Field of Science

Creationists Respond and Spanked

I put up a post the other day in response to a question I was asked. It must have been one of my better ones because it has raised some creationist hackles. Of course there are significant issues with comprehension, which doesn't surprise me based on their understanding of basic biology.
First to come at me is Cornelius Hunter who seems to get the vapors when adults use bad words like dumbass, which he writes as dumb***. I mean really? See, in this make believe world writing things like 'fuck' is bad, but writing things lke 'f@ck' is acceptable. The meaning is not important, its the order of the letters that imparts some magical power, like CONSTANTINOPLE.

Cornelius starts by using the example of a poker game where each person has an amazingly strong hand. He then states that everyone know the hand was rigged. This is another example of an inappropriate 'what are the odds?' scenario I addressed in my previous post. I'll let him speak for himself.
For instance, evolutionists claim that all the evidence supports evolution. Amazingly, they say there is no contradictory evidence, no scientific problems to deal with.
When I first heard this argument I was astonished. But when you are certain you are right, then any and all arguments must support evolution.
What is this contradictory evidence? Does poker constitute evidence? Show me where a scientist has said there are no scientific problems to deal with.

'But when you are certain you are right, then any and all arguments must support evolution.' is laughable coming from a creationist. Pot, Kettle?
You can see an example of this claim here where an evolution professor calls some mathematicians dumb***** (while issuing several other profanities) and assures his readers that he is “unaware of any general concerns with the theory of evolution that is not steeped in religion.” One reason the professor makes this monumental scientific blunder is a fundamental yet typical misunderstanding of our second principle above.
I stand by that claim. We do not understand everything, unlike you apparently. This is why we still do research and continue to ask questions. How much do selection and drift contribute to the evolutionary process? How do genome duplications promote speciation? But these are not general concerns with the theory. Instead of handwaving on your fainting couch about my f*cking word choices, tell us a general concern with the theory of evolution that is not steeped in religion?
While it was obvious to most of us that the poker game was rigged, evolutionists make another one of their losing arguments to get around the problem.
Is that your concern, the theory of evolution does not fit with your cute analogy? Well unfortunately your analogy sucks (I hope sucks is ok on his delicate sensibilities). Cornelius quoted my points using the lottery to show how trivial it is to get big probability numbers for his readers, he then did the sweet little trick of using that against me.
There you have it. The creationist is wrong again. All of biology isn’t improbable any more than winning a million jackpots. All outcomes are equiprobable so a royal flush, CONSTANTINOPLE, and yes evolution, are not at all unlikely. 
Of course, he left off this little part of my post that is kind of relevant.
The assumptions used to make the calculations regarding evolution in the first place are suspect (wrong is a better word, fraudulent is the best word because those making these arguments have had it explained to them before). For example, the assumption in these types of calculations is that there were a bunch of chemicals and then WHAM these chemicals came together to form the first cell. First, no scientist worth her salt has ever made such a claim, although a lot of creationists have. I don’t want to get into a discussion about the origin of life in this post, but I do want to stress that I have never seen the absurd idea that cells just poofed into existence fully formed from scratch except by creationists. Irony alert: creationists think life zapped into being en masse by god, but ridicule biologists for thinking cells zapped into being en masse by evolution (even though biologists don’t think that).
I pointed out that scientists don't think life is like the lottery system (or his poker analogy). However, he ignores that and continues to suggest scientists do think that and then uses that to tear down evolution. That's called a Straw Man fallacy. The person who continually does it is an *sshole, I mean asshole. (I'll point out profanity is not in the commandments, but lying is.)
Second, to come at me is the Discovery Institute. It makes me a little sad that the traffic coming to AbC from the DI, the flagship of the creationist movement, is less than from Cornelius. The sadness is that I may send a couple of page views their way.

Anyway, the DI post is nothing but a rant that seems to be written be someone who will may be institutionalized soon.
An anonymous professor at the University of Minnesota writes a blog that came to our attention because he tries to knock down not an actual argument for intelligent design but the most simplistic parody, provided to him not by any actual ID advocate but by an unnamed female friend whom he quotes: 
It's pseudonymous, not anonymous and why does that status of my friend's identity matter? Also, if you read the post (or at least didn't lie about it), then you know I was not knocking down an argument for ID. I was answering a question asked by an 'unnamed' friend. Oh wait, it's right there in that sentence you wrote. So you're upset I responded to a thoughtful question someone asked me?
Replying under the title "Evolution: Time Is on Our Side," the professor-blogger not only doesn't write under his own name but is cagey about what department he teaches in -- though he says he has "a background in Biochemistry and Molecular and Cellular Biology." The blog itself is called, promisingly, "Angry by Choice."
How is it cagey? It says right in the about section available in the top right corner of every page of my blog "Oh, the opinions expressed here are my personal viewpoints and not those of my employer, family, or dog." Yes, my blog name is promisingly named Angry by Choice, like yours is promisingly named 'Evolution News and Views'. Unlike my blog, which actually has attitude that I choose to use as my voice (hence the name), your blog is a creationist mouth  piece. I love the suspicious style used by this anonymous writer on a website that does not allow commenting.  

Then there's a paragraph that tells their readers I made fun of them (I didn't mention the DI at all, though I did mention creationists), suggests they have rebuttals to my points, and then hits us with none of those rebuttals.
Maybe Dr. Angry is ticked off because he couldn't cut it at the U. of M.'s elite Morris campus, where our buddy PZ Myers teaches. Even PZ seems more familiar with the Darwin-doubting arguments he derides than this fellow does, and surely everyone knows that if you want to refute an idea convincingly you need to go to a sophisticated presentation of it and argue against that. To make things really easy for Angry, we suggest that he do a word search here at ENV for the phrase "probabilistic resources."
Really? I love the insult me, the entire UMN-Morris campus, and Professor Myers at the same time. You guys are precious. Regardless, let me grant that their 'probabilistic resources' are correct (they aren't, this is simply for the sake of argument). Go to the post in question and read the first part. Initially there was a mathematical argument to think the Theory of Evolution as proposed by Darwin was not correct. However, that mathematical argument was subsequently shown to be based on incorrect assumptions. The ID movement argues that their math nullifies all evidence that supports the Theory of Evolution, from fossils to genomics to observations of populations over time. Isn't it possible that maybe, just maybe, their assumptions are wrong (they are). 

Finally, DI ends with this.
But we're not holding our breath. This is how these folks always respond to probabilistic arguments against Darwinism (or materialistic origin of life scenarios). They implicitly treat the prior probability of alternatives such as ID as being vanishingly close to zero. Therefore, something like Darwinian evolution must be true, since we're here. So whatever the improbability, the actual proves the possible, and there's only one possibility worth considering.
Which just goes to show that no argument is sufficient to persuade the committed materialist. It doesn't follow that there aren't good arguments available for the open minded.
See, they suggest I do something (and presumably every scientist that understands evolution) and then come back at them. They then assume I won't and conclude that no one ever will. I understand that position. They have made the same arguments for decades, been responded to numerous times, and ignored those responses. It makes sense they assume everyone else acts the same way.

Although in this case they are right. I don't have the time or the emotional energy to read their crap now, although Behe's Darwin's Black Box is on my shelf of books to read. I suggest they or their readers look a the ruling on the Kitzmiller vs. Dover trial on teaching Intelligent Design.

Evolution: Time is on Our Side

A friend of mine asked me the following ‘I just learned that mathematicians assert (not necessarily in an argument to support God) that there hasn't been enough time for the theory of evolution to be viable. I'm making an assumption you have been aware of this given your profession and scientific mind and I'm curious of your take on this.

My initial response was along the lines of ‘I don’t have time for a substantive response at the moment but the short answer is that some mathematicians are dumbasses.’

This represents my more substantive response because I know she is interested in an actual answer. A problem comes from the nature of the question itself. I do not know the context with which these statements of mathematicians came up. Was the discussion with an actual mathematician or is this some second hand remark made by a stealth-creationist. (Although the conversation may not have been directly related to a god concept, I am unaware of any general concerns with the theory of evolution that is not steeped in religion.) What was the conversation that led up to this point? I do not know the answers to these questions, but I have a couple of educated guesses what the context was, but if I am far from the mark my friend can let me know and I’ll add another post if needed.

So my two thoughts on how a conversation related the issue of mathematics and time for evolution can be grouped into the following categories: 1. Historically Inspiring; 2. Tedious Probabilities.

Historically Inspiring (please be this one).

The theory of evolution is a dramatically different beast from that first outlined by Charles Darwin in the 1859 publication Origin of Species. (This is not a drawback of science, it’s a feature. Science progresses.) When Origin of Species was written, geologists had calculated the age of the Earth as 20 - 400 million years old. By geologists, I refer to Lord Kelvin of absolute zero fame. My friend may remember Lord Kelvin from Mr. Daigle’s chemistry class as the person who calculated absolute zero as -273°C or 0°K (the K stands for Kelvin). Anyway, Lord Kelvin calculated how long it would take the Earth to cool to its current temperature if it started as a molten ball and came up with a range of 20 - 400 million years in 1864, 5 years after Darwin published.

Kelvin ultimately settled on a more narrow range of 20 - 40 million years. Regardless, Kelvin believed this was too short for evolution to explain the diversity of life on Earth. You know what, Charles Darwin concurred. Darwin knew that his theory requires that the Earth to be extremely old. In the first edition of Origin of Species, Darwin argued that the time necessary for erosion to form the Weald in England is at least 300 million years (But we would also need to factor in the time to deposit all the material to be eroded among other things, which brings us to an age of billions of years). However, based on Kelvin’s calculations, Darwin removed these arguments from later editions of Origin of Speices and referred to the problem (or Kelvin) as an ‘odious spectre’ in letters. To be clear here, both scientists had data to back up their claims, but Darwin was quite cautious in his claims.

Smarter than me, but
still totally wrong
The interesting point is that Kelvin was flat out wrong. Based on what was known at the time, Kelvin’s approach was defensible. However, this was before we knew about radioactivity. The Earth did cool, but it is not simply a loss of heat issue, as assumed by Kelvin. Radioactive decay generates heat, and there is a lot of radioactive decay within the planet. Kelvin thought the Earth’s core was solid and that all heat transfer was by conduction (wrong on both counts).

By making a number of assumptions, which were defensible at the time, Lord Kelvin mathematically derived an age of the Earth that undercut the Theory of Evolution as well as most of geology. However, data was already in existence that suggested the Earth was much older than the age calculated by Kelvin. As more knowledge was gained, it became clear that Kelvin’s assumptions were invalid and thus his calculation wrong. Turns out the Earth is ~4.5 billion years old, which is plenty of time for geological formations to arise and giraffes to evolve. Interestingly, molecular geneticists have calculated that the last common ancestor of life lived ~3.6 billion years ago, which is not long (relatively speaking) after the planet formed. Supportive evidence for these dates comes from the earliest fossils, which are ~3.4 billion year old bacteria.

(Point of reference, Kelvin, a faithful Christian, calculated that only a moron can believe the Earth is a few thousand years old.)

Tedious Probabilities (probably this one)

Another common way to try and use math to disprove the theory of evolution is to misuse probability. The idea is to come up with a probability statement and then use that to show there is not enough time in the age of the universe for life to have occurred. If the odds against an event happening are so huge, it is impossible for the event to have occurred within the time frame the universe has existed. There are two problems with these approaches. First, it is trivial to come up with probabilities that sound impossible for events to occur even those for those events that have already happened. Second, those making the probability statements make assumptions that have nothing to do with biology or reality for that matter.

Making big numbers to impress those not used to big numbers.

Let’s start with a simple probability idea and work our way up. If we get a penny and flip it, the chance of it coming up heads is ½ or 50% (the other possibility being tails of course). The odds of getting heads twice in a row is ¼ (½ x ½) or 25%. Similarly the odds of flipping a coin and having it come up heads and then tails is also ¼. We can take this a little further, the chance of flipping a coin 10 times and having it come up heads each time is 1/1024. 1/1024 is the same as 0.0009765 or 9.77x10-4 or ~1x10-3. It’s about 1 time in a 1000. The important thing here is that the odds of getting any specific combination of heads and tails in 10 flips is about 1 in a 1000. However, if you flip a coin 10 times, you will get a specific combination. I just flipped a nickel 10 times and got T(ails), T, H(eads), T, H, T, H, H, T, H. Was the chance of that happening 1 in a 1000? Well, it was before I flipped the nickel the first time, but now that it has happened the chance that it happened is 100% or 1/1.

When making these kind of arguments, the person picks a really big number to be awe inspiring, like the number of atoms in the entire universe. The number of atoms in the entire universe is ~1x1081, which is a 1 followed by 81 zeros. Everyone knows the universe is really fucking big (what’s bigger?) and atoms are really fucking small, so it makes intuitive sense that the number of atoms in the universe is probably the biggest big number of them all. So, if you can come up with a probability that is greater than the number of atoms in the universe, it must be impossible right?

Remember when we flipped the coin 10 times above? The odds were ~1/1000 (a 1 followed by 3 zeros) that any specific sequence would come up. Well if we flip that coin 270 times, the odds of it coming up heads every time, or any other specific sequence, is 1/1.9x1081. If I flip that coin every 15 seconds, it will take me just over an hour to get enough flips to get a sequence of heads and tails. If we calculate the odds of getting that sequence ahead of time, we get a number greater than the number of atoms in the universe! Using the creationist logic, then it was impossible to get the sequence of 270 Heads or Tails we just got.

Catnip for dumbasses
Maybe a more current analogy is in order. Powerball! The odds of a specific set of Powerball numbers coming up is 1/1.9x108 (1 time in 190,000,000 tries. Face it, while someone will win occasionally, you won’t). The odds that the last 3 drawings would give rise to the numbers 13,28,49,51,59, 33; 2,24,46,52,56, 19; 4,19,33,41,59, 9 is 1 in 6.86x1024. However, these numbers were in fact drawn. On Dec 9th the odds were 1 in 6.86x1024 now they are 1 in 1 or 100%. The difficulty with thinking about these types of calculations is that we forget that although any specific event may by improbable, a specific event will happen.

Just to get a number bigger than the number of atoms in the universe, the biggest big number, let’s go back 12 Powerball drawings, which would be drawings that occurred over roughly the last month (11/9/2011 - 12/17/2011). The odds of all the specific numbers being drawn were ~1/2.21x1099 which is more than the number of atoms in the universe by 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 times (1099 - 1081). Ergo, those numbers could not possibly have been drawn! But these odds were only true before the Nov. 9th drawing. Again, the odds today are 100%, because this event already happened. It’s pretty easy generating really big numbers to sound impressive, but just because someone has a big number doesn’t mean he knows how to use it right.

Which leads us directly to the second problem here, the assumptions.

The assumptions used to make the calculations regarding evolution in the first place are suspect (wrong is a better word, fraudulent is the best word because those making these arguments have had it explained to them before). For example, the assumption in these types of calculations is that there were a bunch of chemicals and then ...
...these chemicals came together to form the first cell. First, no scientist worth her salt has ever made such a claim, although a lot of creationists have. I don’t want to get into a discussion about the origin of life in this post, but I do want to stress that I have never seen the absurd idea that cells just poofed into existence fully formed from scratch except by creationists. Irony alert: creationists think life zapped into being en masse by god, but ridicule biologists for thinking cells zapped into being en masse by evolution (even though biologists don’t think that).

The ‘calculations’ I have seen use assumptions like the following. Let’s assume that a cell needs 100 different proteins to survive and a protein is on average 100 amino acids long. (This is great because then the creationist can then honestly state that these are conservative estimates. As far as we  know a cell needs more than 100 types of protein to live and proteins average length is more like 300 amino acids. This serves to make the result of the creationists argument that much more impressive.) With these (wrong) assumptions, what are the odds that the 20 kinds of amino acids will randomly come together to form all these proteins simultaneously to allow for a viable cell.

Using these assumptions, which have nothing to do with reality, the following ‘calculations are made. The chance of a single protein randomly assembling is 1/1x20100 the denominator, as you know, is a number bigger than the total number of atoms in the universe. Add in the factor that you need this to happen 100 times (for each protein). It ain’t never gonna happen! CHECKMATE biologists, the theory of evolution is impossible.
Of course, no biologist thinks or suggests that the above happens. But why let reality interfere with your delusions.

To summarize:
There was a legitimate concern about the age of the Earth and whether there was enough time available for evolution to explain the diversity of life (and geology to explain the geological formations around us). This concern was resolved soon after by physicists and geologists.
Probability is poorly understood and can be used quite effectively to convince people of erroneous ideas. This provides a chance to reinforce the importance of critical thinking and skepticism.
It is easy to demonstrate something cannot be true if you are comfortable being a liar. First, misrepresent the position you are arguing against. Second, make up a bunch of bullshit premises you state represent the position in question. Third, show why the position is wrong because the bullshit premises are bullshit.
If that does not address you question, please let me know.

Regardless, if it wasn't clear enough, here is what the Rolling Stones have to say on the matter.

Origin of Species Book Club

Ok, back on the 150th anniversary of the publication The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, I wanted to read The Origin of Species and blog about it at the same time. Too many distractions came up, so I didn't finish the adventure, but it is time to revisit it. So, if you want to join me, we'll start the first of the new year. If you do not own this book yet, the bonus is that you can put it on your wishlist. Im reading the version depicted to the right. Although I previously read about a third of it, Im starting fresh from page 1 and will try to do a chapter a week.

So who will join me? Already read it? maybe this is the time to read it again. I'ld start now, but I need to finish the mind numbing 'Science and Religion' book shown under the what (apologetics garbage) I'm reading list first.

I'ld like to have a healthy discussion about the various chapters and we can see where this goes. Again if you haven't read it, now is your chance to read it with others, without having to put on pants and go out!

Student Blog Posts: Read 'em and Comment

There is a new blog Traveling Small with a Nucleus I want to draw your attention to. It is on the writings of students from my Eukaryotic Microbiology course. Go and read them, enjoy them, and comment if a spirit moves you to do so.

Misplaced Gratitude: God 1 Teammates 0

Probably all of you know Tim Tebow, the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos, is a man of great faith and conviction. If you don't know, he'll probably be stopping by your house soon to let you know. Now I'm sure Tebow is a great guy (Actually, I don't have a fucking clue, he could eat puppies for breakfast for all I know.), but he is also a tremendous boor.

Jesus' QB
Look I know it's Christmas season and all and some of the faithful need to make sure Jesus is brought up at every opportunity, but Tebow does this non-stop 24/7. Many, most, football players are believers and many of them pray before and/or after games, point to the sky after a good play (presumably to god, but maybe to honor a deceased relative or friend), etc. But for some reason Tebow is different and gets tons of media attention about it. The difference is that he is totally in your face about it. This is the guy that had bible verses in his eye black in college and starred in the anti-woman superbowl commercial.

Well Jake 'the snake' Plummer, former Arizona Cardinal and Denver Bronco QB, was interviewed recently and when asked about Tebow made mostly positive supportive comments, but also noted:
“Tebow, regardless of whether I wish he’d just shut up after a and go hug his teammates, I think he’s a winner and I respect that about him,” Plummer said. “I think that when he accepts the fact that we know that he loves Jesus Christ then I think I’ll like him a little better. I don’t hate him because of that, I just would rather not have to hear that every single time he takes a good snap or makes a good handoff.” Read more here.
Of course when someone is questioned about their faith or the proclamation of their faith, much pearl clutching must ensue. Most of it is pointless, but Tebow was asked about this in an ESPN interview and I find his response compelling.
"If you're married, and you have a wife, and you really love your wife, is it good enough to only say to your wife 'I love her' the day you get married? Or should you tell her every single day when you wake up and every opportunity?
"And that's how I feel about my relationship with Jesus Christ is that it is the most important thing in my life. So any time I get an opportunity to tell him that I love him or given an opportunity to shout him out on national TV, I'm gonna take that opportunity. And so I look at it as a relationship that I have with him that I want to give him the honor and glory anytime I have the opportunity. And then right after I give him the honor and glory, I always try to give my teammates the honor and glory.
"And that's how it works because Christ comes first in my life, and then my family, and then my teammates. I respect Jake's opinion, and I really appreciate his compliment of calling me a winner. But I feel like anytime I get the opportunity to give the Lord some praise, he is due for it."
First, Tebow as a never married virgin is probably not the person to be using spouse analogies. Not surprisingly, his analogy blows. It is a failure in extremes. Is it really a choice between telling your significant other "I love you" on your wedding day (sorry homosexual community, you're not allowed to say it at all I guess) or at every opportunity? Every opportunity? Really? When do you talk about your day or thank them for some kindness or ask to pass the salt? I realize that probably is not what he meant, but it is what he implied. Do you know what I call someone who talks incessantly about their significant other? A tremendous fucking boor!

Go to a friend's house for a nice meal. Afterwards, talk about how your spouse is such a tremendous cook and how the meal you just ate makes you think about being home to eat your spouse's meal. Comment on how well kept your spouse helps keep your house and how your spouse's job is really awesome and how great your spouse is at their job. My spouse is smart and personable and a joy to talk too....How long before you are politely, or not so politely, asked to leave and go back to your fucking spouse.

The thing that irritates me most is how over-the-top Tebow is with thanking god for every fucking little thing. Maybe you should thank your receivers for practicing so hard and putting their bodies on the line to catch some of those ducks you throw (nope god put the ball in their hands). Maybe you should thank your, albeit not that dominant, offensive line for blocking the 300 lb defensive linemen trying to put you on your ass. (nope god makes the linebackers trip). Maybe you should thank the opposing team defenses for laying down in the fourth quarter (nope god takes away their spirit). If the other team starts praying more, will they win? Can we simply count up the number of 'Hail Marys' said and choose a winner and not waste the 3 hours playing the game? It is misplaced thankfulness.

Why not thank those who work hard? Don't thank the surgeon who replaced your child's heart, thank Jesus. When the TV camera is in your face, don't thank the firefighter for going into your burning hose to save your dog, thank god.

Does your faith give you a sense of purpose and place? Great, good for you. But don't let that interfere with gratitude and appreciation for actual real people doing actual real things. Why not thank the real people first (Doesn't god already know you love him? If so, what if he was watching the other game, would he still not know?)