Monday, October 26, 2009

Create some evidence, dammit

I took the dogs out for their daily romp around the fields this morning. And why not? The sun was shining, the weather unseasonably warm - I didn't even need a coat - and there were hedgerow goodies to be gathered in for wine-making etc. I hadn't been more than 10 minutes from the house before realising that I'd spotted more than 20 species of birds including crows, rooks, blackbirds, starlings, a thrush, two or three different types of seagull, sparrows, wood pigeons, collared doves, a cock pheasant and, most spectacularly, a kestrel, several red kites and a truly huge buzzard. And I found myself thinking, 'How can any reasonably free-thinking intelligent person look at all of this variety and still believe in the idea of a single creation event?'

I've blogged about this before but, every so often, I get the urge to shout out loud about Creationism and why I find the idea so ridiculous, so inherently flawed and so utterly lacking in any palpable truth. I simply cannot understand how anyone can believe it.

Firstly, I must point out that this is not a religious argument. As far as I am concerned, everyone has the right to believe what they want. If people choose to believe that there is a god or gods, or that we didn't land on the Moon or even that aliens are visiting us regularlly to play with our bumholes, that's fine by me. We must all be allowed the freedom to believe whatever we want and it is fundamentally wrong to take that right away from us. It's one of the reasons I wasn't opposed to Nick Griffin's appearance on BBC's Question Time this week. Although I find his views abhorrent, tasteless, outdated and just plain wrong, he has a right to believe his own diatribe, a right to free speech and the right to look like a twat on national TV. I anticipated that the BBC was giving him the rope with which to hang himself and, sure enough, he looked utterly ridiculous and has probably done a lot more harm to the British National Party than good. But believing that something exists is not the same as something existing. And in order to accept that something exists, you need some degree of proof. The alien abductionists, Bigfooters and Moon landing conspiracists do at least try to provide some kind of evidence to support their beliefs, dubious though much of that proof sometimes turns out to be. But Creationism? There is such overwhelming evidence against the concept that it is completely discredited surely? Isn't it?

I could talk about the massive fossil record (which, large as it is, probably accounts for considerably less than 1% of the species that have ever existed). I could talk about the discovery of genes and DNA. I could point out that the pheasant and the wood pigeons I saw this morning look nothing like their ancestors who were introduced to Britain millennia ago from Africa and Europe. They didn't exist at the supposed Creation, yet they're here. How? By what mechanism if not evolution? And I could point out that evolution, as a theory, has been supported time after time after time by reasoned, unbiaised scientific experimentation. Whether it's a process created by a god or has simply evolved itself like a solar system or oceans or the weather, there can be no denying the fact that it exists. There are fossils that clearly show the evolution from Hyracotherium to horse, from theropod dinosaur to bird, from Ambulocetus to whale. If a single creation event caused every species that has ever existed to appear on this planet simultaneously, instantly and fully-formed, why do we have transition fossils that show one species moving towards becoming another? Why are the fossilised wasps and spiders trapped in amber more primitive than the ones we run away from now? Why create millions of species ... and then allow the vast majority of them to become extinct? It simply makes no sense whatsoever.

At this juncture, it's worth pointing out that there is a difference between Creationism and Intelligent Design. The ID people (mostly) accept that change occurs in species, that there is a fossil record and that the process is still ongoing. Many ID proponents believe that this shows the hand of God at work. However, many others are happy to divorce themselves from religion. Intelligent Design champions include a number of very clever people who produce well-researched books; people like Dr Michael J Behe (Darwin's Black Box, Edge of Creation) and Dr Antony Latham (The Naked Emperor: Darwinism Exposed) who do, at least, attempt to prove that the story of life on Earth could not have happened without some kind of guiding 'hand'. I've read many of these books and enjoyed them. And by balancing their arguments against those made by Darwinists I have made informed choices about what I choose to believe.

But Creationism is a very different thing. It states, categorically, that all life on this planet was created by God during a single enormous creation event. It proposes that bacteria and beetles and kangaroos and oak trees and vultures and crocodiles and frogs and dinosaurs and mammoths and every other of the billions of species that have ever existed all appeared together in that instant. It insists that the fossil record is wrong, faked or misinterpreted. And yet, they provide no evidence for these outlandish statements other than pointing us towards what's written in holy scripture. In fact, the majority of their literature does little more than attack accepted theory. For instance on the website of the Creation Evidence Museum (Yes, there is such a thing. The site is here), it boasts ten reasons why Creationism is right. None of them actually provide any evidence of this. For example, number nine is: 'A living cell is so awesomely complex that its interdependent components stagger the imagination and defy evolutionary explanations. A minimal cell contains over 60,000 proteins of 100 different configurations. The chance of this assemblage occurring by chance is 1 in 104,478,296.' Assuming this is accurate, how is that proof of the Creation? Wishy-washy, unsupported comments like 'stagger the imagination' and 'defy evolutionary explanations' are unscientific and, the case of the latter, untrue. And, anyway, one in 104 million is only about eight times more unlikely than winning the lottery. With four billion years and an infinite number of organisms having lived, bred and mutated in that time, the chances don't seem quite so remote do they?

Another argument is: 'How could something as complex as our eyes have arisen by chance?' Again, the simple answer is time and inheritance. Our eyes are very sophisticated organs to be sure. They are perfectly suited to the environment our ancestors evolved in. But that's the point isn't it? They evolved to suit our environment. Consequently, they're not very good underwater. And we can't see ultraviolet, infrared, x-rays or heat like some animals can. And we are pretty rubbish in the dark while some supposedly less advanced creatures than us can see as clear as day. Why weren't we equipped with those abilities? And why would any Creator bother creating much more primitive eyes like those found in worms and crustaceans? Or the sophisticated but very different eyes found in molluscs and insects? If the template for really good eyes existed at the time of the Creation, why not equip every animal with them? And maybe the plants and fungi too?

Meanwhile the Museum provides 'evidence' of human footprints alongside dinosaur prints, claiming that this is proof that we all arrived together. The Alvis Delk fossil, for example, was 'transported to a professional laboratory where 800 X-rays were performed in a CT Scan procedure. Laboratory technicians verified compression and distribution features clearly seen in both prints, human and dinosaur. This removes any possibility that the prints were carved or altered.' A professional laboratory eh? Not the Smithsonian or the Natural History Museum I suppose. And this from the same museum that claims it has footprints of a seven feet tall human from the Cretaceous Era (so why did we shrink if that was God's optimal design?) and that mammoths frozen in ice are absolute proof of The Flood (Don't get me started on The Flood. See my previous blog here).

The point I'm coming to is that if Creationism was a harmless belief like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, I wouldn't take any issue with it. Nor would I take umbrage if it made some kind of effort to provide evidence of its own, rather than just attacking everyone else's. It's the fact that it's gathering pace as a viable alternative to Darwinism that concerns me. It's the fact that it's hi-jacked the ID argument and uses it to further its own agenda, even though much of the best ID literature doesn't actually mention God. It's the fact that there is such a thing as a Creation Evidence Museum that peddles its dodgy 'proof' to children and their religious parents as substantive evidence. It's the fact that I have recently seen Creationist books in the science section at a branch of Waterstones despite there being little or no science in them, just anti-evolutionary dogma. It's the fact that the (currently) most powerful nation on Earth is torn between religious belief and hard science. Even if schools are not yet teaching Creationism instead of evolution, there is sufficient doubt among parents to insist that both options be presented as equal theories.

In March of 2001 the Gallup News Service reported the results of a survey that found 45% of Americans agreed with the statement 'God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so,' while 37% preferred a blended belief that 'Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process,' and just 12% accepted the standard scientific theory that 'Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process.' In a forced choice between Creationism and the theory of evolution, 57% chose Creationism against only 33% for evolution (10% said they were “unsure”). Only 33% of Americans think that the theory of evolution is 'well supported by evidence,' while slightly more (39%) believe that it is not well supported and that it is 'just one of many theories.' One reason for these disturbing results can be seen in the additional finding that only 34% of Americans consider themselves to be 'very informed' about evolution. Clearly the 66% who do not consider themselves very informed had no problem in saying that they didn't believe in it. Worrying? Hell yes. But it gets worse.

During the recent US elections, a USA Today and Gallup poll asked registered voters the question 'If a presidential candidate stated that he or she DID NOT believe in the theory of evolution, would that make you: much more likely to vote for that candidate, a little more likely, not make a difference either way, would it make you a little less likely, (or) much less likely to vote for that candidate?' The results showed that 53% said it would make no difference to them and 3% had no opinion. 15% said it would make them more likely or very likely to vote for the candidate. But, most worryingly, a whole 14% said less likely and 15% said much less likely. 29% is a pretty big swing away from a candidate. It could win or lose an election. Whichj means that the candidate who gets the most powerful job in the world could win or lose depending on whether they believe in evolution or not. It's genuinely scary to think that if the Creationist leader got in ... the USA would have a president who cannot understand or accept basic science.

I'm all for a rational discussion of Intelligent Design versus Darwinism. I'm happy to read arguments from all sides, even Creationists. I am not a zealot. I have, and no doubt will again, been persuaded to change my views on certain topics when the arguments have been strong enough. So here's my challenge to Creationists ... supply me with something I can test, or show me some evidence that supports your beliefs. If you can't do either, then stop poisoning the minds of the next generation of doctors, scientists, writers and artists. Give them the same right we should all enjoy - to decide for themselves what they choose to believe based upon properly and rigorously tested evidence.

And my final question ... if 57% of Americans don't believe in evolution, why is Heroes such a popular show? After all, at its heart is the idea that humans are developing extraordinary powers naturally - by evolution. Discuss.


Lisa said...

Stevyn, I love that you are so calm in the face of stupidity. Me, I just get so mad at it all. I ventured onto a creationist site once and nearly burst a blood vessel. It stated, very seriously, that it had managed to gain some samples from a fossil and had conducted C14 testing on said fossil which proved that the fossil was only a thousand years old. The fact that people buy such BS is beyond me - the fact that you need carbon to do C14 dating...the fact that wouldn't someone have noticed the odd T-rex trashing the vegetable patch and written it into a document. Why don't they ask these questions?

It scares me that the Christian right can put such a stranglehold on children's educational development.

What I want one of them to answer is this: if God made Adam and Eve and they begat Cain and Abel and Cain killed Abel, when he was banished from Eden he took a wife. So, where did she come from? Was God busy and they forgot to mention that in the bible?

It makes me gnash my teeth!!

The Factory said...

Well they believe because they've decided to. There's no actual analysis going on here. Besides it's a way round all the evidence of evolution.

Debbie said...

Ahh this is here again :)
Not all Christians are anti the notion of evolution. Your logic is, as always, perfectly formed.
I have a faith as I choose to and happily support evolution, fossils and ever basic science! I suspect on every seesaw someone sits on the furthest edge and many others side just left and right of the middle. I hope all this boiling blood cools soon :)

Stevyn Colgan said...

Lisa, Stu - Thanks for the comments. I do try to be calm about it although it does make me very cross. The far Christian Right talk about 'both sides' but don't produce any valid argument other than to trash or lie about existing evidence that doesn't fit their world view. There was an interesting flury of discussion a few years back after the discovery of Tiktaalik (the fossil in the Evolution poster on the blogpost), a fish with working feet that provided the missing link between fish and land animals that Creationists had been denying existed. One of the more prominent Creationist sites announced that the fossil was a fake and should be disregarded by all Christians. That's the kind of thing that gets me angry.

Debbie - As I tried to make clear in the post, I take no issue with having faith. Although, if I am truly honest, I find the concept of a god as unlikely as fairies and Bigfoot, I am not some evangelical atheist like Richard Dawkins. As I say, people have the right to believe what they want. Many scientists, like yourself, have faith but accept evolution as a process. They tend to fall into the Intelligent Design camp. I have no problem with that as long as it doesn't skew emperical evidence. I also have no problem with kids being told about the various possible origins of life on Earth and deciding for themselves what they believe. What I am HUGELY opposed to, however, is the way that Creationists are 'loading the dice' with lies, poor data, piecemeal and unsubstantiated evidence and the constant attacks on real science.

Anonymous said...

Oddly prophetic is this wonderful satirical story about creationism by John Sladek from 1988

Stop Evolution in Its Tracks,evolution,1

- matthew davis

Debby said...

I'm a Christian. I guess that I prescribe to the blended belief catagory. It doesn't matter to me what others think. It always surprises me that they think it matters what I think. I realize that some folks are quite insistant on creationism: there were no dinosaurs, the earth is only 3000 years old, or other ridiculousness. I don't get that at all. I refuse to argue it. It simply doesn't matter what we believe. In the end, the truth will be unchanged by all of our debates.

Anonymous said...

read this
specifically, the dolphin/whale, giraffe, archer fish, angler fish, and venus fly trap sections

Stevyn Colgan said...

Thanks for popping by 'anonymous'.

Firstly, I'm always glad to look at alternative evidence ... but, as my blogpost pleads ... please create some!

All that your website says repeatedly is 'It can't have happened ...' Well, sorry, but it can and did and there's a mountain of evidence to support it. there is absolutely no evidence for creation.

There's also lots of bogus 'facts' in there too. In the whales and dolphins section it says 'Why is there a total absence of transitional forms fossilized?' There isn't! There are a number of transitional fossils in existence, most notably ambulocetis and its relatives. And modern whales still carry the vestigial bones of their lost rear limbs.

As for your other examples, again you offer no evidence other than your own incredulity. It's very clear that you have cut yourself off from an understanding of genetics, natural selection, plate tectonics and sexual selection as you utterly fail to relaise that these things can completely explain the 'problems' your website poses. I'm all for a good open discussion but you have provided me with nothing to argue against.

The chapter you've chosen to highlight is called 'animals that prove creation' and yet they do no such thing. All the chapter contains is a few wishy-washy, ill-researched and poorly considered pieces of 'evidence' against evolution. There is no evidence presented whatsoever for creation other than the writer's belief.

Your website states that 'For me, it takes a great stretch of the imagination' to envisage the slow evolution of a species. that, I suspect, is the nub of the matter. I can imagine it very easily and so can many many others, especially with evidence to help us. Are you really saying that you can't imagine the evolution of forms as different as Great Danes and Chihuahas from the wolf? Because that's happened in recent human history. So why is it so hard to imagine a giraffe evolving from something similar to a camel?


Must try harder.

Sidney SL said...

The Bible doesnt teach that Dinos has not existed. It doesnt teach the Earth was created 3k year ago.

It teachs God created everything (in air, sea and earth) in six PERIODS of time, not six days of 24hr. Gen 2:4 call the entire creative period of "day". So that who says that days were 24hr is completely wrong.

Now, let us go to the FACTS: Can, anyone of evolutionists PROOF, with FACTS at least ONE evolution by fossils?
(please, send me at sidtj [at] yahoo [dot] com [dot] br.

Is there at least ONE giraffe fossil with 2/4 of neck or may be 3/4?? Can anyone show me? Why dont? We have about 200 millions of fossil and billions of microfossils!

Why are ALL of explications about evolution filled with terms like "may be", "in some mode", "someway", "perhaps", "we dont know" and much other terms not factuals?

Why are so many of ilustrations completed with so many ilustrations? Where is the fossils to fill them?

How could you explain THE WAY that fossil named TIKTAALIK, where you wrote "WE WIN" really proove that there was an evolution of our hear?

"The bones play the music you make!"

All I can see is: the fossils proove ONLY that the life has began in a really short period of time and stayed practically immutable for BILLIONS of years. This is the fossils says.

Some of you have the fossils, I have a critical brain to question what that fossils really says.

sidtj - at - yahoo - com - br

John said...

@Sidney ,hell of a rant proves only that we both have no idea what the hell we are talking about.

i personally believe in A god not your god , clearly something must have made us since science says itself that nothing comes from nothing, but whats really the point in wondering what made us anyways? it seems to me that whatever (may have)made our life possible is likely trying to understand its own existence i know i would be if i were a god like figure.

I'd say whether whatever type of deity you worship is really or not don't worry about religion or death worry about happiness and life. even then life and death dont mean anything life can be taken away in an instant and death is inevitable the only thing you should be worried about is your own happiness and if it makes you happy knowing there's something in those clouds watching your back then go with it but as the years have gone by blood has been spilled to "protect" those beliefs , my only question is why , hwy kill your own brothers simply because they don't think like you do , in either case Evolution or Creation (i prefer evolution) we are all still brothers and sisters made of one , so why harm your own family. as soon as god can answer me a simple question instead of "works in mysterious ways" aka "we really don't f***ing know" then and only then will i have anything to think about until then i firmly believe we are very old and yet very young.