Friday, May 16, 2008

Creationists are bad at math

Yeah, it's nothing new, but I'm in the midst of a "discussion" with a raving creationist and he trotted out the "random emergence of life is impossible" argument. Since this stupid argument is still being used, I may as well post a simple and concise rebuttal in case anyone finds it and thinks it's useful.

This argument falls apart when you consider the central fallacy. Creationists invariably choose something, in my most recent experience an enzyme, and say that "the chance that this would appear randomly is less than 1 in 10^50, therefore it is impossible." Well, yeah. That's what evolution is for. It evolved little by little. Duh.

So next time someone tries this idiocy on you, throw this back at them:

Deal out a deck of cards, one by one, and write down the order in which the cards are dealt. The chance of dealing the first card is 1 in 52. The chance of dealing the next card is 1 in 51 (since there is one less card in the deck now). Continue this on until you've dealt out the entire deck, and multiply the probabilities to find the probability of dealing the deck in the order that you did.

You'll find that the probability is 1 in 8 x 10^67. According to creationists, that is impossible. But it happened! Whoops.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The ICR has enemies

I'm in the middle of finals week, so I'm busy studying instead of surfing the Internet and writing about things, but this is just too good. The Institute for Creation Research has posted a page decrying "Evolution's Evangelists;" Richard Dawkins, Eugenie Scott, and PZ Myers.

Oh boy, the stupid runs pretty thick over at ICR, doesn't it?

The ICR whines that, "By stating that there is no "serious" scientific doubt [about evolution], Scott neatly eliminates the possibility that non-evolutionary scientists can provide a valid case for their hypotheses or conclusions." So many things wrong in so little words. What is a non-evolutionary scientist? One who does not accept evolution? It's certainly possible that a scientist who does not believe in evolution could engage in good science, but it would be a bit difficult to get anyone to listen to them. That's what happens when you acquire a reputation as someone who eschews evidence in a field which is entirely evidence-based.

What I think the term "non-evolutionary scientist" actually meant is a scientist who attempts to disprove evolution. Their problem isn't anything that Eugenie Scott has said or done. The ICR must think that Scott's powers rival those of their twisted conception of God if they actually believe that her declaration that "there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred" causes all evidence contrary to evolution to magically disappear. That they think anything besides reality influences whether their case (read: evidence or lack thereof) is valid reveals again how little they actually understand about what science is and how it works.

They continue on to blubber about PZ Myers (I guess he hurt their feelings), likening him to a "newly-hormonal teenager" and dismissing him with the following:

evolution is fact, evolution vs. creationism is a case of science vs. religion, science and religion are anathema to each other, therefore scientific creationism should be banished to the lunatic fringe.

No matter where the evidence leads.

Ignoring or misinterpreting evidence is not the same as the non-existence of evidence. Science and religion are anathema to each other (it's certainly possible to be both a theist and a scientist, but you can't mix the two) by their very nature, and "scientific" creationism is on the lunatic fringe. Does anybody who is credible agree with these guys? Nope.

And how cute that they've actually listened to the arguments against them and parroted them back. "No matter where the evidence leads" is supposed to be the scientists' line!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Brian Cox: What really goes on at the Large Hadron Collider

Brian Cox is a brilliant speaker. I don't have too much to comment on since I'm not a physicist. Just watch the video; you'll be glad you did.

The stupid! It burns!!

Evil Incarnate Ben Stein was interviewed...this means that he invariably said some incredibly stupid and offensive things. Let's have a look, shall we? (the following are all quotes from Stein)

"...the evidence does not take you to Darwinism about, uh, about, uh, as to the foundations of life. Darwin just had nothing to say about that. The evidence doesn’t take you to Darwinism about astronomy or about the laws of physics or of thermodynamics."

This is like beating a dead horse, but it's just so wrong that I can't stop whining every time someone is this dumb. First: "Darwinism about?" That doesn't even mean anything, demonstrating yet again that Stein has absolutely no clue what he's talking about. Also, evolution (I assume that's what he means by "Darwinism," though that's hardly an appropriate name for the theory anymore), of course, has nothing at all to do with astronomy or the laws of physics. Perhaps he should next make a documentary about how "Big String Theory" is expelling any scientist who dares to suggest that the laws of physics were actually put in place by an intelligent designer.

"When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. [PZ] Myers, talking about how great scientists were, I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed."

This is just way too out there. How can any sane person say that? I'll just refer you to PZ since he's the one who was of talking about science?

"Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and science leads you to killing people."

Compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and fanaticism and dogma leads you to killing people.

There, I fixed it.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Civil Rights for the New Century

The US Senate has unanimously passed a bill that would bar discrimination on the basis of genetic test results. It still needs to pass the House and Dubya before it's a law, but I can't imagine either of them could find any reason to take issue with it.

This is a good idea, and a surprising example of foresight from the US legislature. Now that it is feasible for people to have their entire genome sequenced, there are all sorts of things to worry about for those that choose to have it done. Will employers refuse to hire you if it looks like you may develop a neurodegenerative within the next decade? Will you be charged a higher premium on health insurance, or denied it altogether, if you carry a gene for a late-onset disease? This law will help to prevent those kinds of things from happening.

On the same token, it does open the door to some dishonesty from patients. If you know that you're going to get sick and need some very expensive treatment sometime soon based on genetic evidence, then you'll go out of your way to make sure you get health insurance that covers the exact treatments you'll need. Right now, it's kind of a gamble - what do you want to protect yourself against? Do you spring for coverage of the rare disease that you may or may not have? With genetic evidence in your hands, you'll have much better information than the insurance companies, and they could stand to lose a lot of money. Yes, I realize that they exist to pay out money for medical procedures, but when the customers know exactly what they're going to need and about when they'll need it, that could throw a serious monkey wrench into the economy.

This bill is definitely a step in the right direction, but as science creates new frontiers, we are going to need to do a whole lot more thinking about the social and economic implications of those frontiers and do some tricky legislating to make sure everything still works. I haven't a clue what the best way is to handle the potential exploitation of insurance companies by their own customers. I suppose that may be an argument in favor of socialized medicine in the future. It will be interesting to see where this goes.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Texans is Smrt

Texas has denied the Institute for Creation Research's request to begin offering online master's degrees in science education. Bravo! According to the Associated Press, the CEO of the institute said that the curriculum would include evolution as well as Bible-based alternatives, but also - and pay attention to this - that "students and faculty in the institute must profess faith in a literal translation of Biblical creation, that God created the world in six days and that the Earth is much newer than evolutionary science suggests."

There goes any chance that they had at convincing anyone at all that they're just trying to find a good scientific alternative to evolutionary theory. Far from teaching "both sides of the issue," (never mind that reality only has one side: the real one) it seems this program would actually require its students to come to a conclusion before ever learning anything, exactly what IDers accuse "evolutionists" of doing! And I suspect, probably correctly based on the decision of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, that very little learning would happen even after they entered the program anyway. I find it interesting that they admit their goal so openly this time; it's a level of honesty I have not yet seen from the ICR.