Monday, August 29, 2011

God's Quality Control 7.3

Here I continue my thoughts on Ray Comfort's 2008 book Evolution: A Fairy Tale for Grownups. In this video we'll cover Question #2, in which Ray teaches us about two critical-thinking concepts. The first one is quote-mining, one of Ray's favorite methods. The second concept we'll learn from Ray today is that you need not be a brainiac in order to have a solid understanding of evolutionary theory and its relationship to Judeo-Christian mythology.

So here's Question #2: Who said it? "An honest man could only state that the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle." (A) Richard Dawkins (B) Francis Crick (C) Carl Sagan.

The answer is "B" - Francis Crick. Now, the follow-up comment.

<Read comment>

Now, back to the start for a closer look.

Ray's first lesson for us is about quote-mining. Let's consider Crick's statement: "An honest man could only state that the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle." Ray seems to be attempting to stress the point that one of the luminaries of biology uses the word "miracle" when discussing the origin of life. But Crick didn't mean to suggest anything supernatural, as you can see in his very next sentence: "But this should not be taken to imply that there are good reasons to believe that it could not have started on the earth by a perfectly reasonable sequence of fairly ordinary chemical reactions." Some superstitionists, with their built-in anti-education, anti-intellectual mindset, read Crick's statement and decide that because it has too many big words and requires more thinking than their strait-jacketed minds can handle, Crick must be trying to weasel out of something. But let's look carefully at what he's saying.
[T]his should not be taken to imply that there are good reasons to believe that it could not have started on the earth by a perfectly reasonable sequence of fairly ordinary chemical reactions.
Let's take "a perfectly reasonable sequence of fairly ordinary chemical reactions" and boil it down to "ordinary chemical reactions". Now the final clause of the sentence reads like this: "...it could not have started on the earth by ordinary chemical reactions." I find that too many negatives in a sentence make it difficult to understand, so let's state that without the negative: "...the origin of life on earth was directed by an intelligent entity." In case you're wondering why I say "intelligent entity" rather than some kind of "god," it's because Crick's statements are from his 1981 book Life Itself, Its Origin And Nature, in which he discusses the possibility that life was seeded on earth by extraterrestrials. It's very clear that he's not suggesting anything supernatural.

Moving ahead, let's change "this should not be taken to imply that there are good reasons to believe" to "I'm not saying that there are good reasons to believe".
I'm not saying that there are good reasons to believe that the origin of life on earth was directed by an intelligent entity.
Ray wants us to believe that Crick is "quietly admitting" some uncomfortable truth. This is clearly not the case.

Ray's second lesson for us is that you don't have to be a genius, or even a specialist, in order to understand evolutionary theory. Let's see what Ray is telling us. He quotes a paper by researchers Orgel and Joyce, of which the important bit seems to be this: "the de novo appearance of oligonucleotides on the primitive earth would have been a near miracle." It seems that Ray wants us to believe that Orgel and Joyce are "quietly admitting" that the origin of life is a "near-miracle." First, let's recall that evolutionary theory does not even attempt to say anything about the origins of life. This is just another red herring from the superstitionists. But that's an aside. The main lesson here starts with the word "oligonucleotides". If you don't know what the word means, that's excellent, as you don't need to know. Deep, technical details are for specialists, and you need not be a specialist in order to have a solid understanding of evolutionary theory. If you've read just one book about natural selection from your local bookstore, or even if you just paid attention when you learned about it in high school, you already know enough. And just for fun, ask yourself: does Ray really know what an oligonucleotide is? Did he really read the article? Would he have understood it if he'd actually read it?


Don't let the Ray Comforts of the world shut you down with jargon and esoteric details. Understand that when they do this, they are admitting that they have no support for their arguments, and are simply hoping to intimidate you into giving up.


That's 7.3. Thanks for watching.

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