Why do creationists lie?

Here’s an old example of lying creationists:

Basically, some creationists lied to get an interview with Dawkins. They later edited together some footage to make it appear like Dawkins couldn’t answer a simple question: “Can you give an example of a genetic mutation or an evolutionary process which can be seen to increase the information in the genome?” After a long pause (which was unrelated to the overdubbed question), the dishonest creationists paste in some footage of Dawkins answering an unrelated question. It’s patently silly.

So what’s the answer? Dawkins explains the situation and answers the question here. But I’m going to simplify the answer.

An example of a genetic mutation or an evolutionary process which can be seen to increase the information is Down’s Syndrome. Here’s a karyotype for the genetic defect. Look at chromosome 21. It should have two copies but it actually has three. Bam. That’s more information. That is precisely the question creationists want answered: how can information increase in the genome? Mutation.

Of course, the way the question is worded is stupid. Evolution is all about increasing (and sometimes decreasing) information. Duplications do this: one gene is copied twice, one copy diverges to participate in some other function, and bam, we not only have more information, but we have more useful, advantageous information. We see this all the time, all the way down to minute differences in snails.

Let me put in another way. DNA is composed of 4 letters: A, C, T, G. These are in triplet form. That means it takes three letters to make an amino acid. For example, GGC is the amino acid glycine (so is GGA and GGG). A change in one of these letters is a mutation. In most instances, a mutation will change an amino acid. Let’s say the first G in GGC is changed to a C. That makes CGC, which codes for arginine. The gene in which this mutation occurred will now have one amino acid replaced. It is possible that it was have the same basic function as the previous amino acid, but often enough it has a different function. It may make a more ideal protein or an entirely new one. This is a change in information. In order for this information to be maintained, natural selection must act on the organism (or gene, depending on your view). That is the evolutionary process which maintains, increases, and decreases information in the genome. It happens every single day.

I should apologize to my non-creationist readers who didn’t need me to be so basic, but these creationists keep asking questions that are answered in the first weeks of every spring and fall in any intro to bio course.

Anyway, here’s a video of Dawkins talking about dishonest creationists.

Drink of my blood

Just a notice people living in the Augusta area that there will be a blood drive on March 9. Here is the information. A few more results for the area (and other parts of the country as well) can be found here.

Penney Memorial Church 1038 Perkins Hall
35 Grove St
Augusta, ME 04330

Because giving blood is far more effective than pretending to drink it. UPDATE: Here’s a thought. PZ Myers had a whole big deal where he desecrated a Catholic wafer. It was to prove a point that nothing is sacred (basically). But instead of a wafer, how about dumping out some blessed ‘blood of Christ’ outside a donation location? It’d be especially poignant to do it outside a church. But this time the point wouldn’t be that nothing is sacred but rather that deep belief, prayer, and silly rituals* are far less effective than simply being a good person and doing good things (for example, like actually helping people by giving them real blood).

*To be fair, PZ surely mocked these things as well throughout wafer-gate.

Making stuff up about global warming

Most conservatives who have a public voice are outright liars. It’s really that simple, so let’s not parse words. It isn’t that they are fundamentally misdirected in their ideas and thus genuinely believe what they say in public. No. They are simply liars. They know better, but they say things which are untrue. George Will is just another case.

To recap: George Will wrote a column in which he tried to downplay the evidence that global warming has already affected the Earth, and that it will have bigger impacts in the future. Various bloggers have pointed out examples where Will misrepresented scientific studies in this column. The most glaring one was this: “According to the University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979.”

The Research Center put a statement on their site explaining that Will was wrong. On February 15, the day Will wrote his column, there was substantially less ice than on February 15, 1979: the area of Texas, California, and Oklahoma combined.

I’m waiting for John Lott to pick up on Will’s piece, citing it as good science.

Massive explosion in space

When an explosion stronger than 9,000 supernovae takes place in deep space, it may be time to reconsider if Earth is really such a focal point of the Cosmos (provided you think such a patently silly thing).

The spectacular blast, which occurred in September in the Carina constellation, produced energies ranging from 3,000 to more than five billion times that of visible light, astrophysicists said.

“Visible light has an energy range of between two and three electron volts and these were in the millions to billions of electron volts,” astrophysicist Frank Reddy of US space agency NASA told AFP.

“If you think about it in terms of energy, X-rays are more energetic because they penetrate matter. These things don’t stop for anything — they just bore through and that’s why we can see them from enormous distances,” Reddy said.

A team led by Jochen Greiner of Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics determined that the huge gamma-ray burst occurred 12.2 billion light years away.

I want to just make an extra point of the next graf in the article.

The sun is eight light minutes from Earth, and Pluto is 12 light hours away.

In other words, while the Sun may have exploded 7 minutes ago and we won’t know for another 90 seconds or so (it’s slightly more than 8 light minutes away), we only know about these explosions now because we happen to be 12 billion lightyears from them (and they happened 12 billion years ago). There’s no way to know what’s happening in this area now – it’s going to take another 12 billion years until this region of space has any indication.

This image is stunning

Thanks to PZ for finding it.


Our morality is rooted in evolution


MONKEYS and apes have a sense of morality and the rudimentary ability to tell right from wrong, according to new research.

In a series of studies scientists have found that monkeys and apes can make judgments about fairness, offer altruistic help and empathise when a fellow animal is ill or in difficulties. They even appear to have consciences and the ability to remember obligations.

The research implies that morality is not a uniquely human quality and suggests it arose through evolution. That could mean the strength of our consciences is partly determined by our genes.

This isn’t exactly news, though I suppose the studies are recent. As expected, they go to confirm that “evolution could not have evolved” is a patently stupid statement made without basis. It’s a favorite of creationists and is just a variation on the God of the Gaps argument – “It’s soooo complicated! I can’t explain it and I’ve insolated myself from all forms of science because it is SATAN so I don’t know about any evidence, so it couldn’t have evolved! It just couldn’t have! LA LA LA LA!”

Anyway, off the creationists and on the science:

The animals were asked to perform a set of simple tasks and then rewarded with food or affection. The rewards were varied, seemingly at random. De Waal found the animals had an acute sense of fairness and objected strongly when others were rewarded more than themselves for the same task, often sulking and refusing to take part any further.

Another study looked at altruism in chimps – and found they were often willing to help others even when there was no obvious reward. “Chimpanzees spontaneously help both humans and each other in carefully controlled tests,” said de Waal.

Other researchers, said de Waal, have found the same qualities in capuchin monkeys, which also show “spontaneous prosocial tendencies”, meaning they are keen to share food and other gifts with other monkeys, for the pleasure of giving.

“Everything else being equal, they prefer to reward a companion together with themselves rather than just themselves,” he said. “The research suggests that giving is self-rewarding for monkeys.”

Words from a 'respected' theologian

Why we still respect theologians is beyond me. These people are nothing more than literay critics with a very narrow focus. At least this one only seems to have made headlines at a Christian site. On top of that, he actually said some things which aren’t batshit crazy.

“If you understand Christianity or even Theism – the belief of a sovereign creator God – and evolutionary theory in its dominant form , I find it impossible to reconcile the two,” Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said on his radio program Thursday, the 200th birthday anniversary of Charles Darwin.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say impossible, but it is tremendously difficult.

The seminary head went on to explain how the “originating mechanism of creation” is where theism runs right into collision with where modern evolutionary theory is.

Whereas the Biblical account of creation accepts the role of a Creator, the theory of evolution “suggests that natural selection is indeed the mechanism and that it is entirely natural and in no case supernatural,” said the theologian.

“There is no way for God to intervene in the process and for it to remain natural,” he asserted.

He’s sort of right. Theism and evolution can intersect. It’s just that the theism has to be precisely superfluous with evolution. That, of course, makes the theism rather useless, but it does solve the issue of being irreconcilable: a god just needs to match the established scientific fact. A religion like that would be a very powerful force, indeed. Aside from having the noteworthy property of being true, it would also have the worthwhile attribute of being beautiful.

Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, said last week that the idea of evolution could be traced to St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, according to the Telegraph in London. Both theologians had observed that big fish eat smaller fish and that forms of life had been transformed slowly over time.

This is a bug creationists love. Attempting to discredit Darwin seems to give them a tingle up their legs. I don’t quite understand why this is so popular but let’s just state a fact: Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace discovered evolution independently around the same time. No one else gets credit for this big discovery. That’s because no one else described what they observed (nor even observed the same things) like Darwin and Wallace. These two men get the credit. End of story, you filthy, lying creationists.

Although Mohler said he rejected evolution as a way to explain the origin of all things, he acknowledged that there are changes in animals that take place over time.

“No Conservative Christian should deny there is a process of change that is evident within the animal kingdom. And there is even a process of natural selection that appears at least to be natural,” he said, adding all one has to do is look at a herd of cattle to find evidence of adaptation and a competition of genes.

Apparently in la-la land principles of change stop applying once they become inconvenient. “Oh, sure, gravity applies to apples and such, but certainly not galaxies. I mean, that’s too much to fathom!”

A Gallup poll released on Feb. 11 found that 200 years after Darwin most Americans still don’t believe in evolution, with only 4 out of 10 Americans saying they accepted the theory.

“I believe the reason why they cannot believe in evolution is because when they look in the mirror they cannot see an accident,” remarked Mohler.

It is true many humans have quite the ego, but I’d also propose that the campaign of ignorance as waged by the Discovery Institute, Ben Stein, and other dishonest creationist organizations/creationists is a much larger factor.

Perhaps if this literary critic went to school for a real education, he’d have far less ignorance on which to rely. But whom am I to talk? Mohler has a Master of Divinity and Ph.D. in “Systematic and Historical Theology”.