Category Archives: Evolution

Friendships with skeptics

Recently, in the course of a heated debate about science and evolutionary biology a “friend” let slip some of his true feelings about me (Mojo) and my atheism/skepticism.  In his defence, he was upset and may not have known what exactly he was saying, but as you may have already guessed, I no longer consider this person a friend as I once did.

Chances are, if you read this blog, you are a skeptic or critical thinker and you may even be an atheist.  If this is the case, you may do well to remember this article as a bit of a warning.  If you are not a skeptic but have friends that are, maybe this article will help enlighten you to what it is like for them and perhaps increase your tolerance to their way of life.  Either way, this is purely a cathartic experience for me to get a few things off my chest. More…

Advertisements

Fundie Friday: Unfortunate 13 year-old…

This is a hard one because it’s a real person and it’s a child. And I genuinely do not mean to be insulting. She is an example of why I sometimes fear to admit I’m an atheist and why I fear the world may one day spiral down to a place where we can’t say and do as we please because a particular group thinks they have all the answers as to how we should live our lives. I’m not bothered because she is religious, but because of how she is religious.

She is an eloquent, bright, judgmental, hyper-Christian 13-year-old. At 5:36 of the video, her brother “tells a lie” (jokes about his feelings for his sisters). This is significant because lying makes you a bad person, as Deborah explains in the beginning of the video. Her description of male/female relationships (starting at 10:33) and everything in the next video (will start automatically) is…unnerving. She says all people are wretched and deserve to go to hell. She looks around her and can’t imagine how all of the beauty of the Earth came out of an explosion, so clearly that means it was intelligently designed. After that I had a hard time to keep going. It truly makes me deeply, deeply ashamed and sad that there are people in the world who spread this sort of “education” to each other, leading them to believe such vile things as “people are wretched and deserve to go to hell” and to credit God for all the good we do.

People are not wretched. Some people do some wretched things sometimes, but people aren’t wretched. She is a bright girl and I hope with time and appropriate guidance she can lighten up her view of her fellow human beings and spread joy and charity, not judgment.

Go read her blog. She has a post about the scientific method and perhaps could use some guidance in this regard (some POLITE, helpful guidance such as this and this).

Happy Anniversary!

Today the Origin of Species (oh, that was by that Charles Darwin chap, by the way) is 149 years old. First published in 1859, that book helped revolutionize biology et al for 150 years. Currently it is every creationist’s excuse as to why evolution is wrong because the theory obviously hasn’t changed in 150 years, especially not to include genetics and all of the other subsequent findings about genetics, environmental influences, etc.

So to all of you evolutionary biologists out there, have a drink for Darwin!

And remember, next year on 12 February is the 150th Darwin Day. So beat people to the stores and buy your Darwin Day presents and decorations early. We’ll be doing the traditional bobbing for genes, pin the vestigial appendage on the organism, and the Most Science-y Beard contest.

C-sections and big heads

PZ Myers posted this story on his blog so I thought I’d share the comment I posted about it here.

“How do we know that big heads would be selected as opposed to small pelvises? The head to pelvis ratio doesn’t necessarily tell us which is the “culprit” unless we have measurements for each. Whereas the mother would have died in childbirth, she can now give birth to daughters who also have small pelvises and also require c-sections, but this would have nothing to do with an increase in cranium size of the baby. Furthermore, to increase in the population, these people would have to be more fit than the average and not just lucky to have been born at all.

Also, not all c-sections are for the same reason, so it makes no sense to assume that an increase in c-sections will lead to any one evolutionary trend — particularly given that in Western societies where childbirth has been heavily medicalized, c-sections are common whether medically necessary or not. It’s entirely probable that an increase in c-sections would have no effect other than to diversify characteristics in the population (as opposed to selecting for particular traits such as large brains).

Furthermore an increase in cranium size would not necessarily be linked to an increase in brain size.

Basically, I think this is bullshit.”

And, pressed for time, I didn’t even get into the limits on the size of the womb and the metabolic energy required for brain development in utero.

Miller-Urey revisited

Years ago (in 1953) there was an experiment to determine how life could have originated on Earth. In a nutshell, Miller and Urey of the University of Chicago simulated the chemical environment of early Earth, added some heat and some electricity, and then — viola! — organic compounds came out. Much more complicated than that, but remember we’re in a nutshell here.

This finding was understandably controversial, especially in creationist circles. For example, many creationists point to flaws in the experiment (a valid concern). Some interpret the experiment differently with sometimes wild conclusions (I say “wild” because the opening sentence to the linked paper is “Contemporary research has failed to provide a viable explanation as to how abiogenesis could have occurred on Earth.” — a little strong perhaps?) to support their own preconceptions. Some flatly deny that the experiment has any scientific value at all.

In my opinion there may be too much stock placed on this one experiment by scientists and creationists alike — we all know one experiment does not an ironclad theory make. And there have been other supporting experiments. Focusing on this one makes it seem like it’s the only gun in the arsenal. However, it is the most elegant/classic and famous of the experiments. Moving on.

Two scientists, Bada (a student of Miller’s) and Scripps of the Institution of Oceanography in California revisited the old samples from the original experiment for re-analysis. Due to better technology to perform the analysis, they were able to find new compounds that Miller and Urey couldn’t originally detect.

Bada also found some information on an experiment that Miller was working on that was never published. Apparently Miller had set up several versions of his chemical flasks, one of which simulated a volcanic environment and produced even more amino acid (organic) compounds.

Why might this be a big deal? Some of the main criticisms of the Miller-Urey experiment involve the composition of the “atmosphere”, stating that the experiment did not accurately represent the atmosphere of early Earth. The new (old?) findings show that the experiment may better replicate atmospheres near erupting volcanoes, lending support to theories that volcanoes may have been a sort of “nursery” for Earth life.

Obviously there needs to be further study (preferably in other labs) on this before this can be 1) a solid argument in support of the volcano nursery theory and 2) further support for the legitimacy of Miller and Urey’s original experiment, but the new analysis suggests that an outright rejection of the Miller-Urey findings may be unfair.

If this information is publicized enough in the creationist circles, I expect that there will be a resurgence in complaints/analyses/punditry surrounding the topic. So skeptic powers activate! Stay on alert.

UPDATE: PZ has also commented on the new findings on his blog.

Encouraging seedy methods is bad advice…

…no matter what the purpose. There’s a list of ways that people can get evolution to be more emphasized in museums, but unfortunately it reads like a handbook for converting people to Christianity.

Let’s take a look at some of the points.

2. Drop a note into the institution’s “Suggestion” box as you leave, explaining how increased emphasis on evolution would be an attraction. Adding, “I’ll donate more money to the zoo if you do it…” can get the staff’s attention pretty quickly.

Unfortunately, that might be the case for non-scientific material well and is tantamount to bribery. However, I do get the point they were trying to make, but something still seems off about that suggestion.

6. If you know a thing or two about evolution, bring a Post-It pad the next time you visit one of these places, and share some of this knowledge with others by attaching notes to pre-existing plaques.

This seems a little passive aggressive. Now I have left out other points where the author suggested more direct action, but this one seems seedy.

7. If your kids are old enough to enjoy a little fun, park yourself in front of a primate exhibit and get them to ask bystanders, “are humans really evolved from non-human ancestors?” Then adopt a chimp-like gait and moan, “Me want answer! Me want answer!!” Kids will just love this.

Sort of like how religious people park their kids on the corners of streets to hand out leaflets explaining why people are going to hell. People don’t like being harassed and I don’t think “but we’re talking about science” is enough justification to bother other people. I also don’t think it’s right to use kids this way for any reason.

8. If your job is to design plaques, use your position of power to secretly introduce real science, plaque by plaque.

Using a position of power to influence decisions is not something I want to encourage, no matter what the result. It’s inappropriate. I know people are saying “but it’s for the greater good! REAL science!”. That may be so, but if you’re sneaking around proper procedures for an institution’s decision-making, that’s just not cool. What if I’m a plaque designer and my ideal of “real science” is intelligent design? I don’t think we should be encouraging people to side-step the peer review process like this.

I think it’s great to promote evolution and I think museums in particular have a responsibility to display accurate, up-to-date, and non-sanitized information. But I think we should leave the sneak tactics to those who have nothing else to use. We have mountains of evidence on our side, there’s no need to trick people. And if the opportunities for truth are being busted down because of corruption or politics, there are ways to handle that appropriately that don’t involve sinking to their level.

I intend to promote evolution to my kids by simply teaching them about it. I don’t want to feel like I’m tricking them or trying to indoctrinate them. If I did sneaky things to get them to agree with me, I’d be no better than a creationist.

"The Evidence for Creation"

Part 2 of my series “Pamphlet Goo: Electric Boogaloo” (it’s a long one):

Ok, so scary time is over. We know our soul is in danger and that we’re going to burn in hell if we don’t do planning steps 1-3. Now onto the powerful evidence that God put us here in the first place – apparently so we could spend the entire time fussing about our souls. But nevermind that. It’s time to learn about creation! Upon further investigation I discovered the entire passage represented here.

2. The Evidence for Creation (this is gonna be good)

For this one I’m going to take a different approach. I don’t think my summary will do this pamphlet justice. I find sometimes it’s better to let the nonsense speak for itself. Now I’d like to point out that I’m not making fun of Mennonites as individuals. I’m making fun of the information – because it’s stupid and deserves to be made fun of. I will insert comments when I just can’t take it anymore and will provide links throughout. Their text is in italics.

We live in a fascinating world of awesome beauty and amazing order. Dazzling sunsets, cascading waterfalls, revolving, planets, glittering stars, and other wonders have captivated man’s attention ans triggered much curiosity. How did it happen?

So I guess it didn’t capture women’s attention then?

Either all things have developed by natural, observable processes operating in the world presently, or they have been created by an infinitely powerful and all-wise God. There is ultimately no other alternative.

Oh, look. A False Dichotomy. Often this involves trimming down many options to two, but in this case they have added one to make two. Try to guess which, I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Let us examine one of the most important questions of our day. Does strong evidence exist for creation or for evolution? If so, what is that evidence?

Well, that would be two questions, but seeing as how they can’t even understand evolutionary processes, how can we expect them to know how to count?

The universe gives powerful evidence for Creation.
The universe in which we live is a vast, orderly, majestic array of stars, planets, nebulae, and galaxies of unbelievable immensity! This earth [again not capitalized], as well as the whole universe, is not in chaos; it operates in orderly patterns and is controlled and directed by laws.

So far there is agreement with science here…wait for it.

Who made these laws? The fact of law requires a lawgiver. We know that every building must have a builder. Therefore we know that the universe, the greatest building of all, had to have an omnipotent Builder. “For every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God” (Hebrews 3:4). “The worlds were framed by the word of God” (Hebrews 11:3). “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (Psalm 19:1). Ah, there it is.

First we have a False Analogy. Then we have several lines of “evidence” to support their point. Ordinarily in scientific discussions people would reference scientific documents – journal articles, textbooks, etc. – for evidence, but this publication has clearly decided to take a different approach.

The marvelous world of living things gives powerful evidence for Creation.

Why do they keep capitalizing “creation” and not “Earth”?

Scattered all over the world are countless numbers of remarkable creatures that are infinitely complex and extremely well organized. These creatures are highly specialized and perfectly adapted for their own particular environments. All function well where they are and reveal no need or “desire” for evolution of any kind.

This is a high school debating tactic. What they have done is taken reasonable information (animals are generally well-adapted to their environments) and mixed it with nonsense (animals are well-organized, evolution has a goal, the environment never changes) to make their ridiculous conclusion sound more reasonable. They have also misused the word “infinitely”.

Consider the amazing bombardier beetle.

Are you frigging serious!? The bombardier beetle again? Don’t you people have any new material? Moving on…

This odd creature has a remarkable defense that enables it to escape from its enemies.

What follows is a description about how wonderful amazing wow the bombardier beetle is – I will skip it for space.

Consider also the woodpecker, who resembles a miniature jackhammer.

What follows is a description about how wonderful amazing wow the woodpecker and its shock-absorbing head are – so I will again skip it. They amazingly don’t bring up the tongue thing, can it be they have finally given that one up?

Another testimony to God’s marvelous creation is the amazing [see they do use words like that, I didn’t make it up] defense system of a little water beetle named Stenus Bipunctatus.

I know this is nit-picky, but can anyone seriously believe that these people have even read a biology book if they don’t even know the proper notation for genus and species names? It’s Stenus bipunctatus, not Stenus Bipunctatus. What follows is a description of how S. bipunctatus evades its predators. This seems to be a new one, as a search for the species and “creationism” turned up only 39 results and I could not find an article about the use of water beetles in creation arguments on talkorigins.

To believe that such incredibly complex functions and traits of these creatures result from genetic accidents and gradual evolution is unbelievable. What good are partly developed combustion tubes on bombardier beetles? Such abnormalities are nowhere in either living creatures or in fossils. In order for them to serve their intended purpose, they had to be created perfectly and suddenly.

These statements are just blatantly false. See the above link regarding bombardier beetles, for example. No one is saying that the success of species is a result of genetic “accidents”. Furthermore, this argument assumes a lack of function for less-developed organs in a creature without taking into account alternate functions.

No living thing in the world needs to evolve, so why do some say they evolved in the past? Each is already perfectly adapted. The marvels of design and perfect adaptation in nature witness to the fact of Creation. In the endless spans of time, they could have never arisen by chance through accidental processes of evolution.

The existence of instinct in nature testifies for Creation.
In a thousand ways, instinct is in evidence in nature. Instinct teaches a bee to build a perfect honeycomb and the bird to build its own characteristic nest the first time it tries without previous experience. Instinct unerringly guides the whale, the bird, and the monarch butterfly thousands of miles in the long and amazing migrations, unguided, where they have never been before.

Curiously, they do not define “instinct”. Also, there’s little somethings called echolocation that guides whales, magnetism that guides birds, sun position that guides monarchs, and pheromones that guide bees. All of which have physical, explainable mechanisms – as opposed to God-guided magic.

Upon reaching maturity, the eel migrates thousands of miles to reach spawning grounds in the Sargasso Sea near Bermuda. Eels from as far as Europe and Labrador make their way to these deep waters to spawn and die. The baby eels that are born here make their way across uncharted oceans to the very same shore, river, inlet, in which their parents had lived. The salmon do a similar act. This mystery, which has baffled scientists for years, gives powerful evidence of intelligence far beyond what these animals themselves possess.

I love the “mysteries that have baffled scientists for years.” Let’s do a quick Google shall we and we’ll just see how baffled scientists are on the matter of salmons.

The source of this intelligence is the Creator, who fully equipped all forms of life and enabled each to survive in its own environment. The Bible says, “But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of air, and they shall tell thee: or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee: and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee. Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the Lord hath wrought this?” (Job 12:7-9).

The fossil record gives powerful support for Creation
The geological record of fossils does not reveal a progression of development from “simple” to the complex. In spite of all the efforts of trained observers, not one change, not one change of species into another is on record. More than 250,000 different fossil species are in our museums today. If evolution took place, thousands upon thousands of these fossils should be intermediate or transitional forms.

Wrong.

If apes evolved into man, invertebrates into fish, and reptiles into birds, a whole series of intermediate fossils would show this true. The fact is that transitional forms are nonexistent in the fossil record. Marine creatures appear as marine creatures, monkeys appear as monkeys, people appear as people. For all these creatures to have evolved from supposedly lower-life forms during millions of years of time without leaving a trace is not physically possible.

There is a very good reason for this.

Chimpanzees and mankind remain distinct and separate, and the fossil record continues to widen the gulf between man and apes. Another serious problem for evolution is that if animals have been evolving into transitional forms for millions of years, then why today are there no living transitional animal forms?

Firstly, we are all living transitional forms. Why do they make a distinction between “transitional form” and “regular species”? They are all life, so what is the difference? One form of life constantly leads to another. Secondly, “man” (more sexism) and chimpanzees are distinct and separate for very good reason – we are two completely different species! We descended from a common ancestor, yes, but that does not make us the same species. Frankly, this argument is just plain childish.

Instead of the fossil record giving scientific evidence for evolution, it gives powerful evidence for a Creator who brought all things into existence at the beginning of time. “In the beginning God created” is the best explanation for origins. The universe and the entire world of living things have not come about by random chance processes of evolution or by a Big Bang.

Wrong.

The fossil record also confirms the Biblical account of a world wide flood in Noah’s day. Chapters 6-9 of Genesis tell of this catastrophe, by which God brought judgment upon the earth He created.

Wrong.

A global flood explains the abundance of sedimentary rock on and beneath the surface of the earth. In this rock, geologists find the remains of literally billions of beautifully preserved creatures and plants. All over the world these specimens bear unmistakably clear testimony of an overwhelming flood of water that sealed their fate.

Those who are unwilling to believe the truth might spend a lifetime in research laboratories, attempting to document their erroneous persuasions, but to no avail. The simple fact of Creation cannot be altered or destroyed.

Ah yes, the poor scientists, atheists, and skeptics that have waisted their lives. That’s it. Actually searching for answers to explain the wonders in nature, searching for real-world explanations for natural events (that are often much more interesting than “God did it”), not fearing eternal hellfire for choosing the wrong interpretation of the Bible, etc… Oh yes, I’m really jealous.

The Bible says, “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain with their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise they became fools” (Roman 1:21, 22). These words accurately describe the condition of man apart from a personal relationship with the Creator, God. They simply will not believe, whatever the evidence.

They are making the false assumption that it is they who have the evidence and I am the one ignoring it. Newsflash creationists: you have no evidence. The so-called “evidence” was even beat down in court.

We were created to bear God’s image but because of our sinful nature, we need His mercy and grace to save us from our sins and make us holy. Through faith in God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, we can become a new creation and thereby honor our Maker. The Lord invites you to enjoy new life in Him by accepting His gracious offer of salvation today. “But as many as received Him, to them gave he power to become sons of God, even to them that believe on His name” (John 1:12).

When someone admits to me that they have faith and that’s why they believe what they believe, I can leave them alone. But when they try to fight me on my turf, science, and have it both ways, that’s when I get testy. I hope you have enjoyed my post as much as I enjoyed making fun of it.