Creationist Wisdom #523: Creative Challenge

Today’s letter-to-the-editor appears in the Tallahassee Democrat of Tallahassee, the capital of the State of Florida. It’s titled Common creator explains similarities between species, and it’s the second letter at that link. An icon there will activate the newspaper’s comments feature.

Because today’s writer isn’t a politician, preacher, or other public figure, we won’t embarrass or promote him by using his full name. We found some clues that he may have been a preacher, and he may have taught at various Christian schools, but we’re not certain so we’ll use only his first name, which is Ross. Excerpts from his letter will be enhanced with our Curmudgeonly commentary and some bold font for emphasis. Here we go!

Ross begins by referring to an earlier letter in that paper, about which he says:

With a few word changes, I would be able to agree with parts of Dan Marelli’s letter. He states, “Yet the basic premise that all life on earth is related to a common ancestor and that life forms vary through time is pretty well supported by real scientists.”

What “few word changes” would Ross propose? Here it comes:

A word change is needed for the word “ancestor.” The word needed is “creator.” Yes, all life on earth is related, because there is a common creator. An artist can easily recognize a painting by Leonardo da Vinci, or a musician, after hearing just a few measures, can easily determine whether an opus was written by Mozart or Chopin. This is possible because those works of art were produced by the same artistic creators.

That’s a common way for creationists to dismiss all the morphological evidence of evolution, and also the genetic evidence. Ross then gives us an example of his reality denial:

I am similar to the monkey, not because of evolution, but because we have the same God as our creator. This explains the similarities in the various forms found in all of creation.

An “explanation” that invokes an unobserved and inexplicable miracle is a poor replacement for an explanation that relies on observed, comprehensible, natural mechanisms. Yet Ross clings to the former. Why? Two sentences from his last paragraph show his effort to appear rational:

The plethora of attempts to correct the fallacies of evolutionistic theory are too many to list. We read them often in the scientific journals as well as newspapers.

Okay, we know how weak that is, but Ross has his fantasies about a plethora of fallacies. Our question is: What’s to be done about this? Is there anything that can be said to Ross, and to all those like him? Or must we accept that such people are utterly incurable?

The obvious response is to mention Occam’s razor, the principle that among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. Wikipedia says:

In the scientific method, Occam’s razor is not considered an irrefutable principle of logic or a scientific result; the preference for simplicity in the scientific method is based on the falsifiability criterion. For each accepted explanation of a phenomenon, there is always an infinite number of possible and more complex alternatives, because one can always burden failing explanations with ad hoc hypothesis to prevent them from being falsified; therefore, simpler theories are preferable to more complex ones because they are better testable and falsifiable

One could point out to people like Ross that evolution is a natural process based on observed and undeniable mechanisms — mutations and natural selection. Even creationists recognize this to the extent of what they call “micro-evolution,” which changes the genetic inventory of a species from generation to generation. But then creationists complicate matters by imagining an unseen barrier that somehow stops things from inevitably proceeding through time to what they call “macro-evolution.” Their imaginary barrier is, of course, overcome by their unseen miracle worker. That’s an extremely contrived, unobserved, and untestable justification for denying an observed natural process that requires no fanciful complications. Nevertheless, lots of people seem to accept what Ross is saying.

Again we ask: Is there anything to be done about such reality denial? We know that the promoters of creationism have heard it all before, but their livelihood depends on steadfast adherence to nonsense. And among their followers are those who are incapable of rational thinking. We’re not talking about those two extremes — the charlatans and the mental defectives. What’s to be done about the large number of people who are capable of thinking, but who have been misled by creationist promoters?

So it’s time for another Creative Challenge. To win, the problem you must resolve to our satisfaction is that you must tell us:

What can be said (in a paragraph or less) to change the mind of a creationist who claims that all the evidence of evolution is better explained by a miracle?

You know the rules: A successful entry should be self-explanatory, but it’s quite all right to elaborate. You may enter the contest as many times as you wish, but you must avoid profanity, vulgarity, childish anatomical analogies, etc. Also, avoid slanderous statements about individuals. Feel free to comment on the entries submitted by others — with praise, criticism, or whatever — but you must do so tastefully.

Your Curmudgeon will decide if there’s a winner, and whenever we get around to it we’ll announce who the winner is. There is no tangible prize — as always in life’s great challenges, the accomplishment is its own reward. We now throw open the comments section, dear reader. Go for it!

Copyright © 2015. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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30 responses to “Creationist Wisdom #523: Creative Challenge

  1. Re “I am similar to the monkey, not because of evolution, but because we have the same God as our creator. This explains the similarities in the various forms found in all of creation.” Um, right. So, I am like a banana because …

  2. Here’s my entry into the “Creative Challenge”–

    “Nothing. Creationists cannot be convinced of anything not in their Bibles. Truth is determined by that test and no other.” So, if any other contestant claims there is such an argument, just look to see if it is in the Bible (it won’t be) and they lose. So I win … by default … no?

    Look here is an example of Creationist logic:
    1. Einstein proved that “no thing” can move faster than the speed of light.
    2. Space is “no thing,”
    3. Therefore space can move faster than light. QED
    So, those cosmologists are worried over no thing.

    How can one rationally argue with such people?

  3. What can be said (in a paragraph or less) to change the mind of a creationist who claims that all the evidence of evolution is better explained by a miracle?

    “It is essential to take the Olanzapine daily!”

  4. Miracles don’t result in consistent and reproducible effects that have been observed over the last 100+ years.

  5. From what I can tell the xtians will twist things in complex knots just to show ‘gawd did it’ which does not mean all that much either. I find that it is strange that certain types think that evolving from monkeys is some how awful but according to their book o’BS it plainly states that they are made of worm schite that gawd breathed on, and that is better? How? Or are they so dim that they don’t know where dirt comes from?

  6. As a recovered creationist who’s still a Christian, I can say that there’s no one thing you can say.

    Facts were what did me in, in the end, though. I had to create two approaches to the world. The first acknowledged what the speed of light, the ground beneath my feet (I lived in a zone impacted by Ice Age glaciers) and the language I spoke actually meant for the age of the Earth.

    Just on linguistics alone, it had to be more than six thousands years old, probably hundreds of thousands of years old. The impact of glaciers moved that out to millions of years, and then, well, light from distant stars finished off the rest. In math class, and when alone or with people who weren’t creationists, I could be a rational thinker.

    In church, I felt I had to put on my creationist hat and act like the earth was six thousand years old.

    In the end, it wasn’t anything anyone said, but the simple realization that the God I worshipped didn’t require that I pretend anymore. Just simply that.

  7. Charles Deetz ;)

    So the bible mentions dragons and unicorns, which are known to have unique features that are not close to any other animals and thus defy evolution. To you, the creationist, they are ‘real’ because they are part of The Truth, and proof of god’s unique handiwork. But no-one has ever found evidence of either. This golden opportunity to show evolution is wrong, yet all we find is fish that live on land, mammals that lay eggs, and dinosaur fossils with feathers.

  8. “The obvious response is …..”
    The better response is:

    1. “I am similar to the monkey because we have the same God as our creator.
    2. ” I am different from the monkey because we have the same God as our creator.”

    makes Ross’ creation untestable. Ross explains everything, hence nothing. But Ross won’t be convinced by that either. Hence I won’t accept your challenge. The correct answer is “nothing”, for two reasons:

    1. “better explained” – the creationist will reject any standard we offer to measure “better” and “worse”.
    2. the creationist is arguing for a predetermined conclusion.

  9. Among all living things, human bodies are most like those of monkeys and other Primates. Is that because:
    a) That could be just a coincidence, a matter of chance, and we don’t need to be interested as to why.
    b) That could be because of some laws of nature, something that makes humans more similar to Primates than to birds, fish, or trees. (For example, because of degrees of closeness of ancestry. Or because whatever creates us is constrained by the properties of the materials being worked with.)
    c) That could be because somebody wants humans to be most similar to other Primates. (For example, that humans and other Primates are to serve similar goals by their shared design.)
    d) Some combination of the above.
    e) None of the above.

  10. What conceivable pattern of similarities and differences between species could falsify a hypothesis of supernatural creation by a being whose purposes are unknown? The statements “If we are intelligently designed, we will be similar to apes” and “If we are intelligently designed, we will be different from apes” are both alleged predictions actually made by real creationists. However, creationists have repeatedly falsified evidence, including DNA comparisons, to make humans appear more different from other animals than they actually are, such as Jeffrey Tomkins’ quoted figure of 70% DNA similarity between human and chimp. No creationist has ever by accident or design inaccurately made humans appear more similar to other animals than they actually are. So first, if creationists have a real explanation for the similarity between humans and apes, then why do their “errors” always point in the “more different” direction?

    And second, if all the creationist falsehoods are just honest mistakes, isn’t all the errors pointing in the same direction an amazingly non-random pattern– and don’t non-random patterns always indicate purposeful action and intelligent design?

  11. Diogenes, most creationist organizations make their membership sign “statements of faith” that rather explicitly state that by signing you agree that any and all scientific evidence you see MUST be interpreted as supporting creationism. You literally sign away your right to believe the “hypothesis” is falsifiable. It’s a bit part of the reason why I’d argue it’s not a hypothesis at all.

  12. Tripp in Georgia

    Creative Challenge to change the mind of a creationist:

    Belief in creationism is not just a problem of ignorance – it is a ‘thinking problem’ and cannot be changed by reason and facts. At the heart of it is the staunch and unyielding feeling of ‘us against them; I’m right, and you’re wrong.’ So, the more you try to convince, the less successful you will be. A creationist has to want to change – to replace his thinking problem with the acceptance of reality. But, indoctrination is terribly debilitating and difficult to overcome.

    Here is the test for whether or not you stand a chance trying to convince a creationist of reality. Consider these two simple facts about life:

    1. More than 99% of all species that have lived on this planet no longer exist.

    2. There are species that live today on this planet that did not exist in the distant past.

    If you can’t get past these two easy ideas, then you have no chance of helping that creationist understand the facts of life. However, a person who has not been infected with the thinking problem should be able to conclude just from those two facts that ‘something’ has changed over time – species come and go, right? That’s biological evolution at its most basic. It’s in learning the details of how it works that it gets really awe-striking!

  13. In Christianity, as I suppose in most religions, children are told they must “believe” in order to be “a good person”. They are indoctrinated at a young age, and thus it is difficult for them later to accept different ideas, no matter how compelling the evidence. They feel they have to give up their belief in God in order to accept evolution, because they have been told that evolution says that life originated without God.

    Of course, we know this is a false statement. Evolution only addresses how species have changed, not how life started in the first place.

    Thus, what I would say to help a creationist accept evolution would be this:

    “Your belief that God originated life is compatible with evolution. The Theory of Evolution merely addresses how species have changed over time; it says nothing about how life originated in the first place. We have no evidence pointing to any particular way that life began, but we have mountains of evidence showing that species have changed over time through evolutionary processes.”

  14. “We have no evidence pointing to any particular way that life began . . .”
    That’s not really true, though, is it? I mean, abiogenesis can and has been tested and various methods have been used to create complex molecules that could, potentially, become self-replicating. I mean, at the very least, we know quite a few ways that life DIDN’T begin, which include special creation 6000 years ago. The creationist is likely to know what you’ve already determined that and will call you a liar for saying that we don’t know how life began. Or at least that’s what I was taught to do.

  15. Charles Deetz ;)

    @Tripp in Georgia You certainly are right, I don’t think the SC would think this challenge would target ‘winning over’ those who are unwinnable, same as evangelists have no chance of winning over non-doubting atheists. Interesting question of how to convince people to be willing to change their mind. Following the example of Mark Twain, I think it comes best from stories such as he used Huck Finn to address slavery and racism.

  16. @Diogenes
    We don’t need the evidence of DNA to observe that humans are more similar in body to other Primates (“monkeys”). That has been commented upon since antiquity. Any child on a visit to a zoo can see that that the residents of the Primate House are more like us than those in the Aviary. This has only been reinforced by centuries of comparative anatomy and, decades of biochemistry and genetics.
    What is ironic is that this recognition shows itself in the popular reduction of the meaning of “evolution” to “man is related to monkeys”, and thereby becoming a reason for rejecting evolution.

  17. Creationists want to argue that the common features of modern living things argue for a common creator rather than common ancestry. Well, all right.

    But they also want to argue that the bizarre fossils of the Edicaran period. 635 million to 542 million years ago, argue against a common ancestry for life. Well, if that’s so, they argue just as strongly against a common creator.

    They want to have it both ways, whichever is convenient at any particular moment.

  18. A great many people, like Christians, who are ideologically motivated to accept evolution, have since accepted the theory. Many Christians study and contribute to the scientific body of knowledge. Essentially all of academia teach it as fact. What other information currently entrenched in education is entirely false? Why would Christians embrace a theory that goes against a literal reading of their book if not for a recognition of accuracy? How big a conspiracy would it require to propagate false information to this scale and what is it’s over-arching motivation? Reasonable answers to these questions are required to deny evolution.

  19. I’ve had a little experience with trying to do this when I was giving talks back in the late 1970s through the 80’s and a bit into the 90s. I have spent a lot of time over the last 50 years studying the misconceptions and misrepresentations of science by ID/creationists and how they use these to lure people into debating them. I have also been studying the way novices get drawn into debates with ID/creationist and end up debating in exactly the same style as the ID/creationists. Debating ID/creationists never works.

    What seemed to work most effectively with church groups was to point out explicitly how the leaders of the ID/creationist movement get all the basic concepts in science dead wrong.

    For example, juxtaposing the pretentious scholarship of Henry Morris and Duane Gish with the actual concepts that even high school students study in school can be a rather shocking revelation for someone who might be inclined to believe what ID/creationists tell them.

    William Dembski’s “Complex Specified Information” is nothing more than a complete obfuscation of calculating the expected number of outcomes of an event by multiplying the number of trials by the probability per trial that the event will occur. Once that notion is understood, all the hogwash about calculating the probabilities of molecular assemblies can be exposed by pointing out that atoms and molecules don’t behave like junkyard parts in a tornado or ASCII characters coming together randomly to form a Shakespearean sonnet. One can even point out the 2013 Nobel Prize in chemistry to demonstrate that no scientist calculates the probabilities of molecular assemblies the way ID/creationists do.

    And that approach can be done even more easily today with all the junk science that ID/creationists have created in order to get around the courts and the law and now can no longer take back. Every one of the ID/creationists, from Morris, to Gish, to Abel, to Dembski, to Sanford, to Sewell, to Behe, etc., have buried their misconceptions and misrepresentations of science in deep piles of obfuscation and jargon that they expect others to accept and use in public debates.

    I like this approach because it teaches the real science while exposing ID/creationism’s leaders as the pretentious deceivers that they have always been – and you don’t even have to make those accusations directly; people get it when they see just how blatant the discrepancies are.

    The general rule-of-thumb is that, if an ID/creationist is purporting to tell you about science, what he is telling you is always wrong.

  20. Charles Deetz ;)

    @Mike Elzinga Thanks for the report from the trenches. Sometimes it feels like things like ‘lack of transitional fossils’ is bad science that should be easy take head-on. But you are saying the methodology/concept is the underlying science that can be exposed and I get that now. Not sure if I can do it, but will file it away in my brain.

  21. Much as I would like to win a contest, this is impossible. For the kind of Christian who finds the theory of evolution wickedly false, there is a closed belief system in which no challenge can be issued. If one fact falls, it all falls. The only legitimate role for science, in this worldview, is to marvel at the astonishing inventiveness of the creator. If Genesis must be literally true, there is no piece of conflicting evidence that can’t be explained away.

    Sometimes I think we need to be clear about our goals. Some writers sound as if demolishing the religious faith of the weak-minded is as important as ensuring that scientists remain free to do their work, that schools teach real science, and that politicians don’t impose theocracy on the rest of us. I can enjoy savage mockery as much as the next person, but it alienates people unnecessarily. No one will ever be brought to examine the evidence open-mindedly because he has been called a moron who worships a sky fairy.

  22. I agree with all those above who say that it’s impossible to change the mind of a convinced creationist (that is, a fiat creationist, one who states as fact that all living things were created ex nihilo instantaneously at God’s spoken command.)

    Alas, nothing trumps omphalos, if it be invoked. Supernatural events can explain anything, for a value of the word “explain” that we do not accept here, but which they do.

    You can’t even argue against omphalos in a paragraph. Each omphalos explanation has to be met with the facts pertaining to it. Ultimately the appeal has to be to Hobbes: which is more reasonable, a natural explanation that can cover the event, or a supernatural one? The hard fringe SC refers to will actually prefer the supernatural one. Strange, but true.

    But even for their lesser brethren, those who are actually open to Hobbes’s argument, there is no general paragraph that can apply. Each assertion has to be patiently countered with observed evidence, which means that the observed evidence must be known to the counterer. Often the evidence is detailed, subtle and voluminous – which is what makes the Gish gallop so successful.

    The only thing to say is that by launching into the gallop, the creationist demonstrates that he is not one of the lesser, but one of the greater of his kind. He can’t be convinced, no matter what the arguments or evidence. There is then no point in further discussion, unless there are actually witnesses present who are of the lesser kind and who are actually paying attention – and even then, it’s going to be a long, long haul, with the very strong likelihood that there simply will be no scope for it. It certainly can’t be done in a paragraph.

  23. Jill Smith: “No one will ever be brought to examine the evidence open-mindedly because he has been called a moron who worships a sky fairy.”

    Exactly. And since the Theory of Evolution makes no claims concerning the origin of life, just the Origin of Species, we need to point out to all those who may have been misled about this that one need not be an atheist to accept evolution. Which is the point I tried to make in my post above, since science does not have a definitive answer concerning the origin of life. Let ’em go on believing that goddidit (originate life), but help them to understand that regardless of how life began, species have been changing through evolution ever since.

  24. @ Jill Smith

    I can enjoy savage mockery as much as the next person, but it alienates people unnecessarily. No one will ever be brought to examine the evidence open-mindedly because he has been called a moron who worships a sky fairy.

    I think that is exactly the correct assessment of the “debating” situation in ID/creationism.

    Henry Morris and Duane Gish set out to pique and heckle scientists and teachers into debating them; and this has become one of the major characteristics of the ID/creationist movement. Duane Gish even showed up unannounced in biology classes in Kalamazoo, Michigan and harassed the biology teachers in front of the students. They gain publicity and “legitimacy” if they can get a scientist to debate them on a public stage using ID/creationist misconceptions and misrepresentations. They really do want to make scientists angry for sectarian socio/political reasons.

    That is why I think it is best to use the ID/creationists’ misconceptions and misrepresentations of science to improve pedagogy; all of us will have struggled with scientific concepts at some point in our lives. Knowing about the memes floating around in society helps in understanding where misconceptions come from.

    The misconceptions and misrepresentations of the ID/creationists have a very distinct and unique character about them that identifies not only their source and history, but also the kind of thinking that went into creating them.

    For me, the value of lurking on some of these Internet ID/creationist mud wrestling blogs is not to participate in them but to study the misconceptions and “debating” tactics of proponents and opponents alike. One can learn a lot about what the protagonists actually know about the science they are purporting to argue about. Novices trying to defend science usually don’t come off looking any better than the ID/creationists with which they mud wrestle endlessly.

  25. “What can be said (in a paragraph or less) to change the mind of a creationist who claims that all the evidence of evolution is better explained by a miracle?”

    I think I found the link to this article in this blog. It is way more than a paragraph and they. the IDiots and Cretinists, probably wont understand any of it let alone change their minds but I think it answers the question of miraculous intervention nicely I think.

  26. @ Jill Smith: you sound very reasonable. And that’s exactly the problem: creationists are not. See the Nye – Ham debate for a recent example. They all are dishonest. This is an inductive conclusion: I have yet to meet the first honest creationist – one not willing to twist the evidence to make his/her case. So I agree with SC here. It’s not possible to alienate creationists any further from me than they already are. Merciless mockery is the only way to enjoy a debate with creationists and keep our minds healthy.

  27. The “miracle as explanation” argument is irrefutalbe. So, adapting from my own rhetorical battles here in Scotland, I’d say “You know, you’re right. So THAT explains why you miraculously look like a human being, even though you’re really a dinosaur.”

  28. The real problem is, as many have pointed out is that the original decision to believe is not evidence based (in any usual sense of the word) so it is frightfully difficult to change a non-evidenced based position with evidence. The funny thing is that xtians love to pretend that people join the faith based on evidence, which then makes the faith true.
    For example, some xtians will argue that the gospels are, well, gospel truth, because then they were written people checked out the evidence before they believed. This is obviously untrue, most converts would have never seen a copy of any gospel text with their own eyes, and Jerusalem was a pile of rubble before the gospels were written down. So, the evidence is against their “evidence based” argument, but they still keep on using it. Because most people believe it.
    Another example, someone who commented on my blog has their own xtian blog and went and saw a creationist lecture. The lecture “convinced” her that giraffes could not have evolved. Do you think she came home and checked what Dawkins has to say on the subject? Of course not. She used the presentation as confirmatory evidence for her existing beliefs, just as psychology predicts she would.
    Confirmation bias can be broken down, but to some extent the person has to be amenable to it. Like one commenter here, the contradictory facts build up causing cognitive dissonance, and eventually the dissonance becomes too much and the house of cards falls.
    The good news is that this has happened to a large extent. Most xtians accept evolution to one degree or another, sometimes only making an exception for humans. So, the wedge is actually moving in our direction, albeit slowly.
    In the meantime, people are still going to believe weird stuff, just because someone told them it was so, like this:

  29. In a paragraph or less? How about “prove it.”

  30. @Paul Braterman
    The “miracle as explanation” argument is irrefutable.

    I beg to differ.

    A miracle, if by that we mean something which is beyond rules, cannot serve as an explanation. An explanation accounts for something by locating it in a system of regularities.

    This is not to deny the possibility of there being miracles. It is only to observe that when a miracle occurs we do not explain the event by calling it a miracle. We explain something when we have an account for “why this, rather than something else” – we are narrowing the realm of possibilities, making what does happen more probable among the possblities. Miracles, by definition, broaden the realm of possibilities (perhaps infinitely).