Two Minutes with Richard Dawkins

The last time we posted a Richard Dawkins video was Three Minutes with Richard Dawkins.

This one is shorter. The topic is One Fact to Refute Creationism. He says it’s his one best argument, and it’s certainly worth a look.

You’ve probably figured out that we can’t find any news today, at least not yet, so after you’ve watched the video feel free to use the comments as an Intellectual Free Fire Zone.

Copyright © 2013. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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23 responses to “Two Minutes with Richard Dawkins

  1. Christine Janis

    Dawkins on nested gene hierarchies

    “I find it very hard to imagine how any creationist who actually bothered to listen to that ——–”

    And there you have it. Not covered, nor even any attempt to refute, in any creationist source that I know of.

  2. But Dawkins is wrong. It’s not true that if you build a phylogeny from any *one* gene, you can reconstruct the tree of life for animals. You need to build a phylogeny from several genes to make the errors average out. A gene may have 1,000 base pairs… closely related species will have small numbers of differences… and small numbers are subject to random fluctuations. You need to build a phylogeny from several genes added together to make random fluctuations average out. In the famous paper by Penney et al, they used five genes and that was enough. Since then, of course, many more genes have been used.

    The creationists know that phylogenies created from one gene won’t precisely match the tree of life. That’s why Casey Luskin of the DI dismissed the genetic studies (Penney et al. and those following) that reproduce the tree of life correctly, on the grounds that those studies looked at too much data. Luskin demanded that scientists stop investigating so much data, they should look at only a little data, just enough to get the answer Luskin wants (noise) and then stop investigating at the moment the answer is what he wants.

    These blunders of Dawkins are an embarrassment to our side, and the creationists will definitely catch them.

  3. Once a concept has been integrated into a persons sense of self identity, the act of debating the concept becomes an attack on that persons self of self worth and validity rather than a challenge of a belief.

    The chances of anyone changing a fundamental element of their persona at that point are almost zero, this isn’t an indication that they are flawed, it’s a reaffirmation that they are as human as anyone else.

    The arguments concerning the validity of a religious tome or the existence of a given deity almost always end up missing the core of what an organized belief system is, a social system. Although modern belief systems have considerably more technical trappings than a group of primitives dancing around a fire together, the social affirmation remains unchanged. The act binds the individual with the community reaffirming a sense of belonging at the very least. When the average person froths at the mouth defending their religion, they are defending their community most of the time rather than some mystical concept.

    Atheism has a ways to go when it comes to providing or pointing to viable alternatives to these elemental social functions. But to be fair, Atheism hasn’t had the generations of accumulated thought that mysticism has.

    Bernard Shaw once wrote that “Religion is the opiate of the masses”, while I won’t contest his view, it’s important to remember that it has also provided a means to create snug harbors for people for a very long time.

    The answer has always been to try and teach the next generations why a concept is flawed and help them avoid the pitfalls associated with it when possible. Time gets the last word as always.

    Cheers

  4. Christine Janis says: “Not covered, nor even any attempt to refute, in any creationist source that I know of.”

    I’ve seen them say that the designer likes to re-use his old designs in new work.

  5. Christine, good to see you again. Uh, I was hoping to ask you a tough question though, about the literature. This is way Off Topic.

    The creationists, on the topic of denying hominid evolution, always cite two papers over and over again: Spoor et al. (1994) on labyrinthine morphology of hominids (to the effect that Australopithecus couldn’t be bipedal because it didn’t have the right semicircular canals), and Oxnard 1975.

    Now I’ve read both papers. I understand them. I can refute the creationist use of Spoor et al. (1994), because other authors questioned their assumptions about labyrinthine morphology.

    However, my question is about Oxnard 1975, which used multivariate analysis, often also called Principal Components Analysis, to analyze a few pre-Lucy hominid fossils and many living apes, and conclude that A. Africanus and Robustus were not bipedal.

    I understand the math of PCA. I know the limitations– it’s kind of subjective and vulnerable to hypothesis fishing. Also, I know Oxnard had no access to Lucy or, IIRC, any A. Afarensis.

    But my question is: what did subsequent literature say about Oxnard 1975? Did anyone later re-do a multivariate analysis on more, better fossils and get a different answer, thus refuting Oxnard? I’ve seen that argument used, but not specific references as to who precisely refuted Oxnard by using more or better fossils or better methods.

    The creationist argument is, “Computers don’t lie; evolutionary arguments are usually subjective; Oxnard used an objective, mathematical, computer-based test and proved Australopithecines are not our ancestor.” That’s what I’m trying to refute.

    Reference: The Place of the Australopithecines in Human Evolution: Grounds For Doubt? Charles Oxnard. Nature, Dec. 4, 1975.

  6. Diogenes says:

    But Dawkins is wrong. It’s not true that if you build a phylogeny from any *one* gene, you can reconstruct the tree of life for animals. You need to build a phylogeny from several genes to make the errors average out.

    He’s not wrong, he was over-simplifying. The Darwinian tree of life structure was obvious from morphology alone, which is how the Linnaeus classification system was developed — before Darwin. The growing evidence from the fossil record is consistent with that and enhances it. Then we discovered DNA, which further confirms the picture. Creationism suggests that there should be unique creations, but nothing is inconsistent with the overall tree of life, so Dawkins asks why the designer — blessed be he! — seems to go out of his way to mislead us into thinking that evolution is responsible for what we see.

  7. @ Dean: forgive my pedantry, but I believe that the “religion is the opiate of the masses” quote originates with Marx (though Shaw might well have been quoting him). If Wikipedia is to be trusted on this, see Opium of the People

    On a lighter note, for the Free-Fire Zone, I offer two nuggets from the BBC:

    Paignton zoo gorilla N’Dowe paints gorilla sculpture

    Charles Darwin letters reveal his emotional side

  8. @Megalonyx – I stand corrected, thanks for the pointer. I should check my references a little more often.

  9. This being a Free Fire Zone, I’ll take the opportunity to update you on the latest toilet camera news. Ever since the creationist, David McConaghie, was arrested and charged with voyeurism, we’ve been searching for news of him and his creationist device. Here are the latest incidents, which we assume all involve creationists:

    From the Isle of Man, the BBC reports Student arrested after camera found in school toilet.

    From Warwickshire, the Leamington Courier reports Man fitted camera in toilet to spy on people.

    And in Tacoma, Washington, the News Tribune reports Hidden camera leads to voyeurism charge for Bonney Lake man.

  10. The third story just proves that you can’t trust a man with a Snidely Whiplash mustache.

  11. On the nested hierarchies argument, it’s especially interesting that genesis stipulates that plants are created on the third day, birds and sea-dwelling creatures on the fifth day, then land dwelling creatures on the sixth day. So if a creationist agrees that a pattern of life appears to exist, then it becomes difficult to explain why the pieces of that pattern were created out of order. It is semi-plausible to state that perhaps God created a small life form, then copied and edited it into later and later versions to create the diversity of life that has existed, but to create plants before sea dwelling creatures, birds before any other land animals, etc., makes no sense at all. The Genesis account does not match the observed pattern of life.

  12. I have a question for those who know more biblical passages than I. A coworker told me he believed in heaven because he wanted to look down and see his family after he died. I said that I had never read a bible passage where that was possible. It says that heaven is eternal servitude to god, but there are no references that I’ve read that say you can hang out and watch what people are doing on earth. Did I miss something or is this an assumed perk?

  13. Paul S. enquires:

    there are no references that I’ve read that say you can hang out and watch what people are doing on earth. Did I miss something or is this an assumed perk?

    You may have stumbled upon a sound explanation for the weird affinity of highly-religious individuals for placing cameras in bathrooms. It must be in the firm belief this will enable them to keep an eye on their loved ones from the hereafter…

  14. Christine Janis

    @ Diogenes re Australopithecus

    There must be a gazillion articles that do this in some form or other, scroll through any edition of Journal of Human Evolution.

    A review of many of the results, which would contain lots of relevant references, is R. H. Crompton et al. 2008. Locomotion and posture from the common hominoid ancestor to fully modern humans, with special reference to the last common paninin/hominin ancestor. Journal of Anatomy 212:501-543.

    Note: I have no problem with Australopithecines having semi-circular canals still indicative of arboreality —- it goes with their retained arboreal features in the arms. It drives me nuts when creationists pick out all of the “ape-like” features of “Lucy” —- if she was like a human in every way, then she wouldn’t be a transitional form, now, would she???

  15. Thanks as always, Christine, I will check out the Crompton paper!

    Actually, now I recall, the point of Spoor et al. (1994) for creationists was Homo habilis, not Australopithecus– according to creationists Spoor proved that Homo habilis was LESS bipedal than Australopithecus, based on labyrinthine morphology.

    It’s nonsense. Apart from the fact that tiny, tiny, tiny differences in labyrinthine morphology can’t really distinguish small differences in bipedality, and were computed from few specimens, there’s also the question of the fossils they used. The creationist claim of H. habilis being non-transitional is based entirely on one fossil that it turns out, is not, H. habilis.

    The authors analyze the bony labyrinth of four Australopithecine skulls (*NOT LUCY*), and only one true Homo Habilis sensu lato [SK 847], and some Homo erectus.

    For one thing, the inner ear doesn’t necessarily tell you their bipedalism; the authors say “Functional interpretation of this [inner ear] morphology can only be speculative” so they are ASSUMING, not proving that it measures bipedalism precisely, and in fact that paper’s ASSUMPTION was widely criticized in the science literature thereafter.

    For another thing, the authors say, “the similarity with the [ear] canal proportions in large [apes] suggests that [hominid fossil] Stw 53 relied less on bipedal behaviour than the australopithecines.” However, first, this makes the assumption above. Second, the size differences are numerically small compared to the variation within australopithecine fossils (the difference is about one standard deviation away from Australopithecus, I ran the numbers). And third, what’s worse, Stw 53 is not even Homo habilis. It was later reclassified as Homo gautengensis.

    The one true Homo habilis they study [fossil SK 847] actually has ear canal dimensions PERFECTLY INTERMEDIATE between Australopithecines and later Homo erectus. PERFECTLY INTERMEDIATE.

    *THE ENTIRE CREATIONIST ARGUMENT ABOUT EAR CANALS RESTS ON THE BONY LABYRINTH OF ONE FOSSIL, Stw 53*, which the authors of the article called Homo habilis, but it’s now considered Homo gautengensis.

    Now do creationists want to say Stw 53, Homo gautengensis, is “just an ape”, therefore not human? OK, Homo gautengensis apparently produced and used stone tools and probably could make fire. So “just apes”, not made in the image of your God, can make tools and fire.

    Reference: Fred Spoor, Bernard Wood & Frans Zonneveld. Implications of early hominid labyrinthine morphology for evolution of human bipedal locomotion. Nature 369, 645-648 (23 June 1994); doi:10.1038/369645a0.

  16. Dawkins refers to those who say that even if all of the evidence pointed to an old Earth, they would still believe in a young Earth because of Scripture.
    In many cases, those people do not take that policy when it comes to the motion of the Earth. The evidence for the Earth being a planet of the Solar System has been accepted despite the clear statements of Scripture to the contrary. The statements of geocentrism in Scripture have been more widely for far longer accepted than anything about the age of the Earth. From the earliest days, the Scriptural age of the Earth has been a matter of disagreement, while, before the rise of modern science, there has been no dispute about Scriptural geocentrism.
    Why allow the evidence to form one’s interpretation of Scripture in the one case and not the other?
    I cannot explain this other than by the hypothesis that it is so offensive to accept the obvious fact of the relationship between humans and other primates that it forces one’s interpretation of Scripture so far as to override the scientific evidence; while there is no longer any offense taken at the planetary status of the Earth.

  17. Ed,

    ///The Genesis account does not match the observed pattern of life.///

    The creationists have you covered. They claim that the observed evolution of life is an illusion because sedimentary layers, from which the fossils are recovered, do not get deposited in chronological order. Rather, they were all deposited at once by the flood. Also, the age of those layers is questionable since there’s no guarantee that radio isotopes, used to date the rocks, were decaying at the same rate for hundreds of millions of years.

    Both claims are, of course, bulls***.

  18. @Borny, I’d also note that the sedimentary layers have the appearance of being in chronological order, and that this is a complex, specified order, and thus can’t be accounted for as a matter of chance (according to the principles of “intelligent design”). If the layers are not really in chronological order, they must have been purposefully designed to have that false appearance.
    And as far as the uniformity of rates of radioactive decay, that follows from the constants of physics not varying from a narrow range of values, which
    the advocates of the “anthropic principle” tell us have to be so for life to exist.

  19. Christine Janis

    Here’s another conundrum about the issue of Flood geology and then hyperevolution to account for current species diversity. I’ve not seen creationists tackle this, nor anyone specifically note this.

    Let’s take one specific example: the evolution of the horse. In Ken Ham’s “museum” he portrays the traditional Victorian orthogenetic notion of straight line evolution from Hyracotherium (= Eohippus) to Equus, but has renamed Hyracotherium “ark equid”, presumably a conveniently compact size to fit on the Ark. (If you google “ark equid” you can see this picture.)

    Now: the fossil record was laid down by the flood. So why are all those horses that are between Hyracotherium and Equus, “stages” that Hyracotherium went through in around 2,000 years to evolve into Equus, only to be found in the fossil record? They must have been there earlier, to have been preserved in the deluge.

    Start multiplying this by every known living taxon, and a problem emerges.

    Likewise, totally extinct groups like therapsids. Only known from the fossil record. So if none survive today, then Noah did not take them on the ark (or somehow they all went extinct so rapidly as to miss being recorded by any human history). And if he did not take them on the Ark, then he didn’t take every “kind”, thus contradicting Biblical lore. Creationists get around this problem with dinosaurs by claiming historical and recent sitings, but dinosaurs are just one of many extinct groups that this problem applies to.

    Just sayin’.

  20. ////And as far as the uniformity of rates of radioactive decay, that follows from the constants of physics not varying from a narrow range of values, which
    the advocates of the “anthropic principle” tell us have to be so for life to exist.////

    A better refutation is the direct observation of supernova explosions that are millions of light years from earth. That means we’re seeing them as they were millions of years ago. If we measure the radio isotope composition of these supernovae over, say a year, we can see that the rate of decay is exactly like what we observe now on earth. So the decay rate hasn’t changed over long stretches of time.

  21. @Christine:

    Now: the fossil record was laid down by the flood. So why are all those horses that are between Hyracotherium and Equus, “stages” that Hyracotherium went through in around 2,000 years to evolve into Equus, only to be found in the fossil record? They must have been there earlier, to have been preserved in the deluge.

    Yes, you may recall our recent discussion of AIG’s take on the timing and placement of the Ice Age, according to Andrew Snelling, whom I consider the smartest creationist of all time.

    Snelling puts the Ice Week, I mean Ice month, as starting about 2250 BC and lasting ~125 years, so it’s over by 2115 or 2100 BC.

    Snelling’s timeline clearly shows mastodons AND mammoths first evolv– I mean “adapting”, during the Ice Wee– I mean Ice Age, so they’re all post-2250 BC, and they’re all extinct by 2100.

    Strangely, we have cave paintings of mammoths and lions with no manes and Przewalski’s horse, but no paintings of dinosaurs, edaphosaurs, sphenecodontia, etc.

    All of human history, including all of Egyptian and Chinese and Babylonian history, must be squeezed in Snelling’s time frame, so the Egyptian lists of Pharoahs must be pushed back by about 1,000 years. Snelling and Ken Ham abandon their “eyewitness” idea where God’s non-people are concerned.

    Likewise, totally extinct groups like therapsids. Only known from the fossil record. So if none survive today, then Noah did not take them on the ark (or somehow they all went extinct so rapidly as to miss being recorded by any human history). And if he did not take them on the Ark, then he didn’t take every “kind”, thus contradicting Biblical lore. Creationists get around this problem with dinosaurs by claiming historical and recent sitings, but dinosaurs are just one of many extinct groups that this problem applies to.

    A creationist might argue that medieval people mistook therapsids for dinosaurs, thus dragons.

    Edaphosaurs and Sphenecodontia are a better counter-example. But the sail on the backs of pelycosaurs is like nothing in cave paintings or medieval paintings.

    There are no cave paintings and no medieval paintings of Edaphosaurs or Sphenecodontia.

    Ditto Spinosaurus and its relatives, suchomimus etc. No one could miss those spines on its back.

    Nothing like ankylosarus or stegosaurus in cave paintings or medieval paintings.

    And let’s not forget pterosaurs. If quetzalcoatlus were flying around anywhere on Earth, it would be visible from a long way away. We have cave paintings of mammoths, but no cave paintings of pterosaurs (of course there are creationists’ fake ancient carvings of dinosaurs, like the infamous Ica Stones.)

    Arthropleura, which looked like millipede the size of a Volkswagen. There are no cave paintings of Arthropleura either.

  22. Christine Janis

    @ Diogenes: “Nothing like ankylosarus or stegosaurus in cave paintings or medieval paintings.”

    I note that all of the “artifacts” relating to dinosaurs are of forms first collected by Barnum Brown in the late 19th century from the American West. “Brontosaurus”, T. rex and Triceratops. These are also the dinosaurs that figured in the children’s books in the 1950s (I Was There!). Interesting, now that we know how very diverse different dinosaurs were, and that many had feathers, that we never see any depictions of these.