Ham vs Nye: Whoever Wins, Who Really Wins?

Question from Jordan:
Hello ATA.

I was wondering how you felt about the upcoming Ham/Nye debate. From what I can tell, most atheists are not happy about the debate. They claim that an atheist should never debate a creationist because there is nothing to debate—evolutionary thinking has already won. They claim that the act of simply debating gives the creationist credibility.

I think it is obvious that this atheistic claim sounds like an excuse. If creationism is so flawed, it should be simple for an atheist to dominate in a debate. Yet creationists keep asking, and many atheists keep refusing. It is as if the atheist is thinking, “I’d rather have people THINK I’m a coward, than for people to KNOW that I’m wrong.” The fact that Bill Nye is willing to debate, shows he is confident in what he believes.

From my experience (as a creationist) on this site, you all seem happy to debate someone on the issue. Are you excited about the upcoming debate (like myself and most other creationists)? Do you see this as a chance for the idea of creationism to be buried, or are you upset with Bill Nye like Dawkins and the many others like him?

Answer by SmartLX:
Whether evolution is or isn’t a fact (it is) is not the reason these atheists don’t want Nye to debate Ham. A debate depends very little on whether one side or the other is objectively correct. It’s the ultimate exercise in rhetoric, where even if you don’t convince a single person you can still be ahead on rhetorical “points” at the end of the debate and thus “win” it.

The mass refusal of evolutionary biologists and other scientists to debate creationists is a relatively new thing. Debates like these went on all the time in the 80s and 90s, which is how people like Duane Gish became famous for doing them. Richard Dawkins even did one at Oxford, when creationism actually had a chance at being taught there. The concerted refusal was later instituted, by Dawkins and other major figures, because of the observed effects of these earlier debates.

– If the audience consisted mostly of creationists or at least devout Christians, as will certainly be the case in the Ham/Nye debate, the debate sounded like a victory for the creationist no matter what was said.

– There are a multitude of creationist “refutations” of evolution (all in the pattern of “evolution can’t explain X, therefore God”) dozens of which can be rattled off in a matter of minutes. Even if there’s a perfectly good evolutionary explanation for each one it takes a lot longer to explain, so some points will necessarily go unanswered and that’s a terrible thing to happen in a debate. The late Duane Gish would throw out as many claims as he could right at the end of a debate, knowing most of them would stand unchallenged purely for reasons of time. To this day, it’s known as the Gish Gallop.

– Even if the creationist was soundly and undeniably defeated, he (I’d say “or she” but most or all of the prominent ones were men) would be invited by other creationists to speaking engagements and radio shows where he could make the same points again, alone and undisputed, as if the debate had never happened. According to Ray Comfort, the main goal of any evangelist is to spread the message, regardless of context; God supposedly does the rest of the work, or doesn’t. When he talks about his televised debate with the Rational Response Squad, the important thing wasn’t that he adequately defended the Gospel but rather that he reached the audience of Nightline. (Also see his book, You Can Lead An Atheist To Evidence But You Can’t Make Him Think.) Any embarrassments during a debate can be buried under a subsequent succession of appearances with sympathetic hosts and audiences, where the combative “evolutionist” can be demonised.

Besides the above, the claim that creationists gain credibility from debating scientists is a valid one. Credibility among the already devout for not being swayed or cowed by the scientific establishment, and credibility among the neutral for appearing with a qualified professional as an apparent equal, even if he gets trounced. The credibility, however, is secondary to the publicity; Ken Ham may have been mentioned more in mainstream media in the last few weeks than in the previous several years, and far more positively because the news isn’t about the imminent financial failure of his Ark Park project. Speaking of which, the proceeds from DVD sales of this debate will go straight into the coffers of Answers in Genesis and prop up the Park, which all by itself is a reason for non-creationists not to support the event.

To summarise, there are plenty of reasons why Nye should not debate Ham even if it’s assumed that Nye will win. Furthermore, there are plenty of ways for Nye to effectively lose even if he is right and Ham is wrong. On a pragmatic note, the simple fact that creationists everywhere are so eager for this debate to happen (and that Ham set it up in the first place) means that they expect their cause to benefit from it one way or another regardless of the arbitrated outcome (if there’s even a judge), and I don’t think they’re wrong. Nye shows no signs of pulling out, so I guess we’ll see what happens.

Update:
Well, Nye is generally accepted to have won the debate by a mile, but AiG received such a boost in financial support and apparent legitimacy that it is at least claiming that it’s secured the municipal bonds necessary to break ground on the Ark Encounter park. No surprises at all.

A Little More Than Kin, And Less Than “Kind”

Question from Anisa:
Is there any observable evidence of Darwinian evolution where there is a CHANGE OF KIND? By ‘KIND’, I mean from monkey to human etc. Not adaptation. CHANGE OF KIND.

Answer by SmartLX:
“Kind” in this context is used only by creationists as a pseudo-scientific term adapted from its use in the Book of Genesis, and a very inconsistently defined term at that. It has no place in actual biology, and nor does the Hebrew version “baramin”.

Regardless, there is plentiful evidence of the common descent of all living things, which means that no matter how you group them as separate “kinds” they are all descended from the same organisms, and their “kind” is irrelevant. Wikipedia has a comprehensive list here, ranging from geographical to genetic to morphological evidence, so I won’t cover it all redundantly.

You did ask the right question; “kind” seldom groups animals below the level of genus (except in the case of humans which are separated even from other apes in the genus Homo), so changes of that magnitude take far too long to be observed in a lifetime or even over all of recorded history. It is the evidence that is observed, not the full-scale phenomenon itself. That said, there have been many instances of observed speciation, where one species becomes two. You would dismiss such events as “adaptation”, as for instance a mouse becomes another kind of mouse, but there is no observed barrier to this process repeating and accumulating changes over sufficient time until the differences between relatives are greater than any “kind” could encompass. That a “kind” is a self-contained and somehow limited family is nothing more than an ill-informed assertion.

It’s Evolution, Baby

Question from Nichole:
So, I just have a couple questions for those atheists who believe in evolution or those who would call themselves Evolutionists. I’m really curious what you guys think about it. So here are my questions:

1. In your thinking, what is evolution? How would you define it?

2. What do you think is the strongest evidence for evolution?

3. What empirical evidence are you aware of supports evolution?

4. Is there anything about evolutionary theory that makes you wonder about its validity? If so, what?

5. Are you aware of scientific evidence (or mathematical probabilities) that suggests evolution may not be true? If so what?

Answer by SmartLX:
There’s already quite a lot about this on the site so do a search in the top right for ‘evolution’ and other obvious keywords, but there’s no harm retreading old ground. I gather from your language that you’re neither an atheist nor an “Evolutionist”, so everyone has to start somewhere. I’ve numbered your questions for easy reference.

1. Evolution simply means “gradual development”. The demands placed upon followers of the God of Abraham evolved between the Old and the New Testament, for example, when Jesus became a requisite object of worship. Of course what we’re really talking about here is the scientific theory of Darwinian evolution by natural selection, which says that the first primitive life on Earth multiplied and diversified into literally all of the modern forms of life, including plants, animals and humans.

The theory of evolution takes no position on where that initial life came from; that’s a whole other area of investigation. It passes no judgement on the morality of the phenomenon, if indeed morality can even be applied to it, though some scientists have their own opinions. (Even Darwin wrote that “nature is red in tooth and claw”.) It makes no pronouncements on how we ought to behave, as it is merely an explanation and not a set of rules or guidelines. All it does is describe the development of life in all its diversity and complexity, accurately as far as we can tell from the evidence.

2.
I think the strongest evidence for evolution is the genetic and morphological (i.e. shape-related) similarities between living things. Almost every vertebrate animal has practically the same skeleton, but seemingly stretched, squashed and bent by countless generations of developmental pressure. Most of the same organs are there too. Two species of bird on one island may be able to interbreed, while seemingly similar birds from the next island over are incompatible with either species because they’ve been separated for too long. We share over 95% of our DNA not just with apes, but with any given species of mammal. Embryos of different animals look almost identical up to a certain point in their gestation.

In case you think all of this is simply signs that all life had a common designer, it doesn’t speak well of that designer because the similarities are not always a good thing. The appendix is useful to many animals, but about all it can do for us is kill us. Many deadly viruses and bacteria are just as at home in a human body as any other warm-blooded animal, which is why we can catch fatal infections from pigs or birds. The laryngeal nerve connects the brain to the larynx but it takes a detour all the way down by the heart in mammals, because the equivalent route in fish was more direct. (In a giraffe, it’s just ridiculous. Here’s a video where they’re dissecting one – it’s not too gory.)

3.
Everything mentioned above is empirical; you can see the evidence in your own body, anything else that’s alive, the recently dead and even the fossilised remains of ancient lifeforms. Really, the study of evolution is the direct study of living things, so there’s very little evidence for it which could not be called empirical.

4.
There isn’t anything which seriously throws the validity of evolutionary theory into question, or the controversy would be an argument between evolutionary biologists rather than between evolutionary biologists and religious creationists. Religion is the only reason anyone challenges it, which is why there are no secular opponents of the teaching of evolution (except for one fellow I know of, who makes quite a lot of money as a professional advocate). Not every religious person denies evolution as many prefer to see it as a divine method, but opposition to it has just that one source.

5.
Carrying on from #4, creationist evangelists present a wide range of claims about the natural world as arguments against evolution. They all have the same form: “Feature X could not possibly have come about naturally and gradually, or the odds are so small as to be practically impossible, so evolution can’t have produced X.” Even if no evolutionary path to the final result is known, this in all its forms is an argument from ignorance because not knowing how something is done does not necessarily mean it’s impossible. In practice, however, a plausible evolutionary method of producing the feature is often already known before the claim is made – the creationist just hasn’t looked it up.

I think that’s a fair representation of what atheists think of evolution, though any atheists reading this are free to correct me. So, tit for tat: what do you think of it, Nichole?

“HERE IS THE EVIDENCE ~!”

Question from Robert:
Why don’t atheists believe in God if atheists admit that there is no proof that He doesn’t exist? (see What is an atheist?) That’s like asking why adults don’t believe in the tooth fairy simply because there is no proof that she doesn’t exist. But more to the point, compelling evidence for the existence of God is sorely lacking.

ARE YOU KIDDING? HERE IS THE EVIDENCE ~!
AND IT IS ABUNDANTLY CLEAR~!! *** REALLY . ****

JUST LOOK. >>>>>

Fast Facts

2. The adult body is made up of: 100 trillion cells, 206 bones,
600 muscles, and 22 internal organs.

3. There are many systems in the human body:
Circulatory System (heart, blood, vessels)
Respiratory System (nose, trachea, lungs)
Immune System (many types of protein, cells, organs, tissues)
Skeletal System (bones)
Excretory System (lungs, large intestine, kidneys)
Urinary System (bladder, kidneys)
Muscular System (muscles)
Endocrine System (glands)
Digestive System (mouth, esophagus, stomach, intestines)
Nervous System (brain, spinal cord, nerves)
Reproductive System (male and female reproductive organs)
4. Every square inch of the human body has about 19 million skin cells.
5. Every hour about 1 billion cells in the human body must be replaced.
7. The circulatory system of arteries, veins, and capillaries is about 60,000 miles long.

———————————————————————

How could evolution, even over millions of years form into such amazing complexity~! How can you explain billions of cells changing into and then organizing themselves into something so amazingly complex as the human body? How did cells which have no brain, change into heart cells, lung cells, esophagus cells, blood vessel cells, kidney cells, liver cells, ligament cells, tendon cells, pancreatic cells, super complex eyeball cells, optic nerve cells, hair cells, eyelash cells, eyelid cells, nose cells, jawbone cells, teeth cells, gum cells, lip cells, muscle cells, bone cells, red blood cells, white blood cells, and super, super, super, super, super, complex brain cells — ALL ONE HUNDRED BILLION OF THEM ~!~!~!
One person likened it to putting all the parts of a watch together, then shaking all the parts together for a million years, and then voila ….. you have watch ~!
——————————————————-
And then here is this. It takes a male and female to be able to create a new life. A male and female COULD NOT EVOLVE AT THE SAME TIME~!~!~!~!

You try to explain this by saying that male and female creatures were once hermaphroditic. THAT IS INSANE~!! Why then are the vast majority of animals today, male and female, and not hermaphroditic? — But even then, how could one animal develop male and female organs —- AT THE SAME TIME ~!~?

IT IS IMPOSSIBLE. —- AND SO EVOLUTION ( No God ) IS IMPOSSIBLE ~!

Answer by SmartLX (and by the way, the question arrived with #1 and #6 already missing):
I don’t know what things are like in your neck of the woods, but in most places adults don’t believe in the tooth fairy despite the lack of disproof, and no one disputes that this lack of belief is justified.

Explaining the theory of evolution as it applies specifically to each of these parts of the human body would take up far too much space, and you can get much more information simply by Googling “evolution of ” followed by the name of the body part. To address it very briefly, any positive change to a simpler organism was reinforced because more individuals survived and procreated to pass on the gene responsible, and most of the time that meant making the organism more complex. This process went on for an unimaginably long time, and has been extremely productive as we can see.

The watch analogy betrays a core misunderstanding of the theory of evolution, which is the assumption that the process is entirely random. It is anything but random, because the path of evolution is determined by which creatures survive and which don’t. There are random elements, from mutations to natural disasters to plain old bad luck, but those with better genes are far more likely to survive these uncontrolled events. Would you say that because some elements of a tennis match are random, like the wind and small imperfections in the playing surface, it’s entirely up to chance whether Andre Agassi would beat Peter Dinklage in a friendly set? Of course not. Some differences really do make a difference to the result.

Before gender distinction and sexual reproduction developed, individual organisms were not hermaphroditic. They were asexual, and reproduced through either cell division or forms of cloning. They didn’t have two sets of sexual organs, they had none. Gender developed as a reliable way for two individuals to exchange genetic information and thus allow for recombination of DNA, speeding up the process of evolution by creating more variables.

There are lots of fascinating details like the above to study, but ultimately your argument is a textbook argument from ignorance. You dismiss evolution as a valid explanation for the complexity of life, then immediately assert that God had to have been responsible. If evolution is false, there needs to be positive evidence that your alternative explanation is true or else it could just as easily be some unknown third option. God seems like the obvious explanation to you because you’ve already accepted that there is one, but why would a non-believer discard an explanation with a mountain of evidence behind it in favour of a supernatural explanation with no available substantive evidence at all?

Why Evolution?

Question from MiK’la:
Why do you believe in evolution? It is completely unscientific. It cannot be observed, repeated, or tested. Can you give me some evidence for evolution that can be observed, tested, or repeated? (and please give your answer in as little words as possible.)

Answer by SmartLX:
As few words as possible, huh? Okay, I’ll do it in two. Go here.

Seriously though, while evolution itself is very difficult to directly observe or repeat (mostly because it’s so slow), the evidence for it can be readily observed, and some aspects of it can be tested. DNA tests comparing our genome to to that of any other living creature will find at least some similarity, indicating that all life had a common ancestor and therefore we’re all part of the same family. The flu virus evolves so much in a year that the antibodies produced by a year-old vaccine will fail to recognise it. Some species of insects have diversified under observation into two populations incapable of breeding with each other, by definition becoming two species. Artificial selection applied to either plants or animals can radically change their appearance and behaviour in a relatively short space of time, and there’s no barrier to natural selection doing the same over millions of years.

To say that evolution is unscientific is to completely misrepresent science. Let us know why you think the mountains of evidence for evolution somehow don’t count if you like, and on whose work you base this conclusion, but in the scientific community there is no controversy at all over the basic fact that evolution has occurred.

Thermodynamics and Anti-Entropic Mechanisms (my most techy title ever)

Question from Simon:
I was debating with a Christian friend about evolution and the genesis of life and I have to admit that he stumped me in regards to thermodynamics. He agrees that you can have a localised reduction in entropy as long as the overall system entropy increases (which is where most of the pro-evolution arguments seem to end) however he argues that to do so, you require some form of mechanism to drive the decrease as spontaneous localised decreases in entropy do not occur either in open or closed systems. Can you offer an explanation which supports or refutes this?

Answer by SmartLX:
Spontaneous localised decreases in entropy (i.e. increases in order) do not require the kind of mechanism you and the creationist are thinking of, only a bit of physical force.
– If you have a jar filled partially with rocks and sand and you shake it randomly for a while, the smaller particles will tend to make their way towards the bottom of the jar while the big ones stay on top, ordering the collection solely through gravity and friction.
– Chemists regularly use a centrifuge to separate heavier elements of a mixture or compound from lighter parts through centripetal/centrifugal force alone.
– Oil and water mixed together will separate vertically to some extent, even if you don’t agitate them. Gravity again, plus surface tension and possibly other parts of fluid dynamics I don’t fully understand.
– A group of small magnets dropped randomly in a bucket will snap together into a structure. Depending on their shape, many of them may join in a very straight line. Iron filings will arrange themselves into beautiful patterns around an electromagnet, and ferrofluid has to be seen to be believed.

There’s a creationist idea that all new order (physical, chemical, linguistic, etc.) requires a mind to create it. You’re up against a more flexible idea that new all order requires a mechanism, whether or not a mind is ultimately behind that, but there’s no more evidence for this idea than for the other. The inorganic forces of this planet (wind, tides, tectonic shift, orbital spin) were what the initial chemicals of life needed in order to come together and form a useful configuration. Once life existed it was capable of exerting its own forces, for good or ill, and evolution took hold through natural selection. We don’t know the details, but there is no discernible problem with the principle, no matter how much creationists would like there to be.

I, Ape

Question from Philip:
Is it right to call those who believe they are evolved from apes as Monkey/ape Richard Dawkins or Monkey/ape Christopher Hitchens?

Answer by SmartLX:
Calling them apes is technically correct, as not only are we evolved from apes but we are apes (not monkeys, though – they’re only related to us). I don’t know about “right”; you don’t normally refer to people as Human Joe Smith, or Human Carly Jensen. There’s no reason to add the species to people’s names unless we’re all different species.

Of course, we’re all the same type of creature, whatever it is. If you call those who accept evolutionary theory apes you’re calling yourself one as well. If you believe that you’re of a special race deliberately created in its present form by God then so are they, no matter what they think. So if you think calling “evolutionists” apes is deservedly derogatory, don’t bother because it reflects directly on you.

If on the other hand you think that “evolutionists” really are a different species, and something less than human, you need to back that up with some evidence.

Aliens In The Family

Question from Archer:
Hi I am an agnostic and do support evolution. I know this is just a supposition but since biological beings continue evolving (through vast increments of time) would it make sense to think that far more advanced intelligent beings do exist and that we could actually be related to them?

Thank you.

Answer by SmartLX:
Considering only Earth, it’s unlikely that there’s ever been a species more intelligent than us here, because if so we’d probably have found some trace of them. We’ve had such a profound effect on the ecosystem that the only things that have had more impact are cataclysms like the meteorite that killed the dinosaurs; a species with even more power to affect its surroundings would have been unmistakable in its influence.

Considering the universe as a whole, though, it was already about 10 billion years old when the Earth was formed, and it took another 4.5 billion to produce human beings. Imagine how advanced we could be in one million years, if we survive that long; now, consider that if a species on another planet reached our present level of intelligence and civilisation just one million years ahead of us, out of billions of years so far, they could be at that advanced stage right now. It’s a big universe, so big that it’s probably more likely that the reason we haven’t been contacted by advanced aliens is that they don’t know we’re here and can’t reach us, not that there are no aliens.

I don’t think we’d be related to any advanced aliens that do exist, and here’s why. The study of DNA tells us that all life on Earth has a common ancestor, an extremely simple organism of some kind that lived about 3 to 3.5 billion years ago, so any related aliens had to be the progenitor of that organism. To do that, they had to be capable of interstellar space travel that long ago. An alien race one million years ahead of us is one thing, but 3 billion years is WAY early. The universe’s first stars had to explode to provide the rest of the universe with any chemical elements beyond hydrogen and helium, so it was several billion years before the building blocks of life even existed and were widespread. Earth is probably the product of at least two full star lifecycles since it formed after 10 billion years. That could be why it’s so rich in minerals, metals and exotic compounds. If that’s what it takes to produce life, it might not have been able to start a whole star-generation earlier than it did. It’s not impossible, because some stars burn fast and blow up after only a few million years, but I just think the “factories” had output so much less raw material so long ago.

Intelligence. How?

Question from Chan:
How does chance and random variation create human intelligence with all its “design capabilities”?

If evolution is driven by chance and necessity does it mean that human intelligence is merely an illusion?

Answer by SmartLX:
If evolution were purely a matter of random variations, it wouldn’t produce anything useful. Fortunately for us there’s a second major element, and it’s the one Darwin figured out: natural selection. Out of all the mutations in a given species (and, for instance, each new human has about 120) the ones which are actually useful become the most persistent in future generations, simply because they help their hosts to survive and procreate a little better than their peers.

It’s like dispatching a thousand people to search a ruin for treasure; most of them might find nothing, but when one guy turns up a gold coin more of the people will search in that area. It’s a highly inefficient process, but it can afford to be because evolution has had billions of years and trillions of individual life forms in which to work.

As for human intelligence, it’s a natural extension of the intelligence we see in dogs or apes. Dogs can learn jobs and tricks, and some apes can even make tools so “design capabilities” are not unique to humans. Smarter creatures generally work out ways to survive and outdo their competitors, so for any creature with a brain there’s some upward “selection pressure” on intelligence. After hundreds of millions of years of competing animals, it’s not so surprising that an animal as intelligent as homo sapiens has emerged.

There are some philosophical ideas that everything is an illusion, but intelligence is no more illusive than any other abstract concept of a physical quality, because it has effects in the real world. It can be tested, for example with IQ tests (which test very limited areas of intelligence, but still). There are things only animals of a certain level of intelligence can do, like recognise themselves in a mirror. We have a set of criteria which will allow us to acknowledge when computers achieve artificial intelligence, though these have not yet been met. Anyway, the process that produced intelligence in natural creatures is irrelevant to whether it’s a real thing now. There’s enough evidence that it is.

So I Have This Friend…

Question from Chris:
I have a friend who I just found out does not approve of equality for homosexuals, doesn’t believe in the majority of science (mainly evolution and plate tectonics), and also makes really ignorant and pretentious comments about stuff he clearly knows nothing about. I see him everyday, at least twice, and have a raging deisre inside me to say something back to him, what do I do?

Answer by SmartLX:
The obvious answer would be to actually say something back to him. You didn’t say why you haven’t done it already; care to comment and elaborate?

Generally speaking, if you want to challenge someone’s position on something, attack the position and not the person. You say this person is largely ignorant of the things he discusses; well, the simplest antidote to that is education. See how he reacts to a bit of evidence, there’s plenty around. Let us know if you want a bit of guidance in your own research.

I can be much more specific if you are, so go ahead and say what’s going on and what you need. From what you’ve said so far, I doubt your friend would read this site and find your writings. That said, you could even encourage him to write in with his own questions and/or challenges. If you warn us first, we can erase your stuff so he won’t see it. Just let us know how we can help.