Readers’ comments of the week

There were lots of creationist and hyper-religious comments this week, and here are three that I didn’t allow through (note, though, that if you claim this is “censorship,” the commenters did get their say! I don’t, however, allow trolling.). If you haven’t done this already, I urge you to read my “Roolz” (left sidebar) about “censorship” and other website matters.

From reader “Stephen,” commenting on “Peter Hitchens replies to me; I answer him“:

Macro evolution is a fairy tale. Atheists are not very bright people.

This person probably has no idea what macroevolution is, much less that it’s been documented many times in the fossil record.

***

From reader “D,” commenting on “Neil deGrasse Tyson loses it in a discussion about science“:

It’s a shame Mr Tyson is so influential. He ridicules those who recognize that the origin of life is still unknown to science and yet, he claims to be open minded.
He claims to be a scientist and yet, he teaches theory as fact and denies the existence of facts that have been scientifically proven. Even Darwin came understand the flaws in his theory.

According My Tyson, Darwin was also stupid.
I know. This is just my stupid opinion.

I didn’t see the first episode of the new “Cosmos,” but I doubt that Tyson misused the scientific notion of “theory,” or claimed that Darwin was stupid. As for Darwin coming to understand the flaws in his theory, he was certainly aware of some of its problems (he never fully came to terms with genetics, whose basis was murky at the time), but he certainly didn’t see as flawed his major contentions of evolution, common ancestry, gradualism (as opposed to instantaneous transformation), lineage splitting, and natural selection.

***

From reader “Ellie,” commenting on “Why was God a stay-at-home“:

God is very patient with us. If I were he I would just get mad and blow up the world. But he didn’t, and instead sent Jesus to die.
I love Jesus, and I am sooooo glad that he does love the world.

Three comments. First, God didn’t blow up the world but he did get mad and flooded the world, killing all but eight people.  And what kind of God would show his mercy by sending his son to die? And if Jesus really loved the world, he wouldn’t require that people go to God only through belief in him, Jesus, and the rest could fry for eternity.

Just for fun, let me reproduce Sam Harris’s characterization from Christianity in his published exchange with Philip Ball:

“In its most generic and well-subscribed form, Christianity amounts to the following claims: Jesus Christ, a carpenter by trade, was born of a virgin, ritually murdered as a scapegoat for the collective sins of his species, and then resurrected from death after an interval of three days. He promptly ascended, bodily, to “heaven”—where, for two millennia, he has eavesdropped upon (and, on occasion, even answered) the simultaneous prayers of billions of beleaguered human beings. Not content to maintain this numinous arrangement indefinitely, this invisible carpenter will one day return to earth to judge humanity for its sexual indiscretions and sceptical doubts, at which time he will grant immortality to anyone who has had the good fortune to be convinced, on Mother’s knee, that this baffling litany of miracles is the most important series of truth-claims ever revealed about the cosmos. Every other member of our species, past and present, from Cleopatra to Einstein, no matter what his or her terrestrial accomplishments, will (probably) be consigned to a fiery hell for all eternity.”

25 Comments

  1. Cara
    Posted March 16, 2014 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    Subscribe.

  2. Diana MacPherson
    Posted March 16, 2014 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    The first one annoys me the most because it’s just a fly by insulting assertion that also conflates atheism with science. They are two separate things and very few atheists are scientists, some atheists believe wrong woo things and there are probably atheists that don’t understand evolution.

    It is, however, nice to find atheists who are clever, and literate in their society (so know about their culture, other cultures and have a good general understanding of science).

    • Posted March 16, 2014 at 9:41 am | Permalink

      Yes. There are a great diversity of atheists. They include those who are into some form of woo, and others who are misogynistic jerks.

  3. Posted March 16, 2014 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    It’s a shame Mr Tyson is so influential. He ridicules those who recognize that the origin of life is still unknown to science

    In the first episode of Cosmos Tyson states that the origin of life is still unknown to science. Had “D” taken the trouble to watch it, s/he would have known this.

    • Posted March 16, 2014 at 9:46 am | Permalink

      I can only confirm what realthog said: Tyson stated very clearly that we know that life evolved but we don’t know how it started.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted March 16, 2014 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

      *epic facepalm*

  4. Tulse
    Posted March 16, 2014 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    I think this description of Christianity is even more succinct:

    Christianity is the belief that a Cosmic Jewish Zombie, who is his own Father, can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and drink his blood, while telepathically telling him that you accept him as your Master, so that he can remove an evil force from your soul, which is present in all humanity because a woman made out of one rib bone and a mound of dirt was tricked into eating fruit from a magical tree by a talking snake.

    • Posted March 16, 2014 at 9:48 am | Permalink

      Well, when you put it like that, it makes perfect sense.

    • Posted March 16, 2014 at 10:14 am | Permalink

      This is if you are mainly Catholic or Anglican. I don’t think the evangelicals have time to symbolically eat the flesh while hating on everything they don’t like, not that the Catholics don’t hate.

      • gbjames
        Posted March 16, 2014 at 10:19 am | Permalink

        I’m not sure about that. Back in my pre-adult days, I was supposed to be an Ev. Lutheran. We did the whole mock-cannibal thing with crackers and wine. I think lots of evangelicals do it, although some of them substitute grape juice so-as not to go to hell.

        • Posted March 16, 2014 at 10:22 am | Permalink

          I see. Here most evangelicals don’t do it at least that is how it was when I last attended a church service

      • jaxkayaker
        Posted March 16, 2014 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

        It’s not symbolic for the Catholics, i.e. the doctrine of transubstantiation. I don’t know if any other sects subscribe to the doctrine. I do know, having been raised Southern Baptist, that our church did the communion and considered it merely symbolic.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted March 16, 2014 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

          Yeah, the Catholic Church liked to burn the heretics that thought otherwise.

    • Posted March 16, 2014 at 11:43 am | Permalink

      This is my take on it:

      The all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good God sexually violated a helpless, ignorant girl, in order that she should give birth to Himself, and He could grow up to preach eternal cosmic truths to a handful of uncomprehending people, most of whom would either ignore Him or actively resent Him for it, and then see to it that He was ritually killed in order to fulfill ancient prophecies which He inspired, thereby making it possible for Him to forgive those people who believe all this stuff for following the nature that He gave them, and for doing what He already knew they were going to do, instead of consigning them to eternal torment, for reasons that He presumably knows but the rest of us can’t agree about. All He asks in return is our ceaseless abject praise.

      Did I leave out anything important?

  5. stephen
    Posted March 16, 2014 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    Knee-jerk response: whoever that “stephen” is,he isn’t me! :-(

  6. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted March 16, 2014 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    The inevitable discovery of life elsewhere will usher in the 3d Copernican revolution. And where will creationists then be?

    He ridicules those who recognize that the origin of life is still unknown to science

    I think Tyson is very gentle here as elsewhere, but in the promos to Cosmos he certainly added a forthrightness, if not ridicule, on this matter re creationism. Not quite non-accommodationism, but kudos anyway!

    But generally these people should be ridiculed, and for good reason. As a comparison, there are those who recognize that the origin of galaxies is still unknown to science. But they do not claim that they were unlikely to form de novo or that it would take magic to do so!

    In both cases we do know that the universe started out without these structures and that they now have them, so that they arose naturally. We know that the necessary chemical building blocks were present.

    And we know that the processes that naturally formed them could not do else. Disequilibrium of gravity (galaxies) and redox chemistry (life) tend to form structures under thermodynamic constraints (increasing entropy). Meaning structures were _likely_ to form de novo.

    And then people go “mankind/Earth is the center of the universe; life was poofed into existence”. Bwa ha ha ha!

    • Timothy Hughbanks
      Posted March 16, 2014 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

      As pointed out by realthog (#3), commenter “D’s” claim that Tyson “ridicules those who recognize that the origin of life is still unknown to science” directly contradicts what Tyson actually said. Likewise, creationists already ignore an avalanche of evidence that plainly shows their Biblical views are wrong. In exactly the same way, I fully expect that discovery of life elsewhere would leave creationists exactly where they are now: with their eyes tightly shut, hands over their ears, and their mouths chattering ritualistic nonsense.

  7. Posted March 16, 2014 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    As Sagan said…”if we are the only life in the Universe, then it seems like an awful waste of space”

  8. stuartcoyle
    Posted March 16, 2014 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    I am glad that Ellie is not a deity. May she never become one. I also hope she never holds any political or military power.

  9. John Harshman
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    This person probably has no idea what macroevolution is, much less that it’s been documented many times in the fossil record.

    As well it has, but I think that perpetuates the common misconception that fossils are the chief evidence for macroevolution. That may once have been true (though I would argue even that point), but certainly for the past 20 years or so, at least, the main evidence has been genetic. Fossils are just easier to explain and make better photographs than DNA sequences and retroelement insertions.

    Or is it just that everyone thinks their own specialty offers the best evidence?

    • Posted March 17, 2014 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      Just curious, if you’re adducing DNA sequences, I’d agree if the sequences are noncoding, like retroelement insertions. But a commonality of coding sequences could be dismissed by creationists by saying “well, God obviously had to use similar proteins to make similar creatures.” That’s why I didn’t use DNA evidence so much in my book, although I believe I mentioned the coding/noncoding distinction.

      For the readers’ benefit, could you briefly give some evidence for macroevolution based on DNA. I’d like to have it on hand as well.

      Thanks!

      • John Harshman
        Posted March 17, 2014 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

        I agree that creationists probably would dismiss anything at all functional as “common design”. Of course, that applies equally well, if not more so, to any morphological evidence, including fossil evidence. But they would in both cases be making a poor argument. And the reasons to reject that argument apply equally to morphological and molecular adaptive features; there are many such reasons, but I’ll give two here: 1) there’s no reason to expect even the adaptive features of organisms to follow a common nested hierarchy under common design, and yet they do much more often than we could expect under that model; 2) when we do see similar adaptive features outside the main nested hierarchy, they are usually different in detail, yet they are also similar in detail, though different in gross form, to features we see in organisms we think are more closely related.

        Another major reason to reject the functional argument for adaptive molecular features is that many aspects of even functional sequences are not selected, or at least there are many equally adaptive variants. Fourfold degenerate sites in exons are obvious examples, but there are also many amino acid sites at which a large number of possible substitutions would be equally accepted. So we have reason to suppose that much of the phylogenetic signal even in functional elements is the product of neutral or nearly neutral fixation.

        And in fact most parts of most eukaryote genomes are evolving neutrally, and most genetic change is not adaptive. This is true for the bulk of intron sequence and for the various sorts of junk DNA, and it’s true for almost all indels, retroelement insertions, inversions, etc. And while the phylogenetic information in neutral evolution degrades over time, it lasts long enough to support phylogenetic analysis within many groups, including those between mammalian and avian orders, at least.

        I could cite a great many references, but here are just two of my favorites. The first (Shedlock et al. 2000) uses SINE insertions to support artiodactyl phylogeny, including those marine artiodactyls with the blowholes and flippers. The second (Harshman et al. 2008) uses mostly intron sequences to demonstrate the polyphyly of ratites (but the monophyly of paleognaths).

        Creationists will of course say that all this is mere guesswork, because I wasn’t there and haven’t demonstrated the exact pathway of mutation that changes a land animal into a whale, or a flying bird into a flightless one. But I hope we can agree that if we can show common descent of quite different organisms, macroevolution necessarily follows.

        Shedlock, A. M., M. C. Milinkovitch, and N. Okada. 2000. SINE evolution, missing data, and the origin of whales. Systematic Biology 49:808-817.

        Harshman, J., E. L. Braun, M. J. Braun, C. J. Huddleston, R. C. K. Bowie, J. L. Chojnowski, S. J. Hackett, K.-L. Han, R. T. Kimball, B. D. Marks, K. J. Miglia, W. S. Moore, S. Reddy, F. H. Sheldon, D. W. Steadman, S. J. Steppan, C. C. Witt, and T. Yuri. 2008. Phylogenomic evidence for multiple losses of flight in ratite birds. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105:13462-13467.

        I could add lots more; another recent favorite involves finding amniote phylogeny based on the flanking sequences of ultraconserved elements, but I don’t have the citation quite so handy. And there’s plenty on primate phylogeny, for some reason. Molecular phylogenetics is doing well these days.

        • John Harshman
          Posted March 17, 2014 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

          Ah, here it is: Crawford NG, Faircloth BC, McCormack JE, Brumfield RT, Winker K, Glenn TC. 2012. More than 1000 ultraconserved elements provide evidence that turtles are the sister group of archosaurs. Biol Lett 8:783-786.


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