Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Biased Opinion - 22 Responses to 22 Creationist Questions

Matt Stopera of BuzzFeed asked self-identified creationists to pose some questions to people who believe in evolution, resulting in the article 22 Messages from Creationists to People Who Believe in Evolution. What followed was a very sad collection of terrible questions from people who have been betrayed by their teachers and failed by the education system. Because I love science fiction, I am very interested in science, and think a strong science education curriculum is of critical importance for our schools. Needless to say, the questions posed in the article saddened me by the obvious ignorance that they displayed.

If you are a creationist, at least try to come up with some arguments that have not been debunked a hundred times over. The questions that this collection of creationists posed seem to have been, in their minds, "gotcha" questions probing unsolvable conundrums. What these questions really are are examples of the fact that creationists really don't understand even the basics of science at all. I have endeavored to answer these questions, which are rendered in italics below. The questions are phrased as presented in the article, with the original spelling, punctuation, and grammar intact. My answers follow each question.

1. Bill Nye, are you influencing the minds of children in a positive way?

Yes, Nye is. He's teaching them actual science.

2. Are you scared of a Divine Creator?

I'm not Nye, so I can't respond directly, but I'm guessing he probably isn't. Nye might even be a believer for all I know. Many people are religious and still accept the findings of science. Ken Miller of Brown University, for example, is one of the most prominent advocates of biology education in the United States and is a practicing Roman Catholic.

I, personally, am not a believer, but that is because I remain unconvinced that there is evidence supporting any of the claims relating to a god or gods. I am not, however, scared of a "Divine Creator". If you are a Christian, ask yourself if you are scared of Vishnu, a divine figure worshiped by millions of Hindus. If you are not, then you might be able to understand why I am not sacred of your chosen divine being.

3. Is it completely illogical that the Earth was created mature? i.e. trees created with rings . . . Adam created as an adult . . .

Yes. It is. In order for an idea to be "logical" it has to be supported by a chain of argumentation that starts with facts. In short, you need to start with some sort of evidence in order to come up with a logical explanation. If you start with no evidence or faulty evidence, then your conclusions are entirely useless. The stumbling block you have is that there is no evidence supporting the notion that the Earth was created mature. Lacking facts to start with, there is no way to get to a logically valid conclusion that the Earth was created "mature".

To put it another way, think about this: Could the Earth have been created last Thursday with all of the people in place and your memories implanted? That's just as likely as your scenario of a "mature Earth", because neither are supported by any facts. So one has to wonder why you don't believe in Last Thursdayism.

4. Does not the second law of thermodynamics disprove evolution?

No, the second law of thermodynamics doesn't disprove evolution. These sorts of questions always make me wonder what the questioner imagines scientists know about science. Do they think that scientists don't know about the laws of thermodynamics? Do they think that biologists around the world are sitting in their labs ignorant of basic science and they will be stunned when a creationist walks in and starts talking about the second law of thermodynamics? Or do they think that biologists actually do know about the second law and are just hoping that no one notices that their discipline's unifying theory violates it?

To address the point specifically - the second law of thermodynamics does not disprove evolution, because the second law only applies to closed systems, and the Earth is not a closed system. We are constantly bombarded by energy from the Sun (which, by the way, is increasing in entropy, which is why the Sun will eventually run out of fuel and die). Nye actually pointed this out in the debate.

5. How do you explain a sunset if their [sic] is no God?

Sunsets are caused when the Earth rotates the face you are on away from the Sun. Because the Sun's light now has to pass through more atmosphere than it normally does, the light you see is more distorted than usual, resulting in the array of colors you see. This is fairly basic science, and you should know this already. That you don't is an indictment of your education.

Note: This explanation holds true whether the Earth is a sphere or flat. It the Sun is going "down" towards the horizon of a flat Earth, then its light will pass through greater amounts of atmosphere as it gets closer to setting, resulting in the same kind of distortion and the same kind of array of colors.

6. If the Big Bang Theory is true and taught as science along with evolution, why do the laws of thermodynamics debunk said theories?

The laws of thermodynamics don't "debunk" the Big Bang and evolution. Once again, I have to wonder what people who ask this sort of question think that scientists know about science. The laws of thermodynamics are not some sort of secret knowledge. In fact, the laws of thermodynamics are part of the core science curriculum at many universities. It is simply implausible that someone would be a practicing scientists and not have some familiarity with these laws. Any theory that contradicted those laws would be discarded by the scientific community, so the fact that neither the theory of evolution nor the Big Bang theory are in danger of being discarded is pretty good evidence that scientists don't think they conflict.

And they don't conflict. As I noted before, the Earth isn't a closed system, so thermodynamics has almost nothing to say about evolution. And the laws of thermodynamics, being derived from observations about the universe, clearly support the Big Bang theory. What you see around you is an old and cold universe, with massively larger amounts of entropy than were present at the Big Bang. The history of the universe as described by the Big Bang theory and subsequent cosmology is exactly what one would expect in a universe in which the laws of thermodynamics were in force.

7. What about noetics?

Noetics is a branch of metaphysics that deals with problems of the mind. Metaphysics are, by definition, not really part of science. Metaphysics, like a lot of philosophy, can be used to frame questions to be answered by science, but really doesn't have anything at all to say about the conclusions that are reached via the application of science.

I wonder if you are trying to raise the question of the origin of consciousness in a roundabout way. The question this bring to mind is do you think the idea of consciousness is somehow incompatible with a naturalistic world? What do you base this conclusion upon?

8. Where do you derive objective meaning in life?

How do you derive objective meaning in life? If you say God provides meaning in your life, then what happens if God changes his mind? That's not very objective is it? If God can't change his mind and can't change the "objective meaning" (for any reason, including "it isn't in God's nature"), then why does one need God to have objective meaning? Personally, I doubt whether there is objective meaning to be found, and I certainly haven't found a convincing argument that there even could be.

In any event, one has to wonder how this related to the truth or falsity of the theory of evolution in any way. This seems to be a fairly common tactic for creationists when trying to debate science - you bring up questions and issues that are entirely unrelated to science. Suppose that objective meaning exists. How does that show the theory of evolution is or is not true?

9. If God did not create everything, how did the first single-celled organism originate? By chance?

No, not by chance. As a result of the functioning of our universe. It seems that a common thought process among creationists is that if something isn't actively directed, then there is no alternative other than "chance". This is simply wrong. Look at the tides in our oceans. Nothing directs them to rise and fall. They simply rise and fall as a result of the gravity exerted by the Moon and Sun. And they rise and fall in a predictable pattern. In fact, the regularity and predictability of our natural universe is the reason that we can do science - the ability to predict what will happen by using derived theories in effect is science.

Chemistry, physics, biology, and all of the other branches of science are all descriptions of how our universe works. By observing the world around us and then formulating theories about how it functions, we are able to make predictions about what will happen in the future and unravel mysteries about what happened in the past. Science clearly shows how chemicals plus energy results in reactions that form the building blocks of life.

I'll also note that single-celled organisms are highly complex and appear quite late in the development of life. Numerous simpler forms existed long before single-celled organisms. It took a billion or so years of the existence of life on Earth before the first single celled organisms arose.

10. I believe in the Big Bang Theory . . . God said it and BANG it happened.

Okay, so? The Big Bang theory says nothing about what happened before it took place. So how do you come to the conclusion that God was there? Merely asserting the existence of God isn't actually an answer, and it has no bearing on science. Science depends upon evidence. Without evidence, a scientist says "I don't know". Since you are apparently making a scientific claim, what evidence do you have to support your contention?

11. Why do evolutionists/secularists/huminists [sic]/non-God believing people reject the idea of their [sic] being a creator God, but embrace the concept of intelligent design from aliens or other extra-terrestrial sources?

Well, first off, most don't. The vast majority of secular people believe that life evolved on Earth without any kind of aid or assistance from aliens or other extra-terrestrial influences other than the energy from the Sun in the form of sunlight and gravity, and the Moon in the form of gravity.

Now, some secular scientists have stated that the most plausible potential designer that might exist would be aliens, because material extra-terrestrial entities are plausible, although not likely. In those cases, the scientists were entertaining a hypothetical that took the form of "if intelligent design were true, what is the most plausible way it could have happened", but they weren't actually saying they think that intelligent design is true - primarily because there is no evidence supporting the idea that intelligent design is true. There is no evidence for extra-terrestrial seeding of life or, to use the formal term "directed panspermia", but since it doesn't violate any of the known laws of the universe, a scientists might say it is plausible that it could have happened. The problem is, there's no evidence for it, just like there is no evidence for a designer deity.

12. There is no in between . . . the only one found has been Lucy and there are only a few pieces of the hundreds necessary for an "official proof".

Sadly, you have been let down by your education, because on this point you are simply wrong. We have found dozens of fossilized hominids. If you had done a bit of research on Wikipedia, you'd know this, because they have a fairly long list showing all of the hominid fossils that we have found. Not only have we found several examples of australopithicus afarensis, the species that "Lucy" was a member of, we have found several examples of the "in between" fossils you, in your ignorance, claim don't exist - australopithicus africanus, homo habilis, homo erectus, and on and on.

Also, exactly what is an "official proof"?

13. Does metamorphosis help support evolution?

Yes. Is there some reason you would think it doesn't? This is another question that makes me wonder what creationists think scientists do all day. Do they think that they sit around coming up with theories, and then when someone says "tadpoles metamorphose into frogs" they hit themselves on the forehead and say "darn, I forgot about them"? Evolutionary biologists are well acquainted with frogs, and butterflies, and moths, and all the other species that transform during their lifetimes. The fact that such creatures do this is not only accounted for in evolutionary theory, it is integrated into it and serves as a supporting piece of evidence for it.

14. If Evolution is a Theory (like creationism or the Bible) then why is evolution taught as fact?

Let's start off by noting that neither creationism or the Bible are "theories" as science uses the term. The Bible is a book of mythology that some people regard as being important. But it isn't actually a theory any more than a book of Greek mythology would be a theory. Creationism isn't a theory either, because creationism isn't a comprehensive scientific explanation supported by numerous facts and subject to potential falsification.

The crux of the problem here is that you seem to have a misunderstanding of what a "theory" means in science, and how theories relate to facts. In science, facts are trivial. You have brown hair. That's a fact. You have two eyes. That's a fact. What a theory is in science is a comprehensive explanation that takes those facts and weaves them together into a comprehensive whole. The branch of science that is used to make nuclear weapons and power plants is called "atomic theory". There is not going to be some point at which it will be renamed "atomic fact", because to call it "atomic fact" would be to be going backwards. That objects fall to the Earth when dropped from a tree is a fact. The explanation for why they do so is the theory of gravity. Theories in science are more important than facts.

15. Because science by definition is a "theory" - not testable, observable, nor repeatable why do you object to creationism or intelligent design being taught in school?

First off, you have a deep misunderstanding of science. In science a theory by definition has to be testable, observable, and repeatable. Einstein's theory of relativity was considered to be an interesting hypothesis, but what solidified it as a theory was that scientists went out and tested the predictions it made. One prediction, for example, was that heavy objects (like our Sun) would bend light as it passed by them, creating an effect that would allow an observer to see something that was actually behind the Sun. This prediction was tested in 1919 by Arthur Eddington and found to be accurate. Without the testing, the theory would have been interesting, but not useful.

And the simple fact is that the evidence for the theory of evolution has, in fact, been tested, observed, and repeated. By contrast, creationism and intelligent design have not been tested. There is no real plausible test that one could make for "creationism", and the handful of proposed tests for intelligent design have either been incoherent, or have resulted in strong evidence against intelligent design being true. There is simply no evidence supporting either the creation or intelligent design hypothesis, which makes them not science. You may as well have asked why astrology and casting magic spells isn't taught in schools.

16. What mechanism has science discovered that evidences an increase in genetic information seen in any genetic mutation or evolutionary process?

The answer to your question is actually included in your question: Mutations. The most common way for mutations to increase information is for a gene sequence to be duplicated by mutation, and then altered. The idea that mutations can only destroy information or work with existing information is an unsupported claim that has been advanced by some creationist apologists, and there is simply no evidence that such a claim is true. Not only that, it is a claim that is contradicted by observed evidence, as scientists have actually observed mutations increasing information in the genomes of creatures in experiments.

17. What purpose do you think you are here for if you do not believe in salvation?

Once again, what does this question have to do with the truth or falsity of evolution? Many scientists and other people who accept the findings of science are believers, and believe in salvation just as much as you do. Whether we are here for salvation or not has no bearing whatsoever on whether the theory of evolution is true or not. I could stipulate for the purpose of this argument that "salvation" is necessary, and it would say nothing about whether evolution was true.

But to answer your question directly: People give themselves purpose. You chose the promise of salvation as your purpose, which is fine for you. But that's just an evidence free choice that you made. Why is it so hard for you to believe other people choose to find their purpose in other things?

Finally, what do you think we need salvation from? Being human? Being condemned by God? If you think God makes the rules, and the rules are what will condemn you, aren't you saying we need to be saved from God? Do you think we need to be saved from the rules you believe your God laid down?

18. Why have we found only 1 "Lucy" when we have found more than 1 of everything else?

There's only one "Lucy", because the term Lucy refers to a specific fossil. But Lucy was a member of the species australopithicus afarensis, and we've found numerous fossil examples of that species. Quite simply, your claim that we've only found one "Lucy" is a falsehood rooted in your ignorance.

To a certain extent, this kind of ignorance isn't your fault: Someone blatantly lied to you during your education, and you accepted their lie as being factual. On the other hand, you've clearly never actually tried to evaluate this claim at all, because if you had, you'd have found that there are many australopithicus afarensis fossils that have been uncovered over the last several decades.

19. Can you believe "the big bang" without "faith"?

Yes. This is a fairly standard creationist ploy - the claim that "it takes just as much faith to believe in science as it does to believe in my religion" - and it is both very tiresome and very stupid. Science is based upon evidence. The only "faith" you need to accept the findings of science is the faith that we can actually observe the universe around us, and that's not faith by any reasonable definition of the word.

The Big Bang theory is based upon the observations of the universe. Scientists weren't sitting around one day saying to themselves "we need to come up with a story about the origin of the universe". They were studying our universe, noticed that certain things, like the redshift of the galaxies, implied something, and then set about testing it by means like looking for the background microwave radiation of the universe. The made observations, figured out what they implied, and then tested to see if their conclusions were correct. That's how science works. No faith required.

20. How can you look at the world and not believe someone created/thought of it? It's Amazing!!!

This is another fairly common creationist ploy. It amounts more or less to "look at the trees, aren't they beautiful, they are so magnificent that they must be the work of a creator". The problem is, this line of thinking is simply wrong.

The existence of something is not evidence that someone created it. By itself, a thing's existence is evidence for its existence, and nothing more. It is only when something is put into context that something can tell us more. But what is the context of the entire universe? What are you comparing the universe to in order to determine that it must have been created? When we try to determine that something is created, or in other words, non-natural, we compare it to things that occur naturally. But if you say the entire world was created, what is your basis for comparison? You have none.

Further, while our world is, to a certain extent, amazing, it is hard to believe it was created. Most of the planet is uninhabitable for us. Many parts of the planet will kill you. Yes, beautiful flowers exist, but so do tapeworms and parasites that bore into the eyeballs of their hosts. If you step off of the Earth, every other place in the Solar System will kill you instantly. The world may be amazing, but it is also deadly and horrifying too.

21. Relating to the big bang theory . . . where did the exploding star come from?

You clearly don't understand the Big Bang theory, because there is no "exploding star". Some creationist "teachers" have confused the Big Bang with some sort of actual explosion of a preexisting entity, so that might be where this idea of yours comes from, but it bears no relation at all to actual Big Bang theory. The Big Bang theory states that all matter in the universe was at one point compressed into a singularity - a single point of immeasurably dense matter and energy, which then expanded (not exploded) - an expansion that is still continuing. Our observations of this expansion are what led scientists to the Big Bang theory. As to where the initial singularity came from, we don't know. The Big Bang theory only carries us backwards in time to a point after the inception of the universe called the "Planck Time". The theory says nothing about what happened before then.

22. If we come from monkeys then why are there still monkeys?

First, we didn't come from any monkey species alive today. We share a common ancestor with the monkeys we share the world with now, and that ancestor was probably a very monkey-like creature. Some members of that species became isolated from the others, and subject to the pressures of natural selection in their environment, developed into a different strain of monkeys. This process repeated several times until it resulted in the diverse array of simian species we see today. Evolution is not a line from one discrete species to another singular discrete species. It is a continually branching tree, with subsets of populations continually developing new branches.

Second, you are a white American. Your ancestors were Europeans. If your ancestors came from Europe, why are there still Europeans?

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  1. "How do you explain a sunset if their [sic] is no God"

    Flat earth, fair question. LOL

    Seriously, it's questions like that which really make me worry about our future as a species.

    1. @Bob R. Milne: Even with a flat Earth, the explanation holds true. If you had a flat Earth, as the Sun came down towards the horizon, it's light would pass through more atmosphere on the way to the observer, resulting in the light being diffused into the different colors we see in sunsets.

  2. This was both very sad and very entertaining.

    The most deceptively coherent question was number #20, although it's not a scientific one but a philosophical one. The rest of the questions prove that creationists haven't spent any time familiarizing themselves with basic, high school-level science, which only shows that evolutionists who agree with debate with creationists have far more patience than I do.

    1. @Samantha Sabovitch: I don't think #20 is even a philosophical question so much as it is a philosophical fallacy. The idea that the world is amazing and you can't think of how it came to be other than via the hands of a designer is an argument from personal incredulity.

  3. Omg I love you (again, I think I've said this before), I'm an evolutionary biology PhD student so this whole situation has been painful for me, haha.

    "Your ancestors were Europeans. If your ancestors came from Europe, why are there still Europeans?" Love this response! I had a history teacher that asked me this question when I was in high school and now I will be prepared!

    Also on #20, Tim Minchin had a great performance on this suggesting something along the lines of "yeah, look at this amazing world and all this amazing life, why isn't that enough for you, why does that have to have a purpose, what is your problem with amazing things just being amazing" I think the video is "Storm", highly recommended if you haven't seen it ;-)

    1. @Anya: I'm glad my answers have met with approval from someone actually studying the subject! I have to confess that I have no more expertise on the subject than a reasonably educated non-specialist. But then again, creationists aren't really arguing against the cutting edge of science, rather they are busy trying to knock down straw men they have constructed out of the distorted version of mostly hundred year old science that they prefer to tilt against.