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Because I Hate Bad Arguments…

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

People are often very invested in creationism*. For most, it is a moral imperative – the Bible says it is so, and if that part of the Bible is wrong, then what’s stopping the whole thing from being wrong? Or, it’s a matter of fear – not wanting to dare tread on the toes of the insitution they’ve been raised in. A minority don’t believe evolution because they’re ignorant of science.

For me, the most frustrating thing about most creationist arguments is that they’re just plain untrue. Half of them betray a complete misunderstanding of the Theory of Evolution. The rest of them betray a complete lack of a science education or basic research. Or they’re off-topic. One that continually drives me bat-shit-insane is “Vestigal organs, like humans losing their tail, are proof that evolution is false, because evolution is about advancing and gaining function, not losing it!”

If you don’t understand why this argument is wrong, then the rest of this post is probably too advanced for you. You should spend the time reading basic evolutionary theory instead, then come back.

What most creationists don’t realise (I assume…) is that the claims they gather so eagerly off the internet (seriously?) are so very untrue. Very few sites cite sources; fewer sites cite scientific research as sources. Creationists, I can again only assume, seem to think that these ideas they’re spreading around are completely new and untested. Perhaps believing that scientists wouldn’t deign to look into matters like religion, or more likely, that scientists are too scared to test these ideas in case they were proven correct! (*Gasp*) But, as so often, creationists are wrong again. While perhaps few of the arguments have been directly tested, science itself is advanced enough that most of these crazy new ideas are disproven quite easily.

Unfortunately (but understandably), in order to come up with reasons why these creationist arguments are false usually requires at least a decent understand of biology, chemistry, physics, geology, and argumentative fallacies and at most a good poke around in the scientific literature. Otherwise, you’re unlikely to even know where to start looking, never mind where to find the answer.

Luckily, these days we have the Internet. And these days we have someone intelligent enough to realise that only having scientists and professors, scattered over many fields, well-enough equipt to refute and give proof that these arguments are false is not a good enough defense against hoards of list-waving people screaming out reasons why evolution can’t exist that they don’t even understand, never mind came up with. At least, not a good enough defense if the common person can’t access a scientist or professor for the truth when confronted with these reasons. And these days, we’re lucky enough to have someone kind enough to spend the time to make a website of happy!!!

I present: Index to Creationist Claims

This website is a compiled list of pretty much every creationist argument ever made, and perhaps every personal question you’ve ever pondered about evolution. And every argument has a refutement – and every refutement has citations! Hooray! It has answers to the simpler arguments we’ve all probably come across, like:

  • Some systems are too complex to be explained by evolution [answer]
  • The second law of thermodynamics prohibits evolution [answer]
  • Ockham’s Razor says’s the simplest explanation is prefferable, and creationism is simpler [answer]
  • The eye cannot have evolved gradually – that means at some point there would have been ‘half an eye’ and that would be useless! [answer]

And the more complicated ones**:

  • Does chirality make the chance of simple chemicals/structures forming too small? [answer]
  • If DNA is replicated by proteins, but proteins are formed by DNA, how could one form without the other already being present? [answer]

So go, browse around. Have a look for yourself. There is no real science behind creationism. It’s the sad truth. If you want to disreguard science, that’s your personal choice, but please understand there’s no more reason for doing so than your own personal convictions. And please understand that your own personal convictions do not make science into a ‘pick and choose’ buffet line – evolution is proven far well enough to be taught everywhere, just like all the other hard sciences, so whether it’s controversial or not, we must include it, or degrade our own scientific system.

To quote:

“Evolution matters because science matters, and too many people (including some presidents) are willing to believe that science is something you can pick and choose from, with “good” science being anything that supports your own views and “bad” science being anything that doesn’t. …Too many people can’t accept that although scientists are not perfect, and do make mistakes (sometimes whoppers), science isn’t something you can pick through like a buffet, accepting only what is to your “taste” and designating the rest inedible. If people feel free to reject the science of evolution, they feel free to reject any science on no better grounds ” [source]

* For the purpose of this post, I’m clumping ‘creationism’ and ‘intelligent design’ together, because if you strip away the BS and politics, they are the same thing. Yes, really. To quote from the site referenced above, “A solution to a problem must address the parameters of the problem, or it is just irrelevant hand waving. Any theory about design must somehow address the agent and purpose, or it is not really about design.” [link] So you can argue your heart out that intelligent design isn’t about God, but it’s pretty obviously some kind of deism. I chose to use ‘creationism’ because it’s shorter.

** These arguments actually deal with the origin of life, which can be argued seperately from evolution. (Yes! It can! I could believe God threw a bunch of one-celled bacteria into the ocean and then it evolved into everything we have today.)

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Get Your Favorite Anti-Evolutionist to Read This!

Saturday, November 8th, 2008

Hello again!
Well, this is a little long, but I’d definitely like to hear what’s to be said about it.

So there’s this thing in your genome. Well, maybe not yours, but plenty of people’s. It’s called the PMP-22 gene. I don’t know what it does. It’s not really important until later. What is important is what’s in front of it. A region called CMT1A repeat. Hey, guess what’s it’s called a repeat! Cuz there’s two of them! One in front of PMP-22, one behind it! Here, let me draw a picture:

DNA: —-Proximal CMT1A repeat——–PMP-22——–Distal CMT1A repeat—–

This might seem really happy, huh? Well, it’s not. Because as you might remember from whenever you last took biology, our chromosomes do this crazy thing called crossing over. That’s during meiosis, which you might remember, is how you form gametes (eggs or sperm, depending), since they only have 1/2 the DNA of other human cells (which is why it takes two to make offspring!).

So, during crossing-over, homologous chromosomes (ex: both of your number 17 chromosomes, one from your mom, one from your dad) line up next to each other like buddies, and then they do this crazy thing where they both break a section of their DNA off, and swap sections with the other chromosome! Obviously, they it’s important that both chromosomes break at the exact same place, otherwise you could end up missing some genes! Usually this goes down just fine, since the broken piece wouldn’t reattach well if it didn’t ‘match’ the other chromosome’s broken end.

However, if you’re one of those unlucky ones who have the two CMT1A repeats, this is a problem! Because your body does not know which one is distal and which one is proximal! So chromosome 17 #1 might break at the distal location, and chromosome 17 #2 might break at the proximal location…. oh no!

Now chromosome 17 #1 has two copies of PMP-22, and chromosome 17 #2 has NO copies of PMP-22!!!

Now while the CMT1A itself is just a repeat, not a gene, it has no function. It doesn’t really matter if you have it or not, the PMP-22 is definitely a gene, and it is definitely important.

If you end up with two copies of PMP-22, you get Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease 1A. If you end up with ZERO PMP-22, you get neuropathy and palsies. Not fun!

So why do we have this repeat? Who put it here!?!? Well, it’s probably the old remnants of a ‘jumping gene’ – they copy themselves and reinsert themselves. They’re very random, though, so it’s very, very rare that they insert themselves into the exact same place in two different occurrences.

So why did God give us jumping genes? They’re kind of handy in evolution, but we all know God doesn’t believe in that, so why? They’re pretty dangerous – they can insert themselves right into the middle of a gene, rendering it useless! Dangerous!

Someone told me once that it was punishment for our sin. Ah, I see. Well, that’s a good Biblically correct answer. I know if someone I knew ate an apple when I told them not to I’d totally curse their children with genetic defects.

But wait, so, you’re saying that we have this repeat-crossing-over-problem with CMT1A because of our sins?

Well, I suggest you start preaching to chimpanzees and bonobos then, because they have the exact same defect.

That God, huh? Such a quirky guy!

Thank you, thank you! Have a wonderful evening everybody, and remember, evolution is real!

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Evolution Revisited

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

As always, I continue to argue against creationism and show the overwhelming evidence that supports evolution. I am always looking around for new evidence and new examples – an ever-present lens I view the world through (which, to me, makes it so much more amazing through my eyes). I had an interesting thought last night that I thought should definitely be shared.

If evolution is false, then why do animals have mating rituals?

As a note, I have decided that the argument ‘because God wanted it that way’ just does not cut it when having a scientific discussion. It is forever deemed by me to be a non-answer, about a relevant as saying ‘I like tacos’. Think of all the hundreds of things we’ve deemed unexplainable in the past – rainbows, conception, whether the earth is the center of the universe, chemical reactions, gravity – that we explained away with ‘it is the will of God (or Allah, or whatever)’ that we now can explain with science and well-known scientific laws and facts. To believe that we’ve suddenly and mysteriously hit a ceiling where God’s workings are so mysterious we will never be able to see the forces working in the background is to bury one’s head in the sand in the face of reality. If you’re going to have a scientific argument, you’ve got to have some science in there – as many creationist arguments do, or attempt, at least.

Also, it makes God seem like a whiny three-year-old – ‘because I WANT IT’. And I don’t like to think of God like a three-year-old.

So why, then, do animals have mating rituals? Many mating rituals are dangerous – deer, rams, and others clash antlers/horns that can result in serious physical damage. Lions, sea lions, and some monkeys fight each other directly, causing injury and even death. Those that are not directly dangerous consume time and resources – peacocks make themselves a slow and flashy target for predators, birds waste time having elaborate displays and preparing collections of objects or nests when they could be gathering food, walruses stand for hours on beaches making a noisy display to attract females.

Certainly a better option would be to just mate with whoever is the closest member of the opposite sex, then return to normal life. After all, if evolution is false, it doesn’t really matter who you mate with – your species is safe, no matter who mates with whom. It will remain at exactly the same fitness level and will not become stronger or weaker. So with such security, why waste such resources??

I could only really think of two arguments.
1. Females like to pick the best mate.
Well, yea. But why do they like to do this? To ensure fitness of their offspring. Fitness only matters if evolution is true.

2. Males want to have lots of children by mating with lots of females (fighting off other males).
Well yea, but why do they want to have lots of children? These aren’t humans – they don’t actually love their kids – in most species, they won’t even help raise them. In many species, they’ll actually try and kill them if they run into them! So why would they want to have lots of kids? Oh right, to pass on genes. But that only matters if evolution is true.

So apart from the argument that God really loves watching lions, monkeys, and sea lions mauling each other to death on a seasonal basis (which, from reading the Bible, isn’t too hard to believe, actually…), I feel that mating rituals are a pretty good example that there’s obviously some reason why picking a good mate is worth the effort expended and risk induced. That reason is evolution.

Change in frequency of alleles in a population. Fitness.

Please do let me know if you have any other arguments, as I like to test all my theories and ideas to the limit to make sure they stand up. Otherwise, perhaps I must reconsider my stance.

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A More Serious Note

Monday, May 12th, 2008

Hello friends and family. I just wanted to let you all know what was going on in my life at the moment. I’ll tell the long version of the story. If you want the short version, scroll down to the part labelled as important.

Those of you whom I tagged in this post are just those I thought would want to hear the story most – I wanted to make sure you at least read the important part, so please do.

Yesterday Sean (that’s the new BF for those of you not in the know (or not paying attention to Facebook)) and I took his best friend, Nick (who is down from Idaho), to the Scarborough Faire. We entered the faire and unfortunately only made it along a few of the booths before we stopped at the glass blowing demonstration. My stomach was mildly hurting, but I didn’t think much of it. However, near the end of the exhibit I started to feel very tired and light-headed. Luckily the people in front of us got up and left, so I sat down and warned Sean that I was feeling very light-headed and that I might faint. Luckily he took that hint very seriously and stood behind me and held me up, as I soon blacked out.

According to Sean and Nick (who is a CNA (works in the medical field)), I had some small convulsions and then went limp when I was out, which lasted about 6 seconds. When I came to, I had had a dream, and was disoriented for a short time. Nick was sitting in front of me, but I didn’t know who he was or where I was. My whole body ached and I was confused and afraid. Things didn’t get better, however, as I was feeling nauseous and like I was going to black out again. Slowly my vision faded – it was like someone had turned a dimmer down on the world. All I could see was vague outlines and shapes – like I was in a dark room and my eyes had adjusted. My hearing was bad – it sounded like everything was far away.

I was extremely scared. I remember looking at Sean and barely being able to see his face. I remember him asking me how he could dial my mom, and looking at my phone and not being able to see the buttons. I honestly felt like it was a dream. I know people say that all the time, but it was the only way my brain could comprehend it. I looked at Sean and asked him to make it stop. I was seriously afraid of three things: 1) That I would die 2) That I would never see again 3) That I had a brain tumour.

Nick went and called the paramedics, and I put my head down on my lap as my vision and hearing slowly started to return. It was only for about 5 minutes that I was like that, but it felt like eternity. The paramedics came and thankfully by then I could see and hear, though I was still very confused and dizzy. They half carried me to the golf cart, where I sat down and they drove me to the paramedic tent thing. I was terrified, and wanted Sean to come, but they made him walk behind (it wasn’t that far). Sean said I gave him a look of absolute terror as we started to pull away, and I don’t doubt it.

When we got to the paramedic’s tent, they took my blood pressure (80/50 – incredibly low) and heart rate (56 – also incredibly low) and blood sugar (normal). They asked me a million questions and wouldn’t let Sean come in for forever. They had the air conditioning on full blast and I was freezing cold. Finally they told me that they didn’t know what had caused me, so they needed me to go to the ER. Sean gave Nick the keys and he pulled my car around, and I lay in the back with Sean while Nick drove me to the nearest hospital.

When we got to the hospital, I was admitted quickly. They had me give a urine sample, took blood for labs, gave me an IV for fluids (I was slightly dehydrated), gave me an EKG, CT scan, and chest x-rays. We were in the hospital until 8 (arrived at 3) waiting for preliminary results and discharge. I slowly was feeling better and better, and by the end, I was feeling fine. All the prelim results came back clear, and they said I could go, though they’d call us as soon as possible with the full results of the x-ray and CT scan readings.

They let me go, and my mom bought Sean, Nick, and I dinner (she’d driven down, of course) as thanks to Sean and Nick for taking care of me. I was told to drink lots of fluids and to take it easy. I couldn’t drive or be unsupervised for the next 24 hours. Luckily with Sean around that was no issue : ). (I have to say a huge thanks here to Sean and Nick, who handled the whole incident calmly and professionally and took absolutely incredible care of me through the whole thing, and even to now.)

Anyway, last night and today, apart from feeling a little tired and having a little bit of a sore stomach, I have been feeling fine.

The ER PA who took care of me yesterday called me today at around 2:30pm. He told me he needed to talk to me, and told me that the final reading of my CT scan had come back.

They have found a 1.3cm cystic lesion in the medial left temporal lobe of my brain. They do not think it is solid, they don’t think it’s cancerous, and they don’t think it’s anything to be worried about. However, I’ve got to go get an MRI so they can get a better look and see a neurosurgeon. There’s a chance that it’s absolutely nothing and has nothing to do with my passing out – just one of those things they find while they were looking for something else. If it is causing trouble, it’s likely just because it’s pressing on something else, not anything more sinister. I do not know what kind of procedures or treatment might be required.

Obviously this news is very shocking to me, Nick, Sean, and my family, and I am not afraid to say that I am nervous about what is to come. I will keep you all updated as I find out what’s going on in my crazy brain.

That’s all. Let’s all hope, or pray, or meditate, or whatever you do, that it all turns out to be nothing and it’s a very boring story from this point out.

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Viva la Evolution!

Monday, March 24th, 2008

Thankfully, most of the people I know accept that microevolution* is present in the world all around us. (I’m not really sure how people who don’t believe in microevolution explain drug-resistant bacteria and etc – perhaps witchcraft? I’ve never had the pleasure of discussing evolution with such a person.)

However, they still are not convinced about macroevolution. It can be hard for someone versed in evolution/biology to understand why someone could accept one and not the other, as this quote reflects:

Saying you believe in microevolution, but not macroevolution, is like saying you believe atoms exist but that you don’t believe you’re made out of them simply because you don’t see how something so small can be a part of something so much larger.
- (Credit to Patrick Hunter, in an evolution group on Facebook)

While the quote is humorous, and pretty true in my opinion, I believe there are two main reasons for why people balk at macroevolution:

1. Understanding ‘Species’ – There is a huge amount of controversy in the defining of what makes a ‘species,’ and how to differentiate species. Most people tend to take the species rules commonly used that they know at face value, without really questioning how obviously incomplete they are. We have classified animals as different species based on tiny differences in colouration, shape, or size, even when they can produce viable and fertile offspring. Yet they’re on different sides of a mountain, and don’t meet, and so don’t breed in nature, so we call them different species. Well, hey, before the Portuguese discovered Australia, Europeans certainly looked different from aborigines, and certainly didn’t interbreed. Different species? Of course we can’t say that, since it’s not politically correct – but it’s a good example of where our species rules have gotten us. Not to say that they aren’t damn good rules – it’s just that it’s hard to draw a line where there almost isn’t one (hint hint). Species are in the eyes of humans ONLY.
So, forgetting this, people tend to think of macroevolution in the largest possible terms – amoeba to fish, or multi-celled creature to man. When, really, if you can accept that a few changes in size, colour, and shape can stop some specimens from back-breeding with those who don’t have the changes, you have the foundation of macroevolution. Now it’s not far to see the mutations that accumulated to differentiate a King penguin from a Galapagos penguin. And from there, it’s not hard to see how penguins differentiated from sea-going (swimming) birds, and sea-going birds from land-going birds. Follow that on up, and you’re well on your way.

2. People Don’t Understand Genetics – Many people tell me they can’t accept macroevolution because ‘it just doesn’t make sense to me.’ To really understand evolution, one must understand genes. And mutation. And alleles. And frequency of alleles. And ‘fitness.’ And ‘relative fitness.’ And change in frequency of alleles. And natural selection. And heritability. Obviously, that’s a lot to ask, and a lot to learn, especially if your biology understanding is basic. Once you can get a picture of all of this in your head, evolution clears up quite a bit – better understanding the behaviour of genes alone (never mind really understanding what ‘fitness’ means) can make a huge difference in someone’s comprehension level of evolution.
But part of me wants to say that this isn’t really an excuse. Can we/should we believe what we don’t fully understand? In an ideal world the answer is no. But hey, this is reality. We believe things we don’t understand all the time. I don’t fully understand why really big things attract other things (gravity), but I believe it’s true – and I doubt anyone’s going to call me gullible for doing so. On the other hand, I don’t want to tell people to just ‘trust’ what I say when I tell them that evolution is real because I’m a biologist and I understand it. But, back to the other side, can ignorance really be claimed as a reason not to believe something? ‘I don’t understand it thus it can’t be true?’ If I really questioned the validity of gravity, I’d go out and try and find out more. I don’t think it’s asking too much for those who don’t believe in evolution to go learn some basic information so that they can better understand what ‘doesn’t make sense to them.’

I guess I do like the quote at the top more than I admitted at first. It’s true – just because you yourself can’t see how something fits in to the big picture doesn’t mean it isn’t the truth anyway. Even if it’s incredibly hard to picture (can you truly wrap your mind around the fact you’re made of itty-bitty tiny atoms whose properties are nothing like you?), it far from means it’s impossible.

So go out there, guys, and Viva la Evolution!

*I know these terms (microevolution/macroevolution) have some controversy about what they *exactly* mean, especially in the argument’s context, but whatever.

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Atheist Scientists Cause Rise of League of Whores!

Monday, November 5th, 2007

Well, everyone, I have some bad news. You see, last Friday, I got the first injection of the HPV (‘cervical cancer’) vaccination series. Yes, you know what this means. From now on, I simply have no reason not to sleep with every man, woman, and quadruped beast I met. Yes, I have begun transformation.

As I am sure is the case with many of you, it was just HPV that was holding me back in God’s holy command of not greeting everyone I meet with a ‘quickie’. Sure, I was informed about how sex can lead to pregnancy, gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, HIV, Hep B, crabs, and even trichomoniasis, but nothing really hit home like HPV/herpes/cervical cancer. I mean, a baby – meh. A bloody, pus-y*, potentially-sterilizing disease – meh. But abnormal pap smears? Now that caught my eye. You know, nothing else was really serious.

I, for one, am really glad that God put HPV on this Earth. I mean, without the threat of cervical cancer, how else am I supposed to stop myself from having crazy random sex?? You’d almost think I was supposed to rely on my own moral and/or religious convictions!!! Hahaha!

So, of course, I’m really upset that these meddling atheist scientists have come up with a drug that takes away a God-given punishment for bonking like bunnies. How else are we supposed to be deterred from our actions if not through being responsible for them?? I mean, what do you think they’ll come up with next?? Drugs that help you control your cholesterol levels so you don’t have to be responsible for those years of gluttony? Surgery to help you shun responsibility for your earlier sin of sloth? Vaccinations that let you get away with close bodily contact and insufficient cleanliness??

This intervening is simply being taken too far! And now I, too, have fallen victim to the God-murdering ways of modern science, and must begin to spend my nights on the street corners. If only there were some other reason I could think of not to have sex! If only someone had taught me at a young age that there were multiple very good reasons to not have sex like a rampant rabbit in spring! And that even if one of those reasons was taken away because of some so-called ‘life-saving’ vaccine, the others (including those of my own personal convictions) remained! Oh woe upon us all!!

* Couldn’t really find much guidance on making an adjective of ‘pus’ without God mayhap thinking I was typing something dirty.

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