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I've escaped - Where to go from here?

Post of the Month: November 2009


Subject:    | Global Flood
Date:       | 10 Nov 2009
Message-ID: | XibKm.26034$6c2.15614@newsfe03.iad

A dialogue between Garamond and Charles O. a new poster to Talk.Origins:

Charles O. opens:
>>> Ok, I recently became an atheist. Maybe 2 months ago. And about 1 month ago,
>>> my school kicked me out for being open about my atheism. (I went to a very
>>> strict, private school) Anyway, with all the time I have now, I've been
>>> researching a ton. I can argue effectively against any Christian on almost
>>> any topic, however, I'd say my weakest link is my ability to refute a global
>>> flood . I've read a bit about it, the stuff on, but when I
>>> used some of the stuff on there today, someone posted this

>>> I know that a global flood didn't happen. I know that no reputable scientist
>>> believes that. Could someone please provide me with some info on how to
>>> refute it? I don't even care if you simply copy a link to a book or long
>>> essay. I'll read it all. I just want to be educated and informed.

Garamond presents advice on dealing with Noah's flood arguments:
>> I'm sure others will chime in with their favorites, but for me nothing beats
>> ice core stratigraphy.

>> Creationists don't work with isochron dating or fossil layers and using
>> arguments based on this can come across as substituting one kind of magic for
>> another. But creationists understand snow. We have 400,000 years worth of
>> one boring Greenland winter after another. We find volcanic ash in the cores
>> (at the correct places), atmospheric CO2, CFCs, pollen grains.... it's a
>> wonderful collection of yearly snapshots of the planet.

>> But there are no areas in any ice cores that look like the glacier was rained
>> on for 40 days and 40 nights (or snowed on for 40 days and 40 nights, for
>> that matter). We know what rain on snow looks like, and it's not there.

>> As to what to read.... creationism goes through fads, and we're coming to the
>> end of the Intelligent Design fad. Unfortunately for you, those folks weren't
>> interested in arguing for a flood, and the more recent refutations are going
>> to be more concerned with flagellums and clotting cascades than geology.
>> Going back to the previous round, Kitcher's _Abusing Science_ manages to be
>> readable, short and encyclopedic. While it doesn't discuss the flood,
>> Dalrymple's _The Age of the Earth_ explains isochron dating brilliantly.
>> Those two will give you an excellent grounding in how science is done (which
>> is not at all like what you've probably been taught) and might even inspire
>> you to try your own hand at it.

>> For understanding creationists (who aren't nearly as interesting), Numbers's
>> _The Creationists_ is the standard historical work that will take you up to
>> the Discovery Institute, and Forrest and Gross's _Creationism's Trojan Horse_
>> takes over the story from there. These are both solid, important books, but
>> they're concerned much more with history than science.

>> There are a lot of /good/ popular books on evolution out there, but I don't
>> know of a great one. Biology is complicated and evolution works on biology
>> in very counterintuitive ways. So instead, I'm going to recommend that you
>> grab a simulation called "nanopond".
>> You'll need to compile it, but once you do you'll get to see evolution in
>> real time. You'll also have access to the raw data that's generated, so you
>> can start doing your own analysis on what you're watching. And since you
>> have the source code (and it's a very short program), you can make changes to
>> the environment, changes to the critters, and immediately see how those
>> changes affect the system. Once you have that "aha!" moment, then head off
>> and enjoy _Beak of the Finch_.

Charles O. describes his academic interest:
> Thank you so much... I opened each link in a new tab, and I will be going on a
> book hunt tomorrow. And you are completely correct in saying that my new
> venture into science has sparked a whole new area of interest in my life. I
> honestly can not tell you how absolutely, dreadfully boring science is at a
> Young Earth Creationist school. I was there for 13 years of my, as of
> yesterday, 18 year life, and never once was I interested in the "science"
> they taught. I've been online and at the library almost everyday for four
> weeks, and I now have completely changed my career path in life and would like
> to specialize in theoretical physics. Thank you again so much for your help. I
> really do appreciate it.

Garamond describes some academic survival techniques and a common creationist fallacy:
One (maybe more) additional comment then, since you're planning on attending college. Most of the better science books and wikipedia science pages will have a list of references that point to, among other places, the primary scientific literature. For example, on the wikipedia Ice Core page, at the bottom there's a reference to:

Alley RB (February 2000). "Ice-core evidence of abrupt climate changes". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 97 (4): 1331-4. doi:10.1073/pnas.97.4.1331

This is the science that working scientists write and read. It's usually written for other specialists in the field who have had at least a few years of grad school in the discipline. If you go to grad school, you'll probably end up in a seminar class where all you is learn how to read papers like this one.

Or, you can start early.
First, find the paper. Put the title in to and about 95% of the time (for recent stuff), you'll be able to find the paper, but it may be behind a paywall. If so, look at the authors' affiliations and track down their university web sites. Most authors (more so for younger ones and graduate students) will have their papers on their site free for the the taking.

If that doesn't work, your local library may be willing to get you a copy for free. If not, a brief, polite email to one of the authors asking for a pdf usually works. And if worst comes to worst, post a query here. Several of us work near university research libraries and are happy to track down older articles every now and again.

Once you've found the paper, there's the question of learning how to read it. I usually read the abstract first, then skip ahead to the conclusions and discussion. I then have a quick look at the figures and graphs, and only if I'm still really interested do I try to get something out of the meat of the paper.

Here's an example. Creationists will often complain that evolution has never been observed. If you hang out here long enough, you'll hear that Lenski's work refutes this, particularly his "Historical contingency..." paper. A bit of googling will get you to his university home page:

his work in long-term evolution

and his list of publications.

#180 is the one you want, and the abstract goes something like this:
The role of historical contingency in evolution has been much debated, but rarely tested. Twelve initially identical populations of Escherichia coli were founded in 1988 to investigate this issue. They have since evolved in a glucose-limited medium that also contains citrate, which E. coli cannot use as a carbon source under oxic conditions. No population evolved the capacity to exploit citrate for >30,000 generations, although each population tested billions of mutations. A citrate-using (Cit+) variant finally evolved in one population by 31,500 generations, causing an increase in population size and diversity. The long-delayed and unique evolution of this function might indicate the involvement of some extremely rare mutation. Alternately, it may involve an ordinary mutation, but one whose physical occurrence or phenotypic expression is contingent on prior mutations in that population. We tested these hypotheses in experiments that "replayed" evolution from different points in that population's history. We observed no Cit mutants among 8.4*10^12 ancestral cells, nor among 9*10^12 cells from 60 clones sampled in the first 15,000 generations. However, we observed a significantly greater tendency for later clones to evolve Cit+ indicating that some potentiating mutation arose by 20,000 generations. This potentiating change increased the mutation rate to Cit+ but did not cause generalized hypermutability. Thus, the evolution of this phenotype was contingent on the particular history of that population. More generally, we suggest that historical contingency is especially important when it facilitates the evolution of key innovations that are not easily evolved by gradual, cumulative selection.

Blount, Z. D., C. Z. Borland, and R. E. Lenski. 2008. Historical contingency and the evolution of a key innovation in an experimental population of Escherichia coli. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 105:7899-7906., PNAS, Blount et al.pdf

If you try to read that and your eyes just glaze over, no big deal, stick to the popular literature for a few more years and try it again after you've had a few university science classes. If you found yourself making a list of the words you want to look up, then let me welcome you to a very rewarding new hobby.

(It's also not a bad idea to look up the publications of professors you want to work with. They see a lot of freshmen come an go, but very few of them will come in during office hours and say "I've been reading your paper on thus-and-such and have a few questions....".)

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