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One reason McCain lost my vote in 2008

Here’s an excerpt from a review by Michiko Kakutani of Sarah Palin’s new book, Going Rogue.

Elsewhere in this volume, she talks about creationism, saying she "didn’t believe in the theory that human beings — thinking, loving beings — originated from fish that sprouted legs and crawled out of the sea" or from "monkeys who eventually swung down from the trees." In everything that happens to her, from meeting Todd to her selection by Mr. McCain for the Republican ticket, she sees the hand of God: "My life is in His hands. I encourage readers to do what I did many years ago, invite Him in to take over."

If a candidate is so scientifically illiterate (or so intellectually stunted by unjustified religious dogma) that she doesn’t accept the theory of evolution, she has no business holding any position of authority in this country.

(via)

My daughter is awesome!

This evening, I was waiting for my new laptop to get through all its updates and my wife and I were watching NCIS while waiting, which allowed my eight-year-old daughter to stay up a little later than usual because… you know… we didn’t want to miss any of the NCIS episode to go tuck her in and I needed to be there to click “Next” on my laptop. Priorities.

While my daughter was, in turn, waiting for my wife and I to finish our important “tasks,” she grabbed some paper and colored pencils and wrote and illustrated a four-page book. Though the book doesn’t show off her graphic artistry (she can do much better), when I read the book, I was delighted… and proud. Here’s the book (click to embiggen).

Title Page
page01
Page 1
page02
Page 2
page03
Page 3
page04

Now, of course she doesn’t know everything, but if you’re going to learn everything, history and science are pretty good starting points. This creation of hers happened without any prompting on my part tonight, so I was especially pleased that she felt it was a cool enough topic to illustrate… in the 10 or 15 minutes she was waiting! She read it to me and my laptop and NCIS got ignored from that point.

I think my laptop is still prompting me to click “Next.”

Goodbye, Smallpox! Thanks, Science!

Today is the 32nd anniversary of the elimination of smallpox, according to Wikipedia. How was it eliminated?

Vaccines.

That’s medical science at its best… not “alternative” medicine, not homeopathy, not prayer, not the “Will of God.” Science. Real people doing real research to develop real solutions to real problems.

Nothing works like science.

Phil Plait says it better than I could (as usual).

Herding Cats and Situational Etiquette

In the atheist community, there are two sure things. The first is, of course, that atheists don’t believe in any gods. The other thing is that a lack of belief in any gods is pretty much the only universally common attribute of atheists. Atheist groups sometimes have trouble gaining or keeping members because, as the president of my local group, the Pennsylvania Nonbelievers, says, organizing atheists is like herding cats.

Because of this incredible variety in attitudes, outlooks, worldviews, political leanings, and philosophies, it’s no wonder that atheists don’t always agree on everything.

One point of disagreement is commonly at the forefront of atheist discussions… how to grow our community. How do we let other people know it’s okay to be an atheist? How do we get rid of the stigma associated with the term “atheist” and turn it into a positive? How do we go about criticizing religion, superstition, and pseudo-science without shooting ourselves in the foot?

In one case, there are outspoken, in-your-face atheists. They’ll wear “There is no god” t-shirts or accessories that proudly proclaim their atheism. They’ll bring up the topic constantly (sometimes in what some people consider inappropriate circumstances) and argue about it. They almost seem to be looking for a fight.

In other cases, there are proponents of science and critical thinking. They tend to focus more on education, whether it be astronomy, biology, or skepticism. They’re sometimes bold, but usually polite (but not always), and though they don’t shy away from outspoken criticism of archaic religious dogma, they tend to see atheism as the result of clear, rational, scientific thinking… not vice versa.

Other atheists tend to be quietly comfortable with their beliefs, and though they don’t go out of their way to bring them up, if questioned (or if the subject presents itself), they’ll happily (and amicably) discuss the matter, offering criticism where it’s due, but keeping a friendly tone and listening to the opposing views.

Of course, none of these are absolutes. People are combinations (or eclectic hodgepodges!) of these basic types and it’s probably rare to find someone who always fits in one single category.

I tend to be a combination of the science category and the friendly category. Why? I’m not an “in your face” kind of person. I’m friendly by nature and I like making people smile. I’m generally very good at gauging a situation to know what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate, so the idea of wearing a t-shirt that proclaims “ATHEIST” to work or to a 4-H meeting or to anything other than an atheist gathering seems incredibly rude to me… in much the same way I would find it rude for someone to wear a t-shirt saying “CHRISTIAN” or “MUSLIM” or “Abortion is murder!” on it in those same situations. For me, it’s far more appropriate to wear a pro-science t-shirt… and I think that’s a much better starting point for a discussion.

However, if someone brings up the topic of religion or asks me about it, I have no qualms about discussing it, but I’m not out “looking for a fight” in order to tell someone they’re wrong and start “preaching the gospel” of atheism. To me, that seems silly and counterproductive. Many (most?) atheists dislike fundamentalist evangelism, especially the “in your face” kind, and if someone is just out looking to start a fight in order to “preach” about atheism, it strikes me as the same thing.

If someone says that the Earth is 6,000 years old, I’ll question them. If someone tells me that vaccinations cause autism, I’ll question them. If someone claims that religion is the only source of morality, I’ll question them. If someone tells me that this country is a Christian nation or that Obama is a fascist or that evolution isn’t true or that the moon landing was faked… I’ll question them. I’ll do what I can to educate people or at least provide them with pointers to get the information they need to make rational decisions.

What I’m not going to do is walk up to people and, out of the blue, say “I’m an atheist and if you believe in Christianity, you’re wrong.” To me, that’s sort of what a t-shirt proclaiming “ATHEIST” says. It’s a chip-on-the-shoulder dare to Christians or Muslims or Hindus. It won’t win friends. It won’t win converts. It won’t educate. It only aggravates.

…and I think that’s rude.

Star Trek …and God?

Kirk

Ok, Ok… I know. You’re saying this time you’ve lost it. Hear me out. The theme of many of the articles that I have written has been that religion is most certainly a man made creation. I believe the evidence in biblical text, for me at least, is clear. The Christian God is a flawed God, particularly in the Old Testament. As I began thinking about how man went about to create a God, I tried to think about how modern day fictional writers would “create” a God. Star Trek came to mind. There are many episodes of the original Star Trek that dealt with God or God-like beings. I think it’s interesting as we look at some of these episodes, how man chose to portray a modern interpretation of what a God-like entity might be like.

Chronologically the first episode to portray a “God” was titled, Where No Man Has Gone Before. In short, a crewman on the Enterprise is the victim of an energy field that grants him exponentially stronger telepathic and telekinetic powers as the hours go by. After the accident he grows increasing intolerant of mankind’s comparative weakness. He begins to consider himself a God and many of his human foibles become accentuated by his new found powers. He begins to exhibit the same traits as many of those exhibited by the God of the old testament. He becomes, arrogant, cruel and tormenting. Kirk eventually “takes care of business” before his crewman’s abilities continue to grow beyond their ability to contain him. In this episode mankind is far too immature to deal with supernatural powers of this magnitude.

Interestingly, the beings in the next two episodes evolved into their powers over millions of years. The Metrons (Arena)  and the Organians (Errand of Mercy) were powerful beings who used their abilities to bring peace and end violence. With their powers they found there was no reason for the petty behavior they were at one time capable of. They had evolved beyond the need for vengeance or wrathful behavior, a lesson the Christian God never seemed to learn (particularly in the Old Testament).

Star Trek is also full of powerful beings that are not so nice, just like the Bible.

Wouldn’t a real God, logically act more like a being who is mature and peaceful? If God is all knowing and all powerful what would be the point of  putting people through sickness, infant death, war, pestilence, plague, blight, starvation, etc. I know, we shouldn’t ask what God’s purpose is right? Well… why? Why should it be considered impertinent to ask?  Why would God have given us brains if we were meant not to use them for problem solving?

Science fiction writers come in all shapes and sizes. Some like to write about mean spirited supernatural beings and some write about gentle and loving supernatural beings. That describes the writers of Star Trek, the Old Testament and the New Testament. All three works of fiction.

Assertions Are Easy

Vampire Bat Some people wonder why evolution isn’t more accepted than it is. Despite the monumental amount of evidence in multiple fields of scientific inquiry, those pesky creationists, bringing up the same tired arguments, sometimes seem like B-movie zombies. No matter how many times they get smacked down, they keep coming back to torment scientifically-minded, rational people with their brainless moaning and logic resistance.

It’s not that they have anything new. Oh, sure. Occasionally a new bit of scientific evidence will be discovered… a fossil, some DNA functionality, a new species in a remote location… and they’ll latch onto it and somehow manage to twist it into something they claim supports intelligent design or a young Earth, but it doesn’t. Aside from that, it’s the same old stuff. Why, then, won’t their arguments die?

Because assertions are easy.

For example…

Transylvania has the largest population of vampire bats in the world, which is why vampire legends originated there.

See how easy that was? Does it sound reasonable? Sure it does, as long as you don’t know anything about vampire bats (or vampire legends). It took me about 20 seconds to come up with that claim and type the sentence. How long would it take you, if you don’t actually know any data about vampire bats, to refute my statement?

The internet helps, but you have to have motivation. Wikipedia is an obvious and expedient place to visit. Here’s what you find out from the Wikipedia article

Vampire bats are bats whose food source is blood, a dietary trait called hematophagy. There are three bat species that feed solely on blood: the Common vampire bat (Desmodus rotundus), the Hairy-legged Vampire Bat (Diphylla ecaudata), and the White-winged Vampire Bat (Diaemus youngi). All three species are native to the Americas, ranging from Mexico to Brazil, Chile, and Argentina.

There you go. All the known species of vampire bats are native to the Americas. What if you don’t know where Transylvania is? Another visit to Wikipedia lets you know it’s in Romania… which isn’t part of either of the Americas. So it would seem that my statement has been soundly refuted and put to rest.

Or has it?

Oh no, I say.

There used to be another species of vampire bat that was native to Romania, but it went extinct over 100 years ago. Vampire legends started well before the bats went extinct.

Now what? The Wikipedia article says nothing of an extinct species of vampire bat. There’s nothing in the Romania information that states anything about vampire bats being native to the country. If you want to do more research into debunking my claim, you’re going to have to spend a bunch of time searching the internet… to refute something that you’re 99% sure is completely bogus, anyway.

But how much time did I spend on my claim? Not much… perhaps under a minute… and if I really believe what I’m saying, I’m going to start making that statement all over the place to anyone who will give me 30 seconds of his time or to any place that will allow me to post my nonsense. By the time I’ve reached 1,000 people, you’d still be trying to confirm whether there actually was a species of vampire bat in Romania 100 years ago.

Then suddenly you’ll find that someone else is saying that vampire bats lived in Romania 100 years ago, but they’re saying that bones were found that prove it… and that the bats were as large as ravens… and a group of scientists is researching whether or not they preyed on human babies.

What… is… going… on?!?

Assertions are easy.

It’s what creationists do. They shovel on the assertions (Gish Gallop, anyone?) and then, when their assertions are left unchallenged, they declare victory… and spread the news. It takes very little time to make assertions, but gathering evidence and presenting a logical refutation takes quite a bit of time (in comparison). Even if you already know the evidence and the refutation, it generally takes more time and effort to deliver it.

It’s not just creationists, though. Politicians do it. So do their opponents… especially protestors. Scientology does it (Fair Game doctrine). Climate change deniers do it. Moon hoaxers do it. Obama birthers do it. Sometimes, to add to their pseudo credibility, they’ll actually add facts to back up their claims… but only the facts that support their arguments. They’ll leave out contradictory facts or simply leave their facts out of context. They’ll misquote an expert (or quote mine). They’ll twist words.

When moon hoaxers do it, it’s amusing (unless you’re Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin). Nobody really takes them seriously. When creationists do it, it’s more serious because they want to teach our children to believe their nonsense… and they frequently want it in our schools. When climate change deniers do it, it can be dangerous in the long term… and just irresponsible.

Am I doing it right now? Sort of… but not really. These are my opinions based on my observations. I’m sure plenty of examples can be found where creationists have provided valid scientific data to irrefutably support their arguments.

*snicker* …or not.

Intelligent Design’s 8 Biggest Fails

I was just shown a great slideshow on the Discover website showing Intelligent Design’s 8 Biggest Fails. It’s well worth taking a look.

Christian Vision of Reality?

Garden of Eden While perusing the news today, I came across an article on BeliefNet titled “Making Sense of the Natural World.” It was posted by the BioLogos Foundation, which is the organization founded by Francis Collins and, until recently, also headed by him. It’s an organization that promotes the compatibility of science and religion.

There’s been quite a bit lately about that topic… science and religion. Jerry Coyne started a new term, “faitheist,” to refer to atheists who are, what he considers, overly accommodating to religious beliefs. PZ Myers has written extensively about the topic as well.

In this article on BeliefNet, there was a quote by Alister McGrath, author of A Fine-Tuned Universe and The Dawkins Delusion?, which I found fairly representative of religious belief, though I’m not sure it was intended that way.

The Christian vision of reality offers us a standpoint from which we may view the natural world, and see certain things that others might indeed regard as puzzling, or strange — such as fine-tuning — as consonant with the greater picture that the Christian has to offer.

Here’s how I interpret that quote.

A Christian perspective offers an explanation for things that are puzzling or strange, thereby negating any need (or desire) to find out anything more about those puzzling or strange things. In other words, God did it and that’s all you need to know.

I don’t have the context surrounding that quote, so I don’t know to what the “greater picture that the Christian has to offer” refers or how that fits in with the idea that a supernatural explanation is any explanation at all. I suspect I’ll have to get a copy of McGrath’s book to find out.

I’ve said before that the whole of religion is a curiosity killer. Obviously not for everyone, but in general, if someone knows that “God did it,” what’s the point of moving further? If someone already knows the answer, they’re done… which is why science never “knows.” Science is always probing, always asking, always testing. Even the theory of gravity (yes, it’s “just a theory”) is constantly being tested and modified when necessary.

Religion is why fundamentalists reject evolution… and real cosmology… and, for some odd reason, global warming (or climate change, if you prefer). When the facts and the scientific analysis of the facts contradict their theology, they assume the science is wrong, and since they aren’t the ones who researched the facts (why bother, since they already know the answer), the facts are dismissed out of hand.

Though, to me, this is a sad state, it’s not a real problem… until these fundamentalists want to impose their theology on others. When they start to spread their anti-intellectual, anti-education, anti-science, anti-fact drivel to the rest of us who work and play in a reality-based world, it causes big problems. When people like this get elected into public office where they have the power and authority to set policy, it causes huge problems. And when people like this get put into positions where they have control over others and authority to command them, it causes deadly problems.

So McGrath’s “Christian vision of reality” really isn’t a vision of reality at all. Not really. It’s a vision of a building facade on a movie set. It may look real at first glance or when the camera pans across it, but there’s nothing behind it. There’s nothing there.

And when you look hard enough, you can see it’s fake.

Creation Museum – Men In White

men-in-whiteA truly disappointing waste of theatrical technology and flair. As with most of the museum, this “show” was well produced (totally bat s%&t  crazy) but well done. The Men In White were the angels Michael and Gabriel. By putting a “hip” spin on an old story for the sake of youngsters, teachers and scientists are comically portrayed as villainous and silly.

The show starts with a young animatronic girl named Wendy sitting at a campfire pondering her existence and the meaning of life. During her moment of lost contemplation and doubt, Michael & Gabriel show up to raise her spirits. The implication is that without a purpose from God, Wendy is lost, alone and miserable. The angels show up to persuade Wendy that God exists and cares for her and they begin to show her “proof” of his existence.  It is here that the angels begin with, ” …if you use the bible as your starting point Wendy, then everything makes sense!” ANGEL SAYS WHAT?? Imagine if your science teacher started your first class with, ” …if you just take everything I say as fact, then everything makes sense!” From the very beginning this presentation insults the human intellect. Science doesn’t require blind faith and it never suggests a “starting” point.  This is where the “machine gunning” of  “facts” begins.

When you start with the bible everything makes sense like:

1. Marine fossils found on mountain tops? Those mountains were once covered in water from the great flood.

2.Volcanic dust found in ice cores? Just think of all that volcanic ash in the atmosphere after the flood.

3. Similarities in DNA found in the cells of every living thing? Since God created DNA he made it so that all living things could live and eat in the same world.

If you believe in evolution or as the angels call it “goo to you” then none of this makes sense. According to the angels, “…evolution makes no sense without billions of years!”

-Next we move on to discredit radioisotope dating.  This form of dating is flawed because there are too many assumptions required to be accurate, say the angels. Zircon crystals have been found with helium gas in them. This suggests that they are not nearly as old as man believes because the helium gas is escaping to quickly to be millions of years old. This is refuted on the following CHRISTIAN website http://www.answersincreation.org/RATE_critique_he-zr.htm . I highly suggest you read this article. It gets all “sciencey” but it is fascinating and alot more accurate than two white overall clad buffoon like angels.

-Next we learn from the angels that the earth can’t be millions let alone billions of years old because of the salt content in the oceans. The angels (portraying high school students in a science class) smuggly challenge a teacher about the age of the earth due to the lower than they expected salt content in the oceans. This is called EPIC FAIL. This moronic notion that if the earth were millions of years old there would be higher concentrations of salt in all of the world’s oceans is wrong. Wrong for several reasons but once again I would direct you to the following CHRISTIAN website to read the refutation of this quackery. http://www.answersincreation.org/argument/G336_creation_science.htm This article explains that creationist’s salt theories are misguided and fail to account for several factors involving the mechanisms for the removal of salt from the oceans.

-Next up, the crazy dinosaur theory. Our smug little angels tell their professor that in 2005 a T-Rex leg bone was found with blood cells intact and un-fossilized. This obviously means that the leg bone could not be millions of years old, right? WRONG! Again the answers to the BS claim come from a CHRISTIAN website. http://www.answersincreation.org/rebuttal/magazines/Creation/1997/trexblood.htm . In this excerpt there is an email log from the actual paleontologist, Jack Horner, who was chiefly involved in this discovery. He goes on to explain that it is not true and that creationist are grasping at half truths and no facts.

-The angels just can’t quit. Next we find out from these two brainiacs that the earth’s decaying magnetic field would indicate that life could not have survived millions of years ago. This is again refuted at http://www.answersincreation.org/argument/G811_creation_science.htm . The angels are referring to a scientific article written by Thomas Barnes. It has been all but publically laughed at by theoretical scientists and bears no scientific weight.

-Next…lack of super nova remnants proves a young earth, say the angels. No, it doesn’t. http://www.answersincreation.org/malone_supernova.htm . I hate to keep linking after every point but since the creation museum didn’t use any real science to make their point, I figured I should.

With about thirty minutes of research on the Internet I have found tons of articles scientifically refuting everything said in this absurd display of purposeful ignorance. The men in White should be taken away and locked up by …men in white jackets. The most disheartening part of this “program” was the fact that children were in the audience being “taught”. Shame on the creation museum and shame on the parents who made their children sit through this glaring display of  stupidity.

Creation Museum Part 1

Petersburg, Kentucky On August 28th, Craig and I took an early flight (way too early) to the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky airport to visit the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, about 7 miles from the airport. Having heard quite a bit about the museum, we were anxious to learn more about it in a way that only a first-hand visit could provide.

The result was an oddly enjoyable combination of admiration, amazement, bewilderment, amusement, aggravation, and sadness.

Museum Parking Lot Entrance I can’t speak for Craig, but when the cab driver dropped us off in front of the museum and drove away, I felt just a twinge of intimidation. The guards in the parking lot were dressed like state troopers, complete with official-looking arm patches and even more official looking firearms. I didn’t remember seeing armed guards when I visited the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences. I felt somewhat like an interloper, or, if I wanted to add a more masculine adventure flair to my description, a spy.

Creation Museum Entrance We had decided that we were going to remain “undercover,” so to speak… at least for the first day, in order to avoid any out-of-the-ordinary treatment. I gave a big smile to the guard and commented on the beautiful weather. He responded in kind, and seemed very friendly. We found that to be the case throughout the museum. The staff was very pleasant and helpful (with only a few un-noteworthy exceptions) and were quick to return my smiles and engage in light chit-chat.

04_Notice Posted on the front door was a notice stating that the Creation Museum was private property, a Christian environment, and an outreach of Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham’s ministry that teaches a literal interpretation of the bible, including a six 24-hour day creation and a 6,000 year old Earth. The notice was fairly worded and I didn’t find it offensive or inappropriate, even for a secular museum (other than the first sentence, of course). Be nice, be polite, etc. Good advice in a museum.

So far, so good. We got in line to get our tickets and purchased a two-day pass along with a few special tickets for the Planetarium shows and a presentation called “Microscarium” which was to show all the life that can be in a single drop of water (more on those shows in later posts). The two-day pass was only about $7.00 more than a single day pass, so we opted for that so we could come back and get any pictures or video footage that we missed on our first day.

05_Lobby Finally we got to the lobby and our first real taste of the kind of quality production values that were consistent throughout the entire museum. Every display, structure, statue, and facility was top-notch. To quote John Hammond, they “spared no expense” when they built this place… and it showed. Had I not known what the museum contained, I would have been filled with admiration and excitement rather than a sense of dread.

Walking past the mammoth skeleton in the front of the lobby, we got our first glimpse of where we were truly headed. A young girl and boy played in a stream while a pair of raptors (no, not the birds… the dinosaurs) stood together behind them. It was like The Flintstones, only presented with animatronic realism… and presented as actual history.

06_DinoGirl 07_DinoKids

The idea of dinosaurs living at the same time as humans is presented, even emphasized, throughout the museum’s exhibits. A literal reading of Genesis demands it and the Creation Museum revels in it, as Craig and I were about to find out.

We wandered around the lobby for a bit to take a look at the exhibits outside the main “Walk Through History” exhibit. There was plenty to see and we checked it out before heading into the staff-recommended Men in White video presentation in the special effects theater. We got a bit more of a taste of what we would be seeing later that day when we ventured deeper into the museum, including the Seven C’s in God’s Eternal Plan (the overarching theme throughout the museum) and an anti-scientific declaration mixed with worship.

7 C's in God's Eternal Plan Our Back Yard - So Much Difference

The Men in White video, like the rest of the museum, had extremely high production values and was very entertaining, though riddled with long-debunked creationist propaganda and absurdly caricaturized science teachers. It was easy to see how viewers who are not well-versed in basic science would be pulled into the descriptions and then walk out of the theater thinking that maybe there was something to the whole “6,000 year old Earth” thing. It was like listening to a fast-talking carnie who was also good-looking, charming, and gave you free candy… so you wouldn’t notice that the live, two-headed snake woman was neither alive nor two-headed.

Creationist Paleontologist We then headed into the “Walk Through History” exhibit, which was designed to guide the viewer along the biblical explanation for life on earth. It starts with the paleontologist room. Two men are digging up a dinosaur fossil. The television screens in the room explain that the two men are finding the same fossils, but they come up with different views depending upon their starting point.

What do we know about Dinosaurs? This is another key point that is hammered into the viewer repeatedly throughout the museum. A dichotomy is set up between “Human Reason” and “God’s Word” (with “God’s Word” portrayed as the ultimate truth, of course).

“Dinosaur fossils don’t come with tags on them telling us how old they are,” the sign proclaims. “We have to figure that out from a few clues we find.” That’s true, of course, but what the museum consistently ignores throughout its halls is that we have an overwhelming number of “clues” from numerous branches of science… and they all tell us that dinosaur fossils are millions of years old. Different Views... Different Starting Points It’s not a matter of interpreting the clues differently. It’s a matter of creationists ignoring clues that don’t meet their biblical requirements.

It’s the same with the “different starting points” claim, except this claim is more accurate, though probably not in the way the museum means it to be. Scientists do have a different starting point than creationists. Scientists start with the evidence and examine it to see where it leads. Creationists start with the bible and examine it to see how they can make the evidence fit. Scientists will change their ideas and theories based on new evidence. Creationists will never change their theories in the face of new evidence because, in their view, the bible trumps all evidence.

Same Facts, but Different Views… Why?

09_Why

Why, indeed.

(The tour will continue in part 2)