Archive for the ‘Creationism’ Category

[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.

I hadn’t seen some of those before

October 12th, 2007 by Reinder

Still working a lot, exercising a lot and trying to get comics done. Battling computer problems in two places at the same time (again), though in the case of the studio PC, I've asked Calvin to do the battling in my place. Still not a lot of energy left to write in this here blog, though I could think of a few things to write about.

Quickly then: Have some cartoons attacking creationism, some of which I hadn't seen before. (Via)

The Stupidfilter. Mith says this won't work as you can't apply Bayesian probability to non-stochastic variables, and anyway, it doesn't even work all that well for spam because spammers defeat filters like this using precisely the sort of thing that this filter is going to check for (i.e. egregious violations of grammar, spelling and punctuation rules). (Via)

This is a load of bloggocks. You're not going to save journalism by buying an iPod or letting the comments on YouTube turn your brain to pea soup. Fuck off. (Via)

When I have a bit more time, I'd like to do a longish post about the state of exercise writing - er, that is, writing about exercise. It seems to be that there are a number of common tropes and linguistic markers (including the I Hit A Plateau And This Proves That Conventional Thinking About Exercise Is Wrong Trope, the The Fact That I had Painful Illnesses At An Early Age Proves That Conventional Thinking About Exercise Is Wrong Trope and the Caveman Ancestor Trope With Added Biology) that readers could use to easily identify quackitude (see The Case Against Cardio which contains all three tropes mentioned). But I'd need to study on it, and long-time readers know what happens to those ideas I have for posts to write in the indeterminate future, so don't wait up for that post. In the mean time, I'm tossing this out just to get the notion into public view. Maybe someone else will pick up this ball and run with it. (Via)

David Attenborough and the Botherers of God

July 30th, 2007 by Reinder

I was going to write about this, but I was too lazy to look for an English-language source. Luckily, Martin Wisse has been more dilligent:

Dutch broadcaster censors DavidRichard David Attenborough on evolution:

The Dutch public broadcaster EO (Evangelische Omroep/Evangelical Broadcaster) has a reputation to uphold when it comes to broadcasting quality wildlife documentaries, both their own as well as series they've bought from other broadcasters like the BBC. One series they recently broadcasted was David Attenborough's excellent (as per usual) Life of Mammals. However, something strange has happened with that series when it crossed the Channel: for some reason the Dutch version only has nine episodes, while the original has ten --and that's not the only difference.

It turns out that the EO has deliberately removed all references to evolution from the series, as demonstrated by the three videos below. Which is not too surprising, considering the EO is after all a fundamentalist Christian broadcaster and adhers to the doctrine of the literal truth of the bible. What exactly the EO has censored in Attenborough's series is now documented in several youtube movies, uploaded by somebody called Odurodon...

If the EO had problems with the views expressed in Life of Mammals, they should either have declined to broadcast it or put in disclaimers at the start of the programme, not censor it. That they have done so shows a lack of intellectual integrity worrisome in a public broadcaster. Especially since they are using public funds to do this.

I'm actually a bit disappointed by this. In the past decade, journalistic standards at the EO have actually improved considerably (i.e. they now have people working for them who are journalists as well as foreign correspondents who understand the languages of the places they're posted to), and while they continue to lie on hot-button issues such as abortion, they have come a long way since the days when they classed dinosaurs with fairytale animals in their quiz shows. This may sound like I'm damning them with faint praise but ten years ago I'd have been damning them with profanity on a regular basis. And now this.

I wonder how much of a culture war is going on internally within the EO. I can imagine that the actual journalists and the people who did the Vincent Bijlo interview (several years ago, Christian comedian Bijlo was interviewed about his anti-evolution song, clearly in the hope that they would get a quotable statement out of him about evolution being wrong. What he actually said was that evolution was silly and absurd, just like gravity, and that he didn't see the point in either. The interview was kept) aren't too pleased about cutting up documentaries from such a respected director as Attenborough.

What disappoints me most, though, is that according to the news reports, the BBC allowed this butchering of their work. For shame, BBC!

More on this (in Dutch), on Evolutie which gives a full transcript of the changes in the first two episodes of the series, and brings home just how disgraceful the BBC's collusion is: by selling exclusive rights to the series to a broadcaster that cuts out references to evolution, they have effectively prevented the uncut series being shown by another broadcaster. That way, the EO can effectively censor the series for the general public.

Update: It was David after all. Not Richard. I had it right to start with, then corrected it wrong. It should be correct now. I'm just glad the Dimbleby family didn't spawn a famous nature documentary maker.

[Adam Cuerden] Baraminology, Part II: It sounds better in words of four syllables or more

February 20th, 2007 by Adam Cuerden

Part I

I'm afraid I may have been a bit misleading with my quotes in Part I: It's actually very unusual for them to use relatively simple language, even in introductory pages. For instance, take today's article, which opens with:

We believe that phylogenetic discontinuity is obvious for most groups approximating the family level and higher categories. Therefore, baraminology sees multidimensional biological character space crisscrossed with a network of discontinuities that circumscribe islands of biological diversity. Within these character space islands, the basic morpho-molecular forms are continuous or potentially continuous. Discontinuity in this sense does not refer to either the minor breaks in quantitative ranges that are used to delimit species or the modifications on a basic theme that demarcate genera. It is the unbridged chasms between body plans - forms for which there is no empirical evidence that the character-state transformations ever occurred. The mere assumption that the transformation had to occur because cladistic analysis places it at a hypothetical ancestral node does not constitute empirical evidence.

This is meant to be a basic description of the field.

Now, I could - and will - criticise the writing style, but first, let's try and figure out what the hell this means...

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[Adam Cuerden] Baraminology, Part I: Defining Terms, For Fun and Profit

February 16th, 2007 by Adam Cuerden

Among the many criticisms in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District was that ID was not science, that it offers no testable hypotheses, and is not subject to change as new evidence comes to light. Indeed, during the trial clear evidence of this was shown:

Although in Darwin's Black Box, Professor Behe wrote that not only were there no natural explanations or the immune system at the time, but that natural explanations were impossible regarding its origin. (P-647 at 139; 2:26-27 (Miller)). However, Dr. Miller presented peer-reviewed studies refuting Professor Behe's claim that the immune system was irreducibly complex. Between 1996 and 2002, various studies confirmed each element of the evolutionary hypothesis explaining the origin of the immune system. (2:31 (Miller)). In fact, on cross-examination, Professor Behe was questioned concerning his 1996 claim that science would never find an evolutionary explanation for the immune system. He was presented with fifty-eight peer-reviewed publications, nine books, and several immunology textbook chapters about the evolution of the immune system; however, he simply insisted that this was still not sufficient evidence of evolution, and that it was not "good enough." (23:19 (Behe)).

Clearly, the problem is that they don't sound sciency enough! What can a noble, upstanding group of liars do to try and retrieve their shattered reputation?

Why, what they always do: Make stuff up. Come with me, then, into the wilds of Baraminology, where the elephant in the corner must never, ever be spoken of.

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