Rationality Now Rotating Header Image


Intelligent Design… Fail!

From James McGrath of Exploring Our Matrix, I found these cartoons by Gordon Glover about Intelligent Design.

The accuracy of the depiction of Intelligent Design is amazing… and amusing!

Texas and The Flintstones

Most of Rationality Now’s readers are probably quite familiar with the influence Texas has on our country’s textbooks… and the mind-numbing inanity of some Texas Board of Education members, like Don McLeroy, who wield that influence. Fortunately, there are some school board members who have their feet firmly planted in reality, but they’re in the minority (still?) and they’ve got a continuous battle on their hands to keep Texas education standards from drowning in an anti-intellectual, anti-science, and anti-reality flood of woo.

Sadly, they get far too little support from the general population of their state, at least according to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll. 51% of Texans surveyed disagree with the statement that humans developed from earlier species. 22% say that they believe life existed in its present form since the beginning of time. Almost a third (a third!) believe that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time… or, as A Simple Prop says, a third of Texans apparently think The Flintstones is a documentary.

That a horrifyingly large number of people who blatantly reject scientific facts in favor of ancient mythology.

Perhaps that’s not fair. Perhaps they aren’t rejecting facts. Perhaps they are ignorant of the facts. Perhaps they’ve never spent the time to do any actual research (apart from reading the bible, which doesn’t really count). Perhaps they’ve just been taught that the bible is all they need to know and so haven’t been exposed to the actual facts.

So perhaps it’s not an arrogant rejection of facts. Perhaps it’s just an ignorance of facts. However, I would wager that the ignorance is, in most cases, suffused with a strong bunker mentality built of bibles and hallelujahs… a nearly impenetrable wall designed to keep out any reality that contradicts the bronze and iron age dogma so prevalent in Texas.

However, arrogance or ignorance, it’s a disgrace that people who reject reality have any influence whatsoever in the education of our children and the running of our government. It’s bad enough when the influence is on a local level, but when that influence is able to reach every corner of our country, as it is with Texas education standards and textbooks, it approaches a level of crippling absurdity that threatens to flush our country’s intellectual integrity into the sewers.

…if it hasn’t been flushed already.

Why Evolution is True in paperback

Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True came out recently in paperback, so if you were waiting to purchase it because of the hardcover price, you’ve got a green light. If you’ve already got the hardcover, consider purchasing the paperback and donating it to your local library. I just picked up a copy today for $16.00 at Borders to donate (I already have a signed hardback edition), but you can get it from Amazon for $10.88 (at the time of this writing).

It’s a terrific book.

Note: Jerry Coyne also has a blog where he discusses evolution in addition to a number of other issues. Definitely worth following.

Consistency is irrelevant to denialism

I follow the Skeptical Science blog and I took special interest to today’s post by John Cook about a debate featuring Ian Plimer and Christopher Monckton versus Barry Brooks and Graham Readfern. I’ve only heard Monckton speak before and he has shown himself to be mostly full of schlock conspiracy theories, smoothly twisting (or fabricating) facts to make his climate change denialist points.

However, aside from the debate summary, what I found interesting was one of the statements in Cook’s conclusion, which fits the denial-o-sphere so exceptionally well. Cook was explaining that, though Plimer and Monckton were both deniers, they reached their conclusions through contradictory points, one basing his conclusion (basically) on the idea that our climate is sensitive and the other basing his conclusion on the idea that it’s not sensitive. Both speakers got applause from the deniers in the audience when presenting their contradictory arguments.

Cook says:

In a sense, their combined approach perfectly encapsulates the way skeptic arguments are used to mislead. Layering argument upon argument, regardless of whether they display any internal consistency, isn’t about furthering scientific understanding but proving the preconceived notion that humans can’t be causing global warming. Two skeptic arguments can contradict each other, even on the same debating stage, so long as the common enemy of man-made global warming is refuted

Replace the topic of “global warming” with the topic of “evolution” and his conclusion is just as valid. To the deniers, consistency… or scientific evidence… or reality… isn’t important. What is important to them is to mislead… to twist the argument any way they can… to repeatedly bring up claims, regardless of whether the claims have long since been refuted… to use emotional or political arguments that have nothing to do with the science… to distort, cherry pick, and fabricate evidence in whatever way possible in their attempts to inject unwarranted doubt into the issue.

Why? Because they so want reality to conform to their pre-conceived political, ideological, or religious notions that they’re willing to use virtually any means at their disposal to keep their fortresses of self-delusion from tumbling down. I’ve seen that in action. I’ve heard deniers admit as much. What makes it worse is that they vigorously spread their misinformation, drag others down with them, and hobble any notion of having an intellectually honest discourse.

…because honesty… like consistency… like truth… is irrelevant to them.

International Darwin Day Petition

I’m not a big fan of web-based petitions. They’re generally pretty worthless when it comes to actually getting things done, but they also make participation really, really easy. So, in the spirit of supporting the federal recognition of Darwin Day in the United States, I signed this petition put forth by the International Darwin Day Foundation.

In part, it says…

Dear President Obama,

As an American who values scientific inquiry and integrity, I urge you to issue a presidential proclamation recognizing Darwin Day on February 12. Darwin Day is celebrated every year on the anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birthday in 1809, and is a day in which people gather together to commemorate his life and work. Charles Darwin was the first to propose the groundbreaking scientific theory of evolution by natural selection—a theory that has done more to unify and bring understanding to the life sciences than any other—and Darwin Day is a celebration of this discovery and of scientific progress.

I believe that issuing this proclamation will send a powerful message that scientific discovery and integrity in our society are top priorities—priorities that are needed now more than ever as extremists with narrow ideological agendas are attempting to undermine science in our schools.

Please stand with me and countless others who value science and discovery by issuing the following or a similar proclamation on Darwin Day.

Feel free to jump on that bandwagon.

If it’s cold, it’s evidence!

I find it noteworthy that the global warming deniers, many of whom were touting the recent cold snap in the USA as evidence against global warming, are strangely silent about the recent warm temperatures we’ve been having. In Pennsylvania, it was about 60 degrees this morning, which is pretty high for this time of year… not unheard of, but definitely high. The entire past week has been warmer than usual, actually.

Now, those who understand anything about climate change understand that local temperature variances really say nothing about global climate change (hence the word "global"), but the deniers latch onto this sort of thing and wave it around as if it somehow validates their conspiracy theories. The caveat is that they only do it when it suits their purposes. If there is contradicting "evidence," it is ignored.

Evolution deniers do the same thing… tout irrelevant things as evidence in support of their delusion, but ignore (or deny) evidence that refutes it. Anti-vaxxers do it, too… as do moon hoaxers, flat earthers, 9/11 truthers, and Obama birthers. It’s a common theme among conspiracy theorists.

And all that is fine… unless they have any political clout.

Sadly, that seems to be the case in some instances.

I love xkcd

xkcd is such a great web comic, not just for the humor, but for the insights. It’s also wonderfully techie and appeals to the geek part of me.

Today’s comic is one of the funny and insightful ones (reproduced with the original title text for your hovering enjoyment).

I believe the truth always lies halfway between the most extreme claims.

What I love about it is the mocking of the idea that the truth is always somewhere in the middle of two opposing positions. It’s not. Sometimes, one side is right and the other is just wrong.

Flat Earth versus spherical Earth… faked moon landing versus actual moon landing… evolution versus creationism… germ theory versus spontaneous generation… etc. There are myriads of examples of issues where the truth does not lie somewhere in the middle.

Of special interest to me, of course, is the evolution versus creationism issue… where creationism and intelligent design have no basis in scientific fact while evolution holds all the evidential cards. Saying something like, “Evolution happens, but man is God’s special creation and was made in his present form” is not only incorrect, but there’s no valid reason to even suggest it. Some might say it fills a spiritual need in people. Perhaps that’s true, but so do many other things… like pizza.

I don’t mean to be smarmy (much), but the issue is that people fill their lives with meaning in thousands of different ways, some mundane and some grandiose. Isn’t it better to create meaning and purpose in your life based on something that is real? Family and friends come instantly to mind and I can say that they provide a huge amount of purpose in my life. Charity, kindness, curiosity, nature, and many other things (Yes. Pizza, too) all bring some meaning and purpose to my life. Why would I need to add something make-believe to all the joy and wonder that already exists in the real world?

I have plenty of meaning and purpose now… without a compromise.

Mississippi targeted by creationists

Mississippi can now lay claim to hosting the first anti-evolution bill of 2010, according to the National Center for Science Education. Gary Chism (R-District 37), who last year introduced a bill that would have required biology textbooks to include a classic creationist disclaimer about evolution, has sponsored this new bill, HB 586.

From the NCSE article:

[The bill] would, if enacted, require local school boards to include a lesson on human evolution at the beginning of their high school biology classes. The catch: "The lesson provided to students … shall have proportionately equal instruction from educational materials that present scientifically sound arguments by protagonists and antagonists of the theory of evolution."

Chism seems to be a classic creationist… meaning that he has no business poking his nose into the science education of our children. This is from the NCSE article referring to his 2009 bill…

Speaking to the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (January 24, 2009), Chism was candid about his motivations for the bill [HB 25 from 2009], explaining, "Either you believe in the Genesis story, or you believe that a fish walked on the ground," and adding, "All these molecules didn’t come into existence by themselves." HB 25 died in committee on February 3, 2009.

Chism is obviously ignorant about evolution.

The (sort of) bright side is that the newly proposed bill also says…

The lesson provided to students shall not evidence bias through selective instruction on the theory of evolution, but rather, shall have proportionately equal instruction from educational materials that present scientifically sound arguments by protagonists and antagonists of the theory of evolution.

I’m amused by the phrase "selective instruction," but the good part is the phrase "educational materials that present scientifically sound arguments." As anyone who’s honestly studied evolution knows, there are no scientifically sound arguments against evolution… so Mississippi could be safe. I doubt Chism sees it that way, however, so perhaps we should still be worried.

Let’s hope HB 586 suffers the same fate as HB 25.


Stephen Baldwin vs. Richard Dawkins?

Hemant Mehta, at The Friendly Atheist, linked to a video showing Stephen Baldwin commenting on evolution during Celebrity Big Brother 2010 UK… and an explanation by Richard Dawkins showing why Baldwin’s comments are ignorant bunk.

Here’s the video:

And here’s the money quote from Hemant:

It’s both funny and sad when you realize the person who is the most ignorant about evolution is the person who appears to be the most confident in his knowledge of it.

I find that to be true for a number of other scientific issues as well.

(credit to Atheist Media Blog for the original find)

Monarch Butterflies and creationism

I almost had a confrontation with someone I believe is a creationist today, but I refrained.

I was at the Pennsylvania Farm Show with my daughter and while we were walking through the exhibits, I heard a voice talking about monarch butterflies over a PA system. What I heard was interesting and I finally located the person behind the voice… an elderly gentleman with a white beard seated on a chair in front of one of the stages. He had a small audience of maybe ten people.

My daughter and I were headed a different direction to see other things, so I didn’t pay him much attention, but I did hear him talk about how Monarch Butterfly caterpillars eat the milkweed plant… and only the milkweed plant… that without it, they would starve.

He was just passing out of my attention sphere when I heard (something like), “If there are any evolutionists in the crowd, I’d like to hear an explanation about how the milkweed plant just happened to evolve right where the butterflies are. It doesn’t make much sense and doesn’t seem very likely.”

I froze. Oh, that seemed like a challenge… and a rather simple one at that. I looked back at him. He didn’t really wait for an answer, but went on talking about butterflies again, so perhaps he meant it as a rhetorical question… just a snarky aside that really didn’t have anything to do with his topic, but everything to do with his religious views (and his ignorance). I weighed my options, decided not to interrupt, and then laughed in his direction before continuing on with my daughter to other exhibits.

It bothered me to not respond, but I wasn’t in his audience and the presentation really was about butterflies, not evolution. In addition, my daughter and I were headed a different direction to find other things, so it would have been an interruption of our plans as well. But not responding was letting ignorance go unchallenged and letting it spread to others. I think that’s why it continued to bother me and has me mildly disappointed in myself.

It’s rare for me to encounter that type of behavior in person. I read about it happening a lot and hear stories of it happening, but when it happens to me, I’m always a bit stunned… like a deer in the headlights.

I think I need more practice.