Thursday, June 26, 2008

Answers to a Creationist's Questions

John Willis responded to my posts on Ray Comfort's Soap Box Blog, in one of Ray's many botched attempts at writing about science. Ray cut us off when I started posting links to back up my claims, so I continued the discussion here, injecting even more links that I posted on Ray's forum.

John, if you find me here, welcome. I hope to continue the discussion, and possibly get to some of your comments, which raised questions for me. So here goes, from our last exchange...

John Willis wrote:
"If you are going to beat me up, please do it slowly and throughly."

I'm not here to beat you up. I'm here to correct glaring mistakes that you and others have about science, history, and other things that they consider to be "facts", which are objectively in error.

IN other words, I'm trying to help educate what I see as misguided and commonly made mistakes concerning science, atheism, and history.

John Willis said...

DAVE: Do you realize that nothing in nature is random?

"Yes, I do, but that is not the claim of Darwinian evolution. In this respect, your understanding of nature is more in line with my worldview then atheism.

You're incorrect. The modern theory of evolution does not claim that evolution is driven by "chance", is "random", or is "accidental".

John Willis wrote:

David wrote:

"Do you understand that "random events" are not compatible with the scientific law of cause and effect?"

Yes I do. And you are the first atheist I have conversed with on this blog, who does not deny the scientific law of cause and effect.

I haven't met any atheists anywhere who deny cause and effect. Perhaps you haven't been debating very long? Cause and effect are part of the essential backbone of all science. Anyone who denies it, essentially denies science itself.

John Writes:

This is indeed important. You hit the nail right on the head as you write....

"The same is true of all natural events -- all things in the world obey the laws of chemistry and physics, as well as cause and effect. Nothing has ever been known to be random or to not follow these scientific laws."

And as the universe coming into being was the first event, what or whom do you claim caused the universe?

We have insufficient information to determine the cause of the universe, and saying "God did it" does not help to increase our knowledge at all -- it's sort of a scientific cop-out to just say "God Did It" for anything we currently don't understand. We don't know what preceeded the Big Bang. We can only speculate, based on our current knowledge, because we reach "singularity", meaning, our information on the factors and variables for calculating what happened are too incomplete to give accurate results. I am not going to speculate blindly.

John Willis said...

David wrote:

"I don't mince words or make up my own new definitions for words. Using the English Dictionary should be a practice that we all do. I have found that religious groups in particular, love to invent new definitions for words that nobody else uses but them."

Can you give me an example?

Well, let me see...

Last month, Ray Comfort objected to being called "Religious", claiming that the word had "too many negative connotations". When I looked up the definition of "Religious", I found no such synonyms or connotations. So I actually bothered to ask Ray and others exactly what those "negative connotations" were, and nobody answered.

No doubt, you've heard or read definitions for words like "atheism", "liberal" from conservatives that go like this:

Conservapedia is veritable cornucopia of redefined words, revisionist history, and similar subjectivized information. They define Liberal like this:

A liberal can support many of the following political positions and practices:

* A government with large spending on social programs, and high taxes to support such programs

* Taxpayer-funded and/or legalized abortion

* Income redistribution, usually through progressive taxation

* Some argue that liberals typically support economic policy similar to that of fascism.

* Liberals claimed a monopoly on compassion, decency, and social justice (as defined by themselves), posing as the sole defenders of civic virtue against a horde of backwoodsmen, racists, and religious fanatics.

These definitions of the word are not found in standard dictionaries, and quite frankly, are so opinionated that they do not even pass any cursory test of objectivity.

John Willis said...

The fruit fly's lifetime is a matter of days. Because of this, they make great test subjects for subjecting them to radiation to induce mutations to test the macro-evolutionary hypothesis.

How many beneficial mutations do you think there have been to fruit flies after bombarding them with radiation over the last 30 years?...(literally thousands of generations.)

This all depends on what you mean by "beneficial". The study of fruit flies has actually yielded some of the most widely cited evidence for speciation (the evolution of a new species). Genetically isolated species of fruit flies have evolved and been observed. At least two species of fruit fly were evolved and became unable to mate with other species of fruit fly. They could only mate with each other, and had a whole series of different behaviors.

For more on this, see:

BUt Fuit flies are not the only species that we've managed to observe evolving. Recently, an E. Coli bacteria study that has been going on for 20 years produced pretty much what you are asking for -- beneficial mutations.

See this for more info:

John Willis said...

Although you list some of the fossils you are refering to, can you provide the chronology of the transitional forms you are claiming leading up to homo sapiens?

Sure. I have several sources you can look at:

Wikipedia has an article with some charts:

This textbook on Evolution, from the national Science Foundation, has a collection of charts and graphs:

This talkorigins book has photos of fossils, and possibly the most comprehensive information assembled online on Human Evolution:

This article has lots of organized information, too:

John Willis wrote:

Your quote:
Dave wrote:

"Because of the shape of the skeleton (of australopithicines), we know they walked upright." problematic because a complete skeleton of australopithicines does not exist, and the fossils we do have, have been found hundreds of miles apart.

Not true. In fact, the person who made that claim is Tom Willis, who wrote the claim in the October, 1987 issue of the Bible Science Newsletter. He claimed to have met Dr. Johanson, who was one of the discoverers of the fossil, and questioned him, and he admitted that the knee joint was found 3km away (not hundreds of miles -- the facts become distorted as the story gets circulated between people). Johanson said that he never said that, and that Willis must have either misunderstood his answer, or he misunderstood Willis' question. The bottom line is that Willis was wrong, and that subsequent investigations proved that Johanson was telling the truth (several Afarensis specimens are on record, some nearly complete).

Talkorigins Archive has this article on the matter:

To Summarize: At least eighteen creationists have made this bogus claim. Three have never responded in any way to questions about it (Girouard, Menton, Willis). Another two have not responded to further inquiries (Brown, McAllister). Only five have shown a willingness to discuss the matter (Chittick, the Nuttings, Sharp, Taylor), but one (Chittick) cut off correspondence. Four have agreed that the claim was in error and agreed to stop making it (Hovind, McAllister, Sharp, Taylor), and two agreed to stop making it if further investigation showed that the claim was bogus (the Nuttings) but have continued to repeat it. One (Arndts) has indicated a willingness to believe that the claim is in error but no interest in researching further or offering a correction because the article in which he made the claim just used it as an example of a type of error in reasoning. One (LaHaye) has insisted that the claim is not in error, but agreed to stop making it at the request of the Institute for Creation Research. Three (Baugh, Huse, Mehlert) have not yet been contacted for comment. One (Brown) now denies having made the claim at all. Only three (Menton, Morris, Sharp) have issued public corrections or clarifications.

I should add that the knee joint is not the only evidence for bipedalism -- the shape of the hips, the legs, and the feet, as well as the knee, as a whole group shows bipedalism.

Also, many people are unaware that you don't need a 100% complete skeleton to establish the shape of the specimen. Since most creatures have a right side that is a mirror-image of their left side, you can conclude that the arms of the left should be mirror images of the right arm, and so on.

John wrote:

Dave Wrote:

"Darwin also predicted that we should find common traits in related species, which extend to fossils of similar creatures. When we discovered DNA, we had an even better way of establishing relational links between species. Some fossils have had enough DNA left int hem to examine, and we have been able to establish links between fossils and modern species."

Can you give me an example? My research indicates we have found exactly the opposite to that prediction of Darwins with the discovery of DNA.

I'd be interested in seeing what your research included. Can you give me links?

Here are examples of DNA evidence that confirms Darwin's theory:

Analysis of Neanderthal and Human DNA:

Essentially, We discovered that Neanderthals are not our ancestors, but a separate species, cousins, to humans. The discovery came when mitochondrial DNA was extracted from the tooth of a Neanderthal skull, and compared with modern human DNA. We also found that Therapod Dinosaurs (like T-Rex and Raptors) are genetic ancestors of all modern birds, after T-Rex DNA was extracted from a tooth. DNA has also been extracted from fossils trapped in amber, as well as from some fossil Dinosaur eggs. You will note that I did not rely exclusively on talk-origins material -- I got material from a variety of online sources.

John Willis said...

David wrote:

"The Theory also predicts that in heterogenus populations (a population that is very diverse and where different sub-species can interbreed) which live in a rapidly changing environment will see a greater degree of mutation. This is exactly what has been observed."

Can you give me an example and a reference please.

OKay, sorry, but I have no online sources for this. so here is a footnote:

Oliver, Antonio et al. 2000. High frequency of hypermutable Pseudomonas aeruginosa in cystic fibrosis lung infection. Science 288: 1251-1253. See also Rainey, P. B. and R. Moxon. 2000. When being hyper keeps you fit. Science 288: 1186-1187. See also: LeClerc, J. E. and T. A. Cebula. 2000. Pseudomonas survival strategies in cystic fibrosis (letter), 2000. Science 289: 391-392.

Essentially, a study of bacteria infecting the lungs of chronic cystic fibrosis patients revealed that strains of bacteria mutated new strains more rapidly in Cistic Fibrosis patients. This is probably not the best example, because it's rather technical.

Some evidence comes from the studies of the KT boundary, and the cambrian explosion. The KT boundary is the layer of radioactive iridium that indicates that an asteroid hit the planet (Iridium is not found naturally on earth). The estimated timeline is about 65 million years ago. It typically marks the end of the Dinosaur era. Immediately above the KT-layer, there are few fossils to be found, but after small gap, we start seeing therapsids and mammals, and a huge sudden explosion in new life forms. The Cambrian explosion began with, and was also ended by a similar mass-extinction, commonly called the Cambrian-Ordovician Extinction. Precambrian strata yeilds evidence of small, simple life forms. Then there is a layer similar to the KT boundary. Above this layer, we see the cambrian explosion -- lots of new life forms appearing, and what looks like rapid evolution. Then, towards the end of the cambrian era, we see another Mass extinction, called the Ordovician–Silurian extinction, followed by a gap where there is not a lot of fossils, then a sudden increase in new types of fossils, similar to the cambrian explosion, but with remarkably different forms. I'll assume you're aware of these facts, since you brought up the cambrian explosion. There are several Mass-Extinction events recorded in the fossil record and rock strata, and the patter of each of them is very simlar to what I just described.

John Willis said...

Can you give me an example of a transitional fossil between any of these major groups? And can you offer an explanation of why we do not see these transitional forms in Cambrian strata?

Cambrian Transitional Fossils contain the first major group -- invertebrate to vertebrate transitionals.

Check out these photos of actual fossils from this series:

  • Pikaia, an early invertebrate chordate. It was at first interpreted as a segmented worm until a reanalysis showed it had a notochord.
  • Yunnanozoon, an early chordate.
  • Haikouella, a chordate similar to Yunnanozoon, but with additional traits, such as a heart and a relatively larger brain (Chen et al. 1999).
  • Conodont animals had bony teeth, but the rest of their body was soft. They also had a notochord (Briggs et al. 1983; Sansom et al. 1992).
  • Cathaymyrus diadexus, the oldest known chordate (535 million years old; Shu et al. 1996).
  • Myllokunmingia and Haikouichthys, two early vertebrates that still lack a clear head and bony skeletons and teeth. They differ from earlier invertebrate chordates in having a zigzag arrangement of segmented muscles, and their gill arrangement is more complex than a simple slit (Monastersky 1999).

Now there are transitional fossils between all the other groups, too. They are:

Ichtyosetigids -- They have both traits of fish and amphibians.
Seymoromorphs -- They have mixed amphibian and reptile traits.
Therapsids -- They have mixed mammal and reptile traits.

There are thousands of examples of each of these categories.

The reason these groups are particularly important is (a) Creationist literature says they do not exist, and (b) no creatures living today fit any of these categories.

If you don't know how to tell a reptile from a mammal by looking at the bones, here is a brief description. Mammals have the following exclusive traits (meaning only mammals have them, and you never see then in reptiles, birds, fish, or amphibians): A single jawbone, an inner ear with small bones for hearing, several types of specialized teeth in the skull, No fenestrae in the skull (Large open areas on either side of the skull), and most importantly, warm-bloodedness (indicated by canals inside of bones through which blood flows). Reptiles have multiple jawbones, no inner ear, one type of tooth, fenestrae, and no warm bloodedness.

Therapsids have a variety of exclusively mammalian and exclusively reptilian features -- such as cold bloodedness with multiple types of teeth, a single jaw with only one type of tooth, all reptilian except for no fenestrae in the skull. Mammals do not exist prior to the appearance of therapsids in the fossil record.

These are just a few of the dozens of species of note in the Therapsid family:

John Willis Wrote:

Further, why do we not see any fossil evidence in pre-Cambrian strata?

We do, actually.

This is a Wikipedia article that mentions Pre-cambrian fossils.

The Precambrian fossils that have been found are consistent with a branching pattern and inconsistent with a sudden Cambrian origin. For example, bacteria appear well before multicellular organisms, and there are fossils giving evidence of transitionals leading to halkierids and arthropods.

Evidence of microbial life forms are found throughout the pre-cambrian.

Any way, This is ther end of the list of questions that John had. If he chooses to pick it up, I'll continue it here. I also hope this article is useful to other people who are facing similar questions from creationists. This is about the 3rd time I've actually written this type of article, but the first time I've actually save it permanantly.

I intend to produce more work like this, because I think it would be helpful in educating people about science facts versus creationist propaganda.


GamingAsshole said...

You really do know how to tear this Ray guys asshole open, don't you?

David W. Irish said...

Well, at least I did it without being a dick about it. I showed this article to a few people in the Atheism Vs Christianity and newsgroups, and they said it was a well-executed article. I may expand on it later, and have a whole page of hyper-linked material like this which answers more creationist questions.

But the fact that I ripped the guy a new one while being polite, and not treating him like an asshoel sort of is a better achievement in my book.