I Have Seen the Crazy and I Am Scared

I encountered my first true crazy this past weekend. I had heard about these creationists on the internet and in books and I knew a fair amount of their arguments. I knew they were insane, but I did not fully comprehend the crazy until now.

Just a couple weekends after the Morris Freethinkers (of which I am President) and some local church groups (Methodists, United Church of Christ, liberal Lutherans, and Catholics) hosted a Darwin Day event, the conservative churches invited an Answers in Genesis speaker, Dr. Terry Mortenson, to talk to the citizens of small town Morris, MN.

Dr. Terry Mortenson has an actual Ph.D. in the history of geology. This man is certainly intelligent but he has been preaching Young Earth Creationism since the 1970s and after a certain point, you can no longer assume ignorance or stupidity – you must assume maliciousness.

This man lied through his teeth to an unsuspecting audience the entire weekend. I am not aware of the content of his Monday morning lectures, but he spent all day lying to K-6 schoolchildren and later, high schoolers. High schoolers who attend a school that has a creationist for a biology teacher, mind you. These students will never learn what evolution actually says; instead, they will learn perverse misrepresentations.

Honestly, the dinosaur stuff was pretty funny. It is just so stupid that you must laugh at what this crackpot is claiming. Birds did not evolve from dinosaurs because feathers and scales look nothing alike; the ground-to-air theory of flight evolution would require millions of years of running dinosaurs until their scales frayed enough to become feathers; Tyrannosaurus Rex was an herbivore before Adam ate the forbidden fruit. These are all clearly ludicrous and yes, people will accept these claims hook, line, and sinker but… Life goes on, I suppose. You can only sigh with sad, sad laughter. It is just too absurd.

What pisses me off though is the blatant misrepresentations of evolution and scientists. It is one thing to say that evolution is false because there was not enough time for evolution to have taken place in 6,000 years. It’s stupid, yes, but it is also relatively benign. This all changes, however, when he starts calling “evolutionists” racists because Anglo-Saxons are more evolved than all the other races. Scientists flat-out lie while promoting fraudulent fossils from a fraudulent fossil factory in China. We support Hitler. We think Aborigines are subhuman. We steal our morals from Christians. We destroy society because we reduce men to primates.

Terry Mortenson is slandering every single working scientist when he makes these absurd claims and he contributes to the anti-intellectualism that is strangling our country. You can’t trust scientists! Therefore, evolution and global warming are hoaxes. These actions are downright evil in my eyes.

Not only that, but he insinuates that any Christian who disagrees with him is not a True Christian; they are misguided. Even though I am an atheist, I found this incredibly offensive. All I can hope for is that this kind of language pushes moderate Christians toward the pro-evolution side. I hope the Christians attending saw through this ignorant rhetoric… but I doubt it.

The ultimate crazy happened in between tonight’s two talks. Some local women approached PZ and challenged him to Pascal’s Wager and the beginnings of the universe. Run of the mill stuff. As the second talk was about to begin, one of the women told us that, “Whatever you may say, we will still be happy! Even if you kill us, we will die happy!”

WHAT THE FUCK!? Seriously?!

These women honestly thought PZ said that we atheists should kill Christians! They honestly believed this and that fact is mind-blowing. My mouth was agape for several minutes as I digested my first personal encounter with the crazy. These people actually exist! They actually exist! What the hell?!

PZ isn’t lying when he talks about Morris. There is a great university in the middle of it, full of amazing and educated adults, but we are surrounded by a lot of ignorance and foolishness that will pack into a concert hall to soak in lies.

This is not to say that all of Morris is like that though. As I said, we hosted an event with the more liberally-minded churches in Morris and we hope to bring the evolution discussion to their congregations to establish these much needed connections between university and community. There is a whole darker side to the town, however, and it truly frightens me. I am scared for the children who grow up uneducated and misinformed. These children will never fully appreciate dinosaurs as I and so many other children appreciated them. They will believe that dogs, finches, and moths never evolved. They will think that the very idea, the fact, that we are composed of stardust, one of the greatest ideas ever articulated by the human species, is a stupid joke perpetrated by lying scientists.

My first true encounter with Creationism was horrifying, angering, but a bit unsurprising. I knew this was all coming and what I have said here is nothing new. But I still can’t help from being flabbergasted from the sheer ignorance and malice that spewed from the mouth of Terry Mortenson. Mortenson is an incredibly evil man: the fact that he could constantly lie and twist half-truths for seven full talks while denying any possibilities of a Q&A after every single one of them, and subsequently have his audience lap up every single word he said, is a true and absolute horror.

Before this weekend, I had tired of the creationist and intelligent design debates. There was nothing new to learn and no one seems to convert either way. But nearly 50% of Americans deny evolution and only 28% of high school biology teachers properly teach evolution to their students; the battle is far from over. This weekend convinced me that there truly is a problem with our country as people uncritically accept what their preachers order them to think. We must fight this; we must retaliate whenever we have the chance; we must educate.

22 thoughts on “I Have Seen the Crazy and I Am Scared

  1. I attended a Mortensen in Duluth (MN) last fall. Chatted with him briefly between sessions, where I presented myself as of the evolution side. He brought up the Coelacanth, to which I replied “Yeah, I’ve heard all that before”, from which conversation went elsewhere. I guess I should have pursued in further, but we do know where that would have gone.

    I wish I had asked him about how a PhD in “History of Geology” differed from a PhD in “Geology”. I presume it’s a study of the personalities with little substance about the rocks. BTW, I have an extremely rusty BS in geology, from the U of M, Duluth.

    Moose

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  2. Welcome to the world – you may find it gets crazier. I did my PhD on the creation evolution debate and I discovered two worlds where different sets of “science” are read. The creationists are generally well informed from their literature. It is just not the same literature as is generated by the evolutionists. Ultimately it seemed to me that it wasnt a question of evidence so much as a question of identity. If you are a fundamentalist Christian you have to adopt certain attitudes otherwise you are cut off from the group. This in my view is why a Jehovah’s Witness will be anti evolution yet knowing virtually no geology, no astrophysics, no zoology, and even no modern Christian scholarship.
    I suspect you will discover there are sub groups within the creation science camp – but here is the catch … there are also subgroups within the evolutionary science camp. Many who “believe” in evolution know virtually nothing of the evidence for evolution either. Try for yourself. Ask questions like how do you know the world is 4.6 thousand million years old? how can you tell the difference between a hominid and a non hominid skull? how does a new plant evolve? how can you show dinosaurs did not occur at the same time as humans etc etc and I am prepared to predict you will find ignorance is a little more widespread than you expect.
    http://billpeddie.wordpress.com

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  3. How does a feather evolve from scales? The two have no biological similiarities other than location. How would you answer these creationists?

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    • Scales and feathers actually possess a much more fundamental biological simiularity than location–during development they both are formed as the result of interaction between the epithelium and the mesenchyme. What form of integument ultimately develops–be it scales, feathers, hair, teeth,nails, etc., is a function of differential expression of a common set of shared growth factors during embryologic development–factors like Noggin, the various BMP’s (bone morphogenetic proteins), Beta-catenin, Wnt7, TGF-beta, Ncam, etc.

      It’s differences in the regulation of these factors’ expression –when and where during development the genes which express these proteins are turned on and off– which determines what form of dermal covering develops as well as where on an organism different dermal coverings will be found. Many birds, such as ostriches for example, exhibit both scales and feathers on different parts of their body.

      So for a feather to evolve from a scale, all that would be necesary is for a change to occur inone of the DNA sequences which controls the regulation of these common growth factors.

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      • What “turns on” the gene to induce scale development or feather develpment? Have we tested that and made it happen or have we observed it happening?

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      • Gene regulation during gestational development is, I’m afraid, far too broad a topic for me to attempt to summarize here. that scaid, investigators have in fact perfromed experiments where they succesfully intervene to cause cause scales to become feathers by altering the circulating levels of growth factors such a BMP during development. See Zou, H., & Niswander, L. (1996). Requirement for BMP signaling in interdigital apoptosis and scale formation. Science, V. 272, pp. 738-741, where hhe authors experimentally manipulated leg scales
        on chickens so that they were transformed into feathers.

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      • A recent issue of National Geographic had a really good article on the evolution of feathers, including lots of pictures of the fossil evidence.

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  4. I’m sorry you had to sit through this, but thanks for the summary and thoughts on it. At least you have a decent university in the midst of the crazy. I’ve lived in Western KY while going to school. Even the colleges sometimes promote this stuff. The local community college is terrible about it. It might as well be a bible college in some instances. I encounter the creationism crazy on a daily basis from my neighbors.

    However, I will say there has been an increase in out atheists and skeptics recently. The local university finally has a student group, so things are looking up.

    You’re right. The battle isn’t over, and we must educate.

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  5. @David Birds evolved from theropods. The discovery of Sinosauropteryx in the late 90’s showed a theropod with single filaments were feathers would later be along its back and tail. We have traced the development of those filaments through various lineages not just to modern feathers but various other unusual configurations that seem to have died out. If you observe the development of bird hatchlings to adult you will see those same filament structures gradually split and change into adult feathers.

    In birds the filaments are grown by a ring of cells, called placodes, into the tubes you see. In modern reptiles the placodes build differently, creating scales. The tube constructing placodes are a mutation of the scale producing placodes.

    So scales did not “evolve into” feathers. The things that make scales mutated to start producing tubes, and later tubes that split into fronds.

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  6. I’ve just attempted to make a lengthy post concerning Mortenson and his apparent unwillingness to listen to or engage with objectors under the 28 Feb blog (awaiting moderation as I write this).

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  7. I just sat in Dr. Mortenson’s lecture. I loved it! It is about time an intellectual, creationist, scientist can put evolutionists in their place. I have said it and will continue to say it, “A person would have to be nuts, crazy, to actually believe in evolution!” I would go so far as to call it mental illness! I also find it very offensive to say I came from a monkey! Ha! The news media says anyone, i.e. political candidates, who believe in creation are nuts – crazy!!! Well, time to speak back. There are plenty of us out here who say evolutionists are nuts – crazy!!! It is easier for me to say Mount Rushmore just happened without an artist than to say everything I see happened by “chance”.

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    • Evolution is not something you “believe” in or not. It is not a faith. It is a science, a fact.
      No one is claiming you came from a monkey– only that you and a monkey share a common ancestor. The monkeys would probably disown us at this point anyway.

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  8. Kele,
    I agree completely. There were times during the lecture where I was near laughter at the stupid, evil bile coming from that man’s mouth, and other times I had to focus very hard on staying in my seat with my mouth shut so I wouldn’t yell “LIAR” every four seconds. It was horrifying, and education needs to continue. Thank goodness for Freethinkers, scientists, and the rational thinkers of the world. These nuts let their faith blind them.

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  9. Funny, I have felt the same way listening to an evolutionist. And it is a faith. I don’t know how else someone could believe in it. The proof isn’t there.

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    • Sue,
      I am a Christian man. I am a devout follower of Jesus and try to live in his image continually. Strange as it may seem, I am also a biologist who acknowledges evolutionary science. Evolution is not a faith and it in no way conflicts with my faith in Jesus, or God. It is a science based on concrete evidence. If you would like to know about the evidence supporting this science you may go to your local library and find many books on the subject, or search the internet for scholarly articles containing ‘evolution’ in the title. I pray that you do not feel threatened by evolution and that you can appreciate it for what it is; a science. (Also, if you would like me to send you articles about evolution directly, I would be very willing.)

      God Bless you,
      Joe

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    • With respect to the fact of evolution (i.e., that evolution occurs ) the proof is certainly there: we’ve observed occurring in living populations directly, in real time, both in controlled laboratory conditions and uncontrolled in the wild. These observations include speciation events, which by definition represent macroevolution. Some examples:

      Dobzhansky, Th., and O. Pavlovsky, 1971. “An experimentally created incipient species of Drosophila”, Nature 23:289-292.

      Mosquin, T., 1967. “Evidence for autopolyploidy in Epilobium angustifolium (Onaagraceae)”, Evolution 21:713-719

      Rabe, Eric W.. Haufler, Christopher H.. Incipient polyploid speciation in the maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum; Adiantaceae)? The American Journal of Botany. V79. P701(7) June, 1992.

      Gottlieb, L. D. 1973. Genetic differentiation, sympatric speciation, and the origin of a diploid species of Stephanomeria. American Journal of Botany 60(6):545-553

      There’s also a very dramatic example of multiple speciation events occurring in populations of mus musculus domesticus as the result of Robertsonian fusions altering karyotype number, reported in “Chromosomes and speciation in Mus musculus domesticus”, E. Capanna, R. Castigli, Cytogenetic and Genome Research 2004;105:375-384 . Five different new species arose by descent from a common ancestral population, all reproductively isolated from one another.

      As for theories of evolution, you’re correct that there is no proof. There cannot be, as by definition no scientific theory—be it evolution, atomic structure, the germ theory of disease, whatever–may be proven, only falsified. Noting that scientific theories can’t be proven doesn’t falsify or otherwise reduce confidence in evolution, however, as scientific theories don’t derive confidence from some possibility they might one day be proven to be true: instead, they derive confidence from the fact as they stand now they comprehensively and predicatively explain all observations within their scope (in the case of evolution, all observations regarding the biological diversity of living species).

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    • Actually, the proof is very much there. Here’s the thing. You can actually learn about the subject. Virtually anyone can.

      What’s more the DNA evidence alone is more than enough to prove common ancestry. It’s why virtually anyone who’s studied biology not only believes in evolution, they UNDERSTAND a great deal about it.

      From what I’ve seen, you have a person on your side who’s studied the ‘history of geology’…. That’s not biology. What’s more, most geologist know damn well that the Earth is billions of years old. Funny, the more advanced a person gets in education, the less religious, and more accepting of the scientific method of analyzing things, they become. It’s almost as if they know something someone like you doesn’t. Since you’re a religious fundamentalist, and willfully ignorant, I’ll spell it out for you. They’ve learned how to take data, analysis it, and use logic to make sense out of said information.

      Remember that the wandering nomads that penned the first draft the the bible had nothing near the understanding of the world we currently have today.

      This is the 21st Century. It’s time you lived in it.

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  10. The most amazing thing to me about creationist arguments is how they must think that the more arguments they make, the stronger their case. In fact it’s the opposite. The more arguments you make the more you have to get right or expose yourself as incompetent or paranoid. Mortenson certainly proves he is both with all the arguments you documented, most of which have stock responses as to why they’re wrong, incompetently wrong. Chinese fossil factories! Somehow I’ve managed to find my own fossils near my home, nowhere near China.

    I only find a little fault with someone who is sure that we can’t know anything and simply chooses to believe Genesis over science. But the faith of creationists is so weak, they insist on these kitchen sink attacks on evolution that are full of errors, proving that they don’t know what they’re talking about, just as Sue does above, claiming that anyone who disagrees with her has a mental illness. Yes, as a liberal Christian I put as much distance as I can between me and a true believer such as Sue. If that puts me close to atheists, so be it. I’m just as comfortable with the distance I put between me and atheists who say I’m mentally ill for believing in something intangible. There are so many people in the blogosphere who have no idea what mental illness is. It’s a pity. There are a lot of disciplines where most of the population is scientifically illiterate. Maybe we’ll build machines that don’t make such mistakes.

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  11. As a retired biology teacher, I taught my entire course from an evolution/ecological point of view. I carefully guided my students through Darwinian evolution so that it was blatantly undeniable … yet there were those who STILL denied it. At each step, including labs to demonstrate Darwin’s major points, I’d ask my classes, “Does anyone not understand this point?” … “Can anyone provide evidence that counters what you’ve just learned.” Of course, not once did a single person ever contradict the elements of evolution. Despite that, every single year some moronic christian would somehow ignore everything they had learned and would ask about creation or some other leading question related to creation. The culmination of such challenges was a student who, after spending three weeks on the unit, raised her hand and asked, “Well if what you say is true, are all christians WRONG?” The state ed-code states that such questions must be received and dealt with with respect for the individual’s religious beliefs. The first three times she asked the identical question I responded, in general, that this was a science class and I taught science not religion and that religion deals with aspects of humanity that I didn’t deal with … on her fourth identical challenge I replied, “After everything I’ve presented and you’ve proven, then if one denies the facts … YES, they are wrong.” I got written up the administration for violating the State Ed-Code. I LOVED IT!

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