June 10, 2008

Maine Creationists Continue Gibbering

Even though it has been nearly a month since School Administrative District 59 in Maine rejected the nonsense put forth by Young Earth Creationist Matthew Linkletter, his gibbering co-Creationists continue their, well, gibbering. A letter from one of them appears in todays Morning Sentinel and even in terms of the usual blithering ignorance of science that we're all used to hearing from these people it's still pretty awful.

When law meets theory, theory must give way

I've met Matthew Linkletter a couple of times and I believe he has a keen intellect.

I think you people at the Sentinel editorial board know perfectly well that Linkletter's comments about evolution are factually correct. All you've ever advanced as evidence for evolution is the say-so of scientists who cannot stomach the idea of being held accountable for their actions by God.

Not too long ago, the same crowd was insisting that the world was flat.

No one on either side of the debate denies that natural selection is taking place. Natural selection is simply the interaction of all life and the environment on one another, causing a certain amount of adaptation by life forms to better survive. Natural selection does not explain where life, or the environment, came from, nor does evolution.

Mathematics does not support evolution. The odds of lighting striking a mud puddle and creating life have been calculated and found to be a mathematical impossibility.

Genetics does not support evolution. The human gene code is increasingly in decay. This decay is called genetic load. It's like sticks on a camel's back. When the genetic load reaches a certain point, mankind will become extinct.

The diligent can easily search out the truth. To Norman Dean, I would simply say Law of Entropy. When a law meets a mere theory, the theory must give way. Entropy is why people die, and it does the same to the theory of evolution.

Bruce Clavette
It's entirely possible that Matthew Linkletter has a keen intellect — when compared to Bruce Clavette. It's hard to imagine that he could be much duller at the very least.

The say-so of scientists is called — wait for it now — science. That's what gets taught in science classes. That "say-so" is backed up by facts, by research, by mathematical modeling. We're not just making this stuff up, but Clavette is right insofar as all he knows about it is the "say-so of scientists." If he did research himself, then he could be part of that "say-so" because he, too, would be a scientist. History, to that extent, is the "say-so" of historians. Mathematics is the "say-so" of mathematicians. See how this works? If the "say-so" of lumberjacks was taught in science class, that wouldn't qualify as teaching science. Ditto for the "say-so" of Creationists. Clavette, by the way, runs a municipal waste dump for a living. Garbage in, garbage out.

Natural selection doesn't cause adaptation, it selects upon adaptations that already exist and so increases or decreases the frequency of certain traits in particular populations. In order to generate new adaptations, mutation is necessary. Evolutionary biology includes both of these, and together (along with a number of other mechanisms of which I doubt Clavette is aware) they do an excellent job of explaining where life as we see it today came from and so the origin of the biotic part of modern environments.

Evolution isn't predicated on lightning striking mud puddles, and where Clavette comes up with this stuff is unknown to me. Mathematics supports evolution very well; evolutionary biologists use it all the time. One thing is for certain — there is nothing in any math of which I'm aware that prevents lightning striking puddles. The probability of lightning striking a particular puddle is vanishingly small, but the nature of statistics is such that if you have enough time, puddles and enough thunder storms the odds that one of those puddles will be hit by lightning eventually approaches certainty. Clavette apparently doesn't understand statistics any better than he understands biology.

Genetics supports evolutionary theory in every single case it's been looked at. Clavette, however, chooses to serve up what is perhaps the most muddle-headed point in his whole obtuse letter here. The concept of genetic load was first put forth by biologist JBS Haldane, the same man who, when asked about what biology has to say about God wryly and famously replied that it demonstrates that "He has an inordinate fondness for beetles." The concept of genetic load — itself a facet of evolutionary theory — doesn't tell us that mankind is going to become extinct due to the decay of our genome. It merely states that the loss of alleles in a population comes with some cost. It cannot be looked at in isolation, because new alleles are also generated sometimes and some alleles are never lost but go to fixation, meaning that all members of a population can carry the same allele and so the allele will continue to exist for so long as some other factor doesn't wipe out the population. Deleterious alleles are usually lost with greater frequency than beneficial ones due to natural selection. The potential does exist for a population to accumulate one or more alleles so deleterious that it will become extinct, but this is unusual. Clavette is acting a lot more like a prophet than a scientist when he asserts that mankind's genome is falling apart and that we'll eventually become extinct due to this "decay." I'm not aware of any scientific evidence for it, so unless Clavette has been doing some research into the history of the human genome on his own — in which case he ought to publish his findings — he's just making up stories here. This is why the "say-so" of scientists is taught in science classrooms, by the way. Students would be poorly served, indeed, if schools were to instead teach the "say-so" of people like Clavette.

Finally, Clavette brings up the hoary Creationist canard of the law of entropy, that bastardized version of the second law of thermodynamics. Need it be pointed out yet again that entropy increases irreversibly only in systems that are isolated from the input of energy from their environment — and biological systems don't qualify as isolated systems as evidence by the fact that Bruce Clavette, like every other living thing on the planet, regularly takes in energy in the form of nutrition? In other words, if it has a metabolism, it isn't an isolated system and isn't subject solely to the second law of thermodynamics. As long as energy is input into a system, entropy is overcome by that energy. It isn't just entropy that causes death; what causes death is the accumulation of small defects that aren't repaired because of the inherent imperfection of biological systems in the utilization of energy for creating chemical bonds, for example. Ultimately, we wear down like any machine. If it were simply unbridled entropy, as Clavette seems to think, we'd never live in the first place.

Clavette has a problem with scientists whose "say-so" doesn't include supernatural intervention. Instead, he wants to substitute the "say-so" of people who don't have the first inkling about scientific knowledge, a condition that Clavette demonstrates exists in himself in this letter. He then wants to call that "science" and teach it to students in his home state. If this were to be done, there would be no point to education. Why bother teaching students to be ignorant when ignorance is precisely the absence of education? Why not just have them memorize scriptural passages while squatting in a field somewhere and leave it at that?

I suspect that this would be just fine with Clavette. In fact if his letter is any indication of his educational history, there's a good chance that this sums up his early years quite well.

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