Creationist Wisdom #148: From Louisiana

WE present to you, dear reader, a letter-to-the-editor titled Evolution still theory, not a fact, which appears in Town Talk (formerly Daily Town Talk), published in Alexandria, Louisiana. We’ll copy most of today’s letter, but we’ll omit the writer’s name and city. We’ll also add some bold for emphasis, plus our usual Curmudgeonly commentary between paragraphs. Here we go:

In a July 21 Your Mail letter, a familiar writer, who has been given more print space that any other person I can think of, asserts that “evolution is a truth proved over and over again by scientific rigor.”

No reputable scientist would assert so dogmatically that evolution is a proven fact. The very nature of science is that it is not dogmatic, but only makes conclusions based on scientific phenomena observable up to that point in time, and leaves room for his conclusions to be disproven by future discoveries.

That’s fair commentary. We prefer to say that a theory has been repeatedly tested and “verified” rather then “proved” — but that’s really a quibble. Aha! We found the earlier letter to which he’s referring: Don’t kill the messenger. It’s very brief; we’ll give you the guts of it for context:

My ideas are really simple: evolution is a truth, proved over and over again by scientific rigor; religion should be practiced in church or synagogue, not in the public schools; and a woman (not the government) has the right to choose for herself whether to have an abortion

That’s enough to drive ’em crazy in Louisiana. Now back to today’s letter:

I would like to ask the writer to be more specific, and not pull statements from outer space, and put them out as incontrovertible and indisputable fact. How was evolution proven? When was it proven? Where was it proven? Who proved it? … Please give us specific names and dates and places.

He doesn’t expect much from a letter in a newspaper, does he? This letter started out reasonably, but now it’s going downhill. Let’s read on:

My question is what part of evolution is he trying to establish as an incontrovertible fact? Everyone who has ever studied evolution very much knows that evolution does take place within the specie [sic] line, usually in the form of mutations. But the evolution is always within the specie [sic] line. Evolution has never been observed to have jumped and crossed specie [sic] lines, and gone from one life form to another. If life is passed on in the form of cross specie [sic] breading, such as the breading of a donkey and a horse, the offspring, a mule, is always sterile, and cannot start a new specie [sic] line.

It’s the old micro-yes, macro-no objection. We’ve been there before. Today’s letter-writer seems unaware that little changes can have a cumulative effect over time, resulting in this list of transitional fossils.

Also, “specie” is coined money, not the singular of “species” — which is the same, singular or plural. We continue:

In the billions of years it may take for the evolutionary process to work itself out, a Chihuahua may eventually evolve into a Great Dane, but all along the way, the Chihuahua will always be a dog. But a Great Dane will never jump the specie [sic] line and evolve into a Clydesdale horse, because evolution does not take place across specie [sic] lines.

At this point we must refer to the letter-writer’s earlier question and ask if he’s “trying to establish as an incontrovertible fact” that a new species can not result from evolution. If so, he’s a long way from that goal. To quote him again: “Please give us specific names and dates and places” regarding such proof.

Here’s more from this Louisiana biology expert:

If an evolutionist strokes a pet rock for a billion years, his pet rock will never turn into a pet puppy dog.

Brilliant point. Where is this going?

It will always be a non-living rock. Evolution cannot explain how the non-living becomes living.

True, but neither can the letter-writer explain it. Besides, that has nothing to do with the evolution of species. Moving along:

Evolution cannot explain the gap between the highest form of animal life, and the lowest for [sic] of human life.

But that’s exactly what the theory of evolution does do — and it doesn’t do anything else — like vivify pet rocks. Perhaps the letter-writer isn’t aware of that. Let’s see what else he doesn’t know:

Just here, it has to be stated that scientists have not always been honest in their presentation of their evidence of supposed facts to try to bridge the gap between the animal and the human, and thus provide Darwin’s missing link. In an effort to do this, evolutionists have created various hoaxes.

They gave us the Nebraska Man, the Java Ape-Man, the Piltdown Man, the Neanderthal Man and other cruel hoaxes to try to produce the missing link between the highest form of animal life, and the lowest form of human life.

Java Man is an example of Homo erectus. The Neanderthal isn’t a “cruel hoax” at all. As for Piltdown Man and Nebraska Man, those two are mentioned so often by those who get their “science” from creationist comic books that we have a ready-made rebuttal. See Piltdown Man: The Creationists’ Savior.

Is there anything else doesn’t the letter-writer know? Let’s see:

Evolution cannot account for the existence of matter.

Jeepers, he’s right! Hey, it doesn’t account for the rings around Uranus either. Another excerpt:

The first science definition I learned from my first science textbook in my first science class was this — matter is something that can neither be created nor destroyed.

He learned that “definition” in a science class? It’s a well-known consequence of the law of conservation of mass that mass cannot be created or destroyed. And the concept of mass–energy equivalence essentially means that the same thing applies to energy. None of that belongs in a discussion about evolution. If the letter-writer is declaring that matter can’t be created ex nihilo he’s not wrong — just irrelevant. And sloppy.

But let’s give him credit. At least he’s not babbling about the Second Law of Thermodynamics — or the two laws of thermonuclear dynamics, as a recent letter-writer did.

Ooooops! We spoke too soon. Wait until you see the next excerpt:

That is why I believe in ex nihilo creation. Ex nihilo is Latin for “out of nothing.” That means that God created the universe, including man, out of nothing, and out of no pre-existing materials. So until evolution can explain the existence of matter, it has not gotten past the first principle of science.

We’re good, but we can’t think of a thing to say about that. And now we come to the end:

My only request is that if a person wants to present evolution as a proven fact, let him please be specific and not pull so-called facts out of the air.

[Writer’s name and city can be seen in the original.]

A powerful letter indeed! Louisiana must be proud.

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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19 responses to “Creationist Wisdom #148: From Louisiana

  1. There are a number of words that I tend to avoid when talking about evolutionary biology, because they just generate talk about words.

    One of them is “belief” – I early on learned not to say that I believe in evolution. I’ll say that I accept that evolution happens because of the evidence and logic for it.

    Another is “proof”. (Except in the case of a mathematical proof and other special uses.)

    And – probably a lot of you will differ – I tend to avoid “fact” when speaking of evolution. I’ll say that evolution is something that happens in the world of life (and, as far as we can tell, always has happened and always will). It’s not because I disagree with “evolution is a fact”, but just because I don’t want to get into disputes about what a “fact” is.

  2. LOL! I’ll be sure not to pull my facts out of the air– so long as the letter writer stops pulling his “facts” out of his @$$.

  3. How the hell are we supposed to deal with these idiots. Yes, any one of us could refute everything the letter writer said… but can you do it in the 4 inches of newspaper column that letters to the editor get? It’s the Gish Gallop played to the masses.

    As long as crap like this keeps being written, then it will be almost impossible for it to be eliminated because it is so difficult to refute.

    I’d point to the newspaper editor to a few websites that take care of most of these propositions, but they probably wouldn’t read them and they just don’t have the background for any serious treatment of these topics.

    It’s very depressing…

  4. any one of us could refute everything the letter writer said… but can you do it in the 4 inches of newspaper column that letters to the editor get?

    Ironically, PZ’s latest post does it with one picture.

    As one poster mentioned, donkeys have 62 chromasomes and zebras have between 32 and 46. That’s a whoppingly huge gap compared to humans vs chimps.

  5. OgreMkV:

    How about pointing them to RationalWiki.com? There are articles which have a mixture of serious stuff and snarky stuff.

  6. Wait a minute right there:

    The first thing this guy learned about science was that:

    matter is something that can neither be created nor destroyed.

    Yet he concludes immediately that:

    That is why I believe in ex nihilo creation.

    Again: can’t be created, thus created?

    I am so convinced (thus not convinced?). Let us all forget about evolution. This logic is undeniable (thus deniable! … whatever).

  7. Extending the point from SC and TomS, in re straightforward vocabulary …

    I usually avoid the word “proof,” preferring the word “support.”

    The word “evidence” strikes me as a loaded term. So I usually substitute the word “observations” or the phrase “physical data.”

    Conversely, we should identify and de-load terms used by the Creationists. For example, “design” is a loaded term for “structure,” and “purpose” is a loaded term for “function.”

  8. @rubble:

    I hadn’t considered the loadedness of the word “evidence”, which I can agree with. But, in the spirit of nit-picking: “observations” seem to be too restricted – there are observations of what happens, but also there is experimentation (which is more than simply watching), and there is reasoning (including calculations and logic).

  9. “So until evolution can explain the existence of matter, it has not gotten past the first principle of science.”

    I never understood why creationists continue to bring up arguments about physics and cosmology as being relevant to a discussions about evolution. Now, maybe, I do. Gary_Hurd_PhD posted quite a few comments refuting the letter and giving links to further information. His posts received this response from jllacaze:

    “Ph.D hurd, I have tried to keep away from the urge to totally discredit you. But the origin of the universe is definatelly part of evolution, even if you are intellectually dvoid of that fact. Where pray tell did these basic chemical compounds responsible for life come from to begin with, if not during the reactions associated with the Big Bang? This alone displays your lack of a unified understanding of basic science. No big bang and there is nothing to evolve from or no place to start. LOL. Your ignorance estounds most educated persons. Yes, some form of evolution seems to be in play in nature, but where did the basic molecules come from? That is the foundimental question, that you ignore and cannot answer. Passing one self off as an expert, when in fact one just passed someone’s program is dubius at best as academia and intellegence are considered. It is the open unprejudiced way of looking at the natural world that shows a sembilence of intellectual understanding, don’t you agree.”

  10. @RogerE: Yes, this response states it in rather transparent terms.
    I am always fascinated how so many of the anti-evolution complaints turn out to be at least as much complaints against other well-accepted parts of science. Very often they can be seen as complaints against reproduction and development.
    This particular response is quite obviously at least as much a complaint about the periodic table. (“Obviously”, or so I thought: I have used something like this as a parody of anti-evolutionary complaints.)

  11. Sigh. Here I’ve been hiking 1.2 billion years of rock layers in the Uncompaghre Plateau, learning about and observing some of the most stupendous formations I’ve ever seen, finding entire (and varied) ecosystems preserved in various layers, and awed by the sheer weight of evidence for billions of years of history and evolution from one area on this planet, and come back to find Piltdown and the Second law waiting for me. Apparently the only thing that doesn’t chance with time are creationist arguments…

  12. Albanaeon says:

    Here I’ve been hiking 1.2 billion years of rock layers in the Uncompaghre Plateau, learning about and observing some of the most stupendous formations I’ve ever seen …

    That ol’ Flood sure did lay down a lot of layers. It must be inspiring to study the features of this 6,000 year-old world.

  13. @ TomS:

    “Experimentation” strikes me as a loaded word, even though it theoretically shouldn’t. To Creationists, it seems to invoke man-made laboratories, whereas much “experimentation” occurs through field studies. I prefer the word “testing,” though it too may be a loaded term.

    Reasoning is only as good as its premises. Should tests contradict the conclusions of certain lines of reasoning, then we must re-examine that reasoning, starting with our premises. This is a key feature of science that Creationists apparently have trouble grasping.

    Other Creationist-loaded words that we should challenge …

    “Specified” seems to be a ID “magic word,” without an operational definition apart from “complexity” or “information.” These latter 2 terms also all into the “magic word” category, without operational definitions that allow us to quantify information or complexity. IMO the vagueness of these terms is deliberate, a variation on “moving the goalposts.”

  14. @ RogerE:

    IMO Creationists usually use the words “evolution” and “Darwinism” as terms essentially equivalent to atheism. They seem to have real trouble grasping that, in the United States, Christians make up the majority of evolutionists. They may give occasional lip service to that fact, but that’s quickly forgotten through comments such as those from jllacaze.

  15. “breading, such as the breading of a donkey and a horse”

    After they’re breaded, are they fried?

    Anyway, I was going to say something about ‘to prove’ also meaning ‘to test’ (e.g. ‘He intends to prove his flying car design’) but I decided that’s silly and it would only confuse those great chefs who cook donkeys.

  16. @Albanaeon:

    I have challenged YECs to spend an afternoon carefully studying an outcrop. It’s entertaining to learn that they don’t want to do it, despite claiming an interest in “real science.”

    It’s funny that Creationists seem to shy away from doing real science, science easily within their grasp.

  17. “OgreMkV:

    How about pointing them to RationalWiki.com? There are articles which have a mixture of serious stuff and snarky stuff.

    I can point them at rational wiki… but they won’t read it and the newspaper won’t publish it.

    Which was the point of my gripe. The newspaper will happily publish this crap, but won’t publish a complete rebuttal (mainly because it would take all of pages A2-A4) and no one would read it. I guess that’s why the Gish Gallup is so effective.

    The only way to defeat this is to educate the kids and wait for the idiots to die off. Unfortunately, LA is a creationist state and it’s OK to teach that now… at least until the next court case.

  18. Curmundgeon: “Today’s letter-writer seems unaware that little changes can have a cumulative effect over time, resulting in this list of transitional fossils.”

    And also unaware, or pretending to be unaware that the alternative, independent “ex-nihilo” origin of “specie” is a much more extraordinary claim than “macroevolution,” demanding the more extraordinary evidence. Which must be supported on its own merits, not the same old long-refuted “weaknesses” of “Darwinism.”

    And also unaware, or pretending to be unaware that the alternative is so extraordinary a claim that even committed anti-evolution activists like Michael Behe have clearly abandoned it in favor to something much closer to evolution.

    Lemme guess, the letter writer conveniently leaves out when each “specie” originated “ex-nihilo,” right?

  19. retiredsciguy

    @rubble: “It’s funny that Creationists seem to shy away from doing real science, science easily within their grasp.”

    Hey, why should they bother with real science? “Ever’thing they need to know is right there in th’ Bible!”