Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Creationist spam from Babu Ranganathan

Damn you, Babu Ranganathan.

I was in the middle of writing today's blog entry, when, running in the background, my e-mail client told me that fresh e-mail had arrived. And what should greet me? Not one, not two, but three pieces of unsolicited e-mail from Babu Ranganathan. I started working on a response, and, before I knew it, it was too late to finish the piece I had intended to post today. I guess it'll have to wait until tomorrow or Thursday; such is the blog life, I'm afraid.

Some background is in order here, not the least of which is to tell you just who Mr. Ranganathan is and why he annoyed me. About a month ago, Mr. Ranganathan published an article in Intellectual Conservative defending "intelligent design" (ID) creationism entitled, Entropy: Enemy of Evolution? It was filled with the usual creationist canards about how evolution is somehow incompatible with the Second Law of Thermodynamics, a canard debunked so frequently that I no longer go into much detail. Instead, I simply refer creationists here, here, and here whenever they are foolish enough to use this easily debunked fallacy.

I had previously been a fairly regular reader of this website, and was sorely disappointed that they would publish such a piece of nonsense. However, PZ had already demolished his article; consequently I didn't blog on it. Instead, I simply wrote an e-mail to the editor of Intellectual Conservative complaining about the article, pointing out a few of its fallacies, and concluding sarcastically that the left has little to worry about as far as Intellectual Conservative's "slowly tearing down the left's reputation as the exclusive haven of intellectual thought" if Mr. Ranganathan's article was the sort of antiscientific drivel it was using as ammunition for its attacks.

And I wonder why I never received a reply or even an acknowledgement. I guess these e-mails over a month later are my acknowledgement. Normally, I view private e-mails sent to me to be just that--private. I will not post them to my blog without the author's permission. However, there are two exceptions to this rule. One is for abusive or threatening posts. The other is for unsolicited mass e-mail or mailing lists that I did not request to be on. So it is with Mr. Ranganathan, whose statements in the e-mails are extreme examples of creationist nonsense.

The first e-mail is entitled Conservative theologian reconsiders hell and will not be discussed. (I have no idea why Mr. Ranganthan thought I would be interested in his meanderings about hell, but apparently he did.) The third e-mail is in effect a rehash of his original article in which he repeated yet again the Second Law fallacy, entitled Evolution, Entropy, and Open Systems. There's no need to deal with it, given that PZ already demolished the very same arguments here. The second e-mail, however, was entitled Common misconceptions about evolution still being taught. Too bad Mr. Ranganthan seems enamored of a few misconceptions of his own:
Another misconception is that any kind of change is possible among living things. Modern science, however, has shown that there are genetic limits to evolution or biological change in nature. All biological variations, whether they are beneficial to survival or not, are possible only within the genetic potential and limits of a biological kind such as the varieties among dogs, cats, horses, cows, etc.

However, variations across biological kinds such as humans evolving from ape-like creatures and apes, in turn, evolving from dog-like creatures and so on, as Darwinian evolutionary theory teaches, are not possible unless Nature can perform genetic engineering so as to change the over-all genetic information and program in species.
Ugh. Where to start? It's the typical creationist of the lowest order. He's in effect ceding the fact that evolution occurs, but is denying speciation. In essence, he is denying what bugs creationists the most about the Theory of Evolution, namely common descent. Unfortunately for him, he's making a fool of himself, as common descent is one of the most strongly supported pillars of evolution. But wait, Mr. Ranganathan can't wait to bury himself even deeper:
The common belief among evolutionists is that random mutations in the genetic code over time will produce entirely new sequences for new traits and characteristics which natural selection can then act upon resulting in entirely new species. Evolutionists consider mutations to be a form of natural genetic engineering.
No, Mr. Ranganathan, biologists consider mutations to be a mechanism that produces genetic and phenotypic variation, which is the raw material on which natural selection acts, nothing more.
However, the very nature of mutations precludes such a possibility. Mutations are accidental changes in the sequential structure of the genetic code caused by various random environmental forces such as radiation and toxic chemicals.

Almost all true mutations are harmful, which is what one would normally expect from accidents. Even if a good mutation occurred for every good one there will be thousands of harmful ones with the net result over time being disastrous for the species.
Oh, please. How many times do we have to shoot this one down? Most mutations are neutral, as the vast majority of DNA is not transcribed and translated into functional proteins, meaning that most mutations have no effect on phenotype. For those mutations that do have a functional effect on a protein, whether they are neutral, beneficial, or detrimental depends a lot on the environmental circumstances the organism finds itself in. Moreover, beneficial mutations, although considerably less frequent than harmful ones, are by no means rare in nature or in humans.
Most biological variations occur as a result of new combinations of previously existing genes - not because of mutations which are rare in nature.
Repeat after me: Mutations are not rare in nature.
Furthermore, mutations simply produce new varieties of already existing traits (i.e. varieties of hair color, texture, etc.). Sometimes mutations may trigger the duplication of already existing traits (i.e. an extra finger, toe, or even an entire head!). But mutations have no ability to produce entirely new traits or characteristics (i.e. causing hair cells to turn into feathers, wings, etc.).
Wrong. Evolution does not only select pre-existing genetic variation. Mutations add new variation into populations that natural selection can act on, such as resistance to chemical pesticides not found in nature. Yes, natural selection does work mostly on preexisting variation, but mutations are the main mechanism by which variation is introduced into populations in the first place. Over the span of hundreds of millions of years, mutation can be a powerful force to introduce new variation. But wait, there's more:
It is not at all rational to believe that the gradual accumulation of random and chance mutations in the sequence of the genetic code caused by random environmental forces such as radiation will produce over time entirely new gene sequences to program for entirely new and more complex species.

Would it be rational to believe that by randomly changing the sequence of letters in a cookbook that you will eventually get a book that teaches you how to build an atomic bomb? Of course not! And if the book were a living being it would have died in the process of such random changes.

Such changes in a book or in the genetic code of species cannot occur by random or chance alterations. It would require intelligent planning and design to change one book into another or to change the DNA of a simpler species into the DNA of a more complex one. The random forces of the environment are simply not capable of doing the latter for the genetic code in species.
Ugh. This is argument from incredulity at its worst. Basically, Mr. Ranganathan is saying that, because he can't conceive of a mechanism by which such complexity could have come about through evolution, that means it couldn't have happened without a "designer." That's all well and good if you're a theologian, but just throwing up your hands and saying "a 'Designer' (which we all know to be a code word for God) did it" is not science. Indeed, whether or not there is a "Designer" is not something science can ever prove or disprove, which is why most scientists consider such questions to be outside the realm of science. Moreover, I'd guess that the Designer, assuming He exists, couldn't care less whether Mr. Ranganathan can conceive of the mechanisms He uses to create new species or considers them "rational" or not. (Nor could scientists, for that matter.) Mr. Ranganathan's attitude to me seems more arrogant that even the worst arrogance he attributes to "evolutionists," as he seems to be assuming that just because he can't imagine how evolution could generate complex species must automatically mean that complex species couldn't have come about through evolution alone. Sorry, Mr. Ranganathan, but nature does not limit itself just to what you can conceive, believe, or understand!
Furthermore, a partially-evolved and useless organ waiting millions of years to be completed via random mutations would be a biological hindrance, obstruction, and liability - not exactly a suitable candidate for natural selection assuming, of course, that random mutations could ever get an organ to a partially-evolved stage.
In fact, how could species have survived over supposedly millions of years while their vital organs were still evolving? There is no evidence in the fossil record of partially-evolved species (i.e. no half-evolved dinosaur, elephant, camel, etc.).
Wrong again. There are many examples of plausible mechanisms by which very complex organ systems such as the eye, ear, and others could evolve. Just because an organ hasn't attained its full functionality does not mean that it might not give an organism a competitive advantage over those without the organ (or with a less developed version). For example, simply being able to perceive light and dark could conceivably be advantageous over not having that ability. Moreover, he's repeating the same old "no transitional fossils" canard that creationists love so much and that has been debunked so many times.

Finally, after much tortuous logic-busting, straw men arguments, and evidence of nothing more than his own ignorance of biology, Mr. Ranganathan concludes:
Science cannot prove we're here by creation, but neither can science prove we're here by chance or macro-evolution. No one has observed either. They are both accepted on faith. The issue is which faith, Darwinian macro-evolutionary theory or creation, has better scientific support.
Bullshit. First, the straw man. Science is not trying to "prove" we're "here by chance or macroevolution"; rather, it is trying to understand the mechanism through which the diversity of life arose. That's it, and that's enough. As for the second, he's half correct. No one has observed creation, but evolution most definitely has been observed before. He's also half-correct for the third. Creation is accepted by faith, and that's OK, given that it's a religious belief. However, evolutionary theory is not accepted on faith. Science doesn't work that way. I understand Mr. Ranganathan's confusion, given his faith-based approach to everything, but evolution is not a religion, his implication to the contrary notwithstanding. Indeed, evolution is one of the most robust and strongly-supported theories in science, right up there with the Theory of Relativity, and creationists' attempts to represent it as "just another belief system" are disingenuous at best and outright deceptive at worst.

But enough! I've already given this guy more attention than he deserves and allowed myself to be distracted from a piece I had wanted to post today. Maybe I should have just forwarded his drivel to PZ. However, I doubt he would have been nearly as nice as I have been about deconstructing his mess of bad logic, bad science, and outright misinformation about the scientific evidence supporting evolution.

ADDENDUM: Looks like I spoke too soon. Apparently PZ did get a copy of the same spam, and he decided to debunk the other idiotic thing that Mr. Ranganathan said that I didn't know enough about to take on (and didn't have time last night to do the background research on to do the debunking myself)! Quoth he:
Let me just say that nowhere in that paper is there even a hint of Lamarckism; it's very much standard evolutionary biology. It's ironic to read a clueless twit like Ranganathan telling scientists to stop doing something they know far better than he. Babu is fast becoming the Emily Latella of creationism.
Indeed he is. Thanks, PZ. It makes me wonder to whom else Mr. Ranganathan sent copies of this spam. Apparently Mr. Ranganathan wants us evilutionists to see his idiotic arguments. He must have some masochistic tendencies to send this tripe to people who are bound to shoot it down and tell him just how ignorant he is. Either that, or he just wants attention, regardless of whether it's positive or negative.

5 example(s) of insolence returned:


At 7/05/2005 8:25 AM, Blogger JM O'Donnell said...

Do you get emails from mysterious people saying "Jesus saves!" and the like by chance too?

In any event, a well written rebuttal but you realise (as most of us dealing with creationists have) that you write this only for the good of your readers- the creationists in question will never be capable of listening to your logic.

 

At 7/05/2005 9:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Would it be rational to believe that by randomly changing the sequence of letters in a cookbook that you will eventually get a book that teaches you how to build an atomic bomb? Of course not! "

Um, it would be perfectly rational. As Borges showed (and Dennett wonderfully elaborated on), it is in fact inevitable that you will get a book that teaches you to build an atomic bomb. You'll also get ones that teach you how to build an atomic bomb in French, in iambic pentameter, and in the style of James Joyce.

Ginger Yellow

 

At 7/05/2005 12:19 PM, Blogger coturnix said...

I got this spam and decided to ignore it: enjoy the Fourth instead of writing long angry blog posts ;-)

 

At 7/05/2005 2:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I got it, I might have just sent it straight to the Junk folder. Nice bullshit-calling, sir.

-Ali

 

At 7/05/2005 5:23 PM, Anonymous Desnes Diev said...

Allow me some "quote mining":

"Almost all true mutations are harmful, which is what one would normally expect from accidents. Even if a good mutation occurred for every good one there will be thousands of harmful ones with the net result over time being disastrous for the species... Furthermore, mutations simply produce new varieties of already existing traits (i.e. varieties of hair color, texture, etc.). Sometimes mutations may trigger the duplication of already existing traits (i.e. an extra finger, toe, or even an entire head!). But mutations have no ability to produce entirely new traits or characteristics (i.e. causing hair cells to turn into feathers, wings, etc.)."

So if I understand well Mr. Ranganathan, the mutations never produce something new and are 95% harmful. Looks like he says most of the genome is already "detrimentally designed".

Desnes

 

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