Skeptimus Prime » Science One atheist's thoughts on politics, religion, and philsophy Wed, 22 Apr 2015 06:30:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Psychologist who writes for fox news blames feminism for Weiner’s sexting scandal. Tue, 24 Sep 2013 06:58:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> So this article was published a couple of months ago but I just ran into it a few days ago and it was just too ridiculous to pass up commenting on.

What Weiner’s sexting scandal tells us about young women today

Dr. Keith Ablow, a psychologist who is part of the fox news medical team, writes this article. He seems to think the feminist ideal of sexual liberation is what’s really to blame for this scandal by teaching women to enjoy sex outside of marriage. Dr. Ablow seems to think this is a “man’s job.”

The sexual liberation of women has liberated them to be just like men—who, whether anyone likes it or not, often enjoy sex outside of emotionally-connected, longstanding relationships.

Unfortunately for Ablow he gets a number of facts wrong in this article. First he seems to think that feminists seem to have no issues with Weiner’s actions. To be clear we tend to have different problems with it than Ablow has, I don’t think there is anything inherently immoral with premarital sex. However, Weiner was clearly in the wrong, he was lying to his wife. Further suggesting that the women Weiner sent these photo’s too are somehow responsible for his behavior is more than a little sexist, and suggesting that men never had affairs before feminism is more than a little bizarre. Clearly such affairs have been common throughout history even in cultures without all of those “evil” feminists.

However, he clearly thinks his arguments have scientific merit and the feminists are just being political when they suggest that there is no psychological difference between men and women; so let’s look at his actual argument:

From my perch as a psychiatrist talking to thousands of people a year, I can tell you that the average young woman no longer balks at sexting, watching pornography or being the aggressor sexually in a relationship.

But I will tell you that, from what I hear in my office, the girls actually feel a whole lot worse about it, in their hearts, than the boys.  Because, you see, girls and boys, are not the same.

In this argument we actually get a picture of the scientific methodology he employed to come to this conclusion. My conclusion is that his methodology is dangerously sloppy. You will noticed he, at no point, mentions any studies that demonstrate that the average women feels psychologically traumatized by unmarried consensual sex. I can only assume that he quotes no studies because he is unaware of any.

So what is the evidence he brings to the table? His brings up his work with his patients and says that women feel worse in their hearts than men do. Now some people wanting to defend him might at this point say that this guy has a degree in his field and has practiced psychology for years, and don’t I believe in trusting scientists? Who am I to question his authority in this field, since I clearly have no degree in psychology. Well, it’s true I have no degree, but I actually trust the scientific method much more than I trust individual scientists. This is important because Ablow clearly fails to follow scientific principals in his analysis.

You see Ablow uses a flawed sample set. In this case he is making generalizations about a whole population based upon a small self selected sample set. In general if you want your figures to be representative of the whole population then a self selected set is a bad way to do it. This problem is further complicated by the way in which the group self selects itself. In this case all of his patients come to him with some kind of psychological issues, so to assume that facts about the sexual neuroses of his patients can be used to generalize about about all women is very sloppy science indeed.

Further, his statements are vague and metaphorical (they feel worse in their hearts) which makes it impossible to tell if his opinions about the sexual neurosis of even the small sample set he worked from are reliable. It is entirely possible that his biases about sexual behaviors have colored his perception of his clients feelings on the matter.

The sad thing is that if he actually went looking for it there is a lot of studies out there on gender psychology, like this one:

Men and Women May Not Be So Different After All

So a further problem for Ablow is that there are good studies that actually run contrary to Ablow’s claim.

…Statistically, men and women definitely fall into distinct groups, or taxons, based on anthropometric measurements such as height, shoulder breadth, arm circumference, and waist-to-hip ratio. And gender can be a reliable predictor for interest in very stereotypic activities, such as scrapbooking and cosmetics (women) and boxing and watching pornography (men). But for the vast majority of psychological traits, including the fear of success, mate selection criteria, and empathy, men and women are definitely from the same planet.

I suggest reading the whole study, as it demonstrates a much more careful and thoughtful methodology than Ablow does, which is why I find it ironic that he ends with this:

Some gender roles developed because of psychological facts, not in spite of them.  And when feminists urged and urge that we throw out all of them, they do a disservice to females and to the truth.

Ablow’s willingness to use his flawed data, in place of the good data which contradicts his desired conclusion, makes it painfully obvious that his reasoning is motivated by his political and religious ideals, not a desire for truth. It does not qualify as good science. Further, he subtly engages in victim blaming and sexism throughout his article, which makes it difficult to believe he is overly concerned about women’s rights.

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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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Math….pffft why would we need that to understand global warming? Thu, 19 Sep 2013 21:04:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> I’ve been reading different arguments about global warming lately and I ran across a claim on the sites of several people arguing against global warming.

Man-made carbon dioxide emissions throughout human history constitute less than 0.00022 percent of the total naturally emitted from the mantle of the earth during geological history.

I’ll admit when I first read this I thought, is this really true? Doesn’t this hurt man made global warming arguments? Then I took a moment and considered the statement more carefully. the 0.00022 number provided is based upon a comparison of carbon dioxide for the entire geological history of the earth, which if you remember is 4.3 billion years. However, human cased global warming is a recent issue caused by high CO2 output by humans. Almost all of this CO2 output has happened in the last two to three hundred years, which means the real question is how much extra CO2 have we added to environment recently not in all of earths history.

Let’s not stop here though. Assuming this number is correct (I couldn’t verify anywhere) then lets calculate what percentage of of the earth’s CO2 has come from humans in the past couple of hundred years. Fair warning I have never considered math to be my strongest subject so feel free to point it out to me if I make a mistake in my calculations.

First we will base the calculations on the last 300 years.  So to find out what percentage of 4.3 billion 300 is we divide them.


divided by 4,300,000,000

= 6.9-8  or 0.000000069

So 300 is only 6.9-8 of 4.3 billion, but man made carbon dioxide, most of which was caused in the last 300 years amounts to 2.2-4 which is a much larger number. How much larger?


divided by 6.9-8

roughly 3,188.4

That’s right, the amount of CO2 produced by humans is almost thirty-two hundred times more than the amount of CO2 naturally produced by the earth in the same time frame, even based on the number provided by those arguing against man made global warming. So, this number, is actually strong support for man made global warming instead of evidence against it. Making the argument that it is a very small percentage of the CO2 produced through all of human history is like claiming a flood doesn’t exist because the amount the amount of rain that caused it is a very small percentage of the overall rain fall in that area in the last hundred years.

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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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Kentucky’s school prayer petition makes blatantly false claims Wed, 31 Jul 2013 21:27:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> 3185-Lack-of-School-Prayer-Opened-Door-to-AIDSThe American Family Association of Kentucky has put up a petition to put prayer back in Kentucky schools. They claim that the law is ok because Florida and Mississippi have passed similar laws, though I suspect it is just a matter of time before the laws a struck down for church state separation violations. The AFA doesn’t even try to disguise their intent, they say outright the goal of putting prayer in school is to convert students. In their own words:
Now, I suspect that even if Kentucky passes such a law it will, within a few years, end up on the docket for judicial review and the law will be shot down amidst cries from the AFA that the liberal elite are destroying this country. So while I am concerned that there is a trend of states passing laws which have already been deemed unconstitutional, what I’m really concerned about is the blatantly false scientific claims they make as part of the petition. Claims that apparently no one bats an eye at, perhaps because they fit a narrative that this petitions audience already wants to believe. The narrative being that American society is failing because it doesn’t trust in god. So let’s take a look at the scientific claims which the petition makes:
Prayer was in our schools for over 200 years before the anti-God forces took it out in 1962. After prayer was removed from our schools, teen pregnancy went up 500%, STD’s went up 226%, violent crime went up 500% and SAT scores went down for 18 years in a row, opening the door for the AIDS epidemic and the drug culture.
Of course the notion that before the supreme court ruled on school prayer in 1962 and 1963 school prayer was common in all 50 states and totally uncontroversial is simply historically inaccurate.  But lets look at the four main scientific claims made here.
First, they claim that teen pregnancy has climbed 500% since 1962. This one is easy because I actually wrote a post about this claim last year which you can read here. In this article I point to a set of statistics found here which show that far from a 500% increase, since 1962 the teen pregnancy rate has fallen by almost 100%, in 2008 and more recent figures show even further decline. This claim is not only poorly supported, it seems to be an outright fabrication. Of course if they have alternate figures I can’t judge them since they fail to provide references for their claims.
The next claim is that STD’s have gone up 226% since 1962. Like the first one I seem to be unable to find any reports with this claim. Further, the claim is more difficult to judge than the one about pregnancy because while pregnancy is binary (you either are or you aren’t) STD’s come in many different kinds, some of which are very dangerous and some of which are fairly harmless, particularly if treated quickly. Though, in part, it is the very fact that STD rates are difficult to judge that make this figure so suspect. For instance, the infection rates of specific STD’s rise and fall at different rates as well, sometimes one will go up while another will go down in the same year. So if the figures for a less harmful one went up while one that was more harmful went down by a similar amount is the STD problem unchanged or is it improved? Further, if the figures go up for a particular STD, depending on how the figures are gathered, this might only indicate that more people are seeking medical treatment, not that infection rates have increased. For these, and other, reasons generalized rates like the one given in this petition are practically useless. They tell us less than nothing.
So how did this number hold up to the figures I was able to gather? I did find a paper here through the CDC which gives rates of infections for various STD’s. The rates fro Chlamydia only went back to 1990 so I can’t judge that one entirely, the rates have climbed since 1990 with women suffering from the majority of the cases but at a rate of about 375 per 100,000 it isn’t like there is an epidemic or anything.
I was, however, able to get graphs stretching back to 1941 for both Gonorrhea and Syphilis. Gonorrhea infections seem to have been on the rise in the early 1960’s all the way until the mid 1970’s. It was at about 150 out of 100,000 in 62 and climbed sharply to almost 500 by 1975. However, that trend was reversed in the 1980’s and by 1995 the rate was down to around 100, lower than it was even in the 1950’s. Syphilis, meanwhile, was at it’s highest rate of nearly 600 out of 100,000 in 1945. This was probably due to soldiers returning from WWII. The modern figures barely register on the graph with numbers under 50.
image image
Of course there are other STD’s we could look at. I imagine the rate of increase for AIDS between 1962 and now is off the charts since it didn’t exist then, but in general without some rather startling figures coming from some other form of STD it is pretty clear that the claim of a 226% increase in STD’s came from the same place their claims about teen pregnancy came from.
The third claim was that crime has gone up 500% since 1962. I found numbers for this here. This one could actually have some teeth if you measure the the straight numbers of crime without regard to the increase in population we have seen since 1962. For instance the number of Robberies in 1962 was about 110,000, and in 2011 they were about 354,000. That is an increase of well over 300%. However, when you note that the population of the U.S. has increased by nearly 1.7 times that increase falls to only about 190%.
However these numbers are not consistent. The murder rate, for example was around 8500 in 1962 and are around 14,600 in 2011. That increase is actually consistent with the increase in population, leaving the per capita murder rate relatively unchanged since the 1960’s. In fact, Murder numbers actually peaked in the 90’s and have been falling for nearly 20 years now. In fact pretty much every crime rate has been falling since the mid 1990’s so the only way you could get anywhere near this 500% figure is by looking at 20 year old data.
The last claim made is that SAT scores fell 18 years in a row. Once again I was able to find actual figures for this quite easily. This one has a grain of truth in it since the average score in 1980 was 424 compared to the 473 that was the average in 1962. However a new scale was introduced in 1967 which may muck up the comparison. If you only look at the averages from the new scale from 67 onward there was a downward shift in the 60’s and 70’s, but that trend reversed in the mid 80’s and has been climbing. Interestingly, numbers in the math section have been rising more than numbers in reading. Further the downward trend could have been due to increased college attendance or the fact that test standards were changed several times which could have made the test more difficult.
Of course the biggest problem with this argument is that even if their numbers were correct, and I have shown that they are not, they have done nothing to show any causal relationships between these figures. They assume, for no reason whatsoever, that these figures changed because of a change in school prayer, when it should be obvious that things like teen pregnancy and STD’s are affected by thousands of different factors. Of course acknowledging that there might not be an easy fix for our problems is usually a hard thing to do. We want our fixes to come easy, and to the unskeptical it is comforting to think that if they can just get society to change one thing everything will fall into place and be great. Seldom is this tendency seen in more prevalence than with the religious right.
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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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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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Science and Religion compatible? Not exactly. Sat, 05 Jan 2013 03:43:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> I ran across an interview yesterday on Discover between Keith Kloor and Daniel Sarewitz.

I actually agreed with most of it but Keith asks a question about whether religion and science are compatible and I took some issue with the answer.
DS: There are lots of scientists who are also religious, so as an empirical matter science and religion are apparently not incompatible. … We have binary arguments because they are easy and mindless and comforting–no one has to acknowledge ambiguity or complexity; everyone gets to be right. Binary arguments are a refuge for orthodoxies, and atheism can be as much an orthodoxy as religion. I say this as an atheist. I am not an agnostic. I don’t believe in god(s) and I think those that do are incorrect. But I think humans have lots of different ways of making sense of their experience of the world, and my way happens to be atheism.

Now, honestly I agree that many people engage in binary arguments to comfort themselves but ironically I think this is exactly what Sarewitz is doing. When someone asks the question “are religion and science compatible?” there are several potential meanings to this question.  One possible meaning, the one Sarewitz assumes, is to ask if religious people are capable of being scientists.  If that is what is being asked then I agree with him.  It is obvious that religious people can be scientists.  Ken Miller, for instance, is a Catholic but is a also a good biologist who has strongly advocated for science standards and stood up against creationism being taught in schools.

The problem I see is that when people ask “are religion and science compatible?” they are rarely asking if religious people are capable of being scientists.  They are often asking if religion and science are philosophically compatible or they are asking if various religious claims match with the findings of science.  These are very different, and much more interesting, questions.

To examine this let me ask a question that I think is analogous.  Is homeopathy and science compatible? If by this question we are asking if homeopaths can be scientists then I would also answer yes.  A person might be a homeopath and work in a field like electrical engineering or theoretical physics and do quite well with their work in that field.  Of course if they were to speak about or try to work in the fields of medicine, biology, and perhaps chemistry it is likely that their belief in homeopathy would be a hindrance, but there are still many areas where they could produce good science.  This is because many scientists work in very narrow fields and are not necessarily any more knowledgeable about fields outside their purview than the average person.

However, if by “is homeopathy and science compatible we mean to ask if the findings of homeopathy fit with findings of science the answer is a resounding “no.” Further, to believe in homeopathy is to necessarily claim things about chemistry and biology that we have good reason to think are false.

Now, granted to be “religious” is a lot more vague than to be a homeopath.  There are hundreds of religions and thousands of interpretations of each one of them.  However, many religious people do make claims that do not fit with science or at the very least have not been proven using science.  If a person claims to believe prayer can heal, he does so in direct opposition to the available evidence. (anecdotes don’t count) If a person claims to believe in a god, well his claim may not be contradicted by known evidence, (depending on their definition of god) but neither is it supported by any.  This does not mean the person is a terrible scientist in the area of their expertise but it does mean they have accepted as true claims which have not been demonstrated with evidence.

Ironically I will quote Jesus here when he pointed out it was impossible to have two masters.  A religious person may practice science for years without any of their findings contradicting their religious beliefs, but the question is what will that person do if they run into something that does contradict their religion?  Are they willing to accept that their beliefs are wrong in favor of the science or will they deny the new findings to hold onto their beliefs?  Of course this is not just a problem specific with religion, anyone can choose to hold onto their beliefs in contradiction to the currently observable facts, but to do so is always counter to the scientific method.

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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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NASA Johnson Style (Gangnam Style Parody) Sat, 15 Dec 2012 21:01:00 +0000 Found this today and had to share. 

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