Scarlett and Ironclad wrote:Campermon,...a middle aged, middle class, Guardian reading, dad of four, knackered hippy, woolly jumper wearing wino and science teacher.
In order to deal with several of the canards we see resurrected here with tedious regularity at source, I thought it apposite to launch this topic. Where appropriate canards can be dealt with in one spot, so that future propagandists for reality-denial doctrines arising from mythological blind assertion have no excuse for resurrecting them yet again.
Consequently, I have a message for all creationists visiting this forum. If you think that you possess some startlingly new "wisdom" that you think is going to overturn valid scientific theories, then I have news for you. You don't. The canards that you and your ilk erect here all too frequently, are well known, well documented, and have been debunked many times before. This post has been erected specifically to provide you with a single point of reference where you can check this, and find out in advance that your canards ARE canards. Now, since I went to the trouble of compiling this post, and exercised much effort in doing so, the least you can do is exercise the mental effort required to read this post in full, and learn in detail why parroting any of the canards contained in this list will lead to you being regarded with at best disdain, at worst contempt. So, before you launch into your posting careers, study the following in detail, and learn that posting previously debunked nonsense without having performed the requisite research beforehand, to determine whether or not said nonsense has been debunked previously, is regarded here as indolent in the extreme.
So, here goes with the list of canards to avoid when posting here.
 Parroting blind assertions does not constitute "evidence".
Let's make this explicit, just so that even the most casual of observers of this thread cannot avoid having noticed it.
Mythology (and I don't care how precious you consider your "holy books" to be, that is what they contain - mythology) merely erects unsupported blind assertions about the world, and presents those blind assertions as if they constituted "axioms" about the world, to be regarded uncritically as eternally true, and never to be questioned. Well, those who wish to adopt this view will find that they are given short shrift here. Because one of the fundamental rules of proper discourse is that whenever an assertion is erected, no one is obliged to regard it as valid unless proper, critically robust supporting evidence is provided for that assertion. Which means independent corroboration from an outside source, or a direct, methodologically rigorous, repeatable empirical demonstration of the validity of that assertion. Without this, any blind assertions, particularly those erected from mythology or mythology-based doctrines, can be dismissed in the same casual manner in which they are tossed into the thread. Failure to provide proper evidential support for blind assertions will result in a poster being regarded as an inconsequential lightweight. Just because you think that mythological blind assertions constitute "axioms" about the world doesn't mean that everyone else does, and you'll soon discover the hard way how much firepower is directed toward those who come here expecting the rest of the forum to genuflect before said blind assertions uncritically. Plus, in the case of supernaturalist blind assertions, parroting these and expecting everyone else to accept them uncritically as established fact in the same way that you did, constitutes preaching, and is a violation of forum rules. Learn quickly to qualify assertions properly when erecting them, unless you wish to be regarded as tediously sanctimonious, boring, and boorishly ill-educated into the bargain.
Oh, and while we're at it, don't bother trying to assert that your favourite invisible magic man is "necessary" for the biosphere or some other observed entity, until you can provide proper, critically robust evidential support for the postulate that your magic man actually exists. Given that 300 years of continuous scientific endeavour has established that the universe is not only comprehensible without needing magic, but is thus comprehensible in precise quantitative terms, you will be well advised to devote some serious time to providing methodologically rigorous support for all assertions concerning magic supernatural entities, because without it, you're fucked from the start.
 Science is NOT a branch of apologetics.
Science is as far removed from apologetics as it is possible to be. Science exists to subject erected postulates to empirical test with respect to whether or not those postulates are in accord with observational reality. As a consequence, science is in the business of testing assertions and presuppositions to destruction, Those that fail the requisite tests are discarded. Science modifies its theories to fit reality. Apologetics, on the other hand, consists of erecting convoluted semantic fabrications for the purpose of trying to prop up presuppositions and blind assertions, involves NO empirical testing, and seeks to force-fit reality to the aforementioned presuppositions and blind assertions. Therefore, treating science as if it constitutes a branch of apologetics is dishonest, and those who engage in this pursuit will be regarded with due scorn and derision.
Among the more duplicitous examples of such dishonesty, all too frequently seen here in the past, is quote mining of scientific papers or scientific publications. There are entire websites devoted to the exposure of this particular brand of dishonesty, and anyone making the mistake of erecting quote mines here will have their buttocks handed to them in a sling.
 The "assumptions" canard (with "interpretation" side salad).
This is a frequent favourite with creationists, and usually erected for the purpose of attempting to hand-wave away valid science when it happens not to genuflect before their ideological presuppositions. As I have stated in  above, science is in the business of testing assumptions and presuppositions to destruction. As an example of destroying creationist apologetics with respect to this canard, I point interested readers to this post, where I destroyed the lies of the laughably named "Answers in Genesis" with respect to their assertion that 14C dating was based upon "assumptions". I've also trashed this canard in detail with respect to radionuclide dating as a whole, so don't even try to go down that road. Likewise, if you try to erect this canard with respect to other valid scientific theories, you will be regarded as dishonest.
Another favourite piece of creationist mendacity is the "interpretation" assertion, which creationist erect for the purpose of suggesting that scientists force-fit data to presuppositions. Apart from the fact that this is manifestly false, it is also defamatory, and a direct slur on the integrity of thousands of honest, hard working scientists, who strive conscientiously and assiduously to ensure that conclusions drawn from real world observational data are robust conclusions to draw. This slur, of course, is yet another example of blatant projection on the part of creationists, who manifestly operate on the basis of presupposition themselves, and appear to be incapable of imagining the very existence of a means of determining substantive knowledge about the world that does not rely upon presupposition. Well, I have news for you. Science does NOT rely upon "presupposition". Indeed, scientists have expended considerable intellectual effort in the direction of ensuring that the conclusions they arrive at are rigorously supported by the data that they present in their published papers. There exists much discourse in the scientific literature on the subject of avoiding fallacious or weak arguments, including much sterling work by people such as Ronald Fisher, who sought during their careers to bring rigour to the use of statistical inference in the physical and life sciences. Indeed, Fisher was responsible for inventing the technique of analysis of variance, which is one of the prime tools used in empirical science with respect to experimental data, and Fisher expended much effort ensuring that inferences drawn using that technique were proper inferences to draw.
Basically, there is only one "interpretation" of the data that matters to scientists, and that is whatever interpretation is supported by reality. Learn this lesson quickly, unless you wish to be regarded as discoursively dishonest on a grand scale.
Meanwhile, as a corollary of  above, it is time to address:
 Learn what scientists ACTUALLY postulate, not what you think they postulate, or have been told that they postulate by duplicitous apologetics websites.
This dovetails nicely with  above (because creationists always assume they know better what scientists postulate than the scientists themselves), and also dovetails to varying degrees with , , , ,  and  below. If creationists really want to critique the theory of evolution, then they had better start learning what that theory actually postulates, as opposed to the farcical strawman caricatures thereof erected by authors of duplicitous apologetics. If you cannot be bothered to exercise this basic level of intellectual effort, then don't be surprised if people treat your attempts to erect 3,000 year old mythology, written by ignorant Bronze Age nomads, as being purportedly "superior" to the work of Nobel Laureates, with the scorn and derision such attempts deserve.
 Learn the distinction between proof and evidential support.
This is something that supernaturalists never tire of failing to understand, so once and for all, I shall present the distinction here.
Proof is a formal procedure in pure mathematics, and only applicable to that discipline. Proof consists of applying, in an error-free manner, well-defined rules of inference to the axioms of a given mathematical system in order to produce theorems, and thence recursively to those theorems to produce more theorems.
Evidential support consists of providing empirical demonstrations that a given set of postulates is in accord with observational reality. This is the process that is used in the physical sciences in order to build scientific theories. Postulates that are NOT in accord with observational reality are, as stated in  above, discarded.
As in  above, if you cannot exercise the basic level of intellectual effort required to learn this simple distinction, or worse still, erect fatuous nonsense about "proving" a scientific theory (especially if "prove" is mis-spelt with two 'o's), then expect your posts to be treated as a free fire zone for scathing and withering derision.
 Scientific theories are NOT "guesses".
This is a favourite (and wholly duplicitous) canard beloved of creationists, and relies upon the fact that in everyday usage, English words are loaded with a multiplicity of meanings. This is NOT the case in science, where terms used are precisely defined. The precise definition apposite here is the definition of theory. In science, a theory is an integrated explanation for a class of real world observational phenomena of interest, that has been subjected to direct empirical test with respect to its correspondence with observational reality, and which has been found, via such testing, to be in accord with observational reality. It is precisely because scientific theories have been subject to direct empirical test, and have passed said empirical test, that they ARE theories, and consequently enjoy a high status in the world of scientific discourse. As a consequence of the above, anyone who erects the "it's only a theory" canard with respect to evolution will be regarded with well deserved scorn and derision.
 The operation of natural processes, and the intellectual labour required to learn about those processes, are two separate entities.
That I have to address this explicitly, and deal with this particular canard, after it had been repeatedly erected by one particular creationist here, after he had been repeatedly schooled upon this, really does make one wonder if some of the people purporting to be in a position to critique valid scientific theories, have ever attended a real science class in their lives, let alone paid attention therein.
Let's knock this particular nonsense on the head once and for all. Just because scientists perform experiments, for the express purpose of determining how a particular natural process operates, and the details of whatever quantitative laws that process obeys, does NOT in any way, shape or form, support "intelligence" at work within those processes. The only "intelligence" in operation here is that of the scientists trying to learn about the natural process under investigation. In order to demonstrate the fatuousness of the converse view, consider gravity. This is a regularly observed real world phenomenon, and, as real world phenomena go, is about as mindless as one can imagine. The idea that "intelligence" is at work when something falls off a cliff is asinine to put it mildly. Now, in order to deduce the quantitative relationships at work when gravity acts upon objects, scientists can perform various experiments, to determine, for example, the speed of impact with which objects strike the ground when dropped from tall structures of varying heights. That they have to do this in order to deduce these quantitative details, and derive the requisite laws operating within the world of gravitational phenomena, does NOT in any way support the idea that "intelligence" is operating within that natural phenomenon itself. Indeed, applied mathematicians can postulate the existence of all manner of alternative forces, obeying different quantitative laws, and determine what would be observed if ever instances of those forces were observed in the real world, but again, this does NOT support for one moment the idea that those forces are innately "intelligent". So those who try to erect this nonsense with respect to experiments in evolutionary biology, or abiogenesis, will again invite much ridicule and laughter.
For those who really want ramming home how absurd this canard is, the online satirical magazine The Onion has published this hilarious piece on "intelligent falling". Anyone who reads this without laughing, and regards the content as a serious exposition of scientific thinking, is in dire need of an education.
As a corollary of the above, I am also required, courtesy of the same creationist who was unable to distinguish between the two, to address this:
 Real world observational phenomena, and the theories erected to explain them, are two different entities.
Again, the mere fact that I have to state this explicitly testifies to the scientific ignorance of many of the individuals who come here, purporting to be in a position to tell us that the world's most educated scientists have all got it wrong, and that 3,000 year old mythology has somehow got it right (or 1,400 year old mythology, depending upon your particular religious ideological background).
With respect to evolution, populations of real living organisms have been observed evolving in real time. This is what is meant when the critical thinkers here state that evolution is an observed fact. Real populations of real living organisms have been observed changing over time, and have been documented doing so in the peer reviewed scientific literature. The theory of evolution consists of the postulates erected, and the testable mechanisms arising from those postulates, to explain those observed phenomena. Learn this distinction, or once again, prepare to face much contempt from the critical thinkers here.
This brings me on neatly to:
 The infamous "chance" and "random" canards (now with "nothing" side salad).
Few things are more calculated to result in the critical thinkers here regarding a poster as a zero-IQ tosspot with blancmange for brains, than the erection of the "chance" canard. Usually taking the form of "scientists think life arose by chance", or variants thereof such as "you believe life was an accident". This is, not to put too fine a point upon it, bullshit.
What scientists actually postulate, and they postulate this with respect to every observable phenomenon in the universe, is that well defined and testable mechanisms are responsible. Mechanisms that are amenable to empirical test and understanding, and in many cases, amenable to the development of a quantitative theory. Two such quantitative theories, namely general relativity and quantum electrodynamics, are in accord with observational reality to fifteen decimal places. As an aside, when someone can point to an instance of mythology producing something this useful, the critical thinkers will sit up and take notice, and not before.
Likewise, erecting statements such as "random mutation can't produce X", where X is some complex feature of multicellular eukaryote organisms, will also invite much scorn, derision and contempt. First of all, drop the specious apologetic bullshit that "random" means "without rhyme or reason", because it doesn't. In rigorous scientific parlance, "random", with respect to mutations, means "we have insufficient information about the actual process that took place at the requisite time". This is because scientists have known for decades, once again, that mutations arise from well defined natural processes, and indeed, any decent textbook on the subject should list several of these, given that the Wikipedia page on mutations covers the topic in considerable depth. Go here, scroll down to the text "Induced mutations on the molecular level can be caused by:", and read on from that point. When you have done this, and you have learned that scientists have classified a number of well defined chemical reactions leading to mutations, you will be in a position to understand why the critical thinkers here regard the creationist use of "random" to mean "duh, it just happened" with particularly withering disdain. When scientists speak of "random" mutations, what they really mean is "one of these processes took place, but we don't have the detailed observational data to determine which of these processes took place, when it took place, and at what point it took place, in this particular instance. Though of course, anyone with a decent background in research genetics can back-track to an ancestral state for the gene in question. Indeed, as several scientific papers in the literature testify eloquently, resurrecting ancient genes is now a routine part of genetics research.
Then, of course, we have that other brand of nonsense that creationists love to erect, which also fits into this section, namely the fatuous "you believe nothing created the universe" canard, and assorted corollary examples of palsied asininity based upon the same cretinous notion. Which is amply addressed by the above, namely that scientists postulate that well defined and testable natural mechanisms, operating upon the appropriate entities, were responsible for real world observational phenomena. In what fantasy parallel universe does "well defined and testable natural mechanisms, operating upon the appropriate entities" equal "nothing"? If you think that those two are synonyms, then again, you are in serious need of education, and you are in no position to lecture those of us who bothered to acquire one.
 Specious and asinine creationist "probability" calculations.
I've already dealt at length with this in this thread. Don't bother posting copy-paste bullshit from Stephen Meyer or other creationist blowhards from the Discovery Institute or AiG with respect to this, because what they have disseminated IS bullshit. So-called "probability" calculations erected by creationists are based upon assumptions that are either  never stated so as to avoid having their validity subject to critical scrutiny, or  when those assumptions are stated, they are found to be based upon well known fallacies. The link above addresses two of those fallacies in some detail, namely the serial trials fallacy and the "one true sequence" fallacy. If you post bullshit about "probability" supposedly "refuting" evolution or abiogenesis, virtually all of which arises from the same tired, previously debunked sources, then you will simply be setting yourself up as a target for well deserved ridicule.
 The tiresome conflation of evolutionary theory with abiogenesis (with Big Bang side salad).
A favourite one, this, among the creationists who come here. Which always results in the critical thinkers going into petunias mode (read Douglas Adams in order to understand that reference). Since so many creationists are woefully ill-educated in this area, I shall now correct that deficit in their learning.
Evolutionary theory is a theory arising from biology, and its remit consists of explaining the observed diversity of the biosphere once living organisms exist. The origin of life is a separate question, and one which is covered by the theory of naturalistic abiogenesis, which is a theory arising from a different scientific discipline, namely organic chemistry. Learn this distinction before posting, otherwise you will simply be regarded as ignorant and ill-educated.
While we're at it, evolutionary theory does not consider questions about the origin of Planet Earth itself, nor does it consider questions about the origin of the universe. The first of these questions is covered by planetary accretion theory, the second by cosmology, both of which arise from physics. As a consequence of learning this, if you subsequently erect the tiresome conflation of evolutionary theory with the Big Bang or the origin of the Earth, be prepared to be laughed at.
As a corollary of the above, it is time to deal with:
 The Pasteur canard.
We have had several people erecting this canard here, and it usually takes the form of the erection of the statement "life does not come from non-life", usually with a badly cited reference to the work of Louis Pasteur. This particular piece of duplicitous apologetics, apart from being duplicitous, is also fatuous. The reason being that Louis Pasteur erected his "Law of Biogenesis" specifically for the purpose of refuting the mediaeval notion of spontaneous generation, a ridiculous notion which claimed that fully formed multicellular eukaryote organisms arose directly from dust or some similar inanimate medium. First, the modern theory of abiogenesis did not exist when Pasteur erected this law; second, the modern theory of abiogenesis does not postulate the sort of nonsense that abounded in mediaeval times (and which, incidentally, was accepted by supernaturalists in that era); and third, as a methodologically rigorous empiricist, Pasteur would wholeheartedly accept the large quantity of evidence provided by modern abiogenesis researchers if he were still alive.
 The asinine preoccupation with "monkeys".
This is a particularly tiresome creationist fetish, and again, merely points to the scientific ignorance of those who erect it. I point everyone to  above, and in this particular instance, remind those wishing to post here hat what science actually postulates with respect to human ancestry is that we share a common ancestor with other great apes. Indeed, Linnaeus decided that we were sufficiently closely related to chimpanzees, on the basis of comparative anatomy alone, to warrant placing humans and chimpanzees in the same taxonomic Genus, and he decided this back in 1747, no less than SIXTY TWO YEARS before Darwin was born. You can read the original letter Linnaeus wrote to fellow taxonomist Johann Georg Gmelin, dated 27th February 1747, lamenting the fact that he was being forced to alter his science to fit religious presuppositions by bishops, here in the original Latin. So if you wish to indulge your monkey fetish, go to the zoo and do it there, and allow us the light relief of hearing about your coming to the attention of law enforcement when you do.
 The "no transitional forms" canard.
In order to deal with this one, I have the following to ask. Namely:
 Have you ever studied comparative anatomy in detail, at a proper, accredited academic institution?
 Do you understand rigorously what is meant by "species"?
 Do you understand even the basics of inheritance and population genetics?
 Do you understand the basics of the workings of meiosis?
If you cannot answer "yes" to all four of the above, then you are in no position to erect this canard. And, canard it is, as anyone with a proper understanding of the dynamic nature of species will readily understand, a topic I have posted at length on in the past. Indeed, you only have to ask yourself the following question, "Am I identical to either of my parents?" in order to alight quickly upon why this canard IS a canard. Your own family photo album supplies you with the answer here. YOU are a "transitional form" between your parents and your offspring, should you have any offspring.
 The "evolutionist" canard (with "Darwinist" side salad).
Now, if there is one guaranteed way for a creationist to establish that he or she is here for no other reason than to propagandise for a doctrine, it's the deployment of that most viscerally hated of words in the lexicon, namely, evolutionist. I have posted about this so often here, that I was surprised to find that I'd missed it out of the original list, but I had more pressing concerns to attend to when compiling the list originally. However, having been reminded of it, now is the time to nail this one to the ground with a stake through its heart once and for all.
There is no such thing as an "evolutionist". Why do I say this? Simple. Because the word has become thoroughly debased through creationist abuse thereof, and in my view, deserves to be struck from the language forever. For those who need the requisite education, there exist evolutionary biologists, namely the scientific professionals who devote decades of their lives to understanding the biosphere and conducting research into appropriate biological phenomena, and those outside that specialist professional remit who accept the reality-based, evidence-based case that they present in their peer reviewed scientific papers for their postulates. The word "evolutionist" is a discoursive elision, erected by creationists for a very specific and utterly mendacious purpose, namely to suggest that valid evolutionary science is a "doctrine", and that those who accept its postulates do so merely as a priori "assumptions" (see  above). This is manifestly false, as anyone who has actually read the peer reviewed scientific literature is eminently well placed to understand. The idea that there exists some sort of "symmetry" between valid, evidence-based, reality-based science (evolutionary biology) and assertion-laden, mythology-based doctrine (creationism) is FALSE. Evolutionary biology, like every other branch of science, tests assertions and presuppositions to destruction, which is why creationism was tossed into the bin 150 years ago (see  above). When creationists can provide methodologically rigorous empirical tests of their assertions, the critical thinkers will sit up and take notice.
Furthermore, with respect to this canard, does the acceptance of the scientifically educated individuals on this board, of the current scientific paradigm for gravity make them "gravitationists"? Does their acceptance of the evidence supporting the germ theory of disease make them "microbists"? Does their acceptance of the validity of Maxwell's Equations make them "electromagnetists"? Does their acceptance of of the validity of the work of Planck, Bohr, Schrödinger, Dirac and a dozen others in the relevant field make them "quantumists"? Does their acceptance of the validity of the astrophysical model for star formation and the processes that take place inside stars make them "stellarists"? If you are unable to see the absurdity inherent in this, then you are in no position to tell people here that professional scientists have got it wrong, whilst ignorant Bronze Age nomads writing mythology 3,000 years ago got it right.
While we're at it, let's deal with the duplicitous side salad known as "Darwinist". The critical thinkers here know why this particular discoursive elision is erected, and the reason is related to the above. Basically, "Darwinist" is erected for the specific purpose of suggesting that the only reason people accept evolution is because they bow uncritically to Darwin as an authority figure. This is, not to put too fine a point on it, droolingly encephalitic drivel of a particularly suppurating order. Let's provide a much needed education once and for all here.
Darwin is regarded as historically important because he founded the scientific discipline of evolutionary biology, and in the process, converted biology from a cataloguing exercise into a proper empirical science. The reason Darwin is considered important is NOT because he is regarded uncritically as an "authority figure" - the critical thinkers leave this sort of starry-eyed gazing to followers of the likes of William Lane Craig. Darwin is regarded as important because he was the first person to pay serious attention to reality with respect to the biosphere, with respect to the business of determining mechanisms for its development, and the first to engage in diligent intellectual labour for the purpose of establishing that reality supported his postulates with respect to the biosphere. In other words, instead of sitting around accepting uncritically mythological blind assertion, he got off his arse, rolled up his sleeves, did the hard work, put in the long hours performing the research and gathering the real world data, and then spending long hours determining what would falsify his ideas and determining in a rigorous manner that no such falsification existed. For those who are unaware of this, the requisite labour swallowed up twenty years of his life, which is par for the course for a scientist introducing a new paradigm to the world. THAT is why he is regarded as important, because he expended colossal amounts of labour ensuring that REALITY supported his ideas. That's the ONLY reason ANY scientist acquires a reputation for being a towering contributor to the field, because said scientist toils unceasingly for many years, in some cases whole decades, ensuring that his ideas are supported by reality in a methodologically rigorous fashion.
Additionally, just in case this idea hasn't crossed the mind of any creationist posting here, evolutionary biology has moved on in the 150 years since Darwin, and whilst his historical role is rightly recognised, the critical thinkers have also recognised that more recent developments have taken place that would leave Darwin's eyes out on stalks if he were around to see them. The contributors to the field after Darwin are numerous, and include individuals who contributed to the development of other branches of science making advances in evolutionary theory possible. Individuals such as Ronald Fisher, who developed the mathematical tools required to make sense of vast swathes of biological data (heard of analysis of variance? Fisher invented it), or Theodosius Dobzhansky, who combined theoretical imagination with empirical rigour, and who, amongst other developments, provided science with a documented instance of speciation in the laboratory. Other seminal contributors included Müller (who trashed Behe's nonsense six decades before Behe was born), E. O. Wilson, Ernst Mayr, Motoo Kimura, Stephen Jay Gould, Niles Eldredge, J. B. S. Haldane, Richard Lewontin, Sewall Wright, Jerry Coyne, Carl Woese, Kenneth Miller, and they're just the ones I can list off the top of my head. Pick up any half-decent collection of scientific papers from the past 100 years, and dozens more names can be added to that list.
So, anyone who wants to be regarded as an extremely low-grade chew toy here only has to erect the "evolutionist" or "Darwinist" canard, and they will guarantee this end result.
Scarlett and Ironclad wrote:Campermon,...a middle aged, middle class, Guardian reading, dad of four, knackered hippy, woolly jumper wearing wino and science teacher.
 The "evolution is a belief" nonsense.
At this point, it should be sufficient for me to point to ,  and  above, and tell those entertaining this fatuous idea to go and learn something. However, I suspect that the attention span of the typical creationist is such that a reminder is needed at this point. And that reminder is now forthcoming.
When scientists provide hard evidence supporting their postulates, in the form of direct empirical tests of the validity of those postulates, "belief" is superfluous to requirements and irrelevant. This has happened time and time and time again in evolutionary biology, and once more, if you can't be bothered to read the actual scientific papers in question in order to learn this, then you are in no position to critique a theory that has been subject to more thorough critical scrutiny than you can even imagine is possible. Oh, and as an indication of the size of the task ahead of you, if you think you're hard enough to dismiss the scientific evidence on a case by case basis, you have over a million scientific papers to peruse that have been published in the past 150 years. Be advised that tossing one paper into the bin isn't enough, you have to toss ALL of them into the bin. Good luck on that one.
Just in case this hasn't registered here, the critical thinkers regard belief itself as intellectually invalid. If you have to ask why, then again, you are in need of an education, and badly.
As a corollary of the above, I now turn my attention to:
 "You only believe in evolution because you hate god".
Anyone posting this particular piece of drivel, and make no mistake, it IS drivel, is quite frankly beneath deserving of a point of view. Erectors of this sub-amoeboid, cretinous, verminous, pestilential and thoroughly decerebrate cortical faeces are not considered to be worth the small amount of effort required to treat them with utter disdain, let alone the greater effort required to subject them to actual contempt.
Aside from the fact that I have dealt with the "belief" bullshit in  above, and aside from the fact that I've dealt with the complete failure of supernaturalists to provide any evidence for their pet magic man back in  above (yes, you need a proper attention span if you're going to engage in debate here), and as a corollary of this latter point, we'd like to know how one can "hate" an entity whose very existence has only ever been supported by vacuous apologetics instead of genuine evidence, this particular favourite meme of creationists is singularly retarded because it misses the whole point by several thousand light years. Allow me to remind you all once again, first that the critical thinkers do not regard "belief" as intellectually valid full stop, and that the critical thinkers accept the validity of evolution because REALITY supports it. THAT is what counts here, because it is what counts in professional scientific circles. You can whinge, moan, bitch and bleat all you like with respect to this moronic canard, but be advised that people who paid attention in classes at school regard this canard as one of the most utterly spastic pieces of apologetics in existence, and given the fulminating level of stupidity that has emanated from apologetics over the years, this makes the above canard rather special.
While we're at it, let's deal with one polemical argument that was presented to me recently, and one which is again entirely specious. Namely, the argument that evolutionary theory was erected "to kill off the idea of a creator". Er, no it wasn't. Anyone who follows the actual history of the development of evolutionary theory will know that it was erected to provide an explanation for observed biodiversity, and to provide an explanation for observed dynamic change in populations of living organisms. I know that creationists love to erect specious doctrine-centred arguments such as this (which dovetails with the doctrine-centred thinking and specious apologetics covered in  above), but such specious doctrine-centred arguments are, not to put too fine a point on it, blatant lies. Just because creationists can't accept that someone might alight upon a view of the world that doesn't rely upon doctrinal presuppositions doesn't mean that such a view cannot exist. But then, the entire creationist argument consists of asserting that the world conforms to their ignorant wishful thinking, so it's no surprise that they adopt the same view with respect to the development of scientific theories. So, if you erect any of the "you hate god" or other specious polemical pseudo-arguments here, be prepared to endure much mockery for doing so, especially if you do so after being directed here and told to learn from this.
 The argument via link to crap websites/copy-paste screed/crap YouTube video.
By now, those who have been paying attention know what's coming next. So, if you haven't been paying attention, you're in for a shock.
Time and time again, we see creationists turning up, posting a one-line post consisting of a link to some worthless apologetics website, thinking that they're going to "stick it to the stoopid atheists". Aside from the fact that this is terminally lazy, and merely demonstrates that the poster couldn't be bothered to present the "arguments" contained in said link using original prose of his or her own devising (which requires one to have actually bothered to read the apologetics in question, which a surprisingly large number of link spammers never do), the fatuousness of this approach should become evident very quickly upon asking the following question. If you are told that you have been diagnosed with a brain tumour, who are you going to ask to remove it? Are you going to ask a professional neurosurgeon, who has trained for years specifically to perform this operation, or are you going to ask a football coach?
If that question seems inane to you, then it is MEANT to seem inane. Specifically for the purpose of bringing into sharp relief the inanity involved in pointing to an apologetics website as a purported source of "scientific" knowledge, as opposed to pointing to the website of, say, an actual university evolutionary biology department, or the website of an actual evolutionary biologist, or the website of a scientific journal that publishes papers in this field. If you think some wank-break televangelist in a $5,000 suit paid for by gullible rubes is somehow an "expert" in the field, then once again, you really are in need of an education. Which of course brings us back to  above.
Let's get this straight once and for all. Websites devoted to religious apologetics are worthless as sources of genuine scientific information. If you want real scientific information, you go to a professional scientist, a professional scientific body, or a professional scientific journal. This is why science textbooks are written by actual scientists. Because, in case you hadn't worked this out, these are the people who know, and who are paid to know. I don't care how many people purportedly possessing Ph.Ds are cited by your favourite apologetics website, this is irrelevant, because the mere fact that those people are contributing to that website means that they are NOT practising real science, they are practising apologetics, which again brings us back to  above. Which means that the likes of AiG, ICR, the Discovery Institute and the various other organisations that act as ideological stormtroopers for mythology-based doctrine are worthless from the standpoint of disseminating genuine scientific information, because their primary interest is apologetics. Their primary interest is propagandising for mythology. As a consequence, these websites frequently misrepresent valid science (again, see  above). Indeed, several of them peddle outright lies about science (see  above, where I provide a handy link to the destruction of one instance of said lies). Consequently, if you come here linking to one of these organisations, the response from the critical thinkers here will be to go into petunias mode (again, see Douglas Adams for the reference).
Whilst we're here, I might as well address the related argument by copy-paste screed canard, which fits in here too. Copying and pasting a large wall of text from an apologetics website, dumping it here in the same manner in which an incontinent baby dumps the contents of its nappies on the floor, then running off thinking that you have somehow "refuted" valid science, merely earns you our lasting scorn and derision. Even more so if there is a stark contrast between the literacy level of the copy-paste screed, and that of posts containing your own words. If you are unable to spell words of more than five letters correctly when writing your own posts, and unable to post more than, say, 15 words in such posts, then suddenly unleash a wall of text upon us, the critical thinkers will know what they're dealing with, and the resulting savaging that your posts will receive will not be pretty to watch. Picture the spectacle that would result if you slashed a baby with a Stanley knife, then tossed it into a piranha infested river. That's what will happen to your posts.
The same spectacle will result if you post a link to, or embed, a crap YouTube video. If we see John Pendelton, Kent Hovind or any of the other well-known charlatans appearing, or for that matter any of the well-known wannabees, popping up in the video clip, other than for the purpose of having their execrable ignorance, stupidity and wilful dishonesty eviscerated, then your post gets the piranha treatment.
 The tiresome "design" argument.
Let's get this straight here. This is nothing more than the resurrection of the Paley's watchmaker zombie, which stinks even more after 150 years of rotting in the grave than it did when Paley first erected it. Aside from the fact that this argument fails spectacularly because artefacts arising from known manufacturing processes are qualitatively different from the rest of the world, and said artefacts are not self-replicating entities, the entire "design" argument fails for one very important reason. Propagandists for mythology have never presented a proper, rigorous means of testing for "design", and for that matter, don't even understand what is needed in order to provide genuine evidence for "design". The fatuous "it looks designed to me, therefore my magic man did it" argument will, once again, receive the piranha treatment if you make the mistake of deploying it here (see  above). Make no mistake, this is nothing more than the typical supernaturalist elevation of ignorance to the level of a metaphysic. The "design" argument consists of nothing more than "I can't imagine how a natural process could have achieved X, therefore no natural process could have achieved X, therefore magic man did it". Learn once and for all that reality is not only under no obligation whatsoever to pander to this sort of ignorance and wishful thinking, all too frequently, it sticks the middle finger to said ignorance and wishful thinking.
Now, I'm going to be kind here, and explain what is needed, in order to have genuine evidence for "design". You need ALL of the following four criteria satisfied, namely:
[19.1] That there exists a detailed, rigorous, robust methodology for segregating entities into the "designed" and "not designed" classes ("It looks designed, therefore magic man" isn't good enough);
[19.2] That the methodology cited in [19.1] above has been tested upon entities of known provenance, and found to be reliable via said direct empirical test;
[19.3] That the methodology cited in [19.1] above, and determined to be reliable in [19.2] above, is accompanied by a rigorous demonstration of its applicability to specific classes of entity of interest;
[19.4] That the methodology cited in [19.1] above, determined to be reliable in [19.2] above, and determined to be applicable to the requisite class of entities in [19.3] above, yields an unambiguous answer of "designed" for the entities to which it is applied.
Unless you have ALL FOUR of the above criteria fulfilled, you have NO evidence for "design". Don't even bother trying to claim otherwise until you've spent at least a decade or so devising the rigorous and robust methodology specified as an essential requirement in [19.1] above, because the critical thinkers will know you're lying. To give you an idea of the magnitude of the task at hand, just fulfilling [19.1] above would constitute a major scientific achievement, and by the time you got to [19.4], you would be in Nobel-winning territory. That is, of course, if you fulfilled [19.1] to [19.3] above properly. If you ever made it to [19.4], your name would be indelibly stamped upon history. The idea that some random poster on the Internet is going to achieve this with nothing more than blind acceptance of mythological assertion to guide him is, needless to say, regarded here as a complete non-starter.
 Teleology/ethics redux.
First, in response to recent posting activity, I'd like to cover the matter of teleology. Which is defined as 'the doctrine of final purpose'. Basically, teleology erects the assertion (hand in hand with supernaturalism) that the universe and its contents are subject to an externally applied overarching 'purpose'. This is merely another example of the pervasiveness of the human tendency to project our own intentionality upon our surroundings, a process that our species applied from prehistoric times onwards. The operation thereof is very simple. Humans are beings who think about their actions (well, at least some of us are), and who frequently engage in activities with a specific end goal in mind. As a consequence, when our prehistoric ancestors saw natural forces at work, and saw that those natural forces shaped the landscape (and their own populations), they considered it entirely natural to conclude that this was the work of some entity similar to themselves, namely an entity with internally generated thoughts and goals, acting to achieve those goals. Basically, our prehistoric ancestors fabricated invisible magic men of various species because they didn't know any better, and in the absence of substantive scientific knowledge, doing so was the only way that they could make sense of a complex, dynamic world. It would take our species a good 200,000 years to reach the point where we could make sense of the world in a proper, rigorous, quantitative manner without erecting such fabrications, and thus, said mythological fabrications have enjoyed far more persistence and persuasiveness than their complete absence of genuine explanatory power warrants.
Teleology is merely an extension of this. Because we have end goals and act to achieve those end goals in the real world, our ancestors assumed that the events around them arising from natural forces had a like origin, and that some sentient intent and planning lay behind them. However, this is merely another of those presuppositions that, in the fullness of time, was found severely wanting when subject to proper, intense critical scientific test. NO evidence has EVER arisen supporting the idea of an externally applied teleology governing the universe and its contents, indeed, with several physical systems, the idea that this is even possible looks decidedly nonsensical, in the light of the fact that those systems are best represented by systems of equations that are highly nonlinear, exhibit extreme sensitivity to initial conditions, and wildly bifurcating behaviour. There is an entire branch of mathematics devoted to the study of such systems, namely the mathematics of chaotic dynamical systems, and even relatively simple, supposedly deterministic systems of equations have been demonstrated to exhibit wide variance in behaviour with only tiny changes in initial conditions. The Verhulst Equation that is used to model population dynamics is a prime example - even small changes in the fecundity parameter in this equation will lead, once the equation enters the bifurcating régime, in wildly different outcomes even if one starts with the same initial conditions. Indeed, once that equation enters the chaotic régime, our ability to predict future behaviour of the system is severely truncated.
Now, if a simple ordinary differential equation can manifest this diversity of behaviour, it doesn't take much imagining, at least amongst those who paid attention in the requisite classes, to realise that a physical system such as the weather, which is best modelled using the Navier-Stokes Equations among others, is not going to be in any sense 'directable', no matter what delusions of grandeur any sentient entity has with respect to this. The Navier-Stokes Equations are not only highly nonlinear interlinked partial differential equations (and in the most general case, tensor differential equations to boot, involving at least one second order tensor quantity), but have proven to be so intractable to attack by mathematicians, that the very existence of a general analytical solution to them remains unknown, despite a century or more of intense labour by the world's best mathematicians to answer this question. Indeed, anyone who succeeds in this endeavour will win themselves a $1 million prize courtesy of the Clay Mathematical Institute, and immediately find themselves receiving lucrative job offers from aerospace companies such as Boeing to come and help them streamline their supercomputer models of fluid flow. At the moment, Navier-Stokes turbulent flow modelling requires expensive teams of top-class mathematicians, computer scientists, and a $50 million supercomputer as baseline pre-requisites, and those operating in this field will readily tell you that there are limits to how far in future time one can push the models, particularly those using these tools for weather modelling. The idea that the behaviour of a physical system, governed by equations of this sort, is 'directable' by any sentience will result in considerable mirth amongst those who know. So if you think your magic man is capable of imposing an overarching teleology upon the universe and its contents, and micro-managing the entire show, those two gentlemen called Navier and Stokes flushed that presupposition down the toilet over 100 years ago.
As a corollary, if there is hard evidence from 300 years of continued scientific endeavour, that an externally applied overarching teleology is not only conspicuous by its absence, but wholly absurd in the light of the divergent behaviour of key physical systems (and that's before we enter the world of quantum indeterminacy), then likewise, the idea that there exists one, single, overarching set of ethical precepts applied externally to the universe from the same source, a set of precepts that remains unconditionally valid for all time, is similarly ludicrous. Nietzsche castigated philosophers who erected grand, assertion-laden metaphysical systems for the purpose of imposing their pet ethics upon the universe even without the benefit of the latest scientific knowledge, and recognised the basic fallacy underlying this exercise. Modern physics simply propels the fallacy into the realms of Pythonesque absurdity. Apart from the cosmic level of anthropocentric conceit required to erect the notion, that the affairs of one small collection of primates on one small planet, orbiting an average star situated in a nondescript galaxy, are the central reason for the universe being here, there is the central absurdity involved in imposing an overarching set of ethical precepts upon a universe in which the supposedly central characters don't put in an appearance for over 13 billion years. The monumental metaphysical profligacy this assumes would make William of Ockham barf.
This brings us on to the corollary canard ...
 "The universe is meaningless without my magic man"
To which the short answer is "so fucking what?"
Leaving aside for the moment the total failure of supernaturalists to support the assertion that their particular pet species of magic man actually exists, which also impinges upon  above, the idea that the universe needs this entity to impose meaning upon it is a piece of intellectual constipation that I, for one, find mind-numbingly boring, tedious and unimaginative. Douglas Adams said it best - "Isn't it enough to realise that the garden is beautiful as it is, without having to imagine fairies at the bottom of it?"
Likewise, why should the universe be required to genuflect before supernaturalist anthropocentric conceit, and be required to be meaningful only because an invisible magic man that we have invented decrees thus?
We are beings that are capable of eliciting meaning for our own lives, and the world around us, without outside interference. Erecting an imaginary source of outside interference is nothing more than a gargantuan Little Orphan Annie complex, a wish to remain a child with a nice Daddy figure to run the world around us so that we don't have to get off our arses and expend the effort. This is such an utterly lame stance to adopt. It's indolent, naive, simplistic and dumb. Surely there is far more majesty in knowing that the universe, quixotic and capricious though it may seem to be at first sight, is comprehensible by diligent intellectual human effort, and that exercising that effort not only leads to a breathtaking vista of understanding that adds to the majesty, but gives us the power to work toward a better destiny for us all in a manner that produces real, substantive results? Once again, the evidence we have is that fabricated magic men are superfluous to requirements and irrelevant in this vein, and indeed, are increasingly a hindrance. "Magic man did it", once again, is little more than a synonym for "don't bother asking questions, don't bother being curious, don't bother trying to learn". What gives meaning to the world around us is the effort we exert to understand the world and put that knowledge to constructive use.
 The infamous canards surrounding "information".
Now this is a particularly insidious brand of canard, because it relies upon the fact that the topic of information, and its rigorous analysis, is replete with misunderstanding. However, instead of seeking to clarify the misconceptions, creationist canards about information perpetuate those misconceptions for duplicitous apologetic purposes. A classic one being the misuse of the extant rigorous treatments of information, and the misapplication of different information treatments to different situations, either through ignorance, or wilful mendacity. For example, Claude Shannon provided a rigorous treatment of information, but a treatment that was strictly applicable to information transmission, and NOT applicable to information storage. Therefore, application of Shannon information to information storage in the genome is a misuse of Shannon's work. The correct information analysis to apply to storage is Kolmogorov's analysis, which erects an entirely different measure of information content that is intended strictly to be applicable to storage. Mixing and matching the two is a familiar bait-and-switch operation that propagandists for creationist doctrine are fond of.
However, the ultimate reason why creationist canards about information are canards, is simply this. Information is NOT a magic entity. It doesn't require magic to produce it. Ultimately, "information" is nothing more than the observational data that is extant about the current state of a system. That is IT. No magic needed. All that happens, in real world physical systems, is that different system states lead to different outcomes when the interactions within the system take place. Turing alighted upon this notion when he wrote his landmark paper on computable numbers, and used the resulting theory to establish that Hilbert's conjecture upon decidability in formal axiomatic systems was false. Of course, it's far easier to visualise the process at work, when one has an entity such as a Turing machine to analyse this - a Turing machine has precise, well-defined states, and precise, well-defined interactions that take place when the machine occupies a given state. But this is precisely what we have with DNA - a system that can exist in a number of well-defined states, whose states determine the nature of the interactions that occur during translation, and which result in different outcomes for different states. indeed, the DNA molecule plays a passive role in this: its function is simply to store the sequence of states that will result, ultimately, in the synthesis of a given protein, and is akin to the tape running through a Turing machine. The real hard work is actually performed by the ribosomes, which take that state data and use it to bolt together amino acids into chains to form proteins, which can be thought of as individual biological 'Turing machines' whose job is to perform, mechanically and mindlessly in accordance with the electrostatic and chemical interactions permitting this, the construction of a protein using the information arising from DNA as the template. Anyone who thinks magic is needed in all of this, once again, is in need of an education.
As for the canard that "mutations cannot produce new information", this is manifestly false. Not only does the above analysis explicitly permit this, the production of new information (in the form of new states occupied by DNA molecules) has been observed taking place in the real world and documented in the relevant scientific literature. If you can't be bothered reading any of this voluminous array of scientific papers, and understanding the contents thereof, before erecting this particularly moronic canard, then don't bother erecting the canard in the first place, because it will simply demonstrate that you are scientifically ignorant. Indeed, the extant literature not only covers scientific papers explicitly dealing with information content in the genome, such as Thomas D. Schneider's paper handily entitled Evolution And Biological Information to make your life that bit easier, but also papers on de novo gene origination, of which there are a good number, several of which I have presented here in the past in previous threads. The mere existence of these scientific papers, and the data that they document, blows tiresome canards about "information" out of the water with a nuclear depth charge. Post information canards at your peril after reading this.
Whilst dwelling on information, another creationist canard also needs to be dealt with here, namely the false conflation of information with ascribed meaning. Which can be demonstrated to be entirely false by reference to the following sequence of hexadecimal bytes in a computer's memory:
81 16 00 2A FF 00
To a computer with an 8086 processor, those bytes correspond to the following single machine language instruction:
ADC [2A00H], 00FFH
To a computer with a 6502 processor, those bytes correspond to the following machine language instruction sequence:
To a computer with a 6809 processor, those bytes correspond to the following machine language instruction sequence:
the ?? denoting the fact that for this processor, the byte sequence is incomplete, and two more bytes are needed to supply the address operand for the NEG instruction.
Now, we have three different ascribed meanings to one stream of bytes. Yet, none of these ascribed meanings influences either the Shannon information content, when that stream is transmitted from one computer to another, or the Kolmogorov information content when those bytes are stored in memory. Ascribed meaning is irrelevant to both rigorous information measures. As is to be expected, when one regards information content simply as observational data about the state of the system (in this case, the values of the stored bytes in memory). Indeed, it is entirely possible to regard ascribed meaning as nothing other than the particular interactions driven by the underlying data, once that data is being processed, which of course will differ from processor to processor. Which means that under such an analysis, even ascribed meaning, which creationists fallaciously conflate with information content, also requires no magical input. All that is required is the existence of a set of interactions that will produce different outcomes from the different observed states of the system (with the term 'observation' being used here sensu lato to mean any interaction that is capable of differentiating between the states of the system of interest).
Scarlett and Ironclad wrote:Campermon,...a middle aged, middle class, Guardian reading, dad of four, knackered hippy, woolly jumper wearing wino and science teacher.
 The asinine "were you there?" canard.
This canard is particularly loathed here, not only because it is about as palsied and cretinous a canard as it's possible to erect, but because it is also manifestly dishonest. Dishonest because of the inherent double standard that supernaturalists in general, and creationists in particular, adopt when deploying this canard. Namely, that they think it is perfectly legitimate to hand-wave away massive amounts of hard evidence from observational reality using this duplicitous rhetorical device, yet expect the critical thinkers to accept without question the unsupported blind assertions of their mythology, which makes fantastic claims about the past history of the universe that by definition were not only unobserved, but impossible to verify empirically because those claims involve magic. If you think that this double standard is legitimate, be prepared to have your discoursive dishonesty subject to withering critical scrutiny.
Now, having dealt with the dishonesty at the heart of this canard, I'll deal with why it is asinine. This canard is beneath deserving of a point of view for one simple reason. Physical processes leave behind them physical evidence of their having taken place. This is a basic scientific fact, one that science has relied upon for 300 years in order to make sense of the real world, and denial of this basic fact once again merely demonstrates that you are more interested in propping up a doctrine than learning about the real world. Furthermore, physical evidence of the occurrence of particular processes is frequently persistent, which means that said evidence remains in place for a long period of time, including periods of time that are orders of magnitude greater than that asserted to have existed by your ideology. Once again, scientists, and those here who accept the results of the diligent labours of those scientists, aren't interested in doctrinal assertions, they are interested in reality, and if reality sticks the middle finger to doctrinal assertions, tough.
That physical processes leave behind them evidence of their having taken place, and that said evidence is persistent enough to await our attention, are basic principles that are relied upon by branches of science as diverse as geology and forensics, and if you want to assert that those principles are false, good luck with this, given the massive amount of evidence supporting those basic principles. As a corollary of this, if you erect the "were you there" nonsense in a thread, you will be in no position to complain when the critical thinkers subject the combination of scientific ignorance and discoursive mendacity inherent in this canard to withering attention.
Indeed, in order to deal with a particularly retarded variant of this argument, I'll state another elementary principle applicable to the refutation of this cretinous piece of creationist apologetic fabrication. Namely that physical phenomena exist independently of our observing or measuring them. And, since those independently existing physical phenomena leave behind them physical evidence of their having taken place, which we can alight upon at any time provided the evidence is persistent enough, this palsied, encephalitic canard should now be well and truly dead with a stake through its heart.
And now, it's time to erect a new post for Part 2 of this. Which you will find here
I think this will suffice for an introductory post to this thread. I shall be seeking to have the thread made a sticky once it is launched, and additional canards will be added to this as and when I have time to devote to them.
Welcome to Part 2. Which continues from here. And which continues to deal with assorted canards erected by creationists. Speaking of which, it's time to cover some points I omitted from the first part, due to more pressing concerns, but which now require attention.
 Inheritance basics (and the canards destroyed thereby).
Getting back on topic with respect to evolution, there is a basic concept that needs to be deal with here, and which at a stroke deals with several creationist canards, such as the farcical "I've never seen a cat give birth to a dog" nonsense, which, if it ever happened without laboratory intervention involving IVF and implantation, would constitute a refutation of evolutionary theory.
That concept is, quite simply, inheritance. Inheritance is a process, that even the mythology creationists claim to adhere to, accepts as valid. Though given the hard evidence from approximately four thousand years of agriculture prior to said mythology being written, not to mention the evidence of inheritance in humans that must have been visible even to pre-scientific man, said mythology would look even more ridiculous if it tried to deny the validity of inheritance. Well, guess what? Here's the simple point that every creationist fails to understand, and which lies at the root of many of the canards they give credence to, and to reinforce this point, I'll make it stand out:
Evolution is based upon inheritance.
That's right. Now this is so simple a notion, that many of the people writing about evolution have failed to reinforce this achingly simple fact, presumably on the basis that they assume that their readers understand this. The problem is, of course, that creationists manifestly don't understand this. If they did, they wouldn't erect some of the half-baked nonsense that they do. Where evolutionary theory differs from other ideas about the biosphere, is that it postulates that inheritance unifies the biosphere. Evolutionary theory postulates that ultimately, we and all the other living organisms on the planet are linked by inheritance. Which, as a corollary, leads to numerous testable ideas, ideas that have been tested, and which, as a result of passing those tests, have in turn given rise to a whole new scientific discipline called molecular phylogeny. This isn't magic, because inheritance isn't magic. Inheritance is a process that is so simple, it was amenable to systematic analysis by a monk. Which once again, demonstrates the utility value of paying attention to reality, and learning from empirical test, as Mendel did.
Now, since evolutionary theory postulates that inheritance is a key process in the development of the biosphere, this should deal at a stroke with the fatuous "I've never seen a cat give birth to a dog" drivel that creationists erect, because there is no way that a cat could pass on an entire, complete set of genes from an entirely different lineage to its offspring. An organism can only pass on whatever genes it dispenses in its gametes, and most of those it will have obtained from its parents, the odd mutation here or there contributing a small additional amount of variation. However, thanks to meiosis, which I briefly mentioned in  above, offspring are not exact copies of their parents (which would be hard to achieve anyway with a 50/50 split of genes inherited from each). Meiosis involves some interesting gene shuffling, so that different gametes contains different mixtures of the parental genetic material (for which, again, that nice Mendel fellow provided evidence in those pea plant crossing experiments). As a result, variation will be disseminated across generations. It is this variation that evolution works with. To reinforce this point, inheritance is a dynamic process across generations, and it is the outcome of that dynamic process that provides the raw material for evolutionary mechanisms to work upon.
Which means that it is now time to move on to:
 The static species fallacy.
This is a particularly stupid canard, which the above discourse on inheritance, and variation brought about by meiosis, should flush down the toilet at a stroke. But, in order to reinforce how stupid this canard is, it is necessary to cover rigorously what a species is.
A species is a population entity, and as a corollary thereof, a dynamic entity. A species is defined in rigorous biological work, as a population of living organisms, whose members can produce viable offspring with each other, but whose members can not produce viable offspring with a separate, distinct population. Actually, this is only one extant definition, but it is the one that matters with respect to evolution, because once again, it points to the central role of inheritance.
Of course, part of the problem arises because of taxonomy. Because scientists need a reference point from which to launch further investigation, they have alighted, courtesy of our old friend Linnaeus, upon the process of cataloguing organisms and providing them with a unique, unambiguous identity. This, of course, has been most helpful in furthering our understanding of the biosphere, and indeed, Linnaeus himself, on the basis of comparative anatomy alone, alighted upon the idea that organisms were related to each other a hundred years before Darwin, which is why he constructed his taxonomic scheme in the manner he did. Yes, that's right, a creationist (though he was only a creationist because no other option existed in 1758) alighted upon the idea of biological interrelatedness, as a result of paying attention to reality. But the very same taxonomic practices that have been useful to science, have also led to a popular misconception. This is because taxonomists base their classification upon individually sampled organisms, one of which is chosen as a 'type specimen' that is henceforth declared to be the reference standard against which all others are compared. Other specimens are maintained in order to provide a record of likely variation in characteristics from that reference standard. The trouble is, of course, basing the entire classification system upon such reference standards promotes the illusion that those standards remain in place for all time. Scientists, of course, recognise that this is not the case, but it takes diligent intellectual effort to recognise that the taxonomic standards are merely particular snapshots of the state of the species at a given point in its history, which scientists then choose as their reference benchmark for current work. The species itself, however, courtesy of all that dissemination of variation across generations, does not stay still. It is NOT static.
I cannot reinforce this strongly enough. A taxonomic classification is merely a historical snapshot of the state of a species, used as a reference point for further work, and does NOT constitute "the species" itself. The species itself, is the sum total of all the living organisms comprising that interfertile population, and with each new generation, that population undergoes change, because in the new generation, each of the organisms comprising that population are genetically different from those in the previous generation.
So, if anyone wishes to erect the ridiculous idea that a species is a static entity, the simple retort is this. Look at your family album. Are you identical to either of your parents? No? There's your evidence for the dynamic nature of a species. Now replicate that evidence across millions of humans, and picture what happens with each new generation, remembering that across generations, inheritance is a dynamic process. There goes the static species fallacy.
 Organisms don't evolve. Populations do.
And so, having dealt with the canards centred upon misguided caricatures of what constitutes a species, and canards related to inheritance, it's time to drive home the next salient point. Namely that evolution is a population phenomenon.
Evolution acts upon heritable variation of characteristics, and you can only have variation of this sort within a population. A single individual organism, at least if it's a multicellular eukaryote, has a fixed genome. It can't change what it has inherited. But a large number of organisms can all have different genomes, and can disseminate variation via inheritance to the next generation. It is upon the population as a whole that evolution acts, with various mechanisms coming into play to remove some variations from the population, and propel other variations to numerical dominance within the population. The organisms in question remain part of that population, and within a generation, those organisms don't change. But the moment a new generation is produced, dissemination of variation can result in the appearance of a new feature in one or more members of that population. If that new feature leads to greater reproductive success for the organism possessing it, that feature spreads through the population, as more and more future offspring inherit it. Over time, the population changes, and more and more organisms with new features appear within that population.
Taking everything from  and  together with the above, we have all that is needed for the appearance of cladogenesis events. Split a decent sized population of living organisms into two, and let's call these new, separate populations A and B. Now let a barrier be erected between population A and population B, so that individuals from one cannot reproduce with individuals from the other. This barrier can be an insurmountable physical obstacle, for example, but this need not be the only form such a barrier can take. Now, first of all, there is no reason whatsoever to think that population A and population B will start off in identical states to begin with. After all, those two populations were derived from an original population comprising lots of organisms with different genomes, and the likelihood of population A and population B being identical at the start of this process is vanishingly small. Then, once our barrier is erected, and our populations are allowed to reproduce separately from that point on, there is no reason to think that those populations will move in the same direction in the long term. Indeed, it is far more likely that they will be subject to different environmental and ecosystem influences, and those different environmental and ecosystem influences will shape the long term heredity of those populations. Indeed, that's all that natural selection IS - it's a single, concise term used to encapsulate all of those environmental and ecosystem influences succinctly, and additionally to encapsulate the fact that those influences affect the inheritance of characteristics within a population over the long term.
As a consequence, any two separated populations of living organisms, that originated from a single population, will diverge from each other. If the extant influences on those two populations are sufficiently different, that divergence will take place more rapidly. Eventually, we will arrive at a point where those two populations become sufficiently diverged from each other, that individuals from population A can no longer produce viable offspring with individuals from population B, and vice versa. When this happens, we have a speciation event. Indeed, this has been observed taking place in the wild AND in the laboratory, and has been documented in the relevant scientific papers. So, if anyone wishes to assert that there are 'magic barriers' to speciation or other cladogenesis events, then reality doesn't agree.
 Tiresome canards about evolution and the laws of thermodynamics.
And how tiresome these canards are. Not least because they've been debunked in the past, even without reference to relevant scientific literature, by people who pay attention to the scientific basics. Once the relevant scientific literature is consulted, these canards become visibly asinine.
I'll deal with the Second Law of Thermodynamics to start with, because that one is a creationist favourite, though when creationists parrot this specious nonsense, they merely demonstrate that they know nothing about the relevant physics, and certainly never paid attention to the actual words of Rudolf Clausius, who erected the Laws of Thermodynamics, and who was rigorous when doing so. Therefore, let us see what Clausius actually stated, shall we?
Rudolf Clausius erects this statement of the Second Law of Thermodynamics:
In an isolated system, a process can occur only if it increases the total entropy of the system.
Now Clausius defined rigorously what was meant by three different classes of thermodynamic system, and in his work, specified explicitly that the operation of the laws of thermodynamics differed subtly in each instance. The three classes of system Clausius defined were as follows:
[27a] An isolated system is a system that engages in no exchanges of energy or matter with the surroundings;
[27b] A closed system is a system that engages in exchanges of energy with the surroundings, but does not engage in exchange of matter with the surroundings;
[27c] An open system is a system that engages in exchanges of both matter and energy with the surroundings.
Now, Clausius' statement above clearly and explicitly refers to isolated systems, which, thus far, have been found to be an idealised abstraction, as no truly isolated system has ever been found. Indeed, in order to create even an approximation to an isolated system in order to perform precise calorimetric measurements, physicists have to resort to considerable ingenuity in order to minimise energy exchanges with the surroundings, particularly given the pervasive nature of heat. Even then, they cannot make the system completely isolated, because they need to have some means of obtaining measurement data from that system, which has to be conveyed to the surroundings, and this process itself requires energy. Physicists can only construct a closed system, in which, courtesy of much ingenuity, energy exchanges with the surroundings are minimised and precisely controlled, and to achieve this result in a manner that satisfies the demands of precise work is time consuming, expensive and requires a lot of prior analysis of possible sources of energy exchange that need to be minimised and controlled.
However, the Earth is manifestly an open system. It is in receipt not only of large amounts of energy from outside (here's a hint: see that big yellow thing in the sky?) but is also in receipt of about 1,000 tons of matter per year in the form of particles of meteoritic origin from outer space. Some of these 'particles' are, on occasions, large enough to leave craters in the ground, such as that nice large one in Arizona. That particular dent in the Earth's surface is 1,200 metres in diameter, 170 metres deep, and has a ridge of material around the edges that rises 45 metres above the immediate landscape, and was excavated when a meteorite impacted the Earth's surface, generating a blast equivalent to a 20 megaton nuclear bomb. Hardly a characteristic of an isolated system.
Indeed, physicists have known for a long time, that if a particular system is a net recipient of energy from outside, then that energy can be harnessed within that system to perform useful work. Which is precisely what living organisms do. Indeed, they only harness a small fraction of the available incoming energy, yet this is sufficient to power the entire diversity of the biosphere, and the development of organisms of increasing sophistication over time. Scientists have published numerous papers (twelve of which are known to me, and this is an incomplete inventory of the extant literature) in which calculations have been performed demonstrating that the utilisation of energy by the biosphere, and by evolution, is orders of magnitude too small to violate thermodynamic concerns. Relevant papers in question being:
Entropy And Evolution by Daniel F. Styer, American Journal of Physics, 78(11): 1031-1033 (November 2008) DOI: 10.1119/1.2973046
Natural Selection As A Physical Principle by Alfred J. Lotka, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 8: 151-154 (1922) [full paper downloadable from here]
Evolution Of Biological Complexity by Christoph Adami, Charles Ofria and Travis C. Collier, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 97(9): 4463-4468 (25th April 2000) [Full paper downloadable from here]
Order From Disorder: The Thermodynamics Of Complexity In Biology by Eric D. Schneider and James J. Kay, in Michael P. Murphy, Luke A.J. O'Neill (ed), What is Life: The Next Fifty Years. Reflections on the Future of Biology, Cambridge University Press, pp. 161-172 [Full paper downloadable from here]
Natural Selection For Least Action by Ville R. I. Kaila and Arto Annila, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Part A, 464: 3055-3070 (22nd july 2008) [Full paper downloadable from here]
Evolution And The Second Law Of Thermodynamics by Emory F. Bunn, arXiv.org, 0903.4603v1 (26th March 2009) [Download full paper from here]
All of these peer reviewed papers establish, courtesy of rigorous empirical and theoretical work, that evolution is perfectly consistent with the Second Law of Thermodynamics. I cover several of these in detail in this post, and it should be noted here that the notion that evolution was purportedly in "violation" of the Second Law of Thermodynamics was rejected in a paper written in 1922, which means that creationists who erect this canard are ignorant of scientific literature published over eighty years ago.
While covering this topic, it's also necessary to deal with the canard that entropy equals 'disorder'. This is a non-rigorous view of entropy that scientists engaged in precise work discarded some time ago. Not least because there are documented examples of systems that have a precisely calculated entropy increase after spontaneously self-organising into well-defined structures. Phospholipids are the classic example of such a system - a suspension of phospholipids in aqueous solution will spontaneously self-assemble into structures such as micelles, bilayer sheets and liposomes upon receiving an energy input consisting of nothing more than gentle agitation. In other words, just shake the bottle. Moreover, the following scientific paper discusses in some detail the fact that entropy can increase when a system becomes more ordered, a paper that was published in 1998, and hence, has been in circulation for over a decade now:
Gentle Force Of Entropy Bridges Disciplines by David Kestenbaum, Science, 279: 1849 (20th March 1998)
Kestenbaum, 1998 wrote:Normally, entropy is a force of disorder rather than organization. But physicists have recently explored the ways in which an increase in entropy in one part of a system can force another part into greater order. The findings have rekindled speculation that living cells might take advantage of this little-known trick of physics.
Entropy, as rigorously defined, has units of Joules per Kelvin, and is therefore a function of energy versus thermodynamic temperature. The simple fact of the matter is that if the thermodynamic temperature increases, then the total entropy of a given system decreases if no additional energy was input into the system in order to provide the increase in thermodynamic temperature. Star formation is an excellent example of this, because the thermodynamic temperature at the core of a gas cloud increases as the cloud coalesces under gravity. All that is required to increase the core temperature to the point where nuclear fusion is initiated is sufficient mass. No external energy is added to the system. Consequently, the entropy at the core decreases due to the influence of gravity driving up the thermodynamic temperature. Yet the highly compressed gas in the core is hardly "ordered".
STOP PRESS: as if to reinforce this point, my attention has just been drawn to this scientific paper:
Disordered, Quasicrystalline And Crystalline Phases Of Densely Packed Tetrahedra by Amir Haji-Akbari, Michael Engel, Aaron S. Keys, Xiaoyu Zheng, Rolfe G. Petschek, Peter Palffy-Muhoray and Sharon C. Glotzer, Nature, 462: 773-777 (10th December 2009)
The abstract is suitably informative here:
Haji-Akbari, 2009 wrote:
All hard, convex shapes are conjectured by Ulam to pack more densely than spheres1, which have a maximum packing fraction of φ = π/√18 ≈ 0.7405. Simple lattice packings of many shapes easily surpass this packing fraction2, 3. For regular tetrahedra, this conjecture was shown to be true only very recently; an ordered arrangement was obtained via geometric construction with φ = 0.7786 (ref. 4), which was subsequently compressed numerically to φ = 0.7820 (ref. 5), while compressing with different initial conditions led to φ = 0.8230 (ref. 6). Here we show that tetrahedra pack even more densely, and in a completely unexpected way. Following a conceptually different approach, using thermodynamic computer simulations that allow the system to evolve naturally towards high-density states, we observe that a fluid of hard tetrahedra undergoes a first-order phase transition to a dodecagonal quasicrystal7, 8, 9, 10, which can be compressed to a packing fraction of φ = 0.8324. By compressing a crystalline approximant of the quasicrystal, the highest packing fraction we obtain is φ = 0.8503. If quasicrystal formation is suppressed, the system remains disordered, jams and compresses to φ = 0.7858. Jamming and crystallization are both preceded by an entropy-driven transition from a simple fluid of independent tetrahedra to a complex fluid characterized by tetrahedra arranged in densely packed local motifs of pentagonal dipyramids that form a percolating network at the transition. The quasicrystal that we report represents the first example of a quasicrystal formed from hard or non-spherical particles. Our results demonstrate that particle shape and entropy can produce highly complex, ordered structures.
So as if the Kestenbaum paper on entropy driving ordered systems, and the empirical evidence from phospholipids were not enough, we now have this. Consequently, the message to creationists is simple: don't bother wasting your time posting the "evolution violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics" canard, because it is now well and truly busted.
Some creationists, however, erect a related, and in some respects, even more asinine canard, that evolution somehow violates the First Law of Thermodynamics. Guess who provided us with rigorous statements about this law? That's right, Rudolf Clausius again. Let's see what he actually stated with respect to this, shall we? The Clausius formulation of the First Law of Thermodynamics is this:
The increase in the internal energy of a system is equal to the amount of energy input into the system via heating, minus the energy lost as a result of the work done by the system upon its surroundings.
The mathematical expression of which is:
dU = δQ-δw
If the process is reversible, then this can be recast in terms of exact differentials by noting that δw is equal to P dV, where P is the internal pressure, and V the volume occupied, and that δQ is equal to T dS, where T is the thermodynamic temperature and S is the entropy of the system. Therefore this becomes dU = T dS - P dV.
Oh look. Clausius explicitly framed the First Law of Thermodynamics in terms of energy exchanges within a system. He did NOT assume constancy thereof. Indeed, the rigorous framing of the First Law of Thermodynamics explicitly takes into account the possibility of a system being a recipient of energy that can be used to perform useful work. Therefore creationist canards erected about the First Law of Thermodynamics are null and void for the same reasons as those erected about the Second Law of Thermodynamics - said canards not only ignore completely Clausius' original and rigorous formulations of those laws, and ignore completely that Clausius framed his formulations around energy exchanges between a system and its surroundings, but rely upon outright misrepresentations of those laws.
Indeed, Clausius had energy exchanges in mind with respect to the Second Law of Thermodynamics as well, which is why the statement on entropy was framed in terms of an isolated system, which engages in no such exchanges with the surroundings. When energy exchanges are taking place, the operation of the Second law of Thermodynamics within such systems is subtly different.
So, that drops another creationist canard into the toilet bowl of bad ideas and pulls the flush hard.
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