Saturday, 9 September 2017

Fine tuning, the constant, unchanging laws of physics and Christian Creationists

Fine tuning,
the constant, unchanging laws of physics
and the Christian Creationists who don't understand what those words mean.
PZ Myers looked recently at a Tweet by AiG's Ken Ham that was quoted in a Kentucky newspaper.

Reporting on Ken Ham's tweet about hurricanes.
"Devastating Hurricanes-reminder we live in a fallen groaning world as a result of our sin against a Holy God-it's our fault not God's fault" 


So the clear problem is, as described in Myer's response (the first link); "What causes hurricanes? If you asked me that question, I’d mumble something about rising water vapor in equatorial waters condensing and releasing latent heat, pumping energy into the air. A hurricane starts as hot, moist air rising into the atmosphere."

The physics of weather is well-understood. It sure looks like Ham is saying that before Eve bit the apple, the physics of the world was entirely different.

Ham, and other creationists, make a similar claim in saying that rainbows did not exist before Noah's Ark. So before these events, temperature related changes between liquid phase and gas phase did not occur? Winds were not generated by temperature changes in oceans? And gases in our atmosphere did not reflect and refract light the way they do now?

Remember, a common Creationist claim is about fine-tuning. If we changed one little thing about the laws of physics, the world would not be possible. But changing how light works is not trivial. Changing how temperature affects atoms and molecules to create weather is not trivial. According to the fine-tuning argument, if the laws of physics cannot be changed even a little then sin cannot be the cause of hurricanes. If sin is the cause of hurricanes, then the laws of physics are hugely malleable.

I'll finish with a pair of comments from the Myer's blog post:

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Ken Ham on Humans and "Survival of the Fittest"

In a post titled, Did Humans Domesticate Ourselves, AiG's Ken Ham demonstrates why I started this blog in the first place.

So it’s survival of the fittest, except when, according to a different study, it’s survival of the prettiest, survival of the most moral, or the survival of the least aggressive (according to these studies). It’s a constantly changing story because it’s just that—a story.
Survival of the Fittest. The phrase that Darwin didn't really like and which can appear a tautology is a shorthand for how natural selection works. Honestly, it is such a shorthand, like a too-long acronym, that it is only understood if you study the subject long enough.

One would think that Ham, founder of Answers in Genesis, would have spent that long, and more, studying evolution and its jargon. Apparently AiG started in 2007 but Ham has been involved in promoting creationism since the late seventies. Nearly forty years and he still doesn't understand the terms he attacks. Or, more sinisterly, he does but also understands the rubes do not.

So survival of the fittest: Google Search has this definition open in a window on the results page: "the continued existence of organisms that are best adapted to their environment, with the extinction of others, as a concept in the Darwinian theory of evolution."

Hmm. Collins Dictionary has a usage close to what Ham seems to think it means:
You can use the survival of the fittest to refer to a situation in which only the strongest people or things continue to live or be successful, while the others die or fail.
The thing is, 'fit' does not mean most physically fit, nor does it mean strongest or the best fighter.  Rabbits are overwhelming Australia but fights between them and kangaroos would involve the latter kicking the former into space. Clearly physical power is not the only measure here. For rabbits, it would be the ability to burrow and hide and the large litters they produce.

'Fitness' in humans can indeed be measured in ability to cooperate and a group that cooperates will more likely survive than a similar number of individuals.
...why are there still so many bullies? If “those who got along, got ahead,” how do you explain the many brutal dictators (such as Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini) and others throughout history who got ahead by killing people? Human history is not a story of increasing peace and harmony as we have supposedly learned to get along. It’s a story littered with evil and bullies...
Statistically, humans do get along better than in the past. Human history is indeed a story of increasing peace and harmony - Ham gets this wrong. Basically all forms of violence around the world have declined. Again, this is statistical, there are horrible acts of violence in many places and on many occasions, but the total number and number of victims is declining. See The Better Angels for details and many, many graphs.

Perhaps the most horrifying sentence:
This item was written with the assistance of AiG’s research team.
So it is not merely Ham's poor understanding but that of the entire organization.

Added later: At The Sensuous Curmudgeon, a commenter reminded me that AiG staff are required to believe this stuff. THey've signed a statement that they will do so.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

The history of fossil evidence as a metaphor for ID claims.

The following is a comment I left in a Quora argument. The argument was becoming messy due to the constraints of fitting it in the comments box at Quora (or anywhere) so I will also put it here. Our argument was wide-ranging and getting stuck in minutiae so I felt this overview of my position with occasional short quotes was the clearest way to describe my position.

The history of fossil evidence as a metaphor for ID claims.
In Darwin's day, there was little evidence for (or against) evolution. There was excellent evidence but not a lot of it. In those days without access to molecular data, fossils were considered the best way to support (or not) evolutionary claims.
Very soon after Darwin published his theory, Archaeopteryx was found. Now there are around twelve specimens found. And yet, that was only one example of a transitional fossil. It was reasonable to say, "We have no fish-amphibian fossil and I cannot even picture what one would look like. There is no way a fish could evolve into a land animal." Now, there is a very fine set of transitional fossils showing in detail how such evolution could occur. (List of transitional fossils - Wikipedia)
Now, similar arguments are proposed against evolution using nearly the same wording but dealing with molecular evidence. A century earlier, the claim was, "fish can't evolve arms" and now the claim is, "bacteria can't evolve a flagellum."
One of the ways the claims are similar is in the maturity (or lack) in the field. In the late 1800's, few dinosaurs were known and fossils were not organized or described in ways that could be shared. Now, the human genome has been recorded and others are being recorded but the technology is still in its infancy. Just as with a century ago, "We don't know how this could happen" mostly means "We don't know yet." For the sake of argument, it could mean, "...because a Designer did it" but the argument has the same value as when I cannot find my phone.
Creationists and ID proponents need positive evidence but all they have is negative evidence; "We don't know therefore God/ Designer."
With fossils, many major and minor transitions have been found and more will still be found. We will never find fossils of all the living things that ever existed (We don't yet have skeletal fossils of chimpanzees and we know they exist. All we have, and only found a deade ago, are fossilized chimp teeth.)
With ID, the relevant molecules are even less likely to be preserved. Large bones are more likely than small bones to be fossilized. Moecules are nearly infinitely smaller and have no mechanism for fossilization. Even if one fully accepts that bacterial flagellae evolved, there is no obvous reason to expect to find examples of how parts of it could form independently. The flagellum most often discussed consists of forty or so proteins but a useful part of bacteria is a secretory system that consists of twenty of those proteins so the flagellum by definition is not irreducible. What happens if we cannot find any other transitions or pieces? It means we didn't find them. For ID claims to be accepted, they need positive evidence of their Designer, yet they claim this is impossible. A second best would be to explain why they expect such transitional molecules should be findable.
They do not, so the best evidence ID has is, "We don't know, therefore Designer." It is scientifically vacuous.
All I want, all secular science wants, is a positive claim for ID that can be tested. Evolution has passed this test already.
Brian: "Give evidence that is not "we don't know" for any ID claim. "
Answer: Uh.... sure. We KNOW that codes which transmit complex sophisticated information requiring action alwaya has a code maker.
No we don't. We only know of current examples in the infancy of our understanding of DNA. We only know that we don't know. You are demonstrating "We don't know how it could happen, therefore God."
The superficiality of homology arguments.
Brett:
For example bats and dolphins have VERY sophisticated echolocation systems. I'm thinking evolutionists will claim these systems, although similar arose indepentently... analagous. Likewise with teeth... Your belief they are homologous is based on beliefs in transitionals. (And if memory is correct, archaepteryx teeth are not at all like dino teeth).
At first glance, the evidence appears to support both common ancestry and common designer. Humans and apes have many identical genes: If they evolved from the same ancestor or were created by the same God, this is reasonable. At first glance, homology doesn't get you very far.
But when you go beyond superficialities, you find that common ancestry is much better supported.
As an educator, if I give a multiple chjoice test and two students have identical and correct answers, I cannot determine if one cheated. But if I give an essay question test and the students have idential answers, I do have some reason to suspect cheating. And even more, if they have identical wrong answers, I have even greater support for my claim. In this metaphor, I modestly stand in for a designer, giving the same information to all. But cheating stands in for common ancestry- the information didn't come from a God but from another student and wrong answers could be equivalent to ERVs or poor design choices.
Examples of back design choices include the vertebrate eye wired backward and the laryngeal nerve found in vertebrates. In the former case, the design is unecessarily sloppy and causes a blind spot while in the latter, the design makes great sense in fish but beccomes increasingly awkward as tetrapod necks get longer (Laryngeal nerve - RationalWiki).
Science has found that our eyes have a fibre optic type design and the inverted retina design is superior /optimal.
I am not sure if we argued this in a different thread but someone gave me a link to an article on light transmission through the nerve cords and how there was no or little interference in the signal. It did not at all address the blind spot issue I look forward to your link to an article that states that the vertebrate eye is superior/optimal to the cephalopod eye, in aquatic conditions. That is, fish have the same backward wired eye we do so comparisons need to be shown with them. If our eye is superior to the cephalopod eye in all cases, why do cephalopods not have them? I have seen superficial claims on the subject by creationists that always leave out the fact that fish have the same eye we do.
Brian: "You believe there was a ‘super-cat, one with all the genetic information needed for all known (living and extinct) 42 species of felines. And their genes were broken until they fit their current niches. This is testable . Alright, show me the broken ‘tiger’ genes in bobcats and the broken ‘bobcat’ genes in tigers. Heck, show me how a cat with every single one of its genes operational could survive. The ones for thick coats and thin coats. The ones for strength like a tiger and speed like a cheetah. This is all testable so I look forward to your answer."
Answer: No, it is not testable. We don't know what the genome was like thousands of years ago. And all genes in an animal are not operational. ... and what I said is that it MAY be correct (as does the article). Both secular and Biblical scientists hypothesize ancestry...for example, that all dogs may be descendants of a dog similar to wolf.
So to start with, you are immediately claiming that your earlier claim is not testable. Okay, it is then not science. I should be done here. Then you bring up dogs for no good reason and repeat that we are discussing the amount of common ancestry. I know that; that was my point. In fact, none of your protests have any value. We don't have to know what the genome was like thousands (or millions or billions) of years ago. All we need to do is look at what genes have been conserved and even more, what broken genes are still being carried. Because, yes, not all genes are operational, they are broken, and the fact that they are still around strongly supports common ancestry.
And why isn't your claim testable? It might not be now as I don't know what genomes have been recorded but if they are recorded, it should be simple to show -as you say - non-operational genes. That is precisely what I am asking for.
ERV's are consistent with evolutionary hierarchies...except when they aren't.
Okay, what ERVs are not consistent with evolutionary hierarchies?
Science is in the process of discovering these short strands (ERV's) have function (almost as if by design).
This might or might not be true but it is not relevant. ERVs are delivered by viruses. If we carry viral DNA that matches viral DNA in other apes, that is support for evolution no matter how useful or not it is.
Another example of common ancestry vs common designer is found in anti-freeze fish near the two poles. Evolutionists would argue that the two species of fish, so far apart, could not share their DNA and so the anti-freeze genes must be different. The common designer claim is that organisms in identical situations will have identical solutions. In fact, the two fish have different genes for combatting the cold environment. Perhaps God is giving one species a tougher time than the other?
Archaeopteryx and dinosuar teeth.
First off, we need to keep in mind that according to evolutionary history, from the first dinosaur to now, we have had three times more time with dinosaur existing than not. That is, dinosaurs existed from 240 million years ago to 65 million years ago so that is 180 millions with dinosaurs compared to 65 without. There is good reason to expect dinosaur teeth to be quite varied. I would not expect Archae's teeth to match those of herbivores, for example.
I can find nothing to support your claim. Support, please.
Bat and dolphin echolocation.
I am not sure what you expect to find here. The two animals live in very different environments. If the two sonar arrangements are not the same, it would prove nothing. How similar would they need to be to demonstrate common designer?
Some differences here, supporting neither side in the abstract: Echolocation in dolphins with a dolphin-bat comparison
This article describes the similarities and differences between the two types of animals while also pointing out that we, in addition to many other animals, can manage at least a simple form of echolocation -this point is important in considering how different is different enough to support a position. If bats and dolphins are great at it but also many other species are capable of it, then common ancestry and design claims are weak or complicated. Engineering Acoustics/Echolocation in Bats and Dolphins
Bryan: "As the Ham-Nye debate illustrated, when asked if something would ever change their mind, Nye said, "Evidence" while Ham said, "Nothing".
Answer: I think what that shows is some dishonesty from Nye. From the little I know of him, I have never heard him say he is willing to honestly consider the Creator God of tbe Bible.
Your point is irrelevant because many religious people accept evolution. And do you really think that people are are free to choose what they believe are less open-minded than people forced to sign a statement of belief on the subject? A statement required for their job? Individuals are going to be as biased or not but only creationism requires such bias.
If he is like most evolutionists, he interprets evidence only within his worldview of materialism.
I think you mean "scientists" rather than 'evolutionists' because evidence can only be interpreted by assuming naturalism. Otherwise, you get the whole "Did or Why did Adam have a belly button?" or Last Thursdayism problems. If you don't want to accept science, don't. But science cannot show supernatural action. This is why we accept gravity and do not claim, except satirically, Intelligent falling - Wikipedia
So Brian...if your best arguments for common ancestry are proved false by science, are you ready to consider... the evidence is consistent with and helps support the truth of Biblical creation?
Well, I'm still waiting for even more claim is for common design that is more than superficial. Note that showing evolution is false (except for micro-evolution, which is no different from evolution and a convoluted creationist way) is not support for creationism. We haven’t even looked at how ridiculous creationist claims for their side are. And of course, we would have to look at which creationist you want to believe as there are many competing - but equally stupid - claims for how the Earth was flooded and where the water went afterwards.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Transitional fossils Sci Am wants us to find

An early synapsid with extensive soft tissue preservation. At the risk of seeming like someone obsessed with soft tissues and life appearance (read on and you’ll get what I’m saying), high on my list is the discovery of an early synapsid – a stem-mammal – that provides us with good information on integument. It looks likely at the moment that hair, whiskers and so on evolved in cynodonts prior to the origin of mammals (or mammaliaforms if you prefer), but were these features present any earlier than this?
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A little pterosaur in amber. The idea that we might discover intact Mesozoic animals preserved in amber once seemed like a pipe dream. But no more: we now have large numbers of Cretaceous lizards in amber, a partial tail from a small non-bird theropod, and assorted archaic birds, including the better part of a baby enantiornithine.
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More of the wish list at the link.


Sunday, 16 July 2017

Creationist in Peterborough doesn't know what he's talking about.

The Peterborough Examiner has a letter to the editor that anyone halfway educated on the subject would be embarrassed by.

Here are the relevant bits interspersed with my commentary:
However, my concern centres on his treatment of the theory of evolution. It is only a theory. He tells it as a fact. Never have the concepts largely developed by Charles Darwin in the mid-19th century been proven by "hard " science.
Sigh. Only a theory. Poor Dr Dyer is unaware that science, hard or "hard" or otherwise, has proven nothing.
From Sci Am (quotes from sources other than Dr Dyer's letter are in red):
Part of the problem is that the word "theory" means something very different in lay language than it does in science: A scientific theory is an explanation of some aspect of the natural world that has been substantiated through repeated experiments or testing. But to the average Jane or Joe, a theory is just an idea that lives in someone's head, rather than an explanation rooted in experiment and testing.
The thing is, there is plenty of support for evolution, from fossils to the nested hierarchies of the Linnaeus classification system, to ERVS to replicated errors demonstrating a common ancestor.

In 1989 the mighty Soviet Union crashed into rubble. Soon the Deputy Minister of Education for all of Russia travelled to California to attend a conference of Christian educators. He spoke to the assembly, and I quote, "For 70 years we have shut God out of our country and it has done us great harm.
Blindly equating evolution with atheism, Dyer imagines that shutting God out of Russia is relevant to the discussion of evolution. Obviously, he is unaware of Lysenkoism, a pseudoscientific belief about biology that Russians followed instead of evolution. From the Wikipedia link above:
The pseudo-scientific ideas of Lysenkoism assumed the heritability of acquired characteristics.[1] Lysenko's theory rejected Mendelian inheritance and the concept of the "gene"; it departed from Darwinian evolutionary theory by rejecting natural selection.[2] Proponents falsely claimed to have discovered, among many other things, that rye could transform into wheat and wheat into barley, that weeds could spontaneously transmute into food grains, and that "natural cooperation" was observed in nature as opposed to "natural selection".[2] Lysenkoism promised extraordinary advances in breeding and in agriculture that never came about.
Joseph Stalin supported the campaign. More than 3,000 mainstream biologists were sent to prison, fired,[3] and others were executed as part of a campaign instigated by Lysenko to suppress his scientific opponents
He is also unaware that many Christians accept evolution as the explanation for the diversity of life on Earth. The Clergy Project Letter has more than 13,000 signatures of American active Christian clergyfolk who accept evolution.

I was invited into a `history classroom and met the older professor. He commented, " I understand you are a Christian." When I affirmed that I was, he pointed to his desk, and declared, "That is one of my text books. It was the Bible! In a Russian public high school the teacher held to the truths of the Bible as authoritative for his history lesson!
I will now step away from exclusively discussing evolution and dip into politics.  Russia is not a good place. It was not before 1989 and it is not now. I would not want to associate Christianity with the way Russia currently works.
I am saddened that such unproven assumptions are given to our generation and labelling as Truth. In the words of the Russian educator, "We must bring God back, and we must begin with our youth."
Dr. Stanley R. Dyer
Peterborough
It sure seems like we should first start with educating Dr Dyer on the subject he tries to argue so he doesn't make himself and all Creationists look foolish.