Rev. David Rives Recycles an Oldie

There was no escape from the blaring sirens and flashing lights! The Drool-o-tron™ was demanding our attention. The blinking letters of its wall display said WorldNetDaily (WND), and our computer was locked onto WND’s presentation of the latest video by the brilliant and articulate leader of David Rives Ministries.

WND’s headline is Is evolution science … or religion? What a great question! Many a night we’ve been unable to sleep as we wondered that very thing. Their subtitle is “David Rives says Merriam-Webster makes it clear.”

Wowie — the rev has consulted a dictionary! Hey — wait a minute! Haven’t we been here before?

We searched our archives. Yeah — we wrote about the same thing a year ago, here: Rev. David Rives: Evolution is a Religion. The same video was on YouTube. It’s embedded in our earlier post. We all talked about it. It’s old stuff.

Is WND so desperate for material that they’ll run a headline about an old video from the rev? And why did the Drool-o-tron™ get us all worked up? We’ve been slimed! Big time!

Ah well, we’re already here, so we’ll post about it anyway. If you haven’t seen the video, you can click over to our old post. That way you won’t have to visit WND — unless you want to see the mindless comments that have appeared there.

Let’s look on the bright side. As we always do with the rev’s videos, we dedicate the comments section for your use as an Intellectual Free Fire Zone. You know the rules. Okay, the comments are open. Go for it!

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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Phlogiston, Vitalism, and Information

History is littered with bad ideas. In the realm of politics, bad ideas can kill you; in economics they can impoverish you. In science … well, what can we say about Wikipedia’s list of Superseded scientific theories?

The list is long, the drool is deep. Some of those superseded notions were well intentioned, but simply wrong. They were abandoned with relatively little fuss — like this entry:

Miasma theory of disease – the theory that diseases are caused by “bad air”. No experimental support, and rendered obsolete by the germ theory of disease.

Other items on the list, like Vitalism — the theory that living things are alive because of some “vital force” independent of nonliving matter — were rather goofy from the start. Another example would be Phlogiston theory — proposing that that combustibles contain a substance called “phlogiston” which was released into the air upon combustion. It was superseded by the discovery of oxidation.

And we all remember the Luminiferous aether — which simply doesn’t exist. Some superseded notions still linger in various fringes of society, like flat Earth, the geocentric universe, astrology, etc. You’ll want to review the whole list for laughs.

Why do we mention those things? Because it seems that another one is currently being concocted. Yes, dear reader, you guessed it. We’re talking about the Discovery Institute’s new claim that there’s a mysterious phantasm they call “information” that exists in and organizes the universe, including all living things. Despite certain intentional similarities in terminology, Discoveroid information has nothing to do with information theory, which Wikipedia says is “considered to have been founded in 1948 by Claude Shannon.”

The thing the Discoveroids call information seems vaguely similar to vitalism. No one can detect it with the instruments of science, but the Discoveroids claim they can somehow sense its presence by using William Dembski’s Design Inference, commonly called his Design Filter. We wrote about it here: The Discoveroids and Their Magic Filter.

It’s a good thing they have Dembski, because otherwise they’d never know about this information stuff. Discoveroid information is playing an increasing role in their campaign against the theory of evolution and science in general. Does it exist in a beautifully arranged snowflake? They say no. In an amoeba? They say yes. How do they know? They just do.

Before they invented this phantasmal information stuff, their imaginary designer — blessed be he! — performed only a limited number of tricks. One of those was overcoming the Great Barrier between micro- and macro-evolution. We described that in Discoveroids Dance the Micro-Macro Mambo, where we said:

The imaginary distinction between micro- and macro-evolution depends on a magic barrier between them, which somehow prevents one from gradually becoming the other. That imaginary (and unevidenced and unexplained) barrier says: “A species can mutate thus far and no farther!” It’s the reason creationists give to invoke the intervention of a deity (or an intelligent designer) who is somehow able to overcome the barrier and thus provide the appearance that life evolved naturally over eons, in a long chain of mini steps. Therefore, creationism requires belief in a two-part dogma consisting of: (1) the Great Barrier; and (2) the miracle that breaks through the barrier. … We imagine the designer — blessed be he! — creeps into the genome when no one is looking and, like a sleazy used-car salesman, he resets the invisible mutation-counter from “maximum” back to zero so the creature’s descendants can then continue to mutate to the next level.

What else did the designer do? We’ve forgotten most of the nonsensical claims, but they still insist that he put together the bacterial flagellum. There were one or two other tricks — he mucked around a bit in the Precambrian, and he sometimes adds new features to the genome, which couldn’t possibly evolve because the odds against it are too great — oh, he also fine-tuned the whole universe. Otherwise, the designer didn’t have much of a portfolio. Until now.

The Discoveroids’ latest claim is that the designer makes things complicated. To do that he adds the mystical ingredient of information. It’s something like pixie dust. It’s in your DNA. Without information, DNA is just … well, it’s a big molecule. But when the ghostly goodie of information is added — Shazam! Yes, it’s rather like vitalism, but the Discoveroids don’t want you to notice that.

But what is information? It’s not matter, not energy, not anything you know. It’s information! And it’s a big deal. It permeates the entire universe. Dembski has a new book on it, gushingly described in several Discoveroid posts, most recently here: Bill Dembski’s New Book Is Out and Ready to Order; Pre-orders Are in the Mail. We haven’t read the thing, and in all likelihood we never will, but we notice that it comes with a slogan: “Information all the way down.” Klinghoffer says:

[I]n the end, as at the beginning, there is information. Of course this casts the argument for intelligent design in a fresh and important new light, which is why we’ve been telling you that [Dembski's book] is the next big thing in ID.

It’s good that they keep inventing these new campaigns from time to time. It gives the intelligent designer something to do. Without the Discoveroids, he’d just be another imaginary entity who provides imaginary solutions for imaginary problems. We’ve got enough of those already, and they’re boring. But thanks to the Discoveroids, we now have an endless source of entertainment.

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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Truly the Ayatollah of Appalachia

This is addressed to those who have expressed disagreement (for geographical reasons) with my referring to Ken Ham (ol’ Hambo) as the ayatollah of Appalachia.

Take a look at what just popped up at the website of ol’ Hambo’s creationist ministry, Answers in Genesis (AIG) — well, actually it’s at the website of his mind-boggling Creation Museum. The title is Appalachian Bible College Returns to the Creation Museum.

You must never again doubt your Curmudgeon. We know you’ll want to read the whole article for yourself, so we’ll just give you a hint of what awaits you when you click over there:

An annual trip to the Creation Museum is a part of the curriculum for a course at Appalachian Bible College: PS105 Freshman Seminar.

It’s an annual trip. BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Here’s more:

From the list of exhibits or presentations that the students are involved with at the Creation Museum, they must do the following for at least one of them:

• Describe the exhibit or presentation on one page (250 words) and
• Include on a second page a specific list of ten or more ways that this exhibit or presentation defends a biblical world view
• Keep an outline journal of the entire trip (two pages)
• Note that any material from the four lectures may be on the next exam

Bible college is hard work! One more excerpt:

Calvary Baptist Church in Covington, KY, has housed this group for all five years that they have done this, and the trip is funded by a generous donor to Appalachian Bible College for this specific purpose.

Isn’t that wonderful? Anyway, we don’t want any more complaints about our calling ol’ Hambo the ayatollah of Appalachia.

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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Discovery Institute: Natural Selection Is a Fallacy

The Discoveroids have been both incoherent and boring lately, but we finally found a post so ludicrous that it merits a brief look. It was written by Tom Bethell. He’s not officially a Discoveroid, but they publish his essays. Wikipedia says he advocates intelligent design and other fringe ideas. The last time we wrote about one of his essays was almost a year ago: Discoveroids and AIG on Extraterrestrial Life.

Bethell’s latest is: Dennett’s Algorithm: An Exercise in Circularity. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

In Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (DDI), Daniel Dennett reduced natural selection to an algorithm, or a set of mindlessly repeated steps. But as far as I can see, he never tells us exactly what these steps are. I have looked long and hard. However, the omission is helpfully redressed by a Dennett admirer named Vincent Poirier in an Amazon comment on DDI. He identifies the Darwinian (Dennettian) algorithm as a four-step process:

1. Organisms pass their characteristics on to their descendants, which are mostly but not completely identical to their parent organisms.
2. Organisms breed more descendants than can possibly survive.
3. Descendants with beneficial variations have a better chance of surviving and reproducing, however slight, than those with non-beneficial variations.
4. These slightly modified descendants are themselves organisms, so repeat from Step 1. (There is no stopping condition.)

Here’s the Amazon listing for Dennett’s book: Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meaning of Life. There are 186 comments, and we haven’t searched for the one that Bethell quoted. Dennett isn’t responsible for it, but it sounds reasonable to us. Bethell doesn’t think so, and he uses it — an Amazon comment! — not only to attack Dennett’s book, but Darwin’s theory in general. This is an extreme stretch, but we’re dealing with a Discoveroid article, so we have to expect such things. Let’s read on:

The beneficial variations are defined in terms of those that survive. Therefore, one might say, Dennett’s algorithm never comes to grips with the real world. “The survival of the fittest” has the same problem. It is circular. Fitness is defined in terms of survival, and there is no independent criterion of fitness.

Aaaargh!! Ah yes, survival of the fittest (which wasn’t Darwin’s phrase) is a wretched tautology — circular reasoning. That’s a classic creationist clunker, discussed in the TalkOrigins Index to Creationist Claims. The process of natural selection can be distorted seem tautological when it’s deliberately expressed as “survivors survive.” Well, yes — survivors do survive. Duh! But “survivors survive” isn’t even close to what natural selection means. As we said before, in Discovery Institute: A Cornucopia of Chicanery:

In any breeding population, some individuals of the current generation will be more capable than others at tasks like finding food, attracting mates, resisting disease, and escaping predators. Those individuals are less likely to die young, and are therefore more likely to be the progenitors of the next generation, which will inherit their parents’ advantageous genetic characteristics. That’s the mechanism Darwin proposed to explain how inherited “individual differences” (he didn’t know about genetics and mutations) can eventually transform a species into one that is better adapted to its environment. … It describes a natural process which isn’t the least bit tautological.

But Bethell says it is tautological. He also confuses the occurrence of mutations with the process of natural selection. We shall watch him as he does so:

No one knows at the time what a “beneficial variation” is. But retrospectively, we do. It is one that survives in offspring.

Aaaargh!! No one knows at the time? So what? No one needs to know! That’s the “natural” part of natural selection. But in the fantasy universe of the Discoveroids, their transcendent designer does know such things, because he designs variations to be beneficial. (He also withholds those variations from individuals he has intelligently decided shouldn’t survive.) Bethell continues:

In The Origin [he means Origin of Species], Darwin gives only one case in which he identifies a variation that is independent of survival. He imagines a wolf endowed with greater speed in an environment where prey are scarce.

That’s not related to survival? BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Here’s Bethell’s analysis:

But obviously stronger leg muscles in a wolf could produce thousands of problems. If you try to guard against all such unforeseen eventualities, you will end up claiming that a mutation that enables a wolf to catch scarce prey will allow it to catch scarce prey.

Aaaargh!! Only the intelligent designer — blessed be he! — can salvage this hopelessly tangled situation. Bethell doesn’t offer any further analysis. His essay ends abruptly, with this:

In short, natural selection makes a circular claim, Dennett does his best to skirt the problem, but no one has been able to get around it.

So there you are. Like a good creationist, Bethell claims that natural selection is merely a tautology, and the only way out of his phony conundrum is to invoke the intelligent designer — an imaginary entity who provides an imaginary solution for an imaginary problem. This is creationism at its best!

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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