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The Big Picture

'Have you ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates? Morons.' -- Vizzini from "The Princess Bride"

Sunday, May 14, 2006

More Creationist Gold - Ken Ham Edition

Maybe I am wrong after all, and there is a god(dess)... Because only a supernatural entity could lay such a cornocopia of creationism goofiness in one spot at my feet. I am -- of course! -- referring to Ken Ham's videos made available to the public for free. He releases a new 15 minute video every week. This week's video is "Do Animals Evolve? Part II"

But upon viewing it, I found it lacking, he fails to tie up any of the points he made from part I; choosing instead to rail on about races and humanity. So, instead I will focus on the incomplete part I of the series in this post.

It is chock full of such typical creationist junk talking points that it is hard to narrow down, but I will focus on his use of the words "kind" and "Information", and talk some about mutation and natural selection. One thing is obvious from the outset; that no meaningful definitions of these words have ever been given by creationists, especially Ken Ham. They use words like "kind" to mean just about anything they want based solely on the circumstances required at the time. We shall see this laid bare for all to see; well except for boobies, beaver, and weanus.

Ken Ham, and YECs at large, all use the term "kind" to delineate between different types of animals. They do this because the Bible uses that term. The problem is that neither the YECs nor the Bible ever explains just what a "kind" is. Thus, you hear them refer to the "dog" kind as we do in in this video. But what does that mean? The only clue given in the Bible is a reference to being able to breed "after its own kind." But that presents a real problem for creationists, for example, there cannot be a "primate" kind, since chimps and apes cannot interbreed, thus they are each in their own kind. There cannot be a "snake" kind for the same reason. Furthermore, when you look at the "dog" kind that Ken Ham refers to, you see that he does not define "kind" in that way at all. The reason is he includes domesticated dogs, dingos, wolves all in the same kind. A wolf can no more breed with a dingo than a mountain lion can. So it becomes clear that "kind" cannot be defined by breeding ability as Ken claims. This means that, Ken can make the claim to a "primate" kind, and a "snake" kind and a "dog" kind without ever explaining what it is that distinguishes them. He does this because there can be no way to generalize what it means to be a kind. Is there only one "bacteria" kind or thousands?

We have some tantalizing clues from the Bible that shows just how far into the land of make-believe Ken Ham wanders. Genesis specifically says that Noah brought aboard doves and raven. It does not say the "bird" kind. Thus there must be a more specific meaning to kind than dog, cat, snake, pachyderm, etc. That, has the real disasterous effect on Ham's belief that the ark was real, because by this narrowing down of "kind" there becomes too many "kinds" of animals to have fit on the ark, and survived a year in sealed-off capitivty. But getting into an explanation of just how absurd Noah's ark really is, is far beyond the scope of this post.

The same is true for his use of the word "information." What does he define it to mean? It cannont mean what everyone else defines it as, since he says there is no increase of information -- ever -- without intelligent assistance. That means that when hydrogen fuses to form helium, neutrons, and gammas, there is a loss of information. This is simply wrong. Just consider the helium atom alone, and you quickly see that there is a huge increase of information. There are vastly more excited states of the electronic shell configuration than found in hydrogen, as also in the nucleus. The structure of the helium atom is more complex than the hydrogen atom, requiring an increase of information. Even if you consider the total information contained in the four hydrogen atoms before they fuse together into one helium atoms there is still an increase of information.

Information can even be increased in ways that we do not grasp. For example, a random letter generator, using radioactive decay intervals to determine the letter produced (1 ns = A, 2 ns = F, 3 ns = M, 4 ns = B, etc.) A string of information is produced, e.g. "AGKLTIDNVYOIDJCVMHYRIODCKFHGRJY" That looks like meaningless garble to us, but to some device capable of understanding it, it could be quite meaningful, if could be the translation of "To be, or not to be. That is the question." So, generating new information occurs all the time, all around us, and without our knowledge or consent. Not recognizing it is the fault of our intelligence, not the lack of its existence. Our understanding the meaning of information does not preclude unrecognizable or even random information. Yet for Ken Ham, if we do not see it as containing something recognizable, then it is not information.

Information is created and lost all the time. Consider a very pitted and jagged rock. Describing its surface would constitute a very large amouont of information. But throw that rock in a river ,and years later, it will be very smooth and featureless. That same rock could be said to have lost information. But consider the origin of that same rock, it was once liquid magma, with virtually no surface information. Then it got spit out of a volcano, cooled and crystalized, gaining huge amounts of information. Thus we can even go so far as to see a cycle of information gain and loss. It is only the confusing and altering the meanign of the word information that creationists can get the result they want; that being no new information. They change the definition of information whenever it suits them, so that they can exclude whatever they find necessary, then later sneak the definition back in when they need to explain something else. It is this shiftiness that proves their argument has no merit whatsoever.

This is where we wander into mutation and natural selection. And where Ken Ham makes his most dishonest claims. Considering that he does no more than simply shrugs off the idea of mutation as nothing but a loss of information (again, whatever he means by that term), and then moves on. He apparently accepts natural selection though. I guess he could no longer ignore the proof of it, as even natural selection was at one time denied (and still is) in some creationist circles. He mangles the meaning of mutations so much as to make it wholly unrecognizable in biological science. Mutations are never positive or negative when they crop up, as this would most often lead to them being selected out of the given population. They most often occur as completely neutral in their effect. They create no ready change in the biology of the organism. For example, a mutation can affect one amino acid in one protein, and that change has minimal or no effect on the function of that protein. It is only when that protein is coopted by another set of genes that the mutation shows an effect' It can make it bond with another molecule easier, for example. Mutations can also involve copying. A gene or set of genes can become copied within a chromosome, and have no effect on the function of the chromosome, until a mutation occurs and makes this duplicate gene(s) perform some other function. That is an increase of information, and one that happens quite frequently. We have observed this occur not just in the lab, but in nature as well. We have witnessed an increase of information.

This effect of mutation is then fed into natural selection. The frequency of the copied/mutated gene(s) spreads throughout a localized population, if it benefits the population in some way (makes it better suited to its environment). This makes the local population just a little different than the same species in other locations. The catch is, those other locations are undergoing similar mutation/selection chyanges as well. As the accumulation of these tiny differences increases, soon a threshold is passed where members from the species from different populations either can no longer interbreed, or no longer are willing to. This point is where speciation occurs. It is not something that is never seen, or only took place millions of years ago, it happens all the time, and still occurs today. Spreading untruths about this process is what people like Ken Ham do best.

But lets look for a moment at Ken Ham's version of natural selection. He says some proto-"dog" kind was aboard the ark. It bred and spread, creating seperate populations where selection took over, and created new "dog" breeds. He claims this was all a loss of information. That the proto-"dogs" aboard the ark were front-loaded with all the genetic information for all types of dog and wolf and dingo, etc. That as they spread out, each type lost the information of the other types, and thus lost the ability to interbreed. This makes perfect sense doesn't it? Not really. Because it ignores reality, what we see and know to be true. We have seen many instances where bacteria gain information, for example, the ability to digest nylon. They did not possess the genetic information prior to the existence of nylon, and suddenly today they have it. It is a gain of information, it is a new feature of bacteria where none existed before.

Now I won't even go into how Ken was simply deceiving his audience when he said that the proto-"dog" kind contained all the information and each new type of "dog" that came about did so as a loss of information. This would mean that there can be no novel information in one species that didn't exist in its parent species. The problem is that this is the exact opposite of what we see in real life. Again, this contradicts mutation/copying/selection that we know to occur. Ken Ham can only be right if he ignores the facts. It is not a matter of interpretation of the facts, because he simply denies they exist.

[Note: in part II, Ham does mention some of this. He discusses bacteria and resistance, but again falls back on the tired and wrong, "only a loss of information". But his examples are so distorted that anyone with any biology knowledge can quickly and easily prove him wrong. The closest he gets to saying something accurate, is when he says that bacteria with resistance survive, and those without it don't. But that isn't even half the story. I am sorry but explaining this fully is way beyond my capabilities, I would suggest reading a real biology text (not Creationist You-can-be-a-doctorate-in-biology-in-15-minutes-by-watching-my-video garbage). But for a quick fix, the truth can always be found at talk.origins. For example here, and here.]

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