Some arguments that need to be “Expelled”

The movie “Expelled” has refocused some attention on evolution, creation, intelligent design, etc.
And this attention makes me feel like somebody watching his kid at the high school talent show about to walk on the stage and publicly humiliate himself by doing something epically uncool like play a polka.
My embarassment is for my brothers and sisters in Christ. But it’s not that I want us to be the cool kids. I realize that we’re not supposed to be the cool kids. It’s because I believe real damage is being done to our credibility and this translates to damage being done to the testimony we give for Christ.
I am not arguing here with anyone’s right to dispute the evolutionary account. Nor do I take issue with somebody wanting to assert that they have a right to determine what their child learns.

The problem is that we are using tired, disproven arguments. We can do better. There are much more convincing arguments against evolution. These are a little more work. They will take more patience to understand. They will require a bit more background knowledge to explain.
I believe so strongly that if we’re not going to put this effort into the thing, we should just step out of the debate, because we are doing so much more harm than good. In this post I’m going to highlight the two most foolish objections we cite to evolution, then I’ll explore why I think it’s so important that we have our ducks in a row on this.

Argument #1 that we need to stop using:
Evolution is only a theory.
The problem is not that this argument is untrue. The problem is that it’s a meaningless claim. All science does is generate theories. Nobody is debating that evolution is a theory. When folks who oppose evolution say “Evolution is a theory” they usually want to say “Even scientists aren’t confident in evolution, that’s why they call it a theory.” Neodarwinian evolution isn’t called a theory because anybody is tenative or unsure of it. Neodarwinian evolution is called a theory because that’s what science does: make theories.
There is this idea that scientists develop a certain ammount of confidence in a theory, or they discover a certain ammount of evidence for a theory, and suddenly there is a graduation ceromony, and then idea that used to be a theory becomes a “fact” or a “law.”
That idea isn’t how it works. Most scientists are just as confident in the neo-darwinian account as they are in our other most basic understandings of the universe.
This argument is sometimes closely tied to the fact that we have not directly observed macro-evolution. This is again missing the point. The scientific method has operated on inferences in thousands of areas. In an awe-inspiring number of cases, we’ve ended up being right-on when technology caught up with our inferences and we became able to more directly verify our assumptions. (Two examples: background microwave radiation left over from the big bang and the relativistic theories about the passage of time when accelerating compared to the passage of time when not accelerating. Ask for details if you care to and I’ll explain.)

The closest we can reasonably come to rescuing this objection is to say something like this: “my issue is with evolutionary theory is that evolution is an understanding generated through the scientific method. Scientific understanding is always changing. Scientific conclusions are always tenative. As soon as a better explanation comes along we give up on or modify the old one. For centuries, for example, we thought we understood that gravity was a property inherent in matter. Just recently we’ve come to understand that gravity is actually a result of the ways that large masses warp the fabric of space-time itself. The truth I believe is rooted in an unchaning source, and is eternal.”

Argument #2
Life on earth can’t be a naturalistic occurence, it violates the laws of entropy.
I think I’ll put everybody (including myself) to sleep if I get into the nuts-and-bolts of this. If somebody believes that this is a valid argument and wants more details for why I believe it’s not, I hope they’ll leave a comment. I’ll be happy to draw this out. Put very briefly: people believe that the naturalistic account implies that reality is growing more organized with the passage of time; this is impossible because elementary physics state that systems grow more chaotic over time. The reason that this doesn’t work is that the overall system is growing more chaotic as the sun emits energies that warm the surrounding space; only a tiny fraction of this energy is actually captured by the biosphere through photosynthesis and getting used for the creation of order.

These arguments are so often-repeated and so easily defeated that it makes us look shrill and ignorant. If we’re going to claim to deserve a seat at the table of respectable academia, we ought to be prepared to perform at the level the rest of the table is performing at. When they respond (generally not very nicely) to our arguments, we need to work on not simply rehashing them over and over again.
Secular scientists would never even get to do science if they spent their time listening to and responding to every creation scientist who wants a debate with them. The fact that the creationists apparently can’t be bothered to look at the last 87 times that very same objection was answered doesn’t inspire the secular folks to want to make time to including the anti-evolutionist at the table.

We have quite a challenge in front of us. Of course it’s one we can achieve. But it is a challenge. The challenge is this: a secular scientist can be a jerk, or a hypocrite, or be unkind without jeapordizing his status as a scientist. More specifically, if Richard Dawkins is unpleasant, there is no good reason to think his conclusions are untrue.
On the other hand, if I’m claiming that Christianity is part of my motivation for disputing scientific claims, and then I act like a knucklehead, it’s a different matter. If I’m unkind in my public behavior, if I ignore what’s been said to me, if I’m too lazy to do my homework, my actions are demonstrating that my commitment to Christ is only skin-deep.
I understand the concern. Extremists on both sides potray neodarwinian evolution and biblically truth as mutually imcompatible. This leads people on one side of the divide to think that neodarwinian evolution has to go.
But the reasons that people came to Christ nearly always don’t have to scientific understanding. It’d be quite a challenge to find somebody who desperately longed for God but couldn’t commit because of the fact that the fosill record does not coincide with the order that things pop up in Genesis. (just for the record, that oder isn’t too far off.)
On other hand, I believe that there are millions who desperately long for God but who find that the people who claim to be his diplomats, emisarries, and spokespeople are intolerant, anti-intellectual, close-minded, and unloving. Even if we’ve never heard the words we all get the idea that “by there fruits you shall know them.” What do our fruits look like to somebody within evolutionary circles?

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Creationist critique #4: Evolution violates the law of entropy

I’ve been surveying the creationist attempts at undercutting evolutionary theory on a scientific basis.  I’m interested in this topic because I think there’s a lot of misinformation.  A large number of people have been duped into thinking that these attacks are much more scientific than they are.

The claim that evolution violates the law of entropy is one that particularly annoys me.  I think this is because it’s the most irresponsible attack.  After taking an advanced high school physics course or a basic college one, a student ought to have enough information to understand why this critique is meaningless.  The folks propogating this myth are guilty of incompetence at best… Even if they don’t know better they should have done their homework before claiming to understand this topic.

O.K.  on to the issue:

Entropy is the energy that is lost in any interaction.  For example, some of the energy in gasoline is actually used for what we want it to be used for… moving the pistons which move the wheels.  But some of the energy goes to heating up the engine, which in turn heats up the hood, which in turn heats up the air.  Similarly, most of the electricity that runs through a light bulb turns into light.  But some is lost in the wires along the way; some is converted to heat energy, etc… The bottom line is that the energy we got out of a thing is less than the energy that goes into a thing.

A different way of stating this same principle is to state that a closed system will move in the direction of disorder.  At the end of the day, we have less energy than we started with.

An often cited example is that if we begin with a well-organized desk or cleaned room and leave that room alone, it will grow messy.  The overall order decreases.

Creationists and other anti-evolutionists begin with these principles… which are correct. 

They state that the Earth began as a chaotic state and the abundunce of life forms on it are clearly more organized than the system’s original condition.  Life could not have popped and grown increasingly complex, they say, because systems don’t grow more complex.

They leave out the fact that this all only applies to a closed system.  If more energy comes into a system than is lost to entropy, then the system can increase an order.  We pour more gasoline into the tank and mantain the engines orderly use of energy.  We clean the messy room.  We organize the desk.  In the latter two examples, the energy poured into the system comes from the person doing the cleaning.  The energy to organize the desk-system or room-system comes from the food eaten by the person doing the cleaning.

A different way of looking at the closed system-open system thing is to widen the view of the system itself.  If all the relevant factors are included in the system, we see a total increase in the ammount of energy lost.

If the person is included in the system that was previously considered only as a room, the total energy is lost not gained.   Just to keep the math easy, let’s suppose the person eats 1000 calories before cleaning his room.  (10 of those silly little 100 calorie bags of oreos or something.)

The order of the system of the room might be increased: One hundred calories are spent straightening it up.  The room has, in some sense, gained 100 calories.

But while cleaning the room, the person burned 900 calories through his exertions.  The total person-room system has lost 800.

Here’s why evolution does not violate the law of entropy:

The metaphorical person in the system that includes the biosphere is the sun.  It pours unimaginable amounts of energy to the earth.  Plants capture a small amount of energy through photosynethesis.  Virtually everything else that’s  alive  eats the plants or eats the plant-eaters, basically we’re all stealing energy from the plants who stole energy from the sun.

The important issue is that there is a net loss of energy in the sun-Earth system.    The sun begins as a battery, drawing on it’s limited (though massive) stores of energy.  Though some of this energy is captured most ends up being unusable.  The equation works in the direction it’s supposed to, and evolution is still not disproven.