Ken Ham is a real piece of shit

Ken Ham, that dishonest creationist D-bag with a ‘museum’, recently held a “Date Night” where he spouted off about “love” and his own, personal ideas concerning marriage. People were allowed to buy tickets for the Christian price of about $72. And, as you do with events about “love”, Ham had security goons posted all over the place. That led to some problems.

Three of us (myself, my girlfriend and our friend Brandon) passed the security checkpoint despite minor scrutiny. We arrived right at 6:00 p.m.; Ken Ham was just beginning his talk of love in the museum’s special effects room, and we were eager to hear it. Brandon’s “date,” Joe of Barefoot & Progressive, was late, and so the solo Brandon was the focus of much interest for the two guards, who carried the air of actual police.

“What kind of car will she be driving?” asked one of the guards. They wanted to know so they could keep strict tabs on who came into the museum.

“Oh,” I said. “His partner’s name is Joe. I think he drives one of those hybrids…”

You can guess how things went from there. The gay couple was denied entry for not being very Christian and Ham continued on about “love”. It’s weird, isn’t it? There is no way to resolve what makes one person more or less Christian than the next when both stake a claim to that awful title, yet people still seem to think otherwise. It’s a wonderful exercise is pure subjectivity.

Of course, none of this may have happened if the state was different. Kentucky has no law granting equality to its gay citizens. Maine and about 20-25 others states do (depending on the exact extent of equality being discussed). So as it stands, Ham’s immorality is perfectly legal right now, even if ultimately unconstitutional. That’s terrible, but at least it will be easier for future generations to see his sort of bigotry for how absurd it really is; I predict in 35-40 years that the actions of Ham and his goons will be widely viewed much as we would view them if they did this to a black couple today.

Creationists hate honesty

It’s long been known that creationists love to quote-mine. They’ve long done it Charles Darwin, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Gould, Albert Einstein, and plenty of other scientists in order to support their positions. No one is really all that surprised when they keep doing it again and again.

So it is nonchalantly* that I present yet another example. This time it’s Creation “Museum” supporter Tom Estes.

So I have been wondering; why do atheists have such animosity for Ken Ham? He is attacked so viciously, so often by atheists that I wonder if they have pure, unadulterated hatred for the man. And again I wonder, why? Before I go on, I want to share this cartoon that was drawn by Jennifer over at http://blaghag.blogspot.com.

Okay, got it? Estes is looking to support the idea that atheists simply hate Ken Ham. The hatred is so intense it’s even unadulterated. So what’s he do? He reposts a cartoon. Here’s what he featured.

PZHam1
PZHam2-1

PZHam3

To see the rest of this cartoon, visit the Blaghag.

This seems to support Estes point quite well. Clearly, the cartoon is indicating the pure desire of atheists to express their unadulterated hatred for Ken Ham. But wait!

PZHam4

PZHam5

As it turns out, the cartoon is actually showing that, yes, atheists don’t like Ham very much. He misrepresents science as much as humanly possible. That’s a bad thing. But the point is a far cry from unadulterated hatred. It’s a play off the whole Expelled debacle combined with PZ Myers’ love of squid and squid-like creatures and a mockery of Ken Ham’s silly beliefs about dinosaurs. It’s a bit of fun, and in the end it shows something decidedly less cool but clearly more welcomed – everyone being civil to each other. Estes chopped off this portion of the comic (adding a link back to the front page – not the original post – of the cited blog). He’s just another creationist. He’s willing to ignore what’s inconvenient to him in order to support his position. It’s sort of like the entire concept behind Ken Ham’s bad “museum”.

*Doesn’t it seem like “chalant” should be a word? Instead of “So it is nonchalantly that I present…” it would be way better to say “So it is without chalant that I present…”. Just sayin’.

Rosenhouse

Very frustrating, but entirely typical for creationists. They have a single intuition, that functional systems do not evolve gradually by undirected processes. Virtually all of their scientific arguments are based on attaching poorly understood jargon to that intuition. They have no real understanding even of what the questions are, much less what to do to find answers.

Rosenhouse

Good job, Cincinnati Zoo

Good job, Cincinnati Zoo.

A promotional deal between the Cincinnati Zoo and the Creation Museum was scuttled Monday after the zoo received dozens of angry calls and emails about the partnership.

The promotion was billed as “Two Great Attractions, One Great Deal” and offered a package deal on tickets for the zoo’s annual Festival of Lights and a museum event called Bethlehem’s Blessings.

The deal appeared on web sites for both institutions Friday, but it was pulled by the zoo Monday morning after complaints about the partnership started pouring in.

Most of the protests echoed the same theme: the Creation Museum promotes a religious point of view that conflicts with the zoo’s scientific mission. The museum promotes a strict interpretation of the biblical version of how life began, and it suggests that dinosaurs and man once lived side by side.

“They seem like diametrically opposed institutions,” said Dr. James Leach, a Cincinnati radiologist who emailed zoo officials about his concerns. “The Cincinnati Zoo is one of this city’s treasures. The Creation Museum is an international laughing stock.”

It’s nice that this has been corrected so quickly. If you emailed the zoo to complain, it’d be nice to email them some praise on their swift action.

This surely brings to light (again) the anti-science joke that is the Creation Museum. It’s just unfortunate that it’s for the very reason that it is anti-science that so many people seem to like it. We have the best way of knowing available to us, revealing so much beauty in the world, yet so many reject it as mechanical and bland and heartless. I hope people living in the area will visit the Cincinnati Zoo and maybe experience a little of the figurative magic of science. It’s certainly better than the literal magic peddled by the Creation Museum.

Cincinnati Zoo aligns with ignorance

Apparently, the Cincinnati Zoo is offering some awful deal where people can get into both its attractions and the Creation Museum for the price of one admission.

PZ Myers has a post on his blog on the topic. He has provided contact links for the zoo, along with some encouragement to raise some noise about this anti-science malarkey. The Creation Museum is a joke, but the fact that it has somehow managed to latch its claws into a reputable organization is far from funny.

Why Natural Selection is Not Random

Update: Read this article instead.

Every once in awhile (read: all the damn time), a creationist will say evolution is random. Sometimes they say natural selection is random (the words are rather interchangeable among some creationists). But one creationist does us one better and calls both of them random (and the Big Bang, too). So here is an article I wrote quite a few months ago on the topic. The first couple grafs were mainly meant to be topical, so at this point they’re a bit out of date. Deal.

Why Evolution Is Not Random

During a CNN June debate, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee raised his hand when asked whether or not he accepts the theory of evolution. More recently, the Florida Board of Education spent several months deciding if the mere word ‘evolution’ should appear in the curriculum. After many debates, a compromise was met where evolution was referred to as only a theory, not a fact (gravity is also a theory, not a fact). In the Spring 2008 Ben Stein will revive his career on the silver screen. But rather than asking if anyone has seen Bueller, he will be questioning the motives of the scientific community at large. An overwhelming majority of biologists regard the notion of intelligent design – the proposal that life is so complex there must be a creator – as unscientific. Ben Stein sees a conspiracy.

Behind all of these cases is a fundamental underpinning: the desire to bring more people to God. But what is often accepted is the erroneous means to this end. The very public war against the theory of evolution has brought many of these means to light for evolutionary biologists, the crusaders and rottweilers of Charles Darwin’s revolutionary theory.

Perhaps the most vibrant means is the argument against plausibility. To be at all likely, evolution cannot be a random process. Yet this is exactly the case made by many creationists and, indeed, is one of the more popular starting points in a stance opposing the theory of evolution.

One of the reasons creationism could be considered plausible is that it makes complex life likely. If a supreme being exists which can do as he pleases and has the means, then why not create life? This does fail to answer the nature of the origin of a being complex enough to create life (and presumably the Universe), but all things equal, evolution does not address the issue of the origins of life (nor did Charles Darwin ever intend for it to do that). So if one is to parallel the situation, it is well enough to side-step answering the origin of a supreme being for our current scope.

So it follows that if creationism, from at least a certain point, makes complexity likely, then the creationist argument that evolution is random must have a basis in opposing the likelihood of complex life forms. Dr. David Menton of the $27 million Creationist Museum in Kentucky and graduate of Brown University with a Ph.D. in cell biology, puts the creationist standpoint succinctly, saying “Evolutionists feel vulnerable to evolution being pure chance.”

But what of “pure chance”? Evolution consists of many mechanisms, but the two big driving forces are natural selection and random mutation. (To be fair, random mutations should be considered more as just a force rather than a driving force.) So why do some consider these mechanisms to be random? Dr. Menton appeals to the idea that “science is built on a statistical foundation.” Natural selection and random mutations do not result in complex life forms because such occurrences are greatly improbable. Answers in Genesis, the group which runs the Creation Museum, explains further on their website, http://www.answersingenesis.com. “The probability of the chance formation of a hypothetical functional ‘simple’ cell, given all the ingredients, is acknowledged to be worse than 1 in 1057800.” In other words, evolution is about as likely as all the atoms in the Statue of Liberty moving in one direction and then the other, making her appear as though she was waving to all who came to America. It’s possible, but so unlikely that it isn’t worth devoting much thought.

So if evolution is such a stupendously unlikely thing to happen, then why do we give it any credit? Why bother with such odds? If evolution is unlikely, then a mechanism which provides a path to complexity is necessary if the theory is to survive scientific scrutiny – nay, if it is to survive any scrutiny. Natural selection is the answer for most biologists. Ken Miller, a professor of biology at Brown University, perhaps best known for his testimony in the ‘Intelligent Design’ trial (Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District) in Dover, Pennsylvania (and subsequent appearance on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report), but also famous for his opposition to creationism, is one such biologist.

“I have no idea why someone would take a term like natural selection and say it is random”, said Miller when reached for an interview.

Miller sees natural selection as one of the essential paths to complex life forms. Such a mechanism gives species the ability to filter out what doesn’t work and leave what does. Professor Miller echoes this notion, saying “[n]atural selection is a distinctly non-random process that acts as a sieve through which genetic changes are filtered.” Just as a sieve filled with various rocks will not end up filtering out its contents randomly, natural selection does not filter organisms randomly.

But how else can it be said natural selection is non-random? In The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin compares it to artificial selection. That is, when humans breed, say, dogs, for particular traits, they are applying a form of selection pressure to a phenotype (a particular dog or particular dogs). This in turn results in the great variety we see among our beloved pets. The key difference here, however, is that this form of selection had a particular goal in mind, i.e. floppy ears, sleek body, fluffy coat, wrinkly skin, etc. Humans were able to apply their foresight and consciousness to the reasoning behind the selection. Nature does not do this.

This notion that natural selection is both a non-random process and an undirected one at the same time can lead to confusion. The concept is essentially that this mechanism lends itself to increasing complexity because it builds in cumulative steps. For a step to be cumulative, it (quite obviously) must be based on the previous step. A random process does not lend itself to cumulative steps because, by definition, it is not based on anything. So in this way natural selection is non-random. But it also does not look to end in the phenotype of a tiger or a bat. It has no conscience, merely results. For this reason, it is undirected.

But the second key ingredient in evolution is random mutation. As Jay Labov of the National Academy of Sciences points out, “[n]atural selection acts on things that are already there.” Without random mutations, there isn’t much there; certainly not enough to account for the great genetic variation seen within species today.

There is dissent, however, from the creationist side. Dr. Menton certainly agrees that natural selection can only act on what it is given (“I believe [it] occurs. I believe in it completely”), but he disagrees that the genetic variation is available for one species to become another. This is because “[r]andom mutations do not provide for the raw material for novel information. It’s like going to Midas and asking for a dozen yellow roses. They just aren’t there,” he says. Without these genetic changes, “[w]e don’t see natural selection producing novel features.” Menton goes further to add that something like a reptile does not have the raw material to produce the features, such as wings, which are seen in birds.

The first issue of whether or not random mutations can add novel information can be answered in day-to-day life. Mutated animals (including humans) are fairly common. A person with an extra finger or a snake with two heads are both examples of organisms which have mutations. These are deleterious (bad) mutations, but they aren’t the most frequent. More commonly, neutral mutations occur. These aren’t particularly acted upon by natural selection because most genes tolerate changes quite well, according to Miller. Sometimes, however, a gene will mutate and it will be beneficial. It may extremely slight, but if it offers any survival advantage at all, it is more likely to survive the sieve of natural selection. For example, a mutation which makes a bacterium immune to antibodies will quickly spread throughout the population.

A second issue is whether or not natural selection can produce novel features. Assuming random mutations do not provide for novel information (they do), natural selection can still produce novel features. Dr. Menton’s example of reptiles and birds works perfectly.

“Reptilian ancestors of birds had wherewithal to produce feathers,” says Miller. When speaking of the more than dozen dinosaur fossils which show feathers, he continues, “One (Shuvuuia deserti) has tested positive for the major protein found in bird feathers.”

What does this mean? Simply, ancestors of modern day reptiles had the information to create novel features. But it is “[e]nvironmental factors [which] may turn genes on and off,” says Labov. Whether or not the genes needed to create the particular feature of feathers show up in a phenotype is determined by need, which is governed by natural selection.

Anne Holden, staff member at the National Center for Science Education, further supports the point of natural selection having great genetic variation with which to work by pointing out that our “DNA can recombine and does recombine during fertilization.” The genome of an offspring is a combination of its parents’ genes, but the way in which recombination can occur is impossible to number.

Holden further cites the adaptive radiation of Darwin’s finches on the Galapagos Islands. As a result of the variation within every organism which is born, the famous finches which where pivotal in Darwin’s formulation of the mechanism of natural selection, had the ability to become distinctly varied throughout the Pacific islands they inhabited. Not only were these finches much different from the familiar European ones Darwin knew, but they were different from island to island. Depending upon the size of the food supply (nuts, primarily), the finches’ beak sizes changed accordingly. A random happenstance of small, medium, and large beaks were not the case on an island where small, hard to get shells persisted. Instead, natural selection non-randomly ‘selected’ for the birds which were best adapted to the task at hand.

It is important to restate the point of this article. Evolution has a strong random element, but natural selection is not a random process. It is this mechanism which gives rise to the great complexity seen in all living organisms today. It does not indicate what the result will be, but it does explain that complexity can be. It builds, in cumulative steps, toward greater adaptability. As a great man once said, there is a grandeur in all this.