Creationists: Mercifully Free From The Ravages Of Intelligence

“When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things” – 1 Corinthians 13:11

Creation science is an oxymoron.  It is a contradiction in terms because it is impossible for creationism to be science because any intelligent use of the term ‘creation‘ implies the existence of a creator. Creationists believe that the creator is supernatural, thus the fundamental operating force behind creationism is supernatural, which is a polite way of saying ‘magical.‘ Definitively, science is study of natural forces only and ceases being science when it tries to explain phenomenon by means of the supernatural, ergo, our contradiction. Creationism, even under its sneaky other moniker, “Intelligent Design“,  is not science.  Not even close.  It is, in fact, a department of fundamental apologetics.

The sole purpose of creationism is to defend the biblical book of Genesis, which contains the myth that god created all forms of life about six to ten thousand years ago and that the entirety of the human race has descended from one pair of white people, the male of which was formed by the hand of god from dirt and the subservient female fashioned from one of the male’s ribs.  Further, the myth also states that every living thing except one boatload of creatures were wiped out in a world-wide flood somewhere near the year 2350 B.C.E.

We Don’t Need No Stinking Science…!

Naturally, those who believe this myth to have any merit of truth consistently attack disciplines which, through the discovery of truth through empirical evidence, expose the absurdity of  biblical mythology.  In spite of the clever camouflage of scientific terminology, the purpose of creation science remains the front-line defense of the fundamentalist interpretation of Genesis. Creationism exists only for religious purposes.

The problem with creation science is that it abandons anything that even remotely approaches scientific research. Their investigation takes place almost solely using literary references, and not laboratory experimentation.  What results is horrifically inaccurate, misinformed and unscientific evidence against evolution.  They are attempting to prove the myth by disproving the science – a formula that is put forth in vain because most creationists have not, for reasons of willful ignorance, bothered to study the facts of evolution from scientific sources.  They use references from other creationists and/or refuse to study evolution because their religious leaders told them not to, for a variety of superstitious reasons.

The Devil In The Details…

To start off with, the main problem with creation science is that it confuses the question of whether evolution has occurred with the mechanism of evolutionary change.  Evolution concerns itself with change through natural discourses such as natural selection, genetic drift, etc.  It has nothing to do with theistic evolution, which although accepts the fact of evolutionary change, loses all scientific credibility when it poses that the ‘hand of god‘ is the moving force for this change.

Another problem with creation science is the presumption that either one of the two supernatural creation myths in the book of Genesis are the only possible explanations that account for the origin of the universe and everything in it. That it ignores the glaring contradictions between these two accounts should be noted, as well.  It also discounts the validity of other creation myths, of which every primitive culture in the world has produced to account for human origins.

Creationists are obligated to prove their holy book holds the truth behind the beginning of the world and the subsequent evolution of its species by attempting to disprove scientific evolutionary theory. In order to do this, they must provide proof that green plants existed before the sun was created and that the whole of life and nature came into existence in a very short time frame.  Then, then must show that their myth is superior to other creation myths, which is usually done by crediting Satan with authorship of competing myths, of which there exist a myriad.

You Keep Using That Word…

As I have discussed in previous entries, creationists consistently and willfully misuse the term ‘theory’.  Not only do they misuse it, but their use of it borders on the pejorative, such as incorporating it in statements such as “evolution is only a theory”.  On the flip side, though, they will regularly misapply the term to creationism.  A double standard has no place in science, but works well in religious discourses because the nature of mythology requires it.

To reiterate, in scientific usage a theory is the highest form of scientific understanding. A theory is an explanatory hypothesis which has passed test after test, and is still the best available explanation of the facts in question. A scientific theory is not a guess, a hunch or a maybe.  It is a collection of undisputed facts backed up by empirical evidence, such as the theory of relativity, or gravity, etc.

Defined, scientific theory is,

As used in science, a theory is an explanation or model based on observation, experimentation, and reasoning that has been tested and confirmed. It is based on a careful and rational examination of the facts.  A theory is an explanation that correlates facts, and a fact is something that is supported by unmistakable evidence.” 

The components of creationism that are testable, such as the age of the earth and that it was once completely covered in water, have been tested and found to be demonstrably false. This scientifically disproves creationism as a viable theory because viable theories have to pass tests.  The other aspects of creationism involve magic or magical events, which are untestable, removing creationism from being a theory at all.

A Little Fire, Scarecrow…?

Creationists attacks on evolution are little more than straw man arguments and provide no scientific evidence on how species come to be.  Natural Selection, however, consists of a tightly interwoven fabric of observations and logical conclusions.  All living things tend to reproduce in geometric progression, so that if all offspring survived, the entire earth would be overrun by them. However, the earth is not overrun, so species populations remain approximate in size through the centuries, mainly due to competition for limited environmental resources.

The “struggle for survival” results in mutations, sometimes spontaneous ones, from time to time in all species. The variations that are helpful in the struggle for existence result in the natural selection for survival.  The variations that are harmful, result in extinction. These changes occur sometimes through re-sequenced DNA, rearrangement of chromosomes or the addition or subtraction of genes.

Given enough time and change in environmental conditions, any species will gradually change into one or more new species, which will turn into new genera, which will turn into new families, etc. ,etc.

Comparing the vast knowledge base that has been accumulated, tested and proven for evolution, the continuing flow of new information that further adds to the knowledge base and a century and a half of unsuccessful attempts to falsify it by the scientific community, it becomes inconceivable that anyone still believes in the bizarre details of the Genesis creation myth.

Keep It Simple…

Facts are funny things.  They keep popping up no matter how many times they are lost or hidden.  If creationists somehow eradicated all knowledge of evolution, honest men and women in the future  who took to studying the facts of nature would end up rediscovering it because evolution is science, is testable and in accord with the facts of nature. Creationist dogmas are not testable and are contradicted by the testimony of nature. This speaks well to Ockham’s Razor, a principle in logic that basic assumptions should not be multiplied beyond necessity. If natural forces alone are enough to account for evolution, then why add superfluous supernatural forces?

When given the choice between accepting something that is factual and something that is mythical to shape my worldview, I will choose the factual.  Living your life according to myths and fairy tales is nothing short of childish.  You don’t have to be a scientist to know this.

  17 comments for “Creationists: Mercifully Free From The Ravages Of Intelligence

  1. February 1, 2012 at 11:50 am

    I feel the need to correct a misconception you appear to have:

    The struggle for survival has nothing to do with the appearance of mutations.

    Mutations happen randomly no matter what the environment.

    Mutations that cause a change in phenotype (form) have an impact on a creature’s ability to survive in an environment. If that phenotype results in improved ability to survive, that “mutation” is more likely to be passed along to progeny, resulting in a differential survival curve between the “haves” and the “have nots”. Given the same environment and genetic isolation between the “haves” and the “have nots”, the phenotype becomes fixed, and eventually the “haves” can no longer interbreed with the “have nots”. (BTW: it could just as easily be a “have not” that results in improved survivability in an environment, so there’s nothing progressive about the process.) In any event, when that happens, you have a new species — by the most widely used definition of that term.

    Natural selection is the process of sorting phenotypes by fitness to survive in a specific environment. As well as fitness to attract mates, since a lot of phenotypic changes result in improved sexual selection (think peacocks and birds of paradise).

    In addition, small changes to genetic “on-off” switches can result in fairly large changes in phenotype. So the process does not necessarily have to involve only tiny incremental changes.

    Shorter me: mutations are random and are — by and large — not driven by the environment. Natural selection works to sort after the appearance of new forms as a result of random mutations.

    That’s the reason why the process is messy and goes along in herks and jerks. If the environment impacted the rate or the type of mutation, it would be a much more efficient process — kids today would be born with extremely thin thumbs in order to text better.

    • February 1, 2012 at 8:10 pm

      The environment, under certain circumstances, can affect the rate of mutation. Specifically, if we fill our environment with mutagenic substances (radioactive fallout, carcinogens, etc.), then we increase the rate of mutation. In the process, individuals experiencing those mutations find out that most mutations are harmful to individuals. It’s only occasionally that mutations work to an individual’s favor (and enhance their chances to pass on that mutation to their descendants). Of course, an increased mutation rate will mean increased chances for favorable mutations, as well, so some individuals might benefit, but the vast majority won’t.

      • Kevin
        February 3, 2012 at 11:53 am

        Your understanding of the causes of mutations that result in phenotypic change leading to speciation is just wrong.

        What you’re talking about are agents that cause mutations in somatic cells, not germ cells.

        The kinds of things you’re talking about would result in a gross insult to germ cells, and would cause profound birth defects, not anything that would result in an improvement to a species. And certainly none that would then be passed on to other progeny (let’s not derail this with a discussion of epigenetics), let alone lead to a speciation event.

        I’ve never seen an instance reported of a “hopeful monster” of the type you think might appear as a result of toxins or radiation.

        Sorry. Go over to WEIT or Pharyngula and talk it over with some real experts in the field. But you’re grossly in error in this instance.

        Respectfully but firmly.

  2. Karl
    February 1, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    I’ve found it helpful when arguing with creationists to explain that evolution (not natural selection) has been proved:

    http://records.viu.ca/~johnstoi/essays/courtenay1.htm

    I did have to learn that by heart because I could never persuade creationists to read it for themselves. But on the bright side it’s saved me several times from having to follow religious links – the response to “I will if you will” is usually “no”.

    • Friendly
      February 1, 2012 at 7:07 pm

      Unfortunately, many Christian Creationists will accept neither the first nor the third points of the “short proof”:

      1. “Not every living thing has had a parent! Adam and Eve and all of the first animals were created fully grown in the Garden of Eden!”

      3. “The temporal ordering of fossils is an illusion created by the prevailing conditions of the Flood and/or the divine power of God and/or the strong delusion of Satan! Assuming evolutionary relationships based on the ‘fossil column’ is a complete mistake!”

      So while it’s a very good essay, I doubt it will make much of a dent on the diehards whose reasoning faculties have already been poisoned against certain evidence and/or certain lines of argument.

      • Karl
        February 1, 2012 at 7:50 pm

        Not in my experience. There are plenty of ludicrous defences out there, but I try not to prejudge what people will say. It’s hard enough to get people not to dismiss my arguments out of hand without doing the same to theirs. There are rebuttals to the criticisms you made, but presumably you don’t really want to argue the toss?

        • Friendly
          February 1, 2012 at 11:09 pm

          I’m willing to rebut their counterarguments, but that would add lots of steps to the discussion. Here’s how I envision the pursuit of point #1 would go after the initial response:

          Me: “There’s no evidence that a Garden of Eden, or two of the four rivers that supposedly ran through it, ever existed.”

          Them: “They were destroyed during the Flood.”

          Me: “There’s no evidence that a worldwide flood ever occurred either.”

          Them: “Sure there is!” [Mass regurgitation of nonfactual ‘evidence’ begins.]

          Me: “Look, that’s not even *wrong*. Let’s try this: According to the Bible, there was no death before Adam and Eve sinned. How could carnivorous species have survived before that point?”

          Them: “They weren’t carnivorous in the beginning.”

          Me: “And so lions and sharks and falcons — magnificent animals that are well-adapted predatory hunters — ate grass and kelp and fruit, is that right?”

          Them: “Something like that.”

          Me: “Their mouths and their guts and their entire anatomy would have had to be different to eat plants. They *would not have been recognizable* as lions or sharks or falcons.”

          Them: “How do *you* know what they would have looked like before God changed them?”

          Me: “There are obvious features that herbivorous animals share, and if carnivores also shared them they wouldn’t be pure carnivores any more. What about parasitoid species? They can’t even develop into adults unless they kill their host creature.”

          Them: “They lived independently before the Fall.”

          Me: “How? Evidence, please.”

          Them: “They lived independently just like anything else that lives independently, then the Curse came upon them.”

          Me: “That’s not evidence. OK, one more different tack: If you examine the DNA of living things, you find all kinds of artifacts in it that aren’t used now but *were* used by their ancestral species and *are still* used by other animals that descended from the same ancestors.”

          Them: “That just tells us that God used a common design for similar species.”

          Me: “This ‘common design’ includes inactive genes for cold-weather survival in tropical species and inactive genes for saltwater resistance in plants that don’t grow near the ocean?”

          Them: “Why not? God can give the kinds he creates any kinds of tools he wants!”

          Me: “This ‘common design’ includes DNA from ancient viruses that cumulative damage shows to have been inserted in the genome by infections that happened millions of years ago?”

          Them: “You’re not interpreting the genetic data properly. These viral insertions happened recently, when infectious viruses arose after the Curse and nothing had resistance yet. The parts of the genome that look like accumulated mutations and damage just show us that the world’s running down. Second Law of Thermodynamics, you know.”

          And so it goes. What I was trying to say was just that any Creationist I’ve ever interacted with would argue at length against two of the three points in the “short proof”, with the effect that it wouldn’t be “short” any more. I dunno, maybe I’ve just had the misfortune of dealing with a lot more well-indoctrinated saps.

  3. Friendly
    February 1, 2012 at 6:48 pm

    Definitively, science is study of natural forces only and ceases being science when it tries to explain phenomenon by means of the supernatural, ergo, our contradiction.

    Very good post as a whole, but in addition to Kevin’s point, I’d like to make this one: Science is the study, not of “natural forces,” but of anything that can be observed. If we could observe phenomena that could be rigorously *proven* to be inexplicable by natural means (that is, not just “we haven’t seen this before, this calls for new science and revisions of the theory”, but “this cannot be reconciled with the way the universe works any more than 2 + 2 can ever equal 5”), we could make a scientific study of how these “supernatural” phenomena affect the natural universe, even if the nature of the phenomena themselves were beyond our ability to characterize. Similarly, if the physical evidence we were able to collect of a past event — as seen in distant space, or dug out of the ground, etc. — could be *formally proven* to admit no natural explanation, we would have to conclude that the event was of a supernatural character, but we could still scientifically examine the affects that it had on the universe when it occurred.

    HOWEVER…

    No such “provably supernatural” events have ever been reliably observed anywhere at any time. The lack of evidence outside of Biblical texts for the Biblical Creation or the Noahic Flood does not point to their cause being supernatural, but rather to their never having occurred at all. We have very good, strongly predictive theories about the history of the cosmos, of the Earth, and of life on Earth, and none of the particles we smash or the stars we see or the rocks we analyze or the fossils we uncover or the genes we sequence force us to conclude that those theories are inadequate. There is not now, nor has there ever been, cause to discuss the supernatural in science class.

    • Friendly
      February 1, 2012 at 6:51 pm

      [compulsive editor]

      Should have been “effects” with an initial “e” in the last line of my first paragraph.

      [/compulsive editor]

    • February 1, 2012 at 8:16 pm

      Should it become possible to provide solid evidence for a “supernatural” phenomenon, then we would be faced with two very different possibilities:

      1. There is solid evidence that it was attributable to a deity capable of violating the laws of nature as science now knows those laws.

      2. There is now cause to reconsider those laws of nature to see if they can be modified to fit the new evidence. If so, then the apparently supernatural phenomenon would become just another trigger for advancing our understanding of the natural world.

      I wouldn’t hold my breath for #1, but it’s logically possible, of course, however unlikely we might think it to be. To a relatively primitive mind, natural events can seem supernatural!

      • Friendly
        February 1, 2012 at 11:22 pm

        Your second possibility was what I was trying to get past with my “this is new science” vs. “2 + 2 = 5” distinction. I’m not talking about “natural things that we don’t yet understand how they could be natural”, I’m talking about “phenomena that can’t possibly be natural because if they were it would be equivalent to a universal constant having two contradictory values simultaneously”.

        In addition to the two you mention, there would also be a third possibility to account for hypothetical demonstrably supernatural events: merely that they can occur. No need to bring a deity or any other consciousness into it at all unless the events also show evidence of intelligence and purpose.

        • Chuck Doswell
          February 2, 2012 at 11:41 am

          Your third alternative is really within my #2 … if we accept such things as natural, vs. supernatural, this implies someone would want to study them and modify our understanding so that we can account for these hypothetical heretofore undiscovered phenomena.

          As things currently stand, the only accounts of supernatural events are biblical and/or known to be mythical. Given the absence of such in the last 2000 years (disregarding obvious nut cases and various other forms of religion-inspired nonsense), the all-everything deity seems to have gone into hibernation. Or is actively preventing rational people from believing in him (it), for his usual “mysterious” reasons. The rational interpretation is (a) this deity is nonexistent and (b) the events described in scriptures as supernatural could not have actually occurred because this deity doesn’t exist. It’s the interpretation that best fits the available evidence.

          • dubliner
            February 3, 2012 at 5:17 am

            I’m so grateful to live in a country where I have never ever had to cross paths with that kind of lunacy.

  4. Sandman
    February 2, 2012 at 8:52 am

    Al’s excellent article doesn’t touch on the more insidious and dangerous aspects of Creationsm.

    When you allow a superstition to trump science, that opens the door to all other science-skeptik positions such as the ones touted by ant-vaccincers and climate change denialists. Their premise, inherited from faith raddled asshats like Cotton Mather, is that science is ungodly and can not be trusted, therefore anything science proposes must be wrong.

    You then combine this stupidity with the uniquely American societal position that everyone is allowed to voice an opinion, and that those opnions deserve equal consideration and hearing. This I would suggest is a logical knock on effect of the 1st Ammendments interpretation and application in society, and the terminal cancer that is allowing the entanglement of faith in public society and poltics. Hence “equal time” arguments that fail miserably in the courts of law, politics and public opinion in Europe succeed in the US.

    Science is not a democratic process, it is one where your are ether qualified or not, and if unqualfied your opinion isnt worth spit. This seems an anathema to the American joe public who seem to think a pastor or right wing clown like Limbaugh and Beck are equally qualified to comment on scentific matters.

    Finally, the US allows the insane democratisation of public education systems, and the exemption of private schools from state set curricula. When you place curricula descisions in the hands of Joe The Plumber and Don The Dentist on the school or state education board, people elected for their overt faith and politics rather than their qualifications, your kids are on the crazy train to oblivion. Compound that with not montoring and enforcing what teachers teach and how they do it, and allowing them to ignore certan subjects such as evolution on a fath basis, and you get schoolkids who dont know it was the British you fought in the War of Independance (25% of them got that wrong in a recent poll).

    Creationism is the main scabby head of the cancerous rot eating away at US society, and it must be stamped out once and for all. Listen my US chums to Uncle Al, and tear down the Big Tent.

  5. Hypatia's Daughter
    February 3, 2012 at 11:07 pm

    Sandman: Shorter version:
    “You have a right to your opinion. That does not make your opinion right.”
    I don’t know if a democratic school board is, at face value, the problem. Canada has elected county school boards and it works well. (However, there is an expectation and the goal that all schools in a province meet the same standards.)
    The current problem is that the fundies, having realized that trying to change things at a federal level hasn’t worked as well as they hoped, are packing local and state governments bodies, especially school boards, and trying to change laws and policies at that level.
    The average moderate xtian hasn’t a clue about the goals of the fundies, who they see as a numerical minority and therefore not very powerful. And they write off some guy trying to get CreoId in the schools as a harmless crackpot.
    The voter turnout is so low for these elections that a push by the local fundie churches to “Go out & vote for xtian CreoID candidate X this week.” easily overwhelms the other voters and moderate xtians who don’t have a clue what is at stake.

  6. February 10, 2012 at 8:11 am

    Your post has an error that needs correcting: Not all Creationists think the Earth is a few millenia old. The ones who do are adherents of what’s called Young-Earth Creationism (YEC for short), but there are others who, while being just as firm in their rejection of evolution as the Young-Earthers are, nevertheless do accept that the Earth is as old as real science says it is. This other flavor of Creationism is called, as you might expect, Old-Earth Creationism. The single most prominent OECist may be a bloke named Hugh Ross, who’s the motive force behind the Creationist organization Reasons to Believe.
    YEC and OEC are not the only ‘sects’ within the ‘church’ of Creationism, but they do seem to be the two largest & most common such ‘sects’. For instance, there’s Gap Creationism, which holds that there’s a temporal gap in between the events of Genesis 1` and the events of Genesis 2, and there’s also Day-Age Creationism, which holds that the “days” of Genesis represent distinct eras of Earth’s history, as opposed to the YEC presumption that the “days” of Genesis were bog-standard 24-hour days. The Talk.origins Archive website has a page on varieties of Creationism which goes into more detail.
    It’s wrong to assume that all Creationists are YECists, because, well, they aren’t all YECists. To be sure, YECism is the single most prominent ‘sect’ within the ‘church’ of Creationism, with OECism absorbing all but a small percentage of the rest. Likewise, it would be accurate to say that YECism is by far the single most active and virulent ‘sect’ in the Creationist ‘church’. But if you present a bunch of anti-Young Earth arguments and say “therefore, Creationism is proven wrong”, you’re just asking for an Old-Earther to indignantly declare that he doesn’t believe any of that Young-Earth nonsense, and “see how evolution makes you stupid”, and yada yada yada.

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