When I spoke at the Freethought Alliance Symposium in Fullerton, California a couple weeks ago, there was some misguided superstitious believer there handing out home-made pseudoscience pamphlets. The poor guy, (let’s just call him Billy) was citing deceitful propaganda mills like DarwinIsDead.com and the convicted fraud known as “DrDino”, as well as his own website, FishDontWalk.com. I am sure he doesn’t care that there are plenty of fish that do walk, or that the fossil record shows many more that did walk. I find that accuracy and accountability aren’t really a concern for deeply religious believers.
The larger of his handouts subscribed to the logical fallacy of the argument from incredulity, that anything he finds impressively detailed or complicated means that it must be the work of a magic invisible man. He has no comprehension of emergent properties, and I’m not going to try and unpack any of that right now. Instead I want to talk about his other hand-out, which better-illustrated how much he doesn’t know about science or anything else.
I wanted to do this with Billy and I together in a live google hangout. He had [foolishly] put his home phone number and personal email on this pamphlet, so I sent him a message.
Two days later, he replied:
Greetings. I would about 20 hours a day, but can take a break from work for the interview.
Will you assure me I get a copy of the interview?
I would love to be on your show.
Pick 3 times, I am sure one will work. I shant chicken out.
I shall answer the chicken-egg question (if you desire).
So he agreed to the interview, but hadn’t set a time when he would be available to do that. My next message clarified that our entire discussion will be automatically uploaded unedited, and would remain available on my channel indefinitely afterward.
However he suddenly changed the game, demanding instead that I debate him in a University setting. He said he works 20 hours a day, and that he has many kids, and that he can’t figure out how to do a Google hangout, but he’s willing to pay out-of-pocket to fly to Texas and embarrass himself before a moderator and a live audience of academics.
So I replied:
If you think the world is flat, would any geologist fly you cross-country to debate that before a live audience?
If you think the US Constitution was written by Moses, could any historian give you any credence at all?
If you think epilepsy is caused by demons and that diseases are the result of witchcraft, do you think any medical professional would treat you like a serious scholar?
If a preschooler believes that babies come from the stork, should any obstetrician debate that child in a University setting?
If all I know about you is that you know absolutely nothing whatsoever about any of the subjects you want to talk about (as both your pamphlets have already proved) then I obviously shouldn’t debate you, but I am going to school you.
Now once again, I repeat, please name a block of time between the 22nd and 31st of this month, any hour or more that is convenient for you to join me in a Google hangout, and I’ll happily explain how you got everything wrong. You will definitely benefit from this exchange. I guarantee it.
After that, he accused me of chickening out of a debate I never agreed to, and he obviously doesn’t have the wherewithal to join me online either. So I’ll just have to address his ridiculous pamphlet without him.
Two pieces of folded paper stapled together bore the title, ‘Free Thinking Forum’. Of course Billy identified as a free-thinker. He’s there to protest a freethought symposium, and he doesn’t know what free-thought means. So we’ll start with that first.
Christianity is a faith-based belief-system with required beliefs and prohibited beliefs, where there’s an impossible promise of eternal reward for all those gullible enough to believe that, and there’s the threat of a fate worse than death for anyone unable to make-believe impossible nonsense for no good reason. Any deviation is a damnable sin of sacrilege, heresy or apostasy.
By contrast, free thought means that you’re literally free to believe whatever makes sense to you, and you’re free to change your mind when it doesn’t make sense anymore. You’re neither damned nor saved according to anything you do or don’t believe, because the goal is not to believe but to improve understanding. The only way to do that is to seek out the flaws in your current perspective and correct them. Faith offers no way to do that. So it’s best to abandon faith first.
Now onto the contents. There were 15 questions to which Billy provides what he thinks are the only possible answers. That’s what I want to address, and the rest of this post will be an open letter to Billy directly.
since I doubt whether you can or will ever join me in a Google hangout, I have another way we can discuss this, using your own pamphlet. I’ll give you my answers first, because I have to explain what’s wrong with yours. But I still want to hear your answers after mine.
1. When it comes to important issues, is your goal to:
a) Pursue truth no matter where it leads?
b) Defend ideas I feel comfortable with?
This is a no-brainer. Obviously free-thinkers will always answer (a) where religious believers will typically have to answer (b) if they answer honestly.
2. How do you reach a conclusion?
a) by evidence?
b) by my opinions?
This is the difference between those driven by reason (a) versus faith (b).
3. Would you change your mind on an important topic if facts contradicted your opinion?
a) Yes! I’m an open-minded free-thinker who follows the evidence.
b) No, I believe according to faith.
I altered answer (b) because faith is a belief that is assumed and maintained independent of evidence and is the alternative to following evidence.
4. The human body has 60,000 miles of blood vessels. The lungs have 15,000 miles of blood vessels.
a) Properly functioning piping systems are the result of design.
b) The human circulatory system is easily explained as being the result of time, nature, and chance.
I. A child has roughly 60,000 miles of blood vessels. An adult would be closer to 100,000.
II. The human circulatory system is not a “piping” system.
III. “Easy” explanations are typically wrong explanations. An easy explanation would be that something happened by magic. If a god did it with a miracle, that’s literally the same thing as magic. Every supernatural explanation is equivalent to magic. But of course that’s not an explanation at all; it’s just an excuse. You need to describe a mechanism or process which has been demonstrated to work before it actually can explain whatever you’re talking about.
Once upon a time, our ancestors believed that thunder, lightning, and volcanoes were gods in action, that comets were an omen, that the stars and planets had human characteristics, that sickness was a curse of witchcraft, and that epilepsy was demonic possession; all because that’s what religion would have us believe. In each case, the real truth might never have been discovered had we been satisfied by those lies. And in each case, the reality was a revelation of whole new fields of study previously unimagined, and vastly more complex than the simple excuses we made up in our ignorance. No doubt that pattern will continue, such that if we ever do discover the cause of the Big Bang, or some better explanation for the origin of life, the universe, and everything, it too will be a wealth of new information with practical application, and so advanced that it will render our previous belief in gods, ghosts, and magic just as laughably silly as every other field of study so far has already shown.
IV. Anything at the molecular level is going to produce incomprehensibly huge numbers. However this is actually indicative of incidental emergence rather than divine design.
V. Your frequently-repeated plea that things “are the result of design” could be re-phrased “happened by magic”, since you’re pleading for supernatural miracles, which are the same thing.
VI. Your frequently-repeated phrase of “time, nature, and chance” should be replaced with the phrase “naturally occurring processes capable of incidental design as opposed to the deliberate intent of any imagined organizer or intelligent designer”. Or you can simply abbreviate that to say that it can be explained naturally as opposed to magically.
I’ve altered the rest of your questions accordingly.
5. The human body produces 2.5 million red blood cells per second, (not 3 million).
a) Systems that produce a functional product happened by magic.
b) The production of red blood cells has a natural explanation.
You really should read the trial results of Kitzmiller v Dover (2005) wherein leading advocates of Intelligent Design were put on trial and failed miserably. For example, Intelligent Design proponent Michael Behe argued that “Each and every element of the complex cascade of enzymes and cofactors must be in place for blood clotting to work.”
But the opinion of the Bush-appointed conservative Christian judge was that “The evolution of complex molecular systems can occur in several ways. Natural selection can bring together parts of a system for one function at one time and then, at a later time, recombine those parts with other systems of components to produce a system that has a different function. . . . The complex biochemical cascade resulting in blood clotting has been explained in this fashion. . . .Moreover, cross-examination revealed that Professor Behe’s redefinition of the blood-clotting system was likely designed to avoid peer-reviewed scientific evidence that falsifies his argument, as it was not a scientifically warranted redefinition.”
6. The human body has 10 billion miles of DNA, (not 42 billion).
a) DNA is information, and information happened by magic.
b) DNA has a natural explanation.
Given that “information” is defined as “what is conveyed or represented by a particular arrangement or sequence of things”, and DNA is a conveyance of chemical components and counterparts, I’ll grant that it is information in that sense. But that has no bearing on the fact that it also has a natural explanation. RNA builds DNA, and RNA can either be produced by enzymes or it can literally build itself. It can even be spontaneously generated in the right chemical matrix.
7. The human retina has 120 million rods and 6 million cone cells that convert light to electrical impulses that travel down the optic nerve to the brain’s visual cortex, which produces the visible image.
a) Complex functional optical and electrical systems happened by magic.
b) Retina, rods, cones, optic nerves, and brains have a natural explanation.
You keep referring to human organs, ignoring the related organs of other animals which are sometimes importantly different than our own, and much more impressive than ours as well. The answer of course is that the eye has a natural explanation, one that was first explained by Darwin himself, and which has been explained myriad more times with the incorporation of new information.
8. How did life originate?
a) Billions of years ago, matter and energy mixed together and life originated.
b) The law of biogenesis and the cell theory teach life only comes from life, thus life’s origin was not natural but supernatural.
Matter and energy are, in a sense, the same thing. They did not “mix together’.
Cell theory is sometimes used as an alternate term for evolution. Rudolf Virchow was a creationist who contributed the idea that “cells only come from other cells”. But he had to concede that didn’t work for diseased cells. There had to be a first diseased cell. Consequently that also meant there had to be a first cell too. So in 1855, Rudolf Virchow proposed abiogenesis, the current hypothesis replacing spontaneous generation as an explanation for the origin of life. His proposition, which has been shown to be correct, is that the formation of life requires a prior matrix. Thus genetic and metabolic cells must have developed through an intricate sequence of increasingly complex chemical constructs, each having been naturally enhanced by particular constituent and environmental conditions.
I explained some of this in a video lesson intended for middle school students.
9. Do humans have bacterium ancestors.
a) Yes, it is scientifically established.
b) No, Genetics, biochemistry, and DNA teach that bacteria make bacteria and people make people. Not one living animal.
Genetics, biochemistry, and DNA are all the same thing, and they don’t “teach” what you think they do either. Each of our cells include bacteria. That’s what mitochondria are. And the genetics of mitochondria totally refute creationism, as does the rest of our genome too.
Beyond that, we have more bacterial cells in our bodies than we do our own cells. Bacterium is singular. Bacteria is plural. In this case, the question should ask whether humans have bacterial ancestors. In which case, the answer is (c) No, because horizontal gene transfer is not an evolutionary ancestor-descendant relationship. By the time evolution takes over more or less exclusively, we were already eukaryotes and not bacteria anymore.
I explain this in my playlist on the Systematic Classification of Life.
10. How many humans inhabit the earth?
a) 1 billion
b) 7 billion
When I was born, there were only 3 billion people, and that was twice as many as when my grandmother was born. Just within her life-time, the global population doubled, then doubled again. That should raise alarm bells.
11. Seven billion humans inhabit the earth, each and every one of them have human parents.
Why did you ask how many people were on the earth if that didn’t relate to anything and you answered that question with your next question?
The answer is (a) true, that every human had parents who were human, hominine, hominid (great apes), hominoid (apes), catarrhine (Old World monkeys) , simiiforme (monkeys) and primates, as well as eutherian mammals, tetrapoidal vertebrates, and so on. You can’t grow out of your ancestry, and we still belong to every taxonomic clade we ever evolved from.
12. Evolutionists teach birds have reptilian ancestors. How many living animals provide evidence of legs evolving into wings, scales into feathers, solid bones into hollow bones, cold-blooded to warm blooded. How many living animals today provide evidence for this transition?
b) Zero, but it did happen.
The answer is (c) anything from none to hundreds, depending on specifics. Scales didn’t become feathers. So there’s no example of that. Everything else we have though: if not in morphology, then in embryology, or the genome at least. Although most transitions are found in the fossil record, the systematic classification of living organisms is enough all on it’s own to prove evolution even without fossil transitions. Though there are plenty of transitional and vestigial features in extant organisms too. I explain this in multiple videos. But in this case, I’d like to save my answers until I hear your questions on each one specifically. Because we do have evidence for every lineage you mentioned, whether in extant or extinct species.
12. Does the evidence indicate that the earth is a planet of:
a) extinction and death
b) evolution and new life
The answer is (c) both, since extinction and death are part of the mechanism of evolution and new life.
14. Which of these are the result of design?
a) the eyes on Mount Rushmore
b) the eyes in your skull
c) both are designs
d) neither are designs
If by “design”, you mean deliberate intentional design, determined in advance, then the answer is only (a). If you accept that natural processes can also produce incidental design as an emergent property, then the answer is (c).
15. What is the difference between a dead dog and a living dog?
a) Nothing except that the dead dog is no longer performing chemical functions to stay alive.
b) Living organisms appear to have a life-force that is non-material and once it leaves the body, the body is a life-less piece of Carbon.
The answer, of course is (a).
I once believed in (b) myself, and I understand why a lot of under-educated people do. But after I took a couple college courses in biology for science majors, it wasn’t possible for me to believe that anymore. That’s just one more of many reasons why 99.86% of all “earth & life” scientists reject any notion of creationism. There is absolutely no indication of any supernatural life-force, and no need for one anymore. Without that, there is no need for religious beliefs of any other kind either.