Immense News Void — Free Fire Zone

This is the quietest weekend we can remember for our kind of news. The Drool-o-tron™ is just sitting there, waiting, but it can’t find anything. Most state legislatures aren’t in session, the new school year has just begun, there are no reports of school board madness, and nothing’s going on with the few creationist court cases we’ve been following. Even the usual websites we visit (the Discoveroids, ol’ Hambo, etc.) have nothing much to say.

We’ve been through slow periods before, so we know this won’t last much longer, but for the moment it’s up to you to keep things going. Therefore, we declare another Intellectual Free-Fire Zone.

We’re open for the discussion of pretty much anything — science, politics, economics, whatever — as long as it’s tasteful and interesting. Banter, babble, bicker, bluster, blubber, blather, blab, blurt, burble, boast — say what you will. But avoid flame-wars and beware of the profanity filters.

We now throw open the comments to you, dear reader. Have at it.

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Creationist Wisdom #621: The Next Paradigm

Today’s second letter-to-the-editor is yet another response to the newspaper articles we wrote about a couple of weeks ago: Ten Years After the Kitzmiller Case, regarding several articles in the York Daily Record, located in York, Pennsylvania, which were written for the coming ten-year anniversary of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District.

Like a couple of other letters we wrote about recently, this one also appears in the York Daily Record. It’s titled Design is a different paradigm. The newspaper has a comments feature, but so far there’s only one comment.

Because the writer isn’t a politician, preacher, or other public figure, we won’t embarrass or promote him by using his full name. He writes a lot of letters-to-the-editor — we posted about one a couple of weeks ago: #615: Kitzmiller, a Travesty — but he still doesn’t qualify for full-name treatment. His first name is Larry. Excerpts from his new letter will be enhanced with our Curmudgeonly commentary and some bold font for emphasis. Here we go!

I agree with [an earlier letter] that some members of the 2005 Dover school board were wrong to emphasize their religious motivations for offering students a glimpse of the scientific problems faced by Darwinian evolution. The religious aspect is objectively irrelevant to the scientific issues, yet the ill-considered reference to religion enabled the judge to rule as he did.

Ah, the religious motivation of the school board was irrelevant, and it confused the judge. Larry is going to discuss the scientific issues. As we remarked about his earlier letter, “This could have been written by the Discoveroids. Maybe it was.” That’s true of today’s letter also. He says:

The horrible thought crime which cost Dover Township $1 million was to state in class that credible scientific dissent from Darwin’s theory really does exist, and that interested students could read about it in the library. This hardly amounts to “teaching of intelligent design in science classes,” let alone to trying to “stop the teaching of evolution,” as [the other letter] implies.

Oh? Suppose the school board had mandated that a message be read in science class telling the students to read the bible for a credible scientific alternative to Darwin’s theory. That’s not very different from what they did — recommending Of Pandas and People. They’re both creationist books. But Larry doesn’t agree. Let’s read on:

The stale cliche that Intelligent Design theory is really religion overlooks the fact that some of the scientists currently at work developing the design paradigm are not theists (believers in God) let alone Christians. This is about the scientific detection of design in nature, not about worshiping a designer.

Pure Discoveroid drivel. Larry continues:

Design is a completely new paradigm which considers inputs of form or information into natural systems, above and beyond purely mechanical causes. Therefore it is incompatible with the dominant Darwinian paradigm, and supporters of the latter will invariably discredit it, mostly without fair consideration.

Oooooooooooh — it’s above and beyond purely mechanical causes. Yes, of course. That’s because the designer — blessed be he! — is supernatural. Here’s more:

As for the fossil record, the examples of intermediate forms given by [the earlier letter] do not address the problem. Sure, there are analogies between current and extinct species, like tigers and saber-tooths, or elephants and mastodons. And yes, it is possible to construct sequences of fossil species, from earlier to later in the geological record, which appear to be possibly developmental in nature, running from simpler to more complex, or from smaller to larger brains — as has been done with human species. But the species comprised in these sequences are generally quite far apart in geological time, and what is missing is any evidence whatsoever of the billions and billions of mutant species that should appear in between the reference fossils in the neat textbook diagrams — if Darwin’s theory were true.

Aha — there are no intermediate fossils! Or at least, not enough to satisfy Larry. Moving along:

I am not specifically familiar with the fossil fish with crocodile head and rudimentary feet mentioned by [earlier letter]. But like all other fossil species it doubtless developed some adaptive variations and then went extinct, without any subsequent record of randomly mutated species in between it and the species it was supposedly evolving into.

We assume that’s a reference to Tiktaalik. Larry doesn’t know about it, so it’s not important. Another excerpt:

Things have gotten even worse for Darwin’s bright idea since the advent of biochemical genetics. By mapping the genomes of diverse species, it is possible to calculate the theoretical number of mutations separating one species from another. It turns out that Homo sapiens is closer to several lower animals than to the higher apes, assuming Darwin’s notion of evolution by mutation from species to species.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! And now we come to the end:

So there is nothing absurd, nor inherently religious about design science: it is simply the paradigm of the next scientific revolution (See Dembski, “The Design Revolution”).

Wow — hard core! How would you like to debate that guy?

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Creationist Wisdom #620: Another from Swaziland

When we recently departed from our focus on Europe and the English-speaking countries, and wrote Creationist Wisdom #616: Letter from Swaziland, we thought it was a one-time aberration. But we were wrong.

Today’s letter-to-the-editor also appears in the Times Of Swaziland, the oldest newspaper in the Kingdom of Swaziland. It’s titled QALAKALIBOLI IS RIGHT ON EVOLUTION. That refers to the letter we wrote about earlier. The newspaper has a comments feature.

We don’t like to embarrass people (unless they’re politicians, preachers, or other public figures), but our customary discretion isn’t necessary here. The letter-writer is identified only as Swazi Citizen. We’ll give you a few excerpts from his letter, enhanced with our Curmudgeonly commentary and some bold font for emphasis. Also, some of the spelling and grammar is a bit odd, but our excerpts are exactly what appears at the newspaper’s website. Here we go!

Since the discovery of some old fossilised bones, most probably belonging to an extinct species of ape in a cave in South Africa, the debate over the religion versus evolution has heated up again.

He’s referring, of course, to Homo naledi. Swazi Citizen says:

Even though people may have their own opinion, they should not avoid looking at the bigger picture. Unlike religion, particularly the Judeo-Christian religion whose origins can be traced back to Middle-Eastern regions of Asia, the theory of evolution is a relatively recent belief (in the absence of observable proof) that the universe, the planets and life somehow magically appeared out of nothing without having been created by a higher power or supreme being.

As is the case with so many creationists, Swazi Citizen lumps the Big Bang, the formation of the solar system, and the origin of life together with the theory of evolution. Interestingly, he feels that if everything weren’t “created by a higher power or supreme being,” that would be magic — a curious inversion of science and religion. Let’s read on:

Most aspects of science require conducting experiments and observing different processes to reach proves scientific conclusions. Evolutionary science, however, relies on the evolution of an idea, which was invented by a certain individual/s who hadn’t even had the privilege of seeing the same extinct ape bones being unearthed by scientists in South African caves. The morphing of one species into an entirely new and different species has never been observed.

We like that “morphing” expression. It brings to mind the transformation of Dracula into a bat. Swazi Citizen continues:

Old bones don’t prove anything just as gorilla bones don’t. Religions on the other hands and Christianity in particular, not only explains the origins of everything but also give us the Creator’s living word – the bible.

Ken Ham couldn’t have said it better. Here’s more:

Until as recently as 500 years ago, scientists of the times were still uncertain as to whether the world was round or flat. But the bible supposedly written by ignorant people from the stone-age, explain that the world is round (Gen 1:6-8).

Aaaargh!! It has been known since Aristotle that the world is a sphere. Eratosthenes, around two centuries BC, even calculated its circumference. As for Genesis 1:6-8, you may decide for yourself whether it describes the shape of the world. It says (King James version, of course):

6 And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.

7 And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.

8 And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

So far, the letter has been fairly typical. But now it gets strange:

Through the bible, we can find answers too many of life’s mysteries, which would otherwise be dismissed as superstitious nonsense or myths.

This is where Swazi Citizen wanders off into some strange territory, discussing “would otherwise be dismissed as superstitious nonsense or myths.” He talks about hollow earth theory and it’s influence on Hitler. He also talks about Atlantis, angels breeding with human women, and Noah’s Flood. You may read the letter and judge for yourself, but it appears to us that Swazi Citizen doesn’t think any of those things are myths.

We don’t see the relevance of that material — unless it’s to somehow demonstrate the bible’s infallibility — so we’ll skip it. That brings us to the letter’s final paragraph:

Could all this just be coincidence? In fact, we are told that Satan will be set free from his prison and will go out and deceive the nations (Rev 20:7). Could this already by happening? And how does all of this fit in with the theory of evolution? It doesn’t. If anything is a myth, it is the evolution delusion.

So there you are, dear reader. This may be the strangest letter in our entire collection, and it will probably be our last one from Swaziland.

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Creationist Definitions

This is intended to be one of our reference posts, to which we will link from time to time when it seems appropriate. We’ll be adding to it as we think of new material.

Whenever we hear people speaking of “faith in science,” or “faith in evolution,” we cringe. Why? Because it’s a complete misuse of the word “faith.” In Hebrews 11:1 (King James version, of course) we’re told: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” That’s the unique thing about faith — it doesn’t require any evidence. And of course, that’s what makes it so different from science.

One of the definitions of faith commonly used in on-line dictionaries is “belief that is not based on proof.” In the context of science, however, a more rigorous definition would be: “Faith is belief that is not based on verifiable evidence or logical proof.” Beyond that there’s what we might call brain-dead faith — belief that is flat-out contradicted by evidence or logical proof. That extreme kind of faith is pure reality denial.

So what’s the appropriate word to use when one understands a scientific theory and accepts it, based not only on the verifiable evidence, but also on the fact that in all the theory’s tests, it has never been disproved? Obviously, “faith” is inappropriate. Our preferred word is “confidence,” that is, one has confidence in the theory — which is justified as long as the theory is consistent with the evidence.

There’s an intermediate area. What about matters where we have no expertise, but which we accept anyway? An example is the functioning of aircraft — assuming one isn’t an aeronautical engineer with a solid understanding of such things. We routinely board aircraft, assuming that we will safely arrive at our destination. Is that an act of faith?

No, of course not. Regardless of our lack of technical knowledge, we literally see that aircraft fly, and we know people who have traveled in them. It may not be the same degree of confidence we have in something like evolution, about which we know the theory and the evidence, but we are nevertheless justified, based on our observations, in having confidence that such things are indeed functional. So here too, “faith” isn’t involved. The term “faith” should be reserved for things about which we literally know nothing.

While we’re talking about definitions, we’ll discuss a few others. Creationists love to confuse their drooling followers about the meaning of “theory,” attempting to equate it with a poor definition of “hypothesis,” so that it becomes nothing more that a wild guess — or even an arbitrary assumption.

Creationists are skilled at generating confusion about such matters. They often resort to dictionary definitions of “faith” and “theory” in an attempt to mislead their drooling followers. But when a creationist reaches for the dictionary, you may be sure of two things: First, he has no other non-scriptural reference book; and second, he’s going to select the least appropriate definitions he can find, which have no relevance to scientific work. To counter their shoddy practices, it’s useful to have meaningful definitions available, so we’ll provide a few sources:

A good set of definitions is provided by the National Academy of Sciences: Definitions of Evolutionary Terms. There’s also this: Scientific Hypothesis, Theory, Law Definitions. The National Center for Science Education has definitions right here.

And for the ultimate in creationist distortions of definitions, we must mention Ken Ham’s re-definition of science itself — see Creationism and Science, in which we discuss ol’ Hambo’s bizarre distinction between historical and observational science, with the result that science — as defined by him — can’t tell us anything about the past. Only the bible can do that.

Creationists also like to use a dictionary to “prove” that evolution — and all of science (or atheism, which they equate with science) — is just a religion. Often they’ll quote the fourth definition of religion in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, which is “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.” They skip over the more commonly-used definitions given earlier, such as “the service and worship of God or the supernatural,” and “commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance.” Ol’ Hambo did that here: Ken Ham: A Collection of Creationist Clichés.

To be continued.

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