I Am Evolution (from NPR’s “This I Believe”)

Holly Dunsworth is a paleoanthropologist and she writes today’s This I Believe segment titled I Am Evolution. Here’s an excerpt:

Of course I believe evolution.

But that is different from believing in evolution.

To believe in something takes faith, trust, effort, strength. I need none of these things to believe evolution. It just is. My health is better because of medical research based on evolution. My genetic code is practically the same as a chimpanzee’s. My bipedal feet walk on an earth full of fossil missing links. And when my feet tire, those fossils fuel my car.

It’s a short read and you can even click a link to listen to it if you want.

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At least some school districts are getting it right

As if my link to AiG in a previous post weren’t enough, I’m going to toss out another to “Creation on the Web” where a former substitute teacher is prattling on about being “expelled” from his part-time teaching gig in a post there titled Censoring Intelligent Design.

The author opens his article by boasting about his “glory days” as the substitute teacher that put on “the biggest elementary school patriotic concert in Arizona state history” at the behest of a governor and a senator. Then he goes on to describe subbing for a science class that showed a movie which he described as “actively disrespecting the Christian families in the school.”

According to the substitute teacher (now author) the video “was a mix of science and anti-religious propaganda” and “the kids sat there like little sponges soaking it up.” It must have been painful for someone so steeped in superstition to have those superstitions challenged. Here’s a quote from the article:

To summarize, it portrayed early religious people—specifically Christians and Jews as it used biblical terminology—as primitive and superstitious. For example, when talking about comets it stated that religious people once thought they were signs from God or the devil. It then explained how science came to the rescue and explained what comets really were. A similar statement was made about lightning being a sign that God was angry. Once again science rescued man from religious superstition.

The author then described how he presented creationism (in the form of intelligent design) to the students as an alternative to actual science and reality and wondered why the district no longer has a need for his services. Duh.

This is the gist of his article. The rest is spent whining over losing his substitute teaching job and not getting an answer why (clearly, he knows why) and with attempting to argue the same tired and debunked social Darwinist, Nazi Holocaust, anti-science, science isn’t perfect crap that creationists do when they really don’t have a genuine and rational argument. Or, perhaps the author truly believes that nonsense -if so, the Washington School District (Glendale, AZ I think) made the correct decision in sacking the guy. He has no business pretending to be an educator.

So if you move to Glendale, AZ, at least you know the school district has something going for it. It’s willing to sack poor educators and willing to provide rational and objective education regardless of the sensibilities of the overly superstitious, like Roger Paull. Because not a single thing that Paull cited in the quote above is inaccurate. The video he remembers was probably The Soul of Science (Paull calls it “science of the soul”), which is a four part series originally published in VHS format in 1996 by Hawkhill associates. The series was designed to provide an overview of the “where, when and why of scientific research and discovery.”

Interestingly enough, this very video is included in the course syllabus for a class titled “History of Scientific Discovery: 1500 to Present (Great Moments in Science).” A class listed by the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities no less!

Creationists Baffled: Why do their “Facts” Get Shot Down in Forums?

If you’ve never visited the Answers in Genesis website, don’t worry. You’ve missed little.

But this little gem caught my eye. Apparently, a creation believer wrote in to their feedback asking a rational question: why is it whenever I repeat one of the “facts” I learn in creationist literature in internet forums do I get my ass handed to me.

Okay. I’m paraphrasing a bit. But the question is basically saying just that. The person writing in to AiG was specifically concerned with the creationist claim that mutations are not beneficial and do not add information to an organism. The person was also upset that his/her son wrote a paper for school, which was criticized by the son’s geology teacher as “full of inaccuracies.” And the answer provided by this creationist nut site is very telling. Their response was to say the following:

1) people interpret evidence based on presuppositions
2) historical sciences cannot be tested or shown to be repeatable
3) the sciences that give us MRIs, planes, and vaccines are “here and now” sciences
4) historical sciences are laden with “presuppositions” but not “here and now” sciences
5) natural selection provides no new information
6) thus, evolution, is not supported by science

Here’s my comments to these points:

1) The first point is interesting. AiG concedes that bias and preconceived conclusions cloud rational thought and the ability to evaluate evidence. The difference between creationists and those that embrace science over superstition is that they’re open to being swayed by evidence. Creationists are concerned only with that evidence that supports their conclusions. After all, the Bible says its true, and the Bible is right because it’s God’s word, which we know because the Bible says it’s so. Therefore, any evidence obtained through observation and testable hypotheses must be mis-interpreted by mere mortals who call themselves scientists. Indeed, the superstitious will simply toss out such evidence, dismissing it out of hand. And this isn’t a trait found only among creationists. Superstitious people the world over exhibit the same type of behavior whether they be the Fulani of West Africa or the pitcher of a major league baseball team.

2) And this brings us to the second point that evolution cannot be tested or repeatable. In fact, it’s no unimportant fact that AiG specifically mentiones “historical science” as being without any testable or repeatable properties. This, by default, would include their own “creation science,” which is, by their definition, “historical.” Creationists consistently use this fallacy but I think its due to ignorance more than deceit. They simply have a low grasp of how science works and have already separated so-called “historical sciences” from the rest of science.

Geologists, archaeologists, paleontologists, biologists, chemists, geneticists and so on all work with scientific principles and methods and they are each sciences that explore evolution. The most obvious historical science among them is, perhaps, archaeology and it is replete with testable and repeatable science. If not, much of what we know about ancient cultures would be non-existant. Luckily, there are more questions than answers in every science (otherwise science would be boring), but no scientist is sure he has all the answers. The superstitious, however, begin their day with a belief that they already have an answer and if science comes along and challenges that belief then it obviously must be wrong. Testing evolution happens all the time and a simple example is the prediction that reptile arms when seriated in the fossil record shows a steady progression from arm-like to wing-like. Which is what we see. Moreover, the prediction can be made that we will not find wings where they shouldn’t be (potential falsification) such as on oysters or horses. Nor would you see arms where they shouldn’t be, such as a bird with both wings and arms. And these predictions (tests) are reproducible time and again (repeatable).

3) While there are some different methods utilized by different sciences (archaeology might employ different methods of science than astronomy), in general, they are all performing science -that is to say, they all value rational observation of the natural world and do not entertain superstitious and supernatural explanations. So the MRIs, planes and vaccines that creationists are so fond of were developed by the same sort of science used in biology, geology, chemistry, and astronomy. Indeed, some of the exact same principles are involved.

4) Therefore, “historical sciences” are no more subject to “presuppositions” than any other science if the scientist is willing to accept evidence, test hypotheses, and accept that falsification is possible. The “presuppositions” (a.k.a. preconceived conclusions) exist nearly exclusively with the superstitious who aren’t willing to re-evaluate their beliefs in the face of evidence. Mountains upon mountains of it.

5) This completely unfounded and unscientific claim has been busted time and again. So much that there simply isn’t reason to do more than provide a few links:
Apolipoprotein AI Mutations and Information
The Nylon Bug
Are Mutations Harmful?

6) Evolution is almost entirely comprised of science. To say otherwise is to reveal ignorance, a failed education, deceit, or a fear of learning the truth.

The Undercover Atheist, John Hagee, and Speaking in Tongues

Obama had his religious nutter (Rev. Wright) and now McCain seems to have his own in the form of John Hagee, the televangelist and pastor for a Megachurch in San Antonio, TX (Cornerstone) was heard to state “biblical verses made clear that Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust was part of God’s plan to chase the Jews from Europe and drive them to Palestine” [this quote is from this NY Times article, not Hagee directly]. The articled linked in the previous sentence goes in to far more detail and you’ve probaby already heard it all anyway.

But what I wanted to make note of was a new book that you might not know about. Written by Matt Taibbi, The Great Derangement [Amazon.com] is a first-hand account of an atheist who goes “undercover” with a church-group to a boot camp for new converts, encountering all sorts of madness, nutty behavior, and characters both scary and delightful along the way (mostly scary, it would seem). In an excerpt, which you can read here [Alternet.org], Taibbi shares his observations getting on the bus to go to the boot camp and with members learning to speak in tongues while pretending to get the holy ghost.

The excerpt is short and there are a host of comments defending either Taibbi & atheists or Hagee & religious nuts.

Failure of Religion: Pastor Barron

Plano, TX minister jailed in child sex sting. Pastor Joe Barron of the Prestonwood Baptist Church, 52, was arrested after he drove to Bryan to hook up with a 13 year old girl.

Except the “girl” wasn’t thirteen. And “she” had a badge.

This loving Christian was found hymn book, a box of condoms, and a web camera. Pastor Barron was looking for love in all the wrong places.

To any rationally-minded person, this is an example of the failure of religious belief. Here’s a man that devoted his life and livelihood to the Christian God. A man that probably believed that all his morality and “goodness” comes from his god. A man that was probably considered by those that knew him to be a very good person, likable, trustworthy, and dependable -all because of his religious delusions. And yet, he was a sexual predator that was willing to take advantage of a child by raping her and taking away her innocence. The ability of a religious lifestyle actually produce a morally stable and trustworthy member of society is a resolute failure in the case of Joe Barron.

But the rationally-minded person above wouldn’t apply this failure to all religious adherents. There are numerous cases of religious nuts who are very good people. Joel Olsteen seems to be one of the nicest people on the planet, based on the few interviews I’ve seen of him. I couldn’t imagine Olsteen in Barron’s shoes. But I suspect that if Olsteen were a Budhist, a Muslim, or even an atheist, he’d be a good person. So the rationally-minded person is left to conclude that personal character runs deeper than religious delusion. Religion doesn’t fail in its ability to inform right from wrong or provide a basis for morality, rather, it fails because of its ability to provide an excuse and a “way out” for nuts who have much deeper character and mental flaws.

Religion didn’t make a Texas woman cut off her baby’s arms, but it gave her the rationale for the mental illness that motivated her -supernatural voices in her head. And loads of crimes have been committed by those deluded by religious superstition who heard “voices” of their gods.

But religion probably didn’t fail Barron by providing him with a voice that whispered to him to get an online hook-up with a child. In fact, religion probably didn’t fail Barron at all. Instead, it failed the rest of society. Had Barron’s religious convictions prevented him from seeking out sex with a child on the internet, then we could actually say it failed him since it prevented him from fulfilling his “need.” What happened instead is that Barron’s religious beliefs may have actually given him the green light since all could be forgiven simply by asking after the fact. Tonight, condoms and webcams, and sex with a child. Tomorrow, ask forgiveness from imaginary agents. Next weekend, start all over again. Rinse and repeat as often as needed.

So, in watching reports of the pastor of pedophilia unfold in the local news, I’m expecting harsh criticism from his fellow clergy and members of his congregation. Perhaps even some sort of apology to the public that may have been at risk by his lewd and dangerous behavior. The asshole was found to have records of similar chats with 25-30 other females on his mobile, so it’s very possible he may already have raped some other child in the past. In none of the news reports on local television that included sound bites from members of Barron’s church did I hear anything that resembled remorse. I’m sure -very sure- there are members of the congregation that are disgusted, ashamed, and pissed. But the ones that made it on television were nutjobs.

A church official for the cult stood in front of followers and announced that Barron was no longer a member. But then he said they had been “dealt a blow by the enemy.”

Enemy? What “enemy?” The police? The undercover officers that found a guy who was willing to travel 3-4 hours from his own home in his wife’s car to meet up with a child so he could fuck her? Who probably already did this in the past?

An earlier interview with a member of the cult stated that she was relieved and happy by the news of Barron’s arrest. Not because a child predator was now off the streets, but because she had “prayed” that anyone in their cult that was evil be “exposed.” You see, she was happy that her “prayer” was answered, confirming her delusion.

Until his arrest, Joe Barron taught a leadership class at his church called “Connecting the Dots – A Guide to Connecting the Word of God to Daily Living.” One is left to wonder how he connected the word of his god to his daily routine of chatting with children on the internet, trolling for sexual satisfaction. When he went on a mission to Bogata, Columbia with his church in August 2007, did he find time in his schedule for his young tastes? Remember, he had 25-30 different females on his mobile phone with whom he chatted and that’s here in the U.S. where laws and oversight of the sex industry is much stricter. Sending this guy to Bogata would have been like sending him to Thailand. And the best this church cult has to offer the D/FW community is that they’ve been “dealt a blow by the enemy” and that they’re prayers were answered.

I’m reminded that the BTK killer was the president of his congregation council. I’m not suggesting that religion is responsible for inspiring either Barron or BTK, but clearly religion failed to stop their behavior. It may even have made their evil acts possible by providing that all-too-easy escape route of simply asking for forgiveness from their imaginary god. If an evil person thinks they can be absolved of their crimes just by asking, what’s to keep them from acting on their darkest fantasies?

And lest you think most of the child sex-abuse is from Catholic priests, think again.

Polls are Fun!

Especially when they suffer the Pharyngula effect:

PZ MYers likes to post links to the various unscientific polls that query the popularity of Evolution vs Creation. The latest, from a local television station somewhere (probably in the American south -I really couldn’t be arsed to sort it out), asks, “a school board member in SAD 59 wants the topic of evolutio0n dropped from high school science curriculums. Do you agree?” If we dismiss the equivical meaning of whether or not a school board member is that ignorant, nearly 1500 people voted “no” to the intended meaning of whether they agree with evolution being dropped.

Now, true enough, the poll was very likely hammered by one or more of PZ’s minions (I’m only hating because my minion count is “2”) hitting the “Refresh” button in their browser, but it leaves one to wonder: why don’t the Creationist nutters do the same?

They’re either honest (WWJD?) and have too much integrity, they’re not technically savvy enough to figure out their browser’s refresh button, they don’t have a Creationist blog popular enough to get the word out, or there just aren’t enough Creationists available to cast a vote.

Did I miss any options? I’m sure any creationist that happens upon this post would immediately jump on the first option, but he/she really shouldn’t bother since others (i.e. Expelled, Dr. Dino, Dembski, et al) have already disproved that hypothesis in spades.

h/t: A Poll in Need of a Kick in the Pants [Pharyngula]

The Portable Atheist – Some Internet Sources

I recently read The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever, by Christopher Hitchens -well, most of it. A fair amount I’d already read elsewhere, other bits just didn’t grab me. But I have to say its a treasured bit of reading that will stay handy on my bookshelf. I’ve made fair bit of pencil marks in the margins and left a few little sticky arrows on the pages so I can navigate my way back to the passages they mark at a later date.

It occurred to me that much of what is found in this tome can also be found on the web. In fact, a lot of it can. Of course, you miss a fantastic introduction by Hitchens and the portability factor is nearly completely lost even if you have a laptop with WIFI.

I thought I’d list the table of contents here, linking to the articles, excerpts, and books as they are already found on the internet. The links worked the day I typed this and I offer no warranty or guarantee that they’ll continue to work in the future. For the essays, articles or texts that I didn’t have or couldn’t find a link for, I tried to link to a biography or personal webpage for the writer, usually indicated by the fact that the link is the writer not the title of the work itself.

Pay close attention, also, to the information in brackets. In at least one or two instances it denotes a PDF file.

I’m confident that by browsing some of these links, you’ll purchase a copy of The Portable Atheist. It’s great to have a source for these texts so you can do keyword searches or copy/paste excerpts in blog posts, etc., but there’s no substitution to being able to pick up a book and take it with you.

**************

1. Lucretius, from De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things), Book I Translated by W. Hannaford Brown

2. Omar Khayyam, from Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: A Paraphrase from Several Literal Translations by Richard Le Gallienne

3. Thomas Hobbes, Of Religion, from Leviathan

4. Benedict De Spinoza, Theoological-Political Treatise

5. David Hume, The Natural History of Religion; of Miracles

6. James Boswell, An Account of My Last Interview with David Hume, Esq.

7. Percy Bysshe Shelley, A Refutation of Deism

8. John Stuart Mill, Moral Influences in My Early Youth, from Autobiography

9. Karl Marx, Contributions to the Critique of Hegels Philosophy of Right

10. George Eliot, Evangelical Teaching

11. Charles Darwin, Autobiography

12. Leslie Stephen, An Agnostic’s Apology

13. Anatole France, Miracle

14. Mark Twain, Thoughts of God, From Fables of Man; Bible Teaching and Religious Practice, From Europe and Elsewhere and A Pen Warmed Up in Hell

15. Joseph Conrad, Author’s Note to The Shadow Line

16. Thomas Hardy, God’s Funeral

17. Emma Goldman, The Philosophy of Atheism

18. H.P. Lovecraft, A Letter on Religion

19. Carl Van Doren, Why I Am An Unbeliever

20. H. L. Mencken, Memorial Service

21. Sigmund Freud, From The Future of an Illusion, Translated and edited by James Strachey

22. Albert Einstein, Selected Writings on Religion

23. George Orwell, From A Clergyman’s Daughter

24. John Betjeman, In Westminster Abby

25. Chapman Cohen, Monism and Religion an Old Story

26. Bertrand Russell, An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish

27. Philip Larkin, Aubade; Church Going

28. Martin Gardner, The Wandering Jew and the Second Coming

29. Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World; The God Hypothesis

30. John Updike, From Roger’s Version

31. J.L. Mackie, Conclusions and Implications, From The Miracle of Theism: Arguments for and against the Existence of God

32. Michael Shermer, Genesis Revisited: A Scientific Creation Story

33. A.J. Ayer, That Undiscovered Country

34. Daniel C. Dennett, Thank Goodness!

35. Charles Templeton, From A Farewell to God, A Personal Word; Questions to Ask Yourself

36. Richard Dawkins, Why There Almost Certainly Is No God; Gerin Oil; Atheists for Jesus

37. Victor Stenger, From God: the Failed Hypothesis [promo site], Cosmic Evidence

38. Daniel C. Dennett, A Working Definition of Religion, From “Breaking Which Spell?”

39. Elizabeth Anderson, If God is Dead, Is Everything Permitted? [abstract]

40. Penn Jillette, There is No God

41. Ian McEwan, End of the World Blues [PDF]

42. Steven Weinberg, What About God?, From Dreams of a Final Theory

43. Salman Rushdie, “Imagine There’s No Heaven: A Letter to the Six Billionth World Citizen”

44. Ibn Warraq, The Koran; The Totalitarian Nature of Islam

45. Sam Harris, In the Shadow of God, From The End of Faith [excerpts]

46. A.C. Grayling, Can an Atheist Be a Fundamentalist?, From Against All Gods

47. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, How (and Why) I Became an Infidel