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How to Argue for Young Earth Creationism

As I’ve mentioned a handful of times, I was raised a Young Earth Creationist. At the time, it didn’t seem like a particularly nutty way to be raised. Anyway, one of my youth group leaders thought that the whole Young Earth Creationism thing was important enough to proselytize and so many of us were taught to be Young Earth Creationism Evangelists. Weaponized YECs.

Now, this might strike one as silly, but my little corner was taught that Young Earth Creationism was at the foundation of our Christian Faith. Why? Well, because the Bible has the lineage of Jesus going back all the way to (In The) Beginning. You can get from Jesus to King David a couple of ways. The Gospel of Matthew takes you from Joseph and Mary back to Abraham and the Gospel of Luke takes you from Joseph all the way back to Adam. Bishop Ussher used these genealogies to date the creation of the earth back to 4004 B.C. The argument, so it went, was that if Adam was a metaphor, then Jesus was likely a metaphor. They talk about this in 1st Corinthians 15:12-19, after all:

Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.

And with that in mind, they trained a bunch of kids how to argue in service of Young Earth Creationism and they gave us a very interesting (to my mind, anyway) bunch of tools to use when we went out into the world to spread the word.

The main thing that they taught us was that most people don’t know a whole lot about biology. Most people just take what is taught them and they regurgitate it for a test in the classroom without ever thinking about what they’ve regurgitated. So they hammered on a lot of the various things that were taught in biology class and then they simply reframed them in a new way and asked us to think about them… really, really think about them. Of course, since we were kids, we needed to be walked through how to think about them. Of course, they were more than happy to shepherd us.

The first thing they asked us to notice was that there was a dialectic (they didn’t use that word, but that’s what they pointed out). That is to say, that the argument wasn’t really about Science at all. Science, they pointed out, was a *METHOD*. It wasn’t a team or something to cheer. Heck, it wasn’t something to get emotional about at all. But look at how emotional all those scientists got when we were arguing Creationism, they pointed out. And that’s not all! Look at how emotional all of these “Evolutionists” got throughout history! They gave us one of those quotations that’s attributed to everyone from Augustine to C.S. Lewis: “The Truth is like a lion. You don’t have to defend It. Get out of Its way. It can take care of Itself.”

The emphasis on the training, at that point, was to show us what it would look like when someone got in the way of The Truth. See how people get upset when you tell them about the Truth! There were several examples that they taught us but they mostly revolved around the whole idea of taking a single outlier and then using that outlier as if it were representative of everything that happened in the debate. The biggest and best example they gave us, to my mind, was the example of Nebraska Man.

Some information: Nebraska Man was not, as they taught us, a hoax. It was, instead, a premature classification (granted, a particularly egregious one). Here’s what happened: some scientists found a tooth in a field and, based on this tooth, these enthusiastic scientists declared that they had found one of the missing links. I mean, seriously: they *LEANED* into it. This tooth proved that prehistoric man had done something or other and this proves that we need to teach evolution in schools and… well… a few months later it turned out that it was the tooth of an extinct pig. (I don’t know why it was particularly relevant that the pig was extinct. Even so, the folks who trained me always hammered on that point as if it made the mistake even more embarrassing. An *EXTINCT* pig!, they pointed out every time. It made the cadence of the sentence better, I guess.)

Of course, of course, we were told, Evolutionists would brag about how when they make mistakes they change their minds, as if they wanted a cookie for doing so, but we were told to not look at how they changed their minds after they got caught but what they said *BEFORE* they got caught. Look at what they said about the Nebraska Man. How they crowed! People were bragging about finding the first anthropoid ape in North America based on little more than a tooth. On top of that, they were commissioning drawings that showed a day in the life of Nebraska Man. Based on the discovery of a tooth!

It was the exuberance that they had us focus on. Not the fact that there was nowhere *NEAR* consensus among scientists at the time. Certainly not the fact that once it was found out that stuff was retracted appropriately. It was the enthusiasm for finding this stuff in the first place. The statements that rubbed it in the face of people who believed in The Bible. The drawings. Oh, goodness. The drawings. “They made these drawings of people after they found *A TOOTH*!” (“From an *EXTINCT* pig!”)

The enthusiasm was given as evidence that there were teams and that the scientists were hiding behind the facade of “Science!” in order to be on a team. It wasn’t about the method. It wasn’t about truth. It was about picking sides and trying to win.

After all, if someone says 2+2=4, it doesn’t make sense to yell “IN YOUR FACE!” at anyone nearby who might be arguing that 2+2=5. It’s really only the people who argue that it equals 5 that yell stuff like that. The people who believe that it’s 4 don’t get emotional when you disagree with them… and if someone does, the proper response is not to get huffy and aggressive and to start talking about the various traits of the person making the statement. The proper response is to say “No, that’s wrong. 2+2=4.” So that was one of the tells we were told to look for and point out. The Truth, after all, was like a lion. It doesn’t need someone to get huffy and aggressive and to start talking about what people who think it must actually be like, deep down. The Truth can protect itself and, by showing itself, it does a far better defense of itself than any huff/aggression/ad hominem attack could ever dream of providing.

From there, we were asked to read stuff like Inherit the Wind and then asked to compare the transcripts of the actual trial itself with the dramatization that followed and then we were asked “why in the world would science need to lie about what really happened?”

And then, at that point, it became VITALLY important that we each learned what “really” happened. We had to learn the names and dates of the so-called hoaxes. We had to learn, by memory, the differences between (deep breath) Piltdown Man and Nebraska Man and Java Man and Peking Man and we had to have these facts at our fingertips. (Keep in mind: This was before Smartphones were a thing.) We had to be able to argue this stuff at a moment’s notice because…

Well, the people we were arguing against usually weren’t that well-versed in it. They took a year of biology in high school and they probably memorized stuff just long enough to get past the test and then promptly forgot it. And the ones who didn’t promptly forget it, probably gradually forgot it. You know the Krebs Cycle? That thing that turns ADP into ATP and turns Oxygen into Carbon Dioxide? Yeah, I knew about it once, but I have since forgotten everything about it except that it’s that thing that turns Oxygen into Carbon Dioxide. (I had to google to remember the ADP to ATP part of it.) Well, since it was a dialectic, the point was to get people to wonder. Get them to doubt. Most importantly, to get them to SEE THE DIALECTIC. Ask them questions about “how come your professors never told you about Nebraska Man?” (and never mind that the answer was “they had to cover everything from the Krebs Cycle to Photosynthesis to Reproduction to a section involving dissecting a (not yet extinct) fetal pig and there wasn’t really time for that sort of thing if there were only 175 days of school”.)

On top of that, we were trained to always be calm, cool, and collected. There was a dialectic, after all, and there were bystanders. If we were arguing with someone, we had the obligation to be dispassionate and stereotypically “scientific”. Let the people we were arguing with get upset. Let the people we were arguing with display how attached they are to their narrative. Let them rage and rant. It is our job to stand there and be calm and have tons of facts at our fingertips. It was their job to say “I don’t know” and get frustrated.

Over and over again, it was reiterated to us that it wasn’t just about the person with whom we were arguing. There would be people watching and it was our job to present identically to how stereotypical scientists: calm, cool, collected, tons of information at our immediate recall, and the ability to withstand some angry person yelling about how they were told something different by people they trusted implicitly.

And since the goal was not necessarily to change minds by giving facts but change them by exposing the dialectic, we were given tools that helped expose the dialectic. And then, once we could get people to doubt that it was about science but think that maybe it could indeed be about sides, we were halfway to victory.

Among the tools we were given to expose the dialectic was The Gish Gallop. Named after Duane Gish, this is when you give 12-15 “whatabouts” in a very short period of time. Again: this was before the internet. So the people we were talking to didn’t have all of human knowledge in their back pocket. The best part about the Gish Gallop is that, in a very short period of time, it communicates familiarity with the various theories and, since it’s probably impossible for anybody under the best of circumstances to deal with 12-15 “whatabouts” in a very short period of time, it communicates *GREATER* familiarity with the subject than the person with whom we were arguing. That doesn’t really help with the person you’re arguing with, but wasn’t necessarily about changing the mind of the person we were arguing with.

Remember: it wasn’t about Truth. It was about the dialectic. We were not only communicating with the person we were arguing with. We were communicating with the audience.

Another of the important tools we were given was the reframing and undermining of science in general. Tools like carbon dating? Well, you could argue that carbon dating didn’t work. For example, there were seals that were freshly killed and were then carbon dated. They were aged as being 10,000 years old. 10,000 years old, we then boggled. How many orders of magnitude was that over a few days? The tools that science is using just don’t work. And people argue as if science is this great tool that is so very accurate, but they can’t even get stuff like fresh meat right. (For the record, carbon dating is a tool that works on a geologic scale… getting to within 10,000 years of when the seals were killed should have had everybody saying “golly, that’s pretty accurate!” rather than looking at them as dealing with orders of magnitude.)

Yet another tool: The Odious Conclusion. You can see this trick above in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Either this good thing is true or this odious conclusion is true. Since we want to avoid the odious conclusion, therefore, the good thing is true! How this worked for Young Earth Creationism was to invoke eugenics. If you were arguing with someone only passing familiar with the theory of evolution, it was easy to set them up and get them to argue that there was a choice between Young Earth Creationism and some particularly odious statement. “If evolution was true, doesn’t that mean that eugenics could work?” was a fun one (remember: no internet in the back pocket). You’d find that most people had never even thought about the question and it was fun to ask questions focusing on whether evolution leads to odious conclusions. Then, of course, you could point out that if God created everyone equal, you didn’t have to worry about whether or not the eugenicists had a point. Force them to choose between something pleasant and something odious.

And, hey, the big guns: If you really wanted to go for the jugular with the odious conclusion argument, you could point out that Young Earth Creation had whatever dead loved ones hostage. Wanna see your grandparents again? Better believe in a Young Earth! Remember at the beginning where we tied whether or not Christianity was true to Bishop Ussher?

Well, you can tie whether Heaven is true to whether Christianity is true. Which means that you can tie whether you’ll see your deceased loved ones again to whether or not you’re willing to believe in a Young Earth.

And since most people wanted to see their loved ones again, it was easy to get them to consider avoiding the odious conclusion.

So those were some of the tools that we used way back before every single computer on the planet was connected to every other single computer on the planet (let alone before everybody had one of these computers on their person).

I don’t know whether Young Earth Creationism is really much of a thing anymore, now that everybody is connected and thus everybody can easily find people who have written essays dedicated to the scientists who were skeptical of Nebraska man (with citations!), people who have written 10,000 word essays dealing with each and every “whatabout” in any given Gish Gallop (with citations!), and people who are capable of writing a sensitive essay making distinctions between “what I wish were true on a personal level” and “what we can actually measure given the instrumentation that we have” (with citations!).

But, even so, if you ever find yourself wanting to argue on behalf of Young Earth Creationism on some beach somewhere (and it had better be a beach that has smartphones banned), those are the techniques that I was trained to use.

(Image is “Dino on a Leash” by sundancekid. Used under a noncommercial reuse with modification Creative Commons License.)

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Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to AskJaybird-at-gmail.com

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315 thoughts on “How to Argue for Young Earth Creationism

  1. If I’m ever on a beach, i’m on vacation, and I’m not interested in being chatted up by some religious person trying to persuade me that the the planet is 6 thousand years old. Of course, whether or not I’m on vacation or not, isn’t the point. I have no interest in debating this topic. Did it when when we had a very religious neighbor who’d we’d invite over for scrabble.

    The current theory of evolution and the population / movements of ancient man is incomplete–most likely very wrong as well. But that doesn’t mean that it’s an all or nothing deal. One can still support the concept of evolution while agreeing/understanding that our knowledge is very very incomplete.


  2. Goood stuff. The way I always encountered Odious Conclusion was to link evolution with Social Darwinism and actual Nazis, back when everyone agreed Nazis were Bad.


    (For the record, carbon dating is a tool that works on a geologic scale… getting to within 10,000 years of when the seals were killed should have had everybody saying “golly, that’s pretty accurate!” rather than looking at them as dealing with orders of magnitude.)

    I do not believe this to be correct – though it does seem in the course of general biology education, radio carbon dating is the be all and end all of figuring out the age of things, including e.g. dinosaurs, when it’s actually only useful for the most recent slice of Homo Sapiens existence, i.e. 50k years. (which is still hecka useful)


    • As I read the post the 10,000 dating jumped out at me as mostly likely simply a lie. What we actually have is something that is interesting, but irrelevant to the argument at hand and so wildly exaggerated as to count as a lie. It reminds me of 1970s stories about the Bermuda Triangle and the whole Erich von Daniken shtick.

      I claim no expertise in carbon dating, but my understanding is that its early application was naive about the complications, and that there has been a lot of refinements over the years.


      • Ah, yeah. Here. I found more or less what we were taught to argue.

        A freshly killed seal was carbon-14 dated at 1300 years old.

        Huh. The explanation of “golly, that’s pretty accurate!” was given me by one of my teachers in 9th? 10th? Grade and it reframed it for me.

        The real reason is a lot more interesting, though:

        The seals feed off of animals that live in a nutrient-rich upwelling zone. The water that is upwelling has been traveling along the bottom for a few thousand years before surfacing. The carbon dioxide in it came from the atmosphere before the water sank. Thus, the carbon in the sea water is a couple of thousand years “old” from when it was in the atmosphere, and its radiocarbon content reflects this time. Plants incorporate this “old” carbon in them as they grow. Animals eat the plants; seals eat the animals, and the “old” carbon from the bottom waters is passed through the food chain. As a result, the radiocarbon content reflects a mixture of old radiocarbon, which is thousands of years old, and contemporaneous radiocarbon from the atmosphere. The result is an apparent age that differs from the true age of the seal.

        What’s funny is that I wouldn’t have understood the actual scientific explanation… but I understood “you’re not thinking about the tool correctly”.


        • Radiocarbon dating is only for relatively recent things (like, the last 50,000 years), so 10,000 years off is a pretty big deal (1300 less so).

          However, anyone who actually knows radiocarbon dating knows that dating objects that have spent a significant time exposed on the Earth’s surface since 1945 (since we began exploding nuclear weapons) is difficult to date using radiocarbon dating, because radiation (as well as all the carbon we’ve put into the air with cars and planes and such) screws with the dating. Screws with it enough to produce an error of 1,300 years, say.

          Point being, the 1,300 year old freshly killed seals is a (in the case of its originators, likely deliberate) deception, and there’s that one commandment about such things…


          • Hey, my Young Earth Creationism arguments stopped being up-to-date starting around 1989 or so.

            I assure you, though, my stuff in 1986 was State-Of-The-Art.

            And they didn’t cover the whole “radiation in the atomic age” thing. You’d think that they would have. That’d have been a great derailer.

            “Oh, does your radio-carbon dating take into account… HIROSHIMA?!?”
            (drops mic)


        • Some of my friends dated Indian materials from a cave and the date came back as something like 3000 AD. The cave was very radioactive from a sandstone that was rich in uranium.

          If you ran a greenhouse that was kept warm and CO2 rich from natural gas (which is quite common) you’d undoubtedly grow plants that would date as tens of thousands of years old.


          • Similarly to your “natural gas in a greenhouse” idea, I seem to remember reading somewhere (many years ago so can’t give a source) that plants growing on the side of busy roads, especially motorways/freeways, would carbon-date as being pretty ancient, because most of their CO2 comes from fossil-fuel vehicle exhausts.


      • This is the problem with proselytizing in general. You want to talk religion? I’m down with that. But the notion that I am expected to drop whatever I am doing an talk religion at your personal convenience is patently absurd. Make an appointment. We’ll go out for coffee. This is with a caveat: If you ask me where I expect to go if I am run over by a bus today, I will cancel that appointment. If that is your big gambit, you don’t have anything interesting to say.


          • The thing is, it is simply terrible as evangelism–terrible in pretty much every way for everyone involved. It is terrible for the target of the sales pitch: you carelessly open your front door, and instantly realize that you are being subjected to a pitch. Whether it is for a religion or for new windows doesn’t matter. The goal is to shut that door, and the only question is how rude you will have to be to accomplish this. It is emotionally draining for the salesman, knocking on doors knowing that whoever opens the door will want nothing more than to close it again as quickly as possible. This is why they go in pairs: for emotional support, and accountability to spy on each other to establish that those doors are in fact being knocked on. Then there is the church being pitched, busily training the community at large that they are a nuisance. Finally there is the church universal, getting tarred with the same brush.

            Fred Clark at Slacktivist provides, as is so often the case, a useful counter. He has been saying for years that true evangelism is hospitality. Here is one of many posts on the subject: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2012/12/22/evangelism-is-not-sales-again/


            • Oh, yeah. I am pretty introverted and have been pretty introverted my whole life. Lemme tell ya, going up to complete strangers to interrupt their day at the beach in order to bug them about their souls was no picnic.

              But saving souls is saving souls and the discomfort of talking to strangers is not even a drop in the bucket compared to an eternity of torment that the unsaved would experience if I didn’t get them to convert by arguing with them about hiccups in the fossil record.


              • But saving souls is saving souls

                except of course, what you were doing was corrupting minds. It had nothing to do with souls.

                so really, every “success”, was actually a complete failure. for everyone.


            • Perhaps I am idiosyncratic in this, but I find that sort of cold-calling to sell religion to be one of the most offensive things I’ve ever encountered. It’s annoying enough if someone is trying to sell me on a new cable service, and thus interrupting whatever more pleasant activity I was engaged in when the doorbell rang, but at least that’s a simple business transaction.

              But the pitch is almost always bad enough [1], the presumptuousness is truly galling. It’s roughly as intrusive as a salesman showing up with a box full of dildos and flavored lubricants and saying, “I can tell by the look of you that your sex life is dreary and unsatisfying. I’m here to fix that!”

              [1] “No, I’ve never heard of Jesus because I was literally born yesterday. Thank you for bringing this unique gentleman to my attention!”


              • I’m a Christian myself and I find the “If you died tomorrow…” question to be intrusive and unsettling. It’s a terrible way to inspire people to try coming to church and it winds up being a horrible “advertisement” for what we actually do.

                (I am mainline, not evangelical – just a disclaimer).

                These days, I just mainly don’t open the door if someone knocks and I’m not expecting a visitor or UPS. Because I know it’s going to be someone selling something I don’t want to buy.


            • I strongly suspect that a big part of evangelism–especially in churches where evangelism is primarily performed by the youthful–is as much about teaching the church members that non-church-members are naturally hostile. It’s an isolating technique.

              It makes a lot of sense from that angle: convince naive kids to be unintentionally rude to others while simultaneously telling them that the rudeness their engaging in is the highest kindness anyone can perform–saving an immortal soul. Then, when the rudeness meets a reply of rudeness from the non-believer, this shows that the nonbeliever is cruel and discourages relationships with nonbelievers.

              If that wasn’t the aim, then why wouldn’t the church have its evangelism performed by adults who are able to speak much more eloquently in favor of their beliefs and are more able to recognize when their own arguments are bullshit?


                • I think youth outreach is a never-ending attempt to make Church cool and hip, but also an attempt to get them when they’re young and “impressionable”.

                  And those hip youth don’t listen to the old fogies, so you gotta send out their peers.


                  • I don’t necessarily disagree with what anyone says in this sub-thread. But I think many of you are missing some of the appeal that evangelical religion can offer to people. It’s not only about building an identity against outsiders (and I agree with Alan Scott that such is the effect, though in my view probably not the intent, of door-to-door proselytizing) and it’s not only about trying to come off as “hip” or “cool” (although I agree with Morat that churces try to do that).

                    It’s also about creating a sense of belonging and a sense of redemption, usually on terms that are in some ways familiar to the religion’s adherents. There’s something quite appeal to some people (e.g., me at age 16 and 17) in taking up a dedication toward something that sells itself as peacefulness, love, and forgiveness.

                    Richard above links to an article that says truly effective evangelism involves demonstrating hospitality (I didn’t read the article, but that’s Richard’s gloss). Well, these groups in my experience can be quite hospitable. True, also in my experience, they set some ground rules for their hospitality that fall far from their oft stated believe in “unconditional” love. And while their ground rules attenuates the claim to hospitality, it doesn’t completely obviate the often very sincerelhospitality they in practice demonstrate.

                    And frankly, the type of appeal that evangelical churches offer is not entirely different from other forms of tribalism and group identity, from the milder “I’m a conservative,” “I’m a liberal,” “I’m a libertarian,” to the more uncompromising “I’m a [militant] vegan/vegetarianism” (as Saul discusses) or “I’m a revolutionary Marxist.” My vos quoque (or illi quoque, if it doesn’t apply to any of you specifically) is apt only until it isn’t. But there is a way to understand the appeal without making caricatures of others, which I think this conversation in this thread is at risk of doing.

                    I want to be clear I’m not chiding anyone. I also want to be clear that I find door-to-door proselytizing to be annoying and as someone said above, probably the worst way to secure sympathy for one’s views. (One of the silver linings to the fact that the doorbell to my apartment doesn’t work is that I no longer have to be summoned by weekend morning proselytizers and, as Richard describes, decide how rude I have to be to get away from the conversation.) I also realize that if someone is told by such people that who they are is a sin or an abomination, or that they belong to a group that is perpetually to be damned for things allegedly done by their ancestors two thousand years ago–it’s understand if they or if anyone who wishes to be a decent human being takes offense. But I also want to be clear that the appeal runs a little deeper than some here seem prepared to give it credit for.

                    ETA: did some minor stylistic editing


                    • There is another element that is as important, if not more important, than the tribalism: God’s love as a constant and as an objective measure against which to strive to live up to.

                      I’ve started listening to Dave Ramsey, the financial guru who has definitive Evangelical Christian perspective. At first, I thought that would bother me, as I’m basically an agnostic lapsed Catholic with Buddhist leanings. In other words, I’m about as far from a religious fundamentalist as you can get. I pick and choose the metaphors from belief systems that I find useful and I treat them as that, metaphor.

                      Ramsey will often say something like, “if you do the work, you’ll usually find that God provides the opportunities to make that work pay off.” Even though I don’t believe in any kind of personal God, if I replace the word “God” with the words “the universe,” it pretty much aligns with my own world view.


                      • Thanks for the comment, JR. I hadn’t heard of Ramsey before. I know that that particular approach can lead us astray as a “just world hypothesis,” which as I’m sure you’ll agree has some major problems. For example, when a rape victim worries she may have somehow caused it or “deserved” it. I know that’s not what you mean by “the universe” providing, etc., but that view can be taken to that extreme.

                        And you’re right. There was for me, at least for a time, a sense of peace that if I just did what I should and trusted in god/Jesus, then things would work out. It doesn’t, in my view, work analytically, but it did, for a time, work psychically.


        • I’ve discovered that a lot of true believers are really bad at rhetoric. The YEC seem to spend a lot of time training in rhetoric based on Jaybird’s post.

          This goes back to the Vegetarian post that Rufus wrote a few weeks ago. I know some very passionate vegetarians/vegans who believe that eating animals and using animal based products are a great evil and a sign of immorality. They are horrible at rhetoric because they are so convinced by their own arguments that they can’t do anything but preach to the choir. They honestly seem like elementary school students with a hyperactive view on right and wrong.

          They post memes constantly and the memes have all the sophistication and nuance of a sledge hammer. I suppose they are trying for the raw but it always falls flat on me. One meme I saw had some pictures of friend chicken and the text “this meal is smarter than your toddler.”

          Of course being horrible at rhetoric makes it easy to ignore them. There are substantive issues on whether we eat too much meat and problems with factory farming but I never see vegetarians and vegans deal with the biological reasons why humans can eat meat.


          • Apologetics were *HUGE* in my church.

            These are our arguments.
            These are the most common counter-arguments.
            These are the best counter-counter-arguments.
            Which will have these as the most common counter-counter-counter-arguments.
            And these are the best counter-counter-counter-counter-arguments.

            And so on.

            Say what you will about Protestantism, but a lot of churches learned some hard lessons from the Enlightenment. The best ones adapted, adopted, and improved.

            (Of course, this devotion to The Truth can lead someone to some crazy places, but Nietzsche covered this tons better than I ever could.)


          • I’ve discovered that a lot of true believers are really bad at rhetoric.

            A lot of people in general are really bad at rhetoric. True believers are uniquely bad at it because it takes practice to get good at rhetoric, which means you have to be open to being argued with and having your positions challenged and changed. You have to get into a lot of arguments, and read a lot of arguments, from all sorts of perspectives, in order to get good at it.

            If you disengage the moment you start losing…


        • Make an appointment. We’ll go out for coffee. This is with a caveat: If you ask me where I expect to go if I am run over by a bus today, I will cancel that appointment. If that is your big gambit, you don’t have anything interesting to say.

          Do you mean if they ask that before the appointment or after you met for coffee? I’d think that once you agree to meet for coffee and to “talk religion,” then where one expects to go when one dies is fair game.


  3. This is very interesting to me. I particularly like the “the person who is angry is the one who is wrong” business.

    I’m very curious about how you moved away from young-earth creationism.


    • It’s actually pretty mundane. I met some real scientists who treated science like science and they patiently explained it to me. They responded to “2+2=5” with a sigh and a short explanation of what “two” meant, what “plus” meant, and what “equals” meant.

      Eventually I said “holy crap! If that’s what ‘two’ means, if that’s what ‘plus’ means, and that’s what ‘equals’ means, then 2+2=4!”

      Then I became a Superatheist for about 5 years or so.


      • I am amused by how mundane it was. Because that actually fits the argument pattern you were taught. Science is kind of boring.

        Also, it kind of endorses my program, which is to not get mad at people with propagandized beliefs, but to just go over fundamental ideas with them. Oddly, this concords nicely with what I took away from my own time in the Church.


        • From the Genealogy of Morals:

          That’s the way Christianity was destroyed as dogma by its own morality; that’s the way Christendom as morality must now also be destroyed. We stand on the threshold of this event. After Christian truthfulness has come to a series of conclusions, it will draw its strongest conclusion, its conclusion against itself.


      • Jaybird, the thing is that you had to be wiling to listen to the scientists. THAT is the real beginning of the conversion process. Most of us don’t listen, we are just waiting for our turn to speak.
        I call it “The Click Moment”. Something “clicks” in our brain and makes us stop and seriously rethink what we think we know. Something breaks down the cognitive dissonance wall that holds apart two competing ideas and they clash so loudly we can no longer ignore them, or rationalize them away. I.e. A homophobe finds out that a beloved child is gay.
        Now you have to re-educate yourself, reassemble your thinking, and discard the parts that no longer work for you.
        For me, even though I had decades of serious doubts about the Bible & Christianity, it was reading about Mormonism. When I read about J Smith translating the gold plates by sticking two stones and his face in a hat, I went “And grown ass adults actually believe this??!! You gotta be kidding!! Why, this is just plain silly. Just a perversion of Christianity.”
        Within a few months, I realized that Christianity was making claims that were just as silly. I was blind to that only because I had been taught the Christian stories since childhood. When I looked at them as objectively as I has looked as Mormonism, they failed just as badly.


        • The fact that the scientists acted like scientists really helped.

          I remember that one teacher yelled something about how “you people don’t even want to discuss this sort of thing!” at me and I yelled back “WE’RE DISCUSSING IT RIGHT NOW!” and he said “yeah, I guess that’s technically true” which I took as a win. (This is the Earth Science teacher that we were sure was Jim Morrison who faked his death and just lived out his days peacefully arguing with YECs.)

          But the teacher who changed my mind was the one who sighed and said “well, let’s go over it again and just talk about the stuff we know is measurable and see what that says.”

          The scientists who treated it like science gave me the environment I needed to use the tools I had to be able to look at the evidence they showed me that convinced me to change my mind.


  4. This is one place where I feel like I might have a benefit and disadvantage by being raised in suburban New York.

    NYC-Metro is not really known as a hotbed of Fundamentalism and Young Earth Creationism. There are Pentacostals and JWs but they tend to be very store front kind of churches. Nothing grand like the Megachurch palaces that you see in other parts of the United States. Contrary to belief, there are lots of churches in the SF Bay Area but they are usually very mainline and very liberal.

    But there is a whole folkways of Fundamentalist Evangelical culture out there and it is not something that I am exposed to except indirectly. I had a depo in Phoenix last week. The Deposition took place at a fancy resort. While waiting for my client to show up, I looked around the gift shop. There were crosses in the gift shop in wild colors (Southwest Native American influence?) right next to lizards/salamanders in equally vivid colors.

    I generally don’t go to places where it seems natural to sell crosses at gift shops.


    • Contrary to belief, there are lots of churches in the SF Bay Area but they are usually very mainline and very liberal.

      The people who believe there are few churches in the Bay Area don’t count those. Within their world view the belief is accurate, all those godless Methodists notwithstanding.


      • The closest things I know to evangelical churches are African-American or Storefront Pentecostal. Both very far from the world of white Evangelicalism and the mega church. Though the Northeast and SF-Bay Area are bastions of Roman Catholicism and there is a surprisingly large Orthodox population in the Bay Area as well.


        • Traditionally black churches are essentially a separate category. They theologically often are fairly close to white evangelicalism, though not always and never entirely. Politically they vote like liberal mainlines in most respects, gay issues traditionally being a notable exception. Sociologists generally list them separately. The storefront Pentecostals are an interesting case. Pentecostals have always been more racially integrated than most, as well as open to female preachers. Theologically they are quite distinct from, say, Southern Baptists. But politically they are solidly in the Evangelical camp. There is nothing incompatible with Pentecostalism and megachurches. Many megachurches are Pentecostal. In this light, the difference between the storefront church and the megachurch is merely one of degree: how successful they are at church growth. Pentecostalism also slides easily into Prosperity Gospel, where the size of the church is a signifier of virtue: If Jesus wants you to be successful, and yet your church is tiny and struggling, obviously you are doing Jesus wrong.


      • FWIW, I don’t think I have ever seen a YEC on the streets of NY or SF. I don’t see much for religious conversion in SF. There is one guy near the cable cars who does the whole hellfire and damnation thing on a megaphone but that is about it. Also some Latinx pentacostals at Mission Street on weekends.

        In NYC, I saw the JW’s, Mormons, and Jews for Jesus, along with some Hare Krishna types.

        The solicitation I see most often in SF is the charity muggers. Young people working with endless enthusiasm saying “Do you have a minute for….” followed by a progressive cause or group. I still can’t believe that this is a way to raise money but our Murali said it works.


        • There are folks standing around in suits that are clearly espousing some religion (though I have no idea what) both at the ferry building and the embarcadero bart station nearly every day.

          And there are times where Sproul Plaza at Berkeley reminds of the scene in Life of Brian with a bunch of self-professed prophets yelling at each other. Though that’s not usually “organized” religion. More of the “I have seen! God is a potato!” variety.


        • About 10 years ago some nice young folks with clipboards outside the farmer’s market signed me up to give monthly to Amnesty International. About two years ago a nice young person with a clipboard in the square downtown signed me up to give monthly to Medecins Sans Frontieres.

          I guess you don’t need a whole lot of hits a day, if a hit yields $20 a month for a decade.


      • This has been my experience.

        We may have lots of churches, but we aren’t a unanimous, outspoken, “godly” society who prays before business meetings, etc., etc. (for which, praise be). Mrs. N has been asked by friends she grew up with in a different part of the country, what it’s like to live in a godless society. And not in an aggressive way, in a curious one.

        Fortunately, I wasn’t there when that happened.


    • Kids outside of New York and its suburbs were exposed to all sorts of weird things that we never were. I do not remember DARE coming to our school with horror tales about drugs and purity balls were not a thing for the girls we grew up with but they were for women I know from Texas or other Southern states.


  5. This is kinda fascinating.

    Not the technique itself–I spent enough time arguing with YECs in my misspent youth to be familiar with it–but the part about how learning and using them seemed to be a major part of your religious education. With a little experience and the use of AltaVista, I learned pretty quickly how to handle the arguments and tactics, but was often flummoxed by why so many YECs wanted to argue about this stuff.


    • I don’t think there is winning that debate sadly. Kevin Drum called Climate Change the ultimate grad school problem from hell because it is slow moving and everyone on earth now will be dead when the really bad stuff happens.

      So I think a lot of climate change denialists are taking that bet/chance.


      • Well, taking the money anyway.

        The thing about global warming is that there is a LOT of money in denial, and much less in acknowledgment. That, plus the fact it’s slow moving and we’ll all die first makes it even more challenging.

        The worst part is that there is no reason to believe that getting aggressive about it would be anywhere near as disruptive / expensive as fossil fuel studies would have us believe.


              • So let me get this straight, your claim that there is no money out there supporting climate denial is refuted neither by evidence that there is huge amounts of funding for that NOR that the particular person you mention has gotten nearly $90k because of his role as a climate skeptic? Because he got it “as a weatherman” even though he is, again quoting you, “the leading global warming skeptic”?

                Pleasure talking to you.


                • The money he got was for a service that presents weather data from NOAA in a better format for weathermen. It has nothing to do with climate. It also cost him a lot of money to set up the service (buying servers, etc), so he about broke even on the deal.

                  Other than that, he’s gotten a nifty mug.

                  And that’s all he’s got for close to twenty years of work as the leading skeptic. Even if the money he got to build a weather web service was all for his pocket, it would work out to about $4K a year.

                  And you Exxon Secrets link is telling. They’ve paid the Heartland Institute about $40K a year, less than they pay to the National Black Chamber of Commerce. And then the Heartland Institute turns around and spends very little of its money on climate issues.

                  In contrast, the alarmists receive tens of billions in funding. They get supercomputer centers and everything.


                  • George,
                    You want a fucking supercomputer?
                    Write a fucking grant. ( REDACTED because it was a random and unnecessary insult. kim – I told you not to insult people and you’re back for two days and you’re back to namecalling. knock it off. I’m suspending you for two weeks this time. – Maribou)
                    SERIOUSLY, we need more people running programs.
                    PSC is ALWAYS looking for more programs.

                    HACKERS get fucking supercomputer time these days (just call it protein folding). Saying that climatologists get it is simply saying that your side sucks at math.

                    In case you haven’t realized, American Agriculture is a billion dollar industry. Yes, they’re damn well going to fund what keeps us fed.


                    • writing to maribou, and assuming this is getting wiped once she sees it:
                      When I don’t see why you’re banning me, the ban is likely to be ineffectual. (this time I managed to track back to what I’d said. Last time I didn’t, and posting afterwards just got “you’ve been banned” which is decidedly not informative”
                      When I can’t even tell that you’re banning me, the ban’s a fucking waste of time. (and this has happened multiple times. You might try improving communication skills).

                      I am trying to be helpful here, feel free to wipe this message when you’re done.

                      Oh, and bring back Knives!


                      • I’m actually not going to wipe it because I actually do want to explain a bit more. I hope it helps, if it just makes you more frustrated, well, I’m sorry but also this is how it is.

                        Multiple editors have suspended you over the years for the same three things: 1) calling people names; 2) using slurs; 3) just being completely beyond the pale of civilised behavior in how you talk about things. It’s probably a safe bet at this point that if you got suspended, it’s for one of those three things (not 100 percent but the odds are good). And you’ve indicated plenty of times that you were not saying something specifically because you thought it would get you banned, so I don’t buy it that you rarely understand the suspension. The ban is effectual, for us, it stops you from continuing to break the commenting policy for a while. It could be effectual for you, if you take some time to ponder why it keeps happening.

                        It’s not about my communication skills.

                        It’s *your* responsibility to not use insults. It’s *your* responsibility to use enough adult judgment to realize that calling someone a bitch or a bozo is likely to get you suspended. And it’s *your* responsibility, at this point, after all the times you’ve caused an editor to intervene, to keep enough track of what you’ve said that if you’ve gotten yourself suspended, and the site *tells you that*, you go back and look at your own comments (or just think about them) to figure out why that might have happened, and adjust accordingly. My commenting that I’ve done so in your comment is me attempting to be somewhat kind in letting you know what’s going on, not a necessary step.

                        You need to take responsibility, Kimmi, not worry about whether I’m doing things correctly. I don’t want to perma-ban you – I’ve been seeing your comments for a very long time and I care about maintaining community here. Any stranger I would’ve permanently banned by now for saying just a few of the more egregious things you say. I would rather keep you around and the relative laxity of my actions probably reflects that. But you’re constantly pushing and I’m not seeing a lot of self-reflection or significant positive change.

                        And yes, after this one above which I will leave, I will delete any further comments you make until the suspension is over. So please quit.


      • Kevin drum is an idiot.
        We already have plans that are IN PLAY RIGHT NOW for evacuating Miami.
        Military’s already gearing up for resource wars.
        20 years from now, and America will be unable to feed a third of its population, probably.

        Let’s just have a little think about that one, eh?

        And be glad that the Nuclear Hurricane didn’t happen. (Yes, in case you haven’t noticed, my good friend helps with ‘disaster planning’).
        Imagine, Nuclear Plants run by Florida Man!


  6. Good stuff, Jay. Thanks for writing this.

    I’ve developed a kind of “mental jujitsu” when it comes to talking about stuff like this. It involves nothing so much as not giving the YEC (or whomever) nothing to push against. Did they just break out a Gish Gallop on me? I inform them that I know the technique they’re employing and what it’s meant to do and point out that such devices aren’t really arguing in good faith (yeah, that might be a little pushy, granted). “If you died tomorrow…” “That’d be it for me, right? That’s it. I cease to exist. And that’s ok. What that means is that I have an obligation to make the most of the time I’m given because life is finite.” “But what about this and this and this scientific thing?” “I don’t know…and that’s ok! There’s so much more for us to learn out there–we don’t know everything, and maybe there are some things we never will–and that’s ok!”

    In most cases, with nothing to push against, the YEC (or whomever) will either deflate and move on or we’ll have a friendly conversation and then part amicably.


    • Importantly, tho, these tactics merely lead to a stalemate rather than any movement on either side. They walk away from the interaction believing you’re going to roast in hell, and feel bad for you because of it.


    • I stopped indulging in YEC arguments when people would quote thermodynamics at me and not know what thermodynamics were. Yes, they’re memorized a definition but that was it.

      Although I generally find it hilarious when they move to information theory. Especially since I’ve personally coded genetic algorithms that do what they say can’t be done.


      • I stopped indulging in YEC arguments when people would quote thermodynamics at me and not know what thermodynamics were.

        Exactly. Why argue with people asserting easily Snopesable claims? They’re obviously insane.


        • Jaybird was talking pre-smartphones so not a lot of Snopings, but I remember Usenet and talk.origins and the like.

          And man, you could try to explain thermodynamics from the ground up and if they finally grokked that their “objection” was, in fact, fatally flawed — they’d just move onto the next, without every asking themselves “If my source for claim 1 was so badly wrong, that even a layman’s understanding of thermodynamics refutes it, how certain am I in his claim 2?”.


          • It’s because they didn’t see the facts. They, instead, saw the dialectic.

            And for every single person who could explain thermodynamics well, there were a dozen who didn’t know Darwin from Lamarck. And they provided enough reinforcement of the dialectic to keep things going.

            And, hey, every now and again, you met someone who was a fellow traveler who agreed with you.

            And, rarely, you heard about people coming to Christ due to your efforts. That could keep you fed for WEEKS.


            • This. But not merely for YECs. This is the logic of pretty much every anti-liberal position promulgated by the right. Conservatism has degenerated to conducting politics on a purely epistemic battleground devoid of facts. And liberals certainly deserve half the blame for that outcome.


            • That’s it. Sometimes, arguments aren’t about proving what’s true. Sometimes they’re just a list of things you say to convince people to agree with you. If one doesn’t work, try another and store that first one to try again on another person. It’s the agreeing that’s important.


              • Arguing-for useta mean citing facts. Arguing-against useta mean citing uncertainty about those facts. More and more, arguing isn’t about facts or uncertainty about those facts, but politically motivated epistemic ‘facts” which confirm a narrative.

                We’ve reached the point of no return, seems to me. We’re entering a brave new world.


        • I’ve noticed a distinct decline in the number of YECs I come across these days. I expect that is correct to attribute that, in part, to the rise of Internet searching. I sometimes miss the inanity,[1] especially given the newer, more virulent strains of bullshit that seem to be filling the ecological niche once inhabit

          Demographics may also be playing a role. There are fewer young Evangelicals than there once were (a shift that has come up a few times around here recently), which means there are fewer bright-eyed Rhetors for Christ who want to test out their new skills on the heathens.

          [1] A YEC once accused me of inventing information theory. If only. My academic career would have been much more successful.


          • Information theory has only been around about 70 years? Shannon was, what, early 50s? YEC’s might be a bit behind on their literature….:)

            I had not thought about YEC in terms of the evangelicals finally catching up on the membership losses. (As in, they are finally seeing the same decline as their brethen saw a decade or two back). I think that might be explanatory for a lot of the recent changes in Evangelical Christianity.

            But I had mentally assigned the lack of YEC (in favor of the old-earth ones or the other flavors of “some evolution” types) as simply the advent of the internet and the need to find more….convincing….apologetics.

            Although watching some of the more clever among them butcher information theory, or biochemistry, is painful. I can’t ever tell if they really believe that garbage or if they’re trying to sell a product to rubes.


            • Shannon’s first paper on information theory was even earlier–1948! The exchange was particularly weird because I was literally in the middle of reading it when this guy came along.


              • Yeah, I once got into a rather weird conversation with a guy insisting you couldn’t generate “new information”, only find “already existing information” (that being some weird metric for how evolution happened, but didn’t happen, or something).

                It got real weird when I asked him how he defined and measured information. He was really surprised it could be measured and defined.

                And that people did it, and not “evolutionists” and “Darwinists” but that it was done by a guy from Bell Labs, and had jack-all to do with evolution, so couldn’t have been done as some sneaky fake science to trip him up…


        • Yep, they love the second law of thermodynamics, which to them is “scientific proof evolution is impossible” because entropy always increases.

          Therefore, you can’t evolve more complex life forms because it’s against entropy! Which always increases, which is a LAW SIR. Physics says evolution can’t happen, full stop.

          The first step there is asking them to read the entirety of the second law, and specifically the words “in a closed system” and then invite them to marvel a the existence of the sun.

          If they struggle, point out that you did the dishes earlier today, which decreased the entropy of your kitchen, and ask how that fits. :)


            • It gets boring real fast because (1) they don’t understand (2) don’t want to understand and (3) will simply switch to another argument the second you push back.

              Understanding is not something they want. Conversion is what they want. Understanding thermodynamics and where you went wrong (because you, as the Darwinist you are, are wrong. You’ve been brainwashed by atheistic, Darwin worshipping cultists) takes time, time not spent bringing you to the glory of Christ.

              And they have so many reasons evolution is wrong, so why waste time?


            • There used to be a YEC on talk.origins who also believed he’d invented a perpetual motion machine.

              That was hilarious to watch. He’d put magnets on a track, which moved a ball around. I watched a physicist patiently walk him through it over and over.

              It did not help.


          • If they struggle, point out that you did the dishes earlier today, which decreased the entropy of your kitchen, and ask how that fits. :)

            Totes the ultimate burn, bro. How could they even be alive after that scalding??


          • More importantly, work is done in the process of moving from a low to high entropy state – in your example, dishes ended up washed and stocked orderly in the cupboard.
            Even if the Earth is a closed system that was wound up by God at its creation (a low entropy state) and uses up its fixed input of energy as it moves to a high entropy state, then what prevents evolution from being part of the work being done during that process? Sure, you are using up all your energy, but it is being used to perform work.
            I think most YEC’s hang on to the “entropy is an increase in disorder” definition of entropy, because the popular definition of disorder fits their narrative better – everything is getting worse and worse since the Fall!


            • Yeah, they do hang a lot on the Fall, on Noah’s ark (their fun definition of “micro-evolution happens but not macro” boils down to “Noah brought the “kinds of animals” on the ark, and they might have diversified from there, but no new “kinds” with “kinds” being quite fluid).

              Blah. Evolution is taught poorly anyways, at least at the public education level, and generally taught that way to avoid angering the religious. I wonder if they go into cladistics yet? A lot of evolutionary misconceptions revolve around categorization, which is at times a bit….deprecated.

              Cladistics nicely cleans up evolutionary relationships and allows good visualization of the process.

              Plus it’s always fun to point out that dinosaurs didn’t die out — we still have them. And they’re delicious in tacos.


            • Even if the Earth is a closed system that was wound up by God at its creation (a low entropy state) and uses up its fixed input of energy as it moves to a high entropy state, then what prevents evolution from being part of the work being done during that process?

              This is a very important point, and the key things that aren’t closed systems in biology are really the organisms (and perhaps populations, when you talk about evolution), and those organisms do a really great job taking free energy and making it into, uh, not-so-free energy in order to grow, maintain homeostasis, and do all the other stuff that “increases order”.

              Indeed, in addition to being barmy on its own terms, I could never really get YECs to explain why their “entropy” objection to evolution didn’t apply just as well to organisms living in general.


    • I had a Mormon at my door who was flabbergasted that I didn’t want to have a conversation about Jesus…

      At my door…

      After 7PM…

      With my Great Pyrenees mix barking* his fool head off while trying to get past me so he could have just a nibble off the guy.

      *He’s only 65 lbs, but he has that 200 lbs bark, the kind that reverbs across mountain ranges and makes predators think twice about those tasty sheep.


      • We live two blocks down the street from a Mormon church. We go for years between visits by the usual proselytizers. I figure it’s a combination of “don’t piss off the neighbors” by the Mormons and “don’t poach on the Mormons’ home turf” by the other sects.


  7. Here’s my question: it seems clear from the tone of this (and, as I read the thread, an express acknowledgment) that you are, no longer, a YEC. Are you still in touch with people that are? Do you engage them on that point? Why do you think they persist?


    • Yeah, I’m no longer a YEC. I am now an “evolutionist”.

      I am no longer in touch with anyone from that part of my life except for family members, but, yeah, some of them are still YECs. In my day to day life, though, I encounter a handful in the computer labs here or there. (Some really good programmers that I used to work with were YECs.)

      I do not try to convert any of my relatives.

      As for co-workers, I gingerly push and prod from time to time, but, inevitably, if someone overhears and they are of the wrong temperment, they get into it with the YEC and they, inevitably, start reinforcing the dialectic from sentence one and I’m as likely as not to argue against the “evolutionist”.

      Because, even in the computer lab, most people don’t know biology that well, the Krebs Cycle, etc. and my interest in the YEC thing is in exposing that there is stuff that is measurable and true underneath the dialectic and showing that the dialectic is surfable plants more seeds than arguing about whether Peking Man was *REALLY* a hoax.


      • @nevermoor We actually have a couple of close friends who are, technically YECs but they just don’t push their beliefs on other people. Jack YECs, I guess? Like, they literally do believe that, but they also admit that a) science is not their forte, b) the preponderance of evidence is against them. And they have no interest in evangelizing or debate. “Well, that’s how I was raised and it’s what I believe, but no skin off my nose.” They don’t believe it’s necessary for salvation.

        So it’s not a sticking point. The transition from one to the other is interesting to me (as a student of religion) but not interesting enough to press someone who doesn’t want to be pressed.


        • I suspect a large number of YEC’s, though maybe not a majority of them, fall either on the end of the spectrum your friends do, or somewhere between the ultra-proselytizers that Jaybird describes. Like your friends, they may not want to go out of their way to force feed the belief to others, but unlike your friends, they may occasionally find themselves in discussions that can get progressively heated.

          I say that because there is a type of ostensibly pro-science person who likes to bait YEC’s or other religious people and see them lose their cool and get emotional. They, too, are trying to expose something like a dialectic and and working for an audience in addition to engaging (or seeming to engage) their interlocutors. They have their own stock “whatabout” and “if that is false then some horrible other thing must be true” arguments.

          While I say that a “large number” of YEC’s fall somewhere short of the ultra-proselytizing end of the spectrum, I’m prepared to admit that a significantly large number, perhaps even a majority, of YEC’s might indeed fall close to that proselytizing end. I suppose this is an empirical question (one for which I don’t have the data). But I do suspect that YEC is part of an evangelizing approach in a way that “science, fish yeah!” is not. Or perhaps it’s just that the “science,fish yeah!” component has fewer people.


          • There is an argument out there that points out that “Atheism” is another religion.

            This argument usually immediately turns into a motte/bailey argument that doesn’t move past one of the parties reading the definition from the dictionary and then yelling “Q.E.D.!” at the top of his (almost always inevitably a “his”) lungs.


            • I’ve been guilty of that myself. I suppose I still believe the more defensible version of that argument (I always forget whether the motte or the bailey is the more defensible).

              That version is that in order to believe the types of claims necessary to have working certainty about the non-existence of god, the atheist has to make certain assumptions about the nature of the universe that resemble very closely the same types of assumptions or leaps of faith religious people do. I suppose I’m assuming “atheist” to be something like a strict materialist, I suppose “religious people” is too broad a category, and I also suppose that “working certainty” leaves out agnosticism, except insofar as the agnostic in question subscribes to certain notions about the nature of the universe.


              • It’s also possible to look at it from the form of the dialectic.

                Does this person go into the world, try to find people who don’t believe as he does, try to convert them (or plant a seed), and won’t stop talking about it? Does he insist you not enjoy your favored entertainments and, instead, enjoy entertainments that he finds to be more personally pleasing? Does he have opinions on your private life and points out that, if you want to be a *REALLY* good person, you’ll change?


                • If you’re talking about Christopher Hitchens, then yes, who seems to argue that religious uprbringing is child abuse (and by implication, if something is child abuse,then a third person has the prerogative, even obligation, to intervene on how someone else raises that child).

                  If you’re talking about most atheists, I’d say that as a rule, no. Some people, however, do wish to impose vaccines on others against their will in the name of a greater good, or wish to compel people to attend approved public or private schools (and not be home-schooled) in the name of either the best interests of the child’s socialization or the best interest of society. But not all of those people are atheists and not all atheists do that. (And to be clear, I support making vaccines compulsory while I’m (ahem) agnostic about home schooling.)

                  And then, I’ll have to allow for human weakness. Some atheists, who on a day-to-day basis don’t like telling people how to live, make disparaging remarks about those religious kooks in some situations because, as we all do, they want to get a few laughs from some likeminded people, not worrying if there’s a religious person with them. I think such instances of human weakness are important enough to note, but not important enough to overturn your point.

                  ETA: I hasten to add that I usually don’t believe the behavior of a believer reflects on whether the belief is right or not.


            • My objection to this is that “religion” is more than just a bunch of beliefs about the world and its relationship to various divine or supernatural entities. Atheism may colorably be argued, in some circumstances, to require similar leaps of faith or brute assertions about the world, but it involves much less incense-burning, chanting, wine-and-cracker consumption, and the like.

              From time to time, I’ve found myself drawn to religion. It’s never once been because I’ve started finding the idea of God more persuasive, or I’ve liked the idea of having that “higher purpose” or whatever. It’s usually been because I’ve been bummed out and lonely and find the idea of getting up to go some place with a bunch of other people and sing and listen to stories and maybe get some (probably trite) life advice sounds really appealing.


              • My objection to this is that “religion” is more than just a bunch of beliefs about the world and its relationship to various divine or supernatural entities.

                I would go on to add that it entails various totems and taboos, virtues and vices, sins and (come back to this later when you find an ‘S’ word DO NOT FORGET TO COME BACK TO THIS), sinners and saints.

                If you’ve got yourself a universalist code that you find yourself capable of applying to other people and finding them wanting… well, you just might be at the tip of an iceberg, there.

                Even if, granted, you don’t believe in eternal punishment because you know in your heart that the Creator, if there is a Creator, would never, ever, ever do such a thing.


  8. It was the exuberance that they had us focus on. Not the fact that there was nowhere *NEAR* consensus among scientists at the time. Certainly not the fact that once it was found out that stuff was retracted appropriately. It was the enthusiasm for finding this stuff in the first place.

    This certainly does seem like an effective way to persuade an audience of evangelists that their foils have a religious faith in something. The scientists were spreading the Good News (or, from a YEC perspective, the Bad News)!


  9. (I admit: I had honestly thought that there would be a non-zero number of Acolytes of Somebody-Or-Other who had “young earth” or “creationism” on auto-search in Google and would have shown up and started arguing against this post as if it were the proverbial kid on the beach.)


    • The fossil evidence for evolution is weak to non-existent on most planets. What the overall geologic record will show is that a planet spends hundreds of millions of years as a nearly lifeless rock, generally with a toxic atmosphere, and then over about a thousand years the atmosphere clears up, and then all the plants and animals are created in a virtual eye blink, along with the dominant intelligent species.

      Planet after planet shows the same pattern. Now a few hard-core nuts out there claim that all those different plants and animals evolved very slowly, always on “some other planet”, but there’s very little evidence of this. Each suggested example of this “other planet”, the “evolutionary origin” world, turns out to show the same pattern of creation, just a few thousand years earlier.

      That’s not saying there couldn’t have been some planet where advanced life took hundreds of millions of years to evolve, since it’s theoretically possible, but it is highly unlikely because no such planet has been found. Perhaps its star exploded or perhaps some cataclysmic war with massive asteroid strikes destroyed it, but so far galactic survey ships haven’t turned up a likely candidate. The planets of other intelligent species show the same pattern.

      Sure, life shows some variation between forms, but not between kinds. It’s nothing nothing nothing then boom, an ocean with fully formed fish, squid, sharks, and whales. Squirrels, rabbits, and elephants appear all at once. There is some variation between planets, because of their slightly different atmospheres and soils, but the predominant pattern is that there is always the creation of squirrels, rabbits, and elephants, with no transitional forms like a “squirrelephant”.

      According to geology, life is created all at once, according to relatively fixed templates, on world after world after world, going all the way back to the Great Database Crash of Year 0.


    • I think a decade ago you would have gotten a horde of them to come here. There was a time when Evangelical Christianity and New Atheism was one of the biggest ideological battles in America and seemed set to be so for a long time. Then it seems people just lost interest.

      I think there’s probably an element of demographic change at work but also the big political battles both in America and the larger world no longer seem to be primarily about religion vs secularism like they did in the Bush era. I lay you odds that the current alt-right vs SJW obsession will appear to be a similar passing fancy a decade from now as the zeitgeist shifts.


      • Well, Christianity has been in a bit of decline in America (we’re quite a ways behind Europe, but I think that’s because separation of Church and State has actually led to a more vibrant religious life in America. Nothing kills religious belief like tying it to the dreary mundanity of the state. ) for some time.

        I think the religious vs. secularism battle was something of an artifact of the Evangelicals flexing their muscles (while the mainline churches saw attendance drops, the Evangelicals held steady or grew — gaining far more influence) AND as something of a proxy for the overall decline of Christianity in America.

        Which culminated in the gay marriage fight. Which not only did the Evangelicals ultimately lose, but they heavily poisoned the well with younger members — and saw the public, when the last shoe drop, rather rapidly acclimate to the notion.

        And I think the religious v. secular thing fell to the wayside — gay marriage became a more potent proxy, and the whole “people aren’t coming to church” stopped being an urgent problem and just became a fact of life for the mainline Churches.

        And the evangelicals, bluntly, seemed really smug in the “We’re clearly the REAL church here, we’re growing fast!” during that whole thing. Now that they’re losing members — I’m wondering what the proxy will be for their anxiety.

        Gay marriage is gone as an issue. Transgender rights is a losing issue — it won’t work as a proxy. And the evangelicals seem to have wedded themselves to Trump, which is….deeply weird.

        He almost certainly doesn’t care about abortion, probably isn’t actually a believer in the Christian sense, has no real dog in the gay marriage or LBGT rights fights (in fact, if he bothers to get involved at all, it’s more to try to stick a thumb in Obama’s eye than any real concern), and is a thrice-married admitted sexual assaulter…..

        He’s literally the nightmare candidate of the Evangelicals and he’s…somehow their man. They not just supported him, they’re not abandoning him.


        • A few months ago I ran across an interesting article saying that Christianity was badly hurt over the past few decades by having summer church camps market a shallow, happy Jesus form of the religion. If Christianity is about making little clay pots, singing idiotic songs, and playing volleyball, then it can’t be very deep. But churches were convinced about the need for such cheesy outreach efforts.

          In other news, Saint Peter has just been found in an old church in Rome. I never knew he was missing.


  10. Now, this might strike one as silly, but my little corner was taught that Young Earth Creationism was at the foundation of our Christian Faith.

    If only they’d shown you some Rod Dreher columns, so you’d have know that the true foundation of Christian Faith is not accepting teh gays.


  11. This is great.

    My impression, from my time actively participating in the culture/science wars a decade or so ago (damn, I’m old) is that YEC is alive and somewhat well, but now a more fringe position even among creationists. ID creationism is much more popular, though its influence has waned it seems as well (perhaps do to both the prevalence of easily digestible counterarguments and a handful of defeats in court).

    I have run into a few YECs in the last few years, mostly in the Old South, mostly among the sorts of Evangelicals you’d expect to find them among. Which makes me think there are probably more who just don’t advertise the fact around me when I’m not greatly outnumbered by their own kind.


    • ID creationism has the benefit of complete and total untestability and, indeed, it’s pretty much baked into any theory of God existing that entails Him loving us, watching over us, having wonderful plans for our lives, etc.

      On top of that, Biology Proper still can’t manage to pull away from teleology whenever it has had a glass of wine or two and that’s one heck of a slim end of a very long wedge.


      • I imagine ID is very hard to excited about the way can get excited about YEC. It’s one thing to say that to deny the literal truth of the creation account in Genesis [1] is to deny Christ, and you get megafloods and the dinosaurs dying out because those two triceratops not quite making it to the Ark on time, all this stuff that’s totally daft as science but is awe inspiring or at least kind of fun as mythology.

        Instead, you’re supposed to point out how some little bit of some metabolic pathway is a miracle, or say that the only thing that could give the paramecium its flagella is the direct intervention of God. ISTR that an Evangelical acquaintance of mine, who was a biologist and, like virtually any biologist, accepted evolution, saying that he regarded ID as essentially blasphemous, because it ends up confining God to a tiny, stupid, boring box.

        ID leaves you with the worst of all worlds as a Christian [2], I think, because you give up the compelling human narrative of a real creation myth, but you also single out little bits of the natural as God’s handiwork instead of accepting that it is all, in its incomprehensible vastness and complexity, a testament to His glory.

        So if we’re looking for something else that probably did the cause of Creationist evangelism no good, ID fits the bill.

        [1] Well, at least one of the creation accounts in Genesis. But despite my Jewish upbringing, I think the best Biblical creation story is by far the one in the Gospel of John.

        [2] OK, I’m an atheist so this is even less grounded in experience than my typical blatherings.


        • ID was all the rage among Evangelicals for a while, less so, I gather, because they liked the theology than because it stood a better chance of passing legal muster in the United States, since they could (disingenuously) claim it wasn’t about Christianity. Some people made a whole lot of money and became minor celebrities on the backs of ID supporters.


          • Yeah, that was a big part of the motivation. And it would have been one thing if it had worked in the courts.

            It didn’t, but it seemed to stick around. I can’t help but think that in sticking around, it leeched a lot of the excitement out of being a Creationist.


            • I think Jay’s right when he said the internet made creationism more difficult to spread. And that doesn’t just mean spreading to new adult converts, but keeping the indoctrinated children properly indoctrinated as well.


        • Instead, you’re supposed to point out how some little bit of some metabolic pathway is a miracle, or say that the only thing that could give the paramecium its flagella is the direct intervention of God.

          Not necessarily. You can do something as simple as affirming the consequent. “Eyes evolved to help organisms see things.”

          Easy peasy.


            • There was a funny cartoon on Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal the other day that compared first years with post-grad Biology students.

              First Years: Biology is a beautiful concert of Nature!
              Post-Grads: Holy crap everything is held together by duct tape and zip ties…


          • I think there are two problems there. One is a simple matter of, well, advocacy–people often have a gut feeling that that’s how evolution works anyway! (This is the whole teleology thing you mentioned.)

            The other is that it’s incredibly easy to come up with a set of plausible steps that get you from not having eyes to having eyes. Most of them are still extant in nature, and on top of that eyes seem to have evolved independently several times. It’s very possible people covered the basic story in that high school biology class and remember it.

            One reason ID focused on these little proteins here and there was that they needed stuff where you couldn’t just answer, “Well, we can get there with a set of incremental improvements, all of which provide plausible benefits that will be selected for.” Eyes, ears, and most of the rest of the big, familiar, complicated chunks of life don’t fit the bill very well at all.


            • Convergent Evolution is also really interesting.

              How come dolphins and sharks are so similar?

              How come there are carnivorous plants that aren’t related to each other? I mean, and not just on Australia either?

              Getting to there from here without some kind of teleology is possible but… man, you’re re-writing sentences three or four times to avoid it.


              • How come dolphins and sharks are so similar?

                Because the environments they live in, which are what drive evolution, are similar. Honestly, that doesn’t seem like a hard one.


                • I’ve always liked “If man came from monkeys, why are there still monkeys”.

                  Which is so incredibly wrong on so many levels that a dedicated response would take a few hours.

                  Although a general “You came from your parents and they’re still alive. So are your cousins.” is a generalized rebuttal, although again absolutely wrong on details because so many fundamental facts are wrong with that one simple stupid statement.


                • Because the environments they live in, which are what drive evolution, are similar. Honestly, that doesn’t seem like a hard one.

                  But there are also feather stars! And octopodes! And jellyfish! Oh, my goodness, jellyfish!

                  “Whatever works” seems to have a lot of elbow room.


                  • The ocean has a lot of elbow room, and a lot of niches that organisms can evolve to exploit.

                    Sharks and dolphins are both high speed predators, makes sense they’d share features that enable high speed predation.


                    • I think the current evidence is eyes developed multiple times, independently. Light sensitive cells are not exactly a huge reach, evolutionarily speaking, and from then on specializing into better light sensitive cells worked out pretty well.

                      Evolution is just a funky way of doing engineering — ask a million people to build a working bridge across a river using the junk at hand, and you’ll have a million different bridges — but they’re all going to share pretty big similarities, because physics constrains their solutions.


                  • It’s true that lots of things work. But if something works really well (as evidenced by how long sharks have been around virtually unchanged), it’s not surprising it would work for other species too. My understanding is that cats were domesticated long after dogs and copied “be cute and highly anthropomorphizable” very effectively.


                    • There are also gobs and gobs of examples of “things that swim in the ocean and eat swimming prey” so the fact that two of them look the same shouldn’t be super shocking. If all of them looked the same, that would be a little weird, but it’s a good local maximum and a whole lot of different species are in that region looking for one. Having a few matches seems inevitable.


    • That’s a good essay.

      One of the paragraphs I considered writing for the original piece but finally realized that I couldn’t crowbar it in was talking about learning all of these skills strikes me as similar to learning that turtle-programming language back in the 80’s and getting really, really good at it.


  12. I really appreciate Jaybird’s story, and in some ways it explains my experiences. I was raised Catholic, but from around 11 years old or so was strongly influenced by evangelicalism (read my story here, if you don’t mind reading a long, overindulgent post about my upbringing). The evangelical circles I was in weren’t YEC oriented. There were some people, probably a minority, who affirmed a belief in YEC. Most of the rest subscribed to something like YEC-lite, or perhaps ID, even though this was before ID was what it’s become. Mixed in with that was anti-evolutionism, but anti-evolutionism covers a pretty wide array of ways to look at things.

    Regardless of what I claim were most people’s (in my circles at least) refusal to sign on to YEC, almost all of them probably believed that it deserved a hearing. In that sense, it had a legitimacy that modern-day science denies it. In that way, then, we (or most of us) were part of the “audience” that Jaybird and his YEC colleagues were trying to impress. We weren’t necessarily the whole of the audience or even the main audience. We were already alternates on the choir’s roster, so it probably wasn’t quite as efficacious to preach to us. But we did catch on and catch on quickly to what Jaybird calls “the dialectic.”

    For the record, I consider myself an agnostic now, but I still probably take a YEC-friendly stance. True, I believe that science is right to deny YEC legitimacy; I’m not sure there is a god; I’ve lost my faith; etc. But to a significant extent, I still see myself as part of that tribe. Which is weird, given that most of the rest of my family (except my Pentecostal brother) is Catholic or recovering Catholic, and my in-laws and wife are Jewish.


      • That’s pretty far beyond my pay grade, to be honest. From what little I know of the citric acid cycle and ADP/ATP, I can imagine something like a rational explanation for the evolution behind that process. The “explanation” I imagine is not a good one–I was pretty bad at chemistry, physics, and math–it’s more like, “a bunch of chemicals react in a certain pathway and eventually react the way the citric acid cycle does.” Not very convincing, I know.

        I suppose a firmer believer in evolution than I would say that the fact no one has come up with a credible or rational explanation doesn’t mean such an explanation doesn’t exist. Of course, the believer in evolution in question assumes away the existence of any non-materialist explanation. And frankly, I don’t see how one can prove or disprove that assumption. Which is partly where I hang my agnostic-but-leans-toward-theism hat on.

        Or maybe I’m misunderstanding your point? I apologize if I’ve mis-responded.


        • I think you understand my point, but the “a bunch of chemicals react…” does not really begin to address the problem. It is a classic chicken/egg dilemma, as illustrated by two statements in the Wikipedia entry for Ribosome:

          “The ribosome (/?ra?b??so?m, -bo?-/[1]) is a complex molecular machine, found within all living cells, that serves as the site of biological protein synthesis (translation).”

          “In eukaryotes, the process [ribosome synthesis] takes place both in the cell cytoplasm and in the nucleolus, which is a region within the cell nucleus. The assembly process involves the coordinated function of over 200 proteins in the synthesis and processing of the four rRNAs, as well as assembly of those rRNAs with the ribosomal proteins.”



          • When I was doing this more regularly, people seemed to be leaning towards the idea that we started with RNA first (because RNAs can fold up in a manner not entirely like proteins, and those folded RNAs can have similar catalytic properties), and proteins came later.

            It’s still vague as hell, of course, but there are aspects of how both RNA and proteins fold that makes it a little easier to believe the pump was primed with stuff that worked just barely well enough for selective pressures to take hold.


                • Well, some might find lab experiments like that very satisfying. I simply do not. A barrel of accidental ribonucleotides with no biological context is meaningless. No information. No function. No purpose.


                  • This is step A out of a series that stretches across millions of years. It’s like figuring out how a washer is made as you investigate the origins of your car. The washer itself has no context, or function, or purpose until you pair it with a screw and a threaded receptacle (a nut or threaded hole). Then you have an idea as to what that can do, but you probably still need to figure out how the bolt and nut came to be and got matching threads.


                    • Yes, the ribonucleotides would be just one accidental complex element. But it would have to either self-replicate or remain intact for those millions of years. Why, when by itself it is useless, would that happen in a universe where entropy is the inescapable rule?

                      Proximity is also a terrible problem. The world might be a big lab. But at the molecular level, another accidental piece of an assembly just a millimeter away might as well be on the other side of the planet. The twain, in all probability, will never meet….and so on.

                      Again, I understand that imaginary, incremental development sounds reasonable and believable to lots of people. But it just doesn’t to me. I have no faith in coincidence.


                      • The universe is teeming with coincidence. Hell, one of our evolutionary failures is the fact the we often misinterpret coincidence as fitting into a pattern, as being a necessary part of a pattern, as having greater meaning than mere coincidence. This is the genesis of every single conspiracy theory.

                        But as for coincidence at the micro level, chemistry wouldn’t happen if not for coincidence. Stars would not exist, would never ignite, were it not for coincidence.

                        Or perhaps what we should do is label things properly, because coincidence is nothing more than a low probability event taking place in an infinite universe.


                        • “coincidence is nothing more than a low probability event taking place”

                          Exactly. And that is why, given the phenomenal complexity of things like ribosome, I don’t innumerable coincidences assembling such a machine….for no reason at all.


                            • I’m not sure which words you are referring to. But my larger point is that the explanations about origins are, in my view, simply not adequate. A high stack of low probability events just does not add up to plausibility.

                              I respect whatever others accept or choose to believe, but at the end of it, that’s all I see, acceptance and belief. It has been my experience that people just believe in things they like.

                              Thanks for your responses.


                              • Law of large numbers. If you run an experiment a zillion times you will get all the low probability events to occur. Give a few hundred millions years and , approximately, a gazillion chemical experiments then low probability events are a certainty. Even a stack of low probability events will happen.


                                • “If you run an experiment a zillion times you will get all the low probability events to occur. Give a few hundred millions years…”

                                  Yes, I understand that as the basis for the belief. However, with biological or sub-biological things, the intervals in between the events become obstacles. Our universe is hostile. Things would decay and decompose in those intervals. There is no mechanism to preserve accidental chemical assemblies, much less collections of such assemblies for millions of year. They would disappear as quickly as they occurred.

                                  But I don’t mind if you accept that it is all entirely plausible. I just don’t feel compelled to believe things like that.


                                  • The earth actually seems pretty hospitable to life. The rest of the universe, well, we don’t’ really know. But the the earth has had life of various sorts for most of it’s existence. FWIW.


                                  • Let me ask this, then: What is your point of acceptance*? What evidence, if presented to you, would start you down the path of accepting the possibility?

                                    *One does not believe in scientific theories, one accepts them or one does not.


                                    • “What is your point of acceptance*? What evidence, if presented to you, would start you down the path of accepting the possibility?”

                                      It would take a lot, I admit. My personal bar is set high. But what evidence is there? The 2009 article you linked to certainly would not count because conscious deliberation and control was involved.

                                      At this point, and I do try to follow the literature, I don’t know of anything that really qualifies as evidence. It is just ideas. Perhaps you are familiar with Nick Lane. While I find his proposals interesting, they are only conjecture.

                                      What do you accept as evidence that hyper-complex things can develop over time with no coercion of any kind?


                                      • Law of large numbers works for me.

                                        I mean, I’m not opposed to the idea that some entity, at some point, gave the whole process a push here and there. But that is merely one possible explanation out of many, and it’s one I would need to see some evidence for. The wired article, while done in a lab, demonstrated the necessary process. Put the right mix in the right spot and subject them to the right conditions (and all of the ‘right’ stuff here is actually quite common, so we aren’t reaching too hard) and things will auto-assemble. Chemistry is funny that way, organic chemistry even more so.

                                        Maybe the ‘intent’, if you have to have it, is not in the assembly of the molecules, but rather in the physical laws that make the assembly possible.


                                  • Why do you think you would need to preserve them for hundreds of millions of years, though? Once you have the barest necessities, you are no longer bound to those very slow time scales. You get processes that happen very quickly (seconds is quite slow) and massively in parallel (10^20, say, happening at once).


                              • This is because is you are demanding meaning from the meaningless, and intentional function from that which has no intended purpose.

                                The universe has no purpose, it has no meaning. It just is the current result of a handful of physical laws and relationships that fell into place shortly after the big bang. Once you come to terms with that reality, the probability of intelligent life arising across an infinite universe and massive time scales is, frankly, probable.


                        • “one of our evolutionary failures is the fact the we often misinterpret coincidence as fitting into a pattern”

                          This is a complete side note, not a critique of your argument which I agree with and I’m glad you made, but that’s not really a failure, it’s just a side effect of needing to think fast and find patterns. 100 conspiracy theorists are worth the ability to spot a predator in the grass before it leaps, or to find that damn berry patch again (regardless of the reason why you remember it). I’m sure if we uplifted other mammals a la David Brin, they’d all be crazy paranoid too – I see it in my cats already!


                          • Perhaps ‘failure’ is too strong of a term. Side effect is better. Either way, it supports my position.

                            Pattern recognition is an obvious evolutionary success! It helps us spot predators and berry patches. And the side effect of seeing patterns within coincidences fits within evolution, since evolution wouldn’t care that we occasionally get a false positive.

                            Now, an intelligent designer, on the other hand…


                            • Indeed.

                              There are reasons why an intelligent designer might not mind that, but it takes a lot of work to figure them out, and it’s far from a default hypothesis.

                              I think a lot of folks who don’t want to “believe” in evolution just don’t get what accepting a tidy default hypothesis actually means… to be fair lots of people (not you!) who proclaim their belief in evolution don’t get it either.

                              Accepting evolution doesn’t actually mean someone has to give up completely on their intelligent designer, they just have to rethink what that actually might mean, and then operate from a position of faith, not mistaken intellectual conviction, when talking about God’s role in nature. I mean, the entire Catholic church did it, so I fair to see how it’s such a stumbling block as all that.

                              Having been raised post-Vatican-II Catholic, I’m always like, “why does this even bother you???” when religious people turn it into an either / or…. not because there aren’t reasons to be bothered philosophically – accepting evolution does require a far more complicated God – but just because a watchmaker God (or even a biotechnician God) was never presented to me as a thing I might want there to be.

                              (Not saying that you HAVE to believe God has a role in nature, either, it’s a perfectly respectable position to see things the way you do and intellectually I lean that way far more than the other – what faith I have, doesn’t come from my intellect. But it’s not actually required to give up on that, to accept evolution or… the vast majority of modern science, either.)


                              • See, I have no problem with the idea of a ‘watchmaker’ entity. It’s all the other baggage, like trying to divine what it wants for us or from us, etc. that I find annoying.

                                Who cares? These are the rules we’ve been given, let’s work with that.

                                Hell, maybe the watchmaker did it’s thing because it wants more watchmakers to talk to, and it’s patiently waiting until we learn to make watches. Is that such a nihilistic idea?


                                • It’s not a nihilistic idea, but it’s a far cry from meaninglessness.

                                  FWIW, I don’t actually care if someone is into a watchmaker entity or not, I just don’t see it as necessary to a conception of God. Nor do I see a conception of God as necessary.


                  • Something to think about:

                    What are the odds of winning the Powerball or MegaMillions jackpot?

                    Powerball: 1 in 292,201,338
                    MegaMillions: 1 in 258,890,850

                    Astronomically high, ain’t it?

                    And yet, with two drawings a week, someone *STILL* wins that every couple of weeks or so. Indeed, it’s rare if someone doesn’t win any given jackpot for more than a month… that is to say, eight drawings.

                    Now imagine trillions of barrels of accidental ribonucleotides with no biological context buying tickets. And drawings are held several times a minute.

                    Make the odds as high as you like, I’ll point out that someone wins the MegaMillions every few drawings.


                            • Well, you can’t evaluate supposed accidental complexity without invoking probabilities.

                              In a post above, I noted that ribosome synthesis depends on complex protein interactions, and proteins are synthesized by ribosome. If you can accept that this arrangement is the result of random chemical events, then you have your answer. I just don’t buy that.


                              • You don’t have to.

                                But if you looked at the numbers for MegaMillions, you might be tempted to say “It’ll take *CENTURIES* for somebody to hit the jackpot!”

                                And I’m just pointing out that it doesn’t take centuries.

                                It takes around 4-5 drawings. And, indeed, it’s rare when nobody hits the jackpot after 8-9 drawings.

                                Those are single digits.


                                • “But if you looked at the numbers for MegaMillions”

                                  Lotteries are designed, and organized. They are limited, controlled, deliberate and entirely too simple to be analogous to something like ribosome accidentally assembling. In my view, analogies are rarely useful in analyzing the development of anything biological because they encourage overoptimism.

                                  On the other hand, and more to the point, you could apply what was learned from Lenski’s E coli experiment to something like whale evolution, and become quite discouraged.


                                    • “What is discouraging about Lenski’s evolution experiment?”

                                      The experiment is impressive enough. After 31,000 generations, one of Lenski’s original 12 populations could process citrate in an aerobic environment. To date, as far as I’m aware, that is the most important adaption that has been observed, and all it took to do that was acquiring (perhaps, reacquiring) a transporter protein.

                                      Whales are generally believed to have made the transition from a wolf-sized land dwelling animal to a fully aquatic marine mammal in a few million years. The figures vary, but I will use a round figure of 15 million. And to keep it simple, I won’t get tangled up in longer gestation periods, or time necessary to grow to sexual maturity, etc.. Let’s just let call each year a generation.

                                      If you use Lenski’s results, and say that an adaptive trait can be achieved every 30,000 generations, then you could divide 15,000,000 by 30,000, and that should give a rough approximation for the number of evolutionary steps necessary to make the transition from Pakicetus to whatever supposed whale ancestor you want to use. 500 steps is not enough to do it. Something is obviously wrong.


                                      • Perhaps it’s because Lenski is working in a tightly controlled environment.

                                        Have you heard about this?

                                        PS Anybody with a stronger bio background want to step in, I’m hitting my limits without sitting down with a bio text or three. I mean, numerical systems and fluid dynamics only touch on these questions in a very tangential way.


                                          • Hey, anytime, it’s what I do.

                                            PS I’m not trying to change or attack your beliefs, I just want to make sure you understand the science and math (and scope).

                                            If you think you have it all down, and you still aren’t convinced, that’s alright.


                                            • Oh, I don’t think I have it all down by any means. But I do think asking hard questions is always in order, and avoiding them is not.

                                              I got interested in the mutations/selection paradigm some years ago when I was reading about DNA replication enzymes. I’ve asked many people how and why these could have evolved, but never get a straight answer (usually they don’t appreciate the questions being asked). But inasmuch as they serve to prevent the very thing that evolution depends on, it seems like a reasonably inquiry to me.


                                              • And you should ask the questions, but the reason you probably don’t get a straight answer is because we honestly don’t really know all the specifics yet. There are theories, and hypothesis, and a whole lot of assumptions floating around the whole field of evolutionary biology.

                                                Stepping a bit to the philosophical, one of the key qualities of a scientist is the ability to say, “I/We don’t know, but we are trying to figure it out.” In most fields, this isn’t an issue. No one expects a physicist to have fully plumbed the depths of Quantum Mechanics and have all the questions answered.

                                                But EvoBio is a bit of a tough field to be in, not only because it’s trying to answer questions with data that is real hard to get at (because much of it is lost to time), but also because there are an awful lot of people who get really upset at the answers that are implied by the data we do have. And I mean, REALLY upset, like you just called their mom a whore or something. And those people argue vociferously against the ideas of EvoBio, and use every spot of uncertainty to damn the whole field. So I tend to give people who are trying to answer the questions of EvoBio a healthy amount of charity if they equivocate a bit on questions they don’t have good answers to, because I’m pretty sure they’ve all been in ‘gotcha’ conversations, and after you’ve had a couple of those, you tend to chose your words very carefully.

                                                But the important thing to remember is that EvoBio is trying to answer a very complex set of questions with some pretty limited data. That’s a tough thing to do, and the answers are going to be incomplete, and have huge gaps, and that is OK, it’s how this whole thing works.


                                                • “the reason you probably don’t get a straight answer is because we honestly don’t really know all the specifics yet”

                                                  I’m sure that is the reason. But a lot of theory is riding on enormous assumptions which, in my mind, have not been adequately tested. I have never seen a serious attempt to outline how mutations and selection could actually result in any kind of system. I understand the reason for that as well. It is virtually impossible to conceive.


                                                  • I hate to tell you this, but a vast number of theories in science are supported by assumptions that are difficult to test and thus rest upon incomplete foundations. I mean, we have a Theory of Gravity because we don’t actually know how gravity works, we just know it does.

                                                    And no, they haven’t all been adequately tested to the point of removing all uncertainty, but many of them have been tested to the point that predictions can be made, and those predictions come true within a reasonable margin of error. I mean, the new immunotherapies for cancer – heavily dependent upon EvoBio theories that are still works in progress, but they’ve been fleshed out enough that we can tell your immune system to fight cancer.

                                                    I mean, I know this sounds like an argument from authority, but at some point, you have to stop and ask – am I demanding too much? I mean, the people who have dedicated years to learning and studying these questions are pretty sure the theories are as sound as they can be given what we know, and they aren’t just making untestable predictions and vaporware kind of work. They are getting real results from those theories, so something is correct. It’s enough that I would strongly recommend against discounting the field because it has gaps in theories, especially theories that are difficult to test, given A) The state of the art, and B) the funding available.*

                                                    It’s an imperfect system, but it’s the one we got that gets results in the end.

                                                    *If those questions really bug you, start a fund, kickstarter it for money, and give grants to researchers so they can find those answers.


                                                    • “the people who have dedicated years to learning and studying these questions are pretty sure the theories are as sound as they can be given what we know”

                                                      I’m talking about things just taken of faith, things that are not represented by theories. As far as I’m aware, there are no theories for how replication enzymes formed. People just accept that there was some undiscovered mechanism involved. I recognize that this is a common practice, but that is too far away from scientific method for me.


                                                      • I recognize that this is a common practice, but that is too far away from scientific method for me.

                                                        That is the first step in the scientific method.

                                                        P) I think that works this way.
                                                        Q) Can you prove it?
                                                        P) Not yet?
                                                        Q) So how do you support your assumptions?*
                                                        P) I can prove A, B, & C, which all imply that I’m in the ballpark.
                                                        Q) So you have some evidence, and a hypothesis regarding the mechanism at play based on that evidence, what do you need to test your hypothesis?
                                                        P) Well, a 20 mile long particle accelerator would be a big help.
                                                        Q) You can build whatever you need, as long as it fits in this lab.
                                                        P) It’s a start.**

                                                        * Remember assumptions are not WAGs or even SWAGs, they are statements made with some manner of evidence supporting them. Suppositions are made without evidence.

                                                        ** Theories about the nature of matter existed centuries before the technology and methodology existed to test them. The inability to fully test those theories neither made them unscientific, nor did it diminish the utility gained from those theories. Electron chemistry allowed for exceptionally accurate chemical reactions to take place long before we could prove that atoms were actually sharing electrons.


                                                      • I recognize that this is a common practice, but that is too far away from scientific method for me.

                                                        It’s not just common practice, it’s essential practice. Important discoveries and theoretical advancements are built on top of undiscovered mechanisms all the time, because how else are you even going to discover the mechanisms at all?


                                                        • “It’s not just common practice, it’s essential practice.”

                                                          Well, what I said was:

                                                          “As far as I’m aware, there are no theories for how replication enzymes formed. People just accept that there was some undiscovered mechanism involved.”

                                                          In my view, just accepting that those enzymes randomly formed is not good science (but I agree that it is essential in materialism). Complexity and function both put limits on coincidence, and science demands repeatable experiments, specifically to rule out coincidence (and false claims).

                                                          What we are actually talking about is attempts to make it impossible for anything to be impossible. But lots of things, like functional molecular machines forming accidentally, are simply not possible.


                                                          • But people accept such things routinely when they do science. People made great use of the inverse square law before there was anything like a plausible mechanism underlying gravity, and continued on to this very day, about four centuries later, where we still don’t really have a plausible mechanism underlying gravity. Most of my training is in physics, so I mostly focus on it, and it’s full of examples of people forging ahead with partial theories that are missing great chunks of precision because there’s no alternative.

                                                            For all you think that it’s impossible for functional molecular machines to arise “accidentally” (FSVO accidentally), it’s not, IMO, anything nearly as nuts as the early days of quantum electrodynamics and early takes on “renormalization”. They eventually got to a reasonably sensible rationale for using renormalization, but it was some decades after physicists began using it and getting useful results by doing so.


                                                            • “For all you think that it’s impossible for functional molecular machines to arise “accidentally” (FSVO accidentally), it’s not, IMO, anything nearly as nuts as the early days of quantum electrodynamics…”

                                                              But I don’t need a comparison with anything else to conduct the analysis.

                                                              We know a lot about the exquisite complexity and function of replication enzymes, and genes, and proteins, and ribosome. But there is not a stitch of evidence or any kind that should lead anyone to conclude that they just ‘arose’.


                                                              • You certainly do need comparison with other theories if you’re going to make appeals to the scientific method, and the scientific method simply does not function in the manner you assert. As for your claim that there is no evidence, you are not correct.

                                                                There may not be conclusive evidence (to the extent that there’s conclusive evidence of anything in science), but there is suggestive evidence, as there are really are organic molecules that will polymerize and fold up into functional shapes if you let them.

                                                                The ribosome is being postulated as the end result of a lengthy process, not something that sprang out of nowhere ex nihilo. Against that all you have offered is personal incredulity, which is not even suggestive evidence.


                                                                • “You certainly do need comparison with other theories…”

                                                                  These are stand-alone problems. If you want to invoke an analogy, you could compare it to anything else that is known to be impossible. Humans cannot run a mile in eleven seconds, or jump over a hundred foot wall. However, it we discover that cows really can jump over the moon, we will have reason to suppose that the individual components of any integrated biological system could be the result of random DNA replication errors.

                                                                  “The ribosome is being postulated as the end result of a lengthy process…”

                                                                  And what has been postulated about why such a lengthy process would occur? This is a critical question.

                                                                  “Against that all you have offered is personal incredulity…”

                                                                  I accept that as a compliment.


                                                                          • Nope. It’s the game of seeing who is capable of dealing with the issues in a way that is dispassionate vs. who is forced to resort to exposing that this is an issue of teams by attacking the other person on a personal level.

                                                                            Can you discuss such things as RNA without talking about how the other person is dumb?

                                                                            If you effing love science, can you effing love science enough to learn about something to the point where you can explain it to someone else who doesn’t have your background or will you resort to saying “if you don’t understand this, it’s your problem!”

                                                                            Is the argument about science or is it about something else entirely?

                                                                            If you aren’t able to sigh and explain it again, why should I believe that it’s not about something else entirely?


                                                                            • This does give one participant in the conversation a strong incentive to be deliberately annoying and feign incomprehension.

                                                                              Though I’d be rather surprised if the training you mentioned pointed that out explicitly.


                                                                              • The assumption that someone is feigning incomprehension when, really, they *DO* comprehend makes a lot of assumptions.

                                                                                In my experience, comprehension is its own reward.

                                                                                Truth is like a lion. You can only pretend that those are not the claws of Truth or the jaws of Truth for so long.

                                                                                Assume that the incomprehension is real. See where that takes you.


                                                                                • The assumption that someone is feigning incomprehension when, really, they *DO* comprehend makes a lot of assumptions.

                                                                                  It certainly does! Approaching conversations like an exercise in making the other person lose their cool first does make some of those assumptions a good deal more plausible, though. It raises the temptation to shift the away from science and towards teams, feelings, and all the rest.

                                                                                  I’m sure many of the newly trained missionaries for Creationism do a fine job resisting that temptation, though.


                                                                                  • I’m sure many of the newly trained missionaries for Creationism do a fine job resisting that temptation, though.

                                                                                    Resist it?

                                                                                    They come into it *KNOWING* that it’s not about science but about teams.


                                                                            • I guess that depends on what you consider “calling a person dumb”.

                                                                              I mean, if I make the claim (and it is not countered) that science is not a perfect endeavor, nor does it represent complete knowledge, and the other person runs back to an argument that is essentially “the perfect must be the enemy of the good” (e.g. I don’t like that explanation, it’s insufficient to me), then we have a motte & bailey kind of thing going on.

                                                                              So I wouldn’t call them dumb, but they also are clearly not trying to have an honest, good faith discussion.

                                                                              But that’s the point, isn’t it, because most spectators won’t know the difference…


                                                                              • So what would a real scientist do?

                                                                                Throw his glove and ball on the ground and say “THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE!”

                                                                                Start talking about how “you people don’t even want to discuss this sort of thing!”

                                                                                Sigh and explain it again?


                                                                                • Option one should be avoided, that doesn’t help anything.

                                                                                  Option 2 vs Option 3 kinda depends on the shape of the conversation. It’s one thing to keep asking questions, it’s something else to resort to Motte & Bailey tactics, or circular arguments, or any number of obvious fallacies. Even a real scientist will at some point decide s/he isn’t getting anywhere productive and walk away.


                                                                                  • Even a real scientist will at some point decide s/he isn’t getting anywhere productive and walk away.

                                                                                    So then the question becomes “what does a real scientist do before he decides that he needs to shake the dust off his feet and move on?”

                                                                                    I submit to you: the answer is not “shoot off a zinger that feels emotionally satisfying and gets everybody on the same team to yell ‘IN YOUR FACE!'”


                                                                                    • I didn’t realize one needed to sign your humanity in at the door when you entered the field of science.

                                                                                      No wonder people are always talking about too few STEM graduates — finding the dispassionate pod people to staff the laboratories must be difficult.

                                                                                      Seriously, man — a scientists is going to act like any professional if Joe Random shows up and plays “I know more than you, here’s how you’re wrong” in their field of expertise. Most will politely try to explain where Joe Random went wrong, and when Joe Random shows no interest in listening, will generally part the conversation — often with a spoken or unspoken “What’s up with that idiot?”.


                                                                                      • I didn’t realize one needed to sign your humanity in at the door when you entered the field of science.

                                                                                        You don’t.

                                                                                        You just have to act like someone who thinks things instead of someone who believes them.


                                                                                        • You’re still basically saying “Don’t act like humans or else you’re wrong”.

                                                                                          Somebody comes up to me in my field of expertise, spouts off stuff I know is wrong, and then when I correct him keeps shifting around insisting he’s right about something — he’s not there to learn, he’s not there to debate, he’s not there to do anything but fight about something he clearly doesn’t understand and more importantly doesn’t wish to understand.

                                                                                          A polite response is “That’s nice, the door is over there” — how polite a normal human might respond is proportional to how much freaking time was wasted on it.

                                                                                          It has nothing to do with belief — it has to do with how annoyed you are over the time wasted with a guy who wants only to argue.


                                                                                          • A polite response is “That’s nice, the door is over there” — how polite a normal human might respond is proportional to how much freaking time was wasted on it.

                                                                                            That’s certainly accurate.

                                                                                            Which makes me wonder about the whole “IN YOUR FACE!” thing.


                                                                                            • Annoyed person is annoyed?

                                                                                              What’s it matter? It doesn’t change the end result. Make nice with the YEC until you literally run out of time? Win for the YEC. Say you don’t discuss that sort of thing? Win for the YEC. Ignore him? Win for the YEC. Literally die of old age during the conversation? Win for the YEC.

                                                                                              Their only goal is to get someone to not defend or stop defending whatever topic they’ve settled on.

                                                                                              They annoyed “In your face”, as you put it, is the response of someone who was talking in good faith to the realization that they’re just a faceless dummy whose sole purpose is to not talk to the other party. That’s the end goal — for the conversation to end. (it’s even better if it doesn’t start, but that’s harder to do on the internet — you can’t tell the difference between someone ignoring you and someone who isn’t there).

                                                                                              So yeah, you’re asking that scientists should stop being annoyed by a very annoying thing indeed, because….science? Goodness? I dunno.

                                                                                              And the plain fact of the matter is — not being annoyed wouldn’t actually change anything. So adding on “inhuman patience and robotic politeness” to our STEM education won’t actually help with such things.


                                                                                              • What’s it matter? It doesn’t change the end result. Make nice with the YEC until you literally run out of time? Win for the YEC. Say you don’t discuss that sort of thing? Win for the YEC. Ignore him? Win for the YEC. Literally die of old age during the conversation? Win for the YEC.

                                                                                                I guess the only question remaining is whether it’s even possible to get YECs to change by sighing and explaining it again.

                                                                                                If the answer is, no, you’ve never seen credible evidence that YECs can stop being YECs, I guess there’s no reason for you to change how you do things.


                                                                                                • I have a life, man. Scientists have lives — and work, to boot.

                                                                                                  Endless patience for each and every one, hoping they’re the rare one open to real discussion?

                                                                                                  Nah, man. The patient ones actually keep trying long enough to be sure, then go back to their lives. Generally annoyed at the wasted time.


                                                                                                • I guess the only question remaining is whether it’s even possible to get YECs to change by sighing and explaining it again.

                                                                                                  It doesn’t seem likely to work, but I could be wrong.


                                                                                            • Which makes me wonder about the whole “IN YOUR FACE!” thing.

                                                                                              Just goes back to being an argument for not starting in the first place, before you’ve been annoyed because you feel like you’ve been wasting your time.


                                                                                          • If you think about this post, it’s almost certainly the case that the OP was perceived by Phil or any other evangelism-oriented YEC as precisely an invitation to do what he’s doing here. I certainly expected him to show, and did not expect that engaging with him would be useful for either of us.

                                                                                            Is it really worth the time to be annoyed at him for wasting your time, given the topic of the OP? The topic of the OP wasn’t evolution or biochemistry, it’s a post about YECs and why they act the way they do…


                                                                                            • Oh, I’m not annoyed with him. I’m not even discussing it with him!

                                                                                              I was pushing back on the “A scientist shouldn’t show exasperation or annoyance”. The “You just have to act like someone who thinks things instead of someone who believes them” statement, basically.

                                                                                              A real normal human being, upon learning that someone has wasted a great deal of his time in that way, is going to be annoyed and may or may not be sarcastic, angry, or otherwise vent. “Science” has nothing to do with it.

                                                                                              The whole conversation boils down to “Non-expert questions expert, but quickly shows he has no intention of improving his understanding, but is just there to grind a proverbial ax” and Jaybird seems to be hinting that a scientist must, of course, not react like a human being to that sort of time-wasting PITA.

                                                                                              Now I do get that, to said YEC, a scientist going “Screw that noise” and walking out is a “win”. But they take anything as a win, so it doesn’t really matter. Walk away politely, walk away rudely, have a doctor’s appt and have to leave — that’s a win in the YEC column.

                                                                                              Because, as noted from the beginning, actual conversation, discussion, or learning is directly opposed to their real goal.

                                                                                              It’s very much a “the only way to win is not to play” except, of course, not playing is seen as a win too.

                                                                                              Boiled down: Reacting with annoyance to having your time wasted does not, in any way, change the calculus of the situation and is in fact a very human response. Proposing that scientists, for some reason, should not react like humans is a bit weird — especially since, as I said, it won’t actually change the results from the YEC’s perspective.


                                                                                              • That’s fair. I think, though, that Jaybird’s comments – the ones you are interacting with at the moment – – are coming from a place of being annoyed that people (not you, I now understand but didn’t initially) are “dogpiling” on Phil, given the topic of the post. I could be wrong, but I usually read him correctly, and it seemed like you were joining a chorus (not saying you were, I can see that now, but I can also see that it seemed to him like you were).

                                                                                                Perhaps I am overly concerned. I’m just eager that this doesn’t turn into a knock-down drag-out where people are talking past each other and getting progressively frustrated *without* it being because they think it’s an interesting exercise, and it’s showing some signs of getting pretty frayed around the edges.


                                                                                                • Eh, there’s a reason I only have the occasional drive-by comment on creationism in general. More meta discussions are interesting, but the “What about the second law” and “What about abiogenesis” and whatnot?

                                                                                                  Like I said — I used to be far more active and if 1 person in a 100 on the Creationism side was interested in discussion or learning about biology, evolution, physics or science in general I’d be shocked.

                                                                                                  You quickly realize you’re not a person having a conversation, you’re a mannequin to be badgered into quitting so points can be scored for Jesus. Some people have endless patience with that, but…not me.

                                                                                                  There’s no winning, there’s just a matter of when you’ve decided it’s not worth continuing. Which is, of course, points for Jesus because the godless Darwinist has fled, unable to refute God’s Truth.

                                                                                                  Losing your temper, getting sarcastic — those were worth bonus points, of course. It’s really a form of trolling, more than anything.

                                                                                                  And why feed the trolls? To deal with the one guy in a hundred that’s talking honestly?

                                                                                                  I leave that to those with greater patience.


                                                                                    • Well yes, a proper response would be, “I’m sorry, I don’t think I can help you find the answers you are looking for, perhaps I can recommend a good university program that may be able to help you come to a greater understanding of the material?”


                                                                                • A real scientist would pick and choose their battles. So a high school kid in your chemistry class (like you were) is a good person to talk to and try to lead to water, maybe not so much a guy on the internet whose motives you don’t trust (not saying I do or don’t, saying these interlocutors don’t).

                                                                                  And let’s not, friends, have a meta-argument about arguing with Phil. (I get that the actual post was such an argument, but you know. He is a person. He’s right here (or was) Stay general plz.).

                                                                                  My concerns with Phil had to do with “trivialization” and whatever that thing was he said about pillsy admitting he’d lost when pillsy was just (at that point) politely resigning the conversation.

                                                                                  They are, to this point, quite mild concerns considering the topic of this post.


                                                                                • Would do, or should do?

                                                                                  Because if we’re talking about what a real scientist would do, my money is on the first option.

                                                                                  Which is one of the things that is so shrewd about the strategy you outlined: it plays an idealized stereotype of how scientists behave against the way that scientists really do tend to behave.


                                                                                  • Sure, but that is how the game is won. Like Jaybird said, it’s a dialectic that hinges on the perfect being the enemy of the good – across 2 fronts.

                                                                                    Front 1) the fallibility of science – This scientific explanation is wanting, hence the edifice upon which it’s built is wanting, hence the edifice I prefer is just as valid.

                                                                                    Front 2) Scientists are dispassionate advocates for their profession, so a scientist who gets passionate, especially if they get angry/upset, must not be able to properly defend/advocate because the science is flawed and s/he knows it.


                                                                        • Pillsy, for the record, stuff like this communicates that it’s a battle of wits rather than a discussion about science.

                                                                          Though I’ll grant it probably felt good to say that.

                                                                          But that kinda indicates that this discussion was about feeling things.


                                                                          • Pillsy, for the record, stuff like this communicates that it’s a battle of wits rather than a discussion about science.

                                                                            Well yes, because that’s actually what it is. Indeed, my comment was largely irritation at realizing that this is the case.

                                                                            “If you get ticked off first, you’re clearly wrong about the object-level disagreement,” is, well, a pretty crap heuristic.


                                                                            • “If you get ticked off first, you’re clearly wrong about the object-level disagreement,” is, well, a pretty crap heuristic.

                                                                              I need you to clarify for a second.

                                                                              I don’t understand if you’re saying “things shouldn’t be this way!” or if you’re saying “things aren’t this way!”


                                                                              • It would be nice if we humans were less fallible and monkey-brained and impressed with form rather than substance. But, well, lots of things would be nice that just aren’t so.


                                                                                • If we’re picking and choosing between things that we wish were so rather than working with things as they actually are, I’m going to need it explained to me why this issue is so very much worth arguing over.


                                                                                  • If we’re picking and choosing between things that we wish were so rather than working with things as they actually are,

                                                                                    I think it’s an unfortunate reality about the way people tend to evaluate arguments, and one which the approach you outlined in the OP effectively (though not necessarily intentionally) exploits.


                                                                                    • I think it’s an unfortunate reality about the way people tend to evaluate arguments, and one which the approach you outlined in the OP effectively (though not necessarily intentionally) exploits.

                                                                                      Well, is this information new information? (Or, if not new, is it now explicit when, before, you only intuited it?)

                                                                                      If so, you can now incorporate this new information into how you interact with the world.

                                                                                      If how you interact with the world is resistant to changing when you get new information (or even when you now have explicit information instead of a vague idea of it), then I’d say that that is something worth exploring.


                                                              • If I had to make a guess (and I really am at the limit of my knowledge of this), the EvoBio folks make the assumptions they do because someone figured out the math that suggests they are correct.

                                                                I mean, that is how a vast amount of the work in particle physics is informed, and in chemistry, and what are enzymes and proteins and DNA if not chemistry. All of this can be mathematically modeled and computed*, and it is, every day.

                                                                I know that protein folding can be mathematically modeled (see POEM@home), and (if I understand it correctly) what is unknown is what influences how a given protein folds. But the proteins fold all on their own as the molecules form.

                                                                So when you ask, why do they think X is the mechanism, I’d say it’s because there is math that suggests that it is, and now it’s just a question of proving it, or falsifying it.

                                                                And that is all I got.

                                                                *One of my coworkers is a chemist and used to work for a lab that researched energetic chemistry (explosives). From what he tells me, they have chemical models of explosive compounds powerful enough to level a small city, they just have no idea how to make the stuff, or if they do know how to make it, they don’t know how to make it stable enough to be useful. So they keep modeling it (and maybe producing tiny amounts for research) trying to find ways to make it useful.


                                                                • “If I had to make a guess (and I really am at the limit of my knowledge of this), the EvoBio folks make the assumptions they do because someone figured out the math that suggests they are correct.”

                                                                  I don’t know, Oscar. If you mean assumptions about development, I’ve never seen anything published. I think the reason is because it would be such a complex task. Someone would have to narrow it down to something manageable, and even a single organ or bio-feature would be tough because there is so much interdependence involved. For instance, if you were trying to compose an evolutionary account of how hearing developed, you’d have to analyze dozens of critical parts and systems, and the sequential, complimentary mutations that led up to each one. Using Lenski’s experiment as a metric, that could mean countless thousands of unique DNA replication errors.

                                                                  I don’t think anyone will be trying to explain mathematically how it is all supposed to work. Most people will just say that things evolved, and nobody will ask any questions.


                                                                • Oscar, I didn’t have time when you posted this to look up the links, but there have been a very few attempts to evaluate evolutionary premises in terms of math. One occurred many years ago, back in the ’60’s. Nothing ever came of it (and nothing ever will). You can read more about it than this link provides.

                                                                  There are people who will at least explain the problems that enthusiastic supporters like to ignore in regards to things like the RNA world hypothesis. You might enjoy this 2013 interview:

                                                                  “We have failed in any continuous way to provide a recipe that gets from the simple molecules that we know were present on early Earth to RNA. There is a discontinuous model which has many pieces, many of which have experimental support, but we’re up against these three or four paradoxes, which you and I have talked about in the past. The first paradox is the tendency of organic matter to devolve and to give tar. If you can avoid that, you can start to try to assemble things that are not tarry, but then you encounter the water problem, which is related to the fact that every interesting bond that you want to make is unstable, thermodynamically, with respect to water. If you can solve that problem, you have the problem of entropy, that any of the building blocks are going to be present in a low concentration; therefore, to assemble a large number of those building blocks, you get a gene-like RNA — 100 nucleotides long — that fights entropy. And the fourth problem is that even if you can solve the entropy problem, you have a paradox that RNA enzymes, which are maybe catalytically active, are more likely to be active in the sense that destroys RNA rather than creates RNA.”

                                                                  This is also an interesting paper that focuses on statistical problems in the transition from supposed common ancestors to modern humans. I’m curious to see if there will be anyone who voices objections to what is being said because they see names they don’t like.


                                                                  • “I’m curious to see if there will be anyone who voices objections to what is being said because they see names they don’t like.”

                                                                    Please don’t offer predictions about other people’s behavior like this. It really is a form of trolling, and this site isn’t here to be trolled. I’m not ok with you doing it and if you do it again I’ll suspend you.

                                                                    Trolling interferes with the conversations you are trying to have with those who still wish to speak with you, also, by fishing for others to come join the conversation on unpleasant terms.


                                                                  • Interesting, but once again you commit the same error. A theory is not discarded because there are gaps in the knowledge, except in the cases where the theory is incredibly weak to begin with. If a theory is testable, falsifiable, and provides strong predictive capability, it’s going to take quite a lot to collapse the whole edifice. Evolution (which is a study far, far greater than the Darwin theories* that gave it it’s initial shape) has been around for a long time, it’s been tested in many different ways, and it provides considerable predictive utility. It has no single keystone that can be knocked out to tear it all down.

                                                                    This is the fundamental error of your criticism, that there is some singular fact (or small collection of facts) that, if disproved or somehow shown to be in error, discredits the entirety of the study.

                                                                    So you have a bunch of things that represent gaps, or errors, but these are not fatal to the overall study. Such gaps and errors are a normal, common, EXPECTED part of the scientific process. When found, they result not in the discrediting of the field, but in a realignment in the assumptions, hypothesis, and theories that form the field.

                                                                    Science is kinda like playing a game of Jenga, except you aren’t building a tower with a finite number of blocks, but a pyramid with a slowly increasing number of blocks. Once you have enough blocks to form a solid base for the pyramid, the only way it will collapse is if too many of the foundational blocks are pulled at once, or if it’s built too high too fast. Since the enlightenment, this has only happened a handful of times (plate tectonics is one that comes immediately to mind, too many foundational blocks had to be pulled from the old theory). This might happen to evolutionary theory, but even if it does, the result will not be a return the glory days of creation myths or intelligent design. A new theory will be offered, one with physical and logical evidence to support it.

                                                                    So go ahead, offer all the gaps and errors you think you can find, all it tells me is that evolutionary biologists are not resting on their laurels, but continue to test and retest their assumptions and theories, which is, you know, precisely what I expect them to do, because it’s what we do in my field.

                                                                    *Darwin’s theories of fitness getting knocked out, which one of your links suggest, doesn’t destroy evolution, because there are multiple ways evolution could have happened besides just a theory of fitness. Other possibilities will be examined and a successor theory will be offered, and maybe it will stand the test of time, or maybe it won’t.

                                                                    ETA: The last attempt was in the 60’s? Seriously? Then we are long overdue for a new attempt, because do you have any clue how far mathematics and computational sciences have come since the 60’s, especially with regard to the processing and analysis of extremely large datasets.

                                                                    Hell, design optimization alone is giving us some pretty fascinating results.


                                                                    • There are so many examples of apparent paradoxes and contradictions that either haven’t scuttled contemporary theories (gravitation and quantum mechanics is a big one in physics and has been for half a century) or which were resolved in the past in incredibly instructive ways. The “ultraviolet catastrophe” which came from interactions between classical theories of electromagnetism and statistical mechanics led Planck to make the first steps towards inventing quantum mechanics in order to resolve it.

                                                                      And so on.


                                                                      • One area is that common descent has held up amazingly well, first in terms of the fossil record and comparison of species, and as our understanding of biology and genetics increased, continuing to be consistent that life all descends from one (or a few) common ancestors.


                                                          • In my view, just accepting that those enzymes randomly formed is not good science (but I agree that it is essential in materialism).

                                                            There are two possibilities. Life has a natural origin or a supernatural origin. Given the lack of credible evidence for supernatural phenomena, the natural origin is the most probable.


                                                            • “Given the lack of credible evidence for supernatural phenomena, the natural origin is the most probable.”

                                                              Honestly, I don’t think it is about evidence. Most people just believe in things that they happen to like. That said, there were specific events forecast in the Old Testament that didn’t happen till many centuries later. The most glaring example is the reestablishment of national Israel, but that’s not the kind of thing anyone is going to point out in public schools.


                                      • Going from a wolf like creature to an aquatic one in mammals isn’t as much of a change as you’re making it out to be. Its just gross morphology, which adapts pretty rapidly in response to gradual pressures and only requires change in a limited suite of genes that control body plan. The mammal species doesn’t change much at the more fundamental levels of cell function beyond that.


                              • Lots of things are the result of “random” events, some of which are very unlikely, and others of which are very likely. You can, of course, discuss probabilities all you want, but you seem to be making a number of unsupported (and, I must say, likely unsupportable) assumptions about the probability distributions involved.


              • So you have a population of self-replicating RNA-based photo-life, likely competing for resources (like oligo-nucleotides or possibly energy), and there’s all the factors you need for natural selection to take hold.


                • “there’s all the factors you need for natural selection to take hold”

                  If you say so, but I think that mischaracterizes natural selection. It is often spoken of as if it is some kind of ethereal force, but in reality, nothing is actually being selected. Less fit specimens are just removed.

                  The same thing happens with mutations. There is portrait painted for evolutionary theory, and then there is reality, which can be observed in disease databases.


                  • It is often spoken of as if it is some kind of ethereal force, but in reality, nothing is actually being selected. Less fit specimens are just removed.

                    This is not actually correct. Less fit specimens are generally removed, but more fit specimens proliferate. Mechanisms for both sides of the process exist even in the very basic proto-life scenario I’ve been discussing as a possibility.

                    The same thing happens with mutations. There is portrait painted for evolutionary theory, and then there is reality, which can be observed in disease databases.

                    There’s nothing in evolutionary theory that is contradicted by the existence of many mutations which are harmful to the mutants. There are, however, also observed examples of novel traits (due to mutation) developing and proliferating because they do improve the mutants’ fitness.


                    • “This is not actually correct. Less fit specimens are generally removed, but more fit specimens proliferate.”

                      Well, I agree with that, but it is still a process or removal. I think invoking selection at the molecular level is straining the concept. And until something is truly self-replicating, it can’t apply at all.

                      “Less fit specimens are generally removed, but more fit specimens proliferate. Mechanisms for both sides of the process exist even in the very basic proto-life scenario I’ve been discussing…”

                      The problem with proto-life scenarios, is that we don’t actually know of anything that can legitimately be called that. Every free-living thing that is known has a genome, and the minimal gene set, if I recall correctly, is still over 250. Do you have any thoughts about how functional genes originate?

                      “There are…observed examples of novel traits (due to mutation) developing and proliferating because they do improve the mutants’ fitness.”

                      I have two problems with that. The first is that it is a short list, and things like malaria resistance from having one mutant hemoglobin gene isn’t a particularly impressive example.

                      The other problem is one of scale. Mutations are credited with much more than just fitness. To think something as complex and functional as a liver is the result of a long series of DNA replication failures is just not believable. I do recognize that most biologists apparently do accept things like that, but I can’t really comprehend why.


                      • Do you have any thoughts about how functional genes originate?

                        Terribly detailed ones? No.

                        But you definitely have molecules (like RNA) that exhibit both functional and information storage properties, some of which are crucial for current processes of replication and activation (people talked about self-splicing introns as an example back when I was working on this stuff, but it’s been a while). There are a lot of pieces that could fit together in reasonably plausible ways, but it’s difficult at best to get a good handle on how exactly it works.

                        Of course, we have a limited understanding of a lot of things in this domain, including basic things like why proteins (and to a lesser extent RNAs) fold up the way they do. That sort of partial understanding is more the rule than the exception, as noted. We also don’t exactly understand why you don’t see lone quarks flying about or how gravity can be consistent with quantum mechanics.


                        • “Terribly detailed [thoughts about how functional genes originate]? No.”

                          I don’t either. I haven’t ever even heard a reasonable proposal concerning a mechanism for how (actually, why) genes could/should/would originate. But the really serious problem has to do with the functional part, because genes exist to make precise things happen.

                          “But you definitely have molecules (like RNA) that exhibit both functional and information storage properties…”

                          What information would an accidental RNA formation store, and what would receive and use this information?


                          • The relevant information is there whether the formation is accidental or not, no? If that RNA which is formed through some random-ish process does something like replicate itself (even in an error-prone or very slow fashion) in the right environment, isn’t that an answer to the question itself?


                      • It’s hard to picture the foodway and airway being the same passage, making it so common for people to choke to death, as being the result of design rather than chance.


            • I did this sort of thing for a living for a while.

              The ribosome is essentially a scaled up version of a ribosyme built on RNA strands.Its not that mysterious when you get down to its basics, although it has ill-understood aspects. Its not a huge conceptional stretch to think the much more sophisticated version eventually evolved from the very simple version that only needed the virtue of being self-replicating to outcompete the other molecules.


              • “Its not a huge conceptional stretch to think the much more sophisticated version eventually evolved from the very simple version that only needed the virtue of being self-replicating to outcompete the other molecules.”

                You’ve covered a lot of distance here. This is the kind of trivialization that I have a problem with. Things don’t just evolve.


                • No one’s trivializing here, Phil. BrentF is talking from his own experience and keeping it fairly simple so those who have less experience can understand. You’re getting kind of dismissive in your comments, and I’ll intervene as a moderator if I have to.


                  • He’s getting dismissive because that’s the game. It doesn’t actually matter if he doesn’t like the explanations offered by the people who have dedicated years or decades to the study of it, just like it didn’t really matter that the Catholic Church didn’t like heliocentrism.

                    To paraphrase Dr. Feynman, for a successful science, reality must take precedence over personal appreciations, for nature cannot be fooled.


                    • Yeah, I read Jaybird’s post too. ;)

                      Actually I was already aware of how this works, and we pre-determined that if someone wanted to come argue as described in the comments, I wouldn’t act unless they started crossing lines. I mean, on one level Jaybird was basically fishing for them to do that. (That’s not why he wrote the post, more just a predictable side effect.)

                      So I’m speaking up because Phil’s crossed a couple lines.

                      It’ll be up to him what happens next.


                    • “It doesn’t actually matter if he doesn’t like the explanations offered by the people who have dedicated years or decades to the study of it”

                      Well, if we are discussing whether or not immensely complex machines like ribosome could have evolved, just saying that they did evolve from something simpler is not, in my view, much of an explanation. Is that all that can be said after years of dedicated research?


                      • just saying that they did evolve from something simpler is not, in my view, much of an explanation

                        Is that all is said about it? You make that claim, but offer no evidence that it is a supposition devoid of supporting evidence, as opposed to an assumption with supporting evidence.

                        Is that all that can be said after years of dedicated research?

                        Sometimes, yes, it is, until a way is developed to test the theory. And that is OK. It’s not ideal, and the lack of a way to test it certainly weakens the claim, but science doesn’t just widely accept a claim that has no evidence to suggest that the claim would hold up to testing.

                        The problem with “creator” hypothesis is that it is not testable, unless said creator shows up and demonstrates how it was done, and all the evidence for it is based in inductive reasoning. A “creator” is the bottom of the idea barrel. It represents a complete and total failure of human imagination and ingenuity.

                        So while the truth of it is not impossible, it is improbable, and it won’t be accepted by the scientific community until there is no other possibility left (the whole Sherlock approach).


                        • …unless said creator shows up and demonstrates how it was done…

                          So, how far are we from being able to do it ourselves? 50 years? 100? 1000? To literally demonstrate that starting with a pile of chemicals and the right equipment, we can design and implement a life form of arbitrary complexity.


                          • No idea, but that isn’t the question. Proving that we can do it isn’t interesting (no one has any illusions that we won’t get there, especially since getting there may be a necessary step).

                            Proving that it can, and will, happen on it’s own (without the intentional interference of a willful entity), in a naturally occurring environment… that is the lift.


                      • You’re toying with “God of the Gaps” theology there, and I would be very, very wary.

                        “You can’t explain X without God, therefore God!” is very unstable footing. And it shrinks God with every discovery.

                        God used to be every where, in every lightning strike and every rainbow. Now, what, he’s hiding behind self-replicating RNA 4.5 billion years ago?

                        Behold, the incredible shrinking deity.


                      • Its a sufficient executive summary explaination of the process. If there is a particular detail of the ribosome’s structure or function that you find particularly inexplicable by the evolutionary explaination we can zoom in to focus on that. If you incredulity is that its a big and complicated aggregation of catalytic activity, well that’s what evolution turns most metabolic activity into.

                        If the issue is that you need the big a complex modern ribosome to build a protein, that’s the mechanism you need to build a modern protein under modern conditions, where each living organism is under intense competitive pressure against its peers and needs high metabolic efficiencies to exist. When self-replicating molecules are transitioning into something resembling life though, they only need marginal competence in protein synthesis to be the most efficient self-replicators in their enviroment and thus self-perpetuate.


                        • I yield the floor regarding the technical discussion to .

                          On a personal note, as an agnostic, I have no emotional or philosophical ox that can be gored by the idea of life happening by accident. Knowing that life was created intentionally would lead to some interesting questions, but being the current result of a random fluke in a chemical soup does nothing to lessen the experience of living for me. The universe is endlessly fascinating no matter it’s genesis.

                          As a scientist, I trust to the process. Holes in our understanding do not damage the edifice of knowledge that exists, certainly not in the way that incorrect information or fraudulent information does. The people who study EvoBio are confident in their theories (and all that gives us), and I trust them, just as they trust that I am confident in mine.


                        • “When self-replicating molecules are transitioning into something resembling life…”

                          Well, after reading things like this,


                          it looks to me like those particular molecules are in the same category as pumpkins that turn into carriages. They are imaginary, along with pre/proto/sub lifeforms that do not have the genes necessary to live and replicate. So, my personal incredulity comes from acceptance of verified biological limits, and indisputable discoveries. Have you ever looked up the word credulous?


                          • If you’d like to learn more, I can point you in the direction of several highly respectable undergraduate biology programs. :D

                            Including that of Baylor University, where they somehow manage to square both passionate Christian belief and clarity on the topic of evolution.

                            Seriously, cheekiness aside, you might find this list of resources recommended by Baylor scientists more useful than speaking past and not listening to a bunch of agnostics, atheists, and heretics like those responding to you here (myself included):

                            I haven’t read all those books, but enough of them to know that it’s a good list, and one that will be a lot better at starting with and integrating your existing priors than any of us will…. we know too much about how the philosophy underpinning science works and not enough about teaching people who don’t, to fill in the gaps that you have without just getting confused and frustrated – we’re having another unrelated thread right now about how most of us are not particularly good at teaching people things.

                            Being a working scientist doesn’t make one a good teacher, anymore than being a good popularizer (like the ars technica writer you link to) makes one good at starting from scratch to explain things to someone who hasn’t figured out basic evolutionary theory yet.

                            (No need to suggest a counterbalancing list to me, I have a minor in theology and religious history, and I’m well up on the literature.)

                            I wish you well on your spiritual and intellectual journeys.


                            • (NB for accuracy: The Ars Technica writer is actually a Science writer, summarizing more complicated research for fellow scientists who are familiar with the field generally, but not with the particular area of research. So perhaps not *even* a good popularizer…)


                          • If all you can offer is personal incredulity on a subject you aren’t an expert on, I don’t know what to tell you man. Beyond that human scale intuitions don’t scale to the type of objects we’re talking about and their behaviours as well as the impact of an immense number of potential molecules and an extremely long time scale for reactions to occur.

                            On aspect in particular I don’t think you appreciate is that the original self-replicators only have to be just good enough at self-replication to produce more than one of themselves on average to gain the benefit of exponential growth. Contrast to the modern molecules they would experiment on in a lab that have to have orders of magnitude greater performance in order to be dectable. So the pumpkin carriage doesn’t start out as a phaeton, it starts as a pumpkin with internal storage that rolls, aquiring more and more carriage features with interations of growth with selection pressure towards increased efficiency in perpetuating itself.