Law versus theory

PZ has a couple of posts going right now where he takes down some common creationist canards. One post absolutely wrecks Ann Coulter (who, incidentally, has some real kiddie rhetoric going on – it’s just awful), and the other takes on Bryan Fischer. Each post is excellent, but PZ skims over something I would like to address in the latter link. Here are some excerpts from Fischer’s writing:

First Law of Thermodynamics. This law (note: not a theory but a scientific law) teaches us that matter and energy can neither be created nor destroyed…

Second Law of Thermodynamics. This law (note: not a theory but a law) teaches us that in every chemical or heat reaction, there is a loss of energy that never again is available for another heat reaction…

There are two kinds of people who have confusion over what a scientific law is versus what a scientific theory is. The first kind includes much of the general public. These people will have a basic misunderstanding, but they don’t tend to go about basing arguments upon it. The second kind, however, is an ugly little bunch. They include the likes of Fischer who also share the general lay public’s misunderstanding, but they then go about premising a bunch of bullshit on it.

A scientific theory and a scientific law are effectively the same thing. The latter term tends to be used more in physics than anywhere else, but that is a matter of history and convention more than anything. There is no magic property that makes the theory of gravity any different from the law of gravity. Both terms describe the same thing. We’re merely talking about banners and titles here, nothing of scientific value. Any person interested in science ought to learn this pretty quickly.

I recall sitting in an introductory biology course many a year ago when one student asked the professor the difference between a theory and a law. It is rare (though not absent) for “law” to be used in biology, so I’m not sure what spurred the question, but the professor answered it exactly right: There is no significant difference. I had a good deal of respect for the student at that moment. He was ignorant of something, so he got an answer. Creationists like Fischer, however, don’t do that. They understand the way we conventionally use terms and assume they can aptly apply that understanding to science. They cannot. They are wrong and scientifically irresponsible to do so.

But who’s willing to bet Fischer keeps pretending there is a difference even after being told there isn’t one? I am.

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“Basically the atheists are just stupid…” … “Lol.”

An atheist group has a sign up in the Illinois state capitol which reads as follows:

At this season
OF THE WINTER SOLSTICE
may reason prevail.

There are no gods,
no devils, no angels,
no heaven or hell.
There is only our natural world.
Religion is but
a myth and superstition
that hardens hearts
and enslaves minds.

This is the same message that was posted in the Washington state capitol last year. If you click that link, you’ll see Bill O’Reilly’s take on the issue. Now he has the genuinely dumb Ann Coulter chiming in this year.

First Billo says atheists are stupid for making people angry. Really? Bill O’Reilly is making this a central part of his argument? It’s a strategy that has clearly brought him success.

The next point he makes is that this is a “Christian-generated holiday”. First of all, Christmas has its roots outside Christianity. Second of all, it’s a federal holiday that the Supreme Court has ruled has been secularized to the point where it sufficiently lacks enough religious connection to be allowable as a holiday in the first place. As I said last year, if it was deemed to simply be a Christian celebration, it would not be a federal holiday today. Third, the Illinois state capitol does not endorse Christianity.

For some bizarre reason, Billo then says that atheists are demanding to be allowed to call people “idiots” for believing in Christianity or Christmas. First, no. Second, I ‘believe’ in Christmas. I plan on celebrating it like I have every year. I don’t intend on telling everyone at the Christmas party to stop being idiots, myself included. Third, the atheist group is stating its position that belief in gods and devils and angels and other such things are false beliefs. If a Jewish group put up a sign saying there is no hell, that would inherently be telling hell-believing religions they are wrong. Would Billo and Little Anny Coulter be jumping down their throats? Christ. It’s a group promoting its view. Deal with it.

Billo next says it’s just insulting to be called an idiot. Again, no one did that here, but if it makes him feel better, I can get rid of this strawman for him: Billo. You’re an idiot.

Little Anny then goes off into kook land and claims that the U.S. was established on the belief in God and makes distinctions between religions. She’s an idiot, too.

Finally Little Anny tries her hand at analogies. Being someone who is genuinely dumb, she fails – as one should expect. She says this is all like everyone bringing in a picture of his or her pet but then one person brings in a sign that says “I hate Fluffy and Fluffy sucks”. She concludes that this doesn’t fit within “the public forum definition” and thus shouldn’t even be tolerated. (Conveniently, she just defined herself as a bigot for me. Thanks, Anny.) In other words, the Illinois state capitol is open to religious displays and religious displays only. I find this fascinating since Little Anny has time and again argued that atheism is a religion. I guess if atheist signs should be banned for not being religious, then atheism isn’t a religion. Crazy! Who would have thought a genuinely dumb person would hold entirely contradictory positions at once?

"Basically the atheists are just stupid…" … "Lol."

An atheist group has a sign up in the Illinois state capitol which reads as follows:

At this season
OF THE WINTER SOLSTICE
may reason prevail.

There are no gods,
no devils, no angels,
no heaven or hell.
There is only our natural world.
Religion is but
a myth and superstition
that hardens hearts
and enslaves minds.

This is the same message that was posted in the Washington state capitol last year. If you click that link, you’ll see Bill O’Reilly’s take on the issue. Now he has the genuinely dumb Ann Coulter chiming in this year.

First Billo says atheists are stupid for making people angry. Really? Bill O’Reilly is making this a central part of his argument? It’s a strategy that has clearly brought him success.

The next point he makes is that this is a “Christian-generated holiday”. First of all, Christmas has its roots outside Christianity. Second of all, it’s a federal holiday that the Supreme Court has ruled has been secularized to the point where it sufficiently lacks enough religious connection to be allowable as a holiday in the first place. As I said last year, if it was deemed to simply be a Christian celebration, it would not be a federal holiday today. Third, the Illinois state capitol does not endorse Christianity.

For some bizarre reason, Billo then says that atheists are demanding to be allowed to call people “idiots” for believing in Christianity or Christmas. First, no. Second, I ‘believe’ in Christmas. I plan on celebrating it like I have every year. I don’t intend on telling everyone at the Christmas party to stop being idiots, myself included. Third, the atheist group is stating its position that belief in gods and devils and angels and other such things are false beliefs. If a Jewish group put up a sign saying there is no hell, that would inherently be telling hell-believing religions they are wrong. Would Billo and Little Anny Coulter be jumping down their throats? Christ. It’s a group promoting its view. Deal with it.

Billo next says it’s just insulting to be called an idiot. Again, no one did that here, but if it makes him feel better, I can get rid of this strawman for him: Billo. You’re an idiot.

Little Anny then goes off into kook land and claims that the U.S. was established on the belief in God and makes distinctions between religions. She’s an idiot, too.

Finally Little Anny tries her hand at analogies. Being someone who is genuinely dumb, she fails – as one should expect. She says this is all like everyone bringing in a picture of his or her pet but then one person brings in a sign that says “I hate Fluffy and Fluffy sucks”. She concludes that this doesn’t fit within “the public forum definition” and thus shouldn’t even be tolerated. (Conveniently, she just defined herself as a bigot for me. Thanks, Anny.) In other words, the Illinois state capitol is open to religious displays and religious displays only. I find this fascinating since Little Anny has time and again argued that atheism is a religion. I guess if atheist signs should be banned for not being religious, then atheism isn’t a religion. Crazy! Who would have thought a genuinely dumb person would hold entirely contradictory positions at once?