Why Do Creationists Not Go After Chemistry?

I’m going to do something somewhat unusual for this blog; I’m going to talk about work. Work work. The stuff I actually do. The stuff I’ve been reared from birth (it seems) to actually do with my life. (the title I’ve given this should become clear later, skip to the bottom if chemistry and occasional sexual analogy doesn’t interest you)

I have a problem. It’s a problem I’ve been hitting with a hammer for about 5 years now. While it’s a little complicated to get into it, I’ll try and distil it down to something readable without any prior knowledge.

One of the core aims in chemistry is to understand the mechanism of a chemical reaction; that is, when you go from A to B, to not just understand what A and B are, but to describe in as much detail as possible how you get there and through what steps, and which intermediates.

So I have A and B, and I have two potential pathways, 1 and 2. Please forgive the shittier-than-usual-ness of these diagrams, I am stuck without a functioning PC and graphics tablet, and have resorted to MS Paint and a mouse – still, it’s more effort than a Buzzfeed article.

chem_fig1Actually, this is a little abstract, so I’ll go into a little more detail because I  damn-well can and people seem to think chemistry is all blowing shit up and poisoning people (that’s only 60% of the time). Not too much detail, however, since this is a) unpublished work and b) potentially industrially sensitive.

I’m looking at how a particular metal (and associated ligands), let’s call her “M“, activates a particular substrate, let’s call her “S“, while under the influence of light. “Activate” here, just means “turn into a more reactive substance”. You can sit Ms. S and Ms. M together as long as you like, but they’ll do nothing – but shine some light on it, and BOOM, some kinky chemical lesbianism occurs! (that’s a technical term, by the way) Add in another chemical at this point and you can readily convert Ms. S into something else – something that wouldn’t happen without Ms. M and some light. All disturbingly erotic, I know. And no, this is not allegorical.

But how?

In pathway 1 we have M losing a carbonyl (CO, carbon monoxide, the same stuff that kills you in your sleep if you don’t check your boiler once a year) group in the presence of ultraviolet light to form an higher energy intermediate that lacks this CO. Now, chemistry is a game; get to the lowest energy and you win the game. So if you increase the energy of, say, M by using light (which is a sort of “cheat” in the game) then the higher energy intermediate is unstable; it will stabilise itself by latching on to whatever you give it that lowers the energy. It lowers in energy to win the game, and just so happens to produce something you want in the process rather than turning to black gunk (the usual end-product of organometallic chemistry). In pathway 2, much the same happens except no loss of CO; the entire thing, Ms. M, with all her sex toys ligands attached, just goes into an excited electronic state. “Excited state” in this case means that only the  electrons, rather than the whole atoms themselves, have rearranged into a higher energy state. But the principle is the same; this highly excited M lowers the energy by activating the substrate, S.

chem_fig2And evidence for either pathway 1 or pathway 2 is contradictory. I can’t figure it out. The odds are it will take someone way smarter than me and with far more time to figure it out (and funding, of course, as Ms. M is an expensive little madam and not some cheap slut like copper or nickel). And that’s if it’s even possible to really sift through the hellish amount of conflicting data on this one single reaction.

In favour of pathway 1 we have the fact that the reaction is slowed down when there is excess CO about, in accordance with Le Chatelier’s principle (oh, just Google it, not that you will). Yet in favour of pathway 2 we have some good kinetic evidence. In favour of 1 we have some fast spectroscopy measurements showing CO loss under light. But in favour of 2, the isomer distribution in the final products isn’t what we’d expect from CO extrusion and recombination. Although some energy calculations suggests this is expected because the isomers we don’t see disappear too quickly to be seen – although I think those calculations are bullshit because, and no offence to the authors of this one, if you’re using B3LYP/6-31G calculations on organometallic complexes by evaluating only hybrid density functionals against a few different relativistic core pseudopotentials without calibrating your transition state free energies to known empirical data you’re a fucking…

*ahem*

Then there’s how the evidence conflicts depending on whether you do it with this or that or at what temperature – oh, and my own computational calculations that suggest that, for reasons I don’t want to go into, that it’s both (one after each other).

Although in a fairly narrow field, this is still a significant scientific disagreement. There’s been head-scratching, there have been arguments, there’s been betting and mind-changing – right now I’m not even going to call it. It’s up in the air. We literally have no fucking idea about what the answer to this little problem is and the evidence is all over the place.

So… what?

So, why don’t we see people declaring that chemistry is bullshit?

Where are the cranks wanting to throw out atoms (okay, Dewey Larson and Archimedes Plutonium excepted…) and saying that it’s all folly?

Why don’t creationists latch onto this as proof that chemistry is flawed ergo the Earth is 6,000 years old?

You might think that this is because chemistry has nothing to say about the origins of the earth nor evolution. But you’d be wrong. Chemistry underpins the laws that governs genetics – how the genome functions at a biochemical level is all about this. Chemistry is what stops Jesus turning water into wine – and a little bit of nuclear physics suggests such a change would produce a catastrophic amount of energy that would have turned Cana into a crater. Chemistry governs the rates and qualities of rock and mineral formation that preclude even the notion that a flood 4,000 years ago covered the entire world in water. The mere properties of water – which are chemical – can prove such an event didn’t happen.

In short, far from being irrelevant, it would be very much in the interests of creationists to debunk chemistry. In fact, it would be very much within the interests of any crank to debunk all of chemistry. Homeopaths, climate change deniers, anti-vaccine twats; the lot of them.

And since a major modus operandi of the crank is to latch onto minor disagreements in science in order to declare the entire discipline to be false, why wouldn’t they take the one I just handed them above? Why wouldn’t any particular crank jump upon that disagreement and extremely difficult problem (I’ve barely scratched the surface of it there, and that’s only one problem I’ve had) to say chemistry is bullshit? Hey, after all, those silly little scientists can’t agree on a single simple detail like that, they mustn’t be very trustworthy or very clever!

I doubt anyone would declare chemistry to be false because of the above. Psychics, mediums, climate change deniers, moon landing hoaxers, grassy knoll enthusiasts, homeopaths, creationists, Scientologists, faith healers, intelligent design proponents, exorcists, bitcoin miners (okay, perhaps not) and Thor knows who else, will all remain very happy with the idea of atoms, molecules, bonds, thermodynamics, kinetics, electrons, photochemistry and so on and so forth until I’ve written out a contents page from an undergraduate textbook. They won’t see it as something for them. They’ll be ‘meh’ at most – never mind that their ideologies, philosophies and crank hypotheses often require that chemistry be overturned and their usual method is to jump on tiny little flaws.

But why? Why isn’t chemistry something they want to discredit? It’s no more different to the disagreements in evolutionary biology, genetics, palaeontology and geology used by creationists to self-justify their position. Or the disagreements in climatology used by denialists. Or the disagreements and open problems in epidemiology used to justify anti-vaccine twats. Hey, biology gets a ton of attention; why not its basis?

I imagine people will think it’s because they’re not qualified to discuss the chemical conundrum above because of a lack of knowledge or the lack of qualification.

Which would lead us to a very important question; why the hell is it okay for Ken Ham to debate Bill Nye on evolution?

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7 (un)Surprising Signs That Astrology Is Total Bullshit (part 1)

A day or so ago, Matthew Currie posted an open letter to James Randi (and foundation) on BeliefNet.com, purporting to show how he was using unfair straw man arguments against astrology. Part 2 then arrived, where Currie goes through a JREF booklet page-by-page trying to show its errors. The only appropriate response is this:

I’m not even sorry, it really is that bad. It’s pages and pages of whining and moaning about either pedantic details or nothing at all. Currie even ends the article saying he’s not even going to go into:

…the false equivalency on Page 12, the deceptive test results on Page 13, the phony take-down based on The Forer Effect on page 14, the stunning irony of the invocation of Confirmation Bias on Page 15, and the ridiculous misuse of Sun Sign Forecasts on Page 16 and 17 and 18.

So yeah, seriously, Currie ends his “epic take-down” by saying he isn’t going to bother with the real meat of the skeptical opinion on astrology – the underlying psychology, the cognitive biases or the actual results data. As a result, responding to and refuting (in fact, merely even bothering to read) Currie’s article is what I would call “a complete fucking waste of my time”. But he did conclude by pointing readers in the direction of this piece. Considering the context, this should be the greatest evidence that astrology really works ever assembled, right? Yeah, you know exactly where this is going…

So, here are the first 4 of 7 supposedly surprising signs that astrology works.

Astrology & Your Love Life

astro_1

Jung was a bit of a mystic and flake, so has become the go-to person for astrologers and New Age types when they want a “reputable scientist” to back them up. Yet, he’s hardly the be-all and end-all of authority on psychology – indeed, how can he, considering he’s been dead for over fifty years? Criticism of Jung can, and has, filled countless pages, and is hardly new.

He once noted that “astrology represents the sum of all the psychological knowledge of antiquity” – while his spiritual influence are well known, it seems that some of his approaches were to explain astrology with psychology, not the other way around. He did play a part in developing the concept of “synchronicity“, which states that events may be connected by a common meaning that human experience gives to them. This relationship may not necessarily be causal, but entirely within the mind. As a result, Jung’s psychological theory – one that has little evidence or predictive value associated with it – has been widely criticised as simply being apophenia, aka, seeing meaning in random noise.

As for Jung’s study of married couples, there are quite literally no sources that I’ve found so far outside of astrology websites (sigh…) and many of them conflict on the details. As a result, it’s near impossible to criticise in a meaningful sense – yet is impossible to take seriously, too. However, a more intuitive explanation presents itself if we take the qualitative conclusion at face value; if people believe that birth charts affect their relationships and put stock in it, is it a surprise to find married couples matched by astrological “predictions”?

Astrology & Weather

astro_2

Astrology is known in skeptical jargon as a “protoscience” – something that, although it pre-dates the scientific method and methodological naturalism, still relied on some observational methodology to reach its conclusions. As a result, records kept by these protosciences can be of use; astrologers charted the position of planetary bodies, and alchemists recorded the first chemical reactions. However, this has no bearing on the supernatural predictions and assertions they make.

As for Sergey Tarasov and Alphee Lavoie, no link is given to this apparent study. After a few attempts at tracking it down, I kinda gave up. What I could figure out is that Lavoie and Tarasov sell astrology software aimed at market trading – little word on how effective it is, although it’s worth noting that “selling astrology software” is a common theme uniting many astrologers cited in this list. They do appear to be linked not to weather cycles, but predicting apparent tough economic times between 2012 and 2015. But considering these predictions were made about two years before, while planetary positions are known hundreds of thousands of years in advance (as the chaos caused by the n-body problem doesn’t kick in for a while), we can respond to this with “no shit, Sherlock”.

Astrology & Fertility

astro_3

There may be a good reason that female fertility follows patterns related to phases of the moon – the moon orbits once every 28 days, while the female reproductive cycle coincidentally happens to also follow 28 days. Fancy that. Wait, this isn’t news to people, right? Okay, just checking.

Actually, fuck it, just read the Skeptic’s Dictionary entry. Basically, Eugene Jonas merely stumbled upon just another variant of the “Rhythm Method”, which isn’t, as it may sound, a prog R&B band, but a birth control method preferred by the Catholic Church because it doesn’t involve evils such as condoms (often referred to as “Vatican Roulette”). We all know how effective that can be – a failure rate of ~10% or so based on even perfect use. So, by telling couples who want to avoid pregnancy to have less sex, and couples who want to conceive to have more sex, while not offering any guarantees despite a claim of “100%” effectiveness, Jonas had stumbled upon a remarkable discovery; being able to sell the bleeding obvious for good hard cash.

Astrology & Family Patterns

astro_4

Because this list insists on me looking things up myself, I found Bernadette Brady – an astrologer who says she has an MA in  Culture (sic) Astronomy and Astrology from Bath Spa University, UK. Now, I don’t want to disparage a distance-learning course provided by an ex-polytechnic college that kicked their cultural astrology programme out of their prospectus in 2008 shortly after it gained “proper” university status but… never mind, that’s beside the point. You can find this study, and “extensive research” here.

The first thing you notice reading this study is the sheer number of astrological alignments that can be made. At any one point in time you have seemingly thousands of confluences and positions to take into account – making it a discipline ripe for data mining (this isn’t limited to astrology). Secondly, you’ll see that there’s no test that gathers people together and tests the proposal about whether similar groups have similar astrological charts and groupings – certainly the test is blind or randomised or anything that would seriously back up the assertion made in BeliefNet’s puff-piece there.

In fact, the main worked example in Brady’s paper is about the Kennedy’s. Considering it was written in 1997, and JFK was assassinated in 1963, you can hardly say this is generating new information – the second example is older and even more esoteric, looking at the Dutch royal family in the 19th century. Confluences in astronomical bodies are known centuries in advance – where are the infallible predictions of the future, where you’re not just stating the obvious?

Anyway, this is getting a bit long now. I’ll shove the last three into another post for later.

What quoting the Bible to an atheist looks like when you’re an atheist

What quoting the Bible to an atheist looks like when you're an atheist

Seriously, this is what quoting the Bible to an atheist looks like when you’re an atheist. Spouting lines saying Jesus is the only way to heaven or whatever is genuinely less than meaningless. It may be a standard apologetics or evangelising trick, but it doesn’t work. Preachers need to be honest about how many people they’ve ever converted with this sort of thing; I cannot imagine it being very high.

Citing the Bible is not an argument designed to convince; it’s designed to maintain, or to keep people who already have faith. Indeed, most theistic arguments stem from this solely because they cannot connect the a priori arguments, such as the cosmological or teleological arguments, to the actual prescriptive dogma. If you pre-suppose that the Bible is inerrant and true then it makes sense, it keeps your faith. But that’s true of presupposing anything; if we assume Middle Earth is real, then the Silmarillion is proof that Middle Earth is the one truth mythology of England (besides, we also have Tolkien’s intent to back that one up).

So, to anyone who has ever done this; what do you actually expect us to do? Go “oh, gee whiz mister! I never knew that! Tell me more about this Jesus guy!” Because, frankly, I can’t see how you can even expect anyone but the terminally stupid to follow you after that.

Actually, that probably explains creationism.