It has only been in the last year or so that I have paid much attention to the comments sections at the bottom of online science articles. It strikes me that everyone feels the need to comment, regardless of whether they understood the article or not – in fact, those who have not understood it tend to be the ones who comment most vociferously. Unsurprisingly perhaps, this tends to include a substantial proportion of creationists. Every article that touches upon my fields of interest (biology and palaeontology) seems to be followed by an irritating and distracting cloud of creationist comments, akin to the swarms of biting flies that pester large mammals. Here’s an example.
Creationists seem to have dual standards and selective hearing. They demand evidence and expect robust philosophical grounding from scientists (which is reasonable), but they then ignore or peremptorily dismiss the evidence that is presented and repeatedly commit (amongst others) the fallacy of false alternatives by concluding that if the science is incomplete or in any way contentious, the only remaining answer must be God (usually the Christian flavour, but sometimes the Islamic variant – I want to know how Odin or Vishnu feel about this). The hypocrisy of creationists demanding increasing levels of evidence when their own evidence amounts to an inaccurate book and a sort of warm feeling inside is also worthy of note.
Such responses are exacerbated by the obligatory journalistic hyperbole used to get stories past editors, which is yet another hurdle faced by scientists trying to make their research accessible to the public. Journalists and their editors are like lenses through which stories have to pass before they can be projected onto the world’s media. As with all imperfect lenses, the resulting projection is a distortion of the original image. Of course, these distortions are frequently seized upon by critics and the wider media alike – just look at ‘swine flu’.
Of course, editors need their papers to sell – and nothing sells papers like war, scandal or disaster – making science unappealing unless there is a ‘breakthrough’ or something to do with cancer cause/cure. It also means that any new fossil discovery has to be dubbed with the headline ‘missing link found’ (google it) unless it happens to be exceptionally large or push the temporal range of its group back in time (google the terms ‘largest fossil’ and ‘oldest fossil’) [N.B. see update]. But of course, almost every new fossil species is a ‘missing link’ at some taxonomic level, unless it represents the terminus of an extinct lineage – so are journalists and editors simply using the term to drum up readership from defensive creationists?
Perhaps this is why creationists feel the need to comment on science articles that they quite clearly do not understand. I almost feel sorry for the creationist because they are being goaded into making themselves look ignorant in response to the media hype that has become acceptable in science reporting. Of course, I don’t actually feel sorry for them at all. I feel sorry for the other commentators who feel the obligation to set the record straight in response. This is something that religious groups have managed to really get right – they simply don’t allow contradictory views to be expressed on their websites, either by not having space for comments or by weeding out any comments that don’t agree with their agenda. This frees up more time for their flock to wander the web in search of new pastures in which to start arguments, whilst simultaneously keeping their own pastures unfouled.
I for one would be keen to see a ban on creationist trolling in the comments on science articles – it would free up space and time for genuine and intelligent discussion about the research. Users should report distracting nonsense and moderators should have a disclaimer justifying bans on the trolls and their tired philosophically flawed tricks.
Well, first of all, I am a creationist. I don’t think that you should say that the creationists don’t understand the articles; I think it is that we don’t agree with the articles.
Well, you didn’t understand what I wrote. At no point did I say that all creationists did not understand, I simply said that those who did not understand included a substantial proportion of creationists – you have succumbed to a logical fallacy.
As to creationists disagreeing with scientific articles, what are the grounds for that lack of agreement? I think you will generally find that they hinge on pre-accepted opinions, a lack of understanding of the scientific method and a general lack of awareness of the body of data that exists which support the premise and findings of these articles. If someone doesn’t agree with a scientific study they need to provide evidence to challenge it – after all, the study has provided evidence in its own support – BTW, the bible and personal opinions and beliefs do not represent evidence. But…
…the whole of science is based around proving other scientists wrong. Knowledge improves by finding what works and what doesn’t work in other scientists’ interpretations of data, allowing more sophisticated and improved concept to be developed. So creationists are free to not agree with the articles, but they should do so in a constructive and testable way instead of invoking their deity of choice as grounds for disagreement.
Science deals with what is natural, God is supernatural, there is no place for God in science unless s/he/it is being identified as a natural phenomenon emerging from human intelligence and society.
But see that’s the thing, to creationists and Christians, the Bible IS evidence. It’s hard to argue with faith. I believe that God created everything because the Bible tells me that and that’s all of the evidence that I need; I believe it through faith. May I ask, how do you believe the Earth was created?
Yes, to you the bible is evidence, but it lacks any scientific credibility and much of what appears in it can be shown to be inaccurate through multiple independent lines of investigation. I have no complaint with creationists believing what they like in their own fora, but they have absolutely nothing valid to contribute to scientific debate, so why they feel the need to comment on scientific items is beyond me – I don’t feel the need to gatecrash churches or religious chatrooms to make sweeping statements about religious doctrine.
If Christians feel the need to defend themselves against reason they have that right (although it could be argued that they turn the other cheek), but I am atheist not anti-theist, I am not attacking religion but defending science against the encroachment of superstition and anti-science (which is what modern creationism represents). I feel strongly that too much time and effort is spent in defense of science against a scientifically illiterate group who refuse to acknowledge that their culturally derived interpretation of the world is open to challenge and their preconceptions are not an absolute model for how humans should live their lives.
I have no particular ‘belief’ about how the Earth formed, but the best evidence suggests that it formed about 4.6 billion years ago from debris accumulating during formation of the sun. Moderately persuasive evidence suggests the moon was formed from crustal material ejected about 4.3 billion years ago in an impact with a large asteroid or comet and various lines of evidence suggest that life first began about 3.5 billion years ago. From that point on there is a progressively more complete fossil record showing incresing complexity through time – consistent with descent with modification. I see the fossil evidence on daily basis in my job – I see the variation present in life and I am willing to accept the explanations that I see evidence for, but I would rather admit ignorance about an issue than accept with certainty any explanation – particularly one without directly observable evidence. To paraphrase Voltaire, doubt is a disagreeable condition, but certainty is absurd.
I don’t see how the Earth could just form itself. To me, there has to have been planning and organization from “The Creator.” I think of it like this: When a car company makes or “creates” a car, it’s the best it will ever be right when it’s made. After that, it starts running down, falling apart, deteriorating. That’s like the Earth. If it had formed itself, wouldn’t it just keep getting better and better? But it doesn’t. I know you don’t agree with my feelings and I agree to disagree with you. God bless you.
Who planned, organized and created the creator? And then which creator do you choose, because every culture has one and they tend to be quite different. You choose a Christian creation story because you are raised in a Christian culture, but how can your story be any more valid than another one, when they all lack support by independent lines of evidence. You choose based on your upbringing and indoctrination against exploring other alternatives. Regardless, the invocation of a creator just pushes the problem of origins back a step – did a more powerful creator create the creator, and if so, who made that more powerful creator?
It seems preferable to say ‘I don’t know’ instead of creating a convenient lie (which is something our ancestors were very good at creating and we are still living with the consequences of that). The interesting thing is to explore how things do actually work so that we can gain a real insight into the workings of our universe. Accepting the received wisdom of past generations does not further our knowledge, it suppresses it beneath superstition.
There is a body of literature about the likely process of Earth formation, which it would be worth you reading if you really can’t see how the Earth could just form itself – here’s a useful link http://geology.about.com/od/nutshells/a/aa_earthbirth.htm. This stuff isn’t just made up by people, there is an huge amount of observation and experimentation that feeds into these theories and although the theories are open to change, that is a benefit rather than a disadvantage – after all we learn from mistakes. As a very gross analogy, if you overheat a piece of iron with an oxyacetylene torch it explodes into small fragments. On cooling, each of these fragments has formed a sphere, because tension across the molten metal surface causes the fluid to change shape until the forces are balanced – a sphere is the only shape that allows this balance (the same thing happens in other fluids, like water so that’s why raindrops are round, not drop shaped). This balancing of forces explains why all planets are spherical (after all, they are all composed mostly of fluid or at least they were during formation). Intermolecular forces cause crystals to grow in specific geometric shapes simply due to the interaction of forces – dissolve lots of fine grained salt in a shallow dish of water then let the water evaporate slowly – you will be left with wonderfully organized salt crystals. Given time, vast cave complexes can form using this sort of simple mechanism with a variety of different basic chemicals dissolved in limestone – these places often contain some absolutely incredible structures of unbelievable complexity and beauty. Given time, complexity and organisation is perfectly capable of arising due to the natural interactions between atoms, molecules, organisms, etc.
You may agree to disagree, but that strikes me as a cop-out. I don’t disagree with your belief in god, I just don’t believe in God myself and I am still left wondering why creationists feel the need to comment on things that they just don’t understand (after all, you yourself say “I don’t see how the Earth could just form itself”, but I and many thousands of other people do see how the Earth could just form itself).
Perhaps I should turn this discussion into a full blog post so I can provide more links etc. for reference…
By the way, thanks for the blessing – although I don’t believe in a God, I appreciate the sentiment and I am happy to return it as it was intended – God bless you too.
Your words: “You choose a Christian creation story because you are raised in a Christian culture, but how can your story be any more valid than another one, when they all lack support by independent lines of evidence. You choose based on your upbringing and indoctrination against exploring other alternatives.” You don’t know what kind of environment or household I was brought up in. It’s insulting to assume that I believe what I believe because it’s how I was raised. I promise you, I came to what I believe through a lot of research and thought. A lot of what I believe now did not come from my upbringing. I think for myself.
If you think for yourself, why do you need to rely on the authority of the Bible to guide your thoughts?
I know nothing about you, except that you are a twenty something (still 25?) year old woman, you are fluently English speaking and you live in Florida (amazing things IP addresses). That suggests to me that your cultural upbringing (which transcends your home environment – it also includes your school, the television programmes and films that you watch, the friends you have, etc.) is one that is strongly influenced by Christian indoctrination. So instead of being insulted, why not consider just how hard it is to escape cultural indoctrination and recognise that people in America have been influenced at a whole variety of levels?
I make the point again that although I don’t believe in God, I do not have an objection to others believing. It is only when believers try to hijack science, government or wider society that I get angry. Creationist arguments are so disconnected from observable evidence that I find it simply amazing that they expect to be taken seriously. Creationism is a triumph of dogma over reason.
I bet you didn’t try the salt experiment I suggested in an earlier reply – an experiment where order arises from disorder. Well I did and I now have a terracotta tapas dish full of cool little crystals. Ask yourself if you truly have an open mind if you won’t allow yourself to examine evidence in case it disagrees with your existing opinions.
Well, I don’t live in Florida so I guess the IP addresses aren’t that amazing. You believe what you want to believe and I’ll believe what I want to believe (and that’s not a cop out). I wish you’d read a blog that I posted on my page called “What If You’re Wrong.”
Typical creationist response – deal with the minutae, but ignore the main point. So you don’t live in Suite *** on **** PGA Blvd, Palm Beach Gardens, FL but you do live in God Fearing America and THAT is the point.
Provide a link to your post and I’ll read it. If the title is descriptive, my guess is that it will be exploring a variant of Pascal’s Wager, but I will reserve comment until I have seen what you have written.
As to you believing what you want, have I ever said you should do otherwise? No. I have simply questioned the validity of creationists spouting ill-informed opinions about science on pages dedicated to reporting science.
I have also provided suggestions for ways of examining scientific ideas that you made explicit comments about not understanding (namely about formation of the Earth). So far you have done nothing to address the ideas that I am struggling to understand – like where did the creator come from?
You come across as very arrogant. The address to the post is http://twentyfiveyears.wordpress.com/2008/10/02/what-if-youre-wrong/
God, the creator, has always been. He had no beginning, he’s always been here and that’s hard for humans to wrap our heads around.
If God has always existed then why can’t the same be true for the universe (or the infinity in which the universe exists)? The same difficulty of comprehension arises.
As to me coming across as arrogant, perhaps you’re right. But then do you not also think it arrogant when creationists impose their unasked-for and ill-informed opinions on others? Is it not arrogant to dismiss vast amounts of hard-won knowledge and claim that it can’t be right because it disagrees with creationist beliefs? Is it not arrogant for creationists to view themselves as morally superior, when they are moral from fear of reprimand and hope of reward? Is it not arrogant to flaunt the material benefits of science, but dismiss the principles behind the process? Is it not arrogant to expect a country’s laws to be tailored to fit the opinions of an extremist religious group who base those opinions on poorly translated texts from thousands of years ago? Do you not think it arrogant to claim that beliefs are equivalent to, indeed superior to, demonstrable evidence?
If I am arrogant then it seems I am not alone, moreover, I have the humility to consider that I might be wrong about things – and I am willing to change my mind on the basis of sound logical argument and objective evidence. There is no greater arrogance to my mind than the tenacious clinging to beliefs regardless of any argument or evidence.
I tried to send you a message but it wouldn’t work. You said in your message to me that you’d been witnessed to by Christians a lot so I’m sure you’ve already heard all of this but for my mind’s sake, I wanted to send this. You said that you would try to live a good life and if there is a God, you’d hope that He’d see your good life and understand that you were just believing what there were facts to support and that if He didn’t understand, He wasn’t a God that you’d want to serve (I hope I worded that right, please correct me if I’m wrong).
Here’s what I believe (which I’m sure you’ve heard before): None of us can be good enough. We all lie, cheat, have bad thoughts, bad motives, etc. and God can’t allow sin in His presence. So, that’s why He sent His son Jesus to take the punishment for all of our sin. If we accept Jesus into our hearts (acknowledge that we are sinners and that our sin crucified Jesus and ask Him to save our souls and try to follow His ways from the Bible), then His blood covers all of our sin so that when God looks at us, He sees Jesus’s blood covering our sins and we can then be in His presence. That doesn’t mean that people can just “get saved” and then act however they want because now they’re ok with God. No, if a person really commits their life to trying to please God and follow His word (the Bible) then their life shows that. If their life doesn’t show that, then they were only saying words and the salvation wasn’t real.
Christians still sin because no one is perfect and God has to discipline us. But it’s not God that doesn’t allow “good” people into heaven. It’s the person’s decision. He’s shown us the way through the Bible so it’s OUR choice on where we want to spend eternity: Heaven or a burning lake of fire – Hell. Once I started to get to know the God of the Bible and Jesus, I couldn’t help but fall in love with them and serve them. And my life has such a peace about it now, even in the hard times, and I know that peace and “not alone feeling” comes from God.
Some people say the Bible is like a book of fairy tales. Well, I’ve read a lot of fairy tales and fiction books but NO book ever made me feel the way I feel when I read the Bible. Something in my soul says to me, “This is real. God is real. Heaven and Hell are real. Jesus is real.” I can just feel it; I know it with such certainty. Ok, I’ll get off of my soap box now.
Oh and you commented on why I didn’t post the above video on my blog; I don’t post any videos that people try to add; I never have.
“God can’t allow sin in His presence” then why make it in the first place? If God knows all and has a plan, he must have planned for us to sin. The free will argument is irrelevant since if God made us he is the one who made us prone to sin through our free will. Original sin was enabled by God placing the tree of knowledge within arms reach – if he truly can’t allow sin in his presence, why didn’t he keep knowledge from mankind? If he did it as a test, he must have known the outcome since he knows all and has a plan. If he knew the outcome, why bother with the test? Why not just provide humans with knowledge without needing them to sin in order to get it?
The options are either that God wanted mankind to sin and subsequently to suffer, or God is not omniscient, or God does not have a plan, or (here’s my choice, for reasons beyond this line of logic) none of it ever happened.
Given that the God of the bible is a cruel, vindictive, mass murdering pervert who sacrificed himself to himself for being no better than he made us in the first place and who intends to make us burn in hell if we don’t kowtow to him and feed his gargantuan ego, I’m unlikely to persuaded to ‘commit my life to pleasing him’ by the words of someone who appears to have suspended her reasoning faculties and bought into some bizarre, primitive fantasy.
Why did you delete my other post then? There was no video on that…
I’m very aware of what Christian beliefs are, repeating them won’t help.
See the problem with proposing a theory is that it’s not enough for it to just be consistent (which, as Paolo has demonstrated, it isn’t anyway). It has to be derived from observable evidence, otherwise I could come up with any old hoo haa that makes vague sense but has nothing to do with the real world, and it would be valid, when clearly it isn’t. There is no evidence for your assertion, and it certainly isn’t derived from the evidence, so equally I will reject it without evidence.
“Some people say the Bible is like a book of fairy tales. Well, I’ve read a lot of fairy tales and fiction books but NO book ever made me feel the way I feel when I read the Bible. Something in my soul says to me, “This is real. God is real. Heaven and Hell are real. Jesus is real.” I can just feel it; I know it with such certainty.”
I personally suggest that it’s not just like a book of fairy tales, it IS a book of fairy tales.
When I first read the Hobbit, Lord of the Rings and Silmarillion by JRR Tolkien (as a child/teenager), I felt an overwhelming sense of how real it all seemed. Fortunately, as I grew up and developed emotionally and intellectually I learned how to distinguish between what I wanted to be real and what is real.
I appreciate that your fairytale of choice has a bigger fanbase and (more importantly) a much longer history, but that doesn’t make it any more real – it simply makes it more influential.
I restate that you can believe what you like, but I also restate that you shouldn’t expect others to take your beliefs seriously when they disagree with what is demonstrably real.
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Sensible advice here: ignore the trolls.
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OP, you might be a good scientist but you’re a shit philosopher. You can’t use the bible as evidence because it is begging the question. That is, you’re assuming that your conclusion as correct in order to prove your conclusion. It’s sloppy reasoning. You can’t do it. Don’t pass go, don’t collect $200.
Secondly, the creationist poster uses the teleological argument in a following post about cars or whatever. This is also a shitty argument, as it raises (not begs) the question of what created the thing that created the thing.
If you dont want to expand knowledge and science…then maybe raise your kids as farm hands. I will let my kids wonder and ask big questions….I will do my best to help them understand life and how things work. If they are curious. Its more harmful to them than to you. They deserve to grow their curiosity. Not be put down by it