Saturday, 31 July 2010

Creationist Questions Answered

The convicted fraudster and Young Earth Creationist, Dr Kent Hovind, (or to give him his proper academic title, Mr Kent Hovind) claims to have ten questions which Evolutionists cannot/will not answer.

Various estimates put Hovind's income from his idiosyncratic biological, geophysical and cosmological claims and lecture tours at $1-2 million dollars per annum.

Hovind's doctorate (which was in Christian Education, not, as has been claimed, in a science subject of any sort) was the result of a short correspondence course with an unaccredited Bible college, Patriot Bible University.

Patriot Bible Shed, Colorado, USA
The college refuses to release his dissertation but those who have managed to see a copy report that it is incomplete, repetitions, unoriginal, lacking references with very little academic merit, and shows a lack of basic understanding and knowledge of science. Hovind claims to be a scientist but his sole science 'qualification' appears to be that he taught 'science' in private high-schools, all of which were fundamentalist Christian schools, some of which Hovind himself owned.

[Later note: A copy of Kent Hovind's doctoral 'dissertation' is now available on Wikileaks at http://wikileaks.org/wiki/Young-earth_creationist_Kent_Hovind's_doctoral_dissertation. As readers can see, this is barely up to the standard required for an 'A' level assignment report and shows no evidence of having been submitted for peer review.]

This blog both answers Hovind’s ten questions and exposes the attempted deception behind them.

1. Where did the space for the Universe come from?


Space is part of the Universe. Space (and time) came into existence along with everything else in the Universe. There is no space or time ‘outside’ the Universe and no scientific theory claims they pre-existed it. Stephen Hawking, retired Lucasian Professor of Astronomy at Cambridge, England, has recently argued that gravity is all that is required to explain how the Universe originated as a singularity in what has been called the Big Bang.

This has nothing to do with the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection (TOE), which explains the fact of evolution by explaining how natural selection produces diversity when acting on variation in replicators, so explaining how the observable similarities and differences between varieties, species, families, orders, etc came about.

Kent Hovind now needs to explain why he asked this question when he could easily have checked this in any book on cosmology or any website dealing with the subject.

He needs to explain why he has perpetuated a fallacy about space existing independently of the Universe when it has been known for about 100 years that it doesn't and why he failed to take the opportunity to dispel this fallacy.

He also needs to explain why he misleads his target audience by implying that the origin of the Universe is part of the TOE when he could have checked and dispelled that misconception too.

2. Where did matter come from?


Matter is composed of elementary particles, which are themselves a form of energy. This has been known ever since Albert Einstein explained it with his famous e = mc2 formula, probably the best known of all mathematical formulae. Energy itself is what came into existence in the singularity at the beginning of space-time. See below for details of how energy is organised.

Kent Hovind now needs to explain why he feigns ignorance of this and has pretended the question has not been answered.

Incidentally, the origin of matter has nothing whatever to do with the TOE, so he also needs to explain why he misleads his target audience by pretending it does.

3. Where did the laws of the Universe come from (gravity, inertia, etc.)?


These are fundamental laws of matter. They are descriptive not prescriptive. They are what science uses to describe what happens. For example, they describe what will happen if you pick up a stone and drop it. They do not make the stone fall.

First Newton in his Principia Mathematica and later Einstein with his Special and General Theories of Relativity have shown the mathematics behind gravity and the laws of motion. They did not 'come from' somewhere independent of the Universe and of matter but are a fundamental aspect of matter (see 2 above). This question is a daft as asking Kent Hovind where his weight came from as though it came to him independently of his body.

The fact is, we could not ask these questions about fundamentals of the Universe in a Universe in which the fundamental laws were different. It is self-evident that intelligent life can only exist in a Universe in which it is capable or existing, and this Universe is one such Universe. It follows therefore that this Universe must have certain fundamental qualities.

Hovind now needs to explain why he has feigned ignorance of basic science or claims to be a scientist yet doesn't understand the difference between description and proscription.

And again, this has nothing to do with the TOE.

4. How did matter get so perfectly organized?


It isn’t perfectly organized and no scientific theory claims it to be, least of all biology and evolution.

At the lowest level matter is chaotic. There are several good science books dealing with chaos theory and how order is an inevitable emergent property of chaos. Fractals are also part of this general body of knowledge.

This question illustrates how Hovind uses a dishonest technique with his question because it requires us to accept a fallacy to answer it. It's the trick of begging the question, used by people who know they are pushing a lie.

There is so much information available on this that Hovind now needs to explain why he has implied that this is an unanswered question.

Yet again, this is not part of the TOE.

5. Where did the energy come from to do all the organizing?


Which scientific theory claims matter is organized by energy? Note again the dishonest begged question which depends on the scientific ignorance of his target audience for it's success.

The origin of energy per se is fundamental to theories of the singularity (Big Bang) origin of the Universe. There are four forms of energy: weak and strong nuclear forces, electromagnetic force and gravity. All observations confirm that gravity is equal to the sum of the other three forms and that gravity is the negative of the other three. The sum total of energy in the Universe is zero.

This is also well known to physics so Hovind now needs to explain why he has again feigned ignorance of it.

And again, this is not part of the TOE.

6. When, where, why, and how did life come from non-living matter?


Theories of the origin of replicators (biogenesis) are not part of any theory of evolution. Evolution by Natural Selection explains how natural selection acting on variations in replication has led to the current (and past) diversity of life on Earth.

Hovind has played the common trick here of using the term ‘life’ without defining it. If he means the ability to replicate, then chemistry is the answer. If he is requiring evolutionists to explain some quality he would like to be present, he first needs to explain exactly what that is and then justify his insistence that science explain something which he wishes to be present merely to satisfy his requirements for the Universe.

Hovind has been told this on numerous occasions so he now needs to explain why he pretends not to have had the question answered. He also need to come up with a scientifically valid definition of ‘life’.

7. When, where, why, and how did life learn to reproduce itself?


Well, at last! A question which actually relates, even if fallaciously, to the TOE, but there’s that weasel term ‘life’ again, and still no definition.

If he’s asking how replicators ‘learned’ to replicate then he might just as well ask how any atoms and molecules ‘learn’ to do chemistry. How does sodium hydroxide and hydrochloric acid ‘learn’ to make sodium chloride and water?

Of course, as Hovind knows, there is no learning process involved. Hovind now needs to explain why he implied there is and again needed to use the dishonest ploy of the begged question.

8. With what did the first cell capable of sexual reproduction reproduce?


With other cells of course. Evolution takes place in the gene pool, not in individuals. Hovind is here playing on a common misconception about evolution. There is never a single individual which suddenly evolves into a new species. No mother ever gives birth to an entirely new species and no TOE has ever claimed this to be the case. Evolution is a process which takes place over time, not a single event, as any cursory reading of a basic biology textbook would have shown him

Hovind has been told this on many occasions, so he now needs to explain why he still plays on this common misconception in his target audience instead of correcting them and educating them about the real TOE.

Again there is the traditional dishonesty of the begged question which requires us to accept his fallacies in order to answer it.

9. Why would any plant or animal want to reproduce more of its kind since this would only make more mouths to feed and decrease the chances of survival? (Does the individual have a drive to survive, or the species? How do you explain the origin of reproduction?)


Which TOE claims any species evolves in any particular direction because that's where it 'wants' to go? Again we see the begged question.

Replicators replicate because that's what replicators do, just as objects fall in a gravity field because that's what objects acting under gravity do. If this replication leads to food shortages then that is part of the environment in which these replicators replicate, and one of the factors involved in natural selection. Those replicators best able to survive and reproduce will be those whose genes will come to dominate the gene pool. If this evolution leads to extinction then the species will go extinct. There is no plan involved and the very many extinctions show that no intelligence was involved either.

Hovind now needs to explain why he is requiring evolutionists to explain something which isn’t part of the TOE, when he has been told many times that it isn’t. He must also explain why he has knowingly chosen to perpetuate a fallacy rather than to dispel it.

10. How can mutations (recombining of the genetic code) create any new, improved varieties? (Recombining English letters will never produce Chinese books.)


Who claimed mutation is 'recombination of genetic code'?

Mutation is simply imperfect replication. This creates variation on which natural selection operates, and, in so doing over time, changes the ratio of different variants in the gene pool. Accumulation of these small changes over the deep time in which evolution operates leads to large changes in the species. These accumulated changes in isolated gene pools can lead to loss of the ability to interbreed with members of other gene pools with which it was once continuous. This is defined by taxonomists as a new species. A definition, incidentally, which is purely man-made and is not mandatory on nature.

And of course all this is exactly what the theory of evolution explains. Ironically, Hovind is claiming science hasn't explained what the very theory he is attacking explains. He either doesn't understand what he is attacking, or he does understand it but is dishonestly playing to an audience which doesn't.

Hovind now needs to explain why he asked a misleading question about mutation instead of telling his target audience what he has been told on countless occasions, and so educating them about an important and fascinating aspect of biological science. Instead, he has chosen to knowingly perpetuate a fallacy.

So there we have it. None of the first seven question relate to the TOE so are not questions evolutions need to answer. Never–the-less all these questions, where they relate to science, have been answered by physicists and cosmologists and the answers can be found in an good text books on the subject, or on any good on-line sources which deal with these questions. This can be done by anyone with the determination to find them and who is not afraid to look.

The rest of Hovind's questions are of the straw man type where evolutionists are asked to explain something which is not claimed by the TOE and which Hovind has included deliberately to mislead his target audience in order to perpetuate fallacies and misunderstandings about the TOE. Of course you will not find answers to these questions in standard evolution reference works since they are not part of evolutionary theory.

But there is another, deeper fallacy which Hovind is perpetuating here. Any scientific theory must stand on its own and show the evidence for its own validity. Merely falsifying a rival theory does not automatically validate any other theory.

Let’s assume just for one moment that Hovind and his fellow creationist had found the evidence they crave and could successfully refute the Big Bang, theories of the structure of space-time and the nature of matter, and the Theory of Evolution. They would merely have shown some scientific theories to be wrong. They would NOT have shown that their preferred hypothesis – that their god did it all – was right. That hypothesis would still need to be validated by evidence and experimentation.

Moreover, it would need to state clearly exactly what would falsify it.

Until they had succeeded in doing this their hypothesis would still be just one of an infinite array of possible alternative hypotheses and, even restricting these hypotheses to origin myths, it would have no more going for it that any other origin myth.

Hovind is here knowingly perpetuating one of the oldest and most dishonest fallacies; the false dichotomy. He is falsely implying that, if science is wrong, his is the only alternative and so becomes right by default. It doesn’t, and to imply differently is dishonest. It is a disgraceful attempt to exploit the general level of ignorance and stupidity he assumes in his target audience and which he works assiduously to perpetuate.

Hovind's questions also subscribe to the 'god of the gaps' fallacy. This makes the entirely fallacies assumption that, if there is something science hasn't yet answered, the ONLY possible answer is that God did it. This is, of course, nonsense, but it plays again to the general level of ignorance and stupidity Hovind assumes in his target audience. Not satisfied with that deceit however, Hovind over-does things by making up gaps where none exist.

Creationists have never produced a single piece of scientific data which supports their hypothesis; they have never performed, or even described, experiments which validate it, and they will never say what would falsify it. For these reasons alone it has no place in any discussion of alternative scientific theories. It barely deserved to be called a hypothesis in the scientific meaning of the word. A 'notion' would perhaps be more accurate.

The only reason creationist attack science and especially the TOE is because it conflicts with their theology. That is not a problem for science; it is a problem for their theology. They are struggling to reconcile an illogical belief in a myth for which there is no evidence and the ever-increasing scientific evidence which shows it to be wrong. An honest person would accept the evidence and admit to being wrong.

So, 'Dr' Kent Hovind, you say you have many more such questions for evolutionists. Post them, and this time let’s hope they actually relate to evolution and deal with real problems for evolution theory, and that they show you to be less of a charlatan than these ten.

Oh! And while you're at it, could you please say what evidence you would accept as validating the Big Bang Theory and the Theory of Evolution. An honest critic of these would have no difficulty in so doing.

And maybe you could answer my simple question - which science books did you study when looking for answers to those questions, and what did you not understand?

Feel free to respond.




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Thursday, 29 July 2010

The Evolution of God

Whenever you’re wondering about the origins of something in human evolution or human culture, think 'East African plains'. The East African plains are where almost all our modern characteristics evolved. That's where we evolved upright walking, fully opposable thumbs and, perhaps most importantly, our brains.

As our brains developed we developed pattern-recognition, maybe firstly for facial recognition, which led us later to develop reading and writing skills, amongst other things. Early on however, it helped us to track animals by recognising the footprints of the different prey and predator species. We are probably the only species which can look at a set of footprints and ‘read’ the information in them. We can tell the species, or at least the family – big cat, dog, antelope, ostrich, etc - and we can tell where it came from, where it was going and, with a little learning, how long ago it passed by. All this is invaluable information for both catching lunch and avoiding becoming something else’s lunch. Inheritors of these skills, in the presence of a powerful brain, would have had enormous advantage, so the genetic variations which facilitated them would have spread rapidly through the gene-pool.

Our brain allowed us to learn these skills and to pass them on to the next generation, and the ability to teach and to learn also allowed us to develop cultures by establishing group norms and ethics, and to pass these on to the next generation. Group cohesion and, especially, group identity would have been enhanced by these cultural norms, inculcated from birth and accepted as ‘right’ by the whole group. Failure to comply would have meant exclusion from the group – not a very attractive prospect for a species which is relatively weak as an individual but immensely strong when part of a coordinated group.

Incidentally, Man is not alone in developing cultures which are passed from one generation to the next. The other African apes all have observable cultural differences between groups, as do some more distantly related simian species such as macaques, and baboons. Dolphins and killer whales also have distinct cultural groups and even some species of bird have local (i.e., cultural) calls and songs.

But I digress.

Early humans were now inheriting two different sorts of replicators. They were inheriting biological genes which determined their physical form and they were inheriting cultural or 'memory genes', more correctly now known as memes, which determined their culture, group norms and ethics.

Just as with the other African ape species, we would probably have lived in small groups of related individuals, each group dominated by an alpha male. This alpha male would have won his ‘right’ to be leader and the size of the group would have been related to how many individuals this alpha male (and maybe his alpha female mate) could exert control over. The alpha male would have had first pick of the females and would have enforced this right, maybe through a group of loyal supporters, by the sanction of physical punishment against those who infringed his right or who threatened his dominance. The idea that the alpha male had this right would have been passed on from one generation to the next as a group norm or ethic.

In evolutionary terms, there would be an advantage in the alpha male passing on the genes which enabled him to dominate and the group would have benefited by being more likely to be led by a strong male able to dominate and lead. However, there would have been an evolutionary arms race between these ‘alpha male’ genes and genes which predisposed to illicit sexual activity, since these genes would have enjoyed the protection of the alpha male. Whether these ‘genes’ were actual DNA genes or memes, inherited as part of group culture, is immaterial. The fact is that human groups would have been evolving by gene-meme co-evolution. Replicators have no concern for the nature of the other replicators with which they form alliances.

Now, place yourself in such a group in the plains of East Africa. The plains of East Africa have very many rocky out-crops which offer shelter and which are good vantage points from which to survey the surrounding plain. These outcrops also give the alpha male good vantage points from which to survey the group and keep an eye on what’s going on: who’s doing what and with whom, with particular regard to illicit sexual activity. Alternatively, other males and females will be trying to evade his watchful eye, and those of his supporters.

It is easy to see how this idea of a dominant alpha male, who is at the same time, the strong leader on whom the group depends, and the vengeful deliverer of pain and suffering for any transgression of the group norms, came to evolve in human culture. It is also easy to see why this alpha male takes a special interest in the sexual activities of his 'subjects', and is especially concerned that females remain inactive until he's had his turn, or at least sanctioned their mating.

Domination of his group through controlling their sexual activity ensures his genes get priority and he can also use this control as a reward system to ensure obedience. Meanwhile other selection forces are ensuring continued 'illicit' sexual activity, even making this thrilling and exciting.

Now, move on two or three hundred thousand years and remove man from the East African plains. Place him now in larger nomadic tribes or into settled farming communities and towns across Africa, Europe, Asia and into the Americas. Now there is no place for a single alpha male to sit and watch the whole group and the group is too large or diverse for him to dominate it, yet he still exists in the culture. The memes which arose on the plains of East Africa are still being replicated down through the generations. So many of our cultural ideas have been conditioned by the alpha male's presence and have evolved in an environment in which he exists, but the physical reality of the alpha male has now been replaced by the cultural idea of one.

The alpha male now sits on some imaginary vantage point overlooking the tribe, still the benevolent protector and leader, the guardian of the law, and the vengeful enforcer of his right to grant permission for sexual activity and for whose permission all, but especially the females, must wait until he grants it through the symbolic ceremony of marriage.

His loyal supporters who act as his enforcers, still exist though. They have become a self-selecting band who act as though the alpha male still exists and whose claim to power and authority is that they represent him and are doing his bidding. They have become his priesthood.

Welcome to the god hypothesis: the imaginary benevolent leader who is also the object of fear; the loving protector who punishes transgression and who takes a special interest in our sexual activities. The man whose authority to rule is now so deeply embedded in human culture that many regard it as a sin punishable by unimaginable pain and suffering and withdrawal of the alpha male's 'love' even to question it. And the leader who may just take it into his head to show us his power by some random act of indiscriminate violence if we're not very careful.

God: a cultural idea which is a fossil relic of our evolution as an ape on the plains of East Africa. (Tweet this)

Cultural evolution explains both the origin of the idea of a god and its fallacy. The cultural idea of a god is evidence of human evolution as an ape on the plains of East Africa. (Tweet this)





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Thursday, 22 July 2010

The Nature of Atheist Belief

A charge frequently levelled at Atheist is that Atheism is a belief system just like religion, so let’s look at what 'belief' actually means.

Scientific belief is not an absolute position, but is always subject to review, revision and, when justified by evidence or logical deduction, abandonment. No scientific belief is sacred and unchallengeable, save perhaps the belief that no scientific belief is sacred and unchallengeable.

1. Strong scientific belief
I believe that, when I drop a stone it will fall towards earth. This belief is based on a life-time of experience, the knowledge that Earth has gravity and that gravity will cause it to happen, based in turn on the acceptance of the body of scientific opinion that gravity will cause a small object to fall towards a large one (though this latter explains how gravity works and so only explains what I can observe for myself).

My belief that a stone will always fall under gravity is strong because it is evidence-based and can be repeatedly tested in experiments. However, it allows for the possibility that one day a stone may fail to fall and so overthrow the entire theory of gravity, necessitating a complete revision of some basic scientific principles. And, of course, in the special circumstances which might prevail at some future state of the Universe, there may be no gravity so a stone would not then fall to Earth, although in such circumstances there would be no Earth, no stone and no-one to drop it.

2. Weak scientific belief.
I believe that Manchester United could win the Premier League next season. This belief is derived from the fact that there IS a Premier League in which Football teams compete and that Manchester United is a team in that league. These are factual observations which can be independently verified. I also believe that Manchester United have a team capable of winning the Premier League. This is based on the evidence of past results.

However, this belief in a possible outcome is NOT a strong belief because I also have a belief in several possible, mutually exclusive, alternative outcomes. I also believe that any other team in the Premiership could win the title. Given sufficient time and information, the probability of any one of them doing so could be ranked in order of probability, though maybe never accurately since some of the required information is itself subject to probability and uncertainty. However, it MAY be possible to reach a broad measure of confidence in the approximate final position of most teams, so my belief that Manchester United could win the title can be given an approximate measure of confidence.

Note: this latter belief differs from my belief in gravity only in the degree of confidence. Both are observation-based and can be scientifically verified, yet both are subject to probability and both allow for the possibility of being wrong. The probability of a stone not falling under gravity is very low (almost, but not quite, zero); the probability of Manchester United winning the Premiership may be less than 50%, however, my belief is only in the POSSIBILITY of it happening, not in the certainty of it, so I have complete confidence that it is possible, though it may not be probable.

3. Religious belief
Religious belief never allows for the possibility of being wrong. Faith is certainty, based on unchallengeable ‘truths’ which must be accepted a priori. No observations or experimental testing is required. Indeed, the act of doing so is an act of doubt which is contrary to faith and tantamount to heresy. Given the choice between faith-based ‘knowledge’ and evidence which refutes that knowledge, the true believer will choose faith and dismiss the contrary evidence.

4. The difference
So what is the fundamental difference between scientific belief and religious belief?

With scientific belief, the observer adopts a position subservient to the factual, observable, or logically deducible evidence and bases their belief, and their confidence in that belief in that evidence. The believer is subservient to, and is humbled by, the evidence.

A consequence of this subservience is that there can be no belief in its absence. Evidence drives belief, so, with no evidential drivers there can be no belief. This is where atheist arrive at their belief that there are no gods. There is no evidence for them so no belief that they exist. To believe they do so would be the equivalent of believing in a force which moves a stone horizontally when dropped. To believe in the absence of evidence is to adopt the religious position.

With religious belief, the ‘observer’ adopts a superior position and holds the view that something MUST be true simply because they believe it. The ‘knowledge’ they derive from their faith needs no evidential or logical support. Indeed, observational evidence is immaterial and irrelevant. The observer is superior to the evidence and can determine ‘truth’ by belief alone. In effect, religious belief is the assumption that the Universe is subservient to the will of the believer and facts only exist if permitted so to do.

As an Atheist, I find the arrogance of the religious position to be an affront to the Universe and an abuse of what must be one of the greatest creations of evolution – the human brain and the mind it allows us to have. It is an affront to humanity.

In the unlikely event that there is a sentient creator of the Universe, it is difficult to believe that it would not also be affronted by the arrogance of religious belief.

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