Creationist Graduate Students

I am a graduate student in a molecular genetics department. In the past, our department graduated a student who now works at the creation museum in Kentucky, and is a huge embarassment to our program. Recently, I discovered that one of our most promising graduate students is a young-earth creationist. I don't feel like it is my place to tell her committee members, yet I feel like I have a moral obligation to prevent my department from granting degrees to these science-denying kooks. What should I do?
Atheist Answer: 

I wonder which is worse, that your graduate in Kentucky is an embarrassment to your program or that their graduate from your program is an asset to the museum.

There are no grounds for holding the current student back based on beliefs as long as he/she is actually doing good work in molecular genetics. There's even room in the field proper for a young-earth creationist, because such a person might still contribute to our understanding of short-term processes while avoiding the long-term ones.

At the first attempt to use the science or the qualification to support creationism, however, things change. The moment young-earth or design "evidence" comes through in a paper, project or thesis, that's when every molecular geneticist in the vicinity needs to come down on your wunderkind like a ton of bricks - firstly by answering the claims themselves, of course.

If that happens while the student is still in the program, great, you might be able to keep it in the family. If it happens afterwards, rebuttals and refutations from your own academics need to be right on top of the pile. The message needs to be that the science of molecular genetics itself does not support these claims, and therefore this graduate is not applying it correctly because of separate beliefs.

One way or another, keep an eye on this person.

- SmartLX

Islamic Creationism

I've recently been assaulted by horrible videos and text-based websites claiming that certain passages of the Koran, just like Christian creationists / biblical literalistics say, conform to or are validated by modern science. Examples like in the Koran a line saying there's one force that guides everything - this is interpreted as relating to efforts to construct a grand "theory of everything". It obviously ignores the fact that such a theory might not even pan out, which is besides the point. One of the most stupid things I've seen from these Koranical literlists though is claiming that the Koran shows that they knew the Earth was round, because it says the World is "spread out like a carpet". I lay my carpet flat, but the question at the end of all this is: Is Islamic creationism as prevalent as the American Christian version? Are there as many intellectually vapid claims made? What about the Islamic arm of the Intelligent Design movement, are there Muslim schools in America and other parts of the world being assaulted by parents urging the Islamic schools to "teach the controversy?"
Atheist Answer: 

There are passages of the Koran which do seem to refer to aspects of modern science. That's because they're vague as all get out and, as the carpet example shows, enough creative interpretation can make anything fit the old writings.

The Islamic creationist lobby is very active in certain countries, for example Turkey. Sometimes it even collaborates with the Christian creationist lobby to fight evolution. Evolution contradicts the Koran too, and even if it didn't Muslims regard the basic timeline of the Bible as accurate. They fight evolution to preserve the inerrancy of their core texts, just like the creationists we're used to.

The anti-evolution claims and arguments in Islamic creationism are interchangeable with the Christian ones. On public access TV here in Australia, a Muslim host presented a Christian creationist video with no qualms.

The difference is that there is no equivalent to the Intelligent Design movement in Islamic creationism. While some of the arguments aren't religious in nature, there's no attempt to present creationism as a secular scientific theory. There's a far more honest and direct effort to defeat evolution and replace it with the Koran's version of events.

This is not surprising as church-state separation isn't always a constitutional issue outside of the United States. Turkish school curricula are under direct religious assault, as in many countries. There's no need for such contingency campaigns as "critical analysis of evolution" and "teach the controversy". Those only came about in America when the initial Intelligent Design movement was blocked in court. Intelligent Design itself was only conceived in 1987 when Christian creationism in schools was ruled unconstitutional.

- SmartLX

The Great Big Arguments #4: Design

Here's a sample of the many different ways in which the same basic question is posed: How did all the beauty around us come to be? How did intelligent people come from monkeys, or oranges, or sludge, or nothing at all? How did life begin if the chances of the necessary proteins assembling was one in ten to the power of hundreds? (The next one's taken from an actual wall poster:) How can anyone witness a sunset and not believe in God? Why is there any order to the universe? Why are the fundamental constants of the universe tuned so that matter, and humans, can exist at all? How is it that we live, and live in such a wonderful world, if it all came about by chance?
Atheist Answer: 

From the development of the eye to the beauty of a waterfall to the exact value of the gravitational constant, theists may claim that anything natural with any quality to it whatsoever must have been deliberately crafted with humanity in mind. This is the Argument from Design.

Even if it were correct, it's a terribly egotistical way of looking at the world. And even if it were proven to be correct, no religion would have any basis upon which to claim that the designer or creator was its particular god or gods.

The basic answer to the argument from design is that there is no substantive evidence for it and therefore 1. to assume design in the presence of alternative theories supported by substantive evidence is putting one's head in the sand and 2. to assume design even in the complete absence of alternative theories is an argument from ignorance.

Beginning with evolution and the development of intelligent humans, there is a huge amount of geological, genetic and observed evidence to support the currently held view of the "tree of life". Evolution of subspecies is observed all the time, and contrary to a common objection whole new species have been seen to emerge, and recently. (This article on speciation has some examples.)

Contrary to another creationist talking point, there are tons of known transitional fossils. Contrary to Kirk Cameron, these don't look like half of one animal joined to half of another (like his famous Croco-duck). They're more like what you get if you morph a whole picture of one into a picture of the other, but stop halfway.

To dismiss evolution as a useless series of random changes is an argument from personal incredulity, which is a type of argument from ignorance. It's also wrong. The mutations are random, but only the beneficial mutations tend to be passed on by sheer survival and procreation skills. Evolution doesn't just try random things and get it right every time, it tries everything and goes with what works. It's like trying to hit a dartboard by spraying the whole wall with a machine gun. You'll miss a lot, but you'll hit it too.

Intelligence came about because at every stage in the development of primates, the ones who are just that little bit smarter than everyone else will always have the advantage. Over millions of years, it all adds up. Along with this comes morality (since good deeds are often rewarded), an appreciation of beauty (since it helps if what's pleasing to the eye is usually not diseased, poisonous or dirty) and emotions (to motivate us to do what's helpful to us and others).

Going back to the origin of life, abiogenesis as it was called could have occurred by a number of different chemical processes. So far scientists have used electricity (lightning) and a replica of the ancient atmosphere to create amino acids, which are pretty close. With a whole world full of chemicals being blown and washed into each other and billions of years to work, there was ample time and material for the components of the first replicating organism to slowly accumulate. The huge odds against this often given by folks like Hoyle generally assume that they all had to come together at once, which they didn't. Once one little bit of DNA was off and running, evolution and exponential growth took over.

Before we tackle the whole universe at once, let's consider Earth. Someone might claim that God put Earth exactly where it needed to be relative to the Sun so that liquid water and therefore life could form. We now know, however, that there are a lot more planets out there, and probably huge numbers of undiscovered ones. It's not that Earth was placed where liquid water could form. Rather, liquid water only forms on planets of the right temperature and Earth happened to fit the bill. Lots more planets might. This is called the anthropic principle: places aren't made for humans, humans just have a chance of turning up in hospitable places. Even on Earth there are many places we can't survive, like inside volcanoes and kilometres under the sea. So, we didn't emerge from there. Big surprise.

The largest design claim has to do with the fundamental constants of the universe. Six major ones are usually mentioned: those pertaining to gravity, electromagnetism, spatial dimensions and other less famous concepts. As is repeated endlessly, the slightest difference in any of them might result in matter being unable to form or stay together. This is the "fine-tuned universe" argument.

The problem is that even if this is true, there could still be other values of the constants which support matter. Perhaps instead of changing one or two slightly, you need to shift four of them by a huge amount. Considering that some of the constants could even be negative, you've got an infinite six-dimensional sample space in which to test hypothetical universes. We may never know whether our values are the only valid ones. Or, we may stumble upon another valid combination and that'll be the end of this argument.

Besides, the anthropic principle applies again if you consider the theory of a multiverse. If there are multiple (perhaps infinite) universes each with its own set of constants, of course we're going to turn up in the universe with a friendly combination. Other life forms may be thriving in universes where we wouldn't last for a second, and understanding how would require us to re-learn physics from scratch.

Contesting the argument from design is hard work, because to be most effective you need to know the going theories for whatever phenomenon is in question. I've tackled the most common ones, but be prepared for just about anything useful or pretty to be presented as direct evidence for gods. Then you need only find out where it really came from.

- SmartLX

What do athiest believe about the origins of our universe and life on our planet?

What do athiest believe about the origins of our universe and life on our planet? Athiest use "Common Sense" to establish what you believe or dont believe in. Our scientific theory on the formation of the entire universe lacks all common sense. "About 15 billion years ago a tremendous explosion started the expansion of the universe. This explosion is known as the Big Bang. At the point of this event all of the matter and energy of space was contained at one point. What exisisted prior to this event is completely unknown and is a matter of pure speculation." Let me disect this statement. About 15 BILLION years...ok, give or take acouple HUNDRED MILLION. Some sources say 12, some 14. We only have about 8,000 years of recorded history. A billion years is alot to be "off." Can we be a TAD more accurate? A tremedous explosion: Have you EVER seen an explosion CREATE anything? If I blow up a car, I dont get a hundred tiny little motorcycles.... "All the matter in the universe was containted in one point"....a single point? Like a "only a few millimeters across" I think common sense and reason would argue that this is pure stupidity. "Prior to this event" Well if there was no "time" there was no "prior" I think common sense would say there was no event. "Pure Speculation" Yup, I agree there. All there is, is pure speculation. did it happen according to an athiest?
Atheist Answer: 

Let's go through this very carefully.

- We have about 8,000 years of recorded human history. Humans are the only creatures who have ever deliberately recorded it. All time before that is referred to as PREhistory for a reason; the universe pre-dates recorded history. By about 15 billion years.

- The Big Bang was a sudden expansion of matter. It did not create any heat, because all heat was contained within it; it merely dispersed heat like it did matter. It did not necessarily create anything, since nothing stops the matter from having existed before the Bang. It did not destroy anything either, because there was probably nothing outside the Bang that it could destroy. Comparing the Big Bang to an explosive detonation is a gross oversimplification.

- Present-day black holes do contain vast amounts of matter compressed to a single point, or singularity. It happens when the gravity of an object is great enough to overcome the magnetic fields keeping the atoms apart. Current physics do allow for this.

- Even if time as we know it resulted from the Big Bang, it's not necessarily all the time there's ever been. What if another system of time and space existed, and the Big Bang spawned from this? Perhaps another universe?

An atheist doesn't know how the heck the Big Bang happened, because we haven't found enough evidence to make any theory remotely certain. I'm comfortable with that. If I adopted one hypothesis as the truth now, I'd have to fault every other theory out there without any support at all.

Finally, don't take offence but to assert beyond doubt that a God is responsible for something merely because of the absence of known alternatives is the very model of an argument from ignorance.

I won't cover abiogenesis (the origin of life) here, because neither has MrPeters.

- SmartLX

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