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Tips for Dealing with Creationists

I hang out with Creationists occasionally and have seen many of the arguments they make. I’d like to tell you what I’ve found.

This isn’t a rebuttal against Creationist arguments (perhaps in a future post). Rather, I’d like to sensitize you to general errors that they make. Consider this a list of cautions when evaluating a Creationist presentation.

Check the speakers’ credentials. Almost no one who speaks as a Creationist or Intelligent Design proponent has credentials in the field he’s criticizing. I’m simply asking for speakers with doctorates in the field plus work credentials. That is, a biologist speaking about biology, a geologist about geology, a cosmologist about cosmology, and so on. There are hundreds of thousands of scientists. That this seems to be a lot to ask says a lot about Creationism and related dogmas.

There are journalists without scientific degrees who popularize science, but they follow the consensus. They don’t try to apply their own agenda to overturn it. Creationists attempting to overturn the biological consensus from outside biology—that’s something different.

Check dates of quotes or criticisms. Words can’t express how uninterested I am in what Darwin wrote or thought or did. Almost every Darwin quote that I’ve seen used by the Creationist/ID side has been taken out of context. Anyway, Darwin’s writings are not binding on evolutionary biologists today.

And don’t get me started about Darwin’s personal life—whether Darwin ate babies with barbeque sauce or plain (actually, he lived a pretty laudable life) says nothing about the question at hand: whether evolution is the best explanation for why life is the way it is.

Focus on the right bin. A popular complaint is to say that evolution led to eugenics, or that the teaching of evolution in public school correlates to the tragic downward spiral that society has made in the past 50 years, and it wasn’t like this when I grew up, and don’t get me started about the kids these days, and blah, blah, blah.

Evolution is science. Eugenics is policy. The scientists give society the best approximation of the truth, and the politicians decide what to do with this information. Don’t blame science for policy.

Watch for Hitler entering the conversation. Godwin’s Law states: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” Whether Hitler embraced evolution or not (unlikely, since Darwin was on the Nazi list of banned books—more at “Nazi Soldiers Indoctrinated with Darwin? Yeah right”), what Hitler liked has no bearing on the accuracy of evolution.

Beware lists of Science’s errors. I’m thinking of lists such as the greatest hits of evolution’s mistakes—Piltdown Man, Nebraska Man, “Flipperpithecus,” and so on. Or theories that have been discarded—ether, phlogiston, geocentrism, the steady-state universe.

Yeah, science makes mistakes. Get over it. And what process discovered the errors? No, not Christianity or Creationism or divine revelation, but science!

Science clearly delivers pretty good approximations of the truth. For one glaring example, consider the science underpinning all the technology by which I communicate to you right now.

Watch for lots of quotes. Lots of quotes by scientists (often with missing or old dates) is another bad sign. Quotes simply invite counter-quotes, where I try to trump your science-y quote with one of my own, back and forth. For discussions between non-scientists, it’s better to stick with the consensus, which needs a reference but not a quote.

Expect “We’ve seen that evolution is wrong, so Creationism must be right!” This is simply a false dichotomy. Evolution might be wrong (though the evidence is so overwhelming that this is hard to imagine), but even if we discarded it, that wouldn’t leave Creationism the victor.

Did some Creator put life on earth? Wow—that’s an enormous claim. Provide the evidence.

Beware the “Gish Gallop.” Duane Gish pioneered this underhanded debate tactic. When interviewed with a biologist, he would say something like, “Well, what about X? And Y and Z? Evolution can’t explain these things.” The biologist probably has explanations for these puzzles and so begins a tedious (for the audience) explanation of why these are nicely handled by evolution. But when the biologist stops for a breath, Gish is back, piling on more examples. If your goal is winning the argument rather than engaging with the truth, these kinds of games can make an effective approach.

What I find especially annoying is hearing an issue get properly rebutted but then used by the Creationist in the very next encounter. How many times has a biologist destroyed Ray Comfort’s “Where’s the crocoduck?” argument? And yet it pops back up like we’re playing Whac-a-Mole. Does he just value effectiveness over integrity?

Beware lying. Okay, that sounds harsh, but I don’t know what else to make of nonsensical claims from people who should know better.

In 2007, I attended a lecture by someone from the Institute for Creation Research, a young-earth Creationist organization. This lecture was remarkable because the topic was geology, and the speaker actually had a doctorate in geology. He described taking rock samples from an amphibolite layer in the Grand Canyon and getting various radioisotope dating results. Though the rocks were all from the same layer, the date estimates were all over the map. His unsurprising conclusion: this dating technique is flawed, and the Grand Canyon layers were laid down by Noah’s flood, thousands of years ago, not hundreds of millions.

Only after the lecture, after I’d done some research, did I realize that amphibolite is a metamorphic rock, and radioisotope dating is typically used only to date igneous rocks. You’d think that a geologist would’ve made that clear in the lecture.

Beware “Science backtracks all the time!” Science does find errors and correct itself, but don’t imagine that the next correction to evolution is as likely to be a small tweak as the overturning of the entire theory. Once a field is well understood, changes obey a power law, like with the magnitude of earthquakes, the frequency of word use, or the size of cities and towns. For every big earthquake we see thousands of tiny ones, and for every huge correction in a theory we see many small tweaks. The overturning of a well-established theory is very unlikely.

Debating with a creationist is like playing chess with a pigeon.
It jumps on the board, knocks all the pieces off, craps on the table,
and flies off to its flock to claim victory.
— Anonymous

Photo credit: FreeThoughtPedia

About Bob Seidensticker
  • DrewL

    I was excited to agree with everything you said, but then you put in this nonsense.
    The scientists give society the best approximation of the truth, and the politicians decide what to do with this information. Don’t blame science for policy.

    No. Read the wikipedia article on eugenics in the US. Try this passage on for size:
    Eugenics was widely accepted in the U.S. academic community. By 1928 there were 376 separate university courses in some of the United States’ leading schools, enrolling more than 20,000 students, which included eugenics in the curriculum.

    Again and again the scientific community has gotten so in bed with political ideologies and programs that the two become indistinguishable. This “moral neutrality” of science is philosophically wrong, and the “policy neutrality” of science is historically wrong. I’ll try to come up with some reading recommendations later for this point. But you don’t need to lie about history to paint creationists in a bad light.

    • ZenDruid

      Eugenics was widely accepted in the U.S. academic community. By 1928 there were 376 separate university courses in some of the United States’ leading schools, enrolling more than 20,000 students, which included eugenics in the curriculum.

      Do you see what you did? You’re using an obsolete system for your argument, just as Bob predicted. If our schools teach eugenics today, you’d have a point, but in general as science grows, it corrects itself. The policy makers have long since been dissuaded from eugenics.

      Religious doctrine, on the other hand, is a fossil which nobody is allowed to change. It won’t grow because it’s dead.

      • DrewL

        Ah, so all those foolish scientists of the past got wrapped up in the policies and morality of their times–what idiots. Today we just know better, right?

        It’s telling that all the public intellectual scientists that atheists hold sacred and authoritative (Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Carl Sagan) were/are all extremely involved in political and moral causes. And it’d be difficult today to find a major research university that wasn’t offering a science course centered around environmental policy. Bob’s division is illusionary; it’s grasping for a value-neutral logical positivism that was debunked in the early 20th century (see “Michael Polanyi” on wikipedia). Scientists have always cloaked themselves in the authority of the academy to make moral and political claims. There have always been and always will be entire subfields that exist solely due to political currents of the day; science is a product of its culture.

        And obviously, some scientific moralizing has been very very good (the scientists who finally challenged the scientific race inferiority consensus of the 19th century for instance, or the atomic bomb developers who protested its use, or some of the environmental scientists speaking in the public sphere today) and some of it has been very bad. Let’s start the conversation there, rather than in this fictional land of “science just does facts and is never political/moral.”

        • Bob Seidensticker

          It’s telling that all the public intellectual scientists that atheists hold sacred and authoritative (Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Carl Sagan) were/are all extremely involved in political and moral causes.

          And when they advocate policy, they’re in the domain of policy. Science is “what is the truth?” and policy is “what do we do about it?”

          Where’s the difficulty?

          “science just does facts and is never political/moral.”

          Right, ’cause when it’s political, it’s no longer science.

        • Jason

          Don’t confuse science with scientists. Consensus, consensus, consensus.

      • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

        You’re using an obsolete system for your argument, just as Bob predicted.

        Actually, he’s not. At least, he isn’t if your standard isn’t, “All history is completely irrelevant.” If that is your standard, however, then you really have no business debating the merits of previous generations of scientists. After all, you’ve relegated them all to irrelevance.

        Using an obsolete system for argument might be, for example, doing something like using Newtonian Physics to prove that the universe cannot be more than 1 billion years old. In this case, however, he is pointing out that “scientists are objective” as well as “scientists are not responsible for policy” are both inaccurate statements. He is demonstrating this through an historic example, which is something very different from using outdated science as a part of a proof.

        I think you’re better off with the argument that this is all beside the point. Pythagoras was afraid of beans and worshiped tonal triads, but that does not invalidate his theorem. Bob’s statement is an unfortunate one, not only in that it does ignore the fact that scientific data does tend to lead towards philosophical data, but also because it does not divorce the science from the policy.

        For example (and I do not claim that any of this is true), it may be that teaching evolution is the worst thing in the history of the planet. It may be that evolution guarantees complete societal degradation and within the next century we will be brought into a new Stone Age because of Darwin’s theories. None of that is relevant to whether or not evolution is true, however. Admittedly, it is relevant to what our policies should be, but debate over policy is, frankly, completely off topic.

      • Ted Seeber

        “The policy makers have long since been dissuaded from eugenics.”

        They have? Then why euthanasia laws and freedom of abortion for genetic defects? In fact, given the idea that mutation just breeds new abilities, shouldn’t we be ENCOURAGING genetic diversity in the human species instead of eliminating it like eugenics policies do?

        I’m with you on the rest, but you’re out to lunch if you think the eugenicists didn’t just win a major election in the United States.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Then why euthanasia laws and freedom of abortion for genetic defects?

          I don’t see the connection. Euthanasia and eugenics? You can lampoon euthanasia, but saying that it’s eugenics doesn’t make sense.

          I guess abortion for genetic defects is sort of like eugenics, but it’s certainly not what we think of when we think “eugenics.” The thought is more likely “I don’t want to bring into the world a baby that will have a terrible life” rather than “We must keep the racial lines of the Fatherland pure!”

          given the idea that mutation just breeds new abilities

          Yeah, over millennia. But if we know that a particular mutation was bad, who would want to encourage that?

        • RowanVT

          We practice ‘eugenics’ when breeding show dogs and race horses. Aborting a fetus that has a defect that is not compatible with life (frequently mermaid syndrome, anencephaly), or that a potential parent does not feel capable of financially or emotionally supporting is not eugenics. Abortion is not making certain people breed with each other rather than someone else. I am a hobby corn snake breeder. I’m working with two lines, one to produce an all-black corn snake and one that is being bred purely for temperament. I am choosing which animals breed to each other. You’ll note that has squat to do with eugenics.

          As to euthanasia. I’m all for it. My main choices of death outside of an accident are alzheimers and colon cancer. Euthanasia sounds pretty good, actually. Aside from the corn snakes, my actual field of work is as a veterinary technician. Euthanasia is to eugenics as apples are to isoflurane. That is, completely unrelated. Allowing someone to choose when they die is not eugenics. I am not forcing someone to die. But if I end up with the colon cancer, and it gets to the point where I have to be drugged insensate to not be in agony (as happened with my grandfather), then I don’t feel that I would be actually *living* at that point. I would choose euthanasia before it got the point where I wasn’t really existing anymore anyway.

        • RowanVT

          * Edit: Meant to write “You’ll note that has squat to do with abortion.”

        • TJ

          “or that a potential parent does not feel capable of financially or emotionally supporting”
          Wow. This is a reason to kill an infant still in the womb? We could use this same argument to kill children who are already outside of the womb, as there are countless kids not being supported financially or emotionally. This is essentially saying that the baby is an inconvenience, so the only solution is to kill it. There may be valid reasons for a woman to get an abortion, but lack of convenince is not one of them. What about ADOPTION? And NO, I’m not a theist, I’m agnostic. I know I’m rubbing the wrong way on most atheists’ feathers, but I don’t have to jump on that bandwagon. This is one issue where the christians have it right, IMO. Respectfully…

        • Bob Seidensticker

          TJ:

          This is a reason to kill an infant still in the womb? We could use this same argument to kill children who are already outside of the womb, as there are countless kids not being supported financially or emotionally.

          Personhood is a spectrum. A newborn has it, a single cell doesn’t, and it’s a spectrum in between.

          What about ADOPTION?

          Of women who have an unwanted pregnancy and carry it to term, what fraction give it up for adoption? (Hint: it’s not much. I don’t think it’s the solution you think it is.)

      • Christensen

        Science did not “correct itself” regarding Eugenics; it was exposed by political events.

        In other words, it got caught.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      But you don’t need to lie about history to paint creationists in a bad light.

      I didn’t. Science and policy are different, as the post made clear. Professor Jones, with a PhD in biology, advocating eugenics has removed his science hat and put on a policy hat.

      • DrewL

        Ok, and when Professor Jones and his hundreds of colleagues offer 376 University classes on eugenics…which hat are they wearing in the classroom?

        (I am bracing myself for a “No TRUE scientist….” argument in 5….4….3….)

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Eugenics is policy. Figure it out yourself.

        • DrewL

          You can keep saying that. I’ll put my lot in with the historians and philosophers of science.

    • DrewL

      For anyone interested in the real history of science getting entangled in messy political, moral, and social issues, you can also take a look at Race: The History of an Idea in America by Thomas F. Gossett. If you glance at the table of contents, you can see he traces the idea of racial hierarchy through 18th Century Anthropology, 19th Century Anthropology, the Social Darwinism many early social scientists drew upon, and finally the much overdue scientific revolt from racism beginning in the 1920s.

      Bob would lead you to believe one could go through history and easily trace where scientists were being scientists and where they were “putting on their political hat” when they tell us “what to do” with the data. Should you find yourself sympathetic to such a claim, please, spend 5 minutes scrolling through the free preview on Amazon. History tells a far messier story; I’ll go with the historians on this one.

      Science is always a product of its environment and tied to certain a priori assumptions of the scientists and the culture at large. That was true in the past and it’s true today. I have MANY more books to recommend on the philosophy of science (all written by non-Christians, fear not) if anyone is interested.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        I’ll go with the historians on this one.

        And when it comes to the definitions of words, I’ll go with the lexicographers.

        I’m missing the problem. Someone saying, “We must protect our genetic future and must sterilize people in category X” is policy. That person is advocating policy whether they are a politician or a scientist.

        And I’m also missing the big picture. Why again are we discussing this? Are you splitting hairs or do you have an important point to make or what?

      • OverlappingMagisteria

        You’re missing the point of the article, Drew. The Creationist claim is:

        1. Evolution leads to eugenics.
        2. Eugenics is immoral.
        3. Therefore, evolution is false.

        The point is that even if evolution did lead to eugenics (1), that would not mean evolution did not and does not happen. The argument is a non-sequitor; because something may lead to something immoral, does not mean it did not happen.

        • HannibalBarca

          Thank you. I was glad someone else saw the bad logic there.

        • Ted Seeber

          And in fact, I can argue against eugenics *purely* from an “only the natural world” standpoint taking evolution as a given.

          The sad part is that method failed.

        • DrewL

          You are correct: that is bad logic, and I’m not making that argument. I’m merely critiquing Bob on an underdeveloped understanding of science. It’d be much better to respond to creationists with a historically accurate account of science and politics/morality rather than presenting overly-romanticized, unhistorical notions of science’s “purity” and amorality. My take is you can do better than this!

    • jose

      I agree. This idea that scientists are detached monks with total political innocence whose only goal is the pursuit of knowledge is convenient but inaccurate. And the attempt to redefine science so it’s only about that, thus leaving out all the politically-motivated science in history, doesn’t help the cause for truth.

      • Kristen inDallas

        …not to mention the fact that even if you take the scientist out of it, science itself cannot exist in many areas without politically-motivated funding (Do we give the grant money to aerospace or cancer research?) and ethically charged labratory practices (testing on monkeys or using stem cells, etc). Anywho… not a creationist, myself, and the rest of the article wasn’t bad, but science does not and can not exist in a vaccuum. We have a lot more evidence for that than we do on the subject of God. I’d be more likely to believe in an invisible garage dragon than I am to believe in some mythically incorraptable “science.”

      • Bob Seidensticker

        jose:

        This idea that scientists are detached monks with total political innocence

        Who would disagree? But when scientists put on the hat of Policy, they are acting in the domain of policy. “This country should enact eugenics laws” is a statement of policy, not science.

        Let’s not confuse science with scientists.

        • DrewL

          You’re going to run into problems categorizing the statement that comes RIGHT BEFORE the policy prescription:

          The black race is genetically inferior and lacks the same intellectual or mental capacities of whites.

          Haitian immigrants are naturally more likely to carry the AIDS virus.

          Homosexuality is a sociopathic personality disorder. (The 1952 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders)

          The earth’s temperatures are rising due to rising emission of greenhouse gases.

          I assume you’d say the scientists have their science hats on when they say these things: they are interpreting data, after all.

          Can you perhaps revisit your original statement…
          The scientists give society the best approximation of the truth, and the politicians decide what to do with this information. Don’t blame science for policy.
          …and articulate a better understanding of where these “pre-policy” statements fit into your dichotomy? Because in all these cases, I’d blame (or credit) the scientists for policy. They hardly have clean hands, nor were their pre-policy “facts” neutrally disposed to policy.

          (And please avoid the “chronologically snobbish” answer that past scientists were idiot racists/homophobes while present scientists are omniscient and infallible. )

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Science and policy. Different things. It’s simply a category error to blame one for the other.

          (But I think I’ve made that clear before. I’m not sure what needs to be clarified. If you’re saying that today we disagree with some consensuses from the past, yeah.)

        • DrewL

          And Bob has his fingers in his ears.

          Anyone else? I would really like an answer here. Those who adhere to scientism generally ignore how messy science has been in the past.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Yeah, science is messy. And that refutes the science/policy dichotomy how exactly? I mean–am I simply using the words not as they are defined in the dictionary? This seems a pretty simple matter.

          Sen. Snort saying, “The earth is 6000 years old” is a politician making a statement within the domain of science. Dr. Jones saying, “Eugenics is a smart course of action” is a scientist making a statement within the domain of policy.

          Since we’ve been over this and you have no complaint about this distinction, perhaps it’s you who has his fingers in his ears.

        • DrewL

          You’re going to have to categorize these statements, that’s all I want, Bob.

          The black race is genetically inferior and lacks the same intellectual or mental capacities of whites.
          Haitian immigrants are naturally more likely to carry the AIDS virus.
          Homosexuality is a sociopathic personality disorder. (The 1952 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders)
          The earth’s temperatures are rising due to rising emission of greenhouse gases.

          Science or policy? I get the sense you’re ready to say they are science. In that case, we agree that science is messy, we agree that science is fallible. We disagree on whether science should be blamed for policy. My view is when people make statements like those above, whether in peer-reviewed research journals, in 376 college classrooms across the country, or in sworn statements before the Supreme Court, they bear responsibility for policy outcomes. I really don’t think the domain matters: if you’re arguing homosexuality is a sociopathic disorder in a scientific journal AS A SCIENTIST, you don’t get a free-pass when your research gets cited as evidence in an adoption court case or even worse, a hate crime case. Your “if it’s political, it’s no longer scientific!” mantra falls far short.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          We disagree on whether science should be blamed for policy.

          Science gives the best guess for what the facts are; policy decides what response to take within society.

          That boundary can be violated. One example that comes to mind is during the administration of Bush II when nonscientists tried to steer the conclusions about global warming.

          Was it the consensus view (not just the view of particular scientists) that blacks were genetically inferior? I don’t know. Were these scientists following the facts where they lead or were they following their own biases or prejudices? I don’t know. Are you driving toward an interesting point or are you just bloviating? I don’t know.

        • DrewL

          Was it the consensus view (not just the view of particular scientists) that blacks were genetically inferior? I don’t know. Were these scientists following the facts where they lead or were they following their own biases or prejudices?

          Answer: yes, it was the consensus view (see my comment linking to the race book). And yes, scientists were following their own biases and prejudices, as they still do today. (see Polanyi on personal biases or even Gadamer on “prejudice”)

          The interesting point from all this is: your belief system affords science so much authority and reverence that you seem committed to keeping science morally neutral and pure. When scientists were clearly wrong, wrong in consensus, and wrong in what they TAUGHT in the classroom (372 eugenic classes), you seem unable to comprehend this possibility. It seems to be a sacred cow for your belief system; you’d much rather blame “politics.” So yes, darwinism wasn’t solely or even directly responsible for eugenics, but for you this isn’t an empirical question but a dogmatic belief determined a priori to any facts: science is simply too sacred and objective to be implicated in evil.

          Okay I’m done bloviating.

  • DrewL

    For every big earthquake we see thousands of tiny ones, and for every huge correction in a theory we see many small tweaks. The overturning of a well-established theory is very unlikely.

    Please please please please, for the love of god that does not exist to you, would a single atheist in the world read Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions? Again, this isn’t a Christian apologist, this is one of the most influential academic books of the last few decades. But very accessible to the average reader.
    http://amzn.com/0226458121

    • Jason

      Drew, why don’t you give us an example of something from the book? Links and book refs are helpful to back up your argument, but I don’t find it very constructive when you make arguments by simply pointing out that there is an important book or wikipedia page on the subject.

      • Kristen inDallas

        In short, that the one thing a good scientist should be MOST certain of (given the repeatable observations over the course of human history) is that we do not know what we do not know, nor do we know how likely it is we’re going to end up being wrong… among a whole host of other things that anyone studying science even briefly will pick up in their first history of or philosophy of science class, but which people who like to be “right” about science fail to grasp when talking about “science.”

      • DrewL

        Jason: to me education isn’t something that happens in exchanging deeply-held views back and forth on a blog thread. You’ll notice a) rarely is anyone’s view changed and b) rarely is anyone speaking from real expertise on any issue. I’ve copied and pasted long passages before to little avail; I’ve decided I can’t really summarize more succinctly than Wikipedia many times, so why really try?

        If you value knowledge and speaking from an informed position on these things, go read the Wikipedia, go grab the books. If the enterprise here really is about truth, knowledge, and reason, this shouldn’t seem like a threatening or overly-demanding task. But it is more demanding than groupthink navel-gazing and the predictably affirming “me too!”-ing that happens in many comment threads. I guess you need to decide what you’re really after when you keep clicking on this blog every day: feeling affirmed in your beliefs by likeminded people, or taking the time to do the hard work of having your beliefs challenged by the (secular) thinkers at the top of their respective fields. Kuhn is an excellent place to start.

        • Jason

          “I’ve decided I can’t really summarize more succinctly than Wikipedia many times, so why really try?”

          I take part in the blog because I like to read about and respond to ideas (ones I agree with and ones I don’t). When you cite a Wikipedia page, you’re not sharing ideas. If you want to make a contribution, isn’t it your responsibility not only to point to information but also to briefly make the case for its relevance. Why do you think you’ve made a point by assigning other people homework? If you are incapable of summarizing information in a Wikipedia page, then it probably means that you don’t understand your own ideas well enough to make that contribution.

        • DrewL

          I have a more take it or leave it philosophy. Wikipedia=how the most intelligent people in history have thought through these issues. If you’re going to take time discussing this issue on a blog, why not inform yourself on the basics first? Wouldn’t you expect someone to do this in whatever field/career you occupy? I’m simply trying to provide links to relevant historians, philosophers, psychologists, and sociologists who make their careers making our knowledge better.

          I’m not your high school teacher grading your homework: if you want to continue your intellectual inquiry in ignorance of what scholars already know, feel free. And if you want to attribute your ignorance to my intellectual ineptitude, that’s fine too, it gets more amusing every time someone does it.

    • Norm

      Drew is very annoying isnt he Bob? I mean the way he shoots you down time and again with darn knowledge. And just when you were supposed to be crushing creation.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        I need to have the evidence, Norm. Your simply saying, “Drew totally pwned you!” doesn’t help us.

        You got an argument? Then make it.

        • Phil

          Ah man, I saw more comments on this post, and I though Rick Townsend was back. No such luck.

  • Jason

    Anybody else out there been to the creation museum in KY? I went one time hoping to at least be entertained by wacky non-scientific theories. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that wacky. It was just sad. One of the most memorable moments was when I overheard a conversation between a mother and her daughter as they stood in front of a minature model of Noah’s ark showing where all the animals were kept:

    Daughter: But Momey where did they keep the dinasaurs?
    Mother: Well, right there, honey, next to the lions, don’t you see.

    Hopefully this anecdote provides an insightful link between Bob’s last post and this one.

    • Jason

      Please forgive my ability to spell on my iPad. I’m experiencing repentance.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        You are forgiven, my son …

        • Jason

          Thank you, Father Bob.

          Perhaps the most interesting pseudo-scientific explanation was the “floating raft” theory meant to explain why certain animals on different continents are related. Apparently after the great flood there were floating trees which circulated in the oceans and functioned as rafts on which animals could jump and thus migrate to nearby continents. I suppose this is a way to avoid the time frame required for continental drift. I’m perfectly happy if creationists just want to insist that biblical creation is the way to go based on faith. I just wish they wound’t invent less likely theories to replace more probable theories and pretend they have reasonable scientific backing. In their defense, the creation museum admits that they begin with biblical creation and then look for evidence to back it up.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          I hadn’t heard that about the Creation museum. That’s a rather frank admission. I just wish that their attendees would be appropriately shocked.

          Other issues that they deal with in an ad hoc manner are suggesting that radioactive decay proceeded at an accelerated pace long ago, and that the red-shifted light was created en route to give the appearance of age.

          It’s sort of like lying–it’s so much less complicated to just tell the truth.

        • DrewL

          I’ll help you out Bob, enjoy:
          http://imgur.com/a/1mj2j#0

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Thanks, Drew. I’m quite familiar with the Creation museum; it’s just that that one aspect was a new one for me.

  • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com Katherine Lorraine, Chaton de la Mort

    If you’re going to argue with a Creationist, your first best bet is to tell them to stick to one argument until its met its conclusion. If they refuse to do so, stop the debate immediately.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Good point. It’s easy to allow them to change the topic–we do that in ordinary conversations–but that allows them to ignore the fact that they’ve abandoned an argument. They need to own up to the fact that a particular argument is empty.

      • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com Katherine Lorraine, Chaton de la Mort

        It eliminates the Gish Gallop as a side effect as well.

  • kenneth

    The simplest criticism of creation science is that it’s not a science at all. It always always always resorts to supernatural explanation, and its “scientists” do not accept the very premise of science, which says that the world around us can be known, at least proximately, by observation. Their theories require people to believe, with no plausible evidence or even theoretical basis, that the laws of physics and chemistry vary widely and arbitrarily. To arrive at a 6,000 year old Earth, one has to believe that lots of things – gravity, the speed of light, radioactive decay, geological processes etc. are not constant and are not even knowable.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      kenneth:

      In my limited experience, most Creationist/IDers are of the old-earth variety. That is, they’ll accept the Big Bang, but it’s evolution that annoys them.

      Still, coming at this with an agenda, often stated plainly, is hardly the way to go about science.

  • J-Rex

    It’s amazing to see that people do not understand the difference between science and scientists.
    Science is the way the world works. Scientists study and discover the way the world works.
    Science is never wrong. Scientists can be wrong.
    The argument about eugenics could be translated like this:
    A scientist studies gravity and is interested to see the effects of throwing people off buildings. Therefore, gravity isn’t true and science is evil.

    • JohnH

      Actually, you are conflating how the world actually works with science. Science is our theories as to how the world actually works and those theories are some approximation to the truth. It is quite possible that reality is nothing like the theory even if the theory explains all currently observed phenomena very well. It is quite possible for our observations and measures to be completely wrong as well. I can’t think of any way in which “Science is never wrong” actually corresponds with what is possible or what is claimed.

      Obviously there is some way that the world actually works and the world actually works that way. Whether the way the world works is understandable, computable, predictable, measurable, or unchanging are all assumptions based off of inductive experience (meaning those base assumptions could be completely wrong). That we have never seen phenomena that don’t follow those assumptions leads us to believe that our assumptions are probably sound. However, saying they are “probably” sound is using the underlying assumptions twice, meaning that to be consistent we can’t speak of the probability of the soundness of the assumptions, we just have to assume they are correct unless or until something comes along that shows the assumption wrong.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        I can’t think of any way in which “Science is never wrong” actually corresponds with what is possible or what is claimed.

        Perhaps J-Rex is saying that if there is a mistake, the mistake is with the scientists, not with the process?

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          Perhaps J-Rex is saying that if there is a mistake, the mistake is with the scientists, not with the process?

          I think I have to agree JohnH’s point though. The truth of a matter is often only seen in retrospect, often years (and historically, sometimes centuries) after the fact. Unfortunately, in the meanwhile, it is often difficult (and sometimes impossible) to discern what is genuinely true from the trumped up opinions of a quack. This is especially true when there are a number in the scientific community who are willing to falsify data to meet their predispositions or for personal gain.

          Actually, this debate reminds me of the philosophical difficulties in Calvinistic predestination: “How do believers know they’re saved?” “Because they believe.” “But what if they stop believing?” “Then they were never saved.” Translates directly to, “how do you know that the opinion is scientific?” “Because consensus agrees.” “And if consensus shifts?” “Then it was never scientific.”

        • JohnH

          The sort of depends on what one means by mistake; if a theory explains the observed phenomena, was produced by the process, but is wrong then it isn’t the fault of the scientist but is it really a mistake?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          The results of science are always tentative. Science never proves anything; it is simply a reliable process for finding evidence and telling us where that evidence points.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/8601342@N03/ Gregory Peterson

    Nowadays, I tell them that I’m not interested in their refutations of evolution, see above, but I am interested in the sociology of the creationists. Ask them about what church they go go, where they grew up, their families, their Pastors’ family, his/her credentials…if the church inspected his testicles http://books.google.com/books?id=aaklGZAID08C&pg=PA130&lpg=PA130&dq=rabbi+testicles&source=bl&ots=MN5_ETV0Nu&sig=GhVIKYqGcwEqmmLvhCgIrvZWhz8&hl=en&sa=X&ei=bYqsUK2ZJsfNqAH0hoDoBw&ved=0CDUQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=rabbi%20testicles&f=false

    Rather than question them only about their science credentials (I have a very modest Bachelors of Science), since they say that they use the Bible and Christianity as their baseline, I’d also question their credentials in theology, ancient languages, and history. Ask them to translate passages from the Dead Sea Scrolls. Get them to criticize Higher Criticism. Ask them to explain Natural Law to you. Ask them about beliefs and rituals in Baal/Moloch worship. When they’ve established that they are in fact experts on the Bible, then go to their expertise in biology, geology, cosmology, the history of science.

    • JohnH

      First paragraph is completely irrelevant to the debate.

      As for the second part, there you are actually close to a potentially correct way of attacking Young Earth Creationism. Obviously their understanding of ancient languages is irrelevant, unless one is advocating a different translation of the passages from Genesis (a potentially valid criticism). Higher criticism is actually not a vary good weak spot for attacking Young Earth Creationism, for a variety of reasons, nor is most of the other points you bring up: there are at least two defenses that avoid the issue of Higher Criticism completely plus it is possible to criticize much of higher criticism as well. There are however a variety of theological points and other Biblical passages from which it is possible to attack the position of Young Earth Creationism.

      Attacking their understanding of the science, while quite likely somewhat valid, also misses the point that their attack on the premises of Science is potentially valid and if they are correct in their reading of the Bible and the Bible is the word of God then they have all the evidence they need. If the point is to show Young Earth Creationists that they are wrong then one needs to attack their reading of the Bible because attacking the infallibility of the Bible or the Bible being the word of God defends ones own position it doesn’t actually address the position of the Young Earther.

      It is much better to point out things like the earth being 6000 years old is compared to days in the Bible itself leading one to wonder already why they say creation must have been 6(7) literal days and not have the earth be 13000 years old as that would make more sense already with such scriptures as say 2 Peter 3:8. I am not sure how the general Young Earther feels about the “Church Fathers” but they stated that it was God divided days and did not generally hold the young earth position (in fact most of the theological alternatives to young earth are much older then the theory of evolution). Then there is a problem with using literal “days’ when it isn’t until the fourth day that the Sun appears. Then there is the problem of the hills being everlasting. And a host of other potential problems and points of attack against Young Earthers that meet them where they are instead of where the attacker is.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        An aside: when old-earth Creationists shake their head (like I do!) at their young-earth Creationist brethren and point out their clumsy thinking (like I do!), why do they not critique their own position?

        Not every time, of course, but wouldn’t they sometimes get a nagging sense that they may be guilty of similar wishful thinking or rejection of science or twisting the Bible to fit their presuppositions? When they say to the young earthers, “C’mon–you’re not a cosmologist! How are you going to reject the Big Bang consensus when you can’t even understand the issue?” why don’t they see how this attacks their own evolution denial?

        • JohnH

          This is assuming they deny evolution either in whole or in part.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Are there any Creationists who don’t? I thought that was part of the definition of “Creationist.”

        • JohnH

          Look at the chart on the Wikipedia article on the subject, it lists Progressive Creationism, Intelligent Design, and Evolutionary Creationism as accepting evolution to perhaps varying degrees. The way wikipedia lists things aren’t the only views that I have seen as there are large variations among each group and intelligent design is often just a cover for direct creation.

          Basically there were multiple views as to the age of the earth and creation (and what is meant by creation) and the universality or locality of the flood before there was a theory of evolution which then adds another layer of complexity. Basically there are all sorts of combining of views on the subject. Unless I am unaware of an option then there are at least 64 possible options (as evolution can be subdivided into two further categories that I know of, maybe there are more), however I am not aware of anyone that believes in both macroevolution and a young earth so that might reduce the number of views that are actually held some.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          I wouldn’t have listed “theistic evolution” in the category of “Creationism.” Yes, I agree that they accept evolution (and are the majority of Christians!).

          But in my experience, “Creationism” is typically shorthand for “I reject evolution.”

  • http://pandasthumb.org RBH

    DrewL wrote

    “Please please please please, for the love of god that does not exist to you, would a single atheist in the world read Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions? Again, this isn’t a Christian apologist, this is one of the most influential academic books of the last few decades. But very accessible to the average reader.”

    I read it in graduate school when it came out. But I also read Imre Lakatos’ Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge for a partial antidote. Don’t take Kuhn too seriously; his analysis of the history of science and of Popper’s ideas, which Kuhn purported to be critiquing, was less than stellar. I was particularly amused by Margeret Masterman’s analysis of the 21 different senses in which Kuhn used the term “paradigm” in his book. :) (See here for the list.) And see here for Lakatos on Kuhn’s analysis.

    Kuhn was undoubtedly influential, but whether he was right is very open to debate. Some of his arguments are deeply flawed.

  • RandomFunction2

    To Bob the broken atheist,

    I liked your post. This is one of the best you made.

    I would add that, since creationists so often misquote science books and papers, as if they were nearly illiterate, how can we trust them when it comes to interpreting the Bible, which happens to be much harder than a science text?

    • Bob Seidensticker

      That’s a great observation. I’ll add it to my list.

  • Hypatia’s Daughter

    One thing to remember when a CreoIDer wants to debate evolution: THEIR INTENT IS ALWAYS TO PROSELYTIZE, NEVER TO DISCUSS SCIENCE.
    Only pious believers go to revival meetings. If you hold a debate with some degreed CreoIDer (and it doesn’t matter to the religious if the degree is in a totally different field – it’s a DEGREE, dammit) , you get a different crowd.
    1) The believer who is uncertain because science seems to contradict his beliefs. A “debate” that uses “science” pats him on the head and sends him away comforted that there is no contradiction.
    2) The fence sitter who won’t quite accept belief because it seems to contradict science. He might hear sometime that overrides his objections and become a true believer.
    3) The “atheist” who scoffs at religion, but only needs to hear the word to be converted. This group would never show up at a revival meeting and a debate brings in crowds of them. Whoot!
    Errors are never corrected because the science really doesn’t matter. Catchy phrases and punchy images that stick in the hearers mind matter more. Do you really think Comfort believes in the crockoduck? Naw. But, like Coke’s polar bears, the image captures the public imagination.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      I’d prefer they simply say, “Look, I just believe on faith, OK?” And then the conversation would be over. It’s when they imagine that they have an actual argument that makes it hard to resist getting in the fray.

      • RandomFunction2

        To all,

        I think it’s better to address creationist objections in a book. In a book, you can say whatever you need to say, there is no time limit and you are not sidetracked by the empty rhetoric of your opponent.

  • Rick Townsend

    Not to pry, but I’m just curious as to what your doctorate and field work would include to make you so much an authority on all things atheistic? That is the standard you levied on others, after all.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      My comments within science are like William Lane Craig’s (the difference, of course, is that he pretends to be a scientist and I don’t!).

      I do make comments within science but I want to be seen as merely a guide. If I say something intriguing, I invite readers to follow up to verify (from someone who actually knows) that my statement comports with the best of science’s understanding.

      Atheism isn’t science, so the “you don’t have a doctorate in a scientific field” doesn’t apply.

      • Rick Townsend

        Got it. So its OK for you to pontificate against the PhD’s who ARE doing science within creationism, but you are just spouting out some intriguing stuff. Without credentials. Cool.

        Check out the real scientists who are finding real science in favor of creationism, like Dr. Michael Behe who is a microbiologist advocating intelligent design from within his sphere of expertise. Or Dr. Andrew Snelling in geology, or well, many others. I could provide a list of others as long as you want. But you’d find some reason why they aren’t adequate in your opinion.

        Nice slight of hand, though. But I don’t buy what you are selling.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          So its OK for you to pontificate against the PhD’s who ARE doing science within creationism

          Who are we talking about here? Biologists who reject evolution? I can think of a couple of names, but not many. Cosmologists who reject the Big Bang? Geologists who say that the earth is 6000 years old?

          How many of these are there?

          Dr. Michael Behe who is a microbiologist advocating intelligent design from within his sphere of expertise.

          Dr. Behe? You mean the one who accepts common descent? I assume, since he’s so smart, that you buy into this thinking?

          Or Dr. Andrew Snelling in geology, or well, many others. I could provide a list of others as long as you want.

          Oh? Provide your list.

          If your point is that such scientists exist, I agree. My point is that there are very few such scientists and that the scientific consensus is overwhelmingly against them.

          Nice slight of hand

          Weak attempt at sarcasm.

        • RandomFunction2

          To RT,

          Actually, everyone has the right to think philosophically. Philosophy asks questions that matter to most people. And that means having thoughts on the God question. Of course professional philosophers and theologians will probably have more sophisticated opinions, but there is nothing wrong when a self-taught philosopher like Bob talks about atheism.

          However, science is another business. To make authoritative statements about biology, you had better be a biologist yourself. I don’t expect laypeople to understand minute details of biology (for instance the biochemical steps of photosynthesis) or to read scientific journals and dry peer-reviewed papers, where the real science is done. And biologists had an extensive education in their discipline and at least some knowledge of the major subfields of their discipline besides their own.

        • RandomFunction2

          To RT,

          I don’t quite understand your point about some scientists being creationists. Sure, they are widely advertised, but their actual scientific output as creationist researchers is roughly zero. Nearly all their influence derives from material directed at laypeople and children who are being educated…

          For every creationist scientist, there are probably more than 100 evolutionist scientists, some of them being orthodox Christians, such as Francis Collins. What do you conclude from that? Why would less than 1% of scientists be closer to the truth than the rest?

          When Darwin published his book, only a tiny handful of scientists were already evolutionists. But more and more scientists accepted Darwin’s ideas and by the end of the 19th century, his ideas were the new consensus. When creationists achieve the same feat, I will join them. Until then, I side with the mainstream.

  • Jireh

    Hey Bob ,
    Here’s a hot tip for you. Put all your $$ on a horse named Genesis 1:1. You can’t go wrong !!

    • RandomFunction2

      To Jireh,

      Yes he can. Genesis 1:1 may be wrong.

  • obpoet

    Comparing the theories of relativity and evolution, Einstein and Darwin, relativity comes off so cleanly. If it’s true, light will bend around the sun. Do the experiment, solar eclipse, star positions shift. Proof. If it’s true, time will slow are you approach the speed of light. Do the experiment, atomic clock in a jet, the clock shows down, proof. Darwin, if true, intermediate forms will out number end forms. Fossil evidence……. waiting….. waiting….. yea but yea but yea but yea but. Waiting…

    • Bob Seidensticker

      You’re missing intermediate forms? Uh … every fossil is an intermediate form. It’s intermediate between whatever came before and whatever comes after. Where’s the problem?

      Evolution is the scientific consensus. We laypeople are going to reject this on what basis?

      • Rick

        every fossil is an intermediate form

        Really? So you, being an intermediate between your parents and your children, are also an intermediate form? Or are you and they all humans? If you do claim to be an intermediate form, isn’t this just grasping at straws? The amount of difference between you and your children extrapolated over time has been demonstrated to be insufficient to accomplish anything close to the heavy lifting required of evolution over even the billions of years in which it may (or may not) have operated. This is just silliness and hoping in spite of evidence there is no designer.

        I know you really believe what you’re saying, but the overwhelming consensus view from science is that the fossil record testifies to stasis, not change over time. Even folks like Gould, Hitchins and Dawkins as well, state this apparent truth. So they come up with a magic bullet they call punctuated evolutionary change to do the magicians work. You call this science? It is hogwash and has no evidence whatsoever. Wishful thinking.

        On what basis do we reject evolution? It’s called common sense. You don’t need a PhD to use it. You don’t have to follow a consensus that someone assures you is there, hoping you’ll buy off on its tempting escape from considering the possibility of intelligent design. You can use your powers of reasoning, which you, Bob, do all the time when you choose to blindly follow what the high priests of naturalism tell you to believe–instead of using your common sense.

        You’re a programmer who denies the necessity of a programmer to get complex code. Go figure.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          So you, being an intermediate between your parents and your children, are also an intermediate form?

          Yep, as best as I understand the issue.

          Or are you and they all humans?

          That’s also true.

          Obviously every generation is different, though not so much to make a new species. Any two generations are the same species. This makes the dividing line between a species and a new species that evolved from it pretty fuzzy.

          The amount of difference between you and your children extrapolated over time has been demonstrated to be insufficient to accomplish anything close to the heavy lifting required of evolution over even the billions of years in which it may (or may not) have operated. This is just silliness and hoping in spite of evidence there is no designer.

          Demonstrated? I’m not sure what you’re referring to. Are you saying that the scientific consensus is that evolution has failed? I haven’t seen that.

          the overwhelming consensus view from science is that the fossil record testifies to stasis, not change over time.

          And like a broken record, I ask: are you saying that biologists have rejected evolution? If they haven’t, by what reason could I possibly do so?!

          Even folks like Gould, Hitchins and Dawkins as well, state this apparent truth.

          And like a broken record, I ask: do/did these guys reject evolution? If not, why should I?

          On what basis do we reject evolution? It’s called common sense.

          … and now we’re getting silly. Sorry, you almost need to check your “common sense” at the door when you’re at the cutting edge of science. Those silly PhDs from those fancy ivory tower academies are all just putting on airs? They’re not good for anything? A biologist can no better weigh the evidence within biology than a smart guy with his head screwed on tight and the common sense that God gave him?

          And if common sense is the right tool to use, why waste your time with biologists? For breaches of common sense, that’s nothing–you need to go beat some sense into those quantum physicists with their “quantum entanglement” and “quantum tunneling” and their other insane notions.

          You don’t have to follow a consensus that someone assures you is there

          Give me the argument for rejecting the scientific consensus then. Or have you just done so? “My common sense trumps your fancy-pants PhD”–is that it?

        • Pam

          The only thing that can be said with certainty about ‘common sense’ is that it isn’t common, and rarely contains much sense.

        • Rick Townsend

          That sounds neat and tidy. It isn’t. It is simply an excuse not to use common sense. Ben Franklin would have disagreed with you, as would the writer of Proverbs, and great thinkers throughout history. Don’t trade good judgement for trite phrases, Pam.

        • Jason

          Rick,
          Appeals to common sense are made when people want to justify their ideas but don’t have any evidence other than, “Well, it seems obvious to me!” The only reasonable way to talk about common sense is to refer to shared cultural expectations (e.g. common sense tells me that a 20 story building probably has an elevator). But you can’t use common sense to solve scientific problems. In fact, that’s the whole point–if it were just a matter of common sense, we wouldn’t need grand experiments and scientific methods. We would just solve hard problems off the top of our head. So while you are accusing Pam of using trite phrases, you are forgetting that “common sense” is a perfect example of a meaningless phrase that only sounds good. When you appeal to common sense, you make yourself sound more persuasive but you don’t really add any substance. In fact, I have to say that your posts are quite sophisticated, rhetorically speaking. Unfortunately, the substance just isn’t there.

          And by the way, who cares what the author of Proverbs thinks?

        • Rick Townsend

          Stasis in the genome is a fact.

          Mutations observed in nature are universally destructive. Another fact.

          Fossils aren’t forming today except through rapid encasement, just like we see in the Grand Canyon. Another fact.

          What I see in your opposing arguments are these:

          “As far as I can tell…”

          “As far as I know…”

          “…there may be some serious details left to iron out, but that doesn’t undermine the basic framework.”

          “Please focus on the facts…”

          Did that. You didn’t. I think I’m done. No point saying again what I worked hard to carefully phrase.

          If you aren’t open to the possibility that the evidence leads to a reasonable conclusion, there is no point answering your “as far as you can guess” points above. Your masterful use of your own guess work is in contradiction to the facts we know. Doesn’t that give you just a bit of pause that just maybe there is a better explanation?

        • Jason

          Rick,
          Saying something is a fact doesn’t make it so.

          I say things like “As far as I know” to make clear that I am careful in my claims and do not pretend to know everything about the topic under discussion. In other words, I am open to new info so I try to be tentative in all my claims. Your rhetoric tries to accomplish the opposite. You try to make things seem obviously true when they’re not (e.g. you appeal to common sense and say stuff like “now that we know” about stuff we don’t know for sure) .

          So if you want me to accept your claims as facts, you have to explain, e.g., how stasis in the genome precludes evolution and cite relevant sources for that. Citing stuff like Eldredge and Gould on Darwin doesn’t support any of your claims about creationism.

          I gave you a hard time about the author of Proverbs because I detected in your comment an emphasis on famous personalities to solve problems. I think that this is a dangerous move because it suggests that we should just trust “smart” people, not solve problems through careful reasoning and scientific consensus. Atheists are also guilty of this (as I have debated recently with Bob, but of course he doesn’t agree) so I’m not accusing you alone on this point.

          By the way, I would love to hear more about your evidence for Noah’s flood. Do you really think that the evidence from the geological record on its own points to a worldwide flood or do you (like the Creation Museum) start with assumption that the Bible is right and then just look for supporting evidence?

  • Rick Townsend

    Simply put, Bob, most scientists don’t give a rat’s hiney about whether or not evolution happened. They care about what works and what is reproducible. That is where their research resides.

    As for what scientists publish, yes they give lip service to evolution. Then those who theorize in order to support the image of respectable science resort to punctuated equilibrium. Now that we know observed evolutionary change is decreasing-complexity oriented (parts mixed or removed, never new features or coding added) it is obvious to most PhDs in their moments of candor that it can’t work. That’s why Dawkins defines biology as “the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose… [But] he believes that appearances are deceiving. Biological things are designoid: ‘Designoid objects look designed, so much so that some people – probably, alas, most people – think that they are designed. These people are wrong. . . the true explanation – Darwinian natural selection – is very different.” But of course the mechanism to pull this off is very different, too, as in nonexistent.

    Other references:
    Eldredge and Gould proposed that the degree of gradualism commonly attributed to Charles Darwin is virtually nonexistent in the fossil record, and that stasis dominates the history of most fossil species. Yet they have no mechanism for the impossibly massive change at the DNA level that would be required for such punctuation.

    Dawkins, in the same article, now distances himself from the punctuated equilibrium because as a biologist, he sees the implicit problems. The article states, “Richard Dawkins believes that the apparent gaps represented in the fossil record document migratory events rather than evolutionary events. According to Dawkins, evolution certainly occurred but ‘probably gradually’ elsewhere.”

    The geological column is not a time capsule, because fossils don’t form that way. It is for more reasonable to conclude it is a mass burial site covering 75% of the earth’s crust with sedimentary rock (which it is actually the case) and is a record of cataclysmic, catastrophic flood and post flood settling.

    Unless you can find a mechanism for the new-ish magic bullet called punctuated equilibrium, you’re still grasping at straws as usual, hoping against hope that there is no God. I’d wish you luck, but that would be insincere.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Still dancing around the consensus question, I see. I’d still like to see your justification for how a layman like me can reject the consensus in a field that I’m not qualified to judge.

      As for what scientists publish, yes they give lip service to evolution.

      No one cares a whit about whether evolution happened or not, not even biologists? Yeah, whatever. Just humor me then—I’m stuck back in the archaic thinking that it actually matters what is true and that it’s important to believe as many true things and reject as many false things as possible.

      So tell me: do biologists accept evolution? Overwhelmingly?

      Then those who theorize in order to support the image of respectable science resort to punctuated equilibrium.

      I’m impressed. You feel comfortable weighing the work of tens of thousands of working biologists even though you don’t have a degree in that field. I can’t imagine what that must be like. Cool!

      it is obvious to most PhDs in their moments of candor that it can’t work.

      And yet we come back to the uncomfortable truth that evolution is still overwhelmingly the consensus among those whose opinions count (that is: excluding you and me). Makes me wonder about your claim that most biologists admit that it doesn’t work. Sounds like you’re mistaken. (Or are biologists just a bunch of liars?)

      But of course the mechanism to pull this off is very different, too, as in nonexistent.

      You mean evolution? Read up on it. I think you’ll find that biologists have good justification for their thinking.

      Eldredge and Gould proposed that the degree of gradualism commonly attributed to Charles Darwin is virtually nonexistent in the fossil record, and that stasis dominates the history of most fossil species.

      Who cares about Charles Darwin? That’s “history of science,” not biology, and irrelevant to our conversation.

      Yet they have no mechanism for the impossibly massive change at the DNA level that would be required for such punctuation.

      And yet they still accept evolution. And not reluctantly but happily. Weird—perhaps you’re ignoring part of the story.

      Dawkins, in the same article, now distances himself from the punctuated equilibrium

      So you’re saying that evolution still has unanswered questions? Or that not all biologists agree on all issues? Uh, OK. That’s not a surprise to most of us.

      is a record of cataclysmic, catastrophic flood and post flood settling.

      Oh, yeah—Noah’s flood is well supported by the evidence. Not.

      • Rick Townsend

        Who cares about Charles Darwin?

        If you bothered to read the quote, no one. The quote was in reference to Gould and Eldridge’s position in contradiction to Darwin. You just jumped on Darwin because his name came up. Nice spring-loaded response…

        I answered your other comments, you just disagree. I can live with that. You dodged and weaved rhetorically, but I don’t see you answered my points. You will get the last word because it is your blog and I have limited energy. Enjoy.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          You just jumped on Darwin because his name came up. Nice spring-loaded response…

          Since Darwin is completely irrelevant to the question at hand, Is evolution correct?, of course I’m going to dismiss any reference to how his thinking has been overturned.

          You dodged and weaved rhetorically

          I don’t think that acknowledging our limitations and noting that we have no leg to stand on when dismissing the scientific consensus, is rhetorical dodging and weaving. But if slinging that kind of mud is what helps you maintain the fiction that you’re following the facts where they lead, whatever.

          And, after several pleas, I note again that you didn’t tell me how a layman can logically reject the consensus in a field that he’s unqualified to critique. “Yeah, but it feels good to do so!” doesn’t do it for me.

    • Jason

      “As for what scientists publish, yes they give lip service to evolution. Then those who theorize in order to support the image of respectable science resort to punctuated equilibrium. Now that we know observed evolutionary change is decreasing-complexity oriented (parts mixed or removed, never new features or coding added) it is obvious to most PhDs in their moments of candor that it can’t work”

      This notion of “decreasing-complexity” is one that the Creation Museum pushes. As far as I know, it has no real scientific basis. It is logical speculation meant to usurp empirical evidence. Rick, I’m interested in your rhetoric. You seem to think you can disprove evolution by insisting that deep down those scientists whose research supports it don’t actually believe it themselves. Please focus on the facts, not what you think PhD’s are thinking. Also, you say stuff like, “Now that we know observed evolutionary changed is decreasing-complexity oriented..”, but the problem it that we don’t know that at all. So you’re making something sound like an obvious truth that isn’t. In fact, as far as I know, that idea of decreasing complexity is just a weak attempt to poke holes in scientific consensus.

      As far as I can tell, most of what you are talking about (including punctuated equilibrium, stasis in the fossil record, etc) are simply unresolved details related to the specifics of how evolution has actually played out. And yes, there may be some serious details left to iron out, but that doesn’t undermine the basic framework. Showing that there are uncertainties in evolution does not lead to the conclusion that there is a god and creationism is the way to go. It just means we have to keep revising our understanding of evolution.

      • Rick Townsend

        Jason,

        A good question. I started as an evolutionist, until I was challenged to look at facts and back up my beliefs. I’ve been looking for the body of evidence in support of evolution ever since and have come up essentially empty. As for the flood, one of the first books on the topic that I read was by Morris and Whitcomb. That was over 35 years ago, and it has been updated several times since, including a 50th anniversary re-release in 2011, so I believe it was originally published in 1961. Based on that, when I read it, it had already been out for 15 years or so.

        I find the evidence geologically compelling for a global flood. How else do you explain 75% of the Earth’s crust being covered with sedimentary rock, at an average depth of 10,000 feet? No regional event could have caused it.

        For Bob, do I use common sense as well as research to deduce this? Sure. So dismiss me as usual… But do it with evidence, not the waving of the alleged consensus. I’m not convinced by that slight of hand maneuver. I’ve answered your question on that before, and you disagree with my position. I know your standard answer if you want to save keystrokes.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          dismiss me as usual… But do it with evidence, not the waving of the alleged consensus.

          “Alleged”? You’re seriously doubting that the consensus within biology is that evolution is our best explanation?

          As for dismissing you with evidence, I can’t fathom what you’re suggesting. You’re suggesting that you and I argue this out?

          Why waste our time? Neither of us is qualified. Kind of a laughable cage match, don’t you think, having two laymen argue biology when there actually are real biologists who know what they’re talking about.

          It’s like our arguing about the next big goal for the Large Hadron Collider. I don’t know about you, but I’m unqualified. I think I’ll leave that to the experts. Flying, surgery, quantum physics, and evolution–we have experts in each field, and I see no reason to pretend that I can overrule what they say in their respective fields.

          I’m not convinced by that slight of hand maneuver.

          So when the drunk knocks on the cockpit door and says that he wants to give you some advice, you figure that, sure, this is a democracy, so it’s only fair that he have his say? Or do you use the sleight of hand maneuver that you’re actually an expert and he’s not and so his opinion doesn’t count?

  • http://pandasthumb.org RBH

    Rick wrote

    Stasis in the genome is a fact.

    False. Genomes change all the time, from generation to generation. Some of the change is random genetic drift (see here for an introduction), some is under selection (see here for a human example (pdf))

    Rick wrote

    Mutations observed in nature are universally destructive. Another fact.

    False. Many mutations are neutral, while some are beneficial. For an example of the latter, see here for a slew of examples.

    Rick wrote

    Fossils aren’t forming today except through rapid encasement, just like we see in the Grand Canyon. Another fact.

    See here for an introductory book on taphonomy, and here for an intro article at Rick’s elementary level of knowledge.

    Rick wrote

    Now that we know observed evolutionary change is decreasing-complexity oriented (parts mixed or removed, never new features or coding added) it is obvious to most PhDs in their moments of candor that it can’t work.

    Writing as a Ph.D. who doesn’t have problems with candor, I say that’s pure horseshit. How about an example of a new feature being added? See here. Or how about this one (pdf) that’s in the process of slowly spreading.

    As for “coding added,” there are several mechanisms by which “coding” is added to genomes, insertion mutations and horizontal gene transfer being prominent among them. The claim that “observed evolutionary change is decreasing-complexity oriented” is simply false. Whole-genome duplication is a not-uncommon event that doubles the complexity (on any available measure) of a genome, and it’s not uncommon. There is evidence for two whole-genome duplications in the lineage that eventually produced verebrates:

    … when we plotted the genomic map positions of only the subset of paralogous genes that were duplicated prior to the fish–tetrapod split, their global physical organization provides unmistakable evidence of two distinct genome duplication events early in vertebrate evolution indicated by clear patterns of four-way paralogous regions covering a large part of the human genome. Our results highlight the potential for these large-scale genomic events to have driven the evolutionary success of the vertebrate lineage.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      If information didn’t come from an organization with a Statement of Faith, I doubt that Rick is interested.

      • Rick Townsend

        How fair of you to judge my intents. Thanks. I might not have known otherwise. You, on the other hand, dismiss out of hand anyone with a statement of faith at odds with yours. Clear thinking about… Oh, never mind.

        • Rick Townsend

          Actually, I guess you’d rather only consider information which hides its statement of beliefs. I wonder why?

    • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

      I know that Examples of Beneficial Mutations and Natural Selection isn’t your site and that this comment is off-topic, but the design is atrocious. I am reminded of the 1990′s. Hideous.

      It was interesting though. Thank you for linking to it.

  • http://pandasthumb.org RBH

    Ugh. Didn’t close a URL tag. Sorry.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      fixed.

  • Rick

    To RBH,

    Thanks for your response. From your comments, it appears you are knowledgeable concerning genetics. You said you had a PhD and were willing to be candid. Perhaps you are also aware that dismissals of another person’s attempts at reasoned inputs with words like horses–t don’t really have a place in civil discourse. But I’ll choose not to reply in kind.

    I have no training in genetics nor a PhD. But I am at least a minimally competent researcher and am capable of reading the conclusions of those who hold these qualifications. So let me ask this:

    Is it your conclusion that the examples you gave me are cases of new information complexity, or are they instead either
    1) Selection for characteristics that are already present but now favored by the new environmental conditions in which the organism finds itself or
    2) A recombination of genetic capabilities already extant in the genome?

    I would value your assessment of this issue as I’m always trying to learn from those farther along the path.

    Rick

  • http://pandasthumb.org RBH

    Rick wrote

    I would value your assessment of this issue as I’m always trying to learn from those farther along the path.

    Let me preface my remarks with the observation that in 25 years of discussing and debating these sorts of issues with creationists of various kinds, both online and IRL, I’ve often encountered a sort of faux openness that masks an obdurate unwillingness to actually learn about evolution. So while I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and address your question, be aware that I’m wary of being sucked into yet another fruitless time sink.

    As to my qualifications, my knowledge of evolutionary topics ranges from well-informed layman to professional, depending on the specific topic. I have 50 working years of experience in several areas of science and technology. I have used evolutionary models extensively in applied contexts for a couple of decades and taught college-level evolutionary modeling.

    Rick asked

    Is it your conclusion that the examples you gave me are cases of new information complexity, or are they instead either
    1) Selection for characteristics that are already present but now favored by the new environmental conditions in which the organism finds itself or
    2) A recombination of genetic capabilities already extant in the genome?

    The phrase “new information complexity” is incoherent. Creationists, particularly intelligent design creationists, make much of such phrases, but have never offered operational definitions of the core terms–”information” and “complexity”–that allow us to actually measure the “information complexity” in biological systems that they refer to and that’s implicit in your question. William Dembski, for example, created something he calls complex specified information (CSI), but to the best of my knowledge neither he nor any other ID ‘theorist’ has ever offered an actual example of how to calculate CSI in any biological system. If you give me an operational definition of “information complexity” as you mean it, I’ll be happy to address it.

    There are, of course, operationally defined measures of information. Shannon information, for example, is a measure of information that is widely used in a variety of scientific contexts. See here for an introduction. Showing that the Shannon information of a genome can increase is trivial: insertion mutations, gene duplication, and whole-genome duplication all increase the Shannon information of an offspring organism’s genome relative to its parent organism’s genome, and all are known to occur in reproduction.

    As to “complexity,” again, ID ‘theorists’ are short on operational definitions. Unlike information theory, where Shannon information is a generally accepted scientific concept with a good operational definition, “complexity” does not have a generally accepted definition. Here is a list (pdf) of potential measures of complexity, and Here’s an informal short discussion from Cosma Shalizi, a complexity theorist, and is a more formal discussion in a doctoral dissertation on the evolution of complexity. As you will read, “complexity” is fraught with difficulties. So “information complexity” is an ill-defined concept.

    All that said, at an intuitive level, increases in the “information complexity” of a genome are easily achieved via evolutionary processes. Consider gene duplication. When a gene is duplicated during reproduction, the offspring organism has two genes that are copies of a single gene in the parent organism. As that offspring in turn reproduces, its offspring (and the offspring;s offspring through more generations) will also carry two copies of the original gene. Via selective pressure or genetic drift, the population can come to have some proportion of members carrying two copies of the original gene.

    Now, since there are two copies of the original gene, one copy can be changed by mutations while the other carries on the original function–that function is not lost. If the copy’s mutated/modified function is reproductively advantageous, that changed gene will be selected for and will come to be frequent in the population. If it’s selectively neutral, it can still spread through the population via genetic drift. All the while the original function is being performed, so the modified function is an addition. We now have two genes where there was previously one, and two functions where there was previously one. On any measure of “information complexity” I can imagine, that would represent an increase.

    Does that occur? Sure, lots. A PubMed search on “gene duplication” yields nearly 9,000 hits, while a Google Scholar search on ["gene duplication" and "divergent evolution"] yields over 2,200 hits. The latter, of course, is what I sketched above. A Google Scholar search on ["whole genome duplication" evolution] yields over 5,600 hits. Whole genome duplication, of course, is the limiting maximum case of gene duplication.

    So the notion that evolutionary mechanisms cannot increase “information complexity” is simply false: On any coherent definition of that phrase, standard evolutionary mechanisms can increase it, and my examples illustrate that.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      RBH:

      Thanks for a helpful survey. That’s a nice addition to the comments on this subject.

      in 25 years of discussing and debating these sorts of issues with creationists of various kinds, both online and IRL, I’ve often encountered a sort of faux openness that masks an obdurate unwillingness to actually learn about evolution.

      :) Sounds like our experience has been similar.

  • http://pandasthumb.org RBH

    In case it’s not clear, let me elaborate a bit on the need for an operational definition of “information complexity.” Rick asked what amounts to a quantitative question. He asked if “…the examples you gave me are cases of new information complexity…”.

    In other words, he asked if my examples illustrate the occurrence of some new property of a biological system. In order to answer, I have to know how to detect that property. And that requires specification of the detection (measurement) methodology. That specification is the operational definition that’s needed. Absent that specification, the question can’t be answered.
    There may also be an issue associated with what Rick means by “new,” but that’s for another comment.

  • http://pandasthumb.org RBH

    Bob — In this area I don’t think there’s anything new under the sun. :)

  • http://pandasthumb.org RBH

    Aw, man. I just noticed Rick’s ‘I-once-was-an-evolutionist-until-I-examined-the-evidence‘ comment above:

    I started as an evolutionist, until I was challenged to look at facts and back up my beliefs. I’ve been looking for the body of evidence in support of evolution ever since and have come up essentially empty. As for the flood, one of the first books on the topic that I read was by Morris and Whitcomb.

    I find the evidence geologically compelling for a global flood. How else do you explain 75% of the Earth’s crust being covered with sedimentary rock, at an average depth of 10,000 feet? No regional event could have caused it.

    There’s no hope, given Rick’s demonstrated ability to misrepresent, over-simplify, and/or ignore the work of thousands of geologists, not a few of them Christians.

    In the same comment Rick said

    I’ve been looking for the body of evidence in support of evolution ever since and have come up essentially empty.

    Sounds to me like Rick’s been looking for love evidence in all the wrong places.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      one of the first books on the topic that I read was by Morris and Whitcomb

      And neither of Mssrs. Morris or Whitcomb are geologists. You’d think that that would be a red flag for the objective researcher …

  • http://pandasthumb.org RBH

    Oops. Meant “love” to have a strikethrough. Someday I’ll learn all the tag variants. :)

    • Bob Seidensticker

      fixed

    • Rick Townsend

      Gosh, RBH, I didn’t check the site for a couple of days while trying to think through your response, and it seems there was an evolution of sorts. I went from a discussion with you to pigeon-holed by both you and Bob. Again, not a very encouraging way to discuss the merits of an issue.

      Here is the problem I’m having with the research you provided. As I look through the list of fungi and bacteria, it seems that the characteristics selected for involve ones that predominantly are already present in the genome. There don’t seem to be cases of wholly new capabilities but rather an assortment of reshuffling. In no case are the changes more than micro-evolutionary in nature, which no one disputes occur with some regularity as the genome is shaped by various inputs and mutations do occur.

      You seem dismissive of ID concepts, but if you have read Behe’s books, you are aware that what is required for significant evolutionary change. That requirement is for systems of complex interactive components, all of which require all the others to work, and none of which would be selected without the presence of all of the others. That concept necessitates the appearance of all of the characteristics simultaneously. And that in turn looks like design. And Behe is a microbiologist, writing within his field.

      In functioning organisms, we see complex systems of systems all composed of countless multiple components which have to work together. That in itself is something I can’t explain with random chance. And to start it all off, you have to have all the right building blocks in place, in a favorable environment, in a habitable zone, in a protected place in a universe, inside an actual physical universe that came from somewhere. Just too many functions to be accidental, from what I can tell. Why should I find your version compelling?

      You can dismiss my comments or not, but I really did start by believing in evolutionary naturalism. Doing the research objectively forced me to see that the evidence is not compelling that random chance could have brought about what we see however, let alone that it is the best explanation.

      I appreciate your willingness to dialogue and show me your best thinking on the subject in any case.

      Rick

      • Bob Seidensticker

        RHB will have a more thoughtful response, but a few thoughts from me:

        There don’t seem to be cases of wholly new capabilities but rather an assortment of reshuffling.

        You want to see a dog to evolve wings? I’m afraid that takes a rather long time. The only evidence of evolution happening in front of us is of a smaller sort.

        That requirement is for systems of complex interactive components, all of which require all the others to work, and none of which would be selected without the presence of all of the others. That concept necessitates the appearance of all of the characteristics simultaneously.

        I think biology has explained how scaffolding can work in this situation–think how an arch is built. Or how something is repurposed from an archaic use to a new, useful one.

        That in itself is something I can’t explain with random chance.

        (1) No one says that you need to. Selection isn’t random.

        (2) Have you asked those who claim that evolution explains these things why they’re so confident?

        Why should I find your version compelling?

        Let’s look at your version.

        “God did it” explains everything, it’s true. But in so doing, it explains nothing. It’s not falsifiable, so “God did it” becomes useless.

  • Hypatia’s Daughter

    How else do you explain 75% of the Earth’s crust being covered with sedimentary rock, at an average depth of 10,000 feet?

    The figure I have heard is an AVERAGE of 1/2 mile (2,600 feet) of sedimentary layers over the Earth. Whatever the figure, I suggest the best way to find the answer to that question is to ASK THE GEOLOGISTS where the layers came from.
    Even this layman knows that there are different layers in different locations. The White Cliffs of Dover have 350′ of almost pure chalk (with no intermingling of dirt or plant or animal debris); the Grand Canyon has over 6,000 ‘ of different sedimentary layers; the Canadian Shield has only a “thin layer” of sediment and is actually scoured down to the bedrock in many areas.
    It doesn’t take much “deep thought” to realize that this hardly reflects one Earth wide universal event. Different sedimentation events must be responsible for each of these regions having different sedimentary layers.

  • http://pandasthumb.org RBH

    Rick wrote

    Here is the problem I’m having with the research you provided. As I look through the list of fungi and bacteria, it seems that the characteristics selected for involve ones that predominantly are already present in the genome. There don’t seem to be cases of wholly new capabilities but rather an assortment of reshuffling.

    Evolution is descent with modification–the generation of new structures and processes by incrementally modifying old ones. In general, “wholly new capabilities” don’t emerge in a single leap–that’s the creationist claim, not evolution’s. New structures and processes often emerge through duplication and modification of old structures and processes, and those new structures and processes bear signs of their origins. That’s how we can trace the lines of descent via comparative anatomy, paleontology, and comparative genetics. Once in a great while a truly “new” structure or process might occur–recent research on the evolution of photosynthesis suggests an example.

    Perhaps Rick would give some examples of what he thinks are “wholly new capabilities” so we can examine them.

    Rick wrote

    You seem dismissive of ID concepts, but if you have read Behe’s books, you are aware that what is required for significant evolutionary change. That requirement is for systems of complex interactive components, all of which require all the others to work, and none of which would be selected without the presence of all of the others. That concept necessitates the appearance of all of the characteristics simultaneously. And that in turn looks like design. And Behe is a microbiologist, writing within his field.

    No, Behe is a biochemist, not a microbiologist. Judging from his books and papers, he knows very little about evolutionary mechanims. I’ve read both Darwin’s Black Box and The Edge of Evolution, and I know his argument well.

    In order to conclude that irreducibly complex structures “necessitate the appearance of all of the characteristics simultaneously,” Behe simply ignores several evolutionary routes to his “irreducibly complex” strctures and processes. To name four, he ignores exaptation (cooption) (first described by Darwin in 1859), scaffolding, incremental additions, and redundancy reduction as evolutionary routes to irrreducibly complex structures and processes. See here for an introductory overview, and consult the references in that article for more technical descriptions.

    Rick wrote

    Doing the research objectively forced me to see that the evidence is not compelling that random chance could have brought about what we see however, let alone that it is the best explanation.

    And again,

    In functioning organisms, we see complex systems of systems all composed of countless multiple components which have to work together. That in itself is something I can’t explain with random chance

    It’s clear from those remarks that while Rick may once have thought of himself as an “evolutionist,” he did so in ignorance of what contemporary evolutionary theory actually says. Evolution is not a process of random chance. Natural selection is the antithesis of random chance. Evolution by natural selection is the non-random survival and reproduction of variant organisms in a population, variants that are better adapted to the selective environment as compared with variants that are less well adapted. Differential reproductive success as a function of varying adaptation is the basic process, not random chance.

    Rick went on

    And to start it all off, you have to have all the right building blocks in place, in a favorable environment, in a habitable zone, in a protected place in a universe, inside an actual physical universe that came from somewhere. Just too many functions to be accidental, from what I can tell.

    That sentence goes far beyond biological evolution into the cosmological fine tuning argument. As a beginning, I’d suggest that Rick read and think hard about this by Douglas Adams:

    But our early man has a moment to reflect and he thinks to himself, ‘well, this is an interesting world that I find myself in’ and then he asks himself a very treacherous question, a question which is totally meaningless and fallacious, but only comes about because of the nature of the sort of person he is, the sort of person he has evolved into and the sort of person who has thrived because he thinks this particular way. Man the maker looks at his world and says ‘So who made this then?’ Who made this? – you can see why it’s a treacherous question. Early man thinks, ‘Well, because there’s only one sort of being I know about who makes things, whoever made all this must therefore be a much bigger, much more powerful and necessarily invisible, one of me and because I tend to be the strong one who does all the stuff, he’s probably male’. And so we have the idea of a god. Then, because when we make things we do it with the intention of doing something with them, early man asks himself , ‘If he made it, what did he make it for?’ Now the real trap springs, because early man is thinking, ‘This world fits me very well. Here are all these things that support me and feed me and look after me; yes, this world fits me nicely’ and he reaches the inescapable conclusion that whoever made it, made it for him.

    This is rather as if you imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in – an interesting hole I find myself in – fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise.

    Rick’s argument is that of the puddle.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Evolution is not a process of random chance.

      Rick and I have been discussing evolution vs. Creationism on and off for close to 20 years. He needed to be corrected on this point back then (to take just one point), and you’ve had to correct him on it now.

      Sorry, Rick, but I don’t think you much care where the facts point, despite your claims otherwise. Either you’re very forgetful or you simply don’t want to be corrected.

      RBH: This underscores your “in 25 years … I’ve often encountered a sort of faux openness that masks an obdurate unwillingness to actually learn about evolution.”

      • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

        This underscores your “in 25 years … I’ve often encountered a sort of faux openness that masks an obdurate unwillingness to actually learn about evolution.”

        I have only had 10 years experience in actively discussing apologetics of different varieties (though I read/knew many of the arguments 18 years ago). I’m inclined to agree, but I feel it important to point out that this is present on both sides. It is a bit more obvious among the religious individuals, but I think this is largely just confirmation bias and so we are all open to the error…

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Yes, we’re all vulnerable to confirmation bias. But for me to change my mind, I only have to deal with chagrin or embarrassment. None of us enjoy realizing that we’re wrong.

          But the challenge for many Christians is much more difficult. The Creationist is often a Creationist partly because he has to be to remain in his church community.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          But the challenge for many Christians is much more difficult. The Creationist is often a Creationist partly because he has to be to remain in his church community.

          And you could say the same about the atheist and his community.

          My general experience is that the Christian is mislead by people he trusts to believe false things about science, and the atheist is mislead by people he trusts to believe false things about religion. Just as I could go through the writings of Dobson and find beliefs which are contrafactual, I could go through God is not Great and point to a number of prejudices which are somewhere between outright false and plain idiotic. There was one case which was downright anti-Semitic: not terribly different from the myths that Jews are all greedy moneylenders (the man purports to be a journalist and yet makes these “mistakes”…).

          I have found fault with the arguments of D’Souza and Dawkins, Grayling and Wolpe, Harris and Craig. I have spoken to Christians about evolution and found them unwilling to listen, and I have spoken to atheists about Biblical interpretation and found that they were not even willing to contextualize the passages they disliked (in one case, the woman literally was unwilling to read the next verse of the book). In both cases, they have (inadvertently) proclaimed, “I do not understand this, therefore it is wrong.”

          We are all far too willing to condemn based on our own ignorance and inability. We are too ready to invest ourselves in these opinions, and we all run blindly down the dark alleyways of philosophy and science because of it.

        • Jason

          ” I have spoken to Christians about evolution and found them unwilling to listen, and I have spoken to atheists about Biblical interpretation and found that they were not even willing to contextualize the passages they disliked (in one case, the woman literally was unwilling to read the next verse of the book).”

          Ignatius, I agree with you %100 on this. I’m not a Christian or a theist of any kind, but I often find myself frustrated with Atheists who are unable to admit that they are also vulnerable to the same tunnel vision/short sightedness as their theist opponents. Just the other day Bob was unwilling to admit that it is dangerous to follow Atheist opinions even when they differ scientific consensus (even though Bob always points out the importance of consensus when talking to Christian). Bob, this time you wrote:

          “But the challenge for many Christians is much more difficult. The Creationist is often a Creationist partly because he has to be to remain in his church community.”

          This is funny because you don’t seem to realize that Atheists are also a part of communities now. After all, the community of Atheists on this blog is a perfect example. This seems to me a huge problem for the future of the Atheist movement. As communities and activists emerge, they are developing allegiances and associations worth defending (e.g. no self respecting Atheists would argue with Dawkins and admit that a Christian has a good point). Once one is a committed atheist activist, it becomes difficult to disagree with any point that seems to argue against God or Christianity. In other words, truth takes a back seat to rhetoric and apologetics. To be an honest atheist, you have to abandon all allegiances, even to other Atheists and traditional Atheist arguments.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          And you could say the same about the atheist and his community.

          With much less impact. A Mormon or fundamentalist Christian turning his back on his church often needs to restart his life. Since those churches often insist on their members being insular, the leaving penalty is large.

          Not so for the atheists that I know.

          the atheist is mislead by people he trusts to believe false things about religion.

          Religion? Or your religion?

          I would doubt that the things the atheist has been taught about Islam or Hinduism or Shintoism would raise an eyebrow for the Christian.

          There was one case which was downright anti-Semitic

          I don’t recall that in Hitchens. Can you point it out?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Jason:

          Just the other day Bob was unwilling to admit that it is dangerous to follow Atheist opinions even when they differ scientific consensus (even though Bob always points out the importance of consensus when talking to Christian).

          You’ve lost me. Yes, the layperson is obliged to follow the scientific consensus. Did I say something contrary to this?

          This is funny because you don’t seem to realize that Atheists are also a part of communities now.

          This is a repeat of my response to IT’s similar comment.

          Yeah, I get it. I have atheist Meetups that I’d presumably be uncomfortable going to if I became a Christian. And my immediate family are atheists. If that is all the Christian is facing, then, yes, there is symmetry.

          But for many Christians, of course, it’s not the same. Rich Lyons’ story (he does the Living After Faith podcast–quite good) is one example. After stepping down as a pastor of 20-some years because of his loss of faith, he lost (in a matter of minutes) his wife, his church-provided house, his job, his career, and his standing in the community. He’s wrestled with PTSD for years since (and is doing much better, BTW).

          That won’t be the experience of every fundamentalist Christian leaving the church, of course, but the Christian’s connection with his church community sure looks greater in most cases than the atheist’s connection with his atheist community.

          no self respecting Atheists would argue with Dawkins and admit that a Christian has a good point

          Wow. Get out and smell the coffee.

          You’ve heard of the herding cats problem? Don’t pretend that atheists are afraid to speak their mind. Atheists are famous for scolding each other for various errors.

      • Rick Townsend

        He needed to be corrected on this point back then (to take just one point), and you’ve had to correct him on it now.

        Gosh, Bob, sounds like you are the all-knowing parent and I am the mere child needing correcting here. It seems you are not open to any point of view other than your own, a conclusion backed up by the dripping arrogance and disdain in this comment. Kind of disappointing for someone claiming to adhere to “clear thinking about Christianity.”

        As for this particular point, if evolution does not make use of random, undirected mutations to select beneficial qualities, then the changes are not random, hence are designed. That would score one for my side, which you clearly don’t mean. I have corrected you on this numerous times. You can’t have anything but random, undirected change if evolution capitalizes on purely naturalistic causes without a designer. Then you need countless iterations of beneficial mutations in the correct order to result in complex processes we see in organisms for each of their subsystems. How you can persist in believing such nonsense is beyond me.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Gosh, Bob, sounds like you are the all-knowing parent and I am the mere child needing correcting here.

          Some people are open to correction, and some are not (they might be closed-minded to anything that upsets their religious views, for example). Most of us could probably all be a little more open minded, but in my experience with you, you have little interest in learning new things from me.

          It seems you are not open to any point of view other than your own

          Uh, if that’s been your experience, thanks for the data point. I try to put myself in front of facts from those who disagree with me as often as possible. I want to follow the facts, and if atheism is the wrong horse, then I’ll shoot it myself.

          … a conclusion backed up by the dripping arrogance and disdain in this comment.

          I think it’s just an observation, backed up with evidence. I could (in principle) go back through my email archives and find an old email where I said this very thing.

          You’re the only one who could find arrogance and disdain here.

          But here’s your chance to show your open mindedness. You could say, “Wait–evolution is not random? Wow … I’ve been saying that it is for 20 years now. My bad–I won’t be making that mistake again! OK, thanks for the info.”

          Or not.

          As for this particular point, if evolution does not make use of random, undirected mutations to select beneficial qualities, then the changes are not random, hence are designed. That would score one for my side, which you clearly don’t mean.

          (No, I guess not.)

          (1) Ri-i-i-ight–if they’re not random, they must be designed. That’s the only two options, right?

          (2) Can you at least admit that evolution’s use of natural selection makes it not random?

          I have corrected you on this numerous times. You can’t have anything but random, undirected change if evolution capitalizes on purely naturalistic causes without a designer.

          I think you’re simply being a case study for what RBH was talking about. You’ve been told what the experts think, you discard this, you revert to your original beliefs, and then you put the blame on the other person for being closed minded.

          Then you need countless iterations of beneficial mutations in the correct order to result in complex processes we see in organisms for each of their subsystems. How you can persist in believing such nonsense is beyond me.

          And when you explain your insights to the biologists, what do they say? Are they convinced?

          If not, why should I be?

        • Rick Townsend

          Can you at least admit that evolution’s use of natural selection makes it not random?

          You speak of evolution as if it had a mind of its own. Natural selection, IF a new quality were to be created from mutation, can be selected. Your challenge is to show how a random accidental mutation can generate anything but loss of information content. The list provided by RBH was not convincing. It was basically a list of examples of reshuffling the deck chairs on the titanic. At the end of the day, they were still deck chairs and still on the Titanic. The bacteria were bacteria, the fungi were fungi, but the population had a higher concentration of the characteristics suited to the changed environment. You have never answered this challenge in the 20 or so years we have been discussing it.

          As to why many “scientists” don’t care much about nor focus on the issue of evolution, here is what a PhD geneticist says:

          The concept of natural selection
          remains controversial in both
          the evolutionary and creationist
          communities. Classical evolutionists
          still cannot clearly define it as they
          continue to debate one another over a valid
          model and definition. Meanwhile, secular
          molecular biologists are content to leave the
          debate primarily in the hands of the classical
          biologists when the hard data needed to validate
          natural selection in one form or another
          ultimately lies at the molecular level. This is
          typical of the compartmentalized nature of
          modern academics where scientists focus on
          a single area of specialty research and assume
          that some other sector of biology will solve the
          serious problems of Darwinian evolution.

          (Dr. Jeffrey Tompkins, PhD in genetics from Clemson University) I’m sure you will find a reason to do ad hominem attack on him, but he is certainly qualified to make this observation.

          It is at the molecular level of DNA that the random changes happen that must generate characteristics in the organism that can then be selected for or against. This is random and undirected if evolution is truly naturalistic and not directed or designed.

          You don’t have to be an expert in a field to read what the experts in the field who are willing to be candid say about it. That is called research and assessment. Laymen can actually do it if they don’t check their brains at the door and blindly follow alleged consensus.

          You believe you are correct, and I have no doubt you are sincere. I don’t really appreciate that you don’t respect the other side for sincerely held and well researched opinions. Your condescension will drive away some who would like to participate in the discussion, but won’t do so forever in the face of persistent character assassination. I thought your desire was to foster discussion, but perhaps it is only to sound like you win every argument. Let me know if that is not the case.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Your challenge is to show how a random accidental mutation can generate anything but loss of information content. The list provided by RBH was not convincing.

          Sounds like this conversation is going nowhere. You’re free to reject whatever you want, for whatever reason you want. If you find the information unconvincing, then I guess you’re not going to be convinced.

          I still come back to the conviction of the people who actually understand this stuff, but I guess that’s just how I approach things.

          The bacteria were bacteria, the fungi were fungi, but the population had a higher concentration of the characteristics suited to the changed environment.

          Speciation isn’t enough? I have to show you a new phylum or kingdom evolving into existence before your eyes? If that’s your criteria, I can’t win.

          You have never answered this challenge in the 20 or so years we have been discussing it.

          Then I’ll respond as I’ve responded so many times before: the experts who actually understand this stuff (y’know–not like you and me) are convinced that evolution is the best explanation we have. I have no logical grounds to reject that thinking. Nor do you.

          here is what a PhD geneticist says

          Uh huh. So how is this game played–do I respond with a quote saying that evolution is fabulous and awesome and makes one sexier? And then you try to trump that with a more senior or more respected scientist or something?

          Hey, I know! Let’s just fall back on the consensus within the field of biology! I’ll accept that, whatever it is.

          This is random and undirected if evolution is truly naturalistic and not directed or designed.

          Yes, it’s random. Random mutation is step 1. Non-random natural selection is step 2.

          How many times does your mischaracterization of evolution as a random process have to be corrected? This is what I was talking about before. No, there’s no arrogance or disdain here, just a dumbfounded laying out of the facts. They speak for themselves.

          You don’t have to be an expert in a field to read what the experts in the field who are willing to be candid say about it. That is called research and assessment.

          Cool–do some research then. Don’t cherry pick just those quotes that put a smile on your face; take them all. Look at the entire field of biology and tell us candidly what it says about evolution.

          Laymen can actually do it if they don’t check their brains at the door and blindly follow alleged consensus.

          “Alleged” consensus? Just enjoy digging the hole deeper?

          After 60 back-and-forth emails ending 8/08, you grudging admitted that, yes, evolution is the consensus. (It’s not like it’s hard–everyone, including the Creationist organizations agree.) But, just like Ray Comfort, you forget what’s inconvenient and go back to your original, static set of facts and arguments.

          I point out this tendency of yours to refuse to be corrected and this, to you, is “dripping arrogance and disdain.” And yet, here again, you do the same thing.

          I’m sure you’ll have a rationalization about why you’re not wrong, again, but perhaps others will see things more clearly.

          you don’t respect the other side for sincerely held and well researched opinions

          Yes, sincerely held. No, not well-researched, because it’s not an objective search for the facts. That’s not how science works.

          A ministry with a long statement of faith (including, “The Creator of the universe is a triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”), like ICR, is not in an objective search for the facts. They have an agenda–the Christian beliefs come first, and they’re going to shoehorn whatever facts they read about to fit that preconception.

          And that’s why quotes from ICR, like the Jeffrey Tomkins one above, aren’t especially convincing.

          persistent character assassination

          Persistent? I haven’t noticed a single one. Show me.

          If your point is that I’ve been mean, well, I’ll grant you that that could be argued. I wouldn’t call that character assassination, however.

  • http://pandasthumb.org RBH

    Argh. Missed an italics close tag. “My kingdom for preview!” :)

    • Phil

      LOL.

      I myself have an egregious double comment on another thread (the second comment was an effort to fix the first comment). Plus it included a misused word.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Fixed.

      (And yes, a preview would be nice. My main suggestion to the Patheos support crew is that all blogs have the “Notify me of follow-up comments by email” check box. Few do besides mine, and I can’t imagine bothering to comment if I had to remember where I’d left my comments and manually go back to visit.)

      • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

        (And yes, a preview would be nice. My main suggestion to the Patheos support crew is that all blogs have the “Notify me of follow-up comments by email” check box. Few do besides mine, and I can’t imagine bothering to comment if I had to remember where I’d left my comments and manually go back to visit.)

        If their goal really is fostering discussion, then they really do need to include that “Notify” mark on all posts. After that, they either need a WYSIWYG interface (TinyMCE, for example) or a live preview option (my preference). Of course, if their goal is “annoy people with lack of options” they will need to move in an entirely different direction.

  • http://pandasthumb.org RBH

    Rick complained

    Gosh, RBH, I didn’t check the site for a couple of days while trying to think through your response, and it seems there was an evolution of sorts. I went from a discussion with you to pigeon-holed by both you and Bob. Again, not a very encouraging way to discuss the merits of an issue.

    What we did was look at the kinds of argument you say you accept about geology, and based on that and on the basis of our long experience of discussions with creationists (25 years in my case) we made an easily defensible inference about your mindset. That you were impressed by Whitcomb and Morris’ false claims and misrepresentations of geology in their re-writing of George McCready Price’s YEC pseudo-geology doesn’t bode well for your ability or willingness to actually try tounderstand what the science really says. The link is to the Wikipedia article on Price. For a more detailed description see Ron Number’s The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design, Expanded Edition (Amazon, Barnes&Noble).

    You can easily prove us wrong by demonstrating some genuine understanding of what the science actually says as opposed to what creationists claim it says, but again based on long experience, I have no great hope that’ll happen. Your misrepresentation of evolution as “random chance” is another line of evidence that supports our inference. Show that you understand that evolution by natural selection isn’t a random process and you can gain some credibility.

  • http://pandasthumb.org RBH

    Ignatius wrote

    I have only had 10 years experience in actively discussing apologetics of different varieties (though I read/knew many of the arguments 18 years ago). I’m inclined to agree, but I feel it important to point out that this is present on both sides.

    The cases aren’t at all parallel. For example, I’ve read everything from Whitcomb and Morris’s The Genesis Flood to McDowell and Stewart’s Reasons Skeptics Ought to Consider Christianity to Henry Morris’ Scientific Creationism to Gish’s Evolution? The Fossils Say No! to Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box to Dembski’s No Free Lunch, and I own many of those. My guess is that I’ve read more creationist and intelligent design literature than have most creationists.

    Do you, Ignatius, imagine that Rick (or most other creationists) have read as much of the literature of evolution? Have they read Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene or Blind Watchmaker or Climbing Mt. Improbable? How about Prothero’s What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters or Coyne’s Why Evolution is True? Have they read Shubin’s Your Inner Fish or Carroll’s The Making of the Fittest? Have they even bothered to read Darwin, all of whom’s writings are free on the Web? For the vast majority of creationists, including those like Rick who claims to have once been an “evolutionist,” the answer is No.

    • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

      My guess is that I’ve read more creationist and intelligent design literature than have most creationists.

      Then perhaps we might I count as kindred. I believe that have read far more atheist literature than have most atheists. I know I have done more study of the sciences than most non-scientists.

      Do you, Ignatius, imagine that Rick (or most other creationists) have read as much of the literature of evolution?

      Do you imagine that most atheists have? Do you imagine that most scientists have? I’ll wager not. Most people are content with their tenth-grade curriculum.

      For the vast majority of creationists, including those like Rick who claims to have once been an “evolutionist,” the answer is No.

      I would contend that the vast majority of any subgroup will fall far short of having read even 1/3 of that.

      Even if these mistakes are not dominant in the non-theist community, they are not insignificant. I find that the criticisms that, for example, Betrand Russell levies against Christians are woefully inadequate: he claims that we should be acting one way without actually verifying that the texts actually teach that (You can find the quotes, “Judas hanged himself” and “Go and do likewise” in the Bible, but unless you are willing to read the interim chapters you will get a very incorrect version of Christ’s teachings). The criticisms that Dawkins tries to levy against transubstantiation demonstrate either an unwillingness or inability to actually learn what the word, “substance” means when used in that context. As stated earlier, I have caught Christopher Hitchens in what I view as almost blatant anti-semitism.

      These are supposed to be some extraordinary heavy-hitters. They are supposed to represent the very best that the non-theist world has to offer against theism. And, by any fair account, they are intelligent people (Russell’s paradox should is awesome and while I have to say that I disagree with Dawkins overall, The God Delusion gave me a much better understanding of evolution than my high-school biology teacher ever managed), but they still manhandled some very basic, even rudimentary facts about religions. If the best of the best of the non-theists can make such primitive mistakes, then perhaps it might be a good idea to remove that log from the non-theists’ eyes before saying that this is the error of the creationist.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        IT:

        Do you imagine that most atheists have [read much literature about evolution]?

        They don’t have to. Evolution is the scientific consensus. It’s only reasonable for the layperson to accept the scientific consensus where it exists.

        If you’re outside the consensus, throwing stones, you have a tough burden to be well informed about both sides (particularly what you’re objecting to). There is no symmetrical responsibility for the layperson who accepts the consensus.

        [Atheist celebrities] still manhandled some very basic, even rudimentary facts about religions.

        We could examine specifics, though I don’t have much interest in doing this. Instead, let me note that a popular Christian response to Dawkins et al is to say, “I don’t think that! What kind of a confused view of Christianity do you have?! What a bonehead.”

        This would be an error on Dawkins part only if he’d said, “Every Christian believes X” or an equivalent. I suspect that in many cases, he said, “Some Christians believe X” or “the Bible says X.”

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          If you’re outside the consensus, throwing stones, you have a tough burden to be well informed about both sides (particularly what you’re objecting to). There is no symmetrical responsibility for the layperson who accepts the consensus.

          In which case, you are readily condemning Russell, Dawkins, and Hitchens for propagating errors. The Christian and Jewish consensus were diametrically opposed to them in all cases.

          Instead, let me note that a popular Christian response to Dawkins et al is to say, “I don’t think that! What kind of a confused view of Christianity do you have?! What a bonehead.”

          In the case of Russell, he was saying, “Most Christians do not sell everything and give it all to the poor.” He had more than sufficient opportunity to read up on how his literalist interpretation is not even followed within the Bible. Such a clear and immediate example implies that Russell was more interested in proving a point than he was in actually saying something true.

          Dawkins (and Harris, now that I think about it) directly betray a lack of understanding of transubstantiation before criticizing it. In both cases they confuse “substance” to refer to chemical instead of its philosophical meaning (as originally described by Aristotle). In this particular case I find the errors to be more prominent because the definition and explanation (and myriads of commentaries) of the phenomenon are readily available online for free.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          In which case, you are readily condemning Russell, Dawkins, and Hitchens for propagating errors. The Christian and Jewish consensus were diametrically opposed to them in all cases.

          ?! Reread what I wrote. I was talking about the scientific consensus.

          There is no religious consensus!

          how his literalist interpretation is not even followed within the Bible.

          Ouch! A rather damning statement about the early church.

          directly betray a lack of understanding of transubstantiation before criticizing it

          You might well be correct, but let’s be clear about what they’d have to say to be in error. You’re saying that no significant fraction of educated Christians would agree with their characterization of transubstantiation? That the majority of lay Christians in all significant denominations would agree with your point about the mischaracterization?

          What I’m getting at is that their disagreeing with your view or even your church’s view is not the point.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          ?! Reread what I wrote. I was talking about the scientific consensus.

          There is no religious consensus!

          There is a sufficient majority who believe the same thing in Catholicism, Christianity as a whole, and Judaism. Is that not consensus.

          Ouch! A rather damning statement about the early church.

          Because, you know, when Christ said that he was a gate, that meant he had to have hinges, when Christ said he was the way, that meant he had cobblestones, when he said that the apostles would be “fishers of men” he really meant that they would carry rods throughout the city and hurl hooks at people…

          You’re saying that no significant fraction of educated Christians would agree with their characterization of transubstantiation?

          I think that depends on how you mean “educated” and, for that matter, how you mean “Christian.” Do I believe a significant number of AOG math professors would be qualified to make judgements over the meaning of the word “transubstantiation?” No. Do I think that a person who paid attention in his catechism class but failed high school would be qualified? Possibly.

          That the majority of lay Christians in all significant denominations would agree with your point about the mischaracterization?

          “Significant” is loaded. But I will agree to this: of the people who attend Church weekly in the denominations where transubstantiation (or parallel variant: the Orthodox and Orientals have a different formulation) is taught, the overwhelming majority would agree with my interpretation (or Abp. Pell, if you’re looking at that debate). I will also agree that a sizable portion of the non-Catholic/Anglican/Orthodox scholars who will say that they have a good understanding of transubstantiation will probably agree that Dawkins is incorrect.

          On the other hand, if you are going with a standard of “what do the masses believe?” Well, I think that type of appeal no different from condemning the medieval Jew for sacrificing Christian babies to the devil. It is an argument based off of a popular and erroneous misconception.

          What I’m getting at is that their disagreeing with your view or even your church’s view is not the point.
          1. The Roman Catholic Church, and her official teachings, are not insignificant.
          2. If you are going to attack a codified, researchable belief, then it is incumbent upon you to actually attack it for how it is codified and defined. Dawkins failed at this. It is the equivalent of saying, “Republicans believe in anarchy because they believe in small government and the natural conclusion of small government is no government.” That is simply not true.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          There is a sufficient majority who believe the same thing in Catholicism, Christianity as a whole, and Judaism. Is that not consensus.

          Among scholars who believe in Catholicism, yes, there is a consensus that Catholicism is correct. And so on for other Christian sects and other religions.

          But that of course is little better than a tautology. Muslim theologians, given a serious course in Christian apologetics, would reject the claim that Christianity is true.

          We can conclude from this that “consensus” means something different within religion than it does within science. Consensus is discipline-wide within science; it’s only belief-wide within religion.

          when Christ said that he was a gate, that meant he had to have hinges

          Yeah, yeah. And when he said that you must give to the poor he was just using a metaphor. He didn’t mean that you actually had to, y’know, give to the poor.

          OK–you’re right.

          Do I think that a person who paid attention in his catechism class but failed high school would be qualified? Possibly.

          We agree, I’m sure, that we can find one Christian who agrees with Dawkins’ characterization of transubstantiation. That’s not what we’re talking about. I’m saying that your ire is misplaced if we can find a meaningful minority of educated Christians–either laypeople or scholars–who would agree with his understanding of the subject.

          I have no understanding of the various interpretations of transubstantiation across all Christian sects and how they compare with Dawkins’ characterization, so I’ll trust your comparison.

          On the other hand, if you are going with a standard of “what do the masses believe?” Well, I think that type of appeal no different from condemning the medieval Jew for sacrificing Christian babies to the devil.

          If Dawkins is criticizing Christians for having nutty beliefs and they actually have those beliefs, then I think your criticism evaporates.

          2. If you are going to attack a codified, researchable belief, then it is incumbent upon you to actually attack it for how it is codified and defined.

          When there is precisely one definition, then you’re right. Is that the case with transubstantiation?

    • Rick Townsend

      How in the world would you KNOW what I have read? I have read Dawkins, Gould, Hawking, Darwin, and others on your side, as well as the creationist authors you cite. So you are incorrect in your judgmental bias. I have come to different conclusions, which apparently makes me eligible for correction and derision. I thought this was discussion, but it is pretty much innuendo and condemnation.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Whatever. The ball’s in your court on the critique of the Creationist position.

  • http://pandasthumb.org RBH

    Jason wrote

    (e.g. no self respecting Atheists would argue with Dawkins and admit that a Christian has a good point)

    Since I’ve done both, I guess I’m not self respecting. Or perhaps Jason has over-generalized and stereotyped atheists.

    Ignatius wrote

    … while I have to say that I disagree with Dawkins overall, The God Delusion gave me a much better understanding of evolution than my high-school biology teacher ever managed), but they still manhandled some very basic, even rudimentary facts about religions.

    I’d actually like to hear a few specifics about, say, what Dawkins “manhandled” in The God Delusion, with some specific citations to the book so I can read them in context.

    • Jason

      “Since I’ve done both, I guess I’m not self respecting. Or perhaps Jason has over-generalized and stereotyped atheists.”

      I don’t want to stereotype anyone. The statement I made about “self respecting” is hyperbolic, but my point is simple. As atheists become more and more committed to the Atheist movement and the larger Atheist community, it is becoming increasingly more likely for them to fall prey the same dangers as Christians and other theists who fail to see “the facts” because of their devotion to a particular creed or community. Of course there are exceptions and this does not mean that Atheists are dishonest. It means they are human. This is a problem I believe I have witnessed with other Atheists and even in dealing with Bob. I too am susceptible to the same danger, but the difference is I’m willing to admit it right up front and center. All I’m asking is that Atheists admit they are capable of the same error of judgment and be willing to call their Atheist peers out when this happens. When I get the chance, I plan on posting a few specific examples in response to Bob.

      • http://pandasthumb.org RBH

        Jason, if you’re just suggesting that atheist groups are subject to the same kinds of vicissitudes and pathologies as other human organizations, I agree.

        • Jason

          Thank you, RBH. I know my point is obvious, and when pressed, Atheists would have to agree, but for some reason, it is really difficult to get them to admit that. Even the suggestion that an atheist can be responsible for the same short sightedness that theists experience causes other atheists to attack/defend first and then think critically second. This is natural. It’s what we do when we form alliances and begin to develop a sense of self-identity within that group. The only way to avoid it is to be aware of it and admit it, and since I sympathize with the Atheist movement and think it is an important voice in religious discussions today, I think it’s important to remind everyone that we are all capable of bias. That’s it.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Jason:

          I know my point is obvious, and when pressed, Atheists would have to agree, but for some reason, it is really difficult to get them to admit that.

          Yes, your point is obvious.

          However, I can’t see your point that atheists for some reason hide this weakness from themselves or that they refuse to be critical of anyone in their community. We must hang out with different atheists. That atheists have this problem to a greater degree than any other community is news to me.

        • Jason

          “That atheists have this problem to a greater degree than any other community is news to me.”

          Notice how Bob has just misrepresented my original claim so that he can have a stronger case. I never said that atheists have more biases. I simply said that they are susceptible to the same biases as members of other ideologically oriented groups (like Christians). Bob, your earlier claim explicitly stated that you thought only Christians were susceptible to these kinds of biases. I simply said Atheists are too and it’s really annoying that atheists are reluctant to admit it. Your protest confirmed my point. Now that you realize that you have to admit it, you have misrepresented my original claim to try to find some way to end up on top in this debate.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Jason:

          Notice how Bob has just misrepresented my original claim so that he can have a stronger case.

          Nope, not misrepresentation. Just a mistake. I make those sometimes.

          Perhaps that makes me stupid instead of evil.

          Bob, your earlier claim explicitly stated that you thought only Christians were susceptible to these kinds of biases.

          Sorry–I don’t remember that. Show me.

          I simply said Atheists are too and it’s really annoying that atheists are reluctant to admit it.

          And again I’m confused. Yes, atheists are subject to biases. Did I say otherwise?

          In my most recent post, I said, ” Hey, we all have biases. None of us enjoys being wrong, and each of us probably needs to rein in our lawyer thinking. That goes for me as well.” For what it’s worth.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Jason:

        As atheists become more and more committed to the Atheist movement and the larger Atheist community, it is becoming increasingly more likely for them to fall prey the same dangers as Christians and other theists who fail to see “the facts” because of their devotion to a particular creed or community.

        If your point is simply that everyone, atheists included, should be careful that they continue to follow the facts, including any new ones, then I agree. We all have egos; none of us enjoys saying, “I was wrong.”

        But this isn’t your point, it seems clear. You’re positing a symmetry–that atheist extremes are identical to Christian extremes. It’s not like this. The atheist-turned-Christian doesn’t have that residual fear of broasting in hell forever that the Christian-turned-atheist does (at least initially). And, as I’ve said, the insular community that churches push on their members means that the new Christian-turned-atheist is turning his back on a lot more than the typical atheist-turned-Christian.

        I too am susceptible to the same danger, but the difference is I’m willing to admit it right up front and center.

        But I won’t because I’ve never been wrong before? Or never admitted it to anyone, including myself?

        I don’t see the difference.

  • http://pandasthumb.org RBH

    I’ll add that it would help if the citations were to chapters (and maybe rough location within chapters), since I have the book on a Nook and it doesn’t reproduce the original pagination. Thanks.

    • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

      I’d actually like to hear a few specifics about, say, what Dawkins “manhandled” in The God Delusion, with some specific citations to the book so I can read them in context.

      Off the top of my head:
      On example of Dawkins saying his bit about transubstantiation in his dialogue with a Abp. Pell. This is the clearest form of manhandling. (For goodness sake, if you’re going to talk to a bishop, assume he will answer like a bishop)
      For TGD: The section on Aquinas’ proofs have three of them dismissed in about two sentences. First he says that they are all the same (not entirely true), then he says that no one believes them (definitely false). (I believe he also dismisses the idea of a “first causer” without substantial debate).
      He then (relatively close proximity) mis-portrays omnipotence and omniscience in the claim that they are mutually contradictory (basically, an equivocation)
      In the section “Why there most certainly is no God” he asserts that God cannot exist because God must be infinitely complex while for something to start the universe it must be incredibly simple. This is a false choice: simplicity and complexity are not mutually exclusive (and I think it easy enough to say that most theologians will agree that God is both infinitely complex and infinitely simple).

      For more, I would actually have to annotate the text itself.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        IT:

        and I think it easy enough to say that most theologians will agree that God is both infinitely complex and infinitely simple

        And I think it is enough to say that theologians’ views about physics and cosmology are irrelevant and off topic.

  • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

    With much less impact. A Mormon or fundamentalist Christian turning his back on his church often needs to restart his life. Since those churches often insist on their members being insular, the leaving penalty is large.

    Not so for the atheists that I know.

    Then I would suggest that you do not have the broadest perspective. It may not be as common to see atheists-turned-Christians shunned, but atheists are less common than Christians are. I, on the other hand, have seen people shunned for becoming theist. Heck, when I went from “Yea, I guess I believe in God but it doesn’t effect my life” to “I am a Catholic” I lost a couple of friends, and that is a much smaller leap. I knew one girl who gave up much more so that she could be baptized.

    Religion? Or your religion?

    I would doubt that the things the atheist has been taught about Islam or Hinduism or Shintoism would raise an eyebrow for the Christian.

    This might open me to criticism, but I can only point to what I know to be wrong and I do not know much. Personally, I would give myself decent marks on Judaism, high marks on Protestantism, and very high marks on Catholicism. I’ve read the Koran, the Dhamapada, the Bhagavad Gita and a little about Taoism, but I am generally not qualified to say when they are making incorrect statements about other religions. I will say that I am pretty sure that Russell’s turtle example does not come from Hinduism as a generalized religion, but that’s really the best I can say about non-Christians.

    Fortunately, the majority of their critiques seem to be against Christianity. This means that I can count myself reliable for a majority of their critiques.

    I don’t recall that in Hitchens. Can you point it out?

    Twice in God is not Great he references “having sex through a sheet” as something mandated by Orthodox Jewish practice. A written refutation of the claim is made here. While this article was penned after the book was released, the information in the article was clearly available well before he went to publish it. I refer to this as anti-semitic because that is how I understood it to be viewed by the Orthodox. (Unfortunately, I cannot present the article where I originally came across the condemnation of this belief)

    • Bob Seidensticker

      IT:

      I, on the other hand, have seen people shunned for becoming theist.

      I don’t doubt that this exists, and I can’t imagine that this surprises you, even given my recent comments.

      That this exists isn’t the point–I’m talking about how big a deal these changes are for the respective parties.

      Personally, I would give myself decent marks on …

      But not every atheist will be chatting with you.

      You were trying to draw a parallel: “the Christian is mislead by people he trusts to believe false things about science, and the atheist is mislead by people he trusts to believe false things about religion.” I don’t think atheist lies that wall off fellow atheists from the truth about religion are as big an issue as Christian lies that wall off fellow Christians from the truth about science.

      Twice in God is not Great he references “having sex through a sheet” as something mandated by Orthodox Jewish practice.

      This is “downright anti-Semitic”? I’m missing something.

      I have a copy of God is not great, and 10 minutes with the index didn’t lead me to this.

      If we just take your word for it, that this practice is never used now and never was, that this information is widely available, but that Hitchens got it wrong, OK, that’s one mark for Hitch in the Wrong column. We haven’t reached your claim of “a number of prejudices which are somewhere between outright false and plain idiotic.”

      • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

        This is “downright anti-Semitic”? I’m missing something.

        I would say so (and it is a shame I cannot find the original source, because it makes the case a bit stronger). I would also say that calling all priests “perverts and pedophiles” qualifies as anti-Catholic.

        I have a copy of God is not great, and 10 minutes with the index didn’t lead me to this.

        That… is not the best standard for measuring whether something is in a text. I have an epub version, on Calibre it is on location 115.8/593. I would imagine that applying a similar ratio to the pages in your book would help you find this quote:

        Orthodox Jews conduct congress by means of a hole in the sheet

        .

        OK, that’s one mark for Hitch in the Wrong column.

        When making an enumeration of crimes, you don’t falsely accuse.

        We haven’t reached your claim of “a number of prejudices which are somewhere between outright false and plain idiotic.”

        You’re right. That was the one which came to mind most immediately. His treatment of Pius XII was also clearly one-sided. Wikipedia’s account of the Rwandan genocide notes how most of the people and groups he accuses most harshly were not deserving of such damnation. His accusation of a rabbi infecting Jewish boys did not even have enough merit to come to trial, yet it is mentioned multiple times in the book.

        I am not saying that the book is wholly false, but if your standard is “conclusions must reflect all evidence, ” then he has clearly failed.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          I would also say that calling all priests “perverts and pedophiles” qualifies as anti-Catholic.

          I’d agree. But why do you bring this up? Just making conversation? Or did an icon of atheism actually say this?

          That… is not the best standard for measuring whether something is in a text.

          Granted, but since you’re the one who raised the accusation, I think that was a pretty generous donation of time for the benefit of your point.

          I would imagine that applying a similar ratio to the pages in your book would help you find this quote

          Got it–the middle of p. 54 in the Twelve hardback. Assuming that you’re right that this has never been a custom of Orthodox Jews, that’s an error.

          When making an enumeration of crimes, you don’t falsely accuse.

          In a perfect world. I guess Hitch wasn’t perfect.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          I’d agree. But why do you bring this up? Just making conversation? Or did an icon of atheism actually say this?

          I seem to recall that Dawkins actually alluded to something like this at one point, but the point is that “Orthodox Jews have sex through a sheet” is a parallel statement. If the priest comment is anti-Catholic, the Orthodox statement is anti-Jewish: thus the label.

          In a perfect world. I guess Hitch wasn’t perfect.

          No, he wasn’t. He was a great example of how the anti-religious side of the argument is likely (possibly just as likely) to use falsehoods (whether known or not) to further their cause.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          If the priest comment is anti-Catholic, the Orthodox statement is anti-Jewish: thus the label.

          It’s a slur to falsely say that everyone in a certain category are “perverts and pedophiles,” because those are bad things to be. Is having sex through a sheet bad? It’s odd, certainly, but I see no moral condemnation attached to it.

          That religion makes you do weird things (which I think was Hitchens’ point) is a separate matter.

          He was a great example of how the anti-religious side of the argument is likely (possibly just as likely) to use falsehoods (whether known or not) to further their cause.

          Again, I don’t see the parallel. I won’t be shedding any tears for the juggernaut of Christianity being savaged by atheism.

          And now, if you’ll excuse me, my favorite televangelist is on TV. I need to hear how to spend my money.

      • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

        That this exists isn’t the point–I’m talking about how big a deal these changes are for the respective parties.

        Among certain classes of atheists, conversion is anathema. Among certain classes of Christian, conversion is anathema. Your argument is that this is more prevalent in Christian circles than it is in non-Christian circles? If that is the case, then I will pit my own anecdotal evidence against yours and neither comes out as winner.

        You were trying to draw a parallel: “the Christian is mislead by people he trusts to believe false things about science, and the atheist is mislead by people he trusts to believe false things about religion.” I don’t think atheist lies that wall off fellow atheists from the truth about religion are as big an issue as Christian lies that wall off fellow Christians from the truth about science.

        I think that the atheist mistruths (and I did not say “lies”, I said “misleads”. I do not doubt that there is a good deal of sincerity in both parties) are just as likely to be contrafactual polemic. This means that the misled atheist is more likely to be opposed to all religious expression while the misled theist is more likely to be opposed to certain forms of scientific explanation. I have yet to see a theist opposed to, say, the teaching of chemistry. Dawkins himself has admitted to even be opposed to ethical monotheism as an idea and I have seen others follow suit.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          I will pit my own anecdotal evidence against yours and neither comes out as winner.

          It’s your call. How you can find a parallel to an insular Christian community like Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormonism or a rural evangelical or Pentecostal church and imagine any parallel within atheism is beyond me.

          I have yet to see a theist opposed to, say, the teaching of chemistry.

          Yes, they object to science in proportion to how it steps on their theological toes.

          Dawkins himself has admitted

          Claims to the contrary, Dawkins is not the atheist pope (though I’ll admit that when he was in Seattle a while back, I threw my panties on the stage …).

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          It’s your call. How you can find a parallel to an insular Christian community like Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormonism or a rural evangelical or Pentecostal church and imagine any parallel within atheism is beyond me.

          I think that those groups exclusivity has more to do with other sociological factors than religion alone. I think this is a people problem, not a creedal one.

          Claims to the contrary, Dawkins is not the atheist pope

          No, he isn’t, but he is one of the biggest proponents of “new atheism”, and that wasn’t the point even if he were. The point was that, in my experience, people who learn “anti-science” learn “anti-not-convenient-to-me-science”, people who learn “anti-religion” learn “anti-everything-about-religion”.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          I think that those groups exclusivity has more to do with other sociological factors than religion alone. I think this is a people problem, not a creedal one.

          Then we agree! This community insularity, where you can leave your church but in doing so you must leave everything, is almost inconceivable within the atheist community.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          Then we agree! This community insularity, where you can leave your church but in doing so you must leave everything, is almost inconceivable within the atheist community.

          Except we don’t. When I said that this a “I think this is a people problem, not a creedal one.” a better interpretation is that “it is possible that religion is a contributing factor, but it is not the sole and probably not the primary contributing factor.”

          Given the right circumstances, however, it is quite conceivable that a parallel community among atheists. I see little evidence to suggest otherwise. The only reason it hasn’t happened yet is that there have not been a sufficient number of atheists to study yet.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          it is possible that religion is a contributing factor, but it is not the sole and probably not the primary contributing factor.

          What is religion but a community of people? Call it a religion problem or a people problem–sounds like the same thing to me.

          Given the right circumstances, however, it is quite conceivable that a parallel community among atheists. I see little evidence to suggest otherwise. The only reason it hasn’t happened yet is that there have not been a sufficient number of atheists to study yet.

          You’ve got quite an imagination. In a fictional world, sure, we could imagine communities of atheists that are inwardly focused, where there are penalties for going outside the community, and where you can leave the community but must lose everything by doing so. I’ve seen no clues to point us in this direction.

          If your point is that this is possible, sure, but I don’t know what would be gained by speculating further about such a world.

  • http://pandasthumb.org RBH

    Hm. For Rick’s benefit, Here’s a science news story which describes new research (published just yesterday in fact) addressing the question of how genes innovate:

    The scientists set out to explore how new genes emerge, how they contribute to the survival of the evolving organism, and how, after a humble start, evolution then refines the function of new genes and hones the efficiency of the enzymes that they encode.

    And quoting one of the researchers:

    “New functional DNA does not appear out of thin air, but is built up gradually from a copy of an existing segment of functional DNA. By reconstructing a piece of prehistoric DNA that was copied several times during evolution, we were able to investigate in detail which changes occur in each of the copies and gradually lead to new functions.”

  • http://pandasthumb.org RBH

    Ignatius,

    I can’t speak to the debate you describe, not having seen it. However, you wrote

    In the section “Why there most certainly is no God” he asserts that God cannot exist because God must be infinitely complex while for something to start the universe it must be incredibly simple. This is a false choice: simplicity and complexity are not mutually exclusive (and I think it easy enough to say that most theologians will agree that God is both infinitely complex and infinitely simple).

    That last parenthetical statement sounds to me like a deepity of sorts.

    Doing a word search in my electronic version, I can find no instance in The God Delusion where Dawkins claimed that “God must be infinitely complex.” “Infinite” occurs just 14 times, none of them referring to the complexity of a putative god (or of the world/universe or biological structures).
    Dawkins argument is that the specific kind of god that he laid out as his target just must be more complex than the world/universe, the planning and creation of which the god is invoked to explain. Dawkins takes as his target religious belief systems in which

    The theist believes in a supernatural intelligence who, in addition to his main work of creating the universe in the first place, is still around to oversee the subsequent fate of his initial creation. In many theistic belief systems, the deity is intimately involved in human affairs. He answers prayers; forgives or punishes sins; intervenes in the world by performing miracles; frets about good and bad deeds; and knows when we do them (or even think about doing them). (p. 31, Nook edition. Italics original)

    Later he says the God Hypothesis means

    …there exists a superhuman, supernatural who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it including us. p. 41, italics original)

    A key word there is “deliberately.” The creator god intended the world/universe to be as it is: the god somehow envisioned it beforehand. While Dawkins does not expand on that much, I can. The god that is his target intended the created world/universe to take the form that it does. That requires that the god have some sort of ‘mental’ representation of that intended world/universe prior to its creation, and that god’s ‘mental’ representation has to be as complex as the world/universe will be. Along with that ‘mental’ representation of the intended world-to-be, the god must also have some sort of execution facility, some means of instantiating the intended world-to-be in matter and energy. That increases the complexity of the god, making it more complex than just the world/universe it supposedly created.

    You say

    … I think it easy enough to say that most theologians will agree that God is both infinitely complex and infinitely simple.

    I can only conclude that those theologians deal in nonsense. Profound-sounding, perhaps, but nonetheless sheer nonsense.

    And recall again that Dawkins is not addressing all conceivable sorts of gods; he is quite specific about the god he attacks: a personal god that purposefully created the word/universe, that has its eye on every sparrow, that hears every prayer and decides whether to answer each one or not (sometimes suspending natural laws to do so), and that judges every human. That is one complex entity! And it’s the god that many many Americans believe it. I live in a rural conservative county, and I know many of those people personally. Their god is not some namby-pamby ethereal sophisticated-theologist’s god; it’s a real down to earth, hands on, up close and personal god that they can talk to and who talks back to them inside their heads. Read When God Talks Back for a description of that large subculture.

    So I don’t think it’s been shown how Dawkins “manhandled” anything, at least not in the case Ignatius cited.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      I resp0nd to the “God is simple” argument here, using Dawkins’ comments as a starting point.

      • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

        I resp0nd to the “God is simple” argument here, using Dawkins’ comments as a starting point.

        My first thought upon reading that argument: would “nothingness” be simple? In that case, create nothing, or give us a blueprint.

        (And I don’t mean the “something from nothing” from Krauss: that is better expressed “something from vacuum”, which is entirely different).

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT: I don’t know why your challenge is difficult, except that we have no way to actually manufacture what you’re asking for. Is it hard to imagine?

          In this 12/5/12 debate (at 7:25) Krauss makes very clear that he’s not talking about empty space or vacuum energy, he’s truly talking about nothing. Nada. Zilch.

          “I’m talking about nothing: no particles, no radiation, no space, no time, and even no laws of physics.”

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          I don’t know why your challenge is difficult, except that we have no way to actually manufacture what you’re asking for. Is it hard to imagine?

          You said that we should be able to give a blueprint for God (or make Him). I said you should be able to give a blueprint for nothing. And if you think that nothing is easy to imagine, then I wonder of your definition of nothing.

          In this 12/5/12 debate (at 7:25) Krauss makes very clear that he’s not talking about empty space or vacuum energy, he’s truly talking about nothing. Nada. Zilch.

          “I’m talking about nothing: no particles, no radiation, no space, no time, and even no laws of physics.”

          thoughts:

          1. Thank you for pointing out that there is another IQ2 debate on religion.
          2. D’Souza, really? The man’s a parrot. Couldn’t they get someone whose opinions are more verbose?
          3. I have to watch this for context, but for a naturalist explanation of the universe there must have been something. We all have our “turtles all the way down”, it is simply what form of turtle we are talking about. In this case “nothing” is not a turtle.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          And if you think that nothing is easy to imagine, then I wonder of your definition of nothing.

          We seem to have blundered off the trail, and I don’t know why we’re talking about this anymore.

          Nothing seems pretty easy for me to imagine. How God would be put together is impossible for me to imagine.

          2. D’Souza, really? The man’s a parrot.

          :)

          I don’t have much to say about Krauss’s claim about how nothing could create the universe. You’ll have to read his stuff.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          2. D’Souza, really? The man’s a parrot.

          :)

          If you think I’m annoying debating you, you’ve seen nothing. When it comes to the fundagelicals, I really go for the throat.

          I actually think that the new atheists, on the whole, do better at debating and articulating their points than people like Craig and D’Souza. (This isn’t to say that I don’t agree with the principles of those two gentlemen (and even some of the points made by them). I just think they are terrible at expressing the perspective of an intelligent theist.)

          I don’t have much to say about Krauss’s claim about how nothing could create the universe. You’ll have to read his stuff.

          … I have so much to read… so much… (Reading Aquinas, then Dennett?, then something on economics hopefully (it’s more than Austria vs. Keynes). Maybe I can swap Dennett and Krauss???)

    • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

      Dawkins claimed that “God must be infinitely complex.” “Infinite” occurs just 14 times, none of them referring to the complexity of a putative god (or of the world/universe or biological structures).

      OK, I will stipulate that his word might not have been “infinite” but that is not the point. The point is that complexity and simplicity are not mutually exclusive.

      That last parenthetical statement sounds to me like a deepity of sorts.

      No more so than, say, a hypostatic union.

      I can only conclude that those theologians deal in nonsense. Profound-sounding, perhaps, but nonetheless sheer nonsense.

      OR you could actually take the time to research their opinions. I thought you counted yourself well read.

      Their god is not some namby-pamby ethereal sophisticated-theologist’s god; it’s a real down to earth, hands on, up close and personal god that they can talk to and who talks back to them inside their heads.

      That seems a bit off. How many of those people will actually give him a second glance? And if he is only taking on those ill-equipped to answer him (even if they are right), how does that make him better than a school-yard bully picking on kids not strong enough to defend themselves?

      Read When God Talks Back for a description of that large subculture.

      Having been an Evangelical, I highly doubt that this would benefit me much, but I will try to get around to it at some point.

      So I don’t think it’s been shown how Dawkins “manhandled” anything, at least not in the case Ignatius cited.

      Even assuming that your argument doesn’t basically boil down to “I don’ like the word you’re using,” you have addressed one case of four. The biggest of which was his comment on transubstantiation, made to a bishop.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        IT:

        The point is that complexity and simplicity are not mutually exclusive.

        Something is either complex from a particular objective perspective or it’s not. How can it be both? “Most theologians will agree that God is both infinitely complex and infinitely simple” is meaningless.

        The biggest of which was his comment on transubstantiation, made to a bishop.

        I’m speaking out of turn, but I’ll respond to this. I have no information about this specific case and so can’t comment. If it were the case that Dawkins said, “You believe in X” to this bishop, and that statement was false, let’s say that, like Hitchens, Dawkins makes mistakes. Your point seemed to be something different, that Dawkins’ error rate is far higher than reasonable (or something).

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          Something is either complex from a particular objective perspective or it’s not. How can it be both?

          You’re talking to someone who believes that someone could be both fully man and fully God. That as a given, simplicity and complexity are not terribly difficult simultaneities.

          Your point seemed to be something different, that Dawkins’ error rate is far higher than reasonable (or something).

          Finding my original point is no more difficult than finding my first statement. In that I said that I agree with I’ve often encountered a sort of faux openness that masks an obdurate unwillingness to actually learn about evolution., but atheists are often as guilty when it comes to learning about religion.

          let’s say that, like Hitchens, Dawkins makes mistakes.

          But if someone is going to lambast someone for a belief, then wouldn’t you agree that it is incumbent upon that individual to at least make sure that they are expressing the belief correctly? That’s what we’re basically talking about here, right? A tendency (on both sides) to erect straw men and then pretend that they are being fair-handed when they give these caricatures similar clothes to the ones our opponents wear?

          If they are allowed to condemn based on their misunderstanding, then why won’t you let Curt Cameron and his wacky pastor do the same?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          You’re talking to someone who believes that someone could be both fully man and fully God.

          Is that hard? Imagine God simply being in another dimension or space that ordinary humans don’t have access to, then imagine someone who crosses that boundary.

          That as a given, simplicity and complexity are not terribly difficult simultaneities.

          I’m afraid you haven’t convinced me.

          Finding my original point is no more difficult than finding my first statement.

          So then you’re not saying that Dawkins’ error rate is far higher than reasonable. I’d agree. I’m sure there are errors that even you haven’t spotted. They’re embarrassing, and it’s a test of character to see if the source ever admits any, but as an author myself I’ll say that we all make ‘em.

          wouldn’t you agree that it is incumbent upon that individual to at least make sure that they are expressing the belief correctly?

          Sure.

          If they are allowed to condemn based on their misunderstanding, then why won’t you let Curt Cameron and his wacky pastor do the same?

          Seriously? You’re lumping Prof. Richard Dawkins with nutjob Ray Comfort?

          We could have a long and pointless discussion enumerating the differences, but the ones that are relevant to me: Dawkins has credentials in biology, so that when he speaks about biology, it’s a fair assumption that he knows what he’s talking about. Comfort has no such credentials, but that doesn’t stop him from bloviating about evolution.

          Second, Comfort has been corrected on his many, many stupid anti-evolution statements, and (with the exception of the banana thing) I’ve never seen an instance of him stopping his use of those statements. They work for him, and his audience seems to want a pat on the head, not knowledge.

  • http://pandasthumb.org RBH

    Just a brief note: I haven’t abandoned this thread, but won’t be able to comment until tomorrow (Friday) sometime. Real life is pressing hard today and tonight.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Just a metacomment: I’d like Rick T. to wrap up the loose ends still hanging. I think that RBH has knocked the ball back in his court, and I’m still waiting for his justification for how a layman could possibly reject the consensus in a field in which he’s not an expert.

      • Rick Townsend

        Bob,

        As to your metacomment, there are so many loose ends that I can’t keep up and have no intention of attempting to do so. As I expected, you dismissed the quote I provided by a practicing geneticist explaining exactly what I have been saying because he represents an organization which has a position. I could similarly dismiss everything you say because you have a book out that you want to sell and it has an agenda.

        So how is this game played–do I respond with a quote saying that evolution is fabulous and awesome and makes one sexier? And then you try to trump that with a more senior or more respected scientist or something?

        No, according to you, it is OK to completely ignore the point the expert actually made and go on to your old tired arguments that haven’t persuaded me in the past. Don’t bother to address his quote.

        As for how a layman can reject consensus, that is what the quote dealt with. The quote spelled out how scientists are so specialized and compartmentalized that they assume the other disciplines contain evidence which will rescue the metanarrative, which is not often the case.

        But I don’t intend to make further efforts other than that short summary. You haven’t accepted that someone can survey the assessments of others and conclude anything other than your own atheist view, so I don’t intend to do so again. But you just go ahead—you as a layman proclaiming which side is correct. No one else with a different view may do so, however, according to the participants in this blog. Enjoy.

        I try this every so often, but again, at this point, I think I’m done for a while. Certainly on this particular thread. Maybe the whole blog.

        Rick

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Rick:

          As I expected, you dismissed the quote I provided by a practicing geneticist explaining exactly what I have been saying because he represents an organization which has a position.

          By “organization which has a position,” are you referring to the statement of faith of the Institute for Creation Research? The statement that says, “The phenomenon of biological life did not develop by natural processes from inanimate systems but was specially and supernaturally created by the Creator”? And, “The Bible, consisting of the thirty-nine canonical books of the Old Testament and the twenty-seven canonical books of the New Testament, is the divinely-inspired revelation of the Creator to man”?

          Ouch! The ICR clearly has a position. But that doesn’t prove that what they say is wrong. I’m happy to have them participate in the scientific process.

          I don’t dismiss what your reference said, but your citing him is simply an appeal to authority. I’ll raise you a scientific consensus. I win.

          As for how a layman can reject consensus, that is what the quote dealt with.

          An interesting perspective, but (yet again) how am I to evaluate it? Maybe the guy’s got a point, or maybe he’s a Velikovsky or flat earther or Roswell nut who rails about “establishment science” that’s biased against him. I’ll let science sort it out.

          Science delivers the goods. I’ll stick with it for the foreseeable future.

          But to my point, you’re saying that for laymen to reject the consensus, they sift through scientists in that field to find one who says what they’d like to hear, then celebrate that person as a fresh voice speaking the truth against the calcified establishment. Do I have it right?

          But I don’t intend to make further efforts other than that short summary.

          It’s your call, but this surprises me. You’re frequently frustrated by my claims of ignorance. “Stand up on your own two feet, man!” you seem to say, but I fall back on the consensus and refuse to engage. But in RBH you have someone with both the expertise and the huevos to get in the ring with you. You’re going to let that go? You’ve got an expert who can critique your statements in a way that I can’t, someone who can help you drop your flawed arguments and sharpen your good ones, and you’re just going to walk away from that?

          Excuse my bluntness, but it looks like you have no response to these scientific challenges.

        • Rick Townsend

          Your bluntness is excused. Your (and RBH’s) failure to address the legitimate points of Dr. Tompkins is not. This was not an appeal to authority. It was a reasonable point made by a reasonable scientist in the field, which is a characteristic you value only if the point made agrees with your position. This is blatant bias and close-mindedness and you would call me on it. I have rejected your appeal to authority on the consensus claim on what seem like reasonable grounds to me. You disagree. Enough is enough.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Your (and RBH’s) failure to address the legitimate points of Dr. Tompkins is not.

          I’m not a biologist. Given that, what kind of response would you like from me?

          This was not an appeal to authority.

          Given that you want to sweep aside the many responses to your points made in these comments and focus on just this one says otherwise.

          Wikipedia on Argument from Authority: “Fallacious arguments from authority often are the result of failing to meet at least one of the required two conditions (legitimate expertise and expert consensus) …”

          It was a reasonable point made by a reasonable scientist in the field, which is a characteristic you value only if the point made agrees with your position.

          How many times must we go over this? My position isn’t the issue; it’s the scientific consensus. When my position and the scientific consensus conflict, which one invariably yields?

          And why bother with a pantywaist like me? You need to hit the ball back in RBH’s court.

  • http://pandasthumb.org RBH

    Ignatius wrote

    … (and I think it easy enough to say that most theologians will agree that God is both infinitely complex and infinitely simple).

    That was repeated in different words:

    OK, I will stipulate that his word might not have been “infinite” but that is not the point. The point is that complexity and simplicity are not mutually exclusive.

    I’ve thought about that claim a bit, and I cannot imagine how it can be interpreted to make sense. I can understand a conjecture that says ‘God is simple in some aspects and complex in other aspects,’ and that implies that god is net complex (simple aspects + complex aspects = complex whole god). But to claim that a god is simultaneously complex and simple makes no semantic sense; “simple” and “complex” are antonyms). To claim that “God is both infinitely complex and infinitely simple” is to generate a semantically null string of words, like Chomsky’s ‘Colorless green ideas sleeping furiously’–a grammatical string that is semantically self-contradictory. So I regard it as a non-argument; mere verbal noise invented to avoid a fatal defect in the concept of God.

  • http://pandasthumb.org RBH

    Woops. Chomsky’s sentence was “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.” Not “sleeping.” It was, as the link says,

    … a sentence composed by Noam Chomsky in his 1957 Syntactic Structures as an example of a sentence that is grammatically correct (logical form) but semantically nonsensical.

    Like “God is both infinitely complex and infinitely simple.”

    • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

      “simple” and “complex” are antonyms… So I regard it as a non-argument; mere verbal noise invented to avoid a fatal defect in the concept of God.

      That may be true, but, as I said earlier, Christianity is a religion which is not without paradox. “Fully human and fully divine” describes two complete and mutually exclusive states. “Three persons, one God” is arguably a parallel difficulty.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        I said earlier, Christianity is a religion which is not without paradox.

        OK, but “… so therefore I get to make meaningless statements” doesn’t follow.

        To me, the paradox brings into question the religion.

        “Fully human and fully divine” describes two complete and mutually exclusive states. “Three persons, one God” is arguably a parallel difficulty.

        I disagree. As I’ve mentioned before, human + divine doesn’t sound that hard to imagine, if we’re going to invent our own fantasy world.

        Imagine Flatland, a 2D sheet in 3-space. The people in Flatland are running around, going about their business, when you put your finger through their space. It would appear that a circle just appeared out of nowhere. You’re both a circle in Flatland and good ol’ IT in 3-space.

        And it’s not too hard to imagine something analogous with Jesus.

        The Trinity, on the other hand–that’s truly incomprehensible.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          Imagine Flatland, a 2D sheet in 3-space.

          I have to admit that I had thought to use a poly-dimensional model to represent it, but I think that a seasoned theologian might point out that you that you’re limiting both the human and divine parts of him by creating another dimension beyond both.

          The Trinity, on the other hand–that’s truly incomprehensible.

          Well, Augustine wrote 15 books on the matter and then explained how it was impossible to understand.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          a seasoned theologian might point out that you that you’re limiting both the human and divine parts of him by creating another dimension beyond both.

          You’re 100% 2D and 100% 3D. Jesus is 100% man and 100% god.

          I don’t see why it’s not a good analogy.

          then explained how it was impossible to understand.

          Then I guess you, I, and Augustine agree.

  • Rick Townsend

    Bob,

    No more reply boxes for the post. Reference:

    And why bother with a pantywaist like me? You need to hit the ball back in RBH’s court.

    I did. As I explained, and you and he have ignored, the quote I provided did not deal with minute details of genetics which neither you, I nor likely RBH would be qualified to debate. It dealt with why different disciplines hope against hope that they can throw their problems into other specialties hoping they will solve the real problems. They don’t. And the problems remain. And you keep dodging.

    As for your appeal to authority, you don’t even bother to do so legitimately, instead relying on quotes of those who rely on the presumed consensus, which I have dealt with before. You just don’t like that I don’t swallow your agenda and rely on experts who know how the insiders dodge as well.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      the quote I provided did not deal with minute details of genetics which neither you, I nor likely RBH would be qualified to debate.

      OK, let’s go there. Since I have no rebuttal, I’ll fall back on the consensus.

      It dealt with why different disciplines hope against hope that they can throw their problems into other specialties hoping they will solve the real problems.

      Yes, that’s one interpretation, but it might be biased–I’ll go ask the consensus.

      your appeal to authority

      Sorry, I missed that. Point it out.

      And your appeal to Dr. Tompkins puzzles me. You’ve emphasized that he’s a geneticist, not just a layman. His expertise must be important, and I agree. Given that you value expertise, why not go to the consensus of those with this expertise? I’m sure you don’t want to delude yourself by what you wish were true but are actually looking for science’s best approximation of the truth. What’s better than the consensus to avoid that risk?

      relying on quotes of those who rely on the presumed consensus

      The consensus of biologists on evolution is simply the results of a poll. Deciding whether string theory is accurate or not is hard; conducting a simple poll is not. You tell me: what is this consensus and how do we know?

      And I’d like your correction, if any, to my summary (above) of your method that a layman goes through in evaluating the scientific consensus. For convenience, here it is: for laymen to reject the consensus, they sift through scientists in that field to find one who says what they’d like to hear, then celebrate that person as a fresh voice speaking the truth against the calcified establishment.

      You just don’t like that I don’t swallow your agenda and rely on experts who know how the insiders dodge as well.

      Yes, it could all be that I’m just closed minded, unlike you. That I am bound by an agenda and can’t bear the consequences of an about-face, unlike you. But this isn’t the inevitable conclusion from my disagreeing with you; maybe I’m the one who’s respecting the science here.

      This reminds me of what RBH said as he began his discussion with you 9 days ago:

      [RBH says:] in 25 years of discussing and debating these sorts of issues with creationists of various kinds, both online and IRL, I’ve often encountered a sort of faux openness that masks an obdurate unwillingness to actually learn about evolution.

      I think observers to this conversation will find that his wariness was well founded.

      • Rick Townsend

        Bob,

        And your appeal to Dr. Tompkins puzzles me. You’ve emphasized that he’s a geneticist, not just a layman. His expertise must be important, and I agree. Given that you value expertise, why not go to the consensus of those with this expertise?

        The quote provided was a general one about how specialties rely on other disciplines to handle their problems. Let me repeat his concern since you missed it over and over.

        This is typical of the compartmentalized nature of modern academics where scientists focus on a single area of specialty research and assume that some other sector of biology will solve the serious problems of Darwinian evolution.

        The question is what the consensus is concerning this issue of compartmentalization. It seems reasonable to me that he is correct. I don’t know how to validate that it is a consensus view. But it seems reasonable that it is, since I’ve not seen it debunked in the research I have tried to do on that subject. This is what you keep failing to even address.

        Yes, it could all be that I’m just closed minded, unlike you. That I am bound by an agenda and can’t bear the consequences of an about-face, unlike you. But this isn’t the inevitable conclusion from my disagreeing with you; maybe I’m the one who’s respecting the science here.

        You and I both have probably drawn our respective conclusions. From my perspective, yours is based on a faulty set of assumptions and wishful thinking that the most worshipful realm of the scientific consensus will solve every open question in time, though they have not done so. Seems to me the most frequently used phrases to lead off many science articles I read in the newspaper are things like, “This changes everything we thought we knew about [insert discipline],” and “The more we discover, the more we realize we don’t know.” This ought to cause us some reason to at least pause and reflect rather than knee-jerk to what we think is the consensus.

        I think observers to this conversation will find that [RBH's] wariness was well founded.

        Indeed. Do you think this is a one-sided observation, when you continue to dodge the real questions and rely instead on sound bite summaries of your side’s list of complaints? No one is claiming that Christians have answered every issue satisfactorily to any of us. But you tend to raise issues on which there are book length treatises, and do an admirable job of summarizing the atheist position, but only the atheist position. You are a formidable intellect, but you direct that power toward reinforcing a failed world view that has significantly less power than you presume and which you assert. You don’t have any answers to many of the really tough issues yet you get on your soapbox with your trite summaries and feel smug.

        If I didn’t care about you, I would have given up long ago. Don’t confuse your ability to string words together in a relatively cohesive manner after someone else makes a point with an actual reasonable answer to the issue. I will grant that you are quite good at that, and that answering you is difficult not because of your brilliance (which I have already stipulated), but because these are tough issues which you summarize and toss out as if that is all there is to them. And you move on to the next issue or several while this discussion thread is still going on. This presents the illusion that you have closed the book on a topic you write on and can move to the next. Changing the subject is not conducive to finishing a thoughtful conversation. I can’t keep up with all of your nonsensical arguments, having a full time job and so on.

        You do a disservice to the depth of the issues when you dodge issues, change the subject and move on. You still have no real answer for increasing complexity, origin of matter, origin of the nature of the very laws of physics, creation of atomic particles and their bonds, order in the universe, along with many other issues. Your summary dismissal of the standard laws of historicity is one I don’t have energy to bring into the discussion but one on which you are distressingly off base. You do have sound bites that sound compelling on first glance. And that is what is most dangerous about your line of thinking. It sounds good but is ultimately more shallow than the issues you desire to address truly deserve.

        Burying this commentary at the end of over a hundred comments is probably a waste of time, as is continuing the discussion in what is clearly not an environment conducive to clear thinking about Christianity. Hence my discouragement with the effort and its evident lack of value.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Let me repeat his concern since you missed it over and over.

          And let me repeat my response since you miss it over and over. He raises a question that I’m not capable of resolving. The scientific community has dealt with challenges like this before. I have no better option than to let them do it now.

          It seems reasonable to me that he is correct.

          And how did you conclude that? You have a thorough understanding of the scientific community to have seen this first hand? You know that this isn’t just the normal kinds of problems that any human-driven institution will have but that we’re well into the abnormal range?

          The deep knowledge that must be behind such a conclusion surprises me.

          the most worshipful realm of the scientific consensus will solve every open question in time, though they have not done so.

          Who says this? Certainly not me.

          As for my relationship with the scientific consensus, show me something better. You can start by evaluating my best-guess paraphrase of your position.

          “This changes everything we thought we knew about [insert discipline],”

          (1) Science marches on, and (2) the media like to inflate the story. I’m sure you’re quite familiar with this.

          rather than knee-jerk to what we think is the consensus.

          No need to knee-jerk about the consensus. We can simply do a poll.

          you continue to dodge the real questions

          By “dodge,” do you mean “refuse to answer questions about biology”? Yes, indeedy, that’s precisely what I do. This will surprise you (I’m delighted to have kept it a secret for so long), but I’m not a biologist. I do enjoy wrestling with these issues and, in so doing, learn more about biology, but I’m well aware of my limitations.

          I’m pretty comfortable saying, “I don’t know.” Give it a try.

          sound bite summaries of your side’s list of complaints?

          Sorry—don’t know what you’re talking about. The consensus means never having to say you’re sorry.

          Or are you talking about people irate at Creationists’ games? Yes, they certainly exist.

          reinforcing a failed world view that has significantly less power than you presume and which you assert

          You could be right. That’s why I like the public nature of this forum. If I say something wrong or stupid, I hope someone will point it out. That can be embarrassing, I’ll admit, but I only have to drink that castor oil once. I won’t make the mistake (or need to be corrected) again.

          You don’t have any answers to many of the really tough issues

          Seems to me that I do. I’m always ready to have this shown to me.

          Don’t confuse your ability to string words together in a relatively cohesive manner after someone else makes a point with an actual reasonable answer to the issue.

          I do indeed see the important difference between rhetoric and reason.

          you move on to the next issue or several while this discussion thread is still going on

          Ah, the demands of a blog …

          This presents the illusion that you have closed the book on a topic you write on and can move to the next

          But neither you nor I are deluded by this illusion. I doubt many readers would be either.

          You still have no real answer for increasing complexity, origin of matter, origin of the nature of the very laws of physics, creation of atomic particles and their bonds, order in the universe, along with many other issues.

          Science has quite a bit to say about many of these questions; you seem to imagine that it has nothing to say. And where it doesn’t know, it says, “I don’t know.” Not a big deal. Is there a problem I’m missing?

          And, of course, you’re in the same boat. You’re stuck with these same answers. We can gnash our teeth at science’s slowness (though who would?), but that doesn’t get us anywhere. You can magic answers into existence if you want (“God did it all! God did that, and God did that, and God did that …”) but that counts for nothing.

          And that is what is most dangerous about your line of thinking. It sounds good but is ultimately more shallow …

          I don’t see the danger. You see through my tissue of argument.

          Or are you afraid that someone with a weaker “faith” might be swayed?

  • http://pandasthumb.org RBH

    Rick’s quotation from Tompkins:

    The concept of natural selection remains controversial in both the evolutionary and creationist communities. Classical evolutionists still cannot clearly define it as they continue to debate one another over a valid model and definition. Meanwhile, secular molecular biologists are content to leave the debate primarily in the hands of the classical biologists when the hard data needed to validate natural selection in one form or another ultimately lies at the molecular level.

    Well, let’s see. The first sentence has a germ of truth in it, at least so far as the ‘evolutionary community’ is concerned. However, that controversy doesn’t have to do with the existence of natural selection–that’s universally accepted. The scientific controversy has to do with the relative roles of natural selection and genetic drift in the evolution of new features. All the participants in that debate accept that both operate, and differ only over their relative roles at various levels of analysis–molecular, developmental, organismal, population. That’s nothing like the creationist community, which in general doesn’t understand natural selection very well–witness Rick’s “randomness” fixation.

    Tompkins’ second sentence is false. There is widespread agreement on “a valid model and definition” of natural selection. Natural selection is a change in the genetic composition of a population due to the differential survival and relative reproductive advantage of organisms carrying one heritable feature as opposed to others without that feature.

    Tompkins’ third sentence is simply ludicrous. As a first cut, consider that a PubMed search on “molecular evolution” yields 49,398 hits. A Scirus search on the same phrase yields 241,444 hits. A Google Scholar search on that phrase yields about 631,000 hits. Not bad for a discipline that Tompkins claims leaves the topic to someone else.

    So we reject Tompkins’ claims not because of his institutional affiliation, but because they’re flatly false. His credentials notwithstanding, he’s propagating lies.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      witness Rick’s “randomness” fixation.

      I was hoping that he’d seize this opportunity to show that he can make a mistake and acknowledge it by admitting the error and resolving to avoid calling evolution random again. But perhaps that was a stretch goal.

      • Rick Townsend

        Bob,

        I will admit error and have done so in the past when called for.

        In this case, let me get this straight. We are in agreement that once a mutation happens, natural selection will choose the more robust version for survival, at least as we see this played out in bacteria and fungi. This is called micro evolution and is not in dispute.

        My contention has continued to be that the mutations themselves at the DNA level are random and undirected. Do you understand the nature of mutations to be anything else besides chance occurrences?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          natural selection will choose the more robust version for survival

          Natural selection is more likely to choose the more robust version. No guarantees.

          This is called micro evolution and is not in dispute.

          I thought it was just called “evolution.”

          You imagine evolution being constrained so that speciation can’t occur (or something). I’d like to hear what this constraint is. What’s the mechanism? How does it work?

          My contention has continued to be that the mutations themselves at the DNA level are random and undirected.

          That’s not quite what you’d said before:

          “In functioning organisms, we see complex systems of systems all composed of countless multiple components which have to work together. That in itself is something I can’t explain with random chance.

          “Doing the research objectively forced me to see that the evidence is not compelling that random chance could have brought about what we see however, let alone that it is the best explanation. ”

          You’d said that evolution is random. Are you now changing your story to argue simply that mutation is random?

        • Rick Townsend

          This is a difference without a distinction. Mutation is the mechanism of evolution as I understand you to see it happening. The changes that occur are accidental, unplanned, and therefore random in that sense.

          My contention is that the complexity we see can’t be explained by those sort of accidental, undirected, random chance malfunctions which result in what we call mutations.

          I’m happy to accept RBH’s most recent and more technical description of mutations. I don’t see that this is anything different from what I have discussed before, but if you see it that way, you can accept this as my correction and acknowledgment of being imprecise in the past.

          Still can’t see how that gets us to the multiple accidental chance mutations leading to complex characteristics we see in nearly all organisms. And the fossil record is completely without the multiple transitional forms that would be demonstrative of such changes (the trade secret of paleontology comes to mind—”The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology…“)

        • Bob Seidensticker

          My contention is that the complexity we see can’t be explained by those sort of accidental, undirected, random chance malfunctions which result in what we call mutations.

          Evolution is in two parts: mutations (which we can call random) and natural selection (which we can’t). That’s perhaps an oversimplification, but “evolution is random” is simply wrong. We’re on the same page here, right?

          Still can’t see how that gets us to the multiple accidental chance mutations leading to complex characteristics we see in nearly all organisms.

          That’s because you pretend you didn’t hear the part about natural selection.

          The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology

          Why mention Gould when he wholeheartedly accepts evolution?! Or, if Gould is unreliable as a scientist, why quote him?!

          One or the other, please.

        • http://pandasthumb.org RBH

          Mutations are random in the specific sense that the occurrence of any particular mutations are unrelated to the selective ‘needs’ of the population. That is, they are uncorrelated with selective forces; knowing the selective forces at work on a population gives us no information about the mutations that will occur.

          Mutations are not randomly distributed over genes–there are mutational “hot spots” that are more prone to mutation because of the chemistry of DNA (cytosine, for example, is relatively unstable chemically, so cytosine-rich stretches of DNA are prone to mutating; see here for more)–but again, so far as we know that is not correlated with selective ‘needs.’ So one has to keep careful track of the meaning of “random” in this context.

    • Rick Townsend

      RBH,

      I have responses, but family and work pressure over the coming week or more will prevent spending time working them into understandable responses. So you can answer this question. Are you actually interested in my responses, or would you prefer I just ignore your last comments? I don’t think anyone else is reading them anyway this far down.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        If I may speak out of turn: You’re the one who can decide how best to spend your time, but I would like to see you respond to the outstanding issues that RBH has raised, if that’s convenient. That way no one can imagine that you’ve run away from arguments that you can’t answer.

        • Rick Townsend

          Feel free to speak out of turn. Other than the most recent rebuttal to the Tompkins quote, I have no plan to tie up loose ends. If there are other issues which you feel I haven’t covered, I will get tot them as I have time if you summarize them. I’ve lost track, and frankly, interest in the conversation in which there is no openness to discover what my side believes and why — except as a springboard for ridicule.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Over the decades, you’ve bombarded me with Creationist attacks. Lately, I’ve refused to respond, simply falling back on the can’t-fail response, that evolution is the scientific consensus. We could indeed engage in this, but it’d be like toddlers in an MMA ring. Sure, we might learn a thing or two, but let’s appreciate up front the inherent insanity of the project.

          And now you’ve got someone who will actually respond to your points. Sounds like an early Christmas! You’re going to walk away from that? It’s totally your call, of course, but it looks like you’re happy to engage … unless the other guy has the interest and expertise to fight back.

        • Phil

          I’ll try to help.

          RBH on December 12 (10:12 am) said:

          Perhaps Rick would give some examples of what he thinks are “wholly new capabilities” so we can examine them.

          I think Rick never responded. Consquently, I believe that is one of the “loose threads.”

      • http://pandasthumb.org RBH

        I’m interested.

        • http://pandasthumb.org RBH

          Tap tap tap. Is this thing on? Is Rick still with us? Bueller? Bueller?

        • Rick Townsend

          Thanks for your interest. We have actually had a lot of family time over Christmas. I will get back to you when I have time and something to add of substance. I wasn’t aware of a deadline.

          Go enjoy your family!

  • http://pandasthumb.org RBH

    I should have added: “When the first three sentences contain three claims that are false, it becomes a waste of time to continue reading. Rick’s suggestion that Tompkins’ views represent ‘well researched opinions’ is as false as Tompkins’ claims. It took me single-digit minutes to refute them.”

    • Rick Townsend

      Yet you haven’t addressed Tompkins’ main point. See the note I just left for Bob about specialties tossing their underlying problems to the other discipline.

      I don’t appreciate your characterization of my comments as misrepresenting (i.e., lying). If you really believe this is the case, let me know what I have said that is intentionally misleading. Misstating Behe as a microbiologist versus a biochemist was an error in a statement, not a lie. I’m happy to correct misstatements and would appreciate a little charity on what is a blog where we try to communicate in a timely manner and make errors occasionally. Exaggerating those errors into more than they are is not helpful nor constructive.

  • http://pandasthumb.org RBH

    Rick wrote

    Yet you haven’t addressed Tompkins’ main point. See the note I just left for Bob about specialties tossing their underlying problems to the other discipline.

    My remark about “should have added” is an addendum to a comment still in moderation in which I addressed some of Tompkins’ claims, including that one.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      All:

      a comment still in moderation

      Yeah, the way it’s set up, if you have 2 or more links, I need to approve it (that’s a clue that it’s spam). I wish I had a white list onto which approved posters could go so they wouldn’t have to wait. Ah, well.

      Technology–can’t live with it; can’t live without it (to paraphrase Flounder the Wise).

  • Jason

    I know this thread has not been very active for a while, but I thought anyone still paying attention would find this amusing:
    “10 Interesting Lessons from Creationist-Inspired School Books”
    http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/blog/10-interesting-lessons-from-creationist-inspired-school-books

    There is also a PBS special on tonight about creationism in school textbooks in TX.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Truth is stranger than fiction, eh? Thanks for the tip.

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