Monday, July 23, 2007

The Book Sent Round the World

The New York Times describes Harun Yahya's goregous coffee table book the "Atlas of Creation". Mailed to scientists a round the world, it is "probably the largest and most beautiful creationist challenge yet to Darwin’s theory, which Mr. Yahya calls a feeble and perverted ideology contradicted by the Koran." Joshua Cohen of Boston University reviews it on Blogging Heads TV.

The book caused a stir earlier this year when a French translation materialized at high schools, universities and museums in France. Until then, creationist literature was relatively rare in France, according to Armand de Ricqles, a professor of historical biology and evolutionism at the College de France. Scientists spoke out against the book, he said in an e-mail message, and “thanks to the highly centralized public school system in France, it was possible to organize that the books sent to lycées would not be made available to children.”

So far, no similar response is emerging in the United States. “In our country we are used to nonsense like this,” said Kevin Padian, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who, like colleagues there, found a copy in his mailbox.

He said people who had received copies were “just astounded at its size and production values and equally astonished at what a load of crap it is.



Well whatever the book might be, the response of a "highly centralized public school system in France" that made it "possible to organize that the books sent to lycées would not be made available to children" indicates one thing: it's almost impossible to refute anything these days. Large parts of the public live in hermetic belief systems which maintain for example, that steel doesn't melt when subjected to fire, the September 11 attacks were a Jewish plot, that the Moon Landings were faked, and that the sea level has risen ten feet in the Andaman Islands. That Muslims should believe that Allah created the world is distinctly possible.

The Balkanization of fact and the disparagement of consensus reality has been going on for some time now. Hence, the astonishment of people who live within closed groups to discover the existence of people "out there" who believe in something else. Pauline Kael famously remarked after Nixon's election, "How could Nixon have won? Nobody I know voted for him." Probably no one Harun Yahya knows believes in Darwin either. And as to the truth, the scientific, jen-yoowine, solid truth, well that's another matter.

BTW, a question for post-modernists, does it -- the truth I mean -- exist?

20 Comments:

Blogger John Lynch said...

'The Balkanization of fact,' That's a phrase to remember.

There's a few typos in the post.

7/23/2007 06:13:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

Thanks. I just cleaned it up.

7/23/2007 06:14:00 PM  
Blogger Tarnsman said...

Oh, now you've done it, Wretchard! Opened up the "evolution" can of worms. Love how these types of threads, ummm, evolve. Or should I say devolve. One thing I have never understood is how the religious think the the theory of evolution somehow is an attack against God. Nothing of the sort, at least in my mind. It's only a way to understand God's handiwork. He, or She, made the universe and everything in it, right? And that applies to the "natural" laws that govern and therefore direct everything that occurs inside that universe, no? Therefore, evolution is only our way of understanding how life came to be. All according to His, or Hers, laws. And perhaps design. I mean it all gets down to the old argument about pre-destiny or free will. Maybe our evolution was pre-destined from the very moment our solar system formed around the remnants of an earlier star. There was no other outcome possible. Sort of like the parallel evolution we see on Earth in a place like Australia where the marsupilas evolved indepedent of the other mammals and yet developed into the same "type" of animals filling a particular enivornmental niche. None of which calls into question of God. Maybe the God that the priests and mullahs want you bow down before, but not the true God.

7/23/2007 06:51:00 PM  
Blogger LarryD said...

The atheists use the Theory of Evolution to promote the postion that Science eliminates god.

As a consequence, no science can be done on evolution, because it's now a dogma, and cannot be questioned. Anyone who disgreees with this is a theocrat.

Surly you can fill in the rest of the details.

Ironically, in China thay can actually do science on evolution. It's not dogma there.

7/23/2007 07:00:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

Well this is what happens when knowledge becomes political. But it's interesting, now that the Muslims have joined the fray, how the debate will evolve. Some may be aghast at finding themselves on the "same side" as Muslims, at least on this issue. And the Darwinians may discover the chilling feeling that comes with knowing that they are criticizing Islam.

It occurred to me that the reason all those big, heavy books were sent to so many evolutionists by a well-funded Muslim organization was to underscore the fact that big, heavy objects can be sent to evolutionists. But then that's just me.

7/23/2007 07:15:00 PM  
Blogger Smitten Eagle said...

This Balkanization of Fact is very much related to other recent threads that the good Wretchard has brought up recently. Most closely related is the discussions about the splitering of narratives in the West with regards to the GWOT in general and the War in Iraq in particular.

This splintering of narratives and the balkanization of fact are essentially the same thing: the loss of control of the facts that our institutions rested on. Now that those facts are not facts, but opinions, dogma, fatwas, faith-traditions, orientations, etc., our institutions are adrift.

The military now fights not for us any longer, but for "the surge." CNN pays terrorists for footage of snipers killing Americans, in the name of news. Pelosi fights Bush by consorting with sponsors of terrorism.

There is no narrative holding us together. Our myths are who we are, and they are dying.

7/23/2007 07:21:00 PM  
Blogger Ardsgaine said...

"BTW, a question for post-modernists, does it -- the truth I mean -- exist?"

In saying 'no' they would be contradicting themselves in a very obvious manner. That's not how the destruction of truth in philosophy works though. Instead, what you get is a drawn out, tortured, Kantianesque argument about the limitations of reason that amounts to a 'no', but obscures from the audience its self-contradictory nature. It's very good for catching college students, and diverting them into the dung heap playground of academia.

7/23/2007 07:41:00 PM  
Blogger Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

I haven't seen the book, so I don't know what kind of "load of crap" it is. Unfortunately, I suspect it's more of the same strict, six 24-hour days nonsense that makes Christians look silly.

6/24 isn't even good theology, since the Hebrew is notoriously imprecise and 'yom' has a fairly wide range of meanings.

If God is Truth, and Science is the search for Truth, it stands to reason that good science and good theology will tend to be mutually reinforcing, rather than contradictory.

What's remarkable about the Genesis account is how generally accurate it is, as soon as you accept that the point of reference is the surface of Earth -- the Spirit brooded over he waters -- rather than somewhere out in space.

The first 700 million years or so of Earth's history are called the Hadean Period, as in Hades. Hot, opaque, acidic atmosphere, dark and very nasty. As the dust settled, day and night became evident, but not yet the sun, moon and stars. That's how you get to the "fourth day."

In contrast, the idea that somehow day and night existed before the sun is just plain idiotic, which is only one mess the 6/24 folks get themselves into.

My first two degrees are in geology, including a stint in an age-dating lab, and from where I sit the creationists have generally thrown away their strongest cards.

The ~13 billion year age of the universe is simply too short for random assembly of life, the required time at a billion interactions per second being something like 10^E10^E10 seconds to have a 1% chance of assembling a simple protein at random.

The entire difference between us 13 billion year old-earth types and teh 6/24s is a squabble of 10^E84 versus 10^E79.

Compared to 10^E10^E10 or so, that argument is an utter waste of time.

Unfortunately there are some Christians so pathologically literal that when Jesus says "I am the door," I suspect they start looking for a knob and hinges.

7/23/2007 09:08:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

Liberals hate science and particularly Evolution too.

All living things are subject to natural selection and sexual selection ... except human beings! There is no evolution and natural selection in humans WHATSOEVER.

That's liberal dogma. Their religion.

Liberals hate Darwin too, so they'll happily team up with Muslims to kill his theories. After all, if you accept Darwin, you accept that natural selection and groups of humans in different natural and social environments will have different genetic responses to natural selection operating in each environment. In other words people are different. And observably different, genetically and in other ways.

Liberals only embrace Darwin you must understand, as a way of showing their social superiority and higher status than "redneck rubes." But once Muslims make it taboo, expect Darwin to be banished.

7/23/2007 09:16:00 PM  
Blogger Alex Sloat said...

Bart Hall - You make a rather wrecking mistake in your argumentation. You assume a billion interactions per second as a seemingly universal value, when in reality that's more like the number you'd get in the average microgram of pond water(even before we'd evolved to the level of sludge).

Furthermore, chemical interactions aren't random, or else our bodies wouldn't be able to manufacture proteins either - there are some intermediaries that can exist easily enough on their own(amino acids), and you merely need to combine those, which is again a simple process. Amino acids can be as small as 10 atoms, there's only 20 of them, and proteins aren't *that* huge necessarily. Yes, I'll agree that a human doesn't spring fully-formed from muck by random evolutionary processes, but it doesn't need to. Find a stable intermediary, create a minimal self-replicating system, and start hanging things on it after that. Half a billion years for self-replication, a couple billion for multicellular organisms - these numbers seem entirely plausible to me. They're rare as hell, yes, but they only need to happen once to be passed down to every life form alive today. That is, after all, the beauty of self-replication - it does the work so you(and/or God) don't have to.

7/23/2007 09:58:00 PM  
Blogger Tamquam Leo Rugiens said...

Two points: 1. Does truth exist? Of course it does. Truth is what I believe and what I want you to believe. A lie is what I do not believe and what I want you to not believe.

2. Some years ago I attended a lecture on Falun Gong at CalTech by students wanting to inform folks of how the Chinese gov't treats them. While my wife was arguing with them I spoke to some of them about their work. Some of them had worked on the human genome project and had this to say: the theory of evolution has been disproved. Evidence - A. genes that appear in both higher and lower life forms that were studied are not present in the intermediary life forms. B. having accurately measured the rate of genetic drift they determined that there had not been enough time since the Big Bang to account for all the changes necessary for life as complex as we know it to exist.

What then, is the alternate theory? They said, "We don't know. Nobody dares question Darwin but we all know he's wrong."

7/24/2007 12:13:00 AM  
Blogger Alexis said...

whiskey_199:

Liberals hate science and particularly Evolution too.

I'm glad you notice. The fundamentalism of William Jennings Bryan was essentially of a liberal variety.

(Please note that while most Creationism is academic sewage, some of Mr. Bryan's criticisms of the politicization were actually quite cogent. Indeed, his criticism of German imperialist social Darwinism is quite haunting given later Nazi implementation of its pseudo-science.)

7/24/2007 12:22:00 AM  
Blogger Alexis said...

The Balkanization of fact and the disparagement of consensus reality has been going on for some time now.

The Balkanization of fact -- that sounds like the love child of Hannah Arendt's multiculturalism and Franz Fanon's cult of rage. If one assumes that truth is what the powerful decide it means, and then the powers that be become multiculturalist, it follows that "truth" becomes Balkanized by definition.

7/24/2007 12:30:00 AM  
Blogger Alexis said...

Adnan Oktar. A controversial character. He published a treatise in 1996 called "Soykirim Yalani" (The Holocaust Deception). Ten years earlier, he had published a book "Judaism and Freemasonry", which led to his arrest, imprisonment, and transfer to a Turkish mental hospital.

Freedom of speech exists within a context where each person is equally liable for what he says. Unless there are reciprocal rights of argumentation, there is no real freedom of expression. It is nonsense to exercise "freedom of speech" when one's voice is drowned out by a loudspeaker to the point where even screams won't be heard. It is not "freedom of speech" for a state with pervasive censorship to export its ideology to a free society; it is hardly freedom of religion for Saudi Arabia to construct mosques in free societies if Saudi Arabia does not allow religious freedom within its own domain.

Likewise, Turkey's laws against criticism of Ataturk and its long-standing censorship of historiography critical of Turkey's extermination of Armenians during World War I are of legitimate concern. Although Adnan Oktar's publications may not be reflective of the Turkish government's opinions (although the present Turkish government is Islamist...), one ought to be concerned about where Mr. Oktar gets the financial resources to publish so many texts with such high production values. It is not illegitimate to speculate about Wahhabi and Salafi funding sources if Mr. Oktar is unwilling to disclose where he gets his money.

Interestingly, Mr. Oktar even opposes "Intelligent Design" as satanic. Still, he comes out of a long history of anti-Darwinist Islamic thought. Apparently, Charles Darwin was declared an apostate in the Ottoman Empire in 1873. (And all this time, I never realized that Charles Darwin was ever a Muslim. Interestingly enough, Charles Darwin, a devout Christian, never realized that either...)

Sources: Wikipedia and Taner Edis

7/24/2007 01:17:00 AM  
Blogger Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

Alex Sloat: On the one hand I agree with your point. On the other, you presume an already-functioning and very dynamic living system in which most of the non-aqueous matter is usually organic.

You are also presuming a vastly greater density of carbon-based matter than would have prevailed in the early Megayears of the universe.

That said, 10^E10^E10 still gives you vast myriads of orders of magnitudes by which to adjust the billion rxn/sec ... and it still doesn't get things down anywhere near 10^E10 years.

My point is that even a very "old" universe from the human perspective does not allow anything like sufficient time for what we see.

And that's without even asking how things went (in a geological flash) from the Hadean to abundant membrane-bound, self-replicating, colonial organisms (stromatolites) that then remained essentially unchanged for 4000 My.

Or for that matter, as Darwin himself pointed out as unexplainable, the Cambrian Explosion during which primarily one-celled and small soft-bodied thingies "evolved" into a fully functioning ecosystem with metre-long shrimp and such like over just a few million years.

My key point is this: we can (and should) dismiss the 6/24 folks as well-intentioned kooks. From there it should be possible for believing scientists and non-believing scientists to examine these questions with genuine intellectual passion ... and a common goal.

7/24/2007 07:01:00 AM  
Blogger Mike H. said...

tarnsman has it in a nutshell. Although the bible, to which the 6/24 folks adhere, anchors them more firmly to a set of moral standards than the intellectual's assessment of creation.

7/24/2007 10:39:00 AM  
Blogger Peter said...

Long time reader, first time commenter, blah blah blah...

Its cliche, and also not really true, but "Truth" can depend partially on your point of view. The very best examination of these issues that I've ever come across was written by an Israeli physicist who looked at both sides of the argument, once as a premier scientist, and once as a Talmudic historian. The synthesis is astonishing (and fairly simple, if you have a basic understanding of some advanced science, like general relativity).

The book is The Science of God by Gerald Schroeder He walks the reader through some pretty advanced science and math very simply with an easy-to-understand style. He refrences some very interesting Khabbalah ideas, and combines them with modern science. He postulates that the 6/24 is literally true, from the respective frame at the instant of the big bang, and from the frame of mankind's reference, took somewhere near 16 billion years.

Dr. Schroeder covers a lot of ground in the book, including some of the genetics information mentioned earlier by tamquam, and some of the work done by Chinese researchers. He also covers bart hall's reference that the Genesis creation story is not from the viewpoint of man. The narrative switches once humanity comes into the picture, and from then on the Bible is entirely from the point of view of man.

He makes a very compelling argument that modern science and religion are not only compatible, but almost perfectly so, and that Darwin didn't get it quite right. Regardless of an individual's opinions and preconceived notions, its an amazing read and very thought provoking. He writes it from a scientific point of view, with some faithful, but not religious, undertones. I can't recommend it highly enough, and I'm sure wretchard and his readers will certainly enjoy it.

7/24/2007 05:02:00 PM  
Blogger newscaper said...

A few points about evolution:

In talking about age and timescales, it is very helpful to think about things in terms of number of generations, since each reproduction (whether sexual or asexual) is where changes creep in.

Since bacteria can have multiple generations in a *day*, those first few hundred million years offered lots of opportunity for development (and dead ends).

John Maynard Smith has a great, short book for laymen on the big milestones in evolution: DNA, multicellular organisms and sexual reproduction among them. Each development created a sort of "phase change", which enabled higher order changes.
As an example, sexual reproduction tends to "speed" evolution because mixing adds much more wiggle room for complexity than slower one-off mutations.

As to the creative power of "random chance", Hoyle's snide crack about a hurricane in a junkyard producing a 747 misses the mark.
Richard Dawkins, who I think is somewhat counterproductive in his atheism, makes an excellent case in his book The Blind Watchmaker for the creative power of successive small incremental random change being pruned at each step by natrual selection (death before reproduction). There has been a LOT of mathematical work on this, proving that such a process does drastically shortcut the all-or-nothing probability calculations commonly tossed out as objections.

In someone else's comment (which I'd actually like to know more about) about "higher" versus "lower" lifeforms -- those are very loaded and misleading terms. Although we can clearly, from the huiman POV of course!, see a human in ordinary terms as "higher" (more complex?) than a modern day "lower" streptococcus bacterium, of course the former is NOT descended from the latter.
The relevant question would be: does an intermediate form we otherwise know *truly* to be in the line of descent lack a gene that both a predecessor and a successor have?
Even if then, its not a conclusive argument -- there are certain purely structural, 'mechanical' if you will, issues at the lower levels of biochemistry. It's plausible that a molecule "flip" between two preferred states.

7/24/2007 05:12:00 PM  
Blogger Sparks fly said...

Evolution is supposed to be "science". Science means to weigh and measure against a known standard. A wooden ruler marked off in inches constitutes a known standard.

According to "evolutionists" evolution has happened either too slow or too fast for anyone to actually weigh or measure any specific instance of the creation of NEW genetic information.

In fact science has no clue as to where information comes from at all. Does it grow on a tree? Where is that tree so we can visit it and weigh and measure the creation of that new genetic information? Does it come out of a hole in the ground like oil? Where is that hole that we may visit that? Does it come from the sky like rain? Where does information come from?

The genetic code is a code of information that controls the formation and functioning of all living things. Who wrote that biometric computer code? It wouldn't be the God of the Bible would it?

Evolution is not science it is speculation, from hunger, because the God of the Bible is unacceptable to mighty souls full of themselves lost in space.

Jesus paid the price for such foolishness.

Pretty ugly.

7/25/2007 01:09:00 AM  
Blogger OmegaPaladin said...

The Creationist movement is largely a reaction to evolutionism. Evolutionism is the idea that all things can be explained via evolution. That leads to sociobiology, determinism (free will does not exist), memetics, and other craziness. The evolutionist movement is avowedly atheist and materialistic. When combined with transhumanism, you have all of the traditional elements of a religion: an origin story, a heroic prophet figure, a dogmatic tradition, a path to enlightenment, and a final vindication.

Science can never explain why, it can only explain how. Scientists can be of any faith, including evolutionism or any traditional religion. However, if they wish to remain intellectually honest, they should remember the limits of their profession.

7/25/2007 08:54:00 PM  

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