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08-04-2011, 10:58 AM
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Creationism and other bad science
Rational Skepticism has an EXCELLENT post of dealing with illogical arguments of Creationists. It also is applicable to people postulating other bad science.
Posted is part 1. Parts 2 and 3 are at the link.
In order to deal with several of the canards we see resurrected here with tedious regularity at source, I thought it apposite to launch this topic. Where appropriate canards can be dealt with in one spot, so that future propagandists for reality-denial doctrines arising from mythological blind assertion have no excuse for resurrecting them yet again.
Consequently, I have a message for all creationists visiting this forum. If you think that you possess some startlingly new "wisdom" that you think is going to overturn valid scientific theories, then I have news for you. You don't. The canards that you and your ilk erect here all too frequently, are well known, well documented, and have been debunked many times before. This post has been erected specifically to provide you with a single point of reference where you can check this, and find out in advance that your canards ARE canards. Now, since I went to the trouble of compiling this post, and exercised much effort in doing so, the least you can do is exercise the mental effort required to read this post in full, and learn in detail why parroting any of the canards contained in this list will lead to you being regarded with at best disdain, at worst contempt. So, before you launch into your posting careers, study the following in detail, and learn that posting previously debunked nonsense without having performed the requisite research beforehand, to determine whether or not said nonsense has been debunked previously, is regarded here as indolent in the extreme.
So, here goes with the list of canards to avoid when posting here.
 Parroting blind assertions does not constitute "evidence".
Let's make this explicit, just so that even the most casual of observers of this thread cannot avoid having noticed it.
Mythology (and I don't care how precious you consider your "holy books" to be, that is what they contain - mythology) merely erects unsupported blind assertions about the world, and presents those blind assertions as if they constituted "axioms" about the world, to be regarded uncritically as eternally true, and never to be questioned. Well, those who wish to adopt this view will find that they are given short shrift here. Because one of the fundamental rules of proper discourse is that whenever an assertion is erected, no one is obliged to regard it as valid unless proper, critically robust supporting evidence is provided for that assertion. Which means independent corroboration from an outside source, or a direct, methodologically rigorous, repeatable empirical demonstration of the validity of that assertion. Without this, any blind assertions, particularly those erected from mythology or mythology-based doctrines, can be dismissed in the same casual manner in which they are tossed into the thread. Failure to provide proper evidential support for blind assertions will result in a poster being regarded as an inconsequential lightweight. Just because you think that mythological blind assertions constitute "axioms" about the world doesn't mean that everyone else does, and you'll soon discover the hard way how much firepower is directed toward those who come here expecting the rest of the forum to genuflect before said blind assertions uncritically. Plus, in the case of supernaturalist blind assertions, parroting these and expecting everyone else to accept them uncritically as established fact in the same way that you did, constitutes preaching, and is a violation of forum rules. Learn quickly to qualify assertions properly when erecting them, unless you wish to be regarded as tediously sanctimonious, boring, and boorishly ill-educated into the bargain.
Oh, and while we're at it, don't bother trying to assert that your favourite invisible magic man is "necessary" for the biosphere or some other observed entity, until you can provide proper, critically robust evidential support for the postulate that your magic man actually exists. Given that 300 years of continuous scientific endeavour has established that the universe is not only comprehensible without needing magic, but is thus comprehensible in precise quantitative terms, you will be well advised to devote some serious time to providing methodologically rigorous support for all assertions concerning magic supernatural entities, because without it, you're fucked from the start.
 Science is NOT a branch of apologetics.
Science is as far removed from apologetics as it is possible to be. Science exists to subject erected postulates to empirical test with respect to whether or not those postulates are in accord with observational reality. As a consequence, science is in the business of testing assertions and presuppositions to destruction, Those that fail the requisite tests are discarded. Science modifies its theories to fit reality. Apologetics, on the other hand, consists of erecting convoluted semantic fabrications for the purpose of trying to prop up presuppositions and blind assertions, involves NO empirical testing, and seeks to force-fit reality to the aforementioned presuppositions and blind assertions. Therefore, treating science as if it constitutes a branch of apologetics is dishonest, and those who engage in this pursuit will be regarded with due scorn and derision.
Among the more duplicitous examples of such dishonesty, all too frequently seen here in the past, is quote mining of scientific papers or scientific publications. There are entire websites devoted to the exposure of this particular brand of dishonesty, and anyone making the mistake of erecting quote mines here will have their buttocks handed to them in a sling.
 The "assumptions" canard (with "interpretation" side salad).
This is a frequent favourite with creationists, and usually erected for the purpose of attempting to hand-wave away valid science when it happens not to genuflect before their ideological presuppositions. As I have stated in  above, science is in the business of testing assumptions and presuppositions to destruction. As an example of destroying creationist apologetics with respect to this canard, I point interested readers to this post, where I destroyed the lies of the laughably named "Answers in Genesis" with respect to their assertion that 14C dating was based upon "assumptions". I've also trashed this canard in detail with respect to radionuclide dating as a whole, so don't even try to go down that road. Likewise, if you try to erect this canard with respect to other valid scientific theories, you will be regarded as dishonest.
Another favourite piece of creationist mendacity is the "interpretation" assertion, which creationist erect for the purpose of suggesting that scientists force-fit data to presuppositions. Apart from the fact that this is manifestly false, it is also defamatory, and a direct slur on the integrity of thousands of honest, hard working scientists, who strive conscientiously and assiduously to ensure that conclusions drawn from real world observational data are robust conclusions to draw. This slur, of course, is yet another example of blatant projection on the part of creationists, who manifestly operate on the basis of presupposition themselves, and appear to be incapable of imagining the very existence of a means of determining substantive knowledge about the world that does not rely upon presupposition. Well, I have news for you. Science does NOT rely upon "presupposition". Indeed, scientists have expended considerable intellectual effort in the direction of ensuring that the conclusions they arrive at are rigorously supported by the data that they present in their published papers. There exists much discourse in the scientific literature on the subject of avoiding fallacious or weak arguments, including much sterling work by people such as Ronald Fisher, who sought during their careers to bring rigour to the use of statistical inference in the physical and life sciences. Indeed, Fisher was responsible for inventing the technique of analysis of variance, which is one of the prime tools used in empirical science with respect to experimental data, and Fisher expended much effort ensuring that inferences drawn using that technique were proper inferences to draw.
Basically, there is only one "interpretation" of the data that matters to scientists, and that is whatever interpretation is supported by reality. Learn this lesson quickly, unless you wish to be regarded as discoursively dishonest on a grand scale.
Meanwhile, as a corollary of  above, it is time to address:
 Learn what scientists ACTUALLY postulate, not what you think they postulate, or have been told that they postulate by duplicitous apologetics websites.
This dovetails nicely with  above (because creationists always assume they know better what scientists postulate than the scientists themselves), and also dovetails to varying degrees with , , , ,  and  below. If creationists really want to critique the theory of evolution, then they had better start learning what that theory actually postulates, as opposed to the farcical strawman caricatures thereof erected by authors of duplicitous apologetics. If you cannot be bothered to exercise this basic level of intellectual effort, then don't be surprised if people treat your attempts to erect 3,000 year old mythology, written by ignorant Bronze Age nomads, as being purportedly "superior" to the work of Nobel Laureates, with the scorn and derision such attempts deserve.
 Learn the distinction between proof and evidential support.
This is something that supernaturalists never tire of failing to understand, so once and for all, I shall present the distinction here.
Proof is a formal procedure in pure mathematics, and only applicable to that discipline. Proof consists of applying, in an error-free manner, well-defined rules of inference to the axioms of a given mathematical system in order to produce theorems, and thence recursively to those theorems to produce more theorems.
Evidential support consists of providing empirical demonstrations that a given set of postulates is in accord with observational reality. This is the process that is used in the physical sciences in order to build scientific theories. Postulates that are NOT in accord with observational reality are, as stated in  above, discarded.
As in  above, if you cannot exercise the basic level of intellectual effort required to learn this simple distinction, or worse still, erect fatuous nonsense about "proving" a scientific theory (especially if "prove" is mis-spelt with two 'o's), then expect your posts to be treated as a free fire zone for scathing and withering derision.
 Scientific theories are NOT "guesses".
This is a favourite (and wholly duplicitous) canard beloved of creationists, and relies upon the fact that in everyday usage, English words are loaded with a multiplicity of meanings. This is NOT the case in science, where terms used are precisely defined. The precise definition apposite here is the definition of theory. In science, a theory is an integrated explanation for a class of real world observational phenomena of interest, that has been subjected to direct empirical test with respect to its correspondence with observational reality, and which has been found, via such testing, to be in accord with observational reality. It is precisely because scientific theories have been subject to direct empirical test, and have passed said empirical test, that they ARE theories, and consequently enjoy a high status in the world of scientific discourse. As a consequence of the above, anyone who erects the "it's only a theory" canard with respect to evolution will be regarded with well deserved scorn and derision.
 The operation of natural processes, and the intellectual labour required to learn about those processes, are two separate entities.
That I have to address this explicitly, and deal with this particular canard, after it had been repeatedly erected by one particular creationist here, after he had been repeatedly schooled upon this, really does make one wonder if some of the people purporting to be in a position to critique valid scientific theories, have ever attended a real science class in their lives, let alone paid attention therein.
Let's knock this particular nonsense on the head once and for all. Just because scientists perform experiments, for the express purpose of determining how a particular natural process operates, and the details of whatever quantitative laws that process obeys, does NOT in any way, shape or form, support "intelligence" at work within those processes. The only "intelligence" in operation here is that of the scientists trying to learn about the natural process under investigation. In order to demonstrate the fatuousness of the converse view, consider gravity. This is a regularly observed real world phenomenon, and, as real world phenomena go, is about as mindless as one can imagine. The idea that "intelligence" is at work when something falls off a cliff is asinine to put it mildly. Now, in order to deduce the quantitative relationships at work when gravity acts upon objects, scientists can perform various experiments, to determine, for example, the speed of impact with which objects strike the ground when dropped from tall structures of varying heights. That they have to do this in order to deduce these quantitative details, and derive the requisite laws operating within the world of gravitational phenomena, does NOT in any way support the idea that "intelligence" is operating within that natural phenomenon itself. Indeed, applied mathematicians can postulate the existence of all manner of alternative forces, obeying different quantitative laws, and determine what would be observed if ever instances of those forces were observed in the real world, but again, this does NOT support for one moment the idea that those forces are innately "intelligent". So those who try to erect this nonsense with respect to experiments in evolutionary biology, or abiogenesis, will again invite much ridicule and laughter.
For those who really want ramming home how absurd this canard is, the online satirical magazine The Onion has published this hilarious piece on "intelligent falling". Anyone who reads this without laughing, and regards the content as a serious exposition of scientific thinking, is in dire need of an education.
As a corollary of the above, I am also required, courtesy of the same creationist who was unable to distinguish between the two, to address this:
 Real world observational phenomena, and the theories erected to explain them, are two different entities.
Again, the mere fact that I have to state this explicitly testifies to the scientific ignorance of many of the individuals who come here, purporting to be in a position to tell us that the world's most educated scientists have all got it wrong, and that 3,000 year old mythology has somehow got it right (or 1,400 year old mythology, depending upon your particular religious ideological background).
With respect to evolution, populations of real living organisms have been observed evolving in real time. This is what is meant when the critical thinkers here state that evolution is an observed fact. Real populations of real living organisms have been observed changing over time, and have been documented doing so in the peer reviewed scientific literature. The theory of evolution consists of the postulates erected, and the testable mechanisms arising from those postulates, to explain those observed phenomena. Learn this distinction, or once again, prepare to face much contempt from the critical thinkers here.
This brings me on neatly to:
 The infamous "chance" and "random" canards (now with "nothing" side salad).
Few things are more calculated to result in the critical thinkers here regarding a poster as a zero-IQ tosspot with blancmange for brains, than the erection of the "chance" canard. Usually taking the form of "scientists think life arose by chance", or variants thereof such as "you believe life was an accident". This is, not to put too fine a point upon it, bullshit.
What scientists actually postulate, and they postulate this with respect to every observable phenomenon in the universe, is that well defined and testable mechanisms are responsible. Mechanisms that are amenable to empirical test and understanding, and in many cases, amenable to the development of a quantitative theory. Two such quantitative theories, namely general relativity and quantum electrodynamics, are in accord with observational reality to fifteen decimal places. As an aside, when someone can point to an instance of mythology producing something this useful, the critical thinkers will sit up and take notice, and not before.
Likewise, erecting statements such as "random mutation can't produce X", where X is some complex feature of multicellular eukaryote organisms, will also invite much scorn, derision and contempt. First of all, drop the specious apologetic bullshit that "random" means "without rhyme or reason", because it doesn't. In rigorous scientific parlance, "random", with respect to mutations, means "we have insufficient information about the actual process that took place at the requisite time". This is because scientists have known for decades, once again, that mutations arise from well defined natural processes, and indeed, any decent textbook on the subject should list several of these, given that the Wikipedia page on mutations covers the topic in considerable depth. Go here, scroll down to the text "Induced mutations on the molecular level can be caused by:", and read on from that point. When you have done this, and you have learned that scientists have classified a number of well defined chemical reactions leading to mutations, you will be in a position to understand why the critical thinkers here regard the creationist use of "random" to mean "duh, it just happened" with particularly withering disdain. When scientists speak of "random" mutations, what they really mean is "one of these processes took place, but we don't have the detailed observational data to determine which of these processes took place, when it took place, and at what point it took place, in this particular instance. Though of course, anyone with a decent background in research genetics can back-track to an ancestral state for the gene in question. Indeed, as several scientific papers in the literature testify eloquently, resurrecting ancient genes is now a routine part of genetics research.
Then, of course, we have that other brand of nonsense that creationists love to erect, which also fits into this section, namely the fatuous "you believe nothing created the universe" canard, and assorted corollary examples of palsied asininity based upon the same cretinous notion. Which is amply addressed by the above, namely that scientists postulate that well defined and testable natural mechanisms, operating upon the appropriate entities, were responsible for real world observational phenomena. In what fantasy parallel universe does "well defined and testable natural mechanisms, operating upon the appropriate entities" equal "nothing"? If you think that those two are synonyms, then again, you are in serious need of education, and you are in no position to lecture those of us who bothered to acquire one.
 Specious and asinine creationist "probability" calculations.
I've already dealt at length with this in this thread. Don't bother posting copy-paste bullshit from Stephen Meyer or other creationist blowhards from the Discovery Institute or AiG with respect to this, because what they have disseminated IS bullshit. So-called "probability" calculations erected by creationists are based upon assumptions that are either  never stated so as to avoid having their validity subject to critical scrutiny, or  when those assumptions are stated, they are found to be based upon well known fallacies. The link above addresses two of those fallacies in some detail, namely the serial trials fallacy and the "one true sequence" fallacy. If you post bullshit about "probability" supposedly "refuting" evolution or abiogenesis, virtually all of which arises from the same tired, previously debunked sources, then you will simply be setting yourself up as a target for well deserved ridicule.
 The tiresome conflation of evolutionary theory with abiogenesis (with Big Bang side salad).
A favourite one, this, among the creationists who come here. Which always results in the critical thinkers going into petunias mode (read Douglas Adams in order to understand that reference). Since so many creationists are woefully ill-educated in this area, I shall now correct that deficit in their learning.
Evolutionary theory is a theory arising from biology, and its remit consists of explaining the observed diversity of the biosphere once living organisms exist. The origin of life is a separate question, and one which is covered by the theory of naturalistic abiogenesis, which is a theory arising from a different scientific discipline, namely organic chemistry. Learn this distinction before posting, otherwise you will simply be regarded as ignorant and ill-educated.
While we're at it, evolutionary theory does not consider questions about the origin of Planet Earth itself, nor does it consider questions about the origin of the universe. The first of these questions is covered by planetary accretion theory, the second by cosmology, both of which arise from physics. As a consequence of learning this, if you subsequently erect the tiresome conflation of evolutionary theory with the Big Bang or the origin of the Earth, be prepared to be laughed at.
As a corollary of the above, it is time to deal with:
 The Pasteur canard.
We have had several people erecting this canard here, and it usually takes the form of the erection of the statement "life does not come from non-life", usually with a badly cited reference to the work of Louis Pasteur. This particular piece of duplicitous apologetics, apart from being duplicitous, is also fatuous. The reason being that Louis Pasteur erected his "Law of Biogenesis" specifically for the purpose of refuting the mediaeval notion of spontaneous generation, a ridiculous notion which claimed that fully formed multicellular eukaryote organisms arose directly from dust or some similar inanimate medium. First, the modern theory of abiogenesis did not exist when Pasteur erected this law; second, the modern theory of abiogenesis does not postulate the sort of nonsense that abounded in mediaeval times (and which, incidentally, was accepted by supernaturalists in that era); and third, as a methodologically rigorous empiricist, Pasteur would wholeheartedly accept the large quantity of evidence provided by modern abiogenesis researchers if he were still alive.
 The asinine preoccupation with "monkeys".
This is a particularly tiresome creationist fetish, and again, merely points to the scientific ignorance of those who erect it. I point everyone to  above, and in this particular instance, remind those wishing to post here hat what science actually postulates with respect to human ancestry is that we share a common ancestor with other great apes. Indeed, Linnaeus decided that we were sufficiently closely related to chimpanzees, on the basis of comparative anatomy alone, to warrant placing humans and chimpanzees in the same taxonomic Genus, and he decided this back in 1747, no less than SIXTY TWO YEARS before Darwin was born. You can read the original letter Linnaeus wrote to fellow taxonomist Johann Georg Gmelin, dated 27th February 1747, lamenting the fact that he was being forced to alter his science to fit religious presuppositions by bishops, here in the original Latin. So if you wish to indulge your monkey fetish, go to the zoo and do it there, and allow us the light relief of hearing about your coming to the attention of law enforcement when you do.
 The "no transitional forms" canard.
In order to deal with this one, I have the following to ask. Namely:
 Have you ever studied comparative anatomy in detail, at a proper, accredited academic institution?
 Do you understand rigorously what is meant by "species"?
 Do you understand even the basics of inheritance and population genetics?
 Do you understand the basics of the workings of meiosis?
If you cannot answer "yes" to all four of the above, then you are in no position to erect this canard. And, canard it is, as anyone with a proper understanding of the dynamic nature of species will readily understand, a topic I have posted at length on in the past. Indeed, you only have to ask yourself the following question, "Am I identical to either of my parents?" in order to alight quickly upon why this canard IS a canard. Your own family photo album supplies you with the answer here. YOU are a "transitional form" between your parents and your offspring, should you have any offspring.
 The "evolutionist" canard (with "Darwinist" side salad).
Now, if there is one guaranteed way for a creationist to establish that he or she is here for no other reason than to propagandise for a doctrine, it's the deployment of that most viscerally hated of words in the lexicon, namely, evolutionist. I have posted about this so often here, that I was surprised to find that I'd missed it out of the original list, but I had more pressing concerns to attend to when compiling the list originally. However, having been reminded of it, now is the time to nail this one to the ground with a stake through its heart once and for all.
There is no such thing as an "evolutionist". Why do I say this? Simple. Because the word has become thoroughly debased through creationist abuse thereof, and in my view, deserves to be struck from the language forever. For those who need the requisite education, there exist evolutionary biologists, namely the scientific professionals who devote decades of their lives to understanding the biosphere and conducting research into appropriate biological phenomena, and those outside that specialist professional remit who accept the reality-based, evidence-based case that they present in their peer reviewed scientific papers for their postulates. The word "evolutionist" is a discoursive elision, erected by creationists for a very specific and utterly mendacious purpose, namely to suggest that valid evolutionary science is a "doctrine", and that those who accept its postulates do so merely as a priori "assumptions" (see  above). This is manifestly false, as anyone who has actually read the peer reviewed scientific literature is eminently well placed to understand. The idea that there exists some sort of "symmetry" between valid, evidence-based, reality-based science (evolutionary biology) and assertion-laden, mythology-based doctrine (creationism) is FALSE. Evolutionary biology, like every other branch of science, tests assertions and presuppositions to destruction, which is why creationism was tossed into the bin 150 years ago (see  above). When creationists can provide methodologically rigorous empirical tests of their assertions, the critical thinkers will sit up and take notice.
Furthermore, with respect to this canard, does the acceptance of the scientifically educated individuals on this board, of the current scientific paradigm for gravity make them "gravitationists"? Does their acceptance of the evidence supporting the germ theory of disease make them "microbists"? Does their acceptance of the validity of Maxwell's Equations make them "electromagnetists"? Does their acceptance of of the validity of the work of Planck, Bohr, Schrödinger, Dirac and a dozen others in the relevant field make them "quantumists"? Does their acceptance of the validity of the astrophysical model for star formation and the processes that take place inside stars make them "stellarists"? If you are unable to see the absurdity inherent in this, then you are in no position to tell people here that professional scientists have got it wrong, whilst ignorant Bronze Age nomads writing mythology 3,000 years ago got it right.
While we're at it, let's deal with the duplicitous side salad known as "Darwinist". The critical thinkers here know why this particular discoursive elision is erected, and the reason is related to the above. Basically, "Darwinist" is erected for the specific purpose of suggesting that the only reason people accept evolution is because they bow uncritically to Darwin as an authority figure. This is, not to put too fine a point on it, droolingly encephalitic drivel of a particularly suppurating order. Let's provide a much needed education once and for all here.
Darwin is regarded as historically important because he founded the scientific discipline of evolutionary biology, and in the process, converted biology from a cataloguing exercise into a proper empirical science. The reason Darwin is considered important is NOT because he is regarded uncritically as an "authority figure" - the critical thinkers leave this sort of starry-eyed gazing to followers of the likes of William Lane Craig. Darwin is regarded as important because he was the first person to pay serious attention to reality with respect to the biosphere, with respect to the business of determining mechanisms for its development, and the first to engage in diligent intellectual labour for the purpose of establishing that reality supported his postulates with respect to the biosphere. In other words, instead of sitting around accepting uncritically mythological blind assertion, he got off his arse, rolled up his sleeves, did the hard work, put in the long hours performing the research and gathering the real world data, and then spending long hours determining what would falsify his ideas and determining in a rigorous manner that no such falsification existed. For those who are unaware of this, the requisite labour swallowed up twenty years of his life, which is par for the course for a scientist introducing a new paradigm to the world. THAT is why he is regarded as important, because he expended colossal amounts of labour ensuring that REALITY supported his ideas. That's the ONLY reason ANY scientist acquires a reputation for being a towering contributor to the field, because said scientist toils unceasingly for many years, in some cases whole decades, ensuring that his ideas are supported by reality in a methodologically rigorous fashion.
Additionally, just in case this idea hasn't crossed the mind of any creationist posting here, evolutionary biology has moved on in the 150 years since Darwin, and whilst his historical role is rightly recognised, the critical thinkers have also recognised that more recent developments have taken place that would leave Darwin's eyes out on stalks if he were around to see them. The contributors to the field after Darwin are numerous, and include individuals who contributed to the development of other branches of science making advances in evolutionary theory possible. Individuals such as Ronald Fisher, who developed the mathematical tools required to make sense of vast swathes of biological data (heard of analysis of variance? Fisher invented it), or Theodosius Dobzhansky, who combined theoretical imagination with empirical rigour, and who, amongst other developments, provided science with a documented instance of speciation in the laboratory. Other seminal contributors included Müller (who trashed Behe's nonsense six decades before Behe was born), E. O. Wilson, Ernst Mayr, Motoo Kimura, Stephen Jay Gould, Niles Eldredge, J. B. S. Haldane, Richard Lewontin, Sewall Wright, Jerry Coyne, Carl Woese, Kenneth Miller, and they're just the ones I can list off the top of my head. Pick up any half-decent collection of scientific papers from the past 100 years, and dozens more names can be added to that list.
So, anyone who wants to be regarded as an extremely low-grade chew toy here only has to erect the "evolutionist" or "Darwinist" canard, and they will guarantee this end result.
When surfing online remember Sturgeon's Law: "90% of everything is cr@p."
© Gregori Potemkin. All rights reserved. But wait . . . fair use allowed and encouraged. Actually, go 'head and publish the whole thing as is. I don't care.
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