tell the Pope that he's an atheist. Does this mean we're going to go back to teaching that the Sun goes around the Earth? After all, if that can't be proven, I guess we have to teach all theories. And lest you think I'm exaggerating, there really are fundamentalist Christians that are modern-day geocentrists.

In schools, they do not mention God when teaching the theory of evolution, which means they are teaching the atheistic theory of evolution.

Folks, I think we have an entry for the 2008 Dumbest Argument of the Year contest. We may even have such a stupid statement here that no one else need bother to enter. It you don't mention God, you're teaching atheism? So if we don't teach that God wanted the United States to exist are we teaching the atheistic Civil War? If we talk about antibiotics without mentioning Jesus, are we practicing atheistic medicine? Secular is not atheist.


Saturday, July 19, 2008

The world's crappiest encyclopedia just got crappier

Unless you're an ignorant Luddite who's just learning to "get on the Internet," you're familiar with Conservapedia, a right-wing attempt to create an Internet Ghetto of Ignorance. It is a place where they can go to not be confronted by facts or be disturbed by reality's well-known liberal bias. It is a place where ideology trumps reality. But now they've set their sights on actually interfering with the scientific process.

Let me explain. No there is too much. Let me sum up. Richard Lenski at Michigan State University has been performing an experiment on E. coli for the past twenty years. Recently, they published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that the E. coli had evolved an entirely new feature; namely, that the bacteria could eat the citrate present in the cell medium, where it normally just subsists on glucose that's in there. Here is the New York Times article and here is one of the many good blog articles about his research.

Conservapedia can't let this stand. A demonstration of evolution in action is a direct threat to their creationist views. So Andrew Schlafly, head Conservapedia wingnut, started trying to discredit the paper. He first wrote Lenski demanding his data. Lenski responded saying that all the relevant data was in the PNAS paper. Schlafly wrote again, demanding Lenski's data apparently claiming that he has some sort of right to it since Lenski's work was "taxpayer funded." (As if a scientist working on a government grant has a responsibility to copy decades of work for any yahoo that stops by his lab.) He's even threatened legal action. Lenski responded again with a letter that I can only describe as a thing of beauty. RationalWiki has the entire exchange archived, but it's Lenski's second response that has got to be one of the best takedowns of such an ignoramus I've ever seen. Give it a read.

Oh, but it gets better!

Conservapedia now has a Flaws in Richard Lenski Study page, as well as trying to claim they found lots of errors in his paper at their Richard Lenski page. They're also threatening to write a Letter to PNAS for publication (not unusual if someone wishes to respond to a published paper) pointing out all the "flaws." If they do, just them displaying their ignorance to the scientific community and reading what I'm sure would be an entertaining response letter by Lenski would be so entertaining that it might go a long way to convincing me that there really is a God and he wants me to be amused.

But there's a bigger point here. These people are trying to interfere in the very process that makes science work. That there is this big pseudoscience resource on the Internet -- and let me point out that Conservapedia is intended to be a resource for homeschooled children. They're not making these criticisms in an attempt to forward our understanding of the world; they're making them because this is evidence in support of evolution, and they dare not let it go unchallenged because that would put their religious beliefs in danger. So they throw up a smokescreen and they hound the researchers with spurious demands for "data."

Science is hard. It requires years of study, dedication and then it takes more years of doing research, building a reputation and only then might you come across something really new and interesting. Religion is easy. It just requires a suspension of disbelief and obedience to doctrine. The problem is that science is a tool that leads our society and our knowledge into the future. It's what lets us build new technology, develop new drugs, shrink our transistors, all of which develop our economy. These religious nitwits stand in the way of all that. They attack not just the scientific process, but the population's confidence in its trustworthiness. They are a threat to our future and a threat to our superiority in the world. The sad part is that I think we're outnumbered.

Good posts on the subject:

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What Ezra said

I'm working on a real blog post, but in the meantime, Ezra Klein has a good post:

[McCain's] statement, in other words, made no sense. It was a war against Arabs, and maybe some Persians. not a limited conflict against al Qaeda. As Obama says, one of the clear distinctions between the Left's approach to terrorism and the Right's approach to terrorism is that the Left wants to limit the scope of the conflict, while the Right wants to expand it. So though it was only al Qaeda who attacked us on 9/11, Romney and Giuliani and McCain and plenty of their colleagues want to zoom out from al Qaeda to terrorism, and from terrorism to Islamic extremism. Rather than this being an effort to hunt down al Qaeda, it becomes a war to hunt down al Qaeda, destroy Hezbollah, eradicate Hamas, overthrow Saddam Hussein, change the regime in Tehran, crush the Muslim Brotherhood, and confront Syria, and whatever else Bill Kristol thought of while eating his Cheerios that week. It is an incredibly dangerous and incoherent approach. And it marks a genuine difference between Obama and McCain.

Of course, acknowleging that those brown people over there aren't a monolithic block would require having a "nuanced" view of the world, something Republicans aren't too keen on.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Call in FEMA! No, better hold off on that...

Rather than blog about anything, I'm just going to leave you with this video:

And yet it's still better than FOX News.