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.

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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.

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.

How Do You Tell if Someone is a Real Scientist or Not?

Jay Seegert recently wrote a guest article titled “How Do You Tell if Someone is a Real Scientist or Not?” Being riddled with so much derp that just cannot be allowed to stand, I thought I’d write a response. Alas, I was beaten to the punch by one of my partners-in-crime on Facebook. Here is what he had to say on the subject:

Nice strawman, Mr. Seegert. You really are a class act, here, knowing full well that your target audience will have no inclination or desire to overcome their internal confirmation bias to either confirm or deny your claims.

Consider the following exchange…

Please source this “exchange”, or admit that you made it up entirely. No one who seriously engages a creationist on terms of defining “science” or other terms would make the careless misstep of circular reasoning that you portray here. Science is not something to “believe” in, in the first place. It is something to be observed, tested, and questioned, even when one thinks that they know all there is to know about a given subject.

Creationists, one the other hand, such as Eric Hovind, Paul Taylor, and Sye Ten Bruggencate are on record numerous times in print and video admitting that their worldview not only RELIES but is ENTIRELY BASED ON circular reasoning (i.e., Creation is true, because the Bible says it and the Bible is true, because it’s the word of God, and the Bible is the word of God because it says so in the Bible, which also says that Creation is true, …)

Publication:

Produce a single publication refusal stating “We can’t publish anything from you… You’re not a real scientist!”

A high school dropout could, theoretically, publish in a major peer-reviewed science journal without a credential to their name IF the science is sound and passes peer review. The problem with creationist articles is that they cannot pass peer review because they are bad science. Any field of science needs to take into account the observations and data from related and often disparate fields of science that impact the hypothesis being tested.

“Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”:

Please. Citing a propaganda film of that nature is on par with using “Super Size Me” as a dietary guideline. You insult the intelligence of your readers by using it. Instead, perhaps you could post some links to scanned copies of rejection and censorship letters that explicitly say words to the effect of “This journal will not publish your article because you believe in God”? My guess is that such documents don’t exist, because the rejections are based on fundamental scientific errors that are readily apparent upon reading, even to novices in the appropriate field.

Kirschner quote:

My good sir… This is a BREATHTAKING example of a “quotemine”. Absolutely stunning. I marvel at your ability to take a quote so far out of context as to mean exactly the opposite of what its speaker intended. This quote ignores the fact that the ENTIRE ARTICLE was about a shift in biology away from reductionism (e.g., the way that Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, etc.look at individual parts of life to study their intricacies) and toward an interdisciplinary approach to describe and study evolutionary processes on a macro scale.

To wit:

For too long, they say, researchers in its different domains-from evolutionists in the field to cell biologists in the lab-have remained isolated. ‘I wouldn’t call it an antagonism as much as one not knowing anything about the other,’ Gerhart offers.

Kirschner likes to invoke the much-quoted declaration of famed 20th-century biologist Theodesius Dobzhansky that ‘nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution’ (the title of a 1973 essay). ‘In fact, over the last 100 years, almost all of biology has proceeded independent of evolution, except evolutionary biology itself,’ Kirschner declares. ‘Molecular biology, biochemistry, physiology, have not taken evolution into account at all.’

As a result, scientists working on genetics, cells, and molecules-a background Kirschner and Gerhart share-have not always considered how components of an organism reveal both its physiological properties and evolutionary properties and provide a window into the history of the organism. Evolutionary science, argue Kirschner and Gerhart, will advance as more biologists place their lab research within this evolutionary framework.

Nonetheless, many scientists think a convergence of biology’s disciplines is now at hand. Whereas evolutionary biologists have famously debated whether the gene, organism, or even species is the proper unit of natural selection, current research increasingly integrates these things. ‘This is where it’s happening,’ says Daniel Hartl, an evolutionary geneticist at Harvard. ‘Evolutionists and others in the field are not arguing about reductionism any more. What’s exciting is putting it all together, from the genetic level to the organism.

http://www.truth-out.org/archive/item/58104:missing-links

Relevance to medicine:

You provide an orthopedic surgeon’s response. Ask a pathologist, epidemiologist, or virologist the same question and see what kind of an answer you get.

Founding of disciplines of science:

So? Algebra was founded by Muslims. Does that mean that mathematics owes its existence to the Koran? Geometry was founded by polytheistic Greeks. I guess we should thank Zeus for the value of Pi (which the Bible gets wrong, by the way)! Pagan druids founded astronomy. That’s why telescopes require the sacrifice of a virgin goat in order to work properly.

Do you see how silly you sound yet?

Those are the major points and I think I’ve made my case clear. You have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. You should be ashamed of yourself. Not on some theological “God vs. The Haters” level or even a “Creation vs. Evolution” one, but on the simple fact that you would even attempt to publish this tripe in defense of your creationist view when your points are so easily and readily rebutted and debunked.

So where are the millions of these?

Note: I found this image copy-pasted to a popular Facebook page – although they did decide to edit out the “stupid” from “stupid questions”, which I think is a travesty as “stupid” is a relatively honest assessment. However, they didn’t link back here for the fuller description (that’s okay, I could do without the hundreds of notifications of new derperific comments). Reading through the Facebook comments revealed several dozen rebutal to the effect that the image is “wrong”. Of course it’s “wrong”. It’s wrong for the reasons laid out in the rest of this blog post. But the page owners decided not to link to this blog post, and so no one could read all of these additional thoughts and caveats. Thus, they were all left thinking the image was “wrong” in a much more absolute way, and that the author was an idiot. I’m sure there’s a moral in this story somewhere…


This is apparently quite an old meme, but it cropped up somewhere recently and I thought I’d have a shot at de-bunking it in a single image. Creationist ideas are depressingly easy to debunk, but the problem with truly bad arguments is that it’s time consuming to refute them – so if you can do it in one image, why not try for the efficiency?

So where are the millions of these?

So, that’s it. The intermediate forms are dead, idiots. What next?

Actually, the original is wrong on a further level – which I suppose technically classes it as Not Even Wrong. It mis-identifies the starting animal in the linear ‘Descent of Man’ image as a chimp, and so infers that there are millions of them – although that number is off by an order of magnitude or two. This is wrong.  That starting animal, the common ancestor, is not alive today. There definitely are not millions of them around. Even that creature is dead along with the transitional forms connecting it to us.

While that makes it wrong from the very start, I think it’s important to also dispel the idea of linear evolution – instead of a straight line it’s a criss-crossed tree of inter-breeding, separation, diversification and extinction-driven pruning that’s unbelievably complicated. But I suppose that’s the price we have to pay for the nice, fun and clear ‘Descent of Man’ image. It gets the main message across – we evolved from ‘lower’ life forms, but it’s a simplification. Any simplification, where the nuances of the real picture are compressed to save space and get a message across, is prone to misunderstanding when people try to decompress it again without the right knowledge. And this is what happens here; creationists have taken the ‘Descent of Man’ image, unpacked the cute little diagram to figure out what it means, but made the wrong assumptions about the identity of the first creature in it. And so, “how come there are still monkeys?” remains a frequently asked question – and “where are the ones in the middle?” is the next logical question to ask.

It’s possible that modern chimps are relatively unchanged from the common hominin ancestor (not a completely unforgivable assumption, I’m sure, but it might be a tad awkward) making the idea that we are evolved “from” them have some degree of truth to it. Evolution is driven by environmental factors that make adaptation necessary; if you lack those factors, then only a minor amount of genetic drift will occur and so our closest living relatives may have a lot more in common with our common ancestor than we do. As a result, we can throw some caution to the wind about assuming that there are millions of chimps that we evolved from, and wonder where we can find the intermediate species that connect us. In this case the answer is still the same: they died out a long time ago. The branched species went extinct (as do the vast majority of species) while the surviving line eventually evolved into us.

So where are they? They’re buried under tons of rock, that’s where. Mostly crushed and eaten away by time.

We could reinterpret the question in a different way, though, and ask why there aren’t countless extant intermediate species today. Why are species alive today so diversified into the concept of a “species”? Why isn’t there a living continuum of different species that blend nicely from one related animal to the next? Why do we have discrete species rather than a continuous species? Now that is an interesting question, but it would be for another time.

Five points

Found on Google+

There are at least five – (probably more) assumptions made by evolutionists that cannot be proven. The whole theory rests upon these assumptions.
1. Life from non-life.
2. ALL varieties from a single cell.
3. Time – Billions of Years.
4. Physical Universe (where did matter itself come from ?)
5. Order in the Universe from Chaos.

Now, I’m not necessarily answering this because it’s easy (even though it is) but because the person who said this had read the Uber Rant of Death and thought that it meant I couldn’t defend any positions – and then thus went on to write the above quote, proving that, as I said in that rant, creationists aren’t terribly bright, nor particularly original in their thinking. I’ll put the kettle on, and I bet I’ll get this finished by the time it takes me to have one cup of NATO standard.

1. Life from non-life.

This is real easy. The trouble is that “life” isn’t some magic thing. There are a lot of properties common to what we might call “alive” that aren’t shared with things that are “dead” (or “not alive”) but the actual category has very, very fuzzy edges. The reason we think it’s a real thing is because the rough category is extremely useful to us – it splits the world neatly into things we can eat or could eat us, and things that don’t. “Life” used like this is a fallacy of compression, not a real argument that makes sense in the context of abiogenesis.

The rough edges come in the form of degrees of what we might call “life”. For instance, we can class replicating polymers as “alive” thanks to their ability to undergo descent with modification – i.e., exactly what DNA does in living organisms. Or there are viruses, prions and independent mitochondria that blur the edges even more. And that goes all the way up to the emergent properties that form a consciousness.

But, in short, the origin of life is not a magic, single-stage event. It’s a process. At one end we have “not alive” chemicals, and at the other end we have “alive” highly organised chemicals. There is no single point where a magic spark occurs to create life from not-life. Given this approach and the evidence used to back it up, there’s neither a great logical nor physical leap that “life” can spawn, eventually, from “non-life” – material in the universe can easily creep from one to the other by degrees.

2. ALL varieties from a single cell.

Not entirely sure what this means but I assume it means common descent from only a single-celled organism. I don’t see how this is an assumption. Barring the discovery of a second genesis any time soon,  the fact that all life runs on the same chemicals and same basic cellular structure is pretty strong evidence for a single ancestor of all life. We can see varieties of bacteria emerge and evolve from single cells quite reliably, just as we see varieties diverge from larger organisms.

I really, really don’t see how this is an assumption. It’s logically inferred from evidence.

Though, I do want to point out that this loose and poorly defined use of “varieties” here is pretty much a standard creationist talking point. They get to hide behind their lack of detail.

3. Time – Billions of Years.

If I’ve missed anything else out, it’s probably on this list. Seriously, unless you’re going to propose Last Thursdayism, this is a fact. There’s really no getting around it. We don’t “assume” the world is old enough for this to occur, we damn well know it.

Though, amusingly the rate of evolution required by baraminology (the YEC equivalent of taxonomy) would be able to get around this. Seriously, creationists believe in a type of Super Evolution that, if true, would be demonstrable by all sorts of monkey-giving-birth-to-zebras weirdness that we don’t actually see. The irony of this is that many really crappy creationist arguments involve saying evolution involve straw man monkey-giving-birth-to-zebras weirdness and admit that this doesn’t happen. Yes, they claim they have evidence against evolution and evidence for baraminology – but present evidence for evolution and against baraminology in its place. And people still wonder why creationists get called idiots…

4. Physical Universe (where did matter itself come from ?)

This is just a case of “back at ya”, really. Ex nihilo (“from nothing”) creation is actually most commonly found in supernatural, creationist proposals for the beginning of the universe. It’s not necessarily a proposal common to modern cosmology, which proposes an ex materia (from existing material) creation based on a singularity.

Ex nihilo creation is also not particularly logical. It would require “something” acting upon literally nothing (and I’ve yet to find a coherent argument for why this isn’t semantically identical to “taking no action”) to create everything. That alone breaks the concept of causality and sort of wrecks the idea of a “creator”, because you can’t have a creator without cause-and-effect to identify the cause.

I find that to be slightly more interesting than the common case of replying to it with the more usual response that “the origins of the universe have no bearing on evolution”. This much is true, though. We could have been sparked into life by a wizard fidgeting with a magic field and it would literally not change the physical laws that govern descent with modification and natural selection. Once those laws are in place, they operate as they operate; their origins don’t particularly matter because the operation and nature of those laws are what we can see now, independent of their origin. So, I’m going to have to have a hell of a lot more detail about why it should.

5. Order in the Universe from Chaos.

Now, this is interesting. Because, actually, order is something of an illusion here. The order that life creates is, in fact, very localised. Order isn’t coming from chaos, and in fact, disorder is constantly increasing. This is simple thermodynamics. But before the creationists start thinking that this is some tacit admission that evolution is impossible (or whatever) they need to realise that this isn’t actually a problem. Indeed, it’s really a benefit and what makes it possible.

Chemical reactions are driven by order turning to disorder. We call it entropy. Entropy is a property within thermodynamics that always increases, and never decreases. BUT, and this is a big all capital letters BUT, only within an enclosed system. The only truly enclosed system is the universe itself. Providing the overall entropy of the universe increases, a reaction is thermodynamically “legal”.

So, consider life – yes, yes, what our compression fallacy says is “life”.

It converts ordered molecules into heat. It slowly mashes up cells into waste. Protein folding is driven primarily by the increase in entropy of all the solvent molecules surrounding the unfolded protein suddenly being released. Even where it doesn’t balance, it’s caused by the energy input (in the form of heat and radiation) from the sun – which is caused by thermodynamically legal actions within the star itself. So there are no violations of this principle at all involved in evolutionary biology. Indeed, following this to the letter is what makes the system work.

And, as I figured, responded in a fairly short-and-sweet manner all in the space of a single up of tea (and yes, it was still warm at the end). It’s not difficult.

tea

Fallout

There’s this phrase about being careful what you wish for. If only someone had been around to remind me of it when I said to David Gerard “Aw hell, just drop it on Reddit to make sure that prophecy of it biting me in the ass comes true”. Because, for a blog that ticks over with between 0 and 5 views per day, shooting up to around 20 when I link it to Facebook, I’ve just had it hit with around 17,000 27,000 31,000 35,000. For a day or so, I was surfing through a tempest in a Reddit-shaped teapot. A small blip in grander terms of what gains traction on the internet (and now consigned to a bin of forever-forgotten blog posts), but quite the Black Swan event from my perspective, since I thought it would never gain any traction at all.

What have I learned?

Well, frankly, that most people “liked” the overly-verbose, profanity-ridden, borderline-psychotic rant that came to me after seeing one-too-many Creationist “refutations” of what I was trying to say (the individual post that triggered it wasn’t even a refutation). People mostly grokked the point; that it was wild venting, intentionally and ambitiously offensive, and that the over-the-top ego-boosting was, in fact, an act. This is reassuring. It was written for those people more than the hypothetical recipient(s). Writing like a character from The Thick of It is arduous, I’m pleased the effort wasn’t wasted.

I do like some of the calls of “you’re my new hero”. That’s nice. Though, while I’m sure you’re being rhetorical, please don’t put me up on a pedal stool, I’ll only disappoint like a damp squid.

But there are negatives. About 20% or so, which is not insignificant. I’ll quote or paraphrase them below.

That was a long verbose self-aggrandizing way to just say “creationists are stupid, I’m really smart.”

Yes, yes it was.

This reads as tripe designed to inflate the ego of the writer at the supposed expense of the Creationist. All of the–I can only call it wanking–doesn’t further any logical end, nor does it reveal anything about the ridiculous nature of today’s Creationism.

Complaining that publishing a venomously cathartic rant doesn’t further a logical end is like complaining that J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy does nothing to further our knowledge of the social structure of 16th Century Mongolia. If creationism today is ridiculous, then I merely added to the ridicule. Vehement and rather disgusting, if slightly ad hoc, ridicule, but ridicule nonetheless. This was intentional – and, if I remember rightly, noted as such.

As for the ego-inflating or self-aggrandizing parts, well, that accomplished two things. Firstly, personal catharsis; I suffer the same impostor complex as practically every other grad student in the universe, I have to get it out there that I’ve done something with my life if even just for personal benefit. Secondly, to demonstrate I do have the qualification to know what I’m doing when it comes to science. So many angry rants exist out there just come across as pathetic because at no point do we get a feel for why the author should have a right to feel so superior.

Wow, you really need to get laid…. and for goodness sake, get a girlfriend(or boyfriend, I do not judge).

Argumentum ad cellarium. Usually employed by people who almost certainly have less sex than their targets. Though, quite clearly this person is judging, because their comment is highly bigoted towards asexuals. That’s not very nice, you know.

[from someone who copy-pasted the rant] The internet is public domain… when a person lists their thoughts on that public domain and someone else thinks “Right on” and promotes that thought in some way… well… I’m expanding his audience free of charge.

Actually, copyright infringement is a strict liability offence, meaning that all cases of unlicensed replication of intellectual property is an illegal infringement upon the right of the originator to control the copy and distribution (and modification) of the original work. BUT, as no money is involved and no loss of income (as much as I would love to be paid to rant like an arsehole all day) can be demonstrated, such an infringement would be a civil, rather than criminal act. In short, I’d have to sue for it to mean anything. But I don’t care, I really don’t. Have at it. Translate it, do what you like. I should release this stuff under CC-BY-SA or something, but I’m not sure that’s entirely appropriate for my purposes.

I will point out that “in a public place” is not the same as public domain. That’s a very specific legal term that an author needs to expressly release their work into. People need to stop mixing these up. Please.

Then again, having read the comments on that article… well, I’m kinda pleased it was a copy-paste job, I just couldn’t have dealt with that much derp appearing here.

when steam is coming out of your head, is exactly the time when you should NOT be writing and publishing, unless you want to do severe damage to your own cause

Writing coherent vitriol is actually quite difficult. You need to be in a mood of sorts, sure, but you also need to be focused. I’ve had experience of losing it, and then writing and submitting quickly, and suffering the fallout and regret of it. This was not one of those times. The first draft was, I’ll admit, but that was saved and then worked on. In reality everything was said in a (relatively) calm and deliberate fashion; building up layers, expanding insults further, and challenging the boundaries of my own personal taste. I wasn’t hammering away at a keyboard like a lunatic – I simply can’t keep that sort of thing up for more than a paragraph.

Live and let live provided no one forces their views on you.

Well, I don’t force my “views” on people. A view is like “The Phantom Menace was terrible” – okay, bad example as The Phantom Menace is terrible, but still. So, sure, I can let another view live easily enough. Arguing about opinions, which have no objective basis in reality, is an embarrassment to human intelligence.

What I prefer is for people to honestly appraise evidence for something where it’s presented. If you can present evidence for something, it’s not really an opinion. The universe doesn’t care what we think or believe – we can stop believing in things and it wouldn’t automatically make them untrue, and on the other hand there are other things that would outright disappear if we stopped believing in them. Consider “gravity pulls things towards the Earth at about 9.8 ms-2” and “we should wear clothes because nakedness is shameful”. That’s the difference.

But there are people who flip this around. They conflate fact and opinion, and make it look as if actual facts – the things that “are” regardless of our belief in them – are subject to opinion, or a vote, or are malleable with respect to this bizarre concept of a “worldview”. They pass or try to pass legislation to help them with this. To deny the existence homosexuality and to brainwash kids into thinking it’s objectively wrong; to say that evolutionary biology is “just a theory” and that their personal specific religious story is equally valid in scientific terms; or to put God in schools with no room for other beliefs; or to remove funding from climatologists because they discovered an inconvenient truth. None of those things are opinions that we should “let live”. I won’t apologise for treating such people with the contempt they bring on themselves.

The first post is the one that grabs my attention, and his/her use of the word “atheistists?” In correlation of the word evolutionist. What a dumbass. If you are trying to “prove” a point, use real words you ignoramus.

I’m just adding this one because, pray tell, what is a “real” word? After all, “evolutionist” isn’t a “real” word – there is no -ism behind evolutionary biology so I can’t be an -ist, it’s not an ideology, it’s not an optional personality cult. Clearly, the writer of this particular comment understood this absurdity, otherwise they wouldn’t have spotted the correlation between the unnecessary -ist on the end of evolution and the doubly unnecessary -ist on the end of atheist.

Now, if you want to deride a rich tradition of manipulating arbitrary vowels and consonants in a creative way to demonstrate points in new ways, in favour of a rigorous and unyielding prescriptive use of words in only their arbitrarily decreed “correct” way, then you’re not only reading the wrong blog, you’re using the wrong language – as this is simply how English as we know it today… hmmm, how do I put this… evolved.

Also, the use of “dumbass” here triggers the red squiggly line in my spell checker, so please, use “real” words if you’re going to try making a point!

Oh, and it’s ignorami, obviously…

seems like a sad rant from someone with anger management issues. I begrudge no one their beliefs (lest they hurt others), but to brand all creationists as slack-jawed yokels who deserve to die seems brazenly ignorant and vile.

I can’t see anywhere in the rant where I say people “deserve to die”. In fact, if you really want to know, I don’t think anyone deserves to die. My views on killing and intentionally causing death are based around the necessity of the act, not the apparent worthiness of the victim. If you care (which you almost certainly don’t) you can read a more thorough opinion on the subject here.

 it would actually be more powerful and funny if he went back now and edited it so that less profanity etc.

You’re fucking kidding, right? That was, like, the entire point.

can’t spell mechanics, though

Only really including this to introduce Skitt’s Law. And a rather nice example of Skitt’s Law it is, too, as this particular complaint lacks capital letters and a full stop! (well, it’s funny if you’re me…)

But seriously, I like to make a distinction between “can’t spell” and “typo”. Writing “mechaincs” rather than “mechanics” (corrected with an edit button, just like, you know, science corrects itself) isn’t quite in the same vein as the egregious errors I was thinking of. I’ll mock when people make horrific errors and repeatedly do so, I’m not actually a Grammar Nazi most of the time. I leave that to someone else I know, but I always get my own back on him by intentionally mixing up “clip” and “magazine”.

I want to meet this guy and give him a big, sloppy kiss straight on the mouth… He’ll probably run away, severely disturbed, but it would be worth it.

I’d only feel disturbed if I felt that, at the time (I can’t guarantee anything in advance), I felt my personal space was disturbed without my informed consent. I’m fairly open and liberated, so I wouldn’t be necessarily disturbed by the thought nor action of hot, sweaty, saliva-drenched, sloppy, stubble-on-stubble, man-on-man snogging. I’m straight, though, so it just wouldn’t mean anything. Sorry.

I’m sure it was therapeutic to write, but regarding ignorance vs. stupidity he’s wrong – almost always, creationists are ignorant of evolution and some of them would accept it if they were introduced to it correctly…

I contest this heavily. No matter how many times we try to say “no one says evolution works like that” and post either a correction or a link to a correction, the same thing will crop up again later. Often immediately in response. The fact that “ducks don’t give birth to zebras” doesn’t disprove evolution – and, in fact, is an actual demonstration of it – hasn’t percolated down at all. There are countless people who have ventured into Ray Comfort territory to correct him on basic facts. The sheer weight of numbers suggests at least one person will have phrased it in such a way for him to understand. He clearly doesn’t understand, or, as I would argue, doesn’t want to understand. As I said in the original rant, there’s a difference between ignorance and wilful ignorance. I only take issue with the latter. Once you’re actually keen to learn why there are still monkeys, you’re fine. This is emphatically not something we see coming from the top brass of creationism.

Interestingly enough, religious people generally don’t score lower on measures of intelligence from the population average. Somehow even intelligent people can believe wrong, strange, unlikely or superstitious things.

This is true. Though I wasn’t really aiming it at religious people. I was aiming it specifically at creationists, and creationists that use long refuted arguments or intentionally misrepresent evolutionary biology to further their cause.

I can bring this briefly back to the IQ test; this is a test that is designed as a statistical proxy to measure the general intelligence of a population. Every single qualifier in that last sentence is very important, and once you step outside that, the test fails. Scoring highly doesn’t indicate much (everyone on the internet seems to have an IQ of 135). You still need to do a lot of reading to get to grips with complex ideas – they don’t just magically come to you for scoring highly on the IQ test. You need more than just that “raw brain power” associated with a high IQ, if the IQ test even means just “raw brain power”.

Consider as an analogy the reasons why the Ariel Atom (500 bhp) went around the Top Gear test track faster than the Bugatti Veyron (987 bhp). You’ve got to get that power and apply it to the road. With good handling, a good weight-to-power ration, a good transmission and so on. Now, enough petrolhead metaphors. In this case, if you think the planet is 6,000 years old because cats don’t give birth to zebras despite scoring highly on a thinking test, then solving the nine-dot-problem clearly hasn’t helped your thinking skills.

Heh, I get it….sigh Even though I agree with them entirely I still feel like they’d look down on me too because I’m not all that smart either, religion or no religion. ._.

I don’t actually.

Ugh. I hated this. Just mean for the sake of mean. If you consider that religions have been around for a very long time and that most people have been followers of one or another, then you realize that plenty of religious people have been very smart, intelligent, and capable.

What part of this being aimed at creationist – and young earth,  Biblically literalist ones at that – have some people out there been incapable of understanding? I really don’t understand this. Seriously, go to that rant, use “ctrl-F” for the find function and look up all the instances of “god”, or “atheism”, or “religion”. There is nothing there bashing the merely religious. I should know, I wrote it.

Sure, intelligent people have been religious, and more intelligent people than me have been religious (Copleston comes to mind).  But this is not even remotely related to the deceitful and willfully ignorant nature of modern creationism. Was Isaac Newton (I’ll straw man a typical example) a believer and a creationist? Yes, sure. But Isaac Newton died in 1727. I would no more lambast him for being ignorant of modern geology and evolutionary biology than I’d lambast him for being ignorant of quantum mechanics. I’d lambast him for his crackpot alchemy days, but that would be because even by Newton’s time alchemy was pretty much the discredited hokum we know it as today.

If you want to find me ranting at the religious in general, it’s probably out there somewhere for you to froth over. But please, cite those examples and be specific to them, rather than make up an entirely imaginary slight against religion that has nothing to do with what I wrote in the piece that gained all the attention.

Well, at some point back in time the entire human species came from a single male and female at one point, somehow the inbreeding didn’t kill us.

This was in response to the fact that Adam + Eve = inevitable incest. The thing is, the Biblical story states that only two humans were alive at the time, and so the breeding population must, if not line-bred back with the mother, be all brother-sister relationships. This is not the same thing as being able to trace ancestry back to the same two individuals in an evolutionary system. I don’t even want to take the time out to correct it, but here it is: Imagine a single person has two children; each of those two kids pairs off and has two kids, each of those does too… and so on. Eventually a single person will have 4, 8, 16, 32… descendants until this number explodes exponentially to be greater than the whole population. In short, statistically speaking that original person is an ancestor of every living human (in fact, this only takes just under two millennia or so). BUT, we do not instantly conclude that the original person was part of the only couple on the planet and that all of their offspring took part in direct brother-sister incest. In fact, because we worked forward in the example, we know it isn’t.

There should be more dicks. I would love to stand at the door of every church in my town and hand this rant out as leaflets to all who enter…

I don’t think this is a good idea. A big sweary rant from me is a rare thing. In the countless pages of tripe I’ve submitted to the world, big sweary rants have happened 3 or 4 times. And not without good reason; it would get stale and boring if everything I wrote was “fuck this” and “fuck that”. At best, people would just learn to ignore it and no matter what you said you’d slide into irrelevance pretty quick. Such things don’t convince, they alienate.

I’d like to, sure. But I’d like to do a lot of things. I would like to have a week-long S&M orgy with Anne Hathaway, Mila Kunis, Emilia Clarke, Samantha Barks and Eva Green, but that’s neither realistic nor am I taking any steps to make it realistic. So while I’d like to just stop thinking and just viciously call out creationists for the moronic bullshitters that they are, the simple fact is that I am not doing that. I’m not posting this rant on multiple creationist Facebook pages, or emailing it to them at every opportunity. That wouldn’t accomplish anything, and I hope no one attempts to do this in my name.

If I were

The sources I can find say that the were/was distinction is more a case of being formal/informal, than absolutely incorrect. “Was” seems to be considered a colloquialism used mostly in speech, whereas “were” should be used formally in writing where off-the-cuff colloquial speech patterns don’t limit what you tend to say and how you pronounce it (such as how people pronounce “then” but mean “than”, although at least was/were is the same verb rather than a different thing entirely). Further, the distinction doesn’t damage the semantics in the transfer of an idea from one brain to another; meaning is preserved through either variation and so the linguistic prescription isn’t necessary. See also the distinction between prescriptivist and descriptivist linguistics.

But frankly, in a blog post with that much swearing and psychotic piss-taking, this should be the very least of your worries. If this is the one problem you find so weighty as to bring it up, then you have some Issues that need addressed.

But you ARE a dick … you have issues … you’re full of hate…

I’ve saved this one for last because it’s a general paraphrasing of multiple things and is something I’m about to sermonise about.

That was one post. It was 3,000+ words (I feel bad…) but it was one post. Trying to use that one post to infer anything about me is, well, being a bit silly at best, and being a fundamentally hypocritical, judgemental moron at worst. The majority of people saying this sort of thing fall well between those extremes, though.

Sure, it’s a fair accusation that I acted in the manner of a total douchebag by writing a rant (I recommend E-Prime for these kinds of problems). I’ll throw my hands up and admit it, because it was mostly the point – the point being that this is precisely what I do not do at every opportunity. You have an entire blog to peruse to find out more (I know from the WordPress stats that people haven’t, nor do I blame them), or a substantial number of contributions to RationalWiki to judge me on. For all you know, I could have been writing in character (many people do that; the Nostalgia Critic, the Pub Landlord, Stewart Lee, Miranda Sings, just to name a few off the top of my head) and you would have still extrapolated an accusation from a single data point and made a generalised assumption based on it.

Anyway, I hope you got something out of it.