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Archive for the ‘Creationism’ Category

Lovely.

In May, ThinkProgress reported that Kentucky approved a $43 million tax break for Ark Encounter, a Bible-themed amusement park that religious organizations are building outside Williamstown. Now the state is giving the creationist project another kickback in the form of a 75 percent property tax discount over the next 30 years. (Source)

Website of “Ark Encounter”: http://arkencounter.com/, which seems to be an extension to the Answers In Genesis’ Creation Museum.

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NPR: Evangelicals Question The Existence Of Adam And Eve

Let’s go back to the beginning — all the way to Adam and Eve, and to the question: Did they exist, and did all of humanity descend from that single pair? … Polls by Gallup and the Pew Research Center find that four out of 10 Americans believe this account. It’s a central tenet for much of conservative Christianity, from evangelicals to confessional churches such as the Christian Reformed Church.

But now some conservative scholars are saying publicly that they can no longer believe the Genesis account. Asked how likely it is that we all descended from Adam and Eve, Dennis Venema, a biologist at Trinity Western University, replies: “That would be against all the genomic evidence that we’ve assembled over the last 20 years, so not likely at all.”
http://www.npr.org/2011/08/09/138957812/evangelicals-question-the-existence-of-adam-and-eve

Follow the link to hear the segment or read the article.

Of course, I don’t see this as a wider questioning of Adam and Eve in the evangelical community. There’s a lot of people who are happy not questioning their preexisting Adam and Eve beliefs, and they can always go to Answers in Genesis to calm their fears. I don’t envy the professors who are caught between the scientific evidence against Adam and Eve versus the parents who don’t know better, but are happy to complain about the ‘liberal unbiblical’ teachings of professors who don’t accept the literal reading of Genesis.

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Something to wrap your head around. I’m sure deists and old-earth creationists heads are exploding hearing this. His logic seems to be something along the lines of ‘there are two options: (A) a big bang with no creator and that’s just silly or (B) the god of the Bible created everything six-thousand years ago.’

The argument about ‘warm planets’ reminds me of Lord Kelvin’s calculations that the earth could be no older than 20 million years old based on the cooling rate. All his calculations were invalidated by the heat produced by radioactive decay. I wonder if Lisle’s argument is based on calculations that are already a 150 years out of date. Maybe someone should tell him about radioactive decay. (Update 8/8: I listened to the latest Skeptics Guide to the Universe, and they talked about this exact subject. Weird.)

The RationalWiki entry on Jason Lisle

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In this clip, Michael Ruse says that Creationism/Evolution is really just one piece of the larger culture war – the fight over society’s views of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. I don’t think that’s entirely accurate, although I do think the culture war is certainly a part of the Creationism/Evolution “debate”. And, Creationists often like to argue from consequences (e.g. if everyone believes in evolution, then they’ll behave like Nazis; they won’t believe in God or morality; etc).

Hearing him reminded me of stuff in Ken Ham’s book “Evolution: The Lie” (1987). Ken Ham is the president of Answers In Genesis, the major young-earth creationist group in the world. If you want to get a feel for how popular these guys are, I recommend comparing their alexa stats against, say, Panda’s Thumb, Discovery Institute, and Uncommon Descent:

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It’s amazing the level of stupidity they get away with while still managing to stay relevant and popular. (Personally, I think this says something about humanity’s willingness to accept any stupid argument as long as it promotes and supports their pre-existing beliefs, which is rather sad.)

Here’s some of Ken Ham’s wonderful arguments against evolution. You’d think I was making this stuff up, but I’m not.

First, the front and back of the book. Note the implication here: Evolution is the lie in the same way that eating the apple in the garden of Eden was a lie given to us by Satan.

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Most of the book is written text, but it’s punctuated with cartoons illustrating his ideas. I’m going to stick to the cartoons – they’ll give you a pretty quick understanding of what his arguments are, and they are heavy on the “cultural consequences”. Maybe you can play a game called “spot that logical fallacy” at home.

Chapter 1 – Christianity is Under Attack

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Chapter 2 – Evolution is Religion

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Chapter 3 – Creationism is Religion

Ooh – look at all the badies up there on the stage. They’ve banned one religion (Christianity) and replaced it with another religion in the schools.
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Chapter 4 – The Root of the Problem

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Chapter 5 – Crumbling Foundations

Argument: If a literal interpretation of Genesis is undermined, then Christianity is undermined.
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And if Christianity is undermined, then all kinds of bad things – like homosexuality – are okay. Uh oh. Remember homophobes: you won’t be able to condemn homosexuality unless you stick with Creationism. (Does this smell like the culture war, yet?)

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This comic actually reminds me of my friend Chris. When he came out as gay, his dad tried to argue that homosexuality is wrong – using the Bible to back him up. My friend wasn’t very impressed – since his dad never went to church with the rest of the family. But, the Bible suddenly turns into “the good book” as soon as you want to condemn something as evil.

Chapter 6 – Genesis Does Matter

Only the Bible literal interpretation of Genesis provides a moral foundation for wearing clothing. Without the Bible, nudists aren’t doing anything wrong.
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Chapter 8 – The Evils of Evolution

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I thought I’d leave in the text at the bottom – it’s the next section which claims Male Chauvanism is really based on Evolution, and the Bible has nothing to do with it. There are other sections linking Evolution with: Nazism, Racism, Drugs, Abortion, and Social Darwinist Business models. (Hmm, I wonder if the producers of “Expelled” read this book as research for their movie.)

Here’s an excerpt from the section on Drugs:

Many people would not think of evolution as being in any way related to the taking of drugs. However, the following letter of testimony from a man in Western Australia shows clearly this relationship …

My naive belief in evolution had three important practical consequences:
1. It strongly encouraged me to look to drugs as an ultimate course of comfort and creativity.

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The balloons above the “Evolution” castle read: Euthanasia, Divorce, Homosexuality, Pornography, Abortion, and Racism.

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Update: I just discovered that Answers In Genesis lets you read the book on their website. Unfortunately, it seems that they’ve removed the cartoons. Here’s something else to check out: the Amazon page for “The Lie: Evolution”. About 50% of the voters gave it 5 stars. Sit back and marvel at the people writing comments in defense of the book.

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Want to hear something depressing? Type this into google: “humans apes 46 48 chromosomes”. If you’re knowledgeable about biology, you know that humans have 46 chromosomes, while gorillas, chimps and orangutans have 48. Further, human chromosome #2 looks very much like two chromosomes have fused together into one — neatly explaining where the “missing” chromosome went – and revealing that at one time humans had a chromosome layout just like our ape ancestors. It’s pretty darn good evidence for common descent. (Here’s a video by Ken Miller explaining it.)

But, what happens when you type those terms into google? You get these results:
1. (Young Earth Creationist) Answers in Genesis: A Tale of Two Chromosomes (Oddly, the page is blank, but the internet archive has a copy.)
2. (Creationist) Does anyone remember when humans had 48 chromosomes ? – Yahoo! Answers
3. (Neutral) Chromosome – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
4. (Pro-Evolution) Apes vs Human Chromosome Relationship
5. (Intelligent Design) And the Miller Told His Tale: Ken Miller’s Cold (Chromosomal …
6. (Intelligent Design) Evolution News & Views: And the Miller Told His Tale: Ken Miller’s …
7. (Blocked Access; You have to pay to read the article) Orthologous numbering of great ape and human chromosomes is …
8. (Pro-Evolution) Do all Primates (except humans) have 48 Chromosomes? – Evolution …
9. (Pro-Evolution powerpoint) Fusion Event
10. (Pro-Evolution powerpoint) Evolution: Part 2

Creationist spin controls the highest ranked articles, and the pro-evolution articles in the top eight do a poor job of explaining this as evidence for evolution to the common reader. It’s dismal, especially when evolutionists definitely have this nailed as evidence for evolution. I’d much rather see articles like this at the top. My guess is that google is favoring the most recent articles over earlier ones.

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Someone claiming to be “a good Christian woman” setup an anti-spore website, subtitled:

Resisting EA’s War on Creationism

Where she says thing like:

Yesterday I found out about a new game called Spore when my son asked me to buy it for him. It looked innocent enough at first and has “E for Everyone” ESRB rating. But don’t be mislead, apparently “everyone” means everyone they want to teach evolution to.

This entire game is propaganda aimed directly at our children to teach them evolution instead of creationism, or “intelligent design” if you go for stupid PC terms.

The object of the game is to evolve from a “spore” into demon-like intelligent space creatures that violently take over the galaxy.

I created this blog to find support for and follow my progress in letting Electronic Arts know that their biggest attack on Christian values to date will not be tolerated. We can not allow the gaming industry to invade our homes and poison the minds of our children. After all, their billions in revenue and all the advertising in the world are no match for the power of God.

God did not create us through trial and error. He did not make millions of mistakes until deciding on the final concept. Each of his concepts were perfect on the first try.

And 8,500 employees at Electronic Arts to corrupt a child’s mind.

8,500 people all working together and not a single one with enough Jesus to stand up and say what they are doing is wrong.

It makes me sick.

I’m leaning towards this being a prank. Although, most parodies try to be a little more extreme – signaling that it’s a little tongue-in-cheek. But Poe’s Law, you know? Was this done inside Electronic Arts as guerrilla marketing? Is it a prankster doing a parody of Christian fundamentalists? Or a real, sincere person? The pictures and videos of sexually-suggestive Spore creatures makes me think it’s not a real, sincere Christian. They would object to those things, of course, but I just doubt that they would put them up on the website.

Also, whoever it is, they were smart enough to hide their identity using “Domains By Proxy” in the domain registration, and smart enough to put ads in the sidebar of the website. The domain wasn’t registered until September 8 (one day after Spore’s release). Maybe it’s just a savy computer person hoping to make a few bucks on ads while doing a parody that would attract a lot of attention. Opinions?

Update (Sept 12): Yup, it’s a hoax. In this post, the anti-spore creator writes:

But the Bible teaches us that God was not done with man. For we were His creation and He then spoke to Noah in Genesis 8:21-27 after the flood.

“21. The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never gonna give you up. 22. “Never gonna let you down.” 23.”Never gonna run around and desert you.” 24. “Never gonna make you cry.” 25. “Never gonna say goodbye.” 26. “Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you.” 27.”Never truly believe anything you read on the Internet. There will always be cases of Poe’s Law.”

Weird. I had no idea Rick Astley was quoting the Bible. 🙂

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A lot of creationists believe that mutations can’t “create information”, they can only destroy it. They like to imagine making random changes to a book – it always ends up making random gibberish – thus, random mutations must do the same thing to the genome, right? Wrong. This misconception is so widespread, I thought I’d go ahead and prove that random mutations can create information.

First, I should say that creationists use a rather subjective definition of information. They aren’t talking about Shannon information or anything like that. Instead, “genetic information” is synonymous with “useful genetic sequences”. It’s not something that can be measured, and it’s highly contextual (a useful sequence in one creature might be completely useless in another creature). Despite the subjectiveness of the definition, we can all agree that genes do something useful in the body, that the genome contains a high concentration of useful genetic sequences (in comparison to say, a randomly generated DNA sequence).

So, let’s use the creationist’s definition of genetic information. Let’s say that we have a small sequence of DNA consisting of 90 nucleotides. We’ll call this Sequence A.

Let’s also say that we have another DNA sequence which is identical to Sequence A except that it is different in just one codon. We’ll call this Sequence B. There are three possibilities for the Sequence B: it does something better, equally well, or worse (perhaps not at all) than the Sequence A. (In creationist language, it contains more information, the same information, or less information than Sequence A.)

Now, if a point mutation happens to occur to Sequence A or Sequence B, it will alter it at one codon. Given the number of nucleotides (90) and the fact that there are three possible other codons at each location, the odds of a point-mutation turning Sequence A will turn it into Sequence B is 1 in 270. Similarly, the odds that a point-mutation will turn Sequence B into Sequence A is 1 in 270. So, both sequences can be converted into each other. But, we said earlier, that we don’t know if Sequence B is more useful, equally useful, or less useful to the creature than Sequence A. If Sequence B is more useful than Sequence A, then the mutation changing Sequence A into Sequence B (1 in 270 odds) is an increase in information. If Sequence B is less useful than Sequence A, then the mutation changing Sequence B into Sequence A (1 in 270 odds) is an increase in information. Thus, if A > B or A < B, we can prove that information can increase.

Once the mutation exists, natural selection either drives it into extinction – if harmful, or causes it to proliferate in the species – if useful.

Counterargument 1: A creationist once counterargued that, since the sequences can be inter-converted, that both sequences must have the same amount of information. Because I haven’t even told you what the actual sequences are, then his “equal information” argument must be true for all possible sequences A and B. In order for his argument to work, this means all possible 90 nucleotide sequences must have the exact same amount of information. (This is because it’s possible to convert any sequence X into any other sequence Y via a finite number of single-codon changes. If each single-codon change results in 0 information change, then all sequences X and Y have equal information, no matter how different they are.) Since there is nothing special about 90 nucleotides – he has to argue the absurd position that all possible sequences of N nucleotides contain the same amount of information. And since insertion and deletion mutations can alter the number of nucleotides, then (by his logic) all DNA sequences containing any number of nucleotides must contain the same amount of information.

Counterargument 2: “But evolution can’t explain complex systems”. I typically interpret this response as “I don’t want to admit you’re right. So, I’ll bring up a related – but different – topic.” This example does show an increase in information, and there’s not much sense in moving-on to other topics if creationists aren’t willing to admit it when it’s made obvious. Besides, if they can’t admit that mutations can produce “new information” when it’s made plain, then talking about other topics are unlikely to be fruitful.

Counterargument 3: “The second law of thermodynamics prevents an increase of information.” First of all, creationists are misapplying the second law of thermodynamics to make it say something that it doesn’t say. Second, what if it were really true that mutations can’t accidentally produce an increase in information? In order for mutations to never create information, you have to accept a whole bunch of absurd conclusions. First of all, the random mutation would have to understand how that gene functions in order to avoid causing an accidental improvement. They have to argue that a mutation can turn a fully functional gene into a weaker version, but once that weaker version exists, mutations will explicitly avoid any change that would convert it back to it’s original form (in spite of the mathematics). Additionally, it would have to understand how that gene works within each specific creature. Because the sequences are context specific (i.e. depending on the creature’s biology), then it’s possible that Sequence A will function better in Creature A, but Sequence B functions better in Creature B. Do mutations “know” to allow and avoid the specific mutations based on creature type? In Creature A, a mutation can turn Sequence A into Sequence B, but never the Sequence B into Sequence A? And vice-versa in Creature B? Of course not. The sequences and mutations are completely blind about what effects the mutations have, and that means that they can accidentally increase the information.

Second, if Sequence A contained more information than Sequence B, then we could take a million copies of Sequence B, expose them to mutagens until each of them had a single point-mutation, then look at those million mutated copies, and (against all laws of probability) none of them would have been turned into Sequence A. If true, it would allow scientists to accurately produce a hierarchy of genetic sequences sorted from “contains more information” to “contains less information”, defying all logic about how the universe works. If true, it would allow scientists to perform all kinds of miracles – because the mutation would explicitly avoid any increase in information – biological or otherwise. You could learn secret information by looking at what sequences it seems to avoid. Take a billion copies of the human hemoglobin gene, and expose it to a mutagen. Any sequences which never appear in the results would be stronger versions of the hemoglobin gene. Of course, the universe doesn’t work that way.

Counterargument 4: “Your example shows an increase in information in one case out of 270. What about the other 269 cases? If some of them are negative, then the average result is a decrease in information.” That’s true. The average case probably is a decrease in information. But, that’s where natural selection steps in. Natural selection drives the negative mutations out of the gene pool (because the creatures that have the negative mutation are less likely to survive or reproduce than the rest of the population). Natural selection also promotes the spread of positive mutations throughout the gene pool. This gives the (rare) positive mutations a huge boost over the (more common) negative mutations.

Counterargument 5: If mutations can be positive, then why do our bodies have mechanisms to prevent and reverse mutations? Mutations are a mixed-bag. Some are positive, some are neutral, and some are negative. There a probably a lot more negative mutations than positive ones. This means it’s critical to keep the number of mutations low – so that positive and negative mutations can be sorted by natural selection. Here’s an example: let’s say that you are playing a game. You pickup a random card from a deck, and whenever you get an Ace, you win. Whenever you pickup an 6 or less, you automatically lose. All other cards are a draw. Clearly, the game is stacked against you – 1 out of every 13 cards is a winner, but 5 out every 13 cards is a loser. Except there is one additional rule: you can bet between $1 and $10 on each round, and you get to decide how much to bet after you see your card. Of course, whenever you pull an Ace (1 in 13 odds), you bet $10. Whenever you pickup a 6 or less (5 in 13 odds), you bet $1. (This resembles the way natural selection magnifies the value of positive mutations, and minimizes the damage of negative mutations to the gene pool.) The result is that the game is now in your favor. Now, imagine if the rules were changed slightly: instead of picking up one card, you have to pickup two cards at a the same time (i.e. an increase in the number of mutations). In a few cases, you’ll pickup two Aces or an Ace + 7 or higher, and you win $10. But, in other cases, you’ll pickup an Ace and a 6 or less (resulting in a loss). In this example, the result of this change is that players win 15% more frequently, but get a losing hand 60% more frequently – because the losing cards are more likely to show up. If we pickup three or four cards at the same time, it gets even worse. When we calculate the average winnings per hand:

Single-card rules: (0.077*$10) – (0.385*$1) = +$0.385 per hand
Two-card rules: (0.089*$10) – (0.621*$1) = +$0.269 per hand
Three-card rules: (0.077*$10) – (0.767*$1) = +$0.003 per hand
Four-card rules: (0.059*$10) – (0.856*$1) = -$0.263 per hand

The same thing with mutations: high rates of mutation means more positive mutations, but it also means more negative mutations. If you happen to get a positive mutation and negative mutation at the same time, then the creature might be dead – preventing the spread of that one positive mutation. In the end, the best solution is to keep the number of mutations low – and that makes anti-mutation mechanisms useful.

Saying “creatures have mechanisms to prevent mutations – therefore mutations must always be bad” is a little bit like saying “animals have mechanisms to prevent swallowing too much food at one time – therefore food must be bad”.

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