Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Five Lies That Creationists Think Are True For Some Reason

One of the most frustrating things about arguing with a Creationist over evolution is that they quite commonly use arguments that have not only been refuted already, but have been conclusively refuted over and over and over.  These lies are ideas that no educated, intelligent person believes anymore.  These ideas are not only wrong, they're stupidly wrong.  But despite this, Creationists seem to believe them.  Not only that, they refuse to accept the fact that they are wrong even after having it shown to them how wrong they are.

These are hardly the only lies in the Creationist arsenal, but I do believe they are the most common ones used.  Others include misunderstanding how radiometric dating techniques are used, trying to apply moral value to science, lies about the origins of Evolution and Charles Darwin, and so on.  I don't have room to list them all, so I only handled the top five.

Lie #1:  Evolution has never been observed, therefore evolution is false.

Way wrong.

Evolution is a change in the genes of an entire species over time.  The rise of bacteria who are resistant to anti-biotics is a perfect example of evolution that's observed all the time.  In addition, the origin of several new species has been directly observed in laboratory conditions, including one case where scientists filmed a species of yeast mold move from being single-celled organisms to being a mutli-cellular organism.

But even without these cases of direct observation, its ludicrous to say that just because its never been seen (and it has, remember).  Evidence isn't limited to eye witness accounts.  You don't have to see things with your own eyes to know they're true.  Evolutionary Science makes predictions about what you ought to expect to see when examining the fossil record, comparative anatomy, genetics, geographical distribution of animal and plant species, and so on.  In the overwhelming percentage of cases, these predictions have been accurate.  The number of observations that support Evolutionary Theory are countless.  Evolution is literally the most well-supported concept in science.

A variation on this lie is "No lizard has ever given birth to a bird" or something similar  This is absolutely true.  But this is also not what evolution says should happen.  In fact, a lizard giving birth to a bird would be evidence against Evolutionary Theory.

Lie #2:  Evolution violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Wrong again.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics reads as follows:  "The entropy of an isolated system never decreases, because isolated systems always evolve toward thermodynamic equilibrium, a state with maximum entropy."  What this means, when put in simpler language, is that heat (energy) will never transfer from a cooler object to one that is hotter.  To put it simply, it means that in a closed system, the amount of available useable energy does not increase.  And that's basically all it means.

You might be wondering what that has to do with Evolution.  Well, the problem is that Creationists insist on defining the word "entropy" to mean "disorder", and thus they interpret the Second Law of Thermodynamics to mean that order cannot arise naturally from disorder.  This is a blatant falsehood.  Its an attractive idea, especially to those whose scientific education is, to put it bluntly, lacking, there is no evidence that shows that order cannot arise from disorder naturally.

Ever open a brand new, shrink-wrapped box of paper clips and found several of them linked together?  That wasn't the result of someone at the paper clip factory playing around.  Most paper clip factories, like nearly all factories today, are automated.  The paper clips link themselves due to the jostling chaotic mixing going on as they are dumped in the box.  Order from disorder, naturally and randomly.   A similar phenomenon is sometimes seen when nuts and bolts are kept in the same container:  the nut will spontaneously thread itself onto a bolt just through the jostling the pile of nuts and bolts receives while the container is moved.  Order from disorder, naturally and randomly.  Dust bunnies.  Fibers from blankets, lint from clothing, pet hair, human hair, and other materials fall to the bedroom floor, and circulating air moves them around so that they congregate in places where the air is calmest.  In the process they combine and cling together into little fuzzy clumps.  Once formed, they persist, until swallowed up by a vacuum cleaner.  Order from disorder, naturally.

In addition, when Creationists make this argument, they're ignoring the fact that the earth is not an isolated system.  Maybe you've noticed this big, bright glowing thing in the sky during the day called the sun.  The sun drops terrawatts of energy onto the earth every single second of every day, twenty four hours a day.  Thus, the useable energy of the earth is constantly increasing.  Creationists sometimes try to get around this by claiming that the information carried by living things in their lets them create order and since that information comes "from God", its not really a natural process.  This ignores the fact that life is irrelevant to the Second Law of Thermodynamics.  I've already demonstrated this in my examples of paper clips, nuts and bolts, and dust bunnies.  In any system which has a lot of energy flowing through it, you'll find order arising somewhere.

Lie #3:  There are no transitional fossils.

Nope.  Sorry.  Wrong again.

The phrase "transitional fossil" is defined as a fossil that looks like its "in between" two other species (usually an ancestor species and a descendant species), carrying a mix of features from both.  

To say there are no transitional fossils is simply false.  We have truckloads of them.  Oh sure, there are still gaps in the fossil record, but there always will be.  Erosion and the rarity of conditions that promote fossilization will always make it rare that an entire lineage of fossils can be presented.  But more fossils are discovered all the time, and the gaps in the fossil record are closing.  We have many cases where entire sequences of transitional fossils have been found.  Some of the notable examples where there aren't a lot of gaps are the transition from reptiles to mammal, from land animals to whales, and from early ape to humans.

For the most part, this misconception is perpetuated through a self-serving manipulation of definitions.  A Creationist will look at a transitional fossil that marks where dogs and their close cousins, the bears, separate and will say, "But that's still just a dog", despite the fact that the earliest common ancestor between bears and dogs had a mix of features that any zoologist worth his degree could point out.  Similarly, they will look at theArchaeopteryx fossil and declare it "100% bird" when it is clearly a mix between bird and reptile (in fact, it has more reptile features than bird).

The problem is, these categories are man-made and artificial and have little to do sometimes with actual groupings.  And animals are included in the wrong groups all the time.  For example, during the early days of taxonomy, hyenas were classified as a dog species.  Scientific examination in the late 1800s and early 1900s put them in their own category because they weren't quite matching up with the other dogs.  Modern genetic sequencing, on the other hand, has shown that hyenas are actually an evolutionary branch of the feline family.  That's right.  Hyenas are a type of cat and not dogs at all.  Who knew?

Lie #4:  According to evolution, life arose from, and is the product of, random chance.

Except evolution doesn't say that, and anyone who says this has no idea how evolution actually works.

First, evolution has nothing to say about the origins of life.  The Theory of Evolution doesn't depend on how the first life began.  It has nothing to say about how life arose at all.  But let's consider the problem for a moment.  Some Creationists will argue about the probability of life arising by itself, but their argument ignores the fact that on the early earth, there were literal oceans of organic molecules to start with, and billions of years in which life could form.  And we're here, so it obviously did.  A calculation of the odds of abiogenesis is worthless unless it can recognize the immense range of starting materials that the first life form might have formed from, the uncountably high number of different forms that the first replicator might have taken, and the fact that much of the construction of the replicating molecule would have been completely non-random to start with.

Second, while there is a certain role random chance plays in the evolutionary process, the truth is that evolution is far more driven by natural selection than random chance, and natural selection is the exact opposite of random chance.  Random chance, in the form of mutations, does provide for genetic variation.  But genetic variation is the raw material that natural selection uses to construct new species.  Natural selection sorts out which genetic variation will be passed on to the next generation and which variation won't using very specific standards.  Those variations that make it easier for a creature to thrive and reproduce meet the standards.  Those variations that make it harder don't meet the standards and are discarded.  When the environment changes, so do the standards, leading to entirely new species.

Lie #5:  Evolution hasn't been proven because its just a theory.

This lie is what I call the "idiot test."  Anyone who says this isn't just ignorant, they're stupid.

The irony here is that calling Evolution "just a theory" is technically the truth.  Its the reason they are saying it, and what they mean when they say "theory" that is wrong.  According to the Random House American College Dictionary, a scientific theory is "a coherent group of general propositions used as principles of explanation for a group of phenomena."  That's a fancy way of saying "an idea that has a metric fuck-ton of evidence behind it, to the point that no one with an ounce of sense argues with it anymore."  A "theory", in science, is not a guess but a near certainty.  In science, a theory differs only from a scientific law in the fact that you can usually explain a scientific law in fewer words.  Being declared a theory means that an idea is self-consistent, agrees with observations, and is useful.

Science deals with levels of certainty based on observed evidence.  The more and better evidence we have for something, the more certainty we assign to it; when there is enough evidence, we label the something a fact, even though it still hasn't been "proven" to 100% certainty.  What evolution has is what any good scientific theory has is evidence, and lots of it.  Evolution is one of the single-most supported scientific ideas in the history of the human race, if not the most supported.  Evidence for evolution comes by way of genetics, anatomy, ecology, biology, zoology, paleontology, and many other scientific fields.

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