Beginners Guide to Creationism

Found this hanging around my drafts section. This was originally published on the official RationalWiki blog. It is reproduced here for, well, just for the sake of it. Minor stylistic changes added.

What is it?

Creationism most generally means the belief that the entire universe was created by a deity in a supernatural incident. Most commonly it refers to the Christian one but almost all religions in the world have some sort of creation myth that explains the origins of the universe. What we’re most interested in, however, is the branch known as “young earth creationism” (YEC). Not all creationists are YECs, and there are a few alternative forms, but 99% of the time skeptics will use “creationism” and YEC interchangeably – mostly because other forms are less interesting to skeptics and de-bunkers.

YEC specifically proposes that the world was created literally as described in the Bible, only 6,000 years ago according to the chronology deduced by Archbshop James Ussher in the 17th century – with the creation occurring October 23rd, 4004 BC, in fact. Yes, this is after some recorded written history and milestones such as the domestication of the dog.

It’s primarily a Christian doctrine (fundamentalist Islam, for instance, opposes evolution but doesn’t insist on a “young” Earth) and in its modern form is common to North America, where as much as 45% of the adult population believes it.

Erm… why?

Put simply, people believe this because it’s exactly what the Bible tells them. No one is quite sure why it persists as a belief, but it seems to be due to the fact that if you can challenge the literal Genesis creation story, you can accidentally invalidate the rest of the religion with it. Hence why attacks on young earth creationism, which is a falsifiable (and falsified) hypothesis, is continually conflated with an attack on religion, or an attack on Christianity in any and all forms.

(For instance, here, which is a protracted rant against YEC and anti-evolutionists that doesn’t at any point really talk about God or Christianity – but nevertheless is attacked in many comments as something to do with an anti-God atheist that hates Christians.)

It’s worth remembering at this point that in most of Europe and in other, non-literalist forms of Christianity, the idea of an old earth and of evolution is not assumed to be in conflict with the basic tenets of the religion. The Catholic Church, for instance, has “officially” accepted evolution since 1950 and human evolution since 1996 and makes no demands that Ussher’s chronology is correct. Back on the other side of the pond, organisations such as Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis refer to such things as “compromise” – as in “compromised“, as if such acceptance of modern evolutionary theory and geology is somehow an infection in the purity of the true church.

What’s the evidence?

In the last 50 years or so, the Creationist movement in the US has branched out into “scientific creationism“. Skeptics often lambaste this as an oxymoron, but it does mean that they’ve been increasingly using “evidence” to support their claims. Here’s a brief run-down of a few of the common ones.

  • The ordering of fossils is due to Noah’s flood. The animals found near the top of sedimentary strata escaped the rising waters, the “primitive” ones at the bottom did not.
  • The Bible. Yes, this is actually used as evidence.
  • The Grand Canyon is evidence of a drainage channel caused by Noah’s global flood.

This list is actually difficult to populate because the thing that is most common to YEC “evidence” isn’t evidence for a young earth, but usually a list of (mostly imagined) grievances against evolution and deep time geology. In fact, one of the approaches put forward by skeptics for dealing with creationists is to hypothetically grant them all their grievances and ask “so what positive evidence do you propose?”

This is particularly important because the evidence for the planet being formed billions of years ago is far more extensive than positive creationist evidence.

And the evidence against evolution?

A list of grievances against evolution is easier to generate. Some basic ones are listed here without refutation because they are mostly PRATTs (Points Refuted A Thousand Times) or Not Even Wrong.

  • “Micro” evolution, which is small changes in varieties of animals, has been observed – while “macro” evolution, which is the change of animals into completely different ones, has not.
  • Radiometric dating is flawed because it is calibrated circularly with fossils.
  • There are no “transitional” fossils found between organisms.
  • DNA contains complex information that “cannot” have evolved because evolution cannot increase information.
  • Thermodynamic laws don’t allow life to become complex and ordered.
  • Science can’t explain the origin of life – also known as “molecules to man” evolution.
  • Science can’t prove that things evolved because it wasn’t there.

This is just a random sample of points, the lists often go into the hundreds.

Who are the main players?

The same names do crop up repeatedly in the YEC world, here is a brief list.

  • Kent Hovind – founder of ‘Creation Science Evangelism’, got a ‘PhD’ from a diploma mill. Currently serving 10 years for tax fraud and evasion. (as an update on this, has recently as of 2014/15 been attempting to sue anyone who calls his crime “fraud” or “evasion”, even though it is. He’s attempted to sue RationalWiki over it, but can’t seem to get his act together enough to properly serve the papers to the RMF. Most people attribute this to him getting some spectacularly bad advice from someone in prison who is as mentally ill as he is.)
  • Eric Hovind – the fairly charismatic but immature son of the above, now runs Kent’s ministries and hosts the “Creation Today” and “Creation Minute” webcasts.
  • Ken Ham – current head of Answers in Genesis. Tends to evangelise to children in order to capture them young, most famous for his “were you there?” argument. (further update, you will know him from his debate with Bill Nye the Science Guy where both parties were famously asked “what would change your mind?” – Nye replied “evidence”, Ham replied “nothing”. There you go.)
  • Ray Comfort – the infamous bananaman. Mostly concerned with (terrible) Christian apologetics but uses anti-evolution tropes to further this.
  • Duane Gish – now deceased vice president of the Institute for Creation Research. Notable for having the Gish Gallop named after him.
  • Jason Lisle – notable for having an actual legitimate PhD in astrophysics. Has a tendency to use very circular logic in his religious apologetics, and has attempted to solve the starlight problem.
  • Jonathan Sarfati – like Lisle, has a legitimate PhD and knows it. Also known for being a bit of an obnoxious one.
Creationism is certainly associated with some weird shit...

Creationism is certainly associated with some weird shit…

William Dembski and Michael Behe are also names that repeatedly crop up, but these two are most commonly associated with Intelligent Design, rather than YEC. Which brings us to…

What about Intelligent Design?

Intelligent Design (ID) is an offshoot from creationism that, nominally, has nothing to do with it – technically, it is just an anti-evolution position, and therefore distinct from YEC beliefs as it does not mandate a young earth. However, it’s often associated with creationists and overlaps significantly (see cdesign proponentists and the Wedge Strategy), leading to the very justified accusation that it’s used to make creationism “respectable”, and tries to hide the “God” aspects in order to sneak it into schools in the US – where separation of Church and State is legally enshrined. ID is often called “creationism in a cheap suit” because of this.

And so what?

Creationism forms the bedrock of the anti-science movement in the US. It’s almost political suicide to speak against it, as such a thing is perceived as an attack on religion, which is absolutely sacred. As a result, it infiltrates a lot of the political sphere – which, importantly, controls funding for science programs. Creationism is also heavily associated with the Religious Right, and their attempts to get it taught in schools are readily associated with attempts to establish Biblical teachings in schools (along with their other depressing aspects including homophobia, misogyny and racism). In short, while it is a fundamentally silly and easily refuted, the way it’s played as a “freedom of religion” issue or as part of a persecution complex against Christianity, should be very worrying.

Proud to be…

Via Man Boobz, the blog that gives me my almost-daily dose of depression, comes a particular poster from the MRA contingent of DeviantART (DA is a place I rarely dive into for this stuff, it’s there, but I really don’t want to get involved…).

I’m going to be nicer than David Futrelle here. I can’t just put this up and mock it relentlessly, because I don’t think there’s any wilful ignorance here to mock (there are a few others mentioned in the above Man Boobz post that come close to it, though…). It just needs explained. And when things are explained, there might be a chance that someone might change their mind and evolve.

So I can give the “proud to be a white heterosexual man” thing some benefit of the doubt. It’s not really an overt declaration of hatred or misogyny, it’ simply borne out of a little bit of incomprehension regarding what “pride” actually means when it comes to things like “gay pride”. Simply put, Person A sees other people being “proud” of simply what/who they happen to be, and so Person A thinks “hang on, can’t I be happy and unashamed of who/what I happen to be? I’m proud to be Person A!”

And, to a first approximation, there’s nothing actually wrong with this. When you understand the actual sentiment involved, it’s actually quite understandable and the thought process is harmless.

If another group gets to be vocally “proud” of their life and heritage, but you somehow aren’t, then that doesn’t feel particularly good. Now, personally, I don’t think the retort of “but every other day is Male Pride Day” or “White Pride Day” or “Cis Pride Day” is a particularly good one. It’s simply not. It’s a derogatory dismissal, and self-declared social justice advocates need to cut it out with that shit. Because no, your white, heteroseuxal, cisgendered males aren’t going out of their way every day to overtly display their personal attributes – what is actually going on is far more subtle than that and way beyond the word count of this.

Anyway, with that said, the trouble with the poster above (and the “every day is white pride day” retort, in fact) is that it misses the point of why certain groups have to be vocal about themselves in the first place – or at least deserve to be vocal about it after the fact.

As it stands, you simply do not need to “come out” as straight. You don’t. It’s effectively assumed to be the Default Position. While I’d prefer young children are presumed by default to be implicitly asexual (see implicit atheism) the fact is that they’re usually assumed to be straight. It’s expected anyway.  When little Timmy finally discovers what his penis is actually there for, the assumption is that he’s going to start fancying girls, and not develop a more complex and fluid sexual identity involving having emotional attraction exclusively to females but an open sex life with all genders and sexes. No, that would be weird, or at best unexpected. Even with the most progressive will in the world, you cannot deny that that sort of thing is at least in a minority (between 3% and 10% depending on which bias your survey-du-jour has), and outside your expectation value of “straight”.

So nothing is going to happen to you if you declare yourself as straight. No one will care. I can wear a wedding ring and show off my wife and no one thinks its strange, unusual, or out-of-the-ordinary or beyond the expectation value – in fact it’s so normalised people don’t even consider it as showing off sexuality. Yet it still is. After all, it is blatantly showing off my preferences publicly. Very, very few people who equate two men holding hands as “ramming your sexuality down my throat”, take the time to extend such derision to public displays by heterosexual couples.

In short, nothing really bad is going to happen if you “come out” as straight – and even more pointedly there’s no real “coming out” involved. Well, I do have one circle of friends who are so sexually fluid you really do, but that’s something else entirely. Sorry, guys, I guess I’m just boring… anywho…

Want to come out as gay to the world? That’s a different thing entirely. Oh, is it not as bad any more? Perhaps. But not everyone is privileged enough to live in a nice, clean, middle-class, and progressive environment riddled with first-world-problems. A place where homosexuality accepted and normalised and no one really has a fuck to give about your sexual orientation.

In many environments you risk – at best – being shouted at, condemned, blamed for hurricanes, or derided as a paedophile. That’s the thin end of the wedge; that’s if you’re lucky. Elsewhere you have the beatings, the murders, the arson attacks on clubs, and the places where perpetrators of violence towards don’t just get away with it but are actively celebrated. Sorry to break the “I’ll be nice and just explain things” character for a moment, but when the fuck did you, Mr Proud To Be Heterosexual, have to put up with anywhere near that level of persecution rather than your own imagined bullshit? If you want to come out as gay in that sort of situation, doing so requires an immense amount of courage and personal risk. It’s effort. It’s bravery. It’s achievement. A literal achievement; not just a little X-Box sign that flashes up temporarily because you shot 50 bad guys. 

There are many things I’m proud of being and/or doing, and a lot of areas of under-privilege I’ve fought against. I’ll not bother to list them here, but skin colour and sexual orientation would come pretty far down. So far down it’s really worth ignoring, it’s hardly anything at all, in fact, these are achievements for me on par with “breathing”. Perhaps one day everyone will be able to live in a world where coming out as gay to your parents can be so far down that list it’s worth ignoring, too, and “gay pride” will be as redundant as “white pride”. One can hope.

So, the problem with being “proud” of heterosexuality is that there is no effort involved. You can’t equate that with coming out as non-heterosexual. You don’t risk your parents disowning you, you don’t risk being beaten, you don’t risk being treated as a stereotype your entire life. In short, there is little to be proud of in just being part of a majority, where there aren’t real and tangible fights for your rights on a near daily basis. No matter what your persecution complex may claim, there simply aren’t instances where people wanted to ban heterosexual marriage, or blame lightning strikes on an endorsement of straight people. That’s why people claim “pride” and rightly so, but claiming “pride” for so many other attributes misses the point entirely.

As the snarky response goes; if being proud of being a white, heterosexual male is the best you’ve got, your life must suck.

15 Facts About Me (unpacked)

Fifteen facts about me, three of which are lies. Here are the answers.

The overcrowding in my mouth is so much that one of my adult teeth actually came through the roof of my mouth and my wisdom teeth have come in sideways.

Status… True!

Yes, I have had several teeth removed to alleviate the problem. For a few years around 1998 I wore an orthodontic retainer – and had a hole drilled through the pallet in order to let that tooth grow through the roof of my mouth before it was removed. For some reason, that retainer still appears when I’m dreaming and I use it as a reality check to enter a lucid dream state.

For one National Novel Writing Month, I wrote a pop-science/philosophy book that alternated narration with explanation in the style of Science of Discworld.

Status… False!

Ha! Hell no. I have never completed a NaNoWriMo entry before. I’ve started a few, got quite far with some, and written well over 50,000 words outside of November, but never finished one in a month. In this case, it was an idea I had planned, but it never came to fruition. Turns out you actually need to have what we call an “topic” to do this sort of thing. Who knew?

One of my dreams is to put on a production of Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites on Lake Constance as part of the Bregenz opera festival.

Status… True!

Yes. Being a technical theatre nerd in my spare time has given me plenty of opportunities to be creative. However, they’re almost invariably low or zero budget affairs. I have a small folder of “money is no object” plans just in case. One of these involves effectively building a cathedral, stylised to look a little like a guillotine, on the floating stage at Bregenz. Another is taking the plots of the major Mozart operas, and mixing them together as if they’re happening at the same time and same place, overlap and re-stitch a few of the characters, and make a single reduced production. “Easy” is overrated.

I once put up with an ingrown toenail for about two years.

Status… True!

It went away of its own accord for a week… but then came back again. And went away again. And came back again. I dealt with it eventually, though.

I used to be a conspiracy theorist.

Status… True!

Everyone knows this one. Even now I still have a soft-spot for alien stories, but I was definitely a big Roswell / Area 51 nerd back in the ’90s. For a brief time around 2003-ish I was a 9/11 Truther, and for a long while I thought the moon landing footage was faked on Earth in order to cover up that the original footage revealed the presence of alien life on the moon. I once told someone to “have an open mind” over it. No, I am emphatically not proud of this.

Despite being one of “those” silly anti-religious/anti-creationist little shits, I actually culturally identify myself as a Zen Buddhist rather than ‘atheist’ owing to it being far more philosophically fulfilling.

Status… False!

Yes, I am attracted to Zen philosophy. And yes, I do occasionally do koan practice and zazen meditation. It’s particularly an interesting to play it off against logic, as Zen focuses a lot on intentional inconsistency. However, I do not actually identify as a Buddhist – because I don’t really identify as anything. I try as best I can to use ‘atheist’ in a descriptive sense, but don’t use it as an identity at all.

My internet handle evolved from a typographical error of my real name in the electronic class registers at high school, making it sound weird; others then rolled the same mispronunciation across my full name and I rolled with it.

Status… True!

Yeah, that’s pretty much it. Nothing to see here. Move on.

I have an irrational fear of house rabbits.

Status… True!

Now, this does need a little explanation. What this actually is, is that I’m simply very uncomfortable around animals that are, let’s say, “larger than they should be”. Rabbits that are small and wild, I’m fine with. But Giant Flemish and other larger domesticated varieties creep me the fuck out. It’s just the way that you can see them breathe and move and… eugh. Same with spiders; I’m fine with them, even fine with the beefiest tarantulas, but house spiders that are a bit on the fat side? Fuck no. I will run a mile. They are simply not supposed to be that big.

I believe sex education in schools would be better served by teaching teenagers about S&M relationships rather than same-sex relationships.

Status… True!

If you think about the problems teenagers have with sex today, the issue isn’t really acceptance. Intolerance of sexuality is largely a phenomenon confined to the older generations – although they may pass it onto their kids in a memetic sort of way, we know that attitudes are consistently progressing. Eventually, this is going to die out, and there won’t even be a need to teach same-sex relationships at all – they will simply “be”.

However, consider the myriad problems facing teen sex ed; from safety in sexual health to the fact that many people grow up having no idea what consent even looks like. People can lack the idea that you even can negotiate in advance or discuss things opening, and are left reading Cosmo for advice – which tells people simply “don’t talk about it” and obfuscate everything behind fundamentally insane hints and codes and wink-winks.

Now, think of what is involved in a BDSM-based relationship. There is trust between partners, constant communication, informed consent, talks on good safety practice and so on. These aren’t just a model for when you’re going to gag someone and give them a spanking, they’re a good model for all relationships. Simply put, this is far more useful from a sexual health point of view than preaching tolerance for its own sake. Read the Pervocracy for about 10-15 minutes and you will agree with this.

My weird celebrity crushes include Seth Gabel.

Status… True!

Lincoln is just so cute!!  (。♥‿♥。)

I was once banned for three months from a bar for mooning the manager and the bouncer.

Status… True!

Yep. And the only person who knows why I did this was drunker than I was… and was thrown out about 4 minutes later,* just as someone was explaining to the bouncer that “not all students are drunk assholes”. Whoops.

*And she’s, like, married with a kid now… wow.

I disproved one of the major results in my research thesis about a week after finalising the hardbound copy and submitting it, necessitating a very awkward conversation with my supervisor.

Status… True!

To bore people with the grisly details, two particular products happened to have very, very similar 31P{1H} chemical shifts – however, were notably different in their established phosphorus-rhodium coupling constant. An unfortunate misreading of this meant what I thought I was seeing was photochemically induced isomerisation, perturbing the product distribution from its thermal equilibrium… when in fact it was something else entirely. On the bright side, the kinetics worked in the second instance without having to mess around with statistical means to determine the correct model. Aren’t you glad we know what we’re doing here in Science Town?

I spent most of the second year of my postgraduate degree being treated for depression.

Status… False!

I have never been treated for depression. Not with one-to-one counselling, not with group therapy, not with anti-depressants. I perhaps should have at a few points, but no, I never sought help for it and covered it up with a lot of lying.

My favourite TV series ever is Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds.

Status… True!

Duh. Who doesn’t fucking love Thunderbirds? It’s great. And I don’t mean this in some ironic, nostalgia-ridden thing where I say “oh, the puppets were so crap, but it’s so quirky and quaint and charming and so British”, I do genuinely think it’s an amazing series. Whereas most “good” roll models are all about killing bad guys, Thunderbirds is about rescuing people and saving lives. Whereas most kids TV focuses on really young characters (because the audience “relates” to them, supposedly), Thunderbirds focuses on adults and everyone says “I want to pilot Thunderbird 1 when I grow up”. There is not a single aspect of the series that I think fails on any level.

I decided to add more than three “lies” to this list.

Status………. ill defined.

Out of the above 14, you’ll spot only three lies. That makes this one false; there are not more than three. But wait… that means there are actually four lies if you include this. So it’s true; there are more than four. But then that would mean there are only three lies and so no.15 is false… Yes, I put the liars paradox in the list. I think this fact says the most.

15 Facts About Me

Apparently this is a thing. Here are fifteen facts about me. However, three of them are lies.

  1. The overcrowding in my mouth is so much that one of my adult teeth actually came through the roof of my mouth and my wisdom teeth have come in sideways.
  2. For one National Novel Writing Month, I wrote a pop-science/philosophy book that alternated narration with explanation in the style of Science of Discworld.
  3. One of my dreams is to put on a production of Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites on Lake Constance as part of the Bregenz opera festival.
  4. I once put up with an ingrown toenail for about two years.
  5. I used to be a conspiracy theorist.
  6. Despite being one of “those” silly anti-religious/anti-creationist little shits, I actually culturally identify myself as a Zen Buddhist rather than ‘atheist’ owing to it being far more philosophically fulfilling.
  7. My internet handle evolved from a typographical error of my real name in the electronic class registers at high school, making it sound weird; others then rolled the same mispronunciation across my full name and I rolled with it.
  8. I have an irrational fear of house rabbits.
  9. I believe sex education in schools would be better served by teaching teenagers about S&M relationships rather than same-sex relationships.
  10. My weird celebrity crushes include Seth Gabel.
  11. I was once banned for three months from a bar for mooning the manager and the bouncer.
  12. I disproved one of the major results in my research thesis about a week after finalising the hardbound copy and submitting it, necessitating a very awkward conversation with my supervisor.
  13. I spent most of the second year of my postgraduate degree being treated for depression.
  14. My favourite TV series ever is Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds.
  15. I decided to add more than three “lies” to this list.

So, there they are. Fifteen facts about me, three of which are lies. Maybe, at a later date, I’ll unpack them and say which are the lies.

Spectacular Quote Mining

I was digging through a few of my older bits of crap from the internet, and found a side-by-side article I wrote in early 2012. To be honest, it’s a bit long and cruddy, but the inanity of the article being critiqued – especially towards the end – doesn’t fill me with the impetus to have another shot at it.

Anyway, I rediscovered this quote from the original, written by Philip Vander Elst:

Richard Dawkins, for instance, describes the idea of God as “a very naive, childish concept,” and has explicitly expressed his relief that Darwinism enables him to be “an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” Earlier Darwinists made similar comments. In 1943, for example, Professor D.M.S. Watson wrote: “Evolution itself is accepted by zoologists not because it has been observed to occur or…can be proved by logically coherent evidence to be true, but because the only alternative, special creation, is clearly incredible.” (Quoted in “Science and the BBC”, Nineteenth Century, April 1943). But if Darwinism is being embraced because of an unexamined philosophical (or emotional) prejudice against God and the idea of creation, why should it be accorded any respect as a scientific theory?

Elst’s point here is that evolution has been almost invented entirely to get rid of God – even where the data clearly doesn’t fit. Evolutionists are out to disprove God, and that’s their one and only motive. And look, he has the quotes to prove it! Right there! Look!

You know what I call it? Shameless. Truly shameless. Truly fucking shameless. It’s a quote mine that is so common, so mundane, and so over-used by creationist asshats, that it even has a Wikipedia section dedicated to it – not that I’m accusing Philip Vander Elst of being a literal, Ussher-chronology young earth creationist, but his work does fall into the black pit of the worst apologetics I’ve read. Actually, that could be misleading because calling it “worst” implies that I’ve found apologetics that are reasonable.

It takes little-to-no effort to track down the source, as I did in the original side-by-side of Elst’s oversized derp-wagon. For instance, you can find the original sourced to a 1929 article in Nature, while Elst had clearly only gotten as far as taking C.S. Lewis’ word for it when he wrote that bullshit above – it’s almost word-for-word how Lewis quoted and described Watson’s position. Indeed, how apt for someone who is somewhat of a scholar of C.S. Lewis (if such a thing can be a genuine academic occupation) and for a post that is mostly a quasi-plagiarised rehash of C.S. Lewis’ own apologetics.

This is Watson’s original quote from his article (Lewis/Elst’s extract is highlighted in douche-y green):

Evolution itself is accepted by zoologists not because it has been observed to occur or is supported by logically coherent arguments, but because it does fit all the facts of taxonomy, of paleontology, and of geographical distribution, and because no alternative explanation is credible.

Look carefully at the quote-mined version, you’ll spot an ellipsis – as clearly Watson’s paragraph there only looks a little like the Elst/Lewis’ extract. In fact, most of the sentence is removed. This isn’t just clearing up some extraneous detail for brevity – this is actually hiding things. The second part of the quote mine comes a page or so later, and combined with the above clearly makes the point that “incredible” is being used in a literal sense (meaning “not credible”). It is presented as so:

The extreme difficulty of obtaining the necessary data for any quantitative estimation of the efficiency of natural selection makes it seem probable that this theory will be re-established, if it be so, by the collapse of alternative explanations which are more easily attacked by observation and experiment. If so, it will present a parallel to the theory of evolution itself, a theory universally accepted not because it can be proved by logically coherent evidence to be true but because the only alternative, special creation, is clearly incredible.

It’s pretty clear putting all of Watson’s comments together that he’s simply heading off the usual anti-evolutionist objections that evolution cannot be observed. Indeed, how can it, per se? We live, at best, 100 years; can a single person observe the evolution of a shrew-like creature into a primate? Of course not. But we have much more evidence for it than that – and such “direct” evidence isn’t required. Further, the alternative anti-evolutionary views suffer from a complete lack of evidence or any logical founding that makes them plausible. Of course D. M. S. Watson would say this, and not offer some tacit admission that he thinks evolution is wrong but likes how it destroys God – the man had expertise on the subject and amassed a list of accolades I doubt I’ll ever achieve. Why would anyone think for a moment that such a person would say “evolution is wrong”? It’s this sort of behaviour that really makes some apologists the lowest of the low in terms of honesty, intelligence and general credibility both scientific and academic. They are, literally, incredible.

C.S. Lewis, the originator of the quote-mine, put it as so – and, in doing so, shamelessly invented the page-long ellipsis to go with it.

More disquieting still is Professor D. M. S. Watson’s defense. “Evolution itself,” he wrote, “is accepted by zoologists not because it has been observed to occur or… can be proved by logically coherent evidence to be true, but because the only alternative, special creation, is clearly incredible.” Has it come to that? Does the whole vast structure of modern naturalism depend not on positive evidence but simply on an a priori metaphysical prejudice. Was it devised not to get in facts but to keep out God?

So, what did Elst want to achieve in 2003 by citing a quote originally made in 1929, using a quote-mine first published in 1941? Back when I wrote that original side-by-side, I described this as “intellectually vacuous”. I still can’t think of a better term to sum it all up.

17% vs 9%

I was recently invited to attend a scientific programme related to medical imagining, the exact details of which I won’t bore people with. The talks were the usual mix you can expect from this sort of thing; nutters going on for far too long, research so far outside your expertise you can’t quite figure out where the excitement is, and so on. Yet, all were fascinating in their own way with amazing insights into the work done all over the world by academics, postdocs, and research and project students, and with a good healthy dose of slagging off industry.

The entire thing was ended with a public lecture by Sir William Castell. His speech was, frankly, wonderfully inspirational. It jumped around, as such speeches do, but generally covered much of his life and the research work he and colleagues had been involved in since the 1980s. So it nicely demonstrated how far we’ve come, and how an understanding of biology brought about by scientific and engineering innovations had changed even how we talk about medicine in the last century. We’ve evolved even further from making a rigorous analysis of symptoms of a patient to understanding the core of human biology – understanding the cells, chemical interactions, genetic markers, brain function – in order to assess how we go about treating illnesses. Things we take for granted today have been spawned from this research and innovation (and the context is vital in padding out the blog).

One of Castell’s key points – not that I blame him, being an accountant by original training – was that new innovations should make healthcare not necessarily “better”, but more affordable. That we should open it up to new markets not just of millions but of billions across the planet. The inner idealist in me did feel uncomfortable in treating the world as a “market” of four billion when the population is actually seven billion, but that’s the game we play. This stuff doesn’t buy itself, after all, says my inner cynic.

As always, there were questions at the end. And I was going to say something, but it didn’t quite form in time – it wasn’t until I had time to think walking home that I got something vaguely coherent enough to ask. Even then, it wasn’t short or pithy enough for a Q&A session – perhaps, just slightly, more suitable to raucous debate at the drinks reception. In hindsight, I can’t figure out if it should have been raised, or whether it would have been a can of worms best left closed for that night. Still, I decided to write it down here, albeit in slightly blog-ified form.

Early on in Castell’s speech he mentioned a quick statistic, and this was what niggled at me for the rest of the lecture. My inner cynic and inner idealist fought over it, and that’s what made it worth thinking about. It’s a simple statistic to grasp; the United States spends 17% of its GDP on healthcare, the United Kingdom spends 9%. The numbers are true; it’s a 20 second job to confirm them via Google or whatever non-evil company you prefer. This set of figures is what sparked him to say that healthcare needs to be more affordable, and that innovations should move in that direction to open up healthcare to more people, I mean… erm, “markets”. These figures are almost maxed out as to what we can even afford to spend; we need to cut that down while maintaining first-world standards of healthcare. And it’s true, we spend a lot for a modest gain.

But to me those figures say something else entirely.

Those figures say that the healthcare in the United States doesn’t seem nearly twice-the-GDP better. 17% of GDP. Think about that. 17% of GDP to get first-world healthcare in the US. Yet the United Kingdom – as much as the twatbags and little shits of the right-wing tabloids admonish the National Health Service – gets a fairly similar standard with half as much. Even re-jigging the figures into “per capita” doesn’t make the picture seem much more sane. There’s a difference in spend that, no matter how you spin it, is not reflected in the difference in the end product.

Consider. It’s the cultural norm in the United States for people to be able to bankrupt themselves over unpaid medical bills. It’s not only legal, but accepted as a thing that even happens. It’s the only developed nation where this is the case. The entire plot of Breaking Bad – where a school teacher cooks crystal meth to pay for his cancer treatment – wouldn’t make sense in any other country. Up to the introduction of the Affordable Care Act – a law that was actively fought against by certain aspects of the American political culture and still risks being repealed the instant the Republican party gain sufficient power – it was perfectly legal and acceptable for an insurance company to withdraw their support from people with preventable and/or treatable illnesses. Put in another way, it was culturally acceptable and legally permissible for a company to effectively murder someone in the name of a profit. This is unheard of elsewhere in the developed world. Say what you like about the NHS, but here we simply do not hear of situations where people have to choose between paying rent and paying for chemotherapy. Yet, 17% vs 9% of GDP – $8000 vs $3500 per capita.

Consider further. The incidence of cancer in Japan is around 200 per 100,000, while Australia is 300 per 100,000. That’s not an insignificant difference. That’s not a random statistical anomaly. People worry about the supposed “nuclear plume” from Fukushima and the effect that will have on cancer rates; but the brutal fact is that even if it did effect an increase in cancer rates, at the very worst it would require dozens of such Fukushima events every week for years to raise Japanese cancer rates to the same as those in Australia. The difference between those two countries isn’t their respective use of nuclear materials – and their GDP spend on health is remarkably similar at 9%. Something else is going on; and at this juncture it doesn’t really matter what specifically.

So, my question that I would have posed to William Castell – if I could have formed and condensed it all into less than 30 seconds – is this; why bother? Why do we bother with research? What can our research actually do to help people given the above?

We’re working in a background not where the major concern for healthcare in the UK is whether we can research new affordable treatments or develop better patient self-care, but whether the government are going to dismantle the NHS as we know it. Throwing raw money at it isn’t the solution, and new research doesn’t have the impact these days. So why should we bother?

The major differences in healthcare aren’t due to what we know about human biology and medical science. Our knowledge sharing transcends national barriers more in science than any other discipline in the world. I’ve worked personally with people from Hungary, China, France, Spain, Canada, Italy, Germany… and we’ve never secretly wanted to keep our research within national boundaries. What we know is out there, out for everyone to use. Yet, there is still such massive discrepancies in the basics of healthcare available. Not just in comparing western Europe to the “emerging markets”, but within self-declared developed and first-world countries themselves.

The problem with healthcare seems less to do with research and more to do with politics. The United States’ problem with public health has nothing to do with research; it’s because a political faction wants things done their way. The difference in cancer rates between Australia and Japan are lifestyle-based, and nothing to do with radiation and mutation. So, given all this, why bother with research? Aren’t we just a rounding error next to geography and politics? What can research into genetics and hormones and neurotransmitters actually achieve next to the lifestyle choices that contribute to the biggest health problems? Isn’t our time best spent getting everyone up to speed rather than slogging on with the next innovation that will only help the luckiest 1% of the world?

The technology we gathered together to talk about at this meeting could have been funded years ago. Yet healthcare companies weren’t interested; not because it lacked potential, but because it lacked clear intellectual property control. Simply put, they couldn’t monetize it. We were stuck waiting a decade or more for the money to plough into it. We’re ten years behind in our medical imagining techniques because of this. The final result will be be thirty years off rather than five or ten. The problem was not the ability to research the topic at hand; it was entirely based on money and politics.

In making healthcare affordable, our research and innovation is clearly not the problem – it practically has no effect on the situation at all. So why do we still bother with it?

Top Five Dumbest Things Creationists Say

Following on from the previous, more general, post, here are my personal Top Five for the dumbest comments ever.

5. Ray Comfort is a Bibliophile

Well, this was something of a shot heard around the world as it caused a bit of a racket on the creation-evolution blogosphere. A racket consisting of howls of laughter, of course.

bibliophileThis isn’t exactly a creationist claim, right? Okay, sure. And Ray did apologise and may have learned something. Yep. And there’s nothing wrong with not knowing something. Sure, as even now I’m probably not too sure on how you’re supposed to pronounce “hyperbole” and “aficionado”. But, it does show Ray’s mentality to jump immediately to accusations. Even in the face of the correction, he manages to shoehorn in the term “atheist insult” – as if only the evil non-believers could ever stoop so low as to make a portmanteau out of paedophile. So while others might jump on the “Haha! Ray doesn’t know an obscure word!” bandwagon, this for me is really his persecution complex shining through in glorious technicolour.

4. The Lunar Bukakke Theory

As an offshoot of the hydroplate theory, the “lunar bukakke” theory suggests that the craters on the moon were caused by water impacting the surface. Okay, so far so good, as comets are mostly ice and can cause some damage on impact. But where did the water come from? Yep, as talked about in the previous post. flooddidit. Although this sort of weirdness is associated with much of flood geology and hydroplate “theory”, the specific presentation singled out for the prize here belongs to YouTube user NephilmFree. His assertion is that an especially tight hole would squeeze (minds out of the gutter, please) the flood waters so much that their velocity would increase enough to overcome all the other barriers to this batshit insane idea actually working. Barriers such as basic conservation of energy.

The RationalWiki article linked above covers much of the physics of why this is wrong, as does the following video from Thunderf00t – in his prime, before he started having strange paranoid fantasies of Anita Sarkeesian coming to take his balls away.

3. Ken Ham endorses the worst school quiz ever

Again, a famous one.

creation-testBut remember how Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis fame endorsed it? And how he said the derision (rightfully) poured upon it was an atheist attack on the right of Christians to indoctrinate educate their children as they see fit? Yep. That happened too. Now, anyone not believe me that Ken Ham has a self-indulgent persecution complex and is generally a complete and utter arse? Good.

The Blue Ridge Christian Academy has since quietly closed down.

2. The Answers Research Journal mistakes a stuffed toy for a real animal

While the so-called “paper” itself is a massive fail – its methodology is basically “we used Google images and made shit up” – the most spectacular failure for the ARJ was when it published an image that was blatantly of a stuffed toy thinking it was a real animal. This isn’t entirely unheard of, Islamic evolution-denier (Muslim fundamentalism doesn’t mandate a young earth) Harun Yahya once used a picture of a fishing lure, complete with hook to demonstrate a point about animals.

They will, quite literally it seems, do absolutely anything to justify the absolute crap that is baraminology.

AiGplush1. Fire-breathing Dinosaurs and the Nostrils of +1 Friction Burns

Attributed to British evangelist Richard Kent, this one suggests that dinosaurs would set their nostrils on fire due to breathing heavily in an oxygen-depleted environment, thus explaining the myth of dragons and other monstrous creatures found in the Bible.

Yep, that’s pretty much the long and short of it. The theory can be seen here, about 4 minutes in. I believe potholer54’s audible doubletake speaks for us all.

Top Five Dumb Things Creationists Say

Inspired by a search term that apparently drove traffic to this blog (let’s, erm… not do many others), here are my personal Top Five dumb things creationists say. This is effectively “part 1” – “part 2” is here, and covers the Top Five of the dumbest things creationists have ever said. It involves nostrils and bukakke.

5. “That’s just an example of microevolution, it’s not macroevolution.”

The thing about “macro” and “micro” evolution is that these are terms creationists have effectively made up. They have definitions within evolutionary biology; microevolution being a reference to allele frequencies at a local level and macroevolution being evolution over separated gene pools, kind of like evolution at a species level versus evolution at a genus or family level.

But this usage bears little, if any, resemblance to how creationists use it. They use it as if they’re two different things; and that one can happen, and the other cannot. Yet the only reason that could ever be the case is if certain mutations and allele exchanges within the genetic code were allowed while others weren’t. We know of no such mechanism, and creationists don’t suggest one either.

The reason this is genuinely stupid is that the distinction is arbitrary. It’s malleable. It’s basically an excuse for creationists to shoehorn any glaringly obvious evidence into “microevolution” and still say that their fabled “macroevolution” doesn’t happen. Even clear cases of speciation, where we can demonstrate groups diverging so that they can no longer interbreed, is a case of “micro” evolution. Eventually, what creationists accept as microevolution will merge to be an exact replica of modern evolutionary synthesis.

4. “There are no transitional forms.”

This is literally just a creationist mantra. Repeat it often enough, and they’ll assume it’ll come true.

crockoduckAs with the previous example, this is dumb because it’s yet another example of creationists just making up a brand-new concept because they don’t understand how it’s implementation works in reality. Philosophically speaking, in an evolutionary framework every creature is a transition; a transition between its own parents and its own offspring. In a narrower sense, a transitional fossil exhibits some higher-level feature in partial development or alteration. To a creationist, however, the term means “half-duck-half-crocodile”. So, at least by their own bizarre and ineffective definition they’re right, but trivially so.

What makes it really, really stupid, though, is the fact that there are a metric fuckton of examples in the fossil record. They just pretend those don’t exist.

3. “Flooddidit.”

Everyone knows the response “Goddidit”. It’s a glorious handwave that lets sheer madness happen because you have a supernatural deity fucking about with the laws of logic on a daily basis. “Flooddidit” is the slightly more naturalistically bound cousin of the famous “Goddidit”. For a creationist, there is nothing we can see that can’t be explained by there being some whopping great-big flood four thousand years ago. Even completely contradictory things. The Grand Canyon in Arizona? Flood. The lack of a Grand Canyon in not-Arizona? Flood.

…under cataclysmic Flood conditions, explosive blooms of tiny organisms like coccolithophores could produce the chalk beds in a short space of time.

There is no real logic or explanation behind this stuff. Just… flooddidit.

2. “Evolution is a religion.”

chick_religionThis is a painfully common retort, and can spew from Ken Ham’s mouth almost like it was some automatic Tourette-like reflex that he suffers from constantly. I even imagine him shouting it when waking, in a cold sweat, from a dream where he’s being chased by PZ Myers riding a triceratops.

Now, I’m sure I could go on and on about the linguistic ramifications of treating evolution as a religion, or how if you simply “define” evolution as a religion you can make it perfectly true, but only in a trivial and inconsequential way… but in reality even then it’s still stupid. If you’re going to conflate a branch of scientific study and well-explored theory with mass cultural identity, worship and faith, based around non-falsifiable assertions about the nature of reality, then you’ve broadened your use of “religion” so far as to make it completely useless as a word.

Then again, it makes sense to creationists. They think evolution is a religion because it is an unfalisifiable worldview. And of course it’s an unfalsifiable worldview because evolution is a religion! We know this because evolution is an unfalsifiable worldview…

1. [Insert rant about “religious freedom” here]

Once you’ve totally exhausted all reasonable pathways to proving a point, the last resort is to declare your freedom to believe it anyway.  It’s confusing to the reality-based community that this is some kind of virtue, but hey, it’s still technically allowed – even if it is a tacit admission that you really have no fucking evidence at all that it’s factually true. And that’s the problem; when someone is making a statement about reality, something that can be seen, tested, looked at, examined, and should constrain what we expect to see with our own senses, then it’s not up for debate. It’s up for looking at and testing, and seeing if the world conforms to that, but it’s not really questionable.

Yet, this insidious little non sequitur gets creationists so many free passes. They can get their organisations to be tax-exempt via religious ministry, they can pass on their terrible thinking skills to their children based on religious freedom, and they can brainwash and guilt-trip thousands of well-meaning people into into believing absolute crockoduck, and then paying good money for the DVDs.

Creationism shouldn’t be given a free pass on religious freedom grounds. It’s a scam designed to line the pockets of preachers and evangelists. It promotes climate change denial, and encourages parents to trust in magic over medicine, and is forever intertwined with the same misogyny, homophobia and racism prevalent in the Religious Right. It’s certainly not harmless.