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Archive for the ‘creationism’ Category

This morning, I decided to subject myself to some creationist programming on one of the religious channels that every American gets with a basic TV package. I don’t know why I do this, but I consider learning what creationists do– and do both deceptively and wrongly–a great exercise in understanding my own epistemology.

The most important thing to understand about creationism, whether it is the Kent Hovind, 6,000-year-old earth type or the more sophisticated intelligent design type, is the fundamental exercise is not understanding scientific findings. Instead, it is about protecting the authority of scripture from scientific findings. The Hovind types are about denying science, wile the ID types are more into a sort syncretism between the findings of science and the need to have faith. This same sort of syncretism exists with religious people who accept evolution, too, but the intelligent design types often are a bit more into making sense of scripture and science than the theistic evolutionists.

So whenever you are subjected to creationist or intelligent design pontifications, you need to understand they are much more concerned with defending scripture against scientific findings than creating any kind of parallel scientific hypothesis that could ever compete with those of peer-reviewed science.

This particular creationist segment was concerned about speciation, and it was definitely from the school of thought that a Kent Hovind would appreciate. Because biologists do not have a hard and fast definition of species– a strength of the discipline, if you ask me–creationists are able to play games with what a species is. The piece talked about how they accepted that all the breeds of dog derived from a wolf ancestor, but then it started getting dishonest.

It showed how biologists think of lions and tigers as distinct species, but they can sometimes interbreed. However, unlike mixed breed dogs, the ligers are often sterile. The narrator of the piece didn’t seem to get that this sterility is how we know that lions and tigers are different species, because no scientist alive believes that two animals that produce offspring in which fertility is limited to this degree belong to the same species.

Instead, the narrator skipped over this glaring problem and began to explain that breeds of dog and tigers and lions were obviously derived from the same kind, and the reason why ligers are often sterile is because of a sort of hyped up “evolution” that happened after Noah’s flood.

It is certainly true that dog breeds are far more morphologically variable than lions and tigers are from each other, but dogs have a good reason for this morphological variation. They have some odd characteristics to their genomes that allow them to respond to selection pressures in rather dramatic ways. Thus, dogs vary a lot in terms of their morphology, but they don’t vary as much genetically as lions and tigers do from each other. Molecular evidence points to all extant dogs radiating within the past 15,000 years, and although some experts would put that date a bit further back, it is nowhere near the 4 million years estimated for the most recent common ancestor lions and tigers.

I don’t know how creationists square this problem, except to say that mutation rates are so much higher in some of these “species” than in others. But the mutation rate you’d have to have to match the millions of years of divergence between tiger and lion lineages would not be biologically possible. I image that the genetic load from deleterious mutations would be too much to sustain either lineage.

But that’s not what the creationists in this piece discussed. Instead, they came up with an entire theory called “polyphyletic decent.” The “kinds” of animal that came off the ark diverged into the things resembling species in phylogenetic trees that look a lot like the ones real scientists use to describe evolutionary relationships. However, unlike those phylogenetic trees there is no implication of connection between “kinds.” They are trees growing out of a single stem that diversified.

Evolution is based upon monophyletic decent. That’s why the argument that creationists often make where they posit the absurdity of an organism giving birth to another species is quite ridiculous. All living things evolve out of a particular lineage. Nothing evolves out of it. Humans will always be great apes, which will always be Old World primates, which will always be simiiformes, which will always be haplorhines, which will always be euarchontoglires, which will always be boreoeutherians, which will always be placentalian, which will always be therian mammals.

This is why so many taxonomists work hard to ensure that organisms are classified according to their descent. This descent can be traced through the morphology of the organism as well as its molecular biology.

If the creationists were right about this “polyphyletic descent” hypothesis, then you would be able to find organisms for which one can find no DNA sequences in common with any other. And one has not been found yet.

So creationists have a new thing to play around with. It will never gain acceptance among scientists.

But that is not the point. The point of creationism is to defend scripture’s inerrancy against scientific findings. It is an exercise in defending faith, not in trying to understand that which the rigors of the scientific method has revealed.

And once you understand this difference, it makes total sense why scientists don’t debate creationists. The two disciplines are trying to do entirely different things, which are not equivalent to each other. One is trying to understand the material world using measures and data that verified, while the other is trying to defend supernatural beliefs that can never be verified.

I guess I go by the Bible and say by its fruits, it will be known. The scientific method has produced all the technological advancements that have made modern life what it is. It has increased our knowledge about our place in the world and in the cosmos. Defending scripture against what science has revealed has produced little but adhering the truly faithful to the religion a bit more strongly and made a few charlatans infinitely rich. But it has not advanced us one iota, and in this current epoch, it is holding us back from confronting global problems like climate change and mass extinctions. If you can deny evolution, which is quite obvious, then you have the intellectual skill-set to deny what climate scientists are saying.

We live in an era of tribal realities. What one accepts as true depends upon which tribe one belongs. If you’re a conservative Christian in the United States, you have a different understanding of how the world is than virtually anyone else in the Western World. Part of the reason for this disconnect is that white conservative Christianity is losing the demographics battle in the United States. And in this loss in demographics is this tendency to turn to those ideas and individuals who might restore their former advantage. Belief in fundamentalist Christianity might somehow bring down the divine, which could restore it all with a miracle, and belief in Donald Trump might work out, too, because he will be nasty to all those people who are taking away this demographic advantage.

Time will eventually remove this madness from our society, but while it is there, it will do some damage. And for the climate, we don’t have that much time.

All I can do, then, is use my voice to make some sense to a few more people, and hope, the dismal tide turns sooner rather than later.

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kent hovind living dinosaurs

The greatest dinosaur expert in history is about to be released!

He’s the world’s biggest conspiracy theorist, and he’s also into bizarre cryptozoology.

But when he went to fight the law, the law won.

Here’s a tribute to my favorite creationist nutjob:

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Ken Ham is known for using the dog family to defend the biblical concept of kind. After all, domestic dogs vary so much but can interbreed and produce fertile offspring, which they can also do with wolves (their wild ancestor), coyotes, and golden jackals.

So all these different animals must represent the dog kind, right?

Well, very early in the debate from last night , Ham went for the dogs again, comparing the different species and breeds of the genus Canis to Darwin’s finches. Darwin’s finches are more less divergent in morphology than all these dogs are, so they both must represent the respective dog and finch “kind.”

The problem is that all the weird morphology that exists in dogs is really nothing more than the selection pressures that have occurred since domestication. Domestic dog skull vary more than all the other species in the order Carnivora. That means that domestic dogs have skulls that diverge more than the differences between those of house cats and walruses. It is now thought that tandem repeats may play a role why dog heads have been able to become so diverse so rapidly through selective breeding, which is really nothing more than a really weird aspect of the dog genome.  Domestic dogs actually don’t vary that much from each other, and they also don’t vary greatly from wolves either, which is why they still have to be classified as Canis lupus familiaris.

Ken Ham bathers on how all these Canis were interfertile and thus the same kind, but here’s a challenge I guess he didn’t think about.

These two animals look very similar, and I’m sure that Ken Ham would say they are the same “kind.”

canis latrans

black backed jackal

If you didn’t know any better, you’d say that these two animals were the same speces, and if you were a creationist, you’d definitely say they were the same “kind.”

But if all living things on the earth now are all derived from an ancestral and clearly interfertile ancestral pair on the ark, then why can’t these two animals interbreed?

Yes.

The animal in the top photo is a North American coyote. It actually can interbreed with domestic dogs and wolves, and it has been bred to the golden jackal, which is actually far more closely related to the wolf and coyote lineage than the other jackals.

Indeed, there are two jackals that are found only in Africa that are not interfertile with the rest of the genus Canis. These two are the black-backed and side-striped jackals, which are even more divergent from the rest of the genus Canis than African wild dogs and dholes are.

The animal below is a black-backed jackal, and in Southern and East Africa it is ecologically quite similar to the Western and Latin American populations of coyote.

Because black-backed and side-striped jackals are genetically that distinct from the rest of the “dog kind,” then Noah surely would have had to have brought along a separate jackal kind.

But wouldn’t an all-knowing creator just ask Noah to bring the dog kind and populate Africa with an animal deriving from that ancestral dog kind? Having to put another pair of dog-like creatures on that already crowded boat seems like an awful waste. Kennel space was pretty limited.

Why go at it with such a divergent animal?

Most people don’t realize that these two endemic African jackals are so different from the rest of the genus Canis. Most have heard that golden jackals cross with dogs, and there is an assumption that all of these animals are very closely related.

They aren’t.

But if you were to play on this kind game a bit more, you’d think that these two animals would interbreed, and that there would be no way to breed a cute little dog like a beagle to a coyote. A black-backed jackal would be a much more logical mate, right?

beagle

 

But there have been several studies that have crossed laboratory strain beagles with coyotes (like this one: coyote beagle).

coyote beagle mated pair

 

The photo above is the male coyote protecting his beagle mate.

Here are their descendants:

beagle coydogs

Beagles and coyotes would clearly be part of the same kind, but coyotes and black-backed jackals would not.

But you’d never be able to guess that solely by looking at the animals.

And this is where the entire concept of “kinds” falls apart.

We have many different and often nasty debates about the taxonomy and classification of species, but we have these debates because we have some idea of what a species is.

The same cannot be used for the term “kind.”

A kind is really whatever one thinks it should be. It’s an ad hoc definition, one that is squishy and malleable, which means that it is perfect for people who like to misrepresent facts to twist around however they would like.

It’s precisely the sort of thing creationists like to use to bamboozle the science-illiterate public.

 

 

 

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ken ham

The internets are abuzz about the big debate last night at the Creation Museum between Bill Nye and Ken Ham. Bill Nye is “the Science Guy” who I used to watch on PBS every evening. Ken Ham is a creationist.  Creationists are scum.

I need not say any more about this, but they are scum. All they ever do is speculate or misrepresent actual science.

And when a qualified person of reason decides to engage in a formal debate with one of these demagogues, it elevates the scum to a respectable level that they clearly don’t deserve.

I watched the debate this morning, and all I can say is that Ken Ham’s argument was twofold: 1. There are a few prominent scientists who are creationists and 2. It’s just a difference  of worldview and interpretation of data.

Number 1 is irrelevant to the debate. Lots of brilliant people have thought stupid things. Lots of brilliant people have accepted erroneous ideas. Konrad Lorenz was a Nazi scientist. Thomas Jefferson believed that Africans were a subhuman race.

Number 2 is not true at all, and no one in their right mind would accept it. When Ham surrenders to the “difference of worldview”  argument, then he opens up the door to all sorts of postmodernist bullshit being paraded out as science. All they have to do to defend themselves is say “We have different worldviews, and we interpret the data differently.”

That is a standard that no scientist could ever accept.

Nor should one.

As bad as Ken Ham’s arguments were, I still don’t think he lost the debate.

That’s because whenever a rationalist person tries to debate a creationist, the entire metrics of success are different for each side.

On the facts and logic, Bill Nye beat Ham hands down. Nye even taught me a thing  or two, which is really the only reason to watch one of these debates. You can learn a lot when someone really qualified uses facts and reason to debate someone who clearly does not.

But the creationists are not playing that game:  To a creationist, it matters very little if what they say can be verified empirically. The only thing that matters is belief.

And that is why they are impossible to debate.

And a formal debate is the worst place in which to engage one of these people.

That’s because in a formal debate, both sides get equal time, and it’s well-known that a lie can make it half-way across the earth while the truth is just putting on its shoes.

So a creationist can engage in what is called a “Gish Gallop” — so-named for the  creationist who developed this debating technique of using his time during the debate to let loose a volley of half-truths, misrepresentations, and absolute lies that his opponent couldn’t possibly correct. (Federal inmate Kent Hovind was a master of this technique. He should be called the Gish Marathoner!)

But Ham didn’t even try this technique– at all.

He just went back to these two themes, and if we’re going to assess the debate on those grounds, Ham lost. Severely.

However, I don’t think you can say that Billy Nye won.

Bill Nye made his argument for “the reasonable person”– should the “reasonable person” accept Ham’s creationist model?

The answer is, of course, no.

But a huge section of the American body politic– and most of the people in the audience– are not reasonable people.

Belief is all that matters. Defending this belief against all reasonable objections is considered a virtue– one of the highest virtues. That’s what Christians call “faith.”

And you simply cannot debate them.

All you can do is call them out and expose them for what they really are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Apple did not fall far from the tree!  Same arguments as “Papa Fake Doc” Hovind!

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Shaggy dinosaur story

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