[Einar] Proof by Assertion

December 18th, 2008 by Adam Cuerden

Proof by assertion is an interesting logical fallacy. Basically, it's just saying things that haven't been proved has, and hoping people believe you.

The Institute of Creation Research evidently love this one. I was glancing through the articles on their site today. a good 75 to 90% follow this format:

  • Here's a recent scientific paper.
  • Evolution/The Big Bang Model couldn't explain this, no matter what the stupid authors of the paper says.
  • Hence, this paper proves us creationists are right!

Don't believe me? Let's see two examples:

In the first part, they're discussing an interesting paper from the Public Library of Science, which, like all PLoS papers, is freely available online. The researchers analysed the walking style of dogs and cats, and discovered that animals who specialise in chasing down their prey over long distances use energy efficient running motions, but being energy inefficient can also have benefits: the stealthy movement of cats is inefficient, but allows them to creep up on their prey, saving energy in the long term. I'll quote part of the abstract - it's a little overly-wordy, but reasonably clear:

However, animals that are not specialized for long distance steady locomotion may face a more complex set of requirements, some of which may conflict with the efficient exchange of mechanical energy. For example, the “stealthy” walking style of cats may demand slow movements performed with the center of mass close to the ground ... An important implication of these results is the possibility of a tradeoff between stealthy walking and economy of locomotion. This potential tradeoff highlights the complex and conflicting pressures that may govern the locomotor choices that animals make.

The ICR, in an article with the completely inaccurate title Inefficient Cat Motion Remains a Mystery for Evolution claims that since stalking is inefficient, this proves that stalking your prey cannot evolve, so Goddidit:

But animals did not choose their modes of locomotion any more than humans “chose” nervous systems that allow them to acquire and process higher information. According to evolutionary thinking, cats “counterintuitively” developed into creatures that compromised or traded efficiency of gait for stealthy crouching. However, this is not counterintuitive to the creation model, within which it makes perfect sense that a Creator would have especially equipped different basic kinds of creatures with such different yet functional modes of locomotion.

Let me put this simply: The PLoS article simply points out that efficiency of movement is not the only factor that can be selected for. In cats, stealthiness was selected for over efficiency, allowing cats, instead of chasing their prey 100 feet (with great efficiency) to instead creep up 10 feet less efficiently but silently, and pounce.  So long as the stealthy movement does not (using the hypothetical numbers) take ten times the energy of chasing the prey, it's still a viable strategy. If sneakiness was not a viable strategy - and thus capable of being evolved, then why would the creator curse the poor cats with ineffecient sneaking?

But even when there's no evidence whatsoever, the ICR boys can still pull something out of their arse. Where Did Flesh-eating Bacteria Come From? never actually answers its question.  It describes flesh-eating bacteria, and asks where such horrors might come from in a word created by god and declared by him "good".

"Well!" say the ICR idiots, "we don't know, but..." and they begin. One scientist proposed that cholera toxin might have evolved from signalling molecules used in a symbiotic relationship with squid (I thought they didn't believe in evolution?), they say, pointing to another ICR article, which claimed that a scientist talking about possible evolutionary pathways for cholera clearly proves creationism.

But why stick with something that has a grain of science buried deep within it? They continue:

In addition, the Creator may have provided these “toxins” in part for their medicinal potential, as in the case of botulin, knowing that they would be needed in a fallen world.

Gee, thanks, creator! All those deaths due to botulism are totally worth it: A fallen world needs Botox to help remove wrinkles in aging celebrities: Almost all uses of botulism toxin is for cosmetic purposes.

They mention a patent on using another toxin to treat connective tissue disorders - which is not the same as having the toxin approved for their treatment, then come to their grand conclusion, explaining just how flesh-eating bacteria fit into creationism:

While it is not yet known what best explains the presence of flesh-eating bacteria, current scientific observation is consistent with the fall of creation, as recorded in Genesis.

...

Idiots.

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6 Responses to “[Einar] Proof by Assertion”

  1. Michiel P Says:

    But Reinder, why waste time and energy reading and getting anry about those creationist articles? Doesn’t sound very energy efficient to me, and science can’t explain it, so there! God made you read their articles!

  2. Reinder Says:

    Einar wrote it, not me. He forgot to attribute himself in the title – which I’ve just fixed.

  3. bug_girl Says:

    Pointing out the errors is important–it’s possible that a student might stumble across this very logical explanation of why ICR has it’s head up it’s butt, and find it useful.

  4. First Skeptics’ Circle, 2009! « Bug Girl’s Blog Says:

    [...] Evolving Mind discusses gravity as a theory, and Waffle discusses creationists’ use of logical fallacies. One Brow discusses some silly things coming out of the Discovery [...]

  5. Rob Says:

    The ICR says “this is not counterintuitive to the creation model, within which it makes perfect sense that a Creator would have especially equipped different basic kinds of creatures with such different yet functional modes of locomotion.” But the ICR also says that God originally made all animals to be vegetarian. The ICR would have people believe that God made cats as vegetarians who’d be really good at sneeking up on their prey.

  6. Jurjen S. Says:

    Really, the flaw in the ICR piece is indicated by its use of the word “counterintuitively.” For starters, despite the quote marks in the ICR piece, the word (or variations thereof) does not actually appear in the PLoS paper. Secondly, anyone with even a rudimentary grasp of the scientific method would understand that human “intuition” may at best help in formulating hypotheses but doesn’t actually serve as evidence, and that any phenomenon, the occurrence of which would be “counterintuitive” but which can be empirically shown to exist, merely reinforces that “intuition” can be utterly wrong, no matter how much “it stands to reason.”

    The ICR piece also displays a willful misunderstanding of the terms used in the PLoS article, and indeed a refusal to acknowledge what we can observe on any nature documentary and/or by observing neighborhood cats. I volunteer at a wolf sanctuary, and there are plenty of cats in my neighborhood, and I know from observation that both species, when they are simply moving from A to B, walk. Devoid of context, that is their most efficient mode of locomotion. If running were more efficient, these critters would run everywhere. But they don’t. What the PLoS study compares is modes of locomotion while attempting to capture prey, and whether a predator chases its prey or stalks it, the means of locomotion in question is never going to be as efficient–as a means from getting from A to B–as walking, but the point is that the object of any prey-acquiring mode of locomotion is more energy-efficient in that its ultimate goal is to acquire more energy (in the form of food) than was expended in capturing it.

    It strikes me as plausible that the mode of prey-acquiring locomotion is determined largely by the behavior of the prey. Cheetas and wolves go after ungulates, which arem’t going to dive into a burrow to escape but can run for respectable distances, so thre is a point to the predators running them down. Domestic cats, on the otherhands, tend to go after small birds and rodents, which have the means to place themselves beyond the cat’s reach quite quickly, so it is ultimately more efficient for the cat to stalk them, because that is how the cat stands the best chance of actually catching them. A means of locomotion that uses les energy but doesn’t actually result in the predator catching its prey is not efficient, in that there’s no payoff for the energy expended.