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New Year, Same Old Creationists
2005.02.02 (Wed) 19:16
It seems to us that becoming an expert in "Creation Science" isn't all that difficult. The curriculum goes something like this:
Read Genesis, with enough suspension of disbelief to ignore the apparent contradictions and mixed messages (or just have someone explain it to you without mentioning the contradictions, then you don't even have to read it)
Memorize some common scientific-sounding creationist arguments developed to confuse the average person (examples of these can be found all over the internet, including Answers in Genesis)
And that's it, you're an expert on creationism! Of course, if you want to be formally recognized as an expert, then you might need a little more time. After all, even the diploma mills require at least a few months to confer a Ph.D., we're sure. But that kind of rigor isn't necessary, unless you're planning to make a living in this field or, say, open a creationism related theme park.
If, on the other hand, you want to become an expert on "Intelligent Design" instead of "Creation Science," you're in luck, because you can skip Step 1 entirely. Even though Intelligent Design is irrefutably a Christian field with its roots planted firmly in the Bible, the Intelligent Design movement is all about pretending not to be Christian. As a result, all that you need in place of Step 1 is the phrase "God did it." How about that for saving time?
For a person of even moderate intelligence, neither of these paths of study seem very difficult. There isn't any science or math to understand, there is no base of prerequisite knowledge, and there is no need to have the ability to grasp the subtleties of anything. It's easy. In fact, we believe that we at the Two Percent Company could become experts in both of these fields given about a week or two of study (coupled, of course, with repeated blows to the head with a pitching wedge which would hopefully render our capacity for logic and reason useless).
Maybe this difference in the difficulty of the curricula between real science and pseudo-science explains the frustration and/or smugness that some creationists seem to show when they ask questions like the one Joe Carter did over on the Evangelical Outpost. We're not trying to say that Joe is a moron. In fact, we think it's exactly the opposite. From what we've read on Joe's web site, it seems that he is a fairly intelligent person. This just means that even intelligent Christians seem to be falling into this same old trap. Here is Joe's question:
In the first chapter of Darwin's Black Box, biochemist Michael Behe includes a section on "The Vision of Biochemistry" in which he provides a biochemical sketch of the eye's operation. Behe claims that biochemistry offers a "Lilliputian challenge to Darwin" since anatomy is irrelevant to the biochemical process. Using this as a starting point, John Liljegren questions whether advocates of neo-Darwinism would agree that the process involved the following six-steps:
1. Once upon a time, there was an animal who did not have vision but which over time evolved vision that is just like what humans have today.
Let's call the form of animal, before it started evolving vision, "Critter Alpha."
2. One day, a Mother Critter Alpha gave birth to a Baby Critter who had a birth defect. Specifically, a defect in the baby's DNA causes transducin molecules (at least those located where the eye will eventually evolve) to, from then on, "let go" of a GDP molecule to which transducin is tightly bound, if transducin is ever bumped into by a protein called metarhodopsin II, which has not yet evolved.
This new form of Critter will be called Critter Delta One.
6. This evolutionary process continues until all 22 or so steps have evolved, at which point "vision" is ready to occur. This assumes the other components of vision not described by Behe have already also evolved; if not, this 22-step evolution will have to wait until the rest evolves before Critter Omega-the final form-has vision.
"If this is not the essence of the Darwinian Creed at a very specific molecular level, then what is?" asks Liljegren. "If I am right, then a similar evolutionary process must be believed to have occurred millions of times over for all the molecular processes that take place within the human body to evolve."
Liljegren has some follow-up questions but I was curious to first find how neo-Darwinists would respond.
Over on the Evangelical Outpost, a few people tried to explain how Joe's postulate is inherently flawed, and why a simple answer just isn't possible. However, Joe didn't want to hear this explanation. PZ Meyers of Pharyngula, who is a biologist and who understands a thing or two about evolutionary biology, had this to say about Joe's question in the comment section:
That is quite possibly one of the stupidest, most ignorant, intentionally, malignantly misrepresentative arguments I've seen from creationists in, oh, a week or two.
The core of the visual signal transduction pathway is present in bacteria. Look up "bacteriorhodopsins". Early steps in the evolution of vision would have involved molecules that do nothing more than exhibit a conformation change when bound to cis or trans retinal. Later steps would have more directly coupled this conformation change to the activity of proton pumps.
You know, if you want to criticize evolutionary explanations, it really helps if you criticize ACTUAL EVOLUTIONARY EXPLANATIONS, rather than the silly nonsense that creationists allow to fester in their colons before plucking it out and waving it triumphantly at their fellow benighted myth-swallowers. This is exactly why biologists laugh at creationists: they pompously parade their own ignorance with every utterance.
So, in addition to informing Joe that the initial postulate is seriously flawed, PZ also gives an example of why it's wrong — the "core of the visual signal transduction pathway is present in bacteria." To PZ's comment concerning bacteria, Joe replies:
Okay, so it is present in bacteria. Why is that relevant? Was the presence of bacteria necessary for the evolution of the eye?
No, Joe. You aren't getting it. The point is that vision didn't start from "nothing" because even bacteria, one of the most basic forms of life, had these primitive traces of what would become vision. PZ isn't saying that these bacteria somehow engaged in the evolution of, say, a monkey's eye, he's saying that the monkey evolved from the bacteria which already had more of a headstart than your "Critter Alpha."
DS from Unscrewing the Inscrutable had, among other comments on the original post, the following to say:
But again this is the old "what good is half an eye" and the eye is "too complex to have evolved" Young Earth Creationist bit; which are merely, once again, an Argument from Ignorance with the same implied False Dichotomy, and does not address common descent, only mechanisms of change.
It's rather pointless to engage in scientific discussion with anyone whose initial premise is that empirical facts or highly reasonable inferences dwell at the same rung on the ladder of certainty as speculations or guesses.
What Joe and many creationists don't seem to understand is that an in-depth understanding of complex science, as opposed to pseudo-science like creationism, requires years of study, an aptitude for the subject, and substantial prerequisite knowledge, just to name a few things. It just isn't possible to jump in with little to no understanding of the subject matter and expect to comprehend it. This is further complicated by the fact that science is really a label for a huge field of subjects. We're not just talking about biology, chemistry, and physics, we're talking about different branches of different fields of science, and each of these branches requires years of study in order to fully understand them. So, while a top notch astrophysicist may be able to answer a plethora of questions about the age of stars, that same scientist will likely have only a cursory knowledge of evolutionary biology. This is just the way it is with real science — it's way too complex for any one scientist to learn it all. This stands in stark contrast to creationism — a "creation scientist" must spend comparatively little time to become an expert in all facets of creationism. This isn't a dodge, or an attempt to divert attention from a "shortcoming of science," it's just the truth.
This same principle also explains why debates between creationists and scientists sometimes seem to favor the fundies. A typical tactic for creationist debaters is to toss out questions that run the gamut of scientific topics, from astrophysics, to evolutionary biology, to geology, as well as any and every other field of study imaginable. As a result, even if the scientist involved in the debate is a crack evolutionary biologist, they may be seen to falter on questions on the creation of the universe, or on the origins of life (as opposed to how life has changed over time) — topics which fall outside of their particular field of study, but which the creationists just lump together as "The Theory of Evolution," or "Darwinism." Of course, this tactic won't work in reverse since the entire spectrum of creationism can be learned by a single person — it's simple, and it's a fictional account mostly taken from a single book. It's more akin to a child becoming an expert on Middle Earth by reading all of Tolkien's books than it is to learning actual science.
This type of question just doesn't make sense, and if you are a scientist — or just a rational human being — there is no good way to answer it. If you do what PZ and DS (as well as others) did on Joe's post and try to explain that the initial premise is flawed and that there is no complete answer that the questioner will understand, you are accused of dodging the question, being an elitist, attacking the Christians, and any number of other unpleasantries. And so, the fundies declare victory. If you actually do answer the question, the resulting document would be a lengthy and technical scientific paper that the questioner simply wouldn't be able to understand. As a result, you would be accused of stating unproven opinions as facts and using insider jargon to confuse the laypeople. And so, the fundies declare victory. If you realize that there is no answer that you can possibly give that the questioner will be able to understand and that will convince him of the truth, and so remain silent, the fundies say that you have no answer and that science is stumped. And so...well, you see the trend.
It's obvious that this is one of those common "trap questions" which are asked constantly by creationists (see Darwinsucks.com, found via the Panda's Thumb, for some more examples). These traps are generally based on an incorrect assumption, as is Joe's question. They use pseudo-scientific jargon that the creationists hope will sound impressive to laypeople and will get these laypeople to nod at their postulate, even though it is patently false. After that, they proceed to tear apart their initial statement and show why it can't be true, thereby convincing the laypeople to realize the fallibility of science, and turn to Jesus. Or so the story goes. However, all the creationists are actually doing is tearing apart a straw man of their own creation which was never postulated to be true in the first place. It's a dishonest, silly waste of time, and we've seen it more times than we can count. It is precisely for this reason that we avoid this type of discussion with certain people. There are those who are willing to engage in a logical discussion, and there are those who are not. We don't waste our time with those in the latter group.
For our part, we don't pretend to understand the complexities of the evolution of vision, even after reading PZ's fascinating post on Rhabdomeric and ciliary eyes. That post was about only a single aspect of the evolution of eyes, and it was fairly complex. Sure we understand it at a high level, but we certainly don't understand the subtleties, and we likely never will. We realize that we aren't evolutionary biologists, and that we don't have the requisite knowledge to fully grasp this subject. Further, we aren't so arrogant to think that some basic intelligence qualifies us to be able to understand it. If more creationists and fundies would make the effort to grasp that concept, maybe then we could start having actual conversations with them. As usual, we won't be holding our breath.
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