Monday, June 10, 2013

Thoughts on the ICR Evidence for Creationism


I've been systematically evaluating the "evidence" provided at icr.org, that supposedly demonstrates creationism. It's been laughable... and frustrating, but not frustrating in that they're making these silly claims, but more a frustration in trying to explain what's wrong with the entire approach they're taking - especially when the typical creationist wouldn't pay attention to more than 10 seconds of epistemological discussion.
I think I've put my finger on what's the problem. They're not demonstrating creationism.

I don't mean they aren't being successful... their "evidence" doesn't even support creationism conceptually.

Exclusion / Concordance

I've mentioned the concept of "exclusion" - the basic idea being that strong evidence is data which supports one conclusion, strongly, over other possibilities. If your evidence equally (or roughly equally) demonstrates two contradictory claims, the evidence is basically worthless.

If one of two people are suspected of being the murder at a crime scene, citing evidence that the suspect is human and living on planet Earth at the time, is not going to do much to narrow down the possibilities, whereas evidence, that shows the suspect was tall with dark hair, would progress the case considerably more.

In addition to this "Exclusion principle" of the standards of evidence, when we're evaluating each piece of evidence, we also consider logical fallacies (which invalidate the logical connection), as well as other standards.

... However, I think most people don't grasp that building a successful case requires considerations above and beyond individual evaluations of each piece of evidence.

Atheism is a Religion


Allow me to digress for a moment.

This guy, "Bible Banquet Stan", used to call The Atheist Experience, asserting each time that atheism is a religion, using absurd arguments.

For instance, religions get together in groups and talk about things, atheists are getting into groups and talking about things. Therefore, atheism is a religion.

It'd be like saying that the moon is spherical and made of matter, and an orange is spherical and made of matter, therefore, the moon is an orange.

It's a problem of trying to equivocate between two things based on "non-differentiating definitions". The concept of a "moon" has key core characteristics that must be met before an object would qualify. Being in a stable orbit around a planet is one such key characteristic.

Likewise, if something is not about the organized worship of supernatural things, it's not a religion.

Fitting definitions isn't the only thing that depends on key characteristics...

Supporting a Thesis

The key failure I see with these ICR arguments for creationism, as I stated before, is that they're not supporting creationism. The specific concept of an intelligent universe-creating being, having created a universe, has key characteristics that need to be supported in order to make the case.

Take evolution (please!)... the theory has two basic core characteristics - first, that lineages often change over the generations, and secondly, that lineages occasionally split into two or more different lineages.

All the evidence we have directly supports these characteristics. The fact that we have isolated genetic attributes (fused chromosome #2 discrepancy and broken vitamin-C generation genes) with our closest ape relatives directly demonstrates that we have a common ancestor, for instance. It isn't simply consistent with the theory... it demonstrates that concept's key characteristics above other possibilities.

If we were attempting to demonstrate that Object X is a moon, the case isn't going to be progressed if we determine that Object X is roughly spherical. This may be consistent with many moons, but since there are moons that are not spherical, it's not a requirement. If we re-shape our moon into a cube, it doesn't stop being a moon.

One of ICR's pieces of "evidence" is that our solar system is supposedly the center of the universe (link to post). If we examine the relevance towards establishing creationism, it's tenuous and tangential at best. The only reason why being the center of the universe would be eyebrow-raising, is because we don't currently know any other possibilities as to how that could happen. If we didn't have any understanding of lightning and electricity, it's easy to think that's a compelling case for the existence of Zeus... but it's essentially an Argument from Ignorance. There could be natural possibilities that could cause us to the the center of the universe.

On the other hand, there's no requirement that a creator create us at the center of the universe. ICR also argues that the universe is consistent... and we observe that there's a lot of it out there, so there's no reason God couldn't spawn the universe under a set of rules, and then find a planet that's suitable to start life... and whether it's at the center of the universe or not isn't all that important.

In this way, the "We're the center of the universe" argument supports the case for a creator, about as much as establishing that an object is spherical, indicates it's a moon.

One of the things I didn't realize I should have clarified at the beginning of this "hunt", is that "creationism" wasn't explicitly defined. The definition that I've been operating under, is "an intelligent being created the universe, laws of physics/logic, the Earth, life, and humanity." Now, deists would probably only assert the first - creation of the universe, but in general, "creationism" could apply to any combination of those things... depending on who you're talking to. If the creationist asserts all of the above, all the the above must be directly supported. Demonstrating that a god created the universe doesn't establish that it created life too - that'd be an Association Fallacy. Each key characteristic must be demonstrated independently.

For the sake of the hunt, I'll let them demonstrate any creation aspect.

Disparate facts and Meta Analysis

I haven't finished evaluating ICR's evidence yet, but the ones I've evaluated are giving me the impression that they're scraping the bottom of the barrel... frantically trying to scour reality for anything that might vaguely point in the direction of a god. 

Let's say that I were trying to convince you that there's a dragon in the area (as in, a flying, fire-breathing dragon). It's possible for me to scour the countryside, assembling a list of evidence for its existence. I might have found a scorch-mark in a nearby field. I might have found some claw-marks on a tree. Maybe there's been a few unexplained fires. These would all be consistent with a fire-breathing dragon, but this evidence would fall far short of being convincing.

The problem is, one could do this for any claim, even ones that are pulled out of a "Random Claim Generator". Therefore, in order to successfully make a case, we have to consider what type of evidence, and conceptually what it's indicating, in a broader, more abstract level.

There's a few questions one could ask, to evaluate the quality of one's case, and one's evidence.
  1. How precedented is it? Are we talking about something common like bears, or something that's never been confirmed to exist, like aliens? Some claims are extra-ordinary, and thus, much more difficult to demonstrate.
  2. Are all the key characteristics sufficiently directly demonstrated? (see spherical moons above)
  3. How much concordance does it have with the overarching preponderance of evidence? If it's conflicting with other evidence we have, and hold as true, there's probably a problem with what you're claiming.
Unfortunately, for creationism, all three questions are failed... miserably.

Evolution versus Creationism

Let's look at evolution again - it's two main key characteristics (changing and branching lineages) are really just extrapolations of heavily precedented and common phenomena - basically, they're extended family trees. Chimpanzees are like our cousins, and the common ancestor between chimpanzees and humans is like our great-great-great grandparents. It's not a perfect comparison, as the mechanisms change when we 'zoom out' on the tree that much... like transitioning from a flat-Earth to a round-Earth model when zooming out too far on Google Earth.

Further, the change of lineage is well established. We have direct observations of speciation (link to TalkOrigins.org). We ourselves have changed wild wolves into a huge variety of domestic dogs (link to Wikipedia article), as well as increased modification and diversity in agriculture (natural versus human-modified bananas, for instance - link to Wikipedia article). Breeding is basically Evolution via artificial selection.

... but the point is, Evolution is merely an extension of things that are already held as true by everyone. No magic is needed... no laws of physics are violated. There's nothing extra-ordinary happening. It's all mundane.

Thus, the evidentiary requirements are reasonable.

Creationism, on the other hand, is in a much more difficult position. Let's look at the claims in terms of precedence.
  • It requires a god, which is totally and completely unprecedented. We have had zero gods to examine.
  • It claims life was created by a being, which is totally and completely unprecedented, in terms of empirical confirmation.
  • It claims the universe was created by a being, which is totally and completely unprecedented, in terms of empirical confirmation.
  • It claims this entity can violate the laws of physics and/or logical absolutes, which is unprecedented (and is only precedented in the sense that what we understood the laws of physics to be - if we're talking about the ultimate laws of physics that we may eventually figure out, it's unprecedented).
  • It claims this entity created the laws of physics and/or logical absolutes, which is totally and completely unprecedented, in terms of empirical confirmation.
Literally, this is the single most extraordinary claim that could be made. You haven't decided to go to the car dealership to buy the $28,000 car. You're trying to buy the $1.8 * 10^30 car.

That being said, naturalistic formation of life is also unprecedented technically, even though some of the foundational aspects (such as the spontaneous formation of amino acids - which are a prerequisite to proteins - is laboratory-repeatable - link to Wiki article on Miller-Urey Experiments - so it's not totally unprecedented). Abiogenesis, however, doesn't fall into most of the problems above. It doesn't need magic, or violating (or creating) logic and/or physics. Pretty much, laboratory-repeatable experiments will suffice. We're not there yet.

Evolution is intrinsically at a better starting position, with much lower evidentiary requirements than even Abiogenesis. If you go through the 29+ evidences for Macroevolution (link to talkorigins.org), what you'll find is a considerable amount of exclusive evidence, that directly supports the key characteristics of common ancestry and evolution, that is in concordance with the preponderance of evidence.


If Mr. Evolution and Mr. Creationism both went to the car dealership to buy a car, this would be Mr. Evolution pulling in, followed by several dump trucks overflowing with gold bars, attempting to buy a Ford Focus... and Mr. Creationism trying to buy an inter-galactic spaceship with a solo cup that has a quarter, dime and a ball of lint at the bottom.

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