Institute for Creation Research on water’s… erm, uniqueness.

The ICR has a very… interesting section on chemistry. Most of the time, it’s correct, and fairly unobjectionable – if a bit scatter-shot in its approach, jumping wildly between transition metal chemistry and ribose, and phosphates and finally water (which we’ll get onto in a moment). It’s chemistry, it’s fascinating and not that complicated.[citation needed]

After the page takes its time to cover some of the rules of chemistry, I fail to see the logical leap where this suddenly proves design. After all, it’s established the atoms bind a certain way, have particular properties, and then they form molecules. It’s all very deterministic. It’s almost as if the ICR trying the usual creationist trick of “I don’t understand this shit, therefore God”. Oh, wait, scratch the “almost as if” there, that’s exactly what it’s doing

But factually (in terms of the chemistry described), it’s still pretty much on the money and correct.

Or so I thought until I read this bit:


Now, I am tempted to give them the benefit of the doubt that this is just really badly worded. Like epically badly worded on par with most of the incoherent description found within 50 Shades of Grey. There’s a difference between being wrong, and not explaining yourself properly – so perhaps, just perhaps, the ICR is doing the latter here and I’m about to quibble over nothing. Of course, I’m no expert in the English language – as anyone who has proof-read my blog posts will attest to – but I’m sure that when you make a declarative statement with one sentence, then the next sentence should explain that declaration and not go onto a tangent.

So if you’re going to say that “water is a unique substance” then you should really follow it with some of its actual unique properties. Properties like it’s staggeringly high heat capacity – a property that is largely responsible for our climate being the way it is because water can transport energy around so easily (*cough* this is a big hint for Question 5 *cough*). That’s quite unique to water – at least it’s unique for such a common substance. I wouldn’t go on to imply the hydrogen bonding is unique to water as the ICR seems to imply in their lazy-assed way of explaining things. Anywhere where you have something to donate electrons (like oxygen, which has two sets of two electrons to reach out with) and something small and positively charged (like hydrogen, which readily loses the electron density around it to neighbouring atoms because it’s a pussy) this positive-attracts-negative interaction will occur. Boom, hydrogen bonding. It’s a common-as-muck interaction, in fact.

Hydrogen bonding

It’s true that hydrogen bonding plays a part in how water’s structure works, but that’s not unique to water. It’s not even particularly special in water itself – it’s just hydrogen bonding like in any other material that has that interaction. H-bonding is not even unique to simple interactions between molecules – it’s even the reason many larger ones hold the shape they do (DNA, secondary protein structures, and so on). I’ve even heard one good argument that they should be referred to as “NOF bonds” because in organic chemistry the lone pairs of nitrogen (N), oxygen (O) and fluorine (F) are significantly more important than the hydrogen part – though I’m not particularly taken with that designation as it’s not quite right either:

Yeah, that’s a hydrogen bond with hydrogen itself acting as the electron donor. Which is pretty damn cool.[citation needed]

But that doesn’t prove design. That proves electrostatic forces happen. That proves that the 1s orbital around hydrogen can contribute a very varied electron density around that atom – ranging from a positively charged protic hydrogen atom to a negatively charged hydride. A feat which in itself is entirely due to the fact that there’s only a weedly little (but unshielded) +1 charge binding those electrons in place. Something that itself is controlled by rules within quantum chromodynamics and electrodynamics at a much more fundamental level than I care to describe right now. That all comes together to allow hydrogen atoms polarise very readily, to become positive or negative determined by what they’re next to, not because some magic entity declared it to be so with a few settings and dials. And then they attract, because opposing that force requires energy, which the universe simply doesn’t like doing because it’s a lazy bitch.

Once you truly understand the laws of chemistry, you realise that there really is no other way that these atoms could arrange themselves plausibly – and you can see that there is no way “design” played a part in all of this.

RationalWiki on its “issues”

Jebus, you people – whoever “you people” are – still insist on linking to this and commenting on it and whatnot… Here’s an update since this post is over two years old now:

  1. I no longer regularly edit RW. This is partially because I’ve now quit all forms of movement or group-based rationality/skepticism because it’s no longer much fun nor worthwhile for me, but mostly because I’ve expended what I could contribute to the wiki’s mainspace that I’d consider “good”. If time, motivation and the right subject all aligned, I would start writing for the mainspace again without hesitation. Until then, it’s quiet retirement for me doing things I find much more interesting.
  2. I still stand by the take-home point here. If you want to declare that “rationalism/skepticism should stay clear of social issues”, you’re declaring that a particular topic is out-of-bounds. And anyone with a working knowledge of skepticism and human rationality should be able to identify the main reasons why someone might declare a subject “out of bounds” – it’s never a good one. The environment and climate change is largely a social issue, religious persecution is largely a social issue, and political opinion is largely a social issue. If I’m not allowed to take a look at, for example, the statistical wage-gap and what it says about our treatment of men and women in society “because it’s a social issue”, then I’d like to know a much better reason than “fucking Tumblr-SJWs always getting offended over nothing”.
  3. Oh, while I’m at it… why Tumblr? I have never used that site. I resent its fairly useless interface, poor usability, and it’s – what can only be described as fundamentally insane – approach to nested comments. You cannot find me on that site, you probably will never find me even re-blogging from it. When you say something like “tumblr feminist” I have literally no idea what the fuck you mean outside of “something bad that’s bad because I said its bad just because”.

I’m putting this miniature rant in extended blogified form here because it’s one of those things I just need to link to on occasion. I’m pretty sure I say this every time the subject comes up, so this should stop me sounding like more of a broken record than I already am. If you’re one of the people who came here via the search terms that WordPress tells me directs traffic here, you can close the tab or press the back button, I very much doubt this is what you want to hear. 

The context is this:

RationalWiki should stay the hell away from social issues, politics, gender, and all that jazz, and focus on “skepticism” instead.

Statements to this effect pop up on a monthly basis like clockwork, and I take immense issue with it every single time. Here’s why.

Your basic “rationalism” and “skepticism” ideas, tropes and challenges are already-solved problems. To be good little skeptics we just need to toe the party line. Religion is brainwashing! Creationism is stupid! Homeopathy is bunk! Scientologists are lunatics!! We just need to quote the right peoples’ soundbites, and don’t need to think about what those soundbites mean. Or we can just memorise the dog-Latin names for logical fallacies so we can throw them out without realising that ad hominem doesn’t actually mean “crass insult”.

It requires next to no thought to deal with this stuff. It’s trivial and the work has been done already on it. Hell, conclusively proving that psychics and mediums are a load of shit dates back to Harry Houdini and hasn’t really developed since. The problem is solved, and countless projects other than RationalWiki exist to have such a narrow scope.

But social issues are ongoing, and they are still under debate, and still out there in a sense where they can be preached to a congregation. We don’t need to convince a fledgling skeptic that chiropractic medicine is a load of baloney, but we might need to convince them that the phrase “I don’t mind gay people so long as they don’t ram their sexuality down my throat” is an even bigger con. And one likely to cause just as much harm as cracking someone’s spine to cure cancer.

Look at the average teenage non-believer that’s just discovered Richard Dawkins, and you’ll see that they’re almost certainly white, straight, cis and male, and probably affluent enough for a college education. So, deary me they tick all the boxes. There is under-representation in the “movement” (for lack of a better term) and that is simply a fact. Now, you can disagree whether this is a “problem” and you can disagree on the “why” (hence why this isn’t in the simple “solved problems” bucket) but you have to concede that at least something is up with this, and that it’s worth noting. In fact, I’d go as far to say that you can’t even disagree that this situation is sad as fuck. It’s just a pattern that we see everywhere – e.g., how I recently moved from one job where I had 10 female colleagues out of 19 to one where I have 2 female colleagues out of 30. Why is that? And why does asking “why is that?” have to take a back seat to debunking astrology for the 27 billionth time?

Come on, if you’re editing something called RationalWiki, or more broadly engage with the “rationalist” and “skeptical” movements, it’s because you self declare yourself to be a “rationalist” or a “skeptic”. That can mean whatever the hell you want it to mean, but if it’s not going to be about making the world a better place then what is your fucking point of existing?

If you want to throw off the shackles of doctrine, dogma and religion, then why do so just so you can become more of an asshole?

So yes, I want to make the world a less toxic place for people who have been sidelined in the past. I’m not always successful, I’m not perfect, but that’s my aim, and I listen to the kind of people who might be able to guide me towards that intention. What the hell is wrong with that? These “gender issues” still impact on the world very much, and are areas where we – as the self-appointed intellectual superiors of the planet, it seems – can actually make a real difference.

And we, that is, RationalWiki, are making a difference. People take note of what the wiki says on the subject. People complain about what the wiki says on the subject, and if you’re not pissing people off you’re doing something wrong. So that’s fine by me, it’s going in the right direction.

But guess the fuck what? We actually suck at the subject. We’re not dominated by it, we don’t cover it very well, and the discussion side of the site is still pretty anti-social. If you take an objective look at recent changes to the wiki, we’re not actually gender obsessed, nowhere near. We get a lot of talk pages from “controversial” articles that continue to attract attention, and dear gods in the seven heavens the Thunderf00t talk page just keeps on giving…

But why those?

Why not homeopathy?

Because homeopathy is one of those solved problems. All rationalists already think it’s bollocks, and those who are pro-homeopathic know better than to try and edit war with RationalWiki about it. It’s foreign territory and outside the echo chamber. But when we have pages on privilege, or the “Amazing” Atheist telling women we should give their rapists a medal, it’s very different. They come, and they challenge and they complain. It shows that people exist within the self-declared “skeptic” and “rationalist” and “atheist” communities who haven’t yet woken up to these gender or race, or sexuality issues. And I’m not even sorry to say it, but they are just fundamentally wrong on those issues.

In short, it’s an area we can preach in, and should preach in, but actually we don’t. It’s just that even a smidge of that sort of thing is enough to make people feel uncomfortable (“Rape Culture? But ”I’M” not a rapist!!!!”) and go on the defensive.

You know what, never mind. Laughing at Conservapedia because “ZOMG!! Teh Assfly is teh dumbs!!!!” is so much easier.