Friday, April 29, 2005

Get me a barf bag!

Frank Peretti, writer of Christian novels, has decided to take on evolution in a horror novel he has written, entitled Monster. Quoth he in an interview he gave while promoting his book in Alabama:
My goal is to make them think about evolution. Evolution as a philosophy makes monsters out of all us. It removes all that makes us human - morals, virtue, love, honor, self-sacrifice. All those become illusory. I'm trying to raise some questions. Who is the real monster here? I do it through a monster story.
"Evolution as a philosophy"? What the hell is he referring to? My best guess is that he's confusing social Darwinism and eugenics with biological evolutionary theory, but who knows?

Even worse, look at what he says in this interview:
There are two themes that are in the book that come through strongest. Evolution walks on two legs. One is beneficial mutation, purely random, and the other is natural selection. The whole idea is that some organism, purely by accident, has a mutation in his genetic structure and purely by accident that becomes beneficial because it helps him survive better. So he survives better than all of his other compatriots that don’t have that mutation. Then over billions of years, and billions of mutations, you end up with every living thing on the planet.

Well, I am presenting a thesis in this book that there is no such thing as beneficial mutation. And in weaving this whole story together, that’s what propels the story because this particular scientist decides he is going to prove that beneficial mutations really work. So he starts messing around with the DNA of some animals trying to prove how evolution works. And of course, as in most of these pretty cool monster stories, it is the old pattern of this scientist is messing around with things that are best left. You’ve seen that in all the great horror movies.

So one thing I want to do in the book is just get people to ask questions, to say, ‘Wait a minute, do mutations really work? Is that a really viable pillar for evolution?’ We’ve been told all of our lives that it is purely through mutations that this happens. We’ve even seen it in the movies. Look at X-Men, they were all these mutants with all these special powers. The whole thing was built off the premise of evolution.
When he brought up the X-Men, I knew he had no clue what he was talking about. As for there being "no such thing as a beneficial mutation," obviously he hasn't heard of the CCR5 receptor mutation that makes T-cells far less susceptible to infection with certain strains of HIV than wild-type--and that's just one example. But he's not content to stop here:
I want people to ask questions about evolution, but there is a deeper philosophical theme here too. The logical outcome of evolution is that it makes monsters. We turn into monsters because evolution takes away everything that makes us human in the sense of our moral accountability, our moral absolutes, and our idea of being distinct from the animal kingdom. The prime directive becomes survival. It’s not a matter of what is right or wrong, what is virtuous, what is honest, what does God think, it is all a matter of survival. When that is your prime directive, then virtually anything is possible.

"The logical outcome of evolution is that it makes monsters"? I realize it's only a work of fiction and that bad science is common in horror novels, but such mind-boggling ignorance is hard to fathom. But hang on, it gets even worse. When asked if he wanted to have his book gain crossover success among the general public, here's what Peretti said:
Oh, absolutely, because the secular audience more than anybody is the one that is brainwashed by evolution. They have been told it all their lives. They believe it. If I can get them to ask just one question, I’ll be happy. “You know, I wonder if mutations really do work? I’ve been told that all my life, but I’ve never seen any. They don’t happen on a regular basis; they are not observable in nature now. If we don’t observe them in nature now, how can we know they ever happened in the past?” I’d like to just get them thinking instead of just swallowing all this stuff.

"Brainwashed by evolution"? "I've never seen any [mutations]"? (Well, whoop-de-do! Just because you haven't seen them doesn't mean that scientists haven't.) "They don't happen on a regular basis"? "They are not observable in nature now?" This is creationist drivel of the worst magnitude! I'm not even sure that William Dembski would sink to this level.

Get this man over to Talkorigins.org, STAT! Not that it'll do any good; he's clearly too far gone. But hopefully some of his readers aren't.

As I was getting ready to post this, I just noticed that PZ has already commented on this clown as well, but fortunately for him he wasn't aware of the true--shall we say?--horror of Peretti's additional comments about beneficial mutations.

11 example(s) of insolence returned:


At 4/29/2005 5:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh dear. Can you hear my eyes rolling all the way across the internet?

-Ali

 

At 4/29/2005 6:49 PM, Blogger PZ Myers said...

Oh. So that's what that noise like a great bowling ball in the sky was.

 

At 4/29/2005 8:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, gosh! Uh-huh... yup, he's absolutely right, we never see any mutations. Especially not in the medical field.

 

At 4/30/2005 4:20 AM, Blogger AnthroPax said...

In the UK we have Darwin on out £10 note. If these people come to the UK, do they refuse to use it?

 

At 5/01/2005 12:05 AM, Blogger Orac said...

They probably don't even know what he looks like...

 

At 5/07/2005 6:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To be nice to my brother I read a Perretti novel several years ago. In the story the location was where redwood trees commonly grew AND was a mere one hour from New York City.

I figured I would take that demons really existed and were looking to drag folks to hell during yoga (I think that was part of the story) were part of his imagination/beliefs... BUT to put a tree that really only commonly grows on the west coast in an area so close to the east coast -- well, that just shows a bad understanding of geography and some basic science.

 

At 6/02/2005 8:10 PM, Anonymous A 14 year old Creationist (and proud of it!) said...

I agree with Frank Peretti and his statements. I also agree with his beliefs on evolution and its "evidence" of mutations. Evolutionists practically contradict themselves by saying that mutations support their theory of evolution. (That's right, evolution is a theory, not a fact!) By definition the word mutation means an error in the genetic code. The word error as defined by the Webster Dictionary means a mistake or inaccuracy with a negative effect (notice the key word 'negative'). It is a scientific fact that negative effects have negative results. Therefore the human race, by the Theory of Evolution, is a negative effect to the universe. I find that a little depressing and inaccurate. Don't agree? Visit www.arky.org and complain some more.

 

At 6/04/2005 3:04 PM, Blogger Orac said...

If you're still reading, I will try to post a response to you on my main blog as a full post early next week. Even if you're not, I think the exercise will be useful for many people.

 

At 6/06/2005 9:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone responding to the 14 year old creationist - be nice. Don't forget, they are (at face value, at least) 14. Most likely this is relatively new to them, even if it is old and very stale to us.

So, proud young creationist:

You are correct about evolution being a theory! However, "theory" in science means something different than it does in everyday English. Regular everyday "theory" means something like a guess. In science, that kind of theory is ~kinda a hypothesis. Science-english theory is something a *lot* bigger. More or less it's something that explains a whole range of observations. Other theories include: gravity, plate tectonics, germ theory, etc.

Are you willing to jump from a high place? Why not?
Would you share cups, tissues, etc with someone who has a cold? Why not?

Evolution is also a fact, as much as science (which is always open to revision) can give us one. We haven't quite figured out exactly how it all works, however. For scientists - and people who love learning - this is an exciting challenge. Anybody who *actually* says that we completely understand it - not even a chance that changes might be needed - is messing with you or doesn't get it. Creationists attibuting this idea to scientists - that doesn't count. Unfortunately, through ignorance or otherwise, many creationists mischaracterize evolutionary biology.

The dictionary stuff is clever, but a little silly. Words can have different meanings, and shades of meaning, and there is no guarantee that the ones we use will accurately describe the natural world. There is an imperfect fit between words and world. Also, dictionary definitions are manmade, not Godgiven. Most dictionaries also have numbered sub-entries to deal with those different meanings. For example, the American Heritage online dictionary entry for mistake has six parts, including " A defensive fielding or throwing misplay by a player when a play normally should have resulted in an out or prevented an advance by a base runner." Doesn't mean evolution is really baseball!!
(Another is, simply, "mistake.")

Also, there can, even in regular human-size experience, be positive errors. A number of useful inventions have arisen from errors. The poet Yeats (I think) wrote a poem where "solider Aristotle" was mistakenly misspelled and misprinted as "soldier Aristotle." He liked it so much he kept it that way.

Try copying a drawing repeatedly. Most likely you'll make a number of errors each time. Some won't really affect the drawing all that much (neutral). Some will make it look worse (negative). Quite possibly some will even improve it a little!

There's a lot more that can be said about why common definitions of "error" don't match up with what scientists are talking about, but I'm leaving most of that to Orac. The bit about negative effects having negative results is not a scientific fact. I'm rather confused about what you mean. While finding something depressing doesn't mean it's *wrong,* (that would be interesting!) this doesn't even follow from what you said.

You know, if you get very into physics you're going to read about subatomic particles that come in different "flavors" and "colors." I don't think most dictionaries will help you there.

But hey - your brain is growing! All sorts of amazing things are happening inside your skull, things that will slow down or even stop as you get older (if you ever wondered why older people seem set in their ways and unable to look at things in a new way, that has a lot to do with it). Most likely, for the next ~decade or so ideas will be more important - at least in a more vital and immediate way - than they will ever be again. Enjoy. Read! Talk! Discusss! Question! Learn! Soon enough you'll have an old slow stodgy brain like me : (
But try to fill it with challenging, nutritious, high-quality stuff, not just intellectual junkfood - and let me tell you, creationism, I swear, is almost entirely junkfood.
It's like spending your time sitting in 5th grade.

But the dictionary thing was, as far as I know, unique. That's something.

Dan S.

 

At 6/07/2005 1:44 PM, Anonymous Ed Drone said...

That 14-year-old creationist said, "Therefore the human race, by the Theory of Evolution, is a negative effect to the universe."

Given our impact on this planet, I think that pretty well proves the point, doesn't it? And if you don't think there are "beneficial" errors, the next time a teacher accidentally improves your grade, just 'fess up and take the lower grade.

Ed

 

At 6/08/2005 7:51 AM, Blogger Orac said...

Thanks, guys. I posted a reply myself this morning.

 

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