Wednesday, 22 January 2014

How bad can creationist research get? Let Asyncritus show you

My recent post on Jerry Coyne's humiliating take-down of a creationist crank who goes by the nom de plume Asyncritus was initially meant to be a one-off event, to show the difference between a world-class scholar and the sort of crank who thinks that a sustained argument from personal incredulity is sufficient to overturn one of the best-demonstrated facts in science. However, it turns out that Asyncritus has a blog, a veritable bottomless pit of stupidity which illustrates just how ignorant your average creationist is.

Your average creationist trades in logical fallacies, of which the argument from authority is one of their favourites. This lies behind those ridiculous lists of scientists who dissent from Darwinism, where a list of a few hundred scientists who express scepticism about evolution is used to raise doubt in the minds of the faithful. Of course, what the creationists fail to mention is that many of these scientists are not biologists or palaeontologists, which means they are expressing an opinion which is well outside their field of competence. Furthermore, even if one includes all of these scientists, it turns out they represent less than 0.1% of the scientific community. As historian of science Ronald Numbers notes:
After more than a decade of effort the Discovery Institute proudly announced in 2007 that it had got some '700 doctoral-level scientists and engineers to sign "A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism." Though the number may have struck some observers as rather large, it represented less than 0.023 percent of the world's scientists. On the scientific front of the much ballyhooed "Evolution Wars," the Darwinists were winning handily." The ideological struggle between (methodological) naturalism and supernaturalism continued largely in the fantasies of the faithful and the hyperbole of the press. [1]
When 99.9% of professional biologists - those who unlike cranks such as Asyncritus have actually studied the subject to PhD level, strung together a few post-doctoral appointments and actually work in the discipline - examine the evidence and agree that it supports common descent, it is entirely reasonable to assume that this consensus view has something going for it, particularly when opposition comes exclusively from fundamentalist Christian quarters.

At his blog, Asyncritus indulges in the argument from authority:
I was interested to read some comments by Nobel Prize winning scientists, and I append them here for your perusal.
The Nobel Laureates whose comments he cited were Ernst Chain (biochemist), Arthur Leonard Schawlow, John Douglas Cockcroft, Arthur H. Compton (physicists) and Albert Szent-Gyorgi (physiologist). Needless to say, the opinions of even a Nobel-prize winning physicist on evolution carry no more weight than any other educated layperson. Furthermore, the quotes are utterly dated, with the most recent one (Schawlow) dating back over 30 years. The rest date back to the mid-20th century or earlier, with Chain's comment dating to 1945 and Szent-Gyorgi's comment dating back to 1937, well before the forging of the modern evolutionary synthesis. Needless to say, evolutionary biology has changed considerably over the last 70 years.

It goes without saying that dated comments from professionals arguing outside of their sphere of competence (none of the scientists were evolutionary biologists, palaeontologists or a member of any of the life science professions allowing them to speak with authority on the subject) hardly disprove evolution. However, for cranks such as Asyncritus, the allure of the argument from authority is too strong to resist, even when those authorities are advancing utterly dated opinions.

Did Asyncrtitus actually discover these quotes through diligent research? Actually, he didn't. Turns out that he got them from something called Objective : Ministries. which appears to be a fundamentalist Christian website.

Appears to be, that is. If you poke around a little, you will find comments such as this one on the role of the Baby Jesus in the Trinity:
There seems to be some confusion on the Internet, which I will endeavor to now clear up, about the point of our Baby Jesus page and exactly what role the Baby Jesus plays in the Trinity.
Firstly, what is the nature of the Baby Jesus? Put simply: The Baby Jesus is a temporal prosopon of the Logos hypostatic branch of the Trinity and is the conduit through which the circuit of Agape is grounded in Humanity. Like all the hypostases, the Baby Jesus is a fully integrated, homoousian manifestation of the Trinity, having two natures, both Infantile and Divine -- Baby and God.
Whereas the supra-adult Risen Christ provides us with Love and Care, it is through the Baby Jesus that we are able to return some small amount of the same, as His innocence elicits our purest emotions. Although Earthly Human love is relatively miniscule and thus cannot fully, or even substantially, repay His Love, God knows that without providing us this spiritual release valve, Humans experiencing even a small part of the Infinite Love contained within the Trinity would be so overwhelmed by guilt at being so infinitely unworthy as to be incapacitated, both physically and metaphysically.
Anyone remotely familiar with Trinitarian Christology would be wondering whether the author was insane, or joking. Suspicions that something is not quite right with this site are raised when one encounters an article on Orbital Cross Alpha, a plan to place a 1000 foot long reflective cross in orbit around Earth
that will be easily visible in the night sky to the naked eyes of unbelievers. This space-age testimonial will fly over Communist China, Mussulmanned Saudi Arabia, Hindooed India, Godless France, and all other nations in need of the simple yet profound message of Christ's sacrifice and His offer of Salvation. All the people of the world will see it shine, like a beacon of hope on the runway of the aircraft carrier of the night sky, an omnipresent reminder of the Lordship of Jesus over our world.
One's suspicions are confirmed when one reads this article on Middle Eastern kangaroos which asserts
That kangaroos are not mentioned in the Genesis account of the Flood, either by name or description, is unsurprising due to the great number of kinds of animals that were in the Ararat area at the time. What's a kangaroo or two among a great throng of pandas, mastodons, velociraptors, and giraffes? It is also likely that the kangaroos only spent a relatively short time living in the Middle East, needing to leave with greater haste than other animals in order to reach their appointed destination before the breakup of Pangaea (see next section).
However, evidence of the kangaroo's migration through Europe can be found in the reports of satyrs. Satyrs, which many believe to have been strictly demonic in origin due to the goat like features attributed to them by Pagans, were actually a conflation of demons and kangaroos by the ignorant Pagan natives of Greece. It is easy to see that the well-known features of satyrs -- two-legged, upright stance with elongated metatarsi; hirsuteness; a tail; long, pointed, horn-like ears; long or bearded face -- closely coincide with the general kangaroo body form. The more goat-like attributes, such as cloven feet, were no doubt due to confusion in the wine-addled minds of Dionysian cultists between kangaroos and the demons that the cultists consorted with, which manifested in goatish forms.
Objective: Ministries indeed is a parody site as RationalWiki notes:
Objective: Ministries is a parody fundamentalist site and one of the greatest Poes of all time, fooling Christians and atheists alike. They claim to be affiliated with the non-existent Fellowship University and the Fellowship Creation Science Museum and Research Institute. It's suspected that they're actually run by or in some way affiliated with Landover Baptist Church because one of the "Objectives" on their sidebar is the shutdown of Landover Baptist. Their "Objective" pages include Project Pterosaur, which proposes an expedition to find pterosaur eggs in order to "debunk" evolution, and Mall Mission, which gives instructions on how to witness in malls and perform "emergency baptisms." They run a segment called Dawkins Watch. Their 4kidz page is fairly infamous, and Mr. Gruff the Atheist Goat is occasionally used as an icon on atheist blogs and fora.
Given Asyncritus' obsession with Dawkins, it is easy to see how he could have chanced upon this collection of quotes featured in Objective : Ministries' Dawkins Watch. That he fell for a parody web site, and was oblivious enough to publish the link to it on his blog says everything one needs to know about his credulity. This, people, is your brain on creationism.

1. Numbers RL "Creationism, intelligent design and modern biology" in Biology and Ideology from Descartes to Dawkins (Eds. Alexander DR and Numbers RL) (2010: University of Chicago Press) p. 328