22 Responses To Buzzfeed's 22 Messages From Creationists On Evolution And The Origin Of Life

 @rpalmerscience on February 05 2014 4:17 PM
darwinfish
A debate between Bill Nye the Science Guy and creationist Ken Ham has brought evolutionary science into the spotlight. Flickr via Creative Commons/Ben Sutherland

Amid the hoopla over the Bill Nye-Ken Ham “debate” at the Creation Museum in Kentucky, Buzzfeed recently posted 22 messages from self-identified creationists. Here are responses to each of them.

1. “Bill Nye, are you influencing the minds of children in a positive way?”

Many kids that watched Bill Nye developed a passion for knowledge that fueled their desire to become scientists (or science writers). There are many positive lessons you can learn from the Science Guy – curiosity, creativity and thoughtfulness, to name but a few.

2. “Are you scared of a Divine Creator?”

Are you scared of a universe that does not center on mankind (and, by extension, yourself)?

3. “Is it completely illogical that the earth was created mature? i.e. trees created with rings… Adam created as an adult…”

Yes it is. The Big Bang was an extraordinary event, but there are lines of objective evidence that point towards its existence. There's no physical evidence to prove that a tree or a man can pop into being fully formed.

You could maybe argue that God shaped the universe 4,000 years ago but carefully formed it to just look like it’s billions of years old -- planting bones in the Earth and putting rings in trees and encoding our DNA to make us seem close to chimpanzees -- but that seems like a twisted vision of a Creator. Wouldn’t a deity have something better to do than to pull a massive, universe-wide scam?

4. “Does not the second law of thermodynamics disprove Evolution?”

This is a common trope in creationism, but it’s based on a flawed understanding of thermodynamics. The second law says that the entropy – which, in the interests of simplification, we can think of as “disorder” – in a closed system will increase with time. So if it’s a natural law things get more disordered, then evolution must be impossible because it has created more and more complex (or “ordered”) forms over time!

But the key to the second law is that “in a closed system” part. Just as no man is an island, he is not a closed system – and neither is an ape, or a single-celled amoeba. The universal trend might be increasing disorder, but there’s a lot of small scale increases in order everywhere, both through natural and manmade processes. These are accompanied by increases in disorder elsewhere in the universe – the system balances itself.

So how does this specifically relate to evolution? Organisms are not closed systems because they interact with the environment; on a macro scale this turns into the process of natural selection. Random genetic mutations might be “disorderly,” but because life exists in an environment, some mutations are beneficial and are more likely to be passed on, while mutations that confer disadvantages are less likely to propagate through the gene pool. So, through evolution, some order emerges out of disorder (but keep in mind it’s still a messy, wild process).

You can see examples of “ordering” happening all the time in the natural world.

“Consider what happens when the weather changes and it gets colder outside,” Cornell astronomer Dave Rothstein explains. “Cold air has less entropy than warm air - basically, it is more ‘ordered’ because the molecules aren't moving around as much and have fewer places they can be. So the entropy in your local part of the universe has decreased, but as long as that is accompanied by an increase in entropy somewhere else.”

5. “How do you explain a sunset if their [sic] is no God?”

The Earth rotates on its axis, making it so the sun appears to move through the sky. Once every 24 hours, the center of the solar disc will appear to move below the western horizon. That is a sunset.

To go a little further: the various fiery colors in the sky at sunset are caused by light scattering. At sunset, the angle of Earth and Sun is such that the light has to travel through more of our atmosphere to reach your eyes. Shorter wavelengths of light are more likely bounce off of molecules in the atmosphere, so when sunlight has to travel through a longer stretch of air, the bluer end of the spectrum bounces out while other colors continue on. Red has the longest wavelength of visible light, so that’s why the sun usually looks red when it’s right on the horizon – it’s the only color that can make it through all the haze of Earth’s atmosphere at that extreme angle.

6. “If the Big Bang Theory is true and taught as science along with evolution, why do the laws of thermodynamics debunk said theories?”

Basically the same answer as #4, with a slight twist. At the start, the universe in its compressed form would seem to be at near-maximum entropy -- a dense, homogenous gas. But the "organization" of the universe into its current form also generates disorder:

"The solution here is that because the universe is expanding it keeps getting shifted out of equilibrium," Case Western Reserve University physicist Mano Singham writes. "In the drive to reach a new equilibrium state, you can get pockets of order occurring without violating the second law, because the maximum allowable entropy also keeps increasing."

Singham also has a good piece on why the Big Bang also doesn't violate the first law of thermodynamics (energy in a closed system cannot be created or destroyed), because it did not require an input of energy -- the negative gravitational potential energy exactly cancels out the positive energy represented by matter.

"It is not the case that something came out of nothing," Singham writes. "It is that we have always had zero energy."

7. “What about Noetics?”

What about it? “Noetics” is a philosophical school concerned with consciousness and spirituality, often with Christian overtones. The concept is most widely known from a mention in Dan Brown’s novel “The Lost Symbol.” It’s not evidence against evolution.

Many branches of science are interested in the question of consciousness, sentience, and how these qualities might evolve. There is actually an interesting, if a bit wild, proposition in theoretical physics that consciousness might be another state of matter.

8. “Where do you derive objective meaning in life?”

From many of the same places that you probably do. But this is irrelevant to the question of whether evolution is true or not. Should we try and shape facts to fit a certain philosophy, or figure out the facts and consider how this affects our worldview?

9. “If God did not create everything, how did the first single-celled organism originate? By chance?”

Yes, sort of. But keep in mind that evolution isn’t like the roll of a single die that is Life or No Life. It’s more like trillions upon trillions of dice being rolled for billions of years. The conditions of early Earth happened to weight some of those dice in such a way that Life came up.

And scientists don’t think that a single-celled organism just suddenly popped into being. Simple molecules can arise spontaneously in the right conditions – experiments show that it’s possible to whip up a big batch of amino acid soup from the conditions existing on early Earth, perhaps sparked by lightning storms or through undersea chemical reactions near hydrothermal vents. Over time, aggregates of these molecules formed and developed protective coatings, and began finding new ways to replicate themselves.

10. “I believe in the Big Bang Theory… God said it and BANG it happened!”

“The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson

11. “Why do evolutionists / secularists /huminists [sic] / non-God believing people reject the idea of their [sic] being a Creator God but embrace the concept of intelligent design from aliens or other extra-terrestrial sources?”

They don’t. Perhaps you’ve confused the movie “Prometheus” with a nature documentary?

There is a hypothesis* called panspermia that posits life on Earth might have been first seeded by organisms or material that flew in on the backs of asteroids, comets, and meteorites, but this is not “intelligent design” or a theory that aliens created life. It’s just a hypothetical process, akin to when animals or plants wash up on remote islands and proceed to populate them.

12. “There is no in between [fossil?]… the only one found has been Lucy and there are only a few pieces of the hundreds necessary for an ‘official proof’.”

Simply false. There are thousands of hominid fossils that have been discovered – not all direct ancestors of Homo sapiens, but cousins of a sort. ("Lucy," the nickname for a 3.2 million year old Austrolopithecus afarensis specimen discovered in 1974, is still a pretty impressive find. Paleontologists managed to find about 40 percent of her skeleton; usually they can only find bits and fragments of individuals.)

Also, keep in mind that not every living thing becomes a fossil – they’re actually quite rare. You need very specific conditions for fossilization to occur. The Earth is also very big, and paleontologists have only dug up an incredibly small fraction of it.

13. “Does metamorphosis help support evolution?”

Metamorphosis is not micro-evolution; it’s a series of developmental stages in a single organism. Here is a good article on the evolution of metamorphosis in insects.

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

The idea that diseases are caused by germs is a theory too, yet most medical schools tend to spend much more time on antibiotics and hygiene than on faith healing. Most science classes don’t teach evolution “as fact”; it is taught as a scientific theory. And in this case, “theory” doesn’t mean “a bunch of wild ideas that Richard Dawkins and Bill Nye cooked up after a late night at the pub”; it means an explanation supported by massive amounts of physical evidence and logic, tested and weighed and re-tested and scrutinized by scientists across the world.

Creationism is not a scientific theory. A scientific theory can be altered or disposed of if new, convincing evidence arises; creationism ignores or selectively misinterprets existing scientific evidence in favor of preserving the assumption of a divine creator.

15. “Because science by definition is a ‘theory’ – not testable, observable, nor repeatable [--] why do you object to creationism or intelligent design being taught in school?”

That definition of theory is wrong (see Answer 14). Observation and testing is actually pretty much the entire thing that science is about.

16. “What mechanism has science discovered that evidences an increase of genetic information seen in any genetic mutation or evolutionary process?”

I don't quite understand this one, but here's a shot: mutations arise in the normal course of DNA replication and other genetic processes; natural selection weeds out most of the bad ones and keeps out most of the good ones. (Also, see Answer 4.)

Update 2/6/2014 10:26 am: Thanks to commenters below for adding additional possible interpretations of the question.

So this seems to be a common creationist argument: evolution cannot be real because mutations don't "add information." In their view, it's impossible to get from a tiny microorganism that has a very small genome to a human with about 20,000 protein-coding genes through mutations. This is kind of an extension of the entropy argument.

But there are actually plenty of ways that mutations can "add information" to the genome! A region of DNA might be copied and inserted into the genome due to an error during replication, or by a virus. Sometimes even a whole genome can get duplicated -- many plants are what are called polyploids, meaning they have multiple copies of their whole genetic library (cultivated strawberries, for example, are octoploids -- they have 8 copies of their genome in every cell!)

Duplication is thought to be a powerful engine for evolution. A creature might retain an original version of the copied gene, while the other copy might undergo some point mutations (changes to a single letter of the DNA sequence). The organism still has the functional, original gene that allows it to keep on truckin', while the other copy may gain new functionalities.

17. “What purpose do you think you are here for if you do not believe in Salvation?”

Like questions 2 & 8, this question is irrelevant to the larger question of whether evolution is true or not.

But this is also a false dichotomy; there are plenty of scientists that identify as religious and don’t see a conflict between evolution and their beliefs. Does the concept of Salvation really hinge on whether or not humans evolved over time?

18. “Why have we found only 1 ‘Lucy’ when we have found more than 1 of everything else?”

Scientists have actually found at least nine specimens of Austrolopithecus afarensis (the species “Lucy” belongs to) in Eastern Africa. Also see Answer 12.

19. “Can you believe in ‘the big bang’ without ‘faith’?”

Yes, because there are multiple lines of evidence supporting the theory.

Astronomical observations show that galaxies are moving away from each other, and if we trace their paths backward, it looks as though the Universe was condensed into a single, very hot point billions of years ago. The ratios of hydrogen, helium and other elements throughout the Universe appear to match what we might expect if the Universe was once compressed into a tiny, very hot, very dense point. We haven’t found any stars that appear to be older than 13.8 billion years old. The cosmic background radiation permeating throughout the universe is at the temperature that one would expect from an expanding, cooling universe.

20. “How can you look at the world and not believe someone created / thought of it? It’s Amazing!!!”

Most scientists find evolution pretty amazing and beautiful! It’s exciting to think about how life in all its vast, varied beauty and terror, has changed over billions of years – and how it might change in future eons.

21. “Relating to the big bang theory… where did the exploding star come from?”

Barring the fact that the Big Bang isn’t quite the same thing as an exploding star—it’s massively hotter, for one thing, and stars explode in space, while the Big Bang created space itself and stretched it -- a lot of scientists would like to know this too!

One idea*, for example, is that the Big Bang was actually the interaction between two vast objects outside of our universe called “branes.” It’s an important question, and a difficult one to explore – but one of the great things about science is that you can always say “I don’t know”; another is to follow that up with “but I’ll try and find out.”

22. “If we come from monkeys then why are there still monkeys?”

Humans are not direct descendants of modern monkeys or apes; we both evolved from a common ancestor. Evolution isn’t a straight line from one organism to the next; it’s more like a great branching tree. This infographic, created by a Reddit user named SlipperyFish, has a good rundown:

evoinfographic A graphical answer to the question: "if we came from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?"  Reddit/Slipperyfish

*Clarification 2/6/2014, 9:27 a.m.: I initially called panspermia and branes "theories," but commenters rightly pointed out that these don't meet the same standard of scientific theory that evolution does! There's not enough evidence for them yet.

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