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Education

Why take them seriously?

Here’s why it’s really hard to take the religious right seriously.

“I don’t believe in global warming,” said conservative activist Kim Simac, a horse trainer and mother of nine from Wisconsin who also believes that the teaching of creationism and prayer need to be brought back to public schools.

(via)

…and…

One delegate, Sue Phelps, drew comparisons between Barack Obama, Fidel Castro and Adolf Hitler – “they were good orators too” – and said the president’s nationality and religion were “unanswered questions”.

(via)

…and…

“Today in America, far too many young people enter adulthood unprepared for college, career, and life,” said Allan Golston, president of The Gates Foundation’s U.S. Program. [Drew] Dickens agrees and believes that “part of the problem is that we have removed prayer and the Ten Commandments from our schools and curriculum.”

(via)

I could go on. When people are that vocal, yet that oblivious to facts, that ignorant of the Constitution, and that eager to force their religious beliefs on others, they’ve really got no room to complain when they are ignored or mocked.

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.

Religion and Education in Iowa

Teaching the bible... teaching evolution Americans United for Separation of Church and State posted an article on Facebook today about a public school in Iowa that dropped two new classes in order to avoid any potential legal trouble. One class was a bible class and the other was a critique of evolutionary theory. The Des Moines Register has the full article.

There aren’t any details on the classes, so I can’t see exactly whether the bible class was going to teach about the bible or teach the bible. Those are very different things. However, the inclusion of the class to critique evolutionary theory tends to indicate that the bible class wasn’t going to be an impartial view of biblical literature.

The story aside, what I found more interesting were the comments following the article.

They started out innocently enough with statements like these.

“Use the time to schedule just a little more history teaching. It couldn’t hurt and might help explain the middle East and other troubled parts of our world.”

“Schools are for learning reading, math, and history. Church is for religion.”

“Seems like another attempt to introduce a specific religion into the public schools. Makes me wonder why these individuals feel church, television, radio and door to door are not enough.”

Those sound reasonable to me, especially the last one where it’s pointed out (not nearly often enough in general) that religion is promoted so heavily in other venues that it seems redundant at best to include it in public schools.

Another great comment was this one by “Brandieport.”

With math, science and writing being so important to high school graduation rates and college admission, it seems to me that more electives should be dedicated to core subjects and less to religion, unless there is a variety offered. Why not teach a “religions of the world” course that allows the kids to see the diversity of thought that lies just over yonder hill.

I think a “Religions of the World” course would be a great elective for public schools, but I doubt that would fly, especially in more fundamentalist parts of the country. Some fundamentalists are terrified enough that their children might hear about atheism, much less other religions!

The majority of the comments toward the beginning are mostly rational and only mildly politically charged. However, as the thread progresses, a bit of religious ideology starts to rear its head. It starts mildly with this comment by “aackso” (sic).

[…] I am a young Conservative that has shaped many of my political beliefs based on my personal relationship with God and the Bible as they have made very clear declarations on a number of topics (abortion, taxes, the needy, etc). I do believe whole heartedly in the 3rd Amendment preventing the establishment of a religion, but I also believe in the next phrase protecting “the free exercise thereof.” I believe that Schools should present Christian based Creationism in the same classes that they teach Evolution, they can coexist. I believe that History classes should feature Christianity as it has effected as many cultures over the last 2000 years as anything. […]

Shaping political “beliefs” on 2000-year-old mythology is bad, okay? …and the second amendment is the one that prevents the establishment of religion… and the “free exercise thereof” part means I shouldn’t have your religious beliefs shoved down my throat in any government-sponsored venue (that includes public school). The worst offense in this passage, however, is the statement that Christian-based creationism should be taught in the same class as evolutionary theory… and that they can co-exist. So much for aackso’s support of the second amendment.

Let’s be clear. Christian-based creationism is not science. Period. Since it’s not science, it shouldn’t be taught in a science class. Evolutionary theory is science… one of science’s most heavily supported theories, with over 140 years of evidence-based research… and it does belong in a science class.

Nor can creationism and evolution cannot co-exist. They cannot. They are diametrical opposition. Claiming that humans were created by magic in their present form can, in no way, be reconciled with the idea that humans evolved from more primitive animals over millions of years. That book is closed (or should be).

Another exchange (sic)..

nateborland says: “I wonder how we, as a species, got so far down the path of believing in a mystical being instead of paying attention to the nature around us. […]”

fourputt responds: “Paying attention to the nature around us leads many to believe in a higher power. The beauty and majesty of the earth and the solar system is too profound to be an accident.”

SLSTC expands: “Obviously Christians do pay attention to nature around them, considering they believe God is the one who created this nature. Nature is truly amazing! And when truly observing nature, it’s hard to believe that it could have ocurred by any other means. It’s too intricate, and too profound to have just ocurred by “accident.” Observing nature only further confirms my personal belief.”

This is such a common refrain to hear from theists that it doesn’t frustrate me anymore (mostly). It just makes me sad. It’s a perfect example of how religion is a curiosity-killer. Once you have the all-purpose solution of “God did it,” there’s no reason to look any deeper… no reason to find out about how things work… no reason to discover all the delicate, internal workings of living things and how they’re all directly connected to the workings of other living things… no reason to explore knowledge… no reason. It’s an excuse to willingly sit in blissful ignorance of the world around us. It cheapens life. It cheapens the almost unfathomable level of amazement that this world can provide. Religion tells us to disregard the millions of years of beautiful evolutionary complexities that show the interconnectedness of all life on Earth… and to just say it was magic.

Most of the comments were actually good, rational statements and it was nice to see. It’s a refreshing change from the average comment threads on religiously-charged news stories.

But then “mrspigglewiggle” chimes in with more silliness later in the conversation.

That’s sad, they can teach evolution as fact when it was Darwin’s religious views, they should be able to present both sides in a rational manner. I though scientific fact meant that something had to be observable, the only One there at the beginning of the world was God. I don’t understand how they can present something like evolution as fact when there obviously wasn’t anyone else there. hmmmmmmmmmmm

Thankfully, she receives a well-justified smack down in the following three comments, starting with a return volley of mock silliness by “ponders” where he says “Were you there to observe God? hmmmmmmmmmmmm.” It gets better from there.

I didn’t follow the entire comment thread, but for the amount I did read, there seemed to be a fair number of rational folks fighting back against those spouting religious ideology… and debating other good points among themselves. It was nice to see that, in contrast to the average comment thread following religiously-charged news stories.

Kudos to rational Iowans.

Anti-Islam T-shirts in Florida

Dove World Outreach Center T-shirt It seems that some Florida students were sent home or required to change their clothes when they wore t-shirts to school that violated the school’s dress code policy. The shirts, which had a verse from the Gospel of John on the front along with a plug for the Dove Outreach Center, a local church, had the words “Islam is of the Devil” on the back.

Tom Wittmer, the school district staff attorney, explained that the t-shirts could be offensive or distracting to other students.

I can understand that. It’s inappropriate for a public school setting. In other venues, all bets are off. I would think it would be relatively well-established that t-shirts spouting anti-religious, sexist, racist, or profane slogans shouldn’t be worn to a public school. If not because of policy, then maybe out of consideration for fellow students who are trapped in the same building for seven or eight hours a day. Students can take a stand if they want to, but they need to make sure they’re aware of the appropriate time and place. in this case, sending them home to change (or having them change at school) was the best course of action, since the time and place was definitely not appropriate.

Evidently, the students and parents who attend the Dove World Outreach Center are unaware of (or perhaps dismissive of) what constitutes an appropriate time and place. They also seem to have a fairly large bigoted streak.

Wayne Sapp’s daughter, Emily Sapp, 15, was the student sent home from Gainesville High on Tuesday. Both Faith and Emily Sapp said it was their decision, not that of their parents, to wear the shirts to school in order to promote their Christian beliefs. Emily Sapp said the “Islam is of the Devil” statement was aimed at the religion’s beliefs, not its members.

“The people are fine,” she said. “The people are people. They can be saved like anyone else.”

Wow. That’s both ignorant and offensive. She seems entirely ignorant that when she says, “Islam is of the Devil” and “They can be saved like anyone else,” she’s not just attacking the beliefs. That statement also implies that those who believe in Islam are following the devil. But in her Christian-centered world, those people are “fine” because they can be taught that their beliefs are nonsense and that her beliefs are the way and the light. Her statement implies that Muslims are lesser people who need to be saved… that they’re currently just Christians who have strayed from the path and who desperately need her help.

Let me make a distinction here. I personally think that Islam is just as vacuous as Christianity… or Catholicism… or any other theistic religion. However, I’m not of the opinion that they’ll be “fine” if they just give up their beliefs. They are “fine” regardless of what the believe. The only time they’re not “fine” is if they try to impose their beliefs on me or my government. So I am probably offending someone when I say that Christianity is mythological, but I’m actually attacking the belief system, not the person. Young Emily Sapp is attacking the belief system and the people by implying that they’re lost until they accept Jesus.

Her father, unsurprisingly, seems to be the same.

He added that his children decided it was time to “stand up for what they believe instead of saying the rules might not let me do it” and said that society has grown “so tolerant of being tolerant” that free speech is eroding.

Free speech does not erode from greater tolerance. It erodes due to a lack of tolerance. Wearing a shirt with a caustic, offensive, anti-Islam message (or anti-Christian, etc) is saying, “I don’t want your religion to be heard. My religion should be the only one.” Follow that up with “They can be saved like anyone else” and you’ve got yourself some grade-A bigotry… and probably one of the most anti-free-speech attitudes imaginable.

To top it all off, here’s a quote from the church’s senior pastor, Terry Jones.

Jones said that, to him, spreading the church’s message was “even more important than education itself.”

That’s pretty much what religion is all about, isn’t it? Studies constantly show that the religious convictions tend to be inversely proportional to the level of education. The church doesn’t want people who think for themselves. They want people who spread the word and follow the church’s teachings. They want people who feel that those of other faiths “can be saved like anyone else.”

They certainly don’t want free speech.

Putting the “Good” Book in Context

god fire

I have had many theological discussions with Christians and inevitably at some point during our discussion the comment, “you’re taking the meaning out of context” is dropped. I think that a contextual understanding of the bible and Christianity is important also. Let me take this opportunity to try and put the bible and Christianity in it’s proper context.

There is plenty of terrible un-Godlike behavior in the new testament, but for sure it is easier to quote better examples of God’s loveless actions from the old testament. I have had people tell me, “…well yeah that’s the old testament but the new testament is much more peaceful”. I will be taking quotes for most of this article from the old testament.  I will be doing so because the old testament is particularly brutal. If you are a Christian and you believe the inspired word of God is infallible (and you have to), why does it matter that only the brutish old testament is mentioned? Having been written first, it has the distinction of being perhaps more timely and therefore more accurate (disbelief appropriately suspended) to the events that it describes.

Let’s start with the bronze age’s answer to Las Vegas, Sodom and Gomorrah. God was not happy with the evil taking place in the twin cities so he decided to rain down upon them “burning sulphur.” This is odd and cruel at the same time. Odd because if you were God, do you think burning sulphur would be the best way to completely wipe out two cities? Cruel because it involves burning men, women and children. Wouldn’t a 30 mile wide plasma beam be more efficient or at least more humane? It’s also a lot more cool than… burning sulphur.  Keep in mind bronze age construction had advanced from an earlier technique of packed clay walls to actual bricks made from mud.  Mud bricks don’t burn well, in fact heat is what is used to dry them. Weird God would choose such an incredibly inefficient way to smite people… unless the bible was written solely by men who didn’t know what a plasma beam or anything else more advanced was than… burning sulphur. Hard to keep this story any more in context than that.

Next, let’s talk about God’s quirky sense of humor. Just imagine if you had a neighbor whose name was, oh I don’t know, ahhhh… Abraham. Let’s say some “guy” showed up at Abraham’s house one day and put a gun to Abraham’s head and tried to force him to kill his son, ahhhhh… Isaac. Then right before Abraham did it the “guy” stopped him and said “Wait! I just wanted to see if you’d do it!”  Would we think this “guy” was funny, smart, all knowing, all powerful, peaceful, kind, or loving. No, we’d think this “guy” was vicious, cruel and twisted. I think you get the point. If God was omniscient, he would have already know what Abraham was going to do or he’s just a malevolent jerk who gets off on yanking mankind’s chain. Not very Godlike… unless God was a creation of mankind who from time to time does suffer from these character flaws. Hard to keep this story any more in context than that.

Now, Exodus 2:29-30 :

At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.

Does anything here strike you as odd? Yeah I know, “why should God kill the children for the wrongs of their parents?”. Sure that’s unforgivingly evil, but that’s not even the “odd” part. I’m talking about killing the firstborn of the livestock! The livestock? Here is context for you. Throughout the bible, God has penalized mankind by killing his children and/or his livestock. In an earlier article I quoted Leviticus 26:21-22.

If even then you remain hostile toward me and refuse to obey, I will inflict you with seven more disasters for your sins.  I will release wild animals that will kill your children and destroy your cattle, so your numbers will dwindle and your roads will be deserted.

God sure has a thing for killing livestock… or does he? Seems to me far more likely that mankind in the bronze age recognized how valuable livestock was to the other bronze agers of the time and decided to use livestock as leverage in the good book. Sounds again like mankind was truly doing the story telling here. Hard to keep this story any more in context than that.

I could go on…but I think it is clear that contextually these stories and most likely the entire bible, were man made from start to finish. How modern day rational people can’t see that the bible is riddled with un-Godlike, but very human, behavior is astounding to me.

…Sometimes a burning bush, is just a burning bush.

Conspiracy Theories and Other Muddled Thinking

Illuminati and Conspiracy Theories Almost everyone laughs at Flat-Earthers, people who actually believe that the Earth is flat despite all evidence to the contrary. Most people also laugh at the Moon-Hoaxers, the folks who think that we never landed on the moon and that it’s all just a conspiracy with elaborately faked footage, photos, and reports. Conspiracy theorists in general provide a good laugh for most rational people, whether it’s talk of alien abductions, secret government programs with captured spaceships, crop circles, the Illuminati taking control of the world, or government mind control drugs in public water.

There’s a long history of conspiracy theory and one would think that that history would be just that… history… a thing of the past. Barring a few fringe groups, we don’t expect to see people outright denying scientifically proven facts or making accusations of secret, intricate, tangled webs of clockwork precision government cover-ups.

Yet we have just that… and not just among small "fringe" groups. Here’s a short list (in addition to the ones already mentioned).

  • 9/11 Conspiracy Theorists  – claim that the US government caused the twin towers to collapse.
  • Lizard-People Conspiracy Theorists – claim that lizard-people are running the world (seriously).
  • AIDS Conspiracy Theorists – claim that AIDS is a man-made disease cooked up in a lab.
  • Obama Birthers – deny that Obama is a US citizen (or that it hasn’t been documented).
  • Global Warming Deniers – deny that global warming is occurring or is affected by human activity.
  • Creationism Proponents – deny that evolution by natural selection explains the diversity of life on Earth.
  • Holocaust Deniers – claim the Holocaust never happened.
  • Anti-Vaxxers – claim that vaccines cause autism.
  • 2012 Alarmists – claim that, since the Mayan calendar ends in December of 2012, the world will end.

I’m sure there are many more. Some of the ideas are absurd because of historical evidence, some because of scientific evidence, and some because of their sheer implausibility (backed up by no evidence). Some are combinations.

A common thread, however, is that each of them ignores or denies actual evidence contradictory to its premise. In some cases, their proponents will fabricate evidence, making scientific or historical claims that are patently false in an attempt to bolster their case. Using outdated, no-longer-relevant data is also a common tactic, whether through ignorance or malicious intent.

What is the motivation for people to believe and perpetuate these absurd claims? Sometimes it’s politics. Sometimes it’s religion. Sometimes it’s an overactive imagination. There are plenty of other psychological reasons proposed.

sleestack01 Is this a big deal? Are conspiracy theories just good fun or are they harmful or dangerous? In some cases, like the lizard-people idea, they’re harmlessly silly and don’t gain enough traction in popular culture to cause anything other than snickering and pretend horror. In other cases, such as Holocaust deniers and 9/11 conspiracy theorists, they can cause emotional pain for those who are close to the event in question. In the worse cases, the conspiracy theories can gain enough traction to cause political turmoil, educational degradation, and even health risks. Global warming deniers, creationists, and anti-vaxxers are perfect examples of these.

Potentially dangerous effects aside, these conspiracy theories show a lack of critical thinking skills and/or a lack of understanding of science. Perhaps they demonstrate an innate distrust for any authority figure… to the point of automatically assuming that anything said by an authority figure is innately false or misleading (regardless of whether or not the figure in question has anything to gain by misleading the public). Perhaps they simply indicate a complete lack of curiosity, their proponents believing everything they hear without any skepticism at all. Politics and religion can also entrench someone firmly in a position that is rationally indefensible.

It’s the groups whose ideas have a tangible, negative effect on society that concern me the most. Folks who believe that lizard-people are controlling the Earth are relatively harmless and somewhat amusing. It’s the people who think that our activities don’t have an affect on our planet’s warming and who want to block any action we could take to limit that affect… or it’s those who feel that it’s okay to teach our children that our world was created by magic, corrupting science education, instead of teaching them the real science behind the wondrous way in which life evolved on our planet… or it’s the people who publicly mislead doting parents with bogus claims that childhood vaccines cause autism, leading those parents to forgo protecting their children which, in turn, leads to everyone else’s health being put in danger.

Those are the conspiracy theorists that I have a problem with. Those are the people who have a detrimental effect on society. Those are the people whose blindness to rationality, evidence, and critical thinking cause harm to the rest of the world. They cheapen our existence, mislead our children, endanger our health, corrupt our national discourse, and create hostile divisions where there should be none… and they will defend their absurd positions with a ferocious certainty that is completely unwarranted by evidence.

What’s the solution? In my opinion… education. Starting in grade school, children need to be taught how to think, not what to think. Critical thinking skills are… well… critical. The scientific method needs to be understood… not just science facts, but the why and how of the facts. And these skills need to be taught, not just to school children, but to adults.

As for those adults who refuse to accept evidence and continue to scream their absurdities from the rooftops, they need to be countered… loudly, frequently, and eloquently. We cannot silence them by removing their right to free speech, but we can do everything in our power to point out their muddled thinking, debunk their bogus conclusions, and reveal them for the charlatans they are. They should be embarrassed by their own silliness and we need to hold up a mirror to them, giving them a perfect view of their intellectual ugliness. They will complain, accuse, deny, quite possibly lie… and they will be loud.

We need to be louder.

Religion, Criticism, and Education… Oh my!

Science education Atheists tend to deliver a lot of criticism of theology, be it Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or some other flavor. We find fault with the resurrection of Jesus, the winged horse of Muhammad, Moses and the Ten Commandments, the Holy Trinity, and a myriad of other theistic claims made by these religions. We debunk their holy books, criticize their faith-based messages, argue against their primitive views of morality, and generally demand evidence for their extraordinary claims.

All of these issues, however, rest on one basic foundational principle of theistic beliefs… that an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent god exists and has always existed without a creator of its own.

Many atheists spend time refuting the existence of a god while at the same time acknowledging that it’s not possible to prove the nonexistence of said entity. The refutations generally come in two main forms: pointing out the complete lack of any credible evidence and dismantling apologetic arguments (such as the cosmological argument). Many of the apologetic arguments consist of so much circus-like, semantic, hoop-jumping that they really should be dismissed out of hand for their absurdity, but we still go through the mental exercise of pointing out the fallacies or refuting the (attempted) logic or issuing counterpoints to invalidate the conclusions.

If the existence of a god cannot be proven (or even demonstrated), then why do we need to continually debunk the other theistic claims of specific religions? Why do we have to repeatedly explain how the biblical flood didn’t happen? Why do we need to point out flaws in the bible? Why do we need to show how the Qur’an is riddled with statements demanding violence? Why do we need to present evidence for evolution… again? Why do we need to do any of this since its validity all rides on the existence of a supernatural, all-powerful deity whose existence cannot be proven, demonstrated, or sometimes even coherently defined?

If there is no god, theistic religions are bunk.

Whatever the biological or psychological need is that nudges humans toward superstitious beliefs, it works fairly well. Most people believe in a god of some sort. Most people are brought up believing in a god, indoctrinated from birth to believe in, not just a deity, but in an entire system based upon stories of miracles and supernatural wonders that defy all rational understanding. It’s a system that can rarely be dismantled simply by attempting to remove the foundational block of god-belief. In most cases, the only way for it to be taken apart is from the top down, starting with the doctrinal beliefs.

The goal, for me anyway, isn’t to rid the world of religion. The goal is to keep religions from being forced upon unwilling recipients, be it via government intrusion, corruption of education, or imposition of archaic moral philosophies. I don’t care if John Q. Public believes in a deity. I care if he lets that belief affect decisions that effect me. I care if he wants to base public policies on unsupported religious doctrine instead of rational thinking. I care if he wants to impose his 1st-century view of morality on me and my family. I care if his religion dictates to me what I can and cannot do.

Most religious folks can handle this just fine. Their day to day living and decisions are based on societal norms and they don’t go around preaching to everyone they meet about how Jesus is the only way to be saved from eternal damnation. They’re generally friendly, fun, trustworthy, and enjoyable to be around. Many don’t even discuss religion except when they go to church on Sunday. It’s just not that important them in a social sense.

Sadly, the religious loud-mouths ruin it for them. From self-righteous abortion protestors to fire-and-brimstone evangelists to morally dubious right-wing politicians who attempt to push biblical policy into our political system, religious fundamentalists are a significant cause of atheists’ vociferous criticisms. And since asking them nicely to keep their religious ideology out of the political system tends not to work, the only way to combat their insidiousness is to speak out, often and loudly, against their theology… and since saying "there is no evidence for your god" tends not to work, the only way to block their religious tentacles from insinuating themselves into our government is to debunk their dogma… debunk their holy books… debunk their claims of biblical truth… debunk their muddled, 2000-year-old ideas of morality.

That’s what we have to do now to maintain our religious freedoms, but how do we keep the situation from continuing ad nauseum? How do we make sure that our children, and our children’s children, don’t fall prey to the same ideological black hole into which we are threatened to be pulled?

Polls show there is an inverse correlation between education levels and religious belief. It would seem that the best approach to stemming the tide of religious fundamentalism and its attempts to creep further and further into our governments, our schools, and our private lives is better education. Real education… education that includes not just memorization of numbers and historical facts, but tools for critical thinking and problem solving.

We need to teach our children to have a sense of wonder and curiosity about the universe instead of settling for the unenlightening answer of "God did it." We need to show them how science is the best way we have for understanding how things work and how language and communication skills are key to spreading knowledge. We need to help them learn the tried and true methods for evaluating evidence and reaching conclusions. We need to teach them that it’s okay if the facts leads somewhere new. We need them to understand that claims of truth require evidence. We need them to learn… learn… learn.

Until then, we’re destined to continue in the fight against superstitious ideology that fundamentalists want to impose on us. We’ll keep debunking, keep criticizing, keep educating, and keep learning… until we have dismantled the ivory tower of theistic dogma.

…from the top down.

A Dubious Win in Texas

DNS StrandThe Texas Board of Education managed to squeak a vote through that shot down the addition of anti-evolution language into their education standards which would have specified the standard nonsense about evaluating the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution. However, in a series of equally nonsensical ammendments, the anti-science creationists and IDers added all kinds of detrimental (and somewhat incoherent) language to try to bolster their untenable position.

Don McLeroy didn’t win his big desired change (the “strengths and weaknesses” language), but he was probably reveling in the little jabs that were inflicted by all the amendments. McLeroy displayed a gross misunderstanding of both science and evolution in the now infamous Youtube video. In the ars technica article linked above, John Timmer says…

[In the Youtube video] McLeroy urges the board to join a crusade against the scientific community. “Somebody has to stand up to these experts,” he said, while expressing incredulity about their opposition, stating, “I don’t know why they’re doing it.” Elsewhere, he argued that evolution isn’t science, saying, “it’s an ideology” and “evolution goes back to someone who came up with a philosophical speculation.”

I’m almost speechless… but not quite. How do people like this gain a position that has influence over the education of our children? On one hand, he admits that he’s not an expert, yet he then continues to essentially say that the experts are wrong and that he knows better. I’m not sure where he gets his definition of “expert” but it’s seemingly not from anywhere in this reality.

Timmer also comments:

So, instead of “strengths and weaknesses,” the new standards call for students to “analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations” based in part on “examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific experiments.” Not only is the grammar fractured, but scientific experiments are usually notable for not supporting “all sides” of an argument.

As might be expected, the age of the universe came in for some questioning. A standard that mentioned the universe was roughly 14 billion years old was amended to require students to evaluate “current theories of the evolution of the universe including estimates for the age of the universe.” Elsewhere, students are instructed to consider how the data “reveal differing theories about the structure, scale, composition, origin, and history of the universe.” Apparently, the board was unaware that our estimates of the age of the universe have narrowed considerably in the last few decades.

The creationists seem to be attacking science on all fronts now, but we seem to be missing the evolution-specific attacks that are so common from them.

Oh, wait… here they are.

Students are expected to consider the “sudden appearance” of lineages in the fossil record, which the creationist literature argues is an indication that these lineages were instantaneously created.

[…]

[The Board] added a new standard, directing students to “analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of natural selection to explain the complexity of the cell.”

[…]

Teachers now have to ensure that students can “analyze and evaluate the evidence regarding formation of simple organic molecules and their organization into long complex molecules having information such as the DNA molecule for self-replicating life.”

Wow. So much for science in Texas. Fortunately, high school science teachers tend to ignore this type of language and teach evolution the best they can in the tiny amount of time granted for the topic… sometimes as little as three days, from what I’ve read (can’t find the link anymore. Sorry).

Even so, the addition of language of this nature does nothing to enhance science education… or education in general. Creationists spend so much effort coming up with twisted, devious ways to push their mythical ideas into the agendas of otherwise rational education standards that one would have to begin to question their premise.

If their ideas were so scientific and plausible, why have to be so obscure about their intentions? Furthermore, where is the evidence to support their ideas? Where is the grounded thinking and scientific explanation for even a single one of their postulates?

Nowhere.

They’ve got nothing to go on. I’ve said it before. The only thing they have to work with is an infantile attempt to attack the scientifically supported theory of evolution. They prey upon the uneducated with blatantly false propaganda, knowing that anyone who doesn’t understand real science or the actual theory of evolution might, perhaps, think that their position is tenable. Then they’ll get the “Why not teach both sides?” reactions from people and their battle is halfway done.

The solution is education. Real education… based on real facts and real evidence and real logical thinking. The more our educational system descends into this anti-intellecual, anti-science, irrational way of thinking, the more this country will fall behind in this world, not only intellectually, but influentially. Texas seems to be leading the way into the pit.

Way to go, McLeroy.

When will it end?

As if the inanity in Texas wasn’t enough, Senator Steve Wise in Jacksonville, Florida had to go and file more legislation in an attempt to dilute the teaching of evolution. It seems these anti-science, anti-education cretins won’t give up until schools are teaching kids that science equals magic. They aren’t even being intellectually honest about their intent, which just makes it even more aggravating.

Next up, Astrology!

Clueless in Texas

TiktaalikWith the Texas Board of Education narrowly voting yesterday to keep the creationists from adding bogus language to their education standards, the religious conservative frenzy is at a peak. Not only were outrageous (and blatantly untrue) statements made during the school board’s meeting, but creationism-supporting commentators were out in force… and they just keep coming, each one showing just how well they can ignore evidence and misunderstand issues.

The example I ran across today is from Don McDonald, a guest columnist at the Waco Tribune-Herald. His editorial, titled Evolution crowd is censoring science, claims that by disallowing the proposed “strengths and weaknesses” language, the school board is squelching academic freedom and censoring science.

It is heartening to see that in January, the State Board of Education upheld academic freedom when learning evolution by crafting science standards that require students to “analyze and evaluate” the evidence for evolution, and asking students to consider “the sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record.”

Two things come immediately to mind here. First, as Kenneth Miller enthusiastically and eloquently points out, everything in science should be critically examined. That’s what science is all about. Scientific theories change, live, and die by the examination of new evidence. It’s one of the things that makes the scientific method so wonderfully effective at explaining the natural world.

Second, given that all science should be critically examined, why was the proposed language focusing only on evolution? What about astronomy? What about chemistry? What about geology? The reason, of course, is that the language is specifically focused on evolution because it’s being used as a creationist weapon. There is no reason, other than religious zealotry, to use that kind of language focused solely on evolution.

By supporting these amendments, the board supported developing critical thinking skills among students. Anything less than analysis, evaluation, and free discussion of arguments for and against any theory amounts to censorship, and censorship never serves the advancement of science.

The first sentence is bogus for the reasons I already mentioned. The second sentence is almost perfect. The phrase “free discussion of arguments” is far too open to be of any use. Perhaps the “free discussion of evidence” might be better? McDonald is trying to make the point that any alternative ideas to evolution should be given discussion time, regardless of their scientific merit (ie… creationism). However, allowing discussion time for any alternative ideas will only serve to confuse students as to what real science is, and would completely waste valueable and preciously-limited time for real science education.

Objectors to the proposed language in the science standards commonly express fear of “creationism creeping into the classrooms.” But the amendments say nothing of creationism or intelligent design. They are about exploring and discovering science.

The amendments really don’t say anything specifically about creationism or intelligent design. However, what other purpose could there be to focusing solely on evolution? Given the history of the creationism and intelligent design “movement,” it’s blatantly evident that the goal of the language is to target evolution and attempt to cast doubt on a theory that has been tested and challenged for more than 150 years… yet has held up under such intense scrutiny without scarcely a blemish. Details about evolution have changed over the years due to additional evidence and study, but the basic premise has remained intact since its inception.

The creationist attempts to throw doubt on evolution and to introduce supernatural explanations for life’s progression are becoming more and more transparent and pathetic… yet they continue, nonetheless. The phrases “teach the controversy” and “only a theory” have become dogmatic mantras of the unscientific and uneducated. The same long-since-debunked issues come up repeatedly (bacterial flagellum, blood clotting proteins, etc) as “proof” that evolution is not valid. The same tired rhetoric is used over and over, ad nauseum, in an attempt to disguise the religious intent of creationism and ID supporters.

Yet, with all the effort put forth by these anti-intellectual snake-oil salesmen, one thing is glaringly missing.

Evidence.

They have none. There is no evidence to support intelligent design. There is no evidence to support creationism. Not a single piece of evidence exists. Their sole strategy is to attempt to discredit evolution so that they can claim “God did it” as the “obvious” alternative. That’s all they have and that’s all they will ever have. It’s called the “God of the gaps” argument… if we can’t explain it, it must be God.

If they want to believe that, they are free to do so. They can believe the Earth is 6,000 years old. They can believe that dinosaurs and humans walked the Earth together. They can believe in talking snakes and virgin births and resurrections as devoutly as they want. They can believe that life was created by an “intelligent designer” and raise their hands to the heavens in tribute.

But do not try to pass it off as science.