What do Mill Ave’s Creationists and Avatar: The Last Airbender have in common?

Turtle_ducks Turtle-ducks.

Almost six-months ago, Al, one of the street preachers who dispenses his wares on Mill Ave arrived with an odd replica animal that appears to be a mythological hybrid between modern ducks and modern turtles. It’s difficult to tell if it has a turtle shell instead of wings, but it definitely has turtle-flippers instead of webbed duck feet. And, I should point out, two of the limbs grow out of what would be mid-ribcage on humans, a skeletal location that neither avian nor reptile skeletons support.

We see hybrid animals from a lot of ancient mythology: the gryphon (lion and eagle), the chimera (lion, snake, and goat), harpies (human and bird), etc. The origin of the turtle-duck, however, is not from modern Creationist folklore—although, it would be very amusing if this subculture would generate its own mythological creatures—but instead from a contemporary Japanese animé Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Al uses the turtle-duck from this cartoon as part of his ignorance about a strawman form of biology. It’s the sort of sideshow freak-animal that might have convinced backwoods yokels during the 19th century as a circus traveled around rural areas—and, when it comes to Avatar, it’s an adorable fictional animal imagined by an artist to up the cute factor. Al, however, vacillates between claiming it’s “faked evidence” or at least an expected organism according to his strawman biology. If Al had actually done any observing of modern biology, he wouldn’t be professing such an obviously inaccurate assertion. He has been overheard claiming that people believe it’s a “transitional form,” but when pressed for the names of actual biologists who have made this claim he deflects.

The reason is obvious: no credible biologists have ever made this claim. Turtle-ducks are not used as evidence for biology; they’re part of a children’s Japanese animation fantasy cartoon.

The meat of one of his claims is that the Avatar animé turtle-duck represents a transitional form between turtles and ducks as it contains components of both modern turtles and modern ducks. Actual students of biology would probably immediately object at this point based on the fact that it contains fully-formed structures from two modern animals belonging to genera separated by millions of years. No known transitional fossils ever do, and anyone with even one class in modern biology under their belt would be able to explain why one will never emerge.

Let me introduce everyone to an actual transitional fossil: Tiktaalik roseae. It’s species lived during the late Devonian period, approximately 375 million years ago, and it represents a transition between fish and tetrapods. As you can see, it has almost no highly complex, fully formed features represented in modern species—but it does have similar basic structures that modern species build their complex structures on. Like all species, Tiktaalik is fully formed in of itself, but differs both from ancient fish from which its species descended and ancient tetrapods into which its species branched and evolved.

For those of you who don’t study comparative anatomy, you’ll also see that unlike Al’s turtle-duck, even Tiktaalik doesn’t have its upper limbs growing out of the middle of its ribcage.

There’s a problem here and it’s not an issue of just sheer ignorance; it’s that Al is deliberately ill educated and he wants you to be just as ignorant as he is. Look at him, he’s walking around with a cartoon animal, claiming that biologists would find it as credible evidence for a transitional form, failing to support that statement with any actual biologists, and when pressed he retreats into himself.

He’s a fool, proud of his ignorance, and he wants you to accept his "real science", taken from theologians rather than reality, so that you will be just as ignorant and misinformed as he is.

Someone should let Al know that Avatar: The Last Airbender also has turtle-seals, wasp-vultures, pig-sheep, ad nauseam…the list goes on. Maybe he’d like to bouquet his ignorance with some other hybrid cartoon animal from the series in the future.

Should we let Creationism into science classes?

For many years now I have been a staunch opponent of teaching Creationism (AKA Intelligent Design) in science classes, but I’m beginning to question that stance, and I’d like to hear some other opinions on the subject.

So have I given in to the “teach the controversy” crowd? Quite the opposite! In the US today, with our majority Christian population and unconscionably high percentage of people who already don’t believe in evolution, it is almost inevitable that children will be exposed to Creationism in some way. Why let it be on the Creationists’ terms?

Instead I propose that we actually teach children about the Christian Creation Myth in schools, but tell the truth about it. Don’t tell them that there is a serious debate in science about whether life on Earth got to its present state by means of evolution or by creation in its current form. Instead tell them that we know evolution happens, that even many Christians including Pope John Paul II agree that it does, and then show them exactly how literal Biblical Creationism falls flat on its face as science.

This would be a great educational experience in critical thinking, and a fantastic demonstration of how ancient unscientific ideas are eventually overtaken by good science based on observable facts. We still see the layperson’s side of this battle going on today since Creationists are much more tenacious than doctors who thought that “bleeding” people would cure them, but people should know that this debate is limited to laypeople and a few fringe scientists who have a lot of faith but little or no training in relevant scientific disciplines.

Instead of ignoring Creationism in school and letting kids be confused by hearing a basic version of the truth about the history of life on Earth in science class and then hearing confusing Creationist lies at home, on the street and in church, often without any arguments presented against it, the common Creationist claims should be debunked and it should be shown for the outdated, disproven, cynical lies that they are. We know that the Creationists are presenting their case, weak though it may be, and bashing evolution and science in any way they can. Why not fight back?

As I have seen too often in children and adults who believe in the Biblical Creation Myth, this and other related religious beliefs can destroy their trust not only in evolution but in all of science, even in anything secular, and then all they are left with is their religion. If we let people become so disconnected from reality and society as a whole, we risk losing them as members of our society along with anyone they manage to convert. This is a real concern since many of these people are evangelical and believe it is their mission to convert people.

So let’s cut this off at the knees. We can give the Creationists part of what they want and put Creationism into the science curriculum, as Creationism and not the “Intelligent Design” pseudonym so no one is confused about what the real issue is. Then we can teach people about the current controversy between fundamentalists and rational people in the laity, and let them know that the controversy in the scientific community between Evolution and Creation is long over and that the Creationists lost decisively.

Bad Claims: The Recession of the Moon



Of course, some presentations of this are worse than others. In this one Thunderf00t lambastes a particularly bad example of the claim/argument, but he does cover rather tidily the issues involved.



And here’s one where Desertphile does an excellent job of explaining why the extrapolation based on no evidence is outright intellectually dishonest; he also goes into some of the evidence that makes the extrapolation obviously incorrect.

This bad argument has been floating around for some time. It’s a gross misunderstanding of astronomy promulgated by Answers in Genesis to the credulous and those with little scholarship in any of the sciences needed to comprehend it. The biggest problem with this argument—and it’s not really an argument; it’s more like an unsupported claim—is that it rests on a faulty premise: The moon has been receding from the Earth at the same rate since it’s inception.

Really? Do you have evidence that it has been receding at the same rate ever since whatever event generated our moon? The answer isn’t just a resounding, “No,” it’s a resounding, “There is evidence that the moon had been receding by much less in the past than it is today.”

There are a number of poorly framed arguments and bad claims made by Creationism that involve unsupported extrapolation in this manner. It’s a great deal like looking at how the temperature has risen by 20 degrees between 6am and noon—and then extrapolating that the entire universe must have been frozen solid a few days ago and that we’re all therefore going to die in a fire within a few days ourselves. Without either direct observation of the temperatures from midnight to 6am; or at least evidence to permit us to extrapolate those temperatures making claims that temperatures will continue to rise or had in fact risen from absolute-zero would be laughed at.

These claims and arguments are, of course, not being published in any peer reviewed journals on the very subjects of geology, astrophysics, or physics because they’re blatantly wrong and wouldn’t even make it past the editorial phase. Instead, they are being spread instead in the political sphere; taking a the low road of attempting to convince a credulous and unstudied population to make them “true.” They can’t make it with these claims in places where people will actually put them to the test.

When people resort to cheating and misrepresentation to make their point, it’s time to either take them to task or dismiss them.

The Recession of the Moon and the Age of the Earth-Moon System (Tim Thompson, 2000)

Mill Avenue Resistance Reports: Saturday, January 3rd 2009

The Mill Avenue Resistance reports are written by Kyt Dotson as an extension of anthropological research on the population of Mill Avenue in Tempe, Arizona. Since the SFTS does their protests Friday and Saturday there are two reports a week. The supporting material not related to the Resistance reports can be found on the Under the Hills blog for Saturday, January 3rd 2009.

The night opened out with a blaze of heavy, shrill sound as Shawn3 (whom everyone met at the Art Walk the previous night) took up on a megaphone of some mighty caliber. The decibel range of the amplification was in fact so intense that it felt louder than a rock concert. Conversations were drown out, and I have a feeling that it would have competed with the blues/jazz singer who plays down the street.

The Resistance still managed to converse somewhat even with the extreme decibels but either didn’t have the same power of amplification or chose not to increase theirs to match. At least one person pointed out that not only did Shawn3 have an extremely overloud megaphone but he was shouting into it.

Tonight he was wearing wire-rim spectacles, giving him a particularly aristocratic look.

The extreme volume did attract some attention. Aside from causing numerous passersby to wince or walk on quicker than before a small picket of mounted police arrived to pause and watch. The tree cavaliers arrived at about 9:20pm, pointing their horses perpendicular to the sidewalk. Shortly after their arrival, Shawn3 stepped down and quit his preaching and position.

Minutes of hush came down over the entire area which had moments before been readily described as the “loudest corner on Mill Ave.”

Kazz took up his speaker and apologized that his sign was no longer quite applicable. The whiteboard that the Resistance use to deliver written messages had the words:

Obnoxious liar
Free all night

At this point Jim Coleman took the mike to talk about anti-Evolution premises, mainly the “Saltiness of the Ocean” and “Recession of the Moon” arguments.

Kazz tried to keep off of the mike for most of the night because he had a rather bad sore throat. However, in spite of this, he did try to speak when he could; but as a result of this a lot of other people were taking to the microphone as well. Todd, Mike, and Vince all took turns on the microphone at different times of the night.

In particular, Vince had some fun talking to both Kazz and Todd—and through parts of the night he talked to Al on the evangelical mike. It’s always fun listening to Vince talk; he’s a Big Fish style raconteur, which means that he’s bloody good at holding an audience and producing an entertaining story. His main failings, however, are the same as any big fish storyteller, he makes a lot of exotic and wild claims that either cannot be substantiated or lack compelling evidence. He is also well versed in various Christian doctrines and some of their holy texts so he tends to bring them out when speaking.

A couple interviews with the Resistance shows that they like talking to him because unlike others he’s actually polite and conversational.

As the night’s candle burned on a well-dressed Southern Gentleman who reminded me a lot of the Mark Twain look wandered over and serenaded everyone. His name, he told me, is Pard. A poet by trade, but not a bad singer/songwriter a cappella.

Todd and others also had a chance to talk to two women who appeared to have come along with Shawn3 (not fully substantiated, but it seemed to be the case.) They are another nomadic evangelical group who live out of an RV, come down from Syracuse, New York. The one in particular that Todd spoke too wore a blue and white outfit consisting of an extremely plain-and-simple skirt, blouse, and sweater affair, and they tried to talk about the belief-vs-model misunderstanding of science in the context of evolution.

By in large the discussion wound around through some difficulties of jargon, some gross misunderstandings of what rational thought is, what a model is vs. a belief, and other transference problems that are common with people who attempt to apply supernatural logic to observations of the natural world. At one point, as funny as it is, the young lady said that no scientist had said something in particular—so Todd called Ben, a friend who is an evolutionary biologist, and had him tell her.

Mostly this had to do with some jargon misunderstandings about the scientific use of the words “theory,” “law,” and “fact.” Especially in the context of the Theory/Fact/Law of Evolution. Although there is a certain appeal in the scientific community about the use of the jargon “law” to refer to observed facts and phenomena, generally people will say “fact” instead of “law” nowadays. All phenomena are split up into the facts of their evidence, the theories that explain them, and in some cases the laws that appear to govern their operation (which are actually phenomenological facts, just described in a way that gives them structure, e.g. the Speed of Light, Thermodynamics, Motion, etc.)

This poses a problem to lay people because the lay meaning of “theory” really means “supposition” and sometimes it means the same thing as “hypothesis;” and “law” generally refers to government and civil law. As a result weird miscommunication and silly misunderstandings happen when people discuss these things and often the misunderstanding party simply goes away further confused or wrongly certain.

I am singularly amused that Ben got called.

More than one person approached me to ask if I knew Omar Call—a sometime visitor to Mill Ave who also involves himself in protesting the street preachers. One in particular wanted him to know that he had, “Inspired me to be more open about my atheism and I’m glad there are people out there like him.” And another—Keith, a Mick Jagger lookalike with a leather cap, and a black guitar—wanted to speak with him about his hallucinogenic revelations and walks with Jesus, to discuss the mysteries of religion with him as a believer and an atheist. By in large all the messages to Omar about the article have been positive.

Although, I say this wondering if people would actually approach someone on the street with a negative message and expect it to be delivered.