Saturday, 21 April 2012

How Creationists Lie To Us - 14

Here we are at Chapter 13 of the Creationist 'science' book, It's A Young World After All, by assistant professor of psychology, Dr Paul D. Ackerman, PhD.

In case you are new to this series:

To judge by his writing, Dr Ackerman seems to have no formal qualifications in science subjects nor much in the way of understanding of scientific methodology. There is no record of him publishing any research papers in a peer-reviewed science journal nor of presenting any to an audience of professional scientists. Nevertheless he feels qualified to write about science for a Creationist readership. His academic qualifications appear to be confined to his speciality - psychology.

Chapter 13 - Time: Evolution's Friend or Foe?

This is the last chapter in which Dr Ackerman purports to deal with specific scientific claims. I get the impression that he had a few fallacies left over which he hadn't been able to fit into the preceding chapters, so he created this rag-bag of leftover scraps as somewhere to put them. The simplest approach is probably to deal with them as they come.

The argument of this book is that the universe is quite young. If the universe can be shown to be young, then evolution is ruled out, since all agree that the evolutionary process requires vast numbers of years. Time is often viewed as the great friend of evolution, supposedly performing all the miracles of creation that in the Bible are attributed to God. The famous Harvard professor George Wald has explained the evolutionists' view of the importance of time as follows:

The important point is that since the origin of life belongs in the category of at-least-once phenomena, time is on its side. However improbable we regard this event. . . given enough time it will almost certainly happen at least once. . . . Time is in fact the hero of the plot. . . . Given so much time, the "impossible" becomes possible, the possible probable, and the probable virtually certain. One has only to wait; time itself performs miracles.

Of course this is true and it shows us what Dr Ackerman is concerned about. "If the universe can be shown to be young, then evolution is ruled out..." So, if Dr Ackerman can persuade you to believe the universe is young, he can persuade you that evolution can be ruled out. Something of a give-away that, and it helps explain his extensive use of bad science and fallacies, aimed, as they are, at a largely scientifically unsophisticated and uncritical audience.

No, this is not a Creationist writing another 'science' book.
A better-known form of the evolution-through-limitless-time argument is the monkey-and-typewriter illustration. Physicist William R. Bennett, Jr., has stated it this way: "Nearly everyone knows that if enough monkeys [my emphasis] were allowed to pound away at typewriters for enough time, all the great works of literature would result."

Something about this argument is intuitively persuasive.

Obviously, if the monkeys were to type long enough, one of them would inevitably type the word to, and with just a little more time surely no one would be surprised to find the word two. And if such circumstances produced to and two, then why not eventually four, eight, and finally a complete sentence, paragraph, and so on?

The question of whether or not time is actually on the side of evolution, as Wald and Bennett maintain, is an important one even if, as this book argues, there is very little of it to work with. The fact of the matter is that time is not a friend of evolution. It is evolution's enemy.

To put it simply, if a monkey [my emphasis] is going to type a literary work, it will need to get the job done in a hurry. Time will work against the monkey's literary efforts as well as against any similar uphill evolutionary process in the real world. This fact is reflected in what scientists call the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that all real processes in the physical universe—when isolated and left to themselves—go irreversibly downhill toward increasing disorder and chaos.

The first thing to notice here is the subtle change from 'enough monkeys' to 'a monkey'. The actual monkey-and-typewriter illustration said that if an infinite number of monkeys could type on an infinite number of typewriters for an infinite amount of time, at least one of them would type the complete works of Shakespeare. It was meant to help understand the nature of infinity and how, when we include it in a calculation, anything is possible, no matter how unlikely it is. It can easily be mathematically proven, but it was never an argument for evolution and, so far as I am aware, it has never been used as an argument for it.

Using a single monkey doesn't change the logic because we are talking about infinite time, but what Dr Ackerman seems to be trying here is the fallacy that evolution depends on a single accumulation of probabilities to result in something pre-defined and specific, hence his subtle change to 'a monkey'. Evolution is, of course, not an explanation for convergence on a single pre-defined outcome; it is an explanation for divergence into many outcomes - as many as there are species, sub-species, varieties and variations in nature. Dr Ackerman's 'argument' is nothing more than a straw man; a ridiculous caricature intended to be easily ridiculed and dismissed. Straw man arguments are usually a sign either of ignorance or deliberate dishonesty.

Evolution by natural selection is emphatically not the kind of process that Dr Ackerman is presenting it as. It is not a process which is trying to produce a specific outcome and it is not a single accumulation event. I went into this in some detain in Why You? Briefly, it's the difference between dealing a specific hand of 13 cards from a pack of 52, and dealing any hand from the same pack.

Dr Ackerman either believes himself, or assumes his readers will believe, that the TOE is trying to explain how evolution dealt a specific hand at every deal. It is not. It explains how, at each generation, some individuals with a particular 'hand' of cards were more successful at dealing copies of their 'hand' and some were less so, and how this filtering process resulted in the next generation having a 'hand' they were more likely to be able to deal in that environment whilst other lines of evolving 'hands' were more successful in other environments, so they tended to deal different 'hands'. And, of course, the 'hands' they were dealing tended to change slightly because the mechanism for producing new cards is not always perfect.

There was never a specific 'hand' which evolution was trying to deal, hence we have diversification and not convergence on a specific type, as in the infinite monkey example. If we are looking for a specific outcome from the process of evolution by natural selection the only possible one is that it produces a next generation which is slightly better at producing the next generation, in that gene line, in that environment.

Another subtle 'error' in Dr Ackerman's argument here is the assumption that an evolving line only has a single ancestor at each preceding generation. This is, after all, the only rationale behind his error in accumulating probabilities to produce a single hugely unlikely improbability. Yet we know that we each have an exponentially expanding number of ancestors, hence the accumulated probabilities tend to be focussed on each generation from many gene lines, after having been filtered for ability to replicate successfully by natural selection.

With a trillion ancestors a thousand years ago, the probability of one of them having a beneficial mutation is extremely high, even if the likelihood of that mutation is one in ten million. If that stands a better chance of being replicated (which it would do it it is beneficial) then that probability of it being inherited is increased in the next generation, until, by the time it reached your generation some thousands of years later, if has become highly probable that you will inherit it.

Meanwhile, other highly improbably beneficial mutations will have occurred in other remote ancestors, and the probability of you inheriting that one is also high. The probability of you inheriting one does not affect the probability of you inheriting the others. So the chances of you inheriting a whole bunch of beneficial mutations together is extremely high, not highly unlikely as Dr Ackerman wants you to believe.

Note that, in all this, the mutation only had to happen once. It does not have to happen in every generation. Once it has happened, if it conveys an advantage, then its occurrence will tend to increase in subsequent generations. If it conveys a disadvantage then it's occurrence will diminish in subsequent generation, if it is not immediately removed.

Yes, okay you couldn't have had a trillion ancestors a thousand years ago because there weren't that many people then. That means you are related to a very large proportion of those who were around then, so you are benefiting from almost all their advantageous mutations and, because natural selection will remove any disadvantageous mutations very quickly, the probability of you inheriting one of those quickly becomes almost zero.

In terms of the typewriting-monkey example, it means that along with the accumulating chance of producing something meaningful as time increases, there must also be a consideration of the more rapidly accumulating chance that the monkey, typewriter, or both will break down. Thus, the longer the monkey types, the greater the chance that its typewriter will break. If it would take a million years for the monkey to accidentally hammer out something as meaningful as a good poem or short story, there is no chance whatsoever that the typewriter would last that long—to mention nothing of the monkey or its paper supply!

I'm beginning to wonder if Karl Pilkington is Dr Ackerman in disguise. I'm certainly beginning to feel like Ricky Gervais in this video.

Evolution does not depend on mechanical typewriters, a supply of paper or longevity of monkeys. This point is so infantile it is scarcely worth commenting upon. All it tells us is either that Dr Ackerman has misunderstood his own straw man or that he is hoping his readers will have. Quite frankly, this passage insults the intelligence even of his target audience of Creationists. To me, it suggests he holds his readers in a contempt far in excess of anything they deserve. If there were such a thing as a Code of Conduct or ethical standards for professional Creationists, this would surely risk him being struck off.

In the real world, any system posited to produce ordered and meaningful outcomes will inevitably be subject to the processes of decay and disordering known to scientists as the law of entropy (Second Law of Thermodynamics). Time is no friend of evolution.

At last our old friend the Second Law of Thermodynamics makes its appearance!

Here is as good a statement of the Second Law of Thermodynamics as you are likely to get:

The entropy of any closed system not in thermal equilibrium almost always increases. Closed systems spontaneously evolve towards thermal equilibrium -- the state of maximum entropy of the system -- in a process known as "thermalization". Equivalently, perpetual motion machines of the second kind are impossible.

Note the words 'closed system'. They are not there just to make the Second Law a bit longer; they are an essential part of it. The only truly closed system is the Universe itself. No localised part of the Universe is closed, and especially not Earth or living systems. The only thing essentially required to overcome the tendency towards increased entropy (in other words, Dr Ackerman's 'processes of decay and disordering') is energy. Given that he spent so long in Chapter 6 talking about the sun, it's difficult to believe he is unaware of it as the major source of energy on Earth. It's also difficult to believe that, as a grown adult, he is unaware that living things take in food as a source of energy and use that energy to drive their metabolism. Maybe, as a non-biologist, he is simply unaware that 'life' is, at it's lowest level, nothing more than anti-entropy machines.

Until recently, life on Earth was thought to be entirely dependent on solar energy, however, with the discovery of the deep ocean volcanic vents, particularly in the Pacific, we now know that geothermal energy can also be used by some specialised organisms. In both those systems, an increase in entropy in the energy source results ultimately in a decrease in entropy in the living organisms, but the total result is increased entropy so the system as a whole obeys the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

And that is just about that so far as Dr Paul D. Ackerman, PhD.'s substantive claims go. Not a single one of them has proved to be based on real science, or supported by science, or to disprove science in ways in which he either thinks it does or wants his readers to think it does. Most of his 'evidence' is equally fanciful nonsense from other Creationists, some of which is frankly, made up.

If anything, this singularly inept attempt to falsify Darwinian Evolution with bad science serves only to emphasis just how well supported the TOE is by the other sciences. Just as with the Laws of Thermodynamics, where we can say with as close to certainty as science ever gets, that if a theory seems to falsify the Laws of Thermodynamics then the theory is wrong, so we are close to being able to say that if science seems to falsify the TOE, then the science is wrong.

Dr Ackerman fails to falsify the TOE because his science is quite laughably wrong.

Had this book been subjected to peer review by proper scientists every chapter would have been struck out. The final chapter is simply a statement of 'faith', that is, unsubstantiated assertions, and little bits of motivational gibberish designed to make his readers feel smugly superior to those crazy know-nothing scientists and that gang of evolutionists who are trying to trick them into losing their faith and think they are descended from monkeys.

To show the world you know you need to lie for your 'faith' is to show the world you know your faith is a lie.

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