Skepticism, Religion Archive

Monday, August 12, 2013

Follow Up: Leaving Comments on Other Sites - Birds as Dinosaurs and Fossil Evidence for Evolution

Archaeopteryx - Berlin SpecimenA little less than two months ago, I left a couple comments on the blog, Across the Fruited Plain, in the entries, Are Dinosaurs Alive Today As Birds?: Refuting Archaeopteryx as "Evidence" for Evolution and Refuting Fossil "Evidence" for Evolution: The Data is NOT in the Strata. After about a week with my comments being held up in moderation, I decided to post them on this site in the entry, Leaving Comments on Other Sites - Birds as Dinosaurs and Fossil Evidence for Evolution. As I wrote in that entry, "Despite it not being a particularly active blog, I caught a case of SIWOTI syndrome and couldn't resist commenting."

Well, the writer of the blog has finally approved my comments and left a couple responses of his own. Unfortunately, so far, the discussion hasn't been particularly productive. In my first comment to his entry on fossil evidence for evolution, I was trying to correct his misrepresentations and misunderstandings of the science. Here's his initial response, in full.

Hello Jeff!

Thank you for your message.
You have made many knowledge claims, but since we do not know each other and I don't know what your epistemological groundings are, my question is, can you be wrong about everything you claim to know?

If you follow this blog at all, you can probably guess at my answer. I started off by saying that "Of course I could be wrong," and then gave a brief explanation of the sort I've made numerous times on this blog - that absolute certainty is impossible, but we can have varying levels of confidence in different ideas (for an example, see my essay, Confidence in Scientific Knowledge, or the related, but not quite as relevant, Confidence in Historical Knowledge)

His followup began in a very unpromising manner, "Therefore, if you could be wrong about everything you claim to know, then it follows that you do not know anything." It then went on from there with different variations on the theme that I've somehow admitted that knowledge is impossible because certainty is impossible.

My next reply wasn't as polite as perhaps it could have been (I lead off by asking, "Are you being obtuse on purpose?"), but it was mostly constructive and civil. I basically said that I wasn't going to get drawn into a discussion on epistemology when his own post was originally about evidence for evolution, and then reiterated my original points.


He also responded briefly to my comment on the bird entry, with a portion of his response wondering "how two creatures, who could not be more biologically different, are directly linked spontaneously through Macro Evolution". I responded with a comment listing the common features of dinosaurs and birds, but I now notice that that comment of mine is held up in moderation. Hopefully he'll approve it relatively soon.


I'll see how the conversation goes. I'm hoping he'll stay on topic with his original posts and discuss evidence for evolution. If he goes back into all the post-modern mumbo jumbo, I don't think I'll have the stomach to keep the conversation going.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Response to Global Warming Denialist E-mail - Volcanoes and Global Cooling

Global WarmingSomeone recently asked me to fact check an e-mail for them, so I've decided to post that response here. The e-mail was supposedly quoting Ian Plimer, a geologist and professor at the University of Melbourne, and a noted climate change denialist. For anyone interested, I've posted that e-mail in its entirety below the fold.

The lead-in to the body of the article was, "Where Does the Carbon Dioxide Really Come From?" After a bit of ranting about Priuses, CFL bulbs, and the like, it got to its main point - that volcanoes supposedly spew out far more carbon dioxide than any human contributions. It even made the claim:

...when the volcano Mt Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines in 1991, it spewed out more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than the entire human race had emitted in all its years on earth.

Just a bit later, the e-mail claimed that the Earth has been cooling for the last century:

It's because the planet has COOLED by 0.7 degrees in the past century and these global warming bull artists got caught with their pants down.

So, in response to the person who asked me to fact check this e-mail, I responded in three parts, as detailed below.


Correct Attribution/Credentials?

On the first level of fact-checking, I didn't find the actual source of this quote from Plimer. All I could find were reprints of this e-mail. So, I'm not sure if he actually wrote it (and given the tone, I would hope not), but it does appear consistent with claims of his I've found elsewhere. As far as his background, that's simply copied-and-pasted from Wikipedia, so it's probably correct.


Volcanic Emissions vs. Human Emissions:

Plimer is way off base here. I found many, many different sites dealing with this. Here are two of the better ones:

That first link contains these two tables, so that you can compare annual volcanic CO2 emissions to human emissions. It also contained the emissions for a couple notable eruptions, Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Pinatubo. Annual human caused CO2 emissions are on the order of 134 times higher than total annual volcanic emissions (which includes submarine volcanos), and about 700 times higher than what was released by the one-time event of Mt. Pinatubo erupting.

Yearly CO2 emitters Billion metric tons per year (Gt/y)
Global volcanic emissions (highest preferred estimate) 0.26
Anthropogenic CO2 in 2010 (projected) 35
Light-duty vehicles (cars/trucks) 3
Approximately 24 1000-megawatt coal-fired power stations * 0.22
Argentina 0.2
Pakistan 0.18
Saudi Arabia 0.44
 
CO2 emission events  
Mount St. Helens, 18 May 1980 0.01 Gt
Mount Pinatubo, 15 June 1991 0.05 Gt
Number of Pinatubo-equivalent eruptions equal to annual anthropogenic CO2 700
Number of Mount St. Helens-equivalent eruptions equal to annual anthropogenic CO2 3500


Global Cooling?

I've seen similar claims of global cooling a few times before, but usually on shorter time scales. It almost always comes down to cherry-picking data. Here's an article dealing with a similar claim made by David Rose last year, and another article dealing with longer term trends.

Below is a good graph from the first article. It clearly shows a long term warming trend over the past several decades. But it's not a perfectly smooth line, and there are outliers both above and below the general trend. So, if you cherry-pick, as they show in the animation, and choose an appropriate (or rather, inappropriate) time period, you can say there's been cooling over that short term period, and then naively extrapolate that short term cooling to saying that it's a long term cooling trend. But when you look at the larger data set over several decades, it's clear which way the trend is going.

Global Warming Trends

The second article dealt with longer term trends, addressing the e-mail's specific claim of cooling over the last century. Below is a graph from that article, showing the temperature anomaly for the past 11,000 years. I clearly shows that the rate of change right now is much higher than it's been than at any other point in that period, and a clear warming trend for the past century.

Marcott Graph

So, this e-mail contained nothing but the bogus claims I've come to expect from the climate change denialists. I really don't understand this mindset. Problems don't disappear just because you ignore them. Burying your head in the sand won't make global warming go away. We've already had to face some consequences of a changing climate, and rather quickly, we're going to have to start dealing with the more profound effects. Why not own up to it and start working on solutions now?

Continue reading "Response to Global Warming Denialist E-mail - Volcanoes and Global Cooling" »

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Ray Comfort's New Movie - Evolution vs. God

The Atheist's Worst NightmareIt's been a couple years since I wrote anything about Ray Comfort, but he's at it again (see the end of this entry for a list of articles I've written about Comfort - a CD of his was even the impetus that made me start this blog). He has a new movie out titled Evolution vs. God. To quote the synopsis from the order page:

Millions believe that Darwinian evolution is a scientific fact. This DVD shows it's unscientific, by interviewing evolutionary scientists from UCLA and UCS, as well as biology majors.

The movie is currently only available for a $20 download, but will be available for free on YouTube come August 7th. Needless to say, I can wait three weeks to avoid giving Comfort any money, at which point I may watch the whole thing and write a review. But in the meantime, I can say that I don't have high hopes. One of my more popular blog entries is Ray Comfort - Still Ignorant on Evolution. I wrote it a few years ago when Comfort released a copy of Darwin's Origin of Species where he (Comfort) had written his own introduction. The release of that book created a bit of a controversy (similar to this movie), and Comfort ended up in a written debate with Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education. In that debate, Comfort revealed a staggering ignorance of evolution. But it wasn't the first time. That CD I alluded to above was just as bad. And in the bits and pieces I've seen from Comfort since, it doesn't appear that he's really learned anything new. So, my suspicion is that Comfort is still wildly ignorant of evolution, and that this new movie will simply be full if misinformation.

Another relevant previous entry of mine is Ray Comfort: Quote Miner Extraordinaire. 'Quote mining' is the process of using a direct quote, but taking it out of context to present something contrary to what the person being quoted intended. A rather well known example of this (which I discussed in that entry), is people quoting Darwin from Origin of Species writing, "To suppose that the eye ... could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree," while ignoring the remainder of the chapter where Darwin detailed all the evidence backing up how the eye could have evolved. It was merely a rhetorical method of Darwin's. And Comfort is well-known for his quote-mining, so I'm suspicious that he would do the same thing here through selective editing of interviews (an entry by PZ Myers on Pharyngula suggests that this is exactly what happened).

As part of the press coverage over this movie, there was an article on The Blaze (the Glen Beck site), Evolution vs. God: Famed Evangelist Says His New Film Exposes 'Embarrassingly Stupid' Ideas Behind Darwinian Theory (Get a Sneak Peek). The article wasn't particularly in depth on what was in the movie, but it did have a few quotes from Comfort. Here's one that caught my eye.

"I've listened to him [Richard Dawkins] say things to thousands of university students that are just not true," Comfort said. "Many times over the years I've been accused by atheists of not understanding evolution. I've read every page of the world's most boring book, 'The Origin of Species.' "

Seriously, "the world's most boring book"? That seems like a petty, childish insult, and not even an accurate one, at that. I've read The Origin of Species (see my review), and while Victorian prose may be a little difficult for modern readers, I thought the book was very interesting. Besides, it's no longer the best introduction to evolution. Darwin didn't even know of Mendel's experiments with pea plants, let alone our modern understand of genetics and DNA. And many, many fossils have been discovered since then (interestingly, Darwin barely discussed fossils in The Origin of Species). Comfort would be well served by looking to a modern introduction to evolution, like Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution Is True, or Donald Prothero's Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters.

Here's another passage from the article that caught my eye.

Comfort noted that even the most intelligent scientist on the face of the earth "can't make a grain of sand from anything," nor can he or she create animals that are able to reproduce. At the heart of the matter is his argument that the creation surrounding us couldn't have come from an explosion of nothing. This idea of spontaneous creation -- one that is touted by many Darwinian theorists -- he called "embarrassingly stupid" (he also gave the same label to atheism).

It's almost amazing how many bad arguments can be crammed into so short a space. First of all, evolution has nothing to do with the creation of the universe. Evolution is only about what happens once you have self-replicating chemistry. Nobody asks meteorologists where the atmosphere came from. Why do evolutionary biologists need to explain where atoms came from? And it always amazes me that creationists can scoff at our ignorance of where the universe came from, but then ignore the question of where God came from. The question of why there's something rather than nothing bothered me just as much when I was a Christian as it does now that I'm an atheist.

And finally, there's the personal insult, calling atheism "embarrassingly stupid". Now, I'm very confident in my atheism, but I recognize there's some small chance I may be wrong. But even if I did turn out to be wrong, I've given religion a lot of thought, and don't consider anything about my atheism to be "embarrassingly stupid". And of course, given the overwhelming evidence for evolution, there's nothing embarrassing about that subject, either.

Finally, I couldn't help but look at the comments to the Blaze article. Man, they're worse than YouTube comments. There were two particularly bad ones I noticed before I just had to quit looking.

Leopold Jun. 28, 2013 at 5:51pm

Perhaps over time the peni$ became long enough to reach into the woman's vag!na to mingle with her eggs.

Only evolution knows how the eggs came to be. All from one original cell.

And when or why did evolution stop? I haven't heard of anything that crawled out of water to become something, lately.

Well, There you have it, evolution: The survival of the fittest.

I am sure one day evolution will explain all this. After all the fact that we exist is proof of that it happened.

Why oh why are we Christians so stubborn and don't think that all this is perfectly reasonable.

I thank my heavenly Father that he gave me common sense to see the ridiculousness of evolution.

It is absolutely stunning that atheists, especially those who claim to be so educated, believe this nonsense. That is at least what they "claim" to believe.

If more people would actually know what they have to believe in order to believe in evolution they will very quickly come to the realization that evolution is absolute nonsense.

And people like Dawkins and all the rest of them actually hate God. That is their true motivation for misleading people.

But ignorance should not be an excuse. Especially ignorance out of laziness in studying what ones own believes are.

That first line about penises and vaginas has to do with a weird creationist belief that males and females must evolve independently (I'm not kidding). Then there's more misunderstanding of evolution, and the insistence that atheists aren't actually atheists, but really just hate God. But the part that made this worth quoting was the last paragraph. After spouting so many ignorant comments on evolution, this commenter had the chutzpah to write that "ignorance should not be an excuse". Why do people feel so confident to comment on something they know so little about?

This comment caught my eye, too.

jblaze Jun. 30, 2013 at 12:51pm

Keatonc333
"We both know Genesis is flawed so what do you believe happened? what explains the millions if not billions of new species that have been introduced on earth throughout the past billion years?"

How can you possible know that Genesis is flawed when you do not have that which only God gives to the human mind to understand the things of God? That being the Holy Spirit! God does not give godly knowledge to the unrepentant, unbaptized godless. And further more, what proof can you give that "millions if not billions of new species that have been introduced on earth throughout the past billion years?" Have you lived and record every species creates since the earth was created million and or billions of years ago?

What a way to insulate yourself - only Christians are right, and only Christians have the ability to know that they're right. It doesn't matter what a non-Christian says, because they lack the gift of knowledge from God.

I know that this entry is a bit rambling, but there's just so much wrong associated with Ray Comfort. I'll probably at least take a look at his movie when it comes out. Whether or not I can get through more than five minutes of it is an open question.


Previous Entries Concerning Ray Comfort:

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Book Update - New Edition!

Book Cover to Leaving Christianity: A Collection of Essays by Jeff LewisI've published a second edition to my book, Leaving Christianity: A Collection of Essays ($4.99 from LuLu). To paraphrase from my own review* of the book, this book is a collection of essays I wrote during and after my 'deconversion' from Christianity. I kept it to a length that should be informative without being overwhelming (~100 pages), so it could be a good primer on non-belief. I've given copies of the first edition to several friends, all of whom have said it was interesting. Obviously, you wouldn't expect friends to tell you your book was horrible, but one of them even went out and bought 10 copies of it so that he could give it away to other people.

This second edition adds two new essays that I thought filled some holes. The first of those additions is actually a review of the book, More Than a Carpenter. It was a nice way to address many of the arguments that Christian apologists actually use. The second addition was an essay on Standards of Evidence for Religion. Since I had the opportunity, I also fixed typos and made several small revisions throughout the book, but nothing that would have merited a new edition on its own.

In all honesty, I think this is a decent book to introduce people to atheism, and I think everybody should rush out and buy a dozen copies. (Well, metaphorically rush out. You can only buy the book online from Lulu or Apple's iBooks.)

Just in case you missed the other links to purchase this book, here's one you can't miss:
Buy the Book - Leaving Christianity: A Collection of Essays


All of the essays in this book are available for free on this site, in my Religious Essays section, incorporating all the changes made for the second print edition. So, you can read it all for free if you want to. I just think a print copy is nice (not to mention a great gift).

*That's not as pretentious as it sounds. I was reviewing all of the books I'd read that year, and threw that one in among many.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Leaving Comments on Other Sites - Birds as Dinosaurs and Fossil Evidence for Evolution

Archaeopteryx - Berlin SpecimenOne of my habits when I'm getting ready to write a blog entry is to do a quick Google search to see if anyone's written anything along the same lines, before. If I find something that's very similar to what I was intending on doing, then there's no reason for me to repeat what's already been done. Sometimes I'll change direction on what I was going to write, and sometimes I'll just table the concept entirely.

Well, in the course of googling for the entry, Birds Are Dinosaurs, I came across a blog, Across the Fruited Plain, which had an entry, Are Dinosaurs Alive Today As Birds?: Refuting Archaeopteryx as "Evidence" for Evolution. Reading through the comments, I followed a link to another of his blog entries, Refuting Fossil "Evidence" for Evolution: The Data is NOT in the Strata. Despite it not being a particularly active blog, I caught a case of SIWOTI syndrome and couldn't resist commenting. Unfortunately, those comments are held up in moderation. My guess is because the owner of the blog just isn't very active in maintaining it (he's only posted three new entries so far this year). But, the only cure for SIWOTI syndrome is to see your comments get published somewhere, so I'm putting them here. So, if you just happen to be a regular reader of Across the Fruited Plain, here are some comments relevant to posts on that site.


First, here is my comment to his article, Are Dinosaurs Alive Today As Birds?: Refuting Archaeopteryx as "Evidence" for Evolution.

I tried leaving a comment to this article a couple days ago, but it didn't go through. If it's simply held up in moderation, then I apologize for being redundant.

I have a question for you, but first some background. Ignoring evolution, most people agree that organisms can be grouped into nested hierarchies. For example, there are prokaryotes and eukaryotes, with animals being one group of eukaryote, and then vertebrates as one type of animal, and mammals as one type of vertebrate, etc, etc. So, for example, in the group we call mammals, there are animals as diverse as whales, bats, platypuses, dogs, elephants, people, etc. These are all very different animals, but share common traits that are unique to mammals, so they all get grouped as mammals. Personally, I think that evolution is the best explanation for these nested hierarchies, but maybe that's just the way that a god/gods (depending on your religion) liked to create things.

So, if you look at say, a chicken, a deinonychus, and an ornithischian dinosaur like a stegosaurus, it seems that the chicken and deinonychus have much more in common than either does with the stegosaurus. They're bipedal, have feathers, hollow bones, an air sac respiratory system, etc. And if you pick a bird like archaeopteryx, then it has even more in common with the deinonychus, right down to the sickle claw.

So my question is, ignoring evolution, would you at least classify birds as a type of dinosaur?


Next, here is my comment to his article, Refuting Fossil "Evidence" for Evolution: The Data is NOT in the Strata.

I know this is an old article, but I couldn't help commenting on it. Here are some responses to statements you made, grouped by the headings you used.

Lack of Transitional Forms Disprove Fossil Evidence for Evolution

First of all, why would you expect there to be countless fossils of every evolutionary transition? For example, the modern phylum of platyhelminthes, or flatworms, consists of thousands of species, yet there's scant fossil evidence of these organisms. If living organisms are absent from the fossil record, why would you expect all extinct organisms to be present? Fossilization is a rare event, and it's even rarer still for fossils to be exposed in a location where humans can find them.

How can you claim there are not transitional forms? What about archaeopteryx, tiktaalik roseae, pakicetus, rhodhocetus, dorudon, australopithecus? What would you expect of a transitional form?

Your understanding of punctuated equilibrium is very muddled. You've described what's known as saltationism, which simply couldn't work in sexually reproducing organisms - where would the 'hopeful monster' find a mate? Rather, punctuated equilibrium describes periods of relative stasis punctuated by periods of change rapid on a geological timescale - thousands of years rather than tens or hundreds of thousands. In reality, both punctuated equilibrium and gradualism are detectable in the fossil record.

Dating Methods

Ideally, the way dating works is to find layers of igneous rock above and below what you want to date. The igneous rock can be dated very accurately with radioisotopes (I know many young earth creationists don't trust atomic theory when it comes to radiometric dating, but this really is accurate). If no igneous layers are bracketing the sample you want to date, then you can rely on index fossils. These are species that were very abundant but only alive for only a very short time, and so only appear in limited stretches of the geologic column. In fact, these index fossils were recognized before radiometric dating, and used to establish relative ages of different layers. In modern times, there have been enough of these index species dated relative to igneous layers that you can be reasonably certain of the age of a sedimentary layer even if all you can find are the index fossils. But it's only these special index fossils that can be used to date layers, not any of the other fossils you happen to find in them.

Distinct Strata Identification

I'm not really sure what you're getting at, here. I don't know of anybody who would propose a date for a fossil based solely on finding it in limestone. As discussed above, you'd have to have at least index fossils, or ideally, igneous rock above and below the limestone layer you're looking at.

No Fossil is Conclusive Evidence for Evolution

Very true. A single fossil is not evidence. It's the pattern that emerges when you compare multiple fossils. For example, I cited a few examples above of whale evolution. Finding any one of them in isolation wouldn't be terribly strong evidence for evolution. But when you find multiple fossils like indohyus, pakicetus, ambulocetus, kutchicetus, rodhocetus, dorudon, and basilosaurus, it presents a much more cohesive picture.

The Fossil Evidence Supports the Biblical Worldwide Flood

First of all, most animal fossils are not of whole, complete animals. Most are fragmentary, the result of predation and scavenging. And the fossil record doesn't at all match what would be expected from a world wide flood. Organisms are found only in specific strata. Now, I know that some creationists like to explain this with 'hydraulic sorting', or positing that organisms got grouped by their ability to escape rising flood waters, but that doesn't match the reality of the fossil record. And that would still only be an average. Surely, if a worldwide flood had occured, some 'fast' animals would have died for various reasons before reaching higher ground. Yet there are no fossil rabbits in the cambrian, nor are there any ammonites that happened to make it to a higher strata (to pick just two examples). There are too many other problems with a global flood to list here, so I recommend googling "problems with a global flood talk origins" and reading that article.


Update 2015-02-23:My comment was finally approved on that site, and it spawned an entire debate. I also had a few follow-up posts on this site. For a summary of all the posts on this site dealing with this, take a look at Creationist Dishonesty and a Follow Up to Previous Entries.

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