The Lower Quote, As If You Didn't Know, Is By Richard Dawkins, Son.

Monday, June 26, 2006

My Middle Finger Isn't Vestigial, Bastards

I was reading some creationist writing over at Fish Don't Walk this morning. It was frustrating to keep hearing the same arguments over and over again - the tired old ones that we've all heard 8000 times before.

"I pulled out my keys and put them on the counter. I asked her: what if I said there was a metal factory, next to a plastic factory next to a paint factory . All three factories blew up and the result was this set of keys."

How many variations of the 747/hurricane fallacy are we going to hear in the next 50 years? I know most people can smash this to smithereens, but I'm going to here anyway just for the sake of doing it.

This fallacy of "throw and bunch of small shit together and POP!, out comes a bigger more complicated thing" started with Fred Hoyle in a radio interview in 1982. His point was as follows:

"A junkyard contains all the bits and pieces of a Boeing-747, dismembered and in disarray. A whirlwind happens to blow through the yard. What is the chance that after its passage a fully assembled 747, ready to fly, will be found standing there? "

Sounds fairly reasonable, comparable to the "give a monkey a typewriter and calculate the odds that it will type King Lear" line of thinking. The thing is, this argument is a disasterous misunderstanding of natural selection and evolution. They are suggesting that evolution happens all at once - like getting your entire life salary in one lump sum. It doesn't work like that in life (although it sounds like a good idea on first look). Natural selection is just that - a selection of the best types of a species for the environment. As Talk Origins says on their "Common Misconceptions About Evolution" page: "Chance certainly plays a large part in evolution, but this argument completely ignores the fundamental role of natural selection, and selection is the very opposite of chance."

So to change the hurricane scenario to one more fitting of what actually happens, say all the parts of a 747 are in a junkyard. A hurricane blows through and, by chance, a piece or two pass through their appropriately correct spot. They would stay there, frozen in place, because they are "beneficial" there. Sort of like a mutation creating a single photosensitive cell on the forehead area of a salamander - it gives this particular creature the survivial advantage of being able to know when it is hidden, thus selecting this creature to be better suited to the environment. It will have a better chance to reproduce because it may live longer and pass its genes along to its mate. Thus begins the long, slow evolution of the salamander eye.

As more hurricances pass through this wonderful junkyard over the centuries, more pieces fly through their correct place and get frozen there. As time passes, centuries and millenia, the entire plane just may come into being - or at least a reasonable hand-drawn facsimile.

See, the other assumption creationists make is that we are well-"designed". They have no real answers to the question of why I have an appendix, whose job is to chill out in my abdomen and wait for the perfect opportunity to expand and blow up, killing me. Sort of what the lysosome is to the cell, only for the whole body. At Answers in Genesis, they say that the appendix has a crucial use (oddly, found out by science over time) in immunologic function. They say:

"Today, the appendix is recognized as a highly specialized organ with a rich blood supply. This is not what we would expect from a degenerate, useless structure.

The appendix contains a high concentration of lymphoid follicles. These are highly specialized structures which are a part of the immune system. The clue to the appendix’s function is found in its strategic position right where the small bowel meets the large bowel or colon. The colon is loaded with bacteria which are useful there, but which must be kept away from other areas such as the small bowel and the bloodstream."

Fine, I'll agree to that. The appendix has a function in the immune system. However, I'm curious if a cancerous tumor could be classified as a "highly specialized organ with a rich blood supply". The creationists fail to say why, if their creator was so smart and wonderful and had such an important role for the appendix to play, is it perfectly ok to remove? Can't remove both kidneys or your liver and be fine and dandy, can you?

The use of old strawman arguments by creationist websites and books ("irreducible complexity" goes from the eye - disproven - to smaller and smaller things ending up at the "motor" for the bacterial flagellum - now also disproven) is going on strong. We must continue to address these outpourings of misinformation, exposing what the perpetrators are doing. It's not that hard and it can be great fun bringing someone to a better understanding of the world around us. To quote Miracle Max: "Have fun stormin' the castle!"

14 Barbaric Yawps:

At 26/6/06 5:06 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Creationists often assume that everything follows a bunch of random rules, like saying "the odds of a single RNA molecule coming together to form the right sequence is very poor". But science has already found that nature follows deterministic rules rather than random ones. The argument about the 747 being blown together is also an argument against abiogenesis but, as the Cosmos television series showed, the material that formed the first molecular life on Earth arises everywhere from planets to interstellar dust clouds. That's the reason why when you burn hydrogen and oxygen you get H2O and not H5O2 or H7O8 because nature follows deterministic rules, not random ones.

At 27/6/06 10:41 pm, Anonymous modusoperandi said...

The part that you're forgetting is that the creationists have the advantage.
Follow me now...
They've got this book, right? and it's written by god! Not just any god but the god!
Stay with me...
So it doesn't matter what the "real world" says, its "evidence" is trumped by the truth of this true and inerrant book.
See? You, and your god-hating scientists with your "facts" can't defeat the righteous forces of biblical literalism.
Still here?...
So just give in, damned secular humanists, the dark ages weren't so bad...

At 28/6/06 1:54 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not so bad with those Crusades, Inquisitions, Witch Hunts, Malleus Maleficarum...

Considering that godless science is responsible for our modern world: Enjoy living in clean, warm buildings? Like having warm, delicious food? Need to wear vision correcting eyewear? Use a computer at work or at home? Have ever had a family member, friend or even yourself treated at a hospital? All products of science and scientists with their "facts". I'm pretty sure I like the modern age more than the Dark Age.

At 28/6/06 4:14 am, Anonymous modusoperandi said...

It gets weirder. I bought C.S. Lewis's "The Great Divorce", so Amazon now recommends every Jesus book they have to me.

The most offensive one so far? "How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization". Holy F*ck!

A review I found says, in part, "How, far from inhibiting the development of science, the Church played an indispensable role in fostering it

How the idea of a rational, orderly universe -- fundamental to the Catholic worldview, but absent in non-Christian cultures -- made possible the flowering of science in West"

Spooky or what?

It would be enough to make me go atheist, if I wasn't there already.

At 28/6/06 4:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice of them not to include the scientific achievements of China, who had gunpowder and earthquake detectors thousands of years ago. Also kind of them not to mention how they treated Galileo and his crazy "planets go 'round the Sun" thing.

At 29/6/06 12:14 am, Anonymous modusoperandi said...

It would probably save a lot of people a lot of misery if people could just admit that saying, "god did it." is the same as saying, "I don't know."

At 29/6/06 7:46 am, Blogger BigHeathenMike said...

That'd be nice, eh? Maybe that's the next slogan for evolutionists when they argue with creationists. Buttons and t-shirts with "God did it = I don't know" everywhere.

Shit, I'd buy one right now!

At 29/6/06 9:40 pm, Anonymous modusoperandi said...

That's what the "make your own" part of is for.

Apropo of
The world will be a
much better place
once people finally
admit that saying,
"God did it."
is the same as,
"I don't know."

arrives in a couple of weeks.

At 29/6/06 9:41 pm, Anonymous modusoperandi said...

That would be my T-shirt.

At 29/6/06 10:31 pm, Blogger BigHeathenMike said...

You realize, of course, that you rock the world for making/wearing that shirt. Just so you know.

At 29/6/06 10:59 pm, Anonymous modusoperandi said...

Thanks, it was you that had the t-shirt idea, remember. Remember too to visit me in the hospital when the Westboro Baptist Church catch me wearing it (bring doughnuts).

Awhile ago I wrote some gospel for a page on Uncylopedia

"And into the cup the Lord of Peace didst squeezeth the lemon, and the apple, and the orange,

And He too didst squeezeth the grape, and the kiwi, and the pomegranate

And verily didst the holy flavored waters cometh forth from that which hadst been squeezed,

And the multitude didst seest the just and righteous flow,

And they bowed the knee before him, and didst pause to drink,

And thusly they didst spake, "Yea truly, Thou art King of the Juice."

New Testament, Gospel According to Jim [apocryphal]

Sadly it's way too long for a t-shirt...still cafepress is cool (even if a t-shirt does end up costing $30cdn)

At 29/6/06 11:54 pm, Blogger BigHeathenMike said...

It'd be a bitchin' tattoo on your whole back though. It would, however, make me look a whole lot more hardcore than I actually am.

At 30/6/06 12:17 am, Anonymous modusoperandi said...

I wouldn't recommend it. You'd have to get the matching crossed out cross on a pec and the "Atheist 4 Life" tattoo on your belly.

Besides, you never know when you'll get "saved"...the rapture is just around the corner, apparently. There's still time to become a "true christian". The Westboro Baptist Church has set the bar so low that all you have to do to see heaven is hate everyone.

On second thought, it's probably best to stay atheist. I couldn't take joy in heaven, knowing that 99% of people are chilling in the bad place. I've heard it said that hell is actually just the absence of god: I've got that now and it's a pretty good place to be. I have to be a good person because it's the right thing to do, rather than because of the carrot/stick of an invisible sky daddy.

Also I can't follow any god that hates shrimp.

At 30/6/06 8:22 am, Blogger BigHeathenMike said...

True that! I always think of Pulp Fiction: "Yeah, but bacon tastes good, pork chops taste good...", and I would add, shrimp tastes really good! Stupid god and its prejudice against foodstuffs.


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