Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Skeptics' Circle reminder: Save Matt from himself!

I fear for Matt, proprietor of Pooflingers Anonymous and the host of this week's Skeptics' Circle.

First, Matt subjected himself to a Kent Hovind video a week for twelve weeks and then debunked the creationist looniness of each one in a painstaking deconstruction of Hovind's antiscience that he aptly named The Hovind Files: Lying for Jesus. Such was the amazing stupidity of those videos that Matt had PZ Myers and me offering sympathy for (and wonder at) his willingness to subject himself to such severe mental abuse for the cause of skepticism. As I said before, I could feel my neurons dying after just a short exposure to Hovind's blather. I still have no idea how Matt pulled it off.

Now, not content to rest on his laurels, yesterday Matt announced that he has acquired a copy of The Evolution Cruncher, a 900-page young earth creationist book that purports to "crunch" all the arguments for evolution:
The point is: the book made it into my collection and the time has come for another creationist material review session. I will not be writing a blow-by-blow account of the entire work as I did during the Hovind video reviews; there are over nine-hundred pages to the book and most of the arguments would simply be a rewrite of things covered both here and elsewhere. I have, however, noticed upon a cursory inspection of the book a number of arguments against evolution not commonly found. It is these that I intend to tackle...
At least he's learned some moderation. If he were to do a blow-by-blow deconstruction of the entire work, I would fear that it might destroy what's left of his skeptical skills after the Hovind experience. If you want to get an idea of what Matt's put himself up against, I've found the Cruncher's Table of Contents, along with what seems to be links to large excerpts from the book. This rapidly me to a bunch of painful-to-read creationist quote-mining and canards, such as this one, which caught my interest after a brief perusal of a page or two:
Hiroshima (1945), is an evolutionist’s paradise; for it is filled with people heavily irradiated, which—according to evolutionary mutation theory—should be able to produce children which are new, different, and a more exalted species. But this has not happened. Only injury and death resulted from the August 6, 1945, nuclear explosion. Mutations are always harmful and frequently lethal within a generation or two (*Animal Species and Evolution, p. 170, *H.J. Muller, Time, November 11, 1946, p. 38).
This is, of course, a misunderstanding of evolution. First off, most mutations are neutral; because so much of our DNA does not code for any genes (the misnamed "junk DNA"), most mutations occur in DNA where they will not cause a change in any encoded protein. Many mutations that do occur in a coding region similarly result in no change in a functional protein because of the redundancy of the genetic code. Second, it's either a mistake or a lie to claim that mutations are "always harmful." There are beneficial mutations that have been reported. Finally, evolution works over generations. Increased mutation rates due to radiation are indeed harmful in the short term, because most mutations are not beneficial, much less producing "new" or "exalted" traits.. The above is also an example of creationist quote-mining and taking quotes out of context. H. J. Muller believed that evolution is a valid theory, although he turned out to be incorrect about the vast majority of mutations being harmful.

As you can see, 900 pages of such concentrated distortions could be harmful to Matt. It might even impair his ability to be a properly skeptical host. Yes, I know that he proved his mettle wrestling with Hovind's nonsense, but one shouldn't tempt fate too much. That's why I'm worried and plead with Matt:
Stop right now! Don't read another word of this book. You're the host of the Skeptics' Circle this week. I need your mind intact--at least until this Thursday. I can't take the risk that even a small exposure to such concentrated IDiocy might render your skeptical faculties incapable of doing the job you have before you this week!
As a means of distracting Matt from his chosen task (at least until after Thursday), I'm imploring everyone to bury him with submissions to the Skeptics' Circle before the Wednesday night deadline! Keep him so busy reading submissions and putting the Circle together that he doesn't have time to turn his attention to The Evolution Cruncher until next week. Good skeptical blogging may even have the salutary effect of inoculating Matt against the credulity he is about to willingly expose himself to.

At least I hope it will. I'm actually rather interested in finding out about less commonly used creationist arguments against evolution, and, unlike Matt, I don't have the fortitude to read 900+ pages of creationist drivel to find them.

4 example(s) of insolence returned:


At 11/08/2005 9:48 AM, Anonymous Naked Ape said...

"Hiroshima (1945), is an evolutionist’s paradise; for it is filled with people heavily irradiated, which—according to evolutionary mutation theory—should be able to produce children which are new, different, and a more exalted species."
Uh, dude... the X-men and the Incredible Hulk are comic books and thus belong to the genre known as Science Fiction, they are not to be confused with Science Textbooks.

Cheers,

Naked Ape

 

At 11/08/2005 12:16 PM, Blogger Kristjan Wager said...

Hmmmm.... seems like a noteworthy attempt. I've tried to read several Creaionist and ID Creationist books, but not only are they scientifically bad, they are also badly written in general, so I haven't been able to make it through any yet.

Speaking of bad, I've ordered Evidence of Harm from my university library. How bad can it be?

 

At 11/08/2005 2:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dave S.

***WARNING: Ranting ahead***

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ve always found the term “junk DNA” to be appropriate. If you look up the word ‘junk’ for instance in the dictionary, you find:

1. Discarded material, such as glass, rags, paper, or metal, some of which may be reused in some form.

Word History: The word junk is an example of the change in meaning known as generalization, and very aptly too, since the amount of junk in the world seems to be generalizing and proliferating rapidly. The Middle English word jonk, ancestor of junk, originally had a very specific meaning restricted to nautical terminology. First recorded in 1353, the word meant “an old cable or rope.” On a sailing ship it made little sense to throw away useful material since considerable time might pass before one could get new supplies. Old cable was used in a variety of ways, for example, to make fenders, that is, material hung over the side of the ship to protect it from scraping other ships or wharves. Junk came to refer to this old cable as well. The big leap in meaning taken by the word seems to have occurred when junk was applied to discarded but useful material in general. This extension may also have taken place in a nautical context, for the earliest, more generalized use of junk is found in the compound junk shop, referring to a store where old materials from ships were sold. Junk has gone on to mean useless waste as well.

So while “junk” even in the colloquial sense can refer to something useless, it does not necessarily have to be useless. Pretty much everyone here has a junk drawer or an area where you have a pile of junk, perhaps the attic or garage or both. You don’t save this stuff because it’s worthless garbage, do you? The reason you save this ‘junk’ at all is precisely because it may have some use down the road that you can’t envision at the moment. And it did have a use at some point but is no longer used for the original purpose, perhaps because it’s broken, which is how it found itself in your junk pile in the first place. This is analogous to pseudogenes, which are similar to functional genes by have a mutation that makes them ‘broken’ but are still hanging around and may (or may not) eventually be found useful for some other purpose.

Finding a use for a piece of “junk DNA” no more validates the claim that it’s all really not junk, any more than does using that empty film container to hold thumbtacks mean the rest of the stuff in the drawer is no longer really junk.

***End rant***

 

At 11/09/2005 1:06 AM, Anonymous Sean Foley said...

I had a look at the page on human evolution, linked off the table of contents (I've actually been reading a lot of this swill for my MA thesis). These two quotes struck me:

"In 1921, Rhodesian Man was discovered in a cave. Anthropologists and artists set to work turning him into a half-ape, half-human sort of creature. But then a competent anatomist had the opportunity to examine it, and found that this was just a normal human being."

And futher down the page we find:

"Rhodesian and Taung Man were found to be apes."

They can't make an internally consistent argument over the space of a single web page. It'd be funny if it weren't so damn frustrating.

As for novel arguments against evolution, I read some Islamic creationist literature about a year back and found one that was new to me. Since the greatest minds in history lived during the flowering of Islamic civilization in the Mediterranean, the argument goes, if evolution were true, one of them would have thought it up. Since none of them did, it must be false. Q.E.D.

 

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