Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Kent Hovind: Winner of the first ever 'Bag O' Hammers' Award

I've grown up believing that you should not speak ill of anyone, but then, I don't lie, either. The subject of this blog is Kent Hovind, or 'Dr. Dino'; a man that, without ever having met, I completely loathe. No, it goes beyond that, and I will now tell you why.

A while ago, I downloaded a debate that was made available at www.infidelguy.com between Mr. Kent Hovind and Dr. Massimo Pigliucci which originally aired in 2001. Dr. Pigliucci most ably defended evolution with a great deal more patience than I would have had. I have little patience for stupidity (which is why I never found 'Friends' funny at all) and have to fight the urge to stop my hand from smacking topside of the head anyone suffering from this all too common affliction. Mr. Hovind would receive a great deal less gentle attention in my presence.

It is apparent that Mr. Hovind bristles at being called 'Mr.' and feels that his 'degree' from an unaccredited university demands that the title 'Dr.' be used when addressing him: "... I have a doctor's degree also, though it's not from an accredited university but I don't think that matters..."

What the....? You're darn tootin' it matters. Under this concept anyone getting a mail order PhD would then have to be given the title of 'Dr.' I will not make a mockery of my profession by addressing him as such. A look at his so-called PhD thesis has shown its many shortcomings, and it is doubtful it would have passed muster in the eyes of a real examination committee (Read: it's joke degree, dufus).

His beliefs are straightforward enough: "...the bible is literally true, it's scientifically accurate, the Earth is not billions of years old..." The bible is scientifically accurate? Only if you have severe cataracts and selective hearing loss. I won't go into it here, but there is a long list of biblical science blunders.

He makes no bones about how he feels about ToE: "The Evolution Theory that is taught in our schools is the dumbest idea in the history of humanity and is bolstered up by lies that have been proven wrong over many years." He points to the apparent gill slits observable in human embryoes as incorrectly being evidence of our piscean past still in textbooks. He's right. But errors like this have long since been abandoned, though textbooks sometimes contain (and propogate) these errors, and there is certainly a need for editing in the interests of accuracy. But how this relates to the validity of ToE, the central tenets of which have remained essentially unaltered and validated over the last 150 years, is beyond me. I'm all for correcting mistakes or modifying theories in light of new data. It's a strength of Science that it can accomodate new ideas, not a weakness. Religious dogma, on the other hand....

Is it really a dumb idea, or is it more likely that he just isn't capable of understanding it? More likely the latter. I find this to be a very common thread in fundamentalists. They seem to think that they are smarter than the thousands of truly bright researchers in evolutionary biology. It totally smacks of idiotic arrogance, the same kind of arrogance they accuse scientists of. Sorry to you fundies out there for my 'arrogance', but I'm partial to physical evidence rather than the mythology.

But it is his claim that the Theory of Evolution (ToE) is a religion that is so bizarre and at best overreaching: "The evolutionists Believe [sic]... that the universe came into existence without a designer; they Believe that life got started without a designer or a creator (or whatever you want to call god); they Believe that life forms change into different types of life forms over time. None of it's been observed. Dogs produce dogs. Now if you want to Believe that a dog came from a rock 4.6 billion years ago, which is precisely what evolution teaches if you boil away all the fluff and the feathers, then you are welcome to Believe that. But you are taking that totally on faith. You have never seen, and nobody has ever seen life come from nonliving material; you have never seen any planet or star or universe create itself from nothing; you have never seen an animal produce a different kind of animal. You take all these things on faith, you Believe them. So, yes, it's very much a religion...."

There are so many things wrong with the above quote that it's hard to decide where to begin, or which is most aggregious, so I will go sequentially through the main points:

  1. Saying that the universe came into being without a designer, while I believe this to be true, has nothing to do with evolution.
  2. A dog came from a rock? He's creating (excuse the pun) the usual strawman caricature of ToE. ToE actually says nothing about the origins of life, first of all. Second, those that hypothesize about life origins do not believe rocks were involved, though dissolved minerals obviously were, but it is well understood that the conditions on this planet at that time were such that organic molecules necessary for life would easily have been formed from available materials. This has been verified through experiment and the subsequent discussion was also enlightening. By creating the conditions approximating a young Earth, Mr. Hovind attempts to place the experimenter in the role of designer, which is patently ridiculous: "Well, then you are totally blind. You said it was doctor so-and-so that did it. Here you have an intelligent person putting chemicals together to make something happen." The experimenter is simply there to recreate the environment that was thought to exist through natural means, not to actively affect the outcome of the experiment. Sheesh!
  3. Mr. Hovind demonstrates a serious problem with the need for direct observation of evolution (remember this point, as I will come back to it), ignoring the mountains of indirect evidence and verification in solid support of ToE. My wife gave me an excellent analogy: if you look at a clock at two different times, did the clock hands move smoothly during the interem, or did they jump the second time you looked? Obviously, the former. We know this because of previous experience, but as David Hume (one of histories greatest thinkers) pointed out, knowledge like this is not absolute. So, do we then deny that the hands moved at all? Of course not, but that is exactly what Mr. Hovind is asking you to do.
  4. The 'dogs producing dogs' thing is more of the strawman again. ToE is about (as Dr. Pigliucci stressed) gene population and propogation. It has never predicted that two of one animal species (those undergoing sexual reproduction) will produce a new species as offspring in such a direct fashion. Either he does not understand even the basics of genetics and ToE, or he is a liar. Makes no difference to me, as I have only contempt for this bloated sack of protoplasm.

Here's another strange quote from this debate relating ToE to be religion: "The supernatural power you follow... is Time and Blind Random Chance." Time is an ingredient in ToE, a necessary element wherein natural selection can act on mutations, not a god I follow. It's like saying that because it is a necessary ingredient in the making of cakes sugar is the god a baker follows. We do not use Time as a panacea for handling the problem of adaptation and speciation, unlike creationist invoking 'goddidit'. Religious dogma, now THAT'S what I call a panacea. And random chance? Mutations in the genetic code happen (not completely true, but close enough) in a random fashion, it is true, but natural selection forces are anything but random. This is a typically fundamental (pun intended) misconception of ToE.

This quote is my favorite, and why Mr. Hovind gets the 'Bag O' Hammers Award'. In speaking of Tyrannosaurus rex and how they were kept from eating everything on the ark (Yup, you read it right. He actually Believes, lacking any evidence other than the existence of dragon legends, that Noah took them all for a boat ride on a rainy day, and that human predation caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.): "...you're assuming, number one, that for one that they were carnivorous; you're assuming, number two, that they were adult; you're assuming, number three, that they were ferocious, and dangerous, all of which are totally unproven assumptions, and I think the bible would teach quite the opposite of that. ....You'll find an enormous number of evolutionary scientists, even, that hold that the T. rex was at best a scavenger, or a herbivore because of the cracks in the enamel always being stained with chlorophyll..."

Oh, my. I nearly wet myself laughing. There are no lengths to which some people will not go in order to shoehorn inconvenient facts to fit their beliefs. Challenged to give the name of one scientist that believes T. rex was a herbivore, I think at this point Hovind (I'm dropping the 'Mr.' now. He doesn't deserve even that much respect anymore...) realized he'd just made a complete idiot of himself because even though he is (presumably) familiar with the names and work of peers in his field he was suspiciously unable to name a single one. My feeling is that he could not point out a dinosaur in a museum.

Read the last sentence of the above quote carefully. Remember Hovind's disdain for even strong indirect evidence, no matter it's amount? He has never seen a live specimen, let alone one eating a plant, yet on indirect evidence (which I dispute) makes the claim that T. rex was a herbivore! What happened here? Simple. He has made a statement with only indirect evidence (if in fact the chlorophyll thing is true, which I doubt since chlorophyll is a delicate molecule and would not survive any significant length of time) which fits into his young Earth creationist view. So it's okay for evidence supporting creationism, but not ToE. I have always found creationists to be very 'selective', shall we say, in how they obtain and/or use scientific data. Cherry picking in this way nullifies any right to the word 'science' in 'creation science'. Why try to scientifically prove the creation myth at all? Hovind has already assumed the Genesis myth to be true, so what is gained by trying to find evidence for it? The answer is less than honorable. He needs us to believe it, too, to propogate the mind virus known as religion. Not just any brand, though, but his. I'm beginning to think that there is more than a little truth in Richard Dawkins' meme concept.

In explaining T. rex's rather (to quote form The Holy Grail) nasty, big, pointy teeth, he points out that "there are many animals, like the fruit bat, which have ferocious-looking, very sharp teeth, and they are herbivores..." This is true. But the teeth of fruit bats are evolved for use in puncturing fruit, while those of T. rex and other similar carnivores are for shearing. Any expert on comparative morphology presented with a tooth never seen before would immediately and accurately place its owner within its gastronomic group on the basis of "form follows function". Interesting that Hovind doesn't understand such an elementary zoological concept. He's an expert in what, now, exactly? No idea...

One caller into the webcast, someone that drills for oil for a living, challenged the flood story saying that he has never seen any evidence for a flood. Obviously not knowing that geologists study core samples all the way down when drilling, Hovind replied that "...you are drilling through the evidence of the flood..." to get to the oil. He just gets stupider and stupider.

It's not hard to see why he would like to believe that ToE is a religious concept. Hovind is smart enough (I hesitate to use the word 'smart' to describe Hovind) to realize that creationism will never be allowed in public schools, so he attempts the next best thing: have ToE labeled a religion and removed from schools too! His strategy has but one flaw: the vast amount of scientific evidence in support of ToE, evidence he tries so very hard (and utterly fails) to deny as being evidence.

In his concluding remarks, Hovind gets to what really bothers him (and many hard core Believers) about evolution: morality. In his world, "it is pretty obvious to anybody with half a brain that there must have been a designer..." (he got that right more than he could ever know...) and that denial of god's existence when god obviously does exist must mean that "there is something in their lifestyle, be it pornography or whatever .... there is something that they think the creator might not like, but they like to do it, so rather than face the facts, the obvious, that there must have been a designer, they deny the designer's existence to justify their wicked lifestyle... Some people just don't like the idea of a creator telling them what to do."

He just doesn't get it. It's not some kind of atheist plot. Putting aside the fact that there are many Xians that recognize the power of ToE in explaining adaptation and speciation, I would put it to you that as a group atheists are more moral than believers and it has been shown to be so.The National Academy of Sciences, the most esteemed scientific body in the US, is comprised of 93% atheists/agnostics, yet I know of no member of that august body in prison, while the debauchery of this group predicted by this opinion would be a legend to make the Hellfire Club seem like the Boy Scouts.

For the life of me I cannot understand this unsubstantiated accusation that atheists, because they do not receive their morals from a belief in god, are immoral. My suggestion is if you want to understand the origin of morals, do not look to the bible. One look at some of the vile stories it contains, like Judges 19, is enough for me to know that it is a terrible source of morality. Take a look at Marc Hauser's Moral Minds, Michael Shermer's The Science of Good & Evil or Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, or indeed any book by these authors.

And what does morality have to do with ToE anyway? Not a damn thing, aside from explaining the origins of morality in hominids (including man, of course). As an atheist, I not only deny god's existence, but do not see any need to bring god up at all (except when fundies do...). This is why I lack a belief in a deity! This is why I am an atheist! The discovery of ToE ranks as one of the most outstanding achievements of our species and Hovind belittles it as some nefarious motive to spread immorality. I do not need ToE as an excuse to disbelieve!

Now he gets biblical. Hovind goes on to say that "the very creator that some of you folks [he means atheist listeners, I suppose] don't believe in, loves you and is trying desperately to get your attention and he wants to be able to forgive your sins. But if you persist in rejecting his offer, he will have to do the obvious, which is be a just judge and give you your just desserts." First of all, as Bertrand Russell would have said, he's not trying hard enough to get my attention, or at all, actually. "Not enough evidence," is what Russell said. Religious people see the presence of god everywhere, much the same as a psychopathic stalker will read messages into what tie their quarry is wearing on a particular day. But these are baseless, ambiguous and equivocal interpretations. Humans like patterns. We see patterns where there are none because we have a need to, just like we dislike not knowing answers to questions. Especially important ones, like "how did we get here?"

Since he brought it up, let's look at Hovind's god. Is it just to send someone to hell for their 'sins', to be forever in torment? Hardly. I have no problems standing before god, should I be incorrect, and tell him this in person (or, rather, in soul). A loving, omnipotent god would forgive our sins without condition. Anything else and god is neither loving nor just. This is self-evident, but strangely always overlooked. Doesn't seem like a god worth worshipping to me. (And please don't read into this that I believe that there is any such thing as 'sin' or 'soul'. These concepts exist only within religious dogma that I reject totally.)

So, what is the sum total of Hovind's evidence in support of his young Earth creationist view? Quotes from an antiquated book, in which any contents related to science are anything but inerrant and disingenuous attacks on ToE, all the while ignoring the massive amount of hard evidence from multiple sources which point to a universe that we would expect without a god. Why do fundies place any stock in the false dichotomy argument (your argument is wrong, therefor mine is right be default)? He presented absolutely no evidence, nothing at all, in support of his young Earth creationist view.

Almost as an afterthought to this utter stupidity are his more current (and only his latest) legal issues (seen here). The man Believed he was invulnerable to the IRS because he is a pious religious man, while actively attempting to defraud them. It couldn't have been much of a defense at his trial. The jury deliberated for only two and a half hours, which would have barely been enough time to read all the charges and vote on each before returning to the courtroom to render the verdict. To add insult to injury, the prosecution had Hovind declared a flight risk, so his butt is still incarcerated awaiting final word on a sentence of potentially 288 years! Anybody with half a brain (even yours, Hovind) should have realized that you don't piss off the IRS. I guess he forgot to read his bible: "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's."

Congratulations on being the first (but by no means the last!) recipient of the Bag O' Hammers Award, and remember, Kent: don't bend over for the soap.


Am1specialkitty said...

Maybe this man doesn't have a degree. But his speech is not his own. History is documented for that time period. Only the misguided try to discard it. Why are you so scared of the truth. What have you done that you feel you can't be forgiven for. Why must you have so much hate for christians that you feel the need to attack them.

My sympathy is with you. For if you are right and I am wrong you lose nothing, but if I am right and there is a God, you lose everything. And for that I pray for you, that one day you find faith. Faith isn't something that can be documented. Faith is something that's not touchable. Faith is simply belief in what you know inside to be true and no longer deny.

Am1specialkitty said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Am1specialkitty said...

Maybe if you understood what a christian is and not what you think he/she should be, then maybe you might understand them a little better. So let me share this poem with you:

Christians - By Maya Angelou

When I say... "I am a Christian"
I'm not shouting "I'm clean livin'."
I'm whispering "I was lost,
Now I'm found and forgiven."

When I say... "I am a Christian"
I don't speak of this with pride.
I'm confessing that I stumble
and need Christ to be my guide

When I say... "I am a Christian"
I'm not trying to be strong.
I'm professing that I'm weak
And need His strength to carry on.

When I say... "I am a Christian"
I'm not bragging of success.
I'm admitting I have failed
And need God to clean my mess.

When I say... "I am a Christian"
I'm not claiming to be perfect,
My flaws are far too visible
But, God believes I am worth it.

When I say... "I am a Christian"
I still feel the sting of pain.
I have my share of heartaches
So I call upon His name.

When I say... "I am a Christian"
I'm not holier than thou,
I'm just a simple sinner
Who received God's good grace, somehow!

Shamelessly Atheist said...

This is not correct. If I am wrong, I have lived this life well and have no regrets, even if I should have to account for the things I have done. If you are wrong, you have wasted your one and only life on a lie. There is in fact NO chance that Hovind's position is correct. None at all. Science has shown this beyond doubt. As a scientist, I have no interest anything other than the truth. But the utter stupidity that Hovind represents is apalling. If you believe his position is correct (young earth creationist), then there is no hope for you. You will believe anything. Anyone that attempts to claim T. rex as a herbivore is laughable at best. The bible has demonstrated its inaccuracy (and I put this in the best light), so how can any of it be taken as truth? As I point out in a later blog, believing is not faith. It is BLIND faith, which is never good. And I do understand what a Xian is. I used to go to church. But I realized it was vacuous and abandoned it.

I harbor no ill will to Xians. I have many Xian and Muslim friends. But fundamentalists hold onto outdated, disproven and ridiculous beliefs left behind by non-fundamentalists long ago, like a man falling off a cliff will try to hold onto a single blade of grass to save himself. It is people such as Hovind that need to be shown for the charlatans that they are. He is certainly doing a good enough job of that without me.

Please do not pray for me. This is a grave insult to any atheist. If you hold me in your thoughts, that is fine, but prayer has never been demonstrated to do anything for anyone (I can point you to the appropriate scientific studies on this) and I would prefer that you do something constructive with your mind.

You do not in fact know Xianity to be true. You only HOPE it is true (my wife gave me this thought).

Anonymous said...

SA: Keep up the great work. Of course, my assessment might be affected by the fact that I agree with you on pretty much everything I've read here....