Replying to Singaporean Creationists

4 days ago, a creationist letter was published in the Voices section of TODAY. I was going to write a blog post for it but it was literally rehashing common creationist misconceptions of evolution -- boring shit.

The letter is: Creationism still part of the evolution debate -- reposted in full below (since I don't know if TODAY's online articles stays online).

I refer to the commentary "Theory of evolution in crisis - and it's a good thing" (Sept 7). There are problems with the idea that creationism has never posed an intellectual challenge to evolutionary thinking.

First, creationists do not pose a threat to scientific thinking. The founders of modern science and many modern scientists are creationists who study an orderly, non-random universe.

Dr Marc Kirschner of Harvard Medical School has remarked that almost all of biology over the last 100 years has proceeded independent of evolution.

In fact, evolution hinders medical discovery. The writer himself highlighted the crisis in traditional evolutionary thinking, which has been so dogmatic as to not even consider creationism as a viable option.

Whilst science comprises experimental and historical types, the issue of beginnings and the past falls within the latter and should not be accorded the same authority as the former.

Natural selection and mutation do not equate to evolution.

The former is a principle also recognised by creationists. It might explain the survival of the fittest, not the arrival of the fittest. One cannot modify a Mr Potato Head into a GI Joe.

How do genes "move" in sexual reproduction in higher animals? Do we presume that once moved, they can just be "absorbed"?

Does the recipient genome have the machinery or resources to process the "absorbed" gene?

The idea of two bacteria forming the first eukaryotic cell (the more complex cell type found in multicellular animals) is speculation.

There are many questions for evolutionists:

How did life originate? Even if every atom in the universe were an experiment, with all the correct amino acids present for every possible molecular vibration in the supposed long age of the universe, not one average-sized functional protein would have formed.

So how did bacteria form? How did the DNA code, biochemical pathways, multicellular life and gender all originate?

There are more fundamental questions: From where do natural laws come? From where does logic come? These are non-material stuff but often taken for granted.

A quick summary of the letter (in paragraphs): introduction; trivial; quote-mine; false, projection; false; misconception; expression of incredulity; expression of lack of study; expression of lack of study; lack of understanding of scientific terms; creationist "probabilities"; expression of lack of study; irrelevant, logic fail.

Fortunately, two awesome letters have been published in response to the truckload of "creationism".

One from the fine professors of our NTU School of Biological Sciences: Profs respond to debate on evolution, creationism

The letter "Creationism still part of the evolution debate" (Sept 28) reproduces some misunderstandings of the theory of evolution. Some fundamentals should be emphasised for the record.

The evolution of new species from pre-existing species is recognised as a fact, not a conjecture, by a great many scientists due to abundant, robust and mutually supporting evidence from multiple fields of science, and the absence of findings to the contrary.

We use the term "theory" in the scientific sense: We are certain that evolution has generated all life on Earth.

Our current inability to explain every detail of its processes does not disprove evolution, just as gravity cannot be denied despite an inability to explain fully how it works.

Disagreements on these details do not imply that the theory is shaky. To the contrary, disagreement between scientists in any field is the norm, the necessary outcome of vigorous inquiry and an impetus to refine our knowledge through further investigation.

For the broader review this question deserves, we refer interested readers to Science and Creationism, and Science, Evolution and Creationism from the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies in the United States.

Both documents are free for downloading. We also recommend the book Why Evolution is True, the related blog by Professor Jerry A Coyne and many other books on the subject.

That addressed mostly the lack of understanding for scientific method, terms and process.

Thank you professors.

The other letter is from the Humanist Society (Singapore): Creationism yet to earn intellectual spurs

We refer to Dr Luke Tan's letter "Creationism still part of the evolution debate" (Sept 28). Several Humanist Society (Singapore) members read with alarm Dr Tan's claims about evolution, and creationism as its intellectual challenge in modern biology.

Evolution is the unifying theory of biology. So, it was surprising to read the assertion that Harvard Medical School's Mark Kirschner claimed that evolution had played only a minor role in the last 100 years of biology.

We contacted Dr Kirschner for verification and, as it turned out, his quote, taken from a Boston Globe article in 2005, was a lament that evolution has not been a more integral part of biology. Also, he noted that "broadening the inquiry into evolution beyond natural history and population genetics only adds more evidence for evolution and explains more of the mechanistic transitions".

"We thought of that because the molecular, cellular and developmental insights very much increase our appreciation and confidence in evolution."

While Dr Tan's letter rehashes several misconceptions, there is no scientific debate over evolution's validity. The wealth of experimental and observational evidence in its favour is astounding; the only objections to evolution are theological.

The theory of evolution accounts for the origins of species, not life, as he implied. To claim evolutionary biologists have been dogmatically rejecting creationism as a viable option is to suggest creationists have been putting forth viable evidence to no avail.

There is no international conspiracy spanning two centuries; there is just no evidence. The theory of evolution is part of an experimental science: Biology. The experimental-historical boundary that he perceived is artificial.

Even if the theory of evolution is overturned, however unlikely that may be, creationism will not become the default explanation for the origin of species. It must earn the title of intellectual challenger on its evidential merits.

HSS' letter addresses the quote mined statement of  Dr Kirschner and directly points out that creationism does not contribute to our knowledge AT ALL even if the theory evolution is false.

For those who are actually interested in learning, here's my recommendations.

Berkeley has some resources on Evolution 101 and the Scientific Method.

If you like textbooks, there are 3 sample chapters from Mark Ridley's Evolution available online

And if you're a creationist who got most/all of your information from church, I don't know how to put it nicely... you've probably been thoroughly misinformed. In which case, do watch this playlist of AronRa's videos. I can assure you this does not attack the belief in god -- it only attacks the lies that some unscrupulous men of god like to tell.

If videos ain't your thing, do check out TalkOrigins' Index of Creationist Claims. If you heard it from creationists, it's there. They also have a couple of other pages worth seeing.

Stay smart. Be well informed.