Friday, February 7, 2014

Why Is This Even a Thing

A lot of electrons have been spread around as people light up the internet to talk about the recent debate between Bill Nye (The Science Guy) and Ken Ham... he doesn't have a fancy title. Their debate lasted about two hours and they were discussing Evolution vs Creation. More broadly it once again thrust the escalating conflict between science and religion back into the public spotlight.

I have no wish to engage in what I believe is a zero-sum game. Neither side is going to be swayed by the other, no matter how persuasive the argument. Actually, to put a fine point on it, science-minded folk would be swayed if there is even one piece of testable, verifiable evidence to suggest the existence of a god or god-like figure. Creationists just won't accept scientific truths, even in the face of overwhelming, testable, verified evidence.

So, I'm not going to play out the he-said/she-said of the debate. You can watch if for yourself. Just do a google search for Bill Nye, Ken Ham, debate. Sit back and be prepared to cry at the willful ignorance of a huge section of the North American populace.

What I will do though, is respond to the placards and notes featured in this link. In the post author Matt Stopera got 22 self-identifying creationists to write down questions for people with a brain in their heads  who understand science and, in particular, evolution. The old saw about "There's no such thing as a stupid question" was just disproved 22 times.  However, in the interest of being an educator and in contributing to the public knowledge-base, I'll take on the challenge of answering these questions.

If you're a Creationist, I'll speak slow and use easy-to-understand words.

1. Bill Nye, are you influencing the minds of children in a positive way? Ok, I'm not Bill Nye so for me to offer his opinion would be pretty rude. However I think that if Bill is encouraging kids to think critically, to weigh evidence, and to make decisions based on rational thought, rather than on blind faith.... then yes. Yes he is.

2. Are you scared of a divine creator? How can I be afraid of something that doesn't exist. That's like being afraid of a healthy meal at McDonalds, or of a kitty without a sense of vengeance.  

3. Is it completely illogical that the earth was created mature, i.e. trees created with rings, Adam was created as an adult... I don't even know where to begin with this one. The earth wasn't created "mature". It wasn't "created" in the way that you are meaning. It began as a loosely consolidated mass of swirling dust and gas. Over time gravity compressed it into the earth we know today (about 4 billion years ago). As for trees... they grow a new pair of rings each year. That's just basic biology. I can't begin to give a rational answer about a fictional character like Adam.

4. Does not the second law of thermodynamics disprove Evolution. Ah your smarmy grin says "I've got you." But your basic lack of understanding about a law that you are trumpeting says "I'm an idiot." Read the second law carefully. It says - loosely - that "the entropy of an isolated system never decreases." More simply, isolated systems will trend toward a state of entropy (greater disorganization). Creationists like to hold this up as proof that evolution can't happen because the system - life on earth - is not trending toward less organization. Rather evolution would suggest a trend to a more ordered system.

Guess what: The earth isn't an isolated system. The sun provides energy that fuels all the natural processes. With the input of energy, an open system will not trend toward entropy. Come on, this is basic stuff.

5. How do you explain a sunset if there is no God?  What the hell? Now you're just being obtuse. Do I really have to explain that the earth is a sphere that spins on an axis making it appear that the sun rises and sets? Really? Your question begs a follow up question from me... Do you really believe that the hand of a mythical god lifts the sun up into the sky each day and then lowers it back at night? Really?

6. If Evolution is true.... oh screw it. I can't type this garbage out any longer. Click the above link open in a new tab. Read the questions yourself and follow along below.  For the record. the answer to number 6 is "see #4".

7. What about them?

8. I think you don't understand the meaning of the word "objective". Let's assume you mean "subjective". I have to answer your question with two questions: Why does there have to be a subjective view of life? Why does there have to be a reason? Life is life. End of story.

9. Yes. By chance. Well not really chance. There is some really cool math modelling that describes the probabilities of life. In our case life came from Amino acids, the primordial soup, and energy from the sun, and the mutations that allowed the creation of fuel through chemical processes. You do know that scientists have made this happen in labs, don't you? Just, do yourself a favour and go read "The Selfish Gene", or "Climbing Mount Improbable" both by Richard Dawkins. They're great primers to the subject and both make the math reasonably easy to understand.

10. Oh FFS. That's not a question.

11. Rational-thinking people don't do that. Rational thinking people may subscribe to a theory that says life on earth may have been seeded by biological material trapped in interstellar dust that settled on the surface of the earth, billions of years ago. I assure you, no rational person believes that we were "intelligently designed" by space men.

12. First of all, how many in-between steps would you require? Because I think that if we produced four, you'd want five. If we produced 100, you'd want 101. Secondly, please do even a little bit of research. Lots of  intermediates have been found; not just Lucy. They include: Ardipithecus (the intermediate between humans, modern apes and our common ancestor), Australopithecus aka Lucy (a genus comprised of a number of pre-homo species linking us to both our common ancestor and modern hominids), Homo habilus (a direct link to modern humans and the first documented tool makers), Homo erectus (the first hominids to be documented outside of Africa, the first to colonize non-African lands), Homo rhodensiensis (our direct ancestors. They displaced the Neanderthals and are the most recent link to Homo sapiens). So, how many more do you want. You Creationists have always said "Show us just one transitional fossil. I've just given you five.

13. That's the first reasonable question of the bunch. The answer is: Not really, not directly. Metamorphosis is the process by which a living creature changes its overall form in the course of its life. Caterpillar to butterfly, tadpole to frog etc... It doesn't directly support Evolution, but it is an evolved process.

14. Yes, Evolution is a theory. A theory is a testable idea that is supported by prior research and a body of scientific, verified knowledge. You've just completely mis-represented what a theory is. It is testable, verifiable, and observable. On the other hand, Creationism is an idea, a story, a myth. It's got all the validity of Goldilocks. It has no evidence to support it, and no experimentation can be done to prove or disprove it. Please do not lump Creationism (or its bastard-cousin, Intelligent Design) in with scientific theories, like evolution. Evolution isn't taught as fact. It's taught as scientific theory. The reason Evolution is taught in science class, is that it's science.

15. Part A - see the above answer. Part B, I don't object to Creationism or Intelligent Design being taught in school. I object to them being taught in a SCIENCE CLASS. Stick 'em in an optional religion or philosophy class. I don't care. Most scientists wouldn't care either. Just keep them out of science classrooms and make them options.

16. You don't need an increase in genetic information in order for an organism to evolve. What you need is for a genetic mutation to take advantage of a given situation so that it (the gene) becomes successful in being passed on to the organism's offspring. There is no correlation between the amount of genetic information and the "height" - for lack of a better term, to which a species has evolved.

17. Breeding and passing on genes, if there has to be a reason. But, why does there have to be a reason? Why can't life just be for life's sake?

18. Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up.... and go read #12. I'm going to go bang my head into a wall to make all the stupid you're shoving in there, fall out.

19. Yes. Next.

20. Yes it is amazing. Why does that require an divine creator? Why not be impressed by the amazing natural processes that drive these phenomena?

21. It didn't. Big bang theory posits that an infinitesimally small, infinitesimally dense collection of matter exploded outward. There was no star.

22.  Just go away. Common ancestor, divergent evolution.... you know what.... just crawl back under your rock and leave the rest of us alone if you can't do so much as a simple on-line search.

Here's a bonus for you: I read a comment on one of the pages that featured the debate between Nye and Ham. The commenter asked (and I'm paraphrasing), how can you believe in science when scientists are constantly changing their minds and rewriting text books and theories... whereas the bible was written thousands of years ago and remains unchanged. This one really had me scratching my head. I understand that the scientifically illiterate may not get that the body of scientific knowledge evolves and changes based on research and experimentation. Scientists disprove theories and generate new ones all the time, based on their experimentation. That can be hard to grasp. However, for a creationist to display such a profound lack of understanding about the one book (really three books: Old Testament, New Testament, and the Apocrypha) upon which they are basing their entire world view is beyond astounding.

The bible as it's read today, is far from what its original authors intended. The version you read today - the King James Bible - was written in 1611. It was more of a political revision rather than a simple translation. James wanted the bible to reflect emerging ideas about eccelsiology (which apparently has nothing to do with tasty pastries). Ideas about the status of Mary changed not once, but at least six times in 1700 years. Even in Christianity, various sects can't agree on the basics of who she was. The basic ideas of heaven, hell, and purgatory are taken from Zoroastrian beliefs; not ascribed by the word of God, as modern Christians would have you believe.

So, where does that leave us? Well, I feel better just getting this off my chest because reading the questions, listening to Ken Ham, and knowing that there are people in the world like Michelle Bachmann, spewing out idiocy just makes my head hurt. Knowing that something like 48% of Americans believe in Biblical Creation and dismiss evolution makes me weep for future generations.

So, I do this. I sleep better knowing that I can add my voice to the masses raging at darkness and ignorance.

2 comments:

Red said...

You've given a good commentary on a debate that shouldn't be a debate at all. One side chooses to be completely close minded of anything but their own belief. Why debate? It's like beating a dead horse.
Unfortunately there are other similar debates pushed by the religious groups.

Harvey James Smith said...

It's the last line I love.
Kharma, Dharma, pudding and pie,
gimme a break before I die;
grant me wisdom, will, & wit
purity, probity, pluck & grit.
Trustworth, loyal, helpful, kind,
gimme great abs and a steel-trap mind,
and forgive, Ye Gods, some humble advice-
these little blessings would suffice
to beget an earthly paradise,
make the bad people good-
and the good people nice,
and before our world goes over the brink
teach the believers how to think.

Philip Appleman.