Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Creationists Fooled By Hoaxes

You have to pity the poor creationists.

Living in a world in which there is no known physical evidence to support their beliefs, they are prey to almost any conceivable hoax and will eagerly pay out to read about it, listen to a charlatan talking about it or to go and see it in a 'museum'.

The irony is that at least one of the hoaxes they use to try to discredit science is itself a hoax on them. 'Nebraska Man' was never claimed by scientists to be a man. The hoax is that a highly imaginative article written in a popular magazine - The Illustrated London News - was a scientific publication and represents a serious claim by science to have discovered an archaic hominid.

The God Of Low Standards

The God of Low Standards is a utility god. It can be whatever its followers want it to be and it can excuse anything its followers want it to excuse. It's a tailor-made god, perfectly fitted for its followers needs and infinitely adaptable for any purpose.

You find it in the Kalam Cosmological Argument where everything must have had a beginning and nothing can happen without a cause but The God of Low Standards doesn't have a beginning, so doesn't need a cause.

You find it in the Teleological Argument where the God of Low Standards can be defined into existence by humans and becomes real by fiat.

You find it in the Ontological Argument where any gap, real or imaginary, can be filled by the God of Low Standards with no evidence at all.

You find the God of Low Standards in holy books where writing about it is enough to make it real, unlike science where hundreds of books full of evidence are never enough.

You see it in the demand that science explain how everything can come from nothing. Followers of the God of Low Standards say their god should be exempt.

You see it in the demand for proof that a god doesn't exist by people who don't believe in fairies but can't prove they don't exist either. The God of Low Standards needs a lower standard than fairies.

You see it in the demand that science provide fossil evidence for every single generation of every single species to prove evolution happened, while the God of Low Standards needs no evidence at all.

You see it in the demand for answers and the refusal to look at them. The God of Low Standards needs its followers to ignore facts and pretend they aren't there.

You see it in the resort to lies and abuse. The God of Low Standards requires its followers to abandon personal integrity and defend it with hypocrisy.

You see it in the use of tactics and sophistry in place of facts and reason. The God of Low Standards needs to find a way round evidence.

You see it in the claim that 'faith' is superior to evidence for the God of Low Standards but science must provide an impossible standard of evidence.

You see it in the insistence that a god must exist because it meets people's requirements yet science is wrong when it provided inconvenient facts. The God of Low Standards can be whatever its followers say it is.

Followers of the God of Low Standards need to try to make us fell ashamed for asking them questions they can't answer and asking them for evidence they don't have.

Followers of the God of Low Standards need to try to ban criticism and disagreement.

The God of Low Standards can be used as an excuse for hate; as an excuse for repression; as an excuse for claiming authority instead of having to earn the right to it; as an excuse for theft; as an excuse for abuse; as an excuse for jingoistic nationalism; as an excuse for misogyny; as an excuse for racism; as an excuse for claiming moral superiority; as an excuse to kill; as an excuse to persecute; as an excuse to cheat vulnerable people.

The only thing the God of Low Standards can't do it provide a single piece of evidence for its own existence - which is why its followers need such low standards in the first place.

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Sunday, 29 July 2012

Humans On The Ark Must Have Had STDs

Noah, or at least one member of his family, must have had one or more venereal diseases and must have had extramarital sexual relationships.

We can be sure of this because humans, like many other species, are hosts to a number of obligate, species-specific, parasitic pathogens, i.e. parasites which are obliged to live in or on their host in order to survive.

For example:

Chlamydia trachomatis

Chlamydia trachomatis is an obligate intracellular pathogen (i.e. the bacterium lives within human cells) and can cause numerous disease states in both men and women. Both sexes can display urethritis, proctitis (rectal disease and bleeding), trachoma, and infertility. The bacterium can cause prostatitis and epididymitis in men. In women, cervicitis, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), ectopic pregnancy, and acute or chronic pelvic pain are frequent complications. C. trachomatis is also an important neonatal pathogen, where it can lead to infections of the eye (trachoma) and pulmonary complications. C. trachomatis is the single most important infectious agent associated with blindness; approximately 600 million worldwide suffer C. trachomatis eye infections and 20 million are blinded as a result of the infection.


Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the spirochete bacterium Treponema pallidum pallidum.T. pallidum pallidum is a spiral-shaped, Gram-negative, highly mobile bacterium (see electron micrograph - left). Three other human diseases are caused by related T. pallidum subspecies, including yaws (T. p. pertenue), pinta (T. p. carateum) and bejel (T p. endemicum). Unlike T. p. pallidum, they do not cause neurological disease. Humans are the only known natural reservoir for T. p. pallidum. It is unable to survive without a host for more than a few days. This is due to its small genome (1.14 MDa) and thus its inability to make most of its macronutrients. It has a slow doubling time of greater than 30 hours.


Gonorrhoea is a common human sexually transmitted infection caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae. It is unique to humans.

The infection is transmitted from one person to another through vaginal, oral, or anal sex. Men have a 20% risk of getting the infection from a single act of vaginal intercourse with an infected woman. The risk for men who have sex with men is higher. Women have a 60–80% risk of getting the infection from a single act of vaginal intercourse with an infected man. A mother may transmit gonorrhea to her newborn during childbirth; when affecting the infant's eyes, it is referred to as ophthalmia neonatorum. It cannot be spread by toilets or bathrooms.

So, each of these sexually transmitted diseases is entirely dependent on humans both for their existence and for their transmission and, if you believe the account given in Genesis of Noah's flood, you believe every living substance outside of the Ark was destroyed by God and everything alive today is descended from those few who were on the Ark.

And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark.

If this were true, if would mean that members of Noah's family were carries of these venereal and sexually transmitted diseases.

Would any creationist like to speculate on who they might have been?

And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.

These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God. And Noah begat three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

So that's four men and four women. Did just one of them carry all three sexually transmitted diseases or were they spread around? We can be fairly sure that their partners would have been infected too so at least two and maybe as many as six of the humans on the Ark had sexually transmitted diseases normally, though not always, the result of having several sexual partners. One thing we know is that you can't catch them from virgins unless they had a congenitally acquired form acquired from their mother, so we can be fairly certain that one or more of the people on the Ark had had extramarital sexual relations of some sort.

So, is this yet another example of an unintelligent god who hasn't thought things through? In a fit of pique it decides to destroy everyone and everything because they are sinners, then realises it needs to save sinners too in order to save the diseases it's also created, so negating the entire purpose of the whole multi-ethnic, multi-species genocide, but it does it anyway.

Or is it just a nonsense tale made up by people who were in complete ignorance of bacteriology and microbial causation of disease?

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Friday, 27 July 2012

What A Waste Of A Life - Grovelling To God!

What's with this idea that somehow belief in gods gives your life a purpose?

What is it that induces otherwise normal people - at least I'll assume they are in the absence of evidence to the contrary (though I concede that these tweets may indeed be that evidence) - to tell the world this sort of thing?

Really! The best purpose these poor people can think of for their short life is to cringe and grovel to some imaginary magic being in the hope for something better later? It's not as though the Christian Bible actually states there is much of a purpose for Man's existence, and the purpose of women seems to be to be the servile servants of men with no free will of their own.

The hopelessly muddled story of Genesis even seems to have got the authors confused. Firstly, our purpose is to have dominion over the (previously created) animals:

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
Genesis 1:26

Followed soon by giving the animals a purpose what with them now being created after mankind merely to provide Adam with 'an help meet' in an apparently revised version of creation, or maybe another go at getting it right.

And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.
Genesis 2:18-19

Then there is an attempt to define a purpose for woman (not clear if this is in addition to being Adam's 'help meet', for which she was originally created as the animals God had created earlier didn't measure up, or instead of. It amounts to much the same thing though):

Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
Genesis 3:16

And finally another go at giving men a purpose, which, by great good fortune, just happened to be working in the fields of those who employed people to write the origin myths.

And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;

Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
Genesis 3:17-19

And that seems to have been about it until we get to Ecclesiastes. Having originally said it makes no difference what we do in life:

All things come alike to all: there is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked; to the good and to the clean, and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not: as is the good, so is the sinner; and he that sweareth, as he that feareth an oath.

This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun, that there is one event unto all: yea, also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead. For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.
Ecclesiastes 9:2-5

The author then seems to have decided we do have a purpose after all. Alas, he only managed to come up with:

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.
Ecclesiastes 12:13

It's not clear which set of 'Commandments' are being referred to here, but the chances are, on past form, that they will not be a million miles removed from the ten listed in Exodus 34:17-26 which are almost all about observing rituals and giving stuff to priests. (Can you guess who wrote them?)

And this 'obey all the rules' rule is pretty much what Mohammed seems to have latched onto for the Koran, presumably not being able to come up with anything better and which still kept the clerics in charge.

And I did not create the Jinn and mankind except to worship Me…

You really would have thought that in the intervening thousand years or so between "God's Holy Word" being written down for the first time in the Old Testament books, and Mohammed having to write out a 'New Improved' edition with added threats, the clerics could have worked up a better purpose than this.

But there we are. If you're Christian, Muslim or Jewish, your great purpose in life is just to obey all the rules and 'worship' the god which will punish you if you don't.

In other words, the purpose your clerics have given you is to do what they tell you, without question. Don't think for yourself; don't question the rules; give up asking the questions 'what?', 'when?' and 'how?' and settle for a 'why?' which gives easy answers with minimal thought and no need for learning. Abandon intellectual honesty, integrity and reason, and, above all, grovel continually in abject fear, or a bogeyman in the sky get you.

Talk about something to frighten the children with!

What a forlorn and hopeless prospect - a life of servility, obedience, fear and ignorance, and everything gambled on the hope for something better later. What a wonderful tool for keeping those at the bottom of the social pile in their place. Just obey all the rules and you'll get something better later - when it's too late to ask for your money back. Probably the best means of social control and keeping both Jack and his master in their 'rightful' places ever devised.

But, didn't we abolish slavery? Didn't we do that because we realised it was an immoral thing which degraded the slave and the slave-owner and took away human dignity from both; that the presence of slaves in our society made us less worthy to be called civilised? We did it because we knew it was right to do it; not because any holy book ever called for it to be done.

There is no purpose to life save what you chose to give it. You have no real freedom if your life's purpose is dictated to you as though you were a mere machine or robot pre-programmed for a purpose with no freedom to deviate from it.

The attraction of religion seems to be to provide an illusion of certainty for people who are so afraid of uncertainty that they'll settle for whatever certainties are at hand, no matter how absurd or how ill-supported by facts, logic or reason they may be.

They are like caged birds, too afraid to fly no matter how widely science opens the door or prises the bars of the cage apart. They trade the dangerous freedom of flight for the safe certainty of a perch.

What is wrong with knowing that you are the product of a three and a half billion years process in which every single one of your ancestors was a success in the struggle for life and a process which inevitably tends towards perfect adaptation; that you are the descendant of an unbroken line of survivors?

What is wrong with knowing that you have a connection with every other living thing on this planet?

What is wrong with being accountable to yourself and your fellow Man for the way you behave and the way you conduct your affairs and knowing that it is not enough to mutter a few spells or to talk to an imaginary deity when you have done wrong; that your wrongs cannot be wiped away by someone other the person you have wronged and that no one else, dead or alive, can right them for you; that you, and you alone, are responsible for yourself?

What is wrong with knowing that you are made of atoms forged in supernovae in a fourteen billion year old universe; that you are made from the same stuff the universe and everything in it is made from?

What is wrong with knowing that you are one of the lucky ones because you are alive and sentient and yet you need not have been; that your life - your bright spark of consciousness - will flash for a mere instant in eternity on the surface of what must be one of the most remarkable, beautiful and complex planets in the universe and you have this one brief opportunity to learn about it and marvel at what the universe has done?

What is wrong with knowing that through you, because you are part of the universe, the universe can look at itself in astonishment and ask itself how it got to be this way? And what's wrong with knowing that we have to work hard to answer that question and that there are no simple shortcuts to understanding?

And finally, what is wrong with thinking that the best you can hope to achieve in life is to leave this planet in a better shape than the way you found it and for it not to be the worse for you having spent a few short years upon it?

No 'faith' or holy book has ever told you that. No open-handed, unctuously grinning priest or preacher has ever shouted that at you from a pulpit on Sunday. No Sunday-school teacher ever taught it to any wondering child. No televangelist fraud ever asked you to send him money so he could carry that good news to 'sinners' and 'save' them with it.

And yet it's all true!

It's what makes you special and it's what gives you an almost sacred responsibility - a duty even - to live life to the full and enjoy every moment of it, and to help create a world in which this is possible for everyone, not just a lucky few; a world which will continue long into the future so future generations can also enjoy the experience of life and carry your genes on to greater things and into other special people, each one of them the descendant of survivors.

Knowledge which comes lightly or which is declared by fiat and handed down to us with the instruction not to question it, is not worth the paper it's written on. It is one of the great crimes of religion that it has made people think it is.

Only religion can make you abandon a worthwhile life in favour of grovelling slavery and tell you that's a good thing.

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Thursday, 26 July 2012

Prophesying A Powerless God

Ancient of Days, William Blake
A god which can accurately prophesy the future is an utterly powerless god and a powerless god is no more worthy of worship than a pebble.

Leaving aside debate about whether gods exist or not, and whether the absence of evidence for them is evidence of their absence, like it is for just about everything else, neither Christians nor Muslims seem to know what sort of god they believe in. They will often cite as 'proof' that their favourite holy book was divinely inspired by quoting some passage or other which can, usually at a stretch, be presented as some sort of prophesy of the future.

These 'prophecies' normally fall into three sort:
  1. Imaginary prophecies: Those they claim have been fulfilled, for which they normally have to ignore the context of the 'prophecy', make claims about history which are not born out by the facts, and/or stretch reason beyond breaking point to map the 'prophecy' onto real events. Prophets of these events never manage to foretell the exact year.
  2. Retrospective prophecies: 'Prophecies' written after the events they supposedly prophesied. A bit like prophesying what you ate for dinner yesterday or who won World War II
  3. 'Gunner be' prophecies: 'Prophecies' which have not actually been fulfilled, but we are assured are 'gunner be', at some point, and often "real soon... you'll see!"

Like the 'prophecies' of Nostradamus, Biblical and Koranic prophecies seem particularly good at predicting the past but are singularly inept at predicting the future. For example, Muslims will tell you that the Koran predicted all the scientific discoveries, yet they can never look in it to find out what the next discovery will be. As always, it's usefulness as a predictive tool seems to have ended last week.

But there is something which proponents of these prophesying gods don't seem to have worked out, despite having 2500-3000 or more to think about the problem. You see, to prophesy the future you need to know not only the future, but everything leading up to that future, and nothing at all could change, or the future would be different and the prophecy would fail. This is no less true for a god than for a person or a computer. You can only prophesy the future if the future is absolutely fixed and unchangeable and that means the present is also fixed and unchangeable. A god which lived in a universe in which everything is fixed and unchangeable is a powerless god, indistinguishable from an absent one.

A universe with a fixed, unchangeable future is indistinguishable from a universe with no god in it.

I'll let former evangelical Christian Dan Barker, author of 'Losing Faith In Faith' and founder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, say it far more eloquently than I ever could hope to in the transcription of a radio interview phone-in he did on a Christian radio show hosted by creationist loon, Jason Gastrich. It's a bit long but worth the read, as is the even longer transcript of the complete interview:

Dan: You're saying that there is a god that knows the future, and that this god is a personal being with free will who can make decisions, right?

Jason: Hmm . . . I'm sorry, I'm sorry, we're getting away from the question, but let's go ahead. Go ahead and tell me . .

Dan: Well, you're talking about prophecy, right?

Jason: I was talking about a specific prophecy, but let's talk about what you're saying. Go ahead.

Dan: Well, if this god exists . . .

Jason: Uh-huh.

Dan: . . . and if he knows the future, like you pretend he knows here, . . .

Jason: Right.

Dan: . . . that means that the set of future facts is fixed. It cannot be changed. If God knows it in advance, then the future is fixed and unchangeable. Otherwise, God wouldn't be omniscient. He wouldn't be able to predict the future.

Jason: Um-huh.

Dan: If the future is fixed, then that sets some limits on God's power. And also, how can a personal being with free will have any ability to make any decisions if the future is already fixed. God Himself cannot even make any decisions, because he can't do what he knows that he's not going to do. Therefore, if this kind of god exists, philosophically, this god is not a personal free being. He's more like a robot or something.

Jason: I think you jump from God knowing the future to the point where you asserted that God controls the actions, all the actions of human beings.

Dan: No, I'm talking about God's own actions, not human beings.

Jason: Ok.

Dan: I'm talking about God . . . If God knows what he's going to do . . .

Jason: Ok.

Dan: . . . tomorrow at twelve noon, right?

Jason: Uh-huh.

Dan: Then God can't change in the meantime what he's going to do between now and then. He knows it.

Jason: Well, I think there's an instance in Jonah, where God had told Jonah to tell Nineveh that Nineveh is going to be wiped out because of their sin. And then Nineveh decided to repent with weeping and fasting, and God decided to exercise his perfect mercy on them.

Dan: Yeah, but that was clearly conditional. That was a supposed conditional prophecy. I'm talking about these prophecies that are supposedly clear prophecies of something that will happen.

Jason: I don't know if that was conditional. In Jonah there's only four chapters, but um, as far as I could tell, it was God telling them judgement will come on you. And some people have said that looks like God has changed his mind, or changed. How could this happen with a changeless god? But in reality, he decided to use his perfect mercy instead of his judgement.

Dan: So, before he exercised his mercy, did he have one idea of what the future would be like, but after he exercised his mercy, he changed his mind and had a different idea of what the future would be like? In other words, was he not omniscient to begin with? Was the set of future facts changeable or fixed? [Do] you know what I'm saying? If it's changeable, then God doesn't know the future.

Jason: Why is that?

Dan: Because he doesn't know how the ball is going to bounce. He doesn't know. He's like you and me, right?

Jason: Um-huh.

Dan: So if God doesn't know the future, then he can't prophesy anything, because anything can happen between now and then. Do you see the philosophical problem here? He's either a free being that can make decisions openly, or else he knows a fixed future that cannot be changed. He can't have it both ways. He might be omniscient, in which case he's not omnipotent. Or he might be prescient, in which case he's not a free being, and he's not worthy of my worship if he's like a robot or a computer program or something.

Jason: Ok, I see what you're saying, I think. And um, I think that the rub is just because God doesn't step in and do the things that you do think he should do if he were to exist. That doesn't necessarily mean that he's not there, or not powerful or couldn't do something.

Dan: I'm not saying that at all. That wasn't my point. My point was that if your definition is right, then something's got to give. You have a mutually incompatible definition of a god: one who knows the future, and yet is also a free personal being. I'm not telling him what to do. If there's a God, he can do what he wants to. But I'm just saying that you have a problem with an incompatibility in your definition of what God is like. According to you, Ezekiel 38 tells, predicts a future which will happen, right?

Jason: Uh-huh. Right.

Dan: And there's no way that you or I, or even God can change that.

Jason: Um-huh.

Dan: Right? It's predicting something. And if God can't change that, then God has limits on his power and on his freedom.

Jason: Ok.

Dan: Therefore, he is something less than the being that you claim to worship.

Jason: Ok, well yeah, the argument that you're using is much more tied into what I said than you realize, because it's the same kind of argument that atheists have used before to say, "if God can't lie, if God can't steal, if God can't do evil. If he can't do these things, then we're not worshipping an omnipotent god." But um, it's just I think how much this argument stems from a lack of understanding.

Dan: I'm not saying that either, but -- I've heard atheists say that, and I disagree with it -- because if there is a god, he has a nature, right? And he would want to act in accordance with his nature, so I'm not saying that.

Jason: Right.

Dan: I know enough about theology and the Bible to know that this god that Christians worship has a particular nature that he usually acts in accordance with. Not always, but . . .

Jason: That doesn't mean that he's not omnipotent, it just means that he's not doing the things that you, or someone else, would see as a complete, powerful, all-powerful god.

Dan: Well, [Laughs] then it's not just omnipotence, but it's freedom. If, if . . . in order for you to make a decision . . Let's say you're going to make a choice about who-knows-what. Let's say you're going to have coffee or tea, or you're going to chose a mate, or whatever. In order to have freedom, or the illusion of freedom, you have to have at least more than one option available to you, each of which could be freely chosen or rejected, and there has to be a period of time during which there's an uncertainty during which you could change your mind, right?

Jason: Yeah, all humanly speaking you're correct, I think.

Dan: Yeah, and so that's the definition of "free will" and freedom.

Jason: Um-huh.

Dan: If there is a god who is a person, and [being a] person requires this freedom to make decisions, then this also applies to God. He also has to have the freedom during a period of uncertainty to be able to change his mind and to exercise mercy or justice or to change . . . Do you know what I mean? Otherwise, he's not a free being, right?

Jason: Hmm.

Dan: He has to have that period of potential, but . .

Jason: I think God has just bound Himself to the promises he has made to us. If you want to say that that makes him less omnipotent than some other god, then maybe you could say that.

Dan: I'm not saying [less] omnipotent. I'm saying less of a person, less of a free person. As a personality, he's more like a robot than . . He might be totally omnipotent, but he's not the kind of person that I would find admirable to worship as a person. He's more like this force of a huge computer program or something. Do you know what I'm saying? He's not a being. He's not a personal being if he knows the future. He can't be because he has no freedom, no choice, no period of potential to change his mind and be and to be merciful or warm or friendly. Do you know what I mean? He's not like you and me. He's some sort of a weird creature up there who's running things in a colder kind of impersonal way, and that's the kind of creature that I could not worship or respect.

Jason: But on a human level, it's possible to know the future and then, I mean, to an extent, and still be loving, or . . . Isn't it?

Dan: Well, none of us knows the future. We get lucky a lot.

Jason: Yeah, I just mean like I'm going to go to [laughs] to work today, or I'm going to do this, or I'm going to do that, or my kid's going to do this tonight . . .

Dan: Yeah, but on the way to work you still have the option, you probably wouldn't exercise it, but you could still change your mind and go somewhere else, right?

Jason: Yeah.

Dan: That's what makes you free.

Jason: Um-huh. Dan: But if you did not have that option, you wouldn't be free. Your hands would drive to work no matter what. You wouldn't be, you wouldn't have free will. You wouldn't . . .

Jason: I suppose it would give me, it's given me even more of a respect for God, realizing now, that he has laid down his omnipotence in order to give humans comfort by promising them things.

Dan: So he's not omnipotent, you just said?

Jason: Well he's surely omnipotent, but his type of omnipotence is different from the type of omnipotence that you want him to be, apparently.

Dan: I don't want him to be anything. I'm just trying to make sense of this Bible. I don't want God to be anything at all. If he exists, he can be whatever he wants to be. I mean, that's not up to me to decide. I'm trying to decide whether or not I think he, first of all, exists at all, and secondly, even if he did, if he is worthy of my admiration. Because I have the free will to choose, don't I?

Jason: Right.

Dan: I don't have to like him do I? But I don't have to respect him. You know, I could denounce him if I choose. That's part of my freedom, right? And so it's my choice whether or not I find this kind of a being worthy of my respect. And I find him unworthy of my respect. I mean, what's wrong with me exercising my judgement, based on moral intellectual principles, to say such a thing?

Jason: Ok.

See 'Barker Tears A New One' for a full transcription.

Love that different type of omnipotence, Jason!

So, as Dan Barker so patiently explained to the hapless Jason, "You have a mutually incompatible definition of a god: one who knows the future, and yet is also a free personal being." Not for the first time do we find religion requires it's believers to hold two or more mutually incompatible views simultaneously.

So, Christians and Muslims, and anyone else who has an omnipotent, omniscient god who makes accurate prophecies, how do you square that circle and have both an omnipotent, omniscient god who is bound irredeemably by his own inerrantly omniscient foresight and so is utterly powerless?

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Tuesday, 24 July 2012

How Creationists Lie To One-another

There are few spectacles in the world of fraud quite so satisfying as watching two snake-oil salesmen arguing over who has the best scam, especially when one is complaining that the other has pinched all his lies and so shouldn't be trusted.

Anyone who has ever tried to engage a creationist in meaningful debate knows just how difficult that can be. It's as though the normal meaning of words like 'evidence', 'reason', 'logic', 'fact', 'science' and 'integrity' have been temporarily suspended and replaced with something resembling exactly the opposite.

If you've never done it, imagine playing a game of tennis with someone who demands the net be lowered to the ground whenever the ball is in their court, but wants it raised to an impossible height when in yours, and of course, the boundary lines can change at will, and points will be declared won without regard to the normal rules of the game, and normally just after you've served an ace or they've double-faulted yet again.

So, it was with some anticipation that I came across this little spat between two well-known creationist frauds over which 'arguments' should still be used and which were too embarrassing even for them. It dates from 2002.

It came about after Ken Ham's creationist marketing organisation, Answersingenesis, had begun to lose credibility with so many obvious frauds and blatantly bad science being laughed at in media such as the old Compuserve Religion and History Forums so they tried to look more respectable by issuing a fatwa instructing their followers not to use the more embarrassing ones. (It's surprising how many creationists ignored the fatwa and still use them, but that's another issue).

However, another fraud who, at the time of writing, is part-way through a ten year prison term for tax evasion, had relied heavily on many of these and had written books about them. He even used them in his lectures. He was, of course, 'Dr' Kent Hovind, who objected to his frauds being exposed as such by his main source of material and sent off a long desperate whinge to AiG.

Clearly this had become a battle for market share.

They replied. This is a sample of the exchange; the full set can be read here.

[KENT H]: To my knowledge, no one on earth has been assigned by God to police all of His children. Each of us must stand before God to give an account.
[AiG]: This is certainly true for moral issues. It becomes a more dubious argument if it is meant to imply that ‘anything goes’ in creation apologetics. The nature of the comments suggests that AiG’s ‘Don’t Use’ article has ‘stung’ somewhat...

Ouch! You can almost see the scratch marks!

[KENT H]: Since some of the items AiG had on their list are used in my seminar [and the seminars done by others] and many have asked me why I still use them, or what my reaction was, I thought a response was needed. My [Kent Hovind] comments are embedded in AiG's list below.
[AiG]: It’s also important to note that ‘AiG’ in Hovind’s response does NOT necessarily mean what AiG actually says, but Hovind’s attempt to summarize what we say. Sadly, this is sometimes far from accurate, as a cursory glance at our ‘Don’t Use’ page would show.

For 'far from accurate', read 'lie'.

[KENT H]: I do not use the moon dust argument in my seminar except during Q&A but I think the argument is still valid. It has certainly not been proven wrong.
[AiG]: We invite anyone to check the TJ article in question. Note that the data do not prove an old moon either by any means. But they firmly indicate by straightforward logic that the argument ‘should not be used’ in the way it has, which is quite different from saying it has ‘not been proven wrong’. To use it in a way which talks of current influx rate ‘x’ (i.e. without any numbers, implying that x is large enough that there should be a huge thickness after 4.5 billion years) is a form of bearing false witness. It verges on the painful to have to point out such simple, straightforward matters.

Note the failure by AiG to point out the basic dishonesty of using an argument as though it has been proved because 'it has certainly not been proved wrong'. Nice to see they realised that making false claims and claims intended to deceive is tantamount to bearing false witness, though. It's a shame they seem to have forgotten that in the intervening years, in the battle for ever less discerning markets and garbage sales.

[KENT H]: The Castenedolo and Calaveras human remains in old strata invalidate the geologic column.

AiG: These remains are not natural burials.

KENT H: Moot point. The geologic column has been invalidated many ways. The entire geologic column is a house of cards. Human remains and artifacts have been found in most layers of the earth. I cover much on this topic in Lies in the Textbooks and the Question and Answer Session.
[AiG]: This is a classic example of a ‘Clayton’s refutation’—i.e. the refutation you make when you’re not making a refutation, but still giving the impression that you have the higher ground. Let us ignore for the moment the issue of the geological column and the accuracy or otherwise of the various other ‘human remains and artifacts’ claims. (Many creationist researchers of substance say that the general notion of a column sequence is demanded by field data, without implying millions of years, and is explainable via the Flood, but we are deliberately leaving that aside here.)

AiG’s point was/is that these two particular examples are dubious. Kent Hovind has not even engaged with this clear position, except by way of a dismissive comment and then immediately switching topics, in effect. Note that in reference to the other items in the AiG list, he has gone to great pains to say that he does or does not use the various arguments, but here there is silence. We are not actually concerned with whether his seminars have or have not used these particular arguments; the point is that he, along with other creation apologists, should now be aware that these are dubious examples to use. Our aim was a public service, not a tearing down.

Hovind's argument was that, so he claims, 'entire geologic column is a house of cards. Human remains and artifacts have been found in most layers of the earth' so it doesn't matter if we tell lies to discredit it. AiG apparently see nothing wrong with this defence and are merely concerned about the lie being spotted and so discrediting creationism.

[KENT H]: The Japanese trawler Zuiyo Maru caught a dead plesiosaur near New Zealand.

AiG: Although it is impossible to make a 100% watertight evaluation of any creature based solely on a few photographs, an interpretative sketch and eye witness reports of the decomposing remains, the evidence collected so far overwhelming favours the basking shark identity for the Zuiyo-maru carcass.

KENT H: I disagree. The similarity of protein structure between the carcass and shark protein was about 96%.

No one has ever seen plesiosaur protein to know what it is supposed to look like and human and chimp DNA is 98.6% similar yet they are very different in hundreds of ways. I do not know for sure if the carcass was a plesiosaur but it has certainly not been proven that it was not.
[AiG]: Once again, even granting that he were right, why should anyone think it’s effective to use an argument merely because it hadn’t been disproven?

At last! Hovind is picked up for using an argument because 'it has certainly not been proven that it was not [a plesiosaur]'.

[KENT H]: Earth’s axis was vertical before the Flood

AiG: There is no basis for this claim.

KENT H: I don’t think it is possible to know the truth of this one but it has not been proven that it was not. I address the possibility in The Hovind Theory.
[AiG]: Our comment ‘there is no basis for this claim’ means exactly that: that there is no reason to believe that it was vertical. It does not mean that it can be proven that it was not. In a similar vein, it is logically possible that the core of Pluto is made of green cheese, but there is no reason to believe that it is. Thus we stand by our statement that it is not an argument that one would recommend at this point in time — unless such a reason were forthcoming.

Again, there is Hovind arguing that it's okay to use a claim because 'it has not been proven that it was not' and AiG's argument is merely that this is illogical. No concern for the morality of lying by claiming something as a fact when it has not been established as such. The only problem is that someone might see through the 'logic' of the argument.

And lastly, though there are many more exchanges:

[KENT H]: Paluxy tracks prove that humans and dinosaurs co-existed.

AiG: Some of the allegedly human tracks may be artifacts of erosion of dinosaur tracks obscuring the claw marks.

KENT H: I disagree. 1. We do not need to find tracks together since,

A. There is ample evidence from many sources that man and dinosaurs coexisted.
[AiG]: The repeated use of this approach (defending against something that was not stated, is beside the point, and equivocates on definitions) is hopefully not deliberate. Our point was simply that this particular line of evidence should not be used in its present condition of weakness.
[KENT H]: B. The Bible says all things were made in six days.
[AiG]: We agree, of course, but how does this add anything to the argument?
[KENT H]: C. No one has ever found human and chicken footprints in the same rock.
[AiG]: Ditto here again. It is as if we were evolutionists, and we were saying that, because the Paluxy tracks evidence is shaky (which is true), one should abandon Genesis creation (which is not our position at all, as anyone with even a passing understanding of our materials would realize). This wording of his may inflame some less-than-careful readers of this piece, which is a great pity, as it is inappropriate.
[KENT H]: With that said, I have been to the Paluxy four times and have seen the evidence first hand.
[AiG]: So have several of AiG’s researchers. The evidence of genuine tracks is not in dispute. Where we urge great caution is in using this evidence as proof that they are of human origin.
[KENT H]: There is ample evidence that the tracks [except for a few known and obvious frauds] are genuine. Many intelligent and godly people have devoted hundreds of hours to this study and disagree with AiG here.
[AiG]: Sadly, the implication here is that AiG’s position somehow impugns the intelligence or, worse still, the godliness, of the people who have come to this conclusion. It is not a question of godly vs. ungodly.
[KENT H]: It appears that AiG may have been taken in by the computer programmer Glen Kuban who poses as a creationist. He has been thoroughly discredited on www.omniology.com. I cover this topic in The Garden of Eden and Dinosaurs and the Bible.
[AiG]: Again, false. AiG researchers, along with almost every other creationist researcher who is taken seriously in creationist science circles, have concluded in favour of extreme caution re Paluxy tracks because of reasons which have nothing to do with Glen Kuban, and none of us have ever thought that Kuban is a creationist. His Web site makes it clear that he is not, as does his alliance with the atheistic organization pretentiously calling itself ‘The National Center for Science Education’.

Those researchers who were previously enthusiastic about the Paluxy tracks and have now withdrawn their unqualified support include such creationist notables as John Morris (who even wrote a book about them, but had the courage to publicly withdraw) and Paul Taylor (head of Films for Christ, which made the famous film Footprints in Stone). It cannot be said of either of these people that they did not personally study the trails in great depth, nor that they had a motive for not wanting them to be human tracks — quite the opposite. Taylor had the courage to withdraw his popular film because he had seen enough evidence, even in the famous ‘Taylor trail’, to have to say that one should not use them anymore. I.e. he went from open enthusiasm to extreme caution, which is our view. It seems some quarters in creationism are stuck in somewhat of a time warp in this matter. We take no pleasure in the conflicts that arise from our sticking to a rigorous standard in evaluating these tracks, as was the case for a Creation Research Society team which some time back evaluated the whole matter of what they called ‘quasi-human ichnofossils’. For Hovind to blame some masquerading computer programmer is, frankly, a bizarre caricature. Once again, if new evidence should turn up, the whole matter of the Paluxy tracks may take on new significance. We repeat that TJ, the Creation Research Society Quarterly, and the ICC are all available as platforms to get such new evidence (should it arise) proper peer acceptance.

Love that Hovind lie that Glen Kuban poses as a creationist. Even AiG seemed bemused by it. See 'How Creationists Lie To Us - The Paluxy Hoax'

Also love that pretentious AiG 'wannabe a real scientist!' claim to have a peer-review process which is, of course, merely editorial control to make sure that none of the contributors has, even inadvertently, broken their oath to never reach a conclusion which isn't in full accord with the Christian Genesis myth.

The rest of the exchange can be read here.

You know, by judicious use of the refutations which AiG use against Hovind, it should be possible to put creationists into an infinite loop of cognitive dissonance...

Don't laugh. It's not nice...

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Saturday, 21 July 2012

No Faith In The Bible

Why was faith not good enough for the Bible's prophets?

Every single prophet or apostle of Jesus, when they bothered to explain why they believed in a god, quoted evidence. It seems they were never expected, and never expected themselves, to rely on faith alone.

Here's a random sample:
ProphetAlleged EvidenceReference
AbrahamAfter these things the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.Genesis 15:1
MosesAnd the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.Exodus 3:2-4
JoshuaAnd the Lord said unto Moses, Behold, thy days approach that thou must die: call Joshua, and present yourselves in the tabernacle of the congregation, that I may give him a charge. And Moses and Joshua went, and presented themselves in the tabernacle of the congregation. And the Lord appeared in the tabernacle in a pillar of a cloud: and the pillar of the cloud stood over the door of the tabernacle.Deuteronomy 31:14-15
SamuelAnd it came to pass at that time, when Eli was laid down in his place, and his eyes began to wax dim, that he could not see; And ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was, and Samuel was laid down to sleep; That the Lord called Samuel: and he answered, Here am I.

And he ran unto Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou calledst me. And he said, I called not; lie down again. And he went and lay down.

And the Lord called yet again, Samuel. And Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. And he answered, I called not, my son; lie down again. Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, neither was the word of the Lord yet revealed unto him.

And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. And Eli perceived that the Lord had called the child. Therefore Eli said unto Samuel, Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth. So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

And the Lord came, and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. Then Samuel answered, Speak; for thy servant heareth. And the Lord said to Samuel, Behold, I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle.
1 Samuel 3:2-11
DavidTherefore David enquired of the Lord, saying, Shall I go and smite these Philistines? And the Lord said unto David, Go, and smite the Philistines, and save Keilah.

Then David enquired of the Lord yet again. And the Lord answered him and said, Arise, go down to Keilah; for I will deliver the Philistines into thine hand.
1 Samuel 23:2

1 Samuel 23:4
IsaiahIn the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.

Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.

Isaiah 6:1-4

Isaiah 6:8
JeremiahThe words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests that were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin: To whom the word of the Lord came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, unto the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah the son of Josiah king of Judah, unto the carrying away of Jerusalem captive in the fifth month.

Then the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. Then said I, Ah, Lord God! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child. But the Lord said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord.

Then the Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth.
Jeremiah 1:1-9
JonahSo Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city. And the Lord God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.Jonah 4:5-6
JesusAnd Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.Matthew 3:16-17
And there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, Saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God. And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him. And when the unclean spirit had torn him, and cried with a loud voice, he came out of him.

And they were all amazed, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, What thing is this? what new doctrine is this? for with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him. And immediately his fame spread abroad throughout all the region round about Galilee.
Mark 1:21-28
PaulAnd as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.Acts 9:3-5

But not for Paul, obviously
(Love that attempt to assert intellectual property rights, though)
So, it seems God couldn't rely on these people's faith and knew he had to give them evidence to convince them. Or at least they felt they had to offer evidence to people, if only to lay claim to some sort of authority.

And these are the people on whom the god of the Bible supposedly relied to pass on the message that faith is all you need; that faith is a virtue; that a lack of faith is somehow a failure on your part.

Strange indeed then that these people all needed evidence, even Jesus himself, apparently.

It really should be quite obvious to anyone why the church demands we abandon reason and rely on 'faith' when, after 2000 years of pushing Christianity on people, it has never managed to come up with a single piece of definitive evidence for the god they threaten us with, nor a rational justification for the control they demand the right to exert through promulgation of fear of it, and the monopoly control of the supply of protective spells they claim save us from it.

For 'faith' read 'credulous gullibility'.

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Thursday, 19 July 2012

How Creationists Lie To Us - Karl Popper

"When you show the world you know you need to lie for your faith you show the world you know your faith is a lie".

What they say:

Duane Gish
Thus the notion that evolution is a scientific theory while creation is nothing more than religious mysticism is blatantly false. This is being recognized more and more today, even by evolutionists themselves. Karl Popper, one of the world's leading philosophers of science, has stated that evolution is not a scientific theory but is a metaphysical research program. [My emphasis]

Duane Gish, Ph.D, Former Vice-president, Institute for Creation Research
The Nature of Science and of Theories on Origins

The truth:

And yet, the theory is invaluable. I do not see how, without it, our knowledge could have grown as it has done since Darwin. In trying to explain experiments with bacteria which become adapted to, say, penicillin, it is quite clear that we are greatly helped by the theory of natural selection. Although it is metaphysical, it sheds much light upon very concrete and very practical researches. It allows us to study adaptation to a new environment (such as a penicillin-infested environment) in a rational way: it suggests the existence of a mechanism of adaptation, and it allows us even to study in detail the mechanism at work. And it is the only theory so far which does all that.2

When speaking here of Darwinism, I shall speak always of today's theory – that is Darwin's own theory of natural selection supported by the Mendelian theory of heredity, by the theory of the mutation and recombination of genes in a gene pool, and by the decoded genetic code. This is an immensely impressive and powerful theory. The claim that it completely explains evolution is of course a bold claim, and very far from being established. All scientific theories are conjectures, even those that have successfully passed many severe and varied tests. The Mendelian underpinning of modern Darwinism has been well tested, and so has the theory of evolution which says that all terrestrial life has evolved from a few primitive unicellular organisms, possibly even from one single organism.

I still believe that natural selection works in this way as a research programme. Nevertheless, I have changed my mind about the testability and the logical status of the theory of natural selection; and I am glad to have an opportunity to make a recantation. My recantation may, I hope, contribute a little to the understanding of the status of natural selection.1,3

Karl Popper
Sir Karl Raimund Popper


One is tempted to ask why creation pseudo-scientists need to use these methods if they are so sure the facts support them, but the answer is probably too obvious.

  1. Miller, David. 1985. Popper Selections.
  2. Popper, Karl. 1976. Unended Quest: An Intellectual Autobiography Glasgow: Fontana/Collins.
  3. Popper, Karl. 1978. Natural selection and the emergence of mind. Dialectica 32: 339-355.

Further reading:
Claim CA211.1 (The TalkOrigins Archive)

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How Creationists Lie To Us - The Paluxy Hoax

"When you show the world you know you need to lie for your faith you show the world you know your faith is a lie".

Paluxy River dinosaur tracks, Glen Rose, Texas
What they say:
In the last ten or fifteen years, however, many scientists and laymen alike are waking up to the fact that much solid scientific evidence exists that contradicts evolutionary notions. One of the most shattering pieces of evidence comes from the Paluxy River basin in central Texas, near the town of Glen Rose, where fossilized tracks of man and dinosaur appear together.

John D. Morris, Ph.D., President, Institute for Creation Research.

The truth:
My grandfather was a very good sculptor... During the 1930s and the Depression, Glen Rose residents made money by distilling moonshine and selling dinosaur fossils. Each fossil brought $15 to $30. When the supply ran low, George Adams just carved more, some with human footprints thrown in.... My dad [Weldon Eakin] and my grandfather decided one day — I don’t know if it was to make money, or what — to start carving man tracks alongside the dinosaur tracks. They poured acid to make the fossils look like aged limestone. They showed one "all over town" until they heard that a researcher from the Smithsonian Institution wanted to see the track. That worried my grandfather because he didn’t want anybody ever passing it off as real, so he and Daddy took it out and buried it.

Zana Douglas, Granddaughter of George Adams, discoverer of the Paluxy River dinosaur tracks, Glen Rose, Texas.
Interviewed by Bud Kennedy, Fortworth Star-Telegram
It's not nice to laugh at the people who are fooled by creation pseudo-scientists, but you may want to refer them to this when they accuse science of being fooled by hoaxes like Piltdown.

The Texas Dinosaur/"Man Track" Controversy, Glen J. Kuban
Man Tracks? A Topical Summary of the Paluxy "Man Track" Controversy, Glen J. Kuban

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Ungodly Complexity

Which of these are designed and which are natural?

You see, the thing about good design is its simplicity.

Something well designed is as simple as it's possible to be whilst still performing the function it was designed to perform. It would be possible to make spear points out of something other than flint - metals, bone, even wood - but you would be hard-pressed to come up with a better shape than those made by neolithic people. The humble garden dibber is hard to better for design. You can take a decent knife or hand-axe to any hedge and probably find a piece of wood which you can make a decent dibber from in a few minutes.

Both the spear point and the dibber are perfectly designed for a purpose and the purpose is obvious. There are no moving parts and minimal maintenance needed.

And this, of course, is how we can, at a glance, tell they were intelligently designed. Their lack of unnecessary complexity gives that away.

Compare that to the design of the human body (or any other living organism, for that matter). The human body is immensely complex compared to a spear point or a dibber.

Starting at the cell level, where probably the most complexity is to be found:
  1. Top left: An electron micrograph of a cell. Low magnification.
  2. Top right: A cell organelle, a mitochondrion, the power-house of the cell, at a higher magnification.
  3. Left: Another cell organelle, a ribosomes, where the genetic code in DNA is translated to make proteins from amino acids.
But that is still only a low level of organisation for a multi-cellular animal. These cells are then organised into tissues, tissues into organs, organs into systems and the systems into a complete individual composed of something in the order of 10-100 trillion cells.

So, if humans are designed, as creationists insist, what purpose justifies this huge level of complexity, very much of it apparently redundant at that, especially when we look at the genome.

Let's see what the Bible says about the purpose of humans:

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

Genesis 1:26

But we can dismiss that because God contradicts himself in Genesis 2.

And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.

Genesis 2:18-19

Besides, simply being here to look after the animals that were put here to help us... er... look after them, seems a bit pointless somehow. One might have expected an omniscient, omnipotent designer to have thought up something a little more challenging. Why couldn't it have have made them able to look after or 'have dominion over' themselves, for example? But then, they wouldn't have had any purpose either...

And what of the species we're still discovering, and those living at the bottom of deep oceans? They seem to have been okay without our 'dominion', don't they?

So where else can we find our 'purpose' according to Christians?

How about:

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.

Ecclesiastes 12:13

And that appears to be about it. Everything else seems to be about being 'saved', which is not much of a purpose really.

God created us so we could be saved from him? Is that it?

But, whatever this purpose is, why did it need this huge complexity? Surely it should not have been beyond the wit or abilities of an omniscience, omnipotent god to make something simple which could fear him and obey his commands. Why did it even need to be multi-cellular? Why, even as a single-celled organism, did it need the fantastic complexity of the eukaryote cell with its vast genome needed to produce all those enzymes for enormously complicated biochemical pathways, respiration, cell reproduction, and so on.

Surely, this purpose could have been achieved with the simplest of simple entities if the creator had the powers and abilities Christians attribute to him? But even if size was important to God, why couldn't he have made bodies which are much less complex? Maybe ones which don't consume energy so have no need to eat and metabolise. How about ones which just bud off new individuals, so all this sexual reproduction and the means to find and mate with a partner, then spend years rearing the children was unnecessary? How about telepathy so we can communicate simply and don't need speech, reading, hearing, etc?

In short, why does it look like we have a purpose which is unconnected with what Christians claim their god had in mind?

You see, the problem is, the vastly unnecessary complexity for such a nebulous purpose is not evidence of design, especially of intelligent design; it is evidence of unintelligent, undirected and purposeless design, just as one would expect of a mindless, purposeless design process like evolution by natural selection where the only function is to produce individual gene vehicles in order to produce the next generation of gene vehicles.

I'm afraid, whoever told you that complexity is a problem for evolutionary biology has mislead you. It is a problem for creationism and most of all for its under-cover wing, the 'intelligent design' industry. Biological complexity is exactly what we would expect if the 'creator' was an unintelligent, mindless, purposeless process. An intelligent perfect designer would have created a perfectly simple design.

It really is time religious people reassessed their superstitions and realised just how silly they are. As a basis for giving life a genuine meaning and purpose, they are about as useful as a back pocket in a vest, or a chocolate teapot.

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Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Foxing Creationists.

Here's a fascinating story which gives an insight into how man may have domesticated wolves and which illustrates a basic principle of evolution - how apparently unrelated characteristics can be linked so that, with the right pressure, a feature evolves for no obvious reason, dragged along with by the evolution of something else, and sometimes unavoidably.

Look at this picture on the right. Is it a dog? A wolf, maybe?

Well, no. It's a fox, Vulpes vulpes.

That's right. That uneatable sentient 'little gentleman in a red jacket' that unspeakable people enjoy pursuing to exhaustion then watching being killed by being torn apart in a tug-o'-war between dogs. (Sorry, I couldn't resist that. I think people who enjoy the suffering of a sentient animal are amongst the lowest forms of human life).

Foxes come in a rare 'siver' (actually, melanistic) form which was prized for its fur, especially in Russia and China. It was in Russia, during the Soviet era, that a program was started to domesticate the silver fox and breed it for its fur.

This video tells the story:

The scientists had decided the way to tame a fox was to selectively breed from those animals which showed less fear of humans already. Animals which are afraid of humans, or any potential predator, must somehow weigh up when to run away. Animals which have less fear will leave it longer before fleeing so, those with a shorter 'flight distance' will have less fear. The scientists assumed this would have some genetic basis and so would be an inherited characteristic. Part of domestication also involved making them less aggressive and safe to handle, so they were also bred for 'passivity'. By selectively breeding from tame animals they expected the foxes to become progressively more tame, i.e. domesticated, with each generation.

Indeed, this is exactly what happened, but so did something completely unexpected: the foxes changed in their physical appearance and behaviours too, not just tameness. A range of coat patterns emerged, never seen in the wild, in addition to the 'silver' coats, which had, after all been the point of the breeding program in the first place. They retained juvenile traits like a broader skull and submissive behaviour, held their tails up and barked and whined.

These differences are believed to be due to physiological changes, associated with adrenaline production, but forty differences have been found between the genome of the domesticated foxes and farm-raised 'wild' foxes.

These have all arisen in a mere fifty years, simply by selecting for 'tameness'. Clearly, there is a set of genes controlling the development of physical and behavioural characteristics, even influencing colour patterns in the fur which are either so closely linked on chromosomes with those controlling 'tameness' that they get dragged along with those for tameness when they are selected for, or, more likely, the same genes affect different aspects of the common fox phenotype. It is rare for a single gene to only control one discrete thing, hence we commonly get a whole syndrome associated with a single mutation on a single gene.

The fact that these features emerged during domestication of the common fox, and are so similar to the same characteristics which have emerged during domestication of the closely-related wolf, strongly suggests that this linkage has a long history and would have been present at least in the common wolf-fox ancestor.

Of course, creationists are going to dismiss this example of rapid evolution and the evolution moreover of characteristics which may not have given any particular advantage; indeed may have been disadvantageous but less so than the advantage gained with the evolution of the characteristic being actively selected for. They will no doubt call it 'artificial' or man-made, but what are humans if not part of the fox's environment? How does it differ significantly in any material way if humans are providing the selection pressure and not some other animal or environmental factor?

Our selection for tameness of wolves, pigs, sheep, cattle, etc., was what caused them to evolve to their present forms no less so than did bees selection for colours cause plants to evolve their flowers to their present form or a bird's startle reflex in response to a mammalian eye caused the peacock butterfly to evolve eye marking on its wings.

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