Skeptimus Prime » Evolution One atheist's thoughts on politics, religion, and philsophy Mon, 11 May 2015 01:55:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Blaze talks about evolution, also never read the comments on a Blaze article. Fri, 20 Sep 2013 21:09:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> I ran across an article about creationism and evolution over at the Blaze today.

Evolution vs. Creationism: Did God create humans in our current form?

The article starts out by referencing an article on Yahoo news that Virginia Heffernan wrote announcing she is a creationist. Their treatment of her article is incredibly biased. They talk about her making a “slew of ideological enemies” implying that the disagreement with her was ideological and not because of legitimate factual problems in her argument, and calls her case “compelling.”

They don’t even really seem to understand her case very well because if you read her article she seems to call herself a creationist only because she has no idea what that word actually means. She is clearly not promoting the type of creationist thinking that is common to Ken Ham and other typical fundamentalist creationists. She doesn’t claim the earth was created in a few days, and she admits the bible is contradictory. The only problems with evolution she talks about come from evo-psych, a field that is regularly criticized by fellow skeptics for it’s just so stories, which is the same thing she criticizes it for.  

She also seems to drift into some relativist philosophy at the end of the article, which is also quite in incombatable with the positions of most creationists. Essentially, believe in god even if it isn’t true because it’s a better story than the one science sells. Now, not only do I think this is a bad approach to truth, I happen to disagree with the notion that the bible spins a better tale than science.

As to whether she accepts evolution in general or she is just somewhat ignorant and wrongly conflates evo-psych with all of evolution, I honestly don’t have enough information to say one way or the other. What I can say is that Heffernan is not a typical creationist, and in fact she seems to not even know what the term means when it comes to most of the blaze’s readers.

The article itself is full of plenty of bad science, most notably the assumption the notion that the results of the necessarily self selected poll they ran on their website is at all useful.

A much more specific and pointed question asked respondents if man evolved “with no involvement from a higher power.” There was a clear consensus among the 4,008 Blaze readers who responded. While six percent answered affirmatively, an overwhelming 94 percent of the readers who took the poll rejected this notion.

This is particularly interesting due to the fact that the Pew Research Center estimates that about six percent of the nation considers itself secular and unaffiliated with a faith — a prime group that would embrace the idea that mankind evolved without God’s hand guiding the process. Of course, the Blaze poll on this subject was not a scientific one, but the proportional similarities are still worth noting.

In the last line here they acknowledge that the poll was not scientific but then go on to act as if the study was actually valid anyway since the figures happen to coincide with figures for a completely different question in a population based poll done by Pew. (which is not exactly the gold standard for science anyway) They also, at certain points, imply that most of their readers disbelieving in evolution amounts to evidence that there is good reason to doubt evolution.

As bad as the article was, the comments were fare worse, of the kind that makes me question humanities ability to think rationally about anything. One commenter claims to be a young earth creationist physics teacher, which just makes me sad. or this one:

Well, since naturalism requires a scientific explanation OR an eyewitness account, and evolutionists don’t have an eyewitness account to corroborate their position, nor a scientifically defensible explanation, (speculation and wild assumption is not scientific), and Judeo/Chrsitianity actually has an EYEWITNESS account of what occurred at the beginning, I’m going with the BEST evidence which is that God created the heavens and the earth and mankind and the animals and all that was created.

Yes, this person just argued that believing the bible is the more scientific option because there were eyewitnesses to the events in the bible and evolution has no eyewitnesses. What I find so ridiculous about this argument is that, even by fundamentalist Christian standards, it isn’t true. By those standards Genesis was written by Moses around 2,000 B.C. several thousand years after creation. If people can’t even keep their arguments internally consistent with their own world view how can they hope to understand complex scientific principals?

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Another blogger who thinks evolution is an atheist conspiracy… Tue, 17 Sep 2013 22:48:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Recently the Kentucky Board of Education updated their science standards, and surprisingly enough I don’t have much of a complaint about that. Usually when when I pickup a story about science standards being changed, particularly in highly religious states like Kentucky, it’s because some creationist group is trying to insert creationist propaganda into the science curriculum. Surprisingly, this time the Kentucky board actually backed reasonable standards. On evolution the board stated

the fundamental, unifying theory that underlies all the life sciences…“there is no significant ongoing debate within the scientific community regarding the legitimacy of evolution as a scientific idea.

They also rejected the idea of pulling information about climate change out of science text books. They point out that the standards do not advocate for a particular political response, but do present climate change scientifically supported which seems to be exactly the way a science class should handle the issue.

Unsurprisingly many creationists and unhappy with these standards. While looking up information on this story I ran across a particularly irrational screed on The Matt Walsh Blog.

Christianity has done more for science than atheism ever could

Of course he makes an error right in the title of the post by assuming that evolution and atheism are synonymous. Considering Kentucky’s religious background is is quite likely that that the school board is made up mostly of Christians. They are promoting evolution in the science curriculum because it is good science not because they are secretly atheist agitators as Matt seems to think. He gives two reasons that he thinks “progressives” are celebrating this decision.

1) It will put us in line with many other states, which is great because we all know a diverse and enriching education must be in utter uniformity with the national collective and in compliance with the federal agenda.

I always find it funny that a group of people who believe that everyone who doesn’t believe in their religion will suffer eternally in hell start criticizing atheists for our lack of “diversity,” but in the end they don’t actually understand what diversity is all about. I’m all in favor of diversity in regards to individuals personalities, likes and dislikes, etc. However, facts are still facts and to promote a version of diversity that allows people to have their own facts is to promote a relativist notion of truth. The odd thing is that I know for a fact that most Christians would regard this notion as false. Even Matt here wants Christianity taught in science class, not other religious beliefs just Christianity. How positively uniform of him.

2) The criteria calls for a renewed emphasis on man-caused climate change and, of course, evolution. Evolution — atheistic, nihilistic, materialistic, mindless evolution — must be taught as fact, without other ideas presented to compete with the theory.

All good science is technically materialistic because science is involved in measuring things it can actually measure. As soon as Matt, or anyone else, can propose a way for science to empirically measure supernatural entities and events then the supernatural can qualify as science. The thing is most Christians reject the notion that one can empirically measure such things. Christians often don’t want their beliefs to be potentially falsifiable the way scientific claims are so they reject the standards of science from the start and then demand that science respect their beliefs. It is not unreasonable to suggest that people like Matt pick one or the other. Evolution, on the other hand, is falsifiable and does meet scientific standards. If Matt thinks that those standards should be changed that is another discussion, but it is a philosophical one not a scientific one.

He then goes on to say that “members of the church of atheism” are the one really hostile to science, history, and philosophy. While I will admit that there are plenty of atheists out there who are ignorant on those topics, this is really entirely irrelevant to science standards since ideally those setting such standards should be knowledgeable about science regardless of their beliefs. The real irony, however, is that one sentence after he extols the Christians ability to properly value philosophy he uses the following quote from the apologist G.K. Chesterton

a multiplicity and subtlety and imagination about the varieties of life which is far beyond the bald or breezy platitudes of most ancient or modern philosophy

So he claims Christians are better and philosophy while simultaneously saying that philosophy is nothing but breezy platitudes?

He then tries answer the question of how science and religion are compatible with a litany of completely irrational arguments and biased ethnocentrism. He claims that Christians have the scientific high ground because:

As a Christian, you aren’t just a member of a religion — you’re a member of a rich intellectual tradition unmatched by any group, anywhere in the world.

It’s like he is just completely unaware of all of the rich intellectual traditions around the world that are unrelated to Christianity. He continues in this vein later on in his post so I’ll comment further there.

He then claims that an atheist recently told him that “Christians have always hated science.” I’ll actually agree with him that this is a rather bizarre thing to say. However, he metaphorically shoots himself in the foot when he calls atheists “historically illiterate fools,” and then later on in the post he complains that atheists are mean and insulting to Christians. He also claims that Modern science wouldn’t exist without religion which to me seems like an equally bizarre statement, as well as un-provable,

He claims that Christianity is the major driving force for science and he tries to demonstrate it by listing scientists who are Christian. In this he subtlety engages in a correlation vs. causation fallacy. He assumes that because these scientists were Christian that Christianity was the cause of their scientific achievements. However the pertinent question in the evolution vs. creationism debate is not whether or not Christians can be good scientists, I will happily acknowledge that they can.

The question is whether or not modern Christian fundamentalism is philosophically compatible with science. Anyone who knows history well, as Matt claims he does, would know that Christian fundamentalism is a movement that started in the 19th century in part as a reaction to what some people viewed as an encroachment into religious questions by science. This is important because beliefs like the scientific inerrancy of scripture, which are common to modern evangelical Christians in the U.S., were popularized if not outright developed by fundamentalism.  This is why it is particularly interesting that all of the scientists that Matt lists, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Pascal, Descartes, Newton, Kelvin, Mendel, Boyle, lived before the 19th century. It is undeniable that their version of Christianity differed from the modern fundamentalism that informs Matt’s views is some significant ways.

He devotes a great deal of his article to just repeating the claim that Christianity is responsible for science because by listing a number of Christians who influenced western scientific development while simultaneously ignoring the fact that many of the Christians were maligned by other Christians from their time for undermining religious beliefs. I suppose Matt thinks those people weren’t real Christians like the scientists were.

He then criticizes an atheist who sent him an email full of personal attacks and insults. As I have said before I actually agree that this is a bad way for atheists to present themselves in these debates, but no one can prove their own position correct by simply pointing out that some people who disagree with them are doing so in an insulting manner. Further Matt made a point of being insulting towards atheists at multiple points in this post so all I have to say is this:


He does expand on his earlier ethnocentric statements with this gem.

When western scientific knowledge came to places like China and India in the 1600′s, it came by way of Christians and their science-hating Christianity

I’m not sure what to make of this. If I take this statement at face value he sounds like an 18th century imperialist who thinks the only good ideas come from western civilization. Perhaps he only said this because wrote himself into a corner by trying to claim that science owes Christianity everything.

Just so we know this is not true, other civilizations have invented great pieces of technology and advanced science in myriads of ways. China invented gun powder. The first blood transfusions were done by the Incas. The list could go on for days. However, it’s even a mistake to think that Christianity was around for all of the scientific developments even in the western world. Galileo may have proved the heliocentric universe, but Greek Mathematicians proved the earth was round using geometry (which they also invented) hundreds of years before Christianity existed. Last I checked both of these discoveries were instrumental in the development of western science, so by Matt’s logic we should still be worshiping Greek god’s for teaching us Geometry.

At this point he makes the most bizarre statement this entire post.

But are we Christians all “idiots”? Well, I don’t mind if you say that about me, but was Da Vinci an idiot? Aquinas? Shakespeare? Mozart? Washington? Locke? Martin Luther King Jr? Edison? Tesla? Alexandar Graham Bell? Adam Smith? Marconi? Chesterton? Lewis? MacDonald? Dickens? Faulkner? Tolkein? Marco Polo? Neil Armstrong? Magellan? Columbus? Henry Ford? All of these guys are idiots, along with the scientific pioneers I mentioned earlier?

His statement here clearly implies that everyone he just listed here is Christian, but this is untrue, at least by the these people’s accounts of themselves.. Edison was a deist. Tesla’s views are debated by historians, but he seemed to be some kind of universalist or possibly deist. Neil Armstrong was, again, a Deist. Adam Smith was at most a deist, and may have been an agnostic or an atheist. He was certainly close friends with David Hume who many consider an atheist, and smith never evokes god as an explanation in his any of his philosophy. Alexander Graham Bell considered himself agnostic.

Columbus I will give him, but also point out that Columbus was kind of an awful human being. Columbus wrote in his log when he first met the Arawak Indians that, “They would make fine servants,” and “With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.” Also, he discovered America, not because he was brilliant, but because he reached a foolish conclusion and got lucky. That is he badly underestimated the size of our planet. The only reason he and his crew didn’t die in on a boat in the middle of the ocean due to his miscalculation was because there was a giant undiscovered continent half way between Europe and India.

Certainly, while most of the others were likely Christian the fact that he clearly got so many wrong makes me wonder how much he actually knows about history. He claims atheists are rewriting history to suit their narrative, but given his lack of knowledge about these well known historical figures how would he know?

Towards the end he says we should not teach atheism in school, which is one of the few things he says which I actually agree with. I don’t want public schools teachers telling students god doesn’t exist anymore than I want them telling students he does. Where he gets it wrong is assuming that teaching evolution is equal to teaching atheism. This should be obviously wrong given that fully half of the U.S. believes in evolution while less than 10% of us are atheists.

His last paragraph really wraps all of his biases about atheists up into a nice package.

Really, we must get atheism away from education before we all end up like the modern atheist’s greatest prophet, Nietchsze, who died insane and naked, eating his own feces in a mental institution. This is not the sort of fate we should wish upon our children.

Think of the children, for goodness sake.

First of all Nietzsche (he misspelled his name) went insane because he had syphilis. Matt’s blasé dismissal of a serious illness which would cause insanity in anyone regardless of their religious predilections is both offensive and scientifically duplicitous. To assert that being an atheist will cause people to eat their own feces is not only factually inaccurate, it is blatant fear mongering. This is not the scientific and rational thought he claims to be arguing for. Earlier in the article he claimed that atheists have to twist facts to justify their position but what is he doing here if not blatantly twisting facts?

So Matt Walsh I assert that I am thinking of the children. I will be a father soon my self, and it is my devotion to objective moral ideals, scientific curiosity, and intellectual honesty that leads me to my atheism, my skepticism, and notions of social justice. I feel strongly about these things precisely because I want to leave this world a better place than I found it…you know, for the kids.

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I see ridiculous tweets. Sat, 03 Aug 2013 07:17:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> I saw a post on twitter this evening that went like this.

The main reason for the existence of atheism is Christians who do not follow Jesus.

— Colton Graham (@LucasColtGraham) August 3, 2013

Now Christians say this all the time but I find it rather presumptuous, it’s as if they are the only game in town. Atheists have to pick, Christianity or Atheism. This is silly because there are plenty of other religions out there. Most people who are atheists are going to disbelieve for other reasons, since if this were there reason they might just as well go off and join some other religion.

I pointed this out to him and ended up in a short conversation that turned to the bible and he had this to say about slavery in the bible.

@SkeptimusPrime the servant who believed in God did not believe the wealthier person owned them. Only in this life did they have power

— Colton Graham (@LucasColtGraham) August 3, 2013

So there you have it folks, slavery was ok because you were only a slave for life, you got to go free once you died.

And he also said this

@SkeptimusPrime are employees working under a company owner not the same as modern day slaves? Yet you don’t find this immoral

— Colton Graham (@LucasColtGraham) August 3, 2013

Don’t get me wrong I have some problems with the way modern American Capitalism is run, but to claim it is exactly the same as a system that allowed you to beat your slave to death as long as it took a couple of days for him to die, (Exodus 21:20-21) is just plan ridiculous.

It’s like the old joke PSA Futurama did about downloading songs from the internet being exactly like ripping out a beating human heart. Except that was a joke and this guy was apparently serious.

Of course when none of that works he throws out Pascal’s freaking wager.

@SkeptimusPrime one more thing, if I’m wrong about then I’ve only wasted my life trying. If you’re wrong, its eternity in punishment.

— Colton Graham (@LucasColtGraham) August 3, 2013

We moved on to science and of course he asked about evolution, when I answered I got this gem.

@SkeptimusPrime if so, why is evolution still not occurring?

— Colton Graham (@LucasColtGraham) August 3, 2013

Then he ended with this one.

@SkeptimusPrime I’ll tell you what, I’ll pray for you. You continue to search for answers. Maybe one day you will have them.

— Colton Graham (@LucasColtGraham) August 3, 2013

I replied.

@LucasColtGraham Very well, I’ll hope that one day you educate yourself on how amazing the world actually is.

— Dylan Walker (@SkeptimusPrime) August 3, 2013

@LucasColtGraham and learn to respect evidence and rational inquiry over a comfortable but blind belief.

— Dylan Walker (@SkeptimusPrime) August 3, 2013

Overall more polite than many of my interactions on twitter, but still full of the same bad arguments that drove me to stop believing in the first place. I think it’s funny how Christians always talk about one day having the answers. They talk about it as this final thing where you finally know what’s going on and can just stop thinking. Personally I am a curious person and don’t much mind the uncertainty of rational thought. It just means there is more thinking to be done, and I actually like thinking.

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Ken Ham waxing about how atheists are persecuting Christians. Wed, 01 May 2013 04:30:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> A story has been floating around the blogosphere about a man who was upset to find his child was being taught nonsense science claims at a private school he was sending his child to.

Children are being taught in the classroom that brontosaurs were refereed to as a behemoth in the the book of Job and are encouraged to answer the question “The next time someone says the earth is billions (or millions) of years old, what can you say?” with the answer “Were you there?”

Picture of the offending quiz.
Of course Ken Ham could not put up with the affront to justice that this father, who expected this school to teach science in the science classroom, represented and Ham fired back with a response.  
Now mind you, nothing in the published story even states the religious beliefs of the father in this story so there is no reason to assume he is an atheist, but this doesn’t stop Ham from going off into conspiratorial ramblings about how atheists are out to get Christians. He really seems to believe that Christians are all some poor belabored minority.  
He even presents some “examples” in a box to the side of the article of persecution they face:
Billboards promoting atheism and attacking Christianity have popped up across the country.

Because apparently free speech is now persecution.

The American Humanist Association has launched a special website for children to indoctrinate them in atheism.

The site he is referring to is this one It isn’t aimed at converting children but giving resources to children who already don’t believe.  However, even if it were aimed at conversion so what? Christians spend millions if not billions of dollars a year on hundreds of thousands of programs aimed at converting children to their religion. This website is totally passive, you have to go to it to see the content, yet many of the aforementioned Christian programs actively seek out children even when doing so violates church state separation. Why is it totally fine for them to put their ideas out there for others to consider but when we do it it’s “indoctrination?”

An atheist rally in Washington DC last year had a special promotion to encourage kids to attend their atheist camps.

The program his talking about is Camp Quest. It is not an “atheist” camp, it’s a secular came for children that focuses on teaching kids about science and critical thinking. It’s a good program and I plan on sending my kids to it once they get old enough. I have good memories of some of the camps I went to when I was younger (minus the religious teachings of course) and I want my kids to have such memories too.

In any case, this is typical damned if you do damned if you don’t criticism. Christians criticize atheists for doing nothing but attacking Christianity but offering no replacements for the “helpful social programs” that churches offer such as summer camps for kids.  Now that our movement has had a chance to establish itself we start putting together such programs and now we are accused of “indoctrinating” kids.

Atheists have been increasingly using terms like “child abuse” to describe the efforts of Christians who seek to teach their children about creation, heaven, and hell.

Several prominent skeptics including Lawrence Krauss have claimed that teaching creationism or teaching them that god sends unbelievers to hell are mild forms of child abuse, in much the same way that teaching your child that the earth is flat would be a mild form of child abuse. I happen to agree with the sentiment, however no one is suggesting that this is the same as physical abuse or that the state should necessarily take a child away from a parent for this sort of thing, though clearly we hope the children will manage to learn better than their parents and try to provide the facts to make that happen.

Many atheists claim that children belong to the community, not to their parents.

I don’t know any atheists who think this. However, I do think that, though a parent has quite a bit of leeway to parent as they wish, children are still individuals separate from their parents who have rights and deserve a modicum of protection by the state from certain kinds of parental actions. I don’t believe, for instance, that Christan Scientists have a right to allow their children to die from lack of medical treatment because of their belief that modern medicine is immoral.

Atheists have actively opposed any effort in public schools to even question a belief of evolution or suggest there are any problems with it.

And now we get to the dead horse Ham likes to beat, evolution. It should be noted that it is not only atheists that oppose the teaching of creationism or intelligent design in classrooms. There are theistic scientists who promote evolution like Catholic Ken Miller, so Ham’s claim is not even accurate, but there are good reasons to promote good science in science classrooms, and evolution is good science.  It’s nothing but Ham’s biases and lack of understanding of science that leads him to believe that evolution is untenable.

Christians are not being persecuted when they aren’t allowed to promote odd pseudo-science in the classroom anymore than a crypto-zoologist is being persecuted when the biology class won’t let him share his evidence for Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster.

If Ken Ham spent as much time actually learning something about science as he did complaining about how atheists are persecuting him he would realize how silly all this actually sounds.

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Creationist bets 10,000 dollars no one can disprove Genesis. Fri, 05 Apr 2013 04:26:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]>
Dr. Joseph Mastropaolo

Dr. Joseph Mastropaolo, a member of the Creation Science Hall of Fame, wagered $10,000 that evolutionists cannot disprove the literal reading of Genesis. 

I would note that Mastropaolo’s Ph.D. is in kinesiology and is therefore not terribly relevant to an examination of the physics or geology involved in radiometric dating or most of the other things he seems to think he is an expert it.

Full article here:

So Mastropaolo correctly points out that proving the earth is old would disprove the Genesis account.
What evidence do they have that original creation didn’t happen?” Mastropaolo said. “In order for them to cast doubt on that Genesis narrative, they have to prove that the Earth is very, very, very old.

So, along comes science with it’s radiometric dating, dendrochronology, plate tectonics and the like, all of which demonstrate the earth is much older than 10,000 years. Ah, says Mastropaolo, those tests are all flawed. Why can’t we trust radiometric dating?

As evidence he cites inconsistency in radiometric estimates of the Earth’s age. In 1921 it was estimated that the world is 1.5 billion years old, while in 1991 it was estimated that the world was 4.5 billion years old.

Ah, that’s right science sometimes changes because of new information so it must be totally wrong.

In fact Mastropaolo has a “calibration equation” he uses that basically seems to break down to claiming that every 1.163 million radioisotope years equals only 10 actual years. So apparently his argument is that 1,163,000 equals 10 and therefore creationism makes perfect sense.  He also believes that there were still dinosaurs around as little as 1,000 years ago.

After a bit of internet searching I managed to find his actual website (Science Supports Literal Genesis) in which I discovered what this “calibration equation” consists of. Part of his argument actually consists of claiming that most societies throughout history until recently believed the earth was younger and assuming that those answers must be the correct ones because they are the more common ones. The argument is based in extremely simply algebra and functionally ignores all of the discoveries in physics and geology that caused scientists to the change the estimates. 

Here is another in his long list of bizarre arguments.

Besides unreliability, another reason for rejecting the radioisotope data was their bias for older ages of the Earth. Note that the estimate in 1921 was 1.5 billion years old whereas the estimate in 1991 was 4.54 billion years old. These data would have us believe that in the 70 solar years from 1921 to 1991 the Earth, and everything on the Earth, aged 3.04 billion years.

It’s difficult to tell if he statement is sarcastic or if he legitimately believes that these date changes were actually caused by the mere passage of 70 years and not because of a refinement of radio-isotope dating methods gave us more accurate results.

Over and over again he seems like he creates bizarre arguments to deny scientific consensus in order to justify his conclusions.  So it seems that Mastropaolo’s claim that it is impossible to disprove Genesis is true…if you start out by throwing out all the evidence that proves it wrong.

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Science reporting on evolution still bad Wed, 13 Mar 2013 21:07:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Ran across this article last night.

The article is about evidence that dust mites who are currently parasites may be evolving into a free living organisms. The reason it is talked about as reverse evolution is because dust mites used to be free living organisms before they became parasitic. The article is written as if the author is presenting a startling new find that is over turning scientists previous belief that evolution does not work in reverse. The idea that evolution is working towards some sort of goal is inaccurate
The main problem here is that the author seems to confuse the evolutionary process which is basically genetic variances, with the taxonomical or behavioral changes that are sometimes produced. That is, in order for evolution to reverse the species would have to follow the exact same genetic changes one step back at at time, considering all of the possible variances it is easy to imagine that, while this is technically possible, it is not very likely. This is actually a concept called Dollo’s law of irreversibility.

However, it is entirely possible for a species to follow an evolutionary pathway that leads something very similar behavior or taxonomy to an earlier or separate species. It’s called Convergent evolution and we have know about it for a long time because there are already examples of it everywhere. For instance, most birds, many insects, and bats all use wings to achieve flight but the genetics that created those wings are each completely different, and we can see this in taxonomical differences in these wings. Another good example is whales who, despite their earlier ancestors moving out of the water, moved back into it. They did not stop being mammals but they did evolve many traits to deal with aquatic living that are very similar to fish. Again whales did not go backwards, they did not use the same genes as fish, they evolved a new set of genes that created similar taxonomy.

There is nothing to suggest that dust mites have followed some path backwards to an earlier form, but why should the facts get in the way of science reporters making up attention grabbing headlines on their articles to increase their readers? People will know what they really mean right? It’s not like there are systematic misunderstandings of evolution in this country or anything.

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Why non-overlapping magisteria doesn’t work. Fri, 22 Feb 2013 05:54:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Non-overlapping magisteria is an idea presented by Steven Jay Gould which basically argues that religion and science can coexist because they focus on different claims.  In non-overlapping magisteria or NOMA for short it is said that science rules over the examination of the physical or empirical realm, and religion rules over issues relating to “ultimate meaning” and morality.  

I take a number of issues with this position not the least of which is that I don’t think religion should or does hold total control of some of these ideas. Morality for instance, may not be completely understood using pure empiricism but philosophers, even some of them religious themselves, have been discussing moral claims without explicitly claiming a religious basis for them for thousands of years.

However, the philosophical problems I have with the NOMA isn’t actually what I want to talk about here. I want to talk about why the argument and other similar arguments don’t work on a practical level. The point of the argument is to attempt a diplomatic resolution with theists who have a problem with certain scientific discoveries.  The idea is that rather than trying to convince them to abandon their religion (which isn’t likely to happen) we can convince them that their religion and the science are compatible with each other.  In a sense it’s a noble goal but I would argue it is also almost certainly doomed to fail.

First we need to understand that an argument like NOMA is typically only used when addressing the fundamentalist type of religious believers.  Of course it can be hard to define what a fundamentalist believes exactly at times because people don’t always fit neatly into a box.  There is a continuum between liberal and fundamentalist believers and even strong theological differences between some fundamentalist groups but there is one generalization we can make about fundamentalists. They believe that their holy book (the bible for Christians) is inerrant and contains true history, science, and theology. There is some debate on how to interpret context among Christian fundamentalists but they all generally agree that the bible is inerrant. This is important because more liberal believers are usually willing to interpret much of their holy books metaphorically so they usually have no problem with science to begin with, but fundamentalists have a problem with most metaphorical interpretations.

To understand why this creates such a problem for NOMA type arguments let’s look at the concrete example of creationism. I choose this for several reasons, one it is one of the most common areas where religion and science conflict in the U.S. and two as a former fundamentalist I was once a young earth creationist years ago so I am familiar with both sides of the discussion.

To understand why evolution presents such a problem for fundamentalists we will actually start with Jesus and work backwards to the Genesis creation story. Most of my readers probably know that Christianity teaches that Jesus is our savior but if you haven’t been steeped in Christian theology you may not know exactly how that salvation is provided, or for what reason. Jesus is suppose to save us from sin, but in Christianity the idea of sin is far more complex than just bad actions that you as an individual take. The concept is called original sin and the notion is that people don’t just commit sins their very nature is corrupted by sin. Jesus’ death is offered as a way to actually alter basic human nature and remove said sin nature.

Understanding that we can now look at Genesis. See the question becomes what gave us this nature, if it was built into us by god then his creation would not be perfect and also God would be blaming us for his failure. This will not do in fundamentalist theology so they have an explanation for this. Adam and Eve were created perfect but through an act of free will introduced this sin nature into human nature by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Genesis story.

Now, it is unavoidable that in order to believe in evolution one must take the Genesis story as a metaphor or allegory. It cannot be a literal historical event because it would directly contradict the evolutionary picture of early history. Fundamentalists will argue that if the story was not a historical event then there was no event to introduce original sin into human nature and if there was no original sin then Jesus’ death makes no sense.

My goal right now is not to analyze the rationality or evidence for such claims, but to elucidate as to why NOMA type arguments don’t work on the one group of people that they exist to convince. The argument NOMA tries to make is that people can both believe in their religion and the science at the same time, but to a fundamentalist belief in evolution requires a denial of things they feel are intrinsic to their religious beliefs. It doesn’t help that most fundamentalists view themselves as embroiled in a fight between the godly believers and the worldly unbelievers and they take a gateway drug approach to any ideas that they view as worldly. If a person drops even one of their core beliefs they take a step towards worldliness and who knows where that will stop. I am not guessing that this is what many fundamentalists think either, when I was a believer I read many books by theologians and preachers who made these exact arguments about NOMA.

The thing is in a sense one could say they are right, and they would use me as an example. To take the creation story as metaphorical one must deny the typical interpretation of biblical inerrancy and interestingly enough that was one of the first beliefs that I jettisoned on the way to becoming an atheist. It was over historical inaccuracies not evolution but as soon as I let go of the idea that the bible was perfect I began to accept other ideas because the evidence supported them and the more I read about these other ideas the less the bible made sense. My story is not unique either, few people just drop firmly held beliefs all at once but one piece at a time. This is why even though a non-overlapping magisteria approach may be more diplomatic than marching up to a fundamentalist and telling them science proves their religion wrong I’m not convinced it will be any more effective.

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“Academic freedom” bill proposed by Arizona state senate. Wed, 06 Feb 2013 04:30:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> These so called academic freedom bills have been making their way around various states the last ten years or so. In fact, one just died in committee in Colorado. Now we have one on the docket in Arizona.

To read the wording of the bill the purpose doesn’t seem so bad.

1.  Create an environment in schools that encourages pupils to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues.

Doesn’t seem so bad right? We all believe in critical thinking, and who doesn’t want to encourage students to explore science and learn about scientific evidence?  The problem is that these bills are just the latest scheme by creationists to promote non-scientific opinions in the classroom regarding scientific conclusions that some politicians have decided they don’t like.

Even their own bill states states the following as one of the intents of the bill:

2.  The teaching of some scientific subjects, including biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning, can cause controversy.

The first three are obvious, evolution, abiogenesis, and global climate change are the three main things that get heavily politicized, the first two due to religion and the last one due to the all of the lobbying done by oil and coal companies to prevent any changes to energy policy.  I’m not sure why cloning is on there since no one is trying to clone a human right now, but it seems to be brought up in these bill a lot.

In case you doubt that academic freedom bills are promoting the teaching of creationism and climate change denial lets look at a few facts.  The discovery institute is one of the major promoters, these are the same people who promoted “intelligent design” right up until they lost Kitzmiller v. Dover in 2005, when the judge flat out ruled that ID was just attempt to repackage creation science.  “Creation science” was itself ruled as not science by several courts decisions in the 1980’s such as McLean v. Arkansas.  The people who came up with the idea for “academic freedom” are creationists who, just as with ID, changed the name to see if it would allow them to sneak in their pseudo-science.

Luckily, even though these bills have been popping up all over the country, most of them have died in committee before they got to a vote.  Information provided by the NCSE. Hopefully the same thing will happen here.

Here is a list of the legislature members who introduced this bill.  If you live in one of their districts email them and let them know you are not satisfied with leaders who promote bills which are designed to permit the teaching of pseudo-science to our students.  If your legislator is not listed below I have also included a link to the entire AZ legislator list.  Email them and ask that they do not support this bill. 
Judy Burges, Dist-22 R 
Chester Crandell, Dist-6 R 
Rick Murphy, Dist-21 R 
Steve Pierce, Dist-1 R or Justin Pierce, Dist-25 R 
(not sure which one because the bill only lists last names)
Don Shooter Dist-13 R 
Steve Yarbrough, Dist-17 R 

Update: I emailed the rep in my district.  (Katie Hobbs, Dist-24, D) and she let me know she is opposed to this bill.

2-27-2013 Update: This bill has died at least for this session as of Feb 22 when the deadline for Senate bills to be heard in their Senate committees passed. It is still possible that the bill may resurface again in latter in another state senate session so I’ll keep my eye out.

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Some good news out of New Orleans. Tue, 01 Jan 2013 02:20:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> I’ve written about several of Louisiana’s weird attempts to push creationism in the last year so I suppose it’s nice that I can write something positive about the state in what will probably be my last post of the year.

In a unanimous vote the Orleans Parish school board voted to give creationism the boot.  It even went as far as to specifically name books written to fit the atrocious Texas science and history standards.
No history textbook shall be approved which has been adjusted in accordance with the state of Texas revisionist guidelines nor shall any science textbook be approved which presents creationism or intelligent design as science or scientific theories.

I was also particularly impressed with this part of the ruling.

No teacher of any discipline of science shall teach any aspect of religious faith as science or in a science class. No teacher of any discipline of science shall teach creationism or intelligent design in classes designated as science classes.

With all of the nonsense currently going on in that state it is nice to know some people there still care about education.

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Louisiana is in a worse state than I imagined. Wed, 21 Nov 2012 23:08:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> I wrote a while back about Louisiana passing a voucher program that was likely to push creationism onto students by sending them to Christian private schools.  Well the bill passed and has been put into effect this year.  Thanks to a friend I got a link to a website which had scanned three pages from a 5th grade text book currently being used in in Louisiana voucher schools and being paid for by tax dollars.  Anyway, here is the link.

The book is not teaching “strengths and weaknesses” or “Intelligent design” it is overtly and explicitly teaching science from the perspective of Christian religious bias.  It goes as far as quoting bible verses as evidence that dinosaurs lived with humans and claiming that the flood is responsible for the geological column.

Here is a couple of gems from the book.  A table that explains the big bang as a “sudden explosion” and describes humans as the “highest level of animal” according to evolution.

One thing that struck me was there insistence that the findings of science are nothing more than the results of the biases injected by the people doing the science.

They say:

Man makes judgments about the evidence of fossils based up his beliefs. A man who believes God’s record of creation and history will look at fossils in one way.  A man who believes in evolution will view fossils in a different way.

They then go on to give the student an activity to read several articles written by “creationists” and “evolutionists”  to try to determine what the writers bias is.  This is such an absurd and jumbled approach to science it is difficult imagining children getting anything out of it.  It is bad enough they are teaching these kids bad biology, but they are teaching them a horrible approach to science in general.  It is, of course, obvious that everyone has a bias, but the whole point of the scientific method is to attempt to eliminate those biases.  A person can start from any hypothesis they want and no matter how biased it is the predictions it makes will either turn out to be true or false.  If the predictions are false then the hypothesis fails.

The main thing they fail to mention is that the reason creationism doesn’t count as science is because it makes no meaningful predictions about the world.  Take big bang which they inaccurately describe as a “sudden explosion,” when it was first proposed the calculations predicted certain types of radiation should still be present in the universe as a result.  Measurements were taken and the radiation was found, thus there was evidence that it happened. (though not definitive proof)

Now take the creationists view point, “God created the heavens and the earth” by their own description.  What predictions can one make from that?  To ask the question differently what differences would we expect to see between a universe that God created and one that he didn’t?  The fact is we don’t know, we have no idea what differences there would be between those two things if any.  So with no predictions there is no way to test, or falsify as Karl Popper would have put it, the hypothesis that “God created the heavens and the earth.”  Thus this is not a mere matter of competing beliefs as this text book wants to present it as.

The science in this book is so bad it should be criminal to lie to students this badly.  Late elementary school is a great time to cultivate students interest in science and instead they choose to squash it with ludicrous pseudo-science.  Now thanks to Louisiana they are using tax money to promote this stuff to students who may not even share their religion, because their parents have been told that sending their child to a private school is a guaranteed way to get a better education.  The evidence in this book says differently.

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