Explain science…musician!

It must be my birthday.

I got an email at work today from a guy asking if we’d be willing to have his anti-evolution talk presented at the SSA Annual Leadership Conference this weekend to the 200+ science/critical-thinking-minded students present (along with biologists PZ Myers and Jen McCreight). My first inclination was to send him back a reply with nothing but the following image.

The same gentleman came and left a comment on my blog. Joy. In his comment he links to his web site which has ‘questions we can use to critically examine evolution’. He gives an example.

How do geologists and paleontologists explain microfossils of pollen, spores, angiosperms, gymnosperms, and at least one winged insect, in Eocambrian (Upper Precambrian) rock?

And the truth is that I have no freaking idea. I’m about to have a music degree. If you’re asking me how to properly resolve a Phrygian cadence in four voices, I’m your guy. But I have no clue how scientists explain that stuff. Did this gomer really think I would?

So often I see this from creationists. They have these questions, almost universally lifted from a creationist web site, on subjects they don’t understand (but they’re sure good at repeating the garbage they jerked off the internet in lieu of actually reading a science book), and they come running up to random atheists asking the atheist to answer these scientific questions.

Now, I have had scientific questions in my life. As an example, I have curiosity as to how life could have arisen. And so off I merrily went looking for answers. I found the numerous abiogenesis models on hand. Many of them sound something like this:

A self-replicating molecule formed when a series of fatty acids congealed into vesicles which, made permeable by convection cycles in a prebiotic Earth, trapped nucleotide monomers which self-ligated via hydrogen bonds and covalent bond ligation, polymerizing within the vesicle to form a primitive cell after which the surrounding ions increased the osmotic pressure allowing the cell to acquire lipids from other vesicles, which catalyzed competition and, thus, evolution.

There was a time in my life when I didn’t even know what half of those words meant. I did not remedy this situation by trotting off to the blogs of music majors and saying, “Hey, can you explain this biology/chemistry to me?” What I did do is make an appointment with biology/chemistry professors at my university to have them explain it to me, what with them being scientists with degrees in the field and all.

This is why I always ask theists pulling this little piece of fuckery: “Have you asked a professor of science to explain this?” Virtually every time the response is a bunch of mumbling followed by an eventual ‘no’ when pressed.

That these people come to guys like me for ‘answers’ rather than to people who stand a real chance at knowing the answer suggests precisely what they’re after: an argument from ignorance. It’s a rather shoddy tactic, but it’s also a very useless one. So what if I have no idea how a scientist would answer your question (or how they would explain magnets or rainbows)? I have no idea how scientists explain that matter, which is made up almost entirely of empty space, can be impenetrably solid. I have no idea how they explain why food that’s good for us tastes bad and food that’s bad for us tastes good (personally, I blame god, that asshole). I have no idea how the experts explain tons of things! So what? Even if no human being on the planet had the vaguest idea how something works…this means what, exactly? God did it? No, it would mean we don’t know.

Dedication to religion over science nudges people to pluck arguments from a web site or similar source that has no culpability for error or bullshit (unlike scientific journals) solely on the basis that it confirms what the theist thinks they know. This is already a pretty lame thing to do, but someone like David Buckna is much, much worse. This guy is claiming to have the wherewithal to overturn an entire scientific discipline…and yet he’s still bugging me and not the scientists who could confirm his work.

Consider how positively insane this would look in another context. One of the most complex mathematical problems in history was known as the Poincaré conjecture, and it was solved in in 2006 by a Russian mathematician named Grigori Perelman. So complicated was Grigori’s solution that it took a team of world-class mathematicians four years to confirm his proof as correct. How silly would it have been for Perelman to have come to my blog and left a comment saying “I’ve solved the Poincaré conjecture! Here is my proof! Let’s start a grassroots movement with plumbers, and waitresses, and musicians to get my proof inserted into textbooks!” Imagine further that this guy was an elementary school teacher with no real background in mathematics. The immediate and rational question should be, “Why haven’t you told the mathematicians? Are you high?”

For those of us like myself who are not experts in a field, the best we can do in forming a coherent worldview is to defer to the opinions of the experts. It is no more my responsibility to argue with biologists about biology than it is to argue theoretical mathematics with mathematicians, and anybody who is a non-expert who does think that’s their place should be given a two hour-long paper cut in a bath of lemon juice for having too high of an opinion of themselves.

If you come to my blog telling me that you are right when the entire battery of minds in the field of biology is wrong without first convincing the biologists, then you are asking me to trust you, an elementary school teacher, over thousands of men and women standing on the shoulders of giants, all of whom have dedicated 12+ years in school to the study of biology and who have made contributions to the discipline. Rather than believe that person, any human being who gives more than a shit about constructing accurate opinions about the world should absolutely pee on anyone who exhibits that level of slimy pretension – and who simultaneously thinks we’d be that gullible. Of course, religion has shown a certain proclivity for manufacturing this magnificent brand of arrogance as well as enough willful gullibility in people to forsake the opinion of the experts to buy into Buckna’s horseshit.

Somebody on my facebook was baffled that I was so angry. Well, this is fucking why. Religion does not make people better. Amongst other things, religion makes people dumber and it makes them unjustifiably conceited. Because I give the first fuck about the human race, I get angry when people introduce vectors that hamstring its potential.

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  • Brian Orr

    Very good, thanks.

  • Betty

    You've given words to my thoughts, although I can't resolve a Phrygian cadence in four voices.

  • http://www.facebook.com/TheAtheistAdvocate Kenny Duit

    I couldn't agree more! Excellent rant my friend! The colorful analogies made it an amusing read. I especially enjoyed the "two hour-long paper cut in a bath of lemon juice."

  • Scott

    “How do geologists and paleontologists explain microfossils of pollen, spores, angiosperms, gymnosperms, and at least one winged insect, in Eocambrian (Upper Precambrian) rock?”

    The Salt Range in Pakistan, where these supposed anomalies were found, was identified as Eocambrian at the end of the 19th century and into the early 20th. Later, this layer has been identified by more thorough geological survey to be in the Lower Eocene range. Therefor the basic premise of these findings coming from the Eocambrian period is based on older research which has been superseded by later, more accurate work. The question itself is erroneous and requires no obligated answer, other than, “Your basic assumption is wrong.”

  • atheistdad

    I was once at a talk by Hector Avalos, and there was a creationist in the audience who admitted, "I don't know much about astrology, but…" Many disbelieving glances were exchanged between other audience members. And he brought up the 2nd law of thermodynamics, which Dr. Avalos swiftly and effectively refuted.

  • Olaf

    “I have no idea how scientists explain that matter, which is made up almost entirely of empty space, can be impenetrably solid.”
    I guess we all had this question after watching Men staring at goats ;) .
    I just got an answer ;) .
    I watched Pr. Brian Cox – A Night with the Stars [BBC, Full Lecture] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4f9wcSLs8ZQ

    (sorry if this comes to late and you already know) :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/miles.revplex Miles RevPlex

    One possible response I haven’t tried yet: “I’m an atheist, not an encyclopedia!”