Response to Creationist 14

14. “If Evolution is a Theory (like creationism or the Bible) why then is Evolution taught as fact.”

The theory of evolution is a theory; evolution is a process, a thing which definitely exists and happens. The fact there’s a theory about it is not to say the whole thing is just a wild idea someone pulled out of their arse; it’s scientists’ way of saying “this stuff’s complicated, so we’re going to write it down properly.”

Just like, the theory of gravity is a theory; gravity itself is a force. Germ theory is a theory; germs are actual things which we are totally sure exist, because we have seen them, just like evolution. (Actually, that’s not such a great analogy, as religion has never fully accepted the germ theory of disease, either).

Also, even the theory of evolution is not a theory “like creationism or the Bible”. Those latter kinds of “theories” really are wild ideas pulled out of someone’s arse. I don’t blame the person who did the pulling, since he lived in a time when there was very little evidence to go on, and anyone’s guess was as good as another. But those ignorant fables are not theories on a par with quantum field theory, topological graph theory, or the theory of evolution. If you claim they are, all you do is instantly red-flag the fact that you’ve never read any proper science, or even glanced briefly at anything properly scientific, in your entire life.

I’m not demanding you have a high level of science education to get this. One quick exercise will do.

Take a look at the Wikipedia page for quantum field theory. Don’t read it, just scan it. What’s the main thing you notice? It’s full of horrible-looking, complicated equations. Now that’s a theory: not popular science metaphors and stories, but dozens of interlinked equations which give quantifiable, testable predictions and allow engineering solutions to be worked out in precise detail. Show me one, just one, universal equation constituting a “theory of creationism” which does the same, and until then, get to fuck with your claims about evolution being “a theory just like the Bible”.

UPDATE:

I know, I know, I’m supposed to be asking, ‘why does this person think this?’ rather than just berating the poorly educated victims of religious propaganda. I’m sorry. I just got a little bit angry.

So, why does 14 think a scientific theory like evolution is epistemologically equivalent to a barely coherent hash of iron age myths and pseudoscientific obfuscations? We’ve already identified why: he’s never seen any real science. He wouldn’t even recognise it if he did.

Science is mostly mathematics. Physics is almost entirely so. This is what nuts like Gene Ray and Alex Chiu fail to grasp: the reason their wacky theories are “ignored by the scientific establishment” (which isn’t even true – Gene Ray gave a one-off lecture at MIT) is not because they’re wacky. Quantum theory is far wackier than anything they’ve imagined. It’s because they fail to provide any testable numerical relationships about the phenomena they claim to explain.

In proper science, the more you can quantify and measure something, the more seriously your ideas taken. Even biology, proper biological theory and research, is quantified and based on numerical data as much as possible. In the “theory of evolution” which creationists are so keen to dismiss as mere flimflam, biologists are constantly proposing numerical hypotheses: about such things as speciation rates, genetic drift, mutually stable behavioural strategy ratios. Not all of them are true; in fact, many of those hypotheses turn out to be false: but you can tell which are which by collecting data and plugging in the numbers.

(As an aside: a research biologist friend of mine did her Masters project on mouse mating strategies. She spent thousands of hours of her life watching mice running around their enclosures and having sex in order to gather data. She pioneered a new technique for collecting mouse urine. Show me one “creation scientist” who’s devoted that much effort to elucidating their theory.)

So where does the disconnect occur between real science and 14? Well, in his case, he’s the product of an education curriculum which is catastrophically failing to convey the premise, method and justification of science to students. In his high school education, he has simply been told the official explanatory stories of science, minus any of the rigour and mathematics, and told to accept it as fact. No wonder that when someone else comes along and proposes an alternative story, he seems to have little reason to choose between one and the other.

The “creation scientists” and other wackos and hacks who invent and promote alternative stories are suffering from the same delusion. They’ve never read rigorous evidential science either, and at best only popular science books which, to keep up sales, have dropped all of the mathematics, and therefore give the impression that science is all story-telling. They fail to grasp the fact that science isn’t just an explanation, it’s a model, and as anyone who’s ever built a model can tell you, you need to measure stuff, or it falls to bits.

The question which Ken Ham was supposed to be answering at the debate last week was, “is creationism a viable model of origins?” You could drop one word from that and answer it immediately: it’s not even a model.

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