Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Use of Fear by Answers in Genesis

Ken Ham, president of the Creationist organization Answers in Genesis, recently posted an essay on his website warning Christians of the “new atheists.” It’s nothing more than the same old tactic of trying to scare people in supporting him, but I wanted to discuss it briefly. Ham starts by saying:

We’ve warned you about them before on our website—but now they’re on a much more aggressive march all across America. No longer are they just staying in their classrooms or writing books and articles in the comfort of their offices. They are “the new atheists,” and they are aggressively going after your children, your liberties, and your faith!

Right. So we’re supposed to stay out of sight and out of mind while Christians get to say whatever they want in the public arena. Ken Ham smells like a freedom hater to me. As for atheists trying to go after Christians’ children, liberties, and faith…well, if educating children how to think for themselves is what all that means, then sure. Is it wrong for children to learn how to make choices for themselves and how to look beyond the Bible to gain knowledge about the world around them? Obviously, Ham would think it’s wrong after seeing him in the documentary Friends of God brainwashing children with the line: “God said it, I believe it, that settles it!” Ham knows that religion loses too many true believers once people start thinking rationally.

Ham then goes into a long elaboration on how terrible it is that atheists dare express their opinions, particularly Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. To me, it just looks like Ham’s scared of Christians having to share the spotlight, but of course he uses fear to rile up his supporters:

Evolutionary indoctrination has produced generations (even in the church) who doubt the Bible. Barna Research discovered that of teenagers today who call themselves born-again Christians, only 9% believe there is such a thing as absolute truth. These young people are ripe for “secular evangelists” like Dawkins and Harris.

I automatically question how accurate that 9% figure is (it seems like it should be much higher), but it’s all nothing more than Orwellian scare tactics to keep people from learning something on their own. When Ham paints atheism as something to be feared, people close themselves off to understanding it. It works all the time. Just look at the US after 9/11 and the lead up to war with Iraq. A majority of Americans closed themselves off from rational thought out of fear right when we most needed to be reasonable. Ham’s trying to achieve the same thing.

Finally, how else could a religious leader finish except to ask for money?

As we begin this new year, I ask you to consider what you might do to partner with us. The website and future museum are wonderful ways we can counter the atheists’ message of meaninglessness and hopelessness—and offer the precious gospel instead.

Once again, painting atheism as something it’s not. *Sigh*

To sum it all up, I wanted to share this letter because it displays one of my major problems with organized religion. Almost all are based on fear and use fear to maintain power. The only reason this tactic perseveres is because fear is the best way to keep people in line. No free, civilized society should stand for it. Now, I'm sure Ken Ham is sincere about his beliefs, and I have no problem with that, but that doesn't mean should be allowed to scare people into believing the same thing. It's coercive and ethically wrong.

More on Bush Administation's Supression of Science

The Boston Globe's online newpaper has an article concerning recent statements from US Representative Peter Welch, D-Vermont:

U.S. Rep. Peter Welch says it was a "stunning personal experience" to hear federal scientists say they had been stymied from talking about climate change.

"There was a story about a scientist who got authorized to speak at a conference. He was prohibited from using the phrase 'global warming.' He was allowed to say 'global,' and he could say 'warming,' but he couldn't put them next to each other. It became a charade," Welch said.

I'm surprised it took Rep. Welch this long to figure it out. Regardless, the entire charade by the White House is sickening. What's worse is how the article ends:

The White House maintains it was trying to bring balance to reports on global warming.

What is there to balance? The vast majority of the scientific community agrees with the evidence. Once again, the problem comes down to ignorance of science. This quote from Paul Ehrlich says it best:

Laypeople frequently assume that in a political dispute the truth must lie somewhere in the middle, and they are often right. In a scientific dispute, though, such an assumption is usually wrong.

Scientists Reveal Bush Administration's Pressure Against Global Warming

Now that the Democrats have control of Congress, we're finally starting to see the full extent of the Bush Administration's abuse of science. MSNBC has a good article on the subject. Here's a short excerpt:

The Democratic-controlled Congress on Tuesday stepped up its pressure on President Bush’s global warming strategy, hearing allegations of new political pressure on government scientists to downplay the threat of global warming.

Lawmakers received survey results of federal scientists that showed 46 percent felt pressure to eliminate the words “climate change,” “global warming” or similar terms from communications about their work.

The scientists also reported 435 instances of political interference in their work over the past five years.

We all knew it was happening, but now that the political climate in Washington has changed (no pun intended...okay, maybe it was), we're finally starting to see something done about it. We've already seen the President acknowledge climate change and the need to do something about it in the SOTU. Only time will tell if he backs up his promises. Somehow, I doubt he'll do anything about it.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Refuting Divine Command Theory

One of the favorite theories clung to by the moral absolutists and the religious right is the theory of Divine Command. Essentially this theory states that moral goodness is determined solely by the will of God. God, Bad, Right, Wrong, singularly depend on Gods will.

I will state theory again in unequivocal terms…

God determines the morals of the world.

Refuting this theory is accomplished solely through the use of logic. The great Athenian philosopher Socrates presented this logic impeccably in his Euthyphro Dilemma:

1) To begin our logical destruction of Divine Command Theory let us first assume that it is true… God dictates the morals of the world.

So, if Divine Command Theory is true then one of two possible scenarios occur with regard to actions deemed “morally good”

a. Morally good acts are willed by God because they are morally good.
b. Morally good acts are morally good because they are willed by God.

See the distinction? Is it good because God says it is good, or is it good because it simply is good?

2) Let us now address these two scenarios. If (a) morally good acts are willed by God because they are morally good, then all morally good acts exist entirely independent of Gods will.

Is it the case that morally good acts exist independent of Gods will? If you are an atheist then certainly, but if you are a person of faith you cannot possibly believe that things in the world can exist independent of God or you are simply a hypocritical moron.

Let us assume then that you are a person of faith, God's will controls all, thus our first premise must be false.

3) This leads to our second scenario, (b) morally good acts are morally good because they are willed by God.

If this is the case, then what is the point? God’s will has already been set and determined. He has dictated what is right, what is wrong, what is good, and what is bad, so there is no need for any independent assessment. If there is no reason for independent assessment what is the point of worshiping God at all, would he deviate from his own set plan? I purport that he would not, therefore if out second scenario is true…

There would be no cause either to care about morality or to worship God.

4) Again, assuming we are persons of faith, we clearly disagree with the aforementioned statement. Thus our second scenario is also incorrect.

5) With both our scenarios being incorrect where does that leave Divine Command Theory? The answer is in tatters and we should continue debating, discussing, and seeking the truth about morality and the nature of man.

The reDiscovery Institute

I just came across this nice little bit of parody (thanks to Nullifidian's feed at Planet Atheism): The reDiscovery Institute. It does an excellent job poking fun at the real-life Discovery Institute and highlights the absurdities of a religious organization masquerading as a scientific one. It also performs the critical task of teaching the controversies. You know, controveries like the theory of gravity, the periodic table, the solar system, literature, etc.

If you think the Discovery Institute is as silly as I do, then you'll love the reDiscovery Institute.

God Said it, I Believe it, that Settles it!

Crooks and Liars has a short clip from Alexandra Pelosi's film, Friends of God, dealing with evangelical views towards evolution. I recommend you check it out.

From watching it, one can easily see why Creationism endures in America. As the woman early in the clip said, "Creationism is easy." Most people don't want to take time to understand science, and then they believe in liars like Ken Ham just because he speaks from the pulpit.

Then you have adults doing everything they can to prevent children from thinking for themselves with the line "God said it, I believe it, that settles it." There's few things worse than willingly supressing a child's ability to learn and forever closing his or her mind to inquiry.

Quote of the Week

"Religion is nothing more than bad concepts held in place of good ones for all time. It is the denial—at once full of hope and full of fear—of the vastitude of human ignorance."

- Sam Harris, from The End of Faith.

Montana Loves Freedom

Last Friday, Representative Robin Hamilton of the Montana House of Representatives introduced House Joint Resolution No. 21, which would ensure separation of church and state, particularly in Montana's public education system (see the NCSE post about it here). Here's the main language of the bill:

WHEREAS, a high quality science education is critically important for Montana students to be able to participate in today's technologically driven society; and
WHEREAS, the statewide science standards adopted by the Board of Public Education and implemented through a science curriculum designed by local boards of trustees across the state have resulted in a very high quality education system in our state; and
WHEREAS, Montana is fortunate to have many knowledgeable science teachers who are well qualified to determine appropriate strategies and tools for teaching science to Montana's students; and
WHEREAS, there are a number of national fundamentalist organizations seeking to force local schools to adopt a science curriculum that conforms to their particular religious beliefs and that includes theories commonly referred to as creationism, creation science, and intelligent design theory; and
WHEREAS, in 1999, these organizations were successful in pressuring the Kansas State Board of Education into removing evolution theory from the science curriculum, resulting in the State of Kansas being held up to national ridicule and portraying that state in a very negative light; and
WHEREAS, these national efforts undermine a community's local control, a teacher's academic freedom, and a student's opportunity to receive quality science education; and
WHEREAS, the doctrine of separation of church and state protects citizens, churches, and religious organizations from the government adopting or endorsing a particular religion's teachings.

(1) That the Montana Legislature support local adoption of a science curriculum that is based on sound scientific principles and supported by science teachers, parents, and the local community.
(2) That the Montana Legislature oppose the efforts of national organizations seeking to impose their religious interpretations of events and phenomena on local schools under the guise of science curricula.
(3) That the Montana Legislature recognize the importance of teaching Montana students about religious traditions, beliefs, and history and encourage inclusion of these topics in religious studies, sociology, and history.
(4) That the Montana Legislature recognize the importance of and support the separation of church and state to protect religious freedom of all citizens to worship as their conscience guides them.

I must say, I am extremely glad to see something like this appearing in a state legislature to ensure the constitutionally-mandated separation of church and state. Furthermore, teaching children ID and creationism does not teach them anything about science. It teaches them to be satisfied with not understanding the world. It's the antithesis of science. Every state in the nation should have something like this to keep us from falling behind the rest of the world scientifically and technologically.

Unfortunately, I don't know how likely this bill is to pass, but a similar measure died in committee in 2005, so we'll see what happens.

ID Organization Begs for Money

The Foundation for Thought and Ethics, the organization that published the intelligent design textbook Of Pandas and People, is getting ready to publish their new ID textbook the Design of Life. There's only one problem: they need $200,000 and they want YOU to donate the money. Why should you support this cause? Well, Jon Buell provides a number of laughable reasons in his fundraising letter. First off, Buell says points to the desperate state of "Darwinists" and their supporters:

The Darwinists believe they are losing. Why else would they politicize an academic debate, take it into courts, and punish skeptics?

Wait a minute. Wasn't it ID supporters who lobbied school boards to change the curriculum of several public school districts? Wasn't it ID supporters who hoped to force the issue in court to overrrule Edwards v. Aguillard? Now, who actually politicized this? As for the punishing skeptics part, the major example IDists push, the whole Sternburg saga, is a situation where the guy deserved to be fired (read more here).

And fascinating facts are surfacing. Careful analysis reveals that 90.9% of Judge John E. Jones's verdict was lifted, almost verbatim, including the errors, from the ACLU's submitted "Findings of Fact." The opinion is not his own analysis at all.

Despite the fact that this claim has long since been dealt with, I'll address it again here for the sake of education. When a judge agrees with one side's findings of fact, then he or she will use it. That is how they regularly operate. They're not writing literature, a historical essay, or a scientific paper, so it's not a matter of plagurism (read more here).

Meanwhile, Interest in Intelligent Design is Exploding!

  • Biochemist Franklin Harold said, ". . .but we must concede that there are presently no detailed Darwinian accounts of the evolution of any biochemical system, only a variety of wishful speculations."
  • In an MIT Press book, Origination of Organismal Form, the authors admit, "neo-Darwinism has no theory of the generative."
  • Google reported over 24 million hits on the term intelligent design during most of the trial.
  • Two movies are in the works on ID, one from each perspective.
  • Over 4.000 gathered in the Univ. of So. Florida Sun Dome Sports Arena for an ID conference.
  • A Texas Voter's Guide published in the fall reached 6 .4 million, reporting the views of candidates on various issues of public interest. Those favoring the inclusion of ID in biology courses outnumbered opponents by a three-to-one margin.
  • Franklin Harold's quote is a push to remove excessive speculation and focus more on observation when using the theory of evolution. It has nothing to do with ID. Origination of Organismal Form is meant to stimulate research to produce a more comprehensive theory of evolution, which is simply science doing what it's supposed to do: explore the unknown. Once again, it has nothing to do with ID. Google hits? Please. I've Googled Intelligent Design. That doesn't mean I support it. As for the ID conference, if you Google it, you'll get hits from a bunch of ID websites. It seems like it's only a big deal in the minds of the IDists. The actual scientific community didn't even notice. Finally, Buell doesn't provide the source for his "three-to-one margin" data, so that's extremely suspect.

    So we have a couple of lies and overblown or misleading claims. But it gets better:

    The stage is set for The Design of Life:

  • The manuscript is complete. The book itself is a phenomenon.
  • It is scheduled to be released on March 1st, 2007, provided we can secure the funding for this exciting project.
  • We've got a start on booking Dembski to speak at universities with this book.
  • We have hired a marketing and PR firm to work with us and a comprehensive plan for marketing the book is in the works.
  • It has the explosive potential to reach young people, as the recent gathering of young people at the University of South Florida's Sun Dome attests.
  • Christianity Today calls Dembski "Johnson's successor as the informal leader of the intelligent design community." Dembski authored the first ID book by a major university press (Cambridge University Press, 1998). He edited Darwin's Nemesis (IVP), a Festschrift in honor of Prof. Phillip Johnson. His work has been featured on the front page of the New York Times, he has debated top Darwinists at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and has appeared on ABC's Nightline. He lectures around the globe (the Niels Bohr Institute in Denmark, Cambridge and Oxford, U.C. Berkeley, UCLA, Princeton, Yale, MIT) on ID.

  • Wow. A phenomenon. Well, I can't wait. It's also interesting that the "informal leader of the intelligent design community" is a mathematician, not a biologist. Enough said there.

    Buell then goes into a lengthy allegory about "Darwinists" unknowingly flying upside down, which results in materialism, immorality, etc. Then he finishes by saying, "Darwinism is the most effective engine of atheism ever invented!" Right. Because as an atheist, I really base my morality on the theory of evolution. Like I've always said. Evolution is not a basis of morality, nor should it be. It simply describes an observed natural phenomenon. As an atheist, I base my morality on the principle of empathy, not a scientific theory. Clearly, Buell's diatribe reveals the underlying fundamentalist Christian motives of the ID movement (not like there was any doubt, anyway).

    Next, we have this gem:

    Friends, the time is ripe for the next step-leap, really-in this movement. We can bring what has seemed like a dream to full reality. I urge you to embrace and adopt this vital and noble vision as your own! Are you giving what you can to bring a big and noble vision to fruition? Whether for the sake of the school children you see out romping over the Christmas vacation, or for the future of America, the West, and of civilization, there could be no greater reason to reach out, seize a great vision, and embrace it as the cause that you will fight for, bleed for, deny yourself for, take risks for, and champion among your friends.

    The future of Western Civilization depends on the success of ID? Riiiiight. Too bad it's science that has made the West such a great place to live. What did a completely Christian society bring us? Oh that's right. The Middle Ages and Puritan New England, just to name a couple of examples.

    Then the letter begs for $200,000 with the promise that The Design of Life will triumph over the repressive government. What, was Of Pandas and People not sneaky enough? Did it not sound "sciency" enough. Did you not make a profit of of Pandas? Considering the lies Buell told above to try and convince people to give him money, I seriously doubt this "phenomenon" of a textbook will have an honest representation of evolution. Pandas certainly did not.

    Finally, just in case we weren't sure ID was religiously-motivated movement, the letter ends with:

    Would you prayerfully consider what you are able to do to help? And please also pray for us in this exciting adventure! God bless you!

    You know, if ID could stand on its scientific merit, then it wouldn't need prayer. At any rate, it's good to see that a leading ID organization is strapped for cash.

    Monday, January 29, 2007

    Colorado State Senator Wants to Destroy State's Education System

    Here's a little local news for me today. Too bad it's not positive. State Senator Dave Schultheis of Colorado Springs (where else?) recently introduced a bill in the state legislature to create a "Public Schools Religious Bill of Rights." Besides being completely unnecessary, the bill would give students wildly different educations depending on the religious views of their teachers.

    The bill seeks to codify several rights students and teachers already have, including the right to proclaim their religious beliefs, hold prayer meetings outside of school hours, wear religiously themed clothing, exchange gifts, etc. All of these rights are already guaranteed by the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution. Most of the proposed bill is pure fluff.

    However, there are two proposed rights I would like to comment on:


    This is almost humorous coming from a Republican considering the Right has been the only group trying to limit the winter holiday greetings to "Merry Christmas." Regardless, it's guaranteed by the Constitution, making this proposed right as unnecessary as the others.

    The most harmful proposal is the following:


    This is obviously a sneak attack directed towards teaching the theory of evolution. The problem is that if a teacher refuses to teach a topic on religious grounds, then his or her students will suffer while students who recieve the instruction will have an advantage. It creates a harmful disparity in education. As goverment officials, teachers have a constitutionally mandated responsibility to not respect an establishment of religion. Teachers can have whatever beliefs they want, but those beliefs cannot be forced onto their students.

    Luckily, the bill doesn't stand a chance of passing. As Senator Bob Hagedorn, D-Aurora, said, "I would have to question whether or not Sen. Schultheis is serious about passing meaningful legislation or whether he just wants to throw something inflammatory out there and get shot down and then go play the martyr." It makes sense. Considering Schultheis represents the evangelical enclave of Colorado Springs, this is probably just a way for him to appeal to his voters. More than likely, he wants to look like another poor, persecuted Christian so he'll be reelected whenever his term ends.

    Sunday, January 28, 2007

    More on the Thylacine Saga

    A little while ago I posted a response to an essay from Shelly the Republican which suggested that thylacines (tasmanian wolves) and wolves are actually the same thing (you can read my post here). I later dismissed the whole thing as a parody since that's what Shelley the Republican seems to be.

    While I still think Shelly the Republican is a parody, a commentor brought it to my attention that the essay itself originated elsewhere. Shelley simply copied it from the intelligent design blog Overwhelming Evidence and added the pictures and captions. Overwhelming Evidence is the "kid-friendly" offshoot of Uncommon Descent and is partly maintained by William Dembski, a leading ID advocate.

    Now, I know for a fact that Overwhelming Evidence is not a parody, and the fact that this ignorant essay is sincere makes me extremely worried about the future of America. Of course, someone could be preying on the gullibility of creationists, as Randi pointed out in the comments section. Wouldn't be the first time it's worked (see here).

    Evangelicals Want Kenyan Museum to Hide Hominid Fossils

    Talk about covering your eyes and hoping it all goes away. Evangelicals in Kenya have recently been pushing for Kenya's National Museum to hide its world-class collection of hominid bones. If that's not admitting defeat, then I don't know what is. Bishop Boniface Adoyo, Chairman of the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya said in protest of the museum displaying the bones:

    "When museums claim that man evolved from apes, they are actually hurting many Christians who believe that God created us."

    It's not the museum's fault that the evidence leads scientists to agree with evolution. Trying to censor the evidence simply acknowledges that you don't want your false claims to be revealed.

    Luckily, the museum has stated that they will not remove the fossils.

    Read more at Talk Reason.

    Introduction and On Relativism

    First of all let me say how honored I am that lord J-bar would consider me worthy enough to be invited to submit posts to his blog. I am not a scientist and know little more about evolution than what I have been able to personally gauge from the mind of Lord-J bar. I do consider myself a firm pragmatic thinker and shall make posts on such matters that suit that fancy.

    Thus it is with great pleasure that I introduce my first post… a query on Relativism.

    Let me begin with this assumption.
    Assumption: It is commonly believed that those who are religiously devout tend to believe that the world is made up of moral absolutes. Such people are called (no surprise here) Moral Absolutists.

    According to the idea of moral absolutism, something deemed “morally wrong” is and was always morally wrong. The idea is that certain practices transcend cultural is not all together wrong. Murder, rape, theft, all these things are fairly universally condoned. But the practice of rampant absolutism runs into difficulties in my following hypothetical situation.

    I put forth that slavery is and was always wrong. Simply because it was done in abundance in olden days did not make it right.

    The bible; however, has specific mentions to slavery and actually sets down regulations on how it is to be conducted (See Exodus 20:1-12 through 21:1-31)
    Therefore, a devout person of the Christian or Jewish faith, who also professes to be a moral absolutist, must admit that these passages of the bible are morally repugnant; that their practice was wrong, and by setting out specific instructions for the proper conduct of slavery, God was morally wrong.

    I know of no one who would suggest that their own sacred texts are morally backwards and I am certainly not saying to those of us who do believe in the almighty are worshiping a morally bankrupt God.

    But in this sense it would be far more pragmatic for the religious person to be moral relativists; that the practices of out forefathers were not wrong… just acceptable to the morals of the time.

    However, this is contrary to those who would suggest that the bible is literally true.

    If it makes much better sense then for the bible to be relative then, why such opposition to the idea of Relativism?

    I have no good answer to that. Maybe because accepting the bible as relative debunks all biblical arguments against things like homosexuality and abortion. But relativism seems to me to make for a much more tolerant society, and furthering this idea may be to all of our betterment.

    Pastor Calls All Atheists Liars

    This is one of those instances where I want to hang my head in shame at the level of ignorance some people can display.

    First off, let me give you some background. Last August, in an attempt to combat the city's rising violent crime rate, the City of Jacksonville sponsored a huge group prayer session in Veterans Memorial Arena, calling it "A Day of Faith: Arming Our Prayer Warriors." I have to smirk when I think of a city bringing several thousand people together in a sports arena to pray when it would have been more productive to spend the money on hiring more police officers, but I digress. The problem was that the city used taxpayer funds to sposor the event, a big no-no in terms of church-state separation. As a result, American Atheists, Inc. sued the city for spending public funds on religious activities. In the end, Jacksonville settled the case out of court and paid American Atheists $5,000 (Read more about the outcome here).

    This morning, the Florida Times-Union published a letter from Pastor Linn W. Howard in response to the settlement. Here's what the letter said:

    As a former resident of Jacksonville and now a Presbyterian minister serving in Pittsburgh, Pa., I was sad to see that the city of Jacksonville paid $5,000 to American Atheists Inc.

    The city of Jacksonville and our nation would be better served if we would recognize that all of us are people of faith.

    The nonbeliever and the believer both make faith decisions about the multitude of unknowns in our world as they establish a framework for living their lives.

    The scientific community is full of men and women of faith.

    Francis Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project, has written a fascinating book, The Language of God, in which he outlines his journey from being an atheist scientist to a scientist of faith.

    Even if you disagree with his faith decision after reading this book, you will more fully understand that all people are "people of faith."

    I commend Mayor John Peyton and the leaders of the city of Jacksonville for their intellectual, social, civil and community integrity for calling together the whole community, with people of all faiths, in order to respond to the growing homicide rate in the city.

    It is time that we call the bluff of those who are atheists and refuse to give in to their claim that they are people of "no faith."

    This is a simple lie they are using for their advantage over every other citizen in the United States.

    I'm afraid Pastor Howard doesn't know what she's talking about. Citing the example of a single scientist who proudly proclaims his belief in Christianity is not proof that atheists must have faith. In fact, it has no bearing whatsoever. It's like saying that a single Christian leaving the faith makes all Christians nonbelievers. It's absurd.

    The letter also shows her prejudice when she calls all atheists liars for having their own views on the world. It's insulting and remarkably intolerant. She should be ashamed of herself.

    Thanks to Secular Planet for bringing this letter to my attention.

    Religion Does Not Make Someone a Better Person

    The claim I always have to shake my head at is the idea that religion will make someone a better human being since it provides something a person would not otherwise have. However, is there any real validity to this claim? Let’s look at a little evidence and use a little logic, shall we?

    Without a doubt, nearly all religious people are good, moral people. It’s silly to claim otherwise. However, I’d argue that most people are naturally good to start with. Can we really attribute religion to that person being good? All people have a natural sense of empathy. It’s what makes us feel bad when a person is harmed or what makes us feel guilty when we do something that harms another. It seems more like religion is the way humans try to codify that sense of empathy. Plus, the existence of empathy is easy to see even before the development of the Ten Commandments. In the older Code of Hammurabi, one can find the same general rules that basically direct people not to harm one another. At least as long as there’s been civilization, humans have felt empathy towards one another. The next question becomes: could we have developed empathy without a higher power?

    One can easily see why evolution would favor humans who help others within their own social groups. Besides our cognitive abilities, humans excel at few things. We can’t run fast. We don’t have any natural defenses. We dehydrate quickly. Our brain requires a vast amount of energy to operate. Our young are helpless for more than a year after birth. There seems to be no reason for us to have survived until one adds empathy to the equation. Since empathy makes people feel good about alleviating suffering in others, it makes people want to work together because it lessens suffering throughout the society. Working together, humans can acquire more resources than loners, and empathetic individuals care for the sick and wounded, making it more likely empathetic humans will live long enough to reproduce. Loners would not have these benefits. We can see it today. People who lack a sense of empathy, rapists, murderers, etc., are quickly shunned from society, preventing them from gaining the benefits of society. Therefore, it’s not a huge stretch of the imagination to see why surviving humans would naturally develop a sense of empathy. Plus, we can see the same behavior in chimpanzees, so it’s not a trait unique to humans.

    Now, if religion is just how people codify empathy, then what’s the problem? The problem is that religion can also remove the sense of empathy one feels towards a different group of human beings. Every religion proclaims its believers are the only people that matter and nonbelievers are to be despised. This removes the sense of empathy a group of religious people would otherwise feel towards nonbelievers. This dehumanization then allows the believers to maim, torture, kill, and otherwise harm other humans with no sense of remorse. Plus, it makes the believers feel good because they believe they have helped others within their social group. Just look at the historical example of the Inquisition. Inquisitors happily killed heretics because they felt they were helping society by removing the destructive influence of sin. This willingness to kill in the name of religion is just an unfortunate side effect of our ability to be selective with our empathy.

    Of course, religion isn’t the only societal construct to do this. Racism and the efforts of Social Darwinism do the same things. However, most modern people can agree that adherence to racism and Social Darwinism is harmful to those who suffer from it. Why should religion be any different? It needlessly categorizes people along lines that would otherwise not exist.

    In the end, most people will be good because we’ve evolved that way. It’s what allows us to survive in a dangerous world. Unfortunately, our sense of empathy only extends to humans within our perceived societal group. Religion inadvertently exploits this shortcoming, making it easer for religious people to discriminate those of a different faith. In the end, it’s an extra rift that simply doesn’t need to be there and doesn’t add anything substantial to our sense of morality. We don't need fear of a giant, invisible man in the sky to be good people.

    Evolution Sunday

    Butler University, sponsor of the Clergy Letter Project had this infomation regarding the upcoming Evolution Sunday:

    On 11 February 2007 hundreds of congregations from all portions of the country and a host of denominations will come together to discuss the compatibility of religion and science. For far too long, strident voices, in the name of Christianity, have been claiming that people must choose between religion and modern science. More than 10,000 Christian clergy have already signed The Clergy Letter demonstrating that this is a false dichotomy. Now, on the 198th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, many of these leaders will bring this message to their congregations through sermons and/or discussion groups. Together, participating religious leaders will be making the statement that religion and science are not adversaries. And, together, they will be elevating the quality of the national debate on this topic.

    Even though I personally feel that science and religion are inherently incompatible since one is based on a fantasy and the other is based on reality, I think this is a good program. It helps churches inform their congregations on the real nature of science and its purpose and encourages productive discussions instead of spreading "unquestionable," blatant lies and misrepresentations. Unfortunately, Evolution Sunday will certainly not find its way into the chruches that need it the most. However, teaching proper science through churches is a good way to reach and change the minds of millions of Americans so they can put pressure on the more fundamentalist sect of their religion.

    Correction: Butler University does not actually sponsor the Clergy Letter Project, it just allows the projects website to be hosted on their server. Thanks to William for pointing this out to me.

    Rush Limbaugh Hates Freedom

    Yesterday on his show, Rush Limbaugh made this Medieval-minded comment:

    The liberals did indeed bandy about, bang on the drums for women in combat. Now anyone with, it just isn’t right. Whether they can do it or not, that’s not what a cultured civilized society does to its women, they just don’t do it. Except in dire, dire circumstances, but yet they did. But yet we’ve not, they have in college, women should be allowed to place kick in college football, but they haven’t said a thing about women playing pro football, now why is that because they know it would be impossible. They know the average human being wouldn’t last more than two plays, the average woman wouldn’t even, it would be, they don’t even suggest it yet they do for the military? So what does it tell you they of the military? Its nothing but a little social playground for experimentation, by the way since they’re liberals they’d love to weaken it and love to tear it apart and cause all kinds of controversy and strife, and they do it under the guise of women’s rights, I’m sure there are some imminently qualified women in the military I am not talking about their ability to do, I am talking about the institution and what it says about a cultured civilized society that it will round up babes send them off to basic training and send them off to the foxholes. It can be done, but its not recommended.

    Either Limbaugh is retarded and thinks the American government rounds up women off the street and forces them into the military or (more likely) he clings to an ancient religioius belief and thinks women are supposed to be second class citizens who can't make any decisions for themselves.

    Well Rush, let me tell you something. All the women in the military are there by choice, that's what it means to have a volunteer army. For example, women aren't allowed into the Army's major combat branches (infantry, armor, artillery), but they do a fantastic job in the branches they are in. Plus, if having women in the military is a way to "weaken" and "tear [it] apart," then why is it the most effective fighting force on the planet? Look at how fast our Army advanced in Iraq in 2003. No other army in the world could do that as quickly. It sure doesn't seem like women have done any harm to it.

    Of course, it's too much to expect any sense of reality from Limbaugh's statements. He lives in a fantasy world where liberals are vile enemies of the nation and only straight, white, Christian men are allowed to have any say. In Limbaugh's dreamworld, women are good, subservient, Christian wives who have no place in society except to make babies (of course, they can't make any choice when it comes to that either). It's disgusting. After something like this, it'd be real nice if the Right would stop listening to the intolerance this man spews forth, but I doubt it. They all live in the same culturally backward fantasy.

    Saturday, January 27, 2007

    Inconvenient Evidence for the Religious Right: Gay Sheep

    Time Magazine just published an article about the uproar in the blogging world over Oregon Health & Science University's research on homosexual rams. It turns out the claims made by PETA were blown out of proportion, but I'm not going to cover that here (I suggest you read the article because it's interesting to see how quick rumors can get out of control on the internet). What I'm going to cover here is the findings of the study.

    One finding was that about 8% of rams have sex exclusively with other rams, which is about the rate of incidence found in human populations. Another finding is "that gay rams have different brain structures from heterosexual ones."

    It all goes to show how reality goes completely against the claims of fundamentalist Christian organizations such as Focus on the Family who insist that homosexuality is a "morally deviant choice." Come on people, the only reason you think that is because of a few lines in a Bronze Age text. If they really think humans are the only living things with free will, then how do they explain a part of nature engaging in "morally deviant behavior?" Of course, the willing ignorance of conservative Christians means these findings will probably be ignored and James Dobson will keep doing "research," a.k.a. making shit up, to justify his interpretion of the Bible.

    If we really want to be a moral and just society, then we need to look away from ancient myths, not towards them. Otherwise, millions of Americans will continue to suffer from irrational, pointless hatred based on a distant culture's prejudices that have no bearing on the modern world.

    Friday, January 26, 2007

    An Actual Attempt to Suggest that Wolves are the Same as Tasmanian Wolves

    A few days ago I wrote a response to a post on Shelley the Republican that claimed the thylacine (Tasmanian wolf) was no different than an actual wolf despite the significant reproductive differences, amongst other things (you can see my post here). As it turns out, Shelley the Republican is probably a satire, and I wrote off the whole comparison as an effectively absurd joke.

    However, an actual ID "scientist" has been trying to do the same thing for real. The forum had this statement from the comments of Uncommon Descent where Wesley R. Elsberry said:

    Then there was the ID conference in San Francisco where Dr. Cornelius G. Hunter, the "expert" involved in the antievolution shenanigans in Roseville, CA, presented the wolf and thylacine as identical twins separated at birth argument. His visual aid, handily printed in the proceedings, consisted of two images side-by-side. On one side, you had the usual painting of two thylacines in color. On the other, you had the same painting, mirrored horizontally, and desaturated. Yep, you just could not tell the difference between the wolves on one side and the thylacines on the other. Uncanny, even.

    At least, none of the ID attendees cottoned on. It wasn't until I pointed out the problem to Paul Nelson that the ID community had notice of it.

    Later, Cornelius Hunter posted his response:

    It is strange that evolutionists never get around to addressing the scientific issue. Wesley Elsberry appears to be denying convergence, but that can't be true. If he has an explanation for convergence then let's hear it. If not, then admit it. Here is the question for evolutionists: How is it that similarities such as the pentadactyl pattern are such powerful evidence for evolution, in light of equala and greater levels of similarity in distant species, such as dsplayed in the marsupial and placental mouse?

    Despite the fact that a distant common ancestor can explain the later convergence since they probably started with the same or a similar form and evolved to adapt to the same problem, the part that really angers me is how Cornelius Hunter tired to deceive the audience by altering pictures of the thylacines. This complete lack of intellectual honesty is why I can never take ID advocates seriously (besides the fact that ID doesn't follow the conventions of science).

    Check out PZ Myers' thoughts on the matter at Pharyngula.

    Mississippi Wants a Lawsuit

    Representative Lott of the Mississippi House of Representatives recently introduced House Bill 625, which would allow public schools to teach ID and creationism. The bill reads as follows:

    The school board of a school district may allow the teaching of creationism or intelligent design in the schools within the district. However, if the theory of evolution is required to be taught as part of the school district's science curriculum, in order to provide students with a comprehensive education in science, the school board also must include the teaching of creationism or intelligent design in the science curriculum.

    I bet the Discovery Institute is stomping their feet in frustration over this one. Did Representative Lott not get their memo that ID cannot be equated with creationism? Luckily, the Supreme Court's decision of Edwards v. Aguillard defintively prevents this bill from being legal. If it does pass, it won't last long.

    Thursday, January 25, 2007

    Bravo Senator Hagel

    I found this encouraging video on YouTube today:

    I'm amazed he's actually a Republican. It's nice to see them start to break ranks and stand up for the right thing when it comes to Iraq. I don't know where he stands on any other issues, but Senator Hagel shows that it is still patriotic and American to disagree with bad policies. Senator Hagel, I applaud you for your courage to take the harder path and do what is right. Bravo.

    Evangelicals Have Better Sex?

    Tonight HBO will feature the documentary "Friends of God" by Alexandra Pelosi, daughter of House Majority Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Ther interesting part is that Pelosi's guide through the evangelical world was none other that Ted Haggard. In the Newsweek interview with Pelosi, the interviewer made this observation of the doumentary:

    Early on in the film, Haggard tells you, “Surveys say that evangelicals have the best sex life of any other group.” He then asks a pair of married, young male parishioners standing nearby how often they have sex with their wives. One of them responds, “Every day. Twice a day.” Then Haggard asks the man how frequently she climaxes. “Every time,” the man says.
    I guess evangelical sex might be better if you're having sex with a male prostitute on the side. BWHAHAHAHA!

    On a more serious note, considering the subservience expected from conservative Christian wives, I wonder if the sex actually is great or if there's much of a choice in the matter. Of course, the Bible says that the woman must be subservient to the man, so the true believers who are female probably go along, not questioning their second class position. It's just one more reason to stop looking to an ancient book for morality.

    Uncommon Stupidity on Iraq

    DaveScot over at the pro-intelligent design blog Uncommon Descent created a rather assinine post titled "Jim Webb: Clueless" in reaction to Senator Jim Webb's delivery of the Democratic response to the State of the Union. DaveScot says:

    As I was watching the Democratic response to President Bush’s State Of The Union speech tonight Senator Jim Webb played the United States Marine card three times (for himself, his brother, and his son all Marines). I take it personally when someone does that.

    The first thing Webb does is claims to know better than the president and all the president’s advisors how to effectively fight terrorism because, well, Jim was a Marine in Vietnam. Well Jim, I was a Marine at the end of the Vietnam war. I didn’t go, it was mostly over by then, but one thing I noticed was that all the non-commissioned officers senior to me were real combat veterans. They knew how to survive guerilla warfare in an Asian backwater. Me and my generation of Marines, all we did was play at wargames 4 weeks a year in the Mojave desert. No one was trying to kill us, no foreign language was spoken by the natives, no guerillas in civilian clothes running around, none of that. After 30 years of that kind of experience our military was virtually without anyone in any rank who’d had actual combat experience. Here’s the deal Jim. In order to have an effective force in fighting guerilla and urban wars in Arab countries we need actual combat veterans seasoned in that type of warfare leading the unseasoned troops. Use your head, Jim. Now we have an effective force led by NCOs who know how to survive urban and guerilla wars in Arab countries. And Bush managed to build that force without losing 58,000 American lives as were sacrificed in Vietnam but rather limited the losses to 3,000. Use your head for something other than a place to put your hat, Jim. We needed a veteran ground combat force for the Middle Eastern theater. Now we have one. Now what happened to Russia in Afghanistan won’t happen to us.

    All I can say is wow. He accuses Senator Webb of playing the Marine card and then responds by...playing the Marine card. Furthermore, he didn't even fight in Vietnam. How dare he belittle Senator Webb's service to our nation.

    Secondly, how idiotic can you get when you suggest invading other countries just so we can have an effective fighting force? As if our image on the world stage wasn't tarnished enough. I thought DaveScot just didn't understand the methods of science. It appears he also knows nothing about policy and how to interact with the rest of the world.

    As much as DaveScot would like to fantasize, the war in Iraq hasn't made our military more effective. The strain on personnel from multiple rotations and the steady loss of servicable equipment has placed us in a more vulnerable position than before the Iraq war.

    DaveScot, the way you prepare a professional military for war is by training, not sending them to kill and be killed. Our training is the best in the world and you can see it in the speed and effectiveness at which we initially succeeded in Afghanistan and Iraq. That's the reason we've lost 3,000 lives compared to 58,000 lives in Vietnam. Our training is much better today than it was then. Plus, we're fighting a much smaller number of enemies in Iraq since we're dealing with just insurgents instead of insurgents and the entire nation of North Vietnam.

    What about all the combat experience our troops have gained? Well, it hasn't helped in Iraq because military operations rely on an achievable goal. The military hasn't had that. The redeployment of combat veterans also hasn't lessened the insurgency. It continues unabated almost four years later. Combat experience can't fix bad policy. DaveScot, I'm afraid it is you who is clueless.

    Then DaveScot goes to bashing Senator Webb's discussion on the economy. I haven't done the research to refute this, but Ed Brayton of Dispatches from the Culture Wars does an excellent job dealing with this bit of ignorance. Brayton also saved a great comment left by the angry spouse of a servicewoman. True to form, DaveScot afterwards suspended all comments and erased the existing posts.

    New Science Subcommittee

    House Democrats have formed a new and badly-needed subcommittee to investigate the science abuses of the GOP. The subcommittee will report directly to the House Committee on Science and Technology, which deals with funding for all non-defense related scientific research. Read about it here at Daily Kos.

    I just want to say this is probably the best thing the Democrats have done so far. The selective use of science to influence policy has got to stop. What good is science if you're just going to ignore data that doesn't fit your political goals? Hopefully, this will bring some reality back to Congress and allow them to move forward on some critical issues.

    Wednesday, January 24, 2007

    Creationists Can't Take a Joke

    People for the American Way recently posted Dicovery Institute's Evolution "News" blog. The author from the DI, laments the "underlying anti-religious mindset" of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Luskin complains about how the FSM "mocks traditional Judeo-Christian religion."

    I've said it before and I'm saying it again: fundamentalist Christians will find anything they can to show they're being presecuted. It's pathetic. The FSM is a parody meant to show the absurdity of intelligent design/creationism. Besides, the whole thing is extremely hypocritical considering the treatment homosexuals have to endure from the Religious Right every day, and that is certainly not satire. They can't even begin to complain until they treat all of humanity with respect.

    More importantly, as Glenn Brock of the NCSE asked, "Why would mocking traditional religion be of concern to a purely scientific organization?" Excellent question Glenn. Perhaps the DI has an alterior motive? Anyway, I recommend you read the article.

    What's that you ask? Can I take a joke about atheism? Of course I can. Even though his recent material doesn't seem as funny as his older stuff, I still found Dane Cook's atheism joke hilarious. Besides, if an atheist gets offended from someone politely saying "God bless you," then he's a jerk and deserves wahtever he's got coming to him.

    Some Thoughts on the SOTU

    So, I watched the State of the Union address last night. I must say I'm not impressed except for one key part: President Bush said the words "climate change." I was a bit taken aback by this apparent about-face considering the denials and the distortions of science Bush's administration has utilized concerning Global Warming. However, he made the same promise he's made in previous years about alternative fuels and has yet to do anything about it. I seriously doubt he is truly sincere about stopping climate change and it was just a way for him to appease the new Democratic Majority.

    Of course, he's still not listening to anybody on Iraq. No surprise there. I loved how quiet the chamber became when Bush spoke about it.

    Finally, he didn't say anything about the "family values" issues. I'm not really surprised since 2006 showed that most Americans don't care about those issues. He's just avoiding the issue to save face politically. However, Bush's failure to mention anything on the "family" agenda certainly pissed off conservative Christians. Check out this video from Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council where he protests the President's lack of commitment to "family values." Sorry Tony, but most Americans don't want your "values."

    I am happy to hear the President mention climate change, but, given his track record, I doubt anything will come of it or any of his other promises. I 've got to keep telling myself: Just two more years and hopefully this nightmare will be over.

    On a more positive note, I enjoyed watching Senator Jim Webb give the Democratic response. It was one of the best deliveries in years and did a good job outlining the Democrats' goals. Plus, I like the way he stuck it to Bush on his lack of military service. Good job Senator Webb!

    Tuesday, January 23, 2007

    The Christian Culture of Deception

    The Atheist Ethicist has an excellent essay on the accepted practice of lying and deception within the current culture of Conservative, American Christians. The points brought up in the essay are one of the major reasons, if not the reason, I detest Conservative Christians. They label themselves as the moral and ethical standard bearers of the nation, but then show a complete lack of integrity and intellellectual honesty. If that's what it means to be moral and ethical, then I don't want anything to do with it. Again, I encourage you to read the essay.

    At Least the British Know Where Education on ID Belongs

    The United Kingdom recently released a plan to teach intelligent design in their public schools. No, it's okay, though, because ID will be right where it belongs in Religious Education classes. Furthermore, the class will feature the writings of Richard Dawkins to teach the atheist side of things. I bet this will have the IDists kicking and screaming in no time.

    In my opinion, this is a great idea because it might actually show atheism in a positive light and will allow students to see for themselves just how much ID relies on theology rather than science. It'd be nice if we could do that here, but I'm sure the conservative Christians would throw a fit over it. Just image the uproar if the atheism part were taught. It'd be pandemonium. As you can see I don't want to censor ID. It can be in public schools, but it needs to be where it belongs: a class on religion not science.

    Read the article from the Guardian here.

    Burma Hates Freedom

    The Telegraph has story on a secret Burmese government document titled "Programme to destroy the Christian religion in Burma." Some excerpts from the Telegraph aritcle:

    "Its discovery follows widespread reports of religious persecution, with churches burnt to the ground, Christians forced to convert to the state religion, Buddhism, and their children barred from school.

    "Human rights groups claim that the treatment meted out to Christians, who make up six per cent of the population, is part of a wider campaign by the regime, also targeted at ethnic minority tribes, to create a uniform society in which the race and language is Burmese and the only accepted religion is Buddhism.

    "In the past year, an estimated 27,000 members of the predominantly Christian Karen tribe were driven from their homes in eastern Burma.

    "In Koh Kyi village, in Arakan State, a monk backed by the military burnt down the local church. In another state, 300 monks were allegedly sent by the regime to forcibly convert the populace, all of whom belonged to the Chin ethnic group, which is mostly Christian."

    I'm somewhat hesitant to believe the authenticity of the document. It could be the reason behind the wave of anti-Christian violence or it could be a fake to make it look like the violence is the result of a Burmese government conspiracy.

    Either way, this is downright terrible and shows what happens when a religion dominates the government. With freedom of religion this doesn't happen. Everyone can believe what they want without fear of government sponsored persecution. Whenever Christians in this country claim they're being perscuted by the government, I'm going to refer them to this article because what Burma is doing is real persecution. This isn't the silly "War on Christmas" where stores aren't saying the "proper" greeting or "activist judges" trying to remove religion from public life, this is actual violence directed against a religious group for religious reasons. Fundamentalist Christians need to open their eyes and see that they actually have it better in the US than anywhere else.

    Now This is Really Idiotic

    The America First Party posted a press release yesterday on their website with the title "Abortion Leads to Nuclear War" after the Mother Teresa quote. It's all a bunch of ignorant nonsense about how the Republicans are no longer pro-life and you should vote for the America First Party, blah, blah, blah.

    Okay idiots (sorry to seem insensitive, but that includes Mother Teresa too), nuclear bombs have been used twice in only one war, and I seriously doubt the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had anything to do with abortion, considering it wasn't legal in the US in 1945.

    This "press release" also features the line:

    "It is abhorrent that abortion supporters choose to hide behind the term 'choice' to mask their goal of destroying unborn children and promoting immoral behavior without responsibility."
    Let me tell you right now, no one wants to destroy children. It's just that sometimes an abortion is the only option a mother may have to keep from ruining her life or the lives of her future children. Life is not always fair or simple. That's the way it is. I wish we could all live in a dream world of magic, but we don't, and trying to legislate it into reality won't make it so.

    Monday, January 22, 2007

    Kent Hovind Doesn't Check His "Facts"

    This is the last post about Kent Hovind, I swear. After doing a bit more research on the guy, I've found a little something I just had to share about how severely this man distorts science and uses unsubstantiated claims for evidence.

    In late 1999, New Mexicans for Science and Reason (NMSR) pulled a hilarious April Fool's prank. They created a fake fossil of a hominid being eaten by an Allosaurus (pictured below). They then photographed the "discovery" of the fossils and posted them on a website calling it "Onyate Man" along with a fictional story about the discoverer's attempt to reveal the find to the public while avoiding a world-wide consipiracy involving scientists and several governments determined to cover it all up. (You can see the original prank here and NMSR's explanation here)

    A month later, Kent Hovind told an audience in Philadelphia, PA "to study convincing new evidence of humans living with dinosaurs. Hovind's evidence, a web site at [no longer valid. It has been moved to here], turned out to be the annual NMSR April Fool's prank" (Source).

    Upon learning of their success, NMSR awarded Hovind with the 2000 P.T. Barnum "One Born Every Minute" Award at their Best and Worst of 1999 Awards. In response to NMSR's announcement letter, Hovind challenged NMSR scientists to a public debate. The NMSR made a counter-proposal offering to take part in a written debate with 750-word essays for each point and counter-point. Hovind repeatedly refused with the lame excuse of not having enough time and kept pushing for an oral debate. (You can see the dialogue here)

    What's the matter Hovind? Afraid to make an argument in writing that people have time to research and refute? It's a lot easier to lie when people don't have ready access to information, isn't it? This is not the first time Hovind has shown a dislike for writing out his "theories." He's even prevented his thesis from being publicly available. (Find out why this is a problem here)

    All in all, this just shows how unscientific Hovind's methods are. He finds any scrap of evidence, no matter how dubious it is or how much he has to distort it, and presents it as evidence for the Bible, which he never validates in the first place. Of course, silly things like "rules" don't apply to Hovind, and that's why he didn't pay his taxes.

    On a final note, I kind of worry whether or not NMSR did a disservice by creating this prank, since it has shown up as "evidence" from Creationist groups as late as 2004.

    More Lies from the White House

    The Center for American Progress has a revealing analysis of "Advancing Stem Cell Science Without Destroying Human Life," a document recently published by the White House. The CAP points out the wild distortions of science throughout the document, particualrly concerning the usefulness of adult stem cells and amneotic stem cells (here's the scientist who discovered amneotic stem cells saying they are not an alternative to embryonic stem cells).

    Despite the fact it's theology (and, therefore, unconstitutional) to believe that a sphere of 100 undifferentiated cells is a human being, the sheer audacity of the science distortions are amazing. Even with the general consensus within science against these claims, the White House has no problem lying to satisfy its supporters. This sort of lying to the American public is downright criminal. I can't wait for January 2009 when we finally get a new administration. Hopefully they'll show a degree of decency, unlike the current one.

    Just Who Is Kent Hovind and Why is He a Dirty Liar?

    Despite his opinions of his own self importance, few people outside fundamentalist Christian circles knew of Kent "Dr. Dino" Hovind prior to his arrest and conviction of tax evasion. As an educational service, I've provided a few videos of Kent Hovind's lectures. To keep the ignorance from overpowering you, the videos are actually responses from ExtantDodo that feature clips of Hovind's major talking points followed by actual science refuting his claims. Prepare to be in awe of Hovind's stupidity and the ease at which his claims are debunked:

    What amazes me is how Hovind goes against his own understanding of science right after explains it. He talks about how science is based on evidence from observation, but he never reconciles with the complete lack of observed evidence to make the theology of the Bible a valid starting assumption. He automatically assumes a Bronze and Iron Age document is flawless without any attempt to verify it and then bases all his "predictions" on that unvalidated assumption. It just shows how much his faith has hopelessly blinded him.

    Of course, he recieved his "PhD" from a Patriot Bible College, a non-accredited Christian diploma mill and taught at a school he founded. It's no wonder he has a elementary school level of understanding of science.

    Now, the man is going to prison, and I don't usually like kicking a man while he's down, but I don't like it when people try to distort reality for their own selfish ends.

    Quote of the Week

    "We've been attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of the culture."

    - Creationist Ray Mummert from Dover, Pennsylvania, 2005.

    At least he can admit it.

    Saturday, January 20, 2007

    Looks Like They Might Have Got Me

    I've recently put up a couple of posts in critique of the blog Shelley the Republican. However, after doing a little looking around, it seems the whole thing might actually be a parody. At least that's the general consensus. Just do a Google search of "Shelley the Republican" and you'll see what I mean.

    The sad thing is that everything found there is what one would expect to hear from an ultra-conservative. Maybe I've spent too much time hearing the rediculous arguments that right-wingers put forth, and that blog simply looked genuine because it said the same thing I'm used to seeing. If it is a parody, then it's one of the best ones I've seen in a while and is incredibly well done. The fact that no one can seem to agree might testify to how good the parody actually is. If it's not a parody, then it's downright terrifying. What do you think?

    Friday, January 19, 2007

    Kent Hovind Gets Ten Years for Tax Evasion

    Hardcore Young-Earth Creationist Kent Hovind and his wife were sentenced to ten years in jail for failing to pay almost one million dollars in taxes to the IRS. Get this: his defense was "he and his employees are workers of God and therefore exempt from paying taxes." I'm still laughing over that one.

    Hovind does have hope, though. Shelley the Republican has instructed her readers to "Let us pray to Jesus that Kent and Jo will be allowed to continue their important ministry and continue teaching young scientists about the many flaws in Darwin’s theory of evolution." I'm sure God will pull some strings and bail Hovind out, right?

    Once again notice the mention of Darwin's name. They really hate the guy.

    Read the full story here.

    Debunk ID Claims. It's Fun!

    Sorry I've been on a bit of an evolution/ID craze lately, but I just went the American Museum of Natural History last week, and my interest in the subject has been somewhat high of late. Anyway, I came across this piece of ID nonsense by Helena on the blog Shelly the Republican and became so frustrated, I decided I'd waste my time destroying the arguments piece by piece. Hopefully, someone will find something useful here for their own endeavors. So it begins:

    “While I was reading to my daughter from Percival Davis’ excellent “Of Pandas and People” I learnt something about the differences between the way Neo-Darwinists an proponents of ID think. I think the Darwinists are only interested in looking at disconnected details: They fail to see the big-picture and that is why they fail to spot the handiwork of the Intelligent Designer even though the evidence is staring them in the face: Let me give you an example.”

    Notice the use of the term “Darwinists.” No question where this person stands. As for reading to her daughter from Of Pandas and People, how lame can you get? I can’t imagine something more boring for a child than hearing excepts from a textbook. Of course, this person probably home schools her child to keep her away from the "evils" of secular schooling. Sound like a little brainwashing? Sure does to me.

    As far as Of Pandas and People being excellent, or as Helena says in a caption under a picture of the textbook, “This is probably the best biology text-book ever written. It totally debunks the myth of evolution,” this is about as far from reality as you can get. Of Pandas and People probably the worst biology textbook written in the 20th century. I don’t want to waste space showing why, but Dr. Kenneth Miller, a cellular biologist and expert witness for the plaintiffs of Kitzmiller v. Dover School Board, does an excellent job in his critique of the book. Moving on to Helena’s great example:

    “The Tasmanian Wolf looks remarkably like the wolf you and I know of. It’s about the same size, has a similar diet and even has the same kind of fur , jaw structure, teeth and behavior. Anybody can see that these two animals are examples of the same kind of creature. But if you ask an evolutionist where this creature might be placed on the “tree of life”, they would place these two very similar creatures about as far from each other as could be and yet still both be considered mammals. That’s sort of like somebody from Kentucky claiming that their next door neighbour lives in New Jersy!”

    Riiiiight. The only problem is that the wolf is a placental mammal and the Tasmanian wolf is a marsupial. These are radically different methods of mammal reproduction and would not have arisen out of chance. It takes common descent for such different reproductive methods to evolve. The reason Tasmanian wolves are so far away from wolves in the mammal cladogram (or tree of life) is because the marsupial reproductive method is shared by several other mammals that live in the same area (Australia and the surrounding islands). Since the marsupial reproductive method is so different from the way all other mammals reproduce, it simply makes logical sense to group marsupials together. They’re obviously related. As for the Kentucky and New Jersey neighbors analogy, a better analogy would be that those people are both descended from Charlemagne. They might not be closely related now, but their ancestors were and shared similar lifestyles.

    “These taxonomical oddities are not an isolated feature: Darwin’s “Tree of Life” abounds with anomalous classifications: Few high-schools mention that evolutionists regard all birds as a sub-class of reptiles. That is to say if one branch of the tree represents every living and extinct reptile, every known species of bird would be represented by a sub-branch of that reptile branch. Next time you hear an iguana say “Polly Want a Cracker”, tell me, but until then I propose that this classification makes no sense at all!”

    Birds are classified as archosaurs (a group of reptiles) because they descended from reptiles through dinosaurs. You can see it in the fossil record. The creature classified as the
    has the skeletal structure of a dinosaur but the feathers of a bird. This is also not the only case. The recently discovered microraptor gui is another, more advanced example of the transition of dinosaurs into birds. Helena has this quote under the picture of a parrot:

    “Oh no! We are being attacked by a DINOSAUR… RUN! Oh wait - have the neo-darwinists been watching too much Jurassic-park?”

    What makes her think all dinosaurs were vicious? I think she’s the one that needs to lay off the Hollywood a bit.

    “Wouldn’t it make more sense if we devised a more functional taxonomy; one where very similar kinds of animal were grouped together? One based on the sensible principles and proven science of Intelligent Design?”

    Um, grouping similar kinds of animals is the way animal classification works. However, they’re grouped beyond mere superficial appearances. Animals are grouped by everything from skeletal structure to musculature to reproductive strategies, etc. It goes beyond how they merely look. As for ID being proven: That just shows her ignorance of science. Science never proves anything. It simply finds evidence that either support theories or falsify (disprove) them. It’s made that way to keep the door open to new discoveries. As for ID, you can’t prove or disprove the presence of an intelligent designer, so it can’t be falsified. Therefore, ID isn’t even science, much less a theory.

    “One might wonder why this idea has not occurred to the proponents of neo-darwinism? Actually it has, but they dismiss it because of a few small details here and there. One such difference between the Tasmanian and American wolf is it’s reproductive strategy: The Tasmanian wolves are “marsupial”, and other wolves are “placental” like our species. Evolutionists say that these are two very different branches of evolution, one which has retained primative DNA, the other has developed more modern features. Because of this one single difference, these two wolves are consigned to different ends of evolution’s spectrum.

    “Why should reproductive strategy be valued above all other differences and similarities? It makes no sense at all given that everything else about the two wolf species is so similar. Surely science should recognise similarities as well as differences?”

    Well, at least she knows that Tasmanian wolves are marsupials. However, different reproductive strategies are a huge difference anatomically. By Helena’s reasoning, the differences between the Echidna (a spiny, egg-laying mammal that lives in Australia and New Guinea) and a porcupine are miniscule. They both look spiny, but who cares if one lays eggs and other doesn’t. They must still be closely related, right? Please. Completely different reproductive organs require completely different ancestral lineages. Now, biologists do recognize the similarities between wolves and Tasmanian wolves. That’s why they’re both classified as mammals. The reason they have similar body structures is because mammals share similar body structures to begin with. The reason they share the same lifestyle is because they’re both predators. That sort of lifestyle favors quick animals with teeth effective for killing. Since they both came from a common ancestor, it’s no surprise they look similar forms to adapt to the same problem.

    Wouldn’t it make more sense to see this in the context of Intelligent design? It’s possible that the designer made two different revisions of the same basic design. This is something that human designers do all the time, and it seems perfectly normal to us. What is the probability that these two creatures “evolved” to look the same: According to evolution, change happens by random mutation. An evolutionist might therefore expect one kind of wolf to turn blue, and the other one to grow antlers.”

    The first half appeals to the intelligent designer that lies outside of science, so that’s the first problem. I’ve already addressed why evolution favors similar body types when starting with a common ancestor. The descendents only have so much to work with. As for the last half, it’s just another huge misrepresentation of evolution. The reason wolves don’t have antlers is because natural selection didn’t favor it. Things don’t just appear fully formed with evolution. There would have been a long progression starting with very small antlers on prehistoric wolves, probably started from small bony growths on its skull. If those wolves with small antlers managed to reproduce enough to live on, then we might have eventually seen large antlers on wolves. This is exactly what we see with deer evolution. However, wolves’ relatives never had antlers to begin with and natural selection never favored wolves with antlers. That’s why they never appeared. Natural selection is not random. Either a physical trait helps something survive, or it doesn’t.

    “Fortunately that is not the case. We are left with two varieties of wolf, one version placental, the other version marsupial. We can only guess at what the objectives of the designer were, but I personally suspect that these creatures are two iterations of a design that eventually left us with the most perfect wolf-like form: The modern domesticated dog.”

    The Tasmanian wolf is only called a wolf because European settlers thought it looked like wolves from Europe. Another name for these creatures is Tasmanian tiger because it has stripes. Does that make it another type of tiger? There’s no such thing as a marsupial wolf. Wolves are only placental. That’s part of what makes them Canis lupis, or wolves.

    “So what can we learn from these wolves? I suggest that in science (as in all walks of life), sometimes scrutiny of the details alone can lead to false conclusions. Sometimes the only sensible, common sense approach is to look at the big picture: And once we step back and appreciate the many wonders of creation the Designer’s signature is self-evident.”

    The major problem is that a Tasmanian wolf being a marsupial is a part of the big picture. It’s a radically different reproduction method requiring completely different reproductive organs from those of placental mammals. That’s what makes it part of a different species, genus, family, order, and infraclass. There’s no way a Tasmanian wolf and a wolf could have interbred, which would make them the same species. They don’t even have the same plumbing, so to speak. Ignoring such a difference ignores the big picture.

    As you can see, ID persists because of ignorance and faulty reasoning. People who support it either know nothing about evolution and biology or simply repeat what a pastor told them without doing any real research. Helena tries to take the “common sense” approach but fails due to complete ignorance on her chosen subject of pontification. Looking at superficial similarities and ignoring actual differences is simply being lazy. It shows a complete lack of desire to learn something.

    Update: After doing a little research, it seems like I've been had. This might actually be a parody. Read my full post on the subject here.

    Update: This post is real. Read more here.

    How to Spot Creationist Writing

    A little earlier I was trawling through the enemy's...I mean the Discovery Institute's Evolution "News" page. The thing that struck me was how often the IDists there call evolution "Darwinism" and its supporters "Darwinists." The term itself is ridiculous. It's like calling everyone who uses calculus "Newtonists" or everyone who thinks the Earth orbits around the sun "Galileoists."

    The simple fact is that no modern biologist subscribes to Darwin's specific views on evolution. Darwin didn't even know about DNA or genetics. They hadn't been discovered yet. When the discoveries were made, they radically changed the theory of evolution to be quite different from the form Darwin envisioned.

    So why do Creationists and ID advocates use the term? Because the name "Darwin" has an evil connotation for fundamental Christians. I'm sure most of them believe Darwin is right next to Judas in the gnashing jaws of Satan right now. Plus, many fundamental Christians think scientists worship Darwin in much the same way Christians worship Jesus. Using the name is Creationists' way of labeling evolution supporters in a manner that sounds "bad," and instantly shows where they stand on the subject. It's all stupid because evolution is not a belief system, nor is it a basis for morality. It simply explains the phenomenon observed in the fossil record. It's not the Satanic morality fundamentalists claim it to be. It has no more morality than the theory of gravitation.

    Now, if you ever read a scientific article that has the word "Darwinism," then it's probably not very scientific and not worth your time. It's likely an argument from poor theology. Furthermore, if someone ever calls you a Darwinist, please educate them and inform them that nobody is a Darwinist, and proceed to explain why. Simply tell them that you accept the findings of science. That person will probably refuse to listen and will continue to call science a religion since fundamentalists have proven themselves to be remarkably resistant to reality, but at least you'll make your stance clear.

    War With Iran = Rapture?

    Sarah Posner at AlterNet has a great, but frightening, article on President Bush's recent suggestion of war with Iran. From all appearances, it seems as though fundamentalist Christians have started to convince Bush that God requires war with Iran. Just look at his most recent speech when he said, "The challenge playing out across the broader Middle East is more than a military conflict. It is the decisive ideological struggle of our time." Sorry, but meer ideology does not justify war with Iran. There needs to me more legitimate reasons than that.

    Of course, Bush is a fundamentalist himself, but as a government official he must keep his religious beliefs separate. He can think what he wants out of office, but while in it, he owes it to the American people to keep theology out of his decisions. In my opinion, the unprecedented access that Bush gives to fundamentalist Christians has got to stop. They have taken his mind outside of the realm of reality (at least more than it already was) and are convincing him to use the nation's power to live out a fantasy. Posner correctly states: "That the president's top national security advisor on Middle East policy met with the popular author of a best-selling book that claims that God requires a war with Iran demonstrates just how intensely politics trumps policy (and human lives) for this unhinged administration."

    There is no reason for the Bush administration to listen to these End Timers. They're living in a fantasy world that has no correlation with reality, and their foreign policy desires will do nothing but bring our country to ruin. Plus, our military is stretched too thin to take part in another Middle Eastern adventure. Where is Bush going to get the troops? I have an idea: Bush should recruit all the Christian soldier wannabes who advocate war with Iran and send them in. If they want the war to bring back baby Jesus so bad, then let them do it with their own lives.

    Hitler Was NOT an Atheist

    Today, I’d like to tackle one of the most frustrating arguments fundamentalist Christians use for “proof” of why atheism is evil: Adolf Hitler.

    I received this amazingly ignorant response from a fundamentalist while having a debate in the comments section of DefCon’s blog:

    “Hitler was an atheist too! Hitler believed in the theory of evolution! Hitler attempted to wipe out all of the Jews because he believed in theory of evolution.”
    Hitler might have believed in evolution, but evolution is not a belief system or a basis for morality. It simply explains the natural phenomenon that can be seen in the fossil record. As far as Hitler’s use of evolution, Hitler created a German, National Socialist religion with himself as god and put forth the unscientific belief of “genetic hygiene.” I’m not even going to bother with the evolution part because it’s just like Tom DeLay saying that Columbine was a result of teaching children the theory of evolution. Sheer nonsense.

    What I really want to focus on is the assertion that Hitler was an atheist. The evidence proving otherwise is so mind-numbingly easy to find, I’m amazed fundies continue to insist on Hitler’s atheism. The best way to refute this claim is to look at what Hitler actually wrote. Here’s a few poignant quotes from Mein Kampf:
    “I believe today that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator.” (pg. 46)

    “What we have to fight the freedom and independence of the fatherland, so that our people may be enabled to fulfill the mission assigned to it by the Creator.” (pg. 125)

    “Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.” (pg. 60)

    “This human world of ours would be inconceivable without the practical existence of a religious belief.” (pg. 152)

    “And the founder of Christianity made no secret indeed of his estimation of the Jewish people. When He found it necessary, He drove those enemies of the human race out of the Temple of God.” (pg. 174)
    Maybe I’m missing something, but Hitler’s own words sure don’t make him seem like an atheist to me. In the end, the whole “Hitler was an atheist” claim is clearly nothing more than a myth fundamentalist Christians use to feel good about themselves while persecuting nonbelievers.