Monday, 2 March 2009

Genesis Expo, Portsmouth, UK (part 1)


To assess Genesis Expo in detail will take some time, so I'll limit this post to the first six of the 12 display cases that comprise the bulk of the exhibit – the remainder will follow. I'm basing this assessment not only on my memory but also on the pamphlet I picked up (amongst others) in the shop, entitled "The Genesis Expo at Portsmouth" by Dr. David Rosevear, January 2003. This pamphlet is a guide to the exhibition, and appears to contain the same text as that shown below the display cases (and apparently also available in audio through what appeared to be pre-war earphones, which – forgive me – I avoided for fear of infection).

I should make it clear that I have no special qualifications to assess a creationist exhibit. My secondary school studies were biased towards the sciences, and my degree is in architecture. I'm interested in the creationism-versus-evolution debate, as any regular reader of this blog will know, and my particular worldview is based on atheism – by which I mean "lack of belief in a god or gods". How I came to this view is chronicled in earlier posts.

Genesis Expo is located on the harbour front at Portsmouth, opposite the bus station and within sight of Portsmouth Harbour railway station, about 15 minutes' walk from Gunwharf Quays shopping centre and the Spinnaker Tower. Its entrance doors open into the "out" end of the museum's shop, and you pass by the benign but crudely modelled figure of a dinosaur to enter the passages containing the exhibits, which are frankly a bit tatty. The blurb on the website describes the lighting for these as computer-controlled, so I was surprised not to hear the clatter of a punched-tape reader.



Display 1 – MISSING LINKS



The theme of the first display case is that modern science has shown that Charles Darwin was wrong. Much is asserted, such as "...each fossil shows separate Creation" and "...there is no halfway stage between the reptile and the bird." There are quotations from Dr. Colin Patterson and Stephen Jay Gould that imply that there are no transitional fossils. My understanding, however, is that there are plenty of transitional fossils, such as archaeopteryx and tiktaalik, and further, that all living things can be considered to some extent transitional.

Display 2 – LIVING FOSSILS



"This display shows you something fossilised, and alongside it a present day example which is just the same as the fossil." It does this in a slide show on a pair of small colour monitors, but it's not evidence against evolution. The assumption here is that if an animal or plant evolved into something different, the original species must become extinct. This is not what evolution theory states. There's no reason for the original species to die out if it is still fit for its environment, while the evolved species, perhaps after migration to different conditions, continues.

Display 3 – RAPID SEDIMENTATION


The rate at which sedimentary layers are formed is here put forward to support the view that the Earth is young. The ash from Mount St. Helens is given as an example of rapid sedimentation, from which it is inferred that sedimentation could not have taken a longer period. What is not mentioned is the possibility that even if rapid sedimentation did occur, discrete periods of sedimentation could have been separated by longer periods of time. Geology is a complicated subject, but once again the Talk Origins website has a wealth of material relevant to this argument.

Display 4 – MOLECULAR BIOLOGY


Two arguments are put forward here: first, that the biological "make-up" of different species is different, which shows that for instance, "...the blood of a fish is just as far removed from the jawless eel as our own is" though quite what this is supposed to prove I'm not sure – maybe that these creatures, and humans, were separately created. This is possibly an argument about the non-similarity of different species' DNA, though it's so vaguely worded it's hard to tell.

Second, biological molecules are complex, showing, for instance, that "...yeast is not more primitive than humans just because it is more simple." This appears to be suggesting that humans are on a par with yeast, though I don't think that's what the creationists want you to believe.

The display concludes with the argument from irreducible complexity, but in simpler language, citing the mouse-trap as an example. Irreducible complexity has, however, already been soundly debunked.

Display 5 – ORIGIN OF LIFE



This display contains a representation of the Miller-Urey experiment, which attempted to replicate the conditions in a "primordial soup" and thus, by stimulating this soup with electricity, to produce the building blocks of life. My understanding is that the experiment did produce certain amino acids, which are required for life, though it didn't produce life itself. Bearing in mind that the only prerequisite for the origin of life is a self-replicating molecule, the fact that the odds against this happening by chance are very high does not mean that it can't happen. After all, it only needs to happen once. (The odds against any particular person winning the lottery are very high, but not infinite – people do win the lottery.)

The concluding paragraph of this display betrays the creationist mind-set, claiming that even if scientists were ever successful in creating life, it would only support the idea of intelligent creation rather than chance evolution - presumably because life in this case would have been created by intelligent scientists.

Display 6 – INFORMATION & GENETICS



"...as a carrier of information, the DNA is 45 million million times more efficient than a mega chip." You may be wondering what exactly a mega chip is, but apparently it would take a pile of them as high as the moon to contain all the information in all the world's libraries. If you place all that information on DNA, it would occupy only one per cent of the volume of a pin-head. So now you know.

"The science of Information Theory tells us that information only comes from an intelligent source." This, I think, is spurious. Human intelligence has produced information, therefore all the information that humans have produced has come from an intelligent source. But even though this may lead you to conclude that because the digital information present in DNA is similar to digital information produced by computer programmers, DNA is therefore produced by the celestial software developer - it's a flawed argument because it's extrapolation from a sample of one: an intelligence produced information, therefore all information must have been produced by an intelligence.

Just as molecular machines that were once believed to be irreducibly complex have now been plausibly shown to be the product of evolution, it's entirely feasible that the complex digital information in DNA evolved from something containing less information, which evolved from something containing even less, and so on, right back to the first self-replicating molecule. All it takes is the input of energy, and that's what the Sun provides. The final paragraph states, "...information is lost by chance changes, so mutations in living things cause a loss of genetic information." This, I understand from my limited reading on the subject, is simply incorrect.

That's probably enough for one post. Come back soon for the remaining six displays, and some discussion of the other pamphlets I picked up.


UPDATE 2009-03-04:

Click here for part 2.

6 comments:

  1. Saw this from RichardDawkins.net. Very nice work :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks!

    I found the expo fascinating as a whole, but the actual exhibits were a bit feeble and old-hat.

    Part 2 coming soon.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm not sure what a "mega chip" is, but no matter how primitive a device it is you could easily store the total contents of Earth's libraries without reaching the moon. How do I know? Because even if you were able to stack all the books ever written into a single stack it wouldn't reach the moon, and any digital storage method is going to be at least a little more efficient.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Also, there isn't a way to store text in DNA! It doesn't contain that kind of information. Even if you could, there's no way you could fit all of that on a pinhead. These people have no idea what they're talking about.

    ReplyDelete
  5. you can fit every book in the library of congress in the USA in about 10 terabytes. I think it is safe to assume that the library of congress contains at least 1% of the printed material in the world, most likely more than that. If we make this assumption then we need 10 * 100 terabytes, or 1,000 terabytes.

    Yyou can buy normal 3 TB harddrives these days, so we would need around 300 of those. Hard drives are about 1 inch thick, so 300 inches is 25 feet, or about 8 meters. that doesn't quite reach the moon. probably doesn't reach the roof of the creation museum.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Maybe if you put all the individual 'bits' end to end...? Nah, that probably wouldn't work either.

    I know, let's just say the amount of information is "awfully big" ;-)

    ReplyDelete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...