Saturday, September 13, 2014

Dear Mr. Creationist,...

In the past few months, a certain loud-mouthed Christian evangelist named Joshua Feuerstein has become quite popular in Christian circles and infamous in atheist circles for his phone camera videos attempting to disprove atheism and the scientific theory of evolution, mostly by repeating long refuted creationist tropes with the delivery of a used car salesman.

His latest video is no exception. But before you click on that link and watch Joshua's video, please take a few moments to read this transcript of the video along with my response afterwards. It may save you from facedesking too hard:

"Josh Feuerstein here. I've been issued a challenge to publicly prove that God exists, and that atheism and evolution are illogical and just don't plain make sense. And, without using the Bible, so here we go:

You know, it's funny because a lot of times people that don't want me to use a Bible, say things like "Oh my gawd,I mean, that's just so illogical. I mean, evolution is the only logical explanation!" But let's really look at how logical evolution really is.

I mean, imagine that you've never read a history book and all of a sudden you're driving through South Dakota and you see a mountain with four big faces on it. Well, we know it's Mt. Rushmore, but say you didn't. Then all of a sudden you see it, would you just assume that that was a product of evolution? That the mountain had just evolved that way? Or would you think that maybe there had been an artist or a designer that had somehow carved those faces into that mountain? I mean, I want you to really think about it, think about the house that I live in or that even you live in. Think about the car that you drive. Those are complex beings, and yet each one of them has a blueprint. I mean, do you really think that the human body was built without a blueprint? Especially looking at DNA, the fact that inside of you there's a three billion letter code? That specifically tells exactly how you're made up? Doesn't that prove intelligent design? The fact that your body has a blueprint? How can it have a blueprint if it doesn't have a designer?

I mean, think about the Earth that we live in. Think about the fact that it's 8,000 miles in diameter. Think about the fact that it's 93 million miles from the Sun. If it was any larger, well the air would be far too dense and turn into water and cover the Earth. If it were farther or closer to the Sun, we would either freeze or burn to death. Think about the fact that it's tilted 23.5 degrees, which allows the seasons. Think about the fact that it's the right distance from the Moon, that when it spins, that it's able to control the tides. Think about the fact that the atmosphere is 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen. I mean, even Stephen Hawking, the great physicist, had to admit that the universe and its laws of physics seem to be specifically designed for us.

Now think about this: When it comes to evolution, the one reason that evolution can never match up with science, is that an organism has never been shown to gain genetic information. So how can something evolve from an atom, well, to a human being? How could it become molecule to man? You know, I realize that there's a lot of people out there who draw pictures of apes, and "there's evolution into humans", but I can do the same thing with a flower and a windmill. But it doesn't mean that it's true. It's a good artist, and a good story, but the fact is, is that there's not one organism that has ever shown us that it has added genetic information. In fact, science has proven that organisms lose genetic information over time. So how can something evolve when it's actually in the process of "devolving"?

Another nail in the coffin of evolution? Well, this is just plain and simple: "It has never been proven that life can come from non-life!" End of story!"

The rest of the video is just preaching drivel and self-promotion, so I won't include that here. To Josh's credit, he does attempt to make his argument without a single quote from the Bible. But that's the only credit he's going to get.

Josh's first mistake is equivocating complex, man-made structures and machines with biological evolution. Evolution applies to biological lifeforms, not sculpted mountains, houses, and cars.

His second mistake is his misrepresentation of DNA. DNA doesn't live in a vacuum. It is susceptible to modification via mutations, radiation, epigenetic factors, and selection pressures. Also, DNA contains large swaths of "junk DNA" and genes for traits that aren't beneficial to the organism anymore. Genes for molar teeth and sickle cell anemia are such examples. That's not design, that's biological history. And evolution is about changes in DNA, in both gaining and losing genetic information.

His third mistake is an intentional distraction by spouting off irrelevant facts and half-truths about the Earth that have zero bearing on evolution, capped with a quote mine from Stephen Hawking.

Josh then misrepresents those who accept evolution by claiming their evidence is "drawings of apes into man". Go to a museum, Josh, and ask to see evidence of human evolution. You'll see fossils of early hominids such as Australopithecus afarensis("Lucy") up to Homo sapiens(modern man). There is even genetic evidence for evolution when comparing the human genome against any other species on the planet.

Josh's final mistake is the oft-repeated creationist mantra that "life cannot come from non-life". That's true, if we're talking about expecting a human to come directly from mud. But, the origin of life isn't the question that evolution answers. Evolution answers the question of why life on Earth is so diverse. The event that began life on Earth, generally called "abiogenesis", is still a mystery to scientists, but it's clear that it likely had to do with gradually forming the first replicating organic molecule under the right conditions, and then evolution began directly afterwards. That is "life coming from non-life", because if abiogenesis didn't happen, then the Earth would still be just like all the other planets in the Solar System: barren and dead.

So Josh, drop the act and take a real challenge: Stop reading hack articles from Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research, and read a few articles on evolution from genuine, reputable science sites such as the National Center for Science Education, The National Academies and Encyclopedia Brittanica. It'll take only about five to ten minutes of your time, and it will make you do the one thing you keep telling your audience to do but not do for yourself: THINK!

Update February 3, 2015: It appears that Mr. Feuerstein has learned absolutely nothing in the time since this blog post was published in September 2014. His latest video is a complete rehash of the arguments debunked above. I think this is evidence that Mr. Feuerstein doesn't care about facts whatsoever, and is more concerned about pushing his false beliefs and social media rankings.

"God's Not Dead" Review Part 2: Racism and Poor Apologetics

(Note: Sorry for taking so long to release this part of the review. Real life problems got in the way of blogging for a bit.)

Racism's Not Dead

"God's Not Dead" also suffers from some bits of racism, of both the ethnic and religious kinds.

The racism is apparent when you notice the attitudes of the parents of the non-white students: The Chinese father is so busy and paranoid, it seems like he practically lives in his limo. The Arabic Muslim father is an outright bigot, telling his daughter that everyone else at the college is evil. And then we have an actual trope: the pastor's missionary friend as the token black person.
Next, there's the conversation between Wheaton and the pastor when he asks how many students go to church. Wheaton answers "Probably none". Based on... what, that all of them wrote three words on a piece of paper for any easy grade? In reality, the religious makeup would be the majority of students would be Christian.

Speaking of religious diversity, why aren't any Jewish people represented in the film? Or Buddhist? Mormon? Apparently in this alternate universe, they are treated like the Loch Ness Monster: heard of but never seen.

Worst Philosophy Class... Ever!

Right from the first class session, it struck me just how little philosophy is actually taught in the movie. The audience is first primed with a list of atheistic philosophers provided by Radisson, though the list is incorrect in including Richard Dawkins, as he is a biologist, not a philosopher. However this is later explained by the writers giving Radisson an almost religious obsession with Dawkins. Then Radisson tells his class to skip all debates and discussions and write down "God Is Dead" for a passing grade. That is not philosophy. The discussions and debates, however meaningless it may seem to Radisson, are the lifeblood of philosophy. Then when Wheaton refuses to do what Radisson wants, and suggests that the class judge his lectures at the end, Radisson asks "Why would I want to empower them?". If this were reality, that would certainly have been the point where at least some students would have reported Radisson to the Dean. A college professors' job is to empower students, and anybody who wants to deny empowerment to students does not belong behind a teacher's desk.

After the class, Radisson further displays why he's not fit to be a teacher by threatening not just Wheaton's class grade but also his future aspirations. This, more than anything else, should have compelled Wheaton to report Radisson. But, this is the bizarro world of Christian persecution and propaganda, so Wheaton lets it slide despite being very rattled.

The three debates that happen afterwards have very little philosophical content and literally the only question that is asked by a student during the debates is "What's a theist?". And Radisson proves to be a piss-poor debater in the final debate as he's easily goaded into revealing his misotheism. So what does the audience learn about philosophy? Nothing, except really bad arguments and barbed quips to use on atheists to avoid engaging legitimate criticism of their religious beliefs.

(Tune in for part 3, where I explore who comes out worse in this movie, atheists or Christians.)