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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Thought of the day

One thing I’ve noticed in debates and conversations over FTSOS, Facebook, and elsewhere is that creationists love to throw around scientific terms. Of course, they have no idea what any of them really mean, but that doesn’t stop them. “Information” is a favorite, but there are even simpler ones. Unfortunately, when pressed to give definitions or in-depth explanations, there is little to no accountability. Don’t know what the hell you’re saying on Facebook? Someone challenge you? No worry. Just ignore it and move on. It’s the Internet. So in light of this, I’m instituting a personal policy of asking creationists to give me definitions of simple terms when I see them in person. Since these people obviously aren’t even interested in biology or any other science, it won’t be a fair fight, I know. But they have it coming.

North Korea and Fundie Christians

Since the death of bin Laden, North Korea has been attempting to suppress spread of the news:

North Korea has started a drive to confiscate mobile phones smuggled from China in an attempt to suppress news from the outside world, a group of defectors from the communist state said.

North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity said in its latest newsletter police in North Hamkyong and Yangkang provinces bordering Russia and China have started urging residents to voluntarily surrender mobile phones or face punishment.

This is to be expected from North Korea. It is a place led by cowards who know accurate information, knowledge, and considered thought will undermine their worldview.

So that got me thinking. Who else does that? Who else refuses to make people aware of what the opposition is saying? Who else avoids facts like the plague? Why, fundie Christians, of course. It happens to PZ all the time with the Creation ‘Museum’ people. One creationist even did it to me. And I’ve seen it in countless other places. (Punching Bag Neil loves to do it, the coward.)

So can someone remind me where Jesus said that cowardice was a virtue?

Thought of the day

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: Virtually every big-name creationist is a liar. It’s that simple.

Thought of the day

It’s ridiculous to demand anyone offer creationists any respect.

Hilarious creationists

This comes from a silly creationist site that has no authority on anything to do with science or common sense.

There is no scientific evidence that a species can change the number of chromosomes within the DNA. The chromosome count within each species is fixed. This is the reason a male from one species cannot mate successfully with a female of another species.

There is specific evidence for this occurring. Currently Darren Wong is painstakingly going through each creationist claim from that site piece by piece. He has yet to get to this bit, but I will leave it up to him since he’s willing to go into such enormous detail on everything. (Though for the time being, here is one version of what he’s going to say.)

What I want to address here is the last sentence in the above quote. I mean, really? This creationist thinks the reason a male from one species is prevented from reproducing with a female from another has to do with chromosome count? Really? So then I should expect an orangutan to be able to reproduce with a hedgehog since they both have 48 chromosomes?

Non-acceptance and intolerance

Time and again I find myself coming across people who think they’re making some grand point when they call me (or those who share my views) intolerant. It is utterly evident that these people have no working definition of “intolerance”. They are completely unable to make even the simplest of distinctions (which fits with why they tend to be conservative).

The most common instance of this has to do with same-sex marriage. It’s a definitional fact that those who oppose same-sex marriage are bigots. They deny that marriage is a right for all and base their conclusions on a lack of acceptance for homosexuality. This lack of acceptance, though wholly ignorant and pathetic, is legally and morally acceptable on some level because it does not infringe on the rights of others. However, the conclusions based on that lack of acceptance are morally reprehensible and (more relevantly to government) legally unsound. They are non-acceptance turned intolerance. And intolerance is the cornerstone of bigotry.

With that in mind, it should be obvious that those in favor of same-sex marriage are not intolerant, even if they think homosexuality is wrong. The time when it is appropriate to describe someone as intolerant is also the time when it is appropriate to use the word “bigot”, such as with anti-same-sex marriage people. They have infringed upon a person’s rights.

It can’t be helped that the word “bigot” is perfectly suited for the subject, but there seems to be some confusion with its use. The word itself does not equal intolerance. No one is infringing upon anyone’s rights or freedoms or liberties. No one is forcing Catholics (the bigoted driving force behind Maine’s recent bigotry) to accept anything. More over, no one is forcing anyone to do or believe anything whatsoever which infringes upon anything remotely important (i.e., rights, freedoms, liberties). Calling a bigot a bigot and not letting them get their bigoted way is not intolerance.

The confusion here is mind-boggling. It’s as if people have no ability to distinguish between intolerance and non-acceptance. What’s more, when non-acceptance shows up as a lack of respect, people further believe there is intolerance afoot. Puh-lease. If I say, for instance, that the belief that God created the Universe in the middle of the well-established civilization of the Sumerians is, in fact, a very stupid thing to think, I am not being intolerant. Where have I infringed upon anyone’s rights? Where have I stopped someone from having the freedom to hold such a stupid thought? The answer is that I have not done that. It’s simply that I, as well as most educated people, cannot give deference to such silly things. That’s a lack of acceptance, not intolerance.